Latest Developments, September 28

In the latest news and analysis…

Dodd-Frank setback
The New York Times reports that a US judge has struck down a rule aimed at imposing restrictions on speculative commodities trading:

“The court decision dealt the latest blow to the Dodd-Frank Act, the regulatory crackdown passed in response to the financial crisis. The decision on Friday, aimed at the Commodity Futures Trading Commission’s so-called position limits rule, is the second time a Dodd-Frank rule has suffered legal defeat.

The ruling is sure to embolden Wall Street as it shifts the attack on Dodd-Frank from piecemeal lobbying to broader legal challenges. Industry groups are currently challenging another C.F.T.C. rule, while others are weighing lawsuits against the so-called Volcker Rule, a still-uncompleted plan to stop banks from trading with their own money.”

Enemy of the state
The Sydney Morning Herald reports that the US military has added Wikileaks and its founder Julian Assange to a list of national enemies that include al-Qaeda and the Taliban:

“Declassified US Air Force counter-intelligence documents, released under US freedom-of-information laws, reveal that military personnel who contact WikiLeaks or WikiLeaks supporters may be at risk of being charged with ‘communicating with the enemy’, a military crime that carries a maximum sentence of death.” 

Defunct land grab
The Oakland Institute examines the consequences in Tanzania of an 8,211-hectare biofuel project whose British developer went bankrupt:

“People have lost their land and their supply of fresh water as well as access to essential natural resources, while the promises of development and better life never materialized. In 2011, what was left of Sun Biofuels was acquired by 30 Degrees East, an investment company registered in the tax haven of Mauritius. At the time of our field research, the project had not resumed. The new company only employed 35 staff, mostly security guards, who ban villagers from accessing their land and natural resources.”

False revolution
Friends of the Earth warns that the Gates Foundation is promoting “damaging industrial farming” in Africa:

“Multi-million dollar investments from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation – a major Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa donor – into shares in biotech corporations, and revolving doors between donors and these corporations skew the agenda of AGRA in favor of profit-based, corporate-led farming rather than farming that benefits local people and small farmers.
The bulk of projects funded by the Gates Foundation and its brainchild AGRA favor technological solutions for high-input industrial farming methods. These include patented seeds, fertilizers and lobbying for genetically modified crops. Evidence from the roll-out of genetically modified crops in other countries shows that these crops push farmers into debt, cause irreversible environmental damage and encourage land concentration.”

Transparent ownership
Save the Children’s Alex Cobham suggests the “post-2015 development framework” that will replace the Millenium Development Goals should include greater transparency regarding the beneficial ownership of companies:

“The Norwegian presidential commission on tax havens presented considerable evidence on the links between developing countries and havens, pulling out link after link that threatens development and revolving around the hiding of ownership – whether for purposes of facilitating corrupt payments, trade mispricing to dodge tax, or money laundering. In addition, the commission set out a model of how governance in a country could be broadly undermined by greater exposure to tax havens.
Because the key to havens is not in fact tax rates but secrecy, I prefer the term ‘secrecy jurisdiction’. Ultimately, it is the hiding of ownership that havens facilitate which undermines regulation and taxation around the world – not any tax competition they may engender.”

Drone development
Citing a new investigation into the civilian impacts of US drone strikes in Pakistan, New York University’s William Easterly questions his government’s claim that defense and development are “complementary”:

“It would be hard for Development to benefit from “drones hovering 24 hours a day over communities in northwest Pakistan, striking homes, vehicles, and public spaces without warning.”
The report alleges that drones strike areas multiple times, killing rescuers of victims of the first strike.
Next challenge in US: getting people to care about this.”

Workers’ rights
Human Rights Watch reports that one of the world’s biggest auditing firms has warned that companies involved in an Emirati mega-development must ensure workers’ rights are being respected:

“The government-owned developer of Abu Dhabi’s high-profile Saadiyat Island project, the Tourism Development and Investment Company (TDIC), faces ‘significant challenges’ to carry out agreed-upon minimum labor standards, says the September 23, 2012 report published by independent auditing firm PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC). Saadiyat Island will be home to branches of the Louvre and Guggenheim Museums and a New York University (NYU) campus, and has been the focus of criticismover migrant workers’ rights.

The 34-page report detailed a range of ongoing violations of the [Employment Practices Policy] and domestic labor law. It says that 75 percent of workers interviewed had paid recruitment fees and 77 percent had paid visa and travel costs, which are supposed to be paid by employers. According to Human Rights Watch’s research, these recruitment fees are the most significant factor in creating conditions of forced labor in the UAE. Twenty percent of those interviewed reported illegal deductions from their salaries.”

Nuclear pressure
Inter Press Service reports that 50 years on from the Cuban Missile Crisis, the international community is pushing the world’s nuclear-armed countries to ratify a ban on testing nuclear weapons:

“Opened for signature in September 1996, the [Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Teaty] has been signed by 183 nations and ratified by 157. However, it cannot be enforced without ratification by 44 countries that had nuclear power or research reactors when the CTBT was negotiated.
Most of those nations have ratified the treaty, but the United States, China, India, Pakistan, North Korea, Israel, Iran, and Egypt remain unwilling to do so. In 2009, U.S. President Barack Obama declared his intention to seek Senate reconsideration of the treaty. The administration has given no firm timeframe for action.”

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