Latest Developments, June 25

In the latest news and analysis…

Green light for blue helmets
Reuters reports that the UN Security Council has unanimously approved the start of peacekeeping operations in Mali on July 1:

“The 15-member Security Council unanimously approved in April a mandate for the 12,600-member force, to be known as MINUSMA, but its deployment had been subject to a council review on Tuesday of Mali’s security situation. French troops will support the peacekeepers if needed to combat Islamist extremist threats.

Once the U.N. peacekeeping force is deployed, France will continue to handle counterterrorism and peace enforcement operations as needed in Mali, while the U.N. blue helmets will handle traditional peacekeeping duties of policing and trying to ensure new violence does not erupt.”

History dismissed
The New Yorker’s Amy Davidson comments on US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s description of her colleagues’ “demolition” of the Voting Rights Act as “hubris”:

“Perhaps she’s right; but it could also be said that the majority ruling was built more on resentment of a particularly petulant kind: grudging about the need to remember an unpleasant past and to be mindful of the marginalized; offended by the idea that anyone would consider certain parts of the country more racist than others, or, really, that anyone is particularly racist at all these days.

‘As applied to Shelby County, the VRA’s preclearance requirement is hardly contestable,’ Ginsburg wrote, and the same could be said about Alabama as a whole. Ginsburg quoted an F.B.I. investigation of Alabama legislators who referred to black voters as ‘Aborigines’ and talked about how to keep them from the polls: ‘These conversations occurred not in the 1870’s, or even in the 1960’s, they took place in 2010.’”

Dangerous liaisons
In the wake of last week’s deadly attack on a UN compound in Mogadishu, Inner City Press reports on allegations that the actions of one UN agency operating in Somalia may be putting the organization’s personnel in danger:

“Now Inner City Press has exclusively been provided by whistleblowers with detailed complaints about the UN Mine Action Service’s David Bax, including that he shares both genetic information and physical evidence from bombings with American intelligence services, including through shadow private military contractor Bancroft Global Development.
According to the whistleblowers, this combined with Bax and ‘his’ Denel contractors traveling armed around Mogadishu leads to a perception that they and the UN have taken sides, and helps to make them a target.”

Militarized border
Agence France-Presse reports that US lawmakers are pushing for a military “surge” along the border with Mexico to prevent illegal immigration:

“Twenty thousand new border patrol agents, hundreds of miles of fencing, billions of dollars in drones, radar and sensors: US lawmakers are proposing a militaristic remedy to staunch illegal immigrant flow from Mexico.

In Washington, the ‘border surge’ proposal is already being compared with the ‘surge’ of US war troop reinforcements that president George W. Bush ordered to Iraq in 2007.
‘That military reference makes sense because it is going to militarize hundreds of American communities in the Southwest,’ said veteran Senate Democrat Patrick Leahy.
He sneered that the border security modification ‘reads like a Christmas wish list for Halliburton,’ one of the nation’s largest defense and energy contractors.”

Gulf Intervention
Radio France Internationale reports on the French military presence in the Gulf of Guinea, off Africa’s west coast:

“Since 1990, France has maintained a ship on a near permanent basis in the region as part of Operation Corymb. Currently, the frigate Touche-Tréville is patrolling the area. This ship intervened to assist the oil tanker MT Adour, attacked near the Togolese capital Lomé on the night of Wednesday June 19 to Thursday June 20. Its crew has since been freed. The Navy stresses, however, that ‘Operation Corymb’s mission is to protect French citizens and interests in the region. At this time, this boat is not dedicated to the fight against piracy.’ ”

African debt redux
Columbia University’s Joseph Stiglitz and the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs’ Hamid Rashid ask if the new enthusiasm for sovereign-bond issues in Africa is paving the way for “the world’s next debt crisis“:

“Signs of default stress are already showing. In March 2009 – less than two years after the issue – Congolese bonds were trading for 20 cents on the dollar, pushing the yield to a record high. In January 2011, Côte d’Ivoire became the first country to default on its sovereign debt since Jamaica in January 2010.
In June 2012, Gabon delayed the coupon payment on its $1 billion bond, pending the outcome of a legal dispute, and was on the verge of a default. Should oil and copper prices collapse, Angola, Gabon, Congo, and Zambia may encounter difficulties in servicing their sovereign bonds.

Countries contemplating joining the bandwagon of sovereign-bond issuers would do well to learn the lessons of the all-too-frequent debt crises of the past three decades. Matters may become even worse in the future, because so-called ‘vulture’ funds have learned how to take full advantage of countries in distress. Recent court rulings in the United States have given the vultures the upper hand, and may make debt restructuring even more difficult, while enthusiasm for bailouts is clearly waning.”

GM dispute
The Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa’s Million Belay and the African Biodiversity Network’s Ruth Nyambura reject the UK environment minister’s claim that Africa needs genetically modified crops:

“It is a myth that the green revolution has helped poor farmers. By pushing just a few varieties of seed that need fertilisers and pesticides, agribusiness has eroded our indigenous crop diversity. It is not a solution to hunger and malnutrition, but a cause. If northern governments genuinely wish to help African agriculture, they should support the revival of seed-saving practices, to ensure that there is diversity in farmers’ hands.
But GM crops pose an even greater threat to Africa’s greatest wealth. GM companies make it illegal to save seed.”

Growth for some
King’s College London’s Andy Sumner looks into the “winners and losers” of global growth between 1990 and 2010:

“Third, one can say that 15% of global consumption growth from 1990 to 2010 went to the richest 1% of global population. At the other end of the distribution, the 53% under $2 in 1990 benefitted from less than an eighth of that global growth; and the 37% on less than $1.25 a day benefitted by little more than a twentieth of that growth.”

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Latest Developments, August 14

In the latest news and analysis…

Hunger crimes
The Guardian’s George Monbiot criticizes British Prime Minister David Cameron for holding a summit on world hunger while promoting the use of biofuels, which Monbiot calls a “crime against humanity”:

“Preparing for the prime minister’s hunger summit on Sunday, the international development department argued that, with a rising population, ‘the food production system will need to be radically overhauled, not just to produce more food but to produce it sustainably and fairly to ensure that the poorest people have the access to food that they need’. But another government department – transport – boasts on its website that, thanks to its policies, drivers in this country have now used 4.4bn litres of biofuel.
Of this 30% was produced from recycled cooking oil. The rest consists of 3bn litres of refined energy snatched from the mouths of the people that Cameron claims to be helping.”

Cereal secrets
Oxfam’s Duncan Green draws attention to a new report on four of “the biggest and most influential firms you’ve never heard of,” grain traders whose combined sales topped $300 billion last year:

“[The ABCDs] are not alone, nor unchallenged, but they remain the overwhelmingly dominant traders of grain globally, and what they do is central to understanding international markets (and the domestic politics of food in many countries, too). Too often invisible in policy debates about farmers and consumers, these companies are careful about where and when they get involved in such debates, rarely seeking the limelight. They do not have brand names to protect in the way that a food processor such as Nestlé does. [Archer Daniels Midland] is publicly listed and Bunge is also a fully public company. [Louis] Dreyfus and Cargill remain essentially family-owned businesses. None of the companies is very forthcoming about its activities, and to track their activities requires patience and guesswork. However, despite the difficulties, it is important to understand their role and their interactions with other companies, national and global.”

Iceland’s success
Bloomberg reports that the International Monetary Fund has praised Iceland for its “decision to push losses on to bondholders instead of taxpayers and the safeguarding of a welfare system that shielded the unemployed from penury” following its economic crisis:

“Iceland refused to protect creditors in its banks, which failed in 2008 after their debts bloated to 10 times the size of the economy. The island’s subsequent decision to shield itself from a capital outflow by restricting currency movements allowed the government to ward off a speculative attack, cauterizing the economy’s hemorrhaging. That helped the authorities focus on supporting households and businesses.
‘The fact that Iceland managed to preserve the social welfare system in the face of a very sizeable fiscal consolidation is one of the major achievements under the program and of the Icelandic government,’ [the IMF’s Daria] Zakharova said.”

Hague threats
The Guardian reports that Rwandan opposition parties in exile are planning to ask the International Criminal Court to indict the country’s president, Paul Kagame, for war crimes for his alleged role in neighbouring DR Congo’s conflict:

“The demand to bring charges against Kagame has support among Congolese as well as opposition Rwandan politicians. ‘The politicians in Kinshasa are aware of these charges and they support them, although there have been no official statements as yet,’ said Nzangi Butondo, a Congolese MP representing Goma. ‘We think now is the right time to [go to The Hague]. It is certainly something to raise publicity, but there is also the hope that the ICC will, as a result, at least launch an investigation into this affair.’ ”

Tragedy double standard
The University of Notre Dame’s Naunihal Singh notes how much less attention American media and politicians paid to the recent mass shooting at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin compared to the Dark Knight killings a couple of weeks earlier:

“The two incidents were obviously different in important ways: Holmes shot more people, did so at the opening of a blockbuster film, and was captured alive. There were also the Olympics. However, it is hard to escape the conclusion that Oak Creek would have similarly dominated the news cycle if the shooter had been Muslim and the victims had been white churchgoers. Both the quantity and content of the coverage has been clearly shaped by the identities of the shooter and his victims.”

Oceans Compact
Inter Press Service reports that the UN’s new “compact” for the protection of ocean resources has received lukewarm praise from some environmental activists:

“Asked for a response, Sebastian Losada, senior oceans policy analyst at Greenpeace International, told IPS that Greenpeace welcomes the announcement of the secretary-general, and added, ‘We don’t need more statements of concern nor more summaries of the problems we face.
‘What we do need is urgency in the negotiation rooms to move from words to action. Solutions to the oceans crisis exist and are well known, but they continue to be blocked by short-sighted national interests,’ Losada said.”

Adoption trends
James Bloodworth writes an Independent blog entry on the growing popularity in rich countries of adopting children from poor countries:

“Most of those looking to adopt abroad have, I imagine, the same motivation for doing so as those hoping to adopt domestically: a desire to give a child the best possible start in life. And yet the disparities in power and wealth (as with all disparities in power and wealth) inevitably set up a grossly unequal relationship between budding parents in the west and those who ‘produce’ the adoptees of the future in the developing world. Ethiopia accounted for nearly a quarter of all international adoptions to the US in 2010, second only to China. Adoption is fast becoming Ethiopia’s new export, perhaps soon to overtake coffee. Yet not everybody is happy with the way things are going. ‘We want people to invest in Ethiopia rather than take our children,’ Dr Bulti Gutema, head of the government’s adoption authority, has said. Media investigations have also found evidence to suggest that some adoption agencies have recruited children from intact families.”

Failed index
In a letter to Foreign Policy, the Royal African Society’s Richard Dowden expresses three “fundamental doubts” about the validity of the magazine’s Failed States Index:

“Third, the index misses one vital factor: chronic capital flight from poor countries — especially of the illicit variety — conducted largely by transnational companies avoiding taxes through commodity mispricing. Nearly a trillion dollars was looted from Africa through these methods between 1970 and 2008, according to the Washington-based think tank Global Financial Integrity, and that figure has since risen sharply. Poor countries in other parts of the world suffer from this same problem. Will the index assess the cost of these massive financial outflows on human well-being and governance? Now that would be interesting.”