Latest Developments, December 4

In the latest news and analysis…

Subsidizing Walmart
A new World Development Movement report alleges that so-called climate aid is being used to provide subsidized power to the world’s largest retailer.
“The report, ‘Power to the people?’, details how money taken from the UK aid budget has been used by the World Bank to finance wind farms in the Mexican state of Oaxaca, built without the consent of the indigenous people who own the land. The project produces enough electricity to power 160,000 homes, but is instead being sold at a discounted rate to Walmart. The project is 99 per cent controlled by French electricity giant EDF.”

Disagreement over cluster munitions
The Economist reports on the recent failure of US-led efforts to negotiate a new agreement on cluster munitions that would be less restrictive than the current ban that has been signed by 109 countries and, therefore, more acceptable to the countries that account for 85 percent of the world’s stocks of such weapons.
“The 50-plus countries that opposed the draft protocol, and the campaigners who egged them on, complained that the text still allowed the use of cluster munitions known to cause unacceptable harm. The International Committee of the Red Cross said the American proposal would simply stimulate the development of devices that met the new standards but might still be lethally unreliable; and backsliding from the Oslo rules would set a bad precedent.
The big countries were cross. America (which has argued that a total ban on cluster munitions would make life impossible for NATO) expressed “deep disappointment”. Russia grumbled that opponents were “irrational” and China said they would bear indirect responsibility for future cluster-bomb casualties.”

Outsourcing military missions
Researcher/journalist Jody Ray Bennett argues that the US State Deparment’s awarding of a contract to the controversial DynCorp private security company in the Democratic Republic of Congo is very much in keeping with recent American foreign policy.
“When asked why DynCorp had been awarded a contract back in 2004 to operate in the Sudan, an anonymous US government official told CorpWatch: ‘The answer is simple. We are not allowed to fund a political party or agenda under United States law, so by using private contractors, we can get around those provisions. Think of this as somewhere between a covert program run by the CIA and an overt program run by the United States Agency for International Development. It is a way to avoid oversight by Congress.’”

Blue Helmet mercenaries
Daivd Isenberg, author of Shadow Force: Private Security Contractors in Iraq, looks into the pros and cons of using private military contractors for UN interventions and uses a Stephen Wittels quote to support his point that such troops are only as good as their contract.
“Because the State Department failed to build into Blackwater’s contract strong incentives to treat Iraqis respectfully, the company did not. Indeed, Blackwater had every reason to shoot first and ask questions later with regards to Iraqis since any civilian could, in theory, have been an assassin, and contractors were, for the first few years of the war, immune to prosecution. It should also come as no surprise that in this consequence-free environment, Blackwater employees adopted excessive aggression as their default disposition, even when it served no apparent purpose. Had their assignment and their conduct been properly engineered in their contract from the outset, a strong argument can be made that Blackwater would not today be known as a collection of ‘cowboys.’”

African leadership
Voice of America reports that African leaders are calling for changes in the global fight against HIV/AIDS.
“African Union Social Affairs Commissioner Bience Gawanas says it is time the continent has a greater say in how the fight against sexually-transmitted diseases is fought. Gawanas told a World AIDS Day observance at AU headquarters that the continent most affected by the epidemic must take ownership of the battle to eradicate it.”

African generosity
Globe and Mail columnist Gerald Caplan writes about how much of the West’s wealth has come at the expense of Africa.
“There is not a single African nation that does not suffer from a dearth of trained teachers, health workers and public servants. Meanwhile there are hundreds of thousands of highly trained Africans now working in the West and more are coming as rich countries increasingly demand well-trained immigrants. Like that of other rich countries, the Canadian immigration model, as The Globe’s editorial puts it, “aims to attract the best and brightest from around the globe.” So while International Co-operation Minister Bev Oda announces “new CIDA initiatives for Africa … focused on helping Africa fulfill its future potential,” Immigration Minister Jason Kenney is wooing Africans who could make Africa’s potential a reality.
Is this bureaucratic carelessness or rank hypocrisy? Canada’s case is typical of most rich countries. African governments spend preposterously large sums hiring foreign consultants on short costly contracts to perform the work that could have been done by their own lost experts. Is it necessary to point out that those sums often come out of the foreign aid that we, the so-called “donor” countries, provide? So a nice chunk of our aid goes to pay our own citizens to do work in Africa that Africans are doing in our own countries.”

Manifesto of the appalled economists
The Inter Press Service reports on the growing number of “appalled economists” who are calling on world leaders to change course in the current battle against sovereign debt.
“Although the ‘manifesto of the appalled economists’ was first intended to serve as a basis for debate amongst economists on European economic policies, it has rapidly become a manifesto for thousands who have signed it, not just in Europe, but also across continents and countries from Australia to Brazil. The manifesto is also being discussed in numerous forums.
In the paper, [André] Orléan and his co-authors complain that ‘the neoliberal paradigm is still the only one that is acknowledged as legitimate, despite its obvious failures.’”

Capitalism’s future
Harvard economist Kenneth Rogoff asks if capitalism is sustainable and how it can be improved.
“It is ironic that modern capitalist societies engage in public campaigns to urge individuals to be more attentive to their health, while fostering an economic ecosystem that seduces many consumers into an extremely unhealthy diet. According to the United States Centers for Disease Control, 34% of Americans are obese. Clearly, conventionally measured economic growth – which implies higher consumption – cannot be an end in itself.”

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