Latest Developments, September 21

In the latest news and analysis…

Non-intervention
Agence France-Presses report that a top NATO general has said the alliance currently has no intention of taking military action in Syria:

“ ‘The political process has to be pushed forward, sanctions need to take effect. At the moment, this situation cannot be solved by the military in a responsible way,’ [Germany’s Manfred Lange] told a briefing.
He added that with little prospect of action at the United Nations ‘it is clear that the Alliance doesn’t have any military plans on Syria.’ ”

Haven links
The Guardian reports that 68 British lawmakers have “directorships or a controlling interest in companies linked to tax havens”:

“It soon became apparent that many Parliamentarians who are able to influence tax laws have taken up positions as directors and non executive directors in major companies with offshore links.
There are 27 Tories – six of whom are MPs – 17 Labour peers, three Lib Dem peers and another 21 are either crossbench or non-affiliated peers.”

Questionable secrecy
The Associated Press reports that a US federal appeals court’s judges seemed “skeptical” about the need for CIA secrecy on the use of drones for targeted killings:

“The CIA initially refused to admit or deny that it had any relevant records and said that merely confirming the existence of material would reveal classified information. That refusal to confirm even the existence of a record is a Cold War-era legal defense known as the Glomar response after the Glomar Explorer, a ship built with secret CIA financing to try to raise a Soviet submarine from the ocean floor.
But [government lawyer Stuart] Delery told the court that the government was no longer making that claim.

But he said the spy agency can’t provide the number, nature or categorization of those records without disclosing information protected under [Freedom of Information Act] exemptions.”

Launderers anonymous
The Economist calls “depressing” a new study into the extent that countries comply with their pledges to get tough on shell companies:

“Posing as consultants, the authors asked 3,700 incorporation agents in 182 countries to form companies for them. Overall, 48% of the agents who replied failed to ask for proper identification; almost half of these did not want any documents at all. Contrary to conventional wisdom, providers in tax havens, such as Jersey and the Cayman Islands, were much more likely to comply with the standards than those from the [Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development], a club of mostly rich countries. Even poor countries had a better compliance rate, suggesting the problem in the rich world is not cost but unwillingness to follow the rules. Only ten out of 1,722 providers in America required notarised documents in line with the [Financial Action Task Force] standard.”

Know your clients
The Wall Street Journal reports that US regulators are proposing new rules to crack down on money laundering over the objections of the financial sector:

“Under current practices, banks verify data only on larger foreign-controlled accounts and on some accounts that the banks, using their own guidelines, deem high risk. Banks and other financial institutions also already file some reports, including reports on suspicious activity and transactions over $10,000 under the Bank Secrecy Act.
But Treasury officials are proposing vastly expanding the universe of covered activity in a bid to deter criminal activity and terrorist financing and stop firms from taking on shell companies without knowing ownership details. Treasury wants financial institutions to understand who owns or controls an account and keep detailed records that law-enforcement officials can access.

The department may eventually extend the rules to mortgage lenders, casinos, gemstone dealers and others. These nonbank businesses already face some anti-money-laundering program requirements under U.S. law, though they are not nearly as extensive as for banks.”

Piracy insurance
Reuters reports that a decrease in piracy off the coast of Somalia means “tougher times” for London-based providers of marine kidnap and ransom insurance:

“Brokers and insurers say a key factor in the downturn is the spread of on-board armed security, which has allowed shipowners to negotiate discounts of up to 50 percent on their premiums in recognition of the reduced risk of being hijacked.
Guards equipped with guns are seen as the best deterrent as no ship carrying them has ever been seized, although critics say they risk escalating conflict with heavily-armed pirates.
Governments including Britain last year dropped their opposition to armed maritime guards, triggering a big increase in their use. [Special Contingency Risks’ Will] Miller says about two thirds of his clients now deploy armed security, compared with just 10 percent in 2010.”

Tintin in the doghouse
Reuters also reports on the cooling relationship between the Democratic Republic of Congo and the fictional journalist/adventurer Tintin whose first adventure was set in the former Belgian colony and portrayed the inhabitants as “fat-lipped, childlike savages”:

“Earlier this year a Congolese man studying in Belgium tried and failed to have the book banned on the grounds of racism. Some stores in Britain have banished it to the top shelves, where only adults can see it.
Even Tintin’s creator Herge later re-wrote parts of the story, toning down the more extreme stereotypes which sprang from Belgium’s colonisation of Congo, which was brutal even by the standards of the day.”

New thinking needed
The New School for Social Research’s Tarak Barkawi argues the nation-state, which he describes as the “historic vehicle of the rise of Western world power,” is increasingly unable to deal with today’s global problems:

“More generally, in a context of economic decline, Western politicians have little to offer their citizens but more austerity. So they pander to petty nationalisms and prejudices. In the United Kingdom, British conservative politicians have stoked racism against immigrants. Much like militant Islam, they offer little but hate to their constituents because they have no positive, attractive policy.
The result is perverse. In a globalised world, the UK desperately needs migrants who contribute everything from investment to hard work to its economy. It also needs foreign students to keep its university sector – one of its most successful export industries – financially viable for British students. But anti-immigrant populism – much of it directed at Africans and Muslims – has led to a clampdown on foreign students. Universities are being incorporated into the UK’s border control regime. Foreign students have options; they and their money are likely to start going elsewhere in greater numbers.”

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