Latest Developments, April 22

In the latest news and analysis…

Double Standard
Guardian columnist Michael Cohen asks why the US reacts so strongly to “terror” and so meekly to far deadlier threats, such as gun violence and diabetes:

“So for those of you keeping score at home – locking down an American city: a proper reaction to the threat from one terrorist. A background check to prevent criminals or those with mental illness from purchasing guns: a dastardly attack on civil liberties. All of this would be almost darkly comic if not for the fact that more Americans will die needlessly as a result. Already, more than 30,000 Americans die in gun violence every year (compared to the 17 who died last year in terrorist attacks).

It’s not just firearms that produce such legislative inaction. Last week, a fertiliser plant in West, Texas, which hasn’t been inspected by federal regulators since 1985, exploded, killing 14 people and injuring countless others. Yet many Republicans want to cut further the funding for the [Occupational Safety and Health Administration] that is responsible for such reviews. The vast majority of Americans die from one of four ailments – cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes and chronic lung disease – and yet Republicans have held three dozen votes to repeal Obamacare, which expands healthcare coverage to 30 million Americans.”

Multilateral smokescreen
The UN News Centre reports that a number of international experts have called on the World Bank to ensure its investments do not contribute to human rights violations:

“[Independent Expert on foreign debt and human rights, Cephas Lumina] said it was no longer acceptable to use the excuse that the World Bank is precluded by its Articles of Agreement from taking human rights into consideration in the design and implementation of its policies and projects.
‘The Articles allow, and in some circumstances, enjoin the Bank to recognize the human rights implications of its development policies and activities,’ Mr. Lumina said. ‘We should not forget that States must also adhere to their international law obligations when they act through international organizations. The World Bank is no exception.’ ”

Rough trade
David McLaren argues that Canada’s push to sign bilateral trade agreements “may make things worse” in terms of human rights and the environment in partner countries:

“Since elected in 2006, his government has entered into negotiations for more than 50 free trade agreements and foreign investment protection and promotion agreements (FIPAs for short).

Our new trade partners include Mali, Tanzania, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Panama and a whole lot of others who have no serious investments in Canada. But our mining companies have billions invested in them.

There are no provisions in these agreements for prior consultation with groups most affected. Clauses prohibiting expropriation of any kind and protecting investment so favour corporations that it is very difficult for a Third World country to buck the wishes of a Canadian-owned mining company, even if its government wanted to.”

Growing protest
The Independent reports that over half the inmates at the Guantanamo Bay prison are now on hunger strike:

“The number of prisoners on hunger strike has risen to 84, an increase of 32 since last Wednesday, with 16 now receiving ‘enteral feedings,’ a process involving being force-fed via tubes.

It has been four years since President Obama pledged that the detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, repeatedly criticised by human rights organisations, as well as prominent American public figures, would be closed down. Instead, his administration is now considering a $200 million renovation project, which will include the construction of a new prison building for so-called ‘high-value’ prisoners.”

Trail blazing
ECONorthwest’s Ann Hollingshead describes as “stunning” the latest European efforts to promote automatic tax information exchange and rein in tax evasion:

“Yet if these systems and agreements exist only between developed nations and tax havens—and until developing countries participate in a similar system or agreements of their own—the progress we’ve made will have little effect on economic development and acute poverty.
But this is not a note of pessimism or caveat. The news this week on automatic tax information exchange is unequivocally good. The world needs the United States and Europe to blaze this path because, in all honesty, those are the only nations with the political power necessary to turn the tide on this.”

Tax challenged
Reuters reports that the UK government has launched a legal challenge against a financial transaction tax in the euro zone:

“Britain was concerned that the planned tax would affect transactions carried out beyond the borders of countries that sign up for it, Chancellor George Osborne said on Friday.
‘We’re not against financial transaction taxes in principle … but we are concerned about the extra-territorial aspects of the (European) Commission’s proposal,’ he said on the sidelines of meetings of finance leaders at the International Monetary Fund.

A pan-EU proposal for the tax failed due to opposition from Britain, home to the City of London and Europe’s largest financial services industry, as well as other member states including Sweden.”

Food & Water Watch’s Wenonah Hauter decries the “financialization of nature”:

“This summer, President Obama will attempt to fast-track two trade deals — the Trans Pacific Partnership and the Transatlantic Free Trade Agreement —which are permanent power grabs by corporations and their financers. For Americans this means increased gas exports and increased imported foods, an undermining of our domestic laws and increasing corporate ownership of our natural resources. They will forever enshrine the very economic system that has lead to an ever greater imbalance in income and wealth, and increasingly frequent economic crises. And it will all be enforced by new international tribunals akin to the WTO.”

Evolution of xenophobia
Ian Birrell condemns the UK public’s “fear-fuelled contempt” of Muslims:

Indeed, it is worth pointing out that in the eight years after 9/11, the number of jihadist attacks in Europe represented less than 1% of total terrorist incidents on the continent.

We have been here before, of course. Each new wave of immigration provokes the same fears before newcomers are assimilated into evolving nations. After Irish immigration rose and Fenian bombs started going off in Victorian Britain, there were claims the country’s stability was at risk from adherents of an alien religion who owed loyalty to an authoritarian figure in Rome.

Latest Developments, August 14

In the latest news and analysis…

Hunger crimes
The Guardian’s George Monbiot criticizes British Prime Minister David Cameron for holding a summit on world hunger while promoting the use of biofuels, which Monbiot calls a “crime against humanity”:

“Preparing for the prime minister’s hunger summit on Sunday, the international development department argued that, with a rising population, ‘the food production system will need to be radically overhauled, not just to produce more food but to produce it sustainably and fairly to ensure that the poorest people have the access to food that they need’. But another government department – transport – boasts on its website that, thanks to its policies, drivers in this country have now used 4.4bn litres of biofuel.
Of this 30% was produced from recycled cooking oil. The rest consists of 3bn litres of refined energy snatched from the mouths of the people that Cameron claims to be helping.”

Cereal secrets
Oxfam’s Duncan Green draws attention to a new report on four of “the biggest and most influential firms you’ve never heard of,” grain traders whose combined sales topped $300 billion last year:

“[The ABCDs] are not alone, nor unchallenged, but they remain the overwhelmingly dominant traders of grain globally, and what they do is central to understanding international markets (and the domestic politics of food in many countries, too). Too often invisible in policy debates about farmers and consumers, these companies are careful about where and when they get involved in such debates, rarely seeking the limelight. They do not have brand names to protect in the way that a food processor such as Nestlé does. [Archer Daniels Midland] is publicly listed and Bunge is also a fully public company. [Louis] Dreyfus and Cargill remain essentially family-owned businesses. None of the companies is very forthcoming about its activities, and to track their activities requires patience and guesswork. However, despite the difficulties, it is important to understand their role and their interactions with other companies, national and global.”

Iceland’s success
Bloomberg reports that the International Monetary Fund has praised Iceland for its “decision to push losses on to bondholders instead of taxpayers and the safeguarding of a welfare system that shielded the unemployed from penury” following its economic crisis:

“Iceland refused to protect creditors in its banks, which failed in 2008 after their debts bloated to 10 times the size of the economy. The island’s subsequent decision to shield itself from a capital outflow by restricting currency movements allowed the government to ward off a speculative attack, cauterizing the economy’s hemorrhaging. That helped the authorities focus on supporting households and businesses.
‘The fact that Iceland managed to preserve the social welfare system in the face of a very sizeable fiscal consolidation is one of the major achievements under the program and of the Icelandic government,’ [the IMF’s Daria] Zakharova said.”

Hague threats
The Guardian reports that Rwandan opposition parties in exile are planning to ask the International Criminal Court to indict the country’s president, Paul Kagame, for war crimes for his alleged role in neighbouring DR Congo’s conflict:

“The demand to bring charges against Kagame has support among Congolese as well as opposition Rwandan politicians. ‘The politicians in Kinshasa are aware of these charges and they support them, although there have been no official statements as yet,’ said Nzangi Butondo, a Congolese MP representing Goma. ‘We think now is the right time to [go to The Hague]. It is certainly something to raise publicity, but there is also the hope that the ICC will, as a result, at least launch an investigation into this affair.’ ”

Tragedy double standard
The University of Notre Dame’s Naunihal Singh notes how much less attention American media and politicians paid to the recent mass shooting at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin compared to the Dark Knight killings a couple of weeks earlier:

“The two incidents were obviously different in important ways: Holmes shot more people, did so at the opening of a blockbuster film, and was captured alive. There were also the Olympics. However, it is hard to escape the conclusion that Oak Creek would have similarly dominated the news cycle if the shooter had been Muslim and the victims had been white churchgoers. Both the quantity and content of the coverage has been clearly shaped by the identities of the shooter and his victims.”

Oceans Compact
Inter Press Service reports that the UN’s new “compact” for the protection of ocean resources has received lukewarm praise from some environmental activists:

“Asked for a response, Sebastian Losada, senior oceans policy analyst at Greenpeace International, told IPS that Greenpeace welcomes the announcement of the secretary-general, and added, ‘We don’t need more statements of concern nor more summaries of the problems we face.
‘What we do need is urgency in the negotiation rooms to move from words to action. Solutions to the oceans crisis exist and are well known, but they continue to be blocked by short-sighted national interests,’ Losada said.”

Adoption trends
James Bloodworth writes an Independent blog entry on the growing popularity in rich countries of adopting children from poor countries:

“Most of those looking to adopt abroad have, I imagine, the same motivation for doing so as those hoping to adopt domestically: a desire to give a child the best possible start in life. And yet the disparities in power and wealth (as with all disparities in power and wealth) inevitably set up a grossly unequal relationship between budding parents in the west and those who ‘produce’ the adoptees of the future in the developing world. Ethiopia accounted for nearly a quarter of all international adoptions to the US in 2010, second only to China. Adoption is fast becoming Ethiopia’s new export, perhaps soon to overtake coffee. Yet not everybody is happy with the way things are going. ‘We want people to invest in Ethiopia rather than take our children,’ Dr Bulti Gutema, head of the government’s adoption authority, has said. Media investigations have also found evidence to suggest that some adoption agencies have recruited children from intact families.”

Failed index
In a letter to Foreign Policy, the Royal African Society’s Richard Dowden expresses three “fundamental doubts” about the validity of the magazine’s Failed States Index:

“Third, the index misses one vital factor: chronic capital flight from poor countries — especially of the illicit variety — conducted largely by transnational companies avoiding taxes through commodity mispricing. Nearly a trillion dollars was looted from Africa through these methods between 1970 and 2008, according to the Washington-based think tank Global Financial Integrity, and that figure has since risen sharply. Poor countries in other parts of the world suffer from this same problem. Will the index assess the cost of these massive financial outflows on human well-being and governance? Now that would be interesting.”