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The US Military’s Sexual-Assault Problem Is So Bad the UN Is Getting Involved

Several countries told the US its policies on justice for military sexual assault victims weren’t good enough.

Mother Jones, By Jenna McLaughlin, May 14

The US military has a problem with sexual violence. That’s the conclusion of the Universal Periodic Review Panel, a UN panel that aims to address the human rights records of the 193 UN member states. This is the second time that the panel has scrutinized the United States; the first was in 2010, when the list of concerns included detention in Guantanamo Bay, torture, the death penalty, and access to health care. Its latest report came out Monday morning, and there was a surprising addition to the predictable laundry list of US human rights violations.

In one of 12 final recommendations, the UN Council urged the US military “to prevent sexual violence in the military and ensure effective prosecution of offenders and redress for victims.” Other recommendations included stopping the militarization of police forces, closing Guantanamo Bay, ending the death penalty, and stopping NSA surveillance of citizens.

Al Jazeera: US cited for police violence, racism in scathing UN review on human rights

FBI and Homeland Security Respond to Shocking Goatse Bomb in Atlanta

Gawker, By Sam Biddle, May 15

The affluent denizens of Atlanta’s Buckhead neighborhood received a fun treat this week when they looked up at the corner of Peachtree and East Paces Ferry: a famous internet man’s giant, ruddy, gaping spread asshole, displayed on an enormous digital billboard.

The billboard above is one of the thousands of YESCO digital billboards installed across the country. Naturally, it comes with an internet connection. The setup is exactly as insecure as you’d imagine: many of these electronic billboards are completely unprotected, dangling on the public internet without a password or any kind of firewall. This means it’s pretty simple to change the image displayed from a new AT&T offer to, say, Goatse.

The appearance of this unexpected mammoth human asshole alarmed Buckhead residents so much that at least one called 911, WSB-TV reports:

“There’s an electronic billboard that is flashing a naked man,” one woman said in the 911 call. “It’s not actually an emergency; it’s just totally disgusting.” Police say the billboard’s owner temporarily cut power to the billboard.

[…]

But what is there to really investigate? The billboard was easy to mess with; the owners basically left the door unlocked and wide open. Not only was this a case of incompetence, but gross negligence: security researcher Dan Tentler tweeted yesterday that he’d tried to warn this very same sign company that their software is easily penetrable by anyone with a computer and net connection and was told they were “not interested.”

Related, Gawker: Finding Goatse: The Mystery Man Behind the Most Disturbing Internet Meme in History, April 10, 2012

Ireland appears set to say ‘yes’ in gay marriage vote

National polls indicate country would back legalisation by margin as much as two-to-one, signalling major social shift.

Al Jazeera, May 17

A series of polls have indicated that Ireland is very likely to vote in a favour of legalising same-sex marriage in an upcoming referendum.

Polls on Saturday suggested that voters would back the move in a referendum set for Friday by a margin as much as two-to-one, making Ireland the first country to approve the policy in a national plebiscite.

Support for homosexual rights has surged in Ireland, which has been considered one of the most socially conservative countries in western Europe, in recent decades as the power of the Catholic Church collapsed in the wake of a series of child abuse scandals.

[…]

If Ireland votes yes, it will join 18 countries which have made, or are in the process of making the change, 13 of them in Europe.

[…]

Other European countries that have legalised gay marriage include Iceland, Denmark, France, Luxembourg, and Finland. The UK legalised same-sex marriage in England and Wales in 2013. [Also Belgium, The Netherlands, Slovenia, Spain, Norway].

Obama Administration Says Yes To Drilling In The Arctic

Climate Progress, by Emily Atkin, May 11

The Obama administration has given conditional approval to a controversial proposal by Royal Dutch Shell to drill for oil in the Arctic Ocean this summer.

On Monday, the Department of Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) approved Shell’s exploration plan for the Chukchi Sea, which entails drilling up to six wells approximately 70 miles northwest of Wainwright, Alaska. The plan is for exploratory drilling, a sort of first step that companies take to determine whether a region is feasible for large-scale production.

In announcing the conditional approval, BOEM cited its recently-issued safety regulations for drilling in the U.S. portion of the Arctic Ocean, including the Chukchi Sea, where big oil companies have long been hoping to lay their claim. Those regulations require companies to have contingency plans for mishaps — companies must be able to “promptly deploy” emergency containment equipment to deal with a spill, and must build a second rig close to their initial operations so a relief well could be drilled in the event of a blowout, among other things.

“We have taken a thoughtful approach to carefully considering potential exploration in the Chukchi Sea, recognizing the significant environmental, social and ecological resources in the region and establishing high standards for the protection of this critical ecosystem, our Arctic communities, and the subsistence needs and cultural traditions of Alaska Natives,” BOEM Director Abigail Ross Hopper said in a statement. “As we move forward, any offshore exploratory activities will continue to be subject to rigorous safety standards.”

Last great regions of pristine wilderness from Asia to Amazon under threat from massive road-building projects, scientist warns

The Independent, By Steve Connor, May 9

The last great regions of pristine wilderness – from Asia to the Amazon – are threatened by an unprecedented road-building programme financed by aggressive development banks with little interest in protecting the natural world, a leading environmental scientist has warned.

Massive infrastructure and road-building are at the heart of huge development projects around the world, justified as vital attempts at helping the poorest attain a higher standard of living.

Scientists claim that we are living in the most explosive era of road and infrastructure expansion in human history – from the plains of the Serengeti to the rainforests of Sumatra. By 2050, they estimate, there will be an additional 25 million kilometres (15.5 million miles) of new paved roads globally, enough to circle the Earth 600 times.

Approximately 90 per cent of these new roads will be built in the developing world, and many of these will result in the first deep cuts into areas of pristine tropical rainforests to service the building of new mines and hydroelectric dams in some of the remotest places on earth.

The Killing of Osama bin Laden

The London Review of Books, By Seymour M. Hersh, May 21

It’s been four years since a group of US Navy Seals assassinated Osama bin Laden in a night raid on a high-walled compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. The killing was the high point of Obama’s first term, and a major factor in his re-election. The White House still maintains that the mission was an all-American affair, and that the senior generals of Pakistan’s army and Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI) were not told of the raid in advance. This is false, as are many other elements of the Obama administration’s account. The White House’s story might have been written by Lewis Carroll: would bin Laden, target of a massive international manhunt, really decide that a resort town forty miles from Islamabad would be the safest place to live and command al-Qaida’s operations? He was hiding in the open. So America said.

The most blatant lie was that Pakistan’s two most senior military leaders – General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, chief of the army staff, and General Ahmed Shuja Pasha, director general of the ISI – were never informed of the US mission. This remains the White House position despite an array of reports that have raised questions, including one by Carlotta Gall in the New York Times Magazine of 19 March 2014. Gall, who spent 12 years as the Times correspondent in Afghanistan, wrote that she’d been told by a ‘Pakistani official’ that Pasha had known before the raid that bin Laden was in Abbottabad. The story was denied by US and Pakistani officials, and went no further. In his book Pakistan: Before and after Osama (2012), Imtiaz Gul, executive director of the Centre for Research and Security Studies, a think tank in Islamabad, wrote that he’d spoken to four undercover intelligence officers who – reflecting a widely held local view – asserted that the Pakistani military must have had knowledge of the operation. The issue was raised again in February, when a retired general, Asad Durrani, who was head of the ISI in the early 1990s, told an al-Jazeera interviewer that it was ‘quite possible’ that the senior officers of the ISI did not know where bin Laden had been hiding, ‘but it was more probable that they did [know]. And the idea was that, at the right time, his location would be revealed. And the right time would have been when you can get the necessary quid pro quo – if you have someone like Osama bin Laden, you are not going to simply hand him over to the United States.’
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Barack Obama: Two Time Nobelist?

You’ll no doubt recall the hue and cry when Barack Obama was awarded the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize for his stand on nuclear non-proliferation and his attempts to engage the Muslim world. Both the right and left in this country had great sport at this — and here I’ll agree — premature awarding of a prize to a man with few signal accomplishments in foreign policy, apart from being “not Bush”.

Six years later and I think it’s time to give him the Prize for real this time. Think about this past year: for a man who started his administration hoping to hit singles and doubles in foreign policy (consumed as he had to be by the domestic economic crisis), he’s kind of knocked a couple out of the park, provoking admiration from aboard and from mainstream Americans, and consternation from the idiot fringe that will sit on perches and poop all day, parroting “Obama bad, BRAWK!” Read More

The Case That Blew the Lid Off the World Bank’s Secret Courts

Truthout, By Jim Shultz, April 28

There’s an international awakening afoot about a radical expansion of corporate power – one that sits at the center of two historic global trade deals nearing completion.

One focuses the United States toward Europe – that’s the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) – and the other toward Asia, in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Both would establish broad new rights for foreign corporations to sue governments for vast sums whenever nations change their public policies in ways that could potentially impact corporate profits.

These cases would not be handled by domestic courts, with their relative transparency, but in special, secretive international tribunals.

It’s a stupendously powerful tool and a double win for the corporations: It’s a money machine that loots public treasuries and a potent tool to stifle unwelcome regulations, all wrapped in one. As Senator Elizabeth Warren recently wrote in the Washington Post, “Giving foreign corporations special rights to challenge our laws outside of our legal system would be a bad deal.” But it’s a deal US lawmakers are rapidly preparing to make as they debate extending “fast-track” trade promotion authority to President Barack Obama.

UN aid worker suspended for leaking report on child abuse by French troops

Anders Kompass said to have passed confidential document to French authorities because of UN’s failure to stop abuse of children in Central African Republic.

The Guardian, By Sandra Laville, April 29

A senior United Nations aid worker has been suspended for disclosing to prosecutors an internal report on the sexual abuse of children by French peacekeeping troops in the Central African Republic.

Sources close to the case said Anders Kompass passed the document to the French authorities because of the UN’s failure to take action to stop the abuse. The report documented the sexual exploitation of children as young as nine by French troops stationed in the country as part of international peacekeeping efforts.

Kompass, who is based in Geneva, was suspended from his post as director of field operations last week and accused of leaking a confidential UN report and breaching protocols. He is under investigation by the UN office for internal oversight service (OIOS) amid warnings from a senior official that access to his case must be “severely restricted”. He faces dismissal.

The treatment of the aid worker, who has been involved in humanitarian work for more than 30 years, has taken place with the knowledge of senior UN officials, including Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, the high commissioner for human rights, and Susana Malcorra, chef de cabinet in the UN, according to documents relating to the case.

The “War on Cash” in 10 Spine-Chilling Quotes

Wolf Street / Naked Capitalism, By Don Quijones, April 27

The war on cash is escalating. As Mises’ Jo Salerno reports, the latest combatant to join the fray is JP Morgan Chase, the largest bank in the U.S., which recently enacted a policy restricting the use of cash in selected markets; bans cash payments for credit cards, mortgages, and auto loans; and disallows the storage of “any cash or coins” in safe deposit boxes. In other words, the war has moved on from one of words to actions.

Here are ten quotes that should chill the spine of any individual who cherishes his or her freedom and anonymity:

1. Kenneth Rogoff (from the intro to his paper The Costs and Benefits to Phasing Out Paper Currency):

Despite advances in transactions technologies, paper currency still constitutes a notable percentage of the money supply in most countries… Yet, it has important drawbacks. First, it can help facilitate activity in the underground (tax-evading) and illegal economy. Second, its existence creates the artifact of the zero bound on the nominal interest rate.

In other words, cash (not money) is the source of all evil and must be destroyed because governments can’t trace its every movement, and it represents a limiting factor on central banks’ ability to continue their insane negative-interest-rate experiment.

Five billion people ‘have no access to safe surgery’

BBC, By Tulip Mazumdar, April 27

Two-thirds of the world’s population have no access to safe and affordable surgery, according to a new study in The Lancet – more than double the number in previous estimates.

It means millions of people are dying from treatable conditions such as appendicitis and obstructed labour.

Most live in low and middle-income countries.

The study suggests that 93% of people in sub-Saharan Africa cannot obtain basic surgical care.

Previous estimates have only looked at whether surgery was available.

But this research has also considered whether people can travel to facilities within two hours, whether the procedure will be safe, and whether patients can actually afford the treatment.

One of the study’s authors, Andy Leather, director of the King’s Centre for Global Health, said the situation was outrageous.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership: Toward Absolutist Capitalism

Naked Capitalism, By Lambert Strether, April 20

There are many excellent arguments against the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), two of which — local zoning over-rides, and loss of national sovereignty — I’ll briefly review as stepping stones to the main topic of the post: Absolutist Capitalism, for which I make two claims:

1) The TPP implies a form of absolute rule, a tyranny as James Madison would have understood the term, and

2) The TPP enshrines capitalization as a principle of jurisprudence.

Zoning over-rides and lost of national sovereignty may seem controversial to the political class, but these two last points may seem controversial even to NC readers. However, I hope to show both points follow easily from the arguments with which we are already familiar. Both flow from the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) mechanism, of which I will now give two examples. more

MoJo Explicator: Here’s What You Need to Know About the Trade Deal Dividing the Left

Is the future of America a crummy service job stamping on a human face, forever?

Vox, By Dylan Matthews, April 10

Rand Paul and Hillary Clinton don’t agree on much, but they both strongly believe more Americans should be working in low-wage, unpleasant jobs.

Paul devoted a large chunk of his announcement speech Tuesday to celebrating the “dignity of work,” endorsing the notion that work is a force that gives us meaning, rather than a means by which to stay alive. “Self-esteem can’t be given; it must be earned,” he declared. “Work is not punishment; work is the reward.”

Clinton is less blunt, but her campaign is expected to place a heavy emphasis on policies to get women into the workforce and encourage two-earner families, such as child care subsidies or paid parental leave.

The implication is clear: there are people, particularly women, who aren’t working but should be, and the government should be doing all it can to push them to take jobs.

These ideas address real problems: the labor market is rife with gender inequities, and efforts to make the choice to work as viable for women as it is for men are admirable and necessary. So are programs to help people living in concentrated poverty with little or no connection to the formal labor market find employment. And the US still needs to create 4 million jobs to fully recover from the recession.

But while there are problems to be solved, there’s also a reality to be acknowledged. America is a very, very rich society. The richest the world has ever known. For many Americans — particularly Americans with children — working a low-wage, physical job with little job security and unpredictable hours is a deeply unpleasant way to spend your life. Maybe more work isn’t always the answer.


Econospeak: UBI Caritas (the best things in life are free)

The miraculous Max Sawicky resumes wrestling with Universal Basic Income at MaxSpeak. This time the incitement comes from Dylan Matthews at Vox, who argues that a secondary benefit of basic income would be that “it enables a transition to a world of less work and greater leisure.”

That would indeed be a good thing. But as the Sandwichman pointed out two weeks ago, advocates for basic income seemingly make exactly the opposite argument. Guy Standing, co-president of the Basic Income Earth Network, cited a recent experiment in India — and earlier experiments in North America and Europe — as evidence for the claim that a basic income guarantee “would not reduce labor supply… The simple fact is that people with basic security work harder and more productively, not less.”

[…]

In my view, that only addresses one side of “the need”. The other side is the need to reduce superfluous production and consumption. We have long since passed the point where capital “diminishes labour time in the necessary form so as to increase it in the superfluous form; hence posits the superfluous in growing measure as a condition – question of life or death – for the necessary.”

Currently, world-wide carbon emissions per year are roughly double what can be re-absorbed by oceans and plants. This is not to say that the re-absorption by oceans is harmless –it leads to acidification. But clearly more than half of the emissions are superfluous to sustainability. Lo and behold, carbon emission increase in virtual lockstep with hours of work. In the U.S., the correlation between the two has been about 95% over the last quarter century.

… but who decides what’s superfluous?


Max Speak, You Listen!: Work makes Fritos

The Obama Arms Bazaar

Counterpunch, By William D. Hartung, April 3-5

With the end of the Obama presidency just around the corner, discussions of his administration’s foreign policy legacy are already well under way. But one central element of that policy has received little attention: the Obama administration’s dramatic acceleration of U.S. weapons exports.

The numbers are astonishing. In President Obama’s first five years in office, new agreements under the Pentagon’s Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program—the largest channel for U.S. arms exports—totaled over $169 billion. After adjusting for inflation, the volume of major deals concluded by the Obama administration in its first five years exceeds the amount approved by the Bush administration in its full eight years in office by nearly $30 billion. That also means that the Obama administration has approved more arms sales than any U.S. administration since World War II.
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Shell Will Buy BG Group for $70 Billion in Cash and Shares

Bloomberg Business, By Joe Carroll, Javier Blas, & Rakteem Katakey, April 8

Royal Dutch Shell Plc agreed to buy BG Group Plc for about 47 billion pounds ($70 billion) in cash and shares, the oil and gas industry’s biggest deal in at least a decade.

The acquisition is the most significant response yet to the slump in oil prices and could set in motion a series of mergers as the largest energy companies look to cut costs and restore profits.

[…]

The merged company, led by Shell Chief Executive Officer Ben van Beurden, will boast a market value twice the size of BP Plc and surpass Chevron Corp. Shell, struggling to rebound from its worst production performance in 17 years, will swell its oil and natural gas reserves by 28 percent with the combination and inherit a management team that carved out a unique niche in liquefied natural gas, or LNG.

Shell, which helped pioneer the process of liquefying gas for shipment aboard tankers decades ago, and rivals such as Chevron are betting LNG will play an increasing role in emerging economies seeking alternatives to dirtier energy sources such as coal.

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