March 29, 2007

News You Might Have Missed * Vol. 6, No. 12

Important but overlooked news from around the world.

THIS WEEK:

Pipeline politics are aflow in Central Asia, Venezuela is a new hub for cocaine traffic, Yahoo! is blamed for the arrest of Chinese dissidents, food crops show the effects of global warming, doubts follow the HP and marijuana verdicts, “democracy” is easy to say but difficult to do … and just who is Rafsanjani, anyway?

QUOTED:

“If we were talking about people stealing identities and doing crystal meth, they’d have gotten 25 to life. But doing it as an established business practice will let you off easy.”

— Privacy consultant Ray Everett-Church, on the verdict in the Hewlett Packard spying scandal (see “Law & Justice,” below).


TOP STORIES

Pipeline Politics Aflow in Central Asia

A new pipeline is expected to bring more than $200 billion into Azerbaijan in the next 20 years, but with such a windfall comes claims of birth defects caused by pollution, accusations of profiteering, lawsuits and conflicting land claims in the impoverished villages that line the pipeline’s course.

Yahoo! Blamed for Chinese Dissident’s Arrest

The wife of a Chinese dissident says her husband was jailed after Yahoo! gave his personal information to government security forces, and is now in the United States preparing to sue the company. A spokesman says Yahoo! is “required to follow the laws” of its host nations, Wired News reports.

Human rights groups accuse Yahoo! of enabling the arrest of at least three other activists in China.

Cocaine Traffic Finds New Hub

Under pressure at home, Colombian smugglers have a new route through Venezuela, which ended cooperation with U.S. anti-drug programs. Cocaine increasingly comes to the United States via Haiti and the Dominican Republic, and to Europe via West Africa, where gangs take advantage of lawlessness and poverty to set up front companies and illegal air strips, and use locals as “mules.”

Sources:

“Life along the pipeline: BTC’s impact on Azerbaijan”
Eurasianet.org, March 19, 2007

“‘Yahoo Betrayed My Husband'”
Wired.com, March 15, 2007

“Drug smugglers blaze new trail”
Miami Herald, March 16, 2007

“West Africa becomes a hub for cocaine traffic to Europe”
Los Angeles Times, March 18, 2007


FARMING FUTURES

Food Crops Struggle With Climate Change, “Green” Cred

Climate change over the past 20 years has already impacted production of staple grain crops, a new report finds.

Wheat, barley and corn yields around the world have declined about 40 million metric tons per year due to changes in temperature and rainfall patterns.

In Australia and New Zealand, farmers are being warned that their future success may depend on their “green” credentials, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation reports.

Analysts say that farmers there need to prove that their exported crops are just as environmentally friendly as locally produced crops increasingly favored in Europe.

Sources:

“Cereal crops feeling the heat”
Environment News Service, March 16, 2007

“Farmers warned to emphasise green credentials”
Australian Broadcast Corporation, March 19, 2007


LAW & JUSTICE

Doubts Follow Hewlett Packard, Marijuana Verdicts

Former HP chair Patricia Dunn had spying charges against her dismissed, in part to ease her battle with ovarian cancer.

On the same day, Angel Raich, a California resident suffering from a brain tumor, lost her appeal in a suit against federal drug laws that make her use of doctor-prescribed marijuana a prosecutable offense.

San Francisco Chronicle columnist David Lazarus says the dismissal of Dunn’s charges, and the sentencing of three other defendants to 96 hours community service, amounts to a slap on the wrist for commonplace business spying.

Critics said the case was shaky, and that then-California Attorney General Bill Lockyer pursued the HP spying scandal to boost his campaign for state treasurer — a charge Lockyer’s camp denies.

The Raich case is equally convoluted. She has not been accused of a crime, and instead sued to exempt from federal law her use of marijuana as cancer therapy.

She lost, but the ruling “left open the possibility” that, if arrested, Raich and other patients could claim that the drug is a life-saving last resort, the Chronicle reports.

Sources:

“Medical pot user loses again in federal court”
San Francisco Chronicle, March 15, 2007

“Court dismisses charges against former HP chair”
San Francisco Chronicle, March 15, 2007

“Lesson learned by lenient sentences for HP defendants”
San Francisco Chronicle, March 16, 2007


POLITICAL CRISES

“Democracy”: Easy to Say, Difficult to Do

Riots flared up and victims traded sides in Nepal, as young Maoists were first set upon by minority separatists, then teamed up with ruling party members to attack supporters of the former kingdom’s monarchy.

In Egypt, parliament approved new constitutional amendments that would ban religious parties, boost government security powers, and eliminate judicial oversight of ballot boxes. The vote provoked a walkout by Islamist lawmakers, who said it would encourage dictatorship.

Pakistan’s President Musharraf continues to feel the heat for his suspension of the country’s chief justice, which one analyst says results from a disdain for inclusive politics that dates back to the British Raj.

Writing in Gulfnews.com, Boston University academic Husain Haqqani says that without real democratic reform, Pakistan will “continue to hurtle forward from crisis to crisis,” ultimately at Musharraf’s — and America’s — expense.

And Zimbabwe’s downward spiral continues, with the opposition claiming that the government is now using “hit squads” to target dissidents. South Africa is feeling pressure to intervene, most staple food crops have failed, and even the head of Zimbabwe’s central bank admits that the system there is almost irredeemably corrupt.

Sources:

“Political attacks flare in Nepal”
BBC, March 18, 2007

“Egyptian MPs in protest walk-out”
BBC, March 18, 2007

“Crisis for Musharraf over justice chief’s sacking”
The Telegraph (U.K.), March 17, 2007

“Southern African nations feel pressure to act on Zimbabwe”
Associated Press, March 20, 2007

“Mugabe using ‘hit squads’ – MDC”
Agence France-Presse, March 20, 2007

“Zimbabwe says drought will worsen food shortages”
Reuters, March 20, 2007

“Our corrupt system is failing, admits bank chief”
The Telegraph (U.K.), March 19, 2007


IRAN

Rafsanjani: A Pragmatist With Plans of His Own

Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani’s landslide election to Iran’s powerful Council of Experts was widely considered a rebuke to President Ahmadinejad, his fundamentalist backers, and his nuclear brinksmanship.

But is he a gift to the West, or a canny, ambitious politician with his own agenda for Iran and the Middle East?

As Iran’s former president, Rafsanjani calls for Sunni and Shia cooperation, including stronger ties with Syria, Iraq and Saudi Arabia. He says the United States is deliberately destabilizing the Middle East — but compared it to a “wounded tiger” that is being dangerously provoked by Ahmadinejad.

He is also one of the wealthiest men in a nation that is struggling economically. The Sydney Morning Herald notes that the “Shah of Pistachios” is secretive about his financial holdings, which include caviar, airlines, agriculture, real estate and mining.

One journalist who tried to dig into the issue is still in jail, and a rival businessman was also jailed during Rafsanjani’s presidency, the newspaper reports.

Rafsanjani was recently implicated by Argentinean prosecutors in the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, which killed dozens. Interpol issued arrest notices for several Iranian and Lebanese militants at Argentina’s request, but excluded Rafsanjani from the list.

Sources:

“Iran’s mullahs don’t spend all day praying – they make money”
Sydney Morning Herald, March 19, 2007

“Iran & Hezbollah will get Interpol red arrest notices”
Associated Press, March 17, 2007

“U.S. behind all problems in Mideast: Rafsanjani”
Mehrnews.com, March 16, 2007

“Iran determined to strengthen convergence among Muslims: Rafsanjani”
Tehran Times, March 15, 2007

“Iran: Rafsanjani presses political offensive against president, stressing moderation”
Eurasianet.org, February 21, 2007

“Paper: Iran Criticizing Ahmadinejad”
MEMRI Blog, February 28, 2007


Editor: Josh Wilson

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