Latest Developments, August 2

In the latest news and analysis…

American senators Carl Levin and Chuck Grassley have brought forth legislation that aims to greatly reduce international financial secrecy and wrongdoing by requiring anyone setting up a company in the US to divulge the name of the beneficial owner. “Until this law is passed, foreign corrupt politicians, terrorists and drug traffickers can continue legally to hide their identities and their dubious assets behind the secrecy provided by American companies,” according to Global Witness’s Stefanie Ostfeld who hailed the bill’s introduction. As did Global Financial Integrity’s Heather Lowe who said, as things stand, it is “far too easy to gain access to financial services in the U.S. through anonymous U.S. corporations, while it is far too difficult for law enforcement groups to figure out who is really behind those corporations.

Plaintiffs in Papua New Guinea have obtained a temporary injunction “preventing a mine from dumping millions of tonnes of waste into the sea.” The news came less than a week after a national court judge had ruled the Chinese-Australian copper project’s proposed method of waste disposal “amounts to an abuse and depletion of Papua New Guinea’s natural resources and environment” but refused to impose a permanent ban. PNG’s Supreme Court will examine the case later this month.

A new Food and Agriculture Organization report suggests that, contrary to popular belief, growing demand for grain in China and India has little to do with increasing food prices.  In fact, the FAO says cereal imports to the two Asian giants actually declined between 2000 and 2007 and points to the rise of biofuels as the main driver of growth in demand. And a new report by the New Economics Foundation suggests EU fisherman have discarded more than 2 million tonnes of cod over the last half-century.

Somalia’s Islamist Al Shabab “has destroyed whatever legitimacy it had, by obstructing humanitarian organizations from entering the country to provide relief from the severe famine,” according to a Globe and Mail editorial. Meanwhile, the US has decided to ease up on some obstruction of its own by loosening restrictions on aid to Somalia that threatened to prosecute any organization deemed to have provided any financial or material support to Al Shabab. Food aid aside, the rebel group which controls much of Somalia, including the famine-stricken south, has reportedly gotten its hands on a large number of American-made weapons.

Arguing “we live in an era when political boundaries, not the lives of nomadic pastoralists, are sacrosanct,” Columbia University economist Jeffrey Sachs takes on the role of arbitrary colonial-era borders in the Horn of Africa’s food crisis. He points to the fact that many Somali people live in Kenya and Ethiopia as a prime reason for the ongoing instability of the border regions. Sachs also discusses “the overlap of dryland climates and conflict zones” and argues “the region urgently requires a development strategy, not a military approach.” Moreover, he says the “US and Europe are not only failing to respond to the African drought; they have probably contributed to it through their greenhouse-gas emissions.”

Former NATO secretary general Javier Solana and the University of the Basque Country’s Daniel Innerarity declare an end to foreign affairs, saying that globalized threats and opportunities give today’s world an “epidemic character” that renders national policies inadequate: “Truly effective global governance is the strategic horizon that humanity must pursue today with all its energy.” Failure, they claim will mean “the “end of history” – not as the placid apotheosis of liberal democracy’s global victory, but as the worst collective failure we can imagine.”

A Bloomberg editorial argues Brazil, India and South Africa “don’t seem to demonstrate the awareness that international leadership comes with responsibilities as well as privileges.” Exhibit A, according to the authors, is the three countries’ disappointing troop contribution to UN peacekeeping: only India is a “major contributor,” they say, and even it ranks behind its much smaller neighbours, Pakistan and Bangladesh. But according to June statistics on military and police contributions to UN peacekeeping, India  ranks third overall, behind only Pakistan and Bangladesh. Brazil and South Africa rank 13th and 14th, respectively. The UK is 46th and the US is 64th, with approximately a twentieth of Brazil’s or South Africa’s contributions. As for the editorialists’ notion that a greater contribution from India, Brazil and South Africa could “possibly free European troops for more difficult missions, such as Afghanistan,” there are currently only three European countries (Italy, France and Spain) ranked among the top 35 contributors with over 500 troops or police serving as blue helmets.

A Voice of America editorial celebrates the UN refugee convention’s 60th anniversary, saying the agreement remains essential today given the millions “who have been uprooted from their homes and forced to live in difficult and in many cases unacceptable conditions.” The US leads the way both in terms of permanently resettling refugees (71,400 in 2010) and creating them in the first place (4.7 million from Afghanistan and Iraq).

Reuters’s Rachelle Younglai and Ana da Costa point out the “overwhelming irony” that credit agencies, such as Standard & Poors and Moody’s, “are the same firms that many blame as prime instigators of the 2007-2008 credit crisis for freely giving out top ratings to ultimately worthless structured mortgage products” and yet, they now “sit in judgment of the countries that had to ruin their public balance sheets to prevent financial collapse by saving the banks shattered by those bad instruments once blessed by the agencies.”

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