Latest Developments, May 9

In the latest news and analysis…

Democratic castration
Cambridge University economist Ha-Joon Chang argues that the imposition of austerity has turned the present into “nothing less than crunch time for democracy” in Europe:

“In particularly difficult economic times, it was even argued, we need to insulate economic policies from politics altogether. Latin American military dictatorships were justified in such terms. The recent imposition of ‘technocratic’ governments, made up of economists and bankers who have not been ‘tainted’ by politics, on Greece and Italy comes from the same intellectual stable.
What free-market economists are not telling us is that the politics they want to get rid of are none other than those of democracy itself. When they say we need to insulate economic policies from politics, they are in effect advocating the castration of democracy.”

New boss
The Guardian reports that the World Trade Organization has chosen its next head, with the selection process mirroring the rich-poor divide that has left the Doha round of trade talks stalled for years:

“Ultimately, [Roberto] Azevêdo won the backing of a majority of the WTO’s 159 members, despite a lack of support from many rich countries.
‘Had [Herminio] Blanco won – with transatlantic support behind him, plus the support of Japan and Korea – it would have looked like another rich-country stitch-up of an international [organisation] job, and that would have been very unhelpful in terms of getting progress at the WTO,’ says [the University of St Gallen’s Simon] Evenett. ‘In that sense, the outcome that we have is good for the organisation.’

He added: ‘We all wish him well, but what can he do to change negotiating positions in national capitals? The answer is not much.’ ”

The Corruptors
Inter Press Service reports on some of the reactions to revelations of “bags of cash” being given by the CIA to Afghan President Hamid Karzai:

“While the United States preaches ‘good governance’ to developing countries at the United Nations, says one African diplomat, ‘it has been doing the reverse in its own political backyard’.
And good governance not only includes multi-party democracy, rule of law and a free press but also transparent and corruption-free regimes.
Michael Ratner, president emeritus of the New York-based Centre for Constitutional Rights (CCR), told IPS, ‘If the U.S. ever stood for good government and democracy, it does not any longer.’ ”

Tainted profits
Norway has announced it has dropped an American and a Chinese tobacco producer from the government pension fund:

“The Ministry of Finance has decided to exclude Schweitzer-Mauduit International Inc. and Huabao International Holdings Limited based on the recommendation from the Council on Ethics. In accordance with the guidelines, the decision to exclude is made public once the shares are sold.”

More bodies
The BBC reports that the death toll at the collapsed Bangladeshi garment factories, which supplied a number of Western retailers, has now risen above 800:

“Authorities are continuing to search the rubble for more bodies two weeks after the Rana Plaza building collapsed on 24 April.

Officials say about 2,500 people were injured in the collapse and that 2,437 people have been rescued.

The EU has said it is considering ‘appropriate action’ to encourage an improvement in working conditions in Bangladesh factories.”

Outsourcing lethality
Foreign Policy’s Micah Zenko writes about a particular kind of extrajudicial killing that eliminates perceived enemies of the US but “more easily masks US involvement and culpability” compared to drone strikes:

“However, if you’re concerned by the Obama administration’s targeted killing policies, don’t overlook similar attacks conducted by allies and partners who receive U.S. money, weapons, or actionable intelligence. When the United States provides other states or non-state actors with the capabilities that enable lethal operations — without which they would not happen — it bears primary responsibility for the outcome. Whatever drone strike reforms the White House offers, or if additional congressional hearings are held, they must take into account America’s troubling role in client-state targeted killings.”

Gun crazy
ProPublica reports that the majority of US states are enacting legislation that renders federal gun controls irrelevant or illegal:

“Kansas’ ‘Second Amendment Protection Act’ backs up its states’ rights claims with a penalty aimed at federal agents: when dealing with ‘Made in Kansas’ guns, any attempt to enforce federal law is now a felony. Bills similar to Kansas’ law have been introduced in at least 37 other states. An even broader bill is on the desk of Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell. That bill would exempt any gun owned by an Alaskan from federal regulation. In Missouri, a bill declaring federal gun laws ‘null and void’ passed by an overwhelming majority in the state house, and is headed for debate in the senate.”

Petroleum myth
The Globe and Mail reports that former US vice-president Al Gore does not buy the argument that oil is more “ethical” if produced in democratic countries:

“ ‘There’s no such thing as ethical oil,’ he said. ‘There’s only dirty oil and dirtier oil.’ The remark triggered applause from a nearly full house at the Globe-sponsored event at a Ryerson University auditorium.

While noting that the U.S. needed to change to remove the demand for Canadian oil, Mr. Gore also said: ‘I had hoped that Canada would point the way toward a better path, but as yet it has not.’ ”

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Latest Developments, January 9

In the latest news and analysis…

UN drones
Inner City Press reports that Rwanda is “far from the only member” of the UN Security Council raising questions about the proposed use of surveillance drones by the UN in eastern DR Congo:

“Tuesday, sources exclusively tell Inner City Press, not only Russia (through co-Deputy Permanent Representative Petr Iliichev) and China but also Azerbaijan and Guatemala, both through their Permanent Representatives, expressed concern about [Department of Peacekeeping Operations chief Hervé] Ladsous’ proposed used of drones.
The concerns ranged from the control of information — that is, who would get it — to compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization rules. And, as Inner City Press first reported, concerns were again expressed about the tender process.”

Torture settlement
The Associated Press reports that a US defense contractor has paid $5.28 million to former inmates of Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison over torture allegations:

“The settlement in the case involving Engility Holdings Inc. of Chantilly, Va., marks the first successful effort by lawyers for former prisoners at Abu Ghraib and other detention centers to collect money from a U.S. defense contractor in lawsuits alleging torture. Another contractor, CACI, is expected to go to trial over similar allegations this summer.
The payments were disclosed in a document that Engility filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission two months ago but which has gone essentially unnoticed.”

Not onboard
The Toronto Star reports that Canada’s prime minister, Stephen Harper, told the president of the African Union and Benin his government “is not considering a direct Canadian military mission” in Mali, but he did take care of some business with Benin:

“There has been speculation that Canada is laying the groundwork for a military foray into Mali and Defence Minister Peter MacKay raised eyebrows last week when he said Canada might send military trainers.
But Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird’s officials have played down the possibility of an armed mission to Mali.

After meeting with [AU and Benin president Thomas Boni] Yayi, Harper announced Canada and Benin have signed a foreign investor protection agreement and that Ottawa will provide $18.2 million over eight years to support improvements in Benin’s public administration.”

Small club
Inter Press Service reports that the US is under renewed pressure from civil society for being one of only seven countries yet to ratify the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW):

“So far, 187 out of 194 countries have ratified CEDAW, but the non-ratifiers include Iran, Sudan, South Sudan, Somalia, Palau, Tonga and the United States.

The U.N. General Assembly adopted CEDAW back in 1979. The treaty consists of a preamble and 30 articles, which according to the United Nations, ‘defines what constitutes discrimination against women and sets up an agenda for national action to end such discrimination.’
And countries that have ratified CEDAW are legally bound to put its provisions into practice.”

Aid control
The Canadian Press reports that Haiti’s prime minister, Laurent Lamothe, has said he wants to have more say over how Canadian aid to his country gets spent:

“ ‘For any future co-operation, when it’s decided to resume, we will ask the Canadian government to focus on the priorities of the Haitian government,’ he said by telephone after meeting with Canada’s ambassador to Haiti in the capital of Port-au-Prince.
‘Basically, the development assistance, because of the perceived weakness of Haitian institutions, was routed directly to NGOs (non-government organizations) and Canadian firms…
‘That weakened our institutions.’

Lamothe insists his government’s hands are tied when it comes to development programs because it doesn’t receive any of CIDA’s aid. He wants Canada — and other donor countries — to work together to find a way to involve Haiti’s institutions in the process.”

The business of closing borders
Inter Press Service reports that security and weapons companies stand to make big bucks from the EU’s tougher stance on immigration:

“Thirteen companies and consortiums (Israel Aerospace Industries, Lockheed Martin, FAST Protect AG, L-3 Communications, FLIR Systems, SCOTTY Group Austria, Diamond Airborne Sensing, Inmarsat, Thales, AeroVision, AeroVironment, Altus, BlueBird) demonstrated technological solutions for maritime surveillance.

The demonstrations are part of the preparation for the launch of EUROSUR, the European External Border Surveillance System meant to enhance cooperation between border control agencies of EU member states and to promote surveillance of EU’s external borders by [EU border agency] Frontex, with a particular focus on the Mediterranean and North Africa, in view of controlling migration to Europe.
Surveillance plans envisage the possibility of using drones to spot migrant boats trying to cross the Mediterranean.”

Hijacking the climate
The Guardian reports that the World Economic Forum has warned geoengineering aimed at preventing global warming could do more harm than good:

“ ‘The global climate could, in effect, be hijacked. For example, an island state threatened with rising sea levels may decide they have nothing to lose, or a well-funded individual with good intentions may take matters into their own hands,’ the report notes. It said there are ‘signs that this is already starting to occur’, highlighting the case of a story broken by the Guardian involving the dumping of 100 tonnes of iron sulphate off the Canadian coast in 2012, in a bid to spawn plankton and capture carbon.”

Big picture
Columbia University’s Joseph Stiglitz argues it is dangerous for the global community to focus on immediate economic issues to the exclusion of long-term problems:

“An economic and political system that does not deliver for most citizens is one that is not sustainable in the long run. Eventually, faith in democracy and the market economy will erode, and the legitimacy of existing institutions and arrangements will be called into question.
The good news is that the gap between the emerging and advanced countries has narrowed greatly in the last three decades. Nonetheless, hundreds of millions of people remain in poverty, and there has been only a little progress in reducing the gap between the least developed countries and the rest.
Here, unfair trade agreements – including the persistence of unjustifiable agricultural subsidies, which depress the prices upon which the income of many of the poorest depend – have played a role. The developed countries have not lived up to their promise in Doha in November 2001 to create a pro-development trade regime, or to their pledge at the G-8 summit in Gleneagles in 2005 to provide significantly more assistance to the poorest countries.”

Latest Developments, December 20

In the latest news and analysis…

Canada’s third world
The UN News Centre reports that a UN human rights expert has waded into the controversy over living conditions in the northern Canadian community of Attawapiskat, expressing “deep concern” over the socio-economic situation of Canada’s aboriginal population.
“ ‘The social and economic situation of the Attawapiskat seems to represent the condition of many First Nation communities living on reserves throughout Canada, which is allegedly akin to Third World conditions,’ [James Anaya, the Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples] stated.
‘Yet, this situation is not representative of non-aboriginal communities in Canada, a country with overall human rights indicators scoring among the top of all countries of the world.
‘Aboriginal communities face vastly higher poverty rights, and poorer health, education, employment rates as compared to non-aboriginal people,’ said the expert.”

Apple blasts
The Associated Press reports that, for the second time this year, an explosion has rocked a factory run by Chinese suppliers to computer giant Apple, this time resulting in 61 people injured.
“Critics have taken Cupertino, California-based Apple to task for alleged violations of labor and environmental standards by its China-based suppliers, and the company has said it is working to resolve such problems.

A similar explosion occurred in May at a factory of electronics maker Foxconn Technology Group. Three people died and 15 were hurt due to what Foxconn said was ‘an explosion of combustible dust in a duct’ at the plant in the southwestern city of Chengdu.”

Migrant rights
UN Human Rights chief Navi Pillay has called on member countries to extend what are supposed to be universal rights to migrants, whether they have arrived legally or not.
“More than 20 years ago, States recognized that migrants needed specific protection and brought the [International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families] into existence… it is high time that these same States now unblock the political will to ratify and effectively implement this important treaty,” Pillay said.
“Human rights are not a matter of charity,” she said. “Nor are they a reward for obeying immigration rules. Human rights are inalienable entitlements of every human being, wherever they are and whatever their status.”

Sweatshop nation
The Inter Press Service carries a report from Haiti Grassroots Watch on the development of a new industrial park in Haiti, which the government and the international community say will provide jobs and growth but which critics say will cause social and environmental problems.
“Putting an industrial park – which will attract between 20,000 and 200,000 new residents – in the midst of a fertile area [as recommended by US-based Koios Associates] is not necessarily going to contribute to Haiti’s ‘sustainable development’, despite government claims to the contrary, economist [Camille] Chalmers notes. Haiti has gone from virtual food self-sufficiency three decades ago to importing over 60 percent of its food. Taking more land out of production will only increase that figure.
‘Before 1992, 90 percent of our cereal needs were met here in Haiti. That’s all changed. The country has become more dependent,’ Chalmers told HGW. “That means food has become more expensive as salaries have gotten lower. You get paid in gourdes, and you consume in U.S. dollars. That is terrible for the country… it is sinking us deeper into dependency.’ ”

Food fight
Oxfam’s Duncan Green examines the strong words exchanged on the subject of food security by World Trade Organization head Pascal Lamy and UN food rights expert Oliver de Schutter, quoting the latter at length.
“We must ensure that the debate starts from the correct premise. This premise must acknowledge the dangers for poor countries in relying excessively on trade. We must also assess the compatibility of WTO disciplines and the Doha agenda with the food security agenda. Without such a fundamental reassessment, we will remain wedded to food systems where the most efficient producers with the biggest economies of scale are relied upon to feed food-deficit regions, and where the divide only gets bigger.
This may look like food security on paper, but it is an approach that has failed spectacularly. The reality on the ground is that vulnerable populations are consigned to endemic hunger and poverty.”

Living in truth
Columbia University’s Jeffrey Sachs reflects on the life of Vaclav Havel and the lessons it can teach us for resisting injustice in its latest forms.
“Today’s reality is of a world in which wealth translates into power, and power is abused in order to augment personal wealth, at the expense of the poor and the natural environment. As those in power destroy the environment, launch wars on false pretexts, foment social unrest, and ignore the plight of the poor, they seem unaware that they and their children will also pay a heavy price.
Moral leaders nowadays should build on the foundations laid by Havel. Many people, of course, now despair about the possibilities for constructive change. Yet the battles that we face – against powerful corporate lobbies, relentless public-relations spin, and our governments’ incessant lies – are a shadow of what Havel, Michnik, Sakharov, and others faced when taking on brutal Soviet-backed regimes.”

True democracy
Former IMF chief economist Simon Johnson warns of the dangers of concentrated economic wealth and criticizes government policies towards banks in both Europe and the US.
“The protesters of ‘Occupy Albany’ issued a powerful consensus statement recently, which reads in part:
‘The interests of those who purchase influence are rewarded at the expense of the People, from whom the government’s just power is derived. We believe that this failure in our system is at the core of many interconnected issues we face as a society, and its resolution is key to a just future. We therefore demand true democracy, decoupled from the corrosive influence of concentrated economic power, and we call all who share in this common goal to stand with us and take action toward this end.’ ”

Latest Developments, December 18

In the latest news and analysis…

From multilateralism to plurilateralism
The Financial Times reports the World Trade Organization’s biennial ministerial meeting has wrapped up without progress on the “stalled” Doha round of talks, which is ostensibly meant to improve the position of poor countries within the global trade system.
“A number of rich economies, including the US and EU, have explored the possibility of a so-called ‘plurilateral agreement’, involving a subset of WTO members which would agree to open their markets only to each other rather than the wider membership. But many emerging-market countries have rejected a move away from the traditional WTO ‘single undertaking’ approach in which negotiations in several areas – agriculture, industrial goods, services – are undertaken in parallel. Plans to address new issues such as climate change and food security within the WTO have also aroused suspicion among some developing countries, which suspect they are a ruse to advance rich countries’ interests.”

Vicious cycle
The UN News Centre reports that a UN human rights experts has said World Trade Organization policies are hurting small-scale farmers in the poorest countries.
“[Olivier De Schutter, Special Rapporteur on the right to food] stressed that the international trade regime must acknowledge the dangers for poor countries in relying excessively on trade, as this exposes them to volatile grain prices, which can quickly change their landscape into one of poverty and hunger, felt by urban and rural consumer alike.
‘The food bills of LDCs increased five- or six-fold between 1992 and 2008. Imports now account for around 25 per cent of their current food consumption. These countries are caught in a vicious cycle. The more they are told to rely on trade, the less they invest in domestic agriculture. And the less they support their own farmers, the more they have to rely on trade,’ he said.”

Drone dangers
Human Rights Watch has called on the US government to transfer command of drone strikes from the CIA to the armed forces and to “clarify its legal rationale for targeted killings.”
“In asserting that targeted attacks on alleged anti-US militants anywhere in the world are lawful, the US undermines the international rules it helped craft over the past half-century. This sets a dangerous precedent for abusive regimes around the globe to conduct drone attacks or other strikes against anyone labeled a terrorist or militant, and undercuts the ability of the US to criticize such attacks.
About 40 other countries currently possess basic drone technology, and the number is expected to expand significantly in coming years. These drones are primarily used for surveillance. China, France, Germany, India, Iran, Israel, Italy, Russia, Turkey, and the United Kingdom either have or are currently seeking drones with attack capability.

Privatizing education
A new Center for Global Development paper reaches the conclusion that low-income countries would benefit from more private schools.
“We find a robust, causal exam performance premium of one standard deviation delivered by private schools. This point estimate is significantly larger than found in previous studies, and dwarfs the impact of narrower interventions within public primary schools in the micro-empirical development literature (see (Kremer 2003)). Furthermore, from a social perspective private schooling is relatively cheap: nearly two-thirds (64%) of children in private schools pay fees less than the median per-child funding levels in public schools circa 2005/6. Taken together, our results suggest that expanding access to private schools may provide a viable route to improving education quality at relatively low cost in low-income countries with weak public school systems.”

Northern knowledge
The Overseas Development Institute’s Jonathan Glennie suggests there is something wrong with knowledge flows within the development industry.
“In terms of value for money, it must be time to set out a timetable to massively reduce the role of northern consultants (generally friendly with the sources of money) and increase the role of southern consultants in the technical co-operation mix.
Unfortunately, the desire of donors to be able to attribute change directly to their dollar or pound, rather than being satisfied to contribute to broader processes, militates against capacity development ever being taken seriously by northern donors. Structures are created more to manage aid than to enable the sharing of knowledge.”

Biosphere bailout
The Guarian’s George Monbiot suggests saving the banks but not the biosphere is bad economic policy.
“This support was issued on demand: as soon as the banks said they wanted help, they got it. On just one day the Federal Reserve made $1.2tr available – more than the world has committed to tackling climate change in 20 years.

No legislator, as far as I know, has yet been able to explain why making $7.7tr available to the banks is affordable, while investing far smaller sums in new technologies and energy saving is not.”

Decline and flail
The London School of Economics’ David Held and Kristian Coates Ulrichsen argue that the post-9/11 wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya may be the latest examples of the historical tendency for declining empires to resort to “flailing out as they attempt to retain the status quo and reverse their decline.”
“In choosing to invade Iraq the Bush administration and Bush’s British ally rode roughshod over considerations of international peace and security, and disregarded the United Nations and the post-war international architecture. NATO continues to bomb Afghanistan even after the death of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan, which also hosts a resurgent Taliban that is once again destroying Afghanistan while destabilizing the fragile nuclear-armed Pakistani state. The intervention in Libya exceeded its UN mandate as NATO willfully misrepresented the nature and intent of its actions to tip the balance of power against Gaddafi. It is difficult to see Libya avoiding the sort of lengthy civil strife that has resulted from the external interventions and acts of imposed regime change in Afghanistan and Iraq. The terrible irony is that the attempts to resist terrorist violence in the decade after 9/11 have ended up weakening the very structures of law and constraints on the use of force that have formed the cornerstone of the international system and bedrock of global security since 1945.”

Latest Developments, November 16

In the latest news and analysis…

A little relief
The Paris Club of creditor nations has announced a debt relief agreement with Cote d’Ivoire that will reschedule and forgive a portion of the conflict-ravaged country’s debt, while leaving about 95 percent of it on the books.
“Participating creditors welcomed that these measures are expected to reduce the debt service (including the arrears) due by the Republic of Côte d’Ivoire to Paris Club creditors between 1st July 2011 and 30 June 2014 by more than 78% which corresponds to 1 822 million USD, of which 397 million USD cancelled.

The stock of debt owed to Paris Club creditors by the Republic of Côte d’Ivoire as of 1st July 2011 was estimated to be more than USD 7,185 million in nominal terms.”

Vulture proofing
The Guardian reports on efforts to prevent vulture funds from buying sovereign debt from some of the world’s poorest countries and litigating to collect payment with interest.
“The [UK’s Debt Relief (Developing Countries) Act 2010] law, a world first, requires commercial creditors to comply with the terms of international debt cancellation schemes, which specify a single discount rate for creditors to ensure equal treatment. The law applies to the UK courts and ensures that public money given towards debt cancellation is not diverted to private investors.
However, debt campaigners point out that UK legislation applies only to the 40 [heavily indebted poor] countries and applies to cases before 2004.”

World turned upside down
The UN News Centre reports that the organization’s top food expert is calling on the World Trade Organization to prioritize the right to food in its Doha Development Round of negotiations.
“Some measures that have been cited as helpful in rehabilitating local food production capacity in developing countries are higher tariffs, temporary import restrictions, state purchase from small-holders, and targeted farm subsidies.
But WTO rules leave little space for developing countries to put these measures in place, said [Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Olivier] De Schutter.
‘Even if certain policies are not disallowed, they are certainly discouraged by the complexity of the rules and the threat of legal action,’ he stated. ‘Current efforts to build humanitarian food reserves in Africa must tip-toe around the WTO rulebook. This is the world turned upside down’.”

Oil justice
The American Lawyer’s Michael Goldhaber predicts that American oil giant Chevron will come out on top in the decades-long battle over up to $18 billion in compensation for environmental damage in Ecuador.
“The moment that the arbitrators order Ecuador to make Chevron whole for $18 billion, all of the case dynamics are turned upside down. Suddenly Ecuador’s interests are no longer aligned with the plaintiffs. Suddenly, it is Ecuador and Chevron who share a common interest. And that interest is in dismissing the case, or vastly reducing the verdict.”

Ghanaian oil concerns
Pipe(line) Dreams’ Christiane Badgley writes about a mysterious oil slick that first appeared in the vicinity of a foreign-owned oil operation off the coast of Ghana before making its way to shore, as concerns over the country’s new oil industry grow.
“I’ve been trying to get more information on this spill, which according to someone at EPA, came from a tanker. There’s no way to know with any certainty that this is the case. All the information I have been able to get so far is unofficial. To date there has not been any official statement on the spill — either its source or the amount of oil spilled.”

The real Occupy debate
University of Cambridge economist Ha-Joon Chang argues the Occupy movement is not so much opposed to capitalism, which has taken many different forms across time and space, as to current forms that lack regulation and distribute benefits so unevenly.
“By labelling the Occupy movement “anti-capitalist”, those who do not want reforms have been able to avoid the real debate. This has to stop. It is time we use the Occupy movement as the catalyst for a serious debate on alternative institutional arrangements that will make British (or for that matter, any other) capitalism better for the majority of people.”

Right to know
The Associated Press reports the results of tests it conducted on right-to-know legislation by submitting questions about terrorism arrests and convictions in the more than100 countries where such laws exist.
“Newer democracies were in general more responsive than some developed ones. Guatemala sent all documents in 10 days, and Turkey in seven. By comparison, Canada asked for a 200-day extension, and the FBI in the United States responded six months late with a single sheet with four dates, two words and a large blanked section.”

Democratizing Europe
The Associated Press also reports the EU could be moving towards addressing one aspect of its democratic deficit after German Chancellor Angela Merkel suggested the European Commission presidency should become a popularly elected position, though scepticism remains .
“Nigel Farage, a staunchly anti-EU British member of the European Parliament, was dismissive of the very notion that the EU could be democratic. ‘If the EU ever had any intention to democratize itself it would have done so in the Constitutional Treaty,’ Farage said.
‘As is perfectly evident, they rejected the idea of making it accountable to voters and so I believe this is just words to try to calm an angry populace who are speaking more and more of rejecting their political project.’”