Latest Developments, October 25

In the latest news and analysis…

Cheap oil
Reuters reports on a study that suggests “cut price deals” between politicians and multinational oil companies have cost Nigeria billions in lost revenue over the last decade:

“Nigeria LNG, a company jointly owned by the [Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation], Shell, Total and Eni had paid the country for gas at cut-down prices before exporting it to international markets, the report said.
Total and Eni declined to comment because they invest in but do not operate Nigeria LNG, the role played by Shell.
‘The estimated cumulative of the deficit between value obtainable on the international market and what is currently being obtained from NLNG, over the 10 year period, amounts to approximately $29 billion,’ the report said.”

Pollution problems
The Blacksmith Institute and Green Cross have released a new report that claims toxic pollution from industrial sites imposes a “global burden of disease” comparable to that of malaria and tuberculosis:

“E-waste is the general term for electronic waste from discarded computers and printers, cell phones, televisions and other related consumer products. Consumer demand drives the technological innovation that creates a cycle of obsolescence in which new devices are turned over almost yearly. This constant stream of new products results in an urgent and complex waste problem, it is estimated that 500 million computers became obsolete in the U.S. between 1997 and 2007, and computers represent only a small percentage of e-waste. Total global e-waste estimates number between 20 and 50 million tons annually. The waste is rarely processed in developed countries; an estimated 70 percent of it is imported to China. In the Blacksmith Institute’s database there are almost 50 sites polluted by e-waste, potentially putting close to 600,000 people at risk. Of the 50 sites, majorities are located in China with Africa and South America holding several sites as well.”

Water futures
The City University of New York’s Frederick Kaufman argues that the establishment of a “global water commodities market” must not be allowed to happen:

“Making money come out of the tap means that fresh water must be given a price anywhere it is traded — a global price that can be arbitraged across the continents. Those in Mumbai or midtown Manhattan who understand the increasing value of water in the world economy will speculate on this undervalued ‘asset’, and their investments will drive up the cost everywhere. A water calamity in China or India — and the food inflation, political instability and humanitarian crisis that will surely follow — will reverberate in price spikes from London to Sydney. This is how bankers will profit.
Economists have begun to model a global water-based futures market featuring financial puts, calls, shorts, longs, exchange-traded funds, indices of indices, options piled on top of options, and all sorts of opportunity for over-the-counter swaps.”

Dead activists
The Mex Files reports that two opponents of a Canadian-owned mine have been shot dead in northern Mexico:

“[Ismael Solorio Urrutia] had met with Chihuahua officials last week to complain about threats against him, his family and members of El Barzon by employees of the Cascabel mine in Ejido Benito Juarez (San Buenaventura Municipio). The mine is owned by the Canadian firm Mag Silver. Both Solorio and his son, Eric, were physically attacked by mining company employees on 13 October.

As of right now, members of El Barzon, and other groups are occupying the state capital building, demanding  Governor César Duarte provide answers to what they are calling a ‘Crime of State’. El Observador (Chihuahua, Chihuahua) is reporting that unofficial sources are saying four persons were detained by the army as the supposed hitmen, but — as always — who pulled the trigger is less important than who ordered the triggers pulled.”

Risky project
The Bank Information Center reports that the Inter-American Development Bank has agreed to finance hydroelectric projects in Panama that violate its own policy:

“An IDB audit confirms that the Bank approved the loan to co-finance two dams in Panama despite knowledge that the project fails to meet Bank safeguards. The Pando y Monte Lirio dams will divert 90 percent of the River’s water, together with 25 other similar dams in construction or planned for the Chiriquí Viejo River, will transform it into a series of isolated pools with obvious harm to the region’s biodiversity and people that depend on the river.

There is still no acceptable cumulative impact study. The ecological flows study represents the single most important risk assessment instrument, which the client has repeatedly missed deadlines to produce.”

Kill list redux
Wired’s Spencer Ackerman describes the Obama administration’s newly revealed so-called disposition matrix as a “permanent robotic death list”:

“There’s a rhetorical consensus in Washington that, as Romney said at Monday’s debate, the U.S. ‘can’t kill our way out of this mess.’ It’s spoken so often it’s a cliche. But in practice, killing appears to be the mainstay of U.S. efforts: nearly 3,000 people have been slain by drone strikes, according to a Post online database, including an undisclosed number of civilians. And the security agencies are preparing for even more.

Obama did not run for president to preside over the codification of a global war fought in secret. But that’s his legacy. Administration officials embraced drone strikes because they viewed them as an acceptable alternative to conventional ground warfare, which it considered too costly and too public, but the tactic has now become practically the entire strategy.”

Trade negligence
Amnesty International’s Alex Neve and Kathy Price argue that the Canadian government is not living up to its promise to monitor the human rights impact of its free trade deal with Colombia:

“The trade deal opens the door for ever greater numbers of Canadian companies to join the influx into Indigenous lands. That in turn gives rise to the troubling possibility of Canadian companies being implicated in human rights violations or benefiting from abuses that have already taken place.

To win Liberal Party support for implementing legislation, the government did agree to yearly human rights reports after the deal was launched, but the reports lack credibility since they are prepared by the two governments themselves and have no teeth to act on recommendations.
By law, the first report was due four months ago, in mid-May. Shockingly, it contained no information at all about human rights impacts. The government said it was too early and that there was not yet enough information to assess.”

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Latest Developments, October 24

In the latest news and analysis…

Unspeakable issue
The New York Times reports that, for the first time since 1988, climate change did not come up during the US presidential debates:

“Throughout the campaign, the candidates have talked a great deal about energy, but it has essentially been a competition in who could heap the most praise on fossil fuels. They tended to avoid any explicit linkage between their energy proposals and climate risk.

‘No candidate has been able to portray climate change policy as a win-win,’ Eugene M. Trisko, a lawyer and consultant for the United Mine Workers of America, said on Tuesday. ‘That’s because they understand that the root of climate change mitigation strategy is higher energy costs. It’s an energy tax, and that’s something you don’t want to talk about in a debate.’ ”

Disposition matrix
The Washington Post reports on a new American database, the “disposition matrix,” suggesting the US government intends to continue carrying out targeted killings for years to come:

“The matrix contains the names of terrorism suspects arrayed against an accounting of the resources being marshaled to track them down, including sealed indictments and clandestine operations. U.S. officials said the database is designed to go beyond existing kill lists, mapping plans for the ‘disposition’ of suspects beyond the reach of American drones.
Although the matrix is a work in progress, the effort to create it reflects a reality setting in among the nation’s counterterrorism ranks: The United States’ conventional wars are winding down, but the government expects to continue adding names to kill or capture lists for years.”

Phantom menace
Human Rights Watch’s Bill Frelick and Bangkok-based human rights lawyer Michael Timmins slam the apparent spread of Australia’s “punitive asylum policies” to neighbouring New Zealand:

“The bill provides for the near-automatic detention for six months and beyond of so-called ‘mass arrivals’ (11 people or more) by boat or other unscheduled craft who are ‘potentially illegal.’
What mass arrivals? Notwithstanding 18th and 19th century Europeans who might have met the bill’s ‘mass arrivals’ definition, no modern-era boatload of asylum seekers has ever reached New Zealand. Even if one were to arrive, this would in no way overload New Zealand’s existing asylum system. The hypothetical ‘risk’ does not justify the abdication of principle.”

Justice deferred
The Wall Street Journal reports that the UK looks set to adopt deferred-prosecution agreements, a tool much used by US prosecutors in the fight against corporate wrongdoing, such as the bribing of foreign officials:

“Under a deferred-prosecution agreement, criminal charges would be dropped after a period of time if an organization complies with the terms of a deal, which could include the imposition fines, disgorgement and orders to implement measures to prevent future wrongdoing.

The [US] agreements don’t require a judge’s involvement, and there’s no one to question the fairness of the agreement or to second-guess its terms, as Dealbook’s Peter Henning pointed out in September.
Under the U.K. proposal, however, a judge will have the power to block an agreement if they don’t agree that the settlement is appropriate, the consultation report said.”

Stolen oil
Reuters reports that a Nigerian politician has begun campaigning for a global solution to his country’s oil-theft problem, given that an estimated 90% of Nigeria’s pilfered crude ends up on world markets:

“Oil companies say so called ‘bunkering’ — tapping into oil pipelines to steal the crude — and other forms of oil theft are on the rise in Nigeria, despite an amnesty that was meant to end a conflict there in 2009 over the distribution of oil wealth.
Yet while local gangs hacking into pipelines to steal small quantities for local refining are the most visible sign, it is industrial scale oil theft involving collusion by politicians, the military, Western banks and global organised crime that is the real drain on Nigeria’s resources, [Niger Delta politician Dele Cole] said.
‘International theft is diverting huge quantities … and the sophistication of the exercise — from breaching the pipeline, to having barges, to knowing when ships are at the port, to being paid — is major,’ he said.”

Unwanted comeback
Reuters also reports that malaria “is being transmitted from person to person within Greek borders” for the first time since 1974:

“Species of the blood-sucking insects that can carry exotic-sounding tropical infections like malaria, West Nile Virus, chikungunya and dengue fever are enjoying the extra bit of warmth climate change is bringing to parts of southern Europe.
And with austerity budgets, a collapsing health system, political infighting and rising xenophobia all conspiring to allow pest and disease control measures here to slip through the net, the mosquitoes are biting back.”

Better than nothing
The BBC reports that 10 EU countries – including Germany, France, Italy and Spain – plan to forge ahead with a financial transaction tax despite failing to obtain the support of all 27 member countries:

“Governments across Europe have been implementing drastic austerity measures to cut debt levels, and taxing banks is seen by some as an important way to raise revenues, particularly while the economic recovery remains so fragile.
Opponents argue that unless it is adopted universally, the tax would drive business to financial centres that did not impose the tax.”

Stacked deck
The University of London’s Simon Reid-Henry argues that, while dependency theory has faced some valid criticism over the years, its focus on “the problems of uneven starting points and the structural unfairness of global capitalism” remains relevant today:

“And the underlying critique of western chauvinism (that western-style capitalist democracy is the best model for the rest) remains pertinent when people persist in talking of development ‘ladders’, for example. Perhaps more important, Frank’s belief that we too readily overlook the way that too many of the privileges of the rich nations are not only unearned but predicated upon the prior and active removal of that wealth from others is, if anything, making something of a comeback in these days of heightened discussion of inequality.”