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Editors' Picks

Asylum seekers facing lifetime ban from Australia

The Australian government is planning to ban asylum seekers who reach Australia by boat from ever being allowed into the country.

Australia already deflects responsibility for asylum seekers arriving by boat by sending them to third countries like Nauru, where asylum seekers have been committing suicide in protest of the unbearable living conditions.

This new policy would extend the rejection of responsibility for these desperate people by banning them from ever entering Australia on any visa, even as tourists or as spouses. Even if they are one day resettled refugees in another country, they will never be allowed into Australia, even just to visit.

What this proves is that Australia’s shameless „stop the boats“ policy was never about protecting people from human trafficking, as has been claimed, but about punishing desperate people for something that is not a crime: seeking asylum.

This ban would imply that seeking asylum is a crime.

It would mar blameless refugees with a permanent tag, separate families, and prevent Australia from reaping the benefits of refugees‘ skills, many of whom go on to contribute generously to their new home countries.

Meanwhile, New Zealand has offered to resettle a number of the asylum seekers currently in detention on Nauru and Manus Island, but Australia has refused the offer.

Seems like the Australian government really just wants these people to languish in squalidity.

Paris is not enough

The Paris treaty that seeks to combat climate change came into effect last week, a year on from a historic summit held in the French capital. So far ratified by over 100 countries, the global treaty aims to hold the increase of global temperatures below 2ºC above pre-industrial levels. Furthermore, the agreement aims to achieve net-zero emissions within the second half of this century.

However, in the past year few countries shown real commitment to the goal despite signing the international treaty, which large emitters such as Russia, Australia or Japan have not even done. Besides the reduction of greenhouse-gas emissions, the development of alternative energy sources and food production are among the agreement´s objectives. Unfortunately, few national governments have shown any effort in their pursuit of these targets.

The lack of governmental willingness is exemplified by the UK. Last week environmental lawyers from the NGO ClientEarth won a legal battle against the British Government in a case over harmful air pollution levels. For the second time in two years, the High Court in London ruled that Westminster has not done enough to clean up air pollution, considering the measures adopted to reduce the levels of nitrogen dioxide as too weak. The Big Smoke, duly named for the infamous smog that surrounded the capital during the Victorian era, is stilled plagued by poor air quality, which today causes the premature death to up to 10,000 Londoners per year.

This week a new global climate summit takes place in Marrakech, Morroco, where more than 200 countries will try to outline the implementation of the Paris treaty. Stronger and more substantial measures are hoped for, forcing significant reductions in the emission of greenhouse gases, and paving the way for truly sustainable development.

Simple, sensible Susan

Being a fool is easy. Being an effective fool is super difficult. Just ask Suzanne Evans, a UKIP figure vying for its leadership, once beloved of party stalwarts (including Mr. N. Farage), she has since fallen from grace from the party leadership eyes, and is now positioning herself as the „sensible candidate“ for the UKIP party leadership.

That would be all well and good, if she didn’t frequently say and do and defend ridiculous things. While we’ve all become used to Trump, Farage, Le Pen and others only opening their mouths to let whatever Einstein-level thought come tumbling out, what we hear from Suzanne Evans is proof that ridiculous, foolish ideas have entered the realm of the sensible.

„Why shouldn’t judges have to account for interventions frustrating referendums or manifesto commitments? No demands but we should debate“, she tweeted recently, after her appearance on flagship current affairs BBC Radio 4 show, „Today Show“, where she appeared to be reading prepared remarks to presenter John Humphries, claiming that the recent high court ruling on Brexit showed that judges needed to be „accountable“ for their actions.

In effect, this means – because Suzanne Evans didn’t like what the judges said (that triggering article 50 – the mechanism to initiate the UK leaving the EU – will have to be decided by parliament, not the executive branch), she is willing to call out the judiciary for bias, lack of accountability and normative-decision making. This is foolish. This is ridiculous. This is what fascism looks like – sure there were evil monsters rampaging across Europe some 70 years ago, but we have to remember Arendt’s description, that evil is banal. It’s boring – it’s normal – it’s sensible. It’s people simply doing their jobs and doing them well, right – because if the system is producing results you don’t like, you say that the system should be changed, right? Sensible, see.

However, the long process behind the separation of powers of judicial, executive and legislative is one of the most impressive and important legacies of the englightenment. We’re entering days where you don’t have to be an orange billionaire or a nutcase defender of the people from the City of London to get national coverage, questioning the legitimacy of institutions for the results it has produced – not because it may very well be systemically flawed. We’re in days when it’s totally normal now, to say that judges should be sacked if they, well, follow the law and do their job. When the law is inadequate, improve the law – don’t decimate the people. Suzanne Evans is a fool. And that’s super easy to say – but defending sometimes difficult institutions – that’s super hard, and super necessary.

Afghanistan: Losing the battle of hearts and minds

Back to back incidents of mass civilian casualties in Afghanistan have seriously undermined the credibility of the nascent Afghan forces as well as their international allies; particularly the U.S.

The U.S forces hit a residential compound in eastern Nangarhar province in September where according to the locals, civilians had gathered to welcome a local elder from the Hajj pilgrimage. 18 people were killed in this attack. This was followed by more deadly air raids by the U.S. and Afghan forces in northern Kunduz province on November 03. Officials have confirmed some 30 civilians, including women and children died in these raids but, locals claims the figure of civilian casualties in these attacks are much higher.

The strategic city of Kunduz bordering Tajikistan has twice been briefly captured by the Taliban in a year’s time possibly because the local population is fed-up with the local anti-Taliban warlords and the NATO forces.

It is worth remembering that Kunudz was the site of a similar tragedy some 7 years ago when responding to a call by German forces, an American F-15E fighter jet struck two fuel tankers captured by Taliban insurgents, killing over 90 civilians in the attack. This incident took place on 4 September 2009.

Then again, On 3 October 2015, a United States Air Force AC-130U gunship attacked the Kunduz Trauma Centre operated by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), or Doctors Without Borders in Kunduz, killing at least 42 people, including medical staff, and over 30 were injured

A UN report on Afghanistan published in July showed a record number of civilian casualties since counting began in 2009, with 5,166 civilians recorded killed or maimed in just the first six months of this year, of whom almost one-third were children. The total civilian casualty figure recorded by the UN between 1 January 2009 and 30 June 2016 has risen to 63,934, including 22,941 deaths and 40,993 injured.

In Afghanistan, where the Taliban, the ISIS and other militants are already very active with the propaganda on the social media, such incidents can easily deprive the Afghan and international forces the hard-earned respect and legitimacy, which can ultimately turn the tables on them in this long battle.

Facebook check-ins as legitimate soft power: the Dakota Access pipeline

By now you’ve probably seen at least one of your Facebook friends ‚check in‘ to Standing Rock Indian Reservation.

In case you’re still feeling left out: no, they haven’t fled to the latest iteration of Woodstock and left you behind. And they didn’t go on a work trip and forget to tell you about it.

Rather, it’s a strategic move to protect protesters at the site from what some say is an attempt by police to track protesters at the site using Facebook.

Some say this is a hoax, but whether it is or not, 1 million people checked in to the site on Facebook over the past couple of days from all over the world. If anything, it’s a strong show of solidarity.

So what are they protesting? The Dakota Access pipeline, an oil project that will tear through Native American lands. Members of the Standing Rock tribe say this could contaminate their water supply and threaten their cultural heritage. The pipeline’s construction has already disrupted sacred burial grounds.

Activists – both Native Americans and other supporters – have been gathering in large numbers at Standing Rock, creating a huge camp which is now in a standoff with militarised police.

Hundreds have been arrested and a video showed police firing rubber bullets at some protests blocking the construction.

The protesters have drawn support from other indigenous peoples across the globe, as well as other supporters. And the international pressure – quite possibly created by the mass Facebook check ins – has pushed Obama to make a statement after remaining silent on the issue for weeks.

On Tuesday he said “We’re monitoring this closely and I think as a general rule, my view is that there is a way for us to accommodate sacred lands of Native Americans, and I think that right now the army corps is examining whether there are ways to reroute this pipeline.” 

Sure, he’s covering his bases. But keeping the possibility for rerouting on the table is an important statement. He didn’t have to say that.

So what will happen to the $3.8bil pipeline hangs in the balance. It could all play out very differently following the US presidential election next week.

Because guess who has close financial ties to the pipeline operator? Let’s just call him „Ivanka’s dad„.

Read more about oil in our dossier Beyond Petroleum.

When your crime is being an immigrant

They have committed no crime. But they have been treated like criminals. Their only fault was embarking on often perilous journeys from their home countries and arriving in Spain without documents. Many risked their lives travelling through Africa and crossing the Mediterranean on rudimentary dinghies.

Recently, a peaceful mutiny brought the attention to the controversial migrant detention Centre (CIE), in Aluche, Madrid. 40 migrants, the majority of them from Algeria, climbed to the rooftop of the building demanding “freedom” and “dignity” and spent the night there protesting against the centre’s poor conditions.

After the mutiny, detainees also complained of physical and verbal abuse inflicted by the police, which motivated judges to order the installation of surveillance cameras inside the building. Previously, other centres throughout the country had been criticised for irregularities. In Spain the legal status regulating these detention centres has become a blurred grey area, since they are not officially prisons but in fact operate as such.

Consequently, several NGOs and civic associations have called for the closure of the CIE, including Madrid’s mayor, former judge Manuela Carmena, who labelled it a “failed institution” since it has not met its target of deporting irregular migrants within a two-month period. Madrid City Council further describes this issue as “unjust and immoral”.

The maintenance of these institutions is an embarrassment to Spain and its citizens. Depriving someone’s liberty for arriving in a country without necessary documentation at random should never be seen as an acceptable measure.

CETA sneaks through

One of the more curious facts about Europe at the moment, is that as conservatism grows across the continent, more radical, culture-shifting policies are pushed through. Brexit, potentially the most destabilizing political move in European post-war history, was delivered by a bunch of socially-conservative, timid people in a continent full of socially-conservative, timid people. More and more policies seem to veer in this direction – vast policy offerings with tremendous social implications. TTIP was an attempt in this vein, and it failed. CETA passed.

The Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement will eliminate all but 2% of the tariffs existing between the EU and Canada. After all EU nations agreed to CETA, only objections by Belgian farmers held up the deal last week. They were mollified however, and the deal was signed over the course of the weekend. While the deal will still have to be properly affirmed through individual countries‘ legislative bodies, it is all but done.

The deal will enable Canada to trade with the EU and therefore become less reliant on the US as a trading partner; The EU has secured its first deal with a G7 member, which strengthens the possibility that the Transatlantic Trade deal with the US will be revived shortly. Economists and neoliberal politicians have hailed CETA as a monumental step forward, with the President of the EC, Jean-Claude Juncker saying ‚all’s well that ends well‘.

Why are people against CETA – it provides economic growth and jobs, after all?

Well, opposition to CETA say that the reduction in tariffs will lead to a neoliberal-style free-trading, which normally means – poor people in poor countries produce goods for rich countries, and producers in rich countries are driven out by this competition. It also normally means those poor people in poor countries remain poor, and the rich in rich countries get richer. Normally.

CETA critics also claim it will make it easier for corporations to challenge governments on a legal basis, much like the Phillip Morris/ Australia case.

Lack of transparency: Throughout the entire negotiation process, CETA excluded civil society groups and society at large.

Well, it’s through now. However, opposition to CETA groups are still urging people to challenge their national governments over the decision.

The last Ocean, the last healthy patient.

„Ross Sea?, ROSS Sea?“ asks the New York City pedestrian the interviewer. „Where is that? East or West of Manhattan?“ 

Why New York? The tooth fish, for better marketing reasons labeled as Chilean Sea Bass, is being caught in large amounts and served in the most expensive restaurants primarily in North America. 

If you’re not a regular guest of these restaurants, you might not have heard of Ross Sea before either, until today, after 24 countries and the European Union, and years of negotiation came to together and decided to preserve 1,6 million square kilometers of ocean in the Antartica. Thus, this remote part of the Southern Ocean will gain protection from commercial fishing for 35 years.

The Ross Sea, its shelf and slope only comprise 2% of the Southern Ocean but they are home to 38% of the world’s Adelie penguins, 30% of the world’s Antarctic petrels and around 6% of the world’s population of Antarctic minke whales. 

The main cause for exploitation of the Ross Sea is commercial fishing, which began in 1996 when a single fishing vessel from New Zealand entered the pristine waters of the Ross Sea and discovered large numbers of Antarctic toothfish, a close relative of Patagonian toothfish. As news of this untapped resource spread, an international fishery soon developed.

The Ross Sea is the most pristine piece of Ocean on our suffering planet. Can you imagine that is the very last resort of our entire marine ecosystem that is somehow intact?

We have exploited and polluted our oceans so much, that scientists say this is our last chance to preserve a healthy bit of our marine ecosystem. We’ve come to a point that we need the Ross Sea as a laboratory to do research in an almost fully functioning natural ecosystem. In other words the Ross Sea is our last healthy test subject within a sick population – like a doctor who examines the last healthy patient to find a cure to heal the rest. 

We have now 35 years until the agreement expires. In the meantime  Marine Conservation Institute, a leader in securing strong protection for the world’s oceans, urges world leaders to protect 30% of the planet’s oceans by 2030. 

That’s the next goal!

You can visit Last Ocean for further information, see the trailer of the documentary on the Ross Sea and sign to become a friend of the movement.

Panda. Panda. Panda, panda, panda, panda, panda.

In his song ‚Panda‘, Desiigner, the rapper likens a car, the BMW X6 to a panda – ‚Black X6 phantom, White X6 look like a panda.‘

The song was a global hit, and even sampled by Kanye West on his album, ‚The Life of Pablo‘. But irony of ironies, the White X6 which is likened to the panda, might signal the end of the world’s cutest animal. Not directly, of course, but a new report compiled by the Living Planet Index shows that by 2020, the world’s wild animal population may plummet to as low as one-third of their original sizes.

Between 1970-2012, global animal populations in the world dropped by 585 – and various causes have been used to describe why: Changing temperatures, the destruction of natural habitats, poaching and pollution.

While the report is striking in its conclusions, some have been reserved about its headline figure. The Guardian reported: “It is broadly right, but the whole is less than the sum of the parts,” said Prof Stuart Pimm, at Duke University in the US, adding that looking at particular groups, such as birds, is more precise.

If the report is to be believed directly, then we are in big trouble – however, conservation efforts have recently been paying off, with the Giant Panda recently taken off endangered lists. Saying that, it does still kind of look like a car.