Latest Developments, November 14

In the latest news and analysis…

Scary TPP
The International Business Times offers up five “scary provisions”, including one relating to affordable medicines, found in a purported chapter of the Trans-Pacific Partnership published by Wikileaks:

“ ‘The U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) has proposed measures harmful to access to affordable medicines that have not been seen before in U.S. trade agreements,’ Public Citizen stated Wednesday. ‘These proposals aim to transform countries’ laws on patents and medical test data, and include attacks on government medicine formularies. USTR’s demands would strengthen, lengthen and broaden pharmaceutical monopolies on cancer, heart disease and HIV/AIDS drugs, among others, in the Asia-Pacific region.’
The TPP would limit access to medicines by expanding medical patents’ scope to include minor changes to existing medications; instituting patent linkage, a regime that would make it more difficult for many generic drugs to enter markets; and lengthening the terms of patents by forcing countries to extend patents’ terms during lengthy review processes.”

Dirty rubber
Global witness is calling on the World Bank, among others, to stop investing in a company the NGO has accused of land grabbing in southeast Asia:

“Vietnamese rubber giant Hoang Anh Gia Lai (HAGL) has failed to keep to commitments to address environmental and human rights abuses in its plantations in Cambodia and Laos, Global Witness said today. The campaign group says the company now poses a financial and reputational risk to its investors, including Deutsche Bank and the International Finance Corporation, and recommends they divest.”

Western onus
Xinhua reports that China is calling on rich countries to keep their past climate promises, including the financial ones, at this month’s climate change negotiations:

“The UN determines that developed countries should be held accountable for the accumulated high levels of greenhouse gas emissions since the industrial era.

For the period from 2013 to 2020, developed countries are obliged to further cut their carbon emissions as well as providing funding and technologies to help developing nations handle challenges caused by climate change, [Chinese COP 19 delegate Su Wei] said.
‘Finance holds the key to the success of the Warsaw conference,’ Su said, urging developed countries to keep their promises made in previous climate talks.
Developed countries have agreed to jointly provide 100 billion US
dollars per year by 2020 for developing countries to better cope with climate change, which is far from implementation.
‘I hope we can make concrete progress in facilitating the operation of financial and technical transfer from developed countries at the Warsaw talks,’ he said.”

Thinking bigger
Thomson Reuters Foundation reports on the argument that, “with climate-changing emissions still growing despite 20 years of negotiations and agreements to limit them”, consensus should not be the top objective at the current COP 19 climate summit:

“ ‘It’s ambition that’s needed, from my point of view,’ says Saleemul Huq, a senior fellow on climate change at the London-based International Institute for Environment and Development.
Right now, ‘everybody is willing to do something’ – a big change from the 2009 Copenhagen talks, when many countries were still refusing to budge – ‘but the cumulative amount that comes to is insufficient,’ he says. ‘So raising the ambition collectively of everyone is the key. The issue of inclusion has already been solved. Ambition has not.’

The problem is that negotiators tend to have fixed positions. No major developed countries have increased the ambition of their emissions reduction commitments so far in Warsaw, for instance.”

Muscular soft power
The Independent reports that both Western and non-Western powers are deploying troops across Africa for “not entirely altruistic” reasons:

“The last British campaign in Africa was 13 years ago in Sierra Leone, but the UK is currently training forces in three states that are anything but calm. General Sir Peter Wall, the head of the Army, said: ‘We have got three relatively new things which don’t involve significant numbers of people but nevertheless are pointers to the future: Somalia, Mali and also the training of Libyan militias for integration into the military.’

‘If the world’s one remaining superpower is taking soft power seriously and the emerging one, China, is also starting on that path, soft power of a muscular variety can only get more traction,’ said Robert Emerson, a security specialist. ‘Conflicts will not go away from Africa any time soon, but we are seeing major adjustments in dealing with them. It will be fascinating scene of competition for influence in the future.’ ”

A baby step too far
The Guardian reports that even conservative reforms to some “potentially disastrous” kinds of US food aid may not happen:

“The Senate bill includes changes to the food aid programme that would at least partly satisfy reformists. These include a small expansion of a pilot programme that allows food aid to be bought locally, as well as restrictions on the use of monetisation. The House version largely maintains the status quo, while eliminating local sourcing and actually encouraging organisations to monetise food aid.
‘We’re seeing a lot of intransigence on the part of the House in terms of getting anything done,’ said Eric Munoz, a senior policy adviser at Oxfam America. He admitted he was ‘not at all confident … that the [final] bill will include the reforms to food aid that the Senate has proposed’.
The Senate provisions marked a step in the right direction, said Munoz, but even if its reforms were adopted, they would amount to ‘only an incremental step toward where we ultimately need to go’.”

Haunted by loss
Madiha Tahir responds to criticism of her newly released documentary “about drone survivors and the families of the dead” in Pakistan:

“The springboard for the narrative is a speech by President Obama delivered this year in which he claims to be haunted by the loss of civilian life resulting from his policies. We make the frame clear by beginning with this speech followed by a guiding question: ‘What does it mean to be haunted by loss?’ It should be clear that to answer that question by saying ‘Because, Taliban’ is utterly nonsensical.

While [Malala Yousafzai] has commanded the attention of President Obama – to whom she was not shy about voicing her opposition to drone attacks – nine-year-old Nabila, who travelled to the US this month to deliver testimony to Congress about the bombing that killed her grandmother and injured the little girl, was received by a paltry five members out of the 435 US House of Representatives. There has been a studious disinterestedness in the stories of drone survivors. They don’t sell. That’s the broader context for ‘Wounds’.”

Latest Developments, November 20

In the latest news and analysis…

Hot Earth
The World Bank has released a new report warning that the planet could get 4°C warmer over the next century “even if countries fulfill current emissions-reduction pledges”:

“Moreover, adverse effects of a warming climate are “tilted against many of the world’s poorest regions” and likely to undermine development efforts and global development goals, says the study by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and Climate Analytics, on behalf of the World Bank. The report, urges ‘further mitigation action as the best insurance against an uncertain future.’

The report identifies severe risks related to adverse impacts on water availability, particularly in northern and eastern Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia. River basins like the Ganges and the Nile are particularly vulnerable. In Amazonia, forest fires could as much double by 2050. The world could lose several habitats and species with a 4°C warming.”

Long goodbye
Agence France-Presse reports that the French army has ended its combat mission in Afghanistan, though a contingent of its soldiers will remain in the country indefinitely:

“Of the 2,200 French soldiers still left in Afghanistan, a military official said that about 700 would return to France by the end of the year.
Around 50 trainers will remain based in Wardak province, west of Kabul, and 1,500 would stay in the Afghan capital, where most will be tasked with organizing the final departure of French troops by the summer of 2013.
After that date, only several hundred French soldiers involved in cooperation or training missions will remain in the country, the military official said.”

Killer robots
Human Rights Watch has released a new report calling on the world’s governments to “pre-emptively ban” weapons that would be able to operate without human guidance:

“Fully autonomous weapons could not meet the requirements of international humanitarian law, Human Rights Watch and the Harvard clinic said. They would be unable to distinguish adequately between soldiers and civilians on the battlefield or apply the human judgment necessary to evaluate the proportionality of an attack – whether civilian harm outweighs military advantage.
These robots would also undermine non-legal checks on the killing of civilians. Fully autonomous weapons could not show human compassion for their victims, and autocrats could abuse them by directing them against their own people. While replacing human troops with machines could save military lives, it could also make going to war easier, which would shift the burden of armed conflict onto civilians.
Finally, the use of fully autonomous weapons would create an accountability gap. Trying to hold the commander, programmer, or manufacturer legally responsible for a robot’s actions presents significant challenges. The lack of accountability would undercut the ability to deter violations of international law and to provide victims meaningful retributive justice.”

Growing slick
Reuters reports that an oil spill has spread “at least 20 miles” from an ExxonMobil facility off Nigeria’s coast:

“ ‘This is the worst spill in this community since Exxon started its operations in the area,’ said Edet Asuquo, 40, a fisherman in the Mkpanak community, as women scooped oil into buckets. In some marshy areas, plants were poking out of the slick, not yet dead and blackened by the oil.
‘The fishermen cannot fish any longer and have no alternative means of survival,’ Asuquo said.”

Fairer taxes
Sol Picciotto and Nicholas Shaxson, authors of ‘Regulating Global Corporate Capitalism’ and ‘Treasure Islands’ respectively, make the case for a unitary tax to replace current global rules that “seek to disaggregate [multinationals] into collections of separate entities”:

“Instead of taxing multinationals according to the legal forms that their tax advisers conjure up, they are taxed according to the genuine economic substance of what they do and where they do it. Each company submits to the tax authorities of each country where it does business a ‘combined report’ providing consolidated accounts for the whole global group, ignoring all internal transfers. The report specifies the group’s physical assets, workforce and sales and the overall profits are then divided up among jurisdictions according to a formula weighing these three factors. This system would benefit everyone, particularly developing countries.”

Big waste
The Center for Global Development’s Owen Barder looks at the inefficiencies of US food aid – in one case, freight and logistics accounted for 97% of the cost of salmon for Cambodia – prompting him to ask three questions:

“a. How many people in the developing world go hungry each evening because of the way we waste our food aid budgets?
b. Is there really no limit on how much money is spent lining the pockets of our own companies before the OECD refuses to count the spending as aid?
c. How dare we lecture developing countries about wasteful procurement, corruption and inefficient public expenditure?”

Limited vision
Global Policy’s Katherine Wall takes issue with the “one-nation” theme being peddled by UK Labour Party leader Ed Miliband:

“Rather than focusing on social justice within the borders of the nation-state, we should broaden our understanding of the common good. By realising that the modern world in inter-connected, that the welfare of each is linked to the welfare of all, we can re-define the goals of the left. Instead of a common good within the confines of the nation, we should be pursuing the global common good and articulating how that aspiration can be achieved. ‘One-nation’ rhetoric limits the very ideas of social justice to within the borders on a map. What if we were to reimagine the world? What if we were to be truly one-nation – one world – in which the welfare and the good of all people were as important to us as those who happen to live within our state? Surely this would look a lot more like justice. Surely this would more accurately capture an understanding of the common good.”

A little sharing
Oxford University’s Frances Stewart argues that redistribution of wealth within and between countries is needed to eliminate poverty worldwide:

“The average incomes of high-income countries (in Europe, North America and Japan) are more than 70 times the average income of low-income countries. Redistribution of 10% of the incomes of the richest countries would increase the incomes of the poor group of countries by more than ninefold per head, clearly providing poor countries with enough resources to eliminate poverty.”

Latest Developments, July 20

In the latest news and analysis…

Carbon glut
Reuters reports that despite plummeting carbon prices, the UN still believes its carbon offset market will play a key role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions:

“U.N-backed carbon credits, called certified emissions reductions (CERs), have plunged around 70 percent over the past 12 months as a massive supply of credits has built up because of a drop in demand due to a slowing economy. The benchmark CER contract hit record lows below 3 euros this week.
Low carbon prices have stalled new investment in low-carbon technology, raising doubt about whether there is any point to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol and its market-based mechanisms, notably the [Clean Development Mechanism].”

Sustainable friendship
The New York Times reports that, at a meeting where China promised $20 billion in loans to Africa, South African President Jacob Zuma described his continent’s relationship with China as preferable to the one with Europe, but problematic nevertheless:

“ ‘Africa’s commitment to China’s development has been demonstrated by supply of raw materials, other products and technology transfer. This trade pattern is unsustainable in the long term. Africa’s past economic experience with Europe dictates a need to be cautious when entering into partnerships with other economies,’ [said Zuma].”

Reconstruction corruption
iWatch News reports that the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction has issued his penultimate report in which he estimates $6 billion to $8 billion worth of US funds were lost:

“SIGIR’s investigation also uncovered instances of bid-rigging and bribe-taking by State and Pentagon officials.

Many of the challenges described in the Iraq report mirror those depicted in similar reports by its cousin, the office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction. In a May report to Congress, for example, that office concluded that ‘corruption remains a major threat to the reconstruction effort’ and said contractors were taking advantage of lax oversight in Afghanistan.”

Owning genes
Bloomberg reports that a US court is set to consider whether or not human genes can become the property of corporations:

“Madeleine Ball, a Harvard University geneticist, said entire regions of the human genome are at risk of becoming inaccessible to anyone who can’t afford to pay for patent licenses, stifling the information-sharing that’s vital to scientific progress. For personalized medicine companies like Optimal Medicine Ltd., the patents are about protecting billions of dollars invested in years of research.

Aspects of seven [Myriad Genetics Inc.] patents were being challenged by the American Society of Human Genetics, the American Medical Association and other scientific groups. They argue that isolated DNA is the same thing as what is in the human body. The Supreme Court in March said that patents cannot be obtained on things that prevent others from the use of a natural law.”

Food aid, cash cow
The Guardian reports on the “special interests” that are blocking reform of America’s overseas food assistance system:

“Under US law, the majority of American food aid must be shipped on US-flagged vessels, and the shipping industry is another aggressive defender of the system. A 2007 report by the US government accountability office (GAO) found that nearly two-thirds of the US food aid budget was spent on transportation and other non-food costs.

Together, agribusiness, shipping companies and NGOs form what some have called the ‘iron triangle’ of special interests, blocking reform of the controversial in-kind system.”

Cartel clients
The Daily Beast reports on HSBC’s “complicity” in laundering Mexican drug money and the obstacles to an international crackdown:

“The understated element of the war on organized crime in Mexico—and in fact, around the world—has been the fight against the money launderers: the companies and banks that allow drug cartels to flood their illicit cash back into the global economy.

HSBC executives admitted that a large portion of some $7 billion transferred by their Mexican subsidiaries into the bank’s U.S. operation likely belonged to drug cartels.”

Suicide drone
Gizmodo reports that the British military has become the first customer for the “suicidal bird of prey” known as the Fire Shadow:

“According to missile systems manufacturer MBDA, this bird of death is a high precision, low cost flying missile that can be launched by a soldier from the ground, just like any other small unmanned air vehicle. After the launch, the Fire Shadow can hover over a large area for up to six hours or 62 miles (100 kilometers). Once the operator points out a target, the Fire Shadow will fall on it destroying it on contact.”

Classified Gitmo
ProPublica reports that the US government is being challenged over its decision to automatically classify everything said by Guantanamo detainees accused of involvement in 9/11, even accounts of their own torture.

“The ‘presumptive classification’ order extends to both detainees’ testimony and their discussions with their lawyers. In other words, anything said by a detainee, whether in court or to their counsel, will first need censors’ stamp of approval before it can become public.”

Managing FDI
The Overseas Development Institute’s Jonathan Glennie welcomes a new UN report that ranks countries according to the development impact of their foreign direct investment inflows:

“Along with this matrix – and possibly more significantly – Unctad is promoting a new investment policy framework for sustainable development (IPFSD) focused on balancing the rights of investors with the need for the state to take an active role to ensure investments benefit society. Suggested indicators for analysing the contribution made by particular investments include economic value added (such as capital formation and fiscal revenues), obviously, but also job creation and sustainable development (such as families lifted out of poverty, greenhouse gas emissions, technology dissemination).”

Bad society
Robert Skidelsky, a member of the British House of Lords, argues there are both moral and practical reasons to object to inequality at its current levels:

“There is a strange, though little-noticed, consequence of the failure to distinguish value from price: the only way offered to most people to boost their incomes is through economic growth. In poor countries, this is reasonable; there is not enough wealth to spread round. But, in developed countries, concentration on economic growth is an extraordinarily inefficient way to increase general prosperity, because it means that an economy must grow by, say, 3% to raise the earnings of the majority by, say, 1%.
Nor is it by any means certain that the human capital of the majority can be increased faster than that of the minority, who capture all of the educational advantages flowing from superior wealth, family conditions, and connections. Redistribution in these circumstances is a more secure way to achieve a broad base of consumption, which is itself a guarantee of economic stability.”

Latest Developments, February 6

Apologies for the mini hiatus. Couldn’t be helped, unfortunately. We now return to our regularly scheduled programming.

In the latest news and analysis…

Recipient charity
The Telegraph reports on new evidence suggesting British aid to India is more important to the donor than to the recipient who dismissed the so-called assistance as “a peanut in our total development exercises.”
“According to a leaked memo, the foreign minister, Nirumpama Rao, proposed ‘not to avail [of] any further DFID [British] assistance with effect from 1st April 2011,’ because of the ‘negative publicity of Indian poverty promoted by DFID’.
But officials at DFID, Britain’s Department for International Development, told the Indians that cancelling the programme would cause ‘grave political embarrassment’ to Britain, according to sources in Delhi.”

Earth 2.0
The Guardian reports on growing concerns that a small group of scientists advocating geoengineering and powerful backers such as Bill Gates and Richard Branson could have “a disproportionate effect” on decisions regarding the appropriate limits to impose on projects offering planet change as a solution to climate change.
“ ‘We will need to protect ourselves from vested interests [and] be sure that choices are not influenced by parties who might make significant amounts of money through a choice to modify climate, especially using proprietary intellectual property,’ said Jane Long, director at large for the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in the US, in a paper delivered to a recent geoengineering conference on ethics.
‘The stakes are very high and scientists are not the best people to deal with the social, ethical or political issues that geoengineering raises,’ said Doug Parr, chief scientist at Greenpeace. ‘The idea that a self-selected group should have so much influence is bizarre.’ ”

Reinforcing bad behaviour
The Guardian also reports Swiss-based commodities giant Glencore was the World Food Programme’s biggest wheat supplier over the past eight months in spite of the UN agency’s pledge to buy from “very poor farmers” and allegations that the kind of speculation of which Glencore is accused increases the likelihood of food crises.
“Glencore admitted that it bet on a rising wheat price after drought in Russia, according to investment bank UBS. “[Glencore's] agricultural team received very timely reports from Russia farm assets that growing conditions were deteriorating aggressively in the spring and summer of 2010, as the Russian drought set in … This put it in a position to make proprietary trades going long on wheat and corn,” UBS said in a report to potential investors, disclosed by the Financial Times.
On 3 August 2010 the head of Glencore’s Russian grain business, Yury Ognev, urged Moscow to ban grain exports, according to the UBS report. Two days later Russian authorities banned wheat exports, which forced prices up by 15% in two days.”

Seed emergency
The Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology’s Vandana Shiva argues seed patenting has led to huge profits for international biotech corporations but poverty, hunger and even death for India’s farmers.
“As a farmer’s seed supply is eroded, and farmers become dependent on patented GMO seed, the result is debt. India, the home of cotton, has lost its cotton seed diversity and cotton seed sovereignty. Some 95 per cent of the country’s cotton seed is now controlled by Monsanto – and the debt trap created by being forced to buy seed every year - with royalty payments - has pushed hundreds of thousands of farmers to suicide; of the 250,000 farmer suicides, the majority are in the cotton belt.”

Cuts both ways
In arguing the international community must come together to embrace sustainable development, South African President Jacob Zuma and Finnish President Tarja Halonen, who are co-chairs of the UN High-level Panel on Global Sustainability, recognize representative democracy’s potential to provide both hope and of challenges.
“The tyranny of the urgent is never more absolute than during tough times. We need to place long-term thinking above short-term demands, both in the marketplace and at the polling place.”

Central bank capture
Columbia University’s Joseph Stiglitz appears baffled and horrified by the European Central Bank’s opposition to a “deep involuntary restructuring” of Greece’s sovereign debt.
“The final oddity of the ECB’s stance concerns democratic governance. Deciding whether a credit event has occurred is left to a secret committee of the International Swaps and Derivatives Association, an industry group that has a vested interest in the outcome. If news reports are correct, some members of the committee have been using their position to promote more accommodative negotiating positions. But it seems unconscionable that the ECB would delegate to a secret committee of self-interested market participants the right to determine what is an acceptable debt restructuring.

The ECB’s behavior should not be surprising: as we have seen elsewhere, institutions that are not democratically accountable tend to be captured by special interests. That was true before 2008; unfortunately for Europe – and for the global economy – the problem has not been adequately addressed since then.”

Third way
Columbia University’s Joseph Massad calls for the international community to avoid the false choice between Syrian fascism and US imperialism.
“The monumental loss of Iraqi lives and the destruction of their country as well as the ongoing destruction and killings in Libya belie the Syrian exile opposition’s call for imperial invasion of Syria as the way to peace, democracy and to stop the ongoing carnage in the country.

Unlike Fred Halliday and his pro-imperialist Arab and non-Arab acolytes, we need never choose between imperialism and fascism; we must unequivocally opt for the third choice, which has proven its efficacy historically and is much less costly no matter the sacrifices it requires: fighting against domestic despotism and US imperialism simultaneously (and the two have been in most cases one and the same force), and supporting home-grown struggles for democratic transformation and social justice that are not financed and controlled by the oil tyrannies of the Gulf and their US imperial master.”

Latest Developments, August 8

In the latest news and analysis…

Australia’s so-called Malaysia Solution is on hold for now. The country’s high court has said the Australian government may not have the legal authority to carry out the terms of the deal, which would involve sending 800 boat people to Malaysia to have their refugee claims processed in exchange for 4,000 who have been approved for permanent resettlement. Malaysia is not a signatory to the UN convention on refugees.

UNESCO head Irina Bokova has condemned last month’s NATO attack on Libyan state television that left 3 dead and 21 injured. “Media outlets should not be targeted in military actions,” she said, pointing to a 2006 UN Security Council resolution on the safety of media workers in conflict zones. Following the bombing, NATO justified its choice of targets: “Striking specifically these critical satellite dishes will reduce the regime’s ability to oppress civilians while [preserving] television broadcast infrastructure that will be needed after the conflict.” But Bokova appeared to head off this argument by saying “the NATO strike is also contrary to the principles of the Geneva Conventions that establish the civilian status of journalists in times of war even when they engage in propaganda.”

The US is eager to get more involved in Mexico’s escalating drug war but faces laws forbidding foreign soldiers or police from operating on Mexican soil, according to the New York Times. The solution so far has been the deployment of CIA agents, with possible reinforcements to come from private security contractors. Meanwhile, there will soon be 5,500 private troops operating under State Department command in Iraq, but “no one outside State knows anything more, as the department has gone to war with its independent government watchdog to keep its plan a secret,” according to Wired’s Spencer Ackerman.

There is much uncertainty in Somalia’s capital Mogadishu after Islamist rebels withdrew from the city over the weekend, leaving observers to wonder whether the move represents a retreat or simply a shift to guerrilla tactics. There also appears to be lingering confusion among humanitarian organizations in Al Shabab-controlled areas over strict US rules that are ostensibly meant to ensure the rebels do not benefit from foreign assistance but are having a chilling effect on groups looking to provide emergency food aid. “USAID says they want to move, they do want to get us funding, and from their perspective it’s all sort of green light, ready to go,” an anonymous aid official told the Huffington Post. “Maybe they’re not really understanding that NGOs are quite nervous, especially the American ones — and the European ones are taking their cues from the Americans.” US aid to Somalia dropped from $230 million in 2008 to below $30 million last year. But the White House has just announced an additional $105 million in emergency aid for the Horn of Africa, bringing the total up to $565 million for the year so far.

South Africa’s maternal mortality rate has “more than quadrupled over the last decade,” according to a new report by Human Rights Watch. But in a piece on Africa’s high rates of economic growth, Witney Schneidman, president of Washington-based consulting firm Schneidman & Associates International says “Africa’s moment is at hand.”  He praises South Africa where “for the past 15 years, the government has pursued an economic policy that has brought greater financial discipline and macroeconomic stability.” Schneidman does, however, concede South Africa “has a first-world economy” but “faces developing-world challenges.”

The Guardian reports on the Nigerian fishing village of Goi destroyed by oil spills and one of its inhabitants suing Shell in The Hague for reparations. Another piece in the same paper suggests Gaza’s new, Spanish-run five-star hotel provides “hope” in a place “where there are no tourists and around 70% of the population lives below the poverty line.”

In the ongoing punditry frenzy over credit rating agency S&P’s decision to downgrade the US debt slightly, “chutzpah” and “overreach” are two frequently recurring terms. Paul Krugman, who wrote last year that such agencies “were a big part of that corruption” which triggered the financial crisis in the first place, now compares S&P to a “young man who kills his parents, then pleads for mercy because he’s an orphan.” The author of a post on the Economist’s Democracy in America blog does not necessarily disagree but also sees plenty of chutzpah in those now blasting S&P: “So yeah, S&P failed to accurately identify the junk that made up those troublesome mortgage securities. But I can hardly fault them for trying not to repeat the mistake when evaluating the make-up of America’s political system, which is ultimately responsible for paying the country’s bills.” And the Overseas Development Institute’s Jonathan Glennie, sounding a little annoyed at the Americentrism of it all, asks via Twitter: “why has s&p overreached itself just because it has downgraded us bonds? Are its analyses of other countries less important!?”

Fraud lawyer Monty Raphael shows little enthusiasm for the UK’s new bribery act, arguing that without proper enforcement, “it will change little or nothing.” And while the act only deals with offences occurring since it came into force, he wants to see a mechanism to deal with “all the accumulated corruption committed before July 1 this year.” He calls for an integrated anti-corruption agency, along the lines of those currently operating in Hong Kong, Singapore and New South Wales. Recognizing that governments are not eager to take on new spending these days, he suggests: “Resources presently available can be channelled into a single investigation and prosecution agency with a wide remit, and with penal, civil and administrative powers. It should include within its remit Parliament, the legal system and all public and private sectors.”

Former World Bank economist Dennis Whittle praises his former employer for its attempts at “democratizing” development, by which he seems to mean the increased use of focus groups. “If the World Bank can make progress in this area,” he argues, “the payoff for the entire aid field could be large, both in terms of finding effective policies as well as catalyzing more openness and accountability.”