Focal Points Blog

Chlorine: Assad’s Double-Edged Sword

By both withholding and using chlorine, Syrian President Assad has wrought yet more death and destruction on his people. (Photo: Cameron Russell / Flickr Commons)

By both withholding and using chlorine, Syrian President Assad has wrought yet more death and destruction on his people. (Photo: Cameron Russell / Flickr Commons)

In an article for the New York Review of Books titled Syria: Death from Assad’s Chlorine, Annie Sparrow begins by citing the tremendous boon to private and public health that the element chlorine has been over the last couple of centuries.

Today 90 percent of water sources in the United States and Europe rely on chlorine for safe water. This is still the most important use of chlorine, and yet so commonplace that we have forgotten its vital role in human well-being….

Beyond public health, chlorine is fundamental to modern medicine. Chlorine compounds form the building blocks for 90 percent of modern drugs.

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Poland’s Uncivil Society

Leszek Konarski and Zygmunt Fura were involved with environmental issues and the creation of Poland’s first Green Party. (Photo: John Feffer)

Leszek Konarski and Zygmunt Fura were involved with environmental issues and the creation of Poland’s first Green Party. (Photo: John Feffer)

Cross-posted from JohnFeffer.com.

During the 1980s, Poland had perhaps the strongest civil society in the world. The Solidarity trade union movement, created in August 1980, eventually counted 10 million members, a quarter of Poland’s population. And when the government cracked down on Solidarity, declaring Martial Law in December 1981, the opposition was strong enough to survive underground under considerably adverse conditions.

In 1989, as Solidarity became a legal organization, it created citizens’ committees that enlisted Poles from all walks of life to discuss the transformation of the country. These committees, in every part of the country, mirrored the Round Table negotiations between the government and the opposition that took place at the elite level.
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Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference Can’t Win for Losing

The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (RevCon) is being held for the ninth time since the treaty was entered into force in 1975. (Photo of 2010 RevCon: Xinhua-Zhu-Wei)

The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (RevCon) is being held for the ninth time since the treaty was entered into force in 1975. (Photo of 2010 RevCon: Xinhua-Zhu-Wei)

The Treaty on the Non-proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (more commonly known as the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty) has long been considered, along with the concept of deterrence, as the strongest bulwark we have against nuclear war. Briefly, the states that had developed nuclear weapons prior to the treaty were allowed to keep them as long as they promised (without being bound to a deadline) to work toward disarmament. Meanwhile, states without nuclear weapons were to refrain from developing them, but would be entitled to nuclear energy.
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How Did U.S. Go from “Constructive Engagement” to Containing China?

The smooth political succession from Deng to Jiang, Hu and lately Xi Jinping (pictured), has assured the world that Beijing’s leaders are able to execute foreign policy consistently over a long timeframe. (Photo: Thierry Ehrmann / Flickr Commons)

The smooth political succession from Deng to Jiang, Hu and lately Xi Jinping (pictured), has assured the world that Beijing’s leaders are able to execute foreign policy consistently over a long timeframe. (Photo: Thierry Ehrmann / Flickr Commons)

Admit it: the American question on “Contain China” has been changed from “Should?” to “How?” in view of the brewing consensus that the ‘constructive engagement’ policy since President Nixon was a mistake [Note 1].

In an originally titled “Wake up America, China must be contained” article and their March 2015 report issued by Council on Foreign Relations, Robert D. Blackwill and Ashley J. Tellis argue for a new Grand Strategy towards China because “the American effort to ‘integrate’ China into the liberal international order has now generated new threats to U.S. primacy in Asia — and could eventually result in a consequential challenge to American power globally …” [Note 2].
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Number of Atheists in the Arab World Rivals the West

It’s not easy being an atheist in an Arab state, most of which derive their legitimacy, in part, from Islam. (Dale Spencer / Flickr Commons)

It’s not easy being an atheist in an Arab state, most of which derive their legitimacy, in part, from Islam. (Dale Spencer / Flickr Commons)

The election of a black president in 2008 seems to have triggered a social domino effect in the United States. For instance, 38 states now allow same-sex marriage. More subjectively, not only do LBGTs seem to have become more accepted in society, but atheists have come out of the woodwork. Who knew there were so many in the United States?
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Turning the Nuclear Triad Into a Quartet

Boeing’s idea of what the long-range strike bomber might look like. (Image: Boeing)

Boeing’s idea of what the long-range strike bomber might look like. (Image: Boeing)

It’s bad enough that the United States has a nuclear triad of land, sea, and air: ICBMs (intercontinental ballistic missiles), SLBMs (submarine-launched ballistic missiles), and bombers. But now the Air Force would seek to, in effect, turn that into a quartet. Wait, what’s left after land, sea, and air? Outer space is off limits because the Outer Space Treaty forbids WMD’s in outer space.

Actually, the Air Force seeks to subdivide the bomber classification. In the Washington Post, Walter Pincus, one of its national-security columnists, who is still writing about nuclear weapons at age 82, asks:

At a time of tight defense budgets, why does the Air Force plan to spend billions of extra dollars so that a president 10 or more years from now can have two options if he or she wants to use bombers to attack an enemy with nuclear weapons?

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U.S. Too Casual About the Prospects of War With Russia Over Ukraine Crisis

The World War I centenary reminds us how quickly events can spiral out of control in the Ukraine. (Photo: Bettman / Corbis)

The World War I centenary reminds us how quickly events can spiral out of control in the Ukraine. (Photo: Bettman / Corbis)

Graham Allison, whose voice was heard often after 9/11 warning about nuclear terrorism, is the director of the Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. Dimitri K. Simes is the publisher of the National Interest. Hardly progressive, they can be characterized as centrists. Hence, when they sound the alarm that U.S. policymakers may be steering us into war with Russia over the Ukraine Crisis, you know it’s not the reflexive accusations directed at the U.S. government that we progressives indulge in when the subject is U.S. foreign policy.
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The Network of East-West Women in East-Central Europe a Product of Willful Ignorance

Ann Snitow is a writer and teacher, as well as activist with the Network of East-West Women, composed of movement activists on both sides of the former Iron Curtain. (Photo: John Feffer)

Ann Snitow is a writer and teacher, as well as activist with the Network of East-West Women, composed of movement activists on both sides of the former Iron Curtain. (Photo: John Feffer)

Cross-posted from JohnFeffer.com.

The literary scholar Viktor Shklovsky once attributed Tolstoy’s success as a novelist to the “energy of delusion.” The Russian writer was committed to constant trials and experimentation. He had a seemingly endless capacity to put himself in the position of what the Russians like to call a “holy fool” and look at the world as if through a child’s eyes.

Journalists also frequently adopt the attitude of holy fools. They are so often out of their depths and must rely on others to provide them with the information and contacts that sustain their work. It doesn’t help a journalist to assert knowledge – or feign knowledge – in an interview when the objective is to obtain as much information as possible.
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Former U.S. Nukes Commander’s Steps to Keep Ukraine Crisis From Mushrooming Into Nuclear War

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The Ukraine crisis has renewed calls by retired Gen. James Cartwright, former U.S. nukes commander, to wean the United States and Russia from launch on warning. (Photo: D. Miles Cullen / U.S. Dept. of Defense)

 

Marine Gen. James Cartwright, whose last job was Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, served as the commander of the U.S. Strategic Command (nukes, et al) from 2004 to 2007. In recent years, he’s served in capacities as, uh, as diverse board member of Raytheon and chairman of the Global Zero Commission on Nuclear Risk Reduction. Those of you who follow nuclear weapons news may recall that, in the latter capacity, he called for reducing the U.S. nuclear-weapons arsenal to 900 warheads with none of them set to launch on warning.
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European Union Slow to Address Migrant Smuggling and Rescue

The EU has offloaded migrant rescue operations in the Mediterranean on to merchant ships. (Photo: Noborder Network / Flickr Commons)

The EU has offloaded migrant rescue operations in the Mediterranean on to merchant ships. (Photo: Noborder Network / Flickr Commons)

The captain of the migrant-smuggling boat that capsized Sunday in the Mediterranean not far from Libya has been charged with multiple homicide. In the New York Times Dan Bilefsky reports that he drove his boat into the Portuguese merchant ship coming to its rescue, though if it’s unclear if that was intentional and to what extent it contributed to the actual capsizing.

Why was a merchant ship tasked with a rescue operation? At the Daily Beast, Barbie Latza Nadeau explains: “Maritime law dictates that every vessel must respond to a maritime distress call whether they have rescue equipment or not.”
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