Latest Developments, April 22

In the latest news and analysis…

French right
Agence France-Presse reports that the National Front’s Marine Le Pen finished third with nearly a fifth of all votes cast in the first round of France’s presidential election, the highest total for the  “anti-immigrant, anti-European, far-right party” in its 40-year history.
“Calling for ‘economic patriotism’ and vowing to leave the eurozone, she railed against globalisation and the ‘Islamisation’ of France, initially gaining some ground with attacks on the production of Islamic halal meat.
[French President Nicolas] Sarkozy sought to steal her thunder on two key issues for the far-right — immigration and security — with his calls for fewer immigrants and his handling of deadly attacks lat month by an Islamist extremist in Toulouse.

Analysts see [Marine Le Pen] as part of a new age of far-right leaders across Europe seeking to shake off the fascist stigma of their predecessors.

Like her father, Marine Le Pen has not avoided causing outrage with outspoken comments. Last year she compared Muslims praying in the streets outside overcrowded mosques in France to the Nazi occupation.”

Turning IMF conditionality on its head
Reuters reports that the International Monetary Fund has secured nearly half a trillion dollars in new funding from G20 nations but in return, emerging economic powers are demanding more say in how the institution is run.
“The battle over the next round of voting reforms begins with the elaborate formula for setting the quotas that determine each nation’s voting share, how much it must contribute to the Fund and how much it can borrow. The formula takes into account the size of each economy, foreign-exchange reserves and trade.
The current formula fails to capture the massive changes that have taken place globally since the IMF was founded after World War Two, especially the rise of emerging economic powers. Now that emerging markets are being asked to bulk up the Fund’s coffers to battle a crisis centered in Europe, their leverage to push for more change has increased.
‘Our demands are mostly for reforms, and those reforms are always finding obstacles,’ said Brazilian Finance Minister Guido Mantega. ‘It’s very easy for the Europeans to get the money and not do any reforms.’ ”

Generic ruling
Reuters also reports that a Kenyan court has ruled the country’s lawmakers must ensure efforts to crack down on counterfeit drugs do not impede access to generic drugs.
“Generic medicines constitute the lion’s share of medicines used in Kenya, and have enabled poor people in the developing country to get the necessary treatment for various ailments.
A previous court order issued before Friday’s ruling had blocked the act from coming into force, and Friday ruling means lawmakers will now have to amend the bill to clearly distinguish between generic and counterfeit drugs.”

Lobbying against transparency
ProPublica reports that media companies behind many of America’s top news organizations are fighting against greater transparency of US political funding.
“The corporate owners or sister companies of some of the biggest names in journalism — NBC News, ABC News, Fox News, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Politico, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and dozens of local TV news outlets — are lobbying against a Federal Communications Commission measure that would require broadcasters to post political ad data on the Internet.

In a speech this week at the National Association of Broadcasters convention in Las Vegas, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski excoriated the broadcasters as working ‘against transparency and against journalism.’ ”

Improving mining contracts
The BBC cites Guinea as an example of the growing number of African countries that are renegotiating what they view as “abusive” mining contracts with foreign companies.
“The Guinean state will now receive a 15% free stake in all mining projects for the country’s flagship minerals – bauxite, iron, gold and diamonds.
The secretary general of Guinea’s mining ministry, Guillaume Curtis, says the new legislation was a response to ‘mining contracts with abusive clauses that made it impossible to increase the state’s revenue’.
Export taxes are now indexed on global metal prices and fiscal exemptions have been cut.
‘Yes, there are heavy investments, but the eight-to-12-year tax holidays given by our countries are exaggerated,’ Mr Curtis says.”

Reformophobia
The Guardian reports that the head of the UN Conference on Trade and Development – an organization it describes as “an intellectual counterweight to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank” – has criticized the international community’s apparent unwillingness to undertake fundamental global financial reforms.
“As for reforms, [UNCTAD secretary general Supachai Panitchpakdi] identified as key greater disclosure of information from the likes of hedge funds on the kinds of financial instruments they were trading.

At a time of austerity, Supachai said it was time to move beyond official development assistance from rich countries, which has declined for the first time in 15 years. He argued a financial transactions tax, or Tobin tax, would achieve a dual function, helping to curb the power of international finance while also providing funds for developing countries.
‘It would not be expensive for the financial services industry,’ he said. ‘That argument is an excuse for masters of the universe to remain masters of the universe.’ ”

Global law
Open Society’s James Goldston writes that despite the international community’s rhetorical enthusiasm for the “rule of law,” there remains much disagreement on the concept’s meaning and how it should be implemented.
“Many developing countries want more ‘international’ law to restrain the U.S. and other veto-wielding Permanent-5 powers on the UN Security Council, a body sorely in need of reform. By contrast, western donor governments are keen to focus on ‘national’ rule of law needs in conflict regions of Africa and the Middle East.”

Uncivilized Europeans
South African satirical newspaper Hayibo reports that Africans have been shocked by recent “uncivilized antics” by Europeans.
“Africans say they have little hope that Europe will ever become civilized, after a week in which Spain’s King Carlos went on an elephant-killing spree and the Swedish Culture Minister was entertained by a racially offensive cake.

‘I don’t want to sound racist, and some of my best friend are white, but let’s be honest: violence is hard-wired into their DNA,’ said [Libreville resident August] Mwanasa. ‘I mean, Europeans killed over 20 million other Europeans in the 1930s and 1940s. That’s barbarism on a scale unprecedented in history.’ ”

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Latest Developments, September 13

In the latest news and analysis…

Moving beyond aid
The Overseas Development Institute’s Jonathan Glennie writes about the significance of a new ActionAid report that suggests aid dependence is declining in poor countries.
“As bilateral aid gradually reduces in importance as a development issue, it feels a bit like stepping into the unknown. We all know that trade, climate change, tax evasion and a host of other issues are more important, but somehow aid is manageable, deliverable, known. We don’t really know what will happen on the bigger issues, with so many powerful interests at play. All the more reason for the NGOs to accelerate their shift away from being aid agencies and towards being true development agencies.”

Role reversal
The Globe and Mail’s Kevin Carmichael writes about the possibility that the BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) will come up with a “modern-day Marshall Plan” to help fix Europe’s staggering economies.
“This is a noteworthy development, coming only days after finance ministers and central bank governors from the Group of Seven industrial nations failed to instill financial markets with confidence that the world’s established powers have things in hand. After spending much of the past year pointing fingers at the U.S. Federal Reserve and various G7 legislatures, the big emerging markets might finally have come to the conclusion that they have a more positive role to play in stabilizing the global economy.”

Food
A new World Development Movement report places much of the blame for record food prices on “broken” financial markets and calls on the UK government to support European efforts to rein in speculation.
“Financial players including banks like Goldman Sachs and Barclays have taken over food markets, says the World Development Movement’s report, with the total assets of financial speculators in these markets nearly doubling from $65 billion to $126 billion in the last five years. Not a single penny of this has been invested in agriculture.”

The Center for Global Development’s Charles Kenny argues eating local, organic food is bad for the world’s poor and says people in wealthy countries should strive to become “cosmovores” who consume food from around the world.
“So how should you eat as a responsible global citizen? Consume less meat and oppose Western farm-subsidy programs — especially if they focus on livestock. Campaign against U.S. biofuel programs, which divert corn into grossly inefficient energy production. Embrace further testing and analysis of GM crops. Encourage public funding of research and intellectual property laws that ensure that poor farmers are not priced out of the potential benefits of GM seeds. Spend only on organic food that is as energy- and land-efficient as conventional production. And be a smart consumer: Local produce grown out of season and meat raised on imported feed isn’t friendly to you, the environment, or the developing world.”

Mining
The Christian Science Monitor reports foreign mining companies are outraged by new Guinean legislation that aims to give the government greater access to resource-extraction profits.
“The new law would allow Guinea to purchase rights of up to 35 percent of all money made off their mines and to hike export taxes on mineral shipments. It was the keystone of President Alpha Condé’s campaign, last year, to become Guinea’s first democratically elected leader after five decades of misrule by dictators.”

Arms trade
Two US senators have introduced bipartisan legislation that would risk China’s ire by requiring the sale of at least 66 fighter jets to Taiwan.
“This sale is a win-win, in strengthening the national security of our friend Taiwan as well as our own, and supporting tens of thousands of jobs in the U.S.,” said Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas

International justice
The International Criminal Court, which has only taken on cases involving Africa up to this point, is being asked to consider a complaint against the Vatican for its role in sexual abuse scandals.
“Human rights lawyers and victims of clergy sexual abuse filed a complaint on Tuesday urging the International Criminal Court in The Hague to investigate and prosecute Pope Benedict XVI and three top Vatican officials for crimes against humanity for what they described as abetting and covering up the rape and sexual assault of children by priests.”

Happiness
Princeton ethicist Peter Singer writes about his recent visit to Bhutan and what he learned about the country’s experiment with gross national happiness.
“We may agree that our goal ought to be promoting happiness, rather than income or gross domestic product, but, if we have no objective measure of happiness, does this make sense? John Maynard Keynes famously said: “I would rather be vaguely right than precisely wrong.” He pointed out that when ideas first come into the world, they are likely to be woolly, and in need of more work to define them sharply. That may be the case with the idea of happiness as the goal of national policy.”

Entertainment
An iPhone application playfully depicting the dark side of mobile technology briefly showed up on the Mac App Store before being removed.
“Developed by Molleindustria, the Phone Story game combines economics, politics and environmental awareness with play. The 8-bit inspired graphics trace the origins of our electronic devices from the coltan mines of the Congo to the labor conditions in Chinese factories. The tale ends in the West, where our desire for the latest gadgets drives a cycle of innovation, obsolescence and e-waste.”

Writing “This does not get old,” Africa is a Country’s Sean Jacobs posts the trailer for Machine Gun Preacher, a new film starring Gerard Butler as a violent criminal who finds God and decides to help the children of Sudan in his own inimitable way.
“ – I was thinking maybe I could go over there.
– Africa?
– I reckon they could do with all the help they can get.”