Tag Archives: threat

‘High threat’ Texas border busts aren’t always

Drivers in Texas busted for drunken driving, not paying child support or low-level drug offenses are among thousands of “high-threat” criminal arrests being counted as part of a nearly $1 billion mission to secure the border with Mexico, an Associated Press analysis has found.

Having once claimed that conventional crime data doesn’t fully capture the dangers to public safety and homeland security, the Texas Department of Public Safety classified more than 1,800 offenders arrested near the border by highway troopers in 2015 as “high threat criminals.”

But not all live up to that menacing label or were anywhere close to the border — and they weren’t caught entering the country illegally, as Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who is Texas’ chairman for GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump, has suggested.

In response to the AP’s findings, the Department of Public Safety said it will recommend removing child support evaders from the list and signaled a willingness to stop classifying other arrests as “high threat.”

However, it defended the data overall, saying it isn’t intended to measure border security, even though the figures are included in briefings to lawmakers.

“It’s deceptive to say the least,” Democratic state Rep. Terry Canales, from the border city of Edinburg, said of the data. “I would say it’s shocking that a person arrested with a small amount of cocaine in Odessa is used to show supposedly high-threat criminal arrests on the Texas-Mexico border.”

The AP used open records laws to obtain a list of 2015 Texas Highway Patrol arrests classified as “high threat” in a broad 60-county area that the DPS has defined as the border region, then reviewed online court and jail records for cases in Hidalgo and El Paso counties, which had the most such arrests.

Among the “high threat” incidents was a trailer that unlatched from an RV and rolled into oncoming traffic, killing another driver in a town more than 150 miles from the border. Other crimes lumped in with suspected killers and human traffickers were speeding teenagers and hit-and-runs that caused no serious injuries.

Republican leaders have used crime, smuggling and immigration data to justify an intensified deployment of troopers, armored boats and spy planes to the border since 2014. And Trump’s promises to wall off the border with Mexico resonate with many in Texas, where Republican lawmakers tripled border security spending last year, and in 2017 will consider approving another $1 billion.

A threat overview published by DPS in 2013 defined high-threat criminals as “individuals whose criminal activity poses a serious public safety or homeland security threat.” But about 40 “high threat” offenses can be overly broad. For instance, nearly half the 2015 arrests were for possession of a controlled substance, but DPS doesn’t distinguish between a gram of cocaine and a drug smuggler’s 50 pounds of marijuana. And failure to pay child support is included with sex crimes under offenses against the family.

High-threat arrests, which are tracked statewide, are among nearly three dozen “border security related” metrics collected by DPS, according to agency briefings given to lawmakers.

But DPS Director Steve McCraw told the AP that high-threat data isn’t used to assess border security but rather is included in briefings for the sake of transparency. McCraw said the term “high threat” was never meant to suggest only the worst of the worst, but rather to distinguish more serious crimes.

“I don’t care, we can change the name,” McCraw said. “Just so long as, internally, we have a way of differentiating.”

Hidalgo County, in the Rio Grande Valley, is one of the busiest corridors for drug and human trafficking in the U.S., and where Texas deployed an influx of troopers, National Guard patrols and camera surveillance. While dozens of 161 high-threat arrests for drug possession were alleged pot smugglers, about 1 in 5 were charged with having less than a gram or other low-level drug charges. Drunken drivers who didn’t pull over are also counted the same as fleeing traffickers.

In El Paso County, more than half of 190 high-threat arrests last year were for drug offenses. Of those, about three in 10 were arrests for less than a gram of drugs such as cocaine or small amounts of marijuana.

Some lawmakers, including members of Texas’ House Committee on Homeland Security and Public Safety, said they didn’t pay attention to high-threat arrests and that the data isn’t included in high-level briefings.

But following a border visit in March, Patrick incorrectly tweeted that DPS had arrested about 14,000 high-threat criminals in the previous year. Patrick senior adviser Sherry Sylvester said the lieutenant governor had been “unintentionally unclear,” but then herself falsely described the arrests as “criminal illegal aliens” who she said pose a “serious threat to public safety in Texas.”

Trump suggests ‘2nd Amendment people’ might shoot Clinton

Donald Trump suggested on Aug. 9 that “Second Amendment people” might shoot Hillary Clinton if she becomes president.

The GOP nominee was speaking at a rally in Wilmington, North Carolina, and falsely claimed that Clinton, the Democratic nominee, wants to “essentially abolish the Second Amendment.”

Trump said, “By the way, if she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks. Although the Second Amendment people, maybe there is, I don’t know.”

Clinton’s campaign quickly responded.

“This is simple — what Trump is saying is dangerous,” said Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook. “A person seeking to be the president of the United States should not suggest violence in any way.”

The Trump campaign said the candidate was simply celebrating the “amazing spirit” of Second Amendment supporters and not making any threats.

But the AP reported that Catherine Milhoan, a spokeswoman for the Secret Service, said, “We are aware of his comments.”

A few weeks ago, a Trump campaign adviser on veterans’ issues said, “Clinton should be put in the firing line and shot for treason.”

That comment also caught the attention of the Secret Service, which is investigating.

Twitter lighted up even as Trump was still speaking at the North Carolina rally.

The NRA tweeted: “.@RealDonaldTrump is right. If @HillaryClinton gets to pick her anti-#2A #SCOTUS judges, there’s nothing we can do. #NeverHillary. But there IS something we will do on #ElectionDay: Show up and vote for the #2A! #DefendtheSecond #NeverHillary.”

Bernie King, daughter of Martin Luther King Jr., tweeted: “As the daughter of a leader who was assassinated, I find #Trump‘s comments distasteful, disturbing, dangerous. His words don’t #LiveUp. #MLK.”

On the web …

An interesting read at The New York Times about the hostility and threats of violence at Trump rallies.

Fate of primeval forest in balance as Poland plans logging

It is the last remaining relic of an ancient forest that stretched for millennia across the lowlands of Europe and Russia, a shadowy, mossy woodland where bison and lynx roam beneath towering oak trees up to 600 years old.

Conservationists believe the fate of the Bialowieza Forest, which straddles Poland and Belarus, is more threatened that at any time since the communist era due to a new Polish government plan for extensive logging in parts of the forest.

The plan has pitted the government against environmentalists and many scientists, who are fighting to save the UNESCO world heritage site.

Seven environmental groups, including Greenpeace and WWF, have lodged a complaint with the European Commission hoping to prevent the largescale felling of trees, which is due to begin within days.

Bialowieza has been declared a Natura 2000 site, meaning it is a protected area under European law. EU officials say they are working with the Polish authorities to ensure that any new interventions in the forest are in line with their regulations, but it’s not yet clear what the result will be.

The preservation of Bialowieza is such a sensitive matter that IKEA, which relies on Polish timber for 25 percent of its global furniture production, vowed years ago not to buy any wood from Bialowieza.

“This forest is a Polish treasure but it is also the world’s treasure, and we could lose it,” said Katarzyna Kosciesza from ClientEarth, one of the groups that filed the complaint. “The logging would really threaten it.”

The forest plan is one of many controversial changes that have come with the election last year of a conservative populist party, Law and Justice. The new authorities have been accused by the European Union and human rights groups of eroding democracy and the rule of law.

The party’s powerful leader, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, says he’s on a mission to remake the country from top to bottom in line with the party’s conservative Catholic and patriotic ideology.

Since taking power in November, Poland’s government has moved quickly to push broad changes in everything from cultural institutions to horse breeding farms and forestry management.

The government argues they are fixing the country by removing the corrupt influences of former communists and pro-Europeans who have held power in recent years.

In the case of Bialowieza, government officials are blaming their predecessors for financial losses from the strict limits on logging. The environment minister, Jan Szyszko, also faulted them for getting the UNESCO world heritage designation, which brings some international oversight.

About 35 percent of the forest on the Polish side includes a national park and reserves, strictly protected zones that the government does not plan to touch. Officials argue the planned logging is not harmful because it will take part only in “managed” parts of the forest that have already been subject to logging in the past.

But environmentalists say the logging plan is so extensive it would inevitably lead to the destruction of old-growth areas.

About half of the forest is still considered pristine, meaning those areas have never faced significant intervention since the forest’s formation some 8,000 to 9,000 years ago after the end of the last ice age. That has left it with a complex diversity of species unknown in the second-growth forests elsewhere in Europe’s lowlands.

That so much has survived is thanks to past Polish and Lithuanian monarchs and Russian czars, who kept it as a royal hunting preserve. Only in the last 100 years has it begun to face logging and human encroachment.

Szyszko has dismissed 32 of 39 scientific experts on the State Council for Nature Conservation after they criticized the logging plan. They have since been replaced by people who mainly come from the forestry and hunting sectors that favor greater wood extraction. They council’s new leader, Wanda Olech-Piasecka, also supports limited commercial hunting of bison, an endangered species.

Szyszko said the new council “will work effectively for the use of natural resources for the benefit of man, which is consistent with the concept of sustainable development.”

The Environment Ministry argues the logging is needed to stop the spread of bark beetle, which has killed off 10 percent of the spruce trees in the park — 3 percent of the trees overall — in an outbreak that began in 2013.

However, scientists believe that is merely a pretext, and that what officials really want are the profits from felling such old-growth wood.

Scientists and environmentalists who oppose the logging plan say removing the dead wood upsets the ecosystem. The dead spruces host thousands of other species, worms and insects and fungi, which then become food for birds, while hollow dying trunks create nesting spaces. Among those who rely on the dead spruces are the pygmy owl, the smallest owl species in Europe, and the three-toed woodpecker, which has a precarious existence in Bialowieza.

Thanks to the bark beetle outbreak, the numbers of the three-toed woodpecker have doubled or possibly tripled, said Rafal Kowalczyk, director of the Mammal Research Institute with the Polish Academy of Sciences.

Scientists fighting the logging say the death of some spruce trees is making way for an increase of other species like hornbeam and lime and is part of the forest’s natural adaptation to climate change, as conditions grow warmer and drier. They also say that it would be necessary to kill 80 percent of infected trees simply to slow the outbreak, which is not logistically possible.

Kowalczyk says the bark beetle outbreaks, which have long been a part of the forest cycle, have never threatened its existence before and won’t now.

“This forest has been shaped for thousands of years by nature,” Kowalczyk added. “It is really unique and we should not turn it into a managed forest. There are many other managed forests but this relic of an ancient forest, with its high diversity, shows us what forests looked like hundreds, even thousands, of years ago.”

Refugee crisis recalls that of Jews in WWII

Sol Messinger was just 7 when he stood with his father at the rail of the ocean liner St. Louis and stared into the gathering darkness. But nearly eight decades later, Messinger still recalls the lights of Miami glittering off the bow, so near to him and more than 900 fellow Jewish refugees aboard, yet beyond their reach.

“I look out into the ocean and I get this queasy feeling,” says Messinger, whose family escaped Europe for the United States three years after American officials turned away the vessel in 1939. Now 83, he is a pathologist in Buffalo, New York. “The Jews did not pose any threat to the U.S. It’s really unforgivable.”

Now, fresh angst about whether to admit refugees or turn them away has put the spotlight back on the shunning of the St. Louis and other decisions, now widely regretted, by U.S. officials before and during World War II.

In the wake of Islamic State terrorists killing 130 people in Paris, a backlash against the United States admitting Syrian refugees — many of them Muslims — has fueled a bitter debate, with politicians, pundits and others drawing lines between present and past.

Similarities between the rhetoric of today and the attitudes of the U.S. public and officials during World War II make that history worth recalling, scholars say, as the country confronts new fears of terrorism.

“No historical parallel is perfect, obviously,” says Allan Lichtman, co-author of FDR and the Jews and a professor of history at American University.

But U.S. limits on refugees during World War II, influenced by anti-Semitism, were fed by fears the Nazis “would plant agents, spies and saboteurs among the Jewish refugees and that they would pressure the Jews, particularly those whose families were still in Germany, to act as agents on behalf of the Third Reich,” Lichtman said. “Those arguments are chillingly similar to the arguments being made against the admission of the Syrian refugees.”

The 1930s saw widespread disdain for Jewish people from Europe. Opposition to admitting refugees was heightened by the economic worries left by the Great Depression. Those public attitudes were reinforced by the U.S. State Department and other agencies, which worked to limit an influx of Jewish people whom FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover labeled as potential infiltrators, he said.

When President Franklin Delano Roosevelt pondered relaxation of refugee quotas, Vice President John Nance Garner counseled that if Congress were allowed to vote in private, the lawmakers would ban immigration altogether, Lichtman said.

Lichtman isn’t alone in making the comparison. Recently, Ohio professor Peter Shulman of Case Western Reserve University used Twitter to post results from a 1938 public opinion poll showing Americans overwhelmingly rejected admission of Jewish people from Germany in the years leading up to the outbreak of war.

The reaction “was instantaneous and totally overwhelming. It was like nothing I’ve ever experienced before,” said Shulman.

New York Mayor Bill DeBlasio, criticizing a number of Republican governors — including Scott Walker of Wisconsin — for opposing admission of Syrian refugees, cited the 1938 poll, which said 67.4 percent of Americans said the U.S. should try to keep German and Austrian refugees out of the country and 61 percent opposed allowing 10,000 German Jewish children to enter.

“We are not going to make that mistake in our time and voices of intolerance and voices of division are not going to cause us to do something that is against our values,” DeBlasio said.

“When we sent Jews back to Germany and when we sent Japanese to internment camps, we regretted it and we will regret this as well,” U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., said before 47 House Democrats and 242 Republicans voted for a bill to put new security limits on a plan by President Barack Obama to admit 10,000 Syrian refugees over the next year.

Responding to the vote, Karin Johanson, director of the American Civil Liberty Union’s D.C. legislative office, said House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., “and this un-American bill’s supporters falsely claim it will simply pause U.S. resettlement of refugees. In fact, it will bring resettlement of Syrian and Iraqi refugees to a grinding halt by adding layers of bureaucracy to an already rigorous process. It also discriminates against refugees based on their national origin, nationality and religion. Supporters of this bill want us to turn our backs on refugees who are seeking safe harbor from the very terrorism we all abhor. This is not leadership.”

There is a long pattern in U.S. politics of labeling refugees as a threat, whether those fleeing the Nazis, refugees of the Hungarian Revolution or boat people uprooted by the Vietnam War, said Kelly Greenhill, author of Weapons of Mass Migration: Forced Displacement, Coercion and Foreign Policy.

“Every time this country is confronted with .… a visible influx of people, the issue becomes politicized,” said Greenhill, a professor of political science at Tufts University and a research fellow at Harvard University’s school of government. “This is a movie we’ve seen before and it’s sort of unfortunate, but it has a curious sameness across time, which doesn’t make it better.”

In the years since World War II, the U.S. has become the world’s largest recipient of international refugees. 

But of the 784,000 refugees resettled in the U.S. since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, just three have been arrested for planning terrorist activities, according to the Migration Policy Institute, a non-partisan think tank. Only one of those, an Uzbeki immigrant, spoke of targeting the United States but had no specific plans, the institute said.

While taking in 10,000 Syrian refugees would be a significant increase from the roughly 2,000 admitted since the country’s civil war began in 2011, it is a fraction of those going to other countries. Up to 800,000 people are expected to seek asylum in Germany by the end of this year, according to MPI.

Ron Kind urges House vote on rail safety bill | 3rd derailment in Midwest in 3 days

U.S. Rep. Ron Kind on Nov. 9 urged the House leadership to immediately bring his rail safety legislation to a floor for a vote.

Kind’s call comes after two train derailments in Wisconsin over the weekend and one in Des Moines on Nov. 9.

“The derailments this weekend in Alma and Watertown showed once again the negative impact increased rail traffic is having on our communities and environment. Fortunately, no injuries were reported at either derailment, but dozens of people were forced to temporarily evacuate their homes and nearly 20,000 gallons of ethanol spilled into the Mississippi River,” the Democratic congressman said in a statement to the press. “The increase in rail traffic shows no signs of stopping, which is why we must take immediate action to prevent future derailments. I am calling on House leadership to hold a vote on my legislation which will provide for stronger rail safety standards and will increase oversight.” 

On Nov. 9, crews in Wisconsin were working to clear freight cars from rail tracks and contain spilled crude oil and chemicals after derailments in the state.

A Canadian Pacific Railway train loaded with crude oil derailed in Watertown on Nov. 8. One car spilled hundreds of gallons of crude oil and caused the evacuation of a neighborhood. 

On Nov. 7, 25 BNSF train cars including tankers derailed, spilling as much as 20,000 gallons of ethanol from five tankers along the shores on the Mississippi River near Alma in western Wisconsin, according to the AP.

BNSF said railroad crews stopped the leaks from five tanker cars and placed containment booms along the shoreline.

Then, on Nov. 9, nearly two dozen cars derailed when a coal train hit a road grader.

Accidents involving shipments of hazardous fuels by rail have spiked over the past decade, corresponding with a sharp rise in the production of ethanol from the Midwest and oil from the Bakken crude region of North Dakota and Montana.

At least 26 oil trains and 11 ethanol trains have been involved in major fires, derailments or spills during the past decade in the U.S. and Canada, according to an Associated Press tally from data kept by transportation agencies and safety investigators from the two nations.

The most devastating, in July 2013, killed 47 people and destroyed much of Lac-Megantic, Quebec, when an unmanned, out-of-control train hauling Bakken oil crashed and exploded in the city’s downtown.

The Crude-by-Rail Safety Act sponsored by Kind would prohibit the use of unsafe DOT-111 tank cars, such as the ones involved in the Alma derailment, according to Kind’s office.

 

For GOP, all crises, all the time

“The sky is falling.”

That’s the tone of disaster that dominated the second GOP presidential candidates’ debate on CNN. In a spate of fear mongering that would have made Josef Goebbels blush, each candidate expressed alarm about the imminent dangers threatening the United States.

The candidates railed about the hordes of Mexicans invading from the south and the “lunatic” leader of North Korea threatening nuclear war. They were apoplectic about the U.S. Supreme Court trampling Christians and their religious freedom by legalizing same-sex marriage, as well as the baby haters at Planned Parenthood supposedly selling body parts for profit. 

Reality check: Abortion and teen pregnancy rates in the United States are at their lowest levels in 40 years. That is largely due to Planned Parenthood, whose primary services of family planning — sex education and birth control — are available to millions without judgment and regardless of ability to pay. 

Planned Parenthood has been federally funded for decades because it provides an important public service. The federal funds it receives cannot be used for abortions. Fetal tissue cannot be sold. De-funding Planned Parenthood now will result in tremendous costs, both financial and human, in the future.

Seeing danger everywhere, the GOP candidates demanded an increased Pentagon budget, which is currently bloated at $600 billion. At a recent congressional hearing, the Pentagon revealed it spent a half billion dollars training Syrian fighters to oppose ISIS, a program that resulted in only five effective fighters. If you google “F-35 fighter jet problems,” you’ll see how our government is wasting $1 trillion on that boondoggle. The answer to our defense is not spending more money but spending money more effectively. 

The GOPers insisted that we tear up our nuclear agreement with Iran and refuse to hold any meetings with Vladimir Putin. But Putin has leverage with the Syrian president that could help to resolve the Middle East conflict and even Ronald Reagan knew it made sense to talk with opponents like Brezhnev and Gorbachev. 

The candidates attacked the Affordable Care Act, which has enabled 17 million citizens to obtain health insurance, and they made reckless, unsupportable comments about childhood vaccines causing autism. Can you imagine them overseeing public health?

They said taxes and government regulations (except those on women’s uteruses) are oppressing the American people. Global warming is a liberal plot. And emissions standards and other environmental protections cannot be allowed to interfere with American business. 

That last argument was voiced as California was suffering from record wildfires, Texas from continuing drought and Asia from massive floods. The one existential crisis we are actually facing was denied by all the GOP candidates!

I get it. When you’re in opposition, you have to make things look bleak. The world of Barack Obama needs to be a dangerous, scary place from which Republicans promise to rescue us. The GOP, with the 24/7 help of right-wing media, is doing a good job of making the United States seem like a failed, chaotic state with the government — not the racists or the super-rich, or even ISIS — as the most menacing villains.

The Republicans’ extremism and “my way or the highway” divisiveness faces a big test with the budget face-off over Planned Parenthood. It’s not just a war between Congress and Obama, it’s a war for women’s autonomy and for the future.

Will we be governed by reason and compromise or by fear, lies and ultimatums?

Please, contact your representative and senator to make your voice heard.

‘Pro-life’ woman will stand trial for threatening to kill doctor

A Kansas abortion opponent must stand trial over a letter she sent to a Wichita doctor saying someone might place an explosive under the doctor’s car, a federal appeals court ruled.

The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a lower court’s summary decision that anti-abortion activist Angel Dillard’s letter was constitutionally protected speech. The ruling comes in a civil lawsuit brought against Dillard by the Justice Department under a federal law aimed at protecting access to abortion services. A split three-judge appeals panel said the decision about whether the letter constituted a “true threat” should be left for a jury to decide.

The appeals court also rejected Dillard’s argument that the government violated her free speech rights by suing her.

Emails were sent to Dillard’s attorney and a Justice Department spokesman seeking comment.

The Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division sued Dillard in 2011 under the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act after the Valley Center woman wrote a letter to Dr. Mila Means, who was training to offer abortion services at her Wichita clinic. At the time, no doctor was doing abortions in Wichita in the wake of Dr. George Tiller’s 2009 murder by an abortion opponent as Tiller ushered at his church.

In a 2-1 ruling, the appeals panel said a jury could reasonably find that the letter conveyed a true threat of violence.

“The context in this case includes Wichita’s past history of violence against abortion providers, the culmination of this violence in Dr. Tiller’s murder less than two years before Defendant mailed her letter, Defendant’s publicized friendship with Dr. Tiller’s killer, and her reported admiration of his convictions,” the appeals court wrote in its decision.

Dillard wrote in her 2011 letter that thousands of people from across the nation were scrutinizing Means’ background and would know her “habits and routines.”

“They know where you shop, who your friends are, what you drive, where you live,” the letter said. “You will be checking under your car every day — because maybe today is the day someone places an explosive under it.”

Means has testified that her fears upon getting that letter were heightened after reading a news story by The Associated Press that quoted Dillard saying in a July 2009 interview that she had developed a friendship with Scott Roeder while he was in jail awaiting trial for Tiller’s murder.

“With one move, (Roeder) was able … to accomplish what we had not been able to do,” Dillard said. “So he followed his convictions and I admire that.”

Dillard also told AP she had no plans to do anything violence to anyone.

The appeals court panel wrote that reading the AP story did nothing to allay Dr. Means’ concerns: “She believed that Defendant’s admiration of Mr. Roeder suggested a likelihood that she too would go ‘from protester to murderer,’ and she remained very anxious that Defendant or her associates would indeed place an explosive under her car as suggested by the letter.”

Roeder is serving a life sentence for gunning down Tiller. Means eventually decided not to offer abortion services at her medical practice.

Tiller’s clinic remained shuttered for four years following his death until his widow sold it to an abortion rights group that had raised money from across the country to reopen it.

Demonstrators to rally for nuclear abolition

Thousands of protesters are set to gather in New York City this week to demand a nuclear-free world in advance of the five-year Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty Review Conference.

Activists, scholars and students with anti-nuclear, peace and environmental justice movements will call on the NPT Review Conference meeting at the United Nations to mandate the commencement of “good faith negotiations” for the complete elimination of the world’s nuclear arsenals, as required by the treaty.

Activist events include an international conference April 24-25 at the Cooper Union featuring speakers from more than a dozen countries.

On April 26, a mass rally will take place in Union Square, followed by a march to Dag Hammarskjold Plaza, where millions of petition signatures will be presented to UN and NPT officials.

The rally will launch a “Global Wave,” with participants symbolically waving goodbye to nuclear weapons. The Global Wave will travel west, by time zone, with public events scheduled in Papeete, Manila, Amman, Bethlehem, Stockholm, Paris, London, Sao Paulo and points in-between.

An interfaith service will precede the rally.

Joseph Gerson, disarmament coordinator at the American Friends Service Committee and one of the events’ lead organizers, is working with activists from Tokyo to Toronto and Berlin to Brazil.

He said, “More than a thousand Japanese activists, including 50 Hiroshima and Nagasaki A-bomb survivors, will be joining us in this 70th anniversary year of the U.S. atomic bombings. Their suitcases will be filled with 7,000,000 petition signatures calling for the abolition of nuclear weapons.”

In the United States, peace walks originating in Tennessee, at the Oak Ridge nuclear weapons production facility, California and New England, will converge in New York, with groups journeying on peace trains from Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Connecticut, and coming on buses from as far away as Chicago and Massachusetts.

A “Bike for Peace” ride from Washington, D.C., will arrive in New York City on April 24.

Organizers say nuclear disarmament is now more important than ever.

“We applaud the recent agreement between the U.S. and Iran, but if we are to prevent nuclear calamity, the U.S. and the other nuclear armed nations must fulfill their part of the NPT bargain by ending the era of trillion dollar arms races which drive nuclear weapons proliferation” said Kevin Martin, executive director of Peace Action. “As we see with the nuclear saber rattling over Ukraine, nuclear weapons threaten human survival as they did throughout the Cold War. Endless wars abroad and growing nuclear weapons budgets are reflected in militarism at home, environmental degradation globally, and economic and racial inequality.”

The fundamental NPT bargain was that states not possessing nuclear weapons foreswore ever obtaining them.In exchange, nuclear-armed parties committed in Article VI to undertake good faith negotiations for their complete elimination. The NPT was entered into force 45 years ago and there are no negotiations on the horizon.

Peace and Planet co-organizer Jackie Cabasso of Western States Legal Foundation and United for Peace and Justice, said, “The U.S. plans to spend a trillion dollars to modernize its nuclear weapons arsenal and infrastructure. This means that contrary to President Obama’s pledge in Prague, preparations for nuclear annihilation will remain the cornerstone of U.S. policy throughout the 21st century. This is unacceptable and unsustainable. We say: Yes to a Nuclear-Free World! Yes to Nonviolence! Yes to Economic Justice and Environmental Sustainability! And Yes to Peace!”

Pentagon: Climate change is a ‘threat multiplier’

The U.S. Defense Department in a review released on March 4 says that climate change is a “threat multiplier” and must be considered in future defense strategy.

The reference is the Pentagon’s Quadrennial Defense Review and it reads, “Climate change poses another significant challenge for the United States and the world at large. As greenhouse gas emissions increase, sea levels are rising, average global temperatures are increasing and severe weather patterns are accelerating. These changes, coupled with other global dynamics, …will devastate homes, land and infrastructure. Climate change may exacerbate water scarcity and lead to sharp increases in food costs.”

The report continues, “The pressures created by climate change will influence resource competition while placing additional burdens on economies, societies and governance institutions around the world. These effects are threat multipliers that will aggravate stressors abroad such as poverty, environmental degradation, political instability and social tensions — conditions that can enable terrorist activity and other forms of violence.”

The report goes on, stating that climate change may increase the frequency, scale and complexity of U.S. military missions and creates a need and an opportunity for “nations to work together.”

The Institute for Governance & Sustainable Development called attention to the passage in the Pentagon report.

IGSD president Durwood Zaelke said, “Secretary Hagel and his team at the Pentagon are climate realists, as they prepare the military to operate in the resource-stressed world of the future, where the frequency and severity of climate disasters continue to grow.”

The Pentagon report also cites a need make sure that U.S. military installations are hardened to deal with rising sea levels and extreme weather.

Putin denies discrimination against gays, says gay marriage threatens population

President Vladimir Putin denied on Sept. 19 that gays face discrimination in Russia, saying that a new law that has drawn protests worldwide does not infringe on their rights.

Putin maintained that the law bans only “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations among minors.” He argued that it is “no infringement on the rights of sexual minorities” and insisted that European laws allowing gay marriage contribute to population declines.

The Russian law has prompted calls for boycotts of the 2014 Winter Olympics hosted by Russia in Sochi.

Putin said while some European nations have allowed gay marriages, “the Europeans are dying out … and gay marriages don’t produce children.”

“Do you want to survive by accepting immigrants?” Putin said. “Society can’t absorb such a number of immigrants. Let us make our own choice, as we see it for our country.”

The new Russian law imposes fines of up to 5,000 rubles ($150) for individuals and 1 million rubles ($30,000) for organizations, plus stiffer penalties for propaganda on the Web or in the media. Foreigners who violate the law are also subject to fines, plus prison sentences of up to 15 days, deportation and denial of re-entry into Russia.

The law does not outlaw same-sex sex or explicitly ban participation in gay Pride parades or promotion of LGBT equality online. However, the definition of “propaganda” is vague and wearing a rainbow flag on the street or writing in a certain way about gay relationships on Facebook could be interpreted as propaganda.

Putin made the comment at a conference of Russia experts in Valdai in northwestern Russia. He also made a joking reference to his friend, former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who was convicted in June of paying for sex with a minor and pressuring public officials to cover it up.

“Berlusconi has faced a trial for living with women. They (prosecutors) wouldn’t touch him if he were gay,” Putin said.

Putin’s remarks came as U.S. Sen. John McCain, in an op-ed piece, criticized Russia’s president of multiple wrongs, including the anti-gay laws. McCain called Putin a quasi-dictator who rules by corruption, repression and violence.