Archives for April 2018

Netanyahu’s Powerpoint attack on the Iran deal was aimed at Trump

Vox reports:

All the so-called new information in Netanyahu’s presentation is actually pretty old. A 2011 International Atomic Energy Agency report noted the existence of Project Amad and the role SPND played in continuing its work — four years before the nuclear deal was signed.

And the Israeli leader’s speech contained no evidence that Iran had restarted its weapons program or in any way violated the limits on nuclear activities like enrichment set up by the deal — which the IAEA has repeatedly confirmed Iran is abiding by.

“I was actually surprised at the level of hype,” says Maloney. “I don’t see that Netanyahu made a good case for scrapping [the deal.]”

Netanyahu at one point suggested that keeping these old files from the IAEA was, in and of itself, a violation of the deal. But it wasn’t clear what provision of the agreement he was pointing to, and there may not actually be one.

“I don’t believe that retaining the documents is a violation of the [Iran deal] per se,” says James Acton, the director of the Carnegie Endowment’s nuclear policy program. “I assume this requirement wasn’t included because it was considered unverifiable.”

But more fundamentally, there’s a hole in Netanyahu’s logic. His argument appeared to be that Iran lied about nuclear activities in the past, which means it’s likely to lie about it in the future. Put more bluntly, Netanyahu says that the Iran deal is a bad deal because it relies on trusting the Iranians, who aren’t trustworthy.

The problem, experts say, is that the Iran deal isn’t actually based on trust. It’s based on a deeply rigorous system of inspections, one that has repeatedly confirmed that Iran is not, in fact, cheating by, say, restarting prohibited centrifuges. It’s one thing to have a covert bomb program in 2003, before the agreement; it’s quite another when your country is crawling with IAEA inspectors. The deal doesn’t rely on trusting the Iranians; it creates series of mechanisms that hamstring their ability to lie.

This isn’t just the view of outside experts. Defense Secretary James Mattis, who has a reputation as an Iran hawk, said in April 14 Senate testimony that the deal’s inspection provisions are well-designed to spot Iranian violations (such as a covert bomb program, for example).

”I’ve read [the Iran deal] now three times … and I will say that it is written almost with an assumption that Iran would try to cheat,” Mattis said in April 14 Senate testimony. “So the verification … is actually pretty robust as far as our intrusive ability to get in.”

After Netanyahu’s presentation, a reporter asked if Mattis still had confidence in the deal on this point. His answer was a simple yes. [Continue reading…]

Suspected Israeli strikes hit Iran-linked targets in Syria, escalating regional tensions

The Washington Post reports:

Missile strikes at two Iran-linked bases in Syria caused huge explosions and killed dozens of pro-government fighters, a monitoring group said Monday, in an attack seen as Israel’s latest blow in a shadow war to contain Iranian influence.

Syrian state media reported major blasts in parts of Hama and Aleppo provinces about 10:30 p.m. Sunday. It did not identify the targets, but other pro-government media outlets said they were weapons depots for the Syrian regime and Iranian forces.

While the state-owned daily Tishreen said the missiles were launched from U.S. and British military bases, analysts said the most likely source was Israel, which has previously acknowledged carrying out more than 100 strikes in Syria during the civil war.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Israel carried out the attacks. The monitoring group identified the main target as an arms depot for surface-to-surface missiles at a base in northern Syria known as Brigade 47. It said the Neirab military air base, southeast of Aleppo city, also was hit.

At least 26 people were killed, four of them Syrians, the Syrian Observatory said. Representatives of a regional alliance that includes Iran, Syria and the Hezbollah paramilitary group said that Iranians were among the dead, and some cited a much higher toll. [Continue reading…]

Optimism about Korea will kill us all

Jeffrey Lewis writes:

North Korea agreed to stop testing because Kim is getting what he wants. The third inter-Korean summit was not premised on Kim Jong Un offering to disarm. He has never, ever made a concrete promise to abandon his nuclear weapons program. If you read the joint statement closely, what South and North Korea have done is to take disarmament off the table as a concrete outcome and substitute a vague aspiration that at some point nuclear weapons will no longer be necessary.

Until that time, Kim is willing to agree to a much more modest series of steps — a moratorium on launches of intermediate- and intercontinental-range ballistic missiles, as well as an end to nuclear testing. Those are good things. We should appreciate them as genuine improvements to U.S. security, not something to tide the United States over until North Korea turns over missiles and nuclear warheads.

Kim is working toward winning a de facto recognition of North Korea as a nuclear power in exchange for his agreement to respect certain limits — an end to certain missile tests and nuclear explosions, an agreement not to export nuclear technology to other states, and perhaps a pledge by North Korea not to use nuclear weapons. To accept this would represent a complete and total retreat from decades of U.S. policy — a retreat that I believe is overdue and the inevitable consequence of North Korea’s development of ICBMs and thermonuclear weapons. We have to learn to accept North Korea as it is. And what North Korea is, is nuclear-armed. [Continue reading…]

Worldwide catastrophe as shorebirds face extinction

 

John W. Fitzpatrick and Nathan R. Senner write:

A worldwide catastrophe is underway among an extraordinary group of birds — the marathon migrants we know as shorebirds. Numbers of some species are falling so quickly that many biologists fear an imminent planet-wide wave of extinctions.

These declines represent the No. 1 conservation crisis facing birds in the world today. Climate change, coastal development, the destruction of wetlands and hunting are all culprits. And because these birds depend for their survival, as we do, on the shorelines of oceans, estuaries, rivers, lakes, lagoons and marshes, their declines point to a systemic crisis that demands our attention, for our own good.

No doubt you’ve seen some of these birds while on vacation at the beach, skittering back and forth along the cusp of waves as they peck with their long beaks for tiny sand flies or the eggs of horseshoe crabs. They can seem comic in their frenetic exertions, tiny Charlie Chaplins in bird suits.

But these birds are remarkable in ways that defy not only belief but scientific understanding: They are, by far, the planet’s most extraordinary global travelers. Worldwide, about 70 shorebird species travel from the top of the world to its very bottom and back each year. The smallest weigh barely an ounce. Each species has its own story, but in every case these annual migrations are among nature’s most epic dramas. [Continue reading…]

Don’t miss the latest posts at Attention to the Unseen: Sign up for email updates.

Should scientists advocate on the issue of climate change?

Ingfei Chen writes:

I was recently chatting with a friend who specializes in science education when we touched upon a conundrum: Researchers who study climate change grasp the dire need to cut planet-warming carbon emissions that come from burning fossil fuels, yet many of them shrink from voicing their views at public events or to the press. The stock-in-trade of scientists is their objectivity, my friend explained. The worry is that advocating for an agenda may diminish their credibility, hurt their careers, and make them sitting ducks for political attacks online. But what are their moral obligations here? What should they do?

Curious, I did some digging and queried a few experts and, well, the issues here are complicated. You’ve got a decades-old controversy over whether scientists should be advocates, and you’ve got climate change, a diffuse, slow moving, and highly politicized problem. To be sure, researchers should inform the public about what they’ve learned from their studies and suggest potential ways forward. But views differ on what, exactly, is the best way for them to make the case for action, particularly given the politics involved and what can seem like real reputational risks.

For one perspective, my friend pointed me to the work of philosopher and climate activist Kathleen Dean Moore, an emerita professor at Oregon State University. I looked up Moore’s poetic and poignant 2016 book, “Great Tide Rising: Towards Clarity and Moral Courage in a Time of Planetary Change,” which lays out razor-edged arguments for why climate change is a matter of moral urgency. Given the existential nature of its hazards, letting climate change proceed unchecked is a betrayal of the children who inherit the planetary mess we’ve made. It’s a gross human-rights violation, because poorer nations will suffer the most. The list goes on.

“If you have all the facts” — that is, the scientific consensus on climate change — “and if you have this moral affirmation of our duty, then you know what you ought to do,” Moore told me when I called her. “You know that it’s necessary for the government, everybody to take action.” And climate scientists bear a particular moral responsibility because “they know, more than anybody else, the dangers that we face,” she said. Backed by the authority of their science, “they have powerful voices if they would choose to use them.” [Continue reading…]

Don’t miss the latest posts at Attention to the Unseen: Sign up for email updates.

EU agrees total ban on bee-harming pesticides

The Guardian reports:

The European Union will ban the world’s most widely used insecticides from all fields due to the serious danger they pose to bees.

The ban on neonicotinoids, approved by member nations on Friday, is expected to come into force by the end of 2018 and will mean they can only be used in closed greenhouses.

Bees and other insects are vital for global food production as they pollinate three-quarters of all crops. The plummeting numbers of pollinators in recent years has been blamed, in part, on the widespread use of pesticides. The EU banned the use of neonicotinoids on flowering crops that attract bees, such as oil seed rape, in 2013.

But in February, a major report from the European Union’s scientific risk assessors (Efsa) concluded that the high risk to both honeybees and wild bees resulted from any outdoor use, because the pesticides contaminate soil and water. This leads to the pesticides appearing in wildflowers or succeeding crops. A recent study of honey samples revealed global contamination by neonicotinoids.

Vytenis Andriukaitis, European commissioner for Health and Food Safety, welcomed Friday’s vote: “The commission had proposed these measures months ago, on the basis of the scientific advice from Efsa. Bee health remains of paramount importance for me since it concerns biodiversity, food production and the environment.”

The ban on the three main neonicotinoids has widespread public support, with almost 5 million people signing a petition from campaign group Avaaz. “Banning these toxic pesticides is a beacon of hope for bees,” said Antonia Staats at Avaaz. “Finally, our governments are listening to their citizens, the scientific evidence and farmers who know that bees can’t live with these chemicals and we can’t live without bees.” [Continue reading…]

Don’t miss the latest posts at Attention to the Unseen: Sign up for email updates.

Kim says he’ll give up nuclear weapons if U.S. promises not to invade

The New York Times reports:

North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, told President Moon Jae-in of South Korea when they met that he would abandon his nuclear weapons if the United States would agree to formally end the Korean War and promise that it would not invade his country, a South Korean government spokesman said Sunday.

In a faith-building gesture ahead of a summit meeting with President Trump, Mr. Kim also said he would invite experts and journalists from South Korea and the United States to watch the shutdown next month of his country’s only known underground nuclear test site.

The comments by Mr. Kim were made on Friday when the leaders of the two Koreas met at Panmunjom, a village on their shared border, the spokesman, Yoon Young-chan, said on Sunday, providing additional details of the meeting.

“I know the Americans are inherently disposed against us, but when they talk with us, they will see that I am not the kind of person who would shoot nuclear weapons to the south, over the Pacific or at the United States,” Mr. Kim told Mr. Moon, according to Mr. Yoon’s account of the meeting.

It was another dramatically conciliatory statement by Mr. Kim, whose country threatened to do exactly those things during the height of nuclear tensions last year. [Continue reading…]

Don’t miss the latest posts at Attention to the Unseen: Sign up for email updates.

Israeli soldiers still smashing the bones of Palestinians

The Washington Post reports:

Mohammad al-Ajouri is a lanky teenager who loves to run, a medal-winning track star with ambitions to compete abroad.

But last month, while participating in a protest along Gaza’s border, he was struck by a bullet fired by an Israeli soldier. It penetrated his calf, shattering his leg before exiting the shin. Doctors tried to save the limb, but an infection soon spread. The leg had to be amputated.

During the past month of demonstrations along the border between Gaza and Israel, at least 17 Palestinians have suffered gunshot wounds that ultimately cost them their legs, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry in Gaza.

In at least three of the cases, Israeli authorities rejected the transfer of wounded Gazans to the West Bank, where they could receive medical care that might have saved their limbs, according to lawyers and one of the patients’ families.

Since the protests began, Israeli troops have killed 43 Palestinians and wounded more than 3,500 with live ammunition, rubber bullets or shrapnel, the Health Ministry said. Of those, about 2,200 have suffered injuries to the legs.

Israeli officials say the protests along the border fence are violent and provide cover for militant attacks. Israeli media report that troops have been ordered to initially fire warning shots at demonstrators, after which they should target protesters’ legs.

“IDF troops act according to clear rules of engagement that are tailored to the scenarios they are contending with,” a spokesman for the Israel Defense Forces said. The spokesman declined to detail those rules but said live fire is a last resort.

The United Nations, however, says Israel is engaged in an “excessive use of force,” and human rights groups point to cases where soldiers have fired at unarmed protesters or at those who didn’t pose an immediate threat. [Continue reading…]

In June, 1990, Reuters reported:

An Israeli colonel accused of ordering soldiers to break the limbs of Palestinians testified today that beatings were “part of the accepted norm in that period” of the Palestinian uprising.

Testifying in his own defense, Col. Yehuda Meir told three military judges that his superiors did not question the beatings because “there was nothing special in it. . . . There was nothing out of the ordinary.”

Meir testified Thursday that former Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin gave orders in January, 1988, to break the bones of Palestinian inciters as punishment.

Don’t miss the latest posts at Attention to the Unseen: Sign up for email updates.

New law in China mandates ‘all of society’ honor its heroes and martyrs

The Wall Street Journal reports:

Eight decades after his grandfather was killed during the Chinese civil war, Fang Huaqing is fighting to defend his legacy as a Communist hero.

Mr. Fang has filed legal complaints against online critics of his ancestor’s record over the past year. His campaign got a boost Friday, when China’s legislature passed a law that requires “all of society” to “honor, study and defend” Communist Party-approved heroes and martyrs.

The law, which takes effect Tuesday, subjects anyone who defames members of that select group to potential criminal penalties and civil liabilities.

Mr. Fang has called the “Heroes and Martyrs Protection Law” a necessary, if belated, measure to protect the reputation of national heroes. “A nation that doesn’t uphold its own history has no future,” said the 52-year-old deputy director of a provincial government archive.

Enforcing control over Chinese history is a priority for President Xi Jinping, who has staked the legitimacy of Communist rule on claims that he and his ruling party are guiding China’s return to greatness.

Heroes and martyrs feature prominently in Mr. Xi’s propaganda campaigns, which often hark back to the party’s revolutionary roots. Officials have said that strong legislation is needed to promote patriotism and squelch “historical nihilism”—an official epithet for skepticism about the party’s contributions to China’s progress.

Authorities more aggressively policing history have already banned books, censored academic articles and denounced critics of official versions as disloyal dissidents who want to destroy the party and ruin China.

Public discussion of Chinese history is already curtailed by party oversight and the potential censure or dismissal of dissident scholars. The law will bring the threat of legal punishment into that environment. [Continue reading…]

Don’t miss the latest posts at Attention to the Unseen: Sign up for email updates.

Music: Jan Lundgren Trio — ‘A Csitari Hegyek Alatt’

 

Don’t miss the latest posts at Attention to the Unseen: Sign up for email updates.