links about us archives search home
SustainabiliTankSustainabilitank menu graphic
SustainabiliTank

 
 
Follow us on Twitter

BelarusMoldovaVaticanOther Balkans
Liechtensteinandorrachannel islands

 
Further Europe:

 

Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on July 26th, 2017
by Pincas Jawetz (PJ@SustainabiliTank.com)


Interfaith-center – Jerusalem Climate Interfaith Event 1


Amidst Violence and Crushing Heat, Jerusalem Religious Leaders Agree on Urgency of Curbing Climate Change

JERUSALEM, JULY 26 – As Jerusalem experiences another wave of violent conflict and punishing heat, Jewish, Muslim and Christian leaders came together to urge people of all faiths to help curb climate change.

Rabbi David Rosen, AJC International Director of Interreligious Affairs;
Father Francesco Patton, Custos of the Holy Land;
and Kadi Iyad Zahalha, judge of the Muslim Sharia Courts in Israel
reached a consensus on the religious basis for environmental sustainability and addressing climate change. At the event, a new letter signed by 36 Israeli Orthodox rabbis was released, calling for action on climate change.

Custos Father Patton said, “We are part of creation, so we have to take care of our common home and take responsibility for creation.”


Rabbi Rosen cited Deuteronomy 30:19: “Choose life in order that you and your children shall live.” He said, “today, climate change is a matter of life and death. Because of this, everything else becomes secondary—it’s like rearranging the deck chairs on the ship Titanic as we head for the iceberg.”

Kadi Zahalka spoke to the importance of “taking care of everything for the coming generation. We need to do our part in saving and preserving nature and all the earth.”

The event was organized by The Interfaith Center for Sustainable Development (ICSD), which works to catalyze a transition to a sustainable, thriving, and spiritually-aware society through the leadership of faith communities. Overlooking the walls of the Old City, the interfaith event served as a counterpoint to the recent violence in Jerusalem’s Old City. The interfaith event focused on the critical role of faith leaders in increasing awareness about the moral obligation for environmental sustainability and curbing climate change.


Rabbi Yonatan Neril, ICSD’s director, moderated the panel and cited studies linking climate change to increased drought and extreme heat in the Middle East, which are exacerbating conflict and threat multipliers. The event was held at the Jerusalem Press Club.

Photos and video content, and the climate change letter by Orthodox rabbis are available upon request by replying to this message.

 madmimi.com/p/d2567a?fe=1&pact=1…

Press contact: Yonatan Neril: 054-723-4973,  yneril at interfaithsustain.com

Interfaith Climate Panel by ICSD-001

About the Speakers:

David Rosen

Rabbi David Rosen, AJC International Director of Interreligious Affairs, has been advancing understanding and good relations between religious communities for more than 40 years – from the time he served as rabbi of the largest Orthodox Jewish congregation in South Africa, during his tenure as Chief Rabbi of Ireland ; and throughout the last 30-plus years based in Jerusalem. In addition to interreligious representation and education, his work involves mediation and peace-building and he is deeply involved in multi-religious engagement on ecological issues. Widely recognized for his work, Rabbi Rosen was granted a papal Knighthood in 2005 for his contribution to Jewish-Catholic reconciliation and was made a CBE (Commander of the British Empire) in 2010 by H.M. Queen Elizabeth II for his work promoting interfaith understanding and cooperation.

Custos Fr. Francesco Patton

Father Francesco Patton is Custos of the Holy Land. The Custody of the Holy Land is a custodian priory of the Franciscan order in Jerusalem, founded as Province of the Holy Land in 1217 by Saint Francis of Assisi, who also founded the Franciscan Order. Fr. Patton served in various capacities in his province and also within the Order. He was twice Secretary General of the General Chapters in 2003 and 2009; Visitator General in 2003, Minister Provincial of St. Vigilium (Trent, Italy) from 2008 to 2016; President of the Conference of Provincial Ministers of Italy and Albania (COMPI)
He also served in many capacities outside of the Order: as member of the Diocesan Presbyteral Council and secretary of the Diocesan Pastoral Council of the archdiocese of Trent; professor of Social Communications at the Studio Teologico Accademico Tridentino; collaborator of the Diocesan Weekly, the Diocesan Radio and Telepace Trento; and enrolled with the journalists of Trentino-Alto Adige as publicist since 1991.

Kadi Iyad Zahalka

Kadi Iyad Zahalka is judge of the High Sharia Court of Appeals and Director of the
Sharia courts in Israel. Kadi Zahalka is an accomplished judge, lecturer, author and activist. He has filled several important positions in the Shar’i court system, including that of Director. Kadi Zahalka obtained his L.L.B. from Tel Aviv University, and his M.A. and PhD from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, with his thesis on the Muslim Minority Jurisprudence Doctrine (Fiqh al Aqalliyyat). He also served as the kadi (judge) of Haifa. He is the author of two books and many articles and has spoken widely abroad. Born in the village of Kafr Kara, in the Wadi Ara section of Israel, south of Haifa.

Custos Father Patton
 info at interfaithsustain.comwww.interfaithsustain.com
The Interfaith Center for Sustainable Development | P.O. Box 28156, Jerusalem, 9128101

==============================================

###

Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on May 26th, 2017
by Pincas Jawetz (PJ@SustainabiliTank.com)

The UN General Assembly, UN Headquarters, 29 March 2017 – Intervention of the Holy See
During the Preparatory Committee established by General Assembly resolution 69/292
dedicated to the Development of an international legally binding instrument
under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea
on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity
of areas beyond national jurisdiction

Presentation by Susan M. Whelan

Madame Facilitator,

Since this is the first time our delegation takes the floor, we would like to congratulate you
and thank you for your able assistance in this session. We thank Ambassador Charles for his
instructive leadership in the prior Preparatory Committee meetings and we congratulate Ambassador Duarte for his election as Chair.

We have listened carefully to the discussion yesterday and today, and our delegation would
agree with others that there seems to be an unbridgeable divide between those seeking to apply two competing principles to this agreement. Therefore, in the interest of moving forward, we will restrict our discussion to the topic of obligations stemming from the use of ocean resources in Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction (ABNJ).

As other delegations have noted, Freedom of the High Seas is not an absolute right and is
subject to limitations and corresponding duties. This “right of access” is conditioned as a result of the use of the ocean space and resources. Various uses such as the general obligation for peaceful use, laying of submarine cables, the construction of artificial islands, fishing and scientific research are identified and subsequently qualified, subject to certain limitations and obligations. So regulating use and providing for responsibilities as well as rights are nothing new.

The practical reality is, however, that not all resources in the ocean are equal and not all human activity has the same impact on biodiversity. Some resources, such as minerals, have an immediate inherent value, or the human activity in using the resource creates such a negative impact on the environment that there is a depreciation value. Others, such as marine genetic resources (MGRs), only have potential value and no real value or impact at the time of extraction or use; therefore, there is no benefit to share. Because of these practical realities – and in the spirit of Norway’s intervention, our delegation suggests that our analysis and our resulting agreement must be more nuanced than just identifying specific uses or ocean resources. We cannot have a successful, forward-looking regime without gaps if we focus solely on where resources are located, or what benefits States will enjoy as a result.

Therefore, our delegation suggests a bifurcated structure for considering the “use” of ocean
resources, and payments and obligations for that use. This proposed framework consists first of benefit sharing and, second, of Commercial Entitlement/Use Obligations. We have tried to fashion this analysis so that it can be applied, not only to MGRs, but to the use of all potential resources in ABNJ — for example, wind, tide, current, or geothermal renewable energies.

1. With respect to “Benefit Sharing”

Provisions are obviously already in place in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the
Seas (UNCLOS) with respect to benefit sharing. With the advent of new uses and discoveries of
ocean resources, however, and in connection with conservation and sustainable use, some
thresholds for how benefits might accrue seem helpful. In order to consider whether benefit sharing payments or obligations are appropriate, our delegation suggests that one of the following four criteria should be met:

First, the resource must have an inherent value (such as a mineral) without the intervention of mankind making it something entirely new; or

Second, there is significant harm to the environment in extracting the resource that impacts marine biodiversity for present and future generations; or

Third, the resource is non-living, and specifically not a biological resource used as a commodity in trade such as fish; or

Fourth, the resource cannot be sustainably used.

If one of these four thresholds is met, then the provisions of Part XI and Article 82 of
UNCLOS apply 82 and both monetary and non-monetary benefits must be shared. All existing
resources covered by these provisions would qualify. If one of these thresholds is not met, however, then instead of “benefit sharing” – since there is no benefit – possible “commercial Entitlement/use Obligations” attach based on “utilization” of resources jointly owned by all States.


2. With respect to Commercial Entitlement/Use Obligations.

We note at the outset that these obligations will not apply to any activities that are associated with Marine Scientific Research as provided for in UNCLOS.

As stated above, MGRs fall into a category of resources that have no value at the time of
extraction, and for which it is impossible to agree on the potential value at that time. This issue is not a new one for the business world as often a seller, such as a large pharmaceutical company, has potential products or drugs that are in various stages of development when they sell their company.
As a result, the valuation of the company is difficult and most merger or sales contracts include whatare called “earn-out provisions.”
An earn-out provision is a contractual clause stating that the seller of a business is to obtain additional compensation in the future if the business achieves certain non-financial and financial milestones. In other words, it is a contingent obligation. Non-financial targets often include the study start, study success, regulatory filing, filing of a patent, regulatory approval for use, first sale, launch of a new product, or minimum number of or increase in sales or customers. Financial targets can include the number of products sold (annual or cumulative sales), unit sales, royalty or license revenue, earnings, revenue, net income, net equity, earnings etc. As New Zealand noted yesterday, the various stages of MGR collection, analysis and utilization could form the basis for these milestones. This model could provide for non-monetary benefits to developing countries with respect to triggers that are not financial in nature, for example, regulatory approvals and patent filings. These non-monetary obligations could include access to collection, data sharing, and clearinghouse or repository arrangements. Monetary payments, if agreed, could be tied to financial
benchmarks, but could also be formulated as preventive measures against selling resulting products or drugs into developing countries at exorbitant prices.

As for how this is structured: A party, for example a private company seeking to find and
develop MGRs into a useful product, has the option of entering into an agreement prior to use
(here, collection of samples) in which case the bargaining power is in their court. If they wait until they file for a patent, the regulator can set the terms. One suggestion is that the mechanism could be the same as used for fishing – through bilateral agreements, Regional Fishing Management Organizations or Agreements (RFMOs or RFMAs), however this is agreed.
As for Intellectual property issues, our delegation believes that this agreement should not
impact or try to undermine patent laws. We hope that this can be avoided by including the
presumption that the origin of every MGR patent is presumed to be in ABNJ unless otherwise
stated. Traceability could become associated with one of the milestone events.

In conclusion: beyond the fact that it fulfills the general principle of economic equity, why
should we use this approach? There are several reasons:

First, the Nagoya Protocol anticipates this model and earn-out provisions in particular. The
Annex lists monetary benefits, including access fees, upfront payments and milestone payments.

Second, in life sciences merger deals, specifically bio-pharmaceutical deals, 82 percent of biopharmaceutical deals included earn-out provisions in 2012. These are provisions that the business world is familiar with and are part of existing international law and practice.

Third, it allows all States to move forward when the parties cannot agree on the value of the
resource, especially when it has no value at all at the time of extraction. This is particularly critical where the source of uncertainty may be the undeveloped product, when there is a new market, when the financial information is unreliable, or when there’s an uncertain future but non-State private investors, developers, enterprises and individuals are involved.

Fourth, it permits private companies or actors greater control over whether and when the
milestone events are triggered, reduces the risk of overpaying, defers obligations and therefore decreases the disincentives.

Finally, from the perspective of developing countries, the user ultimately compensates States
for the use of a resource in the Commons. Every use has the potential to give value, whether
monetary or non-monetary, at some point. It also provides the opportunity to benefit from synergies of working with sophisticated parties in business integration as a matter of contract.

I thank you for your patience with this lengthy intervention.

###

Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on April 17th, 2016
by Pincas Jawetz (PJ@SustainabiliTank.com)

from Iulia Trombitcaia  Iulia.Trombitcaia at unece.org via lists.iisd.ca

Dear colleagues,

UNECE has just published the third Environmental Performance Reviews of two countries: Georgia and Belarus.

Both reviews cover air, water, waste, biodiversity and the integration of environmental considerations into a wide number of sectors (energy, forestry, transport, tourism, health, etc.).

Both reviews reflect the successes and challenges for these countries in the achievement of MDGs, and we very much hope that the recommendations of the reviews will assist these countries in developing their national agendas for the achievement of SDGs.

The publications can be found here:

3rd Environmental Performance Review of Georgia:
 www.unece.org/index.php?id=42309 (in English)

3rd Environmental Performance Review of Belarus:
 www.unece.org/index.php?id=41226 (in English and Russian)

Yours,
Iulia Trombitcaia, UNECE

……………………………………………………………………………………….
Ms. Iulia TROMBITCAIA
Environmental Affairs Officer
Environmental Performance Review Programme
UN Economic Commission for Europe
Palais des Nations
CH-1211 Geneva 10
Telephone: 0041-22-917 3332
Telefax: 0041-22-917 06 21
E-mail:  iulia.trombitcaia at unece.org
 www.unece.org/env/epr.html

###

Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on April 9th, 2016
by Pincas Jawetz (PJ@SustainabiliTank.com)

Politics
Bernie Sanders Accepts An Invitation From The Vatican.

April 8, 201611:20 AM ET

by Asma Khalid
on Twitter

NPR’s Don Gonyea spotted a poster at Bernie Sanders’ Buffalo field office in New York that shows the Pope pointing out “WHAT BERNIE SAID.”

Sanders has often praised Pope Francis for his focus on economic inequality.


Bernie Sanders will be taking a few days off the campaign trail to attend a Vatican conference about social, economic and environmental issues.

The day after a debate in New York next week, Sanders will travel to Rome for the event.

In an interview on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, Sanders said he was “a big, big fan of the pope.”

“He has played an unbelievable role, unbelievable role in injecting a moral consequence into the economy,” Sanders said. “He’s talking about the idolatry of money, the worship of money, the greed that’s out there.”

In a statement from his campaign, Sanders praised the pope for focusing on income inequality — the defining issue of his own presidential campaign.

“Pope Francis has made clear that we must overcome ‘the globalization of indifference’ in order to reduce economic inequalities, stop financial corruption and protect the natural environment. That is our challenge in the United States and in the world,” Sanders said in a statement.

No meeting between Sanders and Pope Francis has been scheduled.

Sanders, who is Jewish, has often praised the current pope. He previously referred to Francis as a “socialist,” in an interview obtained by The Washington Post. “When (Pope Francis) talks about wealth being used to serve people, not as an end in itself, I agree with that,” Sanders said in the interview.

Sanders and Francis often speak about the economy in nearly identical ways. In 2014, the pope took to Twitter with this message: “Inequality is the root of social evil.”

Pope Francis Verified account
? @Pontifex — 28 April 2014

Francis is sometimes described as a “liberal” pope for his views on immigration, income inequality and the death penalty; but, Catholic teaching straddles political affiliation, particularly because of the Church’s stance on same-sex marriage.

With his public statements, Francis seems to have emboldened the church’s social justice wing, and Democrats are widely embracing him. Last year, a number of big-city Democratic mayors (Boston’s Marty Walsh and New York’s Bill de Blasio) attended a Vatican conference on climate change.

For Sanders, the trip’s timing is also fortuitous, coming just ahead of the New York and Pennsylvania primaries (April 19 and April 26 respectively).

Both states have sizable Catholic populations — a mix of traditionally Democratic white working class voters and a smaller, but growing, Hispanic community.

The Pew Research Center estimates one-third of people in the New York City metro area identify as Catholic, and similarly, about a quarter (26 percent) in Philadelphia.

Many of those Catholics lean left — 46 percent surveyed by Pew in New York and Pennsylvania identify as Democrats.

For a full breakdown of New York Catholic demographics, you can sift through the data on the Pew website.

Some Comments:

LindaWagner • 12 hours ago
As an avowed atheist, it warms my heart to see this Pope becoming involved in issues that matter so much to me. Keep up the good work, Pope Francis. It’s not easy to turn around hundreds of years of entrenched doctrine and it will probably take hundreds more but you sure are moving it along at a faster pace than I ever thought imaginable.

Sobin Tulll LindaWagner • 12 hours ago
As a fellow Atheist I couldn’t agree with you more. There are people in this thread that seem to hold Pope Francis responsible for the entire churches history, which in my opinion is unfair. I see a person that is trying move his massive and stubborn organization in a better direction.

Wait_Wait_Ill_Tell_You Sobin Tulll • 12 hours ago
Mark down another atheist in concurrence.
As far as religious leaders go, Francis is a “God-send.”

THIS POPE IS AMAZING INDEED. He enters now the discussion in further issues:

Francis’ Message Calls on Church to Be Inclusive
By JIM YARDLEY and LAURIE GOODSTEIN

The pope asked priests to welcome single parents, unmarried couples and gay people, lamenting the “severe stress” of modern families.

 www.nytimes.com/2016/04/09/world/…


Francis’ Message Calls on Church to Be Inclusive

By JIM YARDLEY and LAURIE GOODSTEIN – APRIL 8, 2016

ROME — In a broad proclamation on family life, Pope Francis on Friday called for the Roman Catholic Church to be more welcoming and less judgmental, and he seemingly signaled a pastoral path for divorced and remarried Catholics to receive holy communion.

The 256-page document — known as an apostolic exhortation and titled “Amoris Laetitia,” Latin for “The Joy of Love” — calls for priests to welcome single parents, gay people and unmarried straight couples who are living together.

“A pastor cannot feel that it is enough to simply apply moral laws to those living in ‘irregular’ situations, as if they were stones to throw at people’s lives,” he wrote.

But Francis once again closed the door on same-sex marriage, saying it cannot be seen as the equivalent of heterosexual unions.

The document offers no new rules or marching orders, and from the outset Francis makes plain that no top-down edicts are coming.

###

Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on March 19th, 2016
by Pincas Jawetz (PJ@SustainabiliTank.com)

Shifting Eastern Mediterranean Alliances

by Emmanuel Karagiannis
Middle East Quarterly – Spring 2016 (view PDF)

 www.meforum.org/5877/shifting-eas…

Shifting Eastern Mediterranean Alliances

The exploitation of energy resources in the Eastern Mediterranean has drawn together hitherto estranged states.

In August 2013, Cyprus, Greece, and Israel signed onto the “EuroAsia Interconnector” project, which would install a 2000-megawatt underwater electric cable (illustrated above) to connect their power grids and to be a means by which “three nations … [can] enhance their growth and prosperity” and build a “bridge of friendship between our nations.”

The Eastern Mediterranean is changing fast with its estimated 122 trillion cubic feet (tcf) of natural gas reserves (the equivalent of 21 billion barrels of oil) already having an impact on regional patterns of amity and enmity.[1] With Israel and Cyprus well underway to becoming gas exporters, the problematic Israeli-Lebanese and Cypriot-Turkish relationships have been further strained. At the same time, energy cooperation has been the driving force behind the nascent Greek-Cypriot-Israeli partnership, manifested in rapidly growing defense and economic cooperation. Clearly, the development of energy resources and their transportation will have far-reaching geopolitical implications for the Eastern Mediterranean and its nations.


The Strategic Significance of the Gas Reserves

Natural gas is the fastest growing source of energy in the world, currently accounting for 22 percent of total global energy consumption.[2] It is both affordable and more environmentally friendly than other commercially feasible options, resulting in an increasing demand even in an era of dropping oil prices. That demand seems likely to be met in large part by the newly discovered gas reserves of the Eastern Mediterranean.

Israel has the potential to become an important regional producer of liquefied natural gas. Its Tamar field, with estimated reserves of 9.7 trillion cubic feet (tcf), came online in 2013 while its Leviathan gas field (above), with a potential of 16 tcf, is slated to be ready for production in 2017.

Israel, for one, has the potential to become an important regional producer.[3] Its Tamar field was confirmed to have estimated reserves of 9.7 tcf while its Leviathan gas field has the potential of producing up to 16 tcf.

Meanwhile, in November 2011, U.S.-based Noble Energy announced a major gas discovery south of Cyprus: The Aphrodite field was estimated to contain 7 tcf. In February 2013, a seismic survey south of Crete indicated that rich hydrocarbon resources may soon be found in Greek waters. Most recently, the Italian company Eni announced the discovery of a huge gas field off the coast of Egypt.

For reasons of geographical proximity, these Mediterranean energy resources concern first and foremost the European Union—the world’s third largest energy consumer behind China and the United States.[9] While oil is still the dominant fuel, accounting for 33.8 percent of total EU energy consumption, natural gas comes in second at 23.4 percent.[10] The Eastern Mediterranean gas reserves have three distinct advantages for European governments (and companies) and are thus viewed by them as a strategic priority. First, due to their smaller sizes and populations, the needs of Israel and Cyprus are relatively low and most of their gas could be exported. Second, Eastern Mediterranean gas could partly cover Europe’s energy needs and thereby decrease its dependence on an increasingly volatile Russia. Finally, since both Israel and Cyprus lack the capital and the offshore drilling technology to develop gas reserves on their own, foreign energy companies have identified them as investment opportunities that could generate significant financial returns.

As the Middle East implodes, security of energy supply has become an important policy objective for the EU. Indeed, there is a consensus among European governments that new initiatives are needed to address energy challenges. The EU is already directly involved to some extent in Eastern Mediterranean energy affairs because Greece and Cyprus are member states while Turkey is a candidate for membership and has a customs union with the EU. Although the governments of the EU and Israel are often at odds politically, economic relations between Jerusalem and Brussels are close and multifaceted.

The development of Israeli and Cypriot gas fields could help strengthen Europe’s energy security. Currently, European countries import liquefied natural gas (LNG) from politically unstable countries such as Nigeria and Algeria. But the Eastern Mediterranean could serve as a third gas “corridor” for Europe, alongside Russian gas and the southeast European pipelines for Azeri gas. The Italian Eni company, the British Premier Oil, and the Dutch Oranje-Nassau Energie have clearly shown interest by bidding in the second round of licensing for natural gas exploration in the Cypriot exclusive economic zone (EEZ),[11] a sea zone prescribed by the United
Nations over which a state has special rights.

The U.S. administration views Eastern Mediterranean gas as an alternative source for its European allies who depend heavily on Russian supplies.

Given the prominence of the Middle East for U.S. energy policy, it is hardly surprising that the gas finds in Israel and Cyprus have drawn Washington’s attention as well. Although the U.S. is likely to become the largest gas producer in the world as a result of increased use of shale gas, the administration views Eastern Mediterranean gas as an alternative source for its European allies who depend heavily on Russian supplies.[12] Within the private sector, the American company, Noble Energy, has played a leading role in the exploration process; it has a 40 percent stake in the Leviathan fields, a 36 percent stake in Tamar, and a 70 percent stake in Aphrodite.

Not surprisingly, these discoveries have attracted Moscow’s interest as well due to a potential, adverse impact on its gas exports to European markets. Russian energy companies, which often act as the Kremlin’s long-arm, are particularly active in the region. In February 2013, for example, Gazprom signed a 20-year deal with the Israeli Levant LNG Marketing Corporation to purchase liquefied natural gas exclusively from the Tamar field.[13] Then in December 2013, the Russian company SoyuzNefteGas signed an agreement with the Assad regime to explore part of Syria’s exclusive economic zone. One month later Putin signed an investment agreement with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas to develop gas fields off the Gaza Strip.[14]


Warming Israeli-Greek Relations

Despite past support for the Palestinians, newly-elected Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras (left) of the left-wing SYRIZA party, here with Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu, has sought to strengthen ties with the Jewish state. Greece’s location makes it a natural bridge between the energy-rich Eastern Mediterranean and energy-consuming Europe while Israel is now poised to become a major natural gas producer. Thus, Greece and Israel share significant energy interests.

Energy considerations have a long history of influencing the course of relations between states, and the new gas discoveries are no exception to this rule, affecting Israel’s relations with both Greece and Cyprus.

Greek-Israeli relations have been frosty for decades. The postwar Greek governments typically followed a pro-Arab foreign policy in order to protect the large Greek community in Egypt, secure Arab support on the Cyprus dispute in the United Nations, and maintain access to cheap Arab oil.[15] While there was de facto recognition of the Jewish State in 1949, legal recognition needed to wait until 1990 under the right-wing Mitsotakis government. But the formation of a Turkish-Israeli strategic partnership in the mid-1990s provoked a strong backlash with Athens reverting to its pro-Arab policy.[16]

This policy, too, has changed with the rise of Recep Tayyip Erdoan and his Islamist Justice and Development Party (Adalet ve Kalk?nma Partisi, AKP) in Turkey since the early 2000s. With Athens alarmed by Ankara’s growing regional assertiveness, and Jerusalem disturbed by the new regime’s fiercely anti-Israel approach, Greek-Israeli relations improved rapidly with the two countries signing a string of agreements in the fields of security, energy, trade, and tourism, and exchanging official visits at the ministerial, presidential, and prime-ministerial levels.[17] In March 2012, the air-naval exercise Noble Dina, involving U.S., Israeli, and Greek forces, was conducted in the Aegean Sea while, a month later, a joint Greek-Israeli air exercise was held in central Greece. Most recently, Minister of Defense Panos Kammenos stated that “[Greek] defense planning should take into account friends and allies who seek defense cooperation in the region. And I clearly mean eastward toward Israel.”[18]

Athens’s new Israel policy has been largely unaffected by the frequent change of governments in recent years. The last three prime ministers before the current one—George Papandreou (2009-11), Loukas Papadimos (2011-12), and Antonis Samaras (2012-15)—all met with Israeli officials and concluded agreements, all the more striking given the political and ideological differences among them: Papandreou is a moderate, left-of-center politician; Papadimos is known as a liberal technocrat, and Samaras, a right-wing politician.

In the wake of the economic crisis that has roiled domestic Greek politics and the austerity measures that the EU has sought to impose on Athens, Greeks took to the polls in January 2015 and brought to power the left-wing SYRIZA (Greek acronym of the Coalition of the Radical Left) party, in coalition with the small, right-wing party, the Independent Greeks. This caused considerable alarm in Jerusalem as many senior SYRIZA officials have strong pro-Palestinian sympathies: European Member of Parliament Sofia Sakorafa, for one, is a self-proclaimed friend of Hamas while Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has participated in pro-Palestinian rallies. In late December 2015, the Greek parliament passed a non-binding resolution recommending recognition of “Palestine” as a state.

And yet, the SYRIZA-led government has not distanced itself from Jerusalem. Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias identified Turkey as a source of threats[19] while Minister of Defense Kammenos, leader of the Independent Greeks, harbors strong pro-U.S. and pro-Israeli views.[20] In late November 2015, Tsipras visited Israel and, yet again, on January 27, 2016, together with six members of his cabinet when they held a joint meeting with the Israeli government.[21] So it seems likely that the Greek-Israeli partnership will continue.

Athens is seeking bids for an Eastern Mediterranean pipeline to carry Israeli and Cypriot gas to Europe.

Beyond common concerns about Turkey’s intentions, Athens and Jerusalem share significant energy interests. Both countries want to implement the 1982 U.N. Convention of the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) to facilitate the exploration and exploitation of the seabed;[22] and both maintain that the Eastern Mediterranean could be unilaterally developed through its division into exclusive economic zones of 200 nautical miles. In contrast, Ankara has not signed on to UNCLOS and favors a settlement in the Aegean and the Eastern Mediterranean that would take perceived Turkish interests into greater account.

Moreover, Greece’s location makes it a natural bridge between the energy-rich Eastern Mediterranean, including Israeli fields, and energy-consuming Europe, and Greeks see the country as a hub for bringing Eastern Mediterranean gas to European markets. In March 2014, Athens announced an international tender for a feasibility study of the Eastern Mediterranean pipeline to carry Israeli and Cypriot gas to Europe via Crete and the mainland.[23] While the proposed pipeline would be rather expensive and pass through disputed waters, Russian intervention in the Crimea and eastern Ukraine has given new momentum to the project as the EU looks for alternative sources of natural gas.[24] The European Commission has included the proposed pipeline in its list of “Projects of Common Interests” that could receive financial support.[25]

If Jerusalem and Nicosia decide to opt for liquefaction of their gas resources, then Greek-owned shipping could also play an important role in transporting liquid gas to the international market. During his visit to Israel in November 2015, Tsipras stated,

One of the main issues in our discussions today was [sic] the opportunities arising in the fields of energy in the Eastern Mediterranean … We are examining ways to cooperate in research, drilling, and the transportation of gas from Israel to Europe.[26]

While energy is not the sole factor contributing to the improvement of bilateral relations, it has certainly played a crucial role in the convergence of Greek and Israeli interests in the Eastern Mediterranean.
Jerusalem and Nicosia

The development and exploitation of Eastern Mediterranean energy resources have also given a boost to Israeli-Cypriot relations. Despite geographical proximity, the two countries have largely ignored each other for years. For most Israelis, Cyprus is either the site where Holocaust survivors were forcibly interned by the British (1946-49) as they sought refuge in mandatory Palestine or the closest place where couples unable or unwilling to contract a religious marriage in Israel are able to enter into a civil marriage.

For its part, Nicosia traditionally took a pro-Arab line in diplomatic settings that differed little from neighboring Greece; and just like in Greece, the AKP-induced chill in Turkish-Israeli relations had a warming effect on Cypriot-Israeli relations. In March 2011, Israeli president Shimon Peres hosted his Cypriot counterpart, President Demetris Christofias, who reciprocated this hospitality in November. Both sides came to view each other as potential counterbalances to Turkey’s presence in the Eastern Mediterranean. Cypriot defense minister Dimitris Iliadis signed an agreement on the “Mutual Protection of Confidential Information” in January 2012 with his Israeli counterpart, Ehud Barak,[27] and a month later, Netanyahu paid a visit to Nicosia, the first ever by an Israeli prime minister, to discuss energy and defense cooperation. According to press reports, the Cypriot navy is planning to buy two Israeli-manufactured hi-tech offshore patrol vessels in order to patrol its exclusive economic zone.[28]

The energy dimension of the nascent Israeli-Cypriot relationship is particularly strong. Nicosia has announced plans to build a liquefied natural gas plant in its Vassilikos industrial area to process its gas. Since the current gas finds are not large enough to make this multi-billion dollar project economically viable, Nicosia has suggested to Jerusalem that the two countries pool their gas reserves to form a single producing unit. In 2013, Minister of Energy Yiorgos Lakkotrypis declared:

[W]e feel that through a close collaboration with Israel, we will be able to be a major player in the world energy market, something that might be too hard for each country to achieve individually.[29]

The future of the Israeli-Cypriot partnership will also depend on the export route of the Israeli gas. Jerusalem has examined a number of options for the optimum utilization of its gas fields but probably prefers to export gas westward in order to improve its relations with European countries.[30] From the Israeli perspective, energy cooperation with Greece and Cyprus could build a new web of alliances with the EU that would help Jerusalem to break out of its increasing geopolitical isolation. The Netanyahu government even lobbied on behalf of Greece in Europe and the United States for an economy recovery plan.[31] In late March 2012, during an energy conference in Athens, then Israeli minister of energy Uzi Landau spoke of “an axis of Greece, Cyprus, and Israel and possibly more countries, which will offer an anchor of stability.”[32] In August 2013, the three countries signed an agreement to install a 2000-megawatt underwater electric cable to connect their power grids—the first of its kind to connect Europe and Asia.[33]

Most recently, in December 2015, a series of trilateral consultations was held in Jerusalem in which a set of issues were taken up and discussed, with energy development topping the list. The parties agreed to further promote trilateral consultations and to meet on a regular basis, beginning with a meeting of their heads of state in Nicosia on January 28, 2016.[34]
Lebanon, Cyprus, and Israel

While revenues from the sale of oil and gas can bring wealth and prosperity to societies, they also have the potential to upset regional balances of power. In the Eastern Mediterranean, where countries have been locked in conflicts over territory for decades, gas discoveries seem likely to increase the stakes. Contested ownership of gas resources has, in fact, destabilized already strained relations between Israel and Lebanon as well as between Turkey and Cyprus.

Although a delimitation agreement between Lebanon and Cyprus was signed in January 2007, the Lebanese parliament has refused to ratify it to date, and Hezbollah declared the agreement

null and void because the Lebanese side that signed it had its official capacity revoked … The sea, like land, is a one hundred percent legitimate Lebanese right, and we shall defend it with all our strength.[35]

When in December 2010, Nicosia signed an agreement with Jerusalem demarcating their maritime borders, Beirut accused both states of violating its maritime rights.[36] The following year, in a televised speech marking the fifth anniversary of Hezbollah’s 2006 war with Israel, the group’s secretary general, Hassan Nasrallah, threatened Israel with a strike against its energy infrastructure:

We warn Israel against extending its hands to this area and steal[ing] Lebanon’s resources from Lebanese waters … Whoever harms our future oil facilities in Lebanese territorial waters, its own facilities will be targeted.[37]

These are not hollow threats. Hezbollah has the military capacity to attack Israel’s offshore gas platforms should it choose to do so. The 2006 war revealed that its vast arsenal of missiles and rockets includes Chinese-manufactured C-802 anti-ship missiles (range 75 miles) and Zelzal-2 rockets (range 125-250 miles).[38] For its part, the Israeli navy is acquiring at least two 1,200-ton patrol-class vessels, along with additional unmanned aerial vehicles and missile-armed, remote-control gunboats.[39] In this way, Jerusalem seeks to deter possible raids from Lebanon. The protection and exploitation of gas reserves is thus seen by the Israeli leadership as a matter of national security.
Turkey, Cyprus, and Israel

The relationship between Turkey and Cyprus is yet another example of a long-standing conflict with few prospects of imminent resolution, and the AKP’s rise to power has only exacerbated the situation.

Turkey’s strongman, Islamist Recep Tayyip Erdo?an (left), seen here at the World Economic Forum, Davos, in 2009, publicly berating Israel’s then-president Shimon Peres for alleged Israeli misconduct, has managed to alienate—and alarm—Eastern Mediterranean neighbors with frequent outbursts and occasional saberrattling. This has led Cyprus, Israel, and Greece, the area’s potential energy producers and transporters, to seek closer ties that would have been inconceivable a decade ago.

In Erdogan’s increasingly paranoid worldview, the possible economic and diplomatic revival of Cyprus as a result of gas development poses a clear and present danger to Turkish national security. In September 2011, Ankara signed a continental shelf delimitation agreement with the “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus,” and shortly afterward, the Turkish state oil company (TPAO) started its first drilling near the occupied Cypriot city of Famagusta.

While Ankara has invited foreign companies to explore its Mediterranean coast for energy resources, only the Royal Dutch/Shell has thus far expressed interest.[40] In late October 2014, a Turkish research vessel entered the Cypriot EEZ to collect seismic data. Nicosia viewed this as a violation of its sovereign rights, since it had already licensed parts of its EEZ to foreign energy companies.[41]

Israeli and Turkish officials have recently concluded secret talks about bilateral reconciliation.

The energy factor has also internationalized the “Cyprus Problem,” creating a new point of friction between Ankara and Jerusalem. The Turkish government did not anticipate the rapid improvement of Israeli-Cypriot relations and fears that the bilateral cooperation will not be limited to the energy sector. Even before this development, Erdo?an had threatened Jerusalem over its gas exploration initiatives, warning that while “Israel has begun to declare that it has the right to act in exclusive economic areas in the Mediterranean…[it] will not be owner of this right.”[42] For its part Jerusalem has not remained passive, requesting Cypriot permission for the use of the Paphos air base by Israeli fighter jets.[43] In early November 2015, the two countries conducted the second Onisilos-Gideon military exercise in the western part of the island.

The internationalization of the “Cyprus Problem” extends well beyond the region. Chinese companies have already bid for gas exploration and liquefaction projects in the Eastern Mediterranean and are negotiating an agreement with the Cypriot government to purchase LNG by 2020. Consequently, Beijing has closely followed the Cyprus peace negotiations.[44]


An Engine for Conflict Resolution?

The Eastern Mediterranean energy boom has helped warm traditionally chilly bilateral relationships between some countries while aggravating already strained relations with others. Can it also become an engine for promoting regional cooperation?

While the last few years have seen a great deal of saberrattling out of Ankara, the likelihood of a military confrontation between Cyprus and Turkey, or Israel and Turkey, seems small. The construction and operation of energy infrastructure (e.g., pipelines, refineries, natural gas plants) is a costly business requiring political stability, and Ankara may not wish to undermine its role as an energy transit state. Indeed, Israeli and Turkish officials have recently concluded secret talks about bilateral reconciliation that covered, among other items, the laying of a natural gas pipeline between the two countries. This would allow Turkey to reduce its energy dependence on Russia (relations with which have worsened following the downing of a Russian fighter jet in November 2015) as well as to open up a new market for Israel’s natural gas projects off its coast.[45]

In addition, Ankara has offered to build a “peace pipeline” to transport Cypriot gas to European markets via Turkish territory.[46] Nicosia has not rejected this plan provided there is a resolution to the “Cyprus problem,” including the reunification of the island and the withdrawal of Turkish troops from the northern section. This bolsters the argument, advanced by the U.S. State Department among others, that gas profits could contribute to the island’s unification as both Greek and Turkish Cypriots would have major additional incentives to accept a peace deal.[47] It is no coincidence that the special representative for regional energy cooperation for the newly-established State Department’s Bureau of Energy Resources is based in the U.S. embassy in Nicosia.[48]

This optimism is rooted in the long-held, liberal view of international relations positing that economic benefits resulting from energy transportation can help resolve political conflicts. Yet if history offers any guide, an economic boom attending hydrocarbons exports can just as often lead to ethnocentrism and economic nationalism as to goodwill and shared prosperity. The production of large quantities of oil and natural gas in the North Sea, for example, has strengthened Scottish nationalism and may eventually lead to Scotland’s secession from the United Kingdom. Likewise, the Clinton administration’s promotion of a “peace pipeline” to carry Azerbaijani oil through the contested area of Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia to the Turkish market failed because Armenia did not wish to make the necessary territorial concessions to Azerbaijan.[49] Then again, in 2004, Georgian leader Mikheil Saakashvili floated the construction of a Russian-Georgian oil pipeline through the breakaway republic of Abkhazia to facilitate a solution to the Georgian-Abkhazian conflict, only to be rebuffed by both Russia and Abkhazia.[50] The proposed Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline had the same fate in 2009 when the Indian government announced its decision not to participate in the project for security reasons.[51]

Evidently, such pipelines have failed to materialize because states were neither willing to surrender territory nor comfortable depending on hostile neighbors in return for possible economic benefits. Those who envisage the prospect of a “peace pipeline” positively affecting the current negotiations between Greek and Turkish Cypriots for the resolution of the “Cyprus Problem” may find themselves seriously disappointed.
Conclusion

The new substantial gas discoveries in the Eastern Mediterranean are rapidly transforming regional orientations. Energy interests have brought Israel closer than ever diplomatically to Cyprus and Greece and have played an important role in the apparent thaw in Israeli-Turkish relations. At the same time, energy has generated new tensions between producing countries and countries that feel excluded from the regional natural gas development opportunities. Relations between Turkey and Cyprus as well as between Israel and Lebanon, poor at best, have come under further strain.

U.S. and European interests will be well served by the emergence of the Eastern Mediterranean as a gas-exporting region.

Undoubtedly, U.S. and European interests will be well served by the emergence of the Eastern Mediterranean as a gas-exporting region. However, this will only be possible if there is a resolution to the ownership issue that can accelerate the pace of private investment in the regional gas industry.[52]

Without a region-wide legal agreement, energy companies may not be able to secure the necessary funding to develop and implement gas projects. Washington, which enjoys good relations with all Eastern Mediterranean countries, could act as a broker in hosting multilateral regional talks to defuse tensions and promote mutual understanding between countries in the region.

Emmanuel Karagiannis is senior lecturer at the department of defense studies, King’s College, London, and author of Political Islam in Central Asia (Routledge, 2010) and Energy and Security in the Caucasus (Routledge, 2002).

[1] “Natural Gas Potential Assessed in Eastern Mediterranean,” U.S. Geological Survey, Office of Communication, Reston, Va., Aug. 4, 2010.

[2] “International Energy Outlook 2013,” Office of Communications, U.S. Energy Information Administration, Washington, D.C., July 25, 2013.

[3] Brenda Shaffer, “Israel—New Natural Gas Producer in the Mediterranean,” Energy Policy, Sept. 2011, pp. 5379-87.

[4] Haaretz (Tel Aviv), Aug. 13, 2009.

[5] “Israel and its natural resources: What a gas!” The Economist, Nov. 11, 2010.

[6] Cyprus Mail (Nicosia), Oct. 4, 2013.

[7] Kathimerini (Neo Faliro, Gr.), Feb. 27, 2013.

[8] BBC News, Aug. 20, 2015.

[9] “Total Energy Consumption, 2014,” Global Energy Statistical Yearbook 2015, Enerdata, Grenoble, accessed Jan. 15, 2016.

[10] EU Energy Market in 2014 (Luxemburg: Publication House of the European Union, The European Commission, 2014), p. 6.

[11] “Second Licensing Round—Hydrocarbons Exploration,” Ministry of Energy, Commerce, Industry and Tourism, Republic of Cyprus, Nicosia, accessed Dec. 29, 2015.

[12] Middle East Online (London), Aug. 6, 2013.

[13] RIA Novosti (Moscow), Feb. 26, 2013.

[14] Ed Blanche, “Enter the Bear,” The Middle East, Mar. 2014, pp. 29-30.

[15] John Sakkas, “Greece, Arab World and Israel: A Troubled Triangle in the Eastern Mediterranean,” Defensor Pacis (Athens), Mar. 2007, pp. 95-104.

[16] Amikam Nachmani, Turkey-Israel Strategic Partnership (Raman Gan: The BESA Center for Strategic Studies, 1999), pp. 1-10.

[17] The Washington Post, Oct. 21, 2010.

[18] The Times of Israel (Jerusalem), Feb. 11, 2015.

[19] Sigma Live (Nicosia), Nov. 30, 2015.

[20] The Jerusalem Post, July 19, 2015.

[21] Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, “Israel and Greece hold Government-to-Government Consultation,” Jan. 27, 2016.

[22] “Israel’s Candidature for IMO Council 2014-2015,” Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Sept. 9, 2013.

[23] Reuters, Aug. 10, 2014.

[24] New Europe (Brussels), Mar. 11, 2014.

[25] “Projects of Common Interests,” The European Commission, Brussels, Oct. 14, 2013.

[26] Kathimerini, Nov. 25, 2015.

[27] Today’s Zaman (Istanbul), July 3, 2012.

[28] Cyprus Mail, Dec. 18, 2013.

[29] Hürriyet (Istanbul), May 9, 2013.

[30] Simon Henderson, “Natural Gas Export Options for Israel and Cyprus,” German Marshall Fund of the United States, Washington, D.C., Sept. 10, 2013.

[31] The Jerusalem Post, Mar. 6, 2011.

[32] Kathimerini, Mar. 28, 2012.

[33] Cyprus Mail, Aug. 9, 2013.

[34] Joint Statement: Second Political Consultations at the level of Secretaries General of Israel, Greece and Cyprus MFA’s—17/12/2015, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Nicosia.

[35] Al-Akhbar (Beirut), Oct. 27, 2012.

[36] YNet News (Tel Aviv), July 10, 2011.

[37] The Daily Star (Beirut), July 27, 2011.

[38] BBC News, Aug. 3, 2006.

[39] United Press International, May 23, 2013.

[40] Hürriyet, Nov. 23, 2011.

[41] The Guardian (London), Nov. 10, 2014.

[42] Simon Henderson, “Turkey’s Threat to Israel’s New Gas Riches,” Policywatch, no. 1844, The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Washington, D.C., Sept. 13, 2011.

[43] The Jerusalem Post, July 2, 2012.

[44] Li Guofu, “China: An Emerging Power in the Mediterranean,” in Daniela Huber, et al., eds., The Mediterranean Region in a Multipolar World: Evolving Relations with Russia, China, India, Brazil, (Washington, D.C.: The German Marshall Fund of the United States, 2013), pp. 11-9; “Will Cyprus Become a New Investment Heaven for China?” China Radio International (Beijing), Oct. 31, 2013; Chinese ambassador Liu Xinsheng, interview, Cyprus Mail, Jan. 5, 2015.

[45] The Wall Street Journal, Dec. 18, 2015.

[46] Hürriyet, May 27, 2013.

[47] Sigma Live, July 24, 2015; Ethnos (Athens), Mar. 29, 2012.

[48] Cyprus Mail, Feb. 9, 2012.

[49] John J. Maresca, “A Peace Pipeline to End the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict,” Caspian Crossroads, Winter 1995, pp. 17-8.

[50] George Anjaparidze and Cory Welt, “A Georgian-Russian Pipeline: For Peace or Profit?” Eurasianet (New York), Mar. 8, 2004.

[51] The Hindu (Chennai, Madras), Nov. 25, 2013.

[52] James Stocker, “No EEZ Solution: The Politics of Oil and Gas in the Eastern Mediterranean,” Middle East Journal, Autumn 2012, pp. 579-97.

###

Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on October 26th, 2015
by Pincas Jawetz (PJ@SustainabiliTank.com)

Convening from 19-23 October 2015, the Bonn Climate Change Conference was the last in a series of meetings under the UNFCCC in preparation for the 21st session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 21), scheduled to take place in November-December 2015, in Paris, France.

In their scenario note  ADP.2015.7.InformalNote), ADP Co-Chairs Ahmed Djoghlaf (Algeria) and Daniel Reifsnyder (US) identified the objective of the session as intensifying the pace of text-based negotiations among Parties, with a view to preparing the draft Paris climate package for presentation at the opening of COP 21.

At the end of the week-long meeting, Parties issued two non-papers, one containing draft agreement text and draft decision text related to the agreement (workstream 1 of ADP’s mandate) and the other containing draft decision text related to pre-2020 ambition (workstream 2).

The full and best reporting of what went on in Bonn can be found at: mail.google.com/mail/u/1/#search…
Summary of the Bonn Climate Change Conference, 19-23 October 2015, Bonn, Germany.

Going over the Summary it becomes clear – if it was not before – that there will be no UN document ready for the Paris meeting and that UN bickering will continue – be assured that some Arab State will find space to bash Israel. All what the UN can do is to bring the problem to the public’s attention, and it is left to the public to push their governments to make a commitment, that is in those countries where a public opinion counts.

Paris COP 21 of the UNFCCC will not be a wash. This thanks to the fact that over 150 countries have already presented their commitments to act on Climate Change. Take for instance the US where by now commitments from companies that are joining the American Business Act on Climate Pledge, bringing the total number of US companies that have signed onto the pledge to 81. Together, these companies have operations in all 50 US states, employ over nine million people, represent more than US$3 trillion in annual revenue, and have a combined market capitalization of over US$5 trillion.

And yes, in the EU, Japan, Brazil there are similarly industry commitments – pushed by the public. In China and India as well, the public pushes for government action on pollution of any kind and this includes a better understanding of Climate Change disasters.

In a more general way see the The International Energy Agency’s evaluation of the situation:

The IEA’s “Energy and Climate Change: World Energy Outlook” tells us that full implementation of the intended nationally determined contributions (INDCs) submitted to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) by mid-October would decouple power sector emissions from electricity demand but would still lead to an average global temperature increase of around 2.7°C, which falls short of the declared “major course correction necessary” to stay below an average global temperature rise of 2°C.

The Outlook Special Briefing for COP21′ analyzes INDCs submitted by more than 150 countries, accounting for close to 90% of global energy-related greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and assesses in particular their energy sector-related impacts.

According to the briefing, given that energy production and use account for two-thirds of global GHG emissions, “actions in the energy sector can make or break efforts to achieve the world’s agreed climate goal” of staying below a 2°C temperature rise.

The briefing examines what the energy sector will look like globally in 2030 if all INDCs are fully implemented, and whether this will place the energy sector on a path consistent with the 2°C goal.

If implemented, the INDCs will lead to an improvement of global energy intensity at a rate almost three times faster than the rate since 2000. Emissions will either plateau or decline by 2030 in countries accounting for more than half of global economic activity at present. Of new electricity generation through 2030, 70% will be low-carbon.

The IEA estimates that the full implementation of the INDCs will require US$13.5 trillion in investments in energy efficiency and low-carbon technologies through 2030.

And excerpted from a bright blogger for Huffington Post (UK):

Over the past three decades annual climate talks under the United Nations banner have become part of the Zeitgeist of a large movement. They draw government officials, think tanks, civil society, journalists and the occasional hipsters into negotiations over which ride trillions of dollars and our future well-being on Earth.

Expect a lot of drama at the next instalment, taking place in Paris in late November – early December.

Heads of state will make grandiose pronouncements.

Negotiators from 190 countries will huddle, whisper, argue over words for days and bargain in stuffy rooms in a style that would make bazaar traders proud.

Civil society will push for strong outcomes, prod for more climate finance, demonstrate occasionally (a welcome activity in Paris), express anger followed by frustration before going home let down again.

The press and the public will turn an inattentive, occasional eye to the 45,000 people gathered in Paris, then turn their attention away.

The private sector, two-thirds of global GDP and employment, will be largely absent (it is not formally represented in the negotiations) and mostly ignore the whole thing.

At the end, governments will cobble together a weak agreement to set emission reduction targets. Some will declare a major win, others will accurately note that we need to do much, much more. Then everyone will go home in time for the Christmas holidays and most of COP21, as the Paris UN gathering is known, will be forgotten.

Deeply buried in this cacophony are two emerging themes with the potential to significantly impact the private sector.

National Low Carbon Business Plans

A Paris climate agreement, no matter how wobbly, will involve more than 150 countries publishing mini business plans for their economy describing what each will do to help limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius by 2030. In typical UN jargon, these low-carbon business plans are known as INDCs, short for “intended nationally determined contribution.”

The INDCs are the driving force of COP21 and will become the development pathway for all countries. Weak and general at first, they will become stronger and more detailed over time.

Two major consequences will follow.

First, multi-trillion dollar investment opportunities for the private sector will be clearly delineated, while others, far from where the country is heading, should be avoided.

For example, India’s business plan shows it wants to increase its clean energy generation capacity from 36 GW today to a whopping 320 GW by 2030. Similarly, China wants an extra 775 GW of renewables by 2030, on top of its existing 425 GW, the US wants to add an extra 179 GW and the EU another 380 GW.

Taken together, that’s double the world’s current renewable energy installed capacity (excluding hydropower) in investment potential, all of which comes with strong institutional support now that it is anchored in an INDC.

Second, the breadth of these INDCs means that within a few years, all finance will be climate finance; and all bonds will be green bonds.

We already know the commitments in Paris are nowhere near enough: The US, Europe, and China alone use up the world’s entire carbon budget by 2030. Therefore it’s reasonable to expect that they will get tougher, tighter and more precise with time because countries will be under increasing pressure to deliver, as climate change hits all of us harder and harder.

Post-2020 (the INDCs will most probably be reviewed in five year cycles), there is therefore likely to be a “wall of shame” hitting anyone who invests in non-INDC compatible, non-climate friendly technologies. In fact perhaps we will see “black bonds” emerge, highlighting investments that are increasingly unacceptable and at risk of being stranded because of their high emissions.

INDCs will make green investments even more mainstream than they are today and ensure that dirty investments are avoided on a long-term scale.

Loss and Damage

“Loss and damage,” another major theme in Paris, could have enormous financial consequences.

“Loss and damage” refers to the need to account for the impact of climate change, for example on a small island nation losing territory because of sea level rise. An element of climate negotiations for several years, its significance could be enormous for insurance companies, reinsurers, financial analysts and the markets.

Governments will continue to argue whether loss and damage is a euphemism for liability and compensation. Richer nations will end up ensuring that the answer is vague, and that therefore they can’t be held liable and won’t have to pay compensation.

However, the door is likely to be kept open for clever lawyers to use the “loss and damage” aspects of a climate change agreement to launch claims against companies: Victims of climate change will aggressively try to go after corporate polluters for compensation, particularly the likes of Exxon, Shell and BP who have known about climate change for decades but either buried the evidence or ignored it to accumulate profits at the expense of our collective health and well-being.

The results of these claims could be shocking for many. The Dutch proved earlier this year that climate liability lawsuits can stand up in courts.

The business and the financial world will be markedly absent from Paris, but should closely monitor the evolution of INDCs and of “loss and damage” in Paris. These could upend how they currently do business.

From the above, we conclude that COP 21 of the UNFCCC in Paris will have picked up from where COP 15 of Copenhagen left the Climate Change issue. Copenhagen was where the Kyoto stillborn Protocol was buried by Obama bringing for the first time the Chinese on board, now it will be the Obama-Xi alliance that will bring most true Nations on board. And let us not forget Pope Francis and the ethics of “we are the creation’s wardens.” This resonates very well with much of the public and helps the businesses that will move green.

We will not go to the opening of the Paris meeting, but will be there for the end – this so me can evaluate the outcome which promises to have practical value.

###

Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on September 17th, 2015
by Pincas Jawetz (PJ@SustainabiliTank.com)

Pope Francis’ Visit to the United States

This coming week, Pope Francis will visit the United States. During this momentous visit, he will address a joint session of Congress on September 24 at 10am, as well as the United Nations General Assembly on September 25 at 8:30am. In addition to visiting Washington D.C. and New York City, he will also visit Philadelphia.

The Pope’s visit is a very important event in support of the encyclical on the environment, “Praised Be: On the Care of Our Common Home” (Laudato Si’), in which Pope Francis highlights issues of “integral ecology,” namely concerns for people and the planet. There are a number of resources on the Forum site  fore.yale.edu) to provide you more information on the encyclical.

For the Pope’s schedule, visit:

 www.popefrancisvisit.com/official…

 www.usatoday.com/story/news/natio…

Many events are being organized throughout the United States in light of the Pope’s visit. For details, please see below.

We encourage you to download a free Pope Francis’ Encyclical Climate Action Kit that Interfaith Power & Light has put together in conjunction with the Catholic Climate Covenant.

You can download it here: fore.yale.edu

###

Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on July 21st, 2015
by Pincas Jawetz (PJ@SustainabiliTank.com)


De Blasio, After Diverted Flight, Joins Climate Conference at Vatican

By MICHAEL M. GRYNBAUM – JULY 21, 2015 for the New York Times

VATICAN CITY — Leaders from around the globe, settled in their seats as a Vatican official approached the lectern.
A rare gathering of mayors, beckoned to this holy city by Pope Francis from as far as away as Johannesburg, was about to begin.

One participant, however, was missing: the mayor of New York. Scheduled to arrive in Rome on Tuesday morning for a two-day conference on climate change, Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York instead found himself in Milan, thanks to fog that forced a brief diversion of his overnight flight from Kennedy Airport.

The mayor arrived at the Vatican about 80 minutes after his scheduled speaking slot. When he finally did speak there, he was unfazed, delivering an impassioned charge to his fellow mayors to resist “powerful corporate interests” and to aggressively battle climate change.

“Is it not the definition of insanity to propagate corporate policies and consumer habits that hasten the destruction of the earth?” Mr. de Blasio said.

He pledged that his administration would work to reduce the city’s carbon emissions by 40 percent by 2030.

The Vatican event is part of an effort by Francis to focus world leaders on environmental causes, and mayors from across Europe, South America, and the United States were in attendance. The pope had been expected to address the gathering on Tuesday morning, but his appearance was changed to take place in the afternoon — a stroke of good fortune for Mr. de Blasio.

The mayor has taken pains recently to fight his reputation for tardiness, arriving more promptly at events in New York. But the vagaries of international travel can be trickier than a traffic snag on the Brooklyn Bridge.

Mr. de Blasio, who is expected to be in Rome for less than 48 hours, opted for an overnight flight that was scheduled to arrive about two hours before he was due at the Vatican. (Aides to Mr. de Blasio, aware of criticism about his frequent travels, had emphasized last week that his Vatican visit — his fourth European excursion in a year — would be kept short.)

But his plans were foiled by Roman fog, according to an American Airlines spokesman, who said the pilot of the mayor’s flight “elected to divert to Milan as a precaution.” The flight continued on to Rome after about an hour’s delay, once the fog was “burned off by the increasingly warm sun,” the spokesman, Ian Bradley, said.

Mr. de Blasio was not the only person to miss a scheduled slot for speaking. Mayor Martin J. Walsh of Boston was present but Mayor Eduardo Paes of Rio de Janeiro sent an aide in his stead, citing unrest in his home country.

The gathering at the Vatican was prompted in part by a recent papal encyclical warning of the destructive effects of climate change. In his remarks, Mr. de Blasio said the encyclical “burns with urgency,” and he praised the pope, saying he had “awakened people across the globe to the dangers we face as a planet.”

“The encyclical is not a call to arms,” Mr. de Blasio said. “It is a call to sanity.”

Mr. de Blasio is scheduled to attend an official dinner at the Vatican on Tuesday evening and to speak again on Wednesday morning. The mayor is expected to leave for New York on Wednesday afternoon — weather permitting.

###

Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on June 29th, 2015
by Pincas Jawetz (PJ@SustainabiliTank.com)

Pope Francis’ Message on Climate Change Is Extraordinarily Important

By Robert Reich
Readers Supported News – June 28, 2015


Pope Frances’s message this week on global climate change is extraordinarily important (that it comes out the same week Donald Trump declared his candidacy exposes a human continuum extending from bombast and narcissism to grace and humility). The Pope finds morally deficient an economic system that degrades the environment and worsens inequality; links environmental decline to poverty; attributes it to the growing concentration of greenhouse gases brought on human activity; and rejects the idea that economic growth alone can solve the problem. No Pope in living memory has so poignantly and powerfully cast the problems of inequality and the environment in moral terms that everyone, Catholic and non-Catholic, can understand.

But I wish the Pope hadn’t rejected an important means of reducing carbon in the atmosphere: putting a price on it. By broadly condemning “market forces” the Pope suggests the answer is to give up on the market rather than reorganize it to meet human needs. In this respect he plays into the hands of those who see the fundamental choice as between the “market” and the people, when the real choice is between a market system organized for all people or one organized primarily for the rich.

###

Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on May 23rd, 2015
by Pincas Jawetz (PJ@SustainabiliTank.com)

From pro-American to pro-Russian? Nikola Gruevski as a political chameleon.
Vassilis Petsinis, 22 May 2015, openDemocracy, London

A former staunch ally of the US-led War on Terror, Macedonia PM Nikola Gruevski has gradually turned his country away from the west towards Russia – all the while keeping his neoconservative ideology intact.

Following the unrest in Kumanovo and the massive anti-government protests, FYR Macedonia has captivated the interest of the international press. The most recent mobilization has been the peak of a wave of discontent that commenced with the countrywide student protests some weeks ago. In the domestic front, opposition circles have issued a series of charges against the government led by the conservative VMRO-DPMNE such as: promotion of nepotism, unwillingness to combat corruption, illegitimate surveillance of political opponents and, on top of all, growing authoritarianism.

Meanwhile, political analysts have detected a certain rift in the relations between Skopje and the West which has resulted in the Macedonian government’s more decisive reorientation towards Moscow.

Russia has pledged its political support to Nikola Gruevski’s and the two sides have extended their cooperation in energy issues and other areas of economic concern. Without neglecting the crucial impact of shifting geopolitics, this brief piece mostly concentrates on VMRO-DPMNE’s, predominantly, neoconservative agenda under the leadership of Nikola Gruevski. It also sets in a comparative context how this neoconservative platform has remained intact despite the gradual readjustment of the state’s foreign policy from Euro-Atlantic institutions towards Moscow’s orbit of influence.

From one neocon to another:

In 2003, Nikola Gruevski succeeded Ljub?o Georgievski in the party’s leadership. An ambitious young politician back then, Gruevski’s main ambition was to centralize decision-making within VMRO-DPMNE and modernize the party’s structures.

The latter objective was achieved via the recruitment of a younger pool of cadres. Following a widespread trend all over Southeast Europe (e.g. Albania’s Edi Rama and Serbia’s Vuk Jeremi?), the party’s central committee and later the Cabinet of Ministers consisted of young, aspiring and, often, Western-educated individuals (e.g. the Foreign Minister between 2006 and 2011, Antonio Milošoski). Moreover, Gruevski maintained the central aspects of Georgievski’s strategy of rapprochement vis-à-vis the ethnic Albanian community.

Despite this, Gruevski’s term in office has been marked by the emphatic endorsement of Neo-Macedonism to the detriment of the modernist narratives over the Macedonian ethno-genesis in the nineteenth century. The adoption of Neo-Macedonism became further institutionalized through the endorsement of grandiose architectural projects, largely inspired by classical antiquity, which commenced in 2010.

On the domestic front, the Socialists/SDSM and other opposition circles accused the government of investing a disproportional percentage of the state’s budget on these projects. In foreign policy, the emphasis on Neo-Macedonism further complicated relations with the southern neighbour, Greece.

Since the early days of Nikola Gruevski’s term in office, the ‘new’ VMRO-DPMNE drew inspiration from the rather influential trend of neoconservatism among policymaking circles in the US. As it was the case with various other statesmen in Central and Southeast Europe (e.g. Romania’s Traian B?sescu), Nikola Gruevski underlined his firm commitment to Euro-Atlantic institutions and opted for the rapid liberalization of the economy along post-Keynesian lines.

Meanwhile, Gruevski constantly stressed his deep faith in God and highlighted the significance of Eastern Orthodoxy and its system of moral values as a fundamental pillar of the state’s identity. In the field of foreign policy, Nikola Gruevski soon emerged as a staunch supporter of George W. Bush’s policy-doctrine on the Middle East. Throughout the 2000s, FYR Macedonia had dispatched military personnel to Afghanistan and Iraq under the auspices of the US-led ‘Coalition of the Willing’.

The NATO summit in Bucharest (April 2-4, 2008) was a landmark. As a gesture of gratitude to its small Balkan ally, the US delegation elaborated possible ways to include FYR Macedonia in the NATO enlargement round irrespective of the state’s dispute with Greece. However, the Greek PM, Kostas Karamanlis, vetoed this proposal on the basis that any outstanding issues with the northern neighbour must be previously resolved in order for Greece to grant its assent.

The Greek veto was met with discontent in Washington and infuriated Skopje. Especially in the light of Karamanlis’ opening to Russia, Skopje-based policymakers and think-tanks did not simply charge Athens with ‘parochial and introverted nationalism’. They went a step further and accused Greece of acting as a ‘Trojan horse’ in Moscow’s service with the aim to destabilize NATO and sabotage its enlargement in Southeast Europe.

The pendulum shifts: Fluctuating geopolitics and disillusionment with the West

Barack Obama, who succeeded G.W. Bush to the US Presidency in 2009, watered down various aspects of his predecessor’s ‘hawkish’ foreign policy. Instead, the new administration in the White House opted for a doctrine of appeasement in regards to their regional competitors (e.g. Russia and Iran).

Meanwhile, the simultaneous advent of the economic crisis made European policymakers more introverted and reluctant to the prospects of the EU’s wider enlargement. With specific regard to FYR Macedonia, European policymakers and political analysts soon stroke a critical stance towards Nikola Gruevski and his apparatus. The main areas of concern were symptoms of nepotism and authoritarianism as well as accusations over the relentless propagation of ‘ethno-kitsch’.

This shifting landscape in global and regional politics had direct ramifications on the government circles in Skopje. Several commentators have argued that delaying the state’s accession to Euro-Atlantic institutions runs detrimental to FYR Macedonia’s stateness and it is largely to account for Skopje’s disillusionment with the West. From a more ‘ideological’ angle, though, the change of guard in the White House and the subsequent adoption of a new US foreign policy doctrine are not to be overlooked either.

In other words, Nikola Gruevski’s government has lost much of the patronage that it enjoyed during George W. Bush’s tenure in office. Moreover, we are currently experiencing the transition from a unipolar to a multipolar world order. The last few years have witnessed the consolidation of semi-authoritarian models of governance among emerging regional actors (e.g. Recep Tayyip Erdo?an in Turkey and Vladimir Putin in Russia). The latter development has encouraged the, if only subtle, admiration of certain statesmen throughout Central and Southeast Europe towards the above-mentioned models.

For instance, Hungary’s Viktor Orbán recently coined the concept of illiberal democracy. According to the Hungarian PM, ‘it is not an imperative that contemporary democracy must be structured along the ideological frame of Liberalism…there can be numerous other models of democracy in Europe, nowadays’. Moreover, Viktor Orbán has also positioned Hungary’s foreign policy more solidly within Russia’s orbit of influence.

In particular, both FIDESZ and VMRO-DPMNE converge along a common axis. Both are post-Communist parties that commenced their engagement in politics as, anti-establishment, umbrella-initiatives that hosted a wide range of conservative as well as liberal standpoints. However, in the long run, local adaptations of neoconservatism evolved into the dominant intra-party trend.

Nikola Gruevski and/or Viktor Orbán are not merely unhappy with the outlook(s) of Euro-Atlantic institutions on their respective states or the way(s) that their rule has been portrayed in the Western press. They have also isolated specific elements in Vladimir Putin’s leadership which they deem rather akin to their brand(s) of neoconservatism. These are, namely, Russia’s leader-centred and strong government, the promotion of national and Christian values, and the safeguarding of ‘naturally ascribed’ gender-roles.

Especially in the light of a multipolar international system, one might contend that the neoconservative, ideological, core in parties such as VMRO-DPMNE and/or FIDESZ has remained intact despite the, apparent, foreign policy readjustment towards Moscow.
What next? Skopje amidst political polarization and fears of ethnic radicalization

In addition to the decline of popular confidence, the government in Skopje may also have to face the challenge of resurgent ethnic radicalization. During the last couple of weeks, a militant group, allegedly consisting of ethnic Albanians, became active in the northern town of Kumanovo. The apparent resurgence of militant Albanian ethno-nationalism triggered a series of conspiracy theories.

Pro-government circles have hinted at the involvement of ‘foreign decision-making centres’ who are not particularly content with the bilateral cooperation between Russia and FYR Macedonia. In the other end of the spectrum, opposition circles have suspected the government of engineering the Kumanovo troubles in an attempt to play the card of ‘national unity’ as a last resort. A third assumption that has not been examined to an adequate extent is the possibility of a peculiar, yet amorphous, blend between Albanian ethno-nationalism and elements of Islamic fundamentalism along the lines of the ‘Chechen precedent’.

Russia, on its part, has been quick to point the finger for both the Kumanovo incidents and the anti-government mobilization at the West. The US and the EU have been accused of orchestrating one more ‘Maidan-style’ coup with the aim to destabilize the government and obstruct cooperation with Russia in energy issues.

Russia Today and other pro-Kremlin media outlets dedicated considerable time to the coverage of pro-government demonstrations where Russian flags also featured among the crowd. Quite a few Western political analysts have expressed the wishful thinking that Nikola Gruevski may be forced to resign under popular pressure and be replaced by a coalition government with a Euro-Atlantic orientation.

Setting regional geopolitics aside, Nikola Gruevski’s opening to Russia reveals an additional pathology of Post-communist politics. Even back at the time when parties such as VMRO-DPMNE and FIDESZ had adjusted their foreign policy more firmly towards the West, their political activity and decision-making had been shaped by local adaptations of the neoconservative narrative. Within the context of their political development, such parties replaced their admiration for certain aspects of American neoconservatism with the endorsement of selected elements found in Vladimir Putin’s semi-authoritarianism while their (neoconservative) ideological core remained intact.

Apart from nominally right-wing parties, centre-left statesmen in the region have also detected, albeit more subtly, some ‘positive’ aspects in Vladimir Putin’s pattern of governance (e.g. the Bulgarian Socialist Party/BSP and Slovakia’s SMER). Therefore, in order to grasp such chameleonic mutations more adequately, one should also pay close attention to political culture among post-Communist parties in Central and Southeast Europe and its evolution.

—————————
Dr Vassilis Petsinis is a Visiting Researcher at the Herder Institute (Marburg, Germany). His main areas of specialization are European Politics and Ethnopolitics with a regional focus on Central and Southeast Europe. His academia.edu profile can be found here.

WE SUGGEST TO THINK ALSO THROUGH THE ELECTION RESULTS IN THE UK WHEN READING ABOVE ARTICLE – THIS SO THAT THE MAKINGS OF A EUROPEAN UNION ARE CONSIDERED WHEN LOOKING AT CENTRIPETAL MOVEMENTS LIKE THOSE APPEARING IN CENTRAL AND SOUTH EASTERN EUROPE.
ALSO, PLEASE DP NOT FORGET THE GREECE/MACEDONIA NAME DISPUTE AND EUROPE’S INCAPABILITY TO TELL THE GREEKS OFF IN THIS MATTER. WHAT A SHAME!

============================

Macedonia

Related Articles: The deep roots of Macedonia’s current turmoil – and the way forward – Heather Grabbe -the same source.


The deep roots of Macedonia’s current turmoil – and the way forward.

Heather Grabbe 13 May 2015, openDemocracy, London

The country must avoid just replacing the driver in the seat of a captured state machinery – by increasing inclusion and pluralism in governance. This will be impossible without EU and NATO assistance.

For nearly two decades, Macedonia has been a pressure cooker of public anger at corruption, deteriorating governance and chronic unemployment. Now the valve has blown. This year, union-organised strikes were followed by student protests against flawed education reforms. Then the opposition party released recordings of conversations that exposed government wire-tapping of more than 20,000 citizens. Quickly dubbed “bombs”, these recordings were released over the last three months by the main opposition party leader at press conferences. On them appear the voices of Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski, senior officials, journalists, judges and security officials conspiring in electoral and judicial fraud, and organising systemic corruption. On the latest, released on 4 May, the prime minister discusses with interior ministry officials a cover-up of the murder in June 2011 by one of his bodyguards of 21-year old Martin Neshkovski, a student who supported the ruling party.

These revelations have led to a new wave of protests, led by grassroots networks of civil society rather than the opposition party. The young activists have become more radical in their demands under sustained attacks by riot police and government infiltrators, who provoked the protestors for five nights in a row. Last Friday, they pledged to come back to demand the resignation of the prime minister. Then the population awoke on Saturday morning to news of what the government called a “terrorist attack” in an ethnically mixed neighbourhood in Kumanovo, a town near the Serbia/Kosovo border. The results were the deaths of police officers and arrests of alleged terrorists. The government-controlled media called for unquestioning support for the government, and labelled as a traitor anyone who disputed the official interpretation of events. What is going on? Is this a security crisis or a consolidation of power by the ruling party in the face of mounting opposition?

High stakes – but for security or politics?

The shootings in Kumanovo have woken up the rest of the world because they are reminiscent of the security crisis fifteen years ago, when ethnic Albanians took to the hills with their guns to demand rights, representation and jobs. The country narrowly escaped a full-blown civil war thanks to the Ohrid Agreement, which gave the Albanians greater political and economic inclusion, including quotas for public-sector jobs and parliamentary seats.

It was NATO and the EU that took responsibility for Macedonia’s security in 2001, with Javier Solana, as EU High Representative for Foreign Policy at the time, and George Robertson, then NATO Secretary-General, as the main negotiators at Ohrid. But the current crisis is not primarily driven by ethnic tensions. The security framing by the government obscures a much deeper crisis in the body politic, and a looming one for the economy.

After 24 years of independence, Macedonia’s model is crumbling. The ruling party has held onto power by controlling the state and media, and borrowing on international markets to keep the economy going. This has undermined the country’s fragile democracy – despite the promises made at Ohrid, which are still not fully implemented – and failed to build rule of law and a sustainable economy. Prime Minister Gruevski won power nearly a decade ago on promises of clean government and economic development. But he then perfected the system of clientelism and state capture begun by Branko Crvenkovski, his predecessor as opposition leader and prime minister, and later president. Gruevski has used snap elections twice to keep his party in power, and his leadership has become increasingly coercive. The wiretap recordings have confirmed that his VMRO-DPMNE party has captured all vital areas of the economy and established complete control over media, even imprisoning critical journalists. Macedonia’s ranking has fallen from 36 to 136 in the freedom of media index produced by Reporters Without Borders.

The government dispensed with parliamentary debate at the end of 2013. Faced with a short deadline to approve the next loan to pay pensions before the Christmas and New Year holidays, they forcibly expelled the opposition and media from the parliament during a debate over the state budget rather than find an agreement.

The public is scared. More than half of Macedonians believe they cannot freely express their opinions. A staggering 81 percent believe that fear of consequences for them and their families prevent them and others from speaking out. Their political fears are heightened by their economic vulnerability.

The chronic economic malaise underlying acute political crisis.

The Macedonian economy appears to be financially stable. The government nurtures an image of business promoter and responsible borrower. Until recently, it was the region’s poster child for the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. European banks were happy to earn good returns on Macedonian state bonds. Macedonia’s average GDP growth of 3% in the last three years is the highest in the region, completing this picture of prosperity.

But the economy is not sustainable. The government has used debt financing to invest in grandiose infrastructure projects, including the flagship “Skopje 2014” project, which erected statues and faux-classical buildings in the capital at a cost of over 600 million euro. Between 2008 and 2014, Macedonia’s public debt quadrupled, rising from 23% of GDP in 2008 to around 46% in 2014. Debt is projected to reach the 60% ceiling prescribed by the international financial institutions by 2019. The state budget increased by a third over the same period (from roughly 2 to 3 billion euro). Inflows of foreign direct investment averaged only 2.8% of GDP per year between 2009 and 2014, low even by regional standards.

Life for citizens has become more precarious. Around a third of the workforce is unemployed, the second highest rate in Europe after Kosovo. Without the heavy borrowing, the fragile economy could not sustain more than 300,000 pensioners, who rely on the state budget for half of their needs. Nor could it afford to pay the huge number of state employees. The last official number was 140,000 in 2008, and latest estimates range from 200,000 to 255,000. The total number of people employed in Macedonia is 700,000 – meaning that the state employs nearly a third of the workforce. No wonder people are leaving to seek better prospects abroad. A census has been postponed by the government, but Gallup estimates that more than 300,000 people have left the country. According to Deutsche Welle, most of the 120,000 Macedonians who acquired Bulgarian passports have already emigrated to the EU or elsewhere. Macedonia seems to have more registered voters (at 1,780,128) than residents.

VMRO-DPMNE has kept its hold on power in this unhappy state by resorting to strident nationalism and intimidation of its opponents, increasing the divisions in a multi-ethnic country. Ethnic Macedonians are understandably aggrieved by the lack of a solution to the dispute with Greece over the country’s name, which already blocked entry to NATO – and Gruevski has adroitly used the issue to rally nationalism in support of the government. Meanwhile, the ethnic Albanian political parties have been co-opted by their share in the spoils of mis-governance, even though their people remain even more alienated and poorer than the rest of the population.

The divisions are deepening right across society. Three-quarters of ethnic Albanians still firmly believe in EU and NATO accession as the way to a better future, but by now over 62 percent of other Macedonians think badly of joining the EU. Three-quarters of the ruling party’s supporters see the name dispute with Greece as the key reason for Macedonia’s now bleak EU accession prospects; but only 20% of opposition supporters agree. The biggest divide is between rich and poor, especially along party lines. The poor are undoubtedly getting poorer: resources available to the poorest fifth of citizens fell by 38% between 2008 and 2012. But business profits have grown by almost two and a half times since the year 2000. Nearly 80% of all Macedonians believe it is unfair that employment in state institutions and general prosperity is based on political party membership.
The way forward: a unity government with EU and NATO support

Macedonia is once again becoming a security threat on the EU’s borders. But this time it’s different: a non-partisan civic movement has taken to the streets for the first time to change the country. There is a real opportunity to use this energy to build democracy and a market economy in this multi-ethnic state.

No party is doing well in Macedonia: the secret recordings have lost the government all credibility, but the public has little faith in the leaders of the opposition and ethnic Albanian parties either. The immediate solution lies in collective action first by all those who have created the problem.

Now that three of the prime minister’s key allies have tendered their resignations, Macedonia should turn again to the solution that averted the civil war in 2001: a unity government composed of the four main parties. To foster the necessary compromises and offer a fresh start. it would not include the current prime minister, public prosecutor or speaker of the parliament – but opposition parties must be involved in open and credible oversight of the intelligence agencies, and take responsibility for the discredited interior ministry.

The most promising scenario is a government of national unity that lasts for 12-18 months, to prepare the country for free and fair elections, and create an independent commission to investigate all the events since the opposition was violently ejected from the parliament in 2013. And it should agree on a common negotiating platform on the name dispute with Greece. Macedonia’s newly reinvigorated civil society should also contribute to the work of the parliamentary commissions and monitor the new government’s progress in restoring the accountability of public institutions. The country must avoid just replacing the driver in the seat of the captured state machinery, by increasing inclusion and pluralism in governance.

As so often in the Balkans, such a scenario will be impossible without EU and NATO assistance. The default position among EU foreign ministers is to expect sovereign countries to sort out their own political problems through democratic institutions. But after a decade of unconsolidated democracy and state capture, Macedonia does not possess those institutions. Therefore, other levers of influence are needed. NATO could offer a tangible incentive to all parties by offering a possibility to re-open membership talks. EU accession negotiations are far off because so much time has been lost on necessary reforms, but the enlargement process is vital to offer hope, especially to the ethnic Albanians, and guidance to reformers who are seeking to take back captured parts of the state. The support of EU institutions, member-states and banks is vital for the country’s macroeconomic stability. Neighbouring governments could also exert more pressure, as their own security is at stake. Bulgarian Prime Minister Borisov was the first to request Gruevski to step down.

The EU can no longer afford to indulge a model of governance in Macedonia that has been far more aggressive in its authoritarian zeal than nearby Montenegro or Turkey. The European People’s Party has a particular responsibility to get involved, having accepted and protected VMRO-DPMNE as a sister party for all these years. Now it must act to uphold the standards of democracy on which it was founded, by putting pressure on VMRO-DPMNE to relinquish its grip on power and join a unity government. The time to move is now, as the costs of inaction will continue to rise.

###

Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on February 11th, 2015
by Pincas Jawetz (PJ@SustainabiliTank.com)


New opportunity for EU support for climate action in Eastern Partnership countries

from: Zsolt Lengyel –  zsolt.lengyel at climaeast.eu

February 10, 2015

Dear Madam/Sir,

We are pleased to inform you that the Clima East Expert Facility (EF) has a new round for applications for support from eligible organisations involved with climate actions, targeting both mitigation and adaptation in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine.

In this round we will also accept collaborative applications from two or more beneficiary organizations. This track should enable sectoral ministries, other national or local administration bodies, and in particular civil society organisations, to contribute successfully to the definition, development and delivery of national climate policy and actions.


The Clima East Expert Facility is one of the channels through which the European Commission funded Clima East project provides technical assistance to Partner Countries’ stakeholders to facilitate the development, adoption and implementation of effective and appropriate climate change mitigation and adaptation policies and actions.

###

Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on January 16th, 2015
by Pincas Jawetz (PJ@SustainabiliTank.com)

The Church has come a long way!

“Freedom of expression is a right, but there are limits when it comes to insulting faiths,” Pope Francis told reporters today, referring to events surrounding the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris.

“One cannot provoke, one cannot insult other people’s faith, one cannot make fun of faith,” Francis said.
Likewise, he said, people have religious liberty, but “one can’t kill in the name of God.”
He said this after a reporter asked him about religious liberty and freedom of expression.

The pope made the comments on a trip to the Philippines.

###

Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on December 29th, 2014
by Pincas Jawetz (PJ@SustainabiliTank.com)

Pope Francis’s Edict on Climate Change Will Anger Deniers and US Churches

By John Vidal, Guardian UK, 28 December 14

Pontiff hopes to inspire action at next year’s UN meeting in Paris in December after visits to Philippines and New York

He has been called the “superman pope”, and it would be hard to deny that Pope Francis has had a good December. Cited by President Barack Obama as a key player in the thawing relations between the US and Cuba, the Argentinian pontiff followed that by lecturing his cardinals on the need to clean up Vatican politics. But can Francis achieve a feat that has so far eluded secular powers and inspire decisive action on climate change?

It looks as if he will give it a go. In 2015, the pope will issue a lengthy message on the subject to the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics, give an address to the UN general assembly and call a summit of the world’s main religions.

The reason for such frenetic activity, says Bishop Marcelo Sorondo, chancellor of the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy of Sciences, is the pope’s wish to directly influence next year’s crucial UN climate meeting in Paris, when countries will try to conclude 20 years of fraught negotiations with a universal commitment to reduce emissions.

“Our academics supported the pope’s initiative to influence next year’s crucial decisions,” Sorondo told Cafod, the Catholic development agency, at a meeting in London. “The idea is to convene a meeting with leaders of the main religions to make all people aware of the state of our climate and the tragedy of social exclusion.”

Following a visit in March to Tacloban, the Philippine city devastated in 2012 by typhoon Haiyan, the pope will publish a rare encyclical on climate change and human ecology. Urging all Catholics to take action on moral and scientific grounds, the document will be sent to the world’s 5,000 Catholic bishops and 400,000 priests, who will distribute it to parishioners.

According to Vatican insiders, Francis will meet other faith leaders and lobby politicians at the general assembly in New York in September, when countries will sign up to new anti-poverty and environmental goals.

In recent months, the pope has argued for a radical new financial and economic system to avoid human inequality and ecological devastation. In October he told a meeting of Latin American and Asian landless peasants and other social movements: “An economic system centred on the god of money needs to plunder nature to sustain the frenetic rhythm of consumption that is inherent to it.

“The system continues unchanged, since what dominates are the dynamics of an economy and a finance that are lacking in ethics. It is no longer man who commands, but money. Cash commands.

“The monopolising of lands, deforestation, the appropriation of water, inadequate agro-toxics are some of the evils that tear man from the land of his birth. Climate change, the loss of biodiversity and deforestation are already showing their devastating effects in the great cataclysms we witness,” he said.

In Lima last month, bishops from every continent expressed their frustration with the stalled climate talks and, for the first time, urged rich countries to act.

Sorondo, a fellow Argentinian who is known to be close to Pope Francis, said: “Just as humanity confronted revolutionary change in the 19th century at the time of industrialisation, today we have changed the natural environment so much. If current trends continue, the century will witness unprecedented climate change and destruction of the ecosystem with tragic consequences.”

According to Neil Thorns, head of advocacy at Cafod, said: “The anticipation around Pope Francis’s forthcoming encyclical is unprecedented. We have seen thousands of our supporters commit to making sure their MPs know climate change is affecting the poorest communities.”

However, Francis’s environmental radicalism is likely to attract resistance from Vatican conservatives and in rightwing church circles, particularly in the US – where Catholic climate sceptics also include John Boehner, Republican leader of the House of Representatives and Rick Santorum, the former Republican presidential candidate.

Cardinal George Pell, a former archbishop of Sydney who has been placed in charge of the Vatican’s budget, is a climate change sceptic who has been criticised for claiming that global warming has ceased and that if carbon dioxide in the atmosphere were doubled, then “plants would love it”.

Dan Misleh, director of the Catholic climate covenant, said: “There will always be 5-10% of people who will take offence. They are very vocal and have political clout. This encyclical will threaten some people and bring joy to others. The arguments are around economics and science rather than morality.

“A papal encyclical is rare. It is among the highest levels of a pope’s authority. It will be 50 to 60 pages long; it’s a big deal. But there is a contingent of Catholics here who say he should not be getting involved in political issues, that he is outside his expertise.”

Francis will also be opposed by the powerful US evangelical movement, said Calvin Beisner, spokesman for the conservative Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation, which has declared the US environmental movement to be “un-biblical” and a false religion.

“The pope should back off,” he said. “The Catholic church is correct on the ethical principles but has been misled on the science. It follows that the policies the Vatican is promoting are incorrect. Our position reflects the views of millions of evangelical Christians in the US.”

Comments

We are concerned about a recent drift towards vitriol in the RSN Reader comments section. There is a fine line between moderation and censorship. No one likes a harsh or confrontational forum atmosphere. At the same time everyone wants to be able to express themselves freely. We’ll start by encouraging good judgment. If that doesn’t work we’ll have to ramp up the moderation.

General guidelines: Avoid personal attacks on other forum members; Avoid remarks that are ethnically derogatory; Do not advocate violence, or any illegal activity.

Remember that making the world better begins with responsible action.

– The RSN Team

+12 # Dust 2014-12-28 16:47
“has declared the US environmental movement to be “un-biblical” and a false religion” and “misled on the science”.

Bwahahahahaaa!!!!!!

How is it possible for a group that prides itself on lack of education and a complete dismissal of any science it does not like get to claim with a straight face that it knows anything about science itself?

Calvin Beisner should cite his “science” or shut up and stick to his extremely narrow interpretation of his selected religious texts.

Besides – the US is not a Christian nation, the Pope is not an evangelical, so on what possible authority does Calvin feel justified in telling the Pope to “back off”??

0 # NOMINAE 2014-12-28 23:22
Quoting Dust:

“has declared the US environmental movement to be “un-biblical” and a false religion” and “misled on the science”.

Bwahahahahaaa!!!!!!

How is it possible for a group that prides itself on lack of education and a complete dismissal of any science it does not like get to claim with a straight face that it knows anything about science itself? …

It is possible (but still hilariously unconvincing) under the aegis of the same arrogance of ignorance that impels and propels all manner of these moronic statements…….

pure, unadulterated, high-octane HUBRIS.

Nothing more is required or demanded in this time of virulent and vapid anti-intellectu alism, and the accompanying anti-science, or faux science that sells this bilge-water propaganda to the masses.

These statements are not designed to convince the leading edge of the intellectual Bell Curve. They are, as ever, aimed at the bulging center of the “average masses”.

…At the “Thugs” who are eventually to be installed and elevated above the intellectual class ala the Third Reich, Suharto, the Cambodian Khmer Rouge, ad infinitum – in short, an approach with a solidly proven track record enthusiasticall y and efficiently embraced by any and all Fascistic Systems, or Fascist Wannabes, in the world to date.

+5 # Dust 2014-12-28 20:09
After a wee bit of reading… Calvin Beisner is a freight train of crazy.

+7 # Activista 2014-12-28 21:20
Pope – especially in South America – has huge influence –
he is very influential on social issues – he does not have to have Phd. in climatology to see the effects of global warming –
I am agnostic – thank you Francis –

0 # Thebigkate 2014-12-28 23:50
Are we lucky, or what, to have such an enlightened pope? Now–if he would only get his act together on women in the church and the necessity of legal abortion!

0 # Regina 2014-12-28 23:51
There is reason to believe that Francis would not have sentenced Galileo to house arrest, nor called science apostasy. He uses logic where logic belongs, instead of insisting on dogma where dogma does not belong.

###

Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on December 25th, 2014
by Pincas Jawetz (PJ@SustainabiliTank.com)

AlterNet / December 25, 2014 / By Valerie Tarico

Not-So-Virgin Birth: Why Stories of Jesus Became More Magical Over Time
What you learn when you read the Bible in the order it was actually written.

Sometime toward the end of the first century, the writer of Luketold a story that would become one of the most treasured in all of Western Civilization, the birth of the baby Jesus. It opens with an announcement known as the Annunciation. A messenger angel named Gabriel appears to a young Jewish virgin, Mary, telling her that the spirit of God will enter her and she will give birth to a child who is both human and divine:

The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. (Luke 1:30-34 NRSV)

Two wonder-filled stories merge.

Our modern Christmas story is a composite drawn from two gospels, meaning devotional accounts of the life of Jesus, known as the books of Matthew and Luke. Both accounts underscore that Mary, a virgin, was impregnated by God alone. The writer of Matthewdoesn’t repeat the Annunciation, but he does say that Mary’s fiancé Joseph wants to end their betrothal when he discovers that Mary is pregnant. An angel tells Joseph in a dream that her pregnancy is “of the Holy Spirit,” and so he keeps her a virgin until she gives birth to Jesus. (Matthew 1:18-25)

Mary’s virginity is just one of several ways that the (now unknown) authors of the gospels signal to readers that this is no ordinary birth. Each accounts includes several supernatural wonders and pronouncements of God’s favor.

Because the gospels were aimed at different audiences, the auspicious events differ from story to story. Matthew: A rising star is seen by astrologers who bring gifts that foreshadow the baby’s future. Luke: A chorus of angels singing to shepherds on the hills. Matthew: A jealous king murders baby boys to protect his throne but the family of the holy child, having been warned in a dream, escapes. Luke:A prophet and prophetess recognize the infant’s divine spark.

Christmas pageants that merge these elements into a single story have delighted children and adults alike for centuries. The traditional manger scene or crèche merges them into a single panorama.

Grand Beginnings are Soon Forgotten

Many people might find it surprising that these auspicious infancy stories are never referenced elsewhere in the New Testament, for example in the letters of Paul or in the other two gospels that made their way into the Christian Bible. Even in the book of Luke itself, by the time Jesus is a boy, it is almost as if even his parents have forgotten the extraordinary circumstances of his birth. When he turns twelve, his family travels to Jerusalem, where his parents lose him. After three days, they find him in the temple:

When his parents saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.” He said to them, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” But they did not understand what he said to them. (Luke 2:48-50 NRSV).

Why would two authors describe a virgin birth announced by an angel and accompanied by natural wonders and then, not long after, have their characters behave as if it didn’t happen? That seems like an oddly wasted opportunity for writers who were seeking to establish both their own credibility and the credibility of their fledgling religion. Why don’t the dramatic astrological and biological signs of divinity surrounding the birth of Jesus get more play?

Christianity’s virgin birth narrative, both what it says and why it is poorly integrated into the rest of the Bible, is a fascinating study in cultural evolution. Specifically, it illustrates a process called “syncretism” whereby religions merge over time when cultures come into contact.

The New Testament Is Out of Order

Mainstream Bible scholarship tells us that the marvel-filled stories about the birth of Jesus don’t get referenced later in the New Testament because they were written aftermany of the books that follow them. When the books of the New Testament are arranged chronologically using the best information available, the gospels of Matthew and Luke are numbers 11 and 20 respectively. They come after letters that are believed to be authentic writings of Paul, for example, and after the gospel of Mark, which may have been a source for both authors but fails to mention an auspicious birth.

In addition, the birth narratives may have been late additions to the gospels themselves, which would explain why they seem forgotten later in the story. Evidence for this can be seen in how different versions of the gospels changed over time.

But the Catholic councils that decided which texts would go into the New Testament didn’t know that. They lacked the modern tools of linguistic analysis, archeology and anthropology and the mindset of antiquities scholarship. They believed that the books called Matthewand Luke were written by men named Matthew and Luke, one a disciple of Jesus and the other a companion of Paul, who had gotten some stories second hand and had been eye witnesses to others. The councils put the gospels first (and the book of Revelation last) because they were trying to assemble a coherent narrative.

Christianity Adapted to the Roman World

In 2012, Jesus scholar Marcus Borg published Evolution of the Word: Reading the Bible in the Order It was Written.Borg encourages readers to explore the 27 books of the New Testament in the order they were written to see how Christian thinking unfolded over time. Ordering the texts as they were written also allows scholars to put the evolution of Christianity in a historical context.

Read this way, one trend line is that the stories about Jesus become more magical over time. For example, John, the last gospel written, has Jesus making the boldest claims about his own deity. Another trend line is that over time, Jesus worship picks up bits of other cultures as Christianity spreads among the gentiles of the Roman Empire. Borg describes “an increasing accommodation within the cultural conventions of the time.” Some of those conventions came from Greek mythology and Roman civic religion.

The Earliest References to Jesus’ Birth Are More Mundane than Magical

The earliest mention of the birth of Jesus comes in Paul’s letter to the church at Galatia, likely written between 49 and 55 C.E, or about half a century before the gospels of Matthewand Luke.Paul’s description makes no mention of a virgin birth. He says simply that, “But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law” (Galatians 4:4).

In another letter, Paul seems to imply that Jesus came into the world in the usual way. In Romans 1:1-3 he refers to . . . the gospel of God…concerning his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, which was made of the seed of David according to the flesh.” The phrase “seed of David” refers specifically to the genealogy of Joseph, the husband of Mary.

So Why Divine Insemination?

Symbologist and retired religion professor Dr. Tony Nugent, tells us that the miraculous elements of the Christmas story have their roots in ancient mythic traditions that predated and surrounded nascent Christianity. In Greek and Roman mythology, heroes and great men often were born from the union of a god and a human woman. For example, in the story of Hercules, Zeus impregnates his mother by taking the form of her husband. Helen of Troy is conceived when Zeus takes the form of a swan and either seduces or rapes her mother Leda. Danaë, the mother of Perseus, is impregnated by a shower of gold. Mars, the Roman god of war fathers the twins Romulus and Remus through Rhea Silvia, a Vestal Virgin. Even Augustus, Pythagoras, and Alexander the Great were reputed to have human mothers and divine fathers.

The idea of gods or demi-gods mating with human women was familiar throughout the Ancient Near East. It appears in the book of Genesis:

When people began to multiply on the face of the ground, and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that they were fair; and they took wives for themselves of all that they chose. Then the Lord said, “My spirit shall not abide in mortals forever, for they are flesh; their days shall be one hundred twenty years.” The Nephilim were on the earth in those days—and also afterward—when the sons of God went in to the daughters of humans, who bore children to them. These were the heroes that were of old, warriors of renown. (Genesis 6:1-4, NRSV)

Early Christians disagreed over when, exactly Jesus became divine. Jewish converts promoted a theory called “adoptionism” in which Jesus is uniquely adopted as God’s son later in life. The Gospel of Mark for example, suggests that this happens at the time of his baptism. Paul suggests that it happens when he is resurrected. The authors of Matthewand Luke,clearly had a view in this debate—they believed that the sonship of Jesus began at birth, and they made their case in terms that would be both familiar and persuasive to people of their time.

An Ambiguous Prophecy Helps the Story Along

One key goal of the gospel writers was to show that the life of Jesus had been predicted by Hebrew prophesies and that the details of his life fulfilled these prophesies. Many Christians to this day take the fulfilled prophecies of the gospel stories as proof positive that stories are true. The naturalistic explanation, of course, is that the gospel writers (or the oral and written traditions they received) may have shaped their stories about Jesus to fit the Hebrew scriptures. And the careful documentation of Mary’s sexual history—or lack thereof—offers one bit of evidence that they did exactly that.

After telling readers that Jesus was fathered by God himself in spirit form, the writer of Matthew adds the following words:

“All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: ‘Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,’ which means, ‘God is with us.’” (Matthew 1: 22-23).

The quotation is taken from the book of Isaiah (7:14), and in the context of the time it is understood as predicting a hopeful future for the Kingdom of Hezekiah. But the Christian who first linked this passage to the person of Jesus must have been delighted.

Early Judaism was very focused on purity—pure foods, unblemished bodies, and female sexual abstinence that ensured pure bloodlines for God’s chosen people. The Apostle Paul made sexual purity central to mainstream Roman Christianity. To a believer steeped in Rome’s tradition of divine insemination and Judaism’s tradition of virtuous virginity, a divine virgin birth might seem like exactly how Jesus should be born.

The twist is this: The Hebrew word used by the writer of Isaiah is almah, which can mean either a young woman who hasn’t had sex or simply a young women who hasn’t yet born a child. Anglican theologian John Shelby Spong tells us that a different word Hebrew word betulah, is used 50 times in the Hebrew Bible when the writer wants to refer specifically and clearly to a woman who hasn’t had sex.(Born of a Woman: A Bishop Rethinks the Virgin Birth and the Treatment of Women by a Male Dominated Church.) But the gospel writers relied on a Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures known as the Septuagint. In the Septuagint, the word almah is translated as parthenos, which also can mean either young girl or virgin, but which is strongly associated with the virgin goddess Athena.

Would the writers of Matthew and Luke have emphasized Mary’s virginity if they had been privy to the original Hebrew? We will never know. What we do know is this. The story of a virginal young woman who is impregnated by a god and gives birth to a man who changes history appeals to the human imagination. It is a trope that has emerged in many mythic traditions and endured across centuries, cultures and continents. After it took root in Christianity, alternatives fell by the wayside, and the story of the baby Jesus, born to a virgin amidst signs and wonders, became the most celebrated and cherished story in the Bible.

Thank you to Dr. Tony Nugent, Presbyterian ordained symbologist and retired religion professor, for consultation on this article.

—————-
Valerie Tarico is a psychologist and writer in Seattle, Washington and the founder of Wisdom Commons. She is the author of “Trusting Doubt: A Former Evangelical Looks at Old Beliefs in a New Light” and “Deas and Other Imaginings.” Her articles can be found at Awaypoint.Wordpress.com.

###

Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on December 25th, 2014
by Pincas Jawetz (PJ@SustainabiliTank.com)


Pope Francis is a “Marxist” He is is a Marxist in the eyes of Right Wingers in the US because he speaks about “the structural causes of poverty” – the “idolatry of money,” and the “new tyranny” of unfettered capitalism. Obviously, say the Pontiff’s pious critics – that’s commie talk.

The clincher for them was when Francis wrote an official Papal document in which he asked in outrage: “How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points?” See, cried the carpers, that’s proof that Francis is the Red Pope!

——–


Merry Christmas, Right-Wingers, the Red Pope, and Jesus.

By Jim Hightower, Jim Hightower’s Blog

25 December 14

Tere’s a twist on Christmas that would make Jesus weep.

First, a right-wing faction in the US has been wringing its hands over a hokey cultural “crisis” cooked up by the faction itself, namely that liberals, atheists, humanists, and – God Forbid – Marxists are waging a “War on Christmas.” The infidels are not accused of lobbing bombs in this war, but Words of Mass Destruction. Specifically, the right-wing purists wail that unholy lefties are perverting the season by saying “Happy Holidays,” instead of “Merry Christmas.”

Second, some ultra conservative members of this same faction have launched their own war – against Jesus! How twisted is this? They say no one should mess with the word “Christmas,” yet they’re messing with the guy Christmas is supposed to be about.

Okay, technically they’re not going directly at Jesus, but at a key part of his message – and, and in particular, at a key messenger of Christianity: Pope Francis!

They’ve decided that the Pope is a “Marxist,” pointing out that Francis speaks often about “the structural causes of poverty,” the “idolatry of money,” and the “new tyranny” of unfettered capitalism. Obviously, say the Pontiff’s pious critics, that’s commie talk.

The clincher for them was when Francis wrote an official Papal document in which he asked in outrage: “How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points?” See, cried the carpers, that’s proof that Francis is the Red Pope!

But wait – that was a very good question he asked, one ripe with the moral wrath that Jesus himself frequently showed toward the callous rich and their “love of money.” Indeed, the Pope’s words ring with the deep ethics you find in Jesus’ sermon on the Mount. Was he a commie, too?

Could it be that the carpers are the ones lacking in real Christmas spirit?

———

A FEW OF THE COMMENTS:

+52 # RCW 2014-12-25 14:07
Thanks, Jim, and from the Jewish side, the Pope’s sentiments on behalf of the poor and oppressed by the indolent wealthy are those of the great Old Testament prophets as well.

+10 # goodsensecynic 2014-12-25 15:33
Now, if he’d only lighten up on gay guys and lesbian girls and, in fact, on women of all sorts, we might begin a useful dialogue. After all, not all Christians are fools and bigots …

+36 # Pickwicky 2014-12-25 14:14
But the most spectacular statement by Francis is, “All God’s creatures go to Paradise.” Now, come on, you goofy Right Wingers–what Marxist ever said that!

Merry Christmas, everyone.

+2 # LGNTexas 2014-12-25 17:25
There is hardly a word about a Jesus recorded by the Roman historian, Josephus…no nativity story or crucifixion story. For sure there is little known about the Persian God, Mithra, that preceded Christ in the Western world. I never knew of Mithra until told his legends by an Israeli soldier I befriend while working in Israel. He was giving me reasons he didn’t believe in Jesus as the Messiah. Much of what we know in the New Testament is from the teachings of St. Paul or Saul of Tarsus. That city in Asia-Minor was a hotbed of Mithraism, which became the most popular god of the Roman legions. So Saul (Paul) probably knew all about Mithra who was born of a virgin mother on December 25, centuries before Jesus. Mithra was called the light of the world, even visited by shepherds, etc. IF there was a visit by 3 “Wise men” they were probably Persians of the Zoroastrian faith and worshiped Mithra. The Mithra cult may have survived if not for the conversion of Emperor Constantine in 313 A.D. To read about Mithra one also can feel they are reading the New Testament. Did St. Paul plagiarize Mithraism in order to convert those already familiar with the cult? www.truthbeknown.com/mithra.htm

+1 # Charles3000 2014-12-25 19:07
Of course Paul/Saul knew about Mithras and Mithraism almost beat out Paul’s brand of Christianity. Some scholars due refer to Christianity as the last and greatest of the Greek mystery religions…and that is probably a very good outsider take on the nature of the religion. And all of us, whatever our faith or choice of religious doctrines, should never, ever forget. All religions are made by man; none were made by God.

+4 # Brian Flaherty 2014-12-25 14:45
In keeping with the Spirit of the Season, I understand that the “true” Christians are making plans to come out with a blockbuster film for Christmas, 2015. . .”The Nativity and Aftermath” with the ORIGINAL cast. . .
It’s gonna be ready for theaters and purchase online once they’ve trained Jesus in the Real Principles of Christianity!

It seems that He has dropped the ball somewhere over the past 2000 years and it’s gonna take awhile to get him back on track if he wants to play the lead in the Passion Play! If he won’t “play ball” they’ll just hafta replace him with a “body double” who’s willing to do the Cruci-FICTION and wear the thorny Crown while saying all the “RIGHT” Things!

+9 # DaveM 2014-12-25 15:03
Is Mel Gibson directing?

+6 # Brian Flaherty 2014-12-25 15:16
Who else could handle it?? I understand he’s also willing to bankroll it. . .Unless they can get a grant from the David Koch Fund for Science!

+14 # asbpab1966 2014-12-25 14:52
Also, it was not a Druid festival, but the Roman festival of Saturnalia, celebrating the Winter Solstice, with which the early Christians decided to coincide Christmas. Before Constantine adopted Christianity for the Roman Empire, the Romans persecuted Christians.

+11 # goodsensecynic 2014-12-25 15:43
Yes, there is a definite connection with the Saturnalia, but it was probably a Druid festival as well. I know for sure that the Vikings were enthusiastic about it – and I think that the Swedes still celebrate their festival of lights wherein young girls parade around with lighted candles on their heads!

The point is that there are lots of cultures (especially where snow falls regularly) that get cheerful when the days begin to get longer.

+15 # margpark 2014-12-25 15:01
Lots of people all over the world celebrated the Solstice with gaiety and joy because everyone was glad the sun was coming back rather than to continue the decline which would have meant the end of the world.

0 # Regina 2014-12-25 18:59
Only in the northern hemisphere. In the southern hemisphere (e.g., Australia, New Zealand, Argentina, etc.) the sun is at its maximum latitude on December 21, which is their summer solstice. Although the northern hemisphere has most of the planet’s people, we should be more inclusive in the conclusions we jump to.

+6 # Corvette-Bob 2014-12-25 15:18
I read an interesting book on Christianity it is called “How Jesus became God” It is true that Constantine was how Christianity became the big religion since the emperor wanted to unite his empire with one religion. It really was a political decision. There were many people running around the time of Christ who were allegedly performing miracles and who were born from a virgin mother, and were later killed and went to heaven and were god. But Constantine had to pick one religion and he chose Christianity.

+12 # goodsensecynic 2014-12-25 15:28
I know Jesus can be faulted for that line about it being easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven … but that was just hyperbole intended to encourage a few more alms for the poor.

And, as for the unpleasantness in the temple, it certainly wasn’t a sign that we should be mad at Wall Street (after all, Jesus only went after the “Jewish” moneylenders!).

The real problem comes in Acts 4(32), where it is written that none of the apostles ever said “nought of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things in common.”

Or worse, Acts 4(34-35) in which we learn that “neither was there any among them that lacked: for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold and laid them down at the apostles’ feet: and distribution was made unto every man as he had need.”

Now, fast forward 1800 years to Marx’s Critique of the Gotha Program (1875), where he says “from each according to his ability; to each according to his need.”

So, either the disciples were communists or Marx was a Christian (absent the “God” part).

In any case, Marx can be accused of many things but only one charge firmly sticks: Plagiarism!

+2 # Arden 2014-12-25 16:39
My favorite Sunday School teacher told us, many long years ago, that the openings in the city walls, where those folks who needed to get in after the main gates were closed, were called “needles”. They were small and low to the ground, so that a camel would have great difficulty going thru them.

+1 # goodsensecynic 2014-12-25 17:55
Your favorite Sunday School teacher may well have been right. Or, maybe that was just a desperate attempt to suppress the filthy, godless, communistic implications of the words attributed to the fellow (Jesus, that is).

I don’t know the truth of it or if Jesus even existed or if he said anything remotely similar to the words reported in Matthew 19(24); but, I do know that those words, taken literally, would knock Michele Bachmann and the rest of them for a loop. So, absent overwhelming evidence, I’ll stick with the way King James’ translation committee expressed it.

+7 # kalpal 2014-12-25 15:30
So why is the fact that Jesus was a Jew and never anything other than a Jew, along with all of his disciples, not a topic open to discussion within the halls of those purporting to adore Jesus? Was his Jewishness embarrassing to those who claim to be his followers? If you follow Jesus, then be a Jew. Stop being a pagan who calls himself a Xtian.

-2 # Arden 2014-12-25 16:45
huh?

0 # Regina 2014-12-25 19:02
Yeah.

-2 # anarchteacher 2014-12-25 15:54
One cannot begin to understand the secular political history of the world over the past two thousand years (and the impact of the Incarnation upon humanity) without seeing it through the interpretative lens of Political Religions.

The outstanding chronicler of Political Religions writing today is Michael Burleigh, who is following in the bold path blazed by scholars such as Eric Voegelin, Murray Rothbard, Norman Cohn, Gerhart Niemeyer, James Billington, and Henri de Lubac.

 www.amazon.com/Utopian-Nightmares…

Utopian Nightmares and Gnostic Political Religions – an Amazon book list

I have long believed that at the core of the political and economic challenges we face as a civilization is an ongoing warfare within the spiritual dimension at the root of our being.

For two millennia, Western civilization has been rent and torn asunder by this struggle.

The unity of Christendom was shattered by the Reformation. After Martin Luther came the seeds for the rise of the leviathan state. The fertile soil of Europe had been sown but the time was not yet ready. The gestation would take centuries to come to full fruition.

-3 # anarchteacher 2014-12-25 15:59
The tsunamic wave unleashed by the French Revolution swept the planet, bringing in its wake the forces of “Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity” — or as seen through the prism of ideology — Liberalism, Collectivism, and Nationalism. The nourishing watering of the European soil had begun, and soon spread to all continents.

 www.amazon.com/The-Enlightenment-…

The Enlightenment, Freemasonry, Illuminism & the Religion of Humanity – an Amazon book list

It was Jean-Jacques Rousseau, whose writings so influenced the French Revolution, who first announced that human beings could be transformed for the better by the political process, by social engineering. This idea would have fatal consequences for millions in the 20th century.

0 # ericlipps 2014-12-25 17:22
Whereas as we all know, the idea that humans can be transformed for the better by belief in an all-powerful King who can and will condemn them to torture for eternity if they do not recognize His authority and obey His edicts has had only positive effects.

-3 # anarchteacher 2014-12-25 16:02
Both the Marxist-Leninists in the Soviet Union and the National Socialists in Nazi Germany had at the center of their ideological agendas the creation of a “new man.”

Secularism and the crisis of faith, born of the Enlightenment and the French Revolution, would provide the vital fertilizing nutrients for totalitarianism to finally bloom in the 20th century.

For it was in the 20th century where the West faced its greatest challenges via two satanic-inspired regimes, that of Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. These two antipodal gnostic political religions were bent on using terror and mayhem to subjugate and remold humanity.

They wanted to coercively refashion a New Aryan Man or a New Soviet Man from our spiritual and material essence created by the hand of God.

Millions died in this cataclysmic process of “social engineering.”

In the 21st century our increasingly post-Christian West faces many new challenges but two in particular stand out: a return to its spiritual roots and a renascence of growth, promise, and renewal; and the renunciation of the deceitful illusions and lies upon which the corporatist welfare-warfare state was built and imposed on our civilization, this secular monstrosity which has led to so much misery, false hope, and insecurity.


+2 # goodsensecynic 2014-12-25 16:54
I must say at the outset that I reject your basic premise which is, as you say, that “the core of the political and economic challenges we face as a civilization is an ongoing warfare within the spiritual dimension at the root of our being.”

If that means what I think it means; namely, that people squabble about their competing versions of “spirituality” and that inequalities of wealth and power arise from the results of those contests, then I respectfully submit that the relationship is exactly the reverse and that explicitly religious or ideologically political world-views are mainly propagandistic cover for local and geopolitical struggles that are more about material than spiritual matters.

That said, while I agree with your condemnation of 20th century “political religions” and your rejection of “social engineering,” I do not think that rejecting the “corporatist welfare-warfare state” is a sound alternative. In fact (unless you’re saying that it’s the corporations that get the welfare), public policies dedicated to social equity are the basis upon which the quest for social justice must be built – either that or we can all gather in self-sustaining anarcho-syndicalist communes (which is charming but unlikely, except perhaps in the wake of a global ecological collapse and/or military conflagration – not impossible, I admit).

Even less likely, however, is some sort of spontaneous spiritual process of “renunciation” and “renewal.” How, precisely, would that work?

-2 # goodsensecynic 2014-12-25 17:08
Nothing I have said, of course, should be taken to mean that decentralization, localization, worker control and democracy! democracy! democracy! should be forsaken in the attempt to mimic the operational methods of massive private capitalist (or state capitalist) control – only that such initiatives (sadly ruined in large part by religious conflict) that once seemed possible in what’s euphemistically called the “former Yugoslavia” must grow naturally from existing circumstances.

As a final query, what exactly do you mean to be the content of the “renascence of growth, promise and renewal.” At the risk of sounding churlish, it sounds a little too much like President Obama’s “hopey-changey- thingie” (the only apt thing Sarah bin-Palin ever said).

-2 # goodsensecynic 2014-12-25 17:08
Nothing I have said, of course, should be taken to mean that decentralization, localization, worker control and democracy! democracy! democracy! should be forsaken in the attempt to mimic the operational methods of massive private capitalist (or state capitalist) control – only that such initiatives (sadly ruined in large part by religious conflict) that once seemed possible in what’s euphemistically called the “former Yugoslavia” must grow naturally from existing circumstances.

As a final query, what exactly do you mean to be the content of the “renascence of growth, promise and renewal”? At the risk of sounding churlish, it sounds a little too much like President Obama’s “hopey-changey- thingie” (the only apt thing Sarah bin-Palin ever said).

+5 # JetpackAngel 2014-12-25 16:05
I say “Happy Holidays” because it’s faster than saying “Happy Goru / Dzon’ku Nu / Inti Raymi / Jonkonnu / Soyal / We Tripantu / Amaterasu / Choimus / Deyg?n / Maidyarem / D?ngzhì / T?ji / Lohri / Pongal / Makar Sankranti / Sanghamitta Day / ?eva Zistanê / Yalda / Beiwe / Brumalia / Christmas / Dies Natalis Solis Invicti / Deuorius Riuri / Hogmanay / Korochun / Malkh-Festival / M?draniht / Midvinterblót / Montol Festival / Mummer’s Day / Saturnalia / Wren’s Day / Yule / Ziemassv?tki / Hannukah / Krampasfest / Festivus / Kwanzaa / [others that I’ve surely forgotten].

0 # Eldon J. Bloedorn 2014-12-25 17:17
If the Pope is “red.” does that mean those Republicans in the “red” states are commies?

-2 # goodsensecynic 2014-12-25 17:51
Where I live RED is the color of the “liberals,” BLUE is the color of the”conservatives” and ORANGE is the color of the “socialists.”

Of course, what Americans mean by Conservatives (i.e., neoliberals), Liberals (i.e., center-right liberals) and Socialists (i.e., the hordes of Hell … or people with library cards who use public transit) is a matter of eternal mirth to those outside the fabulous fifty states.

Perhaps a global conference should be called to officially designate which color applies to which ideology (I suspect the biggest fight would be between ISIL and the Anarchists over the color BLACK.

Me? I would support anyone who claimed to wave a WHITE flag (and I’m not – believe me – being “racist” here).

+42 # Corvette-Bob 2014-12-25 14:20
Does anyone know why we celebrate Christmas on December 25? Clue it has nothing to do with the birth of anyone. The answer is because the “pagans” were celebrating the winter solstice on December 21 with “wild parties” and all sorts of going ons. So, the Christians decided that they would trump the festivities of the winter solstice with a celebration on December 25 with their own party. And since all of the pagans were gathered together they would just keep the party going. Just for good measure the Christians would incorporate the symbol of the cross with a circle of the symbol of the sun which the pagans worshiped as their god. So that originally the whole celebration was a celebration of the winter solstice. So actually Christmas was started as a war on the Druid’s festivities. So, now is their turn to conduct their war on Christmas. So for everyone out their happy winter solstice and a happy new year.

+13 # asbpab1966 2014-12-25 14:48
Also, the Jewish festival of Chanukah, which celebrated the miracle that occurred in 163BCE, was on the 25th of Kislev, a Jewish month that often corresponded fairly closely with December.

###

Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on December 17th, 2014
by Pincas Jawetz (PJ@SustainabiliTank.com)

Breaking News from CNN December 17, 2014:

President Barack Obama announced plans to normalize diplomatic relations with Cuba and ease economic restrictions, a shift he called the end of an “outdated approach” that “for decades has failed to advance our interests.”

Speaking from his own country, Cuban President Raul Castro lauded the move: “This expression by President Barack Obama deserves the respect and recognition by all the people, and I want to thank and recognize support from the Vatican.”

and then: President Barack Obama announced plans to normalize diplomatic relations with Cuba and ease economic restrictions, a shift he called the end of an “outdated approach” that “for decades has failed to advance our interests.”

Speaking from his own country, Cuban President Raul Castro lauded the move: “This expression by President Barack Obama deserves the respect and recognition by all the people, and I want to thank and recognize support from the Vatican.”

Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida was harshly critical of the move: “By conceding to the oppressors, this President and this administration have let the people of Cuba down.”

KUDOS FROM ALL OVER LATIN AMERICA THAT LONG AGO HAS ESTABLISHED RELATIONS WITH CUBA.
FROM OUR ANGLE – BACK TO THE 1970s WE ARGUED THE US CAN LEARN FROM CUBA ABOUT HOW TO DECREASE DEPENDENCE ON OIL IMPORTS.
THIS AFTER LEARNING IN !978 ABOUT THEIR USE OF BIOMASS AT A UNIDO MEETING IN VIENNA, AND THEN OUR ATTEMPT TO INVITE THEM TO MAKE A PRESENTATION AT The first InterAmerican Conference on Renewable Sources of Energy, New Orleans, Louisiana, November 25-29, 1979 that I had the honor to organize for the Cordell Hull Foundation for International Education BUT WAS TURNED DOWN BY THE US DEPARTMENT OF STATE THAT WAS NOT READY TO ALLOW VISAS FOR THE CUBAN SCIENTISTS. I made sure nevertheless that the conference knows that when you have no trees to cut down you can make paper from sugarcane bagasse.

Louisiana, Cordell Hull Foundation for International Education
The Conference, 1980 – Science – 302 pages

###

Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on November 21st, 2014
by Pincas Jawetz (PJ@SustainabiliTank.com)

The following was reported by Ms. Irith Jawetz who took part at the Presentation the UN made accessible also to outsiders.

“United Nations’ roles on Human Rights, Peace and Security”

Dr. Ivan Simonovic is UN Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights. On Tuesday, November 18th, 2014, he made at the UN an informative presentation on the subject: “United Nations’ Role on Human Rights, Peace and Security”


Mr. Ivan Simonovic assumed his functions as Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights on 17 July 2010 – head of the New York Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) upon a UNSG Ban Ki-moon appointment of May 3, 2014.

A Croatian Diplomat, he was born May 2, 1959 in Zagreb. He is politician and law scholar. In October 2008 he was appointed Justice Minister of Croatia.

Dr. Šimonovic graduated from the University of Zagreb Law School in 1982. He got his doctoral degree in 1990, at the age of 31. Šimonovic joined Croatian diplomacy after the break-up of Yugoslavia. He was an assistant to Foreign Minister Mate Granic during the 1990s, although he never joined the ruling party, the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ).

In 1997, Croatian President Franjo Tujman named him ambassador to the United Nations. Šimonovic served there until 2002. While serving there, Šimonovic presided over the United Nations Economic and Social Council.

In 2002 he became Deputy Foreign Minister in Ivica Rajan government. Again, he didn’t join the ruling party,SDP. However, when HDZ swung back to power in 2003, Šimonovic was not offered a job in the new government.

In 2004, Šimonovic switched to academia and became professor at the University of Zagreb Law School, where he teaches general theory of law and state and international relations.

Dr. Šimonovic was appointed Minister of Justice-designate of Croatia by PM Ivo Sanader on October 6, 2008. His predecessor, Ana Lovrin, had resigned the same day following a series of unsolved assaults and murders linked to Croatian organized crime that culminated with the murder of Ivana Hodak, daughter of a prominent Croatian lawyer Zvonimir Hodak. However, Ivana Hodak was later found to have been murdered as part of a retaliation of a homeless man to Zvonimir Hodak.

In May 2010 then Šimonovic was appointed by the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon as the Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights.
————————–

Turning to the November 2014 lecture at the UN – Dr. Simonovic has just returned from Iraq and is on his way to Ukraine.

He started his lecture by quoting Secretary General Kofi Annan who said: “There is no peace without development, no development without peace and neither without Human Rights”.


Development is one of the key factors for human rights, people in less developed countries are more likely to rebel and if there are conflicts at home, they affect human rights. Syria and Ukraine are the latest examples how a disastrous economy can lead to human rights violations. This situation also spills to the neighboring countries affected such as Jordan and Lebanon, who have to absorb the many refugees and support them. On the other hand, lack of human rights also affects development. Discrimination of minorities, religious groups, gender leads to no access to social services, lack of jobs, and brings upon it corruption. Some people get privileges that other do not, this brings dissatisfaction, instability and fewer developed countries are eager to invest in such a society.


Even worse than economic problems are the violation of human rights during a conflict with elements such as starvation, executions, killings and rape to name a few.
The solution is accountability not retaliation and Criminals need to be brought to Justice.
How can this be achieved?


The United Nations has 800 people posted at the UN in various capacities, including peacekeeping forces, and 500 people posted in National Headquarters as representatives and advisers. They have to report to the Secretary General and General Assembly.
The UN has also established an “Intervention Brigade” which can act fast in some situations, as it happened in South Sudan when they managed to push back the rebels. The UN has come a long way since the times when so many innocent people were killed during the conflict in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Dr. Simonovic told a personal story how he saw people being killed outside the UN compound who were not allowed to enter that compound and seek shelter. In South Sudan, years later, this policy was changed. It was an “Open Gate Policy”, people could find shelter inside the UN compound and were saved. Of course this brought with it many logistic problems such as providing food, water, sanitary equipment, etc. but it was done nevertheless.

The secretary General has approached the subject of Human Rights, Peace and Security by making sure that all security forces have to be checked through very strict background checks. Not having a criminal record is not enough anymore.

Each person that is applying for a job is not allowed to have committed even the slightest violation of Human rights on his or her records. The same applies to personnel outside the UN in the countries themselves. It would be very embarassing for a country to recommend a person and then be found out by the UN independent background check that he or she had a human rights violation on their records.

The motto of the UN is Human Rights Up Front!
Human Rights violations can be used as a first warning to Genocide and war atrocities. The task of the advisers is to detect human rights violations and bring them to the attention of the Secretary General and General Assembly immediately.

Dr. Simonovic admitted that in Sri Lanka the UN has failed – something that at the UN was known a long time ago thanks to the insistent questioning from one single investigative journalist active at the UN – Mr. Matthew Lee. The UN did not act fast enough said now Dr. Simonovic, but Mr. Lee was not satisfied with this answer – he would like to see a full investigation of this case.

Dr. Simonovic said that the UN has women on their peacekeeping forces and they are basically better mediators than men. Women are more sensitive than men, more focused healing than on revenge, he said.

In conclusion Dr. Simonovic admitted that the system is not perfect, it is much better than it was, but there is a lot still to be done. Human Rights violations should not be tolerated and the United Nations is making the utmost efforts to combat this task.

While above was being discussed at the UN, on Thursday, US President Barack Obama, in an historic move has broken the US taboo of dealing with the illegal immigration issue, by acknowledging that trying peacefully to better one’s life is a basic human right – so that the UN official might find it easier now to do the right things at the UN as well.

According to NPR news, after six years of often bitter back-and-forth with congressional Republicans over the issue of immigration, President Obama announced he has decided to go it alone by temporarily shielding up to 5 million immigrants from being deported.

In a prime-time speech to the country on Thursday, President Obama said that he would defer the deportation of the parents of children who are either U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents, and that he also would expand that protection to more “DREAMers,” or children who entered the country illegally with their parents. Those two groups also will be allowed to work in the United States legally, after passing a background check and paying a fee.

In a very compassionate speech, President Obama said:

“scripture tells us that we shall not oppress a stranger, for we know the heart of a stranger — we were strangers once, too.

“My fellow Americans, we are and always will be a nation of immigrants. We were strangers once, too. And whether our forebears were strangers who crossed the Atlantic, or the Pacific, or the Rio Grande, we are here only because this country welcomed them in, and taught them that to be an American is about something more than what we look like, or what our last names are, or how we worship. What makes us Americans is our shared commitment to an ideal – that all of us are created equal, and all of us have the chance to make of our lives what we will.”

###

Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on July 12th, 2014
by Pincas Jawetz (PJ@SustainabiliTank.com)

 

Europe

An Argentine and a German, but No Sign at the Vatican of a World Cup Rivalry

Pope and Predecessor Have No Plans for World Cup Final

By

 
Photo

 
Benedict XVI, pope emeritus, of Germany, with Pope Francis, of Argentina. Their countries will compete in the finals of the World Cup on Sunday. Credit L’Osservatore Romano, via Associated Press

ROME — They have prayed together and embraced each other as brothers, but Pope Francis and his predecessor, Benedict XVI, now pope emeritus, find themselves confronting an odd sort of schism: their two countries are competing in the finals of the World Cup on Sunday.

For many, this has raised the question of whether they will watch the game together. But the more basic question is whether Francis, 77, of Argentina, and Benedict, 87, of Germany, will be watching at all, given that the match begins at 9 p.m. in Italy and may not end until nearly midnight.

Francis and Benedict have both lived on the grounds of the Vatican since Francis was elected to the papacy in March 2013, after Benedict’s historic resignation. Initially, some analysts speculated that the arrangement might breed intrigue: Would the Vatican be divided between two popes? Instead, the two men have apparently forged a warm friendship, as Benedict has quietly receded from public life while Francis has emerged as a major global figure.

The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, who has fielded soccer questions this week with a chuckling amusement, doubted the two men would watch the game together, or at all. He noted that Benedict, a scholarly theologian and author of a multipart meditation on the life of Jesus, has never been much of a soccer fan, “though he clearly understands that it’s important to many people.” (In March 2012, Benedict did greet the German star Miroslav Klose at the Vatican.)

 

The first Latin American pope, Francis is unquestionably a fan, who as archbishop of Buenos Aires cheered for San Lorenzo, a local soccer club. After San Lorenzo won the Argentine championship last year, a small delegation of managers and players came to the Vatican in December to present Francis with a trophy and an inscribed team jersey that read, “Francisco Campeon,” or “Francis Champion.”

Last August at the Apostolic Palace, Francis welcomed the national teams of Italy and Argentina, including the star Argentine striker Lionel Messi, before the two sides played a friendly match in Rome. Francis managed to duck a question about which country he would be rooting for (Argentina won, 2-1), even as he called on the athletes to be role models for young people.

Francis also asked players on both teams to pray for him, according to The Associated Press, “so that I, on the ‘field’ upon which God placed me, can play an honest and courageous game for the good of us all.”

In that spirit, the Vatican Pontifical Council for Culture has launched a “Pause for Peace” campaign and is asking for a global moment of silence before Sunday’s match to remember people enduring war and conflict.

And will the pope be watching on Sunday night?

Father Lombardi said the pope “sent the Argentine team his best wishes before the tournament,” but added that Francis watches very little television, “and especially at that hour.”

“Above all,” he added, “I think they both want the best team to win. They’re above partisan passion. In this, they are united.”

 

A version of this article appears in print on July 12, 2014, on page A4 of the New York edition with the headline: An Argentine and a German, but No Sign at the Vatican of a World Cup Rivalry.

###

Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on June 13th, 2014
by Pincas Jawetz (PJ@SustainabiliTank.com)

Ukraine: four crises, one country.

    • The Ukraine Neighbourhood

      by Nicu Popescu –  senior analyst at the EU Institute for Security Studies in Paris, where he deals with the EU’s eastern neighbourhood and Russia.

    For most of the last two decades virtually every Ukrainian election or opinion poll has displayed two Ukraines – one Western-leaning and another looking to Moscow; one voting Timoshenko or Yushchenko and another pro Yanukovich; one against Putin and another in favour of him. Unsurprisingly, many feared that the ousting of Yanukovich, the Russian annexation of Crimea, and the infiltration of eastern Ukraine by Russian military intelligence would lead Ukraine to split in two or collapse altogether like a house of cards.

    Ukraine still faces four interconnected existential crises: economic, political, territorial and diplomatic (with Russia). It is also clear that even if the country manages to overcome these challenges, it will not be left unscathed. The past three months, however, have shown that Ukraine was not a powder keg waiting to explode, despite several matches having been thrown at it.

    The country’s resilience has proven stronger than many assumed (both in Russia and the rest of Europe) and while its blend of problems might be poisonous, they are not insurmountable. Petro Poroshenko’s unexpectedly smooth popular election – with support drawn evenly across Ukraine – represents a potential turning point in the spiral of overlapping crises that have characterised its recent past.

     

    One Ukraine, not two

    Both Sunday’s elections results and the localised nature of the armed insurgency in east suggest there is neither two Ukraines nor a distinct ‘southeastern’ Ukraine. Although electoral preferences in Ukraine may have differed in the past, there is overwhelming popular and elite support for maintaining Ukraine as one state in the majority of its regions.

    For all the worrying images of what looks like a descent into civil war, the armed insurgency is affecting just parts of two Ukrainian regions, or oblasts – Donetsk and Luhansk. The other regions of the ‘southeast’ – Dnipropetrovsk, Zaporizhia, Mykolaiv, Odessa, Kharkiv and Kherson – have more or less remained stable. None of these regions witnessed the overnight implosion of the state apparatus that occurred in Crimea or parts of Donetsk and Luhansk, although it is not impossible that further Russian inroads could destabilise the situation further.

    This relative stability is partly due to attempts by Ukrainian elites – in Kiev and in the east – to find a new post-Yanukovich modus vivendi. But the wider public also seems to be on a similar path: an opinion poll conducted last month by the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology revealed that over 70% of people in the south and east of the country no longer consider Yanukovich their legitimate president; 79% do not support secession from Kiev (and only 25% support federalisation); and 45% would be happy with decentralisation. Although in the regions of Donetsk and Luhansk there are greater levels of support for Yanukovich, the armed insurgency, and for joining Russia, even there such support hovers around 20%-30% (in the other regions it is under 10%). In short, there is no broad-based support for either armed separatists or a Russian intervention.

    Finally, the recent election results are indicative of a country that has significant regional variations but is, nonetheless, one country. Poroshenko, who was born in south Ukraine not far from Odessa, came first in the presidential race in every single region of Ukraine.

    Localizing the armed insurgency

    In response to the takeover of public buildings in parts of eastern Ukraine, the government deployed military and police units in an attempt to fight the armed challenge to state authority. The start of the operation was, however, a disaster. Local police and intelligence in the Donetsk and Luhansk area refused to obey orders or simply disbanded: in one instance, a group of soldiers surrendered several armed personnel carriers to a protesting crowd. In Mariupol, the army, not trained in the ways of managing large, mostly unarmed crowds in urban settings, opened fire on civilians. Now several weeks into the operation, several towns in the two regions remain outside governmental control.

    Yet in another sense, the operation has been a qualified success. Although its maximalist goal of quickly defeating the separatists was not achieved, its minimalist goal – containing the insurgency, preventing its geographic spread, and holding the 25 May presidential elections in most parts of Ukraine – has been achieved. Elections were properly organised and carried out in 22 out of 25 regions (people were denied the opportunity to vote in Donbas and Luhansk, as well as in annexed Crimea). Despite the intensified fighting and additional bloodshed since the elections, the chances that Kiev can prevent the contamination of other parts of Ukrainian territory look reasonable.

    A key player in containing and even rolling back the insurgency is one of Ukraine’s most prominent oligarchs and leader of the United Jewish Community of Ukraine: Igor Kolomoisky. Upon being appointed governor of the Dnipropetrovsk region in March, he quickly stabilised the situation by asserting control over the law enforcement agencies. Parts of the Donetsk region, unhappy with the descent into separatist chaos, are now seeking protection from the Kolomoisky-led Dnipropetrovsk administration. And when around 40 people died after clashes in Odessa between pro-Russian and pro-Ukrainian activists, a Kolomoisky protégé was quickly appointed local governor.

    Avoiding an economic crash

    Thanks to Western assistance, a total economic collapse seems to have been averted, and the self-styled ‘Kamikaze government’ led by Yatseniuk has already begun to undertake certain reforms. An all-out assault on vested interests is unlikely, but a lower-key war of attrition against some of the more corrupt elements of the state is underway.

    Partly thanks to strong IMF and Western conditionality, some progress is being made. A new, World Bank approved public procurement law was adopted in parliament (albeit on the second attempt and with a one vote majority). An anti-discrimination law, paving the way to EU visa liberalisation, has also been passed. The government has increased the cost of the hitherto subsidised energy prices, which should help redress some of Ukraine’s gas debt. Pavlo Sheremeta, the economy and trade minister (a graduate from Harvard Business School and former advisor to the Malaysian government), boldly aims to bring Ukraine closer to the top 10 countries with the best business environment – according to the Cost of Doing Business report, where Ukraine held the 145th place in 2013. Admittedly this is no small task, but setting ambitious goals is having the positive effect of focusing minds in Kiev.

    For a government that is three months old, and has spent most of its time managing an armed challenge to its statehood, localising separatism, organising presidential elections and taking steps to deal with the country’s economic mess, this is a decent start. Yet success is far from assured, since the remedy for one type of crisis often aggravates another. In this respect, the central question for Ukraine in the following months will be how to maintain internal unity while reforming the oligarchic economy that triggered the revolution in the first place.

     

    Disempowering the oligarchs?

    The system whereby oligarchs made their fortunes by looting the state through corrupt public procurement, various subsidies (including gas), and the privatisation of law enforcement agencies – which allowed the most powerful business sharks to take over assets of their competitors through administrative pressure, in what is called ‘reiderstvo’– had long undermined the Ukrainian state. Reform means conflict – with vested interests, a bloated public sector, and the subsidised sectors of the economy which are driving the whole country to bankruptcy. The system survived for so long precisely because it has so many stakeholders, with a handful of oligarchs being only the most visible beneficiaries.

    Though tackling corruption was supposed to be a key priority for the post-Yanukovich government, the focus on internal reform shifted to territorial defence following the armed intervention on its eastern borders. Confronted with an military conflict, Kiev took steps to co-opt (rather than squeeze) the oligarchs – not least because most of them have their power bases in eastern Ukraine – and to offer them a stake in the new political system as a way of maintaining the country’s unity. Declaring war on the oligarchs could have led to even greater destabilisation of eastern Ukraine. Igor Kolomoisky was appointed as governor of Dnipropetrovsk, and Serhiy Taruta as governor of Donetsk, while other oligarchs such as Dmitri Firtash, or regional ‘barons’ like Genady Kernes in Kharkiv, positioned themselves as relatively constructive players in order to retain as much (and as many) of their fiefdoms as possible. Petro Poroshenko, the new president of Ukraine, is one of the country’s richest individuals and has served in various governments under both presidents Yushchenko and Yanukovich.

    Co-opting the oligarchs has yielded success in the short term, helping to confine the armed insurgency in the east to just two regions. Yet this short-term success could turn into a mid-term failure if the oligarchic system remains the same. Since the government is not in a position to launch an all-out Saakashvili-style assault on corruption and vested interests, the best-case scenario would be to embark on a series of ‘salami’ reforms conducted by technocrats in the government with as much external support as possible and strong conditionality from international donors in order to strengthen the hand of the reformists. While such a piecemeal approach could be an arduous task and could easily fail, it appears to be the only real possibility given the current environment.

     

    Federation or separation?

    Ukraine’s territorial crisis will not be resolved soon. Short of a Chechnya-style, large-scale military assault on urban areas – which would risk the mass indiscriminate killing of civilians – Ukraine is not in a position to defeat the armed insurgents as long as they receive (tacit) Russian support.

    For the time being, two possible models of a ‘non-solution’ have been floated. One is labelled ‘Finlandisation’, i.e. the creation of a neutral state which – as the theory goes – would offer credible guarantees that NATO will not grant membership to Ukraine and thus assuage Russia. The other is labelled ‘Bosnia-isation’, i.e. the creation of a federalised entity with large veto powers for its constituent regions. The two models do not appear incompatible, and could even be combined.

    On paper, both options have their merits. Finland has done well since the end of the Second World War, is prosperous and secure and joined the EU in 1995. For its part, while Bosnia might appear a rather dysfunctional federation but its constituent parts have at least prevented further bloodshed. Unfortunately, neither option is likely for Ukraine.

    Should Ukraine become either neutral or federal – or both – it would end up nothing like either Bosnia or Finland. Bosnia might be still divided internally, but it sits in the middle of the single most benign international environment on earth. Finland’s neutrality throughout the Cold War was agreed upon and respected: none of these two conditions are likely in Ukraine. It suffices to look at Moldova, which adopted neutrality in 1994 in the hope that this would persuade Russia to cease their support for secessionist Transnistria. Not only this has not happened, but Moldova has been under constant and growing Russian pressure not to move closer to the EU. Even Ukraine under President Yanukovich – who gave up trying to move closer to NATO – was placed under constant pressure not to sign the Association Agreement with the EU. Similarly, a neutral Ukraine would be unlikely to bring about a new era of Russian-Ukrainian-Western cooperation, for now Russia perceives it to be in direct competition with not just NATO but also the EU.

    Another scenario, almost by default, would be the transformation of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions into a bigger ‘Transnistria’ – a secessionist territory that is not recognised by anyone, but which creates de facto state structures with Russian support. Moscow’s logic would be that, at a later stage, this could be used as a bargaining chip with the government in Kiev to push for federalisation and/or neutrality.

    These tactics has been employed several times before – in Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Transnistria itself – but without much success for Russia. The presence of these frozen conflicts made Georgian and Moldovan moves away from Russia more, rather than less, likely. Both countries have now learned to live without their former regions and are on the verge of signing Association Agreements with the EU despite Russian threats and at the risk of complicating relations with their secessionist regions further. While Georgia and Moldova might lag far behind the EU in political and economic terms, they nevertheless have score reasonably well for resource-poor countries manoeuvring in a very difficult geopolitical environment.

    There is already a growing sentiment among Kiev elites that, if it comes to it, losing the Donbass would not be catastrophic and might actually lead to a more cohesive and reform-oriented Ukraine. Against all odds, Ukraine is managing to survive as a country: it now needs to build a state.

    EUISS Brief, May 2014

    ###

    Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on June 10th, 2014
    by Pincas Jawetz (PJ@SustainabiliTank.com)

     Our original posting of June 9th was updated June 10th with further information about the Vatican meeting and the visit to Italy’s Rome.

     

    Photo

    From left, President Shimon Peres of Israel, Pope Francis and President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority in the Vatican gardens on Sunday for a “prayer summit.” Francis said he hoped it would begin “a  ew journey where we seek the things that unite, so as to overcome the things that divide.”      Credit Gregorio Borgia/Associated Press

     

    VATICAN CITY — In a richly symbolic ceremony, Pope Francis oversaw a carefully orchestrated  “prayer summit” with the Israeli and Palestinian presidents on Sunday as Jews, Christians and Muslims offered invocations for peace in the Vatican gardens.

    “It is my hope that this meeting will mark the beginning of a new journey where we seek the things that unite, so as to overcome the things that divide,”  Francis said at the ceremony.

    During his trip last month to Israel, Jordan and the West Bank, Francis unexpectedly extended invitations for a summit at the Vatican to President Shimon Peres of Israel and President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority.

    He said the meeting would be about prayer, not politics, and Vatican officials sought to dispel any expectation that a breakthrough would emerge.

    Many Mideast analysts, while applauding the gesture, have been skeptical that the meeting would help revive the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process, but it did, at least, bring together the two presidents, who held a private meeting after the ceremony with Francis.

    Photo

    Mr. Abbas of Palestine, center, kissed Mr. Peres of Israel, left, following a joint peace prayer with Francis at the Vatican.   Credit Filippo Monteforte/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

     

    During the ceremony, Mr. Peres and Mr. Abbas avoided the familiar political tropes. There was no mention of 1967 borders or security arrangements. Mr. Abbas did not use the word “occupation,” according to an English translation of his prepared text distributed by the Vatican. (Nor did he say the word “Israel,” though he did refer once to Israelis.)

    Yet there were some subtle provocations. Mr. Abbas called Jerusalem, considered by both Israelis and Palestinians as their capital, “our Holy City” and referred to “the Holy Land Palestine.” (Mr. Peres described Jerusalem both as “the vibrant heart of the Jewish people” and as “the cradle of the three monotheistic religions.”)

    Mr. Abbas also prayed for a “sovereign and independent state” and said Palestinians were “craving for a just peace, dignified living and liberty,” implying that they were denied these things under Israel’s occupation.

    Mr. Peres did not mention rockets fired from the Gaza Strip, but he evoked the attacks with the biblical quotation, “Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.”

    The ceremony was held in a garden behind St. Peter’s Basilica that is enclosed by a high hedge to provide a sense of intimacy, and that offers a spectacular view of the cupola of the basilica. It also was chosen as a place that seemed somewhat neutral in terms of religious iconography. The service was carefully organized into three successive “moments,” in which prayers and readings were offered by Jews, then Christians and then Muslims. Then the three leaders spoke.

    In the moments before the ceremony, the three men rode together in a small bus to the garden, along with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, the Orthodox Christian leader. At times, they appeared to share a laugh.

    The prayer summit came at a fraught political moment. Less than a week ago, a new Palestinian government was sworn in that is based on a pact with Hamas, the militant Islamic movement branded as terrorist by most of the West. Israel has officially shunned the new cabinet and has sought unsuccessfully to galvanize the world against it.  Israel’s cabinet did give Mr. Peres the pro forma approval to travel to the Vatican, but some in Israel worried about the timing of this new embrace of Mr. Abbas.

    In contrast to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Mr. Peres has long maintained that Mr. Abbas is a suitable partner for peacemaking.  In a recent television interview, Mr. Peres said that in 2011, Mr. Netanyahu cut off back-channel talks between the two presidents that had come close to a deal, something the prime minister’s office has denied.  But even as Mr. Peres was arriving for the Vatican event, Mr. Netanyahu continued his criticism of the new Palestinian government during a cabinet meeting on Sunday in Jerusalem.

    “Whoever hoped that the Palestinian unity between Fatah and Hamas would moderate Hamas is mistaken,” he said, calling for international pressure on Mr. Abbas to dissolve the new partnership.

    In the hours before the prayer summit, the usual crowd of tourists milled about St. Peter’s Square, including some people who hoped the meeting could make a difference.

    “His gesture can help solve the situation,” said Esteban Troncosa, 16, of Santa Fe, Argentina, who was in Rome for a one-month language study trip with his class. “His message has always been to stop wars, and avoid any form of violence. I am sure this can make a difference. The pope can’t sign political agreements, but he is a symbol and can make people and politicians think.”

    ——————————————

    ###