Latest Developments, July 26

In the latest news and analysis…

Change of tune
The Washington Post reports that a particularly significant group of scientists has joined the chorus of those who say UN peacekeepers likely caused the cholera epidemic that has killed thousands in Haiti since 2010:

“The findings marked a major retreat by the experts, who were part of an independent panel appointed by the United Nations and who had concluded just two years ago that incomplete evidence and the myriad factors in the epidemic’s spread — including inadequate water and sanitation infrastructure — made it impossible to assign responsibility for the introduction of the strain. Since then, the experts said, they have obtained new evidence, including microbiological samples.

The latest findings will increase pressure on the United Nations to acknowledge responsibility for introducing cholera into the country. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and his top advisers had invoked the panel’s ambivalent 2010 findings in arguing that the United Nations bore no legal responsibility for the epidemic, although they said the organization was committed to lead international efforts to respond to the health crisis and improve the Haiti’s sanitation infrastructure.”

Pocket change
The Huffington Post reports on the bottom-line impact of the fine Halliburton Energy Services must pay after pleading guilty to destroying evidence related to America’s largest-ever offshore oil spill:

“The fine, as part of a plea deal with the U.S. Department of Justice, is $200,000. That’s about how much Halliburton earns every 23 seconds, based on 2012 revenue numbers.
The fine amount is the maximum allowable under the federal statute used to calculate the penalty, which also includes a three-year probation.

Legal experts say Halliburton’s admission of guilt is more important than the fine, since it will likely bolster the government’s case in an ongoing civil trial in New Orleans to determine how to allocate blame and damages for the 2010 explosion.
Even so, the fine seems hardly sufficient given the seriousness of the crime, said Carl Tobias, a law professor at the University of Richmond.
‘It seems paltry for an act that undermines the justice system,’ he said.”

Homeward bound
Politico reports on US plans to send two Guantanamo Bay detainees home to Algeria, the first “repatriation outside the Western Hemisphere” since 2010:

“ ‘As the president has said, the United States remains determined to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay,’ [White House press secretary Jay] Carney said, and the repatriation of the two detainees — the first releases this year — are ‘in support of those efforts.’

Two Uyghurs — Chinese Muslims — were released to El Salvador in 2012, and Omar Khadr, a Canadian national, was sent home in September 2012 to finish out the remainder of his sentence.”

Unpopular war
The Washington Post’s Max Fisher speculates on the reasons why, according to a new poll, only 28% of Americans think the war in Afghanistan has been “worth fighting”:

“Support began falling in late 2011 and early 2012, when a string of high-profile incidents gave the appearance of a war spinning badly out of control. In January 2012, a video surfaced showing Marines urinating on dead Afghan insurgents. The next month, NATO troops mistakenly burned several Korans, setting off nationwide riots and more ‘green on blue’ killings. The month after that, a U.S. soldier named Robert Bales wandered off base and into a nearby village, where he killed 16 civilians, nine of them children.”

Prison numbers
The US government has released national statistics indicating that nearly one percent of American males are behind bars:

“The national imprisonment rate for males (910 sentenced prisoners per 100,000 male U.S. residents) was over 14 times the imprisonment rate for females (63 sentenced prisoners per 100,000 female U.S. residents). The female imprisonment rate decreased 2.9 percent in 2012 from 65 per 100,000 female U.S. residents in 2011.
In 2012, states with the highest imprisonment rates included Louisiana (893 per 100,000 state residents), Mississippi (717 per 100,000 state residents), Alabama (650 per 100,000 state residents), Oklahoma (648 per 100,000 state residents), and Texas (601 per 100,000 state residents).”

Funding abuses
Human Rights Watch argues in a new report that the World Bank “has closed its eyes” to the human rights risks attached to its lending policies:

“Funding decisions relating to rights concerns lack transparency and appear arbitrary and inconsistent, Human Rights Watch found.
The absence of a clear commitment not to support activities that will contribute to or exacerbate human rights violations leaves staff without guidance on how they should approach human rights concerns, or what their responsibilities are. Staff members have unfettered discretion to determine the extent to which they will consider human rights risks, take measures to mitigate or avoid harm, and even to bring problems to the attention of senior management or the board. The lack of clear procedures and policies on human rights means that people whose rights are adversely affected have no way to hold the bank to account.”

Dictating terms
The Guardian reports that despite the rhetoric about “country ownership”, donors are increasingly unwilling to let recipient governments decide how to spend aid money:

“One sign of whether donors are putting their money where their mouths are is their willingness to provide budget support – aid that goes directly to developing countries to finance their programmes.

Budget support figures are published annually by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development with a breakdown by provider, and can be used as a proxy for commitment to country ownership. But, according to Ukan and Bond, global budget support fell steeply, to only $1.3bn last year from $4.4bn in 2010.”

Calling Robin Hood
Oxfam’s Jon Slater welcomes a call by British MPs for the UK to embrace a financial transaction tax:

“Their argument does not rest on the moral imperative that the financial sector should repay the damage it has done – something even the Prime Minister and Chancellor are wary of disputing. Instead the [Business, Innovations and Skills] Committee makes hard-headed economic arguments for an FTT – that it would curb damaging high frequency trading, the computer-driven casino capitalism that causes flash crashes.”

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