powers that be
March 08, 2007
Charity doesn't always begin at home. Vanity Fair have invited "pop-humanitarian" Bono to be guest editor of the July issue, to try and "rebrand Africa". Some magazines have been sharing some other facts about Bono:
* In the year since it was founded, his Red campaign (licensed to Gap, Motorola, Apple etc) has raised $18 million - but companies have spent $100 million to market it.
* Bono doesn't invest his own money in Red.
* Apple sells a Special Edition U2 iPod. Its profits are not donated to Red.
* U2 made $389m from the recent Vertigo tour. Its revenue was then funnelled through companies mostly registered in Ireland and structured to minimize taxes.
* U2 moved its music publishing company to the Netherlands from Ireland in June 2006, six months before Ireland ended a tax exemption on musicians' royalty income.
* Richard Murphy, adviser to lobbying group the Tax Justice Network, says "This is somebody who's exceptionally rich taking the opportunity to shift his tax burden to somebody else, but then asking governments around the world to spend that tax take in the way that he would like."
Thanks to pop scholar Nabeel Zuberi for this!
Posted by matt at 11:38 PM
June 21, 2005
G8 summit in my backyard
Everywhere I turn these days, I find posters and publicity for the upcoming G8 summit. The leaders of the world’s eight most influential developed countries will be meeting in Gleneagles, Scotland, to discuss matters of international policy in July; and it just so happens that Gleneagles is only a half-hour train ride from Bridge of Allan, where I live.
As you might imagine, this is a big deal for people living in these parts, and massive protests are expected in Gleneagles and Edinburgh. Bob Geldof, the organizer of the Live Aid and, more recently, the Live Eight concerts, is calling on a million people to march in Edinburgh on July 2 as part of the global “Make Poverty History” campaign, which you’ve probably seen ads for on TV. I’m going to march in Edinburgh (not sure about Gleneagles yet, since there are more predictions for violence and arrests at the summit demonstration), and hopefully take in a workshop or two, if only to try and educate myself about the issues at stake.
In my efforts to educate myself so far, I keep coming up against two seemingly opposed points of view—generally speaking, those of activists and campaigners versus those of economists and business journalists.
The Make Poverty History campaign is as good a summary I can find for the arguments coming from the first group. In short, the three aims of the campaign are “trade justice”, “drop the debt” and “more and better aid”. Read their manifesto here.
The most forceful opposing views that I’ve read come from a political columnist named Stephen Pollard (check his bashing of Make Poverty history here or here) and, as usual, The Economist (they charge for the content on their website—hardly surprising—but I’ve provided you with a free copy of one of their recent articles dealing with making poverty history here).
Of course, my gut tells me that I should be siding with Bob Geldof, Bono, and the rest of the Make Poverty History crew instead of capitalist cheerleaders like Stephen Pollard and The Economist, but what do you think? To do my part for making poverty history, should I be representing on the front lines at Gleneagles in the face of tear gas and riot squads, or cruising the high street with my credit card? If anyone’s got a handle on these issues and is willing to take the time to unravel the moral complexities of international policy decisions, please send me an e-mail and take me to school.
Posted by matt at 05:14 PM
November 22, 2004
Moving to Canada - Part 2
This is kind of scary. Check out a map of the US presidential election results. The blue states went for Kerry and the red ones went for Bush:
Now compare it with a pre-civil war map of free states versus slave states. The green states are free, and the red and beige states are either slave states or territories open to slavery.
Finally, check out this fantasy map of "Canada, Version 2.0" for disheartened Americans:
Posted by matt at 11:21 AM
November 08, 2004
Moving to Canada?
Americans attempting to escape four more years of President Bush by fleeing to Canada will have to wait in line, just like immigrants from any other country, the Immigration Ministry said Wednesday.
And the solution for desperate Americans wishing to flee their country:
Posted by matt at 01:17 PM
March 08, 2004
Scientist 'gagged' by No 10 after warning of global warming threat
Sorry to keep harping on the climate change stuff, but I find this kind of news really gets me going:
The Independent: Downing Street tried to muzzle the Government's top scientific adviser after he warned that global warming was a more serious threat than international terrorism.
Ivan Rogers, Mr Blair's principal private secretary, told Sir David King, the Prime Minister's chief scientist, to limit his contact with the media after he made outspoken comments about President George Bush's policy on climate change.
In January, Sir David wrote a scathing article in the American journal Science attacking Washington for failing to take climate change seriously. "In my view, climate change is the most severe problem we are facing today, more serious even than the threat of terrorism," he wrote.
Support for Sir David's view came yesterday from Hans Blix, the former United Nations chief weapons inspector, who said the environment was at least as important a threat as global terrorism. He told BBC1's Breakfast with Frost: "I think we still overestimate the danger of terror. There are other things that are of equal, if not greater, magnitude, like the environmental global risks."
Since Sir David's article in Science was published, No 10 has tried to limit the damage to Anglo-American relations by reining in the Prime Minister's chief scientist.
In a leaked memo, Mr Rogers ordered Sir David - a Cambridge University chemist who offers independent advice to ministers - to decline any interview requests from British and American newspapers and BBC Radio 4's Today .
"To accept such bids runs the risk of turning the debate into a sterile argument about whether or not climate change is a greater risk," Mr Rogers said in the memo, which was sent to Sir David's office in February. "This sort of discussion does not help us achieve our wider policy aims ahead of our G8 presidency [next year]." The move will be seized on by critics of Mr Blair's stance over the Iraq war as further evidence that he is too subservient to the Bush administration. It will also be seen as an attempt to bolster the Prime Minister's case for pre-emptive strikes to combat the threat of international terrorism, which he outlined in a speech on Friday.
Sir David, who is highly regarded by Mr Blair, has been primed with a list of 136 mock questions that the media could ask if they were able to get access to him, and the suggested answers he should be prepared to give. One question asks: "How do the number of deaths caused by climate change and terrorism compare?" The stated answer that Sir David is expected to give says: "The value of any comparison would be highly questionable - we are talking about threats that are intrinsically different."
If Sir David were to find himself pushed to decide whether terrorism or climate change was the greater threat, he was supposed to answer: "Both are serious and immediate problems for the world today." But this was not what Sir David said on the Today programme on 9 January when the Science article was published.
Asked to explain how he had come to the conclusion that global warming was more serious than terrorism, Sir David replied that his equation was "based on the number of fatalities that have already occurred" - implying that global warming has already killed more people than terrorism.
The leaked memo came to light after a computer disk was discovered by an American freelance journalist, Mike Martin, at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Seattle, where Sir David gave a lecture.
"The disk was lying on the top of a computer in the press room and I popped it into the machine to see what was on it," said Mr Martin, whose own article is published on the ScienceNow website, an online service operated by Science.
Mr Rogers' memo, written a few days before the Seattle conference, was aimed at limiting his exposure to questions from US and British media. While in Seattle, Sir David sat on a panel of scientists at one carefully stage-managed press conference, but his press office said he was too busy to give interviews afterwards to journalists.
Lucy Brunt-Jenner, Sir David's press officer, said she could not comment on internal government documents but said it would be wrong to suggest that Sir David was in any way muzzled. "Sir David had a press conference and he was available to the media at three times," Ms Brunt-Jenner said.
But Norman Baker, the Liberal Democrats' environment spokesman, said: "It's a clear attempt by the Prime Minister to keep Sir David quiet. The Government's chief scientist is the nation's chief scientist and I'd expect him to say what he thinks."
Posted by matt at 05:12 PM
March 02, 2004
Climate Change Will Destroy Us, Says Pentagon
This is the bleakest bit of news I've heard in a long time. Bleaker (for me) than the goings on in Haiti. I've had environmentalist friends telling me about the threat of climate change for years, but somehow I continued to assume that I could be aware of it and still live my life without constantly worrying. It was just one more of those complicated problems that made me feel powerless and ineffective. Nothing new there. But I also secretly believed that if there was an environmental threat so real that it would actually destroy the planet in my lifetime, surely all the experts and governments and world leaders would be doing something to avoid the destruction of the human race. Apparently not.
The Observer: A secret report, suppressed by US defence chiefs and obtained by The Observer, warns that major European cities will be sunk beneath rising seas as Britain is plunged into a 'Siberian' climate by 2020. Nuclear conflict, mega-droughts, famine and widespread rioting will erupt across the world.
The document predicts that abrupt climate change could bring the planet to the edge of anarchy as countries develop a nuclear threat to defend and secure dwindling food, water and energy supplies. The threat to global stability vastly eclipses that of terrorism, say the few experts privy to its contents. 'Disruption and conflict will be endemic features of life,' concludes the Pentagon analysis. 'Once again, warfare would define human life.'
The findings will prove humiliating to the Bush administration, which has repeatedly denied that climate change even exists. Experts said that they will also make unsettling reading for a President who has insisted national defence is a priority.
Climate change 'should be elevated beyond a scientific debate to a US national security concern', say the authors, Peter Schwartz, CIA consultant and former head of planning at Royal Dutch/Shell Group, and Doug Randall of the California-based Global Business Network. An imminent scenario of catastrophic climate change is 'plausible and would challenge United States national security in ways that should be considered immediately', they conclude. As early as next year widespread flooding by a rise in sea levels will create major upheaval for millions.
Last week the Bush administration came under heavy fire from a large body of respected scientists who claimed that it cherry-picked science to suit its policy agenda and suppressed studies that it did not like. Jeremy Symons, a former whistleblower at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), said that suppression of the report for four months was a further example of the White House trying to bury the threat of climate change.
Bob Watson, chief scientist for the World Bank and former chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, added that the Pentagon's dire warnings could no longer be ignored. 'Can Bush ignore the Pentagon? It's going be hard to blow off this sort of document. Its hugely embarrassing. After all, Bush's single highest priority is national defence. The Pentagon is no wacko, liberal group, generally speaking it is conservative. If climate change is a threat to national security and the economy, then he has to act. There are two groups the Bush Administration tend to listen to, the oil lobby and the Pentagon,' added Watson.
Already, according to Randall and Schwartz, the planet is carrying a higher population than it can sustain. By 2020 'catastrophic' shortages of water and energy supply will become increasingly harder to overcome, plunging the planet into war. Randall told The Observer that the potential ramifications of rapid climate change would create global chaos. 'This is depressing stuff,' he said. 'It is a national security threat that is unique because there is no enemy to point your guns at and we have no control over the threat.' Randall added that it was already possibly too late to prevent a disaster happening.
So dramatic are the report's scenarios, Watson said, that they may prove vital in the US elections. Democratic frontrunner John Kerry is known to accept climate change as a real problem. Scientists disillusioned with Bush's stance are threatening to make sure Kerry uses the Pentagon report in his campaign.
Let's hope that climate change does become the dominant issue in this year's elections, but - call me a cynic - I suspect that it won't. I also have to admit that this is the kind of news story that makes me seriously question the point of spending my energy on a project as frivolous as a PhD about music and culture. The only problem is, I don't what else I could that would make any difference - if someone wants to offer me room and board in exchange for quitting school and devoting myself to rocking the system, I might just be up for it.
Posted by matt at 03:31 PM
February 03, 2004
North Korea is testing new chemical weapons on women and children
I can't believe no one is covering this. Anyone who watches the news is aware that North Korea has an active nuclear weapons program. But as I watched a BBC documentary last Sunday night, I was shocked to learn that there is evidence that demonstrates that the North Korean government is conducting biological and chemical weapons experiments on humans.
BBC: North Korea remains isolated and in fear of an Iraq-style invasion from the United States. International crisis talks continue over the regime's nuclear weapons programme. But [the BBC] has uncovered evidence of another more chilling evil: that North Korea is testing new chemical weapons on women and children.
Hundreds of thousands of people are imprisoned without charge. It's not because they have committed a crime. It is because their relatives are believed to be critical of the regime and so they are punished. According to President Kim Jong Il, the bad blood and seed of any dissident must be rooted out down to three generations.
Why is this not news?
Posted by matt at 03:50 PM
January 26, 2004
Corporate Social Responsibility, or two-faced capitalism
There's a thought-provoking piece in the change in strategy among activists toward getting corporations to conduct their business ethically. As usual, however, the Economist staff end on a particularly idiotic note. Here are the last few paragraphs:
The Economist: This week Christian Aid … published a report claiming to reveal the true face of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). The charity is “calling on politicians to take responsibility for the ethical operation of companies rather than surrendering it to those from business peddling fine words and lofty sentiments.” … It regards CSR as a “burgeoning industry...now seen as a vital tool in promoting and improving the public image of some of the world's largest companies and corporations.”
The report features case studies of Shell, British American Tobacco (BAT) and Coca-Cola—all of them, it says, noted for paying lip-service to CSR while “making things worse for the communities in which they work.” Shell, says the report, claims to be a good neighbour, but leaves oil spills unattended to. Its community-development projects are “frequently ineffective”. BAT, it says, claims to give farmers training and protective clothes; contract farmers in Kenya and Brazil say otherwise. Coca-Cola promises to use natural resources responsibly. The report accuses an Indian subsidiary of depleting village wells. So, “instead of talking about more voluntary CSR in Davos, government...should be discussing how new laws can raise standards of corporate behaviour.”
This is a switch. CSR was conjured up in the first place because government action was deemed inadequate: orthodox politics was a sham, so pressure had to be put directly on firms by organised protest. Ten years on, instead of declaring victory, as well they might, disenchanted NGOs like Christian Aid are coming to regard CSR as the greater sham, and are calling on governments to resume their duties. Might this be a sign … that CSR has finally peaked? If so, it might be no bad thing. If bosses are no longer to get credit for pandering to their critics, they may as well go back to doing their jobs.
The problem is, of course, that the corporate bosses