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Cambodian Government 'Complicit' in Forced Evacuations

Seth Mydans, International Herald Tribune, July 17, 2008

"Like tens of thousands around the country, the people here are victims of what experts say has become the most serious human rights abuse in the country - land seizures, forced evictions and homelessness....Between 1993 and 1999, Amnesty International said in its report, the government granted concessions for around one-third of the country's most productive lands for commercial development by private companies.

"In Phnom Penh, between 1998 and 2003, the city government forcibly evicted 11,000 families, the World Bank said. Since then, Amnesty International said, forced evictions have reportedly displaced at least 30,000 more families.

"'One thing that is important to note is that the government is not only failing to protect the population but we are also seeing that it is complicit in many of the forced evictions,' said [Brittis] Edman of Amnesty International."


Private Firefighting is a Booming Business

Malia Wollan, Associated Press, July 15, 2008

"Business is booming for private firefighting companies as drought and soaring temperatures combine to create one of the worst fire seasons in years across the West. Some contractors are even acquiring their own fire engines and flying helicopters.

"But some fire officials question the reliance on private crews, raising doubts about their training and whether they could get in the way of government firefighters. Others are concerned that a trend toward privatization will give protection to the wealthy, but leave other homeowners vulnerable to the flames."


William Greider Proposes Other Measures the Fed Could Have Taken in the Banking Crisis

William Greider, The Nation, July 14, 2008

"We are witnessing a momentous event--the great deflation of Wall Street--and it is far from over. The crash of IndyMac is just the beginning. More banks will fail, so will many more debtors. The crisis has the potential to transform American politics because, first it destroys a generation of ideological bromides about free markets, and, second, because it makes visible the ugly power realities of our deformed democracy. Democrats and Republicans are bipartisan in this crisis because they have colluded all along over thirty years in creating the unregulated financial system and mammoth mega-banks that produced the phony valuations and deceitful assurances. The federal government protects the most powerful interests from the consequences of their plundering. It prescribes "market justice" for everyone else....

"Instead of propping up Fannie Mae or others, the threatened firm should be formally nationalized as a nonprofit federal agency performing valuable services for the housing market. That is the real consequence anyway if the taxpayers have to buy up $300 billion in stock."


Oil Drilling Firms' Stocks Rise After Bush Lifts Executive Ban on Offshore Drilling

Laura Mondaro, MarketWatch, July 14, 2008

"President Bush said Monday afternoon he had ordered a reversal of an executive ban on oil and natural gas drilling in offshore U.S. waters, adding it was now up to Congress to turn his decision into law....

"The decision to lift the ban was quickly applauded by industry groups including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the American Chemistry Council, which say their members are suffering from escalating energy prices. Last month, Dow Chemical Co. said it was raising its prices by as much as 25% in July to offset higher petroleum input costs. At the same time, analysts noted any action to open up drilling - even if there's a remote chance of such a law making its way through Congress - could be a boon for oil drillers.

"Hercules Offshore Inc. and and Pride International stand the most to gain, said Pritchard Capital Partners' analyst Brian Uhlmer, because the firms have the largest exposure to drilling rigs appropriate for the U.S. continental shelf. Shares of Hercules gained 6%, outpacing a 2.1% rise in the Philadelphia Oil Service Index. Shares in Pride closed 0.8% higher."


Farmers Cite Food Crisis and Call for New Rules Allowing Agriculture on Conserved Land

Joel Achenbach, Washington Post, July 11, 2008

"Under pressure from farmers, livestock producers and soaring food prices, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is weighing a policy change that could lead to the plowing of millions of acres of land that had been set aside for conservation.

"At issue is the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), under which the government has paid farmers to stop growing row crops, such as corn and soybeans, on 34 million acres across the country. Designed in the mid-1980s to hold down production and bolster commodity prices, the $1.8 billion-a-year program has turned into a major boon for conservation, with much of the acreage planted with perennial grasses or trees, or restored to wetlands.

"Environmentalists are decrying the idea of renewing farming on the land, saying that the program represents a huge taxpayer investment in conservation and that expanded cultivation might exacerbate future flooding."


China Cracks Down on Grieving Parents

Jake Hooker, New York Times, July 11, 2008

"There is no official figure on how many children died in schools during the powerful May 12 earthquake. Seven thousand schoolrooms collapsed, according to Chinese government estimates. Thousands of students may have died, if not more, leaving behind bereft parents looking for answers.

"During the brief period of openness in late May and early June, parents marched with photos of their children and gathered at the wreckage of schools to hold memorial services. They held sit-ins outside government buildings. In one town, the top Communist Party leader got down on his knees and begged parents to stop a march, but they refused.

"But with the Olympic Games in Beijing approaching, the issue increasingly looked like a time bomb for the authorities, and they scurried to defuse it. The Propaganda Department banned coverage of destroyed schools in the domestic press. Paramilitary police officers blocked foreign reporters from demonstrations. Activists who tried to gather and publish information about school construction were detained.


Chinese Activists Fear Detentions During Olympics

Calum MacLeod, USA Today, July 10, 2008

"Li Fangping, a defense lawyer for two of China's well-known human rights cases, expects to be under 24-hour police surveillance during next month's Olympic Games. 'I will definitely have my freedom restricted,' Li says. 'But I could also be placed under illegal house arrest, or taken outside of the city to a remote holiday resort and completely deprived of my rights.'

"Another lawyer, Zhang Xingshui, says that could happen to him, too. During President Bush's visit to China in 2005, Zhang says, he "was kidnapped by the police for seven days" and held in a Beijing hotel without access to a telephone. 'I hope the government will not take me away again during the Olympics, but it might happen,' says Zhang, who hopes to catch the China-USA basketball matchup for a medal.

"Lawyers and human rights activists are concerned China will silence outspoken citizens to project Beijing's Olympic theme of 'harmony' when the world tunes in to watch Aug. 8-24."


Alberta Launches Major Public Relations Strategy to Reshape Image of Canadian Oilsands in the U.S.

Jason Fekete, Calgary Herald, July 8, 2008

"Alberta has launched a full-court press on U.S. lawmakers — including camps of the two presidential candidates — to sell the importance and sustainability of the oilsands before the province is backed into a corner....

"It’s not about selling oil. It’s about defending oil," [Gary] Mar, Alberta’s point man in Washington, said Monday in an interview. The Stelmach government’s campaign to defend the oilsands — the second largest oil reserves on the planet — is “very broad and very deep,” he noted.

"While Mar is still considering trying to arrange meetings with Obama and McCain to discuss Alberta’s concerns, he said he’ll concentrate for now on selling the province’s message to their top advisers. The government also has planned a series of U.S. delegations, including politicians and policy-makers, to visit the northern Alberta oilsands over the next few months."


Chileans Protest Government Attempts to Further Privatize Education

Reuters, Reuters, July 8, 2008

"Teachers and students want President Michelle Bachelet to withdraw an education bill from Congress under which an education superintendent would regulate government funds for public schools. Protesters say the bill does not address concerns that Chile's education system is being privatized, and they believe that the education of poorer students will suffer at ill-funded state schools as a result of the measure....

"In June, thousands of teachers and students protested against the bill, which has been passed by the lower house of congress. The senate has yet to vote on it. The bill would replace a law in place since the end of Augusto Pinochet's 1973-1990 dictatorship."

See Upside Down World for more analysis on the education bill and the protests.


World Leaders Eat 8-Course Dinner Before Food Crisis Talks

Robert Winnett, Telegraph, July 8, 2008

"Gordon Brown and his fellow world leaders have sparked outrage after it was disclosed they enjoyed a six-course lunch followed by an eight-course dinner at the G8 summit where the global food crisis tops the agenda. The Prime Minister was served 24 different dishes during his first day at the summit – just hours after urging the world to reduce the "unnecessary demand" for food and calling on British families to cut back on their wasteful use of food....African leaders including the heads of Ethiopia, Tanzania and Senegal who had taken part in talks during the day were not invited to the [dinner] function."

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