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.”