A Promising Peace Deal Reached in South Sudan

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When small, politically defined areas break away from larger nations or controlling empires, the process often involves simmering unrest that eventually spills over into violent conflict.

Depending on the reaction of the “parent” entity, the disaffection may be resolved and the smaller party brought back into the fold. Or the rebellion may be crushed and the participants jailed or prosecuted.

Often, simmer turns to boil, attempts at resolution fail, and the two sides find themselves in the midst of a war that ends if and when the smaller entity prevails and establishes its independence.

But typically, within a generation, the newly independent nation becomes embroiled in civil conflict as different factions strive to put their own stamp on the new national identity. How will the nation’s army be established and led? How will its government be structured? How will its constitution or charter be drafted?

A form of this common pattern has played out in South Sudan, currently seven years old and the world’s newest nation. In 2013, soon after establishing its sovereignty, the new government tumbled from disagreement to deadly violence. Thousands were killed during this period and four million were displaced, half of whom fled the country into the neighboring states of Sudan and Uganda.

The Khartoum-based peace negotiations taking place at the end of this violent era have been largely facilitated and supported by several entities, including the governments of these two neighbor countries, the UN, and the East African Regional Body, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD).

On Sunday, a major breakthrough in the peace process occurred, with President Salva Kiir and his chief rival, Riek Machar, signing a deal alongside members of other opposition factions.

As explained by David Shearer, head of the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), Mr. Kiir will retain his position while Mr. Machar will be named the first of five vice-presidents.

Residents of Juba, the capital city where the deal was reached, celebrated in the streets on Sunday night. This weekend marks the end of five years of brutal conflict and a major turning point in the development of the new nation. Learn more here and join us as we follow these unfolding events.

 

Personal Financial Allocations and Global Influence

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Here at Just Atonement, we like exploring connections between things and other things. We appreciate highlighting the lines that, for example, explain why tariffs on imported steel might create financial struggles for Indiana soybean farmers, or how cuts to public education might generate profit increases for privately funded prisons.

We believe the old adage that everything is connected and everything matters. Though we’re aware that the sprawling network of links between small events and seismic global shifts aren’t always discernable to us, we know that they exist. And we leave our homes every morning believing that the moves and decisions we make will have an impact the world around us, even if the impact isn’t immediate and the links between each event and the next are not clearly mapped out.

It’s with this in mind that we respect one of the most powerful forces on earth and one of the primary drivers of both vibrance and decay, on both social and environmental levels: money. Money affects change. Money builds and destroys lives and empires, and financial resource distribution can shift the balance of almost any scale, even those that seem to be controlled by fate, human nature, or planetary physics. Money can make earth shift on its axis—not literally of course, but there are few events taking place on that turning earth that can’t be altered, fixed or broken by a shift in the river of money that waters every human ecosystem.

So here at Just Atonement, we keep an eye on personal and institutional financial trends that shape our landscape, from political donations to tax structures to funding for public resources that protect the public good. Here are two that are drawing our interest right now: the fate of the NRA, and personal investment decisions made in the wake of the 2016 election.

Child Separation at the Border and Personal Fund Reallocation

A growing number of ordinary citizens are looking for ways to protect vulnerable populations, methods that extend beyond protests and decisions in the voting booth. By taking a closer look at their 401Ks, mutual funds and retirement accounts, they’re identifying investments in companies that stand to profit from troubling policies like child incarceration. Many of these companies build and maintain private detention centers or provide administrative services or vendor contracts to agencies (Like ICE) that place and keep questionable policies in motion. By shifting funds from these investments and into others (including ETFs that feature only socially responsible businesses), engaged citizens amplify their voices and magnify their influence.

The Challenge of Becoming Uninsurable

There’s also been a recent suggestion that individual pressures—both personal and financial—can lead to institutional pressures, the way a small wheel turns a larger wheel. According to an article last week in Rolling Stone, the NRA appears to be approaching a state of financial distress, not simply due to a reduction in donations, but because public pressure has instilled caution in insurance providers, who are distancing themselves from an organization they’re beginning to see as financially toxic.  

Here’s a follow-up this week.

Regardless of the outcome of these pressures on the NRA (which may or may not survive its current crisis), there are lessons in this story for all of us. Everything we do matters. Everything we buy, sell, trade, or invest in, and every personal decision we make can alter what we see around us. Nothing stands still, even for a moment. No institution or corporate entity is fixed in place or as permanent as it may seem. Let’s keep this in mind as we step out the door and start another week in a turning world where even our smallest actions can make a difference.

The World Needs Ideas

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For most of our previous century, the world needed one primary thing (or rather, many things that fell under the same subheading): Stuff. More stuff. Higher quality stuff. Cheaper stuff.

When a young child was born into the developed or developing world, he or she could dream of no brighter future than one which featured a central role in this assembly line of stuff. Working in a factory, managing a team of workers, or owning a business have all been perfectly aspirational life options, all forms of cranking out the raw materials and finished goods that the people of the world have craved and have been eager to pay for. For more than a century, more stuff and better stuff made life easier, safer, healthier, more convenient and longer for all of us. Stuff has paved the roads, streamlined medical care, made living spaces cleaner and more efficient, made food tastier and safer, and made entertainment more available and more entertaining.

On the hierarchy of ideas, from bad to great to brilliant, most of the profitable ones have involved “inventions” (new stuff) and better ways to use, make and distribute the stuff that exists already.

But it’s possible that we’re reaching “peak stuff”, and the best ideas that lie ahead will fall into a new set of categories: not stuff, but fixes. If you’re a child born into the world today, we may need something new from you—Not inventions and objects, but solutions. Specifically, solutions like these:

Identifying new sources of energy

Our primary energy drivers have so far relied on the same basic idea: we burn something (coal, oil, natural gas) and use the resulting heat to turn turbines and charge batteries. Wind and solar energy are stepping in to turn the same turbines and charge the same storage units, but new possibilities abound…if we can identify and harness them. They’re everywhere, from tides to geothermal heat to the pounding of thousands of feet down a sidewalk that captures that motion and uses it to charge fuel cells. If we can collect the clean and free-roaming energy all around us, we’ll all reap the benefits.

Making habitations cooler

Cities are essential to the support of human life. They’re the hubs of humanity as we know it—centers of art, commerce, culture, communication, and human vibrance. As the planet warms, cities are also poised to trap excess heat and become very difficult places to live. But what if we painted roads and buildings white? What if we designed streets so the wind could blow through a clean channel and carry excess heat away? What if we planted trees that shielded and protected the most densely populated areas? What else?

Cleaning up

In our rush to make, transport, sell and use the stuff that defines modern life, we’ve polluted our oceans, waterways, soil and air far beyond the point of easy recovery. But this recovery isn’t optional; our future depends on it. How can we approach each of these areas of the world around us and form a plan to systematically extract the plastics, heavy metals, and chemical byproducts that reside there? We can do it—We just have to figure out how.  

Developing new forms of economic stability

People don’t just need food and shelter to live a good life. They need paychecks. Or more generally, every person on earth has an inherent right to pursue some form of financial stability and independence. But as the population skyrockets, automation takes the place of manual jobs, farms consolidate, and more and more people migrate from place to place in search of better conditions, what will all of us do for a living? A universal basic income would be nice, but how will such a thing come to pass? We don’t know yet. But we’ll need to figure it out. The clock is ticking.

Will you be one of the great minds of our new era? Will you be one of the rare few who will generate the ideas and solve the problems that define our new century? Let’s get to work!

 

The UN Breastfeeding Resolution, Ecuador, and a Negative Pattern

The current US administration has shown a consistent tendency to defer to the interests of private industry over those of human health and well-being, often despite overwhelming scientific consensus. In a similar disturbing pattern, the administration has shown an active disregard for multilateral organizations, treaties, and trade agreements.  Earlier this summer, both of these tendencies converged during a UN world health meeting in which a resolution was set to be introduced, one designed to offer global encouragement for the breastfeeding of infants and newborns.

The resolution contained separate elements targeting the promotion of breastfeeding as the healthiest option for new parents, and a call to end the “promotion of inappropriate” food choices for babies and young children.

Though the resolution ultimately passed (with changes to the wording of the second section at the insistence of the US delegation), the entire resolution appeared to be in jeopardy for several days, due to the US administration’s interest in placating the $70 billion infant formula industry. And on the path to the final passage, the US delegation engaged in a series of troubling tactics. These efforts were ultimately unsuccessful, but they raised alarm among all delegations and gained the brief attention of US and world media outlets.

We believe the attention paid to this series of events to be insufficient, and far more notable than their fleeting media spotlight might suggest. We live in an age of constant distractions and a news cycle that churns at unprecedented speed, but this issue—and the behavior of the administration regarding the resolution—seemed unusual, even by current standards. Read more about the breastfeeding resolution here, here, and here.

In summary, to try to prevent the passage of the resolution, the US threatened to cut its contributions to the World Health Organization (the US contributes almost 15% of the agency's budget). More egregious, the US threatened to place trade sanctions on Ecuador, a small country that relies heavily on US military aid, if the resolution were to succeed. The US insisted on the removal of language calling on governments to “protect, promote, and support breastfeeding.”  

While the US leveled threats against Ecuador, it did not direct the same threats toward Russia. Russia ultimately stepped up to back and help pass the resolution, with success.

The United States also tried and failed to thwart a W.H.O. effort aimed at helping poor countries obtain access to lifesaving medicines. In support of the pharmaceutical industry, The US has resisted modified patent laws that might make drugs more available in the developing world, but health advocates say this opposition has increased with the current administration.

We like to draw a moment of additional attention to the kinds of events that are too quickly swept off the stage, and this falls into that category. Follow us to learn more.

 

Assaults on the Endangered Species Act: Details and Consequences

The Trump administration and Ryan Zinke’s Department of the Interior are currently pushing for draconian changes to the Endangered Species Act, a set of laws in place since the Nixon era that have protected many fragile species threatened with extinction.

The proposed changes are part of a wide-reaching effort to dismantle environmental protections and remove regulations placed on industry, an appeal to the administration’s pro-business base. These efforts have been met with outrage and objection from groups and individuals concerned about environmental threats, including climate change, ecosystem degradation, and the loss of biodiversity.

The proposed changes will cover two broad areas of the law: They will make it easier to remove species from the list, re-exposing once protected animals to previous dangers. And the changes will remove automatic protections for species that are classified as threatened, not yet endangered. These protections include limitations to development in areas recognized as crucial habitat for the species in question.

The widely-supported current law, signed in 1973, has so far protected over 1,200 species from extinction, including bald eagles and Yellowstone grizzly bears, both of which once hovered at the brink. At this point, the list is managed and overseen by US Fish and Wildlife (land animals) and NOAA (marine species), and may be the last crucial barrier protecting imperiled species like the polar bear, the sage grouse and the American grey wolf.

Almost every species placed on the list or granted essential protections by the statutes of the act has struggled with backlash or counterpressure from industry groups who feel the protections limit their specific profits or productivity. For example, wolf protections face ongoing, high-pitched emotional condemnation from ranchers and cattle producers who feel the ESA represents a threat to their livelihood.

Every addition to the list has come with heavily politicized caveats and intense dialogue from industry groups representing everything from housing development to ranching to tourism. The outcome of these recent proposals remains to be seen, but the administration has collected a dismal environmental record so far, and these proposals appear to be taking shape along established partisan lines. Please join us as we follow these developing events.

Hudaydah: The Search for Updates and Implications

Here on the Just Atonement blog we attempt to circle back to previous commentary and we constantly look for connections between global events and our personal mission. A few weeks ago, we discussed the perilous situation unfolding in and around the Yemeni port city of Hudaydah, the only significant point of entry and exit for humanitarian relief and for those entering or fleeing a country torn apart by years of ongoing civil war.

At our last update, the situation in Hudaydah had become untenable, and had been classified by the U.N. as the worst current humanitarian crisis in the world. The city, held by Iranian-backed Houthi rebels, was under siege by Saudi and UAE-backed troops who were receiving active support from the US military.

A violent strike on the city in an attempt to target Houthi militants had entered the final planning stages, with world leaders, including the US, imploring the Saudi Arabia and the UAE to change course before endangering the lives of millions of civilians and tipping the country further into full scale famine. The US, while not refusing to participate in planned air strikes, attempted to negotiate by threatening a scale-down of certain forms of support, including refueling efforts.

The world held its breath, and then the news cycle moved on.

US reporting turned back to our own country’s ongoing political crisis, new reports of Russian meddling in our election process, and the unending series of blunders and criminal investigations plaguing the current administration.

But what happened in Yemen? And will US uncertainty about the Iran nuclear deal impact what happens next?

The feared and anticipated assault on the port city is now underway, but related events are moving forward in ways that not easy to predict, observe or report. As of this past week, the most heated areas of fighting have been centered around the Yemeni airport, which has now changed hands. The airport is no longer under the control of the Houthi and has been overtaken by the Yemeni military and its Saudi and UAE backers.  

In the meantime, the fight for the airport has claimed approximately 280 lives, and the fate of civilians trapped in the port city is more uncertain than ever.

At some point in the future, a possible negotiated settlement may involve offering and financing an autonomous Houthi area in northern Yemen. But unfortunately, current discussions of a peaceful solution have focused on less on negotiations and more on total disarmament of the Houthis. A settlement-focused UN resolution is not yet on the table. (And as recently as this weekend, our own deeply troubled administration has been ramping up threats to Iran via twitter).  

Meanwhile, it’s important for all of us to bear in mind that a humanitarian event this vast in scope will have far reaching consequences, even if the current twists and turns of the conflict are difficult to discern and analyze. In other words, these events are hard to follow, but their disappearance from the news cycle will not reduce their seismic impact on the world community.

Please read this short review in International Policy Digest to better understand the current state of Yemen and its implications for the global landscape.

 

A Historic UN Agreement on Global Migration

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Last week, UN member states finalized the text of an agreement that has been in development for more than a year. Called “The Global Compact for Safe, Orderly, and Regular Migration”, the agreement recognizes that transborder migration is an international phenomenon which can be successfully managed through international cooperation. The agreement also recognizes the right of every individual to safety, dignity and protection in the inevitable and global transition of people across national borders.

The compact respects the sovereignty of individual states and imposes no legally binding dictates that govern when and how migration will occur. It also does not aim to encourage or discourage migration in general. But it does provide a management resource, or guide, that can help states proactively prepare for immigration and emigration events.

This comprehensive framework directly addresses some of the thorniest issues that migration presents, for example, how to balance state sovereignty and human rights, how to determine the effect of mobility on economic development, and how to determine what constitutes voluntary movement.

The agreement will ideally diffuse the most dangerous, exploitative, and chaotic aspects of transborder migration and support elements of safety, social cohesion, and economic progress.

This document also represents the power of multilateral approaches to international problems, a timely message in an age of increasing human transition.

Speaking on the subject of migration, Special Representative for International Migration Louise Arbour stated, “Its chaotic, dangerous exploitative aspects cannot be allowed to become a new normal.”

Please feel free to read the text of the agreement here! And enjoy some promising news in an uncertain global migration landscape.

 

The Options That Lie Ahead

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This is an existentially stressful day. It’s Monday, July 16th, and as of last week, fresh evidence has been revealed that suggests a massive, cohesive effort to subvert democracy in the United States in 2016. The perpetrators of this effort are now meeting behind closed doors in a presumably friendly session with the political leader that the efforts successfully installed.

Meanwhile, the planet is warming in ways that will not likely be stopped or reversed, even in the event of globally unified, beautifully coordinated campaign, the odds of which are vanishingly slim. Capitalist pressures and disruptions to democratic systems are powerful forces that push back against this effort at every turn, by both deregulating industry and by breaking down a harmonious coordination between nations that might represent our last chance at salvation. The prospects for human health and prosperity during the second half of the 21st century are increasingly cloudy, and as resources diminish, desperation and its attendant scapegoating, panic and violence are likely to follow.

For reasons that may or may not be scientifically linked to this predictable set of events, birthrates are slowing, but no rate of reduction will likely be enough to forestall a spike in measurable human suffering that seems to lie on the horizon.

We are a product of the things that happen around us. No person is born into a world free of influences, and no person lives a life untouched and unshaped by their culture and circumstances. In other words, not a single one of us can opt out of whatever lies ahead. There is no exit from this ride; our only responses, reactions and choices will come from a menu of options, a menu which will become easier to read as time goes by.

Humanity will survive, of course: Humans have seen worse and have endured worse than what we are experiencing right now, and on every occasion so far we have emerged on the other side of change and hardship intact, if damaged by the experience. This will happen again. But on the path ahead, every one of us will be forced to adapt in one way or another. Here are some of the options and adaptations that seem to be appearing in front of us. Do any of them look familiar?

Selective consumption

Temperature increases around the globe appear linked to human activity, which seems to take one primary form above all others: consumption. “Activity” seems to be synonymous with making stuff, buying stuff, transporting stuff, using stuff, and throwing stuff away. Between food, plastic, travel, amusement, and personal comfort, stuff lies at the heart of the fossil fuel blaze that keeps us in motion, and pushing back against reckless consumption seems like a wise and promising personal choice. Saving our money and limiting plane flights, meat consumption, and plastic use seem like easy decisions with a measurable impact. Are they? Only time will tell, but many of us are leaning toward this option as a way of stemming the tide.  

Adoption

The choice to have children isn’t always considered a choice; for many of us, bringing children into the world is a biological drive as natural and urgent as preserving our own lives. But as birthrates drop, what becomes of this drive? There are still millions of children around the planet who need parents and don’t have them. And “adoption” can be considered a kind of metaphor. It’s a way of redirecting our energy toward protecting, preserving, and finding personal meaning in devotion to that which is already here.

Degrees of activism

It’s one thing to make a choice that protects the planet and the people around us. But it’s another thing altogether to take a leadership role in this process and extend our influence beyond ourselves. Activism means doing wise things, and then to encouraging and helping others to do those things as well. The only hurdle: activism requires effort, energy, and lots of typically uncompensated labor. It’s not for everyone, but it’s a rewarding option for some.

Adjustments of consciousness

Not doing anything at all appears to be one of our options, and it’s an option that most of us will appear to take until the day we are forced into action by the circumstances of our own lives. But this is an illusion. When we tune out, we aren’t really tuning out. We aren’t really turning off the radio when we do this, we’re just changing the station, and frequent station changes may actually be healthy and wise. Turning our attention toward art, communication, spirituality, and connection with others in any form can widen a shrinking perspective, ward off desperation and fear, and help us remember that there are thousands of ways to feel and many sides to every story. It’s never a bad idea to remember this. Turning away often just means looking at the same world from different angles.

Adjustments of environment

Here’s a common scenario: A person wants to lose weight, but every night he finds himself opening the fridge and eating cookies and cake. One day, he accepts that willpower and self-determination cannot solve this problem. These things have not worked, and they never will. So he throws away the cookies. Every night he stares into the fridge longing for cookies, but they aren’t there. So he can’t eat them, and he loses weight. Sometimes we change ourselves by changing the things around us. We move, shift jobs, adjust our friends, or alter the landscape we see when our eyes open each morning. We will adapt to whatever we place in front of ourselves; we just have to get past the first and hardest step.

Do you see your own course of action on this list? Do you see a course of action that you’d like to take, but you aren’t sure how? We’re here to help. Contact our team and join our mission. Together, we’re going to face whatever lies ahead. The only way out is forward.

 

Changing Living Conditions in India as a Result of Climate Change

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The World Bank has just released a study indicating that by 2050, India’s GDP will may drop by 2.8 percent and the living standards of much of the country’s population may drop as well, both due to climate change.

The study was originally designed to examine the economic impact of predicted rainfall and temperature increases in specific areas throughout the subcontinent. Titled “South Asia’s Hotspots: The Impact of Temperature and Precipitation Changes on Living Standards”, these research findings indicate a projected 1 to 2 degree change (Celsius) by 2050, even with the restrictions put in place by the Paris climate change agreement of 2015. Almost half of south Asia’s population lives within designated “hot spots”, or areas in which the standard of living is expected to drop under all potential scenarios, from best case to worst.

Here’s a visual depiction of how living conditions may change in the researched area. Contrary to some assumptions, the most affected areas in this case will not lie along the coast (though in other countries, hard-hit regions will be those that maintain high residential and commercial development along potentially flooded shorelines). Instead, India’s “hot spots” will be concentrated in flatter (not mountainous) inland regions.

As always, reports like this study compel us to ask and re-ask our central question: What does this mean for us?

Here at Just Atonement, legislation passed in India that may affect national emissions standards, taxes on higher polluters, manufacturing controls, public energy usage, and waste disposal lie outside of our immediate control. But this news helps us anticipate the consequences of global trends, global emissions, and global laws related to human migration.

The report highlights two areas of looming and possibly inevitable change, and encourages us to prepare for these changes as a global community. The first will be a temperature increase that recognizes no national borders. And the second will be a pattern of human migration that will likely begin with an outward flow from these identified hot spots.

Where will the affected people go? If they must leave, which cultures, regions, and nations are prepared to take them in? How will both parties (residents and new arrivals) benefit or suffer as a result of this flow?

Most important, what can we do to prepare for the ensuing events so that we, as a global community, are not caught off guard by changes that will not wait for us to announce our readiness?

Climate change will change the way we live. And the first and most powerful changes are likely to affect two key identifiable aspects of our lives: 1) How we obtain and distribute energy, food, and water, and 2) how we migrate.

Immigration issues are intimately linked to temperature issues; it’s our job to fix our gaze a few miles down the road and draw meaningful conclusions about these intersections and how we might ease the most disruptive aspects of climate change on the generations that are soon to arrive among us. Contact our office for more information and opportunities to make a difference.

Assault on the Judiciary in Poland

Two powerful aspects of our modern era, above all others, have proven themselves to be bulwarks against what might otherwise become immeasurable human suffering: stable democracies and stable economies. When a nation establishes itself as a reasonably transparent collective of leaders who are chosen by the citizenry, stability and predictability tend to follow. This stability supports the growth and regulation of a financial system that accounts for the needs and the productive capacity of the nation’s people and its natural resources. There are no real surprises here: Democracy is good for people, good for nations, and beneficial for the neighbors of both individuals and democratic states.

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But as we know, democracy is fragile. Some systems are self-sustaining, and once put into motion, they reinforce themselves as time goes by. But others are not self-sustaining, and they require continual pressure from inside and out in order to stand firm against the pull of entropy.

Unfortunately, democratic systems of government—our best protection against hunger, disease, injustice and civil chaos—fall into the second category.  Democracy works. But it does not work without the constant application of pressure and participation from every direction. And as we’ve learned over time, a few common signals indicate cracks and signs of trouble that must be addressed if democratic systems are to survive. These include authoritarian assaults on 1) the media and free press, 2) justice for political dissidents, 3) separation of religious institutions from state institutions, and 4) the independence of the judiciary.

Right now in Poland, a full scale attack on judicial independence is underway.

On Tuesday night at midnight, a law went into effect mandating that all Supreme Court Justices over age 65 must retire immediately. This effectively removes 27 of the country’s 72 judges from the bench. The government, led by Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, asserts that these measures are necessary.

Speaking to the parliament of the European Union on Wednesday, Morawieki insisted that the Polish government (and all governments of EU member nations) have the “right to shape their legal systems according to their own traditions”. But many have identified this move as a straightforward attempt by the ruling party to gain control over the judiciary.

On Wednesday morning, all 27 purged justices showed up for work. They were not prevented from entering the building.

"This is a watershed moment for the Polish judiciary and indeed for the whole political system," said Piotr Buras, head of a think tank called the Warsaw office of the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR). "It may have some very far-reaching consequences and implications for further political development in Poland."

On Wednesday morning and into Thursday of last week, chaos seemed to prevail as supporters cheered the defiant justices.

We will be watching developments in Poland over the next few weeks with our attention fixed, as always, on democratic principles and applications unfolding in real time. Only by learning from history can we avoid repeating it, and we learn by staying alert as our lessons become available.