Latest Developments, October 23

In the latest news and analysis…

Migrant rights
Human Rights Watch is calling on Europe to adopt a “rights-based approach” to migrants arriving by boat:

“Though framed in terms of saving lives, many of the proposed policy responses reflect the EU’s preoccupation with preventing departure and barring entry, Human Rights Watch said. These responses have brought to the fore longstanding disputes among Mediterranean EU member countries about responsibilities for rescue operations, for determining where those rescued may land, and for processing migrants and asylum seekers.
Enhanced efforts to save lives at sea need to go hand-in-hand with respect for other fundamental human rights, such as the right to seek asylum and protection against torture and ill-treatment, Human Rights Watch said.”

Dirty money
Global Financial Integrity welcomes two new pieces of legislation “aimed at stemming the flow of trillions of dollars in dirty money through the U.S. financial system”:

“Introduced by Rep. Maxine Waters, the ranking member of the House Financial Services Committee, the Holding Individuals Accountable and Deterring Money Laundering Act would hold top executives at U.S. financial institutions responsible for oversight of anti-money laundering compliance at their bank while increasing the penalties faced by bankers for violating AML laws—bringing them in line with the penalties faced by drug dealers on the streets.

The U.S. Department of Justice has warned that anonymous shell companies are the most widely used method for laundering criminal proceeds, and an anonymous shell company can currently be incorporated in nearly every U.S. state. The Incorporation Transparency and Law Enforcement Assistance Act, introduced by Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), proposes to fix this problem by requiring that firms incorporated in the U.S. disclose their true, human, ‘beneficial owners’ in a central registry that is accessible by law enforcement.”

Old habits
The Economist’s Schumpeter writes that despite outside pressure, Switzerland does not appear ready to do away with its famous banking secrecy just yet:

“The Swiss government recently announced its intention to sign the OECD convention on cross-border tax assistance, but this would have to be ratified by the parliament, which has shown itself to be less willing to make concessions. More importantly, the convention doesn’t require the automatic exchange of information, but rather exchange ‘on request’, which has proven ineffective (because, in a classic Catch-22 situation, the requesting country often needs much of the information it is seeking in order to put together a request that meets the requirements of the jurisdiction where the untaxed money is thought to be stashed). The Swiss are still opposed to automatic exchange.
Moreover, earlier this month the cabinet dropped plans to allow co-operation with other countries’ tax-assistance requests in cases where the data was stolen by whistle-blowers, after the proposal met with strong domestic political opposition. Weeks earlier, ministers had reiterated their view that Swiss criminal law should not be used to help foreign countries recover lost taxes or enforce any other economic laws.”

Racism for kids
Radio Netherlands Worldwide reports that the UN is investigating whether the Dutch tradition of Zwarte Piet or “Black Pete” is racist:

“On Tuesday, the chair of the UN working group, Verene Shepherd spoke on her own behalf, saying that ‘the working group cannot understand why it is that people in the Netherlands cannot see that this is a throwback to slavery and that in the 21st century this practice should stop’.
Asked for his opinion on the debate last week, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte stated that the issue is not a matter for the government. He said that ‘Zwarte Piet just happens to be black and I can change nothing about that.’ ”

Presidential spying
The Associated Press reports that Mexico claims US President Barack Obama “gave his word” there would be an investigation into apparent spying on Mexican presidential emails:

“ ‘Mexico did not ask for an explanation. Mexico asked for an investigation,’ [Secretary of foreign affairs Jose Antonio Meade] said when asked whether the US had apologized or offered any explanation about the reported National Security Agency spying.

A report by the German news magazine Der Spiegel said documents from National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden indicate the US gained access to former Mexican president Felipe Calderon’s email system when he was in office. Earlier, a document dated June 2012 indicated the NSA had read current Mexican president Enrique Pena Nieto’s emails before he was elected.”

Tax-deductible fines
Forbes contributor Robert Wood writes about how major American companies who misbehave can get taxpayers to pay a big chunk of fines levied by the US government:

“[The U.S. Public Interest Research Group] claims that unless JPMorgan Chase is explicitly forbidden, it will write off the [$13 billion] settlement. That would make taxpayers bear 35% of the cost of the settlement.

The tax code prohibits deducting ‘any fine or similar penalty paid to a government for the violation of any law,’’ including criminal and civil penalties plus sums paid to settle potential liability for fines. In reality, many companies deduct settlements, even those that are quasi-fine-like in character. Exxon’s $1.1 billion Alaska oil spill settlement cost Exxon $524 million after tax. More recently, BP’s Gulf spill raised similar issues.”

Containing violence
The Institute for Economics and Peace’s Steve Killelea writes about the global costs, in dollar terms, of violence:

“According to the Global Peace Index, containing violence – including internal and external conflicts, as well as violent crimes and homicides – cost the world almost $9.5 trillion, or 11% of global GDP, last year. That is 75 times the volume of official overseas development assistance in 2012, which amounted to $125.6 billion, and nearly double the value of the world’s annual agricultural production. (For further perspective, the post-2008 global financial crisis caused global GDP to fall by 0.6%.)
This means that if the world were to reduce its violence-related expenditure by approximately 50%, it could repay the debt of the developing world ($4.1 trillion), provide enough money for the European Stability Mechanism ($900 billion), and fund the additional amount required to achieve the MDGs ($60 billion).”

Small is beautiful
The Gaia Foundation’s Teresa Anderson argues that “agriculture is increasingly becoming agribusiness”, with dire consequences for both people and the planet:

“It is important to note that the global industrial food system contributes an estimated 44-57% of global greenhouse gases to climate change. In contrast, the world’s small-scale farmers – the ones keeping agricultural diversity alive – provide 70% of all food eaten globally, using just 30% of the world’s agricultural land.”

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