The UN’s top environmental official is warning a global climate summit in Bali is in danger of collapse over the Bush administration’s objection to a firm commitment on cutting emissions of greenhouse gases. Earlier today, UN climate chief Yvo de Boer warned the talks could fall like a “house of cards” if negotiations continue apace. European Union ministers are warning they may boycott a US-backed climate summit next month unless the administration changes its stance. The White House is opposing a measure calling on industrialized nations to cut emissions by up to 40 percent by the year 2020. The proposed emissions cut matches the figure recommended by scientists as necessary to curb global warming. The US has opposed several other measures, including providing financial assistance to developing nations affected by climate change. On Wednesday, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged negotiators to reach an agreement.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon: "Now, finally, we are gathered together in Bali to address the defining challenge of our age. We gather because the time for equivocation is over. The science is clear: climate change is happening, the impact is real, the time to act is now."
The Bali summit is being convened to negotiate a successor to the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012. The United States is the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases and the only major industrial nation to have rejected Kyoto. Australia became the latest nation to back the accords this month, when new Prime Minister Kevin Rudd personally delivered his ratification to the Bali talks.
President Bush has once again vetoed a bill that would extend government healthcare to millions of low-income children. It’s the second time Bush has nixed a $35 billion expansion to State Children’s Health Insurance Program, known as S-CHIP. Wednesday was Bush’s deadline to act on the measure or let it become law. He vetoed the bill in private, as he did in October. The House will vote in January on whether to override the veto after falling short of the required two-thirds majority. The Senate version of the bill passed by a veto-proof margin last month.
The New York Times has revealed the chief judge at Guantanamo Bay once harshly criticized the military trials of prisoners that he now oversees. The judge, Colonel Ralph Kohlmann, was a Master’s degree candidate at the Naval War College when the military commissions were proposed five years ago. In a paper on the plans, Kohlmann wrote the trials would face “credibility problems” over the “apparent lack of independence.” He concluded the Bush administration should try prisoners in federal courts, writing, "Even a good military tribunal is a bad idea...Unnecessary use of military tribunals in the face of reasonable international criticism is an ill-advised move.”
In Israel and the Occupied Territories, Israeli and Palestinian negotiators began formal talks Wednesday to launch the US-brokered process initiated in Annapolis last month. The meeting came amidst violence in Gaza and Israeli plans to expand a Jewish-only settlement in Arab East Jerusalem. More than two dozen Palestinians have been killed in recent Israeli military attacks on Gaza amidst Palestinian rocket fire on nearby Israeli towns. Israeli bulldozers have also uprooted at least seventy acres of Palestinian farming land in Gaza this week. Senior Palestinian aide Nabil Abu Rudeineh said he would urge Israel to stop settlement expansion and incursions in the territories.
Nabil Abu Rudeineh: "The situation is very delicate. The Palestinian delegation is meeting with Israelis today, and we will urge them and will ask them to stop their settlement activities and to stop their incursions and assassinations."
The talks come as new details have been released on the breakdown of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks nearly seven years ago. Israel and the US have long blamed Palestinians for rejecting what they called a generous offer to return most of the Occupied Territories. But new internal Israeli government documents reported by the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz confirm several key Palestinian claims. The documents show Israel insisted on retaining the major West Bank settlement blocs, home to 80 percent of the more than 220,000 settlers. The figure does not include settlements in East Jerusalem, which Israel also insisted on keeping. The documents also show Palestinians proposed an equal land swap if Israel wanted to hold onto land outside of its internationally recognized borders.
In Pakistan, a new poll shows overwhelming popular opposition to Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf. According to the International Republican Institute, 67 percent of Pakistanis want Musharraf to step down immediately, while 70 percent say he doesn’t deserve reelection. Opposition figures are already accusing Musharraf of vote rigging ahead of next month’s national elections.
In campaign news, Congress member and Democratic hopeful Dennis Kucinich has been excluded from today’s Democratic presidential debate in Iowa. Debate sponsor, the Des Moines Register, told Kucinich he isn’t eligible because he doesn’t meet local requirements on a local campaign office and paid staff. Kucinich’s Iowa field director works out of a home office. The most recent poll of likely Democratic voters shows Kucinich has one percent support in Iowa, the same as Senator Chris Dodd. Nationally, Kucinich has two percent support, the same as Bill Richardson and Senator Joe Biden. Dodd, Richardson and Biden are all taking part in today’s debate. In a statement, the Kuncinich campaign called the exclusion “arbitrary and unreasonable,” saying, “[If] the Register has decided to use hair-splitting technicalities to exclude the leading voice of the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party, the entire process is suspect.”
A rural California town has won a significant victory against the private military firm Blackwater. Residents of Potrero have voted out all five members of the local planning group who supported plans for a Blackwater training camp in their area. The incumbents were all replaced by five candidates opposing Blackwater. Plans for the new site include multiple firing ranges, training towers, an armory, a helipad, an urban simulation training area and a driving track.
In military news, new figures show a record 109 soldiers have killed themselves this year. The previous high came in 1992, when 102 soldiers took their own lives.
A new congressional study is accusing the White House of pressuring environmental regulators to weaken laws requiring companies to disclose emissions of toxic chemicals. According to the Government Accountability Office, the Environmental Protection Agency’s changes mean industry will have to provide 22,000 fewer reports each year. The reports are seen as an important tool for environmental oversight.
And the gay historian Allan Bérubé has died at the age of sixty-one. An independent scholar and community activist, Bérubé authored the award-winning book Coming Out Under Fire: The History of Gay Men and Women in World War II.