Latest Developments, October 25

In the latest news and analysis…

On revolution
New Statesman guest-editor Russell Brand writes that “consciousness itself must change” if humans and the planet they inhabit are to survive:

“Capitalism is not real; it is an idea. America is not real; it is an idea that someone had ages ago. Britain, Christianity, Islam, karate, Wednesdays are all just ideas that we choose to believe in and very nice ideas they are, too, when they serve a purpose. These concepts, though, cannot be served to the detriment of actual reality.
The reality is we have a spherical ecosystem, suspended in, as far as we know, infinite space upon which there are billions of carbon-based life forms, of which we presume ourselves to be the most important, and a limited amount of resources.
The only systems we can afford to employ are those that rationally serve the planet first, then all humanity. Not out of some woolly, bullshit tree-hugging piffle but because we live on it, currently without alternatives.”

Operation Hydra
Al Jazeera reports that France has launched another “major” military operation in Northern Mali, this time with contributions from the host country and the UN:

“ ‘We have engaged, with the Malian army and (UN mission) MINUSMA, in a large-scale operation’ in the so-called Niger Loop, an area hugging a curve of the Niger River between Timbuktu and Gao, French general staff spokesman Colonel Gilles Jaron said.
‘It is the first time we have seen forces of significant size working together,’ Jaron said.
About 1,500 troops are involved, including some 600 French, 600 Malians and 300 UN soldiers. The goal of the mission — dubbed ‘Hydra’ — was ‘to put pressure on any terrorist movements to avoid their resurgence,’ he said.”

Accessory to international crime
Global Witness is calling on the UK government to require the country’s oil and mining companies to reveal who really owns them:

“The submission provides detail on alleged corporate malpractice involving UK-listed and UK-registered firms: the Eurasian Natural Resources Corporation and Glencore; Royal Dutch Shell and the Italian oil company Eni.
All the cases “relied on secrecy over company ownership and lax regulation, in both the UK and in its Crown Dependencies and Overseas Territories,” Global Witness writes in its submission. ‘This has made the UK an accessory to international crime and has undermined the effectiveness of UK aid to resource-rich developing countries.’ ”

G20 gap
The World Economic Forum has released its 2013 Global Gender Gap report which concludes no G20 country ranks in the world’s top 10 for gender equality:

“Elsewhere, in 14th place Germany is the highest-placed individual G20 economy, although it falls one place from 2012. Next is South Africa (17th, down one), the United Kingdom (level on 18th) and Canada (up one to 20th). The United States comes 23rd, also down one place since 2012. After South Africa, the next highest BRICS nation is Russia (61st), followed by Brazil (62nd), China (69th) and India (101st).”

Dark corners
The New York Times editorial board calls for “greater transparency and accountability” from the US government regarding its use of armed drones:

“Both President George W. Bush and Mr. Obama have used the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, and the state of war that has existed since as cause to target terrorist suspects. But under international law, parties to armed conflict must minimize harm to civilians in a war zone and observe rules about what is or isn’t a lawful military target.
Hence Mr. Obama’s promised guidelines. But those guidelines have never been made public, so there is no way to judge whether or how well they are being carried out. Similarly, because the government won’t talk about the attacks, there is no way of judging whether the military is honoring Mr. Obama’s pledge that ‘there must be near-certainty that no civilians will be killed or injured’ before authorizing a strike.”

Intellectual shift
The Guardian reports on a group of economics students at the University of Manchester who are “plotting a quiet revolution against orthodox free-market teaching”:

“A growing number of top economists, such as Ha-Joon Chang, who teaches economics at Cambridge University, are backing the students.
Next month the society plans to publish a manifesto proposing sweeping reforms to the University of Manchester’s curriculum, with the hope that other institutions will follow suit.

Some leading economists have criticised university economics teaching, among them Paul Krugman, a Nobel prize winner and professor at Princeton university who has attacked the complacency of economics education in the US.
In an article for the New York Times in 2009, Krugman wrote: ‘As I see it, the economics profession went astray because economists, as a group, mistook beauty, clad in impressive-looking mathematics, for truth.’ ”

Private surveillance industry
Rolling Stone’s John Knefel reports on the private companies that are helping governments and corporations “monitor dissent”:

“While the specifics of which police departments utilize what surveillance technologies is often unclear, there is evidence to suggest that use of mass surveillance against individuals not under direct investigation is common. ‘The default is mass surveillance, the same as NSA’s “collect it all” mindset,’ says [Privacy International’s Eric] King. ‘There’s not a single company that if you installed their product, [it] would comply with what anyone without a security clearance would think is appropriate, lawful use.’ ”

Marriage equality
The Washington Post’s Sean Sullivan discusses a map of the US that has changed dramatically over the last decade:

“[Last week’s court ruling in New Jersey] means the number of states where gay marriage is legal now stands at 14 plus the District of Columbia.

About 10 years ago, the map would have looked very different. Massachusetts became the first state to legalize gay marriage, in November 2003.”

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Latest Developments, April 12

In the latest news and analysis…

Suppressing dissent
A letter signed by 49 former officials from the UN Conference on Trade and Development says wealthy countries are trying to silence the organization because its economic analyses provide an alternative to the views of Western-dominated institutions, such as the World Bank and IMF.
“No organisation correctly foresaw the current crisis, and no organisation has a magic wand to deal with present difficulties. But it is unquestionable that the crisis originated in and is widespread among the countries that now wish to stifle debate about global economic policies, despite their own manifest failings in this area.

So the developed countries in Geneva have seized the occasion to stifle UNCTAD’s capacity to think outside the box. This is neither a cost-saving measure nor an attempt to ‘eliminate duplication’ as some would claim. The budget for UNCTAD’s research work is peanuts and disparate views on economic policy are needed today more than ever as the world clamours for new economic thinking as a sustainable way out of the current crisis. No, it is rather – if you cannot kill the message, at least kill the messenger. ”

ICC reparations
IRIN reports that, following the International Criminal Court’s first-ever conviction last month, reparations for the victims has become a “thorny issue.”
“No other international criminal tribunal has ever awarded reparations, but under ICC rules, those who have suffered injury or harm from a crime for which someone is convicted could receive restitution, compensation or rehabilitation.

‘The ICC was initially thinking of symbolic reparations,’ [Witness’s Bukeni] Waruzi said. ‘They were saying something like building a statue in the village that will really honour the victims. But reparations cannot be symbolic, because the crimes were not symbolic. It is now for the ICC to take full responsibility, to actually manage the expectations.’ ”

Spanish integration
Inter Press Service reports Spain’s latest national budget has cut off all funding for “social insertion, employment and education programmes” for immigrants to the debt-ridden country.
“SOS Racismo predicts that the disappearance of the fund will paralyse ‘hundreds of municipal and regional integration plans,’ and said its removal contravenes European Union agreements, such as the European Agenda for the Integration of Third-Country Nationals, established in July 2011.
According to SOS Racismo, ‘economic crises have different timescales to those needed to evaluate the extent of integration of an immigrant population that in recent years has seen its employment and family expectations frustrated.’ ”

Phasing out executions
Human Rights Watch says that five American states abolishing the death penalty in five years is a “clear sign” of the growing momentum against capital punishment in the US.
“Since 2007, the death penalty has been eliminated in New Jersey, New York, New Mexico, and Illinois. After Connecticut joins them, 17 US states will have rejected capital punishment.  Thirteen states that have the penalty on the books have not used it for at least five years. Challenges to the death penalty are also being mounted in California and Maryland.”

Big-box hate
The Atlantic reports on a new study which found a correlation between the presence of big-box stores and hate groups in communities across the US.
“Before anyone gets too worked up, the study’s authors aren’t saying that Walmarts cause hate groups to form (they’re also using Walmart here as a stand-in for all big box stores; Target merely got off the hook in the study headline). Rather, this research suggests national mega-stores like Walmart may fray the social capital in a community – by disrupting its economy and displacing the community leaders who run local businesses – in ways that enable hate groups to take hold.

Of all the variables [the study’s authors] looked at, the number of Walmarts in a county was the second-most significant predictor of the presence of hate groups, behind only the designation of a county as a Metropolitan Statistical Area, or in other words an urban one.”

Private aid
Global Humanitarian Assistance has published a new report on the increasing privatization of humanitarian and development assistance, and some of the transparency issues associated with this trend.
“While global private support to large-scale emergencies is relatively easy to gauge, it remains unclear how much private money is out there in any given year. While the absence of dedicated tracking mechanisms for this type of financing certainly does nothing to improve clarity, it is the lack of consistent reporting on the income and expenditure of private aid funding globally that makes any attempt at tracking it a near impossible mission.

If tracking total private voluntary contributions for humanitarian aid is a challenging task, gauging where this private money goes is an even more difficult enterprise. Very few humanitarian organisations report their private country or sector expenditure separately from their overall funding allocation.”

Drug-war addiction
The Universidad de Di Tella’s Juan Gabriel Tokatlian hopes the Obama administration’s appointment of a new “drug warrior” for Latin America and the Caribbean will mean a change of American tactics in the region.
“And, throughout Latin America, the situation has only worsened since the 1990’s. Indeed, Latin American countries’ US-backed fight against drugs has had universally destructive consequences in terms of civil-military relations, human-rights violations, and corruption.

The military and political challenges are significant, the risks are considerable, and the benefits are uncertain. But if [United States Southern Command] does not implement major changes in how it prosecutes the drug war, the US will find itself facing an increasingly volatile and dangerous set of neighbors to the south.”

Extractive politics
OpenOil’s Johnny West argues the extractive industry is inherently more political than other forms of business and any attempts to regulate it must take this feature into account.
“Once you recognise rent as the essence of the global oil and the mining industries, you must recognise that everything about them is as much political, and geo-political, as it is economic. That is how historically mismanagement of those industries has led to such massive corruption and conflict. Nobody ever went to war over car manufacturing or internet service provision. When it comes to bananas or silicon chips, or intellectual copyright, the term ‘trade war’ is, thankfully, a metaphor.

With oil, business is politics and politics is business, whatever anyone says. Technocratic solutions can only pick up where broader political questions have been settled.”