Latest Developments, March 9

In the latest news and analysis…

Bad food
The Guardian reports that a UN food expert has said what people eat, in both rich and poor countries, is leading to a “public health disaster” that requires action from the world’s governments.
“The solutions offered by agribusiness of more hi-tech or fortified foods cannot solve the problems, which are systemic, according to [UN special rapporteur on the right to food, Olivier] De Schutter.
But since this view is in effect an attack on the major economic interests of the west, the question is how the rapporteur thinks change can be brought about. For De Schutter, the UN agencies that have influence over policy in the area of food and health are where they were with tobacco in the 1980s. At the UN high-level summit on non-communicable disease in New York last September, the US blocked tougher wording on goals to combat the epidemics of obesity, diabetes and heart disease in order to protect their agrifood companies.”

Growing hate
Reuters reports that a new Southern Poverty Law Center study has found “hate groups” are on the rise in the US.
“The center counted 1,018 hate groups in the United States last year, up from 1,002 in 2010. The number of groups have been increasing since 2000, when the center counted 602.
[The center’s Mark] Potok said it was hard to gauge how many Americans are members of hate groups, but estimated the number was between 200,000 and 300,000 people.

The law center also found the number of groups specifically targeting gays and lesbians rose to 27 in 2011 from 17 in 2010, and the number of anti-Muslim groups jumped to 30 from 10.
But the number of so-called “nativist extremist” groups who harass people they suspect of being illegal immigrants appeared to be in decline. The number of those groups dropped to 184 in 2011 from 319 the year before.”

Odious contracts
The Center for Global Development’s Kimberly Ann Elliott makes the case for “preemptive contract sanctions” as a new way for policy makers to apply additional pressure on “illegitimate” regimes.
“The informal group of Western and Arab states known as ‘Friends of Syria’ should declare that the Assad regime is illegitimate and that contracts signed after the date of the declaration would be unenforceable in the courts of those countries. The broader the group, the more legitimate and politically credible the declaration would be, but the U.S. and UK are the critical players because of the role that the international financial centers in New York and London play in world commerce.”

World Bank, USA
The Wall Street Journal reports the next World Bank president will be a 12th consecutive American, but it will not be Columbia University’s Jeffrey Sachs who recently launched a public campaign for the position.
“Since World Bank President Robert Zoellick confirmed his departure three weeks ago, no serious people have doubted that the U.S. would maintain its hold on the job – even if they wished for a truly merit-based process that cast aside nationality. Created after World War II, the World Bank has always had an American as president while a European has led the IMF. The combined shares of U.S. and European nations in each organization make it nearly impossible for a candidate from another background to break the unwritten, informal agreement.”

Women making laws
There is “little correlation” between the number of women in a country’s parliament and that country’s performance on other traditional development indicators, according to Manuela Picq who has just wrapped up a stint as visiting professor and research fellow at Amherst College.
“Women’s presence in politics signifies neither a cultural pattern unique to Europe nor is it a monopoly of a presumably more civilised West. Many non-European societies do as well or better, proving the universality of women participation in politics as well as the inadequacy of claims to export women agency.
Politically powerful countries are not leading global trends when it comes to women presence in politics. In fact, indicators show that it is often quite the contrary, meaning that the US and Europe cannot invoke women’s rights when attempting to justify political, economic or military interventions.”

Free-trade blinders
Harvard University’s Dani Rodrik warns against “fetishizing globalization simply because it expands the economic pie.”
“To pass judgment on redistributive outcomes, we need to know about the circumstances that cause them.

If we do not condone redistribution that violates widely shared moral codes at home, why should we accept it just because it involves transactions across political borders?”

Respecting plants
The University of the Basque Country’s Michael Marder argues that public indifference to a “seismic change” in the field of botany is symptomatic of humanity’s unthinking domination of plants, as well as the further entrenching of English as an “imperial language.”
“Just as, up to and including the age of Descartes and Spinoza, no one took philosophy and other fields of inquiry seriously unless the treatises were written in Latin, so the contemporary production of what counts as credible (or, at the very least, effective) knowledge adheres to the gold standard of English and translation into English.
This is not to say that we should be nostalgic for arcane Latin locutions that carried with them a different set of hegemonic traits superimposed, for instance, onto plants. Rather, we ought to realise that rethinking human relation to plants is not only a matter of ethics, but also of survival, for all species, kingdoms and the planet as a whole.”

Good intentions
The New York Times’ Eduardo Porter writes that Western campaigns to end child labour in poor countries can have unfortunate unintended consequences.
“In Sialkot, Pakistan, a 1997 program to stop children from stitching soccer balls misfired even though the program replaced some of families’ lost income and helped children enter school. Moving stitching from homes to centers that could be easily monitored made it more difficult for the mostly female work force to work. One report said family incomes dropped by 20 percent.”

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