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.”

Advertisements

Latest Developments, January 23

In the latest news and analysis…

Mission creep
Le Monde reports being told by several military sources that the number of French troops on the ground in Mali is likely to be “considerably more than 3,000”:

“The mission’s anticipated duration remains unclear; officials will only say it will last ‘as long as necessary.’ There were 2,150 French troops deployed in Mali on Monday, with an additional 1,000 providing support.

In the second phase of the offensive, French forces will advance into the North. Rather than heavy bombardment, large numbers of helicopters will allow French forces to hold the ground. ‘Now is when the difficulties will begin,’ said a military official.” [Translated from the French.]

Hunger Inc.
The Independent reports that more than 100 civil society groups have launched a new campaign blaming a grain oligopoly for the hunger of hundreds of millions of people around the world:

“The new campaign challenges [this year’s G8 chair] David Cameron to take the lead in championing measures to stop tax-dodging by companies, prevent farmers from being forced off their land and ensure western nations live up to their promises on aid.

It says five multinationals – ADM, Bunge, Cargill, Glencore and Louis Dreyfus – control all but ten per cent of the world’s grain supplies.
The campaign’s chair, Max Lawson, Oxfam’s head of policy, said: ‘The stranglehold of a small number of companies on food supply is squeezing African farmers’ ability to feed themselves and their communities.’ ”

Buying access
The Globe and Mail reports that a Calgary-based energy company has agreed to pay the biggest foreign corruption fine in Canadian history over bribes paid to obtain oil and gas contracts in Chad:

“The plea by Griffiths Energy International Inc., a small privately held oil and gas company based in Calgary, stands to settle charges it faces under Canada’s Corruption of Foreign Public Officials Act after a company investigation unearthed payments made in an attempt to secure lucrative energy properties in Africa.

It is illegal for Canadian companies to bribe foreign officials – transactions that were once viewed as routine business deals, particularly for resource outfits. The Griffiths case will mark the second conviction for the RCMP since it established teams dedicated to investigating foreign corruption.”

Dutch haven
Bloomberg reports that the Dutch parliament is looking into the Netherlands’ role as “a $13 trillion relay station on the global tax-avoiding network”:

“Last month, the European Commission, the European Union’s executive body, declared a war on tax avoidance and evasion, which it said costs the EU 1 trillion euros a year. The commission advised member states — including the Netherlands — to create tax-haven blacklists and adopt anti-abuse rules. It also recommended reforms that could undermine the lure of the Netherlands, and hurt a spinoff industry that has mushroomed in and around Amsterdam to abet tax avoidance.
Attracted by the Netherlands’ lenient policies and extensive network of tax treaties, companies such as Yahoo, Google Inc., Merck & Co. and Dell Inc. have moved profits through the country. Using techniques with nicknames such as the ‘Dutch Sandwich,’ multinational companies routed 10.2 trillion euros in 2010 through 14,300 Dutch ‘special financial units,’ according to the Dutch Central Bank. Such units often only exist on paper, as is allowed by law.”

Second fiddle
Radio France Internationale reports that, despite the personnel demands of the Mali intervention, the French military is maintaining a presence in another former colony, namely the Central African Republic:

“The military crisis has passed and soldiers, whether they be Central African or foreign, are less visible. The French army has been called to another theatre of operations, Mali, and in the streets of Bangui, French uniforms are now much more rare. ‘During last month’s crisis, we got up to 604 troops. The 240 that will stay here beyond the end of the week will carry out their original mission, providing logistical and technical support for the Central African Multinational Force. And of course, if the situation deteriorates again, they will ensure the protection of our citizens and our interests,’ said Lieutenant-Colonel Benoît Fine, commander of the French mission in the Central African Republic.” [Translated from the French.]

Questionable advice
Inter Press Service reports that Malawi’s new president’s apparent enthusiasm for the economic prescriptions of the International Monetary Fund is causing a popular backlash:

“According to John Kapito, head of the watchdog known as the Consumers Association of Malawi, [President Joyce] Banda has ‘transferred power’ to the IMF and the World Bank.
‘Like many leaders of poor countries, the problem with Joyce Banda is that she doesn’t think on her own. She is listening to everything that the IMF and the World Bank are telling her. She (agreed) to devalue the kwacha, agreed to remove subsidies on fuel without considering the impact of these decisions on the poor,’ said Kapito, who helped organise the latest demonstrations.”

Libyan arms
The Telegraph’s Richard Spencer writes about the large quantities of weapons that went missing from Libya after NATO military action helped topple the country’s long-time ruler, weapons that may have precipitated the latest foreign intervention, this time in Mali:

“Gaddafi, [Human Rights Watch’s Peter Bouckaert] said, had built up a vast arsenal of kit, with dumps in every city. Much of it has gone missing – far more than, say, disappeared after the fall of Saddam Hussein in Iraq. He himself photographed men with 18-wheel trailers towing away the landmines from my field – he reckoned there were 120,000 anti-personnel mines and 30,000 anti-tank mines. He says they were sold to an international arms dealer and are still in circulation.
‘The weapons that went missing in Libya are perhaps the greatest proliferation of weapons of war from any modern conflict,’ he said.”

Speaking out
Reuters reports that a Yemeni cabinet minister has broken ranks by criticizing US drone strikes in her country and calling for “more effective strategies”:

“[Human rights minister Hooria] Mashhour also said she wanted to see a fair trial for anyone suspected of involvement ‘in terrorist activities’.
‘This is our idea, to do this through the judiciary. But the United States said that it’s in an open war with them and they declared the US as an enemy. The (US) declared (militants) as enemies who could be targeted wherever they are found.
‘All we are calling for is justice and reliance on international regulations with regard to human rights and to be true to our commitment to our citizens in that they all deserve a fair trial,’ Mashhour added.

Latest Developments, March 9

In the latest news and analysis…

Bad food
The Guardian reports that a UN food expert has said what people eat, in both rich and poor countries, is leading to a “public health disaster” that requires action from the world’s governments.
“The solutions offered by agribusiness of more hi-tech or fortified foods cannot solve the problems, which are systemic, according to [UN special rapporteur on the right to food, Olivier] De Schutter.
But since this view is in effect an attack on the major economic interests of the west, the question is how the rapporteur thinks change can be brought about. For De Schutter, the UN agencies that have influence over policy in the area of food and health are where they were with tobacco in the 1980s. At the UN high-level summit on non-communicable disease in New York last September, the US blocked tougher wording on goals to combat the epidemics of obesity, diabetes and heart disease in order to protect their agrifood companies.”

Growing hate
Reuters reports that a new Southern Poverty Law Center study has found “hate groups” are on the rise in the US.
“The center counted 1,018 hate groups in the United States last year, up from 1,002 in 2010. The number of groups have been increasing since 2000, when the center counted 602.
[The center’s Mark] Potok said it was hard to gauge how many Americans are members of hate groups, but estimated the number was between 200,000 and 300,000 people.

The law center also found the number of groups specifically targeting gays and lesbians rose to 27 in 2011 from 17 in 2010, and the number of anti-Muslim groups jumped to 30 from 10.
But the number of so-called “nativist extremist” groups who harass people they suspect of being illegal immigrants appeared to be in decline. The number of those groups dropped to 184 in 2011 from 319 the year before.”

Odious contracts
The Center for Global Development’s Kimberly Ann Elliott makes the case for “preemptive contract sanctions” as a new way for policy makers to apply additional pressure on “illegitimate” regimes.
“The informal group of Western and Arab states known as ‘Friends of Syria’ should declare that the Assad regime is illegitimate and that contracts signed after the date of the declaration would be unenforceable in the courts of those countries. The broader the group, the more legitimate and politically credible the declaration would be, but the U.S. and UK are the critical players because of the role that the international financial centers in New York and London play in world commerce.”

World Bank, USA
The Wall Street Journal reports the next World Bank president will be a 12th consecutive American, but it will not be Columbia University’s Jeffrey Sachs who recently launched a public campaign for the position.
“Since World Bank President Robert Zoellick confirmed his departure three weeks ago, no serious people have doubted that the U.S. would maintain its hold on the job – even if they wished for a truly merit-based process that cast aside nationality. Created after World War II, the World Bank has always had an American as president while a European has led the IMF. The combined shares of U.S. and European nations in each organization make it nearly impossible for a candidate from another background to break the unwritten, informal agreement.”

Women making laws
There is “little correlation” between the number of women in a country’s parliament and that country’s performance on other traditional development indicators, according to Manuela Picq who has just wrapped up a stint as visiting professor and research fellow at Amherst College.
“Women’s presence in politics signifies neither a cultural pattern unique to Europe nor is it a monopoly of a presumably more civilised West. Many non-European societies do as well or better, proving the universality of women participation in politics as well as the inadequacy of claims to export women agency.
Politically powerful countries are not leading global trends when it comes to women presence in politics. In fact, indicators show that it is often quite the contrary, meaning that the US and Europe cannot invoke women’s rights when attempting to justify political, economic or military interventions.”

Free-trade blinders
Harvard University’s Dani Rodrik warns against “fetishizing globalization simply because it expands the economic pie.”
“To pass judgment on redistributive outcomes, we need to know about the circumstances that cause them.

If we do not condone redistribution that violates widely shared moral codes at home, why should we accept it just because it involves transactions across political borders?”

Respecting plants
The University of the Basque Country’s Michael Marder argues that public indifference to a “seismic change” in the field of botany is symptomatic of humanity’s unthinking domination of plants, as well as the further entrenching of English as an “imperial language.”
“Just as, up to and including the age of Descartes and Spinoza, no one took philosophy and other fields of inquiry seriously unless the treatises were written in Latin, so the contemporary production of what counts as credible (or, at the very least, effective) knowledge adheres to the gold standard of English and translation into English.
This is not to say that we should be nostalgic for arcane Latin locutions that carried with them a different set of hegemonic traits superimposed, for instance, onto plants. Rather, we ought to realise that rethinking human relation to plants is not only a matter of ethics, but also of survival, for all species, kingdoms and the planet as a whole.”

Good intentions
The New York Times’ Eduardo Porter writes that Western campaigns to end child labour in poor countries can have unfortunate unintended consequences.
“In Sialkot, Pakistan, a 1997 program to stop children from stitching soccer balls misfired even though the program replaced some of families’ lost income and helped children enter school. Moving stitching from homes to centers that could be easily monitored made it more difficult for the mostly female work force to work. One report said family incomes dropped by 20 percent.”

Latest Developments, November 3

In the latest news and analysis…

G20 futility
The Res Publica Foundation’s Julien Landfried argues that despite the apparent multilateralism of G20 summits, competing interests stand in the way of actual progress.
“Everything is happening as though it were inconceivable to neutralize the predations of the financial system on the economy. US President Obama has disappointed his most devoted supporters with his concessions to American financial lobbyists. Financial institutions are calling the shots and dictating the terms, for the most part, of bank bailout plans past and future. They have not just escaped the costs of the crisis, but have taken the ascendancy over states thanks to the public debt crisis, even though its causes lie in the private debt crisis. Nothing will be possible as long as a dismantling of the “financial complex” has not been undertaken. Let’s wager a government that summoned the courage to stand up to financial interests would retrieve not only its own dignity but the respect of the people as well. (Translated from the French.)

Bill Gates & Robin Hood
The Guardian reports Bill Gates has thrown his weight behind a proposed EU financial transaction tax – the so-called Robin Hood tax – despite concerns, particularly in London’s financial sector, that the tax would be bad for business.
“The City has been lobbying the government hard to resist an FTT but Gates said he hoped the prime minister would allow other members of the G20 to press ahead even if Britain remained opposed. ‘It doesn’t seem that the UK should have an objection when it has a settlement tax of its own,’ Gates said, referring to stamp duty levied on share deals. He added: ‘Hong Kong and the UK, which are both big financial centres, have settlement taxes. At the same rate levels it could be adopted by more countries and raise a fair amount of revenue.’”

Amazonas 2030
The Inter Press Service reports on the Colombian government’s decision to reconsider mining titles in its Amazon region, as well as the release of a new index that attempts to measure “the quality of life of ecosystems.”
“The Ministry of Mines and Energy’s announcement that it is studying the cancellation of mining concessions was made on Oct. 26 at the presentation of the Amazonas 2030 Index, developed by an alliance of the same name which collects social, environmental and economic data on the Colombian portion of this rainforest that constitutes the heart of South America.
The study is innovative in that it grants the same importance to the dimensions of the environment and indigenous communities as it does to economic, social and institutional dimensions. Each has a weight of 20 percent.”

Limited protectionism
The Fondation Jean-Jaurès’s Gérard Fuchs has some suggestions – involving land title, agricultural imports and market speculation – that he believes the G20 should adopt to tackle world hunger without having to promise new funds.
“The other threat to food production is the importation of agricultural products which countries in the South have been compelled to accept. Local agriculture has suffered as a result, leading to an uncontrolled rural exodus and mushrooming slums, and when the prices of imported products skyrocket, food riots erupt. It is necessary then to regulate food imports to provide local farmers with the protection they still need to improve productivity, but this position runs counter to free trade. A second proposal, therefore, should be debated within the World Trade Organization to allow regional groupings like ECOWAS [the Economic Community of West African States] or the EU to adopt protective measures aimed at maintaining as much food self-sufficiency as possible. (Translated from the French.)

Fair trade caution
The Landless Workers Movement’s Janaina Stronzake makes the case against treating food as a commodity and argues that fair trade is not automatically a good thing.
“Fair trade is one of the components that can help cure the world’s hunger. Nevertheless, some data from 2009 pointed to a large concentration of commerce in cacao, coffee and tea, so seeing fair trade without seeing food sovereignty in these countries can also bring a problem of monocultures and the concentration of leadership of one or a few NGOs that rule over these fair trades.
Relationships between people in this fight to end hunger cannot be based purely on commerce.”

The nature of foreign policy
The University of Texas, Austin’s Robert Jensen calls for the US to “shift to policies designed not to allow us to run the world but to help us become part of the world.”
“Whether it was Latin America, southern Africa, the Middle East, or Southeast Asia, the central goal of US foreign policy has been consistent: to make sure that an independent course of development did not succeed anywhere. The ‘virus’ of independent development could not be allowed to take root in any country out of a fear that it might infect the rest of the developing world.”

Paying the piper
The Broker provides a mid-point roundup of the Busan debate it is hosting in the run-up to this month’s aid effectiveness conference, in which it highlights, among other things, the power imbalance inherent in the aid industry.
“Touching on the conversation about new donors, Akemi Yonemura also argues that national development plans and local priorities need to be given top priority. Both traditional and new approaches, she argues, are not necessarily needs-based. Ideas often come from donors. Recipients provide the information that donors want to hear and implement projects that donors recommend (or exclusively fund) until the donor money is exhausted. Thus some local concerns remain neglected, a sentiment echoed by Sundar Kumar Sharma. Both the donors and recipients are uncomfortable with the extent to which development is donor-driven, but phasing out this relationship is remarkably difficult once it has been established.”