Latest Developments, September 11

In the latest news and analysis…

Buying time
The Associated Press reports that US President Barack Obama, in a nationally televised speech on Syria, said the military strikes he has been pushing for might not be necessary:

“Citing the new diplomatic efforts, Obama said in his speech Tuesday night that he had asked congressional leaders to postpone a vote on legislation he has been seeking to authorize the use of military force against Syria — a vote he was in danger of losing.
Obama’s move gives crucial time for negotiations on a Russian proposal for international inspectors to seize and destroy Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile as efforts to avert retaliatory U.S. missile strikes shift from Washington to the United Nations.

Obama said the Russian initiative ‘has the potential to remove the threat of chemical weapons without the use of force, particularly because Russia is one of Assad’s strongest allies.’
But the 16-minute speech generally made the case for military action.”

Less welcoming
Reuters reports that the “trickiest task” facing Norway’s newly elected Conservatives will be integrating an “anti-immigration, anti-tax” party into the new government:

“Although Progress has toned down its rhetoric, it is seen by some as too radical for government, and once had among its members Anders Behring Breivik, who killed 77 people in 2011 in a gun and bomb attack targeting Labour.

Bringing Progress into government could force [Conservative leader Erna] Solberg to make concessions on spending, taxes and perhaps even make a symbolic gesture on immigration. But any shift is likely to be mild, analysts said.
In immigration, Norway’s hands are tied by international treaties, which limit its room to maneuver. And the economy desperately needs new workers as unemployment is under 3 percent and a steady influx of workers keeps the labour market from overheating.”

Nothing to see here
The BBC reports on British Prime Minister David Cameron’s claim that no UK territory is a tax haven anymore, now that some of the world’s most notorious offshore financial centres, such as Bermuda and the Cayman Islands, have promised to become more transparent:

“In the House of Commons on Monday David Cameron said he no longer considered it ‘fair’ to use the label, after recent efforts to ensure transparency.

The three Crown dependencies [The Isle of Man, Jersey and Guernsey] all refer to themselves as International Finance Centres, which mean they are in the business of tax avoidance which is legal, as opposed to tax evasion, which is illegal.
‘It is very important that our focus should now shift to those territories and countries that really are tax havens,’ continued Mr Cameron.”

Contested values
The Globe and Mail reports that Canada’s federal government has suggested it will fight Quebec’s proposed “charter of values” if the province’s lawmakers vote to adopt it:

“ ‘We would challenge any law that we deem unconstitutional, that violates the fundamental constitutional guarantees to freedom of religion,’ Multiculturalism Minister Jason Kenney told reporters in Ottawa. ‘Freedom of religion is a fundamental, universal value inscribed in our own Constitution, and this government will defend it vigorously.’
Mr. Kenney said he is ‘very concerned about proposal that would discriminate unfairly against people based on their religion, based on their deepest convictions.’

Polls in Quebec suggest that a majority of the residents of that province support what the [Parti Québécois] is trying to do. ”

Dutch diversions
The Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations has released a new report suggesting that the Netherlands is the “biggest tax sink” for companies from crisis/austerity-stricken Portugal:

“The large financial flows from Portugal to the Netherlands and back again, show that investments from and to Portugal are not real ‘investments’ but rather ‘round-trip’ investments, in which Dutch letterbox companies are used to avoid paying taxes in Portugal. In the SOMO report a case study is used to show how the Portuguese energy company EDP uses ‘The Dutch Connection’ to pay considerably less taxes in its home country.”

Euro coal
350.org’s Tim Ratcliffe and Bankwatch’s Fidanka McGrath urge the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development to stop its “retrograde” financing of overseas coal plants:

“Between 2006 and 2011, while the current energy policy was in place, 48% of the EBRD’s $8.9bn (£5.6bn) energy portfolio went to fossil fuels. Support for coal actually increased in this period, from €60m (£50m) to €262m.

In July, the EBRD released a draft of its new energy sector strategy, a roadmap for the next five years for investment and policy initiatives. Although the strategy claims, ‘the bank will promote the transition to a low-carbon model throughout the energy sector’, the document would keep the bank on course with fossil fuel development, providing no significant restrictions on the development of oil, gas, or coal mining and far too few constraints on coal power plants. The policy would also open the door for other controversial, dirty energy sources such as shale gas.”

Unintended consequences
Bloomberg reports on the warnings of “the world’s largest political risk consultancy” regarding the International Criminal Court trials of Kenya’s top two politicians:

“ ‘The start of President [Uhuru] Kenyatta’s and Deputy President [William] Ruto’s trials could slow the legislative agenda, potentially pushing petroleum and mining code revisions into the first half of next year,’ Clare Allenson, an Africa associate with Eurasia Group, said in an e-mailed note on Sept. 5. Delays to policy making may be caused by ‘weeks long’ absences by the accused and while lawmakers who support the pair travel to the court to show their political loyalty, Allenson said.

‘Members of parliament risk raising local tensions over the allegations as the witness testimony on human rights violations comes to light,’ Allenson said. ‘Further politicization of the cases could cause low level unrest in areas most impacted by the violence, particularly the southern Rift Valley and the outskirts of Nairobi.’ ”

RWP revisited
Former Australian foreign minister Gareth Evans argues that the current Syria crisis has made the concept of “responsibility while protecting” more appealing than ever:

“The reality is that if an un-vetoed majority vote is ever going to be secured again for tough action in a hard mass atrocity case—even action falling considerably short of military action—then the issues at the heart of the backlash that has accompanied the implementation of the Libyan mandate, and the concerns of the BRICS states in particular, simply have to be taken seriously. Those issues and concerns reflect the views of a much wider swathe of the developing world.”

Latest Developments, August 7

In the latest news and analysis…

Battlefield Yemen
UPI reports on the recent escalation of the American drone campaign in Yemen and the possibility of a US Joint Special Operations Command strike:

“JSOC is the special operations unit that killed U.S.-born Yemeni cleric and al-Qaida member Anwar al-Awlaki with Hellfire missiles in Yemen two years ago next month.
The unit, part of the U.S. Special Operations Command, cooperates closely with the CIA, which resumed drone strikes in Yemen 11 days ago to disrupt al-Qaida’s terrorism plot, the BBC and The Washington Post reported.
The campaign — with four strikes in rapid succession — ends a period in which U.S. drone activity in Yemen has been relatively rare, the Post said.
It’s not clear if the renewed attacks, including a strike in Yemen’s eastern Marib region Tuesday, curbed the danger, U.S. officials told the Post, acknowledging they didn’t know if senior al-Qaida operatives in Yemen had been killed.”

Outsourcing refugees
Al Jazeera reports that Australia (area: 7,692,024 km²) has signed a new deal with Nauru (area: 21 km²) which has agreed to take sea-faring asylum seekers off its hands:

“The memorandum of understanding is similar to a deal [Australian Prime Minister Kevin] Rudd struck with Papua New Guinea prime minister Peter O’Neill a fortnight ago.
Mr Rudd says refugees who arrive in Australia will be sent offshore for processing and will be free to ‘settle and reside in Nauru’.

The announcement comes just a fortnight after asylum seekers being held on Nauru rioted, causing extensive damage to the facility there.
In its economic statement yesterday, the Federal Government said its offshore processing plan was expected to cost $1.1 billion.
The latest announcement is part of Labor’s move to ensure no asylum seeker that arrives in Australia by boat will be resettled in Australia.”

Somali oil
The Financial Times reports that Somalia’s government has given first dibs on oil exploration to former UK Tory leader Michael Howard’s “newly formed” company:

“The weak new government, the most representative in years, said earlier this year the broken state was too fragile to risk oil exploration because it was likely to pit different regions and warlords against each other. UN investigators also said in a report this year that inconsistencies in the legal framework regulating oil ‘risk exacerbating clan divisions and therefore threaten peace and security’.

The UK has hosted a Somalia conference two years running, including a day dedicated to business deals attended by oil executives, and this year opened an embassy within the secure airport area in Mogadishu. A diplomat from the UK also beat Norway to head up the UN mission to Somalia.”

Drug deal
Intellectual Property Watch reports that Swiss pharmaceutical giant Roche has agreed to reduce the cost of an HIV-related drug by up to 90 percent in some countries:

“In the past, [the Medicines Patent Pool] has received criticism for leaving key middle-income countries out of its licensing agreements. The prevalence of patients diagnosed with [cytomegalovirus] retinitis is 14.0% (11.8-16.2%) of people living with HIV in Asia, 12.0% (4.2-19.9%) in Latin America, and 2.2% (1.3-3.1%) in Africa, according to the MPP release.
Despite CMV prevalence in Latin America, major countries in the region such as Brazil and Mexico, are missing from the new agreement with Roche.”

Unaccountable peacekeeping
A new report out of Yale University argues the UN “caused great harm to hundreds of thousands of Haitians” by introducing cholera to a country it was meant to stabilize:

“ ‘The U.N.’s ongoing unwillingness to hold itself accountable to victims violates its obligations under international law. Moreover, in failing to lead by example, the U.N. undercuts its very mission of promoting the rule of law, protecting human rights, and assisting in the further development of Haiti,’ [co-author Tassity] Johnson said.

The report calls for setting up a claims commission, as well as providing a public apology, direct aid to victims, infrastructural support, and adequate funding for the prevention and treatment of cholera. It also emphasizes that the prevention of similar harms in the future requires that the U.N. commit to reforming the waste management practices of its peacekeepers and complying with its contractual and international law obligations.”

War on coal
Princeton University’s Peter Singer argues that we will have to leave “about 80%” of known fossil fuels in the ground in order to save the planet:

“The dividing lines may be less sharp than they were with apartheid, but our continued high level of greenhouse-gas emissions protects the interests of one group of humans – mainly affluent people who are alive today – at the cost of others. (Compared to most of the world’s population, even the American and Australian coal miners who would lose their jobs if the industry shut down are affluent.) Our behavior disregards most of the world’s poor, and everyone who will live on this planet in centuries to come.

In these circumstances, to develop new coal projects is unethical, and to invest in them is to be complicit in this unethical activity.”

Paranoid nation
The Economist calls the extent of the US government’s prioritization of security over liberty “unjust, unwise and un-American”:

“The indefinite incarceration of prisoners in Guantánamo Bay without trial was a denial of due process. It was legal casuistry to redefine the torture of prisoners with waterboarding and stress positions as ‘enhanced interrogation’. The degradation of Iraqi criminals in Abu Ghraib prison in 2003, extraordinary rendition and the rest of it were the result of a culture, led by Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, that was both unAmerican and a recruiting sergeant for its enemies. Mr Obama has stopped the torture, but Guantánamo remains open and the old system of retribution has often been reinforced.

Every democracy needs its secrets. But to uncover the inevitable abuses of power, every democracy needs leaks too.”