Latest Developments, December 8

In the latest news and analysis…

Tabula rasa
The Economist reports on a controversial large-scale development experiment getting underway in Honduras.
“In a nutshell, the Honduran government wants to create what amounts to internal start-ups—quasi-independent city-states that begin with a clean slate and are then overseen by outside experts. They will have their own government, write their own laws, manage their own currency and, eventually, hold their own elections.
This year the Honduran legislature has taken the first big steps towards the creation of what it called ‘special development regions’. It has passed a constitutional amendment making them possible and approved a ‘constitutional statute’ that creates their autonomous legal framework. Mauritius has just announced that it will allow its supreme court to hear cases from the new entities (beyond that, in a relic of colonialism, is Britain’s Privy Council, to which the decisions of the island state’s supreme court can be appealed). And on December 6th Porfirio Lobo, the Honduran president, appointed the first members of the ‘transparency commission’, the body that will oversee the new entities’ integrity.”

Right to science
Intellectual Property Watch reports on a UN-sponsored event that highlighted the need for greater attention to the “right to enjoy the benefits of scientific progress and its application.”
“A delegate from Pakistan said that the most important point was to address the issue of access and that the privatisation of science and knowledge has led to some concerns. In particular, he asked how the role of the private sector could be regulated at the international level, as the intellectual property regime was restricting the right to enjoy the benefits of scientific progress and its application.”

Dangerous tech exports
Agence France-Presse reports on the introduction in the US House of Representatives of a bill – the Global Online Freedom Act – intended to limit the export of Internet surveillance or censorship technology.
“‘There is a criminal cooperation between Western hi-tech companies and authoritarian regimes,’ [Reporters Without Borders’ Clothilde] Le Coz said.
‘The surveillance tools sold by these companies are used all over the world by armed forces, intelligence agencies, democratic governments and repressive regimes.
‘The leading exporters of these technologies include the United States, France, Germany, Italy, United Kingdom and Israel,’ she said. ‘Companies should have a responsibility when selling their technologies abroad.’”

Corporate negligence
The Canadian lawyers of a Guatemalan man have announced he is suing Toronto-based mining company HudBay – the third human rights lawsuit related to violence near a project it used to own in Guatemala – for alleged negligence over its handling of security operations.
“HudBay knew it was operating in a very violent country, but instead of hiring or training security staff with acceptable standards and supervision, HudBay’s Guatemalan subsidiary hired local security personnel with a track record of violence, supplied them with guns and deployed them without the controls or supervision we demand and take for granted in Canada.”

Mission impossible
The Overseas Development Institute’s Neil Bird reflects on the apparent futility of trying to get nearly 200 self-interested governments to agree on anything of substance at summits like the Durban climate talks.
“In some respects, these negotiations hardly matter. The global response to climate change continues to progress at a snail-like pace: just consider for a moment that this is the 17th Conference of the Parties, it is not the 3rd, 4th, 5th or even 10th meeting. How many more international gatherings will be required for the countries attending to agree a global compact that both protects the environment and offers hope to the poorest people who are most vulnerable to climate change?
Perhaps what we have learned most over the past decade is that global negotiations take on a life of their own and, at worse, appear little more than a self-serving exercise.”

Enduring colonialism
As controversy continues to swirl over living conditions in northern Canada’s Aboriginal community of Attawapiskat, Queen’s University’s Robert Lovelace argues “that while the misery is in the ‘North’, the source of the problem is in the ‘South’.”
“It is difficult in the face of human suffering to turn attention to the systemic and structural reasons that have led to this catastrophe, but this is the very time when thoughtful analysis is needed. The homes are small and cold. The tedium of poverty bears down day by day and those who have stolen your children’s future call the daily bread on your table a ‘handout.’ It is difficult to feel anything but shame through the numbing that is required to get by every day.
But there are reasons behind this suffering. There is a history. There is a structure to oppression, denial and indifference that houses this suffering and there is a system that perpetuates it.”

Business friendly
The World Bank’s Célestin Monga argues that improving “all the many ‘doing business’ indicators” is not the key to success for poor countries.
“By the way, China, Vietnam, and Brazil, which have been among the top-performing countries in the world for the past 20 years, are consistently ranked quite low when it comes to the ease of doing business; Brazil is 126th, Vietnam 98th, and China ranks 91st, behind such star economies as Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Belarus and Vanuatu.”

Oppressed by carbon
Le Monde Diplomatique provides a write-up of a new book by “heterodox ecologist” Frédéric Denhez who rails against “the dictatorship of carbon.”
“Society obeys ‘mechanical’ rules: we knew the markets, free trade, gross domestic product (GDP); now we are discovering the measurement of carbon emissions as the indicator of the 21st century. The economic ruling class uses it to construct a narrative that pins blame on the individual and impedes all structural change. So we measure the emissions linked to the use of a product, but rarely those associated with its manufacture.
As a result, cash for clunkers promotes the destruction of cars that pollute less than the industrial process required to build new ones!’” (Translated from the French)

Latest Developments, December 7

In the latest news and analysis…

Climate loopholes
The Guardian reports that India is taking wealthy countries to task at the climate change talks in Durban, insisting they need to get serious about cutting emissions.
“To bolster its argument that rich countries must do more, India referred to a recent study by the Stockholm Environment Institute of the pledges made last year in Cancún by all countries. It shows that developing countries are pledging 30%-50% more cuts than the rich, and that the rich may be able to avoid taking any action whatever to meet their pledges by taking advantage of accounting loopholes.
Sivan Kartha and Peter Erickson of the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) said: ‘Developing countries pledges amount to more absolute mitigation than all developed countries. Unless accounting rules for Annex 1 countries are made more stringent, then Annex 1 countries will be able to formally comply with their pledges with very little actual mitigation and possibly none at all.’”

Climate debt
The Inter Press Service reports on opposition in Nepal to the government’s acceptance of millions of dollars in loans for climate change mitigation projects.
“‘Nepal has one of the lowest greenhouse gas emission levels in the world due to its low industrialisation,’ [secretary of the All-Nepal Peasants’ Federation, Hari] Parajuli adds. ‘It also has forests covering nearly 40 percent of its land. Yet, the developed countries that cause pollution are now seeking to make Nepal take loans and pay them interest.’
Parajuli says the protests are also against the involvement of the World Bank.
‘We don’t regard it positively,’ he says. ‘It is not service-oriented but works for profit.’”

Naming land grabbers
A new Oakland Institute report argues that at while the EU and US give food and emergency aid to victims of famine and war, their development and energy policies harm Africa’s people and environment.
“Development agencies including USAID and the World Bank Group are often the architects of these [unregulated land] deals that promise benefits for Africans but fail to deliver. Furthermore, the research shows that US and EU energy policies that tout the benefits of agrofuels and carbon credits–key elements of these land deals–are actually making climate change a bigger problem.

[The Oakland Institute’s Anuradha] Mittal noted that people can follow the supply chain to identify the bad actors–who claim benefits for Africa but seldom deliver: so-called developers who determine how land will be used (such as Iowa-based based AgriSol Energy and Texas-based Nile Trading Development), companies that grow non-food crops on the land (including Sun Biofuels and Addax Bioenergy), and groups that buy up agrofuels and timber (including major western airlines such as Lufthansa).”

Food speculation
A new report by the Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations (SOMO) argues for regulation of “purely financial speculation in commodity derivatives markets” that has spiralled out of control in recent years and is contributing to soaring food prices.
“SOMO calls on European governments to respect the precautionary principle enshrined in the Lisbon Treaty and to act decisively to bring back financial speculation in commodity derivatives markets. The European Parliament currently has an opportunity to do just this by strengthening the proposed Markets in Financial Instruments Directive and Regulation (MiFID and MiFIR).”

Calling out Soros
The FCPA Professor, the alter ego of Butler University’s Mike Koehler, accuses billionaire philanthropist George Soros of not walking his talk on foreign bribery.
“If the Soros funded Open Society Foundations believe that all corporations involved in [a Foreign Corrupt Practices Act] enforcement action have a “bad or wrongful purpose,” that current standards “simply do not permit successful prosecution of innocent, mistaken or unknowing persons” and that companies involved in an FCPA enforcement action are corrupt, then why does Soros Fund Management LLC invest in so many FCPA violators or companies subject to FCPA scrutiny?
The Fund’s recent 13F filing (in a 13F filing institutional investment managers disclose fund holdings) indicates substantial investments in the following companies that have recently resolved FCPA enforcement actions or are otherwise the subject of current FCPA scrutiny:  Alliance One International, El Paso, Flowserve, Halliburton, Hewlett-Packard, KBR, Motorola Solutions, Parker Drilling, Pfizer, Tidewater, Weatherford International, Tyco International, and Lyondellbasell Industries.”

Drone boom
The Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Trevor Timm argues that, with the unmanned aircraft market worth nearly $100 billion across more than 50 countries, the debate about drones needs to extend well beyond their use or misuse by the US military.
“Whether they are being used for surveillance or all-out combat, drones will soon pose serious risks for all of the world’s citizens. They can offer governments, police departments, or private citizens unprecedented capabilities for spying, and given their security vulnerabilities, the potential consequences could be endless.”

Treating symptoms
Dean Chahim, a University of Washington student and co-founder of the Critical Development Forum, calls on young people to engage in more political activism at home in order to change the global order.
“My generation has been sold a dogma of the individual as the solution to inequality and poverty. The older generation glorifies our individual achievements as “social entrepreneurs” while brushing the total failure of our economic system under the rug. Is it any wonder our youth think that if they start enough NGOs, go abroad two weeks at a time, design a new widget, or send a few bras – all will be well in the world?”

Spam tax
Oxfam’s Duncan Green mines the comments section of a Financial Times blog to provide a “lovely analogy” for a proposed financial transaction tax (Tobin/Robin Hood tax).
“Think of spam email: when sending emails is essentially free, sending out millions of spam emails can be profitable even if a fraction of respondents would take the bait. But if you had to pay even a nominal charge, even less than a penny, per email sent, that ‘business model’ would essentially become loss making in many cases. The Tobin tax would have a similar effect on a lot of this ‘phantom liquidity’ we get across many markets through high frequency traders – who, after all, are playing a zero sum game mostly, with their profits essentially being losses for a lot of other players. A small transaction cost might just be enough to discourage a lot of this socially useless activity.”

Latest Developments, December 1

In the latest news and analysis…

Climate fund row
The World Development Movement’s Murray Worthy writes about civil society opposition to perceived attempts by the US and UK to turn the Green Climate Fund into a “Greedy Corporate Fund” at the Durban climate talks.
“The role of private investment in financing climate activities must be decided at the national and sub-national levels in line with countries’ priorities, not corporate bottom lines. The move to allow the private sector to go directly to the Green Climate Fund for money undermines the possibility of a democratic, participatory process for meeting the needs of communities struggling to fight climate change,” according to Lidy Nacpil of Jubilee South Asia/Pacific Movement on Debt and Development.

Durban deadlock
Columbia University economist Jagdish Bhagwati argues there is little hope of a meaningful agreement at the Durban climate talks due in large part to a growing “What’s in it for me?” attitude from the US in global affairs.
“Moreover, abandoning the Kyoto Protocol’s exemption of developing countries from obligations for current emissions, the US has insisted on obligations from China and India that reflect a common form of ‘taxation’ of emissions. But there are persuasive reasons why these countries insist that the obligations must instead reflect per capita emissions, a criterion that would require far greater emission cuts by the US than its leaders now contemplate.”

Big decision
The Tico Times reports Costa Rica’s top court has annulled a Canadian mining company’s concession for the controversial Las Crucitas open-pit gold mine and suggested the project’s approval may have involved corruption at the highest level.
“The court’s ruling is the latest in a long-running battle between opponents of the mine and Industrias Infinto, which is a subsidiary of the Canadian company Infinito Gold. The company was awarded a mining concession by then-president Óscar Arias in 2006, but lawsuits by environmental groups kept the project hobbled through November of 2010 when the Sala I struck down the project. Industrias Infinito appealed that decision.
Wednesday’s ruling, however, dismissed the mining company’s appeals. The court also asked Costa Rica’s public prosecutor to initiate proceedings to see if criminal investigations are warranted for individuals in the Costa Rican government involved in the mining saga, including former President Arias. The project was first proposed in 1993.”

Public-private police
An Atlantic article by Samantha Michaels looks into allegations that American mining giant Freeport-McMoRan is bankrolling the violent repression of an ongoing labour dispute at its Grasberg facility in Indonesia and, indirectly, the fight against Papuan separatists.
“Freeport has given $79.1 million to police and military forces in the past 10 years, according to a group called Indonesian Corruption Watch.  Most of that funding has been through in-kind contributions such as food, housing, fuel, and travel costs, but officers have also received direct payments. A report by the NGO Global Witness shows that, between 2001 and 2003, Freeport gave nearly $250,000 to a controversial commander who in 1999 led military action in East Timor, where soldiers killed more than a thousand people.
Since then, the security funding has grown: Freeport’s financial documents show that the company paid $14 million to support government security forces in 2010, up from $10 million in 2009 and $8 million in 2008.”

Giving with one hand…
The Guardian reports that Norway is facing accusations of hypocrisy for funding forest protection in Indonesia while its state pension fund invests in commercial projects that aggravate deforestation in the Southeast Asian nation.
“The UK-based Environmental Investigation Agency wrote in October to the country’s prime minister, Jens Stoltenberg to call for a new approach. The NGO said Norway’s financial involvement in Indonesia was a net negative for the environment. It said that the $30m (£19m) that Norway provided for Redd projects in 2010 is just of the fifth of the profits and a third of the investment value in companies involved in ‘logging, plantations, and mining companies currently deforesting large areas of Indonesia.’”

Bush in Africa
Amnesty International is calling on the governments of Ethiopia, Tanzania and Zambia to arrest former US president George W. Bush during this week’s visit over his alleged authorization of torture during his time in the White House.
“Amnesty International recognizes the value of raising awareness about cervical and breast cancer in Africa, the stated aim of the visit, but this cannot lessen the damage to the fight against torture caused by allowing someone who has admitted to authorizing water-boarding to travel without facing the consequences prescribed by law.”

Hunger crimes
Picking up on the recent claim by a UN official that the famine in Somalia is the result of crimes against humanity committed by the Transitional Federal Government and the militant group al-Shabaab, the University of Minnesota’s Abdi Ismail Samatar argues the accuser must also share in the blame.
“[W]hile the coordinator [of the UN’s Monitoring Group for Somalia] has blamed al-Shabaab for denying access to agencies like [the World Food Programme], the timeline of events appear to point the blame on the Monitoring Group’s tabloid-like research and report writing. We think that al-Shabaab is guilty of condemning people to starvation, but those who used the United Nations Monitoring Group as the vehicle to deliver unfounded half-truths also played a vital role in inducing the calamity by illegitimately damaging the credibility of WFP, which directly contributed to the dearth of food deliveries to the population.
The gossip-based report also indirectly precipitated al-Shabaab’s cruel decision and appears to coincide with the US’ decision to withdraw support for WFP.”

Philanthropic racism
The University of St. Gallen’s Martin Herrndorf argues the message of an ad intended to draw attention to global poverty – “Millions die, no one cries” – was undermined by its ethnocentric wording.
“Yet – ‘no one cries’ means ‘no one who is white and lives in places with fancy bus stops.’ Apparently, black people in poor countries crying don’t count. The poster thus is at least Eurocentric, if not outright racist.”