June 26, 2019  

Two new flags will be flying high at the Olympic Games in Rio.

For the first time, South Sudan and Kosovo have been recognized by the International Olympic Committee. Kosovo, which was a province of the former Yugoslavia, will have 8 athletes competing; and a good shot for a medal in women's judo: Majlinda Kelmendi is considered a favorite. She's ranked first in the world in her weight class.

(South Sudan's James Chiengjiek, Yiech Biel & coach Joe Domongole, © AFP) South Sudan, which became independent in 2011, will have three runners competing in the country's first Olympic Games.

When Will Chile's Post Office's Re-open? 

(PHOTO: Workers set up camp at Santiago's Rio Mapocho/Mason Bryan, The Santiago Times)Chile nears 1 month without mail service as postal worker protests continue. This week local branches of the 5 unions representing Correos de Chile voted on whether to continue their strike into a 2nd month, rejecting the union's offer. For a week the workers have set up camp on the banks of Santiago's Río Mapocho displaying banners outlining their demands; framing the issue as a division of the rich & the poor. The strike’s main slogan? “Si tocan a uno, nos tocan a todos,” it reads - if it affects 1 of us, it affects all of us. (Read more at The Santiago Times)

WHO convenes emergency talks on MERS virus


(PHOTO: Saudi men walk to the King Fahad hospital in the city of Hofuf, east of the capital Riyadh on June 16, 2013/Fayez Nureldine)The World Health Organization announced Friday it had convened emergency talks on the enigmatic, deadly MERS virus, which is striking hardest in Saudi Arabia. The move comes amid concern about the potential impact of October's Islamic hajj pilgrimage, when millions of people from around the globe will head to & from Saudi Arabia.  WHO health security chief Keiji Fukuda said the MERS meeting would take place Tuesday as a telephone conference & he  told reporters it was a "proactive move".  The meeting could decide whether to label MERS an international health emergency, he added.  The first recorded MERS death was in June 2012 in Saudi Arabia & the number of infections has ticked up, with almost 20 per month in April, May & June taking it to 79.  (Read more at Xinhua)



Dreams and nightmares - Chinese leaders have come to realize the country should become a great paladin of the free market & democracy & embrace them strongly, just as the West is rejecting them because it's realizing they're backfiring. This is the "Chinese Dream" - working better than the American dream.  Or is it just too fanciful?  By Francesco Sisci

Baby step towards democracy in Myanmar  - While the sweeping wins Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy has projected in Sunday's by-elections haven't been confirmed, it is certain that the surging grassroots support on display has put Myanmar's military-backed ruling party on notice. By Brian McCartan

The South: Busy at the polls - South Korea's parliamentary polls will indicate how potent a national backlash is against President Lee Myung-bak's conservatism, perceived cronyism & pro-conglomerate policies, while offering insight into December's presidential vote. Desire for change in the macho milieu of politics in Seoul can be seen in a proliferation of female candidates.  By Aidan Foster-Carter  

Pakistan climbs 'wind' league - Pakistan is turning to wind power to help ease its desperate shortage of energy,& the country could soon be among the world's top 20 producers. Workers & farmers, their land taken for the turbine towers, may be the last to benefit.  By Zofeen Ebrahim

Turkey cuts Iran oil imports - Turkey is to slash its Iranian oil imports as it seeks exemptions from United States penalties linked to sanctions against Tehran. Less noticed, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in the Iranian capital last week, signed deals aimed at doubling trade between the two countries.  By Robert M. Cutler



CARTOON: Peter Broelman, Australia/BROELMAN.com.au)


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Entries in Walmart (2)


Exploiting the Commons - Time to Change Course (PERSPECTIVE)

The poor are the most heavily impacted by exploitation of the environment, argues Ashton. CREDIT: HUMNEWSBy Glenn Ashton

The business of exploiting the natural resources of the world for profit continues at an ever-increasing rate. While people are the generally unwitting drivers of exploitation and damage to natural resources, the real driver is laissez faire capitalism, as pursued by the dominant corporate-political nexus.

We all rely on our collective natural resources – water, air, soil, natural diversity – to keep us alive. This is the natural commons of the planet, the common property of all living organisms, which happens to include humans. The commons includes the biosphere, the living aspect of the planet that sustains the web of life upon which we are each individually and collectively dependent. 

We each have a collective interest and ownership of the commons. The commons is on loan to present generations from future generations yet to be born. Accordingly we individually and collectively bear responsibility to maintain the natural commons in a condition that is as pristine and unspoiled as possible.

The reality is that large commercial entities rely on exploiting the commons to provide the resources and services from which they profit. In doing so the commons is exploited for private gain. Any and all negative impacts on the commons are externalised. Thus the real long-term cost and impact of exploiting the commons is indirectly borne by every living species that inhabits our biosphere. Degradation of any single aspect of the common space inevitably has knock-on impacts in this interconnected world. 

Pollution of the air, water, land or destruction and exploitation of biodiversity are today taken for granted. These collective impacts are now exhibiting such a massive impact on the collective planetary organism, that life as we know it is in distinct danger of unravelling.

James Martin, who predicted the Internet and cell phones in the 1960's, is founder of Oxford University's 21st Century School. He hired the world's top brains to predict future scenarios. Their collective conclusion was that, should we continue as we are there will be a few breeding pairs of humans left at the poles by the end of this century. This may seem extreme to us in our comfortable cocoon, but the everyday reality of extinction faces not only humanity but many other species of life on earth.

Water resources are under extreme pressure in many parts of the developing world. CREDIT: M Bociurkiw/HUMNEWSCorporations engage with the public through advertising and public relations to sell as much of their product as possible. On the other they insist that they have green credentials. The inherent contradiction of these claims is visible to anyone prepared to look.

Through carefully devised psychology, through which they justify their impacts as essential to our collective well being, industry does its utmost to portray itself to society as benign. This is now commonly termed “greenwashing,” the whitewashing of negative environmental impacts.

In reality, greenwash has become the status quo. Its practitioners realise precisely how they dishonestly portray their destructive practices as “green.” The massive PR industry, involved in both spin and advertising, work only to hoodwink us, the public. And in order to feel okay we want to believe the lies. 

In this regard South Africans are essentially more vulnerable than most other nations because of our high levels of inequality and poverty. 

The motivation for exploitation of the commons is portrayed as an ongoing attempt to create employment, to provide services for those attempting to escape the poverty trap, to create wealth and prosperity for all. The alternative, we are reminded, is too awful to contemplate.

The reality is somewhat different. The garden path we are being led down is actually creating the circumstances which are truly too awful to contemplate. The commons has been so badly eroded that the well being of future generations has already become irrevocably compromised. 

We need to ask whether we are going about things the right way. 

We grow our food in ways that waste water, that pollute water and that erode the land. The very practice of intensive, industrial agriculture is ultimately a destructive practice, from the level of soil biodiversity at the bottom, to the impacts on mega-biodiversity above. The external costs and impacts on our collective commons are far higher than the benefit we reap from the crops we harvest.

Our ways of providing energy destroy the very fabric of the land. Mining coal creates acid mine drainage, polluting water sources. The atmosphere is a dumping ground for greenhouse and noxious gases and poisons. We are left with heaps of slag and biologically sterile waste. While the health impacts are borne by all, the poorest are least able to cushion themselves against these impacts on the natural world.

It has become increasingly difficult for the common man to decide just who the good guys are. For instance the very organisation that is tasked with monitoring and managing the impacts of these activities on our collective commons, which maintains the global database of threatened species, a huge organisation known as Conservation International (CI), is funded directly by some of the worlds most pernicious polluters.

ArcelorMittal, BHP Billiton, BP, Cargill, Chevron, Coca-Cola, De Beers, Goldman Sachs, Kraft Foods, MacDonald’s, Monsanto, Newmont Mining, Northrop Grumman Corporation, Rio Tinto, Shell, Walmart and many other major corporations fund CI. The contradictions in accepting funding while promoting conservation were recently pointed out in an excellent article by Chris Lang.

Other reputable conservation organisations like the World Wildlife Fund are funded by a similar list of corporate partners. Coca-Cola, IBM, HP, Toyota, Walmart, IKEA, Cargill, Goldman Sachs, HSBC and many others are directly involved in funding this self-appointed conservation organisation. 

This is not to say that organisations like WWF and CI are evil or that their motivation is to undermine our collective commons. The real issue is that these supposed guardians of the global commons, of our collective biosphere, are profoundly compromised through their ties to industry, just as our governments are more responsive to corporate interests than to those of their citizens. 

These organisations cannot truly claim to provide actual, meaningful or sustainable solutions to the problems of deforestation, of over fishing, of global warming, or to change the global industrial agricultural paradigm if they are so compromised by their funders. WWF is even involved in a programme called the Roundtable on Sustainable Soy that benefits major agricultural entities like Monsanto and Cargill, while simultaneously destroying our common biodiversity.

Even groups like Greenpeace, portrayed as radical environmental campaigners are compromised by their intrinsic ties to the exploitative economic system. Of course all of these organisations will howl against these allegations but what else are they to do? Yet it is notable that more radical groups like Earth First and the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society are gaining a broader credence that ties in with the forceful arguments made by thinkers like Derrick Jensen, Joanna Macey and Vandana Shiva.

While the poorest are the most profoundly impacted, those protesting the exploitation are largely relatively wealthy and well educated. This creates a major disconnect about who speaks for who. Do the poor and exploited actually have any voice at all in this debate? The reality is that they are effectively gagged by many of very same organisations that claim to speak for them. Consultation and stakeholder agreements are tools to placate wealthy interests while the “bottom billion” or two remain outside the negotiation tent, as do most other species on earth.

So at the heart of it our existing system is broken. We, together our institutions, are too compromised to truly care for the commons. Changing our system is assumed to be a quixotic quest. Yet there are certainly other, better ways of doing things than continuing down the road we are being led down by governments, dictated to in turn by the lords of corporate and free market ideology. 

Many hoped, in a perverse kind of way that the global economic crisis of 2008 would prove so disruptive to the dominant economic model that something new would be able to emerge. That was not to be. However our model of endless growth, founded upon continued externalisation of its environmental impact will certainly founder, probably sooner rather than later. We cannot continue as we are. 

So surely we must begin to adapt our systems, now? We must explore ways that are utterly different to our dominant, exploitative economic model. New economics, the zero growth model, green capitalism, triple bottom line accounting and so on are all ideas that have been floated. But are they enough? 

These are not questions we have much time to contemplate. They should be placed at the top of our list of priorities. The alternative is simple – the extinction of people, along with the systems that sustained them. Surely examining our rather uncomfortable predicament can no longer be postponed? It can certainly no longer be sidetracked by the oligarchy that controls the corporate-political nexus. 

Perhaps a real starting point would be to meaningfully redistribute the ill-gotten gains from the 1% at the top that control nearly half of the worlds wealth and to use this to begin to apply first aid to an ailing world and society? It is not only the poor who are staring down the barrel of desperation but increasingly the exploited middle and emerging middle classes as well. 

At its root this discussion is not only about class or structure, it is one that affects us all; together with every living thing that shares our world. It must be prioritised. Our failure to embrace fundamental change condemns our children to a world closer to hell than to heaven.

Ashton is a writer and researcher working in civil society. Some of his work can be viewed at www.ekogaia.org. This article first appeared on the site of the South Africa Civil Society Information Service (SACSIS)



With Food Prices Rising, People Revolting, Is Wal-Mart Really the Answer to America’s Unhealthy Food Crisis?

- a commentary by Cynthia Thomet

A recent Bloomberg report entitled, “Mexico prices rose more than expected last month [December 2010],” confirms a feeling that I couldn’t quite put my finger on until I read this piece—an increasing and incremental sour pinch on my pocketbook every time I go to the grocery store.

My HUMNews editor suggested I write about lemons for this PeaceMeal story. It is a food that is enjoyed by numerous cultures all around the world, she said. I started to dream about it as the ingredient that could unite us as a people. That is, if we could all afford it this year!

Yes, my friends, food prices are on the rise. So, it seemed only appropriate to write about this other food-related issue that we all share in common: inflation.

Back when I wrote my last PeaceMeal column, there were rumblings about this becoming a serious issue in 2011. Like clockwork, the Guardian  reported in our first week of 2011 that “soaring prices of sugar, grain and oilseed drove world food prices to a record in December, surpassing the levels of 2008 when the cost of food sparked riots around the world, and prompting warnings of prices being in ‘danger territory’.”

January 2011 has not even ended, and we are witnessing protests and riots in Algeria , Tunisia, and Jordan  In northern Nigeria, the prices of onions have more than doubled – ditto for India! And UNICEF reports that the number of mothers bringing their severely malnourished kids to feeding centers in Niger has spiked in recent weeks – due, in part, to higher food prices.

Back here in Atlanta, where I live, I have begun to see prices rising significantly at the local restaurant supplier that sells bulk produce, grains, packaged foods and beverages to area restaurants, bodegas and local merchants. And it’s been making me feel particularly vulnerable to all the forces that are out there: mother earth and weather, political forces here and abroad, economies local and distant.

Rising food prices is what political revolutions are made of. The French revolution was catalyzed by famine and hunger, and now we’re seeing some of the same scathing language from Jordanian protesters: “Unify yourselves because the government wants to eat your flesh.” (It’s enough to make you skip the meat aisle.)

At the same time, I couldn’t help being caught up (and even a little distracted) by the public relations partnership between Wal-mart and Michelle Obama for their healthy foods initiative  Yes, obesity and unhealthful eating are major problems in the United States. Yes, there are many “food deserts” around the country where low income peoples have little access to unprocessed foods. And, yes, Wal-mart is promising to change the quality of processed foods so they are healthier. But it ignores the fact that Wal-mart still wants consumers to purchase processed foods, because, frankly, that’s where the money is made.

My opinion: it’s just a PR initiative designed to secure a consumer body for a billion-dollar big box business that needs tax breaks and a seat at the government dinner table. I have always had the hunch that the very processing of foods is what diminishes the value inherent in any food, and I have recently found that there are scientists who have been researching this phenomenon. (Visit this article  to kick-start any research in the issue. It’s fascinating!)

But in the greater scheme of things, I think the Wal-mart initiative is really missing the mark, as far as true change is concerned. The PR rhetoric sounds almost like, “Why don’t they eat healthier cake?” when some of the major food issues facing the regular American public include:

  • How global food production is run, managed, controlled and directed by a small number of major international food corporations.
  • How food distribution and pricing is controlled by a small number of major international food corporations.
  • How the major food corporations want to create a deeper dependency on processed foods, because of their greater profit margin returns.

It just seems that simplifying and downscaling the food production process could be the better way to go.

So, while President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali of Tunisia freaks out from the cresting wave of protests and flees Tunis (and packs up his gold bars and family , I’m turning a lemon around in my hand wondering whether the First Lady is conscious that even a fresh lemon as a garnish in water is a luxury many Americans could never afford—even if purchased from Wal-mart.

Seriously though, it is hard for me to listen to Wal-mart’s commitment to pass on its best prices to the consumer without thinking that their negotiation strategy doesn’t involve bullying local farmers into bending to the big box’s exclusivity will.

Cynthia Thomet is a humanitarian, a food lover and co owner and doyenne of the award winning downtown Atlanta, Georgia; US restaurant, Lunacy Black Market. http://www.lunacyblackmarket.com/.  You can find Cynthia's own blog here: http://thoughtfulcyn.wordpress.com/.   Her pieces for HUMNEWS search for the intersection between food and humanity, and how meals unite us.