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Panama Papers Commission lacks transparency

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Two members of the Panama Papers Commission just announced that they are leaving because of lack of transparancy, according to The Guardian on August 6, 2016.

The Commission was established by the Panamian government after a leak in April of more than 11.5 m documents from the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca. The documents detail financial information from offshore accounts and potential tax evasion

Nobel prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz and Swiss anti-corruption expert Mark Pieth explained to the Guardian that they could no longer investigate the lack of transparancy in Panama’s financial system, when it itself lacks transparency. The Panamanian government had refused to give any assurances that the final report will be made public.

No surprise. The Panama government has consistently supported the more or less legal activities of the law firm, Mossack Fonesca, de facto functioning as a tax haven for persons and companies, who didn’t want attention drawn to themselves. Persons and companies, who are sanctioned by the USA and the EU, have for years been able to store their money with Mossack Fonesca without any interference from the Panama government. The list includes persons like Rami Maklouf, probably Syria’s richest man and close to Syrian President Bashir al-Assad, and companies like Drex Technologies. And the list goes on and on.

No surprise. The government of Panama raided the offices of Mossack Fonesca in April and has made several assurances that it will get to the bottom of the illegal activities. But the Panama Papers clearly show that such assurances have been made time and time again without before without anything being done about it. The president of Panama, Juan Carlos Varela, made like statements during his visit to New York in June 2015, but nothing happened. And Mossack Fonseca co-fonder Ramon Fonesco was a minister under Panama’s president, Juan Carlos Varela, until just earlier this year. He was forced to step down because ofcorruption allegations.

This excellent article from The Guardian gives an overview of the Panama Papers. For more read the thrilling book “The Panama Papers” by the two journalists from Suddeutsche Zeitung, who uncovered the story and in cooperation with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) started a year long secret collaboration with over 400 journalists across more than eighty countries:

The Panama Papers: How the world’s rich and famous hide their money offshore

The Panama Papers revealed how some of Vladimir Putin’s closest friends hid hundreds of millions of dollars around the globe in complex financial structures (Youtube video from The Guardian):

Despite Brexit, Danes want to stay in EU

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Denmark is not going to leave the European Union. A majority of Danes, 54 percent, wants to remain in the European Union, while 30 percent would like to follow England out of the European Union. This is the conclusion of a poll by YouGov, published in the Danish newspaper Metroxpress on June 24, 2016. However, Denmark is not pushing for more integration in Europe.

Likewise, another poll from Megafon said 55 percent of Danes do not want another referendum about EU. Their primary focus was on how to change the EU within, not whether Denmark should leave.

Denmark followed Great Britain into the European Union in 1972 and has time and time again voted no to extensions of EU power. Denmark said no to Maastricht in 1992, no to euro in 2000 and latest no to further EU involvement in the area of police and justice in Dec. 2015.

However, it seems like the Danish politians have learned from English Prime Mininster David Cameroun’s mistake. Neither the Danish Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen nor Mette Frederiksen, who is the leader of the largest opposition party, the Social Democratic Party, want to have a Danish referendum about whether or not Denmark should stay in the European Union. Even the biggest anti-EU Party in Denmark, the Danish People’s Party, is not rushing for a date on a Danish exit from the EU.

Read more about about how Brexit became a reality:

Brexit: How a fringe idea took hold of the Tory Party

South Asian Americans could tip the U.S. presidential election

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By Annette Birch

Published by The Capital Post on May 4, 2016,

http://thecapitalpost.com/south-asian-americans-could-presidential-election-p-48848.html

The growing population of South Asian Americans could hold the key to who will become president in November as they represent a growing part of voters in the United States. However, they have previously not attracted much attention from the political parties and in the 2012 election, only 10 percent were contacted by the political parties, according to Asian & Pacific Islander American Vote’s 2014 Survey.

“South Asians are critical to the U.S. presidential election,” said Lakshmi Sridaran, Director of National Policy and Advocacy at South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT), a national non-profit South Asian organization.

However, South Asian Americans could be more aware of the importance of voicing their opinions and exercising their vote, according to another South Asian American platform.

“The South Asian community is playing a very important role on the socio-economic front in the USA. They need to be more aware that their vote matters and their say will create a difference in American politics,” said Mansoor Razaque Qureshi, one of the initiators of the volunteer-based South Asian American Community for Hillary.

“Only if we voice our opinions and use our right to vote, can we fight racial discrimination and bridge the gap between us and other communities in the United States.”

The South Asian population in the United States is growing rapidly. Presently, there are 4.3 million South Asians in the United States – most live in California, New Jersey, Texas and New York, where they could tip the vote. But also in swing states like Florida and Virginia, where Indian Americans number around one percent of the vote, the South Asian vote could make a difference between winning or losing the presidency in those two states in November.

Today, 65 percent of the nearly three million Indian Americans in the United States identify themselves as Democrats. Eighty-five percent of this group also voted for President Barack Obama during the past election, according to the Pew Research Center. But in the past, South Asian Americans tended to vote Republican and several of high-ranking South Asian politicians in the South like former Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana and Gov. Nikki Haley of South Carolina are Republicans.

However, the South Asian community in the South may also be changing. The South Asians, who in a growing number travel to Phoenix, Atlanta, Dallas and Detroit in search of jobs, to unite with family or for lower living costs, constitute a very diverse group of different nationalities, different social status and a growing number is also illegal immigrants.

“Their [South Asians] party identity is not cast in stone,” said Karthick Ramakrishnan, an Indian American professor of public policy and political science at the University of California, Riverside to India News on Jan.16, 2016. “There’s still potential for persuasion there.”

Democrats and Republicans alike have tried to capture the vote and engage the South Asian American community. On Jan. 7, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton stated her vision for a thriving Asian American community, launching a new volunteer-run organization called AAPI for Hillary. At the same time, she denounced the hateful comments by several Republican challengers, most notably those by presidential candidate Donald Trump, who has called for a ban on any Muslim entering the country.

“They forget a fundamental lesson about our great country. Being an open and tolerant society does not make us vulnerable. It’s the core of our strength,” said Clinton, according to India News on Jan. 16, 2016.

Republicans listed it as a propaganda trick, saying Clinton was not really interested in the interests of Asian Americans, according to India News on Jan. 16, 2016. Republicans have previously been successful in appealing to South Asian Americans calling for more visas for foreign skilled workers and several of their candidates had South Asian background. However, the fact that Republicans have restricted research funding, been hostile to scientific approaches to life and a technology deficit in their campaign approach has removed them from South Asians, according to the Daily Beast on Feb. 26, 2013.

However, Sridaran said that the candidates need to focus more on the issues that are critical to South Asians, in order to better their chances of winning them over.

“They could focus more on working class, worker protection, better family based visa policy, addressing hate violence, and calling out racist comments from political candidates,” Sridaran said. SAALT is presently looking into the issues that are important to the different groups and nationalities within the South Asian community in more detail.

“Hillary’s reforms and agendas on racial discrimination, affordable health care and immigration reform would benefit the minorities and bring out the best among South Asian Americans. This would lead to progress of the nation and thereby benefit all,” Qureshi added.

Hillary Clinton has on her official website stated that she wants to focus on addressing hate violence, combatting discrimination and ending racial profiling. She is also for comprehensive immigration reform, promoting naturalization and addressing family backlog, as well as social issues such as making college affordable, enhance the Affordable Care Act and closing the gender wage gap.

But even though Hillary Clinton is perceived to be the favorite of South Asians, she may not want to forget that South Asian Americans are not only casting their votes according to their background but are also influenced by their surroundings and their living situation – something several South Asians running for political office have learned along the way.

“The trick for these [South Asian] candidates is to never let voters forget you are running to represent Sacramento, or Wichita…not Bangalore,” said Ami Bera, who has been the Democratic candidate for Congress in California’s 3rd district, in an article published by NPR on October 21, 2010.

Apalachicola river is named ‘most endangered’ waterway in US

The Apalachicola River system has for years been part of a dispute between Georgia, Florida and Alabama over water rights. Photo: Annette Birch

The Apalachicola River has for years been part of a dispute between Georgia, Florida and Alabama over water rights.

By Annette Birch

Published by The Capital Post on May 4, 2016,

http://thecapitalpost.com/apalachicola-river-named-most-endangered-waterway-p-48849.html

The Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River was on April 12 named the country’s most endangered river by American River, a national advocacy organization. For the people of Georgia, Florida and Alabama, who rely on the water, it is an unpleasant wake up call.

“It is the last straw for the Apalachicola River system,” said Riverkeeper Dan Tonsmeire for Apalachicola Riverkeeper, an advocacy group for the Apalachicola river and the bay.

Georgia, Florida and Alabama has been fighting for 25 years over, who has the right to the water from the Chattahoochee and Apalachicola rivers. The conflict has escalated over the last decade as Georgia has been using more and more water coming out of Lake Lanier to supply drinking water to Atlanta’s growing population, leaving less freshwater to come down the river to Florida’s oysters and wildlife, and Alabama’s hydropower. In October 2013, Florida decided to file suit against Georgia beforeoysters1_pininterest the U.S. Supreme Court alleging that Georgia’s increased use of water for Atlanta’s growing population is hurting its oyster industry, which has dropped from three million pounds of oyster meat in 2012 to one million in 2013.

Georgia contended in its reply to the Supreme Court that the state has not unfairly drained its freshwater resources. Rather, the decline of the oyster population was caused by drought conditions and illegal overharvesting in the Apalachicola Bay.

The outcome of the suit before the Supreme Court could have a substantial effect on other water wars in the United States, like the water war in the West over the Colorado River, shared by seven U.S. states and Mexico, or the water war in the Great Lakes, shared by eight states and Canada.

“A win for Florida could be a lesson for other states to improve water management,” said Gil Rogers, senior attorney with the Southeastern Environmental Law Center.

It is a problem of geography

Florida U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham and Florida state Sen. Bill Montford is joining American Rivers and environmental groups from Georgia, Florida and Alabama, in calling for a water-sharing agreement that gives a priority to the health of the river basin. Florida is dependent on enough water coming downstream to support its diverse eco-system and oyster industry, which previously has supported 90 percent of the Florida oyster harvest, according to Tampa Bay Times of April 12, 2016.

“It is really a problem of geography. Georgia exerts influence over the core,” said Riverkeeper Jason Ulseth for Chattahoochee IMG_1674Riverkeeper, an advocacy organization for the Chattahoochee river.

Ulseth explained that Georgia can control the water because the river originates in North Georgia and flows and water storage to a large extent is controlled through the Buford Dam at Lake Lanier. More than 70 percent of metro Atlanta’s over four million people rely on drinking water from the river, according to Atlanta Regional Commission. As the city is growing with up to 60,000 people a year, Georgia has asked the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which manages the water, for more water to be stored in Lake Lanier in order to ensure that there is drinking water enough for everyone.

We have to work together

Right now there is enough water in the river for everyone because of the recent rains. However, history shows that the states starts bickering when the water is sparse, like it happened during the droughts of 2007 and 2011.

“The problem is that Georgia has no drought management; they just keep taking the same amount of water and the ACE [U.S. Army Corps of Engineers] supports them,” Tonsmeire said. He called on Georgia and Alabama to work together with Florida to find a solution suitable for all.

“We can reverse this disastrous trend in the ACF system and recover the ecological functions in the Apalachicola without compromising Georgia’s water supply, if we act together, now.”

Florida and Alabama has consistently criticized the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which manages the Apalachicola-NotshuttingthebaydownChattahoochee-Flint (ACF) river system and basins, for relying on a 2011 ruling from a federal court of appeals that said Atlanta has a legal right to water from Lake Lanier. Georgia has adopted a state-wide water management plan and implemented regional water plans, which would put more conservation staff in local government, guarantee more audits, make assessments of water availability and forecasts of water and waste water needs. However, Ulseth said Georgia could do more to conserve water.

“While the metro Atlanta region has made significant strides in water conservation, we are far from reaching our true conservation potential. All river users must pursue aggressive water conservation measures to ensure that we are using these precious water resources as wisely as possible,” Ulseth said in a press release on April 12.

More waste water creates new needs

The problem is not only that Georgia needs more drinking water, but as Atlanta is discharging more waste water from its growing population, flows are needed to assimilate wastewater while sustaining downstream recreational opportunities and IMG_1684fish and wildlife habitat. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, who controls the flows of the Tri-State river system, has in its latest draft manual released in September 2015 allowed the flows to be set lower for the ACF river and keep more water in Lake Lanier for the population of Atlanta.

“They do not have to keep all the water in Lake Lanier but could manage it more in accordance with balancing all downstream needs, including water quality, recreation, fish and wildlife, and communities,” said Laura Hartt, Water Policy Director at Chattahoochee Riverkeeper.

Hartt added that if Georgia increased their waste water technology they did not need so much flow. This could satisfy Atlanta’s need for lower flow levels, but it would not help the Apalachicola Bay. The bay still needs adequate freshwater flows to maintain decent salinity conditions for its oysters and other flora and fauna.

Shut the whole system down

However, overharvesting, bacteria and oil spills could also be contributing factors to a dwindling oyster population in Apalachicola Bay. Florida has already restricted permits for water use and limited fishing to four days a week and the catch limit from 20 sacks per day down to five. But Tonsmeire said that Florida could manage the water better.

“In my opinion, they should close the whole system down. Florida has got some money after the oil spill. They could use that to pay the oyster fishers and producers to set out and not to harvest oysters for a couple of years. This would give the system a change to regenerate,” Tonsmeire said.

Shannon Hartsfield, president of the Franklin County Seafood Workers Association, agreed with Tonsmeiret that something needed to be done.

“We can’t survive as a fishing village. Our industry can’t survive,” said Shannon Hartsfield to Tampa Bay Times on April 12, 2016.

Sustainable water plan is going nowhere

Florida decided not to close the Apalachicola Bay down. Neither did it nor Georgia and Alabama adopt an alternative plan suggested on May 2015 by the ACF Stakeholders, a group of water users from Georgia, Florida and Alabama in the ACFStakeholderplan2Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint river basin. The plan called on local, state and federal authorities to provide drought management plans and on the Corps to increase water storage in Lake Lanier and West Point Lake as well as provide two
pulsed releases for flow down the Apalachicola river in May and July.

“It is not a perfect plan, but it is a great place to start,” Tonsmeire said.

Instead, Congresswoman Gwen Graham (D-Fl.) introduced in May last year the Apalachicola Restoration Act in Congress. The bill would require the Corps to consider freshwater flows to the Apalachicola River basin as part of the corps’ water management plans. It has been supported by 21 members from both parties of the 29 Florida delegation. Yet, the bill has been stock in committee since its introduction. It has not been supported by any members from Georgia or Alabama.

Marco Rubio is entering the debate on Senate floor

Georgia Gov. Deal resents Rubio’s initiative on tri-state water war

Florida is looking to the Court

In the meantime, Florida is looking to the U.S. Supreme Court to save their oyster industry and the environment of ApalachicolaRestorationAct3Apalachicola Bay. Rogers hinted that a win for Florida could be good for the bay but is concerned that if the court leaves it to Georgia to work out how to send more water to Florida, Georgia could decide to build more reservoirs rather than pursue more water conservation.

“It would really depend on what that win looked like. The Supreme Court has a lot of discretion and it is not likely that it would go into detail with how to regulate more water to Florida – if it decides for Florida,” Rogers said.

Still, it may take some time before the case is finalized. For even though deadline for the written briefs are in June, the deadline may be pushed off as the parties say they need more time to prepare. An independent mediator has also held confidential talks with Georgia and Florida officials, including representatives from the governors’ offices, according to Atlanta Journal-Constitution on April 12, 2016.  However, Rogers does not think the parties will settle the dispute any time soon.

EU vote recasts Denmark’s anti-terror measures

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by Annette Birch

Published in The Capital Post on Dec. 7, http://thecapitalpost.com/vote-recasts-denmarks-antiterror-measures-p-47155.html

Just a few hours after the voting boxes closed at 8 p.m. on Dec.3, the result was clear. The Danish people had by a majority of 53 percent decided to maintain Denmark’s reservation to participate in EU police cooperation and other legal affairs. The result can inhibit Denmark’s ability to fight cross-border crimes such as terrorism, which require flexible cooperation and exchange of information across borders.

”One lesson from the Paris attacks is that there is a silo mentality – countries and sometimes organizations within countries don’t share information. And one of the great successes of Europol is that it can co-ordinate activity against organized crime across borders,” said UK cyber-crime expert and Europol advisor Professor Alan Woodward from Surrey University to SCMagazineUK.com on Dec.2.

Europol assists national authorities of member states such as Denmark by exchanging information, providing intelligence analysis and threat assessments, as well as proving member states with fast and secure capabilities for storing, searching, visualizing and linking information in databases and communication channels.

Previously, Denmark has been able to participate in the anti-terror cooperation coordinated by Europol despite its reservation to participate in police cooperation and legal affairs on a supranational level.

However, if EU members as expected in the spring 2016 decide to make Europol a supranational institution, Denmark can no longer participate as long as the reservation is in place. This has been emphasized on several occasions during the referendum campaign by the right wing party in government, The Liberal Party, as well as the two left wing parties, The Social Democratic Party and The Socialist Party.

Denmark left behind in renewed anti-terror efforts

The Danish Police has several times warned that if Denmark did not repeal the country’s reservation, it could have consequences for the Danish ability to effectively exchange and communicate across borders; a tool essential to combat international crime such as terrorism and cybercrime.

”The advantage of Europol is that they automatically ask out in all states. We ask about 100 times a day,” said Head of the Police’s investigating unit, Michael Ask, to TV2 in February 2015.

The Paris attacks has sparked a renewed European will to work together to combat terrorism. The process was already initiated in 2014, when Europol launched a project to store information about thousands of people suspected of travelling across borders to engage in terrorism. This summer it was announced that a cyber-police team from all over Europe, coordinated by Europol, would be tasked with tracking down and dismantling the Islamic State’s social media presence. Finally, the European Parliament granted Europol powers to set up new police units to counter emerging threats from terrorists on Nov. 26.

No is a not a no to Europol

While some Danish parties like the left wing party, The Unity Party, and the rightwing party, Liberal Alliance, are wholeheartedly against Europol, others argue that maintaining the reservation does not necessarily leave Denmark out of Europol.

”We should supplement it [the reservation] with a parallel agreement, so Denmark can stay in the European police cooperation. It is possible, if the government will just do the necessary ground work,” said Member of Parliament for the right wing party, Danish People’s Party, to the Danish online newspaper, Altinget, on Dec. 2.

However, the EU authorities has been more skeptical, pointing out that Denmark should not expect to be able to choose freely.

”EU is not a self-service table,” several officials in Bruxelles said to the Danish newspaper, Berlingske Tidende, on Dec. 3.

The future is uncertain

But if Denmark wants to stay in Europol, a parallel agreement is exactly what the Danish government has to try to negotiate.

”It is my impression that both parties for and against the reservation agree it would be a disaster for Denmark and the Danish police, if we have to leave Europol. Therefore, we should attempt to negotiate a solution so Denmark can stay in Europol,” said the Danish Prime Minister Lars Løkke Andersen to Jyske Vestkysten just after the result had been announced late Dec. 3.

The Danish Prime Minister has summoned all parties in Parliament to meet on Monday Dec. 7 in order to discuss what course to take. On Friday Dec. 11, he will meet with EU Commission Chairman Jean-Claude Juncker and EU President Tusk in Brussels.

 

Obama will close Guantanamo – again

In the wake of the recent terrorist attacks in Paris, President Barack Obama pledged that he still intends to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay, which has been widely criticized for holding prisoners without regard for the rights protected in the U.S. Constitution.

However, this is not the first time. Obama promised 9 months ago and again two years ago that he would close Guantanamo.

Nobody doubt the resolve of President Obama to close Guantanamo. He has almost every year pleadged to close the prison, which has been known and criticized widely for it’s methods and attempts at immunity from fundamental rights protected by the U.S. Constitution. During his 2008 presidential campaign, Obama criticized then President George Bush for establishing Guantanamo – a prison Bush said was not under the protections guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution.

Next year he again promised to close Guantanamo, this time in a year.

So the question remains why Guantanamo is not closed yet. One reason could be the Republican opposition to closing the detention facility, claiming it is still necessary in a world still marred by terrorism. Another, is a more practical reason – namely what to do with so dangerous prisoners.

The Danish people remember the victims of Paris

Thousands of people in Copenhagen remembered victims of the Paris terror attack. Photo: Annette Birch.

Thousands of Danes remember victims of the Paris terror attack. Photo: Annette Birch.

by Annette Birch

Published in The Capital Post on Nov. 18, 2015, http://thecapitalpost.com/danish-people-remember-victims-paris-p-47038.html

A sea of flaming lights illuminated the night as thousands of people with torches in hand gathered to remember the more than 129 civilians killed and 350 wounded in the terrorist attack in Paris on Nov. 13. The ceremony was arranged by youth organizations from all political parties and held near the French Embassy in Central Copenhagen.

“The attack in Paris is an attack on all of us. Let us all stand together for freedom and against extremism. We see them for what they are: Fanatics and criminals,” said Danish Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen at the event after observing a minute of silence in honor of the victims. He stressed the importance of everyone carrying on as before.

“We have to hold on to our daily lives. If we cannot sit down without fear at a cafe, then we have surely lost. Let us together fight the darkness, light a light for all the people, who died in Paris,” Rasmussen said.

Two days after the attacks on a soccer stadium, a concert hall and numerous bars and cafes in Central Paris, the French authorities was still trying to identify victims and relatives were still looking for loved ones. In Denmark, several ceremonies mourning the victims had been held mourning the people killed and wounded in the shootings and most buildings had flagged on half throughout the weekend. The Danish Prime Minister rushed along with other heads of states to condemn the attacks, describing them as unbelievable and cynical.

We have to fight the same enemies.
The French Ambassador in Denmark, Francois Zimeray, acknowledged the support of the Danish people and other countries and stressed the importance of countries standing together to fight terrorism.

“Freedom is a vision of the World. It is the same we share. We have to fight the same enemies,” said Zimeray with reference to Islamic State or ISIS, the terrorist organization claiming responsibility for the attacks. He especially thanked the Danish people for once again showing their solidarity with France by being present at the ceremony and by the continuous stream of flowers, which had been laid in front of the French Embassy over the weekend.

Danes talk of themselves as a small country but you are a great people. And you have shown that in our darkest hour,” Zimeray said and received several smiles from the audience in return.

The war has no color and no religion
The torches were almost burned out and several were already laying smoking on the ground. A 5-year-old boy with a blue cap balanced on a small ledge in order to get a better a view, his mother standing beside. A light-haired girl and a woman with a scarf lightly wrapped over her dark hair exchanged a few words nearby. The street seemed to be alive with people of all ages, nationalities and religions.

I think we will win. Because we are united in front of a horror, which has no color and no religion,” said the French Ambassador in tune with the sentiment of the moment.

Helle Munk from ActionAid Denmark agreed that this war was not a battle between religions, but an attack on everyone believing in the values of democracy and human rights. But the attacks in Paris were unfortunately not the only ones. In October, more than 90 people were killed in a terrorist attack in Turkey and in November more than 40 people were killed in an attack in Lebanon.

The last torches had burned out and people were starting to leave when the last band ended the evening by echoing the sentiment of the evening with the words by Outlandish “We will not let you be indifferent to the world…”

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