Latest Developments, May 17

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In the latest news and analysis…

Forever war
The New York Times reports on the current debate over the “authorization to use military force,” a 2001 statute that provides the legal basis for America’s so-called War on Terror:

“Human rights groups that want to see the 12-year-old military conflict wind down fear that a new authorization would create an open-ended ‘forever war.’
Some supporters of continuing the wartime approach to terrorism indefinitely fear that the war’s legal basis is eroding and needs to be bolstered, while others worry that a new statute might contain limits that would reduce the power that the Obama administration claims it already wields under the 2001 version.
And still others say that whatever the right policy may be, Congress should protect its constitutional role by explicitly authorizing the parameters of the war, rather than ceding that decision to the executive branch.”

Oil fraud
Sweetcrude reports that Shell has been accused of falsifying the results of an investigation into an oil spill in Nigeria’s Niger Delta:

“About 80 oil producing communities in Warri North and Warri South-West Local Government Areas of Delta State made the allegation, Wednesday, in Warri at a meeting with officials of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, NIMASA, and the Nigerian Naval Service, NNS Delta.
The communities are alleging that SNEPCo fabricated the result of samples of oil, soil and surface water collected for test from a few communities impacted by the Bonga oil spill.”

Credits galore
European Voice reports that big polluters are profiting from the EU emissions trading scheme:

“According to the analysis, carried out by Bloomberg New Energy Finance, the steel, cement, refining, lime, glass, ceramics and pulp sectors all generated a profit within the system by being over-allocated emission allowances in the scheme.

‘The ETS as a whole has been a financial support to the energy intensive industries…who usually complain that the ETS is killing them,’ asserted a [European Commission] official.”

No more tax avoidance
The Guardian reports that the CEO of UK banking giant Lloyds has promised to (more or less) stop using tax havens:

“Chief executive António Horta-Osório said the 39%-taxpayer owned bank had embarked on a systematic review of ‘so-called tax havens’ after a shareholder demanded to know why the bank was the seventh biggest user of such facilities.

‘In 2012 alone we have closed 60 of those companies and that is more than 20% of the total. We are going to close all of them unless there are strong business reasons for our customers to keep them there,’ he said at the meeting in Edinburgh. He later clarified that ‘business reasons’ did not mean ‘tax reasons’.”

Continued colonialism
Al Jazeera reports that a new study argues that living conditions for Canada’s aboriginal population provides “motives for an insurgency”:

“ ‘The Canadian right-wing establishment is seizing on this to justify its own agenda of stricter controls and the continued criminalisation of native people who defend their rights,’ Taiaiake Alfred, chair of the centre for indigenous governance at the University of Victoria, and one of Canada’s most influential aboriginal intellectuals, told Al Jazeera. ‘The positive elements of Canadian society – progressive values and social justice – are founded on the ongoing injustice of land theft and murder of indigenous people.’
In November, Paul Martin, Canada’s former prime minister and a business tycoon, echoed Alfred’s comments, albeit in a softer tone. ‘We have never admitted to ourselves that we were, and still are, a colonial power,’ he said.”

Shadowy corners
Oxfam’s Ben Phillips calls for a modern resurgence of the kind of “free-thinking insubordination” that helped bring about the renaissance and reformation:

“To exhalt the humble, we’re going to have to humble the exhalted.
That’s why charities are so focused on getting the G8 to deliver on transparency in land investments and in taxation – because knowledge is power, because stealing is harder in broad daylight. The G8 would, no doubt, prefer if we only asked them to beneficent. But we’re insisting, most of all, that they are transparent, and end their role in providing shadowy corners for shady characters to hide their dodgy deals.”

Bad food
Sylvia Szabo argues in Global Policy for a new understanding of food security:

“Even, if hunger was to be completely eradicated, it would not mean that the planet would become food secure. Already today, developing countries, including those in Africa, are experiencing an increased consumption of processed foods. Obesity and chronic diseases are gradually becoming a new challenge in African societies, although many do not yet realise the gravity of the problem.

The stigma of food insecurity seems to be focused only on the developing world, but it has become a global problem and should be conceptualised as such.”

Self-appointed helpers
Former development worker Nora Schenkel discusses her disillusionment at the gulf between the rhetoric and reality of aid work in Haiti:

“Most Haitians only ever meet Westerners in our capacity as self-appointed helpers. We are never just here because we want to be in Haiti; we claim we are here to better Haitians’ lives. But they have seen us come and go for decades, and they are poorer than ever before.
Meanwhile, they see us leaving the grocery store with bags of food that cost more than what they make in a month. They watch us get into large air-conditioned cars and drive by them, always by them. They see us going home to nice, big houses, shielded by high walls.”

Growing gap
Bloomberg reports that US manufacturing giant Caterpillar has become a “symbol of the growing divergence in corporate America between profits and wages”

“In January 2012, Caterpillar locked out union workers at a locomotive factory in Ontario after they rejected a pay cut of about 50 percent; the company shuttered the plant and moved production to Muncie, Ind., where workers accepted lower wages.

As Caterpillar squeezed hourly workers for concessions, [CEO Doug] Oberhelman’s own pay rose 60 percent in 2011, to more than $16 million. Although the company’s profits have declined in recent quarters (largely because of a decline in commodities prices, which has hurt all mining equipment makers), Caterpillar announced on April 22 that Oberhelman’s compensation had jumped again, to $22 million.

As a percentage of gross domestic product, corporate earnings recently hit their highest level in more than 60 years, and wages fell to new lows, according to Moody’s Analytics.”

Latest Developments, March 21

In the latest news and analysis…

White Savior Industrial Complex
Novelist Teju Cole argues that Americans should focus on reducing the negative impacts of their own government’s actions abroad before trying to “help” by intervening in Africa.
“Let us begin our activism right here: with the money-driven villainy at the heart of American foreign policy. To do this would be to give up the illusion that the sentimental need to ‘make a difference’ trumps all other considerations. What innocent heroes don’t always understand is that they play a useful role for people who have much more cynical motives. The White Savior Industrial Complex is a valve for releasing the unbearable pressures that build in a system built on pillage. We can participate in the economic destruction of Haiti over long years, but when the earthquake strikes it feels good to send $10 each to the rescue fund. I have no opposition, in principle, to such donations (I frequently make them myself), but we must do such things only with awareness of what else is involved. If we are going to interfere in the lives of others, a little due diligence is a minimum requirement.”

Silicosis suit
Reuters reports that “the biggest class action suit Africa has ever seen” is looming for South Africa’s gold mining companies as thousands of former miners with damaged lungs join a fast-growing list of plaintiffs.
“A successful suit could collectively cost mining companies such as AngloGold Ashanti, Gold Fields, Harmony and global giant AngloAmerican billions of dollars, according to legal and industry experts. The largest settlement to date by the mining industry in South Africa was $100 million in 2003 in a case brought by [Richard] Spoor against an asbestos company.

It’s hard to estimate the potential size of a silicosis class action. South Africa is the source of 40 percent of all the gold ever mined. At its height in the 1980s the industry employed 500,000 men – two-thirds of them from Lesotho, Mozambique and the Eastern Cape – although production has fallen behind China and Australia and employment since halved. But silicosis can take years to show up and check-ups are at best haphazard. A 2005 study by the National Institute of Occupational Health in Johannesburg, based on autopsies of miners, suggested 52 in every 100 had the disease.”

World Bank options
Reuters also reports Nigerian Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and former Colombian Finance Minister Jose Antonio Ocampo are set to become candidates for the World Bank presidency but the US “is still likely to ensure that another American will succeed” outgoing president Robert Zoellick.
“All of the World Bank’s 187 members nations have committed to a merit-based process to select Zoellick’s successor.
Emerging and developing economies have long talked up their desire to break U.S. and European dominance of the Bretton Woods Institutions, but have until now have failed to build a coalition large enough to change the status quo.”

Limiting patents
Intellectual Property Watch reports that the US Supreme Court has ruled against the right to patent “an invention that merely applies known technology to natural phenomena.”
“The ruling is likely to a major impact on the medical and biotech industry. Many methods of medical diagnoses and medical treatment are now unpatentable. And the ruling may kill patents on human genes – including Myriad Genetics Inc.’s controversial patent on two breast cancer genes. The Federal Circuit (America’s so-called “patent court”) recently upheld Myriad’s patent, but that ruling is now in trouble, according to many experts.”

Suspect behaviour
The Guardian reports the story of a former FBI informant who says the agency’s efforts to prevent terrorist plots too often consisted of entrapment.
“In the case of the Newburgh Four – where four men were convicted for a fake terror attack on Jewish targets in the Bronx – a confidential informant offered $250,000, a free holiday and a car to one suspect for help with the attack.

Such actions have led Muslim civil rights groups to wonder if their communities are being unfairly targeted in a spying game that is rigged against them. Monteilh says that is exactly what happens. ‘The way the FBI conducts their operations, It is all about entrapment … I know the game, I know the dynamics of it. It’s such a joke, a real joke. There is no real hunt. It’s fixed,’ he said.”

Better but…
Human Rights Watch reports that labour conditions for migrant workers are improving at an Abu Dhabi mega-construction project that includes new branches of New York University, the Louvre and the Guggenheim, but problems remain.
“In addition, Human Rights Watch found that contractors are regularly confiscating worker passports and substituting worker contracts with less favorable ones when the workers arrive in the UAE. While the developers and institutions on Saadiyat have pledged to end these practices, and the scale of the problems Human Rights Watch documented is not as bad as in 2009, the continuation of poor practices in a number of cases reflects ongoing gaps in protection. The parties that benefit from these ventures need to make an unequivocal pledge to reimburse workers found to have paid recruitment fees in contravention of existing policies. The educational and cultural institutions and local developers also need to investigate and effectively enforce penalty provisions against contractors who disregard policies meant to protect workers from abuse.”

Lowering rents
The Centre for Economic and Policy Research’s Dean Baker takes issue with the argument that the prospect of enormous profits is necessary to drive innovation.
“The question is not whether we are better off with Steve Jobs getting very rich and all the products that Apple developed, or having Steve Jobs be poor and not having these products; the question is whether it was necessary for Jobs to get quite so rich in order to get these products.

Suppose we paid for the research and development of prescription drugs upfront rather than by giving drug companies patent monopolies. As a result of these monopolies, drugs that would sell for $5 per prescription in a free market sell for hundreds or even thousands of dollars. The savings from this switch could potentially save us more than $200bn a year and provide us with better health care.”