Latest Developments, November 8

In the latest news and analysis…

Border missiles
The New York Times reports that Turkey may be looking to install Patriot missiles along its border with Syria, giving rise to speculation that the US and its allies are working on “a more robust plan” to deal with the Syrian conflict:

“The development, coming only hours after President Obama had won re-election, raised speculation that the United States and its allies were working on a more robust plan to deal with the 20-month-old conflict in Syria during the second Obama administration term. Further reinforcing that speculation, Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain said he was prepared to open direct lines of communication with Syrian rebel commanders.

The lack of a cohesive Syrian opposition has been partly blamed for preventing a more robust international effort on Syria. Efforts to create a more unified coalition of anti-Assad groups sputtered along this week in Doha, Qatar, where a meeting was scheduled for Thursday to try to implement an American-backed plan to broaden the opposition to include more factions, including more representatives of the military units doing the fighting.”

Libyan commandos
Reuters reports that the US is seeking recruits among Libya’s militias for “a commando force which they plan to train to fight militants”:

“A team of about 10 Americans from the embassy in Tripoli visited a paramilitary base in the eastern city of Benghazi 10 days ago to interview and get to know potential recruits, according to militia commander Fathi al-Obeidi.

Obeidi said the interviewers also took note of the types of uniforms the men were wearing and asked about their opinion on security in Libya.
He said that the team of American officials included the U.S. charge d’affaires Laurence Pope and the future head trainer of the Libyan special forces team.
‘I’ve been asked to help pick about 400 of these young men between the ages of 19 and 25 to train for this force,’ he said. ‘They could be trained either in Libya or abroad.’ ”

Growing smaller
Inter Press Service reports on efforts to devise a plan for reducing the “human footprint on Earth’s systems”:

“ ‘By not proactively pursuing a path of degrowth, then we accept that instead of degrowth we’ll have an uncontrolled global contraction that will lead to much more discomfort and human suffering than degrowth ever would,’ [according to Erik Assadourian, a senior fellow at the Worldwatch Institute].”

Sustainable growth?
Journalist and academic Desné Masie raises some concerns about Africa’s much-vaunted recent economic growth:

“The BIG question is whether the second scramble for Africa can contain capital flight and see corporate social responsibility distribute profits back to the communities in which companies operate.
The mining and resources scramble currently taking place also won’t have the best outcome for the environment, people and long-term sustainability. These industries are the heaviest polluters and exploiters of human capital. Green and fairtrade economies would be preferable alternatives for Africans. Excessive financial sector development should also be approached with caution.”

Four more drones
Wired’s Spencer Ackerman writes that Barack Obama’s second term as US president is likely to see increased military action in Africa, primarily in the form of “robot attacks”:

“The [drone] strikes have spread from Pakistan to Yemen to Somalia. And now that Obama’s been reelected, expect them to spread to Mali, another country most Americans neither know nor understand. The northern part of the North African country has fallen into militant hands. U.S.-aligned forces are currently plotting to take it back. The coming arrival of Army Gen. David Rodriguez, the former day-to-day commander of the Afghanistan war, as leader of U.S. forces in Africa is a signal that Obama wants someone experienced at managing protracted wars on a continent where large troop footprints aren’t available.”

Double non-taxation
The Tax Justice Network takes issue with “the world’s dominant system for taxing multinational corporations” and the way discussions on international corporate taxation tend to get framed:

“[The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development] seems paranoid about the possibility of double taxation, but seems rather unconcerned about what is sometimes called ‘double non-taxation’ – that is, where the income is taxed nowhere. But whose interests are more important here? Those of the multinationals? Or those of the wider societies upon which they depend, which provide these multinationals with so many benefits that many seem unwilling to pay taxes to support?
On the subject of double taxation, TJN would also add that one might consider it an issue that is being framed in the wrong way. It is complex, but typically a company subject to ‘double taxation’ might suffer it only to a certain degree, so it may suffers an effective tax rate of, say, 25 percent instead of 22 percent if it weren’t suffering ‘double taxation’. If one talks about ‘double taxation’ then accounting firms and multinationals will complain bitterly – but if you talk instead about a somewhat higher effective tax rate, then you have the basis for a far more reasonable discussion.”

Arms treaty optimism
Reuters reports that the US has joined 156 other countries in voting for resuming efforts to hash out a UN agreement that would regulate “the $70 billion global conventional arms trade”:

“U.S. officials have acknowledged privately that the treaty under discussion would have no effect on domestic gun sales and ownership because it would apply only to exports.
The main reason the arms trade talks are taking place at all is that the United States – the world’s biggest arms trader accounting for more than 40 percent of global conventional arms transfers – reversed U.S. policy on the issue after Obama was first elected and decided in 2009 to support a treaty.”

Cruel and unusual treatment
Human Rights Watch’s Ian Kysel argues for an end to solitary confinement of children in US prisons, which he calls “a gross violation of human rights and constitutional law”:

“We don’t let teens under 18 vote. We don’t let them buy cigarettes or beer. Yet we have no problem treating them like adults when they are sent to jail or prison for serious crimes.

Solitary confinement is a common practice in U.S. jails and prisons, and one that has been the subject of increasing scrutiny in recent years due to its cruelty. An estimated 95,000 people under 18 were held in adult jails and prisons in the United States last year. Many are held in isolation for 22 to 24 hours a day, in some cases for weeks or months at a time. While there, they are often denied exercise, counseling, education and family visits.”

Latest Developments, September 26

In the latest news and analysis…

Alternatives to development
Inter Press Service reports on last week’s third international degrowth conference in Venice:

“Renouncing economic growth in the North, say the proponents, would not only allow humanity to stay within the ecological limits of the planet but also contribute to restoring global social justice.

‘But what degrowth proponents (who reject economic growth) must be aware of,’ [Colombian anthropologist Arturo] Escobar told IPS, ‘is that development is much more than growth. So it might be that the global South needs some growth, in areas such as health, education, employment, decent standards of living, if this is subordinated to the principle of buen vivir and not under the currently predominant vision of development.
‘At the same time, the growth vision cannot be rejected for the North and considered acceptable for the South; the South does not need development, it does not even need sustainable development, it needs alternatives to development.’ ”

Double-tap strikes
The Independent reports on new research that suggests CIA drone tactics in Pakistan are relying increasingly on repeated, staggered attacks that are “killing an even greater number of civilians”:

“As the drone circled it let off the first of its Hellfire missiles, slamming into a small house and reducing it to rubble. When residents rushed to the scene of the attack to see if they could help they were struck again.
According to reports at the time, three local rescuers were killed by a second missile whilst a further strike killed another three people five minutes later. In all, somewhere between 17 and 24 people are thought to have been killed in the attack.”

Production chain problems
Reuters reports that controversial Apple supplier Foxconn had to close one of its Chinese plants for 24 hours following an outbreak of violence that highlighted “regimented dormitory life and thuggish security as major sources of labour tension”:

“[The violence] marked a blow to Apple’s top supplier as it ramps up production to meet orders for the iPhone 5 and seeks to rehabilitate its image after a labour audit this year found flaws.

Some labour groups say ultimate responsibility for strains rests with Apple, which they say puts profit above workers’ welfare despite pledges to cut overtime hours and improve workers’ livelihoods.
‘The whole Apple production chain has problems,’ said Li Qiang, with the New York-based China Labor Watch, that has scrutinized Apple and Foxconn for years.
‘Its sales and marketing strategy involves launching a product suddenly, without maintaining much inventory … so the subsequent product shortages help build demand, but also place extreme pressures on workers.’ ”

Global warming case
The Connecticut Law Tribune reports that a US court has ruled against residents of an Alaskan village seeking damages from major oil companies for allegedly changing the environment through pollution:

“The village, with a population of 400, is composed of 97 percent Inupiat Native Alaskans. The plaintiffs alleged that greenhouse gas emissions caused by the companies’ products had eroded sea ice that hugs the village’s coastline and protects it from powerful winter storms. The plaintiffs claimed that the entire village needed to move, at a cost of up to $400 million, to survive.

Other defendants in the case [besides ExxonMobil, BP America and Chevron] included ConocoPhillips, Royal Dutch Shell, the AES Corp., Duke Energy Corp., and Edison International”

Self-investigating
Wayne State University’s Peter Henning writes that in the US, “much of the effort to police corporate misconduct seems to have been shifted to lawyers retained by the companies under investigation”:

“Companies would prefer not to conduct an investigation at all. But having a law firm they hired overseeing the inquiry means they can maintain control over information, and minimize any surprises.

When lawyers report their conclusions, are they free from bias about the company that is also paying their bills?”

Gorillas over profits
Reuters reports that the UK government has expressed its opposition to a British company exploring for oil in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Virunga National Park:

“ ‘We have informed Soco and urge the government of DR Congo to fully respect the international conventions to which it is signatory,’ a foreign office spokesperson said in a statement seen by Reuters.
‘Foreign investments in sectors such as hydrocarbons … can play a vital role in boosting development of the DRC … Such investment needs to be done responsibly and sustainably, in compliance with local law and conforming to international standards,’ the statement said.”

Disarmament disarmed
Former Australian foreign minister Gareth Evans describes the latest news regarding the global nuclear disarmament process as “bleak”:

“There are those who will say that it is naïve to want a world free of nuclear weapons, much less to think that it can be achieved. But it is not naïve to be concerned about the most indiscriminately inhumane weapons of destruction ever invented – 23,000 of which still exist – with a combined destructive capability of 150,000 Hiroshima bombs. And it is not naïve to believe that non-proliferation and disarmament are inextricably connected: that so long as any state retains nuclear weapons, others will want them.
The genuinely naïve – or ignorant – position is to believe that statesmanship and foolproof controls, rather than sheer dumb luck, have enabled the world to go almost seven decades without a nuclear-weapons catastrophe. It is not naïve to believe that nuclear deterrence is both fragile operationally, and of thoroughly dubious utility in sustaining the peace. Nor is it naïve to believe that even if nuclear weapons cannot be un-invented, they can ultimately be outlawed.”

Measuring poverty
The UN News Centre reports that the President of the Dominican Republic, Danilo Medina Sanchez, has criticized the continued use of  “ ‘one-dimensional measurements’ centred on monetary income” for assessing a country’s development:

“He noted that the ‘optimism’ of international poverty measures does not seem to agree with the perception of many people around the world, who feel that the growth in gross domestic product has done nothing to lessen their sense of despair, nor, in particular, discontent among youth, who are not finding decent jobs.”

Latest Developments, June 22

 

In the latest news and analysis…

Epic fail
The Guardian reports that major NGOs are slamming world leaders for their unwillingness to make firm commitments at the Rio+20 summit on sustainable development:

“ ‘They say they can’t put money on the table because of the economic crisis, but they spend money on greedy banks and on saving those who caused the crisis. They spend $1 trillion a year on subsidies for fossil fuels and then tell us they don’t have any money to give to sustainable development,’ [said Greenpeace’s Daniel Mittler]”

ACTA rejected
Reuters reports that the European Parliament’s trade committee has voted down the proposed Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, which enjoyed the support of the European Commission but faced widespread public opposition:

“The cross-party vote is a signal the legislature will reject ACTA in a final vote on July 4, the first time the European Parliament would write off an international trade agreement since an increase in its powers in 2008.
[British MEP David] Martin said the European Parliament has the authority to ratify commercial treaties, meaning that rejection would preclude any EU member state from signing up on its own.”

Refugee drownings
The Associated Press reports that “scores” of people thought to be asylum seekers may have drowned after a ship capsized between Indonesia and Australia:

“Christmas Island, in the Indian Ocean, is closer to Indonesia than the Australian mainland. It is a popular target for a growing number of asylum seekers, many from Iran, Afghanistan and Sri Lanka, who attempt to reach Australia on overcrowded fishing boats from Indonesia – sometimes with deadly consequences.”

Renditions Inc.
Reprieve has released the first in a series of investigations outing companies alleged to have benefited from the CIA practice of sending suspected terrorists to “black sites,” in this case, a secret prison in Poland:

“The documents show how:
– Private military contractor DynCorp Systems and Solutions arranged the trip for the US Government at a cost of over $330,000
– A Gulfstream jet, identified as N63MU and operated by First Flight / Airborne Inc. carried out the mission
– The round trip from Washington DC passed through Anchorage and Osaka, picked up the prisoners in Bangkok, and transported them via Dubai to the remote Szymany airfield in Poland, before returning via London Luton
– Trip planners Universal Weather and Aviation arranged logistics for the trip”

New pharma plan
Intellectual Property Watch reports that a new pharmaceutical industry initiative, the HIV Medicines Alliance, ostensibly aimed at facilitating access to HIV treatments for poor people, is raising questions about whether it represents a “good-faith effort”:

“Looking at the draft charter from early June, the initiative aims to encourage companies to share in-kind support and patented products royalty-free to least-developed countries under arrangements with generics companies, and demonstrates flexibility on industry’s part.
But it could stop short of a firm commitment to lower prices and availability. For instance, the draft language states that it would ‘work to enable the availability of medicines developed through this Alliance at the lowest possible prices,’ which is perhaps different than stating that the medicines will be available and at prices poor populations can afford.
The new initiative, organised by the Wellcome Trust, reportedly involves Johnson & Johnson and Merck, two companies that have declined to enter negotiations with the [Medicines] Patent Pool.”

Robin Hood in America
Inter Press Service reports that 52 financial sector professionals have signed a letter calling on the US Congress to adopt a financial transaction tax:

“The tax would cover stock trading, derivatives and other financial instruments, but, proponents say, would have a significant impact only on so-called high-frequency trades, in which computer-driven speculators typically hold stocks for mere milliseconds.
‘These taxes will rebalance financial markets away from a short-term trading mentality that has contributed to instability in our financial markets,’ the letter stated. ‘The primary role of financial markets is to raise investment, allocate resources efficiently, and mitigate risk. However, much of today’s financial activity does not contribute to these goals.’ ”

Secret talks
The Globe and Mail’s Gary Mason expresses surprise at the apparent lack of public concern over the “clandestine nature” of Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations:

“According to Public Citizen, the trade deal would limit the extent to which signatory countries could regulate foreign firms operating within their boundaries, effectively giving them greater freedoms than domestic firms.
It also reveals that all of the countries except Australia have agreed to terms around the operation of foreign tribunals, which would arbitrate disputes. The tribunals would be staffed by private-sector lawyers who would rotate between acting as judges and acting as advocates for the investors who might be suing a particular government over a TPP-related matter. Talk about a potential conflict of interest.”

Green recession
The Land Institute’s Stan Cox argues that the fixation “at the top of the global economy” on perpetual growth and ever greater profits makes it impossible to achieve environmental sustainability:

“If we regard limitless growth of the human economy as being essential, then we are asking for the impossible. We’ll burst through all nine of those [planetary] boundaries (and others), ecosystems worldwide will crash, and that will succeed in doing what we failed to do: to put a permanent stop to economic growth.
Reversal of growth could instead be achieved preemptively, to ward off such a collapse. The burden of that intentional contraction, however, must be borne by the rich corporations, governments, and populations of the global North, because that’s where the sheer volume of growth has been greatest, with a corresponding impact on the ecosphere. Impoverished nations, on the other hand, have contributed far less to global breakdown and must be permitted some headroom for the growth required to meet people’s basic needs.”