Latest Developments, July 24

In the latest news and analysis…

Bad news on inequality
The Tax Justice Network has released a pair of reports on the extent and the impacts of the global offshore banking system, which together argue that the “at least $21 trillion hidden in secret tax havens” mean economic inequality is actually much worse than generally thought:

“At its simplest, our argument is that if an asset is hidden in an offshore bank account, or an offshore trust or company, and the ultimate owner or beneficiary of the income or capital cannot be identified, then this asset and the income it produces will not be counted in the inequality statistics. Almost all these hidden assets are owned by the world’s wealthiest individuals. So it follows that the inequality statistics, particularly at the top end of the scale, underestimate the scale of the problem.”

AND

“For our focus subgroup of 139 mostly low-middle income countries, traditional data shows aggregate external debts of $4.1tn at the end of 2010. But take their foreign reserves and unrecorded offshore private wealth into account, and the picture reverses: they had aggregate net debts of minus US$10.1-13.1tn. In other words, these countries are big net creditors, not debtors. Unfortunately, their assets are held by a few wealthy individuals, while their debts are shouldered by their ordinary people through their governments.”

Strings attached
The International Monetary Fund has announced it has approved a $156 million loan for Malawi, as a result of new president Joyce Banda’s policies, even though they may be exacerbating the country’s growing food crisis:

“Following the Board’s discussion of Malawi, Naoyuki Shinohara, Deputy Managing Director and Acting Chair, issued the following statement:
‘Malawi’s new administration moved swiftly to devalue the kwacha, adopt a flexible exchange rate regime and liberalize current account transactions to address the country’s chronic balance of payment problems and improve the outlook for poverty reduction and growth.’

‘Tight control over non-priority spending will be needed to ensure that expenditures are aligned with the government’s priorities, including scaled up spending on social protection programs to mitigate the impact of adjustment measures on the poor.’ ”

Regulatory capture
The New York Times discusses a new book by Neil Barofsky, “the man whose job it was to police the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program”:

“ ‘There has to be wide-scale acknowledgment that regulatory capture exists, dominates our system and needs to be eradicated,’ Mr. Barofsky said in the interview.

‘We need to re-educate our regulators that it’s O.K. to be adversarial, that it’s not going to hurt your career advancement to be more skeptical and more challenging,’ he said. ‘It’s implicit in so much of the regulatory structure that if you don’t make too many waves there will be a job for you elsewhere. So we have to limit those job opportunities and develop a more professional path for regulators as a career. That way, they won’t always have that siren call of Wall Street.’
Mr. Barofsky’s assessment of his former regulatory brethren is crucial for taxpayers to understand, because Congress’s financial reform act — the Dodd-Frank legislation — left so much of the heavy lifting to the weak-kneed.”

Expanding footprint
MENAFN reports that Barrick Gold subsidiary African Barrick Gold is growing its operations beyond Tanzania, where controversies involving the company’s mines have included alleged toxic spills and fatal shootings, into Kenya with newly acquired exploration assets:

“Aviva’s Kenyan assets are located in the southwest corner of Kenya, about 300 kilometers northwest of Nairobi, near the border of Uganda and on the shores of Lake Victoria, it said.
‘This acquisition represents the first step in expanding our footprint outside of Tanzania and building our future growth pipeline,’ said Chief Executive Greg Hawkins. ‘The acquisition is an attractive entry into an under explored and highly prospective land package in a country bordering our existing operations.’ ”

Democratic calculus
Responding to a Human Rights Watch report condemning the current state of human rights in Venezuela, the Overseas Development Institute’s Jonathan Glennie counters that in some instances, freedom of the press “can actually mitigate against progress for the majority poor”:

“Take the Murdoch empire, multiply it by about a thousand and you are somewhere close to how powerful the rightwing media is in Latin America. In [the Center for Economic and Policy Research’s Mark] Weisbrot’s words the ‘unelected owners [of major media outlets] and their allies use their control of information to advance the interests of the wealth and power that used to rule the country’.
It is proven beyond doubt that the rightwing media was an active and key player in the 2002 coup that briefly removed [Venezuelan President Hugo] Chávez from power (see the brilliant documentary The revolution will not be televised). In such a context, reducing the rightwing media’s room for manoeuvre may be a crucial element in any plan to radically transform a country. (In the run-up to elections in October, Chavez has accused Venezuela’s privately owned media companies of bias towards the opposition and of ignoring his government’s achievements.) Where single-issue civil rights organisations see media crackdowns, what may be happening is an elected and popular government trying to implement the will of the people in the face of powerful business interests prepared to undermine democracy if need be.”

Fatal laws
Reuters reports that Mexican President Felipe Calderon has called America’s gun laws “mistaken” and is urging the US government to change them: 

“In comments posted on his Twitter account on Saturday, Calderon offered his condolences to the United States after a gunman went on the rampage with an assault rifle at a midnight premier of the new Batman film in Aurora, Colorado.
But Mexico’s president, who has repeatedly called on Washington to tighten gun controls to stop weapons flowing from the United States into the hands of Mexican drug cartels, said U.S. weapons policy needed a rethink after the killings.”

Fostering homophobia
The Guardian reports that US-based thinktank Political Research Associates is accusing American evangelical groups of attempting a “cultural colonisation” of Africa by opening offices across the continent to promote attacks on abortion and homosexuality.

“Entitled Colonising African Values: How the US Christian Right is Transforming Sexual Politics in Africa, the study analysed data from seven African countries and employed researchers for several months in Kenya, Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
It identified three organisations it believes are aggressively targeting the continent: [televangelist Pat Robertson’s American Center for Law and Justice], the Catholic group Human Life International and Family Watch International, led by the Mormon activist Sharon Slater.
Each of these ‘frame their agendas as authentically African, in an effort to brand human rights advocacy as a new colonialism bent on destroying cultural traditions and values’, the report says.”

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