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25/05/2018 05:00 AM
Cuban Exile and CIA Agent Luis Posada Carriles Dies a Free Man in US Despite Years of Terrorism

Former CIA operative and Cuban exile Luis Posada Carriles died Wednesday just outside of Miami. He was 90 years old. Posada Carriles is best known as the suspected mastermind of the 1976 bombing of a Cubana airline jet. For decades, the US refused to extradite Posada Carriles to face terrorism charges, despite demands by Cuba and Venezuela. Posada Carriles later publicly admitted ties to a series of hotel bombings in Cuba in 1997. In 2000, he was arrested in Panama City for plotting to blow up an auditorium where Fidel Castro would be speaking. Despite his record, Luis Posada Carriles died a free man in Florida. We get reaction from José Pertierra, a Cuban attorney based in Washington, DC. He represented the Venezuelan government in its efforts to extradite Luis Posada Carriles, and also represented Elián González in 2000-2001.


AMY GOODMAN: Former CIA operative and Cuban exile Luis Posada Carriles has died. He died on Wednesday just outside Miami. He was 90 years old. Posada Carriles is best known as the suspected mastermind of the 1976 bombing of a Cubana airline jet. For decades, the US refused to extradite Posada Carriles for terrorism charges, despite demands by Cuba and Venezuela. He later publicly admitted ties to a series of hotel bombings in Cuba in 1997. In 2000, he was arrested in Panama City for plotting to blow up an auditorium where Fidel Castro would be speaking. Despite his record, Luis Posada Carriles died a free man in Florida.

For more, we're joined by José Pertierra, a Cuban attorney based in Washington, DC, represented the Venezuelan government in its efforts to extradite Luis Posada Carriles, and also represented Elián González in 2000, 2001, when Elián González was here in the United States, eventually sent back to Cuba to be with his dad.

José, if you could start out by talking just about the Cubana airlines bombing in 1976, how -- and the Cubana airlines bombing? How many people died? And the significance of who this man is, who has died in Miami [Wednesday]?

JOSÉ PERTIERRA: Thank you, Amy. Good morning.

The Cubana airline disaster in 1976 was, at the time, the worst airline passenger disaster or act of terrorism against a passenger airline in the history of aviation. It killed 73 innocent people, including 24 members of the juvenile fencing team from Cuba. There was a little 9-year-old girl on board named Sabrina. She also died. Posada Carriles was the mastermind of the bombing. He masterminded the placing of two bombs -- one in the front of the plane, one in the back of the plane in the restroom -- that exploded in midair. And the plane crashed into a bay called -- near Paradise Beach in Trinidad. And no bodies -- or, some bodies were recovered, but most of the bodies were not. They went to the bottom of the sea, where they're still lying.

Venezuela presented charges against Posada Carriles, because there was overwhelming evidence of his involvement. There was even a confession by the persons who planted the bombs, who were arrested in Trinidad. They were interrogated, and they confessed to having worked for Posada Carriles. They even tried to communicate with Posada Carriles by telephone, by calling Caracas. This evidence was enough for Venezuela to charge him with 73 counts of first-degree murder. While the case --

AMY GOODMAN: We don't have much time, José Pertierra, and I want to ask you -- so, that happened, 73 people dead. How did he end up dying a free man in Miami this past Wednesday?

JOSÉ PERTIERRA: Amy, Venezuela -- well, he escaped from jail in Panama, where he was being held, as you said, for trying to bomb an auditorium full of people. But after getting out of jail in Panama, receiving a pardon, he came to the United States to Miami. And Venezuela presented a request for extradition. And the United States simply refused to extradite him. Instead, they charged him with violating immigration law, lying on immigration forms, for which he was ultimately acquitted, even though there were admissions by Posada Carriles that he had masterminded a string of bombings in Havana that resulted in the murder of an Italian businessman. And he lied about those on the immigration forms.

But even though there was of that, including a taped confession of Posada Carriles to New York Times correspondent Ann Louise Bardach, nonetheless he was acquitted of that, and the US refused to extradite him. Why? Because he was the United States' man in Caracas. He worked for the CIA for, by his own admission, over 24 years. It just goes to show you, if you've got friends in high places, even though you may be a terrorist, the United States will protect you.

AMY GOODMAN: And I want to get to, before the end -- Luis Posada Carriles's death came days after a Cuban plane crashed and burned right after takeoff on Friday outside Havana, killing 111 people.


AMY GOODMAN: It was another Cubana airlines jet. Critics say the crash is partly due to the decades-old US trade embargo, which makes it so difficult for Cuba to acquire newer aircraft. I believe this plane was something like 40 years old. In this last minute we have, can you talk about the fallout from this tragic crash?

JOSÉ PERTIERRA: Well, the investigation is going on. There's absolutely no evidence it was an act of terrorism. It was either pilot error or something wrong with the plane.

What you're saying is absolutely true, however. Cuba has a fleet of aging planes, simply because they cannot buy new planes that either are made in the United States or contain parts that are made in the United States. And most jet planes today have parts that were made in the United States. It's a brutal blockade that's been imposed by the United States against Cuba since 1961. And that results in tragedy -- a lack of medicine sometimes, lack of plane parts. This tragedy probably stems from that.

And Cuba is doing everything in its power right now to investigate what happened. Two survivors are in critical condition. The prognosis is not good for one of them. And Cuba, I'm sure, will try to prevent this from happening again. But the best way for the United States to respond is not to give prayers and condolences, but to lift the embargo and allow Cuba to purchase planes with American parts and fly safely over Cuban skies.

AMY GOODMAN: José Pertierra, I want to thank you for being with us, Cuban attorney based in Washington, DC, represented the Venezuelan government in efforts to extradite Luis Posada Carriles, who died on Wednesday a free man in Miami.

25/05/2018 05:00 AM
Devin Nunes Finds That Shilling for Donald Trump Is Paying Off -- Literally

Devin Nunes was far from being a national figure before President Donald Trump took office. Thanks to his work defending the president through his position as chair of the House Intelligence Committee, the California Republican has become notorious for his role in obstructing the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election -- and has become a top target for Democrats hoping to flip the House in this fall's midterm elections. But if newly leaked fundraising numbers are any indication, Nunes' celebrity among Trump supporters has propelled him to a position where he'll only feel more emboldened to shill on behalf of the president.

Nunes managed to raise roughly $2.5 million over the last six weeks for his re-election campaign this year, according to the Washington Examiner. Overall Nunes has raised $5 million, including $1.25 million raised in the first fiscal quarter of 2018, more than he raised in all of 2017. Most of the money is raised outside California's 22nd congressional district -- an unglamorous agricultural region in the state's Central Valley -- from Republicans around the country who have become aware of Nunes thanks to his high-profile role in defending Trump and attempting to discredit the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

"If you've got the attention of the grassroots -- particularly if you're investigating the president or defending him -- it's a smart investment to make," a Republican consultant told the Examiner about Nunes' fundraising program.

Trump himself recently acknowledged his political debt to Nunes.

"A very courageous man -- he's courageous," Trump said of Nunes as the two men attended a ceremony at the CIA's headquarters in Langley, Virginia, recently. "Thank you very much, Devin, for being here, appreciate it."

Nunes also attacked his hometown paper, the Fresno Bee, after a reporter asked the congressman whether he plans on hosting local forums or town hall meetings in his home district. (Republican candidates have been known to shy away from those events or heavily monitor who attends them to avoid clashes with constituents upset about their policies.) In his response, Nunes channeled Trump by refusing to answer the question and instead claiming the newspaper was out to get him.

"Your paper is a joke to even bring these issues up or raise these issues," Nunes told the Bee. "I actually feel bad for the people who work at the Bee because sadly it's become just a left-wing rag. And it's unfortunate that we're in this situation. But when the paper just becomes part of regurgitating Democratic talking points, it's no longer a news outlet that's actually being fair or objective. It's not objective journalism. So just the fact that those would be issues are silly."

He added, "Because, the Bee especially should know this, that for many many years I have held a lot of educational forums over the years. Big forums, small forums. And we continue to do that and we will continue to do it."

Regardless of whether Nunes actually winds up catering to his constituents, his services for Trump have made enough headlines that he will likely have little trouble continue to politically capitalize on them as he commences with his reelection campaign.

In April 2017, as Trump was attempting to distract from the Russia investigation by falsely claiming that Trump Tower had been wiretapped, Nunes publicly discussed classified foreign surveillance reports that he had viewed on the White House's grounds in order to claim that they had been wrongly unmasked by President Barack Obama's administration, according to the Washington Post. The House Ethics Committee later decided to investigate whether Nunes had "made unauthorized disclosures of classified information, in violation of House Rules, law, regulations, or other standards of conduct," with Nunes recusing himself from the Russia probe during the investigative period (which has since ended).

subsequent report by the New Yorker later revealed that the White House had told the intelligence community that they were "going to mobilize to find something to justify the president's tweet that he was being surveilled." Shortly after that happened, Nunes was summoned to the White House to view the documents in question, which were later determined to have not actually demonstrated any improper surveillance.

That same month, Nunes told Republicans at a Tulare County Lincoln Dinner that he didn't accept the premise that the Trump-Russia scandal should be investigated.

"The Democrats don't want an investigation on Russia. They want an independent commission," Nunes was recorded saying. "Why do they want an independent commission? Because they want to continue the narrative that Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump are best friends, and that's the reason that he won, because Hillary Clinton would have never lost on her own; it had to be someone else's fault."

In February 2018, Nunes once again found himself at the center of a controversy involving an attempt to deflect attention from or outright discredit the Trump-Russia scandal. After drumming up support for a #releasethememo movement online -- claiming that a memo written by Republicans would discredit the Steele dossier and, in turn, the entire Trump-Russia investigation -- the actual Nunes memo wound up simply asserting that the Steele dossier had been politically biased and should not have been used. Not only did it fail to prove that Steele's work had been politically biased, it failed to establish that even such a bias would have made the larger investigation into Trump's campaign improper or illegal.

As recently as this month, Nunes made a big deal about threatening to hold Attorney General Jeff Sessions in contempt by claiming he was being stonewalled on vital information, even though the Justice Department had explained that "disclosure of responsive information to such requests can risk severe consequences, including potential loss of human lives, damage to relationships with valued international partners, compromise of ongoing criminal investigations, and interference with intelligence activities."

25/05/2018 05:00 AM
House Democrats Help GOP Pass Massive Pentagon Budget That Includes Billions for Expanded Nuclear Arsenal

The F-35 Lightning II fighter jet. (Photo: Blake Lewis)The F-35 Lightning II fighter jet. (Photo: Blake Lewis)

While the world responds with alarm over President Donald Trump's spontaneous decision to cancel diplomatic talks with North Korea scheduled for next month -- which aimed to ease rising nuclear tensions -- 131 Democrats in the US House joined with the overwhelming majority of Republicans to pass a $717 billion Pentagon spending bill that includes massive expansion of the US nuclear arsenal.

The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for fiscal year 2019 authorizes the development of new low-yield submarine-launched nuclear warheads that the Trump administration demanded in its Nuclear Posture Review (NPR), which was released in February and denounced by disarmament advocates as "radical" and "extreme."

On Thursday, anti-war activists and lawmakers shamed the Democrats who voted with the GOP to approve the military spending bill, and warned of its consequences. Rep. John Garamendi (D-Calif.), according to Politico, said the measure "pushes us even further and faster down the path to war, toward a new nuclear arms race."

"Does it make us safer to have a low-yield nuclear weapon on one of our submarines?" Garamendi posed. "Probably not."

"The US spends more on defense than the next eight countries combined," noted Rev. Shawna Foster of About Face: Veterans Against the War. Meanwhile, veterans across the US continue to suffer, and "the State Department is underfunded, showing very little is prioritized in diplomatic solutions that would prevent more of our young people from going to war. We have to turn this around now."

In addition to allocating $22 billion toward US nuclear weapons programs and $69 billion for US war efforts, the legislation approves the purchase of more than 70 F-35 fighter jets, the addition of  16,000 active-duty personnel, and Trump's request for a 2.6 percent pay raise for the military, the biggest increase in nine years.

"Instead of a blueprint for peace and security, this NDAA continues the practice of endless war with no input or oversight from our congressional leaders," lamented Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), one of 59 Democrats who voted against the bill. "It fails to compel any debate or vote in Congress on our endless wars. And it continues the shameful practice of budgeting our wars off the books with the unaccountable Overseas Contingency Operation (OCO) slush fund."

"The overwhelming cost of unnecessary and aggressive military invasions could be better spent at home meeting human needs," suggested Michael McPhearson of Veterans for Peace. "As veterans we know that our positions are often glorified and are used to support a culture that worships guns and violence at home and abroad, when in reality, we know all too well the dangers and effects of war."

Despite the alarming components of the House-approved NDAA, in the wake of Trump's heavily criticized withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal, anti-war activists were relieved that the measure makes clear to the White House that Congress has not authorized the use of armed forces against Iran.

"Just weeks after President Trump shamefully pulled out of the Iran deal, it is more important than ever to ensure diplomacy with Iran and in the region," said Lee, a co-sponsor of the amendment.

"This is vital, as the elevation of Iran warhawks in John Bolton and Mike Pompeo and the violation of the Iran nuclear deal has put another disastrous war of choice in the Middle East back on the table," said NIAC Action executive director Jamal Abdi, referring to Trump's recently appointed national security adviser and secretary of state.

While calling the Iran amendment "a welcome step," Abdi emphasized that the administration "has shredded norms and constraints" and that "far more political and legal constraints are needed to ensure Trump, Bolton, and Pompeo cannot put their war plans into place."

The Senate Armed Services Committee marked up a version of the Pentagon spending bill this week, but the Senate's Republican leadership has not formally announced plans to bring it to the floor.

25/05/2018 05:00 AM
Thoughts and Prayers: Denied

25/05/2018 05:00 AM
New Challenges for the Disputed Atlantic Coast Pipeline

The proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline, which would carry fracked gas 600 miles from West Virginia to North Carolina and possibly points farther south, has been hit with setbacks in recent weeks that raise questions about its future. The pipeline also poses threats to several at-risk species as well as vulnerable communities in the South.

(Photo: Edward Alexander; Edited: LW / TO)(Photo: Edward Alexander; Edited: LW / TO)

The proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline, which would carry fracked gas 600 miles from West Virginia to North Carolina and possibly points farther south, has been hit with setbacks in recent weeks that raise questions about its future. Dominion Resources of Virginia, the pipeline's operator, holds a 48 percent stake in the pipeline, while North Carolina-based Duke Energy holds 47 percent and Georgia's Southern Company 5 percent. Dominion's and Duke's ratepayers would foot most of the bill for the $6.5 billion project.

The most immediately consequential setback was last week's federal court order voiding a key permit. On May 15, a three-judge panel of the 4th US Circuit Court of Appeals found that the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) had failed to set clear limits for the pipeline's impact on threatened and endangered species. The order came in a case brought by the Southern Environmental Law Center on behalf of Defenders of Wildlife, Sierra Club, and Virginia Wilderness Committee, one of four pending suits brought by the SELC related to permits for the pipeline.

"Like other agencies, the Fish and Wildlife Service rushed this pipeline approval through under intense political pressure to meet developers' timelines," said D.J. Gerken, managing attorney in SELC's office in Asheville, North Carolina. "It's foolish and shortsighted to risk losing rare species for an unnecessary and costly pipeline boondoggle."

The pipeline's construction -- which got underway this week with a groundbreaking ceremony for a compressor station in West Virginia -- imperils eight threatened or endangered species including a fish called the Roanoke log perch, two types of bats, and the rusty patched bumble bee that USFWS added to the endangered species list just last year. The appeals court panel found the agency's limit on "take" -- which includes harassing, harming, wounding, and killing -- of at-risk species was too vague and didn't satisfy basic legal standards.

And because the USFWS's so-called "incidental take statement" is needed for the construction permit from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), SELC has said it believes the appeals court order should bring work to a halt. However, the developers this week submitted plans to FERC indicating they plan to avoid construction only in habitat areas amounting to 79 miles in Virginia and 21 in West Virginia. A FERC spokesperson said SELC's request to halt all construction remains under consideration. The agency has come under criticism in recent years for being too eager to approve gas pipelines.

"According to the Federal Regulatory Commission's own certificate, FERC's previous notices issued to Atlantic Coast Pipeline developers to proceed are no longer valid," Gerken said. "If what FERC is now saying is that developers can proceed to construction without the Fish and Wildlife Service's valid permit, it is undermining its own requirements."

An Environmental Injustice?

The same day the federal appeals court threw out the Atlantic Coast Pipeline's USFWS permit, an alliance of community, statewide, and national anti-pipeline groups filed a complaint with the US Environmental Protection Agency's Civil Rights Compliance Office alleging environmental justice violations in the project's approval process in North Carolina.

Claiming that Gov. Roy Cooper (D) and his state's environmental agencies failed to properly assess the disproportionate impacts of the proposed pipeline on communities of color as required under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the complaint calls on the EPA to require the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality's (NCDEQ) divisions of Water Resources, Air Quality, and Energy, Mineral and Land Resources to overturn the permits they granted for the pipeline. It also asks the EPA to require a new environmental justice analysis that adheres to federal requirements and to hold a public hearing on the pipeline in Eastern North Carolina.

The disproportionate impact the Atlantic Coast Pipeline will have on poor communities and communities of color has been well-documented. A report released last year by the NAACP and Clean Air Task force titled "Fumes Across the Fence-Line: The Health Impacts of Air Pollution From Oil and Gas Facilities on African American Communities" showed that of the eight counties along the pipeline's route through North Carolina, seven have a lower median household income and higher poverty level than the state as well as a higher percentage of African-American residents.

And research by professor Ryan Emanuel of N.C. State University found that the pipeline would pass through four American Indian tribal territories in North Carolina, and that 13 percent of the population living within a mile of the pipeline's route through the state is Native American compared to just 1.2 percent of the state's overall population. A report released this month by RTI International, a North Carolina-based nonprofit research institute, confirmed the disproportionate racial impacts.

"How many more Title VI Complaints have to be filed before our government takes seriously the concerns of the communities, and is honest and comprehensive about environmental impact statements?" asked Naeema Muhammad, co-director of the NC Environmental Justice Network (NCEJN), one of the groups that brought the complaint. Earlier this month, the NCDEQ settled a longstanding Title VI environmental justice complaint that Muhammad's group and others had filed with the EPA over the state's permitting of hog farms. "These poor communities of color face an enormously disproportionate burden of a wide range of impacts," said Muhammad.

The environmental justice complaint about the pipeline also notes that, when considering the project's economic impacts, federal regulators compared the incomes of people living near the pipeline with statewide incomes. But when considering racial impacts, they compared people living near the pipeline to the county rather than the state. This approach masked disproportionate impacts on communities of color along the route, according to John Runkle, the attorney for climate watchdog group NC WARN who filed the complaint.

The other groups that are part of the complaint are Clean Water for North Carolina, Concerned Citizens of Northampton County, Concerned Citizens of Tillery, EcoRobeson, Friends of the Earth, and the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League and five of it its chapters -- Concerned Stewards of Halifax County, Cumberland County Caring Voices, Nash Stop the Pipeline, No Pipeline Johnston County, and Wilson County No Pipeline.

Allegations of Fraud

Several days before the federal court voided the Atlantic Coast Pipeline's USFWS permit and the environmental justice complaint was filed against the project, a North Carolina-wide anti-pipeline network released a report detailing several counts of possible fraud by the developers and calling for an investigation.

Titled "The Appearance of Fraudulent Misrepresentation of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline's Product and Project," the report was released by the Alliance to Protect Our People and the Places We Live (APPPL), which grew out of a 2016 march against the project in Eastern North Carolina. It documents three instances of potential fraud:

• The pipeline's terminus. While the developers have stated in the official permit applications that the pipeline would end in Pembroke, North Carolina, a top Dominion official told attendees at an energy conference last year that "everybody knows" the pipeline is going to continue into South Carolina. The report also points out that the project is now being effectively extended about 35 miles northwest of Pembroke to Hamlet, North Carolina, through Duke Energy's Piedmont Connector Pipeline, which is already under construction and will carry gas from the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. APPPL says this information should have been included as a part of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline's federal and state permit applications. APPPL notes that new facilities are under construction at Elba Island, Georgia, to turn methane gas into liquid propane for export, raising questions about the potential of shipping gas carried by the pipeline overseas and how that would affect prices for North Carolina consumers.

• Claims that natural gas is "clean." APPPL wants North Carolina to investigate whether the developers "knowingly, and with intent to deceive, made and are making false statements to shareholders, ratepayers and regulators that methane is a ‘clean' alternative to coal by ignoring the vast body of evidence that fracking is risky, dangerous and harms the public." The report notes that there are now some 1,200 studies on the risks of fracking yet Duke Energy has ignored the mounting scientific evidence that fracking is linked to, among other things, birth defects, infertility, and miscarriages.

• Silence on climate impacts. APPPL also wants the state to investigate whether the developers are knowingly failing to disclose to shareholders, ratepayers, and regulators that the production of natural gas results in greenhouse gas emissions that are 86 times worse than carbon dioxide over a 20-year period, as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has found. Natural gas is primarily methane, which is a much more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide over the short term. With a capacity of 1.5 billion cubic feet per day, the pipeline would move enough fossil gas to generate over 67 million metric tons of climate pollution per year -- equivalent to 20 average US coal plants. The report draws a parallel to what it calls Duke Energy's "willful ignorance" on the hazards of coal ash, which is now costing some $5 billion to clean up in North Carolina and has sparked a fight over whether ratepayers or the company should foot the bill.

APPPL is calling on North Carolina regulators to conduct an "official inquiry and legal review" of the pipeline developers' practices and claims. Facing South reached out to NCDEQ to find out what it plans to do in response to the request but did not immediately hear back.

Meanwhile, the pipeline developers are continuing to invest in creating a political climate friendly to their plans. So far in this election cycle, Duke Energy has made over $1.2 million in political contributions, including $30,000 in contributions to the National Republican Congressional Committee and the National Republican Senate Committee, according to Federal Election Commission data. And Dominion has invested over $850,000 so far in this election cycle, also contributing $30,000 to both of those key GOP committees. While FERC is an independent regulatory agency, its members are appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate.

25/05/2018 05:00 AM
Seventy Years After Korea's Division, Women Lead Push for Peace

South Korean and women representing more than 16 other countries gathered this week in Seoul for the #WomenPeaceKorea symposium and Women's DMZ walk. (Photo: Jeehyun Kwon)Women representing South Korea and more than 16 other countries gathered this week in Seoul for the #WomenPeaceKorea symposium and Women's DMZ walk. (Photo: Jeehyun Kwon)

In light of the US-North Korea scheduled summit being cancelled by President Trump, the May 26 women's peace walk along the Korean Demilitarized Zone emphasizes the vital role women continue to play in easing tensions between North and South Korea. It's the fourth such gathering since 2015, organized by Korean women and their international allies to call for Korean reunification and an end to militarization of the peninsula.

South Korean and women representing more than 16 other countries gathered this week in Seoul for the #WomenPeaceKorea symposium and Women's DMZ walk. (Photo: Jeehyun Kwon)Women representing South Korea and more than 16 other countries gathered this week in Seoul for the #WomenPeaceKorea symposium and Women's DMZ walk. (Photo: Jeehyun Kwon)

When scores of Korean women representing a coalition of some 30 peace groups and NGOs entered South Korea's National Assembly on the banks of Seoul's Han River, they weren't alone. This week, the Korean peace makers were joined by an international delegation of women peace activists for a symposium focused on ending the Korean War. A women's peace walk along the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) is scheduled for May 26.

When women participate in negotiations, the likelihood of achieving peace increases substantially and that peace lasts longer.

For the fourth time since 2015, these activists gathered to strategize how to most effectively advance peace on the Korean Peninsula and support diplomatic efforts to that end. #WomenPeaceKorea delegates' efforts include engaging with South Korean government officials, foreign diplomats and US embassy officials.

Most of the international delegates are members of Women Cross DMZ and the Nobel Women's Initiative who have traveled to Seoul to lend their support and raise awareness of the vital role women play in ending conflict.

Multiple studies have shown that when women participate in negotiations, the likelihood of achieving peace increases substantially and that peace lasts longer.

Ahn Kim Jeong-ae, one of the symposium's organizers, said the diplomatic thaw between North and South Korea makes this week's events even more crucial.

Because women suffer disproportionately in war, they have a critical role to play in conflict resolution.

Ahn Kim noted that 2018 marks the 70th anniversary of the establishment of separate governments in Seoul and Pyongyang. This spring was also the 70th anniversary of the April 3 incident in which some 30,000 civilians on South Korea's Jeju Island were massacred over a seven-year period when US military-backed right-wing forces violently purged opponents of a divided and occupied Korea.

"We want to commemorate these historical facts on May 24, International Women's Day for Disarmament and Peace," Ahn Kim said, noting that because women suffer disproportionately in war, they have a critical role to play in conflict resolution.

A Change in Tone

Christine Ahn is the international coordinator for Women Cross DMZ, which crossed from North to South Korea in 2015. She said the fact that this year's symposium was held at the National Assembly (the South Korean equivalent of the US Congress), was "hugely significant."

Unlike in 2015, when Women Cross DMZ was barely acknowledged by South Korea's Ministry of Unification, this year's symposium was financed by the South Korean Ministry of Gender, Equality and Family, Ahn said.

The difference reflects a dramatic change from the administration of deposed South Korean President Park Guen-hye to the progressive administration of current President Moon Jae-in, who favors engagement with the North.

"It's night and day," Ahn said. "We are getting the red carpet treatment ... [and] are respected and welcomed in a way that we weren't in 2015."

"We need to define security in far different terms than the militarized national security."

Ahn said this week's symposium provided an outlet for all women to express their desire for peace, adding, "We've also heard from women from Hawaii, Guam, China and Japan about how tensions last year threatened them all." In response to Trump's sudden cancellation of the proposed Singapore summit, Ahn said, "We must call for both to return to talks because too much is at stake and there has been too much work to bring final resolution to the longest standing US war."

With the proposed Trump-Kim summit summarily cancelled by Trump on Thursday, Ahn said women's participation is even more essential to reframing what security actually means. "We need to define security in far different terms than the militarized national security," she told Truthout.

Aiyoung Choi, who was born in what is now North Korea, today serves on the Women Cross DMZ steering committee. She's heartened to have the support of women peacemakers from countries as diverse as Canada, China, Russia, Iraq, Colombia, Kenya, Japan and the Philippines.

"Men have been in the driver's seat all along, doing things their own way," Choi said. "It is time to live up to the leadership role of women, to live up to the mandates of [United Nations Security Council] Resolution 1325 that recognizes the critical role of women in conflict resolution, and the Women, Peace and Security Act of 2017 that President Trump signed last October, which passed with bipartisan congressional support."

To Support and to Learn

Korean and women from other nations hold a peace quilt symbolizing peace and unity between people on the Korean Peninsula during last year's women's peace symposium in Seoul. (Photo: Jon Letman)Women hold a quilt symbolizing peace and unity between people on the Korean Peninsula during last year's women's peace symposium in Seoul. (Photo: Jon Letman)

Among the women who traveled to North Korea in 2015 to meet with North Korean women before crossing the DMZ was Nobel Peace Prize laureate (1976) Mairead Maguire, from Northern Ireland. As she prepared to return to Korea this week, Maguire told Truthout that the international delegates' role was to listen, learn from and support Korean peacemakers.

Making peace is a process, and it takes time and it takes courage.

"We also come with a certain amount of experiences in our own situation where peace has worked for those of us who come from certain areas," Maguire said, citing her own work to end the violence in Northern Ireland in the 1970s.

Recounting the 2015 trip, Maguire recalled how she was struck by the intense yearning for peace expressed by the thousands of North Korean women they met at rallies in Pyongyang and Kaesong. Those women, Maguire explained, wanted to reunite with family members on the other side of the DMZ.

"Peace is possible and the civil community has a role in helping to build that peace and to support political leaders who show courage to try to make peace, but you can't leave out the civil community and particularly women," Maguire told Truthout.

"Making peace is a process, and it takes time and it takes courage. And it takes people to constantly sit at the table and to be prepared to compromise and to listen to each other and find solutions," Maguire added.

Also joining this year's symposium was San Francisco State University professor emerita Margo Okazawa-Rey, who told Truthout that the women activists who are participating in the peace movement place a special emphasis on conflict resolution due to their "concern for life, community, families -- the nuts and bolts of living life in a conflict situation."

"Because women are burdened with the daily aspects of occupation or armed conflict, I think we have a lot more at stake for making sure that peace processes actually are put in place and they actually work," she added.

She pointed to peace efforts and mass mobilization by women in Liberia as a prime example of how they can help end war, but added that the role of men cannot be discounted.

"Obviously, it's a joint effort ... the reunification question, in a very fundamental way, is about reunifying families that have been separated since the split," she said.

Okazawa-Rey cautioned that peace talks should not be limited to high-level diplomatic talks and spoke of the need for a range of dialogues at every level, including citizen diplomacy. "Let the people in on some of the action," she told Truthout.

Having reached this historic moment in Korea, Okazawa-Rey praised the ambitious goals of the Panmunjeom Declaration for Peace, Prosperity and Unification of the Korean Peninsula, signed by Kim and Moon at the DMZ on April 27.

"It has to be bold. It has to be super-idealistic to help people imagine possibilities, to imagine a certain kind of generative direction that the Korean people should be headed toward," she said.

Among its many stated targets, the Panmunjeom Declaration calls for an end to division and confrontation, intra-Korean contacts at all levels and replacing the armistice with a final peace treaty to formally end the Korean War.

Take Nothing for Granted

Two of the international delegates in Seoul this week came from Pacific islands that have firsthand experience with the threat of war with North Korea: Hawaii and Guam.

This potential for hope and peace has been laid down brick-and-mortar by the Korean people themselves.

Kalamaokaaina Niheu is a family doctor on Oahu whose own family has a long history of fighting for justice in the Pacific. With a Kanaka Maoli (Hawaiian) father and Korean mother, Niheu feels a deep sense of solidarity with both places and recognizes how each has been impacted by colonization and militarization.

"Without a doubt, this unification, this potential for hope and peace has been laid down brick-and-mortar by the Korean people themselves," Niheu said. "They have desperately, and with great integrity and principle, fought for it and struggled for peace and reunification of their people, and it's been a long time coming."

The current situation in Korea, if handled poorly, could precipitate World War III, Niheu said. But, if handled well, could offer a beacon of hope to other strife-ridden regions. "We need to have these moments of hope and peace. We need to make sure they are protected and uplifted and supported as much as possible."

With so much fragility in the world, Niheu said, nothing should be taken for granted. "Nothing is guaranteed. Every possibility of forward progressive movement needs to be fiercely protected."

But women have been notoriously pushed to the side for many centuries, according to Niheu, who said she sees an increased recognition of the invaluable and intrinsic contributions women make, not just to creating peace, but to creating lasting peace.

"Peace on the Korean Peninsula is peace for the rest of the world."

"Involving women in [peace-building] is not for show. It is a fundamental incorporation of the backbone of society," Niheu said. "Women in particular have fought for this because they're fighting for their families, they're fighting for their villages, they're fighting for their communities and they're fighting for future generations."

Also in attendance was Lisa Natividad, president of the Guahan Coalition for Peace and Justice. In 2015, Natividad was part of the Women Cross DMZ delegation that traveled to Pyongyang, where she witnessed the heartbreak North Koreans expressed, longing for family members across the DMZ.

Natividad's home on Guahan (Guam) is some 2,000 miles from North Korea, but the island's large US military presence, which includes nuclear capable bombers, has placed it in the crosshairs of a possible war. In Natividad's words, "the cookie crumbles on Guam."

Before he called off the scheduled June 12 summit in Singapore with North Korea, President Trump, who frequently boasts about being pro-military, had suggested "everyone thinks" he deserves the Nobel Peace Prize.

However, when asked who should receive a Nobel Peace Prize if a Korean peace treaty is signed, Natividad said she believes most women are less focused on being recognized or given credit than they are with tangible results. "Women have played a very critical role, whether or not it's in the spotlight. Quite frankly, I don't think most women are that concerned with acknowledgement," she said. "Peace on the Korean Peninsula is peace for the rest of the world."

25/05/2018 05:00 AM
Medicaid Work Requirements Would Strain Hospital and State Budgets

Policy makers in cash-strapped states are already struggling to balance budgets, and Republican plans to chip away at Medicaid enrollment with work requirements could make that job harder, as enforcement would cost states millions of dollars. Moreover, Medicaid expansion helped hospitals cut down on un-recouped costs, taking pressure off state health systems and budgets.

(Photo: ERproductions Ltd / Getty Images)(Photo: ERproductions Ltd / Getty Images)

Louisiana state officials warned earlier this year that thousands of elderly and disabled people would be evicted from nursing homes if lawmakers failed to reverse course on Medicaid cuts and solve the state's ongoing budget crisis. (Lawmakers later moved to shield the elderly and disabled from spending cuts but have yet to pass a budget.) In Kentucky, Republican Gov. Matt Bevin proposed raiding $201 million from a health care fund for state workers to balance the state's budget, a move that critics said would rob cost savings from Bevin's employees.

For conservatives opposed to tax hikes, balancing budgets needed to keep schools open and hospitals running in cash-strapped states is not easy. By placing work requirements on adults in state Medicaid programs that provide health coverage for low-income people, Republicans in 11 states could make that job even harder.

Kentucky expects its work requirements to reduce Medicaid rolls by 15 percent, which means about 100,000 people would lose coverage in an average month.

By expanding coverage for millions of people, the Affordable Care Act's Medicaid expansion reduced un-recouped costs at hospitals and in emergency rooms and funneled billions of dollars in new federal funding into state coffers. Kentucky alone was expected to realize a net fiscal benefit of $919 million from 2014 to 2021 as a result of Medicaid expansion, including nearly $100 million in savings, according to one state analysis commissioned before Bevin was elected.

Bevin and other Republicans have a different idea for saving money: Reduce the number of people covered by Medicaid. Unable to repeal the Affordable Care Act in Congress, the Trump administration and its allies in state government are chipping away at Medicaid expansion by applying for federal waivers to place work requirements and other conditions on enrollment. Kentucky expects its work requirements to reduce Medicaid rolls by 15 percent, which means about 100,000 people would lose coverage in an average month, according to an analysis from the Center on Budget Policy and Priorities (CBPP).

Trimming Medicaid rolls may bolster a conservative ideologue's profile on the national stage, but back home it could be very costly for hospitals and state health programs, not to mention lower-income families. To institute work requirements, states like Kentucky plan to shift millions of dollars in health care spending into a bureaucracy for tracking and verifying the employment status of enrollees. Enrollees will need to document and prove to the state that they are working, volunteering or training to work a certain number of hours, and critics say people in real need of assistance could lose their coverage in the red tape.

Some people with disabilities are bound to lose Medicaid coverage as they attempt to navigate the exemptions system.

Some states are crafting exemptions to the work requirements for people who were recently hospitalized or impacted by a natural disaster, for example, but people would need to know that they can take advantage of the exemptions first, according to Jennifer Wagner, a senior policy analyst at the CBPP. They then must gather documentation and present it to whatever bureaucracy has been created to manage eligibility in order to access health care, all while dealing with whatever crisis made them eligible for the exemption in the first place.

"So, we expect that a lot of those folks will fall through the cracks," Wagner said during a call with reporters this week.

Enrollees working part-time or in the gig economy could lose coverage because their hours may vary from month to month, a common experience among low-income workers, according to the CPBB. As Truthout has reported, advocates say some people with disabilities are bound to lose Medicaid coverage as they attempt to navigate the exemptions system because they initially qualified for a different reason.

"Even when waivers try to account for all of these complexities, it actually will not translate on the ground for people who need to be covered," Wagner said.

With fewer Medicaid participants comes less spending at hospitals and clinics for routine check-ups, so lower-income patients would tend to be sicker when they do seek care. Simply put, more people would be unable to pay for emergency room visits and other services that certain hospitals are required to provide. Analysts call this "uncompensated care" because providers are unable to recoup costs from Medicaid and a patient who cannot afford them.

In Kentucky, work requirements are expected to reduce the flow of federal funds to the state by $700 million annually.

Obamacare reduced uncompensated care costs in every state that signed up for the Medicaid expansion. In states like California and Kentucky, uncompensated care costs for hospitals dropped by 64 percent and 65 percent in the years following expansion, respectively. This allowed hospitals to expand their services, particularly in underserved rural areas. Demand for state-funded health programs -- including payments for uncompensated care to hospitals -- also dropped in Medicaid expansion states, taking pressure off of state budgets, according to the CBPP.

Less health care spending also takes an economic toll. The federal government shares Medicaid costs with states, and in Kentucky, work requirements are expected to reduce the flow of federal funds to the state by $700 million annually, according to The Commonwealth Fund, a health care advocacy group. That money would have helped hospitals expand services and pay doctors, nurses and staff, who in turn would pump it back into the state economy. The economic benefit of eventually cutting Medicaid spending and encouraging employment is expected to be modest in comparison.

Implementing work requirements would also create new costs as states staff and create a bureaucracy for enforcing the rules and verifying the employment status of enrollees. States are expected to pay tech contractors tens of millions of dollars to change notices and forms, reprogram eligibility systems, address questions from applicants, handle appeals and track premium payments in states where enrollees are expected to pay.

"Effectively, these proposals divert some state and federal resources from paying for health care to paying for new bureaucracy," said CBPP Senior Fellow Judy Solomon.

Any savings from instituting work requirements would be the direct result of vulnerable people losing their health care coverage.

The Trump administration has already signed off on Kentucky's waiver allowing the state to place work requirements on able-bodied Medicaid enrollees, and the state plans to spend $373 million on implementation over the next two years. Alaska estimates its proposed work requirements would cost an additional $78.8 million over the next six years. The federal government is expected to shoulder some of these costs, leading Democrats in Congress to call for an investigation into just how much work requirements would constrain federal and state budgets.

For this reason, states are expected to spend more money before realizing any savings from kicking people off Medicaid. This may explain why Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat who ran on expanding Medicaid in a conservative state, recently walked back on statements suggesting he was considering work requirements for his state. Even Republicans in Louisiana are wary of reducing Medicaid rolls as they grapple with a fiscal crisis, and watered-down work requirement legislation died in the GOP-controlled legislature this year.

Any savings that other states do eventually realize from instituting work requirements would be the direct result of vulnerable people losing their health care coverage, putting further strain on families, health care systems and state budgets. Proponents say requiring labor participation would reduce reliance on the government in the long run and eventually decrease the burden on taxpayers, but critics say this idea is more rooted in conservative ideology than the facts on the ground. It's a highly politicized gamble, and more Americans are expected to be less healthy as a result.

25/05/2018 05:00 AM
For 400 Straight Months, the Earth's Temperature Has Been Above Average

While variations in temperature upward or downward occur naturally, over the last 400 months (or 33 years), the trend has been upward only, giving us our third-warmest April in 139 years. It's a trend that's impossible to ignore unless you are beholden to the world's biggest polluters, as this administration has clearly demonstrated it is.

(Photo: Manuela Kaiser / EyeEm / Getty Images)(Photo: Manuela Kaiser / EyeEm / Getty Images)

According to a recent report published by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) the Earth's temperature has been warmer than average for 400 consecutive months. That's 33 years.

NOAA climatologist Ahira Sanchez told CNN that the rising temperatures are "mainly due to anthropogenic (human-caused) warming," and that "we will continue to see global temperatures increase in the future." Sanchez explains that the temperature does vary to a degree on its own due to natural forces, but that there would be far less variability if we took out the human factor. "It would be up and down" she says.

There is no up and down here; for 400 hundred months straight, we've beat the average.

The NOAA report states that "four of six continents had an April temperature that ranked among the five warmest Aprils on record, with South America and Europe having their warmest April on record."

This was our third warmest April since 1880. The warmest occurred in 2016, and the second-warmest was 2017.

Unfortunately, whether it's 300 months, 399 months or a nice round 400, it really doesn't seem to matter to many denizens of this sphere. Though, as a 2017 study from Yale pointed out, compared to previous years, more Americans now believe climate change is mostly caused by humans, although this is a slim majority at 58 percent.

poll conducted by Gallup in March found that the gap in thinking between Republicans and Democrats has widened a bit since last year.

This wasn't always the case. In 2008, John McCain was battling with Barack Obama over who cared more for the environment. McCain's views weren't the norm back then for a GOP lawmaker by any means, but in the subsequent decade, as the country has grown more polarized and billionaire oil tycoons like the Koch brothers have made a more concerted effort to buy politicians, the right wing has decided climate change is not a problem worth considering.

Republicans elected a man who called climate change a hoax and pulled the US out of the Paris climate agreement. He also appointed a man who wants to kill the EPA to run the environmental agency; he has deleted climate change from the US National Security Strategy; he has moved to cut 2 million acres from federally protected lands in what would be the largest rollback of federal land protections in US history; he is attempting to destroy the Endangered Species Act; and has dismantled a long and growing list of environmental regulations aimed at decreasing CO2 emissions.

Four hundred months. Our planet has been warmer than average for three decades.

The trend here is impossible to ignore, and its impact could decimate biodiversity. There's been a big push to keep the rise in global temperature below 1.5 degrees Celsius. This was a primary goal of the Paris climate agreement, as anything above this threshold is believed to be catastrophic to our ecosystem. Sadly, two recent studies found that we could hit a 2 degrees Celsius rise by the end of the century.

The habitability of this planet for future generations is in peril.

25/05/2018 05:00 AM
US Treatment of Palestinians Has Grown Horrendously Cruel

On May 14, Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner, and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin smiled for pictures in front of the new US embassy in Jerusalem with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. "Big day for Israel," Donald Trump tweeted. "Congratulations!"

Meanwhile, just miles away in Gaza, Yazan Ibraheem Mohammed Al-Tubassi lay dying after repeatedly being shot by Israeli troops during protests at the Gaza border fence. Elsewhere, relatives of Taher Ahmed Madi -- another shooting victim -- carried his body home from the hospital to prepare for his funeral.

No words can describe the anger and anguish I feel as a Palestinian in America watching this unfold.

Along the Gaza fence, Israeli troops have gunned down thousands of unarmed Palestinian protesters, killing 60 and injuring over 2,700 in a matter of days. Many were teenagers, women, and children.

The protests weren't about the relocation of the US embassy. They began several weeks ago to mark the anniversary of the Nakba, or "catastrophe" -- the mass exodus and ethnic cleansing of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians since Israel's founding in 1948.

Every year, while Israelis celebrate the establishment of their state, millions of Palestinians mourn the end to their existence as they knew it.

For the Trump administration to choose this day for the relocation of the embassy while Palestinians were being murdered just 60 miles away is horrendously cruel. The United States has proven that it isn't only indifferent toward Israel's treatment of Palestinians, but has actively green lit the violence of the past few weeks.

In 1948, my grandparents, whose families had lived in Palestine for hundreds of years, were forced out of the only home they ever knew. Practically overnight, they were made into refugees and forced to make the almost 200-mile journey to Jordan on foot.

Leaving behind their belongings, family, and memories, they settled in Jordan, hoping the international community would help them one day return to their homes.

My grandparents, who never stopped talking about their life in Palestine, never saw it again. They passed away in Jordan, leaving the key to their house in Palestine with my family. We still have it today, serving as a reminder of our roots -- and of the abuse my family and so many others have suffered under Israel.

Still, I'm reminded that my grandparents were fortunate enough to make it out alive. The millions who have been forced into Gaza cannot say the same. They aren't free to come and go as they choose, but remain locked in the world's largest open air prison -- cut down if they so much as approach the "border fence" with Israel.

Inside they suffer unimaginable conditions.

Only 10 percent of Gazans have access to safe drinking water, almost half of the population is unemployed, and over 70 percent live in poverty. They get only a few hours of electricity a day. Not to mention the psychological effects of living under siege, and the daily fear of attacks by Israel.

Now, politicians across the US are voicing their support for the embassy relocation, while other countries announce their decision to follow America's lead's lead.

It's infuriating to see my own country actively condoning brutal violence against my people while other countries sit back and watch. How can Palestinians ever trust a "peace process" led by an administration that degrades them this way?

I keep hearing people say that Gazans need to "protest peacefully" as Israeli snipers gun them down methodically. They're being given two options: Either suffer inhumane treatment or get killed protesting it. It's not much of a choice.

No one would passively accept a life like this. Why should Gazans?

25/05/2018 05:00 AM
Economic Update: An Unsustainable System

This week's episode discusses the decline of cities; the freelancers' economy; the legalization of sports betting; how Fiat, Chrysler and Porsche are also in on the emissions cheating scandal; the new federal jobs guarantee; and how Catholic University is attacking tenure. Also included is an interview with Chris Hedges on the unsustainable US system.

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