Global Connections Television Honored

Global Connections Television Honored

Global Connections Television (GCTV, in international competition, in2010 won the bronze Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation -UNCA Global Prize.

Global Connections Television was selected because several program interviews focused on sustainable development and climate change. Bill Miller, creator and moderator of GCTV, said, "The main goal of Global Connections Television, a privately funded internationally-oriented talk show, is to help American and worldwide audiences understand how international issues impact their lives. Climate change is probably the most important international issue since all 7 billion people on the Earth may be adversely affected by it."

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Bill Miller on ACUNS

Bill Miller, producer and moderator of the television show Global Connections Television (GCTV) joins co-host Andrew Koltun to discuss GCTV and his work at Kentucky State University to launch the first and only American international public administration course focusing specifically on the UN -“The United Nations: Public Administration in the International Arena.” Why is the course unique, and where does it fit into the future public administration education?

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Congress Should Fund UN Peacekeeping

The US Congress has a unique opportunity and responsibility to both assist people living in dangerous, war-torn areas, as well as helping the US achieve many of its foreign policy goals through sufficient funding for United Nations peacekeeping operations. The UN Charter, adopted on June 26, 1945, in San Francisco, never mentioned the word “peacekeeping.” Regardless, UN Peacekeeping Missions, the first of which was launched in 1948 as a UN Observation Mission to monitor the Arab-Israeli conflict, have become the linchpin of international efforts to promote peace, stability and security in some of the most dangerous areas of the world.

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Un On A Roll

If someone in America listened to right-wing talk radio, Fox News, the Heritage Foundation or the isolationist wings of various political parties, one might erroneously surmise that the United Nations is useless, ineffective and is usurping US sovereignty, none of which would be correct. A recent poll indicates that those myths are not accepted by the bulk of the American public.

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Climate Change: #1 Challenge

There are huge amounts of money funneled into advertising and faux-science by the fossil fuel industry, such as coal, petroleum and gas, to create doubt that climate change exists. The debate is over, climate change is impacting us. This is the same technique used by the tobacco companies to disabuse a link between smoking and cancer.

September 25, 2013

The climate is changing quite rapidly and dramatically. Sea levels and temperatures are rising, species are disappearing, climatic conditions are becoming more extreme, desertification and drought are accelerating, storms are more frequent and violent, glaciers are melting and reefs are bleaching and deteriorating, primarily because of human activities. Burning of fossil fuels and other human activities are the main culprits, according to the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

The IPCC, which was established by the UN in 1988 and currently consists of over 800 eminent scientists, will issue its fifth report later in the fall, but some of the preliminary findings were leaked early.

Some of the IPCC recommendations and conclusions are sobering:

1) In the 2007 report, the IPCC indicated the ‘unequivocal’ link of warming with humans, indicating that possibly 90% of the climate change was because of humans. The recent 2013 report is more forceful, bumping the probability up to 95%. Previously, the IPCC has often been accused of being rather cautious, even conservative, in directly connecting the extreme weather and climatic changes to human activities.

2) Sea levels could conceivably rise by three feet by 2100 if current levels of emissions are maintained. Even more daunting than the IPCC study is a recent National Academy of Sciences study that indicates a worse-case scenario. With a temperature gain of 4 degrees Celsius (7.2 Fahrenheit) the seas would rise nearly 30 feet. Many island countries, such as the Maldives in the Indian Ocean, and coastal areas worldwide would be inundated. Closer to home, low-lying parts of urban Queens, New York flood frequently. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is pursuing possibly investing $20 billion over the next several years to protect 520 miles of coastline from rising sea levels. That is just one city of the thousands that will be affected worldwide. At current global warming levels, over 1,400 US cities will be adversely affected by 2100.

3) The temperature rise could be as low as 2.5 degrees Fahrenheit, but could be 5 degrees or more if carbon dioxide levels double. NASA has reported, along with other scientific bodies, that 2012 was the ninth hottest year on record, and the nine warmest years have all occurred since 1996. This is not a climatic aberration, but the evolution of a troublesome pattern.

The UN ‘s IPCC is the international mainstay in providing a forum for climate change discussion, securing scientific information, conducting evaluations and developing major reports on the contentious issue of climate change.

The first of the five IPCC reports was released in 1990. Although the 2013 report had over 800 reputable scientists involved, they did not do the initial research. The IPCC, which was a co-recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007, along with former US Vice-President Al Gore, reviews the scientific literature that has been published by scientists, governmental agencies and other groups, and then draws conclusions and makes recommendations. The IPCC is viewed as one of the most credible entities in the scientific community.

Other parts of the UN have helped to shine the spotlight on the climate change issue for two major reasons. From the time that Ban Ki-moon, the eighth Secretary-General of the UN, took office in 2007, he has made climate change one of his top five priorities. Ban has pushed the issue with governmental leaders, the private sector, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and the general public. In a dramatic eleventh hour intervention in a 2007 Climate Change Conference in Bali, which was on the verge of collapse, Ban passionately and persuasively warned that it was necessary to prevent climate change and that it was the ‘moral challenge of our generation.’ He turned the conference around.

Ban also led delegations to the Arctic, Antarctic and the Amazon Basin to view the negative effects of climate change first-hand.

Another role played by the UN has been to convene major international conferences on environment and sustainable development. Of the various climate conferences, two of the most important were in Rio de Janeiro.

In June 1992, the UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), commonly called the Earth Summit, produced the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development; Agenda 21 (a voluminous list of suggestions on how to promote sustainable development, conserve resources and reduce energy costs); Forest Principles; the Convention on Biological Diversity and the Framework Convention on Climate Change.

The ‘Rio + 20 Conference on Sustainable Development,’ held in June of 2013, exactly 20 years after the Earth Summit, was characterized as ‘modest,’ primarily because it failed to secure a Grand Bargain that the countries of the world would accept that would identify specific actions and timelines to confront the devastating consequences of climate change.

The most important achievement at the Rio + 20 Conference was that more than $500 billion, with over 700 commitments, was made to take action on sustainable development initiatives. These commitments addressed a myriad of global issues that include access to clean energy, food security, water and sustainable transportation.

There was also a call for a vast range of actions, including countries to re-commit themselves to sustainable development, establishing a set of sustainable development goals (SDGs) and launching a high-level political forum on sustainable development.

At a UN Conference in Bonn, Germany, in 2013, the participants discussed the looming 2015 deadline (which is hanging like the proverbial Sword of Damocles) for implementing a new binding global climate pact. This agreement is even more pressing since global carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere recently surpassed the threshold of 400 parts per million (PPM).

This international agreement would be applicable to all countries, adopted by 2015 and implemented by 2020. Although it will be an uphill battle, the main goal is keep global temperatures from rising more than 2°C above pre-industrial temperatures.

Although the scientific evidence regarding climate change is overwhelming, there are many obstacles to realizing how devastating this could be. Some obvious impediments are:

-- The media do not cover the issue adequately. The IPCC report was a one-day story in most media outlets. Climate change is so profound and devastating that the media should cover it on a daily basis.

-- There are huge amounts of money funneled into advertising and faux-science by the fossil fuel industry, such as coal, petroleum and gas, to create doubt that climate change exists. The debate is over, climate change is impacting us. This is the same technique used by the tobacco companies to disabuse a link between smoking and cancer.

-- Another subterfuge by the fossil fuel industry is that cheap, plentiful fuel is readily available by building an XL Pipeline to transport tar sands sludge from Canada, mining the melting Arctic, extracting coal in East Kentucky or Wyoming or fracking for gas.

The facts are that the Keystone XL Pipeline, if approved by President Obama, is predicted to wreak environmental havoc on the environment, aquifers and terrain.

Although Arctic shipping lanes would be open in summer, thus saving large sums of money and time for ships, as well as drilling for oil and natural gas, many predictions are not so rosy regarding the melting Arctic. The University of Cambridge predicts Arctic mining would cost the world over $60 trillion due to rapid melting, rising sea levels, crop devastation and methane gas releases. Methane is 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide, even though it dissipates more quickly in the atmosphere.

Coal mining has moved from deep mining to mountain top removal and strip mining in many areas, which still pollutes, distorts the landscape and enhances black lung disease. Fracking shale for natural gas has brought gas prices down quite dramatically and devastated the coal industry. Although coal is the dirtiest fossil fuel, it may have been given a reprieve as more studies indicate that fracking is extremely detrimental because it consumes large sums of water (often in areas that are in drought), pumps toxic chemicals into the porous earth that may get into water supplies, produces deadly methane and is becoming more linked with earthquakes.

Even though the horrendous civil war in Syria is occupying the front pages of every newspaper in the country, climate change still remains the #1 problem because it affects all 7.2 billion people on the Earth. The challenge is to be aware that a changing climate is like a slow-motion car wreck. When the final impact is felt, it will be too late.

Although the politicians, businesses and public clamor for more jobs, it is imperative to comprehend there are millions of jobs in clean energy sources, which are more beneficial to the society and cheaper to secure. The solar energy industry employed over 100,000 people and was 20 times larger than in 2002. Last year, the US lost over $140 billion due to wildfires, crop losses and other climate devastation, which amounted to $1,100 per taxpayer.

Bill McKibben, President and Co-Founder of 350.org, summed it up in a dour article in the New York Times, Dec. 5, 2010.

‘There’s no happy ending where we prevent climate change any more. Now the question is, is it going to be a miserable century or an impossible one, and what comes after that.”

The choices are bleak but the choice is ours to make. What comes after that? The policymakers may be pursuing the wrong approach by asking how can they extract fossil fuels more cheaply. Given that all fossil fuels are devastating to the environment and many living organisms, perhaps the UN and enlightened leaders in the public and private sectors should launch a worldwide campaign called OFFF--Out of Fossil Fuels Forever.

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Bill Miller, is the accredited Washington International journalist covering the UN and is the Producer/Moderator of “Global Connections Television.

 

UN Arms Treaty Passes Overwhelmingly

May 2013

Frequently the UN is on the cutting edge of major initiatives regarding international peace, economic and social development, climate change and human rights. One recent bombshell took place on April 2, when the United States, along with 153 other member states of the UN General Assembly, posted a landslide victory to adopt a treaty to regulate the international trade of conventional weapons. Although 23 countries abstained, only Syria, North Korea and Iran voted against it. This victory was a major achievement that was resurrected like the mythological Phoenix Bird after seven contentious years of discussion, recrimination, and often campaigns of misinformation and disinformation.

The Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) covers six comprehensive areas:

-- States are required to establish regulations for arms imports and exports in eight major categories: battle tanks; armored combat vehicles; large-caliber artillery systems; combat aircraft; attack helicopters; warships; missiles and missile launchers; and small arms and light weapons;

-- States, which have the option to authorize arms sales, are required to assess the potential that the transfer ‘could be used to commit or facilitate serious violations of international humanitarian law’ and ‘international human rights law,’ terrorism or organized crime. Additionally, states should review the risk of serious acts of gender-based violence or acts of violence against women and children. If there is compelling evidence that any of these potentially dangerous situations are present, they are required not to authorize the export;

-- If the state ‘has knowledge’ that the transfer of arms or exports of ammunition or weapons parts and components would be used in the commission of ‘genocide, crimes against humanity, grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions of 1949, attacks directed against civilian objects or civilians, or other war crimes,’ the state is required to prohibit the transfer;

-- States are required to establish effective regulations on the export of ammunition and weapons parts and components. This is extremely critical since perpetrators can continue a conflict long after they receive the initial weapons, if they can secure ammunition and spare parts;

-- An annual report is required on all arms transfers. This will show states are reacting legally and morally, as well as to strengthen the transparency and public accountability for their actions; and

-- There will be regular conferences of states parties to review implementation of the treaty and developments in the field of conventional arms. This is one of the major provisions that will indicate a state’s commitment to the treaty, encourage the sharing of information, discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the treaty and allow states to consider new types of conventional weapons that may come into play in the future.

One remaining major obstacle may be the U.S. Senate which has to approve the international treaty by 67 votes, out of a total of 100 Senators. At present, it is highly doubtful the Senate would approve it. Immediately prior to the UN vote, the Senate voted 53-46 on March 23, for a nonbinding amendment to its budget resolution calling for the treaty’s rejection. The basic argument was that it would infringe on U.S. gun rights.

Supporters of the ATT have argued persuasively that the treaty has absolutely nothing to do with the U.S. domestic gun policies and would not encroach upon the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution to bear arms. The ATT applies only to international transfers of conventional arms and explicitly mentions, ‘the sovereign right of any State to regulate and control conventional arms’ within its territory.

Running parallel with this disinformation campaign in the Senate, prompted to a large degree by the National Rifle Association, is a horrific lack of knowledge about UN programs and treaties, and an almost knee-jerk skepticism of and rejection of any UN proposal. The sentiment in the Senate is not synchronized with the American public that, in one recent Public Opinion Strategies and Hart Research Opinion Poll, indicated that 86% of the people queried supported the US actively participating in UN programs.

As another stark example, one need only to look at the Senate vote in December that rejected a UN treaty to ban discrimination against people with disabilities. It was defeated 61-38. Although key supporters, such as President Obama, former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, (R-KS), and Senator John McCain (R-AZ) strongly supported it, the opponents erroneously argued that it would undermine US sovereignty, create new abortion rights and restrict people from homeschooling disabled children; all bogus charges, according to the supporters. In essence, the treaty would have extended the standards covered in the 1990 Americans With Disabilities Act to people worldwide.

There are four major issues to consider in the future as they pertain to the ATT:

First, the ATT will have to be monitored closely to check member state’s compliance, how effective it is in reducing conflicts and devastation and if there are any unintended consequences. Many of the African countries, which have suffered the brunt of illegal arms sales, argued that the treaty should have been even stronger.

Second, the ATT will be open for signature by various governments on June 3rd. Once fifty countries adopt the treaty, which should be easy to secure given the huge vote, it will go into effect. The American arms industry accounts for about 30% of the whopping $70 billion annual trade in conventional arms. Close attention will be paid both to how this industry responds and how it is affected by this treaty.

Third, as with many UN treaties, one weakness is that it does not have an enforcement mechanism. To be effective, close monitoring and peer pressure will be critical among the member states. At times, the UN is blamed for the failure of a particular program or treaty. In reality, it is the member states that spell success or failure for the undertaking. The UN is the framework within which the 193 members of the General Assembly come together to determine whether and how they will or will not agree to a proposal.

Fourth, hopefully the media will get more involved in providing coverage of this landmark treaty. During the discussions and even after the vote, the vast majority of the US media, albeit there were some exceptions, were totally lacking in disseminating the information. Many of the media outlets that did cover this monumental decision buried it on page A-4 or gave it short-shrift. Given this lack of coverage by the media, it is more understandable how Americans may support the UN, but still not understand the international organization very well.

The second UN Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjold (1953-1961) said, ‘The UN was not created to take mankind to heaven, but to save humanity from hell.’ For the millions of child soldiers and innocent civilians adversely affected by illegal firearms and civil conflicts, it may very well be that the Arms Trade Treaty will save them from a hell-on-earth. Time will tell.

 

 

Palestine and Israel: UN Showdown

December, 2012

A major historical event took place on November 29 when the UN General Assembly overwhelmingly adopted a resolution to elevate Palestine from an ‘entity’ to the status of a non- member observer state, which is basically the same classification as that of The Vatican. The lopsided vote was 138-9 with 41 abstentions.

The US and Canada were the only major countries to vote Nay. The majority of the 138 countries in the affirmative were not anti-Israel per se, but appeared to be frustrated with the lack of movement in the peace discussions, which have been comatose for well over two years. The US and Israel roundly condemned the UN vote as setting the peace process back.

 
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A wide array of Mideast political observers encouraged the European Union, and even the US and Israel, to support the Palestinian bid, rather than fighting a rear-guard action that was inevitably going to fail, given the international frustration over the nonproductive status quo of further divisions between the parties and a dead peace process. The argument was that the Israelis would deal from a stronger hand of cooperation, rather than confrontation, which would resuscitate a beleaguered Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas and help weaken Hamas’s message.

 Many US media personalities, political pundits and even PA representatives have incorrectly labeled the United Nations vote as ‘simply symbolic.’ It is partially symbolic but more so extremely substantive. What does it mean to have this elevated status?

First, the UN General Assembly basically gave prestige to and created the State of Palestine which has certain rights, responsibilities and limitations. The Palestinian Authority still cannot introduce resolutions in the UN General Assembly, but it can get another member state to do so on its behalf. Undoubtedly, it will not be a major challenge to get other states to support PA issues. It cannot run for other elected positions, such as a member of the Security Council.

Second, the Palestinians do have a right to participate in various UN agencies, although there is no automatic assurance of membership. The PA, if accepted, will have a forum through the myriad of UN agencies to raise issues of importance. This is the truly significant part of being a non-member state observer. For example, if the PA joined the International Criminal Court, it could level the charge that Israel is violating international law by building settlements or engaging in war crimes. The flip side of the argument is that the Palestinians would be liable for assaults on Israeli civilians.

Taken a step further, the UN System could be of great importance to amplify Palestinian grievances. For example, international law allows that individual countries control their airspace and territorial waters. At present, the Israelis control the airspace over the West Bank and Gaza Strip, as well as the Mediterranean Sea off of Gaza. The UN International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and the International Maritime Organization could potentially raise the pressure on the Israelis. A counterproductive US law requires that any UN entity that allows Palestinian involvement would be defunded. Recently, UNESCO, the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, accepted the PA as a member. US funding of nearly $80 million was discontinued. The defunding of UNESCO has hurt both the agency and the US, especially since some vital US programs being conducted in Iraq and Afghanistan may be dropped. Additionally, the US will not be a viable player in the future if it does not pay its fair share of the budget.

What would happen if the various UN agencies allowed the PA to participate? Does anyone actually believe that, given that Americans are 40% of the international flying public, US airlines, e.g. Delta or US Airways, could actually do well and prosper without participating in the UN ICAO? Will US seagoing shipping companies want to drop out of the IMO? How badly would US health policies be affected if it bowed out of the UN World Health Organization, a front line agency combating a wide range of diseases from polio to Avian Bird Flu?

After the bombshell vote, the backlash was swift and severe. Israel, who has an agreement with the Palestinian Authority (PA) to collect taxes and customs duties and income taxes and social security donations from Palestinians working in Israel, withheld about $118 million it was to send to the Palestinian government. These withheld funds, which would be used to pay police and other public workers, could spark serious social upheaval in a poverty stricken area. Ironically, the Israeli military opposes this action because many of the funds go to the Palestinian security forces that assist in maintaining security in the West Bank. The PA is in dire financial straits with a $500 million financing gap and a $1.3 billion budget deficit.

Israel also moved forward to develop 3,000 new settlement homes on Palestinian land in an area called E-1. The action, condemned by the US, the UN, and the international community as illegal, may pull the plug on any hope of an agreement. The E-1 borders would fracture contiguous lines for a future Palestinian state because it would cut off East Jerusalem from the West Bank, thus making the two-state approach impossible.

The Israeli settlement issue is one of the major obstacles to reaching a peace agreement. There are over 500,000 Israeli settlers living, in violation of international law, on the Palestinian side of the Green Line. It will be very difficult to get the settlers to leave voluntarily if, and when, a peace agreement is brokered.

The US Congress also has threatened to withhold funds for the Palestinian Authority which, if social unrest spread, could do more to weaken the hand of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and strengthen Hamas. A major loser would be Abbas, whereas, the winners would be the hard-liners or radicals.

There are several options available for a peaceful resolution: future settlement construction must be completely halted; Israel and the Palestinians must negotiate a return to the 1967 borders, or some variation thereof; there must be a two-state solution, (although Israeli Benjamin Netanyahu appears to be moving away from this position; and Hamas, which was democratically elected in the Gaza Strip, and is viewed by the US and others as a terrorist organization, will have to be involved in the peace process. If key constituencies are excluded from the discussions, they could derail them through violence or other disruptive tactics.

Interestingly, the November 29, 2012, date of the UN vote occurred exactly 65 years after the UN General Assembly adopted Resolution 181, which established a Jewish state beside an Arab state in the former British Mandated Territory of Palestine. History may be repeating itself in reverse with the Palestinians asserting a vote for the two-state solution.

The famous US comedian Will Rogers once opined, ‘Even if you are on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there.’ The Oslo Peace Accords were on the right track, but they just sat there, and the recent UN vote just ran over them. One obvious conclusion may be that if the parties do not get serious and realize they must both make major concessions, the next step, born from heightened frustration, will be a bloody Intifada, which few people want and which would weaken both parties. Time is running out.