Latest Developments, May 14

In the latest news and analysis…

Arming Bahrain
Reuters reports that the US has decided to resume “some military sales” to Bahrain, despite heavy criticism of the Gulf state’s human rights record.
“The State Department did not give a total value for the items being released but emphasized that the equipment being approved was “not used for crowd control” as the majority Shi’ite community continues to protest against the Sunni royal family following a crackdown last year.
U.S. officials said among the sales now allowed to go forward would be harbor security vessels and upgrades to turbo-fan engines used in F-16 fighter aircraft as well as legislation which could pave the way for a future sale of a naval frigate.
Items still on hold, besides the missiles and the Humvees, include teargas, teargas launchers and stun grenades.”

Trayvon targets
Gawker reports that someone selling gun range targets designed to look like murdered Florida teen Trayvon Martin said the market response was “overwhelming” and the item sold out in two days.
“The Orlando-based [Local 6] news station says it spotted an ad for the targets — since removed — on a ‘popular firearms auction website.’ They feature a black hoodie similar to the one worn by Martin on the night he was shot by self-appointed neighborhood watch captain George Zimmerman, along with a drawing of a Skittles bag and a can of iced tea.”

Hurting one’s cause
Reuters reports that JPMorgan Chase’s $2 billion in losses have given new impetus to the push for greater regulation of the US banking sector.
“Analysts said it is not yet clear if the trades would have violated the forthcoming Volcker rule reform.
[CEO Jamie] Dimon has been critical of the Volcker rule, a provision in Dodd-Frank that will ban banks from proprietary trading, or trades that are made solely for their own profit.

On Friday, Democratic senators Carl Levin and Jeff Merkley, who wrote the legislative language on the Volcker rule, said the outstanding proposal is flawed because it would give banks the latitude to hedge against portfolio risk as opposed to individual positions.
‘That’s a big enough loophole that a Mack truck could drive right through it,’ Levin said during a conference call.”

Worse than useless
The Overseas Development Institute’s Jonathan Glennie gives his take on what “all the talk of corporate social responsibility” is really worth when it comes to large-scale mining operations.
“The era of voluntary guidelines has not only been ineffective, it has been worse than useless. Although they may have led to incremental improvements in some areas, their real purpose has been to undermine attempts to develop effective legal sanction, both national and international, which is the only thing that will ultimately keep the destructive instincts of mega-wealthy companies at bay.”

New France?
Senegalese singer Baaba Maal assesses the significance of François Hollande’s election as new French president.
“I’m Senegalese and France is very connected to my country. France needs to open its eyes to the potential of its former colonies and to realise that these relationships have changed. People want to collaborate but with mutual respect. Whether that’s a respect for our culture, for our governments or for our business potential. It’s about sitting around the same table and talking together as equals. Of course our relationship hasn’t always been easy but we are in it together.”

Taliban poetry
The New York Times’ C.J. Chivers reviews a new collection of poetry written by Afghan insurgents.
“The Afghan war, of course, is a far broader phenomenon than its cemeteries, rifle skirmishes, house searches, airstrikes and bombs. The anthology covers wider themes, too, giving voice to many common Afghan complaints, including that the influx of Western cash has been corrupting to those who have received it and alienating to most everyone else.
I am astonished at this time of the dollars;
In poverty, I lost friendship.

Capitalist values
Essayist William Deresiewicz writes on the fundamental nature of capitalism and the policy implications of popular sentiment toward the wealthy.
“There are ethical corporations, yes, and ethical businesspeople, but ethics in capitalism is purely optional, purely extrinsic. To expect morality in the market is to commit a category error. Capitalist values are antithetical to Christian ones. (How the loudest Christians in our public life can also be the most bellicose proponents of an unbridled free market is a matter for their own consciences.) Capitalist values are also antithetical to democratic ones. Like Christian ethics, the principles of republican government require us to consider the interests of others. Capitalism, which entails the single-minded pursuit of profit, would have us believe that it’s every man for himself.”

Latest Developments, May 9

In the latest news and analysis…

Thriving havens
The Guardian reports on a new study suggesting the G20’s attempted crackdown on tax havens has “largely failed” so far.
“Despite unprecedented action from political leaders, and a blizzard of bilateral co-operation treaties entered into by offshore centres, deposit data from the Bank of International Settlements (BIS) shows bank accounts in tax havens still held $2.7tn (£1.7tn) last year – about the same amount as in 2007.

However, [the study’s authors, Niels Johannesen and Gabriel Zucman] also noted that those withdrawing deposits around the time of co-operation treaties – possible tax evaders – were frequently shifting their wealth to other, similarly secretive, offshore centres where no such equivalent treaty existed.”

With donors like these…
Inter Press Service reports on a new Center for Economic and Policy Research paper that suggests policies being prescribed by the IMF and other donors could send Jamaica’s economy into a downward spiral.
“Jamaica is currently paying more debt interest than any other country, including those in Europe that have been reeling under the near collapse of the euro. In total, the island owes around 18 billion dollars.
‘Pro-cyclical macroeconomic policies, implemented under the auspices of the IMF, damaged Jamaica’s recent and current economic prospects,’ the report warns.
‘This policy mix risks perpetuating an unsustainable cycle where public spending cuts lead to low growth, exacerbating the public debt burden and eventually leading to further cuts and even lower growth.’ ”

Climate investment
The Financial Times reports on a new initiative that will ask the world’s 1,000 biggest institutional investors to report on their portfolio’s carbon footprint.
“Julian Poulter, executive director of the [Asset Owners’ Disclosure Project], says these investors manage more than $52tn, ‘and of this less than 2 per cent is invested in low carbon assets, while 50-60 per cent is invested in high carbon assets, whether that’s in energy, transport, agriculture, mining or property’.

‘The AODP is the last piece in the puzzle. The [Carbon Disclosure Project] has done a lot to generate a database of emissions and investors signed up to the [UN] Principles for Responsible Investment are demonstrating their intent to invest sustainably,’ Mr Poulter says. ‘What is missing is the driver that will make asset owners implement better investment practices. It is really important that we have some measurement of what the owners are doing.’ ”

Destroyed tapes
The BBC speaks to former senior CIA official Jose Rodriguez about his decision to destroy video documentation of his agency’s “enhanced interrogation techniques.”
Three days after the tapes had been shredded, a CIA memorandum, since released under America’s Freedom of Information Act, reported comments by Jose Rodriguez:
‘As Jose said, the heat from destroying [the tapes] is nothing compared to what it would be if the tapes got into the public domain – he said that out of context they would make us look terrible – it would be devastating to us. All in the room agreed.’
I put this to Rodriguez and he was typically upfront about it.
‘I said that, yes. If you’re waterboarding somebody and they’re naked, of course that was a concern of mine.’

Questionable friends
The Guardian reports on an upcoming parliamentary inquiry into the British government’s “involvement in supporting dubious practices overseas” over the last 40 years.
“The bosses of the world’s biggest multinational defence and oil companies, including BAE Systems and BP, will be asked to account for why hundreds of millions of pounds of government money was used to help military dictators build up their arsenals, and facilitated environmental and human rights abuses across the world.

The inquiry has no legal power to force industry executives or former politicians to provide evidence.”

IP’s uncertain future
Intellectual Property Watch reports that members of the World Intellectual Property Organization are engaged in a struggle to shape the UN agency’s “development orientation.”
On the first day [of WIPO’s Committee on Development and Intellectual Property meeting], an attempt was made again by developing countries to create a permanent agenda item on “IP and development,” which developed countries again resisted on the grounds that it is repetitive with the title of the committee itself. But developing countries’ concern is that broader issues of IP and development do not have a place in a committee that spends most of its time working through specific projects. They have raised this issue for several years.

Medical impartiality
Roehampton University’s Martin Stanton asks how it is that Briton Khalil Dale could have been kidnapped and killed, not in spite of his being a humanitarian worker, but because of it .
“First of all, the US Anti-Terror Law judges the provision of medical aid to ‘terrorists’, or negotiation with ‘terrorists’ to gain access to wounded, starving or destitute civilians, to constitute a major criminal offence. This has actively removed any identifiable ‘neutral’ status for doctors, nurses or allied health professionals in battlefield, conflict or famines zone. You are either for the ‘terrorists’ or against them.

It is alarming indeed to contemplate that troops might open fire on ambulances and hospitals, but it is truly terrifying to observe the covert removal of the basic human right of everyone to receive healthcare, irrespective of their social, religious, financial or political status.”

RIP Poco
Columbia University’s Hamid Dabashi argues the Arab Spring marked the end of postcolonialism.
“These uprisings have already moved beyond race and religion, sects and ideologies, pro- or anti-Western. The term ‘West’ is more meaningless today than ever before – it has lost its potency, and with it the notion, and the condition, we had code-named postcoloniality. The East, the West, the Oriental, the colonial, the postcolonial – they are no more. What we are witnessing unfold in what used to be called ‘the Middle East’ (and beyond) marks the end of postcolonial ideological formations – and that is precisely the principal argument informing the way this book discusses and celebrates the Arab Spring. The postcolonial did not overcome the colonial; it exacerbated it by negation. The Arab Spring has overcome them both.”

Latest Developments, April 9

In the latest news and analysis…

Cluster bomb blacklist
The Guardian reports that in an “unpublicised but co-ordinated move,” four major UK banks and insurance companies have blacklisted corporations that manufacture cluster munitions and landmines.
“The Guardian has learned that major firms such as Lloyds Banking Group (through its investment arm Scottish Widows), Aviva, the UK’s largest insurer, and the Co-op have imposed a blanket ban on holding shares in companies that make or supply cluster munitions, purging them from nearly all their share portfolios.
Royal Bank of Scotland has banned all new lending to the same companies, and is now reviewing its defence industry shareholdings. Similar action is being taken by all the firms to clear out shares in anti-personnel landmine manufacturers, following intense pressure from human rights campaigners.
The industry is operating two parallel ‘stop lists’, which cover a dozen arms companies involved in making or supplying cluster bombs and anti-personnel landmines, including the US defence companies Lockheed Martin and General Dynamics, and the South Korean industrial conglomerate Doosan.”

Bloody F1
Reuters reports on the “increasingly loud calls” for cancellation of the Formula One race scheduled later this month in Bahrain, whose regime continues to face regular protests.
“The governing International Automobile Federation FIA.L, commercial supremo Bernie Ecclestone and Bahrain organisers have all said the April 22 race is on.

FIA president Jean Todt is expected to be in China, as is Ecclestone, and there are likely to be a number of meetings in the Shanghai paddock – possibly up until as late as Sunday morning.
‘Friday has been the busiest day for protests in Bahrain so Saturday looks the most likely day for any emergency meeting (in Shanghai),’ commented one team member.
Last year’s Bahrain Grand Prix was repeatedly re-scheduled and then reluctantly cancelled by organisers due to the violence in the country.”

Unfair policy
Al Jazeera reports that Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff has complained to her American counterpart about the impacts of US monetary policy on the world’s poor.
“Rousseff said low interest rates and other expansionist policies in wealthy nations have created an excess of global liquidity, which in turn has the unintended effect of damaging growth in poorer countries such as Brazil.
She also raised concerns with Obama that sanctions against Iran could fuel tensions in the Middle East and cause a spike in oil prices, threatening the global economic recovery, sources told Reuters news agency on condition of anonymity.”

Hostile environment
The Arizona Daily Star reports on new efforts to find and identify the bodies of migrants who die in Arizona’s desert.
“According to the Pima County Forensic Science Center, in 2011 there were 117 unidentified migrants who died in the Southern Arizona desert.

‘After a while, I started thinking: “Why do we have to just wait for the bodies? Let’s go get them,” ’ [technology liaison for the Office of the Medical Examiner and the Mexican Consulate, Engel] Indo said.
Once or twice a month, Indo plans to take volunteers into the desert on daylong searches for bodies, bones and live people.”

Solidarity tax
Reuters reports that Morocco’s government has decided to implement a “solidarity fund tax” on corporations in order to tackle social inequalities.
“Proceeds from the new tax will help raise 2 billion dirhams ($235 million) for a social solidarity fund to develop poor areas in a country that has one of the widest wealth inequalities in the region and where protesters still take to the streets over poverty, joblessness and corruption.

The 2012 budget now provides for the imposition in 2012 of a tax equal to 1.5 percent of the net profit for firms that make between 50 million and 100 million dirhams in net annual gains, Finance Ministry and parliament officials said.
Firms with annual net profits above 100 million dirhams will be subject to a 2.5 percent tax on their net profit in 2012, they added.”

Construction problems
A Libyan activist writing under the pen name Layla Ibrahim takes issue with the international community’s approach to rebuilding her country.
“The EU is responsible for media and communications training, yet that is still to start. The company, IMG international, hired to do this, is still in the needs assessment phase, for which they require a couple of months. However even when it does start, none of the ‘experts’ are Arabic speakers, which means it is unlikely they’ll be able to help shape the scripts or articles to support our journalists.

As one diplomat said: ‘The EU just about works within the EU; it has no business operating outside. The interests of one European country in Libya are not going to be the same as another, so Libya will suffer from these conflicts of interests as they fight over the same pot.’
In the meantime, Libyan professionals who are desperate to help rebuild their country are being side-lined. Internationals will hire Libyans in the main as fixers/drivers/translators but not in key positions. They will pay vast sums for hotel bills and per diems but will quibble over dinars to hire local staff.”

Ashley Judd’s face
Actor Ashley Judd analyzes a culture in which enormous media attention is focused on a woman’s face that is perceived to have become “puffy.”
“That women are joining in the ongoing disassembling of my appearance is salient. Patriarchy is not men. Patriarchy is a system in which both women and men participate. It privileges, inter alia, the interests of boys and men over the bodily integrity, autonomy, and dignity of girls and women. It is subtle, insidious, and never more dangerous than when women passionately deny that they themselves are engaging in it. This abnormal obsession with women’s faces and bodies has become so normal that we (I include myself at times—I absolutely fall for it still) have internalized patriarchy almost seamlessly. We are unable at times to identify ourselves as our own denigrating abusers, or as abusing other girls and women.”

Latest Developments, March 28

In the latest news and analysis…

Syrian math
Embassy Magazine’s Scott Taylor compares fatalities in Arab-Spring Syria and US-occupied Iraq.
“According to the US State Department, approximately 10,000 Syrians have been killed in the fighting over the past 12 months (this figure includes both pro-regime security forces and rebel fighters).
As a counterweight to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s moral outrage at the Syrian violence, one need only look at the previous nine years, during which America occupied Syria’s neighbour.
In the US response to armed uprisings and inter-ethnic violence in Iraq, the lowest official estimate of casualties published by the Iraqi Body Count Project puts the death toll as of January 2012 at over 272,000.
While the death toll fluctuated during those years, the rough math brings us to an annual loss of 30,000 Iraqi lives per year—three times that of the current ‘unacceptable’ level of civil war violence in Syria.”

Pakistan’s drone opposition
The Associated Press reports Pakistan recently rejected concessions offered by US officials scrambling to save their drone campaign after “a series of incidents throughout 2011” damaged the two countries’ relationship.
“CIA Director David Petraeus, who met with Pakistan’s then-spy chief, Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha at a meeting in London in January, offered to give Pakistan advance notice of future CIA drone strikes against targets on its territory in a bid to keep Pakistan from blocking the strikes — arguably one of the most potent U.S. tools against al-Qaida.
The CIA chief also offered to apply new limits on the types of targets hit, said a senior U.S. intelligence official briefed on the meetings. No longer would large groups of armed men rate near-automatic action, as they had in the past — one of the so-called ‘signature’ strikes, where CIA targeters deemed certain groups and behavior as clearly indicative of militant activity.”

Global Compact housecleaning
The Guardian reports that the UN Global Compact – “the world’s largest voluntary corporate sustainability initiative” – is set to kick out more than 750 businesses over the next six months.
“Non-governmental organisations have long criticised the Global Compact, which promotes 10 principles in the areas of human rights, labour, the environment and anti-corruption, because it has no effective monitoring and enforcement provisions.
They also accuse businesses of using it to oppose any binding international regulation on corporate accountability and for benefitting from the Global Compact’s logo, a blue globe and a laurel wreath, which is very similar to the UN logo, while continuing to perpetrate human rights and environmental abuses.”

Climate change ruling
Reuters reports that an Australian court has ruled Swiss mining giant Xstrata can proceed with developing a massive coal mine despite arguments that it will contribute to climate change.
“The case against the 22 million metric tons (24.2 million tons) per year open-cut Wandoan coal mine is the first to use climate change as the primary argument against the development of a mine, according to Friends of the Earth.
Xstrata argued in the case that stopping the Wandoan coal project would not affect the total amount of greenhouse gas in the atmosphere, since the coal that it would have produced by Wandoan would be replaced by coal produced elsewhere.
The Land Court agreed, saying in its ruling, ‘It is difficult to see from the evidence that this project will cause any relevant impact on the environment.’ ”

ICC’s Africa problem
Harvard Law School graduate student Nanjala Nyabola argues that the International Criminal Court has yet to earn the confidence of Africans, a problem that is especially troubling because all 28 people indicted by the court so far come from Africa.
“The answer may lie in investing universal jurisdiction in various African supreme or high courts, simply by passing statutes that give these courts authority to try cases related to the most egregious violations of human rights on the continent.
Using the judiciaries of smaller states in Africa that have succeeded in earning the confidence of their people provides an alternative that takes alleged offenders out of the immediate context of the crimes but still respects the idea of ‘African solutions for African problems’. Mauritius, Namibia, Botswana, Ghana – these are all nations with the capacity (albeit with significant assistance) to set up special chambers akin to those in Cambodia to try such cases.”

Misguided Principles
The University of Ottawa’s Penelope Simons argues that the UN’s current framework on addressing corporate human rights impunity is “misconceived.”
“[This article] seeks to demonstrate the problems with the [UN secretary-general’s special representative for business and human rights (SRSG)]’s approach by arguing that, along with the interventions of international financial institutions in the economies of developing states, one of the most significant impediments to corporate human rights accountability is the structure of the international legal system itself… It is argued that powerful states have used international law and international institutions to create a globalised legal environment which protects and facilitates corporate activity and, although the SRSG identified symptoms of this reality during his tenure, he did not examine the deep structural aspects of this problem. This article demonstrates that such an examination would have revealed the crucial need for binding international human rights obligations for business entities in any adequate strategy aimed at addressing corporate impunity.”

Third British Empire
Author Dan Hind argues that although its days of colonization and slave trading are over, Britain is now at the centre of a new imperial enterprise whose “signature crime is tax evasion.”
“Nowadays, if you believe what you’re told by respectable historians and broadcasters, Britain has turned its back on its imperial past and is trying as best it can to make its way as an ordinary nation. The reality is somewhat more complicated. One day, perhaps history will describe a third British Empire, organised around the country’s offshore financial infrastructure and its substantial diplomatic, intelligence and communications resources. Having given up the appearance of empire, the British have sought to reclaim its substance.”

Symmetry of slaughter
Syndicated columnist Gwynne Dyer contrasts the public discourse surrounding recent mass murders committed by a Muslim man in France and an American soldier in Afghanistan.
“Predictably, Marine Le Pen, leader of the extreme right National Front, called on French voters to ‘fight…against these politico-religious fundamentalists who are killing our Christian children, our Christian young men.’
The incumbent right-wing president, Nicolas Sarkozy, says much the same thing, but less bluntly.

As for the Bales atrocity, it is already being written off by the American media and public as a meaningless aberration that tells us nothing about US foreign policy or national character.”

Latest Developments, February 22

In the latest news and analysis…

Somalia strikes
The Bureau of Investigative Journalism estimates US military strikes have killed up to 162 people, including as many as 59 civilians, in Somalia since 2007.
“The total number of casualties may be higher.  Some reports simply state ‘many killed’, and other attacks may be unrecorded.

Though the Bureau has striven to untangle confused reporting of western military activity in Somalia, much remains opaque – something the US seems keen to see continue.”

Indigenous walkout
Intellectual Property Watch reports that the International Indigenous Forum has withdrawn from UN talks on rights governing genetic resources and traditional knowledge, a move that “calls into question the legitimacy of the negotiations.”
“As the ‘titleholders, proprietors and ancestral owners of traditional knowledge that is inalienable, nonforfeitable and inherent to the genetic resources that we have conserved and utilized in a sustainable manner within our territories,’ the group feels that ‘the discussion on intellectual property rights and genetic resources should include Indigenous Peoples on equal terms with the States since the work will directly impact our lives, our lands, our territories and resources.’
As a consequence, they said they decided ‘unanimously, to withdraw our active participation in the work developed by this Committee until the States change the rules of procedure to permit our full and equitable participation at all levels of the IGC.’
Under the current rules of procedures, Indigenous Peoples have observer status at the IGC. They can make proposals to the negotiations but those proposals have to be endorsed by at least one delegation to be taken into account.”

Rejecting consensus
Former French prime minister Michel Rocard argues the unrealistic quest for consensus is condemning international negotiations to failure and June’s Rio+20 summit will likely be no exception.
“Of course, there is a chance that the world will recognize its quandary at Rio. If a majority of the countries present dares to declare that demanding consensus is equivalent to enforcing paralysis, and if they insist upon following the voting procedures enshrined in the UN Charter, we could see enormous progress.
Global warming and economic crisis are threatening international security. This alone justifies referring these issues to the UN General Assembly, which, unlike the Security Council, knows no veto power. A strong declaration and a call for binding measures to address these issues would then be possible.”

Unfair fight
Agence France-Presse reports most victims of corporate abuses in Nigeria lack the resources to obtain restitution.
“In October, a Nigerian tribal king filed a lawsuit in a US court on behalf of his people against oil giant Shell, seeking $1 billion in compensation for extensive pollution that sickened the population and damaged their lands.
The plaintiffs said they decided to file the suit in a US court because of Shell’s history of a ‘culture of impunity’ and ‘disregard’ for the Nigerian judicial process.
They note that the Shell has refused to comply with a 2005 order to end gas flaring in the Iwherekan community or to pay a 2006 judgment to pay $1.5 billion to the Ijaw Aborigines for damages caused by decades of pollution.”

Too big to jail
Former IMF chief economist Simon Johnson argues American banks will continue to engage in “fundamental and systemic breaches of the rule of law” until their top executives face real penalties for such behaviour.
“Top bankers want to make a lot of money. They also want to stay out of prison. Political leaders can huff and puff as much as they want, but, without a credible threat of poverty and time behind bars, bankers have no reason to comply with the law.”

War machine
Al Jazeera’s Marwan Bishara writes about the damage caused by “the militarisation of the Arab Spring in Libya” and the sense of inevitability that led up to it.
“In late 2010, France and Britain decided to stage a war game titled Operation: Southern Mistral. It would involve thousands of military personnel and hardware from both countries. The scenario envisioned the two longtime military rivals joining forces for a bombing campaign against an imaginary southern dictator. The simulated war was condoned by a fictitious UN Security Council resolution and was scheduled to begin on March 21 of 2011. Well, the actual bombing of Libya began on March 19. This is surely a coincidence. But it does highlight the French and British mindsets and why no serious diplomatic effort got off the ground. The bombers were already on the runway.”

Immigration doublespeak
CNN.com’s LZ Granderson argues the American discourse around “securing the border” is really about something quite different from homeland defense.
“[National security]’s a part, but the larger truth is that nonwhite people will be the majority in this country by 2040 and this browning of America scares the hell out of a lot of people, particularly some white people. The thinking goes that if the country can deport the Mexicans who are illegally here and stop new ones from coming in, maybe that trend will slow down or even reverse.
That sentiment is at the core of the racial profiling laws started in Arizona and is at the core of the entire illegal immigration conversation. It’s a clumsy attempt to talk about race without mentioning race so as not to appear racist.
But the dialogue is transparent because if it was really about ‘securing the border,’ the facts suggest Canada would be a big part of the conversation and not just an afterthought.”

Interventionary diplomacy
Princeton University’s Richard Falk argues that a group foreigners currently being detained in Egypt do not work for “genuine NGOs” but rather, “informal government organisations” that are “overtly political.”
“In the end, Egypt, along with other countries, is likely to be far better off if it prohibits US IGOs from operating freely within its national territorial space, especially if their supposed mandate is to promote democracy as defined and funded by Washington. This is not to say that Egyptians would not be far better off if the [Supreme Council of the Armed Forces] allowed civilian rule to emerge in the country and acted in a manner respectful of human rights and democratic values.”