Latest Developments, September 4

In the latest news and analysis…

Democratic pledge
Le Monde reports on French President François Hollande’s shift toward possibly allowing MPs to vote on military intervention in Syria:

“French socialists have forged a doctrine on sending armed troops abroad. In a 2000 report, François Lamy, a Socialist MP from Essone, pointed to the example of other major democracies to call for a change to the constitution. He proposed it stipulate that ‘the use of French forces outside national territory be subject to parliamentary consultation beforehand’.
The report was presented by the defense commission, one of whose members was François Hollande, the Socialist Party’s first secretary at the time. In keeping with his own and his party’s earlier position, François Hollande called for a parliamentary vote on February 26, 2003 over the possibility of a French intervention in Iraq. Ten years later, with circumstances as they are, it is incumbent upon him to show that the president of the Republic is keeping faith with the pledges of the former first secretary of the Socialist Party.” [Translated from the French.]

War of choice
The Washington Post reports on a new poll suggesting that Americans “widely oppose” missile strikes against Syria:

“Nearly six in 10 oppose missile strikes in light of the U.S. government’s determination that Syria used chemical weapons against its own people. Democrats and Republicans alike oppose strikes by double digit margins, and there is deep opposition among every political and demographic group in the survey. Political independents are among the most clearly opposed, with 66 percent saying they are against military action.

The public expresses even wider opposition to arming Syrian rebels, which President Obama authorized in June. Fully seven in 10 oppose arming rebels, including large majorities of Democrats, Republicans and independents.”

Turning off the taps
The Associated Press reports that US President Barack Obama’s “top national security aides” have advised him to cut off it massive military aid to Egypt following July’s coup:

“Such a step would be a dramatic shift for an administration that has declined to label Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi’s July 3 ouster a coup and has argued that it is in U.S. national security interests to keep the aid flowing. It would also likely have profound implications for decades of close U.S.-Egyptian ties that have served as a bulwark of security and stability in the Middle East.
The officials say the recommendation has been with Obama for at least a week but they don’t expect him to make a decision until after the full Congress votes on his request for authorization for military strikes on Syria, which is not expected before Monday.”

Swedish asylum
The Local reports that Sweden has decided to let all its Syrian refugees stay in the country permanently:

“Sweden is the first country in the EU to offer permanent residency to refugees from Syria, news agency TT reported.
The decision covers all asylum seekers from Syria who have been granted temporary residency in Sweden for humanitarian protection.

The decision means that the roughly 8,000 Syrians who have temporary residency in Sweden will now be able to stay in the country permanently.
They will also have the right to bring their families to Sweden.”

Dwindling stockpiles
The Cluster Munition Coalition reports on the past year’s “record-breaking progress” toward eradicating the weapon that was widely banned by a 2008 treaty:

“During 2012, the Netherlands finished the total destruction of its once-massive stockpile of cluster munitions and together with Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom, and others, destroyed a total of 173,973 cluster munitions and 27 million submunitions—the most in a year since the convention’s adoption and far exceeding 2011 totals, when states destroyed a total of 107,000 cluster munitions and 17.6 million submunitions.

Major stockpilers have indicated they will complete destruction years in advance of the deadline, including Denmark and the UK (by the end of 2013), Italy and Sweden (in 2014), and Germany and Japan (in 2015).”

Costly objection
iPolitics reports that a First Nation in Western Canada may have to compensate the federal government for challenging a proposed Canada-China investment treaty:

“With just under a month to decide whether or not they’ll appeal a federal court dismissal of their Canada-China Foreign Investment Protection Agreement (FIPA) duty-to-consult legal challenge, the Hupacasath First Nation find themselves having to consider the possibility of a hefty cost award.

A government spokesperson told iPolitics that they’ve yet to determine their legal costs, but the Hupacasath have come up with their own rough estimates for what the government has spent defending the challenge.
‘They had five lawyers in the courtroom, compared to our two,’ said Brenda Sayers, an elected Hupacasath councillor.
Add to that the expert witnesses the government flew in from around the world, she said, such as Christopher Thomas — a research fellow at the National University of Singapore — and it starts to add up quickly.”

Taxes for Africa
The Africa Progress Panel has called on G20 countries, where most multinational companies are based, to take responsibility for “tax avoidance and evasion”:

“In Africa, tax avoidance and evasion cost billions of dollars every year. One single technique – transfer mispricing – costs the continent more than it receives in either international aid or foreign direct investment. Transfer mispricing includes the undervaluing exports in order to understate tax liability. Africa loses precious opportunities to invest in health, education, energy, and infrastructure.”

Institutional racism
The UN News Centre reports that a group of UN experts has called on the US government to examine laws that “could have discriminatory impact on African Americans”

“ ‘States are required to take effective measures to review governmental, national and local policies, and to amend, rescind or nullify any laws and regulations which have the effect of creating or perpetuating racial discrimination wherever it exists,’ said the Special Rapporteur on racism, Mutuma Ruteere.
According to the 2011 US Department of Justice Hate Crime Statistics, 71.9 per cent of the total number of victims of hate crimes reported to the nation’s law enforcement agencies were victims of an offender’s anti-black bias.”

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Latest Developments, August 8

In the latest news and analysis…

Swiss segregation
The BBC reports that some Swiss towns are planning to ban asylum-seekers from “public places such as swimming pools, playing fields and libraries”:

“Asylum-seekers are to be housed in special centres, mainly former army barracks, and the first one has opened in the town of Bremgarten.

Roman Staub, mayor of the town of Menzingen, said asylum-seekers should be banned from ‘sensitive areas’ such as the vicinity of a school. ‘This is certainly a very difficult area, because here asylum-seekers could meet our schoolchildren – young girls or young boys,’ he said.
In Bremgarten, a church will also be off-limits to asylum-seekers.”

Plan of death
The Guardian reports on a consultation exercise intended as a “reality check” for the UN panel tasked with formulating the post-2015 successors to the Millennium Development Goals:

“Four groups were consulted, each comprising 10 to 14 people, including urban slum dwellers, people with disabilities, nomadic and indigenous people, and those from remote communities.

The most radical vision came from Brazil’s panel, which saw present patterns of development as tantamount to developing a ‘plan of death’ for the planet. The group proposed a so-called plan for global life emphasising the importance of dignity. ‘We understand dignity as the complete fulfilment of human rights and basic security in terms of housing, access to land, health, nourishment, education, transport and leisure,’ it said.”

Strike five
Reuters reports that the latest of a string of US drone strikes in Yemen, the fifth in less than two weeks, has killed “at least six” people:

“Witnesses and local officials in the province of Shabwa said the drone fired at least six missiles at two vehicles in a remote area some 70 km (50 miles) north of the provincial capital, Ataq. Both vehicles were destroyed.
Residents who rushed to the scene found only charred bodies, they said.”

More war
The Financial Times’ Geoff Dyer writes that US President Barrack Obama’s recent pledge to dial down his country’s so-called war on terror has been “largely shredded”:

“It is not clear that the terror threat, which appears to be focused on the Yemen-based al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), is a reason to double-down on the war on terror tactics.
Some observers believe the plot could be a sign of weakness of an al-Qaeda leadership that is desperate for a high-profile incident to boost its standing. Others suggest that the continued strength of AQAP is a form of blowback for the heavy US drone campaign in Yemen. While the targets of drone strikes in Afghanistan and Pakistan have often been foreign fighters, in Yemen they have been aimed at locals with families and tribes.”

NGO sideshow
The School of Oriental and African Studies’ Michael Jennings argues that six-figure executive salaries are not the real problem with international charities:

“This latest furore is a distraction from what is a genuinely important point made in the Telegraph’s exposé: the need for transparency and openness in organisations that work in the development and humanitarian relief sector. Not just because they receive and spend hundreds of millions of pounds of public funds, but because their decisions affect the lives and prospects of some of the most marginalised people in the world.
There have been significant moves in recent years to make donors and recipient governments more transparent in their dealings. But given the amounts of money donors spend through NGOs, these organisations also need to be equally transparent: in terms of the money they receive, the evaluations of the projects and programmes they engage in, and their own dealings with governments, lobbyists, thinktanks and private sector companies. The best already do this. But transparency is too important to be left to best intentions.”

Bad business
Reuters reports that Guinea could invalidate an Israeli-owned company’s mining permits if its employees are found guilty of corruption:

“BSGR, the mining arm of Israeli billionaire Beny Steinmetz’s business empire, is battling Guinea over the right to mine one of the world’s largest untapped iron-ore deposits, known as Simandou.
The Guinean government alleges that BSGR bribed officials and Mamadie Toure, the wife of former President Lansana Conte, to win permits, or titles, to develop the northern half of the deposit, a charge the company has repeatedly rejected.

U.S. authorities in January began investigating potential illegal payments made to obtain mining concessions in Guinea and transfers of those payments into the United States.”

Depicting Africa
Wronging Rights’ Amanda Taub calls for a simple, Bechdel-style test to be applied to films and TV shows set in Africa:

“The Bechdel test is a feminist movie evaluation tool introduced by cartoonist Alison Bechdel. To pass the test, a movie must (1) have two or more female characters, (2) who talk to each other, (3) about a topic other than a man. If a movie doesn’t pass the test, that’s a sign that it’s lacking in female characters, and/or just using them as emotional MacGuffins for the males around them. (Many, many movies do not pass this test.)
I think it’s about time for us to introduce an equivalent test for African characters: if a movie or TV show is set in Africa, then it should (1) have at least two African characters, (2) who talk to each other, (3) about a topic other than poverty, disease, or violent conflict.”

Surveillance dissident
Princeton University’s Richard Falk objects on a number of levels to mainstream US media’s “pro-government bias” in the ongoing Edward Snowden controversy:

“[F]irstly, by consistently referring to Snowden by the demeaning designation of ‘leaker’ rather than as ‘whistleblower’ or ‘surveillance dissident,’ both more respectful and accurate.

Thirdly, the media’s refusal to point out that espionage, the main accusation against Snowden, is the quintessential ‘political offense’ in international law, and as such is routinely excluded from any list of extraditable offenses.

Of course, Putin’s new identity as ‘human rights defender’ lacks any principled credibility given his approach to political dissent in Russia, but that does not diminish the basic correctness of his response to Snowden. There is a certain obtuseness in the American diplomatic shrillness in this instance. Snowden’s acts of espionage are pure political offense.”

Latest Developments, August 7

In the latest news and analysis…

Battlefield Yemen
UPI reports on the recent escalation of the American drone campaign in Yemen and the possibility of a US Joint Special Operations Command strike:

“JSOC is the special operations unit that killed U.S.-born Yemeni cleric and al-Qaida member Anwar al-Awlaki with Hellfire missiles in Yemen two years ago next month.
The unit, part of the U.S. Special Operations Command, cooperates closely with the CIA, which resumed drone strikes in Yemen 11 days ago to disrupt al-Qaida’s terrorism plot, the BBC and The Washington Post reported.
The campaign — with four strikes in rapid succession — ends a period in which U.S. drone activity in Yemen has been relatively rare, the Post said.
It’s not clear if the renewed attacks, including a strike in Yemen’s eastern Marib region Tuesday, curbed the danger, U.S. officials told the Post, acknowledging they didn’t know if senior al-Qaida operatives in Yemen had been killed.”

Outsourcing refugees
Al Jazeera reports that Australia (area: 7,692,024 km²) has signed a new deal with Nauru (area: 21 km²) which has agreed to take sea-faring asylum seekers off its hands:

“The memorandum of understanding is similar to a deal [Australian Prime Minister Kevin] Rudd struck with Papua New Guinea prime minister Peter O’Neill a fortnight ago.
Mr Rudd says refugees who arrive in Australia will be sent offshore for processing and will be free to ‘settle and reside in Nauru’.

The announcement comes just a fortnight after asylum seekers being held on Nauru rioted, causing extensive damage to the facility there.
In its economic statement yesterday, the Federal Government said its offshore processing plan was expected to cost $1.1 billion.
The latest announcement is part of Labor’s move to ensure no asylum seeker that arrives in Australia by boat will be resettled in Australia.”

Somali oil
The Financial Times reports that Somalia’s government has given first dibs on oil exploration to former UK Tory leader Michael Howard’s “newly formed” company:

“The weak new government, the most representative in years, said earlier this year the broken state was too fragile to risk oil exploration because it was likely to pit different regions and warlords against each other. UN investigators also said in a report this year that inconsistencies in the legal framework regulating oil ‘risk exacerbating clan divisions and therefore threaten peace and security’.

The UK has hosted a Somalia conference two years running, including a day dedicated to business deals attended by oil executives, and this year opened an embassy within the secure airport area in Mogadishu. A diplomat from the UK also beat Norway to head up the UN mission to Somalia.”

Drug deal
Intellectual Property Watch reports that Swiss pharmaceutical giant Roche has agreed to reduce the cost of an HIV-related drug by up to 90 percent in some countries:

“In the past, [the Medicines Patent Pool] has received criticism for leaving key middle-income countries out of its licensing agreements. The prevalence of patients diagnosed with [cytomegalovirus] retinitis is 14.0% (11.8-16.2%) of people living with HIV in Asia, 12.0% (4.2-19.9%) in Latin America, and 2.2% (1.3-3.1%) in Africa, according to the MPP release.
Despite CMV prevalence in Latin America, major countries in the region such as Brazil and Mexico, are missing from the new agreement with Roche.”

Unaccountable peacekeeping
A new report out of Yale University argues the UN “caused great harm to hundreds of thousands of Haitians” by introducing cholera to a country it was meant to stabilize:

“ ‘The U.N.’s ongoing unwillingness to hold itself accountable to victims violates its obligations under international law. Moreover, in failing to lead by example, the U.N. undercuts its very mission of promoting the rule of law, protecting human rights, and assisting in the further development of Haiti,’ [co-author Tassity] Johnson said.

The report calls for setting up a claims commission, as well as providing a public apology, direct aid to victims, infrastructural support, and adequate funding for the prevention and treatment of cholera. It also emphasizes that the prevention of similar harms in the future requires that the U.N. commit to reforming the waste management practices of its peacekeepers and complying with its contractual and international law obligations.”

War on coal
Princeton University’s Peter Singer argues that we will have to leave “about 80%” of known fossil fuels in the ground in order to save the planet:

“The dividing lines may be less sharp than they were with apartheid, but our continued high level of greenhouse-gas emissions protects the interests of one group of humans – mainly affluent people who are alive today – at the cost of others. (Compared to most of the world’s population, even the American and Australian coal miners who would lose their jobs if the industry shut down are affluent.) Our behavior disregards most of the world’s poor, and everyone who will live on this planet in centuries to come.

In these circumstances, to develop new coal projects is unethical, and to invest in them is to be complicit in this unethical activity.”

Paranoid nation
The Economist calls the extent of the US government’s prioritization of security over liberty “unjust, unwise and un-American”:

“The indefinite incarceration of prisoners in Guantánamo Bay without trial was a denial of due process. It was legal casuistry to redefine the torture of prisoners with waterboarding and stress positions as ‘enhanced interrogation’. The degradation of Iraqi criminals in Abu Ghraib prison in 2003, extraordinary rendition and the rest of it were the result of a culture, led by Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, that was both unAmerican and a recruiting sergeant for its enemies. Mr Obama has stopped the torture, but Guantánamo remains open and the old system of retribution has often been reinforced.

Every democracy needs its secrets. But to uncover the inevitable abuses of power, every democracy needs leaks too.”

Latest Developments, November 29

In the latest news and analysis…

Global inequality
The Overseas Development Institute’s Jonathan Glennie points out that many of Europe’s and America’s Occupy demonstrators are actually part of the global 1% and that the inequality between countries is worse than it is within countries.
“If redistribution at a national level requires a strongly interventionist state, doesn’t that imply that something similar is required globally if we hope to contain global inequality? Such a plan would be laughed at by those who know the inner workings of the UN, and who recognise the nationalist instinct of politicians and voters. It is ironic that as knowledge about and empathy with the rest of the world has increased in the 20th century, through a revolution in communications, so has global inequality. One might have hoped for the opposite.
It is hard to see how global inequality can be contained without a shift in the mindset, cemented by centuries of traditional politics and nationalism, that favours the state you are born in over the world you want to live in.”

Bush and Blair on trial
Princeton University’s Richard Falk writes about a Malaysian tribunal’s non-enforceable conviction of former US president George W. Bush and former British prime minister Tony Blair for crimes against humanity and genocide during the Iraq War.
“The world system of states and institutions was unwilling to look a particular set of facts in the eye, and respond effectively to what many qualified and concerned persons believed to be a gross injustice. In this regard, there was an intense ethical and political motivation behind these civil society initiatives that invoked the authority of law. But do these initiatives really qualify as ‘law’? A response to such a question depends on whether the formal procedures of sovereign states, and their indirect progeny – international institutions – are given a monopoly over the legal administration of justice. I would side with those that believe that people are the ultimate source of legal authority, and have the right to act on their own when governmental procedures, as in these situations, are so inhibited by geopolitics that they fail to address severe violations of international law.”

A human approach to asylum-seekers
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay has praised Australia for announcing it will no longer send all undocumented migrants arriving by boat to mandatory detention centres.
“I am pleased to see this latest shift in policy, bringing in individual assessments of asylum seekers for release into the community,” she said. “I welcome these steps towards a more human approach to asylum-seekers in Australia which can only help to strengthen the tolerance and understanding necessary in a modern multicultural society.”

Doing the cartels’ laundry
The Los Angeles Times reports on the virtual impunity with which international banks have helped Mexican drug cartels launder billions of dollars.
“‘Wachovia’s blatant disregard for our banking laws gave international cocaine cartels a virtual carte blanche to finance their operations,” U.S. Atty. Jeffrey H. Sloman said in announcing the case last year, hailed at the time by authorities as one of the most significant in stopping dirty money from contaminating the U.S. financial system.
Wachovia paid the $160 million in what is called a deferred-prosecution agreement; no one went to prison, and the fines represented a tiny fraction of the [$420 billion] the bank had filtered. In court documents cited by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, Wachovia acknowledged serious lapses.”

There will be blood
The Inter Press Service reports on an unfolding investigation in Sweden over allegations petroleum giant Lundin Oil was involved in human rights violations committed in South Sudan during the civil war that preceded independence.
“[Reverend James] Ninrew said the brutal and systematic nature of the government’s operations in advance of the oil industry was obvious to anyone in the area. The government would begin by indiscriminant bombing, driving many from their homes. This would be followed by helicopter gunships flying low in order to attack those that remained.
‘The third step was sending ground troops coming in vehicles and coming on foot to make sure no more people were there,’ said Ninrew.
Soldiers would then establish posts just beyond the area they wanted to control, he said. After that, the machinery and the surveyors would arrive. Once they were done their work, the pattern would be repeated as the oil company expanded into territory falling under its concession.”

The Millennium Villages don’t work
The Center for Global Development’s Michael Clemens writes about a new independent assessment – the first of its kind – of the Millennium Villages Project, which suggests the much-hyped experiment has had little impact on household income despite spending nearly 100 percent of local income per capita.
“While [Tilburg University’s Bernadette] Wanjala and [Radboud University’s Roldan] Muradian find that the project caused a 70% increase in agricultural productivity among the treated households, tending to increase household income, it also caused less diversification of household economic activity into profitable non-farm employment, tending to decrease household income. These countervailing effects are precisely what one might expect from a large and intensive subsidy to agricultural activity. On balance, households that received this large and intensive intervention have no more income today than households that did not receive the intervention.”

Or do they?
Yale University’s Chris Blattman takes issue with many of the statistical methods of the new study and thinks the evidence presented may in fact suggest increases in income, though he is careful to add he does not necessarily buy into the Millennium Villages Project’s basic assumption that “the whole of poverty alleviation is greater than the sum of its parts.”
“My own theory of poverty is actually the opposite: there are diminishing marginal returns to aid in a single village. I believe in the possibility of increasing returns and complementarities, but mainly through broad, national institutional and technological change. I’m personally not convinced real poverty traps exist, or can be overcome, at the household or village level.”