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.”

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Latest Developments, August 9

In the latest news and analysis…

Three strikes
The Bureau of Investigative Journalism reports on three more US drone strikes in Yemen, bringing the total over the last 12 days to eight attacks:

“A Yemeni official told the Associated Press the bodies were seen lying charred alongside their vehicle. The anonymous source said five of the dead were Yemeni while the sixth was of another Arab nationality. However local security officials told CNN only four of the dead had links to [al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula] – two were civilians. This was the second time civilian casualties were reported in this series of [eight] strikes.

Unnamed US officials told NBC News drones launched this strike and the six before it in response to intercepted communications suggesting a terrorist attack was coming. The officials said ‘there is no evidence any of those killed could be considered among al Qaeda leadership.”

Tons of radioactivity
Reuters reports that Japan’s Fukushima nuclear plant is leaking 300 tons of “highly radioactive water” daily into the Pacific Ocean:

“The revelation amounted to an acknowledgement that plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co (Tepco) has yet to come to grips with the scale of the catastrophe, 2 1/2 years after the plant was hit by a huge earthquake and tsunami. Tepco only recently admitted water had leaked at all.

Local fishermen and independent researchers had already suspected a leak of radioactive water, but Tepco denied the claims.”

Still waiting
The BBC reports that the recent security scare said to be emanating from Yemen could impact the long awaited release of the many Yemeni detainees at Guantanamo Bay:

“In another development, a Yemeni diplomatic source told BBC Arabic that the US had suspended arrangements to return about 100 Yemeni detainees from the Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba.
However a White House official said there had been no policy change and that President Barack Obama’s May decision to lift a moratorium on transferring Guantanamo detainees to Yemen remained in effect.
‘He lifted the moratorium on transfers in favour of a case-by-case evaluation. That evaluation necessarily will take into account security conditions. The security situation is always taken into account,’ the official told the BBC.”

Soy victims
Time Magazine reports that one of US agribusiness giant Monsanto’s products may be poisoning people in Paraguay:

“Around 9,000 families a year in a nation of fewer than 7 million people migrate from the countryside to cities because of soy monoculture, according to BaseIS, an Asunción-based social research center. ‘Peasants are displaced because they are being poisoned,’ says Óscar Rivas, a former environment minister.
Dionisio Gómez moved to Asunción in 1998 because the water in Campo Agua’e, his village in the state of Canindeyú, was contaminated. ‘They would fumigate the soy and the chemicals infiltrated our land,’ says Gómez, who now lives in a slum. Two of Gómez’s children were stillborn with defects. Doctors never gave a cause, but academic studies — including a 2008 paper on Paraguay published by the American Academy of Pediatrics — say herbicides, specifically glyphosate, cause birth malformations.
Monsanto, the multinational that first brought glyphosate to market, says on its Paraguayan website that none of the studies are ‘serious.’ ”

Multinational corruption
The BBC reports that a South African corruption inquiry into a massive 1999 arms deal has finally begun:

“The huge deal – post-apartheid South Africa’s largest such transaction – was intended to modernise its national defences through the purchase of fighter jets, submarines, corvettes, helicopters and tanks.
It involved companies from Germany, Italy, Sweden, Britain, France and South Africa.
The initial cost was about $3bn (£2bn) but this has since ballooned to around $7bn.
Corruption allegations swirled around the deal from the start.”

Sweatshop locator
The New York Times reports on a Hong Kong-based company that is the top “matchmaker” between factories in poor countries and retailers in rich countries:

“But in pioneering and perfecting the global hunt for ways to produce clothing more quickly and cheaply, Li & Fung, which had $20 billion in revenue last year, has been described by critics as the garment industry’s ‘sweatshop locator.’
‘If globalization is a race to the bottom, where lowest wages win,’ said Cathy Feingold, director of international affairs for the A.F.L.-C.I.O., ‘Li & Fung is the sherpa showing companies the fastest route down that slope.’ ”

Staying put
Reuters reports that, “despite grumbles,” multinational oil companies do not appear to be leaving the Niger Delta anytime soon:

“ ‘Nigeria’s “difficult” operating environment, security concerns and the non-passage of the [Petroleum Industry Bill] all provide useful cover for what may essentially be a portfolio optimisation process,’ said Razia Khan, Head of Africa Research at Standard Chartered.

If anything, they will use their grievances as leverage in negotiations with government over licenses and taxes.”

Sacrosanct secrecy
Reuters also reports that a Swiss court has upheld the continued detention of a witness in a French tax evasion investigation for violating the country’s famous banking secrecy:

“Pierre Condamin-Gerbier, a former employee at Geneva-based private bank Reyl & Cie, has said he has a list of French politicians with undeclared funds in secret Swiss bank accounts and in July appeared before a French parliamentary commission investigating tax fraud.
He was arrested shortly after his return from France when an investigation was opened against him into allegations of dealing in commercial information.

Herve Falciani, a former employee of HSBC’s private banking unit in Switzerland who gave evidence at the same French parliamentary commission investigation is wanted in Switzerland on charges of stealing data on tens of thousands of bank accounts that a number of European countries have used to pursue suspected tax evaders.”

Inequality’s bright side
Oxfam’s Ben Phillips explains why, despite the fact that the world’s “300 richest people have the same wealth as the 3 billion poorest,” he is optimistic about global inequality:

“Because we are talking about it. Because people are saying it’s a problem. Because in a counterpoint to how the neoliberals of the 70s and 80s changed the conversation from community to individualism to break the post-war consensus that had limited inequality, so now the conversation is shifting back to community. People are challenging the idea that “economic shock treatment” cures when it literally kills. They are speaking out against the profit maximisation mantra that corporations should behave in ways which we would call psychopathic in normal human interaction.
When problems are invisibilised they cannot be fixed.”

Latest Developments, November 9

In the latest news and analysis…

Shady clients
The Telegraph reports that UK tax officials have received evidence suggesting Britain’s biggest bank “opened offshore accounts in Jersey for serious criminals”:

“The Telegraph understands that among those identified on the list are Daniel Bayes, a drug dealer who is now in Venezuela; Michael Lee, who was convicted of possessing more than 300 weapons at his house in Devon; three bankers facing major fraud allegations and a man once dubbed London’s ‘number two computer crook’.

The leak of the Jersey data, which is understood not to have involved HMRC paying for the list, is expected to have global ramifications as more than 4,000 residents of other countries are identified, although British residents account for more than half of all the clients.”

Corporate aid
MiningWatch has slammed a Canadian parliamentary committee report it says endorses “a wholesale handover of [the Canadian International Development Agency] to the private sector”:

“ ‘This committee report doesn’t just tie Canadian aid to mining interests, it would actually restructure CIDA to better serve the interests of the corporate sector,’ says MiningWatch spokesperson Catherine Coumans.

‘Rather than directing resources and political pressure towards stripping down the legal framework in other countries, the Canadian government should oblige Canadian mining companies operating overseas to meet strong environmental and human rights standards, including respect for free prior and informed consent,’ says Coumans. ‘The government should also ensure that people who have been harmed through the activities of a Canadian company have access to justice in Canadian courts.’ ”

Thinking the unthinkable
Reuters reports that the “taboo subject” of a carbon tax is beginning to garner support in some surprising circles as a potential way to avoid America’s so-called fiscal cliff:

“Prospects for such a tax as a way to address pollution and climate are probably dim in a still deeply-divided Congress, but some analysts say the measure would be more attractive if positioned as a source of new revenue.
In fact, a recent report by the Congressional Research Service, suggesting a $20 per ton tax on carbon emissions could halve the U.S. budget deficit over time.”

Subsidized overfishing
Inter Press Service reports on the latest research linking the $27 billion in fishing subsidies paid out by rich-country governments each year and the progressive destruction of fish stocks in poor countries:

“Most go to building the ever-more-efficient ships that are required to catch ever-dwindling populations of fish around the world, with yet more subsidies going to offset their growing consumption of fuel as they venture ever farther and deeper to fill their holds.
The result, says Dr. Rashid Sumaila, lead author of the [University of British Columbia] study, is that taxpayers are funding the depletion of the world’s fish populations and the impoverishment of coastal communities abroad.”

Extrajudicial drones
Barbara Lochbihler, a member of the European Parliament, explores some of the ethical and legal questions raised by the use of drones in warfare:

“Outside the context of war, in turn, state killings are legal only if they prove absolutely necessary to save lives. They must be conducted either in self-defense after an attack, or in anticipatory self-defense against an immediate threat, when taking time to discuss non-lethal alternatives is not feasible.
More than a decade after September 11, America’s drone program does not fall into the first category of reactive self-defense. Likewise, there is no evidence that any presumed terrorist who was killed outside of official war zones in the last few years represented a threat so immediate to US citizens’ lives that preventive and premeditated killing was the only option. Unless US leaders prove otherwise in every case, American UAV attacks in countries like Pakistan or Yemen should be called what they are: extrajudicial killings.

The US drone program does not make the world a safer place; it creates an environment in which unlawful killings can happen virtually anywhere, at any time, violating the fundamental human right not to be arbitrarily deprived of one’s life.”

Mining renegotiation
Reuters reports the DR Congo is seeking to reassure investors regarding plans to “sharply raise the state stake” in the country’s mining projects, promising to consult beforehand with mining companies as well as the World Bank and IMF:

“A draft of the proposed changes in the mining law seen by Reuters shows Congo is seeking a 35 percent stake in projects that is ‘free of charges and … non-dilutable.’ It also includes a proposal to double royalties on some minerals and introduces a 50 percent levy on miners’ ‘super profits’.
The draft revision defines ‘super profits’ as made when a commodity’s price rises exceptionally over 25 percent compared with its level at the time of the project’s feasibility study.”

Capital endorsement
Human Rights Watch has expressed disappointment at California voters’ decision to stick with the death penalty, arguing continued support for the “barbaric” practice puts them out of step with national and global trends:

“Between 2007 and 2011, the US ranked behind only China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq in number of death sentences handed down. There has been a heartening trend away from the death penalty in the last five years, however, Human Rights Watch said. Of the 17 states that have rejected the death penalty, 5 have done so since 2007 – New Jersey, New York, New Mexico, Illinois, and Connecticut. Nationally, the number of executions has been declining since 2009.

Countries around the world have increasingly rejected the death penalty. Of the 193 United Nations member states, 94 have laws abolishing the sentence, while 137 are abolitionist in practice. According to the UN Secretary General, 175 countries were execution-free in 2011. Belarus is the only European country that still applies the death penalty.”

Hunger wages
The Daily Maverick reports that the “poverty, pitiful wages, appalling living conditions” behind South Africa’s global wine and fruit exports have led to violent protests and fears that more will follow:

“The labourers’ perspective is that the table grapes and citrus products that are farmed in the area are for the export market and that the farm owners are making more than enough money.

‘The wealth and well-being these workers produce shouldn’t be rooted in human misery,’ Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch, said when the report was released. ‘The government and the industries and farmers themselves, need to do a lot more to protect people who live and work on farms.’ ”