Latest Developments, August 30

In the latest news and analysis…

No to war
The New York Times reports that a parliamentary vote has prompted UK Prime Minister David Cameron to say Britain will not take part in any military strikes on Syria:

“It was a stunning defeat for a government that had seemed days away from joining the United States and France in a short, punitive cruise-missile attack on the Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad for reportedly using chemical weapons against civilians.
Thursday evening’s vote was nonbinding, but in a short statement to Parliament afterward, Mr. Cameron said that he respected the will of Parliament and that it was clear to him that the British people did not want to see military action over Syria. ‘I get it,’ he said.
The government motion was defeated 285 to 272.”

Problems of conscience
Although the US and France are still keen to attack Syria, Slate’s Matthew Yglesias argues there are better ways for Americans to reduce suffering in the world:

“Historically, military intervention on the side of rebel groups has increased the pace of civilian deaths, not decreased it. More to the point, if you put arbitrary framing issues aside, the United States stands by and does nothing in the face of human tragedy all the time. Millions of desperate people in Haiti, Mexico, Nicaragua, and elsewhere would love to escape dire poverty by moving to the United States to work, and we don’t let them. Nobody in Washington is doing anything about the ongoing civil war in Congo.

Another way of looking at it—the bleeding-heart, correct way—is that Americans ought to care more about the lives of people outside our borders. That we ought to be more open to foreign immigration and foreign trade to help bolster foreign economies. That when the Office of Management and Budget does cost-benefit analysis for regulatory measures to curb greenhouse gas emissions, it ought to consider the impact on foreigners.”

Black budget
The Washington Post has published bits and pieces of the US National Intelligence Program’s secret $52.6 billion budget, revealing among other things that the Obama administration has embraced “offensive cyber operations”:

“The 178-page budget summary for the National Intelligence Program details the successes, failures and objectives of the 16 spy agencies that make up the U.S. intelligence community, which has 107,035 employees.

The Post is withholding some information after consultation with U.S. officials who expressed concerns about the risk to intelligence sources and methods. Sensitive details are so pervasive in the documents that The Post is publishing only summary tables and charts online.”

UN inaction
Amnesty International argues the UN “singularly failed” to investigate murders and abductions while it was in charge of Kosovo after NATO’s 1999 bombing campaign:

“ ‘[The UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK)]’s failure to investigate what constituted a widespread, as well as a systematic, attack on a civilian population and, potentially, crimes against humanity, has contributed to the climate of impunity prevailing in Kosovo,’ said Sian Jones, Amnesty International’s expert on Kosovo.
‘There is no statute of limitations on crimes against humanity. They must be investigated and the families of the abducted and murdered must receive redress. The UN should not be allowed to shirk its responsibility any longer.’ ”

Legal troubles
Buzzfeed reports that US financial giant JPMorgan Chase faces at least 43 “material” lawsuits:

“Of course, the so-called ‘London Whale’ case that resulted in $6 billion in losses for the bank is getting most of the attention, with news this week that the financial powerhouse may settle with U.S. and UK regulators for about $600 million. And there’s also last week’s headline grabbing story that there is an inquiry into potential bribery charges stemming from hiring practices in its Chinese offices.
But other allegations against the bank span from fraud to breaching both its contracts and its fiduciary duty, among many other charges. According to SEC documents, JPMorgan estimates its combined legal losses could be as much as $6.8 billion — possibly more if unforeseen damages are brought this year. What’s more, the firm’s annual legal costs over the last two years have been about $4.9 billion each year.”

Secular demands
The Globe and Mail reports on the controversy over Quebec’s yet-to-be-unveiled “charter of values”:

“The measures being considered reportedly include a prohition on state employees from wearing religious articles in schools, daycares, hospitals and other state workplaces.
On Wednesday, [Federal Liberal leader Justin] Trudeau paid tribute to Martin Luther King on the 50th anniversary of his famous ‘I have a dream’ speech, saying that Dr. King ‘refused segregation … denied discrimination … refused to allow [people] to believe that they were second-class citizens.’
Continuing his speech before a crowd of about 1,500 supporters, Mr. Trudeau said, ‘We sadly see that even today, as we speak, for example of this idea of a Charter of Quebec Values, there are still those who believe that we have to choose between our religion and our Quebec identity, that there are people who are forced by the Quebec State to make irresponsible and inconceivable choices.’ ”

Cosmopolitan vision
Fifty years after Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I have a dream speech”, the Center for Global Development’s Owen Barder lays out his own global dream:

“I have a dream that we will one day take seriously the idea that we are all created equal, not just within countries but everywhere; and that we will recognize that it is as intolerable that a person’s future should be mainly determined by the place of his or her birth as it is intolerable that people’s future should be determined by the colour of his or her skin.”

CSR misunderstood
Mark Hodge of the Global Business Initiative for Human Rights warns against corporate social responsibility strategies that treat poor people “as recipients of charity and not as citizens with rights”:

“[India’s] Companies Bill also seems to convey the inexcusable message that companies can somehow offset negative impacts in one area of their work with corporate philanthropy in another. An example many in India point to is Vedanta’s ‘Creating Happiness’ campaign promoting the company’s philanthropic contributions, at the exact time it is embroiled in accusations of human rights and environmental abuses in India and internationally. The Indian ministry of environment withdrew permission for Vedanta to continue the project due to some of these concerns.”

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Latest Developments, July 18

In the latest news and analysis…

Democratic hiatus
The International Business Times picks up on a German media report that former US President Jimmy Carter said “America does not at the moment have a functioning democracy”:

“The 39th U.S. president also said he was pessimistic about the current state of global affairs, wrote Der Spiegel, because there was ‘no reason for him to be optimistic at this time.’

Carter said a bright spot was ‘the triumph of modern technology,’ which enabled the democratic uprisings of the Arab Spring; however, the NSA spying scandal, Carter said, according to Der Spiegel, endangers precisely those developments, ‘as major U.S. Internet platforms such as Google or Facebook lose credibility worldwide.’ ”

Bounty hunters
Jeune Afrique reports that France is not happy to see “20 or so” retired members of its special forces arriving in the Central African Republic:

“Commanded by Jérôme Gomboc, a former member of the French Navy’s 3rd airborne regiment, these ‘bounty hunters’ – as they are being called in Paris – are providing, among other things, round-the-clock protection for Michel Djotodia, the country’s new strongman, at Roux Camp. Over the last few days, the French embassy in Bangui has tried to convince him to send them away. It is also looking for a legal flaw in the contract with these very special retirees of the French military. But they work for a company, Roussel G-Sécurité, registered in the American state of Delaware. ‘We have no way of pressuring them,’ says Paris.” [Translated from the French.]

Euro tax haven
Reuters reports that the Dutch government is reviewing its “double taxation treaties” to see if they are unfair to poor countries:

“The Netherlands has more than 90 double taxation agreements. Several thousand international corporations, including 80 of the world’s largest, use the Netherlands to re-route profits from dividends, royalties and interest, often paying no withholding tax in the country of origin.

A June study by the Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations found that use of the Dutch tax system by multinational corporations causes 771 million euros ($1.01 billion) in annual lost tax revenue in 28 developing countries.”

Droned descendents
Nasser al-Awlaki, the father/grandfather of two American citizens killed in separate US drone strikes in Yemen, argues “a country that believes it does not even need to answer for killing its own is not the America I once knew”:

“In 2010, the Obama administration put Abdulrahman’s father, my son Anwar, on C.I.A. and Pentagon ‘kill lists’ of suspected terrorists targeted for death. A drone took his life on Sept. 30, 2011.
The government repeatedly made accusations of terrorism against Anwar — who was also an American citizen — but never charged him with a crime. No court ever reviewed the government’s claims nor was any evidence of criminal wrongdoing ever presented to a court. He did not deserve to be deprived of his constitutional rights as an American citizen and killed.

After the deaths of Abdulrahman and Anwar, I filed another lawsuit, seeking answers and accountability. The government has argued once again that its targeted killing program is beyond the reach of the courts. I find it hard to believe that this can be legal in a constitutional democracy based on a system of checks and balances.
The government has killed a 16-year-old American boy. Shouldn’t it at least have to explain why?”

RIP 1504
The American Lawyer’s Michael Goldhaber takes issue with a recent US court ruling that does away with a law requiring extractive industry companies to divulge payments to foreign governments:

“In accepting the arguments of the American Petroleum Institute and tossing the ‘Publish What You Pay’ rule, the district court for the District of Columbia was wrong on the law and wrong on the policy

The one certain consequence of section 1504’s vacatur is that the E.U.—whose directive cannot be challenged until after it is implemented by member nations—will become the policy leader in revenue transparency. The SEC should gather its nerve to re-propose its own rule, the D.C. courts should show more respect for Congress, and all players should welcome a thoughtful debate on costs and benefits.
‘The global transparency train has left the station,’ says Ian Gary of Oxfam America. The U.S. got on the train first, and the E.U. followed. Now, in a reversal of the historical pattern, the U.S. threatens to get off. It should reconsider.”

Victims’ justice
In a Warscapes Q&A, Columbia University’s Mahmood Mamdani argues that the prevailing narrative in the “human rights movement” may be an impediment to peace:

“I do not agree with the point of view that the way forward is victims’ justice. I do have a notion that the real problem, at least in the situations that I know of in the African context, is an ongoing cycle of violence. Victims and perpetrators have tended to trade places over time. Yesterday’s victims become today’s perpetrators. And ‘victims’ justice’ will simply produce another round of violence. How do you bring it to an end? That is really my question. So my answer is that we have to look beyond victims and perpetrators to the issues. What are the issues? What drives the violence? Not just in terms of criminals and criminal justice, but in terms of political justice

If the objective is to bring the cycle of violence to a conclusion, then of course one has to look beyond the victim – and, instead, to look to the victim and the perpetrator, the context, and the issues.”

Beyond aid
The Center for Global Development’s Charles Kenney and Sarah Dykstra argue “ambitious goals and a weak global partnership is not a recipe for post-2015 success”:

“But the limited (if important) impact of aid also suggests that, with a set of goals that look to be even more ambitious than the original MDGs, we should be thinking about a much wider range of policy levers in rich countries to speed development progress in poor countries. The new MDG 8, or post-2015 Goal 12, needs stronger, better language not just on aid flows, but on trade, finance, tax, illicit flows, migration, intellectual property rights, research into global public goods, commitments to the global commons and global institutions … the list is long.”

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, November 9

In the latest news and analysis…

Cluster munition comeback
The Independent reports the UK is backing a US-led proposal that would legalize virtually all cluster munitions and be “a nail in the coffin” of a two-year-old ban on the controversial weapons.
“In recent years, the UK has played a leading role in trying to rid the world of cluster bombs. It is one of 111 countries that have signed up to the Convention on Cluster Munitions, is on target to destroy its own stockpile, and has ordered the US military to remove any submunitions it holds on British soil.
But The Independent has learnt that the UK Government is supporting a Washington-led proposal that would permit the use of cluster bombs as long as they were manufactured after 1980 and had a failure rate of less than one per cent. Arms campaigners say the 1980 cut-off point is arbitrary, and that many modern cluster bombs have far higher failure rates on the field of battle than manufacturers claim.”

Corporate liability
Alliance Sud reports more than 50 organizations are calling on Switzerland to draw up laws that will require Swiss-based companies – “on a per capita basis the country has the highest number of internationally active firms” – to respect human rights and the environment while operating abroad.
“In response to pressure from public campaigns in recent years many companies have indeed adopted regulations for socially and environmentally responsible behaviour or have signed international guidelines like the Global Compact. Yet that is not enough to prevent human rights abuses and environmental destruction. These initiatives are often only about acquiring a social or a green image. Implementation depends on the goodwill of companies. Control and sanction mechanisms are either absent or very weakly formulated.”

Corporate Democracy
Harrington Investments’ Jack Ucciferri who caused a stir last month by calling the UN’s framework for business and human rights a “patently worthless document” has announced plans to launch the Corporate Democracy Initiative [DOC] and to develop “metrics to assess the ‘democracy quotient’ of publicly traded corporations.”
“The simple fact is that corporations and economic elites have too much power over governance and governments.  Power is never relinquished voluntarily.  Power must be met with power. I am not suggesting violence, but I am suggesting coercion.  Laws are coercive, binding bylaw resolutions are coercive, civil disobedience can be coercive, democratic elections are coercive.

Frameworks are not coercive, but they do take an awful lot of scarce non-profit and public sector resources to negotiate.  Now that we’re done with drafting the framework, let’s re-channel all of that energy and smarts toward more empowered forms of engagement.”

The rise of unelected officials
The Globe and Mail’s Doug Saunders writes about the rise of unelected officials in the context of Europe’s current crisis, as illustrated by the forceful speech International Monetary Fund chief Christine Lagarde delivered today in China.
“This starkly political message was being delivered by an unelected official. It joined messages delivered by European Union president Herman Van Rompuy, by European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso, by European Central Bank chief Mario Draghi – as it appears that elected leaders still do not fully agree on a path forward.
With the fate of millions of hard-pressed voters being left to unelected officials, some of them on the other side of the world, it shouldn’t be surprising that many Europeans are taking to the streets.”

World finance’s black hole
The Res Publica Foundation’s Jean-Michel Quatrepoint looks at world trade figures from the last five years to buttress his argument that international trade imbalances – and a “black hole” – lie at the heart of the current financial crisis.
“First observation: the numbers don’t add up. Logically, the total of the account balances (balance of goods and services, financial revenues and capital movements) should cancel each other out. Far from it. Each year, the discrepancy is greater. It’s the black hole of world finance. Even taking into account the margins of error and the different accounting systems, there is still a gigantic gap that no one can, or wants to, explain. No doubt because that would involve taking a close look at the reality of Chinese statistics, the accounting of big corporations, the role of tax havens, the revenues of drug trafficking and organized crime. But the World Trade Organization, the International Monetary Fund and the central banks do not want to deal with any of that. There’s an omerta over this black hole.” (Translated from the French.)

Dysfunctional disarmament
Simon Fraser University’s Paul Meyer argues multilateral disarmament efforts are in the depths of a decade-long “crisis of non-performance.”
“The designated forum for negotiation of arms control and disarmament agreements, the 65-nation Conference on Disarmament in Geneva, has not concluded any agreement since the 1996 Comprehensive (Nuclear) Test Ban Treaty. Operating under an extreme version of the consensus rule, whereby nothing can be decided unless all 65 members are in agreement, the conference has not even been able to adopt a functioning work program since 1998.
As a result, major multilateral files such as the negotiation of a ban on the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons and the prevention of an arms race in outer space go unaddressed. States shed copious tears over this lamentable situation, but take no effective measures to fix it.”

New imperialism
The Daily Maverick writes that former South African president Thabo Mbeki is concerned NATO’s Libyan intervention was the beginning of a new imperialism that threatens to recolonize Africa.
“He points out that Nato far exceeded its UN mandate in Libya, which allowed for the protection of civilians, not regime change. And he argues that the intervention was never motivated by anything other than a fig leaf to legitimise the involvement of foreign powers. ‘It is clear that the beginning of the peaceful demonstrations in Libya served as a signal to various Western countries to intervene to effect “regime change”. These countries then used the Security Council to authorise their intervention under the guise of the so-called “right-to-protect”.’”

Latest Developments, October 13

In the latest news and analysis…

The instability of inequality
New York University economist Nouriel Roubini argues this year’s wave of protests, from Cairo to New York, are the result of the world’s growing economic and political inequality.
“Any economic model that does not properly address inequality will eventually face a crisis of legitimacy. Unless the relative economic roles of the market and the state are rebalanced, the protests of 2011 will become more severe, with social and political instability eventually harming long-term economic growth and welfare.”

Shifting European priorities
Agence France-Presse reports the EU, the world’s biggest donor, has announced changes to its aid program that will shift attention from major emerging nations like China and India toward agriculture and energy in the poorest countries.
“With 75 percent of the world’s poor live in middle-income countries, ActionAid called the changes an ‘alarming shift’ that moves ‘EU aid away from supporting poor people to end poverty and towards promoting economic growth.’
Laura Sullivan, EU development policy expert at ActionAid, said the reform ‘assumes money from economic growth will trickle down to the world’s poor but this has been tried before and it doesn’t work.’”

Band-aid solutions
The Tuvalu Faith Based Youth network’s Redina Auina says emergency assistance for the current water crisis is appreciated but what the Pacific island nation really needs is for rich countries to help over the long term by reducing their emission levels.
“It’s like they are applying one sticking plaster at a time, which is not going to solve the issue. While much more can be done in terms of improving Tuvalu’s water security and water conservation measures, there is not much more the island can do to increase its resilience to climate change.”

A call for humility
Howard Buffett, philanthropist and son of billionaire Warren Buffett, has called for more nuanced and humble thinking when it comes to finding solutions for improved agriculture in Africa.
“Stop thinking that what we know how to do is going to work for somebody else,” Buffett said. “We need to be intelligent enough and humble enough to admit that we don’t know everything and that we certainly don’t know some things in other parts of the world that need to happen.”

Rotten aid
Tales from the Hood’s J. gives the impression the international aid industry is almost (but not quite) completely irredeemable.
“The hardest part of this job is not seeing awful things in the field. It’s not repeatedly witnessing the suffering of others and being able to offer little as a remedy, dealing with corrupt district officials, getting sick, or spending too long away from one’s family too often (hard as those things truly can be). The hardest part of this job is simply dealing with the crushing dumbassery of a system that fundamentally lacks real incentives for getting right what it claims as its core purpose.”

Defending Millennium Villages
In the wake of a recent Guardian piece laying out some of the criticisms levelled at the Millennium Villages Project, Columbia economist Jeffrey Sachs offers a defence of his brainchild.
“Contrary to the loose talk of critics, this project is not throwing “gazillions” of dollars at poverty. The project spent $60 on each villager every year between 2006 and 2011 to build the capital of the community. That prompted further contributions from the government itself and in-kind contributions from the community. This is a replicable and scalable budget model, well within the official development assistance amounts donors have long promised. It’s nonsense to suggest otherwise, or to change the game now this amount has been shown to work so powerfully.”

Unconstitutional IP rules?
US Democratic senator Ron Wyden has challenged the Obama administration’s right to sign the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement without Congress’s approval.
“Wyden demanded that the administration either declare that ACTA does not create any international obligations for the US and therefore is ‘non-binding,’ or provide a legal rationale to the Congress and the public as to why ACTA should not be considered by Congress.”

Full and unlimited democracy
Author Dan Hind draws on history to suggest the world’s current problems, in rich and poor countries, are due primarily to a lack of democracy.
“In the late 1840s, typhus fever broke out in Upper Silesia, a Prussian province in what is now Poland. The education ministry sent a physician called Rudolf Virchow to investigate. While Virchow identified insanitary working conditions as the immediate cause of the epidemic, he traced its origins to the region’s lack of political liberty. In the absence of free institutions the inhabitants were ‘poor, ignorant and apathetic’. In order to prevent a recurrence of the disease Virchow recommended a remedy that he summarised in a few words: ‘full and unlimited democracy’.”