Just weeks before President Obama announced details of his climate change action plan, federal officials approved a deal to allow expanded mining of coal on Navajo lands and its continued burning at the Four Corners Power Plant near Farmington, NM. The deal extends the lease on the plant by 25 years, and allows for an expansion of the Navajo Mine that supplies it. It came less than a month after operators of the Four Corners plant (chiefly Arizona Public Service) agreed to settle a lawsuit by federal officials and environmental groups that claimed plant emissions violated the Clean Air Act. Under the settlement, operators agreed to spend up to $160 million on equipment to reduce harmful emissions, and to set aside millions more for health and environmental programs. The regional haze produced by the plant and others ringing the Navajo reservation has long drawn protest. Under pressure from the EPA, the plant in 2013 shut down the oldest and dirtiest three of the five generating units to help the facility meet emission standards. But many locals are not appeased. "Our Mother Earth is being ruined," said Mary Lane, president of the Forgotten People, a grassroots Navajo organization. "We don't want the power plant to go on. It's ruining all the environment, the air, the water." (Navajo-Hopi Observer, July 21)
The Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessment this week issued a report on the Obama administration's planned "modernization" of the US nuclear arsenal, finding it could cost $704 billion between 2015 and 2039. The biggest chunk will likely be borne by the Navy to develop a replacement for the Ohio-class nuclear submarines. Together with maintaining the warheads themselves, this will amount to some 70% of the cost estimate. The Air Force will see costs break $4 billion a year between fiscal 2029 and 2031 to bring online the next-generation Long Range Strategic Bomber. (Air Force Times, Aug. 5)
We aren't sure whether to believe it, and it seems not to have been reported elsewhere, but the pro-opposition Syria Mirror website on July 20 says that activists and eye-witnesses have "confirmed" that five buses full of fully armed North Korean soldiers were seen in Damascus, heading towards Jobar and Eastern Ghouta—two suburbs that have been the scene of fierce fighting for months. The account claims Bashar Assad has long maintained a sort of Praetorian Guard of North Korean troops in a special unit dubbed "Tshulima"—supposedly named for a mythical winged horse, although we can find no reference to either the unit or the mythical beast online. The report also notes longstanding claims of North Korean involvement in the Assad dictatorship's nuclear program.
Japan's lower house on July 16 approved legislation that would allow an expanded role for the nation's Self-Defense Forces in a vote boycotted by the opposition. The vote came one day after Prime Minster Shinzo Abe's ruling LDP-led bloc forced the bills through a committee despite intensifying protests. Opposition lawmakers walked out after their party leaders made final speeches against the bills. Abe cited China's growing military presence in the region in support of the legislation. The bills were drafted after his Cabinet last year adopted a new interpretation of Japan's pacifist constitution. Opponents counter that the new interpretation is unconstitutional. A criticism of the reform is that it is unclear what the new legislation actually does, but it is clearly intended to permit Japanese troops to be deployed on combat missions for the first time since the end of World War II. The package will now be passed on to the upper house of the Diet, and could be approved as early as next week.
Negotiations between Iran and six world powers concluded in a nuclear agreement, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), on July 14. Under the JCPOA, Iran agrees not to create a nuclear bomb in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will have permanent access to Iran's nuclear facilities to monitor activity, and the US, UK, France, Russia, China and Germany will continue to meet with Iran's leaders at least every two years to review implementation of the agreement. The European Union sanctions will be lifted either eight years from the date of adoption or when the IAEA verifies Iran's nuclear materials are being used for non-aggressive purposes—whichever is sooner. However, all sanctions will be put back in place if Iran violates the terms of the agreement. Iran must remove two-thirds of its centrifuges, ship all spent fuel from the reactor out of the country, and limit uranium research and development to a single facility. President Barack Obama stated in an address that he plans to veto any legislation from Congress that blocks the implementation of this deal.
Bulldozers backed by Israeli forces destroyed the Bedouin village of al-Araqib in the Negev Desert on July 2 for the 86th time in the last four years. "Israeli bulldozers forced their way into the village under the protection of dozens of Israeli forces," Attia al-Asam, who heads the regional council of "unrecognized" Bedouin communities in the Negev, told Turkey's Anadolu Agency. Israeli forces surrounded the village and displaced the population before demolishing the homes, the local leader added. Saleem al-Wakili, a 57-year-old Bedouin resident, added: "It is the 86th time they destroyed my house and I will rebuild it tomorrow. The Israelis are trying to exile us from our land by demolishing our homes, but they will not succeed."
Gordon Duff's website Veterans Today (a soapbox for vulgar conspiranoia that has nothing to do with veterans' issues) has posted a truly terrifying video, purported to be of the massive explosion on Naqm mountain outside Yemen's capital Sana'a last week. A fiery mushroom cloud unfolds over the mountain as panicked onlookers are heard beseeching God in the foreground. Commentary says the video has been "analyzed by nuclear weapons experts" (unnamed, of course) who determined that it was a "neutron bomb that could only have been an Israeli attack." The Israelis are said to have carried out the attack at Saudi behest. The claim is arbitrary and utterly improbable—the neutron bomb is designed for one purpose: to kill massive numbers through radiation, while leaving property intact. It would make no sense to set it off over a mountain as opposed to in Sana'a itself if the aim was to kill massive numbers—and this is not an overwhelmingly Shi'ite area, so the Saudis would have no reason to do so, even if we ascribe the worst of intentions to them. Furthermore, there have been no reports of massive radiation deaths from the area over a week later. Nonetheless, the "report" (if we may so flatter it) is being posted by Facebook conspiranoids and has been picked up by such likely places as Pravda, Al Manar and (of course) Global Research.
The 2015 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) concluded at the UN in New York on May 22 without approving a final document—due to US blocking of a provision on creating a Middle East nuclear-free zone. The US blocked the document, saying Egypt and other Arab states tried to "cynically manipulate" the process by setting a March 2016 deadline for Middle East nations to meet on the proposal—including Israel. The US was joined by the UK and Canada in blocking the document. Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu thanked US Secretary of State John Kerry for blocking. Israel of course had no vote, as a non-signatory to the NPT. (AP, Interfax, The Guardian, May 23; Xinhua, May 22)