Focal Points Blog

Tanzania to Export Electricity While Most of Its Citizens Lack Power

A map of Tanzania in Chinese.

A map of Tanzania in Chinese.

Following the signing of an agreement between the Tanzanian energy company TANESCO and China Power Investment corporation (CPI) to build a gas-fired power plant, Tanzania’s Minister for Energy and Minerals announced that Tanzania planned to export electricity by 2015.

The importance of increasing Tanzania’s capacity to produce electricity is difficult to overstate. The Tanzanian Private Sector Foundation, which compiles an annual report concerning barriers to investment in the country, reports that inadequate and unreliable power sources has been the most frequently cited obstacle to investment for the past four years.
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Israel Continues to Stonewall Arab States About Its Nukes

International Atomic Energy flag

International Atomic Energy flag

Double standards can only be endured, as well as enforced, for so long. Eighteen Arab member states of the International Atomic Energy Agency wrote a letter to IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano to request that “Israeli nuclear capabilities” be included on the agenda of the 57th IAEA General Conference to be held Sept. 16-20 in Vienna. As Reuters reported

The IAEA meeting “must take appropriate measures to ensure that Israel places all its nuclear installations under agency safeguards and accedes to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons,” the letter, dated in June, said.
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Labor Rights Remain a Dream Unrealized for Colombia’s Workers

Meeting of fired sugarcane workers.

Meeting of fired sugarcane workers.

On Wednesday, July 10, a district court in Buga, Colombia, absolved six labor leaders of “conspiracy to commit a crime.” The accused—four sugar cane cutters and two Colombian Senate staffers—were originally charged for attending a 2008 meeting where it was alleged that the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia, FARC) were present (WOLA was also at the meeting, and can attest that it was a meeting about labor rights violations, and no FARC members were in attendance). The labor leaders, the prosecution alleged, were conspiring to commit a violent act.

Their acquittal is little short of historic; in a country where union organizing has often been equated with terrorism and union leaders are regularly declared “military objectives,” the court’s decision that the meeting was part of a legitimate, legal struggle for labor rights is a major step.
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If Iran Had a Nuke Research Program, It May Have Been Rogue

Rouhani

Courtesy Wikipedia Commons

Even informed Americans are loath to accept the unlikelihood of a nuclear-weapons program on the part of Iran. Why? They may just wish to maintain their credibility in the face of prevailing opinion. Also, they fear being played for fools since Iran isn’t as forthcoming as the West would like. (That what’s asked of it is beyond the parameters of its safeguards agreement with the IAEA is an issue for another day.)

Nevertheless, among them are those concerned that the United States and/or Israel will attack Iran or, in the interim, sanction it to the point of human rights abuses. (Okay, that horse has long left the barn.) Turns out, now they can have their cake and eat it, too.
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Chinese Mother’s Sex-Crime Protest Morphs Into Labor Camp Reform

Courtesy Wikipedia Commons

Courtesy Wikipedia Commons

“The 2,000 something yuan state compensation will be of help to my poor family but it’s really not a lot of money. The main reason for my appeal is to prove my innocence,” Tang Hui, mother of a rape victim, told the South China Morning Post. On July 15, Hunan Provincial People’s High Court ruled for Tang Hui to receive compensation for having spent nine days of unjustified detention in a labor camp. The ruling holds important and promising implications, for both reform of the labor camp system and for the power of the Chinese public.

In October 2006, Tang Hui’s daughter was kidnapped, raped, and forced into prostitution for two months before she was rescued and returned to her home. Of the seven kidnappers tried in June 2012 at the Hunan Provincial Higher People’s Court, two [P1] were sentenced to death, while four received life sentences and the last was sentenced to serve in prison for 15 years.
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Russia Declares Open Season on Gays

Peter Gray / Wikimedia Commons

Peter Gray / Wikimedia Commons

With even Pope Francis wondering, “If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?” it would appear that the world has reached a milestone in gay rights. However, a quick trip to Russia would quickly confirm that this progress is decidedly uneven.

President Vladimir Putin recently signed into legislation a series of anti-gay laws that ban the adoption of Russian-born children to gay couples and to anyone living in a country where marriage equality exists. The new legislation will also allow police to arrest tourists and foreigners suspected of being “pro-gay.”
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Patriot Act Sponsor James Sensenbrenner — Progressive Champion?

James-SensenbrennerYou remember James Sensenbrenner, don’t you? A Republican from Wisconsin, he introduced the Patriot Act in the House of Representatives 42 days after 9/11. Among his other “accomplishments” was authoring the Real ID Act in 2005 and acting as a general thorn in the side to any legislation that could be interpreted in as at all humane and progressive. Turns out, even Sensenbrenner has his limits.

In a New York Times article titled Momentum Builds Against N.S.A. Surveillance Jonathan Weisman reports on the beginnings of a congressional change of heart.

The rapidly shifting politics were reflected clearly in the House on Wednesday, when a plan to defund the National Security Agency’s telephone data collection program fell just seven votes short of passage. Now, after initially signaling that they were comfortable with the scope of the N.S.A.’s collection of Americans’ phone and Internet activities, but not their content, revealed last month by Edward J. Snowden, lawmakers are showing an increasing willingness to use legislation to curb those actions.
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Peter Buffett: Corporate Rich Use Philanthropy to Paper Over Wounds They Inflict

Bill Gates -- spreading the wealth?

Bill Gates — spreading the wealth?

“Conscience laundering” is what Peter Buffett (son of Warren) calls “feeling better about accumulating more than any one person could possibly need to live on by sprinkling a little around as an act of charity.” He provides perspective from inside the world of philanthropy, where, like his father, he’s a player in a startling op-ed in the New York Times on July 27 titled The Charitable-Industrial Complex. He writes:

Inside any important philanthropy meeting, you witness heads of state meeting with investment managers and corporate leaders. All are searching for answers with their right hand to problems that others in the room have created with their left.
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Egypt: The Deck Reshuffled (Pt. 2)

Read Part 1.

Muslim Brotherhood founder Hassan al-Banna.

Muslim Brotherhood founder Hassan al-Banna.

While media in the United States has focused on the Egyptian uprising that triggered a military-led coup in which the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) led government was dissolved, hardly any media reports here have considered the regional implications of the Egyptian events, nor the implications for U.S. Middle East policy. Reeling from the coup’s impact, the echoes of which extend far beyond Egypt, the MB is now scrambling to limit the regional damage to its influence. U.S. Middle East policy slips back into disarray.

Yet, analyzing Egyptian politics, economic, and social structures requires taking into consideration the country’s role in the region, and not in isolation. Assessing the Egyptian crises, the subject matter at hand, in abstraction, without due attention to the Egypt’s regional context misses the proverbial forest through the trees.  To better understand what happened in Egypt and the ramification of the recent events we need to explore a number of issues:

1. The Muslim Brotherhood (MB) and its regional and internal politics
2. The regional power players
3, The sectarian campaign against the Shia.
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Santiago Train Crash: What, No Speed Governor?

AlviaOnly China has a more extensive high-speed train network than Spain. On Wednesday night at least 80 people were killed when a high-speed train, rounding a curve, flew off the rails in Santiago de Compostela, Spain. Reuters reports:

El Pais newspaper said the driver told the railway station by radio after being trapped in his cabin that the train entered the bend at 190 kilometers per hour (120 mph). An official source said the speed limit on that stretch of twin track, laid in 2011, was 80 kph.

The driver, Francisco Jose Garzon, was reported as saying:

“We’re only human! We’re only human! … I hope there are no dead, because this will weigh on my conscience.”
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