Latest Developments, September 11

In the latest news and analysis…

Buying time
The Associated Press reports that US President Barack Obama, in a nationally televised speech on Syria, said the military strikes he has been pushing for might not be necessary:

“Citing the new diplomatic efforts, Obama said in his speech Tuesday night that he had asked congressional leaders to postpone a vote on legislation he has been seeking to authorize the use of military force against Syria — a vote he was in danger of losing.
Obama’s move gives crucial time for negotiations on a Russian proposal for international inspectors to seize and destroy Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile as efforts to avert retaliatory U.S. missile strikes shift from Washington to the United Nations.

Obama said the Russian initiative ‘has the potential to remove the threat of chemical weapons without the use of force, particularly because Russia is one of Assad’s strongest allies.’
But the 16-minute speech generally made the case for military action.”

Less welcoming
Reuters reports that the “trickiest task” facing Norway’s newly elected Conservatives will be integrating an “anti-immigration, anti-tax” party into the new government:

“Although Progress has toned down its rhetoric, it is seen by some as too radical for government, and once had among its members Anders Behring Breivik, who killed 77 people in 2011 in a gun and bomb attack targeting Labour.

Bringing Progress into government could force [Conservative leader Erna] Solberg to make concessions on spending, taxes and perhaps even make a symbolic gesture on immigration. But any shift is likely to be mild, analysts said.
In immigration, Norway’s hands are tied by international treaties, which limit its room to maneuver. And the economy desperately needs new workers as unemployment is under 3 percent and a steady influx of workers keeps the labour market from overheating.”

Nothing to see here
The BBC reports on British Prime Minister David Cameron’s claim that no UK territory is a tax haven anymore, now that some of the world’s most notorious offshore financial centres, such as Bermuda and the Cayman Islands, have promised to become more transparent:

“In the House of Commons on Monday David Cameron said he no longer considered it ‘fair’ to use the label, after recent efforts to ensure transparency.

The three Crown dependencies [The Isle of Man, Jersey and Guernsey] all refer to themselves as International Finance Centres, which mean they are in the business of tax avoidance which is legal, as opposed to tax evasion, which is illegal.
‘It is very important that our focus should now shift to those territories and countries that really are tax havens,’ continued Mr Cameron.”

Contested values
The Globe and Mail reports that Canada’s federal government has suggested it will fight Quebec’s proposed “charter of values” if the province’s lawmakers vote to adopt it:

“ ‘We would challenge any law that we deem unconstitutional, that violates the fundamental constitutional guarantees to freedom of religion,’ Multiculturalism Minister Jason Kenney told reporters in Ottawa. ‘Freedom of religion is a fundamental, universal value inscribed in our own Constitution, and this government will defend it vigorously.’
Mr. Kenney said he is ‘very concerned about proposal that would discriminate unfairly against people based on their religion, based on their deepest convictions.’

Polls in Quebec suggest that a majority of the residents of that province support what the [Parti Québécois] is trying to do. ”

Dutch diversions
The Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations has released a new report suggesting that the Netherlands is the “biggest tax sink” for companies from crisis/austerity-stricken Portugal:

“The large financial flows from Portugal to the Netherlands and back again, show that investments from and to Portugal are not real ‘investments’ but rather ‘round-trip’ investments, in which Dutch letterbox companies are used to avoid paying taxes in Portugal. In the SOMO report a case study is used to show how the Portuguese energy company EDP uses ‘The Dutch Connection’ to pay considerably less taxes in its home country.”

Euro coal
350.org’s Tim Ratcliffe and Bankwatch’s Fidanka McGrath urge the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development to stop its “retrograde” financing of overseas coal plants:

“Between 2006 and 2011, while the current energy policy was in place, 48% of the EBRD’s $8.9bn (£5.6bn) energy portfolio went to fossil fuels. Support for coal actually increased in this period, from €60m (£50m) to €262m.

In July, the EBRD released a draft of its new energy sector strategy, a roadmap for the next five years for investment and policy initiatives. Although the strategy claims, ‘the bank will promote the transition to a low-carbon model throughout the energy sector’, the document would keep the bank on course with fossil fuel development, providing no significant restrictions on the development of oil, gas, or coal mining and far too few constraints on coal power plants. The policy would also open the door for other controversial, dirty energy sources such as shale gas.”

Unintended consequences
Bloomberg reports on the warnings of “the world’s largest political risk consultancy” regarding the International Criminal Court trials of Kenya’s top two politicians:

“ ‘The start of President [Uhuru] Kenyatta’s and Deputy President [William] Ruto’s trials could slow the legislative agenda, potentially pushing petroleum and mining code revisions into the first half of next year,’ Clare Allenson, an Africa associate with Eurasia Group, said in an e-mailed note on Sept. 5. Delays to policy making may be caused by ‘weeks long’ absences by the accused and while lawmakers who support the pair travel to the court to show their political loyalty, Allenson said.

‘Members of parliament risk raising local tensions over the allegations as the witness testimony on human rights violations comes to light,’ Allenson said. ‘Further politicization of the cases could cause low level unrest in areas most impacted by the violence, particularly the southern Rift Valley and the outskirts of Nairobi.’ ”

RWP revisited
Former Australian foreign minister Gareth Evans argues that the current Syria crisis has made the concept of “responsibility while protecting” more appealing than ever:

“The reality is that if an un-vetoed majority vote is ever going to be secured again for tough action in a hard mass atrocity case—even action falling considerably short of military action—then the issues at the heart of the backlash that has accompanied the implementation of the Libyan mandate, and the concerns of the BRICS states in particular, simply have to be taken seriously. Those issues and concerns reflect the views of a much wider swathe of the developing world.”

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