Latest Developments, July 24

In the latest news and analysis…

Supply chain ruling
Reuters reports that a US judge has upheld a rule requiring companies to disclose the use of “conflict minerals” from the Democratic Republic of Congo or surrounding countries:

“The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Business Roundtable, and the National Association of Manufacturers had challenged the conflict minerals rule, saying it was too costly and violated companies’ First Amendment free speech rights.
But in his order issued late Tuesday afternoon, [Judge Robert Wilkins of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia] rejected both of those arguments.

The ruling by Wilkins in the [Securities and Exchange Commission’s] favor comes just a few weeks after the agency lost another legal battle over a companion humanitarian Dodd-Frank rule that the Chamber and others had also challenged.
In early July, a different federal district judge tossed out the SEC’s ‘extractive resources’ rule requiring oil, gas and mining companies to disclose payments to foreign governments.”

Press pardon
McClatchy reports that the White House is “concerned and disappointed” over the release from prison of a Yemeni journalist incarcerated after reporting on US drone strikes:

“As a condition of his release, [Abdulelah Haider] Shaye will be prohibited from leaving Sanaa for two years. Nevertheless, many Yemeni journalists and local press freedom organizations responded to the news with jubilance, hailing Hadi’s actions and celebrating Shaye’s freedom.
Shaye’s release ‘is a victory for common values of media freedom, justice and human rights,’ said a statement from the Freedom Foundation, a Sanaa-based press freedom organization headed by Yemeni journalist Khaled al Hammadi. ‘Especially since President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi ordered the release of Shaye despite all the American pressures on him to keep him in prison.’ ”

Historical responsibility
Amnesty International is calling an Indian court summons of US-based Dow Chemical “an important step” toward corporate accountability over the Bhopal disaster that killed an estimated 22,000 people three decades ago:

“The company has been ordered to explain why its wholly owned subsidiary, Union Carbide Corporation (UCC), has repeatedly ignored court summons in the ongoing criminal case concerning the 1984 Bhopal disaster, where UCC is accused of ‘culpable homicide not amounting to murder’.

‘Dow’s attempt to distance itself from its wholly owned subsidiary UCC has always ignored the reality of the relationship between the two companies. Today’s court summons has confirmed that Dow itself must ensure that UCC faces up to its responsibilities,’ said [Amnesty International’s Audrey] Gaughran.”

Green light
The Washington Post reports that the CIA has received congressional approval to begin arming Syrian rebels despite “very strong concerns” about the plan:

“Both the House and Senate [intelligence committees] voted on the administration’s plan last week, officials said.
The agreement allows money already in the CIA’s budget to be reprogrammed for the Syria operation, a covert action that President Obama approved early last month. The infrastructure for the program, which also includes training, logistics and intelligence assistance — most of it based in Jordan — is already in place and the arms would begin to flow within the next several weeks.”

Compliance optional
The author of the Economist’s Democracy in America blog writes that the US government has rarely respected a decades-old prohibition on US aid to “coup regimes”:

“The Foreign Assistance Act of 1961, the act that initially rationalised foreign-aid policy under a single budget authority, provides that ‘none of the funds appropriated or otherwise made available pursuant to this Act shall be obligated or expended to finance directly any assistance to any country whose duly elected head of government is deposed by a military coup or decree.’
So, how many times have elected heads of governments receiving American aid been overthrown in coups since 1961, and in how many cases did America cut off that aid? As far as I can tell, the answers are: lots, and once or twice.”

Food conquest
The Guardian reports on concerns that the US is trying to force genetically modified food on Africa without proper public consultation:

“Food Sovereignty Ghana and other domestic organisations accuse the US and other foreign donors of promoting GM foods to west African countries, and tying aid to implementation.
According to a leaked cable, the US government was heavily involved in drafting Ghana’s 2011 Biosafety Act, which provided a framework for the introduction of GM foods. The US aid department

[Food Sovereignty Ghana’s Duke] Tagoe said: ‘Farmers in Ghana have had their own way of keeping seeds year after year. If these policies are allowed to manifest, Ghanaian farmers will have to change money into foreign [currency] in order to purchase seeds from overseas firms. The economic impact on the lives of the farmers will be disastrous. The origin of food is seed. Whoever controls the seed controls the entire food chain. These seeds are not owned by any African entity, they are owned by American companies.’ ”

Congo forests
Global Witness takes issue with a new report that suggests “controlled timber management” has slowed deforestation rates in the Congo basin:

“There is little evidence to back up such claims, while the study ignores threats from the expansion of illegal logging operations, large-scale agricultural investments and palm oil plantations.
‘This is a shortsighted and misleading study. The world’s second largest rainforest is losing 2000 square km – an area 34 times the size of Manhattan – every year. This is totally unsustainable, and it’s set to get worse. When the Democratic Republic of Congo‘s freeze on new logging is lifted and the forest has been parcelled up for different commercial uses, we’ll see much more deforestation. The idea that things are moving in the right direction is ludicrous,’ said Alexandra Pardal of Global Witness.”

Mutual learning
TRANSCEND Peace University’s Johan Galtung lists his prescriptions for attaining “peace with our futures”:

“Fight inequality, boycott companies with CEOs making more than five to 10 times what the workers earn, switch to cooperatives, transfer accounts to savings banks, introduce a sales tax of five percent for financial transactions to finance a living wage and to put a brake on insane speculation, increase the quantity and quality of mediation and nonviolence all over, fight for democracy with transparency, dialogue, petitions, referenda, pick the best from worldviews, both-and, not either-or.
Islam offers togetherness and sharing needed in the West, the West offers diversity and freedom needed in Islam; go for mutual learning.”

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Latest Developments, February 6

In the latest news and analysis…

Media silence
The Washington Post reports that it was one of a number of major news organizations that granted a request not to reveal the existence of a drone base in Saudi Arabia:

“The base was established two years ago to intensify the hunt against al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, as the affiliate in Yemen is known. Brennan, who previously served as the CIA’s station chief in Saudi Arabia, played a key role in negotiations with Riyadh over locating an agency drone base inside the kingdom.
The Washington Post had refrained from disclosing the location at the request of the administration, which cited concern that exposing the facility would undermine operations against an al-Qaeda affiliate regarded as the network’s most potent threat to the United States, as well as potentially damage counterterrorism collaboration with Saudi Arabia.
The Post learned Tuesday night that another news organization was planning to reveal the location of the base, effectively ending an informal arrangement among several news organizations that had been aware of the location for more than a year.”

Extraordinary practices
A new report released by the Open Society Foundations reveals the scope of international cooperation with the CIA’s rendition program, a program that was never shut down:

“At least 136 individuals were reportedly extraordinarily rendered or secretly detained by the CIA and at least 54 governments reportedly participated in the CIA’s secret detention and extraordinary rendition program; classified government documents may reveal many more.

President Obama’s 2009 Executive Order repudiating torture does not repudiate the CIA extraordinary rendition program. It was specifically crafted to preserve the CIA’s authority to detain terrorist suspects on a short-term, transitory basis prior to rendering them to another country for interrogation or trial.”

Targeting corruptors
The Globe and Mail reports that the Canadian government is introducing legislation to crack down on companies that pay bribes to foreign officials:

“In addition to allowing prosecutors here to go after Canadian companies for bribes they pay abroad, the new law will outlaw so-called ‘facilitation payments’ – the grease money paid to foreign officials even if it’s not directly linked to gaining a business deal or advantage. Those payments, technically different from a bribe, will not be immediately made illegal, but the government will outlaw them at a later date, presumably to give companies warning of the changing rules.

Although Canada signed an international convention on combating bribery in 1998, it has long been criticized for doing too little to enforce anti-bribery measures. The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, which reviews countries’ action to combat bribery, has repeatedly issued reports calling Canada’s enforcement weak, most recently in 2011.”

Counting the dead
Agence France-Presse reports that France has released its first official, if somewhat vague, death toll from its offensive in Mali, though there was no mention of civilian casualties:

“Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said the 26-day military intervention has killed ‘several hundred’ Islamist militants as its air and ground forces chased them from their northern strongholds into remote mountainous terrain in the far northeast.

France’s sole fatality so far has been a helicopter pilot who was killed at the start of the military operation, while ‘two or three’ soldiers have suffered light injuries, Le Drian said.
Mali said 11 of its troops were killed and 60 wounded after the battle at Konna last month but it has not since released a new death toll.”

More guns
Reuters reports that the US is calling for a resumption of arms sales to Somalia where a UN embargo has been in place since 1992:

“Diplomats said Britain and France have been reluctant to support ending the arms embargo. The Somalia and Eritrea Monitoring Group, which monitors compliance with the sanctions regime, has also opposed the idea of lifting it, U.N. envoys said.
Those who oppose getting rid of the arms embargo say Somalia’s security sector still includes elements close to warlords and militants, an allegation the Somali government rejects.”

Good times, bad times
Reuters also reports that Tanzania, Africa’s fourth-largest gold producer, has said it favours a flexible approach to taxing mining companies in order to compensate for fluctuating global prices:

“ ‘If [the mining companies] are making losses, will they keep quiet? When they are going to make huge losses they are going to approach the government,’ [minerals minister Sospeter] Muhongo told Reuters on the sidelines of an African mining conference in Cape Town.
‘If they are going to make huge profits, we will also approach them,’ he said.
Asked if this meant windfall taxes could be introduced, he replied ‘yes’.
Many African governments say they need to extract more revenue from their mining and oil industries to spread the benefits of resource wealth more widely.”

The world according to Fisk
The Tyee reports on a recent talk given by veteran journalist Robert Fisk, in which he expressed his views that so-called Arab Spring protesters sought dignity over democracy and that journalists must be “neutral and unbiased on the side of those who suffer”:

“And why not democracy? Because the western democracies are precisely the countries that have imposed their will, and installed dictators, in the Arab lands since the end of World War I. The West, he said, thinks it has a right and a duty to do so.
‘But these are not our people,’ Fisk said; they have a different history and culture from the West, and we have no business”

Fighting transparency
Global Witness’s Simon Taylor calls on aerospace/defense giant Boeing to stop opposing US legislation requiring companies to monitor their supply chain for conflict minerals from DR Congo:

“The Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers and the Business Roundtable have filed a lawsuit against the SEC to overturn the conflict minerals rule.

Boeing, which has a seat on NAM’s board and whose representative is the executive committee chair of the Business Roundtable, appears to be at the forefront of the fight to overturn the rule.

In comments submitted to the SEC, Boeing indicated that the final rule on 1502 would be too costly and burdensome to comply with, given ‘the complexity of modern supply chains.’
As the world’s largest aerospace company, Boeing’s influence within the industry — let alone over its own supply chain — is considerable. Boeing’s attempt to kill Section 1502 through anonymous corporate lobby groups is misguided and irresponsible.”