Latest Developments, June 1

In the latest news and analysis…

The in-crowd
Stockholm University’s Ian Richardson suggests that this weekend’s Bilderberg conference – an annual meeting of the “transnational power elite” – is not an inherently bad thing in a world divided into competing nation states:

“In the absence of a global regulatory framework, organizations like Bilderberg have helped to blur the edges of an otherwise brittle system of international relations that has consistently failed to transcend its protectionist tendencies. Without them, it’s entirely conceivable that we’d have descended into many more international stand-offs and conflicts than we have.

Transnational elite policy networks such as Bilderberg are an integral, and to some extent critical, part of the existing system of global governance. The practical problem is not so much that they exist, although we could talk about this ad infinitum, it is instead related to what they are doing and why they are doing it. It is here that our elites have been found most wanting. Their self-serving acceptance and peddling of dominant market logics, their fundamental lack of criticality and a lack of meaningful progress in the area of global social and political development is threatening the very peace and prosperity we look to them to provide.”

Chevron suit
Reuters reports that Ecuadorean plaintiffs have filed a lawsuit in Canada in the hopes of enforcing an $18 billion ruling against oil giant Chevron for pollution in the Amazon:

“Since U.S.-based Chevron no longer has assets in Ecuador, the plaintiffs are trying to get the ruling enforced outside the OPEC-member country.
The new lawsuit, filed in the Superior Court of Justice in Ontario, targets Chevron and various subsidiaries that together hold significant assets in Canada, the plaintiffs’ legal team said in a statement.
‘While Chevron might think it can ignore court orders in Ecuador, it will be impossible to ignore a court order in Canada where a court may seize the company’s assets if necessary to secure payment,’ said Pablo Fajardo, the lead lawyer for the plaintiffs.”

One billion dollar misunderstanding
Global Witness says European oil giants Shell and ENI have provided explanations that are “no longer sufficient” regarding a controversial oil deal in Nigeria:

“In a press release dated 20th May, Global Witness exposed how Nigerian subsidiaries of Shell and ENI had agreed to pay the Nigerian Government US$1,092,040,000 to acquire offshore oil block OPL 245. It was also revealed that the Nigerian government agreed, in the same month, to pay precisely the same amount to Malabu Oil and Gas, a company widely reported as controlled by Abacha-era oil minister, Dan Etete, who was convicted in France in 2007 of money-laundering. The revelations came to light as a result of the publication of New York court documents.
Both Shell and ENI deny paying any money to Malabu Oil and Gas in respect of the licence and suggest that their agreements were only with the Nigerian Government.  However, a recent statement from Nigeria’s Attorney General appears to contradict this.”

Legal bill
The Center for Global Development’s Justin Sandefur and Yale law student Alaina Varvaloucas ask if the $250 million price tag for the trial of former Liberian president Charles Taylor is justifiable, given that the annual budget for the entire justice sector of Sierra Leone – the country where the crimes he was convicted of aiding and abetting actually took place – is $13 million:

“Certainly nobody, least of all Sierra Leoneans who lived through a brutal civil war, wants Taylor roaming free.
And beyond keeping Taylor off the streets or deterring future war criminals, one of the main goals of international criminal tribunals is to serve as an example to the world of how much process is due a defendant, regardless of the crimes he is accused of committing. But the realistic counterfactual to the hundreds of millions spent on Taylor’s trial was not an unjust trial. It was a swifter trial, likely arriving to the same conclusion, but with a less expensive venue and not-so-high-priced defense attorneys—not to mention fewer conjugal visits for Taylor, no fancy Dutch food or internet access, and no rabbinical visits to indulge his new interest in Judaism.”

Haitian gold rush
The Guardian reports on Haiti’s apparently imminent mining boom and the concerns over who will benefit once exploration turns to production:

“ ‘It’s usually a couple of big white guys, with a couple of Haitians,’ explains Arnolt Jean, 49, who lives in one of the few concrete homes in the hillside community [of Lakwèv]. ‘They don’t even ask you who owns what land. They come, they take big chunks of earth, put them in their knapsacks and leave. We Haitians all just watch, because we can’t do anything about it.’

More than a third of Haiti’s north – at least 1,500 sq km – is under licence to US and Canadian companies. Eurasian Minerals has acquired 53 licences and collected more than 44,000 samples. The junior explorer firm recently teamed up with the world’s No 2 gold producer, US-based Newmont Mining.”

The 1 Percent’s problem
Columbia University’s Joseph Stiglitz argues that America’s wealthiest people should be concerned about income inequality, if only for selfish reasons:

“The rich do not exist in a vacuum. They need a functioning society around them to sustain their position. Widely unequal societies do not function efficiently and their economies are neither stable nor sustainable. The evidence from history and from around the modern world is unequivocal: there comes a point when inequality spirals into economic dysfunction for the whole society, and when it does, even the rich pay a steep price.”

World No Tobacco Day
Al Jazeera reports on the range of tactics – “including ramping up litigation, co-opting officials, and funding front groups” – allegedly used by tobacco companies to get around anti-smoking legislation and keep their sales up:

“ While smoking in the developed world has been steadily dropping, it is burgeoning in the developing one. The tobacco corporations have been accused of targeting poorer regions such as Africa. It is predicted that more than 80 per cent of tobacco-related deaths will occur in low and middle-income countries by 2030. ”

Austerity fever
Princeton University’s Paul Krugman argues that “ulterior motives” lie behind the current taste for austerity measures among politicians on both sides of the (North) Atlantic:

“In fairness to Britain’s conservatives, they aren’t quite as crude as their American counterparts. They don’t rail against the evils of deficits in one breath, then demand huge tax cuts for the wealthy in the next (although the Cameron government has, in fact, significantly cut the top tax rate).”

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