Latest Developments, August 30

In the latest news and analysis…

No to war
The New York Times reports that a parliamentary vote has prompted UK Prime Minister David Cameron to say Britain will not take part in any military strikes on Syria:

“It was a stunning defeat for a government that had seemed days away from joining the United States and France in a short, punitive cruise-missile attack on the Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad for reportedly using chemical weapons against civilians.
Thursday evening’s vote was nonbinding, but in a short statement to Parliament afterward, Mr. Cameron said that he respected the will of Parliament and that it was clear to him that the British people did not want to see military action over Syria. ‘I get it,’ he said.
The government motion was defeated 285 to 272.”

Problems of conscience
Although the US and France are still keen to attack Syria, Slate’s Matthew Yglesias argues there are better ways for Americans to reduce suffering in the world:

“Historically, military intervention on the side of rebel groups has increased the pace of civilian deaths, not decreased it. More to the point, if you put arbitrary framing issues aside, the United States stands by and does nothing in the face of human tragedy all the time. Millions of desperate people in Haiti, Mexico, Nicaragua, and elsewhere would love to escape dire poverty by moving to the United States to work, and we don’t let them. Nobody in Washington is doing anything about the ongoing civil war in Congo.

Another way of looking at it—the bleeding-heart, correct way—is that Americans ought to care more about the lives of people outside our borders. That we ought to be more open to foreign immigration and foreign trade to help bolster foreign economies. That when the Office of Management and Budget does cost-benefit analysis for regulatory measures to curb greenhouse gas emissions, it ought to consider the impact on foreigners.”

Black budget
The Washington Post has published bits and pieces of the US National Intelligence Program’s secret $52.6 billion budget, revealing among other things that the Obama administration has embraced “offensive cyber operations”:

“The 178-page budget summary for the National Intelligence Program details the successes, failures and objectives of the 16 spy agencies that make up the U.S. intelligence community, which has 107,035 employees.

The Post is withholding some information after consultation with U.S. officials who expressed concerns about the risk to intelligence sources and methods. Sensitive details are so pervasive in the documents that The Post is publishing only summary tables and charts online.”

UN inaction
Amnesty International argues the UN “singularly failed” to investigate murders and abductions while it was in charge of Kosovo after NATO’s 1999 bombing campaign:

“ ‘[The UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK)]’s failure to investigate what constituted a widespread, as well as a systematic, attack on a civilian population and, potentially, crimes against humanity, has contributed to the climate of impunity prevailing in Kosovo,’ said Sian Jones, Amnesty International’s expert on Kosovo.
‘There is no statute of limitations on crimes against humanity. They must be investigated and the families of the abducted and murdered must receive redress. The UN should not be allowed to shirk its responsibility any longer.’ ”

Legal troubles
Buzzfeed reports that US financial giant JPMorgan Chase faces at least 43 “material” lawsuits:

“Of course, the so-called ‘London Whale’ case that resulted in $6 billion in losses for the bank is getting most of the attention, with news this week that the financial powerhouse may settle with U.S. and UK regulators for about $600 million. And there’s also last week’s headline grabbing story that there is an inquiry into potential bribery charges stemming from hiring practices in its Chinese offices.
But other allegations against the bank span from fraud to breaching both its contracts and its fiduciary duty, among many other charges. According to SEC documents, JPMorgan estimates its combined legal losses could be as much as $6.8 billion — possibly more if unforeseen damages are brought this year. What’s more, the firm’s annual legal costs over the last two years have been about $4.9 billion each year.”

Secular demands
The Globe and Mail reports on the controversy over Quebec’s yet-to-be-unveiled “charter of values”:

“The measures being considered reportedly include a prohition on state employees from wearing religious articles in schools, daycares, hospitals and other state workplaces.
On Wednesday, [Federal Liberal leader Justin] Trudeau paid tribute to Martin Luther King on the 50th anniversary of his famous ‘I have a dream’ speech, saying that Dr. King ‘refused segregation … denied discrimination … refused to allow [people] to believe that they were second-class citizens.’
Continuing his speech before a crowd of about 1,500 supporters, Mr. Trudeau said, ‘We sadly see that even today, as we speak, for example of this idea of a Charter of Quebec Values, there are still those who believe that we have to choose between our religion and our Quebec identity, that there are people who are forced by the Quebec State to make irresponsible and inconceivable choices.’ ”

Cosmopolitan vision
Fifty years after Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I have a dream speech”, the Center for Global Development’s Owen Barder lays out his own global dream:

“I have a dream that we will one day take seriously the idea that we are all created equal, not just within countries but everywhere; and that we will recognize that it is as intolerable that a person’s future should be mainly determined by the place of his or her birth as it is intolerable that people’s future should be determined by the colour of his or her skin.”

CSR misunderstood
Mark Hodge of the Global Business Initiative for Human Rights warns against corporate social responsibility strategies that treat poor people “as recipients of charity and not as citizens with rights”:

“[India’s] Companies Bill also seems to convey the inexcusable message that companies can somehow offset negative impacts in one area of their work with corporate philanthropy in another. An example many in India point to is Vedanta’s ‘Creating Happiness’ campaign promoting the company’s philanthropic contributions, at the exact time it is embroiled in accusations of human rights and environmental abuses in India and internationally. The Indian ministry of environment withdrew permission for Vedanta to continue the project due to some of these concerns.”

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Latest Developments, February 13

In the latest news and analysis…

Same as the old boss
Foreign Policy’s Michael Cohen writes that if US President Barack Obama has been no more a champion of civil liberties than his predecessor was, Americans are not complaining.
“The results of a recent Washington Post-ABC News poll provide compelling evidence of how little a price Obama has paid for these policies. According to the poll, 70 percent of respondents support the president’s decision to keep Guantanamo Bay open. Indeed, backing for Gitmo is actually higher today than it was in 2003. Among the president’s political base, 53 percent who self-identify as liberal Democrats — and 67 percent of moderate or conservative Democrats — are also supportive.
What about drone strikes? In total, 83 percent of Americans are on-board with the use of drones — a mere 4 percent are strongly opposed.”

Poison Apple
The Guardian reports the Fair Labor Association has begun an independent audit of some of Apple’s Chinese supplier factories in the wake of allegations of worker abuse, though the most notorious of these suppliers has links to many other industry giants as well.
“Foxconn, which makes equipment for a large number of American and Asian companies, including Apple, Amazon, Acer, Asus, Dell, IBM, Hewlett-Packard, Lenovo, Microsoft, Motorola, Netgear, Nokia, Samsung, Sony and Toshiba, has generated huge amounts of attention following claims of poor working conditions in gigantic factories that function like self-contained towns.
In July 2009 a 25-year-old worker committed suicide, reportedly after losing an iPhone prototype, and in 2010 there was a spate of suicides – prompting Foxconn to install nets around the edges of some buildings to prevent people jumping off roofs.”

Living inside the doughnut
Oxfam’s Kate Raworth argues in a new discussion paper that humankind is currently failing to live within “planetary and social boundaries” but could theoretically meet the needs of the poor without further damaging the earth.
“The real source of stress is excessive resource use by roughly the richest 10 percent of people in the world – backed up by the aspirations of a rapidly growing global middle class seeking to emulate those unsustainable lifestyles. Thanks to the extraordinary scale of global inequality, widespread poverty coexists with dangerous planetary stress.

If respecting planetary and social boundaries is the objective, then – in wealthy economies at least – the onus falls on those promoting unlimited GDP growth to show that it can bring humanity within the doughnut. The G20, among others, stand for the vision of ‘inclusive and sustainable economic growth’, but no country has yet shown that it is possible. If unlimited GDP growth is to have a place in doughnut economics, it has a long way to go to prove itself.”

Taking back the banks
The Overseas Development Institute’s Jonathan Glennie argues the current financial crisis presents an opportunity for poor countries to take control of their banks from foreign owners who too often do not operate according to local economic logic.
“…in Africa at least, banking services for rural households and the informal sector (by far the largest part of Africa’s private sector) have generally suffered, according to [the UN Conference on Trade and Development]. ‘These banks lend to larger borrowers such as the public sector, large enterprises and wealthy households. They do not have mechanisms well suited to catering to the needs of small, low-income, and mostly agricultural and rural-based economic agents, despite the fact that these agents constitute the backbone of African economies.’ ”

Peak people
The Globe and Mail’s Doug Saunders considers some of the possible consequences of an aging world where there is “a shift from surplus to scarcity” of working-age people.
“Peak people will be an age when jobs compete for workers rather than vice versa. The cheapest labour will vanish. We’re already seeing this: Because China is aging very fast, its dwindling working-age population is turning down the lowest-paid jobs and pushing up the minimum wage sharply, as well as the once-minimal costs of social services: Stuff from China will stop being cheap, because the Chinese aren’t young.

Peak people will also be an age when countries will be competing for immigrants rather than trying to limit them. Immigration has spared Canada from the worst of aging, but immigrants adopt host-country family sizes very quickly, so they’re a temporary fix. And if their home countries are competing to keep them, then we’ll have a harder time finding young people who want to come.”

The state of nations
Harvard University’s Dani Rodrik argues in favour of strong nation-states as the only plausible source of solutions to current global problems, but he does not entirely rule out the possibility of an alternative future.
“As the philosopher Peter Singer has put it, the communications revolution has spawned a ‘global audience’ that creates the basis for a ‘global ethics.’ If we identify ourselves with the nation, our morality remains national. But, if we increasingly associate ourselves with the world at large, our loyalties will expand, too. Similarly, the Nobel laureate economist Amartya Sen speaks of our ‘multiple identities’ – ethnic, religious, national, local, professional, and political – many of which cross national boundaries.

To be sure, the geography of attachments and identities is not fixed; indeed, it has changed over the course of history. That means that we should not entirely dismiss the likelihood that a true global consciousness will develop in the future, along with transnational political communities.”

Arms philosophies
The Instituto Sou da Paz’s Daniel Mack presents the debate over the future shape of the Arms Trade Treaty – which is being further pre-negotiated this week – as a battle between those who want “a little better than the status quo” and those who seek “to ensure the humanitarian imperative is realized in a major arms regulation agreement”
“It is no wonder that many proponents of an “ATT lite” have heavy arms exports; industry is not usually fond of any sort of regulation to its trade, which more often than not means smaller profit margins. As with alcohol and tobacco, less lethal but also legal, you won’t see industries begging for more restrictions on their international sales.”