Latest Developments, July 16

In the latest news and analysis…

Free hand
Le Monde reports that the UN and France have signed an agreement granting “freedom of action” to French troops in Mali:

“The text, according to a diplomat, is reminiscent of the mandate for France’s Operation Unicorn in Côte d’Ivoire, whose intervention under UN auspices precipitated the fall of Laurent Gbagbo in 2011.

Before calling for French back-up, the text stresses however, that UN peacekeepers ‘must do all they can’ to resolve a crisis. In the case of an intervention, French support will be ‘direct or indirect, by land or air, within the limits of both its capacities and the deployment of its units.’
Paris, which ‘wants to keep a free hand,’ according to a diplomatic source, will have ‘the choice of means, numbers and location.’ The French army has bases in Senegal, Côte d’Ivoire and Chad. It can also mobilize reinforcements from France, according to the same source.” [Translated from the French.]

American justice
The Atlantic’s Ta-Nehisi Coates argues that a Florida court’s acquittal of a man who shot and killed an unarmed African-American youth was unjust but neither surprising nor, given the current state of the law, wrong:

“It is painful to say this: Trayvon Martin is not a miscarriage of American justice, but American justice itself. This is not our system malfunctioning. It is our system working as intended. To expect our juries, our schools, our police to single-handedly correct for this, is to look at the final play in the final minute of the final quarter and wonder why we couldn’t come back from twenty-four down.
To paraphrase a great man: We are what our record says we are. How can we sensibly expect different?”

Avoiding tax reform
The Guardian reports that the US has blocked a French proposal for the G20 to crack down on tax avoidance by digital companies:

“Senior officials in Washington have made it known they will not stand for rule changes that narrowly target the activities of some of the nation’s fastest growing multinationals, according to sources with knowledge of the situation.

While the Americans concede that the rules need to be updated, they are understood to be pushing for moderate change. They are believed to want tweaks to the existing wording of international tax treaties rather than the creation of wholly new passages dedicated to spelling out how the digital economy should be taxed.”

1,000 days of cholera
The Economist reports on the UN’s ongoing controversial handling of the cholera epidemic its MINUSTAH peacekeepers triggered in Haiti in 2010:

“Critics argue that the UN’s stance is tantamount to claiming impunity—that the UN, an organisation whose mission involves promoting the rule of law, is putting itself above it.

The UN has staunchly refused to entertain the cholera claims in any venue. Its letter to the claimants’ lawyers eschewed their proposals to meet, engage a mediator, or establish an alternative venue to hear the complaints. Whereas [UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon’s] letter to congressmen said that ‘the majority of [the] recommendations’ made by a UN panel of experts to avoid future epidemics were being implemented, a report by a United States-based non-profit group in May found that five of the seven recommendations were only partially implemented, or not at all. And although the UN launched an initiative to fight cholera in Haiti in January 2012, the programme is already falling short: Mr Ban’s letter stated that pledges for the cholera initiated amounted to $207m, $31m less than the UN said would be available last December. It is another failure that by now will hardly surprise the people of Haiti.”

Hunger bill
Princeton University’s Paul Krugman takes aim at the “awesome double standard” of the “monstrous” farm bill passed by the US House of Representatives last week:

“Farm subsidies became a fraud-ridden program that mainly benefits corporations and wealthy individuals. Meanwhile food stamps became a crucial part of the social safety net.
So House Republicans voted to maintain farm subsidies — at a higher level than either the Senate or the White House proposed — while completely eliminating food stamps from the bill.
To fully appreciate what just went down, listen to the rhetoric conservatives often use to justify eliminating safety-net programs. It goes something like this: ‘You’re personally free to help the poor. But the government has no right to take people’s money’ — frequently, at this point, they add the words ‘at the point of a gun’ — ‘and force them to give it to the poor.’
It is, however, apparently perfectly O.K. to take people’s money at the point of a gun and force them to give it to agribusinesses and the wealthy.”

Broken ships
The Guardian explores the dangerous and environmentally harmful shipbreaking industry, which supplies much of the world’s recycled steel:

“One of the problems is steel is a commodity sold in international markets, making it very difficult to trace where it came from by the time it turns up in a consumer product. Improved supply chain transparency would help but would be difficult to manage in any practical way, said [Shipbreaking Platform’s Patrizia] Heidegger, who suggested flipping the problem on its head: make the ship’s owners responsible for ensuring that their products are recycled properly once they are finished with them.

The EU recently voted on regulations that require EU-registered ships to use ‘green’ recycling facilities, but the new rules miss a crucial point, said Heidegger: there is nothing to stop European owners re-registering their ships outside the EU before sending them for breaking. At the moment only around a tenth of vessels are flying European flags when they reach the end of their lives, even though around 40% of the world’s fleet is owned by European companies, she said.”

Dangerous objects
The Washington Post’s Alexandra Petri mocks the security measures undertaken at a Texas Senate debate over proposed changes to the state’s abortion laws:

“Among the latest updates from the Unwanted Texas Efforts To Pass Stringent Anti-Abortion Legislation came the gem that the state senate security was confiscating tampons from spectators entering the gallery to watch debate on HB 2. Guns, of course, were still allowed in the gallery for those with concealed carry licenses.”

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