Latest Developments, July 24

In the latest news and analysis…

Supply chain ruling
Reuters reports that a US judge has upheld a rule requiring companies to disclose the use of “conflict minerals” from the Democratic Republic of Congo or surrounding countries:

“The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Business Roundtable, and the National Association of Manufacturers had challenged the conflict minerals rule, saying it was too costly and violated companies’ First Amendment free speech rights.
But in his order issued late Tuesday afternoon, [Judge Robert Wilkins of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia] rejected both of those arguments.

The ruling by Wilkins in the [Securities and Exchange Commission’s] favor comes just a few weeks after the agency lost another legal battle over a companion humanitarian Dodd-Frank rule that the Chamber and others had also challenged.
In early July, a different federal district judge tossed out the SEC’s ‘extractive resources’ rule requiring oil, gas and mining companies to disclose payments to foreign governments.”

Press pardon
McClatchy reports that the White House is “concerned and disappointed” over the release from prison of a Yemeni journalist incarcerated after reporting on US drone strikes:

“As a condition of his release, [Abdulelah Haider] Shaye will be prohibited from leaving Sanaa for two years. Nevertheless, many Yemeni journalists and local press freedom organizations responded to the news with jubilance, hailing Hadi’s actions and celebrating Shaye’s freedom.
Shaye’s release ‘is a victory for common values of media freedom, justice and human rights,’ said a statement from the Freedom Foundation, a Sanaa-based press freedom organization headed by Yemeni journalist Khaled al Hammadi. ‘Especially since President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi ordered the release of Shaye despite all the American pressures on him to keep him in prison.’ ”

Historical responsibility
Amnesty International is calling an Indian court summons of US-based Dow Chemical “an important step” toward corporate accountability over the Bhopal disaster that killed an estimated 22,000 people three decades ago:

“The company has been ordered to explain why its wholly owned subsidiary, Union Carbide Corporation (UCC), has repeatedly ignored court summons in the ongoing criminal case concerning the 1984 Bhopal disaster, where UCC is accused of ‘culpable homicide not amounting to murder’.

‘Dow’s attempt to distance itself from its wholly owned subsidiary UCC has always ignored the reality of the relationship between the two companies. Today’s court summons has confirmed that Dow itself must ensure that UCC faces up to its responsibilities,’ said [Amnesty International’s Audrey] Gaughran.”

Green light
The Washington Post reports that the CIA has received congressional approval to begin arming Syrian rebels despite “very strong concerns” about the plan:

“Both the House and Senate [intelligence committees] voted on the administration’s plan last week, officials said.
The agreement allows money already in the CIA’s budget to be reprogrammed for the Syria operation, a covert action that President Obama approved early last month. The infrastructure for the program, which also includes training, logistics and intelligence assistance — most of it based in Jordan — is already in place and the arms would begin to flow within the next several weeks.”

Compliance optional
The author of the Economist’s Democracy in America blog writes that the US government has rarely respected a decades-old prohibition on US aid to “coup regimes”:

“The Foreign Assistance Act of 1961, the act that initially rationalised foreign-aid policy under a single budget authority, provides that ‘none of the funds appropriated or otherwise made available pursuant to this Act shall be obligated or expended to finance directly any assistance to any country whose duly elected head of government is deposed by a military coup or decree.’
So, how many times have elected heads of governments receiving American aid been overthrown in coups since 1961, and in how many cases did America cut off that aid? As far as I can tell, the answers are: lots, and once or twice.”

Food conquest
The Guardian reports on concerns that the US is trying to force genetically modified food on Africa without proper public consultation:

“Food Sovereignty Ghana and other domestic organisations accuse the US and other foreign donors of promoting GM foods to west African countries, and tying aid to implementation.
According to a leaked cable, the US government was heavily involved in drafting Ghana’s 2011 Biosafety Act, which provided a framework for the introduction of GM foods. The US aid department

[Food Sovereignty Ghana’s Duke] Tagoe said: ‘Farmers in Ghana have had their own way of keeping seeds year after year. If these policies are allowed to manifest, Ghanaian farmers will have to change money into foreign [currency] in order to purchase seeds from overseas firms. The economic impact on the lives of the farmers will be disastrous. The origin of food is seed. Whoever controls the seed controls the entire food chain. These seeds are not owned by any African entity, they are owned by American companies.’ ”

Congo forests
Global Witness takes issue with a new report that suggests “controlled timber management” has slowed deforestation rates in the Congo basin:

“There is little evidence to back up such claims, while the study ignores threats from the expansion of illegal logging operations, large-scale agricultural investments and palm oil plantations.
‘This is a shortsighted and misleading study. The world’s second largest rainforest is losing 2000 square km – an area 34 times the size of Manhattan – every year. This is totally unsustainable, and it’s set to get worse. When the Democratic Republic of Congo‘s freeze on new logging is lifted and the forest has been parcelled up for different commercial uses, we’ll see much more deforestation. The idea that things are moving in the right direction is ludicrous,’ said Alexandra Pardal of Global Witness.”

Mutual learning
TRANSCEND Peace University’s Johan Galtung lists his prescriptions for attaining “peace with our futures”:

“Fight inequality, boycott companies with CEOs making more than five to 10 times what the workers earn, switch to cooperatives, transfer accounts to savings banks, introduce a sales tax of five percent for financial transactions to finance a living wage and to put a brake on insane speculation, increase the quantity and quality of mediation and nonviolence all over, fight for democracy with transparency, dialogue, petitions, referenda, pick the best from worldviews, both-and, not either-or.
Islam offers togetherness and sharing needed in the West, the West offers diversity and freedom needed in Islam; go for mutual learning.”

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Latest Developments, September 27

In the latest news and analysis…

Africa’s lily pads
UPI reports that the US is expanding its “secret wars” in Africa as global interest in the continent’s resources grows:

“ ‘Washington is in the process of a massive expansion of what are referred to internally as “lily pads” that allow it a global strike capability,’ Oxford Analytica noted.
These include facilities in Kenya, Uganda, the Central African Republic, Ethiopia, Djibouti, Mauritania, Burkina Faso and the Seychelles islands in the Indian Ocean off East Africa. Western military sources say the Americans are seeking to establish a base in newly independent South Sudan as well.”

Harmful financial flows
Boston University’s Kevin Gallagher writes about efforts to get the World Trade Organization to ensure international trade rules do not impede efforts to reform the global financial system:

“In 2011, Ecuador joined with India, Argentina and South Africa to request that the WTO study the inter-relationships between trade rules and regulatory reform. The US however, blocked the request. The US, South Korea, Norway and Canada, all said that the WTO, and particularly the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS), had a ‘prudential carve-out’ that provided WTO Members with the flexibility to regulate their financial systems. Thus, they were implying, there was no need to have such a discussion.
Ecuador and other emerging market and developing countries want to see that in writing.  They worry that their regulations could eventually result in a WTO challenge or cause nations not to put in place needed reforms for fear of being challenged. ”

AGOA’s failure
University of Oxford researcher Pierre-Louis Vézina writes that the African Growth and Opportunity Act, a US law meant to promote the continent’s textile exports, may not have been such a “trade-policy success” after all:

“The quotas imposed on Chinese exports during the Multifibre Agreement guaranteed smaller developing countries access to the US market. This implicit export subsidy for African countries, coupled with AGOA preferences, was thus a golden opportunity for African apparel exporters.
Yet, a key feature of the AGOA preferences was the absence of rules of origin, which are usually imposed under trade agreements to avoid transhipment. This meant that African exporters could use inputs from any country, in any proportion, as long as some assembly work took place in Africa. It thus provided an opportunity for Chinese exporters to merely tranship their products via ‘screwdriver plants’ in Africa, avoiding US quotas and on top benefitting from AGOA preferences. The end of the quotas on Chinese exports rendered the transhipment unnecessary and thus led to the departure of footloose factories and the fall of AGOA exports.”

Bhopal’s water
The Business Standard reports on findings that Bhopal’s groundwater remains contaminated nearly three decades after a leak at a Union Carbide factory caused “the world’s largest industrial disaster”:

“Indian Institute of Toxicology Research (IITR), which examined the ground water, submitted a report to the [Supreme Court] saying the levels of lead, nitrate and nickel are more than permissible levels in many samples of water taken by it.
‘In nine of the 30 samples, nitrate levels exceeded its permissible Bureau of Indian Standard (BIS) limits for drinking water. Lead level in 24 samples were found to exceed its BIS permissible limit,’ said the report, submitted to a bench headed by Justice Altamas Kabir.”

Carte blanche
The Bureau of Investigative Journalism reports that Somalia’s new government has “little or no authority over the numerous foreign forces” operating in the country:

“ ‘Whoever comes trying to help them defeat al Shabaab, they are more than welcome… [but] they are given a licence to completely ignore any local or international law,’ [Omar Jamal, a diplomat with the Somali mission to the UN] added.
It’s not even clear which foreign forces are currently serving in Somalia, the terms of their involvement, and what they are doing.

The striking thing that emerges is the extent of the US’s involvement in Somalia, both direct and indirect.”

Oil impacts
In a Q&A with Rue89Lyon, Guatemalan community activist Hilda Ventura decries the actions of Franco-British oil company Perenco in her area:

“There was never any environmental impact assessment. Over the last while, children have been falling ill: they have skin ailments. We’ve seen an increase in miscarriages and respiratory problems. Ponds and wells have dried up near the oil drilling. In one community, they wanted to dig wells for water but it was contaminated. We live off corn and bean cultivation but we’ve noticed the harvests have shrunk. And we think it’s due to the pollution from the oil extraction.

Since 2009, there have been four expulsions. In total, 2,000 people were affected. From one day to the next, they tell us to leave. Only the big landowners have property titles. They kick us off our land: that’s taking our lives because we live off the land. Most of us have experienced three or four forced displacements. We’re being squeezed. To the north is a tourism megaproject, to the south is the monoculture for biofuels and to the west is the extension of the oilfield.” [Translated from the French.]

UK drones
A new report by Drone Wars UK indicates that the British government has so far spent £2 billion ($3.2bn) on drones and is “likely” to spend that much again, beginning in 2013:

“ ‘Rather than spending further billions on more drones what’s needed is investment in tackling the underlying causes of insecurity. That means devoting resources to measures designed to seriously tackle inequality and injustice in the world  – such as the Millennium Development Goals. Today, in the midst of a global economic and environmental crisis, we need to jettison ever-increasing military spending and technological security fixes in favour of a sustainable security strategy that puts people – and especially the poor – at its centre,’ [according to Chris Cole, the report’s author].”

Kiobel II
The Center for Justice and Accountability’s Pamela Merchant lays out what is at stake next week when the US Supreme Court hears a second round of arguments pitting Nigerian plaintiffs against oil giant Shell:

“If the Supreme Court accepts Shell’s arguments, federal law will no longer recognize a civil remedy for foreign abuses like genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, or slavery. Already, the Supreme Court’s April 2012 ruling in Mohamad v. Palestinian Authority shielded corporations, governments, and other legal entities from liability under the Torture Victim Protection Act.
For many survivors, the [Alien Tort Statute] offers the only avenue to seek redress and hear a court of law condemn a crime under its true name: genocide or crimes against humanity.”

Latest Developments, July 26

In the latest news and analysis…

ATT plea
Author and former child soldier Ishmael Beah makes the case for a strong Arms Trade Treaty – including controls on ammunition sales – as UN negotiations enter the final stretch:

“The treaty is not a panacea to end all violence, genocide and human rights abuses, but it is a colossal step in the right direction. It is also an important missing piece to end the rampant use of children in war and to significantly reduce violence and the number of lives lost in such conflicts. For the first time, it will set an international standard that governments and civil society can use to hold accountable those who sell weapons irresponsibly. It will also prevent the flow of weapons into lawless areas plagued by conflict by closing the many loopholes immoral businessmen now use to navigate with impunity.

As negotiators race this week to finish the text of the treaty, they must include measures to control the flow of ammunition. Weaponry is abundant in Libya, Mali and other conflict zones around the world, but oftentimes ammunition is in short supply.
Some of these weapons, such as AK-47s, are extremely durable. You can bury them, dig them up years later and start using them again. If we didn’t have access to ammunition during the war in Sierra Leone, the AK-47s would have been no more deadly than sticks, and we would have been unable to inflict tremendous violence simply by squeezing a trigger.”

War on drugs redux
The New York Times reports that the US is expanding its drug war into Africa, with “elite” counternarcotics training already underway in Ghana and the same planned for Nigeria and Kenya:

“ ‘We see Africa as the new frontier in terms of counterterrorism and counternarcotics issues,’ said Jeffrey P. Breeden, the chief of the D.E.A.’s Europe, Asia and Africa section. ‘It’s a place that we need to get ahead of — we’re already behind the curve in some ways, and we need to catch up.’

In May, William R. Brownfield, the assistant secretary of state for international narcotics and law enforcement, a leading architect of the strategy now on display in Honduras, traveled to Ghana and Liberia to put the finishing touches on a West Africa Cooperative Security Initiative, which will try to replicate across 15 nations the steps taken in battling trafficking groups operating in Central America and Mexico.”

Jordan loan
Reuters reports the IMF has agreed to lend Jordan $2 billion, in part, to offset the costs of the Arab Spring:

“Meanwhile, tourism income and remittances from Jordanian workers abroad have been hit by the global economic slump and the unrest in the region. Government finances have been weakened by higher welfare spending to buy social peace during the Arab Spring, and by the cost of caring for refugees from Syria.
In an effort to cut its deficits, Jordan launched an austerity drive in May, raising fuel and electricity prices, imposing higher taxes on luxury goods and increasing corporate taxes on banks and mining companies.
But the government’s room for maneuver has been limited by the threat of unrest; Islamist and tribal opposition groups have held street protests against price rises, warning the authorities that austerity measures could trigger wider demonstrations and even civil disorder in impoverished areas.”

Bhopal Olympics
The Hindu reports that survivors of the Bhopal disaster are holding their own “Bhopal Special Olympics” in protest against Dow Chemical’s sponsorship of the London Games, which kick off on Friday:

“The Bhopal Olympics, with the theme ‘From East India Company to the Dow Chemical Company’, will be held in a stadium right behind the abandoned Union Carbide factory that continues to leach carcinogenic chemicals in the local groundwater, causing birth defects in children even today.

The opening ceremony will draw attention to the many famines caused during the British rule in India, the mass hangings following the ‘first battle for Indian independence in 1857’, the massacre at Jalianwala Bagh in 1919 and last but not the least, to the support extended by the British Prime Minister to the Dow Chemical Company.”

Big bad pharma
The University of London’s Simon Reid-Henry and Deakin University’s Hans Lofgren condemn a “triple-pronged attack” from the West on India’s role as “global pharmacist”:

“It is not only the pharmaceutical industry that needs to be addressed but the continued and ruthless lobbying by western politicians to secure the profitability of their own industries.
We ought to be asking why governments in the rich world still seem happy to checkmate the lives of poor people to save their political skins. And why the pharmaceutical industry sees India as such a threat.”

Human rights rep
Xinhua reports that former Greek foreign minister Stavros Lambrinidis has become the EU’s first-ever special representative for human rights:

“Lambrinidis’ tasks will mainly focus on strengthening EU values in the bloc and around the world.
While some analysts question the tangible effectiveness of such a position, the appointment was welcomed by EU institutions.”

NGO transparency
The Irish Examiner reports that Ireland’s government is considering extending the scope of freedom of information laws to cover non-public bodies that receive state funding, “such as sporting groups and charities”:

“The [government] spokesman said no set criteria had been agreed upon as to which non-public bodies would fall under the extended reach of the FOI laws.
However, it could include the level of funding provided to a body, the percentage of that funding within the body’s overall budget, whether the grants are provided annually as opposed to once-off and the nature of the functions provided by the body and the extent to which it provides a service to the public.”

Constructive vandalism
Oxfam’s Kate Raworth makes the case for rewriting economics into something less focused on GDP growth and monetized resource flows:

“So here’s a guerrilla campaign to make it happen. Anyone can do it because all you need is a pencil. Here’s the plan (umm, I have to say at this point, this is not Oxfam Policy…). Sneak into the bookshops, the libraries and classrooms, and into the office of every economics professor you know. Get out the macroeconomic textbooks and find that diagram. Take your pencil. Now draw in the environment. Draw in the unpaid care economy. Draw in social inequality.
With these few strokes, we could stick a great big spanner in the wheel of mainstream economic thinking. We’d save the next generation of economics students from having the wrong model of the world stuck in the back of their heads. And that would help save us all from another era of economic policymakers who unknowingly have the wrong model of the economy shaping their decisions.”

Latest Developments, December 19

In the latest news and analysis…

Dividend arbitrage
The Bureau of Investigative Journalism says it has uncovered a “huge tax avoidance trade” run by some of London’s biggest banks, which may be costing European governments nearly $800 million per year.
“Markus Meinzer, applied researcher and analyst at the Tax Justice Network, said: ‘This issue highlights a structural flaw in our current international financial system. Governments refuse to institute robust transparency and cooperation mechanisms in view of aggressive financial sector lobbying and because of the bizarre, yet largely unchallenged view of alleged benefits flowing from competition between states.’ ”

Fighting dependency
The Guardian reports Nigeria is looking to reduce its dependence on foreign food, such as wheat and rice imports, and to rely more on locally grown cassava in an effort to boost the nation’s agriculture sector.
“Billed as a central part of the new administration’s ‘transformation’ agenda – a sign of how badly Nigeria needs fixing – proposals in a preliminary budget to slash a $68bn import bill include a 100% levy on rice and wheat imports next year. Wheat costs the government a staggering $3.9bn annually, while Nigeria is the world’s largest rice importer – at a cost of $6.25m a day – even though its climate is ideal for rice growing.

According to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation, Africa has more than doubled cereal imports over the past three decades, a trend some countries have begun trying to reverse through proactive policies. In Uganda, for instance, rice output more than doubled in the space of four years after a 75% tax was imposed on imports. The duty also spurred the construction of new mills, lowering the price of locally refined rice. Malawi, meanwhile, one of Africa’s poorest countries, reversed its food deficit in just two years through a targeted subsidy programme that helped finance fertiliser for farmers.”

Drug tests
The Inter Press Service reports on the current state of international protections for human subjects of medical research.
“Fourteen patients died during the trials, which were conducted [by French and US pharmaceutical companies in a Bhopal hospital without the informed consent of the subjects] between 2007 and 2010. Drugs and treatments resulting from those trials have since been approved for sale in Europe and the U.S., according to a report in the Independent.

European law states that drugs tested in violations of protections guidelines such as the Declaration of Helsinki should not be granted market authorisation in Europe. [Annelies] Den Boer said [clinical trials watchdog] Wemos, with support of members of the European parliament, hopes to push the [European Medical Association] to block unethically tested drugs from the European market.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) abandoned the Declaration of Helsinki in 2008.”

Undeclared money
The Indian Express reports India is considering legal action against HSBC for allegedly encouraging customers to move undeclared money to its branch in Geneva.
“No prosecution or court cases have been filed. Reason: despite an official communication being sent by the [Central Board of Direct Taxes], HSBC Bank in Geneva has given no official acknowlegement of the data handed over by French authorities and without this endorsement from the Swiss or detailed banking transactions, officials feel the cases may collapse in economic offence courts.
But with the account-holders revealing that their Geneva accounts were being ‘operated’ from New Delhi by bank officials — both for deposits and withdrawals — and the balances were not reflected in their tax returns, a fit case for filing a prosecution against the bank itself may be made out.”

Brandeis tipping point
Yale University’s Ian Ayres and UC Berkeley’s Aaron Edlin argue the level of inequality in the US – the latest statistics show “the average 1-percenter” earns 36 times more than the median household – must be capped for the sake of the country’s democracy.
“Enough is enough. Congress should reform our tax law to put the brakes on further inequality. Specifically, we propose an automatic extra tax on the income of the top 1 percent of earners — a tax that would limit the after-tax incomes of this club to 36 times the median household income.
Importantly, our Brandeis tax does not target excessive income per se; it only caps inequality. Billionaires could double their current income without the tax kicking in — as long as the median income also doubles. The sky is the limit for the rich as long as the “rising tide lifts all boats.” Indeed, the tax gives job creators an extra reason to make sure that corporate wealth does in fact trickle down.”

The ‘trust me’ concept
The Washington Post reports the Obama administration’s increasing reliance on drone strikes may have resulted in 2,250 deaths in Pakistan over the last three years, but there is precious little information about the strategy or its results.
“Even outside experts who believe the program is legal find the secrecy increasingly untenable. ‘I believe this is the right policy, but I don’t think [the administration] understands the degree to which it looks way too discretionary,’ said American University law professor Kenneth Anderson.
‘They’ve based it on the personal legitimacy of [President] Obama — the “trust me” concept,’ Anderson said. ‘That’s not a viable concept for a president going forward.’ ”

Cost of doing business
Drawing on new information concerning the killing of 24 Iraqis by US troops, the Guardian’s Gary Younge issues a call to fight Iraq War revisionism that downplays the invaded country’s suffering.
“When he heard the news, Major General Steve Johnson, the American commander in Anbar province at the time, saw no cause for further examination. ‘It happened all the time … throughout the whole country. So you know, maybe, if I was sitting here [in Virginia] and heard that 15 civilians were killed I would have been surprised and shocked and done more to look into it. But at that point in time I felt that it was just a cost of doing business on that particular engagement.’ ”