Latest Developments, April 15

In the latest news and analysis…

Ocampo out
Reuters reports that former Colombian finance minister Jose Antonio Ocampo has dropped out of the race to become the next World Bank president, leaving only two candidates “in an unprecedented challenge to U.S. control of the global development institution”.
“With the board of the World Bank to meet on Monday to pick a new president, Ocampo said he hoped emerging-market nations would rally behind Nigerian Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala in a race that he said had turned highly political.

While Kim is still the favorite to win the World Bank presidency due to backing from the United States and European countries, a rigorous challenge from developing countries could put them in a stronger position to extract concessions.”

Bad diet
The Guardian reports on new research suggesting the fertilizers used to provide people in wealthy countries with their meat-heavy diets are contributing substantially to climate change.
“It’s arguably the most difficult challenge in dealing with climate change: how to reduce emissions from food production while still producing enough to feed a global population projected to reach 9 billion by the middle of this century.
The findings, by Eric Davidson, director of the Woods Hole Research Centre in Massachusetts, say the developed world will have to cut fertiliser use by 50% and persuade consumers in the developed world to stop eating so much meat.”

Fallujah’s legacy
Inter Press Service reports on the high number of birth defects in Fallujah, the scene of heavy fighting between US forces and Iraqi insurgents in the last decade.
“According to a study released by the Switzerland-based International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health in July 2010, ‘the increases in cancer, leukaemia and infant mortality and perturbations of the normal human population birth sex ratio in Fallujah are significantly greater than those reported for the survivors of the A-Bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.’

Other than the white phosphorus, many point to depleted uranium (DU), a radioactive element which, according to military engineers, significantly increases the penetration capacity of shells. DU is believed to have a life of 4.5 billion years, and it has been labelled the ‘silent murderer that never stops killing.’ Several international organisations have called on NATO to investigate whether DU was also used during the Libyan war.

SNC-Lavalin raid
The Globe and Mail reports that Canadian police have raided the headquarters of scandal-ridden engineering giant SNC-Lavalin, though the reasons for the action have not been disclosed.
“Friday’s raid was the second time in six months that RCMP officials have descended with search warrants on the company, which gained an international reputation as one of the world’s leading engineering firms but is now grappling with scandals, executive departures, questions about its business ethics and allegations of involvement in a plot to help a son of Moammar Gadhafi escape from Libya.

Investigations into SNC’s conduct are under way in Canada, Bangladesh, India, Mexico and Libya. SNC has also conducted an internal probe into allegations that $56-million in improper payments went to commercial agents to help secure construction contracts in unnamed countries.”

Extractive land grabs
The Gaia Foundation’s Teresa Anderson writes about a new study that suggests the oil, gas and mining industries are increasingly responsible for so-called land grabs in poor countries.
“The extractive industries have grown significantly in the last 10 years, due to changes in consumption patterns, and a throwaway culture where regular technology upgrades are considered the norm. In the last 10 years, exploration budgets have increased nine-fold, from 2 billion to 18 billion dollars.

Today, copper extraction requires the removal of 10 times as much earth as 100 years ago. A single gold wedding ring requires 20 tonnes of earth. Technological developments have enabled extraction from hard-to-reach deposits, as seen with the development of hydraulic fracturing or ‘fracking’ for shale gas deposits. In South Africa, a consortium of international investors has applied for the rights to drill for shale gas for a section covering around 10 per cent of the country’s surface.”

Aid measurement
The Overseas Development Institute’s Jonathan Glennie and Annalisa Prizzon make the case for “aid as a proportion of the economy” as a new way of classifying countries.
“The 0.7% target is an important symbol, but it can obscure the focus on what’s really important, which is not the proportion of donor income given in aid, but the proportion of the recipient economy depending on it. High levels of aid, while sometimes necessary in the short term, are increasingly viewed as antithetical to development in the longer term.”

Drone coverage
Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting’s Peter Hart takes issue with American media coverage of the Pakistani parliament’s recent  vote for an end to US drone strikes.
“The Washington Post’s account of this news included this curious observation:
‘From Washington’s perspective, the debate in Parliament was a healthy exercise in democracy but one that is unlikely to affect the drone war. The military leaders of both nations see the drones as efficient and effective in eliminating hard-core Islamic militants that plague both the U.S. and Pakistani armies.’
I know that the Post is merely conveying ‘Washington’s perspective,’ but let’s think about this for a second. A sign of a healthy democracy is one where civilian political leadership has no power over the military–either in its own country or a nominal ally launching air attacks on its soil?”

Bottoming out
ECONorthwest’s Ann Hollingshead asks “at what point does the ‘race to the bottom’ bottom out” when it comes to international tax competition.
“While [the Cato Institute’s Dan Mitchell] argues tax competition through tax evasion in havens has fostered lower tax rates worldwide, he has also reckoned that ‘only a tiny minority’ of people who keep their money in havens ‘are escaping onerous tax burdens.’ First of all, I would be interested to see where Mitchell got that statistic because no one knows how much money is deposited in havens, let alone its origins. Such information isn’t publicly available. That’s actually the whole point. And secondly, and more importantly, I’m unclear on how such a ‘tiny minority’ of oversees deposits could drive international tax policy to such an extent that the average corporate tax rates have dropped by more than half in thirty years.”

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