George Mitchell's Mid-East Agenda
Question: Is it reasonable to pull all U.S. troops out of Iraq?
++George Mitchell: Well, of course it’s reasonable to pull out the troops. It can’t be accomplished in a hundred days. I don’t think anybody has suggested that. The problem now is that it isn’t just the fact that the reasons given for entering the war have proven to be false. I, like most Americans, believed what the President said. I believed what the Vice President said. I believed what the Secretary of State said. I believed what the National Security Advisor, now the Secretary of State, said. I think there’s a predisposition on the part of most Americans to want to believe their leaders, particularly on matters involving such critical issues as life and death and war and peace. So, I think that there’s been a huge undermining, and they’re related, both of the American people’s belief and confidence in the current Administration, and the political standing of the current Administration, arising out of that. Well, that’s one issue. The other issue is, what do you do now? To me, the problem has been that the President’s policy, which is “stay the course”. It was “stay the course” for five years and now it’s “stay the course” without the slogan. The President stopped using those words, but basically continued the policy that had been in existence while those words were being used to describe it. And while it was a political slogan for consumption in this country, the effect in Iraq has been to cause or contribute to a very long delay, an inability of the Iraqi leaders to deal with the situation that involved painful choices for them. And it’s human nature for any leader with a very difficult choice to make in terms of the political steps needed to create reunification and reconciliation in that country, none of which are guaranteed to succeed, that you hesitate. So, to them, “stay the course” has meant “We don’t have to decide now, because they’re gonna be here.” And, I know Senator McCain didn’t say, “We’re gonna be in Iraq for a hundred years.” He used the words “a hundred years.” He used them with some more full explanation than he’s been given credit for. But just the use of the words conveys the impression that, you know, we’re willing to stay a very long time. And it drains from the Iraqi leaders the urgency of acting, of taking the very tough political decisions, even in the absence of a guarantee of success. They’re not assured that what they’re gonna do is gonna succeed, and so you people can just step back from making those decisions. So I think you’ve got to reverse the mindset, and make it clear that it isn’t “stay the course.” It’s that we can’t stay there forever or for anything like forever, and you’ve had all these years, and now you just got to make the decision. I’ll make one other point, which is tangential to the question, but it’s relevant. The other big mistake that the Administration made was the laser-like focus on Iraq led to a lack of focus on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, which is the central issue in the region. It isn’t Iraq. Of all the things that were mistaken about the President’s view of the region, it was somehow that we’re gonna go in, we’re gonna oust Sadam, we’re gonna have a democracy there and it’s gonna sweep the region, and that’s what you need in the Middle East. What is needed is resolution of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. That’s the central issue of concern in the region, indeed, through many parts of the world. And in taking the focus off that, we’ve in effect created a big problem over here, and we haven’t solved the real problem over there. And I hope that the President and the Secretary of State are now trying, almost very likely too little, too late, but I commend them for the effort, and maybe something’ll come of it, but the next President-- he’ll have-- he or she will have to deal with the question that you raised, what to do about Iraq? But they’ve also got to deal with what do we do about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict?
Card 2: How can the U.S. better engage Arab governments?
George Mitchell: Well, your question contains an untrue premise. How do you explain Egypt, which reached a peace agreement with Israel? How do you explain Jordan, which reached a peace agreement with Israel? If what you said were true, those wouldn’t have occurred. So, while there are many different and conflicting motives, there’s no doubt about that, I don’t think the premise is true. Now, I think you have to get everybody involved. It requires an active and aggressive American leadership, involving the
President personally, whoever he or she is, and making it clear that we’re not here for a week or two weeks, we’re not gonna pull out at the first setback- we’re determined and we’re gonna stay and we’re gonna help facilitate an agreement that is the agreement of the parties. It’s not gonna be our agreement, it’s gonna be their agreement. But I think it can be done, and I think there’s a growing recognition among the Gulf Arab States that-- look, Israel’s there to stay. They might no like it, but it’s there to stay, and their interests lie is accommodation and particularly since they’ve become increasingly concerned about the threat from Iran. I think that’s a major factor in terms of political attitudes in the region.
Is this still what America's special Mid-East envoy wants for Israel?
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Air pollution up to five times over the EU limit in Central London hotspots
- Dirty air is an invisible killer, but an effective one.
- A recent study estimates that more than 9,000 people die prematurely in London each year due to air pollution.
- This map visualises the worst places to breathe in Central London.
The Great Smog of 1952
London used to be famous for its 'pea-soupers': combinations of smoke and fog caused by burning coal for power and heating.
All that changed after the Great Smog of 1952, when weather conditions created a particularly dense and persistent layer of pollution. For a number of days, visibility was reduced to as little as one foot, making traffic impossible. The fog even crept indoors, leading to cancellations of theatre and film showings. The episode wasn't just disruptive and disturbing, but also deadly: according to one estimate, it directly and indirectly killed up to 12,000 Londoners.
Invisible, but still deadly
Image: MONEY SHARMA/AFP/Getty Images
London Mayor Sadiq Khan
After the shock of the Great Smog, the UK cleaned up its act, legislating to replace open coal fires with less polluting alternatives. London Mayor Sadiq Khan is hoping for a repeat of the movement that eradicated London's smog epidemic, but now for its invisible variety.
The air in London is "filthy, toxic", says Khan. In fact, poor air quality in the British capital is a "public health crisis". The city's poor air quality is linked not just to thousands of premature deaths each year, but also to a range of illnesses including asthma, heart disease and dementia. Children growing up in areas with high levels of air pollution may develop stunted lungs, with up to 10% less capacity than normal.
Image: Transport for London
ULEZ phases 1 and 2, and LEZ
Khan has led a very active campaign for better air quality since his election as London Mayor in 2016. Some of the measures recently decided:
- Transport for London has introduced 2,600 diesel-electric hybrid buses, which is said to reduce emissions by up to 40%.
- Mr Khan has pledged to spend £800 million on air quality over a five-year period.
- Uber fares will rise by 15p (20¢) to help drivers buy electric cars.
- Since the start of 2018, all new single-decker buses are zero-emission and all new taxis must be hybrid or electric.
- Mr Khan has added a T-charge on the most toxic vehicles entering the city. On 8 April, the T-charge will be replaced by an Ultra-Low Emission Zone (ULEZ), contiguous with the Congestion Charge Zone.
- The ULEZ is designed to reduce emissions of nitrogen oxide and particulate matter by charging vehicles who don't meet stringent exhaust emission standards.
- By October 2020, a Low-Emission Zone (LEZ), applicable to heavy commercial vehicles, will cover most of Greater London.
- By October 2021, the ULEZ will expand to cover a greater part of Central London.
Central London's worst places for breathing
Heathrow (bottom left on the overview map) is another pollution hotspot
What worries experts is that despite considerable efforts already made, levels of air pollution stubbornly refuse to recede – and remain alarmingly high in locations where traffic flows converge.
It's not something you'd think of, given our atmosphere's fluctuating nature, but air pollution hotspots can be extremely local – as this map demonstrates.
One important lesson for all Londoners: don't inhale at Marble Arch! Levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) are five times the EU norm – the highest in the city. Traffic permitting, quickly cross Cumberland Gate to Speakers' Corner and further into Hyde Park, where levels sink back to a 'permissible' 40 milligrams per cubic meter. Now you can inhale!
Almost as bad: Tower Hill (4.6 times the EU norm) and Marylebone Road (4 times; go to nearby Regent's Park for relief).
Also quite bad: the Strand (3.9), Piccadilly Circus (3.8), and Hyde Park Corner (also 3.8), Victoria (3.7) and Knightsbridge (3.5), the dirty trio just south of Hyde Park.
Elephant & Castle is the only pollution hotspot below the Thames and, perhaps because it's relatively isolated from other black spots, also the one with the lowest multiplication factor (2.8 times the maximum level).
On the larger map, the whole of Central London, including its relatively NO2-free parks, still shows up as more polluted than the outlying areas. Two exceptions flare up red: busy traffic arteries; and Heathrow Airport (in the bottom left corner).
Image: Mike Malone, CC BY SA 4.0
Traffic congestion on London's Great Portland Street
So why is Central London's air pollution problem so persistent? In part, this is because the need for individual transport in cars seems to be inelastic. For example, the Congestion Charge has slashed the number of vehicles entering Central London by 30%, but the number of (CC-exempt) private-hire vehicles entering that zone has quadrupled over the same period.
Cycling has really taken off in London. But despite all pro-cycling measures, a wide range of other transport options and car-dissuading measures, central London is still a very congested place. Average traffic speeds on weekdays has declined to 8 miles (13 km) per hour – fittingly medieval speeds, as the road network was largely designed in medieval times.
Narrow streets between high buildings, filled to capacity with slow-moving traffic are a textbook recipe for semi-permanent high levels air pollution.
The large share of diesel vehicles on London's streets only increases the problem. Diesel vehicles emit lower levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) than petrol cars, which is why their introduction was promoted by European governments.
However, diesels emit higher levels of the highly toxic nitrogen dioxide (NO2) than initial lab tests indicated. Which is why they're being phased out now.
As bad as Delhi, worse than New York
Image: Sanchit Khanna/Hindustan Times via Getty Images
By some measures, London's air quality is almost as bad as New Delhi's.
By some measures, especially NO2, London's air pollution is nearly as bad as big Asian cities such as Beijing or New Delhi, and much worse than other developed cities such as New York and Madrid.
The UK is bound to meet pollution limits as set down in the National Air Quality objectives and by EU directives, for example for particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide.
- Particulate matter (PM2.5) consists of tiny particles less than 2.5 micrometres in diameter emitted by combustion engines. Exposure to PM2.5 raises the mortality risk of cardiovascular diseases. The target for PM2.5 by 2020 is 25 µg/m3. All of London currently scores higher, with most areas at double that level.
- Mainly emitted by diesel engines, NO2 irritates the respiratory system and aggravates asthma and other pre-existing conditions. NO2 also reacts with other gases to form acid rain. The limit for NO2 is 40 µg/m3, and NO2 levels must not exceed 200 µg/m3 more than 18 times a year. Last year, London hit that figure before January was over.
Google joins fight against air pollution
Image: laszlo-photo, CC BY SA 2.0
Elephant & Castle, London.
Studies predict London's air pollution will remain above legal limits until 2025. Sadiq Khan – himself an asthma sufferer – is working to make London's air cleaner by measures great and small. Earlier this week, he announced that two of Google's Street View cars will be carrying air quality sensors when mapping the streets of London
Over the course of a year, the two cars will take air quality readings every 30 metres in order to identify areas of London with dangerous levels of air pollution that might be missed by the network of fixed sensors. An additional 100 of those fixed sensors will be installed near sensitive locations and known pollution hotspots, doubling the network's density.
It's all part of Breathe London, a scheme to map the British capital's air pollution in real time. Breathe London will be the world's largest air quality monitoring network, said Mr Khan, launching the scheme at Charlotte Sharman Primary School in the London borough of Southwark.
Up to 30% of the school's pupils are said to be asthma sufferers. Charlotte Sharman is close to Elephant & Castle, as the above map shows, one of Central London's air pollution hotspots.
The rise of anti-scientific thinking and conspiracy is a concerning trend.
- Fifty years later after one of the greatest achievements of mankind, there's a growing number of moon landing deniers. They are part of a larger trend of anti-scientific thinking.
- Climate change, anti-vaccination and other assorted conspiratorial mindsets are a detriment and show a tangible impediment to fostering real progress or societal change.
- All of these separate anti-scientific beliefs share a troubling root of intellectual dishonesty and ignorance.
How you talk to people with drug addiction might save their life.
- Addiction is a learning disorder; it's not a sign that someone is a bad person.
- Tough love doesn't help drug-addicted people. Research shows that the best way to get people help is through compassion, empathy and support. Approach them as an equal human being deserving of respect.
- As a first step to recovery, Maia Szalavitz recommends the family or friends of people with addiction get them a complete psychiatric evaluation by somebody who is not affiliated with any treatment organization. Unfortunately, warns Szalavitz, some people will try to make a profit off of an addicted person without informing them of their full options.
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