Reports indicate that in the past week, at least 170 civilians—including dozens of women and children—have been killed by the U.S.-led airwar in Raqqa, a Syrian city controlled by the Islamic State (ISIS). (Photo: @Raqqa_SL/Twitter)
As President Donald Trump expands the war in Afghanistan, which Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Tuesday is partly inspired by “successful” tactics used in the war against the Islamic State (ISIS), Reutersreports that in the past week alone, more than 170 civilians were killed by U.S.-led airstrikes in Raqqa, a Syrian city ISIS considers its capitol.
“The monitoring group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 42 people, including 19 children and 12 women, were killed on Monday in strikes that destroyed buildings where families were sheltering,” Reuters reports. The observatory claims this marks the single largest daily death toll since the U.S.-backed Syria Democratic Forces (SDF), a coalition of Kurdish and Arab militias, began their mission to capture Raqqa in June. Continue reading →
Last Wednesday, it was reported that Donald Trump was moving to nominate Raytheon lobbyist Mark Esper for secretary of the Army. Raytheon is one of the “big five” defense contractors, and the president’s decision comes at a time when concerns are being raised over the idea of defense industry executives being placed in senior positions at the Pentagon.
Esper, who holds a master’s degree from Harvard and a doctorate from George Washington University, has been Raytheon’s vice president of government relations since 2010. Before that, he held a slew of positions in both the public and private sectors. His resume is extensive, but The Hillmanaged to succinctly package the high points: Continue reading →
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was CEO of oil giant ExxonMobil when the company violated U.S. sanctions against Russian officials in 2014. (Photo: Greenpeace/PolluterWatch)
“It’s time Rex Tillerson step down or be removed,” said Gigi Kellett of Corporate Accountability International, following an announcement on Thursday that ExxonMobil will pay $2 million for violating U.S. sanctions against Russian officials while the now-secretary of state was the company’s CEO.
“ExxonMobil demonstrated reckless disregard for U.S. sanction requirements,” according to enforcement filing released by the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), which issued the penalty. Though the fine is reportedly the maximum penalty allowed, it’s pittance to one of the world’s most profitable and powerful corporations, which last year reported a profit of $7.8 billion. Continue reading →
Rex Tillerson. Photo: premier.gov.ru [CC BY 4.0) , via Wikimedia Commons
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson—a former CEO of the world’s largest oil company—is under fire on Monday for setting aside his diplomatic duties on Sunday to accept a lifetime achievement award from the World Petroleum Congress is Istanbul, Turkey.
“Secretary Tillerson’s warped notion that it’s appropriate to attend and accept an award at an oil industry conference proves yet again that he has no idea how to be the United States’ chief diplomat,” said Greenpeace USA senior climate campaigner Naomi Ages. Continue reading →
Korean Peninsula — As Americans grilled burgers and watched fireworks in celebration of the Fourth of July on Tuesday, North Korea defiantly test-launched its first successful intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). Analysts say the missile flew higher and farther than any had before and could more than likely have reached Alaska and the Pacific Northwest.
Reporting on the launch on Wednesday, North Korea’s state-run media wrote that Kim Jong-un was “feasting his eyes” on the ICBM during the test and that “with a broad smile on his smile,” the leader encouraged his scientists to “frequently send big and small ‘gift packages’ to the Yankees.”
The same report suggested North Korea is already capable of attaching a large nuclear warhead to its ICBM, a claim analysts almost universally consider unfounded. In a separate article published Wednesday, Kim Jong-un also vowed he would never put his country’s nuclear weapons program on the negotiating table. Continue reading →
Heads of state cheer after the Paris Climate Change Agreement was signed at COP21, 2015, by 197 parties. (cc/Wikipedia)
The world is worried as Decision Day nears.
At a April 29th rally in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, Trump said he would make a “big decision” on Paris within the next two weeks and vowed to end “a broken system of global plunder at American expense.”
Now the Trump administration has a meeting scheduled this Tuesday to decide whether to drop out of the Paris Agreement. Continue reading →
Rex Tillerson. Photo: premier.gov.ru [CC BY 4.0) , via Wikimedia Commons
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson stirred outrage on Wednesday when he outlined what an “America First” foreign policy will look like under U.S. President Donald Trump, namely that values such as freedom and human rights will not get in the way of “national security and economic prosperity.”
“I think it is really important that all of us understand the difference between policy and values,” Tillerson told employees during a supposed State Department “pep talk” on Wednesday evening that was reportedly transmitted to U.S. diplomatic outposts around the world. “Our values around freedom, human dignity, the way people are treated—those are our values. Those are not our policies.” Continue reading →
Exxon is applying for a waiver from the U.S. Treasury Department to bypass U.S. sanctions against Russia and resume offshore drilling in the Black Sea with the Russian oil company Rosneft, the Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday.
Among those charged with deciding to grant the permit is Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, the former CEO of Exxon who previously oversaw the company’s Russia operations. Continue reading →
Victims of Syrian Gas attack. Photo: A_Almghyr/Twitter
The international community sat aghast on Tuesday as images emerged of Syrian children choking to death after a suspected chemical attack killed dozens of people in the rebel-controlled northern province of Idlib.
According to reporting, at least 60 were killed and hundreds more are being treated for exposure. Survivors of the attack said that war planes dropped toxic gas at dawn over the village of Khan Sheikhun, where, the Guardiannotes, “there are thousands of refugees from the nearby province of Hama who have fled recent fighting” between government forces and the Islamic State (ISIS). Continue reading →
The executive order signals a sharp shift in federal climate change rules, standards and work procedures. This was expected based on Trump’s campaign rhetoric and his selection of Cabinet members and advisers. But as with other Trump White House initiatives, it is unclear how much change the administration can deliver and at what pace.
It took a long time for the Obama administration to formulate some of the central climate change rules now targeted by the Trump administration, and it will take years trying to change them. The signing of the executive order is just the administration’s opening salvo in what is destined to become a protracted and high-stakes battle.
The Trump attack
Cloaked in unsubstantiated “pro-growth” rhetoric, the executive order targets the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan. It also focuses on mandates to cap methane emissions, looks to increase support for the extraction and use of coal and other fossil fuels, and changes the ways in which climate change concerns are embedded in actions by federal agencies (including taking into consideration the social cost of carbon).
The Clean Power Plan was designed to curb carbon dioxide emissions from existing coal-fired power plants as well as to promote renewable energy production and greater energy efficiency. The Obama administration also set emissions standards for new power plants. These and other measures were issued in response to the unwillingness by the U.S. Congress to pass any separate climate change legislation.
Announced in August 2015, the Clean Power Plan was immediately challenged in court by a group of 29 states and state agencies with the support of a variety of firms and industry organizations, including Oklahoma while current EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt was the state’s attorney general. The opponents argued the EPA had overstepped its regulatory authority with the new rules and they therefore should be struck down.
The Supreme Court in an unprecedented decision in February 2016 ordered the EPA to temporarily stay the implementation of the Clean Power Plan until a lower-level court had made a ruling on the EPA’s authority to set such standards. Oral hearings were held in the D.C. Circuit Court in September 2016, but a decision is still pending.
Because the EPA under Pruitt will review the Clean Power Plan and roll back other Obama initiatives, the executive order alters basic legal dynamics. Now, lawsuits making their way up the court system will change. Instead of challenging the Obama rules, suits will be aimed at forcing the Trump administration to either uphold them or take other forms of meaningful regulatory action.
Many states and environmental groups that support the Clean Power Plan and other existing measures stand ready with a lineup of lawyers to fight back. They will argue that the federal government must act based on a 2007 U.S. Supreme Court decision classifying CO2 as a pollutant under the Clean Air Act and a 2009 EPA Endangerment Finding stating that current and projected atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases threaten the public health and welfare of current and future generations.
Will we still always have Paris?
The executive order is silent on the Trump administration’s intent vis-à-vis the 2015 Paris Agreement, in which nearly 200 countries agreed to lower greenhouse gas emissions. But it casts a long shadow both on the U.S. ability to meet its Paris goal and the future of U.S. international leadership on climate change.
The implementation of the Clean Power Plan is central to fulfilling U.S. commitments under the Paris Agreement of reducing national GHG emissions by 26-28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025 and to make best efforts to reduce its emissions by 28 percent. By 2014, national emissions were down 9 percent compared with 2005 levels.
Electing to either leave or ignore the Paris Agreement would not provide the United States with more independence and flexibility, as it reduces its political influence and ability to shape future decisions in global climate negotiations.
There are other global environmental treaties around biodiversity protection and the management of hazardous chemicals and wastes to which the United States is not a party. As a result, the U.S. ability to influence regulatory decisions under these treaties is severely limited – for example, specific chemical compounds where there is a need to protect human health and the environment, or where U.S. firms have economic interests. This foreshadows the kind of outsider status that the United States may gain if it backs out of the Paris Agreement.
Notably, ceding international leadership on climate change may serve only to embolden other countries, including China, to take on a more prominent role at the expense of U.S. influence. It would also further increase many other countries’ rapidly mounting frustration with the Trump administration.
Many different stakeholders, including ExxonMobil, argue that it is better for the United States to be on the inside rather than the outside when it comes to the future climate change cooperation. Former ExxonMobil CEO and current Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has suggested the U.S. should stay in the agreement.
US paying for assistance or ammunition?
Even if the United States stays with the Paris Agreement, President Trump and Republicans in Congress have made it clear they want to severely limit, or completely cut off, U.S. contributions to climate finance in support of mitigation and adaptation measures in developing countries. The United States so far has provided US$1 billion of the $3 billion pledged by the Obama administration to the Green Climate Fund.
Carrying through on these statements by significantly reducing U.S. international assistance would effectively erode an important basis of U.S. political leadership and influence. But they appear to be part of a larger shift in the use of foreign policy instruments from nonmilitary means, such as climate and development aid, to military ones.
Trump’s “skinny budget” proposed a 31 percent cut to the EPA budget and a 29 percent reduction in funds for the State Department and other development programs. There is very little chance that Congress will approve such dramatic cuts, but these proposals tie in with what seems to be a broader change in U.S. foreign policy strategy.
As Trump proposed a 10 percent increase in the military budget, foreign policy experts worry that a significant cut in nonmilitary resources will severely undermine U.S. leadership and the ability by the State Department and other government agencies to promote U.S. interest and political stability.
The court of public opinion
As the battle over federal climate change policy continues, President Trump risks losing the public opinion battle on climate change beyond his most ardent base.
A recent poll shows that 75 percent of Americans believe that carbon dioxide should be regulated as a pollutant and that 69 percent believe that there should be limits on emissions from existing coal-fired power plants.
If such polling numbers remain strong, the Trump administration will be fighting an uphill battle in both courtrooms and the public sphere.