Latest Developments, August 17

In the latest news and analysis…

Miners shot
Bloomberg reports “the worst death toll in police action since the end of apartheid” after South African police opened fire on striking workers from a platinum mine owned by UK-registered Lonmin, killing 35:

“Violence erupted yesterday after police used tear gas and live ammunition to disperse thousands of workers gathered on a hilltop near the mine. Clashes between rival labor unions at the mine led to a six-day standoff with police in which 10 people had already died, including two officers. Police say they acted in self-defense yesterday after coming under attack from the workers armed with spears, machetes and pistols.”

Setting a precedent
The Center for Economic and Policy Research’s Mark Weisbrot argues Ecuador’s decision to grant asylum to Wikileaks founder Julian Assange has “considerable historic significance”:

“Why is this case so significant? It is probably the first time that a citizen fleeing political persecution by the US has been granted political asylum by a democratic government seeking to uphold international human rights conventions. This is a pretty big deal, because for more than 60 years the US has portrayed itself as a proponent of human rights internationally – especially during the cold war. And many people have sought and received asylum in the US.

Assange’s successful pursuit of asylum from the US is another blow to Washington’s international reputation. At the same time, it shows how important it is to have democratic governments that are independent of the US and – unlike Sweden and the UK – will not collaborate in the persecution of a journalist for the sake of expediency. Hopefully other governments will let the UK know that threats to invade another country’s embassy put them outside the bounds of law-abiding nations.”

DNA ruling
The American Civil Liberties Union has expressed disappointment at a US federal appeals court’s ruling that companies can obtain patents on human genes:

“ ‘This ruling prevents doctors and scientists from exchanging their ideas and research freely. Human DNA is a natural entity like air or water. It does not belong to any one company,’ [according to the ACLU’s Chris Hansen]

Myriad’s monopoly on the BRCA genes allows it to set the terms and cost of testing and makes it impossible for women to access alternate tests or get a comprehensive second opinion about their results. It also allows Myriad to prevent researchers from even looking at the genes without first getting permission.”

Deadly crossing
Human Rights Watch has released a new briefing calling on European governments to do more to prevent fatalities, of which there have been “as many as 13,500” since 1998, among migrants attempting to cross the Mediterranean from North Africa:

“The European Union is developing a new European External Border Surveillance System, EUROSUR. It includes rescue at sea as a main objective, but does not include specific guidelines or procedures to ensure this objective is reached.
Preventing deaths at sea needs to be at the heart of a coordinated European-wide approach to boat migration, Human Rights Watch said. During the Arab Spring, the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees said that all overcrowded migrant boats in the Mediterranean should be presumed to be in need of rescue. This idea should inform the approach of the European Union toward the rescue of boat migrants.”

Pivot to Africa
Georgetown University’s Rosa Brooks writes that the US Department of Defense has come to dominate America’s relatively new and growing strategic interest in Africa:

“Whether Africom represents a viable new model for the future of the U.S. military naturally depends on your point of view. To some, the Africom approach is downright dangerous. Military traditionalists are apt to view it with suspicion — as a dangerous slide away from the military’s core competencies and the very apotheosis of ‘mission creep.’ Many civilian observers are equally skeptical, viewing Africom as further evidence of the militarization of U.S. foreign policy — and of the devaluing and evisceration of civilian capacity.”

Non-aligned summit
Inter Press Service reports that UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is under pressure not to attend this month’s Non-Aligned Movement summit in Tehran where the host nation will take over as chair of the 120-country body:

“Chakravarthi Raghavan, a veteran journalist who has covered the United Nations both in New York and Geneva for decades, told IPS whether one likes it or not, NAM is a political gathering, and represents the largest group of nations, and members of the U.N.
‘Whatever the views and policies of the host, it would be a folly for the head of the U.N. Secretariat not to go there to present a U.N. view – and not act as a partisan of U.S.-Israeli interests or Israeli lobbying groups in the U.S.,’ said Raghavan, who has covered NAM summits from the very inception.”

Redefining development
Former South African cabinet minister Jay Naidoo argues the global development industry has sucked the passion out of the “fight for freedom and human dignity”:

“A whole development industry has spawned a class of poverty consultants. Global development assistance has been packaged into projects.

The rush to seek single-issue solutions to complex problems fails to recognize or respond to the overarching structural social and political factors that connect them. Typically, the search is for a new technology or a market-based device that could change lives dramatically.”

Bankers’ bluff
German MP Frank Schäffler and the Friedrich A. von Hayek Society’s Norbert Tofall want to see indebted banks lose their ability to “blackmail their rescuers” into granting them effective exemption from liability:

“Above all, the G-20’s decision to prop up systemically relevant banks must be revisited. And governments must respond to the banks’ threats by declaring their willingness to let insolvent banks be judged accordingly.

Zombie assets would be destroyed. A large part of the money and credit that was created out of nothing from former interbank transactions, now excluded from official guarantees, would return to nothing. Afterwards, the liquidated, formerly over-indebted banks could be sold.

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Latest Developments, December 18

In the latest news and analysis…

From multilateralism to plurilateralism
The Financial Times reports the World Trade Organization’s biennial ministerial meeting has wrapped up without progress on the “stalled” Doha round of talks, which is ostensibly meant to improve the position of poor countries within the global trade system.
“A number of rich economies, including the US and EU, have explored the possibility of a so-called ‘plurilateral agreement’, involving a subset of WTO members which would agree to open their markets only to each other rather than the wider membership. But many emerging-market countries have rejected a move away from the traditional WTO ‘single undertaking’ approach in which negotiations in several areas – agriculture, industrial goods, services – are undertaken in parallel. Plans to address new issues such as climate change and food security within the WTO have also aroused suspicion among some developing countries, which suspect they are a ruse to advance rich countries’ interests.”

Vicious cycle
The UN News Centre reports that a UN human rights experts has said World Trade Organization policies are hurting small-scale farmers in the poorest countries.
“[Olivier De Schutter, Special Rapporteur on the right to food] stressed that the international trade regime must acknowledge the dangers for poor countries in relying excessively on trade, as this exposes them to volatile grain prices, which can quickly change their landscape into one of poverty and hunger, felt by urban and rural consumer alike.
‘The food bills of LDCs increased five- or six-fold between 1992 and 2008. Imports now account for around 25 per cent of their current food consumption. These countries are caught in a vicious cycle. The more they are told to rely on trade, the less they invest in domestic agriculture. And the less they support their own farmers, the more they have to rely on trade,’ he said.”

Drone dangers
Human Rights Watch has called on the US government to transfer command of drone strikes from the CIA to the armed forces and to “clarify its legal rationale for targeted killings.”
“In asserting that targeted attacks on alleged anti-US militants anywhere in the world are lawful, the US undermines the international rules it helped craft over the past half-century. This sets a dangerous precedent for abusive regimes around the globe to conduct drone attacks or other strikes against anyone labeled a terrorist or militant, and undercuts the ability of the US to criticize such attacks.
About 40 other countries currently possess basic drone technology, and the number is expected to expand significantly in coming years. These drones are primarily used for surveillance. China, France, Germany, India, Iran, Israel, Italy, Russia, Turkey, and the United Kingdom either have or are currently seeking drones with attack capability.

Privatizing education
A new Center for Global Development paper reaches the conclusion that low-income countries would benefit from more private schools.
“We find a robust, causal exam performance premium of one standard deviation delivered by private schools. This point estimate is significantly larger than found in previous studies, and dwarfs the impact of narrower interventions within public primary schools in the micro-empirical development literature (see (Kremer 2003)). Furthermore, from a social perspective private schooling is relatively cheap: nearly two-thirds (64%) of children in private schools pay fees less than the median per-child funding levels in public schools circa 2005/6. Taken together, our results suggest that expanding access to private schools may provide a viable route to improving education quality at relatively low cost in low-income countries with weak public school systems.”

Northern knowledge
The Overseas Development Institute’s Jonathan Glennie suggests there is something wrong with knowledge flows within the development industry.
“In terms of value for money, it must be time to set out a timetable to massively reduce the role of northern consultants (generally friendly with the sources of money) and increase the role of southern consultants in the technical co-operation mix.
Unfortunately, the desire of donors to be able to attribute change directly to their dollar or pound, rather than being satisfied to contribute to broader processes, militates against capacity development ever being taken seriously by northern donors. Structures are created more to manage aid than to enable the sharing of knowledge.”

Biosphere bailout
The Guarian’s George Monbiot suggests saving the banks but not the biosphere is bad economic policy.
“This support was issued on demand: as soon as the banks said they wanted help, they got it. On just one day the Federal Reserve made $1.2tr available – more than the world has committed to tackling climate change in 20 years.

No legislator, as far as I know, has yet been able to explain why making $7.7tr available to the banks is affordable, while investing far smaller sums in new technologies and energy saving is not.”

Decline and flail
The London School of Economics’ David Held and Kristian Coates Ulrichsen argue that the post-9/11 wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya may be the latest examples of the historical tendency for declining empires to resort to “flailing out as they attempt to retain the status quo and reverse their decline.”
“In choosing to invade Iraq the Bush administration and Bush’s British ally rode roughshod over considerations of international peace and security, and disregarded the United Nations and the post-war international architecture. NATO continues to bomb Afghanistan even after the death of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan, which also hosts a resurgent Taliban that is once again destroying Afghanistan while destabilizing the fragile nuclear-armed Pakistani state. The intervention in Libya exceeded its UN mandate as NATO willfully misrepresented the nature and intent of its actions to tip the balance of power against Gaddafi. It is difficult to see Libya avoiding the sort of lengthy civil strife that has resulted from the external interventions and acts of imposed regime change in Afghanistan and Iraq. The terrible irony is that the attempts to resist terrorist violence in the decade after 9/11 have ended up weakening the very structures of law and constraints on the use of force that have formed the cornerstone of the international system and bedrock of global security since 1945.”