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, September 19

In the latest news and analysis…

French drone strike?
Xinhua quotes an anonymous “security source” as saying a French drone has killed six people in northern Mali, which if true, would be the first-ever drone killings by France:

“The source said that the Algerian army detected the drone, confirming that the strike took place near the border, on the Malian side.
The six combatants killed were allegedly plotting an attack against the military base at Tessalit, controlled since February by French and Chadian forces.” [Translated from the French.]

Welcome mat
Reuters report that on the same day as the alleged French strike, Niger’s foreign minister said he wanted armed drones to operate in his country:

“ ‘I would really welcome armed drones to shoot down drug traffickers, and all those who live from activities linked to drug trafficking. I don’t see why that shouldn’t be possible,’ [Mohamed Bazoum] said.”

Security state
The International Crisis Group has published a new report in which it expresses concern that Niger’s Western allies are pushing “a security strategy that has already shown its limitations elsewhere in the Sahel”:

“ ‘Niger has been included in security strategies that protect it but over which it has little influence’, says Jean-Hervé Jezequel, Crisis Group Sahel Senior Analyst. ‘Encouraged by its allies to upgrade its security apparatus, the Nigerien government has also substantially increased its military expenditure. But such a security focus could lead to a reallocation of resources at the expense of already weak social sectors’.
‘Rather than a security state, the people of Niger need a government that provides services, an economy that creates employment and a reinforced democratic system”, says Jonathan Prentice, Crisis Group’s Chief Policy Officer.”

Incoherent policy
The Guardian reports that a group of NGOs has accused the EU of breaking the law by letting European firms dodge “at least $100bn a year” in taxes owed to poor countries:

“The EU is the only region of the world to have a legally binding commitment to policy coherence for development, set out in the 2009 Lisbon treaty. Under the PCD, the aims of EU development co-operation should not be undermined by other EU policies on climate, trade, energy, agriculture, migration and finance.

On taxes, Concord calls on the European council – the group of EU leaders – to extend the automatic exchange of tax information among European countries to the developing world.”

Massacre cover-up
The Associated Press reports that a South African government commission investigating last year’s shooting deaths at the Marikana platinum mine has accused the police of lying:

“In a statement issued Thursday, the Marikana commission said it had to search computer hard drives of officers to discover documents about the 2012 shootings that riveted South Africa and recalled the worst excesses of the apartheid era.
The commission said documents show the police version of events at the platinum mine ‘is in material respects not the truth.’
The statement said the thousands of pages of new evidence include documents the police had previously said did not exist and material which should have been disclosed earlier by police.”

Small consolation
The Inquirer reports that Canada’s Barrick Gold is being accused of offering “crumbs” as compensation for a toxic spill in the Philippines:

“After nearly a decade of battling it out in a United States state court, the province of Marinduque has come close to signing a deal worth $20 million with the mining company that bought the firm being held responsible for unleashing toxic wastes into Marinduque’s Boac River in a case considered to be the country’s worst mining disaster.
The compensation offer of $20 million, however, is way below the $100-million claim for damages that the Marinduque government is demanding from Barrick in a 2006 lawsuit.

The amount, however, would further be reduced to $13.5 million after litigation expenses had been paid.”

Looming divorce
Reuters reports that African leaders will meet next month to discuss the future of the continent’s relationship with the International Criminal Court:

“So far there does not seem to be much support for it, but heads of state from the 54-member African Union (AU) may still discuss the possibility of a pullout by the 34 African signatories to the Rome Statute that created the tribunal.
Last week’s start of the trial of Kenyan Deputy President William Ruto for crimes against humanity – with President Uhuru Kenyatta’s trial due in November – has fuelled a growing backlash against the Hague-based court from some African governments, which see it as a tool of Western powers.
‘The Kenyans have been criss-crossing Africa in search of support for their cause, even before their parliament voted to withdraw from the ICC,’ an AU official told Reuters.
‘An extraordinary summit will now take place to discuss the issue. A complete walk-out of signatories (to the Rome Statute) is certainly a possibility, but other requests maybe made.’”

House of cards
The Associated Press reports that Pope Francis has said he wants the Catholic church to become less fixated on “small-minded rules”:

“But his vision of what the church should be stands out, primarily because it contrasts so sharply with many of the priorities of his immediate predecessors, John Paul II and Benedict XVI. They were both intellectuals for whom doctrine was paramount, an orientation that guided the selection of a generation of bishops and cardinals around the globe.
Francis said the dogmatic and the moral teachings of the church were not all equivalent.
‘The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently,’ Francis said. ‘We have to find a new balance; otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel.’ ”

Latest Developments, May 8

In the latest news and analysis…

Business as usual
Inter Press Service reports that UN experts have found that American corporations show “little appreciation” of human rights in their operations both at home and abroad:

“ ‘The U.S. government has committed to the [UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights], and established a number of key initiatives in this regard,’ the Working Group’s Michael Addo stated Wednesday, when he and [Puvan] Selvanathan unveiled their early observations here in Washington.
‘[But] it is now facing the challenge of putting them into practice, across all departments, ensuring that this is done in a coherent and effective way, and in a way that makes a real difference to people on the ground.’ ”

Mining diplomacy
The Toronto Star reports that the Canadian government is being accused of providing “active and unquestioning support” to a mining company linked to the murder of an activist in Mexico:

“The study, made available by [MiningWatch Canada] to the Star and La Presse, is based on 900 pages of documents obtained through Access to Information from the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade about its dealings with Calgary-based Blackfire Exploration.

‘It’s not that we’re saying that the embassy doesn’t have a mandate to support Canadian economic interests,’ said Jennifer Moore, Latin America Program Coordinator for MiningWatch and a co-author of the report. ‘In part, that is what they are supposed to do.
‘But Canadian embassies around the world are supposed to ensure the protection of individual and collective human rights—and that is just as important to us as Canadians.’”

No change of heart
The Tax Justice Network argues reports that Swiss banks have agreed to increased openness are greatly exaggerated:

“And we know this from a short sentence in the [Reuters] story, citing Patrick Odier, head of the Swiss Bankers’ Association:
‘We should no longer categorically reject an automatic exchange of information,’ he said. ‘But it should be introduced globally.’
It’s that bit in bold that is the give-away. In other words, we won’t do anything until everyone else has. Which, snigger snigger, will never happen. This is the classic ‘level playing field argument’ that we at TJN have seen time and time again, as justification for inaction.”

Printed weapons
The BBC reports that a gun made with 3D printer technology has been fired in the US for the first time:

“The controversial group which created the firearm, Defense Distributed, plans to make the blueprints available online.
The group has spent a year trying to create the firearm, which was successfully tested on Saturday at a firing range south of Austin, Texas.
Anti-gun campaigners have criticised the project.
Europe’s law enforcement agency said it was monitoring developments.”

Imperial aid
The University of Amsterdam’s Antonio Carmona Báez argues that understanding Bolivia’s expulsion of the US Agency for International Development requires a “de-colonial reading of development”:

“USAID belongs to the host of organs that were initiated by US president Harry Truman’s post-war Point Four Programme. The agency responds directly to the US Secretary of State and is closely monitored by the Department of Defence. While much of the discourse around USAID action highlights the terms sustainable development, elimination of poverty and international cooperation, military intervention and imposed foreign policy has marked the history of US foreign aid since the Cold War in Bolivia and throughout the Global South generally. USAID Office of Military Affairs and its Civic-Military Programme have been responsible for the funding of counter-insurgency practices in Asia, Africa and Latin America, and continuing the ‘global war on terrorism’ introduced by George W. Bush and sustained by current president Barak Obama. Recently, the Associated Press has revealed the agency’s meddling in Bolivia’s internal political affairs by providing ‘building democracy grants’ to groups that oppose the Morales government.”

Rocky relations
The Washington Post reports that even those Mongolians who are seeing some benefits from a massive Rio Tinto copper and gold project have concerns about the Anglo-Australian mining giant’s activities in their country:

“Puntsag Tsagaan, the president’s chief of staff, says he doesn’t want to see his country turned into Minegolia. Mineral wealth should be exploited cautiously and benefit the people, he says: ‘It does not have to be unlocked in a generation.’

In addition to the complaint about a cost blowout, the government says the company should have paid taxes last year and needs greater financial transparency.
In his speech to parliament on Feb. 1, [President Tsakhia] Elbegdorj wasn’t just bluffing. A few days later, his government briefly froze Rio Tinto’s bank accounts.

[Aimtan] Ulam-Badrakh says that he is glad Oyu Tolgoi is being developed but that he also has reservations. ‘Foreigners cannot just dig up the land, take away our wealth and leave us with a big hole in the ground,’ he says. ‘It has to be beneficial for foreigners and the Mongolian people.’ ”

Misplaced priorities
Humanosphere reports that Médecins Sans Frontières believes the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s promotion of vaccines prioritizes drug industry profits over saving lives:

[MSF’s Kate] Elder said the problem is we don’t know how much money [pharmaceutical companies] are making since industry refuses to open its books. MSF, which is a member of the GAVI alliance, had asked drug industry partners to show the actual costs of drug development and production so the consortium can see that the profits are modest. Industry, and the GAVI leadership, Elder said, refused to incorporate this into the Global Vaccine Action Plan – an over-arching strategy led by a group convened by the Gates Foundation called the Decades of Vaccine Collaboration.
‘We’d like to see more of this information made public,’ said Elder, referring to both the price calculations as well as the development of global vaccine policy.”

Latest Developments, April 22

In the latest news and analysis…

Double Standard
Guardian columnist Michael Cohen asks why the US reacts so strongly to “terror” and so meekly to far deadlier threats, such as gun violence and diabetes:

“So for those of you keeping score at home – locking down an American city: a proper reaction to the threat from one terrorist. A background check to prevent criminals or those with mental illness from purchasing guns: a dastardly attack on civil liberties. All of this would be almost darkly comic if not for the fact that more Americans will die needlessly as a result. Already, more than 30,000 Americans die in gun violence every year (compared to the 17 who died last year in terrorist attacks).

It’s not just firearms that produce such legislative inaction. Last week, a fertiliser plant in West, Texas, which hasn’t been inspected by federal regulators since 1985, exploded, killing 14 people and injuring countless others. Yet many Republicans want to cut further the funding for the [Occupational Safety and Health Administration] that is responsible for such reviews. The vast majority of Americans die from one of four ailments – cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes and chronic lung disease – and yet Republicans have held three dozen votes to repeal Obamacare, which expands healthcare coverage to 30 million Americans.”

Multilateral smokescreen
The UN News Centre reports that a number of international experts have called on the World Bank to ensure its investments do not contribute to human rights violations:

“[Independent Expert on foreign debt and human rights, Cephas Lumina] said it was no longer acceptable to use the excuse that the World Bank is precluded by its Articles of Agreement from taking human rights into consideration in the design and implementation of its policies and projects.
‘The Articles allow, and in some circumstances, enjoin the Bank to recognize the human rights implications of its development policies and activities,’ Mr. Lumina said. ‘We should not forget that States must also adhere to their international law obligations when they act through international organizations. The World Bank is no exception.’ ”

Rough trade
David McLaren argues that Canada’s push to sign bilateral trade agreements “may make things worse” in terms of human rights and the environment in partner countries:

“Since elected in 2006, his government has entered into negotiations for more than 50 free trade agreements and foreign investment protection and promotion agreements (FIPAs for short).

Our new trade partners include Mali, Tanzania, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Panama and a whole lot of others who have no serious investments in Canada. But our mining companies have billions invested in them.

There are no provisions in these agreements for prior consultation with groups most affected. Clauses prohibiting expropriation of any kind and protecting investment so favour corporations that it is very difficult for a Third World country to buck the wishes of a Canadian-owned mining company, even if its government wanted to.”

Growing protest
The Independent reports that over half the inmates at the Guantanamo Bay prison are now on hunger strike:

“The number of prisoners on hunger strike has risen to 84, an increase of 32 since last Wednesday, with 16 now receiving ‘enteral feedings,’ a process involving being force-fed via tubes.

It has been four years since President Obama pledged that the detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, repeatedly criticised by human rights organisations, as well as prominent American public figures, would be closed down. Instead, his administration is now considering a $200 million renovation project, which will include the construction of a new prison building for so-called ‘high-value’ prisoners.”

Trail blazing
ECONorthwest’s Ann Hollingshead describes as “stunning” the latest European efforts to promote automatic tax information exchange and rein in tax evasion:

“Yet if these systems and agreements exist only between developed nations and tax havens—and until developing countries participate in a similar system or agreements of their own—the progress we’ve made will have little effect on economic development and acute poverty.
But this is not a note of pessimism or caveat. The news this week on automatic tax information exchange is unequivocally good. The world needs the United States and Europe to blaze this path because, in all honesty, those are the only nations with the political power necessary to turn the tide on this.”

Tax challenged
Reuters reports that the UK government has launched a legal challenge against a financial transaction tax in the euro zone:

“Britain was concerned that the planned tax would affect transactions carried out beyond the borders of countries that sign up for it, Chancellor George Osborne said on Friday.
‘We’re not against financial transaction taxes in principle … but we are concerned about the extra-territorial aspects of the (European) Commission’s proposal,’ he said on the sidelines of meetings of finance leaders at the International Monetary Fund.

A pan-EU proposal for the tax failed due to opposition from Britain, home to the City of London and Europe’s largest financial services industry, as well as other member states including Sweden.”

Foodopoly
Food & Water Watch’s Wenonah Hauter decries the “financialization of nature”:

“This summer, President Obama will attempt to fast-track two trade deals — the Trans Pacific Partnership and the Transatlantic Free Trade Agreement —which are permanent power grabs by corporations and their financers. For Americans this means increased gas exports and increased imported foods, an undermining of our domestic laws and increasing corporate ownership of our natural resources. They will forever enshrine the very economic system that has lead to an ever greater imbalance in income and wealth, and increasingly frequent economic crises. And it will all be enforced by new international tribunals akin to the WTO.”

Evolution of xenophobia
Ian Birrell condemns the UK public’s “fear-fuelled contempt” of Muslims:

Indeed, it is worth pointing out that in the eight years after 9/11, the number of jihadist attacks in Europe represented less than 1% of total terrorist incidents on the continent.

We have been here before, of course. Each new wave of immigration provokes the same fears before newcomers are assimilated into evolving nations. After Irish immigration rose and Fenian bombs started going off in Victorian Britain, there were claims the country’s stability was at risk from adherents of an alien religion who owed loyalty to an authoritarian figure in Rome.