America is a long game

The problem was always bigger than any one particular case, trial or lack thereof. If Darren Wilson had been indicted, the larger problem would not have been all fixed. And the fact that he wasn’t indicted isn’t going to stop the process of political awakening by which millions of Americans are standing up at last to the institutionalized racism, police brutality, militarization of police forces and incarceration-for-profit that has black men feeling too often at a disadvantage should they wish to … oh, I don’t know…walk down the street.

The President Obama asked protesters of the Ferguson decision to be peaceful and non-violent, which is understandable. But a system that incarcerates on average one out of every three African-American men, keeps 500,000 non-violent drug offenders locked up, and has the largest mass incarceration rate in the world, has a lot of nerve telling those who complain about this to be peaceful and non-violent. The system itself is laced with violence. The polite kind.

The Michael Brown grand jury decision is a shock to all, but should be a surprise to no one. The American criminal justice system gets it right sometimes and gets it wrong sometimes. But when it comes to African American men, the statistical trend towards getting it wrong is wrong in itself. And this must stop.

The American experiment has never been perfect; it’s a process. It is as perfect or as imperfect as the people who foster and protect it in each generation. The US is a country that’s gotten it wrong many times before, but it’s a country that over time does tend to make things right. America, quite simply, is a long game. And now, for the current generation, the challenge is clear. Hope they won’t be the first generation to wimp out on the job of making right in America a thing that’s so clearly wrong.

Darren Wilson will not stand trial, but the American criminal justice system absolutely must. The jury is the American people and the trial has only just begun. May justice be done, in this and all things. And may it be done through us.

Lima Climate Talks should deliver first draft for 2015 climate deal

1922061_700198980057201_8218442381976835140_nUN summit to steer the course for a binding global commitment on carbon emissions in Paris

The meeting of nearly 200 governments in Peru in mid-December this year for a major UN climate change summit must produce the first draft of a global deal to cut emissions.

But one must be aware that slow progress at the last round of talks in Warsaw, Poland, meant significant progress is needed in key areas including climate financing and how to tackle greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation.

The meeting in Lima in December is a staging point towards a crunch summit in Paris in 2015 when it is hoped world leaders will agree, for the first time, a global deal on cutting emissions that includes both rich and poor countries.

A solid working draft is mandatory

Significant progress would also need to be made in Lima on the Green Climate Fund (a mechanism to transfer money from the developed to the developing world), the issue of “loss and damage” (whether rich countries should pay poor ones for damage caused by climate change) and a UN scheme to tackle emissions caused by forests being cleared.

Not easy to be optimistic but realistic about the meeting since its success would depend on the political will of the heads of state who attended the preceding UN climate summit in New York in September.

The UN secretary general’s idea is precisely that the presidents bring the political will to give the COP the momentum it needs to be sufficiently successful and to count on the political support to make a decision. Would the Lima summit leave a legacy in Peru’s fast-developing and industrialising pace by fixing its sights on green growth with clean technologies and low emissions…

Peru has a lot to lose from climate change. People in the Amazon region, the Andes Mountains and on its arid coast are already feeling the impact, and the country is one of the most biodiverse on Earth.

It has the world’s largest concentration of tropical glaciers, but has already lost 39% of them due to a 0.7C temperature rise in the Andes between 1939 and 2006. Peru has the world’s fourth largest area of rainforest and deforestation accounts for more than 40% of the country’s carbon emissions. Approximately 20% of emissions are generated by ranching and farming, the Peru environment minister Mr Pulgar-Vidal said.

Peru’s climate authorities priority is obviously the forest and they are working out the state of the forest –they are working with the Carnegie Institution for Science to use state-of-the art technology to map the country’s extensive tropical forest and scientifically measure its carbon stocks.

“People must understand that the standing forest has value and rewarding ecosystem services can lead to a change in behaviour, the issues are complex but we have clear strategies to tackle them,” says Mr Manuel Pulgar-Vidal. He pointed out recently of schemes including financial compensation for indigenous communities who conserve the rainforest and attempts to involve the private sector in forest preservation.

But illicit logging and an exponential increase in illegal gold mining in the Amazon since the 2008 global economic crisis present the biggest threats to Peru’s forest cover.

Spotlight on murders of activists as Peru prepares for Lima climate talks

Peru Government is regularly accused of neglecting people defending their land and forests against mining and illegal logging.

Two weeks before Peru hosts a key global climate conference, the country has come under fire for failing to protect activists who were murdered trying to defend the country’s rapidly diminishing rainforest and other ecosystems.

The South American nation has become the fourth most dangerous state in the world for environmental and land defenders, according to the NGO Global Witness, which accused the government of putting a dangerous emphasis on exploitation rather than conservation of natural resources.

Yet another innocent humanitarian beheaded

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Seeing yet another picture of an innocent humanitarian beheaded by ISIS, my mind seesaws between hawk and dove. Civil wars statistically last twice as long as they otherwise would when an outside agent intervenes, yet something about this doesn’t feel like simply another civil war. I can’t help wondering what makes ISIS any different than Nazis on the march? Then I think about an all-out war against them… what it would mean, what it would take… and my heart just freezes.

We are seriously in trouble now.

There is so much to say about how this happened, but most of it has been said. We have so much to atone for, and that alone takes you to your knees. But our question still has to be, “So what do we do now?”

I don’t know what we should do now. But no one else does either. No politician knows for sure and no military commander knows for sure. If anything should be obvious by now, it’s that. It isn’t simply bad political decisions or military strategies that got us here. It’s karma that got us here. The US -and other westerners, let us not forget- became a warmongering nation, attacking a country that hadn’t even attacked us … and look what it led to. God forgive us. And God help us now.

I’m going deep into my heart, into my prayerfulness, and into atonement for the arrogance and recklessness of our  bellicose countries. I pray for forgiveness for irresponsibly sending people to die in another country, in a foreign war, for no reason. For there, at that level of Atonement, I know we enter a place where God’s ears are open and miracles do happen. “God shall not be mocked” means that He isn’t. Until America owns up to what it has become and what it has done — allowing war to become a huge business empire, maintained by military contractors and politicians alike to fight wars that should not have been fought for no more reason than money and oil – then Cause and Effect will continue to operate, and the blowback will increase, and a great country will be brought to its knees.

There is an alternative: We can fall to our knees right now…

Who is going to pay for international development?

The world does not require another inventory of financial problems and solutions. It needs a list of priorities

The time is coming for the big ideas in targets such as the sustainable development goals (SDGs) to be enhanced into politically realistic commitments.

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There is simply not enough time or resources to do everything so what should the world’s development finance priorities be?

Addis Ababa is hosting a UN financing for development conference in July 2015, and the timing of the talks, before the goals are announced in September, is a strong message from member states that if credible financial commitments are not made, the whole exercise to refresh the millennium development goals (MDGs) would be little more than words on a page.

One thing is clear: the agenda is broad. How should progress be paid for? What is the role of the private sector? Who should keep an eye on sources of finance? Isn’t it now finally time for structural reform in global financial institutions, such as the World Bank? And what proportion of development should be paid for out of domestic as opposed to international resources?

With such a large number of issues defined as «development», it is hard to draft declarations that are useful for overburdened decision-makers who are used to being presented with shopping lists in which all the points are considered equally important to achieving improvements.

But politics is prioritisation. Politicians and bureaucrats love a map of options to choose from, usually collapsing for the path of least resistance. And anyway, there is simply not enough time or resources to do everything.

So when development finance experts arrive in Ethiopia next year, they should remember that the world does not need another list of financial problems and solutions, another meta analysis of the situation. It needs priorities.

First, identify the most important issues. One of the main problems of the MDGs, as noted in incalculable analyses, was their failure to bring the major structural issues to the table. I know of no one who thinks that aid is the most important contribution that wealthier countries can make to development, but the nebulous terms of MDG eight allowed politicians to get away with aid promises (which in some cases they didn’t keep) rather than setting an audacious agenda for transformational change in global financial governance, dealing with illicit financial flows, for example, taking bold steps towards international tax reform, and introducing better mechanisms for working out debt repayments.

Today it is even clearer than 15 years ago that such major structural issues need to be managed if the world is to adopt a sustainable path. Such issues could be unequivocally prioritised in the UN finance for development declaration next year. Aid is not unimportant, but it is less important, and could be lower in the list.

Second, achievability. One of the most depressing conversations I can remember was during a NGO coordination meeting in Barcelona with an adviser from Mali. Reflecting on the way cotton subsidies abroad had all but destroyed Mali’s cotton industry, its one big chance to emerge from aid dependency; I asked why they weren’t campaigning harder on the issue. He replied that it was useless – incentives in subsidising countries were too strong to overcome; better to work on things with a chance of progress.

The same analysis needs to be applied to the prioritisation of goals and commitments in development finance. Some issues remain fairly stubborn – such as subsidies in richer countries – but the international context for progress on other systemic issues is better than ever, as people in rich countries clamour for fairer burden-sharing in times of austerity.

The achievability test is also key to the public vs. private debate. The role of the private sector, both domestic and multinational, is critical to development outcomes. But our ambitions with regard to making it a partner in the SDG process should be proportionate to a sensible analysis of achievability. Rather than focusing on getting commitments from the private sector, which follows a particular set of incentives, it may be more sensible to set out how public actions can encourage – and sometimes force – companies and banks to be as pro-development as possible.

Prioritising some issues doesn’t mean forgetting others – it means allocating time and resources most appropriately after an assessment of importance and achievability, just as has happened for the SDGs.

Changes in the way that development is financed could be treated as goals in themselves, with a 15-year horizon and short-term monitoring mechanisms, just like the SDGs. This is the approach suggested by the in many ways visionary report of the high-level panel on the post-2015 development agenda. These commitments will, inevitably, fall more on wealthier and more powerful countries, and could be seen as a key part of the «universality» agenda, in which all countries, not just developing countries, have clear and binding targets.

Next year is a chance to write the next page of the development finance book. As well as a reaffirmation of the critical importance of international public action to achieve collectively agreed objectives (of which international public finance is a part), we also need not just a wish-list but a prioritised plan of action with a specific timeframe for changes in global finance.

The garbage orchestra from Paraguay

« The world sends us garbage – we send back music ». That’s the motto of Favio Chavez. He opened a music school in Cateura on the outskirts of the Paraguayan capital Asunción. There’s no money for instruments – but no shortage of refuse in the neighbourhood.

Gomez turns the garbage into violins, guitars, cellos and other musical instruments. The orchestra he started has had invitations to perform around the world. A documentary film about the project called « Landfill Harmonic » has received backing from crowd funding.

Cateura exists virtually on top of a landfill site where residents make their livings recycling and selling other people’s rubbish.

Situated along the banks of the Paraguay River, 1,500 tons of waste is dumped in the area each day.
But despite the critical levels of pollution and the threat to their health residents of Cateura manage to find the most positive of uses for the rubbish.

Inspired to do something to help the inpoverished families, Chávez began using the trash in the landfill to create instruments for the children.

« One day it occurred to me to teach music to the children of the recyclers and use my personal instruments, » explains 36 year-old Chávez, who worked as an ecological technician at the landfill.

« But it got to the point that there were too many students and not enough supply. So that’s when I decided to experiment and try to actually create a few. »

Goodbye Madiba

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NELSON ROLIHLAHLA MANDELA (18 JULY 1918 – 5 DECEMBER 2013)

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The great Mandela gone:

“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it.”

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

Invictus, William Ernest Henley

This poem played an important role in Nelson Mandela’s life during his imprisonment in Robben Island, Republic of South Africa.

World Congress Against the Death Penalty

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ARAB WORLD IN PROGRESS

Death-penalty

In the inaugural conference of the 5th Congress which took place in Madrid (12-15 July 2013), the Iraqi minister of Justice asserted:

«The death penalty (in Iraq) applies only for serious crimes, as acts of terrorism and violent crimes. »

But for Nasser Abood who tops the Iraq Coalition Against the Death Penalty, these arguments do not stand:

« After China and Iran, Iraq is the third country (in the area) to run the death penalty. The problem is that most people who are sentenced to death are innocent but have confessed under constraint of torture and violence. In addition there is discrimination in implementing the death penalty for religious reasons, while militias’ activities of those who govern the country, go unpunished. The Iraqi government applies capital punishment to adjust political accounts or on behalf of religious faith. It is easy to focus into others responsibility for acts of terrorism (…) who might be convicted at all costs. »

Nasser Abood points out that five people were executed although innocent. He feels very lonely and without political support:

«Unfortunately, the government does not support the abolition of the death penalty. »

At northeast, in the Iraqi Kurdistan, the situation seems different. In Erbil, Mustapha Chouaf, coordinator of the Coalition of Kurdistan against the death penalty, a moratorium on executions is real. The last execution took place three years ago:

«When we speak of Iraq we should actually speak of two distinct geographical entities: Iraqi Kurdistan and Iraq. In Iraqi Kurdistan the death penalty does not apply, not so in the rest of Iraq. For example, in Iraqi Kurdistan, there are people incarcerated over 18 years, but they are not executed. There is awareness that Kurdistan should stop executions permanently. In Iraq, where the number of executions of persons who committed terrorist attacks has multiplied, the number of these attacks has been increasing. Executions did not reduce violence. So the death penalty is useless. »

Mustapha Chouaf has proposed to parliament of Iraqi Kurdistan a project to commute death sentences to 20 years imprisonment penalties. Over time, he would like to apply the abolition to all crimes by law. In the region the reluctance to such proposal is important while politicians hide behind the arguments of public opinion pressure or religious arguments. And it is Jordan who wants to be an example –as explains Mohhammad Altaraune, Judge of the High Criminal Court in Amman, and who also leads the Arab Coalition Against the Death Penalty:

«The last execution took place three years ago, when death penalty was abolished for ten rules, and, in cooperation with Parliament and civil society, we hope to abolish it for verified crimes as well. There is no reluctance from community if people are aware of the importance of resisting to the death penalty. »

Except Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq and Yemen, with the largest number of death penalty executions in the region –not to talk of Syria at war–, the remaining states in the region spot a moratorium, but they remain very reluctant to take a conclusive step towards the death penalty abolition –including Egypt and Lebanon.