Outside the Bubble 2/5/14

Boehner, House Republicans Snub White House in Netanyahu Invitation

House Speaker John Boehner has circumvented the Obama administration to invite Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to speak to a joint meeting of Congress. This was seen as a stern rebuke of President Obama’s plea to Congress not to interfere with ongoing negotiations with Tehran given Netanyahu’s opposition to the negotiations. “I did not consult the White House,” Boehner said. “[Congress] can make this decision on its own” (The Washington Post, “Republicans invite Netanyahu to address Congress as part of spurning of Obama,” 01.21.15).

The Republican-controlled Senate is planning to vote on legislation that would impose new economic sanctions on Iran early this year. In his State of the Union address, Obama threatened to veto any new sanctions bill passed by Congress. He remarked, “[The United States has] a chance to negotiate a comprehensive agreement that prevents a nuclear-armed Iran; secures America and our allies—including Israel; while avoiding yet another Middle East conflict” (The Times of Israel, “In State of the Union, Obama reiterates vow to veto Iran sanctions bills,” 01.21.15). This bill is seen by many as a response to a lack of visible progress on negotiations with Tehran.

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest has publicly declared that this act is not part of typical protocol. In addition, Earnest has stated that the President will not meet with Netanyahu when he visits in March. Relations between Netanyahu and Obama have been contentious in recent times, and Netanyahu has been a vocal critic of Obama’s negotiations with Iran.

However, the White House has said that the reason for the lack of a meeting is that they do not want to interfere with upcoming elections. Netanyahu will make the speech two weeks before elections in Israel, and has been perceived as using this moment for political reasons.

Netanyahu, however, has denied that the lack of a meeting between the two is political. He declared, “I will go anywhere I am invited to enunciate the state of Israel’s position and in order to defend its future and its existence” (The New York Times, “Netanyahu Talk Stirs Backlash in Israeli Race,” 01.27.15). Netanyahu has received criticism both in the U.S. and domestically, and, according to some reports, his actions might only worsen relations between the Israeli government and the Obama Administration.

Apart from reflecting these strained relations, these new developments also allude to bigger issues facing the federal government and the current state of Washington.

Boehner invited Netanyahu without advising either Obama or Democrats in Congress. Many believe this rejects the president’s hopeful message of bipartisan compromise. Some also fear a Republican retaliation which would eliminate the possibility of diplomatic talks with Tehran, a possibility which would cause further division and polarization in the federal government.


Scientific Report Declares Global Aquatic Life at Risk of Extinction

A recent report published in the journal Science, titled “Marine defaunation: Animal Loss in the Global Ocean,” has found that life in the ocean faces mass extinction (Sciencemag.com, “Marine defaunation: Animal loss in the global ocean,” 01.16.15).

The report, the product of Rutgers University marine biologist Malin Pinsky’s and University of California Santa Barbara ecologist Douglas McCauley’s research on a number of environmental indicators on the subject, calls attention to the precarious state of much of the world’s aquatic life.

Most experts agree upon the extreme difficulty in gauging to what extent the world’s oceans have been affected by man-made pollution, though without questioning the danger of current practices. According to science writer Carl Zimmer, “Dr. Pinsky, Dr. McCauley and their colleagues sought a clearer picture of the oceans’ health by pulling together data from an enormous range of sources, from discoveries in the fossil record to statistics on modern container shipping, fish catches and seabed mining. While many of the findings already existed, they had never been juxtaposed in such a way” (The New York Times, “Ocean Life Faces Mass Extinction, Broad Study Says,” 01.15.15).

Although unsustainable fishing practices have been the chief practice responsible for the decline in marine life, other threats have begun to cause concern among experts.

One such example from the report pointed out that even though most whale species are no longer hunted as heavily as in the past, noise pollution and oil exploration, which interfere with many of their basic abilities to find food and mate, and which also cause mass beachings, now pose other deadly risks to global whale populations.

Such problems have even been exacerbated by the increasing effects of climate change and other kinds of pollution. Pinsky stated, “If you cranked up the aquarium heater and dumped some acid in the water, your fish would not be very happy. In effect, that’s what we’re doing to the oceans” (The New York Times, “Ocean Life Faces Mass Extinction, Broad Study Says,” 01.15.15).

However alarming, the report did reflect some positivity among experts that the factors threatening mass extinction can be reversed. McCauley and Pinsky have claimed, “The impacts are accelerating, but they’re not so bad we can’t reverse them” (Al Jazeera, “Study: Ocean life faces mass extinction,” 01.16.15). One advantage is that oceans are still wild unlike on land, where humans have caused mass extinctions of animal life.

The authors of the report advocate for programs that restrict the overfishing and the industrialization of oceans to certain areas, while creating regulations that allow the threatened species to recover in sanctuaries in other regions. The report also calls for a major reduction in emissions on land to help combat climate change.

Despite the hopeful tone of the report, experts  agree that serious efforts must be made if any positive changes are to be made in the future. McCauley wrote, “Human dependency on marine wildlife and the linked fate of marine and terrestrial fauna necessitate that we act quickly to slow the advance of marine defaunation” (Science, “Marine defaunation: Animal loss in the global ocean,” 01.16.15).


Several Killed after Metro-North Commuter Train Strikes SUV 

At least six people were killed, and at least a dozen more injured, when a Tuesday evening Metro-North commuter train struck an oncoming SUV in Valhalla, N.Y. Soon after the collision, a fire began at the front of the train that engulfed the train’s front two cars.

The crash took place at 6:30 p.m. when the 5:44 p.m. Harlem Line train out of Grand Central Station struck a black Jeep Cherokee at a small, two-lane street crossing. Metropolitan Transportation Authority spokesman Aaron Donovan said, “The gates came down on top of the vehicle, which was stopped on the tracks. The driver got out to look at the rear of the car, then she got back in and drove forward and was struck” (The Journal News, “At least 7 dead, others hurt as Jeep, train collide in Valhalla,” 02.03.15).

At least 400 passengers were on the train, most of whom attempted to evacuate through the rear of the train after an emergency stop was made when the engine and air circulation began to shut down. Upon overhearing that there was a fire at the front of the train, 26-year-old Justin Kaback and others moved quickly to find the rear emergency exits.

Kaback later remarked, “Nobody wanted to yell out ‘The train’s on fire’ because there would have been a panic. It looked pretty bad. They couldn’t put it out right away” (The Wall Street Journal, “Metro-North Train Crashes Into SUV in Valhalla, N.Y., Killing Seven,” 02.04.15).

About 10 minutes after the initial collision, emergency officials arrived on the scene to help evacuate hundreds of traumatized passengers from the burning train. Passengers were then taken to shelter in a local rock-climbing gym, where buses arrived later to move them to Pleasantville, a nearby town.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo later said in a news conference, “This is a truly ugly, brutal sight. The third rail of the track came up from the explosion and went right through the car, so it is a devastatingly ugly situation to see” (NBC New York, “7 Die When Packed Metro-North Train Hits Car on Tracks, Sparking Fiery Crash,” 02.04.15).

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