Latest Developments, May 9

In the latest news and analysis…

Democratic castration
Cambridge University economist Ha-Joon Chang argues that the imposition of austerity has turned the present into “nothing less than crunch time for democracy” in Europe:

“In particularly difficult economic times, it was even argued, we need to insulate economic policies from politics altogether. Latin American military dictatorships were justified in such terms. The recent imposition of ‘technocratic’ governments, made up of economists and bankers who have not been ‘tainted’ by politics, on Greece and Italy comes from the same intellectual stable.
What free-market economists are not telling us is that the politics they want to get rid of are none other than those of democracy itself. When they say we need to insulate economic policies from politics, they are in effect advocating the castration of democracy.”

New boss
The Guardian reports that the World Trade Organization has chosen its next head, with the selection process mirroring the rich-poor divide that has left the Doha round of trade talks stalled for years:

“Ultimately, [Roberto] Azevêdo won the backing of a majority of the WTO’s 159 members, despite a lack of support from many rich countries.
‘Had [Herminio] Blanco won – with transatlantic support behind him, plus the support of Japan and Korea – it would have looked like another rich-country stitch-up of an international [organisation] job, and that would have been very unhelpful in terms of getting progress at the WTO,’ says [the University of St Gallen’s Simon] Evenett. ‘In that sense, the outcome that we have is good for the organisation.’

He added: ‘We all wish him well, but what can he do to change negotiating positions in national capitals? The answer is not much.’ ”

The Corruptors
Inter Press Service reports on some of the reactions to revelations of “bags of cash” being given by the CIA to Afghan President Hamid Karzai:

“While the United States preaches ‘good governance’ to developing countries at the United Nations, says one African diplomat, ‘it has been doing the reverse in its own political backyard’.
And good governance not only includes multi-party democracy, rule of law and a free press but also transparent and corruption-free regimes.
Michael Ratner, president emeritus of the New York-based Centre for Constitutional Rights (CCR), told IPS, ‘If the U.S. ever stood for good government and democracy, it does not any longer.’ ”

Tainted profits
Norway has announced it has dropped an American and a Chinese tobacco producer from the government pension fund:

“The Ministry of Finance has decided to exclude Schweitzer-Mauduit International Inc. and Huabao International Holdings Limited based on the recommendation from the Council on Ethics. In accordance with the guidelines, the decision to exclude is made public once the shares are sold.”

More bodies
The BBC reports that the death toll at the collapsed Bangladeshi garment factories, which supplied a number of Western retailers, has now risen above 800:

“Authorities are continuing to search the rubble for more bodies two weeks after the Rana Plaza building collapsed on 24 April.

Officials say about 2,500 people were injured in the collapse and that 2,437 people have been rescued.

The EU has said it is considering ‘appropriate action’ to encourage an improvement in working conditions in Bangladesh factories.”

Outsourcing lethality
Foreign Policy’s Micah Zenko writes about a particular kind of extrajudicial killing that eliminates perceived enemies of the US but “more easily masks US involvement and culpability” compared to drone strikes:

“However, if you’re concerned by the Obama administration’s targeted killing policies, don’t overlook similar attacks conducted by allies and partners who receive U.S. money, weapons, or actionable intelligence. When the United States provides other states or non-state actors with the capabilities that enable lethal operations — without which they would not happen — it bears primary responsibility for the outcome. Whatever drone strike reforms the White House offers, or if additional congressional hearings are held, they must take into account America’s troubling role in client-state targeted killings.”

Gun crazy
ProPublica reports that the majority of US states are enacting legislation that renders federal gun controls irrelevant or illegal:

“Kansas’ ‘Second Amendment Protection Act’ backs up its states’ rights claims with a penalty aimed at federal agents: when dealing with ‘Made in Kansas’ guns, any attempt to enforce federal law is now a felony. Bills similar to Kansas’ law have been introduced in at least 37 other states. An even broader bill is on the desk of Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell. That bill would exempt any gun owned by an Alaskan from federal regulation. In Missouri, a bill declaring federal gun laws ‘null and void’ passed by an overwhelming majority in the state house, and is headed for debate in the senate.”

Petroleum myth
The Globe and Mail reports that former US vice-president Al Gore does not buy the argument that oil is more “ethical” if produced in democratic countries:

“ ‘There’s no such thing as ethical oil,’ he said. ‘There’s only dirty oil and dirtier oil.’ The remark triggered applause from a nearly full house at the Globe-sponsored event at a Ryerson University auditorium.

While noting that the U.S. needed to change to remove the demand for Canadian oil, Mr. Gore also said: ‘I had hoped that Canada would point the way toward a better path, but as yet it has not.’ ”

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