The US and Cuba

— by President Barack Obama, White HouseWhiteHouse

Yesterday, after more than 50 years, we began to change America’s relationship with the people of Cuba.

We are recognizing the struggle and sacrifice of the Cuban people, both in the U.S. and in Cuba, and ending an outdated approach that has failed to advance U.S. interests for decades. In doing so, we will begin to normalize relations between our two countries.

I was born in 1961, just over two years after Fidel Castro took power in Cuba, and just as the U.S. severed diplomatic relations with that country.

Our complicated relationship with this nation played out over the course of my lifetime — against the backdrop of the Cold War, with our steadfast opposition to communism in the foreground. Year after year, an ideological and economic barrier hardened between us.

That previous approach failed to promote change, and it’s failed to empower or engage the Cuban people. It’s time to cut loose the shackles of the past and reach for a new and better future with this country.

First, I have instructed Secretary of State John Kerry to immediately begin discussions with Cuba to re-establish diplomatic relations that have been severed since 1961. Going forward, we will re-establish an embassy in Havana, and high-ranking officials will once again visit Cuba.

Second, I have also instructed Secretary Kerry to review Cuba’s designation as a State Sponsor of Terrorism — a review guided by the facts and the law. At a time when we are focused on threats from ISIL and al Qaeda, a nation that meets our conditions and renounces terrorism should not face such a sanction.

Third, we’ll take steps to increase travel, commerce, and the flow of information to — and from — Cuba. These steps will make it easier for Americans to travel to Cuba. They will make it easier for Americans to conduct authorized trade with Cuba, including exports of food, medicine, and medical products to Cuba. And they will facilitate increased telecommunications connections between our two countries: American businesses will be able to sell goods that enable Cubans to communicate with the United States and other countries.

Learn more about the steps we’re taking to change our policy.

These changes don’t constitute a reward or a concession to Cuba. We are making them because it will spur change among the people of Cuba, and that is our main objective.

Change is hard — especially so when we carry the heavy weight of history on our shoulders.

Our country is cutting that burden loose to reach for a better future.

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Govt Assessment of Syrian Government’s Use of Chemical Weapons—August 21, 2013

SyriaThe United States Government assesses with high confidence that the Syrian government carried out a chemical weapons attack in the Damascus suburbs on August 21, 2013. We further assess that the regime used a nerve agent in the attack. These all-source assessments are based on human, signals, and geo-spatial intelligence as well as a significant body of open source reporting.Our classified assessments have been shared with the U.S. Congress and key international partners. To protect sources and methods, we cannot publicly release all available intelligence – but what follows is an unclassified summary of the U.S. Intelligence Community’s analysis of what took place.

Syrian Government Use of Chemical Weapons on August 21

A large body of independent sources indicates that a chemical weapons attack took place in the Damascus suburbs on August 21. In addition to U.S. intelligence information, there are accounts from international and Syrian medical personnel; videos; witness accounts; thousands of social media reports from at least 12 different locations in the Damascus area; journalist accounts; and reports from highly credible nongovernmental organizations.

A preliminary U.S. government assessment determined that 1,429 people were killed in the chemical weapons attack, including at least 426 children, though this assessment will certainly evolve as we obtain more information.

We assess with high confidence that the Syrian government carried out the chemical weapons attack against opposition elements in the Damascus suburbs on August 21. We assess that the scenario in which the opposition executed the attack on August 21 is highly unlikely. The body of information used to make this assessment includes intelligence pertaining to the regime’s preparations for this attack and its means of delivery, multiple streams of intelligence about the attack itself and its effect, our post-attack observations, and the differences between the capabilities of the regime and the opposition. Our high confidence assessment is the strongest position that the U.S. Intelligence Community can take short of confirmation. We will continue to seek additional information to close gaps in our understanding of what took place.

Background:

The Syrian regime maintains a stockpile of numerous chemical agents, including mustard, sarin, and VX and has thousands of munitions that can be used to deliver chemical warfare agents.

Syrian President Bashar al-Asad is the ultimate decision maker for the chemical weapons program and members of the program are carefully vetted to ensure security and loyalty. The Syrian Scientific Studies and Research Center (SSRC) – which is subordinate to the Syrian Ministry of Defense – manages Syria’s chemical weapons program.

We assess with high confidence that the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons on a small scale against the opposition multiple times in the last year, including in the Damascus suburbs. This assessment is based on multiple streams of information including reporting of Syrian officials planning and executing chemical weapons attacks and laboratory analysis of physiological samples obtained from a number of individuals, which revealed exposure to sarin. We assess that the opposition has not used chemical weapons.

The Syrian regime has the types of munitions that we assess were used to carry out the attack on August 21, and has the ability to strike simultaneously in multiple locations. We have seen no indication that the opposition has carried out a large-scale, coordinated rocket and artillery attack like the one that occurred on August 21.

We assess that the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons over the last year primarily to gain the upper hand or break a stalemate in areas where it has struggled to seize and hold strategically valuable territory. In this regard, we continue to judge that the Syrian regime views chemical weapons as one of many tools in its arsenal, including air power and ballistic missiles, which they indiscriminately use against the opposition.

The Syrian regime has initiated an effort to rid the Damascus suburbs of opposition forces using the area as a base to stage attacks against regime targets in the capital. The regime has failed to clear dozens of Damascus neighborhoods of opposition elements, including neighborhoods targeted on August 21, despite employing nearly all of its conventional weapons systems. We assess that the regime’s frustration with its inability to secure large portions of Damascus may have contributed to its decision to use chemical weapons on August 21.

Preparation:

We have intelligence that leads us to assess that Syrian chemical weapons personnel – including personnel assessed to be associated with the SSRC – were preparing chemical munitions prior to the attack. In the three days prior to the attack, we collected streams of human, signals and geospatial intelligence that reveal regime activities that we assess were associated with preparations for a chemical weapons attack.

Syrian chemical weapons personnel were operating in the Damascus suburb of ‘Adra from Sunday, August 18 until early in the morning on Wednesday, August 21 near an area that the regime uses to mix chemical weapons, including sarin. On August 21, a Syrian regime element prepared for a chemical weapons attack in the Damascus area, including through the utilization of gas masks. Our intelligence sources in the Damascus area did not detect any indications in the days prior to the attack that opposition affiliates were planning to use chemical weapons.

The Attack:

Multiple streams of intelligence indicate that the regime executed a rocket and artillery attack against the Damascus suburbs in the early hours of August 21. Satellite detections corroborate that attacks from a regime-controlled area struck neighborhoods where the chemical attacks reportedly occurred – including Kafr Batna, Jawbar, ‘Ayn Tarma, Darayya, and Mu’addamiyah. This includes the detection of rocket launches from regime controlled territory early in the morning, approximately 90 minutes before the first report of a chemical attack appeared in social media. The lack of flight activity or missile launches also leads us to conclude that the regime used rockets in the attack.

Local social media reports of a chemical attack in the Damascus suburbs began at 2:30 a.m. local time on August 21. Within the next four hours there were thousands of social media reports on this attack from at least 12 different locations in the Damascus area. Multiple accounts described chemical-filled rockets impacting opposition-controlled areas.

Three hospitals in the Damascus area received approximately 3,600 patients displaying symptoms consistent with nerve agent exposure in less than three hours on the morning of August 21, according to a highly credible international humanitarian organization. The reported symptoms, and the epidemiological pattern of events – characterized by the massive influx of patients in a short period of time, the origin of the patients, and the contamination of medical and first aid workers – were consistent with mass exposure to a nerve agent. We also received reports from international and Syrian medical personnel on the ground.

We have identified one hundred videos attributed to the attack, many of which show large numbers of bodies exhibiting physical signs consistent with, but not unique to, nerve agent exposure. The reported symptoms of victims included unconsciousness, foaming from the nose and mouth, constricted pupils, rapid heartbeat, and difficulty breathing. Several of the videos show what appear to be numerous fatalities with no visible injuries, which is consistent with death from chemical weapons, and inconsistent with death from small-arms, high-explosive munitions or blister agents. At least 12 locations are portrayed in the publicly available videos, and a sampling of those videos confirmed that some were shot at the general times and locations described in the footage.

We assess the Syrian opposition does not have the capability to fabricate all of the videos, physical symptoms verified by medical personnel and NGOs, and other information associated with this chemical attack.

We have a body of information, including past Syrian practice, that leads us to conclude that regime officials were witting of and directed the attack on August 21. We intercepted communications involving a senior official intimately familiar with the offensive who confirmed that chemical weapons were used by the regime on August 21 and was concerned with the U.N. inspectors obtaining evidence. On the afternoon of August 21, we have intelligence that Syrian chemical weapons personnel were directed to cease operations. At the same time, the regime intensified the artillery barrage targeting many of the neighborhoods where chemical attacks occurred. In the 24 hour period after the attack, we detected indications of artillery and rocket fire at a rate approximately four times higher than the ten preceding days. We continued to see indications of sustained shelling in the neighborhoods up until the morning of August 26.

To conclude, there is a substantial body of information that implicates the Syrian government’s responsibility in the chemical weapons attack that took place on August 21.As indicated, there is additional intelligence that remains classified because of sources and methods concerns that is being provided to Congress and international partners.

Syria: Damascus Areas of Influence and Areas Reportedly Affected by 21 August Chemical Attack

Syria-Aug-21

Speaker Boehner & his GOP Brethren Approve KXL, Spread Propaganda

I certainly hope that Representative Mark Amodei and Representative Joe Heck made a call to their insurance agents and purchased personal liability insurance for Tar Sands oil spills, because today the voted FOR passage of HR3, the Northern Route Approval Act, legislation introduced by Rep. Lee Terry (R-NE) that approves construction of the Keystone pipeline. That means they are complicit in enabling the eventual pollution of our land, our aquifers and our nation’s breadbasket that puts food on our tables.  You think the Arkansas spill was bad?  Just wait, the eventual KXL pipeline spill will be absolutely catastrophic and we need to be prepared to hold each and every representative in Congress who voted for this catastrophe accountable.

Following the House vote on HR 3, Speaker immediately put out a press release that is tantamount to pure propaganda claiming the construction of the KXL pipeline will create 10s of thousands of jobs and will swamp our gas stations with abundant supplies of cheap gas.  The reality, however, is that if the KXL pipeline IS constructed, it will suck every gallon of gas they can pump out the the US down that pipeline for shipment to foreign countries, leaving us high and dry, with astronomical gas prices for the remainder of many of our lifetimes.  Here’s Speaker Boehner’s press release:

House Votes to Approve Keystone Pipeline, Create Tens of Thousands of Jobs & Increase Energy Security

Posted by Speaker Boehner Press Office
May 22, 2013
Press Release

WASHINGTON, DC – House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) today applauded House passage of the Northern Route Approval Act (H.R. 3), legislation introduced by Rep. Lee Terry (R-NE) that approves the Keystone pipeline and eliminates legal and regulatory barriers to its construction and the tens of thousands of jobs it will create:

“When American families hit the road this Memorial Day weekend, they’ll once again be paying the price for the Obama administration’s failed energy policy.  Gas prices have nearly doubled on the president’s watch, draining family budgets and making it harder for small businesses to hire.  The Northern Route Approval Act, part of Republicans’ plan for economic growth and jobs, will help families and small businesses by approving the Keystone pipeline and removing barriers that could keep it tied up in legal limbo for years. 

“The Keystone pipeline will create tens of thousands of American jobs and pump nearly a million barrels of oil to U.S. refineries each day, helping to lower gas prices, boost economic growth, enhance our energy security, and revitalize manufacturing.  The project is backed by a majority of the American people, including members of the president’s own party.  Labor unions have rallied for its approval, saying it’s ‘not just a pipeline, it’s a lifeline.’  Unfortunately, after nearly five years of blocking the project, it’s a lifeline President Obama is refusing to toss American workers.

“House Republicans will continue fighting for the Keystone pipeline as part of our jobs plan that cuts red tape and unlocks more of America’s resources.  It is time for the president to put his political calculations aside, work with Republicans to approve the Keystone pipeline, and advance a growth and jobs agenda that will help our economy grow and put more Americans back to work.”

But just weeks ago, we learned from Ryan Koronowski, who posted an article on ThinkProgress, that the pipeline will not create 10s of thousands of jobs, but instead, will create a measly 35 permanent jobs, a far cry from even just 1000 permanent jobs.  And, to make matters worse, it will exacerbate the problems we’re experiencing with climate change.  The refining process for tar sands crude (if you can really define crude as tar sands mixed in toxic proprietary solvents) will emit more carbon into the atmosphere than 51 seriously dirty coal plants.  Not only that, but a series of amendments, some dealing with pipeline safety and the cost of cleaning up potential pipeline spills, were all defeated along party lines.  So once again, the GOP has shown us their true colors, showing preference to corporate profits and choosing to socialize cleanup costs for the corporations.

Keystone Pipeline Will Create Only 35 Permanent Jobs, Emit 51 Coal Plants’ Worth Of Carbon

By Ryan Koronowski on Apr 17, 2013 at 7:15 pm

On Wednesday, Secretary of State John Kerry told the House Foreign Affairs Committee that he wasn’t touching the Keystone pipeline decision with a ten-foot pole:

“I am staying as far away from that as I can now so that when the appropriate time comes to me, I am not getting information from any place I shouldn’t be, and I am not getting engaged in the debate at a time that I shouldn’t be,” Kerry told the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Wednesday.

Right now, Kerry has the State Department’s Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement, but if that is all he information he relies on, he won’t get the full picture. While he will see that the project will only bring 35 permanent jobs, which is true, he would also see almost no discussion of the pipeline’s impact on the climate. (Oddly, he will be able to read an extended discussion of climate change’s projected impacts on the construction and maintenance of the proposed pipeline.)

So where is a Secretary of State sincerely concerned about climate change to go to find the climate consequences of approving the Keystone XL pipeline? He could peruse a new report out yesterday from Oil Change International called: “Cooking the Books: How The State Department Analysis Ignores The True Climate Impact of the Keystone XL Pipeline.”

The report’s recommendation:

In a world constrained by the realities of climate change, the proper measure of any project’s climate impact should not be based on the assumptions inherent in a business as usual scenario that guarantees climate disaster. Instead, the State Department should base these critical decisions on whether the project makes sense in a world that is actually seeking to minimize the real dangers of climate change. On this basis, we recommend that decision-makers consider the total amount of carbon that will be released by the project into the atmosphere.

How do they back that up?

  • Using industry analysis of carbon emissions from current tar sands production, the report says the pipeline will carry and emit 181 million metric tons of CO2 every year. That’smore than 37.7 million cars or 51 coal plants.
  • Both the IEA and the World Bank have said that if we want to avoid the catastrophic implications of warming the planet by more than 2 degrees C, we cannot burn any more than one-third of the world’s proven fossil fuel reserves by 2050.
  • U.S. oil demand has fallen by 2.25 million barrels per day, but if we want to cut emissions to hold global temperature below 2 degrees C, there are very few scenarios that include a Keystone pipeline pumping 3.3 million barrels or tar sands oil per day.
  • Petcoke, which is a byproduct of the tar sands refining process, is exported for use as a coal substitute. Since petcoke is cheaper than coal, this encourages more coal burning, and therefore more carbon emissions. The State Department’s EIS does not acknowledge this.
  • The pipeline’s pump stations will emit 4.4 million metric tons of CO2 each year, after 240,000 metric tons during the construction phase. This is like adding an extra U.S. coal plant. This pipeline, remember, will pump 830,000 barrels of tar sands oil every day.
  • Tar sands pollute more than conventional oil — 27 million more metric tons of CO2 according to the EPA. This would be the same as 7 coal plants. Tar sands are so carbon intensive because of the way it burns, and how much energy is required to extract it. The State Department acknowledged that this will cause 17 percent more carbon emissions than regular oil.

Won’t the tar sands be extracted whether the pipeline is approved or rejected? Not so:

There are many compelling arguments against the fatalistic assertion that the tar sands will be fully exploited regardless of the Keystone XL pipeline. Other proposed pipelines also face substantial opposition in Canada and other regions of the United States. Further, increased costs associated with alternatives such as rail make it clear that the Keystone XL pipeline is far and away the industry’s first choice, and industry experts have been the first to admit this.

The State Department EIS dismisses out of hand the implications of burning the oil we’re projected to burn, saying it is business as usual. But this business is leading us to a very unusual climate future. The idea of approving the Keystone pipeline becomes more impossible as the facts become clearer. We can only hope that Secretary Kerry will stay engaged in the real debate and make the right choice for a livable climate.

[The article above, originally posted on ThinkProgress,  was created by the Center for American Progress Action Fund. It was created for the Progress Report, the daily e-mail publication of the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Click here to subscribe.]

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