Latest Developments, November 13

In the latest news and analysis…

Climate fast
The BBC reports that the Philippines’ delegate to the UN’s COP 19 climate change summit in Warsaw has announced he is going on hunger strike until conference participants make “meaningful” progress:

“In an emotional speech, Yeb Sano linked the ‘staggering’ devastation caused by Typhoon Haiyan to a changing climate.

‘In solidarity with my countrymen who are struggling to find food back home, I will now commence a voluntary fasting for the climate, this means I will voluntarily refrain from eating food during this Cop, until a meaningful outcome is in sight.’
‘What my country is going through as a result of this extreme climate event is madness, the climate crisis is madness. We can stop this madness right here in Warsaw,’ he said.”

Presumption of guilt
The Financial Times reports that UK Home Secretary Theresa May wants to strip terror suspects of their citizenship, thereby rendering unconvicted people “stateless”:

“The home secretary is already able to strip passports from those with dual nationality and has repeatedly said British citizenship is a ‘privilege, not a right’. Since coming to office, she has exercised this power on at least 16 individuals alleged to have links to terrorist groups.
But the Financial Times understands Ms May has asked officials to find a way of overturning international human rights conventions which prevent individuals with only one citizenship being made stateless.”

Deep-sea mining
Radio Australia reports that civil society groups in Papua New Guinea are taking the government to court over a Canadian company’s license to establish the world’s first seabed mine in PNG waters:

“The license was granted under the former [Michael] Somare government to the Canadian company Nautilus for its Solwara 1 mine.

[Stop Experimental Seabed Mining in the Pacific’s Wenceslas Magun] says the group’s advisors – which include scientists and lawyers – have ‘clearly indicated that there is going to be damage to the ecological system’.
‘Nobody knows what the impact of the damage is going to be to the marine ecosystem because no one has ever done seabed mining in the world,’ he said.”

Euphemism for war
Boston University’s Andrew Bacevich expresses concern of the apparent “militarization of U.S. policy in Africa”:

“For Army leaders, Africa spells opportunity, a chance to demonstrate continuing relevance at a time when the nation’s appetite for sending U.S. troops to invade and occupy countries has pretty much evaporated.
Thus, we have U.S. Army Africa, or USARAF, the latest in the Pentagon’s ever-growing roster of military headquarters. The mission of this command, which describes itself as ‘America’s premier Army team dedicated to positive change in Africa,’ manages to be at once reassuringly bland and ominously ambitious. On the one hand, USARAF ‘strengthens the land force capabilities of African states and regional organizations.’ On the other, it ‘conducts decisive action in order to establish a secure environment and protect the national security interests of the United States.’
One might hope that successfully accomplishing the first half of that mission — U.S. troops training and equipping African counterparts — will preclude the second. More likely, however, such efforts will pave the way for ‘decisive action,’ a euphemism for war.”

History of failure
The Center for Global Development’s Kimberly Ann Elliott writes that economic sanctions had a 1.5% success rate in the 20th Century and are even less likely to work in Iran:

“Across all 204 episodes and 170 case studies analyzed, there were only three cases deemed fully successful when the issues at stake involved core national interests on both sides. And in all three of those cases, the target of the sanctions was heavily dependent, both economically and for security guarantees, on the sanctioning country.

None of those cases bears any resemblance to the situation that the United States and its allies face with Iran today. As I explained in this Foreign Affairs essay last week, the economic sanctions against Iran are already imposing serious economic costs on the country and tightening sanctions further is likely to create more problems than it solves. Avoiding negotiations and waiting for sanctions to force Iran to raise a white flag would delay a resolution and increase the humanitarian impact on ordinary citizens in Iran.”

Black Bruins
The Huffington Post reports on the stir caused by a spoken-word video in which UCLA student Sy Stokes calls his university, which has more national athletics championships than black male freshmen, an “institutionalized racist corporation”:

“According to the school’s enrollment statistics, African-Americans make up 3.8 percent of the student population. In the video, Stokes points out that black males make up 3.3 percent of the male student population, and that 65 percent of those black males are undergraduate athletes. Of the incoming men in the freshmen class, only 1.9 percent of them were black.

‘We certainly recognize that the low numbers of African Americans and other underrepresented students on campus does lead to a sense of isolation and invisibility,’ [UCLA’s Janina Montero] said in her email statement. ‘It is difficult to eliminate this painful imbalance without considering race in the admissions process.’ ”

Poverty tourism
Business Day’s Sipho Hlongwane slams a faux shanty-town tourist resort in South Africa as an example of postmodern racism:

“And now you too can experience this, for R850 a night!
This, incidentally, is more than most South Africans living in informal settlements see in an entire month. According to the latest census data, only about 15% of black South Africans are considered middle and upper class. The large majority do not make more than R1,400 a month. A whopping 61% of black people live on less than R515 a month. About 87% of white South Africans are considered middle class or above. There is some improvement, but it is at snail’s pace — the reason why the problem is so entrenched is apartheid.
But instead of critical self-examination that might lead many people to accept their own complicity in the oppression of their fellow citizens, this is what we have. Reducing the pain of poverty to an experience, that you can dip in and out of for more money than those poor shack dwellers have in a month.”

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Latest Developments, July 10

In the latest news and analysis…

Bin Laden findings
Al Jazeera has published the report of the Abbottabad Commission, which was set up following the US “hostile military mission” that killed Osama bin Laden inside Pakistan in 2011:

“[The Abbottabad Commission] was charged with establishing whether the failures of the Pakistani government and military were due to incompetence, or complicity. It was given overarching investigative powers, and, in the course of its inquiry, it interviewed more than 201 witnesses – including members of Bin Laden’s own family, the chief of Pakistan’s spy agency, and other senior provincial, federal and military officials.
The Commission’s 336-page report is scathing, holding both politicians and the military responsible for ‘gross incompetence’, leading to ‘collective failures’ that allowed Bin Laden to escape detection, and the United States to perpetrate ‘an act of war’.”

Corruption barometer
Results of a new Transparency International global survey on corruption suggest half the world thinks the problem is getting worse:

“ ‘Governments need to take this cry against corruption from their citizenry seriously and respond with concrete action to elevate transparency and accountability,’ [Transparency International’s Huguette] Labelle said. ‘Strong leadership is needed from the G20 governments in particular. In the 17 countries surveyed in the G20, 59 per cent of respondents said their government is not doing a good job at fighting corruption.’

Around the world, people’s appraisal of their leaders’ efforts to stop corruption is worse than before the financial crisis began in 2008, when 31 per cent said their government’s efforts to fight corruption were effective. This year it fell to 22 per cent.”

Belgian arms
The New York Times’s C.J. Chivers writes about a newly discovered 1970s diplomatic wire regarding the “enormous” scale of Belgium’s weapons sales to Libya:

“Belgium was doing more than shipping huge quantities of munitions to Libya. It was negotiating with Colonel Qaddafi’s government to build an arms manufacturing plant on Libyan soil. That plan failed. But in light of [Ambassador Charles] Loodts’s cable, the synchronized work of arms makers and diplomats emerges as a case of a European state trying to secure a cash flow for quantities of arms that its diplomats knew the recipient nation did not need.
Belgium would keep a hand in arms sales to Libya almost to its end, selling rifles, grenade launchers and ammunition to the colonel’s forces, officially for the defense of humanitarian aid convoys. These weapons would later be turned by Libya’s army and militia against Libyan citizens.”

Different era
Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg, arguing that Obama’s America is less free than Nixon’s, defends NSA leaker Edward Snowden’s decision to flee the US rather than surrender to law enforcement as Ellsberg did in the 1970s:

“[Snowden] would almost certainly be confined in total isolation, even longer than the more than eight months [Wikileaks leaker Bradley] Manning suffered during his three years of imprisonment before his trial began recently. The United Nations Special Rapporteur for Torture described Manning’s conditions as ‘cruel, inhuman and degrading.’ (That realistic prospect, by itself, is grounds for most countries granting Snowden asylum, if they could withstand bullying and bribery from the United States.)

But Snowden’s contribution to the noble cause of restoring the First, Fourth and Fifth amendments to the Constitution is in his documents. It depends in no way on his reputation or estimates of his character or motives — still less, on his presence in a courtroom arguing the current charges, or his living the rest of his life in prison. Nothing worthwhile would be served, in my opinion, by Snowden voluntarily surrendering to U.S. authorities given the current state of the law.”

Painful meal
The Guardian has published a video of rapper Yasiin Bey (formerly known as Mos Def) undergoing “standard operating procedure for force-feeding detainees at Guantanamo Bay”:

“I really didn’t know what to expect. And then the tube went in and the first part of it is not that bad, but then you get this burning. I got this burning and then it just starts to get like really unbearable. It feels like something was going into my brain and it started to reach the back of my throat and I just really couldn’t take it.”

Evening force-feeds
The Mail and Guardian reports that the US has agreed to force-feed Guantanamo Bay detainees only at night during Ramadan out of “respect” for the Muslim holy month:

“The ‘Medical Management Standard Operating Procedure’ document leaked from the detention camp defines a hunger striker as a detainee who has missed at least nine consecutive meals or whose weight has fallen to less than 85% of his ideal body weight.
If force feeding is deemed medically necessary, medical personnel shackle the detainee ‘and a mask is placed over the detainee’s mouth to prevent spitting and biting’.
A feeding tube is then passed through the detainee’s nostril into the stomach.
The process takes about 20 to 30 minutes but they can be required to stay in the restraint chair for up to two hours until a chest X-ray confirms the nutrient has reached their stomach.”

Conquering Africa
In a Q&A with Le Monde, Jean-Pierre Chevènement, a French senator and co-author of a new report on France’s interests in the Sahel, stresses the importance of military solutions in the region:

“We fear budget cuts. With the operation in Mali, pre-positioned forces were shown to be extremely important. The centre of gravity of our military involvement must move from East Africa (knowing that in the Middle East, the US takes the lead), toward the west and northwest of the continent. Operation Serval’s logistical problems have demonstrated that access to ports – Abidjan, Dakar – was essential. We must continue to rely on ‘lily pads’, with their smaller footprint, in the Sahel.” [Translated from the French]

Grey Lady racism
Syndicated columnist David Sirota takes issue with the “hardcore bigotry” of New York Times columnist David Brooks who recently wrote that Egypt “seems to lack even the basic mental ingredients” needed for establishing democracy:

“Yes, that’s right, according to Brooks, a country and culture of 82 million is having a difficult time transitioning to democracy not because it has been repressed for decades, and not because it has few well-established democratic institutions, but instead because the people inherently don’t possess the cognitive (‘mental’) capacity for self-governance.”

Latest Developments, March 22

In the latest news and analysis…

Teetering regime
Le Figaro reports on growing international concern, particularly in former colonial ruler France, over the rapid advance of rebels toward the Central African Republic’s capital Bangui:

“The situation appeared serious enough for France, which has a contingent of about 250 troops on the ground, to ask for a UN Security Council meeting on Friday night. Paris had placed its troops based in Libreville, Gabon on standby. But most of its forces are currently waging war in Mali. ‘If we are involved in CAR,’ said French President François Hollande late last year, ‘it isn’t to protect a regime. It’s to protect our citizens and interests and in no way to intervene in the internal affairs of a country.’ ” [Translated from the French.]

RIP Chinua Achebe
To mark the passing of “the grandfather of African literature,” the Africa Report reprints a Chinua Achebe interview conducted by fellow Nigerian novelist Helon Habila in 2007:

“I for one always resisted the idea that this is ‘The Achebe School’. Personally, I didn’t want a school at all, and looking back at that generation and you not being aware what it was like to grow up in a situation in which you have no literature, in which you do not belong to the stories that are told, a period in which you went to school and passed through school, and you did not hear anything about yourself throughout that period — unless you went through that, it will be difficult to understand why there was all this to-do about writing our own stories, crafting our own style and so on.

There are many people walking around in Britain today who do not accept that the colonial period adventure was not fair to the people on whom it was unleashed.”

End of CIDA
The Center for Global Development’s Owen Barder and Addis Ababa University’s Lucas Robinson argue that the Canadian government’s decision to merge its international development agency into the ministry of foreign affairs is an opportunity “to move the debate ‘beyond aid’ ”:

“But people from developing countries are clear that development policy must mean more than giving aid. They want to benefit more from the resources and services they supply to the world. They do not want aid as compensation for unfair global trade rules; they want the rules changed. They do not want compensation for the damage done to the environment by industrialized countries; they want the destruction of our planet to stop.
We need to look beyond the management of aid, for which their organizations are designed, to a much broader agenda and new ways of working if we are to deal with the growing array of challenges that require global solutions, including climate change, macroeconomic imbalances, inadequate financial regulation, tax avoidance, inequality, environmental degradation, dislocation, insecurity and corruption.”

Mining murder
Oxfam has condemned the kidnapping of four Guatemalan men, one of whom was subsequently found dead, who opposed a mining project owned by Canada’s Tahoe Resources:

“Local groups had organized a community consultation in which citizens cast votes in favor or against the mining project known as ‘The Escobal.’ The project is located 2.5 kilometers east of the San Jose, municipal head of San Rafael Las Flores. Its operations would impact more than 3,000 people living in the area.
After the consultation, the four leaders, known for defending the rights of local citizens, were kidnapped.”

Sweetheart deal
The Guardian reports that Shell is being accused of paying a mere $20 in annual rent for each of a pair of South African filling stations built on land obtained during apartheid:

“The Shell anomaly is being investigated by South Africa’s parliamentary oversight committee on rural development and land reform. Stone Sizani, its chairman, said: ‘It’s a huge unfairness on the part of Shell to the community there. They’re making huge sums of money from those filling stations and what they’re paying is the equivalent of an indigent family for a piece of land.’
He added: ‘Nobody can explain how Shell got such a piece of land. Even if it was done during apartheid, Shell should be feeling ashamed.’
Shell obtained permission to occupy (PTO) during the apartheid era, when black people were not permitted to obtain title deeds to land.”

Bad paint
The Cameroon Tribune reports on a study suggesting that two-thirds of new paint being sold in the central African nation contains hazardous levels of lead:

“The study, in the May issue of the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Hygiene, revealed lead concentrations are as high as 50 percent by weight in household paint being sold by Cameroon’s largest paint company, Seigneurie – a subsidiary of the U.S. Company PPG. This concentration is more than 5,000 times the allowable limit in the U.S.

The new study is the first one which provides the names of paint companies and the lead concentrations for all 61 paints tested.”

Drone expansion
The Washington Post reports that Niamey, the capital of Niger, is “the newest outpost in the U.S. government’s empire of drone bases”:

“Like other U.S. drone bases, the Predator operations in Niger are shrouded in secrecy. The White House announced Feb. 22 that Obama had deployed about 100 military personnel to Niger on an “intelligence collection” mission, but it did not make any explicit reference to drones.
Since then, the Defense Department has publicly acknowledged the presence of drones here but has revealed little else. The Africa Command, which oversees U.S. military missions on the continent, denied requests from a Washington Post reporter to interview American troops in Niger or to tour the military airfield where the drones are based, near Niamey’s international airport.”

Less tolerance
Le Monde reports that a new study shows that intolerance is on the rise in France and racist acts and threats increased by 23% last year:

“In all, 55 percent of people surveyed said Muslims are ‘a group on the fringes of society’ (up four points since the 2011 report) and 69 percent believe ‘there are too many immigrants in France today,’ a 10 point increase since 2011. ‘We are seeing a dangerous desensitization to racist comments,’ according to the National Consultative Commission on Human Rights.

If ‘racism’ is ‘relatively stable’ (up two percent), anti-Muslim ‘racism’ (up 30 percent) and particularly ‘antisemitism’ (up 58 percent) have shown the biggest increases.” [Translated from the French.]