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, October 8

In the latest news and analysis…

Military solutions
The BBC reports that the European Commission is calling for migrant-intercepting sea patrols “covering the whole Mediterranean, from Cyprus to Spain”:

“The move by Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmstroem was prompted by the deaths of at least 274 migrants whose boat sank off Italy’s Lampedusa island.

[The EU’s Frontex border agency] is currently helping Italy to intercept migrant boats, but the two EU operations in the southern Mediterranean have limited resources – a total of four ships, two helicopters and two planes.
The search and rescue patrols would ‘help better tracking, identification and rescue of boats, especially migrants’ boats’, the commissioner’s spokesman Michele Cercone said.”

Watery graveyard
The Danish Institute for International Studies’ Hans Lucht argues that European policies on migration and refugees have led to “a massacre by negligence”:

“Countries like Italy routinely send rescue boats into the Mediterranean to pick up migrants stranded off the coast, but this is only a belated Band-Aid. Europe’s professed commitment to human rights, including, in principle, a duty to give refuge to those escaping persecution and misery, has not been matched by meaningful policies.

For all of Europe’s economic woes, it is well within the capacity of the European Union to resettle these migrants. The real barrier is the devaluation of African lives. For this there is no quick fix. A unified, humane policy on refugees and asylum seekers is needed. So is a long-term commitment to social and economic transformation in sub-Saharan Africa, to which Europeans owe a moral debt.

There is a growing acceptance that a watery graveyard is a necessary evil for the maintenance of a free and prosperous Europe. This is a disgrace: the suffering in the chilly waters off Sicily calls into question the moral integrity of the entire border system (to the extent it can be called one).”

Cholera compensation
The Associated Press reports that the UN’s top human rights official has called for the “right” to compensation for victims of the cholera epidemic triggered by UN peacekeepers in Haiti:

“ ‘I have used my voice both inside the United Nations and outside to call for the right — for an investigation by the United Nations, by the country concerned, and I still stand by the call that victims of — of those who suffered as a result of that cholera be provided with compensation,’ [U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay] said at an awards ceremony for human rights activists in Geneva.
The U.N. maintains it has legal immunity from such compensation claims.”

Immediate surrender
Agence France-Presse reports that Libya’s parliament has officially demanded that the US return a Libyan citizen “snatched” by American forces in Tripoli over the weekend:

“A [General National Congress] statement read out by spokesman Omar Hmidan stressed ‘the need for the immediate surrender’ of Abu Anas al-Libi and described the US operation as a ‘flagrant violation of (Libya’s) national sovereignty.’
The text, which was passed by the GNC, also calls for the ‘need to allow the Libyan authorities and their families to get in touch with him (Libi) and guarantee them access to a lawyer.’

[Libi] is reportedly being held aboard a US naval ship in the Mediterranean.”

Interrogations at sea
NPR explains why the US appears to be holding alleged terrorist Abu Anas al-Libi on a ship in the Mediterranean:

“The U.S. could send al-Libi to the Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba, where he could be questioned and held indefinitely while awaiting a military trial.
But President Obama wants to close the Guantanamo prison and therefore is unlikely to add to its population. The president has also barred the use of ‘extraordinary rendition,’ or sending suspects to secret prisons in third countries.

Human rights groups say the shipboard detention is just another version of Guantanamo and the secret prisons that delay or prevent fair trials from taking place. But the intelligence agencies argue that they need to question suspects to break up terror networks and guard against future attacks.
There’s no time limit for how long the U.S. could hold al-Libi on a ship outside the U.S.”

Deadly blaze
Reuters reports on another fatal fire at a garment factory in Bangladesh:

“Gazipur’s firefighting chief, Abu Zafar Ahmed, said nine employees including three company managers had died in the blaze that originated in the knitting section of Aswad Composite Mills factory, a sister concern of Paul Mall Group.

The recent string of accidents has put the government, industrialists and the global brands that use the factories under pressure to reform an industry that employs four million and generates 80 percent of Bangladesh’s export earnings.”

Unequal partnership
iPolitics reports that Canada’s top First Nations leader has described the federal government’s approach to his people as “paternalistic at best and assimilationist at worst”:

“[Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn Atleo] outlined what he’d like to see in the throne speech, set for Oct. 16. The AFN, he said, wants four things: predictable and sustainable funding based on First Nations control; First Nations authority over education; a commitment to a full national public inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women; and reform of the comprehensive claims policy, which he says is ‘deeply flawed.’ ”

Boys club
Inter Press Service reports on calls to remedy the absence of women in top UN positions:

“Despite adopting scores of pious resolutions on gender empowerment over the last 67 years, the 193-member General Assembly has failed to practice in its own backyard what it has vigourously preached to the outside world.
So far, the U.N’s highest policy making body has elected only three women as its president since 1946: Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit of India (1953), Angie Brooks of Liberia (1969) and Sheikha Haya Rasheed al-Khalifa of Bahrain (2006).
In a letter addressed to over 160 world leaders, who were at the United Nations last week, the New York-based Impact Leadership 21 has called for meaningful steps in establishing ‘the rights of women and the equality of their participation at all decision-making levels’.
More specifically, the letter makes a strong case for a woman as the next U.N. secretary-general (UNSG) when Ban Ki-moon finishes his current term at the end of 2016.”

Latest Developments, January 25

In the latest news and analysis…

Drone investigation
The New York Times reports that a UN expert has launched an inquiry into the civilian impacts of “drone strikes and other forms of remotely targeted killing” used by Western powers to eliminate alleged militants:

“The immediate focus, [Special Rapporteur on human rights and counter-terrorism Ben] Emmerson said in an interview, would be on 25 selected drone strikes that had been conducted in recent years in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and the Palestinian territories. That put the panel’s spotlight on the United States, Britain and Israel, the nations that have conducted drone attacks in those areas, but Mr. Emmerson said the inquiry would not be singling out the United States or any other countries.

‘This form of warfare is here to stay, and it is completely unacceptable to allow the world to drift blindly toward the precipice without any agreement between states as to the circumstances in which drone strike targeted killings are lawful, and on the safeguards necessary to protect civilians,’ [Emmerson said].”

Peacekeeping drones
Reuters reports that the UN Security Council has granted permission for blue helmets to use surveillance drones over eastern DR Congo:

“U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon wrote to the 15-member council late last month to advise that peacekeepers in Congo planned to use unmanned aerial systems ‘to enhance situational awareness and to permit timely decision-making’ in dealing with a nine-month insurgency by M23 rebels in the mineral-rich east.
In a response to Ban, the president of the council for January, Pakistan’s U.N. Ambassador Masood Khan, said the body had taken note of the plans for the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Congo to use drones – effectively approving the proposal.
But the council also noted that it would be a trial use ‘in line with the Secretariat’s intention to use assets to enhance situational awareness, if available, on a case-by case basis,’ Khan wrote in a January 22 letter that was released on Thursday.”

Quid pro quo
The Globe and Mail reports that Canadian police believe a Montreal-based engineering firm paid $160 million in bribes to a son of former Libyan ruler Moammar Gadhafi:

“The fortune that was allegedly funnelled to Saadi Gadhafi was used, in part, to buy two yachts, pay condo fees and renovate his luxury Toronto penthouse at a price tag of $200,000. One of the yachts, a champagne-coloured vessel known as the Hokulani, is 150 feet and features a private movie theatre.
The lavish gifts and payments were meant to help SNC land contracts in Libya, RCMP Corporal Brenda Makad alleged in the sworn statement. ‘It is alleged that these funds were paid to him as a reward for influencing the awarding of major contracts to SNC-Lavalin International,’ she stated.”

Hall of shame
Greenpeace Switzerland and the Berne Declaration have awarded the 2013 Public Eye Awards for “particularly glaring cases of companies’ greed for profit and environmental sins”:

“The US bank Goldman Sachs receives this year’s jury award. The public award goes, with a large winning margin, to the oil corporation Shell, in accordance with the wishes of 41,800 online voters.

Michael Baumgartner, Chairman of the Public Eye Awards jury, adds: ‘Not only is Goldman Sachs one of the main winners of the financial crisis, this bank is also a key player in the raw materials casino: it has tapped into these markets as a new source of income and destabilised raw material prices. When food prices break all records, like in 2008, millions of people are plunged into hunger and hardship.’ ”

Less militaristic
The Los Angeles Times reports that US secretary of state nominee John Kerry told those present at his confirmation hearing that America “cannot afford a diplomacy that is defined by troops or drones or confrontation”:

“Kerry, a loyal ally and occasional diplomatic representative of the administration, was giving another signal that the White House intended to close the door on a decade of war, as President Obama said at his inauguration ceremony Monday. His comments veered from the administration script only in their implications about drones, which the White House has embraced as a low-cost counter-terrorism tool but which Kerry’s statement cast in an unflattering light.”

Western weapons
Reuters reports that Russia is largely blaming the 2011 NATO intervention in Libya for the current crisis in Mali that has drawn France and a number of African countries into the armed conflict:

“ ‘Those whom the French and Africans are fighting now in Mali are the (same) people who overthrew the Gaddafi regime, those that our Western partners armed so that they would overthrow the Gaddafi regime,’ [Foreign Minister Sergei] Lavrov told a news conference.”

Boys’ club
The Guardian’s Jane Martinson writes that the World Economic Forum, currently underway in Davos, is very much a male event:

“Despite introducing a quota which insists that the biggest companies send at least one woman for every four men, the percentage of women attending the World Economic Forum (WEF) at Davos has stuck at 17% for the past two years. Many of the companies subject to the quota simply send exactly four men, thus avoiding the need for a woman delegate.

Fernando Morales-de la Cruz, founder of ItiMa, points out that this puts the percentage lower than the 20% membership of Saudi Arabia’s Consultative Council.”

Challenging power
The World Development Movement’s Deborah Doane argues that the newly launched If anti-hunger mega campaign focuses too much on policy fixes and too little on the root causes of world hunger:

“I would never argue against the G8 and international community ending tax dodging; nor would I argue against stopping land grabbing, or stopping food crops being diverted to biofuels. I fully endorse the need to support smallholder farmers. And I’m a great advocate of corporate transparency.
However, the policy solutions in themselves don’t provide the impetus to address power in our unjust globalised food system and our politics. Ensuring everyone has enough to eat is a long-term project that demands far deeper and wide-ranging policy change than that proposed by If, and needs democratic change well beyond the power of the G8. By all means, support the campaign’s individual aims, but ending hunger demands that we go further.”

Latest Developments, May 16

In the latest news and analysis…

State of the planet
Agence France-Presse summarizes the World Wildlife Federation’s new Living Planet Report, which says high-income countries have five times the ecological footprint of their poorer counterparts.
“The survey, compiled every two years, reported an average 30 percent decrease in biodiversity since 1970, rising to 60 percent in the hardest-hit tropical regions.

The decline has been most rapid in lower income countries, ‘demonstrating how the poorest and most vulnerable nations are subsidising the lifestyles of wealthier countries,’ said WWF.”

Libyan deaths
Human Rights Watch has released a new report about the 72 civilian deaths it says were caused by NATO strikes in Libya last year.
“The number of civilian deaths from NATO air strikes in Libya was low given the extent of the bombing and duration of the campaign, Human Rights Watch said. Nevertheless, the absence of a clear military target at seven of the eight sites Human Rights Watch visited raises concerns of possible laws-of-war violations that should be investigated.

NATO asserts that it cannot conduct post-operation investigations into civilian casualties in Libya because it has no mandate to operate on the ground. But NATO has not requested permission from Libya’s transitional government to look into the incidents of civilian deaths and should promptly do so, Human Rights Watch said.
‘The overall care NATO took in the campaign is undermined by its refusal to examine the dozens of civilian deaths,’ [HRW’s Fred] Abrahams said.”

Corporate power
The Guardian reports on a legal dispute between a UK hedge fund and an Indian state-controlled coal company, which has some observers asking if the “terms of trade and investment are skewed” in a way that harms poor countries and poor people.
“ ‘What this case really illustrates is how far global trade and investment rules have gone in increasing the power and influence of companies,’ said Ruth Bergan, co-ordinator for the Trade Justice Movement. ‘Under bilateral investment treaties, companies have been given the right to sue states, not in national courts, whether in host or home countries, but in international arbitration centres, based at the International Chamber of Commerce, the World Bank, and a handful of other often highly secretive centres.’ ”

Terror double-standard
The Atlantic’s John Hudson suggests US ambivalence toward assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists is evidence of America’s “flexible definition” of terrorism.
“The Obama administration is moving to delist an Iranian dissident group from the State Department terrorism list, which, as recently as January, reportedly detonated a magnetic bomb under the car of an Iranian scientist. Perhaps unintentionally, the message the move would send appears to be: This activity is OK as long as it’s against Iran.”

Rio+20 deadlock
Inter Press Service reports that two weeks of preparatory talks for next month’s Rio+20 summit have “failed to reach consensus on a global plan of action.”
“ ‘Let us be frank,’ the [UN Conference on Sustainable Development] secretary general Sha Zukang said, ‘the negotiating text is a far cry from the focused political document called for by the general assembly.’ Zukang said the objective should be to arrive in Rio ‘with at least 90% of the text ready, and only the most difficult 10% left to be negotiated there at the highest political levels’.
However, a statement released by a coalition of international NGOs warned that Rio+20 ‘looks set to add almost nothing to global efforts to deliver sustainable development’. ‘Too many governments are using or allowing the talks to undermine established human rights and agreed principles such as equity, precaution and polluter pays,’ it said.”

Western gender problems
UC Santa Barbara’s Hilal Elver argues that a recent Foreign Policy issue on the plight of women around the world failed to acknowledge that gender equality does not exist in Western countries either.
“Anthropologists use the term ‘native informants’ to identify the witness of insiders. Giving a platform to Muslim women writers critical of Islam has also become a very popular tactic in Europe. These commentators claim to speak from bitter experience about how Islam is bad for women. This makes the European public feel comfortable when they adopt public policies against Islamic practices.

FP only pointed to the United States as a good example, how Secretary of State Hillary Clinton works on women’s issues while shaping US foreign policy. I am sure she has many things to say about the United States, if FP would ask, about the relevance of her gender to her unsuccessful presidential campaign. But, this is not what readers seem to care about. It would have been much more impressive and acceptable if such critical issues were presented not only for selected adversary countries and cultures, and if there was not exhibited such bias and partisanship.”

Show trial
The University of Ottawa’s Peter Showler writes about the lack of “sincerity” during a parliamentary investigation into the Canadian government’s proposed changes to national refugee laws.
“[The proceedings] became more show trial than law making. The witnesses called by the Conservatives repeated their versions of the government storyline: Canada is inundated with bogus refugees; we need fast decisions to get rid of the fraudulent claimants; they come here for welfare, not protection; putting smuggled passengers in prison for a year is the only way to stop the smugglers who are evil. The Conservative members rarely asked real questions of their witnesses. They repeated the government litanies about Canada’s generosity and burdens on the Canadian taxpayer followed by ‘would you agree?’

There is an awful, disembodied sensation in watching a show trial. It is the sensation of observing a slow-motion accident through a plate-glass window. Something horrible and inevitable is happening and there is nothing you can do to stop it. You realize the outcome has been decided already. The proceedings became a theatre piece where everyone played their part.”

Latest Developments, October 24

In the latest news and analysis…

Happiness is a doughnut
Oxfam’s Kate Raworth makes the case for adding social boundaries to the nine so-called “planetary boundaries” in order to come up with comfort zones or “doughnuts” within which people can live both sustainably and decently.
“[N]on-monetary metrics must clearly be given more weight in policy making. Economic progress cannot be assessed only – or even primarily – in monetary terms (such as incomes per capita and GDP growth rates). Where the edges are, and whether or not we are hitting them, matters for stability and justice. Policymakers must take more notice of, and be more accountable for, the impact of economic activity on planetary and social boundaries, defined in ‘natural’ and ‘social’ metrics, such as species extinction rates, and unemployment rates.”

Inequality matters
The Overseas Development Institute’s Claire Melamed says the Occupy movements have, if nothing else, dragged the issue of inequality into the spotlight and she presents five points to show why it matters.
“Policy change might be becoming more likely.  In sharp contrast to previous protests, the Occupy movement has got a very sympathetic hearing in the press, with even the Financial Times conceding that they have a point.  Could this be the moment that inequality becomes mainstream? ”

Corruption talks
A new World Bank and UN report calls on the world’s governments to do more about corruption and money laundering.
“The report, the Puppet Masters, examines how bribes, embezzled state assets and other criminal proceeds are being hidden via legal structures – shell companies, foundations, trusts and others. The study’s release coincided with a UN conference on corruption in Marrakesh, Morocco, bringing together anti-corruption advocates and representatives from 154 states.”

Mailbox companies
SOMO has released a new report on Dutch bilateral investment treaties alleging so-called “mailbox companies” are using these agreements to sue home countries for billions “for alleged damages to the profitability of their investments.”
“In addition, the majority of the companies availing themselves of the generous investment protections offered by Dutch BITs are so-called ‘mailbox companies,’ companies with no employees on their payroll and no real economic activity in the Netherlands.”

Walking the gender walk
Gender Action’s Elizabeth Arend argues there is an “alarming gap” between the World Bank’s rhetoric on gender equality and its actual investment policies.
“The World Bank’s gender-blind agriculture investments are even more appalling when they are offered in the form of loans, which increase poor countries’ debt burden and often compel governments to slash public spending on health and other social services to service debt. These cuts are devastating for poor women, who not only suffer directly from lack of access to healthcare, but are responsible for the health and welfare of their households.
Poor countries can appeal to the World Bank for debt relief, but only if they demonstrate a track record of adopting bank-imposed “free-market” policy reforms, including privatisation of state-owned enterprises and unilateral reduction of agricultural trade barriers while rich countries maintain theirs. Women inevitably bear the greatest burden when such policy reforms undermine poor countries’ investments in agriculture, health and education.”

Selling repression
In light of a recent Amnesty International report detailing the extent of arms sales to repressive Arab regimes over the last five years, Al-Jazeera asks if the proposed Arms Trade Treaty will really be able to rein in the global weapons trade.
“The human rights group reports that in the five years preceding the Arab spring $2.4bn worth of small arms, tear gas, armoured vehicles and other security equipment was sold to five specified countries that have faced or are facing popular uprisings – Bahrain, Egypt, Libya, Syria and Yemen.
And these sales were committed by at least 20 governments including Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Italy, Russia, the UK and the US.”

Blackwater and the US Supreme Court
The Leal Times reports former Blackwater security contractors charged with manslaughter over a shooting incident in Iraq that “left more than a dozen civilians either dead or injured” are trying to get the US Supreme Court to hear their case.
“At issue is whether the indictment is tainted from the prosecution’s use of statements the guards were compelled to make in the hours after the shooting in Baghdad in 2007.”

Happy Birthday to UN
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon marked his organization’s 66th anniversary by calling for the 193 member states to display “unity of purpose.”
“Global problems demand global solutions,” he said. “They compel all nations to unite in action on an agenda for the world’s people.