Latest Development, October 17

In the latest news and analysis…

Excess deaths
The Los Angeles Times reports on a new study that claims nearly half a million people died as a result of the Iraq War and its fallout:

“In a study published Tuesday in the journal PLOS Medicine, researchers concluded that at least 461,000 ‘excess’ Iraqi deaths occurred in the troubled nation after the U.S.-led invasion that resulted in the overthrow of President Saddam Hussein. Those were defined as fatalities that would not have occurred in the absence of an invasion and occupation.

Of those deaths determined to be the result of direct violence, the study attributed 35% to coalition forces, 32% to sectarian militias and 11% to criminals. Contrary to public perception of mayhem in Iraq, bombings accounted for just 12% of violent deaths. The overall majority of violent deaths, 63%, were the result of gunfire.”

“Fucking natives”
The Aboriginal Peoples Television Network reports on the anti-fracking standoff between Canadian police and First Nations protesters at Elsipogtog:

“Heavily armed RCMP officers, some clad in full camouflage and wielding assault weapons, moved in early Thursday morning to enforce an injunction against a Mi’kmaq barricade that has trapped exploration vehicles belonging to a Houston-based firm conducting shale gas exploration in New Brunswick.

Tensions were high on both sides as the raid unfolded.
‘Crown land belongs to the government, not to fucking natives,’ APTN’s Ossie Michelin heard one of the camouflaged officers involved in the raid shout to protestors.”

Angry students
Agence France-Presse reports that thousands of French students have taken to the streets in protest over the deportation of foreign-born peers:

“Leonarda Dibrani was detained during a school trip earlier this month and deported to Kosovo with her parents and siblings, in a case that has raised questions over France’s immigration policies, shattered the unity of the ruling Socialist party and landed France’s popular interior minister Manuel Valls in hot water.

Last month, [Valls] caused an outcry by saying most of the 20,000 Roma in France had no intention of integrating and should be sent back to their countries of origin.

Last year, 36,822 immigrants were deported from France, a nearly 12 percent rise from 2011 that the Socialist government attributes to a steep rise at the beginning of the year when former president Nicolas Sarkozy was still in power.”

Leaking billions
The Thomson Reuters Foundation reports on Tanzania’s efforts to rein in “illicit transfers”, estimated to cost the country five percent of GDP annually:

“Some of the biggest multinationals operating in Tanzania aggressively avoid paying tax there by using tax havens such as Luxembourg and the Netherlands, he added. Several of them are registered in London.
‘Tanzania has agreements with more than 19 countries, some of them very old. With the United Kingdom, (we agreed) a tax treaty and investment treaty in 1963. We only had 12 graduates. Part of the campaign should be to review all these agreements,’ said [Zitto Kabwe, chairman of the parliamentary committee on public accounts], whose committee will present its report in February next year.
Seven of Tanzania’s top 10 taxpayers in the extractive and communications sectors use tax havens to the detriment of the country’s economy, he said. Two of the three largest mobile phone companies in the country are registered in the tax havens of the Netherlands and Luxembourg, costing Tanzania a large amount of revenue.”

Counting slaves
The Guardian reports on criticism of “the first index to attempt to measure the scale of modern-day slavery on a country-by-country basis”:

“Bridget Anderson, deputy director of the Centre on Migration, Policy and Society at the University of Oxford, who has researched and written about human trafficking, said any attempt to gather ‘unjust situations’ across the planet and label them as ‘slavery’ is already getting off on the wrong foot.
‘I wouldn’t find it useful. You have a definitional problem, everything depends on the definition and if you use tricky words like “forced”, you are already straying into difficult territory,” she said.
‘Say with sex trafficking: if you are dealing with people who have very constrained choices, and you are so horrified with the choices, you say you are not allowed to make that choice, it’s too terrible for me on my nice sofa to tolerate. Is it right that you shut that choice down?’”

Ocean decline
Former Chilean finance minister Andrés Velasco argues that “improved governance mechanisms” are needed to end the degradation of the world’s oceans:

“Degradation is particularly serious in the one substantial part of the world that is governed internationally – the high seas. These waters are outside maritime states’ exclusive economic zones; they comprise two-thirds of the oceans’ area, covering fully 45% of the earth’s surface.
It is not enough to document that the losses are big. Obviously, the next question is what to do about it. No single official body has overall responsibility for the high seas. So, even if the economic losses turn out to be much higher than previous estimates, there are currently few effective mechanisms to bring about change. The basic pillar of ocean governance, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, was established 30 years ago. Since then, huge technological advances have occurred, and demand for resources has increased massively.”

Help wanted
The BBC reports that the UN is appealing for more troops and equipment for MINUSMA, its peacekeeping mission in Mali:

“The UN force, which took over security duties in July, has less than half of its mandated strength of more than 12,000 military personnel.

‘We are faced with numerous challenges,’ [the UN's special representative to Mali, Bert Koenders] told the UN Security Council.
‘The mission lacks critical enablers – such as helicopters – to facilitate rapid deployment and access to remote areas to ensure the protection of civilians. Troop generation will have to accelerate.’ ”

Latest Developments, June 18

In the latest news and analysis…

G8 promises
The Associated Press reports on the somewhat vague declarations made at the conclusion of the G8 summit in Northern Ireland:

“G-8 leaders also published sweeping goals for tightening the tax rules on globe-trotting corporations that long have exploited loopholes to shift profits into foreign shelters that charge little tax or none. But that initiative, aimed at forcing the Googles and Apples of the world to pay higher taxes, contained only aspirations, no binding commitments.

And Britain itself stands accused of being one of the world’s main links in the tax-avoidance chain. Several of Britain’s own island territories — including Jersey, Guernsey and the British Virgin Islands — serve as shelters and funnel billions each week through the City of London.”

House cleaning
The Scotsman reports that skepticism remains after UK tax havens promised to “produce action plans” on increasing the transparency of corporations’ true owners:

“[British Prime Minister David] Cameron stepped back from making the new registry of company interests public, amid fears that if Britain acted alone, it would put UK companies at a massive disadvantage to foreign competitors.
Meanwhile, leading tax evasion campaigner Richard Murphy warned of the workload.
He said: ‘The UK’s law on companies filing information – with the register of Companies House and [Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs] – is simply not enforced now. So why on earth do we think this new law will be enforced unless the resources are put into ensuring that it is?’
There were also concerns that the deal with overseas territories would not cover ‘trusts’, which could still be used by firms to hide details.”

Tax-haven school
While the G8 was talking tough about offshore secrecy, the International Monetary Fund announced that it had opened its Africa Training Institute in a tax haven:

“ ‘Today, we are opening a new chapter in capacity-building in sub-Saharan Africa, thanks to the generous financial contribution and logistical support of the Mauritius government—the host country–as well as financial support pledges from the Australian Agency for International Development and the Chinese authorities,’ IMF representative Vitaliy Kramarenko said at the opening session. The Africa Training Institute’s key objective is to contribute to improved macroeconomic and financial policies through high-quality training, which would ultimately support sustainable economic growth and poverty reduction in sub-Saharan Africa.”

Joint spying operations
The Washington Post reports that the UK government appears not to have been the only one involved in spying on G20 officials during 2009 meetings in London:

“At least some of the documents posted on the Guardian’s Web site contained the logos of the [National Security Agency] as well as Canada’s security agency, suggesting that a portion of the activities were part of joint or shared operations. The documents also indicated that the British were passed information from the NSA, which reportedly was conducting an eavesdropping operation on then-Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.”

Fleecing a continent
The Guardian reports that the African Development Bank’s president, Donald Kaberuka, has said his continent is “being ripped off big time”:

“Kaberuka was addressing the perennial question of foreign corporations extracting Africa’s mineral resources at huge profit for shareholders with scant reward for local populations.

Africa loses an estimated $62.2bn (£40bn) in illegal outflows and price manipulation every year, much of it exported by multinationals. The Africa Progress Panel under former UN secretary general Kofi Annan recently highlighted how the Democratic Republic of the Congo lost at least $1.36bn in potential revenues between 2010 and 2012 due to knock-down sales of mining assets to offshore companies.”

Justice delayed
The Age reports that Australian police made the “inexplicable” decision not to investigate allegations that Melbourne-based mining giant BHP Billiton had bribed officials in Cambodia, China and Australia:

“Confidential documents reveal how the [Australian Federal Police] and [the Australian Securities & Investments Commission], with the knowledge of federal officials, mishandled one of the nation’s highest-profile corporate graft cases after US officials referred it to their Australian counterparts in May 2010.
US anti-corruption investigators have been probing BHP Billiton since 2009 – an inquiry that is likely to result in the company receiving a massive fine. But they had told the federal police the bribery allegations were ‘’a matter for Australian authorities’.

It was only recently that a self-initiated internal review led the AFP to reopen the bribery file and initiate a formal investigation.”

Executive wrongdoing
The Standard reports that the vice president of Austria’s central bank has been charged with “overseas graft and money-laundering”:

“Wolfgang Duchatczek, as well as top officials from the Austrian Mint and the central bank’s money-printing subsidiary OeBS, were accused of paying bribes to Azerbaijani and Syrian officials bribes to secure contracts between 2005 and 2011. The bribes amounted to 14-20 percent of the value of the contracts. In total, some 14 million euros made their way to Baku and Damascus via offshore accounts, prosecutors said.”

Offshore database
The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists has announced the launch of a new searchable database containing information from “a cache of 2.5 million leaked offshore files”:

“ICIJ’s Offshore Leaks Database reveals the names behind more than 100,000 secret companies and trusts created by two offshore services firms: Singapore-based Portcullis TrustNet and BVI-based Commonwealth Trust Limited (CTL). TrustNet and CTL’s clients are spread over more than 170 countries and territories.
The Offshore Leaks web app allows readers to explore the relationships between clients, offshore entities and the lawyers, accountants, banks and other intermediaries who help keep these arrangements secret.”

Haiti’s gold
Oxfam’s Keith Slack argues that a looming mining rush could make Haiti’s already considerable problems “even worse”:

“As I’ve written previously, Haiti could take some steps now that could help it avoid some of the worst impacts of the ‘resource curse.’ It must be said, though, that past efforts to build government capacity at the same time a new extractive industry develops, as was the case in Chad, don’t inspire much confidence. If Haiti’s economic development is the primary goal here, and given the country’s multiple governance and environmental challenges (severe water contamination, deforestation, vulnerability to earthquakes and hurricanes among them), there’s a heretical notion to some that should seriously be considered.
Leaving the gold in the ground is an option.”

Latest Developments, May 29

In the latest news and analysis…

Off the radar
The BBC reports that the British military has been accused of “unlawful detention and internment” at a base in Afghanistan:

“UK lawyers acting for eight of the men said their clients had been held for up to 14 months without charge.

Phil Shiner, lawyer for eight of the men, said: ‘This is a secret facility that’s been used to unlawfully detain or intern up to 85 Afghans that they’ve kept secret, that Parliament doesn’t know about, that courts previously when they have interrogated issues like detention and internment in Afghanistan have never been told about – completely off the radar.’ ”

Total corruption
The Wall Street Journal reports that a French prosecutor has recommended that the CEO of oil giant Total and the company itself both stand trial on corruption charges:

“Under French law, magistrates can prosecute corporations, not just individuals.

In the mid-2000s, French prosecutors began looking into a series of possibly illegal payments Total made to Iranian officials allegedly to secure contracts. In 2007, a few months after he was appointed chief executive of Total, [CEO Christophe] de Margerie was questioned for 48 hours by French police investigating whether the company paid bribes to win contracts.”

Dear Dave
The Citizen reports that Tanzania’s shadow finance minister, Zitto Kabwe, has written a letter asking British Prime Minister David Cameron to do more to prevent the flow of wealth from poor countries to tax havens:

“ ‘I call on you to demonstrate your leadership at the (G8) Summit by putting in place aggressive sanctions against British Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies which continue to provide cover for the siphoning of billions of dollars of our tax revenue,’ says Mr Kabwe in the letter he handed to the UK High Commissioner in Dar es Salaam on Monday.

He said aid by UK and other development partners is dwarfed when the amount that Tanzania loses every year to tax evasion and aggressive tax avoidance is taken into account.
‘To a large extent, these tax evasions and avoidance are done by multinational corporations, most of them registered in the United Kingdom. This is a constant challenge for our country – a challenge that undermines the same foundations of accountability that we are striving to strengthen and uphold,’ he says.”

Bribery climbdown
The Financial Times reports that the UK is considering watering down its anti-bribery legislation, a move that would “undermine the government’s promises to clamp down on corruption”:

“The review will focus on so-called ‘facilitation payments’, according to a summary of a meeting held in March by the ‘Star Chamber’, a top-level group charged with cutting red tape across Whitehall.
Such payments involve officials being paid bribes to allow or speed up a service, such as a customs check or border crossing. They are illegal under the Bribery Act, and are the main difference between UK legislation and the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

While the act gave the Serious Fraud Office sweeping powers to prosecute bribery anywhere in the world, as long as a company or its employees had a link to the UK, the only prosecutions so far have been of low-level civil servants.”

Involuntary migration
Columbia University’s Saskia Sassen argues that we should not call it migration when land grabs push people “off their land and into poverty”:

“When a foreign government acquires 2.8m hectares of land in Congo and another such tract in Zambia to grow palm for biofuels, it expels faunas and floras, and all other uses of that land. It creates a tabula rasa, where once there were smallholder economies generating livelihoods for local people. No matter how modest those livelihoods may have been, they made the local people productive and enabled them to govern their lives and lands.

In effect, expulsions are being rebranded as migrations, a phenomenon that will not cease anytime soon, given the ongoing search for land for crops, mining and water by governments and firms from a growing number of countries.
The generic term ‘migration’ tends to obscure the fact that our firms and government agencies, and those of our allies, may have contributed to expulsions.”

Financial secrets
Global Witness’s Gavin Hayman reminds readers that money laundering and financial secrecy are not strictly “offshore” activities:

“On the contrary, the United States, the United Kingdom, and other mainstream financial centers are at the heart of the action. Indeed, most of the shell companies implicated in the World Bank study were registered in the US. And British, American, and European banks are routinely reprimanded (but rarely prosecuted) for handling the proceeds of crime. Just last year, it was revealed that HSBC enabled Mexican drug cartels to launder hundreds of millions of dollars through the US financial system.

At this year’s meeting, G-8 leaders should develop an effective action plan that focuses on the causes, rather than the symptoms, of poverty, and that lays the groundwork for a system that protects citizens from the depredations of corruption and bad governance. A genuine commitment to increasing financial transparency would carry huge potential benefits for the world’s poorest people, while fostering more equitable economic growth worldwide.”

Sound and fury
The New York Times asks if the hour-long national security speech US President Barack Obama delivered last week will actually put an end to his administration’s human rights violations:

“For now, officials said, ‘signature strikes’ targeting groups of unidentified armed men presumed to be extremists will continue in the Pakistani tribal areas.
Even as he talked about transparency, he never uttered the word ‘C.I.A.’ or acknowledged he was redefining its role. He made no mention that a drone strike had killed an American teenager in error. While he pledged again to close the Guantánamo prison, he offered little reason to think he might be more successful this time.”

Elder’s warning
In an interview with Le Reporter, former Malian cabinet minister and author of Mali’s national anthem Seydou Badian Kouyaté warns against uncritically welcoming France’s military intervention against the West African country’s Islamist rebels:

“What’s behind all this? And we, naively, our usual trust caused us to raise the French flag in front of our houses, our shops and in the street. We sang the praises of [French President François] Holland. We named our babies the name Hollande, etc.

It’s about gold and oil and other things, with maybe a view to Algeria. That’s what the West wants.” [Translated from the French.]

Latest Developments, May 28

In the latest news and analysis…

Wealth absorption
Inter Press Service looks into the role that governments and banks in rich countries have played in turning Africa into a “net creditor” to the rest of the world:

“ ‘While the onus for change is on both national and international players alike, the Western countries can control the international component of this dynamic – the international financial structure,’ [Global Financial Integrity’s Clark Gascoigne said].
The [African Development Bank] and GFI analysts are encouraging strengthened alignment of financial policies between African countries and those countries that are ‘absorbing’ these illicit flows. The United States, for instance, continues to be the largest incorporator of shell companies in the world, while Gascoigne says there is also far more that Washington and other Western capitals can do on swapping tax information and refusing to tolerate bank and tax haven secrecy.”

German guns
Deutsche Welle reports that German small arms exports hit an “all-time high” in 2012:

“The Süddeutsche [Zeitung] reported that approved exports from 2012 hit 76.15 million euros ($98.5 million) in 2012, compared to 37.9 million euros in 2011. The second-highest figure on record, with small arms only itemized in German government export reports since the late 1990s, was from 2009 – at 70.4 million euros.

German military exports by private companies must be approved by a special security council made up of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and most top government ministers, including the defense, foreign, finance and development ministers.”

Banana ethics
3 News reports that US agribusiness giant Dole is suspending its use of the Ethical Choice label following allegations of worker abuse at its plantations in the Philippines:

“Workers have allegedly been harassed for joining a union while others have been aerial sprayed with pesticide while still at work. Environmental degradation is also a significant problem, the report says.

‘It’s time for Dole to stop making unsupported claims that they are selling ethically produced bananas,’ [Oxfam’s Barry Coates said].
He called for the self-created Ethical Choice label, which the Commerce Commission last year warned may breach the Fair Trading Act, to be removed.”

Textile violence
Reuters reports that clashes with police have injured at least 23 workers at a Cambodian garment factory that supplies US sportswear giant Nike:

“Police with riot gear were deployed to move about 3,000 mostly female workers who had blocked a road outside their factory owned by Sabrina (Cambodia) Garment Manufacturing in Kampong Speu province, west of the capital, Phnom Penh.

[Free Trade Union president] Sun Vanny said the workers making the Nike clothing had been staging strikes and protests since May 21. They want the company, which employs more than 5,000 people at the plant, to give them $14 a month to help pay for transport, rent and healthcare costs on top of their $74 minimum wage.”

Lethal autonomy
Human Rights Watch urges all nations, and the US in particular, to endorse a UN call to say no to “fully autonomous robotic weapons”:

“For the first time, countries will debate the challenges posed by fully autonomous weapons, sometimes called ‘killer robots,’ at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva on May 29, 2013.

Over the past decade, the expanded use of unmanned armed vehicles or drones has dramatically changed warfare, bringing new humanitarian and legal challenges, Human Rights Watch said. The UN report acknowledges that ‘robots with full lethal autonomy have not yet been deployed’ despite the lack of transparency on their research and development. The report lists several robotic systems with various degrees of autonomy and lethality that are in use by the US, Israel, South Korea, and the UK. Other nations with high-tech militaries, such as China, and Russia, are also believed to be moving toward systems that would give full combat autonomy to machines.”

Selling drones
NBC News reports on corporate excitement over the emerging market for armed drones:

[Denel Dynamics] aims to be among the first suppliers of armed drones to market, if tests of the armed versions of the Seeker 400 — expected to begin in ‘a month or two’ and last up to six months, according to [Denel’s Sello Ntsihlele] — are successful. South Africa would have to purchase the armed drones first before the company would begin marketing them elsewhere, but if that happens Denel sees opportunities for growth elsewhere, particularly in ‘Africa and the Middle East,’ he said.

There are no international restrictions on sales of armed drones. Beyond sanctions and embargoes governed by the Security Council, the United Nations does not regulate arms and arms-technology sales, although the Arms Trade Treaty approved in April by the General Assembly may change that if it is eventually ratified by enough nations.

Global tax deal
Columbia University’s Joseph Stiglitz argues that international corporate tax laws are “unmanageable, unfair, distortionary”:

“These international corporations are the big beneficiaries of globalisation – it is not, for instance, the average American worker and those in many other countries, who, partly under the pressure from globalisation, has seen his income fully adjusted for inflation, including the lowering of prices that globalisation has brought about, fall year after year, to the point where a fulltime male worker in the US has an income lower than four decades ago. Our multinationals have learned how to exploit globalisation in every sense of the term – including exploiting the tax loopholes that allow them to evade their global social responsibilities.

It would be good if there could be an international agreement on the taxation of corporate profits. In the absence of such an agreement, any country that threatened to impose fair corporate taxes would be punished – production (and jobs) would be taken elsewhere.”

Colonial compensation
Al Jazeera reports on the New Zealand government’s compensation package for historical injustices committed against the country’s indigenous population:

“ ‘It’s not a great deal, we were expecting much more. But considering all things, we’ve accepted it. I’ll put it that way,’ [Ngati Haua member Mokoro] Gillett said of the $13mn settlement.
[Minister for Treaty Negotiations Christopher Finlayson] acknowledges that the settlements are more symbolic than anything else.
‘The Treaty settlement process cannot, and does not attempt to, compensate claimants for the losses suffered as a result of Treaty breaches by the Crown,’ his spokesperson said. ‘Although it’s difficult to calculate, various estimates have put commercial redress at between one per cent and six per cent of what was lost.’ ”

Latest Developments, May 10

In the latest news and analysis…

Bleeding a continent
Former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan argues that stopping the “plunder” of Africa by foreign investors will require multilateral efforts:

“The scale of the losses sustained by Africa is not widely recognized. Transfer pricing — the practice of shifting profits to lower tax jurisdictions — costs the continent $34 billion annually — more than the region receives in bilateral aid. Put differently, you could double aid by cutting this version of tax evasion. The extensive use made by foreign investors of offshore-registered companies operating from jurisdictions with minimal reporting requirements actively facilitates tax evasion. It is all but impossible for Africa’s understaffed and poorly resourced revenue authorities to track real profits through the maze of shell companies, holding companies and offshore entities used by investors.

It is time to draw back the veil of secrecy behind which too many companies operate. Every tax jurisdiction should be required to publicly disclose the full beneficial ownership structure of registered companies. Switzerland, Britain and the United States — all major conduits for offshore finance — should signal intent to clamp down on illicit financial flows.”

Orders to kill
The Guatemala Times reports that the security chief of a mine owned by Vancouver-based Tahoe Resources has been caught on tape demanding that protesters be killed:

“The information reveals Rotondo making several statements: ‘God dam dogs, they do not understand that the mine generates jobs’. ‘We must eliminate these animal pieces of shit’. ‘We can not allow people to establish resistance, another Puya no’. ‘Kill those sons of bitches’.

Rotondo was apprehended at the airport La Aurora, when he trying to flee the country. Wire tapping of conversations between him and his son reveal that he planned to leave Guatemala for a while, because ‘I ordered to kill some of these sons of Bitches.’ ”

Bad suits
Bloomberg reports on the boom in investor-state arbitration which one critic likens to a “a quiet, slow-moving coup d’état”:

“Arbitration clauses were originally included in treaties to deal with the nationalization or a company’s assets. Now arbitrators hear claims for lost business or costs stemming from public-health laws and environmental regulation and financial policies, with billions of dollars at stake.
In some instances, investors are even demanding that national laws or court judgments be overturned.

A record 62 treaty-based arbitration cases were filed last year, bringing the total to 480 since 2000, according to the United Nations Commission on Trade and Development. Before then, there were fewer than three a year dating to 1987, when a Hong Kong company brought the first known case over Sri Lanka’s destruction of a shrimp farm in a military operation against Tamil separatists.”

Court politics
The BBC reports that Kenya has asked the International Criminal Court to halt the trials of newly elected president Uhuru Kenyatta and deputy president William Ruto:

“The letter, sent last week, says the prosecutions are ‘neither impartial nor independent’ and could destabilise Kenya.
The UN Security Council is able to defer ICC cases for up to 12 months.
The deferral can be renewed indefinitely, but the Security Council cannot order the court to drop a case.”

Imperial crimes
Author Pankaj Mishra discusses Britain’s apparent “collective need to forget crimes and disasters” that occurred in the time of Empire:

“Astonishingly, British imperialism, seen for decades by western scholars and anticolonial leaders alike as a racist, illegitimate and often predatory despotism, came to be repackaged in our own time as a benediction that, in [Niall] Ferguson’s words, ‘undeniably pioneered free trade, free capital movements and, with the abolition of slavery, free labour’. Andrew Roberts, a leading mid-Atlanticist, also made the British empire seem like an American neocon wet dream in its alleged boosting of ‘free trade, free mobility of capital … low domestic taxation and spending and ‘gentlemanly’ capitalism’.
Never mind that free trade, introduced to Asia through gunboats, destroyed nascent industry in conquered countries, that ‘free’ capital mostly went to the white settler states of Australia and Canada, that indentured rather than ‘free’ labour replaced slavery, and that laissez faire capitalism, which condemned millions to early death in famines, was anything but gentlemanly.”

Toxic environments
Inter Press Service reports on new evidence suggesting the health impacts of toxic waste in poor countries are “on par” with those of malaria:

“Toxic waste sites in 31 countries are damaging the brains of nearly 800,000 children and impairing the health of millions of people in the developing world, two new studies have found.

Toxic sites ‘fly under the radar’ in terms of public health awareness and action. Little research has been done on the health impacts of chemical pollutants in developing countries.”

Syrian agenda
The National reports a Syrian rebel commander’s account of US attempts late last year to pit Syria’s insurgents against one another:

“The Americans began discussing the possibility of drone strikes on [Al Qaeda-affiliated Jabhat] Al Nusra camps inside Syria and tried to enlist the rebels to fight their fellow insurgents.

‘I’m not going to lie to you. We’d prefer you fight Al Nusra now, and then fight Assad’s army. You should kill these Nusra people. We’ll do it if you don’t,’ the rebel leader quoted the officer as saying.

‘They [foreign governments] are not fighting for the same things as us,’ [the rebel leader] said. ‘Syrians are fighting for our freedom, while they just want us to bleed to death fighting each other.’ ”

Toothless watchdog
Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting argues that many mainstream US media outlets are failing once again “to treat [weapons of mass destruction] claims with the skepticism they deserve”:

“Seeing public reticence for another war as a ‘problem’ provides a revealing glimpse into the mindset of so many pundits, who are once again rallying in support of U.S. military action based on sketchy reports about weapons of mass destruction.”