Madagascar: Conservation and Political Crisis

In 2009 Andry Rajoelina, with the support of the military and several small public organisations, seized power through a political coup in Madagascar. The High Transitional Authority, with Rajoelina as its leader, is currently governing Madagascar.  Rajoelina ousted President Ravlomanana and his government in a move seen by many as unconstitutional. This hasn’t won him any favours internationally as many countries have refused to acknowledge the new power ruling Madagascar. The state has been considered in a political crisis, there are still those that support Ravlomanana (currently in exile and living in South Africa) and with the date by which free elections were supposed to have taken place long since passed, the crisis doesn’t look like it’s to end anytime soon. But with all this political upheaval, which is been quite frankly overlooked by international media, it’s easy for other issues to take a backseat, or be forgotten all together.

A recent assessment by a group of specialists in Madagascar has shown that the island’s lemur population, along with all the other extremely biodiverse and unique species that call the island home are at increasing risk. Since the political coup in 2009 illegal logging and poaching of Lemurs has been on a worrying rise. You may think that this is only natural to see a slight rise for a country in political crisis, however what is shocking is that there has been no effort, by the High Tansitional Authority at least, to control the situation. “There’s just no government enforcement capacity, so forests are being invaded for timber, and inevitably that brings hunting as well,” Dr Mittermeier (Chair, IUCN Primates Specialist Group) told the BBC in a recent interview. For me personally I think it’s yet another disappointing example where the personal ambition of a few has stunted the efforts of the conservation movement.

I say this because there has been no beneficial outcome in any aspect to the people of Madagascar, to the political coup. It resulted in its isolation internationally from both the African Union and further afield, aid from the US was halted in its official capacity, during the period 2009-2011 the GDP fell to as far as -7% and the majority of the population still live beneath the poverty line. If there had been any improvement in Madagascar, then perhaps the neglect of the government to its responsibility of the conservation of its unique wildlife would have been partially forgivable. But with all these short falls, it’s hard to see why the coup was needed and easy to see that it was a complete waste of time. Politics should not affect the conservation effort, but unfortunately it does and while there are still those that wish to threaten the biodiversity of the planet there will always be those that turn a blind eye.

Mr Yellow.


HSBC, the US and the Politics of Hypocrisy


The financial sector has come under huge criticism lately as revelation after revelation is revealing just how sordid the whole business has become. First we had the Libor scandal in which Barclays fixed their inter-lending rate lower than it should have been, along with the promise that it wasn’t the only one doing things like this. Now we have the case of HSBC and how they have turned a blind eye to money laundering and have dealt money to states under strict international sanctions. But, with all the condemning coming from the political elite, can anyone else smell a bit of hypocrisy?

Let’s take the example of the money laundering been placed into HSBC accounts by drug cartels. The US was quick to condemn it but its actions have placed huge power in the drug lord’s hands. Its well-known that the towns on the border between Mexico and the US are some of the most dangerous in the world. Kidnappings, murders, torture, just about every horror imaginable, takes place daily.

Why does this take place? Well the US has been waging a war on drugs for some years and it has used Mexico in order to try and stop the flow of drugs into its territory. Yet the US is playing a part in making the problem much worse. 87% of traceable weapons seized from the drug cartels originated from the US yet the US pressurises the Mexican government to crack down on the very drug cartels that are unwittingly arming. Perhaps the US should try and control its arms trade.  Then the US also place huge pressure when it comes to the immigration as it tries and blocks huge numbers of immigrants getting across the border, giving another way that the drug cartels can take advantage of people already in a vulnerable situation.

I’m not saying that the US shouldn’t be cracking down on the drugs or illegal immigrants. It just seems a bit hypocritical that it is causing the problems which fund the very things that HSBC have also helped fund. Can most people not see that the web of problems that are causing the problems of drug cartels are the reason for what’s happened? The bank situation needs solving but so do a whole host of problems in order to stop money laundering happening. And the US senate has questions it has to answer.

That’s just one part as well. Accusations have flown in the US about how transections in HSBC funded organisations that had already linked to Al Queda as well. Yet it seems to me that the US is forgetting that it has supported questionable regimes, and still goes on supporting some. It does this and justifies it by saying that it is for the best, that the alternative would be worse and that they are edging the countries into democracies. Its actions don’t seem to back this up, especially in places like Central and South America. There its actions seem to be about controlling their economies and gaining the advantage in trade. It’s basically justifying morally questionable actions so that it can gain advantage. Sounds just like HSBC to me.

I’m not saying that the US and the world have no right to question morally questionable actions. Just that it might be time to begin and change foreign so that we, as well as the banks, no longer support corrupt regimes. So that we longer support human rights abuses around the world. It’s a huge challenge, but so is taking on the banks.

Mr Blue.

The Future of Space Exploration is in Commercialisation

The top five countries leading the world in space travel today are the USA, Russia, China, India and the Isle of Man. The first four in this list are unsurprising; the USA and Russia led the world through their infamous space race during the cold war and China and India are two of the world’s fastest growing economies and industries. The Isle of Man seems a little out of place, or does it? In the last decade the Isle has quietly developed a reliable and beneficial name for itself in the space industry, an area worth $300bn a year.

Its success has come from, not its involvement in the international effort through organisations like NASA or the ESA, but because of its early involvement with the private sector of the space industry. Just over ten years ago the Isle of Man made its first venture into the private space race by signing an agreement with the local firm ManSat to file for select orbital positions and radio frequencies. The interest that the Manx government has shown in the space industry has resulted in the island now being the home to over 30 space companies, and with a committed government and tax advantages who can blame them?

The Industry has brought the Island £35m, which is expected to rise to over a billion in the next five years. As well as providing so much to the Manx exchequer the local space programmes have shown a speedy development. Recently the company Excalibur Almaz (EA), an Isle of Man based operation, has announced that it plans on transporting space tourists around the moon and back again by 2015 using 4 disused Russian space capsules. This is a whole year before Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic planned launch of its first commercial flight into orbit. With the private space industry booming, it’s hard to see how without serious dedication, government funded organisations are going to keep up with private ones. It is a shame in a way, as the idea of the noble pioneers of space exploration boldly taking those first giant leaps for mankind fade away into the past; they’re being replaced by the new commercialised business of space travel and tourism. But perhaps that’s too nostalgic, the decommission of the space shuttle earlier this year symbolised that that time has passed and without the incentive of the cold war I doubt the golden age of space travel will return, for a time at least. For now business will carry the space industry forward and perhaps that’s not such a bad thing.

Government dedication to the space programme is all based on public opinion; if there’s no interest in space then it’s hard to justify spending billions of tax payers’ money on getting there. With space faring companies leading the way however, it’s all about competition, who can go further? Who can get there faster? Who can get there cheaper? With this fuelling the space Industry I think it’s looking forward to a healthy future or a prosperous one anyway, one with agencies like NASA or Roscosmos taking a backseat. That is until the Chinese are ready to launch for Mars, no doubt we’ll see a frantic NASA then.

Mr Yellow.

Has Conservation Developed a Crippling Fault?

On June 24th 2012 the global conservation movement lost a symbol of its continuing and much needed struggle to preserve the existence of the world’s rarest organisms. Lonesome George, the last of the Pinta Island Giant Tortoise, a subspecies of Galapagos Giant Tortoise died, leaving the world a little less biodiverse. Hopes of repopulating his kind became dire while he was still alive; several attempts were made throughout Lonesome George’s 40 year captivity to breed him with females of another close relating subspecies however this was to no avail. Perhaps the only consolation is that in recent year’s hybrids of the Pinta and Isabela Island tortoises were discovered on Volcano Wolf by scientists from Yale University. So somewhere out there the memory of Lonesome George’s now extinct subspecies live on.

But is this enough? Could the death of such an icon be the wakeup call that the global conservation movement really needs? The conservation organisation EDGE (Evolutionarily Distinct and Globally Endangered) has developed a way to combine evolutionary lineage with the current IUCN endangered species red list to create a new way of identifying the species that need the most effort in order to save them. Using this method they have compiled lists of the 100 top endangered species of mammals, amphibians and birds and the top ten coral species. The usual suspects appear, Pandas, White Rhinos, but the shocking news is that staggering numbers on their lists receive limited or no attention. 66% of the mammals and 85% of the amphibians of the Edge species are being neglected by the global conservation effort.  EDGE is attempting to raise awareness for all the species on their lists and rightly so, if these species continue to be overlooked then they will be lost to the world. This surely should broach the question then, why are all these biologically significant species being overlooked? I can’t help feel that it’s the culture surrounding conservation.

It seems like in order to engage the public with endangered species; the same images have been shown again and again. ‘Adorable’ animals that have suffered because of their destroyed habitats, after all no one wants a ‘cuddly’ panda to suffer now do they? But I think the overuse of this type of imagery has blinded the general public to the threat that so many other species face. Some cases are far dire than that of the Giant Panda, whose publicity has granted it a successful million dollar breeding program. Of course a task like this could never have been undertaken without vast donations. But when you consider that of the between 300 and 400 Pandas that have been bred in captivity in China only one (Xiang Xiang, meaning “Lucky”) has ever been released, only to die due to inability to fend for itself. Wouldn’t the millions that have been donated to a species that has to be artificially inseminated to keep its lineage going, be better spent on other organisms that have a greater chance to eventually survive on their own without human interference? Or organisms that are even more critically endangered?

Zoos all around the world are able to loan pandas from China, prices often go as far as $1 million for a year’s rental. The inherent problem however is that this money can go straight to the breeding programs, producing more Giant Pandas unfit for release into the wild. Over time it’s almost as if what started off as conservation has turned into commercial venture. Some might say that it has also become politically advantageous to artificially breed such a famous animal, as the Chinese government has gifted out many pandas. Most recently during its talks with the Lien Chen in 2005 when Taiwan was vying for independence, China gifted two Pandas to Taiwan.

Is it not immoral then that the donations of well-meaning people, who believe they are helping the conservation of an endangered species, are being spent on methods that will not help reintroduce said endangered species into the wild? And while this money goes on being wasted on creatures ineffectual at their own reproduction, there are hundreds of unique, evolutionary and biologically distinct species that are being neglected just because they don’t have the same publicity or appeal as the ‘cute and cuddly’. This is just my view on a global effort that needs re-evaluating.

Mr Yellow.

Political Opportunity Blocks Reform

House of Lords Reform has become a statue in the parliament, in fact it’s older then the statues that stand outside of the House of Commons. It is, arguably, central to our nation. A radical rethinking of the way that the country is run, removing both hereditary peers and those appointed by politicians. It would, undoubtedly, make the nation more democratic. Yet, at almost every stage, the attempts at reforming the second chamber have come under pressure and have simply failed to get past anything noteworthy. Why?

The part Labour played in blocking the recent attempts to pass, to put it simply, a time schedule on the reform is easily explained. They were seeking an opportunity to bring down the coalition. Lords Reform is dear to the Liberal party and, with more than 70 Tories rebelling, Ed Miliband refused to support the bill. He claimed that this was because the schedule didn’t offer enough time.  You don’t have to understand Machiavelli to understand Ed’s actions. He was taking advantage of the situation, trying to pressurise the coalition into collapse, whilst appearing to still support the reform in principle. It’s a bit of a joke.

The part played by the Conservative rebels is perhaps more important, considering they are meant to follow what their leader says. David Cameron supported the timeframe but over 70 rebels went against him. They gave a variety of reasons for this, many MPs arguing that the Reform would mean that the ancient supremacy of the House of Commons would come under threat. Some even went as far to suggest that the entire idea of an elected second house was just wrong.

This seems a bizarre opinion to hold. After all, who can agree that it is fair for there still to be hereditary peers making decisions about the nation? Then you have a wealth of problems that come with the system. Many accuse some MPs of arrogantly believing that, after serving a lifetime in the House of Commons, they will simply be granted a seat in the Lords. Some claim to want a referendum, arguing that the country should decide. Is there really any need for another costly and drawn out vote?

It’s this type of attack that has led some observers to say that the rebellion was some type of self-defence. They didn’t want their retirement attacked, what would they possibly do if forced to leave the bubble of Westminster? However, it may also have been an attack on the premiership of David Cameron, who seems to becoming under more and more pressure to become more right-wing and appeal to old style conservatives.

So, when it comes to Lords Reform both main parties have decided to play politics, while the Lib Dems just want to get on with it. It’s a shame. I mean who really wants a load of unelected people deciding the future of our country? I thought that we lived in a democracy but no. Democracy will have to wait; Labour and the Tories are playing politics.

Mr Blue

Can Football do Anything to Eradicate Racism?

After the closure of the John Terry race row and the not guilty verdict, what better time to evaluate racism in football. In many respects it has improved significantly from the events occurring in the 60’s and 70’s, particularly in England. But sadly the beautiful game is still marred by unsightly occurrences on and off the pitch.

So exactly how far has football come since the monkey taunts and banana throwing of the 70’s and 80’s, when racism was celebrated with more vigour than when a goal was actually scored? Well, many high profile players at the time were targeted often by their own fans. One of those players was Liverpool legend John Barnes who in a recent interview with SKY said “While racism is in society then football can do nothing to eradicate it from the game” and also went to say that “people need to stop thinking racist thoughts, just because you can’t hear as much racism in the modern game doesn’t mean to say that it is not there.”

This is all well and good but I disagree with Mr Barnes, racism in England has improved no end. You do not hear a murmur from the terraces anymore and if you do they are so isolated that the fans are thrown out of the ground with immediate effect and clubs are subsequently fined. And on the pitch racist claims are never black and white (pardon the pun) but involve both parties hauling verbal abuse at each other. I personally don’t believe racist insults are any more hurtful than if you’re insulted over your appearance or about a family member. Due to rivalries verbal or non-verbal insults are and always will be part and parcel of the game, things get said in the heat of the moment and when given time to calm down should be resolved in the words of Sepp Blatter himself, ‘by a simple hand shake.’

Football can go far in eradicating racism and not just in the game but in society as well. This at least applies to countries that play football as a national sport i.e. the whole of Europe and South America. There is simply not enough community campaigns with the right sort of publicity to succeed in getting vast numbers of children of all ages, religions and ethnicities together to play football and in doing so develop close friendships and learn how important it is to work as a team. Integration is the key and if kids from young ages learn for themselves about different religions and ethnicities, in place of a fathers or older brothers biased opinion the better society will be in the future.

But then arrives the million dollar question of who will foot the bill for these community groups? It’s all well and good that the media publicise racism by getting their teeth into a meaty news story but it doesn’t resolve the issue. The community footballing campaigns for children will tackle the issue. Should it be the government who are already stretched financially given the current economic climate or the FA who are notorious for throwing away millions on pay outs to axed England managers? Well I certainly wouldn’t want either to look after my financial books but I do think Mr Bernstein chief of the FA who is determined on getting goal line technology in place for the start of upcoming season should concentrate on the embarrassing issue of racism ahead of making referees redundant, just a thought Mr Bernstein after all it is for the good of the game.

There are without question a number of community campaigns incorporating football and a vast amount of other sports already in place, but my point is that these campaigns are doomed before they begin due to a lack of publicity and funding. People simply don’t know about them. For example football can easily defeat racism if Premier League clubs are involved and get squad members of all races to take part in certain training sessions, the youngsters are without question going to be inspired by their footballing heroes. Everyone has an opinion on the controversial issue of racism but with the correct management football, with its global popularity, can certainly improve integration amongst societies and in turn combat racism once and for all.

Mr Red