Latest Developments, September 18

In the latest news and analysis…

OWS birthday
The New York Times reports that the city’s police arrested over 150 people demonstrating to mark the first anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street movement:

“Demonstrators had planned to converge from several directions and form what was called the People’s Wall around the stock exchange to protest what they said was an unfair economic system that benefited the rich and corporations at the expense of ordinary citizens.

Several demonstrations took place outside financial institutions. Some people were arrested at a Bank of America branch opposite Zuccotti Park. Later the police arrested about a half-dozen people who sat down in front of Goldman Sachs headquarters on West Street while a crowd chanted ‘arrest the bankers.’ ”

Drone complicity
The Telegraph reports that Britain’s former chief prosecutor is calling on the UK government to address “pretty compelling” evidence it is providing intelligence support for US drone strikes in Pakistan and Afghanistan:

“The Foreign Office is already facing legal action over the alleged involvement of UK intelligence agencies in helping identify drone targets.
Lawyers for a Pakistani student have brought legal proceedings against the Foreign Office after his father was killed in an attack by an unmanned CIA drone in Pakistan last year.
Noor Khan insists his father was innocent, and the judicial review application could lead to the Government having to reveal whether its intelligence officers provide the US with information to help target drones.”

Debt forgiveness
The Associated Press reports that Russian media are saying the country has written off most of North Korea’s debt:

“Interfax quoted deputy finance minister Sergei Storchak as saying that Russia has written off 90 percent of the Soviet-era debt.
Storchak told Interfax that the remaining $1 billion would be used as part of the ‘debt for aid’ program in implementing energy, health care and educational projects with Pyongyang.”

Shoddy contracts
Reuters reports that Tanzania’s energy minister has ordered a review of all the country’s oil and gas exploration contracts:

“Tanzanian newspapers quoted Energy and Minerals Minister Sospeter Muhongo saying that the incoming board of the TPDC had until the end of November to complete the review of contracts.
‘Some of the agreements are really shoddy and they need to be revoked,’ Muhongo was quoted saying in the privately-owned Guardian on Sunday newspaper.
‘I can’t tolerate agreements which are not in the country’s interest but they benefit a few individuals.’ ”

De-dollarizing Africa
The Financial Times reports that a growing number of African countries are introducing measures to discourage the use of US dollars for domestic transactions:

“A new ruling from Africa’s biggest copper producer has banned the use of foreign currency in domestic transactions, with the threat of ten year imprisonment.

‘In the past we saw a country like Zambia with copper prices at record highs and the country not really benefiting from that, because a lot of those monies were circumventing the country,’ explains Mike Keenan, sub-Saharan African currency strategist at Absa Capital.
‘In terms of the country’s best interests you need to have a scenario where ultimately the country as a whole is benefiting from whatever you are selling. But the minute people are transacting in a parallel market, it makes it very difficult to institute credible and consistent policy measures. It becomes a lot more manageable if everyone is working in local currency.’ ”

Extending democracy
Inter Press Service reports that Argentina’s congress is considering proposed new legislation that would lower the voting age from 18 to 16:

“The governing faction of the Justicialista (Peronist) Party, the centre-left Frente para la Victoria, which has an absolute majority in the legislature, introduced a bill to allow 16 and 17-year-olds to vote if they want to – voting is compulsory between the ages of 18 and 70 – and to make it possible for foreigners to vote if they have lived in the country as legal residents for at least two years.
The sponsors of the bill say the aim is to build a stronger sense of citizenship among young people and immigrants, by ‘deepening the process of political participation.’ They also say it responds ‘to a growing demand for participation’ among young people.”

Getting rich off poverty
In a Daily Mail piece, veteran journalist Ian Birrell takes on the development industry’s profligacy and the way “the huge aid monies swirling around” have co-opted those who should be holding it to account:

“Increasingly influential are the big accountancy firms such as PricewaterhouseCoopers and KPMG, given huge contracts to manage and sub-contract aid work to smaller organisations.
Incredibly, KPMG helped set up Britain’s official aid watchdog — the Independent Commission for Aid Impact — and receives a monthly management fee even while it runs lucrative aid projects for the Government.
A spokeswoman for the watchdog said they were careful to ensure there were ‘Chinese walls’ within KPMG. But it’s hard to think of another sector where a watchdog is effectively policing its own work.”

War of terror
Monash University’s Irfan Ahmad argues that the US-led War on Terror and its underlying nationalist ideology have established a “hierarchy of human lives”:

Clinging to ‘national interests’, terrorism experts suggest tightening ‘homeland security’ as an antidote to terrorism. This suggestion is less likely to succeed because that from which emanates terror can’t be its antidote. We need to shape a humane world that abolishes the dehumanising logic of ruthless pursuits of ‘national interests’.

After 9/11, Salman Rushdie issued a priestly call for the Reformation of Islam to counter terrorism. Perhaps it is time to also initiate a Reformation of the West, which, as Judith Butler correctly points out, splits humanity into ‘destructible’, ‘ungrievable’ lives on one hand and ‘preserving’, ‘grievable’ lives on the other and fashions symbolic terror of multiple kinds. 

Latest Developments, May 18

In the latest news and analysis…

G8(ish) summit
Deutshce Welle reports on the issues and questions facing the G8 as it convenes this weekend in Camp David, where the presidents of Ethiopia, Tanzania, Ghana and Benin will be in attendance, but Russia’s will not.
“The list of topics is long for a summit that doesn’t even last 24 hours. It spans from food security for Africa to the nuclear debate with Iran, troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, further course of action in Syria and North Korea all the way to climate protection.

So time and again the question arises what the point of the G8 summits even is. After all: the eight countries represent 15 percent of the world’s population and two-thirds of the international economic performance. It is a loose union of states, without any solid organization, financing or rules. It was created as a forum in the middle of the oil crisis in the 1970s to coordinate economic and trade issues. But political and economic questions are now regularly on the agenda – even when the G20 is considered the more powerful economic forum and the UN Security Council regulates sanction mechanisms.”

US army to Africa
Al Jazeera reports that a combat brigade will be assigned next year to the US military’s Africa Command “to do training and participate in military exercises” around the continent.
“General Ray Odierno, the army’s chief of staff, says the plan is part of a new effort to provide US commanders around the globe with troops on a rotational basis to meet the military needs of their regions.
This pilot programme sends troops to an area that has become a greater priority for the Obama administration since it includes several nations from where it perceives an increasing threat to the US and the region.”

Let them eat tobacco
Inter Press Service reports that Malawi’s IMF-prescribed currency devaluation earlier this month has made life more difficult for the country’s poor by causing a huge hike in food prices but should help the tobacco industry.
“Tobacco is the country’s main revenue earner, accounting for up to 60 percent – or 950 million dollars – of foreign exchange. According to the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security, Malawi’s tobacco accounts for five percent of the world’s total exports.

‘On the export front, the devaluation will lead to increased demand for Malawi’s exports in the short run. In the long run, this is expected to stimulate production and thus lead to increased production of exportable goods … thereby generating foreign currency,’ said [the Malawi Economic Justice Network’s Dalitso] Kubalasa.
He added that because the prices of imports had automatically risen and become unaffordable for some, the situation would motivate locals to substitute these goods with commodities that can be produced locally. It would provide an incentive to local industry, he said.
But he admitted that the devaluation would affect the country’s middle class and poor.”

Matter of conscience
The Harvard School of Public Health’s Winston Hide explains that his conscience compelled his resignation from the editorial board of the Elsevier-published Genomics journal.
“No longer can I work for a system that provides solid profits for the publisher while effectively denying colleagues in developing countries access to research findings.”

The vast majority of biomedical scientists in Africa attempt to perform globally competitive research without up-to-date access to the wealth of biomedical literature taken for granted at western institutions. In Africa, your university may have subscriptions to only a handful of scientific journals.

So I’d prefer to devote the limited time I have available to an open access journal that provides its work at no cost to researchers who urgently require its contents to improve their environment.”

Growing debt
The Guardian reports that a few short years after a series of debt cancellations, total external debt owed by “developing countries” increased by $437 billion in 2010 to reach $4 trillion.
“A major chunk of the debt owed by 32 countries, mostly in sub-Saharan Africa, was eliminated by the heavily indebted poor countries (HIPC) initiative of the World Bank and IMF, which was reinforced by the G8’s 2005 multilateral debt relief initiative (MDRI).
But many poor countries in Asia and Latin America (for example, Jamaica and El Salvador) did not have debts written off because their income per capita was too high to meet the IMF and World Bank criteria. Others, such as Bangladesh, did not qualify for cancellation because their debts were seen as sustainable.

But even in countries that did qualify for debt write-offs, there is evidence that external debts, which fell significantly after 1995, are on the rise again.
‘These loans are building up again,’ said [the Jubilee Debt Campaign’ Tim] Jones. ‘It can go unnoticed if economies are growing and exports are on the rise – but as soon as there’s a crisis like a drought or flood it becomes a huge problem.’ ”

Techno fixations
In a review of two new books on transformative technology, Sona Partners’ Timothy Ogden slams “techno-utopianism.”
“In the few places where [Abundance authors Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler] begin to acknowledge that the problems that keep much of the world disenfranchised, impoverished, and unhealthy are not technological in origin, they quickly explain that we already ‘know’ how to deal with those issues. For instance, we ‘know’ that ‘community support is the most critical component for any water solution’ and ‘maintenance workers need to be incentivized.’ Now that we know these facts, a technology breakthrough is all that’s needed to fix global water problems. I wonder what technology will fix global justice problems now that we know all people are created equal.”

Too hot for TED
The Atlantic reproduces venture capitalist Nick Hanauer’s speech on inequality that TED University deemed “too politically controversial to post on their web site,” in which he questions the conventional wisdom that rich people and businesses create jobs.
“Anyone who’s ever run a business knows that hiring more people is a capitalist’s course of last resort, something we do only when increasing customer demand requires it. In this sense, calling ourselves job creators isn’t just inaccurate, it’s disingenuous.
That’s why our current policies are so upside down. When you have a tax system in which most of the exemptions and the lowest rates benefit the richest, all in the name of job creation, all that happens is that the rich get richer.
Since 1980, the share of income for the richest Americans has more than tripled while effective tax rates have declined by close to 50%.”