June 28, 2007

News You Might Have Missed * Vol. 6, No. 26

Important but overlooked news from around the world.

QUOTED:

“We think the procedures that we have in place are good. They work, they help us minimize the effects [on civilians].”

— Brig. Gen. Joseph Votel says the accidental killing of Afghan civilians by NATO forces does not require any rule changes (see “Afghanistan,” below).

CONTENTS:

*Top Stories*
“Hedonics leaves Bogota happy
Charlotte’s shelters operate in secret
The Great Lakes’ new enemy: ballast water

*Media*
Net Neutrality tempers flare, and cross borders

*Women*
Polygamy bans proliferate, but doubts persist

*Afghanistan*
Doubts assail NATO in Afghanistan and beyond


TOP STORIES

“Hedonics” Leaves Bogota Happy

Bogotans thank Enrique Penalosa for building parks, schools, and bike routes instead of freeways during his tenure as mayor in the late 1990s.

At the time the city’s streets were “a living hell,” the Toronto Globe & Mail reports. Penalosa increased gas taxes, added buses and banned cars from driving at rush hour more than three days a week. The measures were controversial, but resulted in drops in traffic congestion and pollution, a 40 percent drop in the murder rate, and increased school enrollment.

Penalosa, who is running for mayor again, attributes this success to “hedonics,” which values happiness above ordinary economics, and prioritizes access to parks, spending time with friends and family — and shorter commutes. The ideas are now attracting attention from cities such New York and Los Angeles.

Charlotte’s Shelters Operate in Secret

The Charlotte Observer reports that a dire shortage of beds for the homeless there has prompted the creation of 17 “safe houses” across the city. Many are run by evangelists, and provide shelter to abused women and their children, among other hard-hit clients.

Now the shelters, which operate in secret, are being shut down by the city fire department over zoning violations — but shelter owners say they’re worried about registering their operations for fear of being shut down.

The Great Lakes’ New Enemy: Ballast Water

Shippers from around the world that pass through Great Lakes territory have stowaways in the ballast-water tanks used for ship stability. These include invasive species such as zebra mussels and a lethal hemorrhagic fish virus, both of which proliferate in the lakes’ freshwater ecosystem

Now, the Detroit Free Press reports that eight environmental organizations are suing six shippers to force compliance with the Clean Water Act, which requires ships to sanitize ballast water before docking. Ship operators say the $250,000 equipment cost is too prohibitive, and are suing to reverse a recent Michigan law requiring them install the equipment on all their vessels.

Sources:

“Bogota’s urban happiness movement”
Globe and Mail, June 25, 2007

“Secret shelters a last resort for Charlotte’s homeless?”
Charlotte Observer, June 17, 2007

“Eight environmental groups start ballast water lawsuit”
Detroit Free Press, June 21, 2007


MEDIA

Net Neutrality Tempers Flare, and Cross Borders

Tensions and voices are rising over a push by Internet carriers such as AT&T to charge content providers — such as Google — for access to their networks.

John Kneuer, the U.S. Department of Commerce’s assistant secretary for communications and information, got in a shouting match with delegates at a San Francisco technology conference after giving a speech in which he said the government ought not step in to protect internet access and innovation.

He said that the market had created a wealth of broadband providers to choose from, which provoked shouts of “There is no marketplace!” from attendees.

Their point, according to The Register, is that the few large corporations controlling the “lion’s share” of broadband Internet access do not constitute a competitive market.

The issue has caught the public’s attention as well, prompting 11,000 Americans to write to the FCC, both for and against government regulation.

Speaking at a recent conference in Singapore, an American lawyer warned Asian telecom providers against following the U.S. lead by enshrining net neutrality, which he said could lead to a lack of competition and innovation.

But a recent study conducted by the University of Florida using game theory showed the opposite: that allowing broadband carriers to charge providers for content gives them less incentive to improve their networks, not more.

Sources:

“Bush official goes nuclear in net neut row”
The Register (U.K.), June 22, 2007

“Thousands petition feds on net neutrality”
Wired.com, June 19, 2007

“Warnings sounded over net neutrality in Asia”
IDG News Service, June 19, 2007


WOMEN

Polygamy Bans Proliferate, But Doubts Persist

Utah reckons it’s home to thousands of polygamists, all following their interpretation of Mormon religious teachings, but in contravention of current Mormon practices — and the law.

So, while governments in Uganda and Iraqi Kurdistan debate banning polygamous marriages altogether to protect women from abuse and exploitation, “fundamentalist” Mormons in the American Southwest are seeking the reverse: the decriminalization of the practice, which they say is voluntary, not forced.

In fact, Reuters reports that this push for decriminalization also includes provisions to stamp out forced marriages and underage brides.

In Iraq, Kurdish women groups are mostly lineup up against polygamy, which was legal for most of the nation throughout the Hussein era, and is supported by men and women there to this day.

Based on Islamic-derived law, Iraqi men can have up to four wives, but must prove to a judge that they can support all of them, and that the women will be treated equally.

While some Kurds feel it is a human-rights priority to ban polygamy, others, including women, say it can be beneficial in cases of infertility, chronic illness, or when a prospective bride cannot find an eligible, and single, groom.

In Uganda, polygamy is legal, and until recently adultery was as well — for men only. Women who had extramarital affairs, on the other hand, faced jail time.

Now, polygamy is considered by many Ugandans to be a precondition for male promiscuity at a time when AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases are spreading rapidly throughout Africa

Women’s E-News reports that the Ugandan Constitutional Court recently overturned the law making adultery legal for men, and in the process strengthened women’s divorce and inheritance rights as well.

Activists there say they are emboldened, and are now turning their sights on the widespread and legal practice of polygamy, as well.

Sources:

“Fundamental Mormons seek recognition for polygamy”
Reuters, June 13, 2007

“Ugandan adultery law curbs effects of polygamy”
Women’s E-News, June 24, 2007

“Kurdish leaders debate polygamy ban”
Institute for War & Peace Reporting, June 22, 2007


AFGHANISTAN

Doubts Assail NATO in Afghanistan and Beyond

NATO commanders insist that their mission in Afghanistan is one of reconstruction, but that combat is an inevitable byproduct. Now, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization is under pressure from its Afghan hosts to reduce mounting civilian deaths, even as member nations such as Canada face renewed pressure to withdraw completely.

Italy’s ADNKronos says a NATO bombing run gone awry killed nine Pakistani civilians on the Afghan border, including three women and four children — prompting the suicide of the 70-year-old patriarch of the family.

The Associated Press reports that U.S. commanders don’t feel any procedural changes in military operations are required, however, asserting that current measures help “minimize” the civilian toll.

A Pentagon spokesman also vehemently denied that NATO troops are killing more civilians than the Islamist militants they are fighting.

According to Sky News, Afghan civilians aren’t the only ones in need of protection.

British troops fighting for NATO in the “lawless” Helmand province are hobbled by a remarkable lack of equipment.

Despite promises of proper outfitting and maintenance by former Prime Minister Tony Blair, only half of all the U.K.’s Apache helicopters deployed in Afghanistan are airworthy, and only 16 of 96 promised armored vehicles have been delivered.

But the U.K. Defense Ministry denied a shortage of helicopters and combat vehicles for British troops, saying that as part of a coalition, they “share assets.”

Sky News reports that includes “scrounging” vehicles from a small Estonian contingent deployed with British forces.

Canada, meanwhile, considered canceling a parade by troops bound for Afghanistan, amid protests and reports that 70 percent of Canadians now oppose participating in the NATO coalition.

Sources:

“U.S. dismisses reports on Afghan deaths”
Associated Press, June 26, 2007

“Pakistan: man who lost nine family members in NATO strike, kills himself”
ADNKronos International, June 25, 2007

“‘Give us a little protection'”
Sky News (U.K.), June 16, 2007

“Protesters rally as soldiers march in Quebec City”
CBC (Canada), June 22, 2007


Editors: Julia Scott, Josh Wilson

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