Latest Developments, June 6

In the latest news and analysis…

Torture money
The BBC reports that in announcing a settlement package for victims of colonial-era torture in Kenya, the UK government said it “sincerely regrets” the abuses while rejecting any legal liability for them:

” ‘The British government recognises that Kenyans were subject to torture and other forms of ill-treatment at the hands of the colonial administration,’ [UK Foreign Secretary William Hague said].
‘The British government sincerely regrets that these abuses took place and that they marred Kenya’s progress towards independence.’
Mr Hague said 5,228 victims would receive payments totalling £19.9m following an agreement with lawyers acting for the victims, who have been fighting for compensation for a number of years.
The compensation amounts to about £3,000 per victim and applies only to the living survivors of the abuses that took place.
Mr Hague said Britain still did not accept it was legally liable for the actions of what was a colonial administration in Kenya.”

Bilderberg thaw
Comedy writer Charlie Skelton says that the 2013 edition of the Bilderberg conference marks a departure from the elite gathering’s “cold war policy of disengagement and secrecy” as mainstream news media converge on the event for the first time:

“Four Bilderbergs ago (has it been that long?) there were barely a dozen people outside the conference in Greece. The relationship with the press back then was simple: arrest them. Follow them, harass them, chase them out of town.

Never mind the steady stream of limousined technocrats and hedge-fund billionaires humming up the hill. The weird ritual of ducking delegates, tinted windows and rings of steel. Up on the hill, an ugly looking steel and concrete fence, a paranoid scar on the landscape. But over here in the paddock, in front of news crews, this is where Bilderberg changed.”

Violence silence
The Justice and Corporate Accountability Project has lodged a complaint with the Ontario Securities Commission over a Canadian mining company’s “poor disclosure” concerning violence near its silver project in Guatemala:

“According to Securities Commission requirements, Tahoe Resources must file material changes ‘forthwith’. Company disclosure, however, has been both insufficient and inaccurate.

‘As the company’s only mine project, investors, and the public in general, need to know about the implication of its employees in such an egregious attack, as well as widespread and ongoing opposition to the mine,’ remarked Jen Moore for MiningWatch Canada.”

War on pot
Postmedia News reports on a new American Civil Liberties Union study revealing the racial component of US anti-marijuana measures:

“The study shows that literally in every state and community in the U.S. there is a huge racial disparity in marijuana arrests despite the fact that the rate of marijuana use is about identical between whites and blacks.
On average, 3.73 times more blacks are arrested than whites. In some states, this rate rises to five.

The study shows that blacks are targeted no matter where they live, where they go, wealthy or poor, within small or large black communities.”

Unhappy shareholders
The New York Times reports that Walmart’s board of directors will face “largely symbolic” opposition at its annual shareholders’ meeting over perceived ethical lapses:

“A group of investors, including pension plans from Connecticut and Sweden and the United Automobile Workers medical benefits trust, is sponsoring a shareholder proposal related to an inquiry over Wal-Mart Stores’ potential violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. The proposal asks that Wal-Mart disclose whether the company is holding current and former executives financially responsible for breaching company policies.
Calpers, the nation’s largest public pension fund, which owns about $400 million in Wal-Mart shares, says it continues to be concerned about the Mexico inquiry, and it is troubled by recent Wal-Mart supply-chain issues. It says it will vote against several board members and support several shareholder proposals.
‘We’re extremely concerned about Wal-Mart’s monitoring on its supply chain — the fires and deaths in Bangladesh, and other concerns about supply-chain issues in the U.S.,’ said Anne Simpson, senior portfolio manager for investments at Calpers.”

Post-2015 miss
The Green Economy Coalition’s Emily Benson writes that a UN panel’s recommendations for the Millennium Development Goals’ successors were disappointing on the sustainability front:

“The Panel falls short of recognising all of our planetary boundaries, arguably one of the most important research developments in the last decade. It reiterates the commitment on CO2 levels and insists on the need for sustainable consumption and production. But most of the emphasis is on the role of efficiency gains from production and technological advances, rather than tackling issues of how we consume – particularly in rich countries. Taken together, their goals do not measure progress in staying within our ecological limits.”

Evicted and uncompensated
IRIN reports on the plight of 250 people forced from their homes by construction of a mine owned by South Africa’s Anglogold Ashanti, just one of several such incidents in Tanzania in recent years:

“The area, which resembles a refugee camp and is known by residents as Sophiatown – or colloquially, Darfur – is inhabited by farming families who were displaced in 2007 to make way for one of the country’s largest gold mines.

The resettlement issue sparked a legal battle between Mine Mpya’s residents and Anglogold Ashanti. According to the company, no compensation was paid upon eviction because a High Court ruling found that ‘those on the land had no legal rights of occupancy.’ ”

Unburnable fuels
EJOLT’s Nick Meynen writes that European climate and energy policies are “mutually exclusive”:

“While [the Directorate-General for Energy] wants to open Europe for a new source of fossil fuels, [the Directorate-General for Climate Action] is working to prevent 2°C or more of global warming. In 2009, the EU has committed itself to this goal in Copenhagen. Scientists now know that in order to stand a reasonable chance of keeping below 2°C, around 80% of all known fossil fuel reserves need to stay in the ground as burning them would cause too much global warming. Even The Economist recognizes that we are faced with huge amounts of unburnable fuels. Policymakers in the EU, who read The Economist, know that this liberal magazine is not some environmental activist group crying wolf on the coming apocalypse without checking their sources. But instead of debating which reserves will be kept under the ground and how, the recent EU Energy Summit concluded with the message that Europe needs a shale-gas revolution. If that plan goes ahead, something is deeply rotten in the way policy is made in the EU. The simple truth is that the EU needs to choose which policy it wants: more or less fossil fuels? You can’t have both.”

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Latest Developments, June 5

In the latest news and analysis…

House cleaning
The Guardian reports that UK Prime Minister David Cameron is urging all of Britain’s oversees territories, including some of the world’s most notorious tax havens, to sign agreements on sharing tax information:

“Britain has made a clampdown on corporate and individual tax avoidance the central theme of its chairmanship of the G8 summit in Northern Ireland on 17 and 18 June, and Cameron has decided that he cannot be a credible chair of the summit if he is not seen to be trying to put Britain’s own house in order.

The precise constitutional relationship between the UK and the overseas territories is a matter of dispute, but some aid agencies claim the UK can in effect force the crown dependencies to close down the tax loopholes.”

War on drones
The Associated Press reports that new Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has pledged to end US drone strikes in his country:

“ ‘This daily routine of drone attacks, this chapter shall now be closed,’ Sharif said to widespread applause. ‘We do respect others’ sovereignty. It is mandatory on others that they respect our sovereignty.’
But he gave few details on how he might end the strikes. Many in Pakistan say the strikes kill large numbers of innocent civilians – something the U.S. denies – and end up breeding more extremism by those seeking retribution.”

Freeze ended
The Financial Times reports that Argentina’s top court has lifted a freeze on assets belonging to US oil giant Chevron, which stemmed from a $19 billion environmental damages ruling in Ecuador:

“The asset freeze had been ordered by Argentine judge Adrián Elcuj Miranda last year under a treaty to which Ecuador and Argentina are signatories.
However, legal action continues on having the Ecuador judgment legally validated by an Argentine court, according to Enrique Bruchou, an Argentine lawyer co-ordinating efforts to seek enforcement of the ruling outside Ecuador. The same judge is hearing that case.

Plaintiffs maintain that Chevron’s subsidiaries cannot be excluded from the environmental damages suit.”

The company you keep
The Guardian reports on the guest list for this year’s summit of the “secretive” Bilderberg group which brings together political and business leaders from Europe and North America for informal talks:

“A list of about 140 participants, made up almost overwhelmingly of white males but described as ‘a diverse group of political leaders and experts from industry’, was published on Monday by the organisation. It included only 14 women.

Attenders from financial backgrounds include Marcus Agius, the former chairman of Barclays who quit the post in the wake of the Libor interbank lending rate scandal, as well as Douglas J Flint, group chairman of HSBC Holdings plc, which was hit with a $1.9bn (£1.25bn) fine last December over allegations it had acted as banker for rogue states, terrorists and drug lords.
Peter Sutherland, the chairman of Goldman Sachs International, and Michael J Evans, vice-chairman of Goldman Sachs & Co, are the participants from the investment banking giant whose involvement in the sale of high-risk mortgage related investments has borne much of the blame for causing the 2008 global financial crisis.”

Big farming
The Thompson Reuters Foundation reports on calls for the UK to stop funding a G8 food scheme for Africa described by critics as representing “a new wave of colonialism”:

“More than 25 UK campaign groups are urging British Prime Minister David Cameron to withhold 395 million pounds pledged to the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition over the next three years.

One major concern is a requirement that African nations change their seed laws, trade laws and land ownership at the expense of local farmers and local food needs.
Campaigners also fear it will allow big multinational seed, fertiliser and agrochemical companies such as Yara, Monsanto, Syngenta and Cargill to set the agenda.”

Sahel security
Voice of America reports on “stepped up” security at Western installations in the Sahel following attacks on foreign-owned gas and uranium facilities since France’s military intervention in Mali began earlier this year:

“ ‘It [France] gets not far short of 80 percent of its electricity from nuclear power – that’s by far the highest proportion in the world. It uses around 12,500 tons of uranium per year. Not far short of a third of that comes from Niger already,’ said [Imperial College London’s Malcolm] Grimston.

‘[French state-owned nuclear giant] Areva has invested something like 1.5 billion euros [almost $2 billion] in the new [Imouraren] mine in Niger. That is a very key area, and I think France will be very keen to maintain its long-term interest and its long-term security in that area,’ he said.”

Oil City
Le Monde reports on the changes – so far, not for the better – in the Ghanaian city of Takoradi since the UK’s Tullow Oil began production at the offshore Jubilee oil field in 2010:

“Local radio journalist Ebenezer Afanyi Dadzie has seen the city change rapidly but without any real improvement in the daily lives of Ghanaians. ‘For the moment, there are additional problems for poor people.’
The arrival of expatriate workers led to an explosion of housing and land prices. ‘A room rented out at 40 cedis [US$20] now costs 80 or 100. Bit by bit, residents have had to leave for the suburbs,’ the journalist explained. A tour of the city centre, where huge hotel complexes have sprung up, demonstrates this real estate madness.

For now, oil production has created few jobs. The men working on the offshore rigs are expats.” [Translated from the French.]

State of siege
The Associated Press reports on “the fear that rules” the area surrounding a mining project in Guatemala owned by Canada’s Tahoe Resources:

“Protesters say the project, called El Escobal, will drain or pollute the local water supply, and hundreds of people have blocked roads and burned buildings to stop it from going forward. That’s tested President Otto Perez Molina, who sent in hundreds of troops and suspended the right to hold public gatherings in four townships near the mine in early May. It was the second time during his 16 months in office that he has declared a state of siege in response to protests against a foreign-run mining project.

[Oscar Morales, president of the Community Development Council] said eight community consultations of 4,222 adults found that nearly all of them opposed the mine. He said he wants to hold another legally binding community consultation about the mine, but municipal governments have refused.”

Latest Developments, June 1

In the latest news and analysis…

The in-crowd
Stockholm University’s Ian Richardson suggests that this weekend’s Bilderberg conference – an annual meeting of the “transnational power elite” – is not an inherently bad thing in a world divided into competing nation states:

“In the absence of a global regulatory framework, organizations like Bilderberg have helped to blur the edges of an otherwise brittle system of international relations that has consistently failed to transcend its protectionist tendencies. Without them, it’s entirely conceivable that we’d have descended into many more international stand-offs and conflicts than we have.

Transnational elite policy networks such as Bilderberg are an integral, and to some extent critical, part of the existing system of global governance. The practical problem is not so much that they exist, although we could talk about this ad infinitum, it is instead related to what they are doing and why they are doing it. It is here that our elites have been found most wanting. Their self-serving acceptance and peddling of dominant market logics, their fundamental lack of criticality and a lack of meaningful progress in the area of global social and political development is threatening the very peace and prosperity we look to them to provide.”

Chevron suit
Reuters reports that Ecuadorean plaintiffs have filed a lawsuit in Canada in the hopes of enforcing an $18 billion ruling against oil giant Chevron for pollution in the Amazon:

“Since U.S.-based Chevron no longer has assets in Ecuador, the plaintiffs are trying to get the ruling enforced outside the OPEC-member country.
The new lawsuit, filed in the Superior Court of Justice in Ontario, targets Chevron and various subsidiaries that together hold significant assets in Canada, the plaintiffs’ legal team said in a statement.
‘While Chevron might think it can ignore court orders in Ecuador, it will be impossible to ignore a court order in Canada where a court may seize the company’s assets if necessary to secure payment,’ said Pablo Fajardo, the lead lawyer for the plaintiffs.”

One billion dollar misunderstanding
Global Witness says European oil giants Shell and ENI have provided explanations that are “no longer sufficient” regarding a controversial oil deal in Nigeria:

“In a press release dated 20th May, Global Witness exposed how Nigerian subsidiaries of Shell and ENI had agreed to pay the Nigerian Government US$1,092,040,000 to acquire offshore oil block OPL 245. It was also revealed that the Nigerian government agreed, in the same month, to pay precisely the same amount to Malabu Oil and Gas, a company widely reported as controlled by Abacha-era oil minister, Dan Etete, who was convicted in France in 2007 of money-laundering. The revelations came to light as a result of the publication of New York court documents.
Both Shell and ENI deny paying any money to Malabu Oil and Gas in respect of the licence and suggest that their agreements were only with the Nigerian Government.  However, a recent statement from Nigeria’s Attorney General appears to contradict this.”

Legal bill
The Center for Global Development’s Justin Sandefur and Yale law student Alaina Varvaloucas ask if the $250 million price tag for the trial of former Liberian president Charles Taylor is justifiable, given that the annual budget for the entire justice sector of Sierra Leone – the country where the crimes he was convicted of aiding and abetting actually took place – is $13 million:

“Certainly nobody, least of all Sierra Leoneans who lived through a brutal civil war, wants Taylor roaming free.
And beyond keeping Taylor off the streets or deterring future war criminals, one of the main goals of international criminal tribunals is to serve as an example to the world of how much process is due a defendant, regardless of the crimes he is accused of committing. But the realistic counterfactual to the hundreds of millions spent on Taylor’s trial was not an unjust trial. It was a swifter trial, likely arriving to the same conclusion, but with a less expensive venue and not-so-high-priced defense attorneys—not to mention fewer conjugal visits for Taylor, no fancy Dutch food or internet access, and no rabbinical visits to indulge his new interest in Judaism.”

Haitian gold rush
The Guardian reports on Haiti’s apparently imminent mining boom and the concerns over who will benefit once exploration turns to production:

“ ‘It’s usually a couple of big white guys, with a couple of Haitians,’ explains Arnolt Jean, 49, who lives in one of the few concrete homes in the hillside community [of Lakwèv]. ‘They don’t even ask you who owns what land. They come, they take big chunks of earth, put them in their knapsacks and leave. We Haitians all just watch, because we can’t do anything about it.’

More than a third of Haiti’s north – at least 1,500 sq km – is under licence to US and Canadian companies. Eurasian Minerals has acquired 53 licences and collected more than 44,000 samples. The junior explorer firm recently teamed up with the world’s No 2 gold producer, US-based Newmont Mining.”

The 1 Percent’s problem
Columbia University’s Joseph Stiglitz argues that America’s wealthiest people should be concerned about income inequality, if only for selfish reasons:

“The rich do not exist in a vacuum. They need a functioning society around them to sustain their position. Widely unequal societies do not function efficiently and their economies are neither stable nor sustainable. The evidence from history and from around the modern world is unequivocal: there comes a point when inequality spirals into economic dysfunction for the whole society, and when it does, even the rich pay a steep price.”

World No Tobacco Day
Al Jazeera reports on the range of tactics – “including ramping up litigation, co-opting officials, and funding front groups” – allegedly used by tobacco companies to get around anti-smoking legislation and keep their sales up:

“ While smoking in the developed world has been steadily dropping, it is burgeoning in the developing one. The tobacco corporations have been accused of targeting poorer regions such as Africa. It is predicted that more than 80 per cent of tobacco-related deaths will occur in low and middle-income countries by 2030. ”

Austerity fever
Princeton University’s Paul Krugman argues that “ulterior motives” lie behind the current taste for austerity measures among politicians on both sides of the (North) Atlantic:

“In fairness to Britain’s conservatives, they aren’t quite as crude as their American counterparts. They don’t rail against the evils of deficits in one breath, then demand huge tax cuts for the wealthy in the next (although the Cameron government has, in fact, significantly cut the top tax rate).”