Latest Developments, August 13

In the latest news and analysis…

Warehouses for forgetting
The Washington Post reports that US Attorney General Eric Holder has announced plans to dial down America’s war on drugs by doing away with charges requiring mandatory sentences for nonviolent drug offences:

“He also introduced a policy to reduce sentences for elderly, nonviolent inmates and find alternatives to prison for nonviolent criminals.

‘We must face the reality that, as it stands, our system is, in too many ways, broken,’ Holder said. ‘And with an outsized, unnecessarily large prison population, we need to ensure that incarceration is used to punish, to deter and to rehabilitate — not merely to warehouse and to forget.’
‘A vicious cycle of poverty, criminality and incarceration traps too many Americans and weakens too many communities,’ Holder said Monday. He added that ‘many aspects of our criminal justice system may actually exacerbate these problems rather than alleviate them.’ ”

Stopping stop-and-frisk
Reuters reports that a US Judge has ruled the New York Police Department’s stop-and-frisk tactics unconstitutional, describing them as “indirect racial profiling”:

“[U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin], who presided over the 9-week trial without a jury, ruled the effectiveness of ‘stop and frisk’ was irrelevant.
‘Many police practices may be useful for fighting crime – preventive detention or coerced confessions, for example – but because they are unconstitutional, they cannot be used, no matter how effective,’ the ruling said.”

Dash for oil
The Financial Times reports on concerns over the “unusual” oil exploration deal signed between Somalia and ex-UK Conservative leader Michael Howard’s month-old company:

“The deal has unsettled some industry observers who had expected a public licensing round for all the oil blocks. Other more experienced companies had also been queueing up for contracts to undertake surveys. They say it is unusual for Soma, once it has gathered the data, to be able to cherry-pick the best dozen blocks.

‘The UK is promoting transparent and accountable government [but it] hosted a conference and invited all of us,’ said a diplomat who follows Somalia closely. ‘Then that momentum was used to promote British business interests: that could maybe have been more transparent.’ ”

Not-so-imminent threats
The New York Times quotes a “senior” American official as saying the US has “expanded the scope of people we could go after” with drones in Yemen:

“ ‘Before, we couldn’t necessarily go after a driver for the organization; it’d have to be an operations director,’ said the official, who like others spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss delicate intelligence issues. ‘Now that driver becomes fair game because he’s providing direct support to the plot.’

Senior American intelligence officials said last week that none of the about three dozen militants killed so far in the drone strikes were ‘household names,’ meaning top-tier leaders of the affiliate, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. But the American official said the strikes had targeted ‘rising stars’ in the Yemen network, people who were more likely to be moving around and vulnerable to attack. ‘They may not be big names now,’ the official said, ‘but these were the guys that would have been future leaders.’ ”

Erasing colonialism
The Guardian reports that by renaming the Caprivi Stip the Zambezi Region, Namibia has “wiped off the map” some of its colonial history:

In 2004 Germany apologised for the colonial-era genocide that killed 65,000 Herero people through starvation and slave labour in concentration camps. The Nama, a smaller ethnic group, lost half their population during what a recent book referred to in its title as The Kaiser’s Holocaust.

Today there is still anger among indigenous communities who live in poverty and demand reparations from Germany, their shanty town homes contrasting with vast German-owned farms. [What Dawid Knew author Patricia Glyn] added: ‘The Nama people I researched are still living in a ghetto. They put up a magnificent challenge to the Germans but they are landless. Changing a couple of names doesn’t really crack it. It’s very little and very late.’ ”

Toxic dumping
Euractiv reports that African countries have called for a crackdown on e-waste imports from Europe where it is cheaper to export than to dispose of old electronics:

“Nations that are parties to the Bamako Convention on the export of hazardous waste to Africa met in the Malian capital in June for the first time since the international agreement was agreed in 1991.
In its final declarations, released on Tuesday (6 August), the African representatives called for enforcement of the convention and for tougher national laws.
The Bamako meeting marked “the first time that African parties have by themselves called for rigorous action to prevent e-waste dumping,” said a statement from the Basel Action Network, an environmental group that campaigns against the trade in toxic waste.”

The hardest word
Author John Grisham argues that the US should atone for war on terror “mistakes” such as the incarceration of Nabil Hadjarab, a 34-year-old Algerian who grew up in France before spending the past 11 years at the Guantanamo Bay prison:

“Hundreds of other Arabs have been sent to Gitmo, chewed up by the system there, never charged and eventually transferred back to their home countries. (These transfers are carried out as secretly and as quietly as possible.) There have been no apologies, no official statements of regret, no compensation, nothing of the sort. The United States was dead wrong, but no one can admit it.

First, admit the mistake and make the apology. Second, provide compensation. United States taxpayers have spent $2 million a year for 11 years to keep Nabil at Gitmo; give the guy a few thousand bucks to get on his feet. Third, pressure the French to allow his re-entry.
This sounds simple, but it will never happen.”

Genocidal team name
Satirical newspaper the Onion “reports” on a new study showing that the Washington Redskins‘ name is “only offensive if you take any amount of time whatsoever to think about its actual meaning”:

“ ‘It has the potential to come across as a degrading relic of an ethnocentric mentality responsible for the destruction of an entire people and their culture, but that’s only if you take a couple seconds to recognize it as something beyond a string of letters,’ [said lead researcher Lawrence Wagner]. Wagner recommended that the NFL franchise should change their name to something more appropriate and historically accurate, such as the Washington Racist Fucks.”

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Latest Developments, June 13

In the latest news and analysis…

Making the rules
The Wall Street Journal reports on the unilateral actions that US officials believe their country can legally take in and around Syria:

“Proponents of the proposal say a no-fly zone could be imposed without a U.N. Security Council resolution, since the U.S. would not regularly enter Syrian airspace and wouldn’t hold Syrian territory.
U.S. planes have air-to-air missiles that could destroy Syrian planes from long ranges. But officials said that aircraft may be required to enter Syrian air space if threatened by advancing Syrian planes. Such an incursion by the U.S., if it were to happen, could be justified as self-defense, officials say.”

Continental boom
The Guardian reports on new UN population projections that suggest an equitable world will require a massively increased voice for Africa:

“The UN report World population prospects: the 2012 revision, published on Thursday, predicts the world’s population, now at 7.2 billion, will reach 8.1 billion in 2025. By mid-century, the world’s population is expected to top 9.5 billion, reaching nearly 11 billion by 2100.
More than half of the growth predicted between now and 2050 is expected in Africa, where the number of people is set to more than double, from 1.1 billion to 2.4 billion. Africa’s population will continue to rise even if there is a future drop in the average number of children each woman has, says the report, which predicts the number of people living on the continent could reach 4.2 billion (or more than 35% of total global population) by 2100.”

Unanimous gene ruling
Inter Press Service reports that all nine members of the US Supreme Court have agreed that “naturally occurring DNA” cannot be patented:

“The decision overturns three decades of practise to the contrary by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
Health and civil liberties groups are celebrating the unusual unanimous ruling, as are consumer protection advocates.
Although the case dealt specifically with questions regarding the ‘isolating’ of genes within the human genome, the judges did not limit their decision to human genetics, meaning the case will have an effect throughout the biotechnology industry.”

Fear of transparency
The Independent reports that UK Prime Minister David Cameron has asked his Canadian counterpart, Stephen Harper, not to block an agreement aimed at cracking down on “secret companies used for money laundering, tax evasion and terrorist activity” at next week’s G8 summit:

“But after talks in Downing Street last night it was doubtful whether Canada would back Mr Cameron’s ‘full disclosure’ plan for the eight leading economies to create registers of who controls and owns every company based in their country.”

The US and Russia also have doubts about public registers. Mr Cameron may have to settle for a Plan B, under which the G8 nations would set up private registers that could be accessed only by tax and law enforcement authorities. It is not certain Canada would agree to that. Aid agencies say private registers would be second best because it would be harder for the world’s poorest countries to track individuals and businesses avoiding tax in their nations who hide behind anonymous ‘shell companies.’ ”

Tax hunger
Olivier De Schutter, the UN special rapporteur on the right to food, writes that “nothing is more crucial in financial or symbolic terms” in the fight against hunger than tax justice:

“It’s not just the usual suspect tax havens that are culpable. The whole world is a tax haven for companies able to navigate between its tax jurisdictions. The G8 cannot control tax policy in developing countries, but it can clamp down on the multinationals and individuals whose wealth is often earned in developing countries but domiciled and managed in London, New York and Paris, perversely causing more cash to flow from poor countries to rich countries than vice versa.”

Green fraud
The Oakland Institute’s Anuradha Mittal uses the example of a US-based company’s duplicitous attempts to establish a massive palm-oil plantation in Cameroon as a reminder that “Africa is open for business, not for theft”:

“Last year, after complaints about [Herakles Farms] to the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) highlighted the company’s alleged environmental violations, [CEO Bruce] Wrobel made no attempts to set the record straight. Instead, Herakles resigned from the Roundtable before the claims were to be investigated, spuriously stating that they ‘remain committed’ to RSPO’s standards.

This is a sobering lesson for all parties involved – that the land rush by foreign investors into African nations is not philanthropically driven, despite claims to the contrary. Rather, companies such as Herakles Farms have exploited images of poverty and hunger, and couched their efforts in the language of sustainability, allowing them to handily reap profits from Africa’s resources while undermining national laws, local communities and the environment.”

ICC judged
The Institute for Security Studies’ Solomon Dersso argues that the International Criminal Court’s claims that it is immune to political influence are not entirely convincing:

“While legally speaking this position is largely true, the nature and structure of international politics is such that the application of international justice processes more often than not reflects the distribution of power within the international community. The ICC is not immune to this, and the way in which the ICC launched its case in Libya is a testimony. The speed with which and the way the ICC prosecutor launched this case also betrays the ICC’s acquiescence to its instrumentalisation by UN Security Council politics.

Some of the referrals, such as those in Uganda and Kenya, were inspired by domestic political calculations rather than the interest to serve justice. Indeed, in charging some people and not others in these cases, the ICC was in some ways playing local politics.”

Bad name
The Huffington Post reports that National Football League commissioner Roger Goodell is standing by a team name that a group of US Congress members recently called a “racial, derogatory slur”:

“ ‘The Washington Redskins name has thus from its origin represented a positive meaning distinct from any disparagement that could be viewed in some other context,’ Goodell wrote. ‘For the team’s millions of fans and customers, who represent one of America’s most ethnically and geographically diverse fan bases, the name is a unifying force that stands for strength, courage, pride and respect.’ ”