Latest Developments, September 11

In the latest news and analysis…

Hippocratic development
Harvard University’s Dani Rodrik makes his case for a different approach to development after the Millennium Development Goals expire in 2015:

“First, a new global compact should focus more directly on rich countries’ responsibilities. Second, it should emphasize policies beyond aid and trade that have an equal, if not greater, impact on poor countries’ development prospects.
A short list of such policies would include: carbon taxes and other measures to ameliorate climate change; more work visas to allow larger temporary migration flows from poor countries; strict controls on arms sales to developing nations; reduced support for repressive regimes; and improved sharing of financial information to reduce money laundering and tax avoidance.
Notice that most of these measures are actually aimed at reducing damage – for example, climate change, military conflict, and financial crime – that otherwise results from rich countries’ conduct. ‘Do no harm’ is as good a principle here as it is in medicine.”

New beginning
Reuters reports that Somalia’s lawmakers have chosen “political newcomer” Hassan Sheikh Mohamud as the country’s new president:

“Somalia has lacked an effective central government since the outbreak of civil war in 1991.
The capital, however, which until last year witnessed street battles between al Qaeda-linked al Shabaab militants and African soldiers, is now a vibrant city where reconstructed houses are slowly replacing bullet-riddled structures.
Monday’s vote was seen as a culmination of a regionally brokered, U.N.-backed roadmap to end that conflict, during which tens of thousands of people were killed and many more fled.
Despite being on the back foot, the militants still control swathes of southern and central Somalia, while pirates, regional administrations and local militia group also vie for control of chunks of the mostly lawless Horn of Africa country.”

Questionable exports
Lisa Nandy, chair of the UK’s All-Party Parliamentary Group, explains why the body is looking into government financing of British exports

“Concerns have been raised by a number of academics and NGOs that, because cover is provided for projects that the private sector won’t fund, the majority of business on [UK Export Finance]’s books are in risky projects or places, overwhelmingly in the arms trade, oil and aerospace industries. Airbus, for example, received 89% of the [Export Credits Guarantee Department]’s support last year.
Campaigners have also claimed that the Department is under very little scrutiny – the majority of projects are not screened for human rights abuses, environmental impact or even child labour; there is no mechanism for complaints for the people who are affected by the projects it supports and there is no evaluation of the projects that the government invests in.”

Nature’s value
The Guardian reports that the International Union for Conservation of Nature has released a list of the world’s 100 most endangered species and suggested certain seemingly well-intentioned conservation tactics may actually be harmful:

“In order to justify spending money on conservation efforts, scientists have felt under increasing pressure to argue for the human benefits that would accrue – for instance, calling for forests to be preserved because they can prevent landslides and naturally purify water for human consumption rather than because forests should be maintained for their own sake.
In some cases, the potential for ‘useful’ purposes for some species is contributing to their destruction. The wild yam of South Africa is supposed to have cancer-alleviating properties, according to traditional medicine, but the resulting hunt for the plant is threatening its very existence.
In others, the commercialisation of nature is having a damaging effect – the Franklin’s bumble bee, found in California and Oregon, is under threat because of diseases spread by commercially bred bumblebees.”

Biofuel U-turn
Reuters reports the European Union plans to impose limits on the use of “crop-based biofuels” due to concerns they do little to reduce emissions while contributing to higher food prices:

“The draft rules, which will need the approval of EU governments and lawmakers, represent a major shift in Europe’s much-criticized biofuel policy and a tacit admission by policymakers that the EU’s 2020 biofuel target was flawed from the outset.
The plans also include a promise to end all public subsidies for crop-based biofuels after the current legislation expires in 2020, effectively ensuring the decline of a European sector now estimated to be worth 17 billion euros ($21.7 billion) a year.”

Carbon crash
The Guardian reports that the UN’s global carbon trading scheme has “essentially collapsed”:

“Billions of dollars have been raised in the past seven years through the United Nations’ system to set up greenhouse gas-cutting projects, such as windfarms and solar panels, in poor nations. But the failure of governments to provide firm guarantees to continue with the system beyond this year has raised serious concerns over whether it can survive.
A panel convened by the UN reported on Monday at a meeting in Bangkok that the system, known as the clean development mechanism (CDM), was in dire need of rescue. The panel warned that allowing the CDM to collapse would make it harder in future to raise finance to help developing countries cut carbon.”

Time to reassess
Tamtam Info reports that France’s state-owned nuclear group Areva has changed its plans for a new Nigerien uranium mining project since receiving the environmental green light:

“Given the real threat to both the environment and public health that Areva’s decision poses, the Commission for Independent Research and Information on Radioactivity (CRIIRAD) and the environmental NGO Aghir in Man has alerted the Nigerien government and demanded that Areva undergo another environment impact assessment for its uranium mining project at Imouraren and provide precise answers relating to the hydrological impact and storage of radioactive waste, as well as the means for compensating affected populations.” [Translated from the French.]

Green counterrevolution
The Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology’s Vandana Shiva argues that industrial agriculture is the cause of hunger and malnutrition, rather than the cure:

“Industrial agriculture, sold as the Green Revolution and 2nd Green Revolution to Third World countries, is a chemical intensive, capital intensive, fossil fuel intensive system. It must, by its very structure, push farmers into debt, and indebted farmers everywhere are pushed off the land, as their farms are foreclosed and appropriated. In poor countries, farmers trapped in debt for purchasing costly chemicals and non-renewable seeds sell the food they grow to pay back debt. That is why hunger today is a rural phenomenon. The debt-creating negative economy of high cost industrial farming is a hunger producing system, not a hunger reduction system. Wherever chemicals and commercial seeds have spread, farmers are in debt, and lose entitlement to their own produce. They become trapped in poverty and hunger.”

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Latest Developments, July 27

In the latest news and analysis…
 
Things left unsaid
Reuters reports on the commander of US Africa Command’s assessment of the current situation in Northern Mali and the role he sees for his country’s military within that context:

“[General Carter] Ham repeated U.S. offers to broadly assist regional efforts to try to resolve Mali’s crisis, which has displaced around 420,000 people, according to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
But he said putting U.S. troops on the ground could be counterproductive and refused to comment on the possibility of Washington using drones for air strikes similar to those carried out on militant targets in Yemen or Pakistan.”
 
Feeling fine
Reuters also reports that a Mexican investigation into HSBC’s “lax controls against money laundering” has ended with a fine that amounted to 0.16 percent of the bank’s 2011 profits:

“Last week, a [US] Senate panel alleged that HSBC acted as a financier to clients routing funds from the world’s most dangerous places, including Mexico, Iran and Syria, doing regular business in areas tied to drug cartels, terrorist funding and tax cheats.
The Senate report slammed a ‘pervasively polluted’ culture at the bank and said between 2007 and 2008, HSBC’s Mexican operations moved $7 billion into the bank’s U.S. operations.”
 
Fishing deal
Agence France-Presse reports that, after 15 months of negotiations, the EU and Mauritania have signed a new accord on access for European fishing boats to Mauritanian waters:

“The EU will contribute an annual 113 million euros ($138 million) in financing to Mauritania’s fishing industry, up from the 76.5 million it gave under the previous accord, [Mauritanian negotiator Cheikh Ould Baya] said.
That four-year protocol agreement on fishing will expire Tuesday.

According to official statistics, the fishing sector represents over 20 percent of budget revenue and employs more than 36,000 people in Mauritania.”
 
Climate complicity
New York University’s Alex Evans explains what he meant when he tweeted earlier this week that Greenpeace was “part of the problem rather than part of the solution”:

“Land grabs aren’t just happening on the ground in poor countries around the world; they’re happening in the sky as well. Consider this: the global carbon market was in 2010 worth $142 billion. That’s $13 billion more than total global aid flows in the same year. A hugely valuable new asset class has been created – literally out of thin air. And low income countries haven’t been given any. Despite the fact that their per capita emissions are a tiny fraction of everyone else’s.
Meanwhile, as richer countries keep pumping out the emissions, the size of the carbon budget that we’ll have to share out once we do finally decide to talk about it, keeps getting a little smaller every day. And, breathtakingly, this approach is described by Greenpeace and others as fair.”
 
Dodging Robin Hood
Bloomberg reports on some of the ways investors are likely to try to avoid France’s new financial transaction tax, which is set to take effect next week and whose revenues will go towards AIDS research:
 
“To escape the tax, many institutional investors will turn to so-called contracts for difference, or CFDs, offered by prime brokers that let them bet on a stock’s gain or loss without owning the shares. Traders have used it successfully to skirt the U.K.’s stamp duty.

Those who want to stay invested in France will find a way to avoid paying the tax, said Sam Capital’s Dietmar Schmitt.
‘There will be enough options to avoid the stamp duty in France,’ he said. ‘There are many loopholes. The people who are making the laws don’t understand the business.’ ”
 
Imperial crimes
In the wake of the British government’s admission that Kenyan prisoners were tortured during the Mau Mau rebellion, independent journalist Emanuel Stoakes calls on Britain to acknowledge its “many imperial crimes” or stop pretending to care:
 
“But all that happened in the past, and Britain has progressively behaved in a more civilised manner, many would argue. This may be broadly true, despite the dirty tricks evinced in the 2009 cable. Nonetheless, in responding to the Mau Mau case the UK has an opportunity to demonstrate its growing commitment to human rights as a moral, not just a policy-based, obligation. By showing some rare magnanimity, to echo the sentiments of Bishop Tutu on the subject, the UK can somehow begin to apologise for its past. By contrast, to deploy legal technicalities or to claim that too much time has passed would be to yet again fall back on expedient cruelties to avoid doing what is right.
Yet that latter, ignoble choice appears to be the one that Britain has once again taken: representing the government, Barrister Guy Mansfield QC argued without irony that for the plaintiff’s case to proceed to trial would be ‘contrary to principle and the balance of fairness.’ Astonishing.”
 
Legal hoops
Legal Times reports that US federal lawyers are contending with legal obstacles in attempting to revive the prosecution against former Blackwater employees they believe “wrongly killed” at least a dozen Iraqi civilians in 2007:
 
“A federal judge in December 2009 dismissed the government’s high-profile, controversial manslaughter case, saying that the prosecution was unlawfully built on protected statements that the guards made after the shooting. The prosecution, [trial judge Ricardo] Urbina concluded, was tainted with information that the prosecutors should never have used.

The big issue in the case remains this: keeping the prosecution team walled off from any protected, confidential information the Blackwater guards provided after the shooting.
An assistant U.S. attorney, John Crabb Jr., is on the so-called ‘filter team,’ reviewing evidence and witness statements before the trial prosecutors can review the material. Prosecutors and filter team lawyers and investigators recently returned from Iraq. There, prosecutors did not interview witnesses before filter team members spoke with them, Crabb said.”
 
Extracting transparency
European parliamentary advisor Benjamin Fox argues that British Prime Minister David Cameron is not following through on the commitments he made in last year’s Nigerian speech on greater extractive industry transparency:
 
“The perversity of the government’s position is that developing nations would need far less aid if they were allowed to get a decent chunk of revenue from exploiting their own resources. Today, even in a climate where there are no reporting requirements for extractive companies, Africa’s income from its resources is six times the amount it receives in aid.
On political, economic and moral grounds, the case for project-by-project reporting is unarguable. We should be able to see where extractive companies are operating, whether they are paying a fair price and whether governments are selling their people short by giving their country’s mineral wealth away too cheaply.”

Latest Developments, July 20

In the latest news and analysis…

Carbon glut
Reuters reports that despite plummeting carbon prices, the UN still believes its carbon offset market will play a key role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions:

“U.N-backed carbon credits, called certified emissions reductions (CERs), have plunged around 70 percent over the past 12 months as a massive supply of credits has built up because of a drop in demand due to a slowing economy. The benchmark CER contract hit record lows below 3 euros this week.
Low carbon prices have stalled new investment in low-carbon technology, raising doubt about whether there is any point to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol and its market-based mechanisms, notably the [Clean Development Mechanism].”

Sustainable friendship
The New York Times reports that, at a meeting where China promised $20 billion in loans to Africa, South African President Jacob Zuma described his continent’s relationship with China as preferable to the one with Europe, but problematic nevertheless:

“ ‘Africa’s commitment to China’s development has been demonstrated by supply of raw materials, other products and technology transfer. This trade pattern is unsustainable in the long term. Africa’s past economic experience with Europe dictates a need to be cautious when entering into partnerships with other economies,’ [said Zuma].”

Reconstruction corruption
iWatch News reports that the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction has issued his penultimate report in which he estimates $6 billion to $8 billion worth of US funds were lost:

“SIGIR’s investigation also uncovered instances of bid-rigging and bribe-taking by State and Pentagon officials.

Many of the challenges described in the Iraq report mirror those depicted in similar reports by its cousin, the office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction. In a May report to Congress, for example, that office concluded that ‘corruption remains a major threat to the reconstruction effort’ and said contractors were taking advantage of lax oversight in Afghanistan.”

Owning genes
Bloomberg reports that a US court is set to consider whether or not human genes can become the property of corporations:

“Madeleine Ball, a Harvard University geneticist, said entire regions of the human genome are at risk of becoming inaccessible to anyone who can’t afford to pay for patent licenses, stifling the information-sharing that’s vital to scientific progress. For personalized medicine companies like Optimal Medicine Ltd., the patents are about protecting billions of dollars invested in years of research.

Aspects of seven [Myriad Genetics Inc.] patents were being challenged by the American Society of Human Genetics, the American Medical Association and other scientific groups. They argue that isolated DNA is the same thing as what is in the human body. The Supreme Court in March said that patents cannot be obtained on things that prevent others from the use of a natural law.”

Food aid, cash cow
The Guardian reports on the “special interests” that are blocking reform of America’s overseas food assistance system:

“Under US law, the majority of American food aid must be shipped on US-flagged vessels, and the shipping industry is another aggressive defender of the system. A 2007 report by the US government accountability office (GAO) found that nearly two-thirds of the US food aid budget was spent on transportation and other non-food costs.

Together, agribusiness, shipping companies and NGOs form what some have called the ‘iron triangle’ of special interests, blocking reform of the controversial in-kind system.”

Cartel clients
The Daily Beast reports on HSBC’s “complicity” in laundering Mexican drug money and the obstacles to an international crackdown:

“The understated element of the war on organized crime in Mexico—and in fact, around the world—has been the fight against the money launderers: the companies and banks that allow drug cartels to flood their illicit cash back into the global economy.

HSBC executives admitted that a large portion of some $7 billion transferred by their Mexican subsidiaries into the bank’s U.S. operation likely belonged to drug cartels.”

Suicide drone
Gizmodo reports that the British military has become the first customer for the “suicidal bird of prey” known as the Fire Shadow:

“According to missile systems manufacturer MBDA, this bird of death is a high precision, low cost flying missile that can be launched by a soldier from the ground, just like any other small unmanned air vehicle. After the launch, the Fire Shadow can hover over a large area for up to six hours or 62 miles (100 kilometers). Once the operator points out a target, the Fire Shadow will fall on it destroying it on contact.”

Classified Gitmo
ProPublica reports that the US government is being challenged over its decision to automatically classify everything said by Guantanamo detainees accused of involvement in 9/11, even accounts of their own torture.

“The ‘presumptive classification’ order extends to both detainees’ testimony and their discussions with their lawyers. In other words, anything said by a detainee, whether in court or to their counsel, will first need censors’ stamp of approval before it can become public.”

Managing FDI
The Overseas Development Institute’s Jonathan Glennie welcomes a new UN report that ranks countries according to the development impact of their foreign direct investment inflows:

“Along with this matrix – and possibly more significantly – Unctad is promoting a new investment policy framework for sustainable development (IPFSD) focused on balancing the rights of investors with the need for the state to take an active role to ensure investments benefit society. Suggested indicators for analysing the contribution made by particular investments include economic value added (such as capital formation and fiscal revenues), obviously, but also job creation and sustainable development (such as families lifted out of poverty, greenhouse gas emissions, technology dissemination).”

Bad society
Robert Skidelsky, a member of the British House of Lords, argues there are both moral and practical reasons to object to inequality at its current levels:

“There is a strange, though little-noticed, consequence of the failure to distinguish value from price: the only way offered to most people to boost their incomes is through economic growth. In poor countries, this is reasonable; there is not enough wealth to spread round. But, in developed countries, concentration on economic growth is an extraordinarily inefficient way to increase general prosperity, because it means that an economy must grow by, say, 3% to raise the earnings of the majority by, say, 1%.
Nor is it by any means certain that the human capital of the majority can be increased faster than that of the minority, who capture all of the educational advantages flowing from superior wealth, family conditions, and connections. Redistribution in these circumstances is a more secure way to achieve a broad base of consumption, which is itself a guarantee of economic stability.”

Latest Developments, February 12

In the latest news and analysis…

End of cheap drugs?
Unitaid’s Philippe Douste-Blazy and Denis Broun argue the free trade agreement currently being negotiated by India and the EU threatens to end access to cheap medicines for patients in poor countries.
“The medicines-related issues discussed in the FTA are not only a question of public health, but of ethics, justice and reason. The result will either be a win-win situation that will also benefit the poor or a lose-lose proposition that may kill the poor. It would be unthinkable that private interest pressure from European pharmaceutical companies to preserve an obsolete business model could prevail over common sense, common interest and the health of millions of people.”

Open letter to Tim Cook
China Labour Watch’s Li Qiang has written an open letter to Apple CEO Tim Cook, in which he argues the reasons for the poor working conditions in its supplier factories are “deeply rooted in your company’s business model.”
“We believe the most basic cause of the problems at your supplier factories is the low price Apple insists on paying them, leaving next to no room for them to make a profit. The demand for astronomically high production rates at an extremely low price pushes factories to exploit workers, since it is the only way to meet Apple’s production requirements and make its factory owners a profit at the same time.

There is a simple solution for the problems we have observed in Apple’s supply chain, and it doesn’t even involve raising the prices for consumers. Apple needs simply to share a larger proportion of its sizeable profits with the supplier factories it contracts with and, by extension, the people who make its products.”

Anti-drug vaccines
Inter Press Service reports on experimental trials of drug addiction vaccinations going on in Mexico and the US, which although touted as an alternative to the war on drugs, have attracted little interest from pharmaceutical companies.
“After taking office in December 2006, Mexican President Felipe Calderón deployed thousands of soldiers and police to fight drug trafficking in a repressive campaign that has left more than 47,000 dead, according to the latest government figures, although journalists put the death toll at over 50,000.
A preventive clinical approach is therefore an urgent priority, although vaccine development requires financial backing for production on an industrial scale.
‘It’s not a profitable product for the pharmaceutical industry, and the same is true for many other diseases. The state would have to subsidise it. We have already heard more than once that a vaccine is on the way, but then nothing happens,’ said [Dr. Rogelio] Rodríguez, who tried unsuccessfully to introduce his [cocaine and alcohol dependency] treatment in Mexico City prisons – ‘but there were too many conditions and requirements.’ ”

Beer suit
The Associated Press reports that an “American Indian tribe” is suing a handful of major beer makers for knowingly contributing to addiction on a reservation where alcohol is banned.
“The Oglala Sioux Tribe of South Dakota said it is demanding $500 million in damages for the cost of health care, social services and child rehabilitation caused by chronic alcoholism on the reservation, which encompasses some of the nation’s most impoverished counties.

‘You cannot sell 4.9 million 12-ounce cans of beer and wash your hands like Pontius Pilate, and say we’ve got nothing to do with it being smuggled,’ said Tom White, the tribe’s Omaha-based attorney.”

Happy planet
Reuters reports on the results of a new global survey that suggests the world is happier than it was before the financial crisis hit, with people in Indonesia, Mexico and India being the happiest of all.
Perhaps proving that money can’t buy happiness, residents of some of the world biggest economic powers, including the United States, Canada and Britain, fell in the middle of the happiness scale.
‘There is a pattern that suggests that there are many other factors beyond the economy that make people happy, so it does provide one element but it is not the whole story,’ said [Ipsos Global’s John] Wright.

Uneconomics
The University of Oxford’s William Davies argues that although the financial crisis was triggered in part by a system he describes as “a mineshaft crammed with canaries, scarcely any of whom had any inclination or ability to sing,” the resulting fallout has actually increased the power of economics in public life.
“It is time to acknowledge an uncomfortable truth about the public status of economics as an expert discipline: it has grown to be far more powerful as a tool of political rhetoric, blame avoidance and elite strategy than for the empirical representation of economic life. This is damaging to politics, for it enables value judgements and political agendas to be endlessly presented in ‘factual’ terms. But it is equally damaging to economics, which is losing the authority to describe reality in a credible, disinterested, Enlightenment fashion.”

Ecosystem services
The International Institute for Environment and Development’s Kate Munro highlights one of the potential downsides to “making carbon into a commodity.”
“It gives national governments title to the carbon sequestered in a country’s soils and forests for the purposes of trading on international carbon markets, which could pose an additional barrier to the efforts of individuals and poor rural communities to demarcate, and gain title to the land on which their livelihoods depend.”

Word and deed
Oxfam’s Ian Gary rails against the “yawning gap” between what oil companies say and do regarding corporate transparency.
“Many of the same companies praising transparency have been actively lobbying since the law passed to gut implementation by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). The hypocrisy is out there in the open if you know where to look. Senate lobbying disclosure forms show that Chevron, Exxon, Shell, Conoco Phillips, Marathon, Occidental, the American Petroleum Institute (API), and others have been very active in Washington on this provision, targeting not only the SEC, but the House of Representatives, Senate, Department of State, Department of the Intertior, and the National Security Council.
As I wrote last week, API (revenues of more than $198 million in 2009) has now threatened to sue the SEC unless the agency withdraws its proposed rule and starts from scratch to meet big oil’s secrecy wishes rather than the law and Congressional mandate.”