Latest Developments, January 29

In the latest news and analysis…

Sahel drones
The Wall Street Journal reports that the US and Niger have signed a military agreement paving the way for what could be the first of several new American drone bases in the region:

“The U.S. and France are moving to create an intelligence hub in Niger that could include a base, near Mali’s border, for American drones that could monitor al Qaeda-linked militants in Mali’s vast desert north, U.S. officials said.

The signing of the so-called status-of-forces agreement with Niger was a necessary precursor for American military operations there, officials said.

Other countries in the region are also seen by U.S. officials as possible hosts for drone bases.

Current and former officials said the Central Intelligence Agency or the U.S. military may be able to reach a deal in which Algeria provides a drone base in exchange for equipment and training.”

Invisible war
Al Jazeera reports that both journalists and humanitarian workers trying to gain access to the conflict zones in Mali are distraught that they have neither freedom of movement nor access to even the most basic information:

“French officials have organised no press conferences in Bamako. Their press contingent in Bamako consists of a one-man band, whose main function is to refer media queries to Paris.
The Malian army has likewise restricted media access, barring journalists and human rights organisations from areas safely in its hands such as Konna and Sevare for some days. The lack of freedom of movement has also drawn criticism from aid groups, who say people are being blocked from fleeing the conflict.
On top of the roadblocks, communications have been cut wherever operations are underway, making it impossible to independently verify what is taking place.

There are no official death tolls either for civilians or soldiers. No-one interviewed by Al Jazeera could say where prisoners of war were being held or how they were being treated.”

Closer closure
The New York Times reports that the US State Department is reassigning and not replacing the official tasked with closing the prison at Guantanamo Bay:

“The announcement that no senior official in President Obama’s second term will succeed [Daniel] Fried in working primarily on diplomatic issues pertaining to repatriating or resettling detainees appeared to signal that the administration does not currently see the closing of the prison as a realistic priority, despite repeated statements that it still intends to do so.

Mr. Fried’s special envoy post was created in 2009, shortly after Mr. Obama took office and promised to close the prison in his first year. A career diplomat, Mr. Fried traveled the world negotiating the repatriation of some 31 low-level detainees and persuading third-party countries to resettle about 40 who were cleared for release but could not be sent home because of fears of abuse.
But the outward flow of detainees slowed almost to a halt as Congress imposed restrictions on further transfers, leaving Mr. Fried with less to do.”

134 countries
The Center for American Progress’s John Norris argues that the US may be providing “military aid” to too many countries:

“In 2012 the United States delivered bilateral security assistance to 134 countries — meaning that every country on Earth had about a 75 percent chance of receiving U.S. military aid. Once you weed out places like North Korea and Vatican City, you are pretty much assured of receiving military aid no matter how large or small your country, no matter how democratic or despotic your regime, no matter how lofty or minimal your GDP.

Equally troubling, military and economic assistance are treated as quite different creatures. For economic assistance, the United States has increasingly insisted that aid recipients at least demonstrate some marginal commitment to democracy and open markets. Not so on the military side, where concerns about corruption, the rule of law, and human rights are treated as something we are too polite to ask about.”

Right to move
The Raw Story reports that former New Jersey judge turned Fox News analyst Andrew Napolitano believes the US government should not have the right to restrict immigration:

“ ‘This is the natural law, a natural right,’ he added. ‘Rights come from your humanity. It doesn’t matter where your mother was when you were born.’ ”

Worked to death
The Mail and Guardian reports on the state of health of South Africa’s hundreds of thousands of current and former mine workers:

“The department of labour puts the number of former miners in Southern Africa who live with pneumoconiosis, which includes lung diseases such as asbestosis and silicosis, at nearly 500 000.

Health department figures show that the mining sector is responsible for 9 out of every ten cases of reported occupational lung diseases, and the gold mining industry has the fastest-growing TB epidemic in the world.”

Labour pains
The Financial Times reports that American tech giant Apple has found a range of workers’ rights violations, including child labour, in its supply chain:

“The California-based company, which has stepped up its auditing efforts in the past year under chief executive Tim Cook, said it had uncovered 106 ‘active cases’ of children being employed by its suppliers over the course of 2012, and 70 people who had been underage and either left or passed the age of 16 by the time of its audit.
None of those individuals is still employed by the suppliers, after Apple worked with its partners to help them spot fake identification documents or falsified records.

Overall it found that just under a quarter of its suppliers failed to comply with its labour and human rights standards, with other breaches including 11 facilities using bonded labour.”

Licence to drill
The School for International Training’s Christian Parenti argues that pressuring institutions to “divest their portfolios of fossil fuel investments” is not the best way to alter the oil industry’s behaviour:

“Some divesters say they can revoke corporations’ ‘social license to operate,’ a problematic term that emanates from the ‘corporate social responsibility’ scene and basically means ‘corporate reputation.’
Big Carbon has already lost its ‘social license’ and with no apparent effect on its real operations. Every year Gallup asks Americans how they feel about 25 leading industries. Every year oil shows up dead last as the most disliked industry in America. Last year it had a 61 percent disapproval rating.
What we need to revoke is Big Carbon’s actual, legal license to operate. Government grants that right. And the moral crisis generated by protest must crystallize as state action.”

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