Latest Developments, September 28

In the latest news and analysis…

Dodd-Frank setback
The New York Times reports that a US judge has struck down a rule aimed at imposing restrictions on speculative commodities trading:

“The court decision dealt the latest blow to the Dodd-Frank Act, the regulatory crackdown passed in response to the financial crisis. The decision on Friday, aimed at the Commodity Futures Trading Commission’s so-called position limits rule, is the second time a Dodd-Frank rule has suffered legal defeat.

The ruling is sure to embolden Wall Street as it shifts the attack on Dodd-Frank from piecemeal lobbying to broader legal challenges. Industry groups are currently challenging another C.F.T.C. rule, while others are weighing lawsuits against the so-called Volcker Rule, a still-uncompleted plan to stop banks from trading with their own money.”

Enemy of the state
The Sydney Morning Herald reports that the US military has added Wikileaks and its founder Julian Assange to a list of national enemies that include al-Qaeda and the Taliban:

“Declassified US Air Force counter-intelligence documents, released under US freedom-of-information laws, reveal that military personnel who contact WikiLeaks or WikiLeaks supporters may be at risk of being charged with ‘communicating with the enemy’, a military crime that carries a maximum sentence of death.” 

Defunct land grab
The Oakland Institute examines the consequences in Tanzania of an 8,211-hectare biofuel project whose British developer went bankrupt:

“People have lost their land and their supply of fresh water as well as access to essential natural resources, while the promises of development and better life never materialized. In 2011, what was left of Sun Biofuels was acquired by 30 Degrees East, an investment company registered in the tax haven of Mauritius. At the time of our field research, the project had not resumed. The new company only employed 35 staff, mostly security guards, who ban villagers from accessing their land and natural resources.”

False revolution
Friends of the Earth warns that the Gates Foundation is promoting “damaging industrial farming” in Africa:

“Multi-million dollar investments from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation – a major Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa donor – into shares in biotech corporations, and revolving doors between donors and these corporations skew the agenda of AGRA in favor of profit-based, corporate-led farming rather than farming that benefits local people and small farmers.
The bulk of projects funded by the Gates Foundation and its brainchild AGRA favor technological solutions for high-input industrial farming methods. These include patented seeds, fertilizers and lobbying for genetically modified crops. Evidence from the roll-out of genetically modified crops in other countries shows that these crops push farmers into debt, cause irreversible environmental damage and encourage land concentration.”

Transparent ownership
Save the Children’s Alex Cobham suggests the “post-2015 development framework” that will replace the Millenium Development Goals should include greater transparency regarding the beneficial ownership of companies:

“The Norwegian presidential commission on tax havens presented considerable evidence on the links between developing countries and havens, pulling out link after link that threatens development and revolving around the hiding of ownership – whether for purposes of facilitating corrupt payments, trade mispricing to dodge tax, or money laundering. In addition, the commission set out a model of how governance in a country could be broadly undermined by greater exposure to tax havens.
Because the key to havens is not in fact tax rates but secrecy, I prefer the term ‘secrecy jurisdiction’. Ultimately, it is the hiding of ownership that havens facilitate which undermines regulation and taxation around the world – not any tax competition they may engender.”

Drone development
Citing a new investigation into the civilian impacts of US drone strikes in Pakistan, New York University’s William Easterly questions his government’s claim that defense and development are “complementary”:

“It would be hard for Development to benefit from “drones hovering 24 hours a day over communities in northwest Pakistan, striking homes, vehicles, and public spaces without warning.”
The report alleges that drones strike areas multiple times, killing rescuers of victims of the first strike.
Next challenge in US: getting people to care about this.”

Workers’ rights
Human Rights Watch reports that one of the world’s biggest auditing firms has warned that companies involved in an Emirati mega-development must ensure workers’ rights are being respected:

“The government-owned developer of Abu Dhabi’s high-profile Saadiyat Island project, the Tourism Development and Investment Company (TDIC), faces ‘significant challenges’ to carry out agreed-upon minimum labor standards, says the September 23, 2012 report published by independent auditing firm PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC). Saadiyat Island will be home to branches of the Louvre and Guggenheim Museums and a New York University (NYU) campus, and has been the focus of criticismover migrant workers’ rights.

The 34-page report detailed a range of ongoing violations of the [Employment Practices Policy] and domestic labor law. It says that 75 percent of workers interviewed had paid recruitment fees and 77 percent had paid visa and travel costs, which are supposed to be paid by employers. According to Human Rights Watch’s research, these recruitment fees are the most significant factor in creating conditions of forced labor in the UAE. Twenty percent of those interviewed reported illegal deductions from their salaries.”

Nuclear pressure
Inter Press Service reports that 50 years on from the Cuban Missile Crisis, the international community is pushing the world’s nuclear-armed countries to ratify a ban on testing nuclear weapons:

“Opened for signature in September 1996, the [Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Teaty] has been signed by 183 nations and ratified by 157. However, it cannot be enforced without ratification by 44 countries that had nuclear power or research reactors when the CTBT was negotiated.
Most of those nations have ratified the treaty, but the United States, China, India, Pakistan, North Korea, Israel, Iran, and Egypt remain unwilling to do so. In 2009, U.S. President Barack Obama declared his intention to seek Senate reconsideration of the treaty. The administration has given no firm timeframe for action.”

Latest Developments, September 13

In the latest news and analysis…

Spreading strikes
The Guardian reports that South Africa’s mining industry is on the verge of paralysis as labour unrest spreads in the wake of last month’s massacre of striking workers at Lonmin’s Marikana mine:

“The flames have been fanned by Julius Malema, a former youth leader who was expelled from the governing African National Congress for ill discipline this year.

In an interview on South Africa’s Talk Radio 702 on Wednesday, Malema said: ‘We are calling for mine change in South Africa. We want the mines nationalised. We want the workers paid a living wage … and somebody has to listen.
‘Maybe this call has been ridiculed … by the authorities and mining bosses. Now we want to show them that we mean business. We are going to be engaging in very peaceful yet radical and militant action that will hit straight into the pockets of white monopoly capital.’ ”

Dying for PR
The University of KwaZulu-Natal’s Patrick Bond argues that World Bank President Jim Yong Kim’s recent visit to South Africa was an exercise in public relations concerning his institution’s past and present impacts on the country’s people:

“Bank-financed electricity mainly supplied South Africa’s mining houses and smelters, as is still the case (the main customer of the Medupi coal-fired power station currently being built will be BHP Billiton, which consumes more than 10% of the country’s power to smelt aluminium). Then and now, this facilitated South Africa’s notorious migrant labour system, with low pay to migrant workers who succumbed to TB in squalid, single-sex, 16-to-a-room hostels and shacks.
Kim failed to address these historic issues, which are mirrored in his institution’s current portfolio, especially the [International Finance Corporation’s] controversial commitment (approved by former president Paul Wolfowitz in 2007) of $150m in equity/credit lines to Lonmin at the Marikana mine, as well as the $3.75bn for the Medupi plant north of Pretoria, pushed through by his immediate predecessor, Robert Zoellick.
The 34 victims of the Marikana massacre were mainly migrants from Lesotho and the Eastern Cape. Their migrant labour status replicates apartheid, including health vulnerability in disease-ridden shack settlements.”

Boat tragedies
Human Rights Watch’s Judith Sunderland calls out European governments over their failure to prevent migrant deaths at sea, after an estimated 140 people died in the Mediterranean last week:

“The truth is that European Union governments on the Mediterranean rim and the EU as a whole have focused far more effort on border control, including in ways that violate rights, than on preventing deaths at sea.

The EU needs to live up to European values this time around and do its utmost to ensure that those fleeing Syria reach safety and a meaningful chance to apply for asylum. We cannot mourn only the deaths of asylum seekers, though. None of those who perished last week deserved to die, regardless of their nationality or reasons for trying to reach Europe.”

Exploration hiatus
Bloomberg reports that Tanzania’s opposition is calling for “a 10-year moratorium on licensing offshore oil and gas blocks” so that the country has time to implement laws that will ensure it benefits from the exploitation of its natural resources:

“Tanzania, the holder of East Africa’s second-biggest natural-gas resources, in June tripled its estimate of recoverable gas reserves to 28.7 trillion cubic feet. The government postponed its next deep offshore bidding round, originally scheduled to start tomorrow, pending the adoption of a natural gas policy by lawmakers. Parliament may approve the draft document as soon as October.
‘A moratorium will not only allow us to manage our new resources effectively, it will also ensure the welfare of future generations,’ [Shadow Finance Minister Zitto] Kabwe said in an e-mailed statement. It would give time to set up a sovereign development fund, train Tanzanians for jobs in the industry, and make sure oversight bodies are monitoring oil and gas revenues, Kabwe said.”

Trade secrecy
Inter Press service reports on the “unusually tight secrecy” at negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which are now in their 14th round:

“Thus, while inklings of the countries’ positions on the varying issues have come to light through brief public statements and leaked documents, the details of how the talks are progressing are known only to the negotiators and the corporations that have been given access to the draft documents.
According to activists, of the 600 advisors that the U.S. negotiators have used surrounding the talks, 84 percent have been corporate interests.
Indeed, not only has there been an ongoing lack of direct civil-society involvement in the TPP process, but progress in the negotiations has been kept secret from even the U.S. Congress. With the start of the 14th round of talks this weekend, a bipartisan letter was sent from Congress to Trade Representative Kirk, insisting “in the strongest terms possible” that Kirk’s office publicise details on what is being discussed, specifically with regards to intellectual property rights.”

Blasé about torture
The Bureau of Investigative Journalism reports on a UN expert’s comments that suggest there has been “a paradigm shift” in the way Western society views torture:

“Speaking at Chatham House on the record last night [Juan] Méndez, UN special rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment, bemoaned a change in attitude. ‘We have lost an important asset that we had in the fight against torture: the moral indignation,’ he told the audience. ‘In the last ten years the culture has generated a sense that perhaps torture is inevitable or even necessary.’

The Obama administration reinstated the Code on Military Justice. However, Méndez candidly explained that the decision not to address what happened around the Torture Memos reveals a refusal to accept the US’s obligations under international law.
‘It’s a very disappointing decision,’ he said, ‘you can imagine how frustrating it is for a special rapporteur to go around the world saying we have to investigate, prosecute and punish crimes of torture, when the US doesn’t.’ ”

Multilateral views
UN Dispatch’s Mark Goldberg reports on a recent public opinion study that suggests American attitudes are rather well-disposed toward international cooperation on a range of global issues:

“The survey shows that Americans prefer a cooperative approach to American foreign policy and believe the UN should be a platform for cooperation even when it means the USA must compromise a bit.

Another related part of the polling asks respondents attitudes toward various international treaties to which the USA has not acceded, including the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, the International Criminal Court, and a post-Kyoto international climate change convention. Guess what? Americans are very supportive of the USA joining all three!”

Latest Developments, December 13

In the latest news and analysis…

Siemens charges
Reuters reports US prosecutors have charged eight executives at German electronics giant Siemens with paying $100 million worth of bribes in Argentina.
“Between 1996 and 2007, the executives paid bribes intended for top Argentina officials, including two presidents and cabinet ministers, according to the criminal charges and a separate civil lawsuit brought by the top market regulator, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. The charges were filed in U.S. District Court in Manhattan.
The defendants face criminal charges of conspiracy to violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) anti-fraud statute, as well as wire fraud and money laundering, crimes that carry a possible maximum prison term of 25 years.”

Fighting REDD
The Inter Press Service reports that a new coalition is voicing its opposition to the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) projects, which are meant to provide market incentives for protecting forests.
“The new Global Alliance of Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities against REDD and for Life issued a statement stating that based on “in-depth investigations, a growing number of recent reports provide evidence that indigenous peoples are being subjected to violations of their rights as a result of the implementation of REDD+-type programs and policies.”
‘Indigenous peoples and local forest communities will not place our lives and lands in the hands of corporate polluters,’ said Tom Goldtooth, executive director of the Indigenous Environmental Network, based in the United States.”

Kyoto regrets
The UN News Centre reports the organization’s top climate change official has expressed “regret” over Canada’s Kyoto pullout and suggested rich countries must do more to meet their emissions pledges.
“Whether or not Canada is a Party to the Kyoto Protocol, it has a legal obligation under the [UN Framework Convention on Climate Change] to reduce its emissions, and a moral obligation to itself and future generations to lead in the global effort,” [Christiana Figueres] said. “Industrialized countries, whose emissions have risen significantly since 1990, as is the case for Canada, remain in a weaker position to call on developing countries to limit their emissions.”

Lords of poverty
The Telegraph reports Somalia’s prime minister is accusing international aid agencies of being “lords of poverty” who are exaggerating the severity of his country’s food crisis to further their own ends.
“Seated in his air-conditioned office, Mr [Abdiweli Mohammed] Ali said the UN’s judgment that famine had struck his capital was wrong. ‘I have no idea how this international community makes the grading. You ask them and tell me how they did it. They don’t know what they’re talking about. But what I can say is enough relief came to Somalia and we provided enough relief to those affected by the famine.’
Mr Ali added: ‘I don’t believe there’s a famine in Mogadishu. Absolutely no. You know the aid agencies became an entrenched interest group and they say all kind of things that they want to say.’
Mr Ali cited a searing critique of aid workers, ‘Lords of Poverty’, written by Graham Hancock, a British author, in 1989. ‘I don’t want to be a conspiracy theorist, but I believe a lot of what has been said in the ‘Lords of Poverty’ book by Graham Hancock,’ added the prime minister.”

Afghan questions
The American Security Project’s Joshua Foust takes issue with a new Foreign Policy piece that suggests Afghanistan is “a much better place” now than it was before the NATO invasion.
“Things in much of the country really are not good, and leaving the internet data archives (and even Kabul!) can show that to anyone brave enough to look for it. If the international community had spent $100 billion on development over ten years and accomplished nothing, that would be shocking. So it’s no surprise that some things have improved. What Kenny should be asking isn’t, did we get anything for our vast expenditure, but have the improvements been worth the cost? And could another policy have achieved the same or more at less cost?
Those are the kinds of questions aid and development boosters don’t like to answer. I wish they would.”

Nuclear testing ban
Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt and Mexican Foreign Minister Patricia Espinosa Cantellano call on the remaining eight key countries to follow Indonesia’s recent example and ratify the ban on nuclear testing.
“For the five decades following World War II, a nuclear test shook and irradiated the planet on average every nine days. This era was ended in 1996, when the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly. But, for the CTBT to enter into force, all 44 states specified as holders of nuclear technology must ratify it. Until they do, the specter of nuclear testing will continue to haunt us.”

European illusions
The University of Cambridge’s Tarak Barkawi argues the UK’s left and right both hold views of the EU that have little to do with reality.
“At its core, Europe has always been a capitalist project, and is at its most successful as a single market regulated by unelected officials. The EU’s social agenda pales in significance to its economic powers, and as a diplomatic and military actor it has never achieved real weight as a “force for good”. Much less noticed is the EU’s brutal anti-immigration policy. It has built a gulag of concentration camps across North Africa and prefers to let migrants drown in the Mediterranean rather than admit them to Europe.”

Different kind of economics
Oxfam’s Duncan Green lists a number of concerns he took away from his participation in “an initial discussion” with the World Bank regarding the World Development Report’s 2013 edition, which will focus on jobs.
“Third, great that jobs are presented as the ‘hinge’ of development. But from the presentation, it looks like that hinge will then be explored almost entirely in terms of improving the enabling environment for employers. That could easily end up producing a kinder, gentler tweak of the standard Washington Consensus: make it easier to hire and fire and otherwise ‘flexibilize’ the workforce; trade unions are a ‘distortion’ to the efficient workings of labour markets etc (see Kanbur’s point three). Why not, as Christina Weller from CAFOD suggested in the meeting, focus on the enabling environment for workers, starting by asking them what makes for decent, life-enhancing jobs?”

Latest Developments, December 6

In the latest news and analysis…

Nuclear testing ban progress
Reuters reports Indonesia has ratified the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, moving the agreement, which has been agreed to by 156 countries, a step closer to becoming international law.
“Indonesia had been among nine countries – including nuclear weapons powers the United States and China, as well as India, Pakistan, Israel, Iran, North Korea, and Egypt – whose approval is needed for the law, negotiated in the 1990s, to take effect.”

Investment ethics
Norway’s Government Pension Fund, the largest in the world, has dropped an American and a Canadian company – FMC Corporation and the Potash Corporation of Saskatchewan – from its investment portfolio for buying phosphates mined in Western Sahara, which it describes in a statement as “particularly serious violations of fundamental ethical norms.”
“Potash and FMC purchase phosphate from the Moroccan company Office Cherifien des Phosphates (OCP). OCP extracts phosphate in Western Sahara, a territory which is not self-governed and which has no recognised administrator. In 2002, the UN’s legal adviser issued a general legal opinion on the legality of mineral resources extraction in territories which are not self-governed, which also included a specific assessment of this issue with regard to the situation in Western Sahara. The opinion stated that mineral resources extraction in territories which are not self-governed is only acceptable if it benefits the local population of the territory. The Council on Ethics takes the view that the interests of the local population are not served by OCP’s operations, and that it is this unacceptable situation which constitutes the core of the breach of ethical standards in the present case.

In its decision to adopt the recommendation of the Council on Ethics, the Ministry of Finance has attached particular weight to the fact that the companies know the origin of the phosphate, that they specify that they want phosphate from the particular Western Saharan mine in question, and that it appears likely that the companies will continue to purchase this particular phosphate for the foreseeable future.”

Destabilizing mining
Two Canadian mining companies – Nevsun Resources and Sunridge Gold – have issued statements declaring there will be “no direct impact” to their Eritrean operations as a result of a UN Security Council resolution expressing “concern at the potential use of the Eritrean mining sector as a financial source to destabilize” the region.
“Nevsun’s President Cliff Davis states, ‘The State of Eritrea has been a strong partner and shareholder in the Bisha Mining Share Company, a subsidiary of Nevsun… By collaborating with international companies, Eritrea is developing a mining industry that provides direct economic benefits, skill enhancement and supply chain expansion. Through these cooperative efforts, sustainable development from the industry can positively impact the Eritrean economy for decades to come.’”

FDI vs. the environment
The Guardian reports on the controversy over Peru’s Minas Conga gold mine and how it highlights the challenges of balancing foreign investment-driven development with environmental protection.
“After days of violent protests, and following [former deputy environment minister José] De Echave’s resignation, the US-based Newmont Mining Corporation – the majority partner in the joint venture, together with Minera Yanacocha, behind the Conga plans – said it was halting construction in an effort to ease tensions. But CEO Richard O’Brien indicated that the company, which is South America’s largest gold producer, remains committed to the project.
At issue is the impact on the local watershed, as Yanacocha plans to divert water from four mountain lakes into new reservoirs to enable mining to proceed. Protests have been led by local farmers and residents concerned about the impact on the underground drainage network and natural water harvesting system. Cajamarca is Peru’s leading dairy and livestock region.”

New world order
The Global Institute For Tomorrow’s Chandran Nair argues the anticipated Asian Century must be much more than a simple changing of the guard.
“In previous centuries, Western economic growth was characterized by a comparatively insignificant minority having unfettered access to resources, and was thus built on fueling consumption. This was, after all, the idea behind colonialism, which succeeded economically by underpricing resources or even obtaining them for free.
But the planet simply cannot support five billion Asians consuming like Westerners. The earth’s regenerative capacity was exceeded more than 30 years ago, and we now use 30% more resources than the planet can sustain. Although we know this to be the case, the vast majority of Western economists and institutions continue to encourage China and India to consume more.”

Transforming knowledge
Demos’s Michael Edwards asks what the future holds for international development NGOs which are, as a rule, “still raising money in the rich world and spending it on projects in poorer countries” despite the changing global context in which they operate.
“Richer countries no longer provide an ‘end-point’ to aim for in the processes of development and social change, because they generate too much inequality and too many social and environmental failures to serve as an example. In fact, no contemporary society has figured out how to tie economic growth to human flourishing in a future that will be dominated by the demands of climate change and other collective problems that cannot be tackled by the ‘North’ or the ‘South’ in isolation. Therefore, existing systems of knowledge, politics and economics must be transformed, not simply expanded or made more accessible to the poor (wherever it is they live).”

Remembering Fanon
Jeune Afrique marks the 50th anniversary of the death of Frantz Fanon, author of The Wretched of the Earth, at the age of 36.
“When he arrived in Algeria, his only ambition was to be a different kind of doctor. But the way in which the French treated the indigenous population was not lost on him. It reminded him of his own experiences as a black man and Martinican. And when the National Liberation Front (FLN) launched its first attacks, in the early hours of Nov. 1, 1954, Fanon understood the significance of the events. In 1955, he initiated contact with the FLN. The psychological condition of Algerian victims of torture and other violent acts troubled him. In late 1956, he resigned before being expelled from Algeria, marking an irrevocable break with France. From that point on, he saw himself as an Algerian. Nationality is not linked to one’s place of birth, but to one’s will.” (Translated from the French.)