Latest Developments, August 20

In the latest news and analysis…

Earth Overshoot Day
The World Wildlife Fund’s Carter Roberts writes on the day that “humanity’s demand for natural resources exceeds the earth’s ability to renew them in a year” that some countries bear far more responsibility than others for our “ecological overdraft”:

“The per capita ecological footprint of high-income nations dwarfs that of low- and middle-income countries. The footprint of a typical American is ten times that of a typical resident of an African nation. China’s per capita footprint is smaller than those of countries in Europe and North America but still exceeds the resources that are available per person worldwide. In all, more than 80 percent of the world’s population lives in countries that use more than their own ecosystems can renew. Today’s Japan requires 7.1 Japans to support itself, Italy needs 4 Italys, and Egypt needs about 2.5 Egypts.”

Setting an example
Inter Press Service reports that Norway’s external audit of debts owed by poor countries to the Scandanavian nation represents “the first concrete use of the principles promoting responsible sovereign lending and borrowing”:

“The investigation, by Deloitte, the financial services firm, looked at aid packages offered to developing countries since the 1970s. Auditors were tasked with studying whether the deals, mostly concessional trade agreements, complied with national guidelines and newly established international principles.

Jubilee USA has called on other countries, particularly the G20, to follow Norway’s example, conducting transparent debt audits to allow the public and civil society to see how decades of loans have been made. Given the data, multiple groups have also urged Norway to cancel some debts.”

No act of God
Charanya Krishnaswami, co-author of a Yale University report on Haiti’s cholera epidemic, argues that the UN’s refusal to admit responsibility for the outbreak “plays into a dangerous conception of Haiti as pathology”:

“Why does this matter? The damage has been done; isn’t the U.N. correct to focus on its plan to eradicate cholera by 2022 instead of dwelling on what happened in 2010? Funding and implementing this plan will, critically, prevent future harm. But it will not address the harm that has already befallen so many victims—the men, women, and children who died or lost loved ones in a profoundly senseless tragedy. Every sidestep by the U.N. denies Haitians something truly fundamental: their right to be treated as humans who were wronged and are owed redress.”

Partial justice
The Globe and Mail reports that the Canadian Bar Association has described access to justice in Canada as “abysmal”:

“The summary report, released Sunday at the association’s conference in Saskatoon, says there is profoundly unequal access to justice in Canada.
‘Inaccessible justice costs us all, but visits its harshest consequences on the poorest people in our communities,’ says the report.

The report says tinkering with the system won’t be enough.
‘The civil justice system is too badly broken for a quick fix. People fall between the cracks at an unacceptable cost. Injustice is too deeply woven into the system’s very structure for piecemeal reforms to make much of a dent,’ it says.”

Gold & dust
The East African reports on the wealth extracted from Tanzania’s gold mines and the poverty that surrounds them:

“Industry analysts and civil society activists have attributed Tanzania’s marginal benefits from its minerals to bad laws and the practices of mining companies.

‘In the current regime, mining companies are free to come and negotiate with the government without following proper channels, which is not proper if the public is to benefit from its natural resources,’ [Publish What You Pay’s Bubelwa] Kaiza told The EastAfrican.

In any case, the new law, whose implementation effectively began last year, does not apply retrospectively. So, ‘existing gold mines remain governed by the generous fiscal terms and tax stabilisation clauses outlined in individual mineral development agreements,’ notes The One Billion Dollar Question, a 2012 report about the magnitude of tax revenue losses in Tanzania.”

Swedish solidarity
The BBC reports that women across Sweden are putting on headscarves in protest over an attack against a pregnant Muslim woman, “apparently for wearing a veil”:

“Using the hashtag #hijabuppropet (hijab outcry) a number of women across Sweden published pictures of themselves on Twitter and other social media websites on Monday.
Among the protesters were lawmakers Asa Romson and Veronica Palm, and also TV host Gina Dirawi.
The campaigners said they wanted to draw attention to the ‘discrimination that affects Muslim women’ in Sweden.”

The top 0.01%
The Institute for Policy Studies’ Sam Pizzigati asks how it is that democracy allows such high levels of inequality in the US:

“Over 40 percent of the contributions to American political campaigns are now emanating from this super-rich elite strata.
In the 1980s, campaign contributions from the top 0.01 percent roughly equaled the campaign contributions from all of organized labor. In 2012, note political scientists [Stanford’s Adam Bonica, Princeton’s Nolan McCarty, Keith Poole from the University of Georgia, and New York University’s Howard Rosenthal] in their new analysis, America’s top 0.01 percent all by themselves ‘outspent labor by more than a 4:1 margin.’
Donors in this top 0.01 percent, their analysis adds, ‘give pretty evenly to Democrats and Republicans’ — and they get a pretty good return on their investment. Both ‘Democrats as well as Republicans,’ the four analysts observe, have come to ‘rely on big donors.’

Conventional economists, the four analysts add, tend to ascribe rising inequality to broad trends like globalization and technological change — and ignore the political decisions that determine how these trends play out in real life.”

Change of heart
The Huffington Post has published a Q&A with Tunisian activist Amina Sboui, in which she repudiates FEMEN, the group whose name she recently painted on a wall, landing her in prison for 10 weeks:

“And then, I don’t want my name to be associated with an Islamophobic organization. I did not appreciate the action taken by the girls shouting ‘Amina Akbar, Femen Akbar’ in front of the Tunisian embassy in France, or when they burned the black Tawhid flag in front of a mosque in Paris. These actions offended many Muslims and many of my friends. We must respect everyone’s religion.”

Latest Developments, April 11

In the latest news and analysis…

Keeping secrets
The Independent reports that a US court has ruled American intelligence agencies need not inform the British parliament about possible UK involvement in “extraordinary rendition” of terrorism suspects.
“A judge in Washington DC granted permission for key US intelligence bodies, including the highly sensitive National Security Agency, to exploit a loophole in US freedom of information legislation which bars the release of documentation to any body representing a foreign government.

The Americans’ success in resisting the MPs’ inquiries will fuel the controversy over the cover-up of the role said to have been played by British intelligence operatives in spiriting away fugitives and suspects with ministerial approval to secret jails and authoritarian regimes, in particular to Muammar Gaddafi’s Libya.”

Debt forgiveness
Reuters reports that the Paris club of creditor nations has agreed to provide Guinea with $344 million in “debt relief,” though the $151 million in outright cancellation accounts for just one fifth of the debt owed by Guinea to Paris Club members.
“The Club said that Guinea’s government was convincingly implementing a reform programme, which could lead to final round of debt relief with its Paris Club creditors.
Guinea had more than $750 million in debt owed to Paris Club members at the start of the year in nominal terms.”

Foreclosure discrimination
Reuters reports that US financial giant Wells Fargo is being accused of not maintaining foreclosed homes in minority neighbourhoods, compared to predominantly white ones.
“The group used various statistics from its investigation to allege that properties in white communities were taken much better care of. For example, the group said that 56 percent of the foreclosed properties surveyed in the minority communities had substantial amounts of trash piling up, compared with 30 percent of Wells Fargo foreclosures in white neighborhoods that had the same problem.
‘I was just astonished by how poorly maintained so many of Wells Fargo properties were,’ said [the National Fair Housing Alliance’s Shanna] Smith. ‘When you drive through some of these neighborhoods of color, you would just be stunned by the overgrowth of weeds, often there’s no for-sale sign in front of the house, some look completely abandoned.’ ”

Nkrumah’s diary
GhanaWeb reports that a US court has ruled the 1960s diary of Ghana’s first president, Kwame Nkrumah, belongs to his native country, not the American businessman who had it in his possession.
“Possibly the most compelling entry in the diary (which is about the size of a small paperback and has a bookmark with the colours of Ghana’s flag stuffed in its pages), is one where Nkrumah, who had been Ghana’s head of state since independence from Britain in 1957, reflects on the abrupt end of his presidency. It makes clear that Nkrumah was worried about Ghana and Africa’s future. He wrote: ‘Things will not go well for Ghana’ and said his ‘vision’ for Ghana would now be ‘lost’.”

Corporate liability’s future
Lawfirm Foley Hoag’s Alexandra Meise Bay looks at the potential impact of a US Supreme Court case currently underway on corporate accountability for human rights abuses committed abroad.
“Given alternative court options emerging outside of the United States, even if the Supreme Court were to hold that the [Alien Tort Statute] no longer applies extraterritorially, corporations could still find themselves in lengthy litigations over alleged human rights abuses committed in third-countries. Ultimately, an end to the ATS is not necessarily an end to corporate liability.”

Capital floods
Boston University’s Kevin Gallagher argues the international community must take on “the ‘tsunami’ of speculative finance” that is harming poor countries.
“Some nations that probably should be deploying regulations on capital flows are not because such measures could be found to violate recent trade and investment treaties On the receiving end of all the capital flows are nations that may have signed on to the financial services commitments under the General Agreement on Trade and Services (GATS) at the WTO that limits the ability of nations to regulate cross border trade in financial services.
And/or a nation may be party to a ‘free trade agreement’ or bilateral investment treaty with the United States that requires that nations allow the transfer of all forms of capital – including stocks, bonds and derivatives – into and out of  all parties to the agreement ‘freely and without delay’.”

Disarmament wars
The Nation Institute’s Jonathan Schell writes about the problems inherent in using “force as a tool of disarmament.”
“Although the invasion of Iraq was a debacle, the policy underlying it has survived. Curiously, that policy may have escaped discredit in part precisely because its target was a mirage. Is a military action a true test of a disarmament war’s efficacy if the arms in question are missing?”

Full-cost pricing
The Earth Policy Institute’s Lester Brown writes that the key to a sustainable global economy is “to get the market to tell the truth.”
“If the world is to move onto a sustainable path, we need economists who will calculate indirect costs and work with political leaders to incorporate them into market prices by restructuring taxes.
This will require help from other disciplines, including ecology, meteorology, agronomy, hydrology, and demography. Full-cost pricing that will create an honest market is essential to building an economy that can sustain civilisation and progress.”

Warlord fever
New York University’s Keith Stanski writes that Western enthusiasm for “manhunts” for so-called warlords has a history that long predates the Kony 2012 video.
“The era of large U.S.-led militarized humanitarian missions as seen in Somalia has passed, but the underlying political logic persists: U.S. military assistance to Uganda has grown in recent months, even as the Obama administration recently deployed 100 U.S. special operation forces to the region in October, a development for which Invisible Children claims some credit.

‘Nothing is more powerful,’ Invisible Children notes at the outset of their initial film, ‘than an idea whose time has come.’ Blaming complex problems on the individual responsibility of a single warlord has a record of leading to disaster. It starts with a missive, and then gets some press. Then come public pressure, debate, manhunt and often war. This familiar pattern, dating back to the 19th century, is creaking into gear once again. That’s the real lesson of ‘Kony 2012.’ ”

Latest Developments, November 16

In the latest news and analysis…

A little relief
The Paris Club of creditor nations has announced a debt relief agreement with Cote d’Ivoire that will reschedule and forgive a portion of the conflict-ravaged country’s debt, while leaving about 95 percent of it on the books.
“Participating creditors welcomed that these measures are expected to reduce the debt service (including the arrears) due by the Republic of Côte d’Ivoire to Paris Club creditors between 1st July 2011 and 30 June 2014 by more than 78% which corresponds to 1 822 million USD, of which 397 million USD cancelled.

The stock of debt owed to Paris Club creditors by the Republic of Côte d’Ivoire as of 1st July 2011 was estimated to be more than USD 7,185 million in nominal terms.”

Vulture proofing
The Guardian reports on efforts to prevent vulture funds from buying sovereign debt from some of the world’s poorest countries and litigating to collect payment with interest.
“The [UK’s Debt Relief (Developing Countries) Act 2010] law, a world first, requires commercial creditors to comply with the terms of international debt cancellation schemes, which specify a single discount rate for creditors to ensure equal treatment. The law applies to the UK courts and ensures that public money given towards debt cancellation is not diverted to private investors.
However, debt campaigners point out that UK legislation applies only to the 40 [heavily indebted poor] countries and applies to cases before 2004.”

World turned upside down
The UN News Centre reports that the organization’s top food expert is calling on the World Trade Organization to prioritize the right to food in its Doha Development Round of negotiations.
“Some measures that have been cited as helpful in rehabilitating local food production capacity in developing countries are higher tariffs, temporary import restrictions, state purchase from small-holders, and targeted farm subsidies.
But WTO rules leave little space for developing countries to put these measures in place, said [Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Olivier] De Schutter.
‘Even if certain policies are not disallowed, they are certainly discouraged by the complexity of the rules and the threat of legal action,’ he stated. ‘Current efforts to build humanitarian food reserves in Africa must tip-toe around the WTO rulebook. This is the world turned upside down’.”

Oil justice
The American Lawyer’s Michael Goldhaber predicts that American oil giant Chevron will come out on top in the decades-long battle over up to $18 billion in compensation for environmental damage in Ecuador.
“The moment that the arbitrators order Ecuador to make Chevron whole for $18 billion, all of the case dynamics are turned upside down. Suddenly Ecuador’s interests are no longer aligned with the plaintiffs. Suddenly, it is Ecuador and Chevron who share a common interest. And that interest is in dismissing the case, or vastly reducing the verdict.”

Ghanaian oil concerns
Pipe(line) Dreams’ Christiane Badgley writes about a mysterious oil slick that first appeared in the vicinity of a foreign-owned oil operation off the coast of Ghana before making its way to shore, as concerns over the country’s new oil industry grow.
“I’ve been trying to get more information on this spill, which according to someone at EPA, came from a tanker. There’s no way to know with any certainty that this is the case. All the information I have been able to get so far is unofficial. To date there has not been any official statement on the spill — either its source or the amount of oil spilled.”

The real Occupy debate
University of Cambridge economist Ha-Joon Chang argues the Occupy movement is not so much opposed to capitalism, which has taken many different forms across time and space, as to current forms that lack regulation and distribute benefits so unevenly.
“By labelling the Occupy movement “anti-capitalist”, those who do not want reforms have been able to avoid the real debate. This has to stop. It is time we use the Occupy movement as the catalyst for a serious debate on alternative institutional arrangements that will make British (or for that matter, any other) capitalism better for the majority of people.”

Right to know
The Associated Press reports the results of tests it conducted on right-to-know legislation by submitting questions about terrorism arrests and convictions in the more than100 countries where such laws exist.
“Newer democracies were in general more responsive than some developed ones. Guatemala sent all documents in 10 days, and Turkey in seven. By comparison, Canada asked for a 200-day extension, and the FBI in the United States responded six months late with a single sheet with four dates, two words and a large blanked section.”

Democratizing Europe
The Associated Press also reports the EU could be moving towards addressing one aspect of its democratic deficit after German Chancellor Angela Merkel suggested the European Commission presidency should become a popularly elected position, though scepticism remains .
“Nigel Farage, a staunchly anti-EU British member of the European Parliament, was dismissive of the very notion that the EU could be democratic. ‘If the EU ever had any intention to democratize itself it would have done so in the Constitutional Treaty,’ Farage said.
‘As is perfectly evident, they rejected the idea of making it accountable to voters and so I believe this is just words to try to calm an angry populace who are speaking more and more of rejecting their political project.’”