Latest Developments, August 10

In the latest news and analysis…

Long-awaited cleanup
The New York Times reports that “after years of rebuffing” requests for assistance, the US has started cleaning up the toxic legacy of its war with Vietnam:

“Forty years after the United States stopped spraying herbicides in the jungles of Southeast Asia in the hopes of denying cover to Vietcong fighters and North Vietnamese troops, an air base here is one of about two dozen former American sites that remain polluted with an especially toxic strain of dioxin, the chemical contaminant in Agent Orange that has been linked to cancers, birth defects and other diseases.

The program, which is expected to cost $43 million and take four years, was officially welcomed with smiles and handshakes at the ceremony. But bitterness remains here. Agent Orange is mentioned often in the news media, and victims are commemorated annually on Aug. 10, the day in 1961 when American forces first tested spraying it in Vietnam. The government objected to Olympics sponsorship this year by Dow Chemical, a leading producer of Agent Orange during the war. Many here have not hesitated to call the American program too little — it addresses only the one site — and very late.”

Migrant roundups
Human Rights Watch takes Greece to task for “ongoing sweeps targeting suspected migrants based on little more than their physical appearance”:

“Since August 4, 2012, more than 6,000 foreigners presumed to be undocumented migrants have been taken into police stations for questioning, and more than 1,500 arrested for illegal entry and residence with a view to deportation to their countries of origin.

Greek police must have specific cause to stop and question people beyond the appearance of their national origin. Mass expulsions are strictly prohibited under international law. Greece is also legally bound not to return refugees to persecution or anyone to risk of torture.”

Ethical banking
Reuters reports that as global food prices surge, some German banks are restricting food-related investments:

“Germany’s second-largest bank declined to give details about the reason for its decision to remove agricultural commodities from an exchange-traded fund (ETF), but German lobby group Foodwatch said the decision was because of ethical concerns.
‘Commerzbank is reacting to the debate about a series of studies which show that investment in this type of commodity fund pushes food prices upwards and so contributes to the hunger crisis in many parts of the world,’ Foodwatch said.”

The price of interoperability
The New York Times reports that US efforts to establish a Persian Gulf missile defense system involve selling billions of dollars worth of weapons to the region’s regimes: 

“Three weeks ago the Pentagon announced the newest addition to Persian Gulf missile defense systems, informing Congress of a plan to sell Kuwait $4.2 billion in weaponry, including 60 Patriot Advanced Capability missiles, 20 launching platforms and 4 radars. This will be in addition to Kuwait’s arsenal of 350 Patriot missiles bought between 2007 and 2010.
The United Arab Emirates acquired more than $12 billion in missile defense systems in the past four years, documents show. In December, the Pentagon announced a contract to provide the Emirates with two advanced missile defense launchers for a system called the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, valued at about $2 billion, including radars and command systems. An accompanying contract to supply an arsenal of interceptor missiles for the system was valued at another $2 billion, according to Pentagon documents.
Saudi Arabia also has bought a significant arsenal of Patriot systems, the latest being $1.7 billion in upgrades last year.”

Contentious lake
The Financial Times reports that oil and gas exploration by a British company has “reignited” a border dispute between Tanzania and Malawi:

“Malawi’s late president, Bingu wa Mutharika, awarded an exploration contract to UK company Surestream Petroleum during mounting tension over entitlement to the lake last October. Surestream was one of seven companies to bid for hydrocarbon exploration licenses in the Lake Malawi basin.

Tanzania intends to officially claim part ownership of the lake, demanding that Malawi cease all oil and gas exploration activity until the issue is resolved. Tanzanian officials say the clash between the two governments could escalate and jeopardise stable relations if the lake’s exploration produces significant oil and gas discoveries.
Samuel Sitta, East African cooperation minister and former acting prime minister for Tanzania, recently said Tanzania was ready to respond to military confrontation.”

London laundering
The Bureau of Investigative Journalism reports on a new Private Eye investigation that portrays Britain as “the centre of an embezzlement industry that steals billions from the world’s poor”:

“The regulation-free tax havens where stolen loot is stashed and the bankers who wash the money are still a long way from proper regulation.
Private Eye points out that Lord Green, a current trade minister and member of the Treasury team deciding how to reform Britain’s banks, was chief executive of HSBC during the years it was turning over hundreds of millions of pounds of dirty money.
When Private Eye asked one former policeman why the bankers aren’t getting arrested for money laundering, the answer was simple: ‘They are untouchable’.”

Corporate questions
Freelance writer Oliver Balch points out that, while there may be a business case for development, there may not be a development case for business:

“Moreover, the private sector’s solution to development evolves from capitalist orthodoxy. Developing countries, the argument runs, need more consumer-driven capitalism, not less. With the world’s natural resources depleting fast, a rethink here can justifiably be demanded. [Unilever CEO Paul] Polman talks of ‘decoupling’ economic growth from environmental impacts. It’s a nice idea, of course, but hugely difficult in practice. Only one fifth of Unilever’s energy is renewable, for example – and that’s from a market leader.”

Dodging responsibility
The Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth’s Nnimmo Bassey looks into the ability of foreign oil companies to avoid fines imposed on them by West African governments:

“Nations that depend on export of primary resources for revenue are essentially rent collectors as they often depend on external agencies or corporations to exploit resources found in their territories. As rent collectors they have limited control over what the actual operators do in the field as the operators actually present themselves (and are seen) as benefactors of the rentier states. And the states in turn are ready to pay scant attention to human and environmental rights abuses perpetuated by these operators. Examples abound in the case of Nigeria where human and environmental rights abuses have been documented continuously over the past decades. It is thus no news when these corporations ignore court orders or blatantly challenge government agencies that attempt to enforce any form of redress.
Companies will keep calling the bluff of Nigeria and other countries to which they pose as benefactors while in reality they are rapists. This will only stop with strengthening of citizens driven democracy, legislative activism and systemic change.”

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