DAMASCUS: Islamic State fighters have closed in to within a few kilometres of a key Kurdish town on Syria’s border with Turkey, as Ankara mulls joining the anti-IS coalition. NATO member Turkey on Monday (Sep 29) deployed tanks to reinforce its side of the border and said parliament would this week debate joining the international coalition against the militants operating on the country’s doorstep.

The coalition carried out new raids against IS positions, but the militants still managed to advance within five kilometres of the strategic Syrian town of Ain al-Arab, known as Kobane to the Kurds, a monitor said.

It was the closest the militants had come to the town since they began advancing towards it nearly two weeks ago, sending tens of thousands of mostly Kurdish refugees across the border, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. As they advanced, the militants fired at least 15 rockets at the town centre, killing at least one person. Other rockets hit the border zone.

Across the frontier, Turkey’s army was seen deploying tanks and armoured vehicles to the town of Mursitpinar, after stray bullets hit Turkish villages and at least three mortar shells crashed nearby. In Ankara, parliamentary speaker Cemil Cicek was reported to have said that motions for discussions on Turkey joining the coalition could land with lawmakers on Tuesday. Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said they would be debated on Thursday.

Turkey had refused to join the coalition while dozens of its citizens – including diplomats and children – were being held by IS after being abducted in Iraq. After they were freed, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Turkey’s position had changed, signalling a more robust stance towards the group. “We will hold discussions with our relevant institutions this week. We will definitely be where we need to be,” Erdogan said on Sunday. “We cannot stay out of this.”

STRIKES IN NORTH SYRIA

The coalition has been carrying out strikes against militants inside Syria for nearly a week, with US and Arab aircraft taking part in the raids. Central Command, which oversees American forces in the Middle East, said the United States and its allies struck eight targets in Syria and three in Iraq on Sunday night and on Monday.

In the eastern Syrian province of Deir Ezzor, strikes destroyed an IS armed vehicle and an anti-aircraft artillery transporter, it said. In Raqa, the de facto headquarters of IS, two strikes hit militant compounds near the provincial capital, while near Minbej two other raids struck an IS training camp and vehicles in a staging area adjacent to a grain storage facility used by the jihadists as a logistics hub.

The statement said initial indications were that the attacks were successful. But the Observatory, which reported the same strikes, said civilians were believed to have been killed in the raid on the grain storage facility.

The United State began its aerial campaign in Syria on Sep 23, expanding strikes that began in August against IS positions in Iraq. US aircraft have flown roughly 4,100 sorties in the air war against the militants in Iraq and Syria since August, including surveillance flights, refuelling runs and bombing raids, a military officer said on Monday. In addition, Arab coalition partners have undertaken about 40 flights in the operation in Syria, the officer told AFP.

So far, the strikes have killed at least 211 IS militants and 22 civilians in Syria, according to the Britain-based Observatory. The coalition has attracted dozens of countries, though only a handful of Arab allies – Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Qatar and Jordan – are participating in the strikes on Syrian soil.

On Monday at the UN General Assembly, Syria’s foreign minister hit out at countries which had supported Islamists, in an implicit attack on Gulf nations. Combating the Islamist threat “is certainly possible through military strikes,” said Walid Muallem. “But most importantly, to do so through stopping states that arm, support, train, fund and smuggle those terrorist groups.”

US UNDERESTIMATED IS: OBAMA

In an interview with CBS News, President Barack Obama acknowledged his administration had underestimated the opportunity that the three-and-a-half year-old Syrian civil war would provide for militants to regroup and stage a sudden comeback. “I think our head of the intelligence community, Jim Clapper, has acknowledged that they underestimated what had been taking place in Syria,” Obama said.

He also admitted Washington had placed too much faith in Iraqi security forces trained and supplied by the United States, which collapsed in the face of a lightning offensive led by IS in June.

Cultural experts gathered at UNESCO’s Paris headquarters warned on Monday that IS militants were also destroying age-old heritage sites and looting others to sell valued artefacts on the black market.

Article source: http://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/world/turkey-mulls-joining-anti/1389402.html

Analysis/Opinion:

President Obama insulted many Americans last week when he raised events in Ferguson, Missouri, during his United Nations speech. They chafed at the implied moral equivalence of a shooting still in legal dispute with the many lethal foreign threats besieging the world. While such rhetoric is divisive at home, there is another problem. The president does not seem to understand that most of the world is completely unmoved by such apologies.

Most of the world does not see an earnest moralist struggling with America’s complicated past or a humble man admitting his own foibles. Instead, they see a weak leader uncertain about the cause of his country.

If as a rhetorical device, these apologies were working — if they were moving world opinion in our favor and getting more countries to embrace our policies — then perhaps they could be justified as a matter of Realpolitik. But that clearly is not happening.

World opinion of the U.S. has steadily declined under Barack Obama. In 2009, after he rode into Washington on a high, Pew’s Global Indicators survey found 33 percent of Germans held unfavorable views of America. Today, it is 47 percent. In Russia, after the famous “reset,” America’s unfavorability score has grown from 44 percent to 71 percent; in Egypt, from 70 percent to 85 percent; and in Turkey — a NATO ally — from 69 percent to 73 percent.

There may be many reasons why world opinion is steadily getting worse. There’s the unpopularity of U.S. drone and other counterterrorism policies in the Middle East and parts of South Asia. There are the controversies surrounding U.S. surveillance which are especially unpopular in Germany. But the point is that these policies are unpopular despite Mr. Obama’s apologies, which at the very least should raise questions about their efficacy.

It’s not hard to fathom why the president’s mea culpa is not working.

For the most hardened of anti-Americans — terrorists, Islamists, and now Russian nationalists — Mr. Obama’s apologies only confirm what they already think. In their eyes, America is a horrible place, and they are only too glad to hear the president admit it. They are not, at any rate, fooled. To them, his apologies are merely a ploy to trick the world into thinking the U.S. has the moral high ground, but they think they know better.

As for those on the fence — the millions who could go either way — Mr. Obama’s apologies likely sound very odd. While Western Europeans and perhaps some Asians (like the Japanese) may get the president’s intent, most people in the Middle East, Africa and Eurasia are unused to self-flagellation in their own national cultures and more likely puzzled.

Is he secretly confirming that America is a racist country unfit to lead, although rhetorically he claims the opposite — that we should be forgiven because we are a nation that has “steadily worked to address our problems”?

Does his ambivalence reflect a lack of confidence in U.S. power? After all, most of the world sees in the president the leader of a superpower whose story and creed of freedom and prosperity resonates with them. They see that story and America’s power first, not his depressing suggestion that its greatness is best measured by how much it confronts its failures.

Finally, do our friends and allies really want to hear the leader of the country on which their own security depends complain about how America fails to live up to its ideals? Sure, some Europeans love to see America grovel, but in the end they want and need a strong American president, not a weak, morally conflicted one. They may cheer Mr. Obama from the sidelines, but his apologies have no influence on whether they will join the fight against terrorists in Iraq, or whether they will back U.S. proposals for tough sanctions against Russia.

It’s time for the president to drop the rhetoric of moral equivalence. The world is unmoved. All it does is divide Americans and lower world opinions of our great nation.

A former assistant secretary of state, Kim R. Holmes is a distinguished fellow at the Heritage Foundation and the author of “Rebound: Getting America Back to Great.”

Article source: http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2014/sep/29/why-the-world-is-unmoved-by-obamas-apologies/

Wooing Wall Street execs

Author: conserva

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is slated to meet with top Wall Street executives during his trip to the United States this week in an effort to lure American investors into the emerging economy.

Modi will meet with Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd C. Blankfein and Boeing CEO Jim McNerney, as well as General Electric Chairman Jeff Immelt. He’s also scheduled to meet with top executives from MasterCard, PepsiCo, IBM and Google.

Economists say American companies are looking to tap into India’s population of 1.2 billion, including a rapidly rising middle class. And Modi will look to tout the growing demographic in an attempt to draw investments.

“To attract more foreign direct investment in the United States, Mr. Modi quite simply needs to improve the business climate in India,” said Anish Goel, a senior South Asia fellow at the New America Foundation.

“Despite the enormous potential, many U.S. firms remain wary of entering the Indian market, and they will continue to be until Modi demonstrates that the counterproductive policies of the previous government are no longer applicable,” Goel added.

Businesses have been skeptical of India’s government, fearful of corruption and outdated government infrastructure. Experts said Modi has a difficult task at convincing investors to open their wallets.

From entertainment piracy concerns to intellectual property issues, businesses cite varying degrees of concern about investing in India.

“Persuading Americans to invest there will be an uphill climb for the prime minister because of India’s business-unfriendly policies,” said Bill Reinsch, president of the National Foreign Trade Council.

Earlier this month, China announced a $20 billion, five-year investment pledge to India, and many economists will be watching to see if the U.S. surpasses that number.

One of those business announcements could come Tuesday, when Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella is slated speak in New Delhi, though Microsoft has been tight-lipped on the details.

“India is an attractive destination for U.S. investors because of its size and because it is a rule-of-law country, unlike China — although not always a particularly efficient one,” Reinsch said.

India’s booming economic growth has slowed some in recent years, with its gross domestic product growing at 3.2 percent in 2013. While that is hardly an anemic growth rate, it’s a sharp decline from the 5.1 percent GDP growth in 2012, or the 7.5 percent GDP growth in 2011, according to the CIA World Factbook.

“If Modi and Indian policymakers seriously want to enrich the economic livelihood of their citizens and lure more FDI from the U.S., India must embrace greater economic freedom by implementing effective regulatory reforms and tackling corruption, among other things,” said Anthony Kim, a senior economic policy analyst at The Heritage Foundation. “Otherwise, the global economy will leave India behind.”

The newly elected Modi comes with a business reputation in the international community. He was a state minister before becoming prime minister, which is the equivalent to serving as a governor in the United States, said Joshua Meltzer, an India expert at the Brookings Institution.

“From a business perspective, Prime Minister Modi comes with great credibility,” Meltzer said. “That in itself will be welcome by the business community because they want to see that he has the capacity that will drive change.”

Article source: http://thehill.com/special-reports/a-global-spotlight-on-india-september-30-2014/219245-wooing-wall-street-execs

The Vancouver International Film Festival has harvested some great features for the two-week run, beginning September 25th. Here are my recommendations of nonfiction offerings, based on advance screenings:

 

A Dangerous Game

A sequel to the 2011 VIFF entry, You’ve Been Trumped, in which New York mogul and reality TV fixture Donald Trump jets into the UK on a gust of hot air and swirled hair to launch a luxury golf course on one of Scotland’s last untouched nature resorts, while heaping abuse on villagers protesting the damage to their properties and local wildlife.

 

With a bigger budget and better production values, director Alex Baxter examines the hidden costs of a game in which money doesn’t just talk, it shrieks. After recording a referendum launched by the residents of Dubrovnik against a luxury golf course planned for a UNESCO World Heritage site, Baxter returns to Scotland, where Trump agrees to meet with him for a comically condescending interview. Will The Donald get approval for a second course in Scotland just by waving his money wand again? A standout feature for doc fiends, whether or not you whack dimpled balls across manicured greens.

 

 

 

Walking Under Water

While 10-year old Sari oversees a chugging air compressor on a rickety boat, his father Alexan dives undersea with a rubber tube in his mouth, to hunt fish on coral reefs. Caught between the worlds of subsistence living and marine resort employment, young Sari gets advice from his father and uncle (“Promise me you’ll never dynamite fish,” says the latter, indicating the stump of his right arm).

 

The schedules of the water-dwelling Badjoa people of Southeast Asia are timed by the sun, moon, and tides, not the megahertz speeds of First World technology – all reflected in the film’s leisurely pace. A porthole onto a cinematically lush underwater world and a people you’ve likely never heard of before.

 

 

Cartoonists: Foot Soldiers for Democracy

There are places on the globe where drawing and publishing funny pictures of strongmen and their cronies is about as risky as snapping selfies with ISIS. That doesn’t stop artists from Beijing to Burkina Faso from blackening newspapers and pamphlets with caricatures and captions. Watch for the warm reunion of two long-time friends: an Israeli cartoonist who can’t stand the ultra-right Likud party and a Palestinian cartoonist who can’t stand Hamas.

 

 

Pristine Coast

A two hour salt-water enema for supporters and promoters of Pacific Coast aquaculture. Pristine Coast unravels the hidden history of BC fish farms and presents hard-to-dismiss evidence from marine biologists that the permeable net pens of foreign-owned firms have been spreading parasites and diseases to wild fish stocks for years, compromising the coastal marine ecology as a whole.

 

Food Chains

“The most difficult thing is knowing how little you mean to the people who employ you,” says a migrant farm worker in this profile of the unheralded folks who put food on people’s plates. Food Chains tracks the efforts of Florida’s Coalition of Immokalee Workers to mobilize and pressure the four biggest supermarket chains in the US to double the labourers’ meager pay through a singularly unthreatening demand: pay a penny more per pound of tomatoes.

 

The Price We Pay

Director Harold Crooks peeks into the financial black holes that banksters, bureaucrats, and politicians have co-engineered for the world’s sunniest climes, to benefit tax-avoiding corporations. An estimated 21 trillion dollars has flowed into the Cayman Islands, Jersey Islands, the Bahamas, and other tax havens, untaxed and untouched by the citizens of failed states, petrostates, and every shade of democracy.

 

Crooks has made a superb companion piece to Charles Ferguson’s 2010 evisceration of Wall Street, Inside Job, which also had insiders hang themselves with their own words (“I think the problem is that many politicians have the illusion that they really run their country, when actually they run their country within the confines the global financial system places on them,” says one financial insider in The Price We Pay).

 

The film doesn’t present a hopeless case, however. Even business titans like Warren Buffett and Bill Gates support the so-called Robin Hood Tax, which would put on an incremental tax on the nonproductive flow of money to tax havens, returning money to state coffers while disincentivizing the bigwigs’ shell games.

 

mwiseguise@yahoo.com

 

www.geoffolson.com

© Vancouver Courier

Article source: http://www.vancourier.com/opinion/columnists/viff-documentaries-shine-a-spotlight-on-reality-1.1395657

World leaders are gathered again in New York for the annual session of the United Nations General Assembly to discuss some of the greatest crises challenging the global community today. They have already taken up the issues of climate change, the terror threat posed by the Islamic State, and the devastating outbreak of the Ebola virus in West Africa.

Government leaders are also reviewing the work completed by the General Assembly earlier this year on the new set of global development goals that will succeed the Millennium Development Goals. Included among them are two critical targets on preventing the extinction of threatened species and taking urgent action to halt poaching and trafficking and demand and supply of illegal wildlife products.

Forest Protection Department authorities examine confiscated wildlife products. CREDIT: © WCS Vietnam.

On Friday, Germany and Gabon led a high level event to discuss illegal wildlife trafficking in an effort to keep the issue high on the global political agenda. The trafficking in wildlife and their parts is a criminal international trade worth an estimated $20 billion a year.

The soaring demand for products derived from wildlife has pushed several iconic species –including elephants, rhinos, and tigers, as well as many lesser known species — toward the precipice of extinction. This is a global crisis for both wildlife and people, particularly local communities; it undermines equality within and among nations, sustainable consumption and production, the health of ecosystems, human health, and social stability.

Poaching and the illegal trade in wildlife negatively impacts: the resilience of ecosystems; human security across countries and regions; and national wealth and the ability of countries to generate employment, reduce poverty through tourism, and provide dependable livelihoods through community-based natural resource management.

Tourists visiting parks to view elephants are vital to the economies of Eastern and Southern Africa, with tourism dollars responsible for more than 11 percent of GDP in countries such as Kenya, Tanzania and Zimbabwe. CREDIT: Julie Larsen Maher ©WCS.

To take but one example, the loss of elephants and rhinos threatens tourism jobs and livelihoods. Tourists visiting parks to view elephants are vital to the economies of Eastern and Southern Africa, with tourism dollars responsible for more than 11 percent of GDP in countries such as Kenya, Tanzania and Zimbabwe. Without elephants, these tourism enterprises would collapse.

The recent entrance of armed militia groups — including the Lord’s Resistance Army and the Janjaweed — into the international wildlife trade has generated combined revenues of between $4-12 million for criminal activities, while feeding corruption and instability and undermining national law enforcement efforts.

But if ivory commands a price-per-weight value higher than gold as a commodity, that price pales in comparison to the cost of this trade to wildlife populations. The most recent accounting put the loss of African elephants at 100,000 over the past three years. That translates to approximately 96 elephants a day, with only 400,000 remaining in the wild across all of Africa.

Highly trained ranger patrol teams are helping to protect the remaining tigers in Thailand’s Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary. CREDIT: © WCS Asia Program.

Fewer than 30,000 wild rhinos survive. A mere 3,200 wild tigers survive in the forests of Asia, including only 1,000 breeding females. And populations of many lesser known species, from Africa to Asia and Latin America, are also being depopulated by poaching and illegal trade — all of which are fueled by greed, weak governance and enforcement, and corruption along the entire trade chain.

It is clear that the trafficking of wildlife requires a global response — one that fits well within the governance regime of the UN General Assembly. In the face of a growing assault upon the cultural and natural heritage of nations across the globe, a growing number of UN Member States have called for urgent action to end the poaching and trafficking of wildlife. For many of these countries, the elephants, rhinos, tigers and other species are not only their natural heritage, but their very patrimony.

A major challenge to bringing a halt to trafficking, in addition to rampant corruption, is the absence of adequate law enforcement across the trade chain: on the ground where the killing is taking place, through the transit States, and on to the final destination consumer markets.

Ecoguards with seized ivory in Nouabalé-Ndoki National Park, Congo. CREDIT: Emma Stokes © WCS.

To counter these trends of recent years, WCS and its conservation partners, along with range State governments, the U.S. government, the European Union and its Member States and others, are working in concert toward the realization of three central goals: 1) Stopping the killing; 2) Stopping the trafficking; and 3) Stopping the demand.

Just this week, the Clinton Global Initiative renewed its commitment to the fight against wildlife trafficking, expanding a coalition of countries created one year ago that together pledged both financial and human support for stricter enforcement, expanded interdiction actions, and media-based education efforts in Asia (and wherever demand for ivory and other products is high).The coming together of the United Nations Member States this week presents an ideal moment to recognize the interconnectedness of these actions to reduce, and ultimately halt, illegal wildlife trade .

This week, the Clinton Global Initiative renewed its commitment to the fight against wildlife trafficking, expanding a coalition of countries created one year ago. Credit: Adam Schultz © Clinton Global Initiative.

Governments are collaborating through existing treaties, such as the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, but much more is needed in terms of anti-corruption, anti-money laundering, and enforcement enhancement, if we are to end this scourge. Wildlife trafficking must be treated with the same seriousness as other transnational organized crime. Continued leadership from the UN on this issue is essential to the protection of iconic species and the welfare of people whose livelihoods and wellbeing depend on them.

Article source: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/susan-lieberman-phd/why-wildlife-trafficking-_b_5892664.html?utm_hp_ref=impact&ir=Impact