Latest Developments, July 26

In the latest news and analysis…

A UN mission has observed food and fuel shortages and a “strained medical system” in Gadhafi-held parts of Libya. “Although the mission observed aspects of normalcy in Tripoli, members identified pockets of vulnerability where people need urgent humanitarian assistance,” humanitarian coordinator Laurence Hart said. Despite NATO’s military intervention, the amount of territory controlled by the Gadhafi regime has grown by about 20 percent over the last five months.

Twelve Democratic members of the US Senate have joined their Republican colleagues in opposing the proposed Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) on the basis of a perceived threat to the Second Amendment right to bear arms. “Ratification requires two-thirds of the Senate. So far 57 senators have said they would vote against the treaty, expected to be wrapped up next year,” according to a US News and World Report piece, which also quotes a Republican letter of opposition: “Our firearm freedoms are not negotiable.” The ATT, as currently being negotiated, would apply only to the international transfer of arms.

The UN Conference on Trade and Development has released its World Investment Report for 2011. The top story suggests a world moving towards greater equality, at least among states: “For the first time, developing and transition economies together attracted more than half of global FDI flows.” On the other hand, foreign direct investment is declining in some of the poorest regions, most notably in Africa which saw a nine percent drop in 2010. The report also addresses the current state of corporate social responsibility: “Voluntary CSR standards can complement government regulatory efforts; however, where they are promoted as a substitute for labour, social and environmental protection legislation, or where CSR standards are not based on national or international rules, then these voluntary standards can potentially undermine, substitute or distract from governmental regulatory efforts.”

Speaking in Hong Kong, US secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton pushed for “true regional integration” in the Asia-Pacific as opposed to a “hodgepodge of inconsistent and partial bilateral agreements,” the pending US-South Korea trade deal notwithstanding. According to Stewart Patrick of the Council on Foreign Relations, Clinton’s message was consistent with American policy since the end of WWII but: “What is novel in Clinton’s approach is her insistence that developing countries—which have often been granted special treatment—can no longer be exempted from binding rules.”

The UN’s special envoy for the Middle East has told the Security Council: “The Palestinian Authority is ready to assume the responsibilities of statehood at any point in the near future.” But the US, one of five permanent members with veto power, has said it will oppose any attempt by the Palestinians to obtain state recognition from the UN in September.

Following last week’s deadly anti-government protests in Malawi, the Millennium Challenge Corporation, a US government agency, has put on hold a five-year $350 million deal signed with the East African country earlier this year. The US government agency says it will conduct a review before deciding how to proceed, but terminating the agreement is a possibility.

After trying for over a decade, the International Gay and Lesbian Association has gained the right to attend and speak at UN meetings. Support for the group’s consultative status came primarily from Europe and the Americas, as well as Japan, South Korea, India and Mongolia. Opposition came largely from African and Islamic countries, as well as Russia and China.

University of London economist Costas Lapavitsas looks at the lessons to be drawn from earlier debt crises in poor countries. He criticizes policies that protect lenders while pushing the burden of debt onto the public, suggesting a possible remedy whereby an “audit commission could examine public debt for its legality, legitimacy, odiousness and social sustainability, providing grounds for its cancellation.” He also calls for “international co-operation among borrowers” and says “engagement with multilateral organisations, principally the International Monetary Fund, is to be avoided.”

Foreign Policy columnist Charles “The Optimist” Kenny calls for the leaders of Somalia’s militant Islamist group, Al Shabab, to be charged by the International Criminal Court for “crimes against humanity by method of mass starvation.” But at least some of the blame should go to the “modern world system” that has undermined the centuries-old, sustainable pastoralism that is uniquely adapted to producing food in one of the harshest climates on earth, according to Helen de Jode who has edited a book on the topic.

Esther Dyson, CEO of EDventure Holdings, says there are two types of investors: “Venture capitalists want to fund the next Facebook, while philanthropists want to use Facebook to support good causes.” And although she does not expect or want the former to start behaving like the latter, she suggests “they could focus a little more on training new employees rather than poaching them from the competition at inflated salaries.”

Latest Developments, July 21

In the latest news and analysis…

The World Bank has released a report on the challenge posed by the theft of public assets from poor countries, which it describes as “an immense problem with a staggering development impact.” The report’s authors estimate that about $5 billion in assets have been recovered over the last 15 years, which amounts to 1/1,500th of the World Bank’s lowest estimate of the total stolen over that time. But the Tax Justice Network argues the real proportion of repatriated assets may be more like 1/3,800th of illicit financial flows out of the Global South.

Four Kenyans claiming to have been tortured by British soldiers during the Mau Mau uprising of the 1950s have taken a major step towards obtaining reparations, as a British judge has ruled the plaintiffs have sufficient grounds to pursue a lawsuit. “This is not about money,” their lawyer said. “It is about restoring people’s dignity.” The UK’s Foreign Office argues it is not responsible for any wrongdoing during the colonial period and Kenya’s government should take care of compensating victims, an argument the judge termed “dishonourable.”

The UN has “strongly welcomed” new data providing further evidence that male circumcision is an effective way of preventing HIV in men. “Scaling up voluntary medical male circumcision services rapidly to young men in high HIV prevalence settings will help reach the 2015 goal of reducing sexual transmission of HIV by 50 per cent,” according to UNAIDS executive director Michel Sidibé. One of the leaders in this trend is Tanzania which “plans to circumcise at least 2.8 million men and boys between the ages of 10 and 34 over a five-year period.” Meanwhile, in San Francisco where HIV/AIDS was the fourth leading cause of death among men aged 25-54 in 2007, the battle is heating up over a proposed measure that would ban the circumcision of boys under the age of 18. The so-called Male Genital Mutilation Bill will be put to the California city’s voters in November.

Global Financial Integrity’s Tom Cardamone has announced the imminent launch of an international petition to fight perceived efforts by the US Chamber of Commerce and Wisconsin congressman Tom Sensenbrenner to weaken the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, the 34 year-old piece of legislation aimed at punishing individuals and corporations who pay bribes overseas.

The Economist appears to have coined a new acronym, MIFF, to describe the “the emergence of a group of middle-income but failed or fragile states” that, despite moderate prosperity at the national level, account for 17 percent of the world’s people living on less than $1 a day. That figure has skyrocketed from one percent in 2005. “Anybody concerned with alleviating world poverty must reckon with the MIFFs,” the author argues.

Peru’s ambassador to the UN Gonzalo Gutiérrez makes a similar point in arguing “the cold figure of GDP per capita does not reflect the actual state of development in a particular country.” He is calling on the donor community to change the criteria it uses when devising aid policy and to recognize that most of the world’s poor live in so-called middle-income countries. “It is illogical to leave 70 percent of those who suffer most in the world, simply because a general index says that they are already in the medium-income countries,” he said.

And in a Project Syndicate piece entitle “Debt and Delusion,” Yale University economist Robert Shiller warns of the dangers of obsessing over economic indicators, such as debt-to-GDP ratios. Fear of “some magic threshold” beyond which a country will become insolvent is causing a stampede towards austerity measures which are likely to do more harm than good. “We should worry less about debt ratios and thresholds, and more about our inability to see these indicators for the artificial – and often irrelevant – constructs that they are.”

The Royal United Services Institute’s Knox Chitiyo says the relationship between Europe and Africa has moved beyond “handouts and hoopla” and the “scramble for Africa.” In fact, he believes we are now seeing the beginning of “Africa’s scramble for the world.” Now that Africa can boast some of the world’s fastest growing economies, Chitiyo says Europe needs its southern neighbour in order to dig out of its recession.

Washington-based economist Thomas Palley makes the case for a global minimum wage to counteract “globalization’s undermining of the income generation process.” Palley does not suggest introducing a rich-country level of wage floor to poor countries, but rather “establishing a global set of rules for setting country minimum wages.” Rather than calculating specific wage levels that would then rise with inflation, he proposes agreeing on a fixed percentage of median wages that would vary according to national and regional economic conditions. “Just as globalization demands global trade rules for goods and services and global financial rules for financial markets, so too labor markets need global rules,” Palley argues.

Recapping the events of last week’s Arms Trade Treaty negotiations, Transparency International’s representatives at the meetings say they are “delighted” by the apparent broad support – from investors, industry and governments – for including anti-corruption language in the agreement. And Oxfam’s Scott Stedjan refutes US gun lobby objections to the proposed treaty, saying an ATT would have “no impact on the Second Amendment freedoms.”