12 December 2007

UN Climate Conference in Bali

I’m currently in Bali at the UN Climate Conference. To follow progress here, keep track of the Alter Eco, which is available online here

09 November 2007

Africom: US military expansion in Africa

When investigative reporters learn their trade, the first advice they get is: follow the money. For those hoping to understand something more about global politics, this should quickly be followed by advice to follow the troops.

Under the guise of expanding ’security assistance programmes’ - a euphemism for supporting client states - the US government is establishing a new unified command structure for its forces in sub-Saharan Africa. It is also motivated, no doubt, by China’s concerted effort to secure energy supplies from the continent.

This new strategy is discussed in The Nation this week by Danny Glover and Nicole Lee. For a more detailed analysis, it is worth checking out this article by Daniel Vollman in Pambazuka News.

Michael Heseltine: speaking truth after power

Did you see Question Time? I must confess I didn’t, partly because I’m out of the country, mainly because it is usually very boring. But this quote, as recounted by Seumas Milne, looks set to become one of those that is recounted to death:

”I was involved in the process of arming Saddam Hussein,” Heseltine told the BBC’s Question Time programme, in a startling answer to a question about whether the west had been right to back the military dictatorship of General Musharraf in Pakistan. “The reason we armed Saddam Hussein is because he was seen as an absolutely fundamental interest of the west against rising Muslim fundamentalism based on Iran. We have destabilised Iraq, greatly empowered Iran and the dangers to us in that process have been very considerably increased.”

File alongside:

“The hidden hand of the market will never work without a hidden fist.” - Thomas Friedman

“It’s a hard choice, but I think, we, think, it’s worth it.” - Madeline Albright, asked about the over half a million children killed by the Iraqi sanctions.

That Albright one is on YouTube. I’m still waiting for the Heseltine clip to appear there, it is archived on the BBC Question Time website for the next week.

08 November 2007

Pissing on environmental protection

According to the ETC Group, a private geoengineering company recently received an official “go signal” to dump 500 tonnes of urea into the Sulu Sea near the Philippines for a large scale “carbon sequestration” experiment without an Environmental Impact Assessment. The experimental urea dumping may happen this year. This is one of a number of spurious ‘ocean fertilisation’ schemes. Full story is here.

06 November 2007

This year’s Golden Loobrush Award goes to…

Surfers Against Sewage campaigners took to the stage at the British Environment and Media Awards (BEMAS), sponsored by Northumbrian Water, to present their own ‘Golden Loo Brush’ Award to the company’s Communications Director. The campaigners accuse the company, which plans to reduce the level of sewage treatment from its plants in the North East, of disregarding the health of the marine environment.

Full story here and here

03 November 2007

The demise of RESPECT: back to the future?

When RESPECT was founded as a ‘unity coalition’ in 2004, it always seemed like tempting fate. The British left has long been better at factional infighting than togetherness, and the record of the ill-fated Socialist Alliance – one of RESPECT’s immediate precursors – didn’t bode well.

A few years ago, Mike Marqusee wrote an excellent analysis on ‘democracy and the left’ that has more than a familiar ring today. It is worth reading in full, but here’s an excerpt that touches, in passing, on some of the issues that have come back to haunt RESPECT:

In the end, the SWP is imbued with an authoritarian ethic – most recently confirmed by their readiness to dub as “divisive” or “disruptive” anyone who voices political preferences contrary to theirs. We’ve seen this in the Socialist Alliance, where they have dumped dissenters from national officer positions and crudely packed a meeting in Birmingham in order to force out one of the few genuinely independent (and respected) trade union activists the SA could boast. We’ve also seen it in the Stop the War Coalition where decisions are taken by the SWP leadership and foist on the STWC with barely a semblance of democratic consultation, where SWP members appear on platforms as “STWC” spokespersons, though they have no links to any STWC structures, where the priorities of the SWP leadership (at the moment, campaigning for George Galloway), take precedence over the priorities of the wider movement (surely, at the moment, stepping up the pressure on Blair regarding the absent WMD and building a long-term campaign against the occupation of Iraq) - and where anyone who wanted a slightly greater emphasis on direct action, or a broader approach to the choice of speakers on the big demonstrations, or didn’t totally buy into the crude construction of “the Muslims” as a homogenous (manipulable) entity was effectively excluded. And in both the SA and the STWC, on the rare occasions when initiatives not under the direct control of the SWP emerged from democratic discussion, they were either ignored or undermined by the SWP.

30 October 2007

UN climate conference: views from Indonesia

With the UN climate change conference taking place in Bali in December, the implications of current policies on climate justice will be an important consideration. Already several Indonesian NGOs have expressed their concerns at the current ‘mercantilist’ policies that dominate international policy making on this issue. Their full statement is reproduced here.

On 23 October, there was also a protest against carbon trading in Denpasar, capital of Bali. Top marks to whoever made a banner that read: “Our Forest is not a Carbon Toilet for Developed Countries.”

14 October 2007

Facebook: the twitching net curtain of the net

Some of my best friends would not be seen dead on Facebook. Can you blame them? It is, they claim, the death of real-life socialising, another way of chaining you to your computer, and a total abuse of privacy. That said, I like Facebook. In a guilty pleasure kind of way. It is the twitching net curtain of the net. Somewhere between socially sanctioned noseyness and an alumni association.

Yet it is also risky. Like most Facebookers, my ‘friends’ list encompasses a motley crew of the long lost, the estranged, the hardly known, the passing acquaintance, the former flatmate, the ‘person I once worked with’, family members and best mates. This is, as the Trade Union Congress pointed out a few months ago, an accident waiting to happen . Put simply, the kind of information sometimes posted on Facebook, from drunken musings to workplace bitching, are not likely to endear you to your boss. It disturbs the work life balance.

Another aspect of the same problem is that there are friends and then there are friends. This post demonstrates the point quite well: “The trouble with Facebook is that it’s a confused social space. There are too many different facets of personality being exposed through social openness. So much so, in fact, that it gets a bit difficult to manage.”It also has some handy diagrams and suggestions on how to keep them separated. Not in a friendship-apartheid kindof way, just recognising that the social networks we inhabit are uneven and that flattening those out may not always be such a hot idea

10 October 2007

Footballers and nurses

I must admit to being pretty impressed by the efforts of Noreena Hertz, who once wrote a pretty useless book on globalisation, to convince Premier League footballers to donate a day’s pay to help nurses in financial hardship.

Unfortunately, the Royal College of Nursing is having trouble collecting the money from the footballers in question, who’s promises are proving about as reliable as government pledges of aid money: £200,000 has been collected, but that leaves £550,000 of outstanding promises yet to be collected.

Update: Not quite sure what to make of this quote, although my instinct isn’t really to feel sorry for Premiership footballers. “I am disgusted with the manner in which this campaign has gone about its fundraising. The players at this club support any number of local and national charities and good causes, either via financial support, giving up their own time or both. This is often done privately, meaning they neither receive nor ask for any public gratitude or praise. We invited Dr Hertz into the club to hear her appeal but we were already concerned by the way in which those who had not agreed to donate a day’s salary had been named and shamed in the national media. The campaign’s fundraising style has bordered on blackmail” - Gareth Southgate.