Latest Developments, December 19

In the latest news and analysis…

Dividend arbitrage
The Bureau of Investigative Journalism says it has uncovered a “huge tax avoidance trade” run by some of London’s biggest banks, which may be costing European governments nearly $800 million per year.
“Markus Meinzer, applied researcher and analyst at the Tax Justice Network, said: ‘This issue highlights a structural flaw in our current international financial system. Governments refuse to institute robust transparency and cooperation mechanisms in view of aggressive financial sector lobbying and because of the bizarre, yet largely unchallenged view of alleged benefits flowing from competition between states.’ ”

Fighting dependency
The Guardian reports Nigeria is looking to reduce its dependence on foreign food, such as wheat and rice imports, and to rely more on locally grown cassava in an effort to boost the nation’s agriculture sector.
“Billed as a central part of the new administration’s ‘transformation’ agenda – a sign of how badly Nigeria needs fixing – proposals in a preliminary budget to slash a $68bn import bill include a 100% levy on rice and wheat imports next year. Wheat costs the government a staggering $3.9bn annually, while Nigeria is the world’s largest rice importer – at a cost of $6.25m a day – even though its climate is ideal for rice growing.

According to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation, Africa has more than doubled cereal imports over the past three decades, a trend some countries have begun trying to reverse through proactive policies. In Uganda, for instance, rice output more than doubled in the space of four years after a 75% tax was imposed on imports. The duty also spurred the construction of new mills, lowering the price of locally refined rice. Malawi, meanwhile, one of Africa’s poorest countries, reversed its food deficit in just two years through a targeted subsidy programme that helped finance fertiliser for farmers.”

Drug tests
The Inter Press Service reports on the current state of international protections for human subjects of medical research.
“Fourteen patients died during the trials, which were conducted [by French and US pharmaceutical companies in a Bhopal hospital without the informed consent of the subjects] between 2007 and 2010. Drugs and treatments resulting from those trials have since been approved for sale in Europe and the U.S., according to a report in the Independent.

European law states that drugs tested in violations of protections guidelines such as the Declaration of Helsinki should not be granted market authorisation in Europe. [Annelies] Den Boer said [clinical trials watchdog] Wemos, with support of members of the European parliament, hopes to push the [European Medical Association] to block unethically tested drugs from the European market.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) abandoned the Declaration of Helsinki in 2008.”

Undeclared money
The Indian Express reports India is considering legal action against HSBC for allegedly encouraging customers to move undeclared money to its branch in Geneva.
“No prosecution or court cases have been filed. Reason: despite an official communication being sent by the [Central Board of Direct Taxes], HSBC Bank in Geneva has given no official acknowlegement of the data handed over by French authorities and without this endorsement from the Swiss or detailed banking transactions, officials feel the cases may collapse in economic offence courts.
But with the account-holders revealing that their Geneva accounts were being ‘operated’ from New Delhi by bank officials — both for deposits and withdrawals — and the balances were not reflected in their tax returns, a fit case for filing a prosecution against the bank itself may be made out.”

Brandeis tipping point
Yale University’s Ian Ayres and UC Berkeley’s Aaron Edlin argue the level of inequality in the US – the latest statistics show “the average 1-percenter” earns 36 times more than the median household – must be capped for the sake of the country’s democracy.
“Enough is enough. Congress should reform our tax law to put the brakes on further inequality. Specifically, we propose an automatic extra tax on the income of the top 1 percent of earners — a tax that would limit the after-tax incomes of this club to 36 times the median household income.
Importantly, our Brandeis tax does not target excessive income per se; it only caps inequality. Billionaires could double their current income without the tax kicking in — as long as the median income also doubles. The sky is the limit for the rich as long as the “rising tide lifts all boats.” Indeed, the tax gives job creators an extra reason to make sure that corporate wealth does in fact trickle down.”

The ‘trust me’ concept
The Washington Post reports the Obama administration’s increasing reliance on drone strikes may have resulted in 2,250 deaths in Pakistan over the last three years, but there is precious little information about the strategy or its results.
“Even outside experts who believe the program is legal find the secrecy increasingly untenable. ‘I believe this is the right policy, but I don’t think [the administration] understands the degree to which it looks way too discretionary,’ said American University law professor Kenneth Anderson.
‘They’ve based it on the personal legitimacy of [President] Obama — the “trust me” concept,’ Anderson said. ‘That’s not a viable concept for a president going forward.’ ”

Cost of doing business
Drawing on new information concerning the killing of 24 Iraqis by US troops, the Guardian’s Gary Younge issues a call to fight Iraq War revisionism that downplays the invaded country’s suffering.
“When he heard the news, Major General Steve Johnson, the American commander in Anbar province at the time, saw no cause for further examination. ‘It happened all the time … throughout the whole country. So you know, maybe, if I was sitting here [in Virginia] and heard that 15 civilians were killed I would have been surprised and shocked and done more to look into it. But at that point in time I felt that it was just a cost of doing business on that particular engagement.’ ”

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