Latest Developments, August 29

In the latest news and analysis…

Syria divisions
The Wall Street Journal reports that the US/UK push for military intervention in Syria seems to have encountered “resistance and possible delays”:

“[President Obama’s comments] also appeared to moderate U.S. officials’ earlier signals that an attack could be mounted ‘in coming days’ in response to what they call clear-cut indications that Syria used chemical weapons in attacks around Damascus early on Aug. 21. Activists and residents say more than 1,000 people died in the attacks.

A senior administration official said that while the U.S. and U.K. are coordinating closely, domestic British considerations won’t necessarily slow the U.S. decision on military action. ‘We’re making our own decisions in our own timeline,’ the official said.
In the U.S., House Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio) sent a letter to President Obama demanding a clear explanation of any military action against Syria before it starts, and criticizing the president’s level of consultation with lawmakers. Separately, 116 House lawmakers—98 Republicans and 18 Democrats—signed a letter to Mr. Obama, demanding he seek congressional authorization for a military strike.”

War’s alternatives
The Guardian’s Seumas Milne argues that foreign military intervention will do more harm than good to Syrians:

“More effective would be an extension of the [UN] weapons inspectors’ mandate to secure chemical dumps, backed by a united security council, rather than moral grandstanding by governments that have dumped depleted uranium, white phosphorus and Agent Orange around the region and beyond.
In any case, chemical weapons are far from being the greatest threat to Syria’s people. That is the war itself and the death and destruction that has engulfed the country. If the US, British and French governments were genuinely interested in bringing it to an end – instead of exploiting it to weaken Iran – they would be using their leverage with the rebels and their sponsors to achieve a ceasefire and a negotiated political settlement.
Instead, they seem intent on escalating the war to save Obama’s face and tighten their regional grip.”

Bad company
Les Echos reports that France has added three UK dependencies to its tax haven blacklist:

“The list of territories considered uncooperative on transparency and exchange of information for tax purposes now has 10 members.
Three territories have been added to the blacklist: Bermuda, the British Virgin Islands and Jersey. Seven other territories continue to be considered opaque and uncooperative: Botswana, Brunei, Guatemala, the Marshall Islands, Montserrat, Nauru and Niue.” [Translated from the French.]

Mining hostage
The CBC reports that a Colombian rebel group has released a Canadian mining company executive abducted seven months ago:

“The National Liberation Army, known by its Spanish initials ELN, had demanded [Gernot] Wober’s employer halt exploration at the Snow Mine property in Sur de Bolivar state, claiming the land was stolen from local communities. Last month, Toronto-based Braeval Mining Corp. said it was pulling out of Colombia.

The ELN’s commander, Nicolas Rodriguez, said in a statement posted on the group’s website that Wober’s release was ‘a humanitarian act.’ ”

Unmanned proliferation
Deutsche Welle reports that the US is offering to sell drones to Germany:

“The US government could deliver to Germany four unarmed MQ-9A Predator B drones, including ground control stations, the Suddeutsche Zeitung (SZ) reported in their Wednesday edition, citing a defense ministry answer to a request from the Left party’s parliamentary faction.
The US ‘Letter of Offer and Acceptance’ was submitted June 13, the newspaper reported. It could be possible to convert the four drones into their combat-ready version, called the Reaper, according to the SZ. However, should Germany want combat drones, a new request would have to be made to the US government.”

MLK + 50
The Boston Globe reports on events in Washington marking the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech:

“But as Obama and a parade of speakers before him made clear, King’s dream remains a work in progress, with voting rights issues again at the forefront and with black Americans facing the same kind of high unemployment rate and other problems that helped spark the march a half a century ago.

‘[Barack Obama]’s good and will only get better,’ [Rev. Jesse] Jackson said. ‘But we need a response to our pain from him. [There are] 2.5 million Americans in prison, half of them African-Americans. Respond to that. These urban ghettos, foreclosed homes, closed schools, closed libraries, closed medical units — we need a response.’

‘The gap in wealth between races hasn’t lessened, it’s grown,’ [Obama said].”

White lives
Amnesty International’s Ann Burroughs calls on US President Barack Obama to stop trying to wage a “global war” that places more value on the lives of some than others:

“Though not rife with the blatant racism that underlay apartheid, these abusive practices persist because the rights and dignity of non-Americans are treated as expendable. Imagine for a moment the U.S. government killing, without explanation, 17 white, Christian Americans in Utah, whom the media termed right-wing ‘suspected militants’ though the government provided no evidence to prove it. Or imagine American prisons holding 89 white Christian American ‘extremists’ without charge or trial, including 56 who a government task force had cleared to leave.
President Obama has sought to distance himself from the abusive post-9/11 policies of torture and rendition, and his Administration has repudiated some of the most Islamophobic rhetoric dominating debates about national security. Yet the message that Guantanamo and secret drone strikes send to the world is that white American lives are worth more than brown or black lives.”

Not on the guest list
Ben Rawlence writes in the New Yorker about an NGO-organized film festival, held at the world’s largest refugee camp, to which Dadaab’s residents were largely not invited:

“Alas, the refugees did not watch ‘Sentinelle di Bronzo,’ nor did they watch most of the other films in the festival, which, it turns out, is not for the refugees at all but, rather, for the aid workers in their fortified compound…The sum total of the festival in the refugee camp itself was a morning of short documentaries made by refugees and shown on large TVs in tents guarded by armed police. The audience was entirely made up of children who sat quietly on mats for a short while but who showed far more excitement at the traditional dances that followed.”

Latest Developments, May 3

In the latest news and analysis…

Second thoughts
Reuters reports that the US is “rethinking” its opposition to arming rebel forces in Syria:

“Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel cautioned that giving weapons to the forces fighting President Bashar al-Assad was only one option being considered by the United States. It carries the risk of arms finding their way into the hands of anti-American extremists among the insurgents, such as the Nusra Front.
But it may be more palatable to many in the United States than direct U.S. military intervention in the conflict, such as carving out a no-fly zone or sending in troops to secure chemical weapons.”

Detainees vs drones
The Guardian reports that a former White House lawyer has said the Obama administration prefers extrajudicial killings to indefinite detention for dealing with suspected security threats:

“[Ex-White House lawyer John] Bellinger, who drafted the legal framework for targeted drone killings while working for George W Bush after 9/11, said he believed their use had increased since because Obama was unwilling to deal with the consequences of jailing suspected al-Qaida members. ‘This government has decided that instead of detaining members of al-Qaida [at Guantánamo], they are going to kill them,’ he told a conference at the Bipartisan Policy Centre.

Obama said of the camp this week: ‘It is expensive. It is inefficient. It hurts us in terms of our international standing. It lessens co-operation with our allies on counter-terrorism efforts. It is a recruitment tool for extremists. It needs to be closed.’ ”

Austerity kills
Reuters reports that a pair of academic researchers have written a new book detailing the “devastating effect” of austerity measures in the US and Europe:

“In Greece, moves like cutting HIV prevention budgets have coincided with rates of the AIDS-causing virus rising by more than 200 percent since 2011 – driven in part by increasing drug abuse in the context of a 50 percent youth unemployment rate.
Greece also experienced its first malaria outbreak in decades following budget cuts to mosquito-spraying programmes.
And more than five million Americans have lost access to healthcare during the latest recession, they argue, while in Britain, some 10,000 families have been pushed into homelessness by the government’s austerity budget.”

Baby steps
The UK has announced that its Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies, which comprise some of the world’s most notorious tax havens, have taken a “huge step forward” in the fight against tax evasion by agreeing to share banking information with a handful of European governments on a trial basis:

“Following the recent leadership shown by the Cayman Islands, the other Overseas Territories – Anguilla, Bermuda, the British Virgin Islands, Montserrat and the Turks and Caicos Islands – have agreed to much greater levels of transparency of accounts held in those jurisdictions.

They have agreed to pilot the automatic exchange of information bilaterally with the UK and multilaterally with the G5 – the UK, France, Germany, Italy and Spain.
Under this agreement much greater levels of information about bank accounts will be exchanged on a multilateral basis as part of a move to a new global standard.”

Capital crimes
Trinity College’s Vijay Prashad argues last month’s deadly garment factory collapse is a symptom of a problem that extends far beyond Bangladesh:

“These Bangladesh factories are a part of the landscape of globalization that is mimicked in the factories along the US-Mexico border, in Haiti, in Sri Lanka, and in other places that opened their doors to the garment industry’s savvy use of the new manufacturing and trade order of the 1990s. Subdued countries that had neither the patriotic will to fight for their citizens nor any concern for the long-term debilitation of their social order rushed to welcome garment production. The big garment producers no longer wanted to invest in factories – they turned to sub-contractors, offering them very narrow margins for profit and thereby forcing them to run their factories like prison-houses of labour. The sub-contracting regime allowed these firms to deny any culpability for what was done by the actual owners of these small factories, allowing them to enjoy the benefits of the cheap products without having their consciences stained with the sweat and blood of the workers.”

Big Green
No Logo author Naomi Klein argues “an important target is missing” from the growing movement to pressure cities and universities to divest from polluting industries, such as oil and coal:

“One would assume that green groups would want to make absolutely sure that the money they have raised in the name of saving the planet is not being invested in the companies whose business model requires cooking said planet, and which have been sabotaging all attempts at serious climate action for more than two decades. But in some cases at least, that was a false assumption.
Maybe that shouldn’t come as a complete surprise, since some of the most powerful and wealthiest environmental organisations have long behaved as if they had a stake in the oil and gas industry. They led the climate movement down various dead ends: carbon trading, carbon offsets, natural gas as a “bridge fuel” – what these policies all held in common is that they created the illusion of progress while allowing the fossil fuel companies to keep mining, drilling and fracking with abandon. We always knew that the groups pushing hardest for these false solutions took donations from, and formed corporate partnerships with, the big emitters. But this was explained away as an attempt at constructive engagement – using the power of the market to fix market failures.
Now it turns out that some of these groups are literally part-owners of the industry causing the crisis they are purportedly trying to solve.”

6 to 1
Chicago Reader’s Steve Bogira writes that US government policies have helped widen America’s “racial gap in wealth”:

“The average wealth of white families in 2010 ($632,000) was almost six times that of Hispanic families ($110,000) and more than six times that of black families ($98,000). The median wealth figures are similarly lopsided: $124,000 for white families, $16,000 for black families, $15,000 for Hispanic families.

The recession of 2007-2009 may be largely responsible: it cut the wealth of white families by 11 percent, but it reduced the wealth of black families by 31 percent and Hispanic families by 40 percent.”