April 30, 2006

Profit and Nothing But

Posted in Environment at 2:22 pm by greatparanoiac

protest.jpgOn Friday, oil companies posted their quarterly earnings. Chevron made $4 billion this period, that’s almost a 50% increase from this time last year. Exxon Mobil’s reported quarterly profit was $8.4 billion; more than double that of Chevron. Combined with ConocoPhillips earnings of $3.3 billion, the three companies took in nearly $16 billion in three months.

If that’s not shocking enough, these figures are separate from revenue; the revenue for all three companies in the first quarter was almost $192 billion.  The Associated Press reported this amount as being “more than the individual gross domestic products of 189 different countries, including Chile, Peru or Venezuela.”
 
Since the price of a barrel (now at $75) of oil only seems to be increasing, we can expect next quarter earnings to be just as high. This is amazing.  Of course politicians don’t do anything more than pandering to constituents. I’m sure there will be investigations of some sort. And the oil companies are unapologetic. Why should they apologize right? They work hard for their money–and all those suckers who have to wake up at 5:30am and carpool to work because they can’t afford gas aren’t trying hard enough.

“Our company is in an excellent position to continue adding value for our stockholders and helping to satisfy the energy needs of the world economies,” Chevron Chairman David O’Reilly said.

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April 29, 2006

Wanted: Good Home for Former Dictator

Posted in International Politics, Liberia at 8:08 pm by greatparanoiac

I saw this press release from Human Rights Watch, “Taylor Trial: A Third Country Must Step Forward.”

It seems before our old boy Charles Taylor can get a trial at The Hague, a country (presumably one not involved in the conflict) has to offer to put him up in prison, if he is convicted of crimes against humanity. Until this happens Taylor’s trial remains stalled.

I can’t believe this…I thought for sure…countries would be lining up ready to offer a cold, dank 4×6 room with primitive plumbing for the International Criminal Court’s first major trial. Taylor is one of the top dogs in West Africa when it comes to human rights abuses. Who else can have a country terrorized for eight years as a guerrilla leader–and still win ‘free and fair’ (wink, wink) elections. The press release said:

“Liberia’s new president took a real risk by requesting Taylor’s surrender, and security concerns prompted the Special Court to request relocating the trial to The Hague,” said Richard Dicker, International Justice director at  Human Rights Watch. “How can other countries now sit back and do nothing?”  

taylor.jpgHow come other countries aren’t stepping up? What about the U.S? Did it run out of room in Guantanamo already? No vacancies at Abu Ghraib? Oh, that’s right…the U.S. isn’t a signatory to the ICC. Well, perhaps the administration has enough problems. 

I think it is crucial for West Africans to know they do have accessibility to the ICC and Taylor will still be held responsible for his actions despite these setbacks. We should start planning now if in the next ten years the Iraqi people decide to take Rumsfeld or Cheney to the ICC and charge them with war crimes.

Oh I have a feeling there will be no problem finding a place to keep them in lockdown… 

April 28, 2006

Access to AIDS Treatment: An Equity Issue

Posted in Africa, AIDS at 3:57 pm by greatparanoiac

big pharma.jpgI promise to keep this short–over the weekend I wrote a post on the impact the Big Pharma is having on the fight against AIDS in Africa. I found this article on the Washington Post. The National Institute of Health refused to get involved with AIDS activists who want to challenge drug companies to lower the price on anti retrovirals.  It’s a couple of years old, but it’s an interesting read.

The activists are concerned with the increase in price of the AIDS drug Norvirin the U.S. and not in regard to its availability overseas. Back then–in 2004–the Bush administration had not taken steps to override the patents of ARVs so a generic brand can be created.

I searched on the NIH’s website and found a press release stating last month that the Food & Drug Administration has tentatively approved a package of generic AIDS drugs. Under the program, two million HIV-infected people will receive treatment and another ten million people affected by HIV will get care. The press release doesn’t go into more details about how ‘treatment’ and ‘care’ will be differentiated. With the number of people with HIV/AIDS in Africa estimated at 60% of the population—this doesn’t seem to make much of a dent…but this is a step in the right direction…

Now we have to see how global initiatives on access to AIDS treatment can take shape.

April 27, 2006

Colombia: Temor por la seguridad

Posted in Human Rights, Latin America at 11:05 am by greatparanoiac

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Last week I wrote about Jorge Castaneda’s article in Foreign Policy magazine, Latin America’s Left Turn. This article looked at the two types of leftist groups in Latin America. At one point I went off on a diatribe about human rights abuses in Colombia, which still has a rightist government. Apparently I have much more to say on the matter.

In March, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia-People's Army (FARC) killed up to 20 civilians in two separate attacks using gas cylinder bombs.  There is a lot of fear that the violence will increase with presidential elections are a month away.  Despite promising in the past to abstain from targeting civilians, FARC continues to violate human rights and international humanitarian law.

As some background information to the situation in Colombia, President Alvaro Uribe was elected a couple of years ago because he promise to apply military pressure on the FARC and other criminal groups. The FARC is one of the oldest revolutionary groups caught in a civil war with the country for the past 40 years. FARC has historically identified itself as a Marxist-Leninist organization. Though, this form of thinking gave way in the 1970s among other Latin American movements.

The group has always claimed to represent the rural poor in the countryside and continues to oppose influence and interference from the U.S., privatization of natural resources and multinational corporations. The FARC has managed to grab power in Colombia through an armed struggle.  They control about 40% of the countryside. 

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April 26, 2006

Small Steps in the Gulf toward Emancipation

Posted in Middle East, Womens Rights at 2:48 pm by greatparanoiac

kuwaiti women.jpgDemocracy in the Middle East? We can’t rule it out just yet. In happier news from the region, earlier this month, Kuwaiti women casted votes in an election and presented candidates for the first time. This comes less than one year after winning full political rights in the oil-rich Gulf state.  This election for a municipal court is being seen as a litmus test of how women might fare in next year’s parliamentary elections. 

Two of the eight candidates who ran for a seat in the district of Salmiya were women. Jinan Boushehri, 32, is a chemical engineer who heads the municipality’s food testing administration. Khalida al-Khader, 48, is a physician and mother-of-eight.

Hopefully this trend continues in Kuwait and next year women will be present at the parliamentary level. I think it’s interestin to follow this and see if Kuwait could serve as an example for other countries in the Gulf region. I hope this serves as a step toward democracy and granting of political rights to women in the Middle East. When Condi or Karen Hughes travel in the region on their PR campaigns of how great modernization is and why they should embrace Western principles, they should capitalize on what’s coming out of these elections in Kuwait. I would think women identify as a group first, then by ethnicity, religion or nationality.

Sheikha Hussa, Vice-President of the Women’s Commission in Kuwait, recently said at a press conference she hoped Kuwaiti women would move further along the line to take up roles in local and national politics.

“We see that among Kuwait women we have a minister, the Minister of Planning, and we are looking forward to having more than just one woman in the new Cabinet. We are also looking forward to having more women Ambassadors and we hope there will be several women in those posts.”

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April 25, 2006

Night Commuters: A Forgotten Plight

Posted in Childrens Rights, Uganda at 11:01 am by greatparanoiac

I wanted to use this space to draw attention to ongoing human rights abuses that get little mention in the press. Uganda–is what some human rights activists have come to call the “Unforgotten Tragedy.”  Though, in fairness the UN’s News Centre website, those have the conflict in Uganda listed as part of its “Ten Untold Stories.”

To excerpt a bit of the article and give you more context, it says:

“United Nations relief officials have repeatedly expressed concern about the neglected humanitarian crisis in northern Uganda, where up to 1.6 million people have been displaced by the conflict with the rebel Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), notorious for its campaigns of lootings, murders, mutilations and abduction of children to serve its militia. To provide context, the number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the area is close to that of Darfur, Sudan, but the plight of Ugandan children is especially troubling.”

This Saturday in over 130 cities across the country, there will be overnight rallies to demand that pressure is put on government officials in Uganda to end child abduction in the North. The overnight rallies at urban centers are to show solidarity for the thousands of families whose lives have been disrupted because of a civil war in Northern Uganda. Since 1996, roughly 8,000 children from Gulu, Kitgum and neighboring districts in northern Uganda have been abducted by the LRA and forced to become child soldiers. This armed opposition movement is fighting the Ugandan government.

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April 24, 2006

The Value of an African Life According to Merck

Posted in Africa, AIDS at 6:29 pm by greatparanoiac

africa aids.jpgI wanted to follow up on yesterday’s post on AIDS in Africa. This weekend was the 2nd Annual U.N. Documentary Film Festival. It had many great films: long format, short format and PSAs that deal with different cultural, economic, and human rights issues in the developing world.

One of the films presented yesterday was Value of a Life: Aids in Africa Revisited.  I thought it was poignant. In 2003, the U.N.’s HIV/AIDS special representative returned to Africa to document his journey. In the short film, Lewis travels with a group of Canadian agencies throughout Africa. They challenge the Canadian government to pass legislation allowing patents to be circumvented in favor of inexpensive, generic AIDS drugs. Of course after the screening I just got mad about the unfairness of patents on intellectual propety.

While pharmaceutical companies such as Merck and Pfizer have reduced the price of AIDS drugs, this is not enough and not nearly as effective as allowing generic drugs to be made. I think more people need to be outraged by this.

The pharmaceuticals industry has made huge investments in research and development. On the whole, the research has paid off, both in the development of effective new drugs and in profits for the firms. But the rest of their argument is self-serving…

Without keeping high prices, drug companies argue that it couldn’t develop many of these drugs at all. How can this be true? Given the hundreds of millions of dollars that pharmaceutical companies make thanks to intellectual property rights—compared to how much of this money is allotted for research. Most likely the amount of money spend in marketing and image branding exceeds what is going into research. In 2004, Pfizer is listed as having 52.5 billion in healthcare revenue and less than $8 billion going toward research and development

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April 23, 2006

Because Everyone Knows Someone

Posted in AIDS, South Africa at 2:18 pm by greatparanoiac

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Last Thursday a top AIDS activist group pulled out of South Africa’s delegation to a U.N. forum on HIV/AIDS, saying it could not “lend respectability” to the government’s approach to the pandemic.

South Africa’s approach to AIDS has always received criticism from the international community. This is nothing new–what is upsetting is that they undermine and refuse to support the work of local agencies.

The Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) which often clashes with President Thabo Mbeki’s government on AIDS policy, said after they were left out of the upcoming UN meeting:

“officials had excluded critics and handpicked supporters to show a united front at the coming U.N. General Assembly Special Session on AIDS.”

The activists claim 900 South Africans die of AIDS-related diseases every day and estimates that 5.6 million of the country’s 45 million people are infected with HIV. TAC’s campaign for anti-retroviral drugs is credited with pushing the South African government to announce a public treatment program in 2003. Despite this, TAC claims access to the drugs has been slow because of a “lack of political will by Health Minister Dr. Tshabalala-Msimang.”

What can be done to raise  HIV/AIDS awareness in a country when the government is covering their eyes, ears and mouths like the “See No Evil” monkeys? Turn to the local media to mobilize people?

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April 22, 2006

Chevron Celebrates Earth Day

Posted in Environment, Latin America at 12:45 pm by greatparanoiac

President George W. Bush marked Earth Day by highlighting the use of technology to reduce the U.S.’s dependency on foreign oil. Reuters reported Bush toured the California Fuel Cell Partnership in Sacramento and promoted the use of hydrogen fuel cells to  change the way cars are powered. These cells wouldn’t emit pollution and would be more efficient than gas-powered cars.

“By developing these and other new sources of clean renewable energy like ethanol, we will continue growing our economy, reduce energy prices and protect our environment, and make America less dependent on foreign oil,”      – Bush said in his weekly radio address.

While environmentalists welcomed Bush’s focus on fuel-cell technology, experts argue that fuel-cell vehicles would not be available for mass use for another 20-30 years. Roland Hwang, policy director for the Natural Resources Defense Council, warned against selling a promising long-term solution as “a quick fix” for political cover.  In other Earth Day news….. oil prices continue to increase, capping at $75 a barrel on Friday. This comes courtesy of increasing tensions over Iran’s quest for nuclear capacity. The energy plan Bush wants Congress to pass, which would also boost federal research into batteries for hybrid and electric cars and renewable fuels, does not include any measures that would reduce pump costs in the short term. Call me cynical…all this happy news on the environment sounds like a lot of smoke and mirrors. Can this administration stop being influenced by the powerful oil industry? Bush’s father was part of the team that built the oil wells in Kuwait in the 1950s. Back when nobody knew where the Middle East was and nobody cared. I think something has to be done to reign in huge corporations. They are the negative aspect of globalization. Wielding more economic power than many governments, multinational corporations are significant contributors in the global struggle for human rights. All companies have a responsibility to respect human rights in their operations, but all too often they are contributing to human rights abuses – either directly or indirectly. More so, they’re commitment to social responsibility and accountability is a lot of double-speak. Read the rest of this entry »

April 20, 2006

Taking Cues from the LAPD

Posted in Human Rights, South Asia at 10:12 am by greatparanoiac

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"When we go to rallies, we have an agreement not to use stones, and to remain peaceful. Yesterday, some people behind us, pushed us towards police in uniforms, and said, 'Come on, let's throw stones.' I saw their ID cards, so knew that they were [plainclothes] security forces. We would keep telling them no. Some threw stones and tried to incite others to violence. I got hit on the head with a stick and kicked on the side…so many people [were] being beaten by uniformed police. They are trying to hit us deliberately on the head, so we couldn't stand. I was knocked unconscious."  – 28 year-old woman, struck on the head at Chabahil (Kathmandu), April 17 as reported to HRW.

It looks like security forces in Nepal have taken a cue from the LAPD stomping on the head of Rodney King or any other man who has the misfortune of being pulled over and the wrong skin color.

Injured protesters told Human Rights Watch that they believed the police have deliberately targeted protesters' heads. Medical personnel at three hospitals reported more than 60 percent of the injured protesters suffered head injuries, primarily from being walloped with long police batons.   

A doctor at Kathmandu's Teaching Hospital told HRW roughly two-thirds of the 250 protesters treated at the hospital are for head injuries. He said the number of head traumas indicated that security forces did not simply want to disperse the protesters, but "their intention was to kill."

In addition, Democracy Now reported today in Nepal, at least three people were killed and more than 40 injured as police fired into crowds of pro-democracy protesters marching towards Katmandu.  Protestors are still turning out despite the government threatening that anyone caught violating a curfew would be "shot on sight."

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