Tagged: United States

Quiet heroes of the US-Cuba deal: Pope Francis and Canada

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The historic deal to begin normalizing relations between the US and Cuba, after 50-plus years of hostility, is being credited primarily to President Obama and Raul Castro, Cuba’s current de facto leader and the brother of Fidel. That is with good reason: Obama has been working on this issue throughout much of his presidency and Castro is taking a significant risk by allowing wider Internet access into Cuba as part of the deal.

But there are two actors that quietly played a major role in this: Canada and Pope Francis.

The negotiations that led to today’s announcement, in which the US and Cuba will take major steps toward normalization, took 18 long months, according to a report in the New York Times. And many of those negotiations were held in Canada, formally but secretly hosted by the Canadian government.

Canada was helping to solve two crucial problems. First, the talks needed to remain secret to have any hope of succeeding — had they leaked, the political backlash in the US would have almost certainly killed the deal.

Second, for diplomatic reasons, the talks could not be held on US or Cuban soil, but the negotiators needed a physical meeting place. The Canadian government, which unlike the US does have ties with Cuba but is also extremely close to the US government, was an obviously attractive broker for the US. While Canadian officials did not officially participate in the talks, their role in providing a secret and official channel was crucial, according to US officials.

If Canada was essential for providing the Americans with a safe and secure forum for talks, then Pope Francis played a similar role in helping to bring the Cuban leaders to the negotiating table. And, unlike Canadian officials, who did not sit at from the formal talks, Vatican officials participated actively in discussions.

Pope Francis’ role included sending a personal letter to both Obama and Raul Castro over the summer urging them to reach a deal (talks were already ongoing at that point). Francis also reportedly raised the issue repeatedly in his meeting with Obama in March. And Francis hosted the final negotiation session at the Vatican, where Vatican officials participated in the talks…

Nice to see a couple of competent, worldly participants take the lead in bringing the United States into reforming a diplomatic and political stance originated by thugs like the United Fruit Company in the era of Banana Imperialism. A half-century of embargo and blockade hadn’t dragged Cuba into subservience. Continuing the policy only reinforced the world’s perception of the United States as a bully.

Pope Francis continues to impress. I hope he has as much success bringing the Roman Catholic church into the modern era as he has – individually – as a representative of Christianity beginning to discover a bit of enlightenment.

Nice at least to see that Harper’s mean-spirited conservatism hasn’t yet affected Canada’s traditional leadership role in diplomacy among the Americas and beyond.

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The New Yorker illustrates the racial divide in Ferguson, Missouri and the USA

Cover-Story-Ferguson-Arch
Click to enlarge

The NewYorker has long had the courage to take sides against bigotry and racism. Especially important in a nation that rationalizes away lynching-by-cop with sophistry about “two sides to every question”.

Vox has a short note about the magazine and Bob Stake who did this cover for next week’s edition.

Pic of the week


Click to enlargeREUTERS/Yorgos Karahalis

Flowers are placed on a monument inside the Athens’ Polytechnic school, on the eve of the 41st anniversary of a 1973 student uprising against the then military ruling junta in Athens. Yes, the junta was supported by the United States government.

Sweden recognizes the state of Palestine

Sweden has officially recognised the state of Palestine, Stockholm’s foreign minister has said, less than a month after the government announced its intention to make the unprecedented move.

The Palestinians cheered Thursday’s move, while Israel recalled its ambassador to Sweden for consultations…

Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom said in a statement that the recognition was “an important step that confirms the Palestinians’ right to self-determination”.

We hope that this will show the way for others,” she said in remarks published in the Dagens Nyheter daily.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas hailed the “brave and historic” move to officially recognise the state of Palestine, his spokesman told the AFP news agency.

Sweden is the first EU member state in Western Europe to recognise the Palestinian state.

Seven EU members in eastern European and the Mediterranean have already recognised a Palestinian state – Bulgaria, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Malta, Poland, and Romania.

Non-EU member Iceland is the only other western European nation to have done so…

The United States expressed dismay – from their usual position next Israel in bed. Nothing new. They only know one position.

Our government’s willingness to ignore historic professions of support for national liberation, anti-colonialism, opposition to oil-based imperialism reaches new depths of hypocrisy.

Texas denies woman a driver’s license because of same-sex marriage


Connie Wilson, her spouse and one of their children

A new Houston resident is upset that she was refused a legal Texas driver’s license.

When Connie Wilson, her spouse, and three kids packed up their life and moved halfway across the country to Texas, the last hurdle she expected was getting a Texas driver’s license. She was in for a surprise when she went to the Department of Public Safety (DPS) branch office in Pasadena.

Wilson presented her California marriage license to DPS employee as a secondary form of identification. She and her spouse Aimee were legally married in California, and Connie took Aimee’s last name, Wilson…

Texas doesn’t recognize same sex marriage. The DPS employee told Wilson even though she and her spouse are legally married, the certificate cannot be used to authenticate who she is. She was denied a Texas License.

Reached in Austin, DPS officials sent Eyewitness News the following statement: “To receive a Texas driver license or identification card reflecting a name change from a same-sex marriage, a court order is required.”

Wilson says she doesn’t understand why she needs to spend money on a court order when the license already states her legal name…

In addition, Wilson is worried the closing on her house could have been hampered, and her inability to vote in the upcoming election…

Frustrated, the Wilsons reached out to Texas State Senator Sylvia Garcia (D-Houston), who is looking into the DPS decision.

“This is something that deeply concerns us, and we’re looking at this, because we don’t want this to happen to anyone else in Texas,” said the Senator. “This is not the way to treat someone who is relocating to our state, we need to make sure they can buy homes, get jobs, and register to vote.”

Wilson’s first mistake was presuming officials of a state as politically backwards as Texas would respond to logic.

The second was assuming Texas politicians recognize the United States of America and our Constitution as having authority and priority over the fear and ignorance of homophobic nutballs.

Realistic count of homicides by police = about 1100 per year

…The U.S. government doesn’t track how many people are killed by the police. The FBI tracks “justifiable” police homicides, which it reports to be about 400 per year, but that tally is an undercount.

Given this vacuum, attention has recently turned to some excellent nongovernmental attempts to compile this data, including the Fatal Encounters database, the recently created Gun Violence Archive and a new database created by Deadspin.

But one recent effort stood out for its apparent comprehensiveness: The Killed By Police Facebook page, which aggregates links to news articles on police-related killings and keeps a running tally on the number of victims. The creator of the page does not seek to determine whether police killings are justifiable; each post “merely documents the occurrence of a death.” He told FiveThirtyEight that he was an instructor on nonviolent physical-intervention techniques and that he prefers to remain anonymous.

Killed by Police had listed more than 1,450 deaths caused by law-enforcement officers since its launch, on May 1, 2013, through Sunday. That works out to about three per day, or 1,100 a year.

The page doesn’t claim that this is a comprehensive count, but it could be useful — like the count from the FBI’s annual Supplementary Homicide Report is useful — for setting a baseline number of police killings, as long as important caveats are acknowledged. For one, any database drawn from news sites relies on the assumption that the reports are accurate…

RTFA for an interesting examination of how the folks at fivethirtyeight.com went about their statistical task. They’re one of the most reliable, self-checking survey sources in the nation along with the Pew Foundation.

Just another day in Gaza: Israel shells people waiting in line for food – Netanyahu says OK to murder civilians – Obama says nothing

Guernica
Click to enlarge – GUERNICA – after Nazis bombed that village during the Spanish Civil War

At least 10 people have been killed in a strike near a UN-run school housing Palestinians displaced by the Gaza conflict, medics say. The attack hit the entrance of the facility in Rafah, where thousands of Palestinians are said to be sheltering…

The latest exchanges came after Israel’s military said that an officer it feared had been captured had now been confirmed dead. Hadar Goldin went missing on Friday near Rafah.

Confirmation of 2nd Lt Goldin’s death means 66 Israelis have now died in the fighting, all but two of them soldiers…

Palestinian death toll [this morning] now over 1700 – a third of them women and children.

The Israeli shelling of the Jabaliya UN shelter last week, which killed 16 people, drew widespread international condemnation.

In the latest attack, eyewitnesses said a missile struck as people queued for food…At least 30 people were also hurt, Palestinian officials said. Images showed injured children being carried away.

Robert Turner, director of operations for the UN Palestinian refugee agency in Gaza, said: “The locations of all of these installations have been passed to the Israeli military multiple times. They know where these shelters are. How this continues to happen, I have no idea…”

I think we all get the idea. Israel’s military, Israel’s government, doesn’t care how many innocents they kill.

Chris Gunness, from the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), told the BBC that a “health disaster of widespread proportions is rapidly unfolding in Gaza, with medical services on the verge of collapse”.

He said: “Critical supplies of medicines and disposables are almost depleted and the damage and destruction of power supplies has left hospitals dependent on unreliable generators.”

Yes, there is a lot more in the article from Israel’s government. Don’t worry – you won’t miss any of it.

You will hear that side repeated over and over, again, on all the Sunday talk shows and in the obedient American press. Flunkies from the United States government will say that the billion$ in military weapons provided Israel every year are only there for defense.

Not to keep a captive nation in subjugation.

US court overturns Obama’s decision that wind farm is a security risk

wind-farms-US

A US Federal Court has overturned a ruling backing President Barack Obama’s decision to block a Chinese-owned company’s from building four 10MW projects in Oregon.

The US Court of Appeal for the District of Columbia reversed the decision made in October by the Federal District Court, which said Obama followed correct procedure in refusing Ralls Co. permission to build the Oregon projects and forcing the company to sell them.

Ralls Co., which is owned by Chinese firm Sany Electric, sued the US government in 2012 after Obama’s decision. It was the first time since 1990 a US president blocked a foreign business deal.

The president ruled, in 2012, the location of the four projects near the Naval Weapons Systems Training Facility in the US northwest posed a threat to national security

Now, the Federal Court of Appeals has backed Ralls Corp and ordered the company be provided with the evidence the President used to block the application.

The lizard brains in Washington were afraid that airspace used for training naval aviators might somehow be compromised by wind generators producing carbon-free electricity.

Will our nation ever weary of hypocrites and paranoids in charge of our destiny? Populists on the Left and Right wail and whine about foreign investment in the United States as an appropriate alternative to American corporations offshoring jobs whenever and wherever they can save a couple of pennies on the dollar. But, when foreign investors happen to be the wrong political color, when folks roll ashore carrying dollars from the profits they made from your friendly neighborhood capitalist – the Cold War is somehow more appealing to the blivets sitting in air-conditioned DC offices. And, yes, there are other wind farms in the same area also operated by foreigners: one Danish company and another German.

There aren’t a whole boatload of elected officials dedicated to helping us out. Cripes, we can’t even get the leadpants brigade in Congress to ante up the geedus to repair our roads and bridges. But, we’re supposed to trust their history of dedication to job security when they disapprove of clean air from a project owned by the “wrong kind” of furriner.

Death spiral linked to neonicotinoids expands to include farmland birds

New research has identified the world’s most widely used insecticides as the key factor in the recent reduction in numbers of farmland birds.

The finding represents a significant escalation of the known dangers of the insecticides and follows an assessment in June that warned that pervasive pollution by these nerve agents was now threatening all food production.

The neonicotinoid insecticides are believed to seriously harm bees and other pollinating insects, and a two-year EU suspension on three of the poisons began at the end of 2013. But the suspected knock-on effects on other species had not been demonstrated until now.

Peer-reviewed research, published in the leading journal Nature this Wednesday, has revealed data from the Netherlands showing that bird populations fell most sharply in those areas where neonicotinoid pollution was highest. Starlings, tree sparrows and swallows were among the most affected…

The researchers, led by Hans de Kroon, an ecologist at Radboud University, in the Netherlands, examined other possible reasons for the bird declines seen during the study period of 2003 to 2010, including intensification of farming. But high pollution by a neonicotinoid known as imidacloprid was by far the largest factor.

“It is very surprising and very disturbing,” de Kroon said. Water pollution levels of just 20 nanograms of neonicotinoid per litre led to a 30% fall in bird numbers over 10 years, but some water had contamination levels 50 times higher. “That is why it is so disturbing – there is an incredible amount of imidacloprid in the water,” he said. “And it is not likely these effects will be restricted to birds.”

De Kroon added: “All the other studies [on harm caused by neonicotinoids] build up from toxicology studies. But we approached this completely from the other end. We started with the bird population data and tried to explain the declines. Our study really makes the evidence complete that something is going on here. We can’t go on like this any more. It has to stop.”

RTFa for all the details. As a modern society I expect the Netherlands will respond to scientific studies as the peer-review process continues.

Here in the land of Tea Parties and the Best Government Money Can Buy – I am less assured of any efforts to proceed with caution and a decision process based on science. But, then – you already knew that.

Thanks, Mike