Each IPCC report seems to be required to conclude that the case for an international agreement to curb carbon dioxide has grown stronger. That is to say the IPCC report (and especially the press release accompanying the summary) is a political document, and as George Orwell noted, political language “is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.”
With respect to climate, we have had 17 years without warming; all models show greater tropical warming than has been observed since 1978; and arctic sea ice is suddenly showing surprising growth. And yet, as the discrepancies between models and observations increase, the IPCC insists that its confidence in the model predictions is greater than ever.
Referring to the 17 year ‘pause,’ the IPCC allows for two possibilities: that the sensitivity of the climate to increasing greenhouse gases is less than models project and that the heat added by increasing CO2 is ‘hiding’ in the deep ocean. Both possibilities contradict alarming claims.
With low sensitivity, economic analyses suggest that warming under 2C would likely be beneficial to the earth. Heat ‘hiding’ in the deep ocean would mean that current IPCC models fail to describe heat exchange between surface waters and the deep ocean. Such exchanges are essential features of natural climate variability, and all IPCC claims of attribution of warming to mans activities depend on the assumption that the models accurately portray this natural variability.
In attempting to convince the public to accept the need to for the environmental movement’s agenda, continual reference is made to consensus. This is dishonest not because of the absence of a consensus, but because the consensus concerning such things as the existence of irregular (and small compared to normal regional variability) net warming since about 1850, the existence of climate change (which has occurred over the earths entire existence), the fact that added greenhouse gases should have some impact (though small unless the climate system acts so as to greatly amplify this effect)over the past 60 years with little impact before then, and the fact that greenhouse gases have increased over the past 200 years or so, and that their greenhouse impact is already about 80% of what one expects from a doubling of CO2 are all perfectly consistent with there being no serious problem. Even the text of the IPCC Scientific Assessment agrees that catastrophic consequences are highly unlikely, and that connections of warming to extreme weather have not been found. The IPCC iconic statement that there is a high degree of certainty that most of the warming of the past 50 years is due to man’s emissions is, whether true or not, completely consistent with there being no problem. To say that most of a small change is due to man is hardly an argument for the likelihood of large changes.
Carbon restriction policies, to have any effect on climate, would require that the most extreme projections of dangerous climate actually be correct, and would require massive reductions in the use of energy to be universally adopted. There is little question that such reductions would have negative impacts on income, development, the environment, and food availability and cost – especially for the poor. This would clearly be immoral.
By contrast, the reasonable and moral policy would be to foster economic growth, poverty reduction and well being in order that societies be better able to deal with climate change regardless of its origin. Mitigation policies appear to have the opposite effect without significantly reducing the hypothetical risk of any changes in climate. While reducing vulnerability to climate change is a worthy goal, blind support for mitigation measures – regardless of the invalidity of the claims – constitutes what might be called bankrupt morality.
It is not sufficient for actions to artificially fulfill people’s need for transcendent aspirations in order for the actions to be considered moral. Needless to add, support of global warming alarm hardly constitutes intelligent respect for science.
Richard S. Lindzen, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, October 5th, 2013
Conservative parties are lobbying to remove Palestinian history from school curriculum
Israel’s right-wing government and its supporters stand accused of stoking an atmosphere of increasing intimidation and intolerance in schools and among groups working for a peaceful resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The latest efforts by the right to stifle dissent have included censoring schoolbooks and seeking to silence organisations that raise troubling questions about Israel and its past – in what appears to be an escalating war for the minds of Israelis.
Groups allied to the government tried to prevent the recent staging of an international conference in Tel Aviv that examined events surrounding Israel’s creation in 1948 – known as the “War of Independence” to Israelis and the “Nakba”, or catastrophe, to Palestinians.
At the same time, it emerged that one of the far-right groups involved, Im Tirtzu, had initiated a campaign to shut down the organisation behind the conference, Zochrot, accusing it of violating Israeli law by “rejecting Israel’s existence”.
Zochrot challenges Israel’s greatest taboo: the right of millions of Palestinians to return to the homes from which they and their ancestors were expelled in 1948. Many Israelis vehemently oppose such a move because they see it as entailing the end of their state’s Jewishness.
Eitan Bronstein, Zochrot’s founder, said the two-day conference had been particularly threatening to the right. “For the first time we considered more than just the theoretical right of return,” he said.
“This time the emphasis was very much on considering how we can implement the return. Refugees even offered us computer-simulated models of how it could be effected on the ground.”
The timing is embarrassing for Israel as long-stalled peace talks with the Palestinians were recently revived under pressure from the United States. One of the key issues to resolve is whether the refugees should be allowed to return to more than 500 villages Israel subsequently destroyed.
More generally, far-right groups close to Benjamin Netanyahu’s government have sought ways to shut down funding for organisations seen as either being too critical of Israel, or working to protect the human rights of Palestinians under occupation.
Over the summer, one of the governing coalition parties introduced legislation to block such funding for what it terms “anti-Israel” activity.
A right-wing group that helped to draft the legislation, NGO Monitor, used the Zochrot conference to underline the illegitimacy of foreign funding.
Yitzhak Santis, an NGO Monitor official, said European backers of the conference had conspired in an event that amounted to “a call for the elimination of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people”.
The government has also come under fire for its growing efforts to police the school curriculum to remove references to the Nakba and play down the rights of Israel’s Palestinian citizens, who comprise a fifth of the population.
Revisions to the civics programme, which all pupils must study to pass their matriculation exam, were criticised in a report that doubted the education ministry’s ultra-nationalistic approach “is even consistent with a democratic regime”.
The new textbook echoes legislation being drafted by members of the ruling coalition to define Israel’s character as the exclusive homeland of the Jewish people, and to emphasise that only Jews have a right of self-determination in Israel.
Halleli Pinson, a professor of education at Ben Gurion University in Beersheva who conducted the study, said increasingly a “regime of fear” was emerging within Israel’s schools.
“Democratic, liberal and human rights values are now seen as illegitimate among education officials,” she said. “They are considered to undermine Israel’s status as a Jewish state. Now the perspective being promoted in education is entirely right-wing.”
At the recent right of return conference, local and international scholars discussed practical plans to bring Palestinian refugees back to Israel.
Entry restrictions to Israel meant few Palestinian refugees outside Israel could attend. But several internal refugees, Palestinians with Israeli citizenship, did participate. Despite their citizenship, they are barred like other refugees from returning to their villages. The conference was held at the Eretz Israel Museum, a prestigious archeological museum in Tel Aviv.
Zochrot, which means “Remembering” in Hebrew, is the first organisation to try to educate Israeli Jews about the Nakba. Since its founding in 2002, it has taken thousands of Israelis on visits to destroyed villages, leaving signposts in Hebrew and Arabic identifying streets, cemeteries and lost buildings such as mosques, churches and schools, often arousing hostility from local Jewish residents.
As part of its mission, Zochrot has created Nakba kits for teachers, though education officials have barred them from classrooms. The ministry has also tried to stop teachers from taking part in Zochrot seminars in their own time.
Last year Zochrot established a film archive documenting the testimonies of Israeli veterans of the 1948 war. Many speak on camera for the first time about committing war crimes, and carrying out ethnic-cleansing operations.
The organisation’s work directly challenges efforts by the government to suppress discussion of the events surrounding Israel’s founding.
In 2008, shortly before he became prime minister, Netanyahu declared that he would put a stop to Israelis learning about the Nakba. Referring to the school curriculum, he said: “The first thing we will do is remove the Nakba.”
Three years later, Netanyahu’s government passed a law barring public institutions, including schools and libraries, from receiving state funds if they refer to the Nakba.
Zochrot’s increasing prominence and combativeness in questioning Israel’s traditional narrative about 1948 has antagonised the government and its supporters, said Bronstein.
“As it becomes harder to ignore our work and we become better known, the right wing has been more aggressive in the methods it uses against us.”
Last year police surrounded Zochrot’s offices in Tel Aviv on the day Israelis celebrate their “independence” and Palestinians commemorate the Nakba to prevent staff attending an event where they were to read out the names of destroyed Palestinian villages in a central public square.
The police, who arrested three Zochrot members who tried to break free of the cordon, justified their actions on the grounds that the group was in danger of being attacked by crowds in the square.
Leading the attack on Zochrot has been a far-right youth movement known as Im Tirtzu. Bronstein said the group had worked closely with the government on drafting the Nakba law.
Investigations by the Israeli media have shown part of Im Tirtzu’s funding comes via the Jewish Agency, which enjoys semi-governmental status in Israel. The group is known to be close to leading government ministers, including Interior Minister Gideon Saar, who was the keynote speaker at its annual conference in 2010. He described its work as “blessed” and “hugely vital”.
Far-right groups including Im Tirtzu are reported to have heavily lobbied the Eretz Israel Museum to cancel the Zochrot conference, including a campaign to boycott the museum if the event went ahead.
At the last minute, nervous museum officials tried to change the conditions for holding the conference. Zochrot was required both to fund extra security guards to protect the venue from right-wing protests and to obscure references on posters and invitations to “Sheikh Muwannis”, the destroyed Palestinian village on whose lands the museum is built.
Zochrot refused and the museum relented only after lawyers threatened to sue it for breach of contract. Michael Sfard, representing Zochrot, called the museum’s requirements “illegal” and said they constituted “intellectual and ideological discrimination”.
Im Tirtzu’s efforts to stop the conference followed revelations earlier this year that its director, Ronen Shoval, had hired private investigators to spy on left-wing organisations such as Zochrot. The investigators had broken into the offices of Michael Sfard, a prominent human rights lawyer, and stolen documents relating to these organisations.
The revelations emerged during a court case in which Im Tirtzu sued eight activists for calling it “fascist” on Facebook. In a humiliating moment for the movement and the government, the judge in the case backed the activists after hearing Israeli experts on fascism argue that the description was justified.
Another far-right group, NGO Monitor, has worked closely with the government on trying to shut down the main source of funding, from European governments, for left-wing and human rights organisations in Israel.
Bronstein said NGO Monitor had persuaded one German funder, the EVZ Foundation, to withdraw its money last year.
An attempt by the government to draft legislation to block foreign funding was quietly dropped in 2011 under pressure from the US and the EU.
However, one of Netanyahu’s government coalition partners, the Jewish Home party, announced in the summer it was reviving the legislation. Organisations questioning Israel’s democratic claims or supporting investigations against Israeli soldiers for war crimes will face closure.
Jafar Farah, director of Mossawa, a political advocacy group for the Palestinian minority in Israel, said many funders were now “running scared” because of the campaign.
“Funding is starting to dry up for human rights organisations and for Arab organisations in Israel as this campaign succeeds in its goal of intimidating donors,” he said.
He pointed to the decision of a major donor, the Ford Foundation, to stop funding projects in Israel because of the pressure.
Meanwhile, the government was harshly criticised recently for allowing another far-right group, the Institute for Zionist Strategies, to revise textbooks used in schools to prepare pupils for their matriculation exam, as part of efforts to make the curriculum more overtly nationalistic.
The education ministry has held a review of textbooks searching for signs of “liberal bias”, including history books that refer to the Nakba.
The chief battleground, however, has been over civics courses, the only part of the curriculum that tackles issues such as democracy, human rights, equality and universal principles of citizenship.
Last year the education ministry’s supervisor of the civics curriculum, Adar Cohen, was sacked despite a petition opposing the decision from hundreds of civics teachers.
He had been criticised by the right for publishing a textbook that included references to the Goldstone Report, a United Nations fact-finding mission that criticised Israel for carrying out what appeared to be war crimes during an attack on Gaza in winter 2008-09.
Asher Cohen, a senior member of the Institute for Zionist Strategies, was appointed as head of the ministry’s civics committee. Founded by settler leaders, the Institute is heavily reliant on funding from neoconservative groups in Washington.
Another Institute member, Aviad Bakshi, was given exclusive oversight over rewriting the main civics textbook, Being Citizens in Israel, after the right complained it was too critical of the country.
The study by Pinson from Ben Gurion University found the new edition was heavily slanted towards a nationalist conception of Israel that promoted the state’s Jewish characteristics at the expense of democratic principles.
“The influence of the Institute for Zionist Strategies is clear in the new textbook. The perspective is very disturbing: that minorities in Israel should not have the right to influence the public sphere.”
The education ministry was unavailable for comment.
Yousef Jabareen, the director of Dirasat, a social policy centre in Nazareth that commissioned the report, said he had received numerous complaints from teachers in Israel’s Arab schools.
“They say they are finding it impossible to teach the curriculum because its message is opposed to equality and integration,” he said. “It is especially problematic because this material is mandatory and the pupils cannot matriculate without passing the civics exam.”
Pinson said the book also implicitly blamed the country’s Palestinian citizens for the discrimination they face, including difficulties finding employment. She said the implied message was “as if the Arab minority itself is responsible for its low participation in the workforce”.
The Israeli regime has produced 690-950 kg of plutonium and continued to build from 10 to 15 nuclear bombs of the Nagasaki type each year, a report says.
Israel, which also develops very sophisticated chemical weapons in addition to biological and nuclear weapons, refuses to sign any international treaty to allow UN to inspect its nuclear, chemical and biological arsenals, Jane’s Defense Weekly reported.
The report added that Israel, the only nuclear power in the Middle East, has 100 to 300 nuclear warheads and their appropriate vectors (ballistic and cruise missiles and fighter-bombers).
According to Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) estimates, Israel has produced 690-950 kg of plutonium, and continues to produce as much as necessary to make from 10 to 15 bombs of the Nagasaki type each year.
Israel has not signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), nor the Convention Banning Biological Weapons, and has signed but not ratified the Convention Banning Chemical Weapons.
The entrance of the Israel Institute for Biological Research, Ness- Ziona is the cover for the research and manufacturing of Israeli chemical and biological weapons.
Israel also produces tritium, a radioactive gas with which neutron warheads are made, which causes minor radioactive contamination but higher lethality.
According to various international reports, also quoted by the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz, biological and chemical weapons are developed at the Institute for Biological Research, located in Ness- Ziona, near Tel Aviv.
Officially, 160 scientists and 170 technicians are part of the staff, who for five decades have performed research in biology, chemistry, biochemistry, biotechnology, pharmacology, physics and other scientific disciplines.
The Institute, along with the Dimona nuclear center, is “one of the most secretive institutions in Israel” under direct jurisdiction of the prime minister.
The greatest secrecy surrounds research on biological weapons, bacteria and viruses that spread among the enemy and can trigger epidemics. Among them, the bacteria of the bubonic plague (the ”Black Death” of the Middle Ages ) and the Ebola virus, contagious and lethal, for which no therapy is available.
With biotechnology, one can produce new types of pathogens which the target population is not able to resist, not having the specific vaccine. There is also strong evidence of research to develop biological weapons that can destroy the human immune system. Officially the Israeli Institute conducts research on vaccines against bacteria and viruses, such as anthrax funded by the Pentagon, but it is obvious that they can develop new pathogens for war use.
The same expedient is used in the United States and in other countries to get around the conventions prohibiting biological and chemical weapons. In Israel, the screed secret was partially torn by the inquiry that was conducted, with the help of scientists, by the Dutch journalist Karel Knip.
It has also come out that toxic substances developed by the Institute have been used by the Mossad to assassinate Palestinian leaders.
Medical evidence indicates that in Gaza and Lebanon, Israeli forces used weapons of a new design: they leave the body intact outside but, upon penetration, devitalize tissues, carbonize liver and bones, and coagulate the blood. This is possible with nanotechnology, the science that casts microscopic structures by building them atom by atom.
Italy also participates in the development of these weapons, linked to Israel by a military cooperation agreement and being its number one European partner in research and development. In the last Finance Act, Italy provided an annual allocation of €3 million for projects of Italian- Israeli joint research. Like the one indicated in the last notice of the Farnesina (Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs), “new approaches to combat pathogens resistant to treatment.”
Today, October 8, the Aleppo-Salamiyeh road will be opened to civilians and convoys carrying supplies and fuel, ending the weeks-long siege imposed by opposition militants on the city. According to sources on the ground, the move will usher in a new phase of military operations in the city and surrounding areas.
Aleppo – The city of Aleppo has breathed a sigh of relief. After weeks of the siege imposed by the militants, the Syrian army managed to reopen the road to the city of Salamiyeh, and from there, to Hama, Homs, Damascus, and the Syrian coast.
Starting today, the road will be opened officially to civilians and convoys carrying flour, food supplies, and fuel, according to a source in the governorate. Buses and supply convoys are traversing the road under military protection, led by units from the Engineer Corps to dismantle mines and improvised explosive devices (IEDs) – which the militants often plant at night and detonate in the day, in order to slow down and then attack the convoys.
The Syrian army has regained control over the area extending from Syria’s economic capital to the southeast town of Khanasser, through the defense manufacturing facilities in Sfireh, allowing the army to secure a road more than 200-km long from Aleppo to Salamiyeh.
Official Syrian sources told Al-Akhbar, “This achievement was the result of cumulative gains from various military operations during the past weeks, and heralds a new phase in the city of Aleppo and its environs.” The sources likened what is happening in Aleppo to what the Syrian army had accomplished in east Ghouta between November 2012 and April 2013, culminating with the siege of opposition militants in the area, and the elimination of their immediate threat to the Syrian capital.
While the people of Aleppo are waiting for the reopening of the road to improve their daily lives, especially in terms of reducing the prices of goods and improving their availability in the markets, the Syrian army continues its efforts to secure the hills overlooking the Athraya-Khanasser and Khanasser-Aleppo roads. The army also tightened its grip on the villages of Rasm Okeiresh, Rasm al-Sheikh, Rasm al-Helou, Rasm Bakrou, al-Wawiyeh, Rasm al-Safa, Barzanieh, Jalagheem, Zarraa, and Kafar Akkad.
However, dozens of cars and buses heading from Aleppo to Hama, Homs, and Damascus along the international highway – which extends from Aleppo to the southwest – were forced to return to Aleppo after militants attacked the Souran army checkpoint north of Hama. The road was blocked for three hours, and buses were forced back to the town of Zarbeh, south of Aleppo.
The Syrian air force carried out a series of strikes against encampments belonging to radical Islamic groups in various areas of the Aleppo countryside, killing large numbers of militants from different nationalities, according to a military source. Air strikes and artillery shelling pounded areas in Ikarda, Barqoum, Tall Hadiyyeh, al-Zarieh, Azzan, Andan, Babis, Kafar Naha, Mennagh, Hraytan, Kaffin, Maarasta, and the vicinity of the Aleppo Central Prison.
In Afrin, northwest of Aleppo, thousands of local residents attended a funeral of seven members of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPD), who were killed while staving off an attack by militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). The mourners chanted slogans against Turkey and takfiri groups.
A YPD source told Al-Akhbar that the seven men were stationed on the Qastal Jendo-Azaz front, where attacks by takfiri groups are frequent. The source indicated that the residents of the villages and farms nearby dug trenches to defend against a possible large-scale attack by ISIS, after large numbers of fighters and vehicles equipped with medium to heavy machine guns were seen flocking to the flashpoints there.
After fighting between the YPD and ISIS militants resumed, dozens of Kurds from Afrin were kidnapped while traveling along the Aleppo-Afrin road, near the village of Deir Jmal.
Adham Sheikho, a lawyer from Afrin, shared with Al-Akhbar his account of the incident. He said, “Militants from the opposition forced dozens of passengers to leave their small buses and cars, and took them to an unknown location, for the sole reason that they came from Afrin.”
In the meantime, the tragedy of 63 women and children who were kidnapped from the towns of Nbel and Zahraa on their way to Damascus continues. A source in Nbel said that the kidnappers have moved the hostages to a farm they had seized in the village of Bawabieh, southwest of Aleppo.
In the Damascus countryside, the Syrian army launched a series of attacks against militant concentrations and weapons caches in Qaboun, Jobar, and other villages and towns across the countryside, according to SANA. The operations killed dozens of militants from Liwaa Omar al-Mukhtar and al-Baraa Brigades.
In Deir al-Zour, Syrian army forces bombarded militant outposts in al-Mraiyyeh. According to al-Mayadeen TV, an explosion took place under the National Hospital building in Deir al-Zour, while militants from al-Nusra Front were attempting to dig new tunnels underneath it.
Clashes between the Free Syrian Army and ISIS continued in al-Raqqa, meanwhile, killing and injuring scores on both sides.
The Battle of Wadi al-Deif
In the Idlib countryside, 20 armed brigades, most notably Ahrar al-Sham, announced the start of a battle to “liberate” military bases in Wadi al-Deif and al-Hamdieh in Maarrat Numan. The Wadi al-Deif base is located east of the strategic city of Maarrat Numan. It is the largest military complex in the area, containing large quantities of military hardware and ammunition. The opposition fighters previously besieged the complex for eight consecutive months before the Syrian army managed to end their siege nearly four months ago.
In Homs, opposition forces issued a statement announcing that indirect negotiations with the regime had failed. The negotiations focused on trying to get a number of people out of the neighborhoods besieged by the Syrian army in the city. The statement’s authors pledged to begin a new offensive in Homs.
- FSA on verge of collapse in Syria: Analyst (presstv.ir)
Though the NSA’s vast data storage facility in Utah is now hardly a secret, new information has surfaced indicating widespread technical failures delaying its opening, including 10 “meltdowns” within the past 13 months.
The Pentagon’s facility, located in Bluffdale, which lies south of Salt Lake City, is being built to house a gargantuan quantity of data harvested, presumably, by many of the NSA’s surveillance programs now made public by former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden.
Estimates of the facility’s capacity, which is classified, ranges from exabytes or zettabytes, reports the Wall Street Journal. An exabyte being equivalent to 100,000 times the size of printed material held by the Library of Congress, while a zettabyte is 1,000 times that amount.
A new report compiled through project documents and information provided to the WSJ by officials cite a number of electrical surges — called “arc fault failures” — which over the past 13 months have destroyed hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of equipment, and delayed the facility from going active for a year.
According to one official, such arc fault failures can resemble “a flash of lightning inside a 2-foot box” and can melt metal and destroy circuitry.
Speculation as to whether the NSA’s facility in Utah is already active has been rampant, and indications are that its equipment is being slowly brought online as it becomes available, rather than in one dramatic on-switch moment.
“We turn each machine on as it is installed, and the facility is ready for that installation to begin,” NSA spokeswoman Vanee Vines told the Salt Lake City Tribune in late September.
The $1.5 billion facility is estimated to be not only the NSA’s largest data center, but the largest in the world, with some 1 million square feet of space. Engineers have said the center will dwarf even Google’s largest data hub.
Special teams from the Army Corps of Engineers have been assigned to investigate the electrical issues at the Utah center. The most recent arc failure according to the WSJ seems to have occurred on September 25, causing $100,000 in damage. The first such reported failure is thought to have taken place on August 9 of last year.
So far the information available indicates that the reason for the technical failures remains in dispute. A statement issued by a consortium of private contractors currently working on site eluded to the sheer complexity of the data warehouse as the culprit.
“Problems were discovered with certain parts of the unique and highly complex electrical system. The causes of those problems have been determined and a permanent fix is being implemented,” said the firms.
According to various reports, including the latest by the WSJ, the Bluffdale site was chosen by the NSA owing to its affordable electricity. The data hub will consume some 65 megawatts of energy at a cost of $1 million per month.
Beyond its logistical hurdles, the NSA’s data hub will also open amidst heightened scrutiny. Lawmakers including Senator Ron Wyden, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee who recently questioned whether the NSA has also been harvesting geo-location data, have expressed a need to lay out just how the NSA will justify the collection of an increasingly dramatic amount of data.
“There is no question there is going to be increased scrutiny of these kinds of practices,” said Wyden, “because Americans understand this is a dangerous time, but the government, if it’s going to collect [this information], ought to have to say here’s how it contributes to security of the American people. They have not made that case.”
Only a week prior to Edward Snowden’s first batch of published leaks, the massive Utah center had been billed by the agency’s Deputy Director, John Inglis, as only one additional working part of the country’s national security apparatus.
“They shouldn’t be worried because, A, we’re Americans,” Inglis said. “We understand what the principles are that govern the nation; [and] B, we take an oath to the Constitution, and we take that very seriously.”
MANHATTAN – A Muslim man says he has been unable to visit his ailing mother for over two years because he refused to spy for the FBI and is now on the no-fly list.
Muhammad Tanvir says he is not the only one who the FBI unlawfully placed on the no-fly list “in retaliation for their refusal to work as informants against their communities and submit to questioning.”
The Queens man says his predicament has left him unable to visit his ailing mother in Pakistan for over two years, and that it has burdened his practice of Islam.
He notes that he is a lawful permanent resident employed at a 99-cent store in the Bronx who has “never been convicted of a crime nor does he pose any threat to aviation safety.”
The FBI declined to comment.
Though the no-fly list is supposed to represent a list of suspected terrorists, the American Civil Liberties Union calls it “a draconian tool to coerce Americans into spying on their communities.” In this case, Tanvir is represented by Shayana Kadidal with the Center for Constitutional Rights.
After refusing FBI agents’ request that he serve as an informant in his predominantly Muslim community and landing on the no-fly list, Tanvir says he reached out to the FBI to clear things up. Instead of helping, FBI agents offered to take him off the list in exchange for information.
Tanvir, who has lived in the United States since 2002, again refused.
“Mr. Tanvir has been prevented from flying despite the fact that he does not present any threat to aviation security,” the lawsuit states. “Instead, defendants sought to exploit the draconian burden posed by the No Fly List – including the inability to travel for work, or to visit family overseas – in order to coerce him into serving the FBI as a spy with American Muslim communities and places of worship.”
Named as defendants are FBI Director James Comey; Terrorist Screening Center Director Christopher Piehota; Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Rand Beers; and Transportation Security Administration Administrator John Pistole.
The FBI agencies are responsible maintaining the Terrorist Screening Database, which includes the no-fly list.
Tanvir wants the court to declare as unconstitutional the FBI’s alleged practice of placing people on the no-fly list for not cooperating, then using an offer to remove them as a bribe for information.
He also wants off the list, along with damages.
Seoul and Washington have signed a new military pact that provides for carrying out preemptive strikes on North Korea, a move that will only deepen mutual distrust and damage inter-Korean cooperation.
In stark contrast to the hardline saber-rattling that ensued following Pyongyang’s third nuclear test in February, ties between the two Koreas have simmered significantly in recent months with the reopening of the joint Kaesong Industrial Complex in September after five months of closure.
Still, diplomatic exchanges always seem go nowhere, and often end in finger-pointing. Since coming to power earlier this year, South Korean President Park Geun-hye has further entrenched the policies of her deeply unpopular predecessor, Lee Myun-bak, with a harder military stance on Pyongyang. Seoul’s posturing recently culminated in a massive military parade showcasing homemade cruise missiles capable of hitting targets anywhere within North Korea, as well as Israeli-made Spike missiles that have been deployed right on the tense Northern limit line separating the two countries. Seoul plans to spend nearly $1 billion dollars on enhancing its missile defense capabilities over the next year.
Following a recent meeting between Chuck Hagel and the South Korea’s Defense Ministry, the so-called “Tailored Deterrence Strategy” has been rolled out, detailing the protocol for a preemptive strike on North Korea in the event of Pyongyang’s impending usage of WMDs.
According to the doctrine, Seoul can employ not only conventional strikes and missile defense capabilities, but also the American nuclear umbrella. Starting from 2014, the US Air Force will begin flying surveillance drones near North Korean borders to gather intelligence data.
Pyongyang hasn’t exactly applauded this news, and has fired back, promising to preempt any strike by attacking first. The scenario is a familiar one – Seoul and Pyongyang armed to the teeth, promising mutually assured destruction and war in one of the world’s most densely populated and economically productive regions.
Looking through the North’s eyes
Considering that North Korea is viewed as a belligerent and irrational actor, coupled with its self-imposed isolation, the views of North Korean people themselves are seldom taken into account in the outside world.
If these views were considered through the eyes of Pyongyang, they would be truly puzzled by the perception of “the North Korean threat” espoused by the West.
It would be irresponsible to dismiss the premise of the North’s tangible destructive capacity to the South, but in relative terms, Pyongyang’s aged military arsenal and nascent nuclear capability absolutely pales in comparison to the South’s sophisticated modern arsenal, America’s nuclear umbrella, and thousands of US troops just across the border.
The introduction of nuclear-capable B-52 bombers in joint military exercises earlier this year was perceived by Pyongyang as a dress rehearsal for a nuclear strike on the North. Not to mention the elaborate annual joint military drills that often see the firing of live rounds in disputed territorial waters.
To borrow John F. Kennedy’s terminology, the Korean Peninsula today lives under “a nuclear sword of Damocles, hanging by the slenderest of threads, capable of being cut at any moment by accident, or miscalculation, or by madness” – and it would be disingenuous to place the blame for this situation on a single actor.
North Korea’s shortcomings are highly publicized and well known to everyone, but it is logical that under the ever-palpable threat of destruction and conventional, missile, or nuclear first strikes, Pyongyang becomes more deeply-isolated and more inclined to act forcefully.
As Russian FM Sergey Lavrov alluded to in his recent UN speech, the unnecessary use of military force is counterproductive in that it works to promote the necessity of WMDs as a method of self-defense. It should be apparent that the approach taken by South Korea and the United States is clearly not the most effective method to address the inter-Korean problems – to the contrary – these tactics can hasten a deterioration of the situation with staggering consequences.
The main component of Pyongyang’s foreign policy approach could be categorized as ‘survival diplomacy,’ whereby provocative language or actions are used for the dual purpose of staving off foreign military interference and positioning itself in negotiations for concessions.
While seemingly irrational, there is an element of careful Machiavellianism in these maneuvers that has prevented the situation from spiraling out of control. If one reads North Korean newspapers like the Rodong Sinmun and others, there is a noticeable focus on economic development that should not be overlooked by outside actors. Pyongyang’s central priorities are three-pronged; ensuring domestic political stability; modernizing its economy and military capabilities; and leadership survival.
Contrary to the predictions of doomsday analysts, North Korea is not on the verge of collapse; in fact its economy expanded for a second successive year in 2012 with GDP figures of 1.3 percent, a meaningful shift from its previous years of negative growth figures.
Despite being one of the world’s poorest countries, UNICEF reported in 2012 that chronic malnutrition levels in North Korea amounted to only 5 percent of the population, while 35 percent remain undernourished – these figures reflect the general standards of other Asian countries, with North Korea actually showing more favorable figures than countries like India and Indonesia.
After an assessment in 2010, the World Health Organization chief claimed that Pyongyang’s healthcare system has improved considerably to the past decade, and that its condition was something “most other developing countries would envy.”
Although it officially denies having a network of gulags throughout the country for political prisoners, recent reports by human rights organizations put the number of inmates at somewhere between approximately 80,000 to 120,000. If these reports are to be believed, it would amount to roughly 0.08% of the population, a reasonably low figure by international standards.
The need to compromise
Finding an answer to the Korean question will require ample flexibility by all sides, and requires adopting both new solutions and more vigorously reviving policies that have reduced tension previously.
There is tremendous potential for economic exchange between the two Koreas, and it would be in the interests of all players in the region to promote joint economic, manufacturing and industrial projects with North Korea. Of course, this would only be acceptable to Pyongyang with respect to its own terms and central objectives of sustaining the leadership.
Russia’s initiative to create an ‘Iron Silk Road’ connecting South Korea to the Trans-Siberian Railway through a border freight railway traversing North Korea is an example of a mutually beneficial project that helps improve Pyongyang’s infrastructure in the process. It’s clear North Korea would certainly like to channel more resources into developing its economy and national industries, but spending on military affairs takes priority for obvious reasons.
North Korea is the only state to have withdrawn from the Nuclear non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in open pursuit of nuclear weapons, in defiance of UN resolutions. If any possibility still exists for nuclear disarmament on the Korean Peninsula, it would have to come with major economic concessions, gradual disarmament, and a reduction of US troops in South Korea, which the North has repeatedly called for.
In a recent speech to the UN, North Korean Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs Pak Kil Yon maintained, “nuclear disarmament negotiations should commence without further delay to work on universal instruments legally codifying the negative security assurances and the prohibition of use of nuclear weapons.” Although the suggestion is seemingly at odds with North Korea’s nuclear ambitions at face value, this statement implies that some comprise is possible if compatible with Pyongyang’s central priority of leadership survival.
North Korea’s nuclear program is universally opposed, and China has recently banned a list of equipment and chemical substances for export to North Korea that can be used to develop a nuclear-capable ICBM. Beijing has also pushed for restarting the Six-Party Talks, which can serve a favorable function if North Korea can be convinced that its security and territorial integrity will not be infringed upon.
One of the most famous of the ancient Greek fables of Aesop tells of a rivalry between the Wind and the Sun competing to make a passing wanderer remove his cloak. When the Wind blew, the wanderer only wrapped his cloak tighter, but when the Sun glimmered and warmed the air, the wanderer found the coat to be unnecessary and removed it. The superiority of persuasion over force is a virtue worth remembering.
Nile Bowie is a political analyst and photographer currently residing in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. He can be reached on Twitter or at email@example.com
- North Korea warns US over joint naval drill (channelnewsasia.com)