Latest Developments, August 20

In the latest news and analysis…

Earth Overshoot Day
The World Wildlife Fund’s Carter Roberts writes on the day that “humanity’s demand for natural resources exceeds the earth’s ability to renew them in a year” that some countries bear far more responsibility than others for our “ecological overdraft”:

“The per capita ecological footprint of high-income nations dwarfs that of low- and middle-income countries. The footprint of a typical American is ten times that of a typical resident of an African nation. China’s per capita footprint is smaller than those of countries in Europe and North America but still exceeds the resources that are available per person worldwide. In all, more than 80 percent of the world’s population lives in countries that use more than their own ecosystems can renew. Today’s Japan requires 7.1 Japans to support itself, Italy needs 4 Italys, and Egypt needs about 2.5 Egypts.”

Setting an example
Inter Press Service reports that Norway’s external audit of debts owed by poor countries to the Scandanavian nation represents “the first concrete use of the principles promoting responsible sovereign lending and borrowing”:

“The investigation, by Deloitte, the financial services firm, looked at aid packages offered to developing countries since the 1970s. Auditors were tasked with studying whether the deals, mostly concessional trade agreements, complied with national guidelines and newly established international principles.

Jubilee USA has called on other countries, particularly the G20, to follow Norway’s example, conducting transparent debt audits to allow the public and civil society to see how decades of loans have been made. Given the data, multiple groups have also urged Norway to cancel some debts.”

No act of God
Charanya Krishnaswami, co-author of a Yale University report on Haiti’s cholera epidemic, argues that the UN’s refusal to admit responsibility for the outbreak “plays into a dangerous conception of Haiti as pathology”:

“Why does this matter? The damage has been done; isn’t the U.N. correct to focus on its plan to eradicate cholera by 2022 instead of dwelling on what happened in 2010? Funding and implementing this plan will, critically, prevent future harm. But it will not address the harm that has already befallen so many victims—the men, women, and children who died or lost loved ones in a profoundly senseless tragedy. Every sidestep by the U.N. denies Haitians something truly fundamental: their right to be treated as humans who were wronged and are owed redress.”

Partial justice
The Globe and Mail reports that the Canadian Bar Association has described access to justice in Canada as “abysmal”:

“The summary report, released Sunday at the association’s conference in Saskatoon, says there is profoundly unequal access to justice in Canada.
‘Inaccessible justice costs us all, but visits its harshest consequences on the poorest people in our communities,’ says the report.

The report says tinkering with the system won’t be enough.
‘The civil justice system is too badly broken for a quick fix. People fall between the cracks at an unacceptable cost. Injustice is too deeply woven into the system’s very structure for piecemeal reforms to make much of a dent,’ it says.”

Gold & dust
The East African reports on the wealth extracted from Tanzania’s gold mines and the poverty that surrounds them:

“Industry analysts and civil society activists have attributed Tanzania’s marginal benefits from its minerals to bad laws and the practices of mining companies.

‘In the current regime, mining companies are free to come and negotiate with the government without following proper channels, which is not proper if the public is to benefit from its natural resources,’ [Publish What You Pay’s Bubelwa] Kaiza told The EastAfrican.

In any case, the new law, whose implementation effectively began last year, does not apply retrospectively. So, ‘existing gold mines remain governed by the generous fiscal terms and tax stabilisation clauses outlined in individual mineral development agreements,’ notes The One Billion Dollar Question, a 2012 report about the magnitude of tax revenue losses in Tanzania.”

Swedish solidarity
The BBC reports that women across Sweden are putting on headscarves in protest over an attack against a pregnant Muslim woman, “apparently for wearing a veil”:

“Using the hashtag #hijabuppropet (hijab outcry) a number of women across Sweden published pictures of themselves on Twitter and other social media websites on Monday.
Among the protesters were lawmakers Asa Romson and Veronica Palm, and also TV host Gina Dirawi.
The campaigners said they wanted to draw attention to the ‘discrimination that affects Muslim women’ in Sweden.”

The top 0.01%
The Institute for Policy Studies’ Sam Pizzigati asks how it is that democracy allows such high levels of inequality in the US:

“Over 40 percent of the contributions to American political campaigns are now emanating from this super-rich elite strata.
In the 1980s, campaign contributions from the top 0.01 percent roughly equaled the campaign contributions from all of organized labor. In 2012, note political scientists [Stanford’s Adam Bonica, Princeton’s Nolan McCarty, Keith Poole from the University of Georgia, and New York University’s Howard Rosenthal] in their new analysis, America’s top 0.01 percent all by themselves ‘outspent labor by more than a 4:1 margin.’
Donors in this top 0.01 percent, their analysis adds, ‘give pretty evenly to Democrats and Republicans’ — and they get a pretty good return on their investment. Both ‘Democrats as well as Republicans,’ the four analysts observe, have come to ‘rely on big donors.’

Conventional economists, the four analysts add, tend to ascribe rising inequality to broad trends like globalization and technological change — and ignore the political decisions that determine how these trends play out in real life.”

Change of heart
The Huffington Post has published a Q&A with Tunisian activist Amina Sboui, in which she repudiates FEMEN, the group whose name she recently painted on a wall, landing her in prison for 10 weeks:

“And then, I don’t want my name to be associated with an Islamophobic organization. I did not appreciate the action taken by the girls shouting ‘Amina Akbar, Femen Akbar’ in front of the Tunisian embassy in France, or when they burned the black Tawhid flag in front of a mosque in Paris. These actions offended many Muslims and many of my friends. We must respect everyone’s religion.”

Latest Developments, August 22

In the latest news and analysis…

Ecological overdraft
The Global Footprint Network has declared August 22 Earth Overshoot Day, “the date when humanity has exhausted nature’s budget for the year”:

“We are now operating in overdraft. For the rest of the year, we will maintain our ecological deficit by drawing down local resource stocks and accumulating carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

In 1992, Earth Overshoot Day—the approximate date our resource consumption for a given year exceeds the planet’s ability to replenish—fell on October 21. In 2002, Overshoot Day was on October 3.”

High-level apology
The Associated Press reports that South African Defense Minister Nosiviwe Noluthando Mapisa-Nqakula has apologized to striking Lonmin miners in the wake of last week’s police shootings that killed 34 of them, while the UK-based company has taken a harder line:

“When miners started shaking plastic bags of bullet casings at her, evidence of the many bullets that police fired in volleys last Thursday, she said: ‘I am begging, I beg and I apologize, may you find forgiveness in your hearts.’

The government did intervene in favor of the strikers, persuading mine managers that no striking miners should be fired in the week that South Africa officially mourns the killings, the presidency said Tuesday.
Managers of Lonmin PLC platinum mine had ordered strikers to report for duty by 7 a.m. Tuesday or get fired, even as some family members still were searching for missing loved ones, not knowing whether they were dead or alive among some 250 arrested protesters or in one of the hospitals”

Taking responsibility
The South African Press Association reports that the Bench Marks Foundation has said Lonmin “has to bear a heavy burden of responsibility” for the striking miners’ deaths:

“ ‘Lonmin must retract their insensitivity towards the grieving families and apologise for their lack of empathy and harsh response, especially by giving ultimatums to grieving workers to return to work immediately,’ the foundation said.
Lonmin and other platinum-producing companies in the area bore responsibility for the negative affects of mining on the lives of people in the Bojanala Platinum district municipality.
‘The Marikana tragedy cannot be understood without looking at the negative economic, social and environmental impacts of platinum mining for both workers and local communities in the area.’ ”

Bribery memo
The Age reports that a newly discovered document links the governor of Australia’s central bank and his former deputy to “one of the worst corporate corruption cover-ups” in the country’s history:

“The 2007 memo shows that almost two years before a bribery expose by The Age forced the [Reserve Bank of Australia] to call in police, [former deputy governor Ric] Battellino was given a detailed and explosive memo cataloguing bribery and corruption inside Note Printing Australia, a wholly owned and supervised subsidiary of the bank.
The memo, details of which have remained secret until now, was addressed to ‘Deputy Governor RBA’ and written by a senior executive of NPA, which along with sister firm Securency was charged last year by Australian Federal Police with bribing foreign officials via overseas agents in order to win contracts.”

Shell’s army
The Guardian reports that oil giant Shell is paying tens of millions to Nigeria’s security forces, as well as employing a private police force and “a network of plainclothes informants” to protect its Niger Delta assets:

“Activists expressed concern that the escalating cost of Shell’s security operation in the delta was further destabilising the oil rich region and helping to fuel rampant corruption and criminality. ‘The scale of Shell’s global security expenditure is colossal,’ said Ben Amunwa of London-based oil watchdog Platform. ‘It is staggering that Shell transferred $65m of company funds and resources into the hands of soldiers and police known for routine human rights abuses.’

‘This proves what we in the Niger delta have known for years – that the air force, the army, the police, they are paid for with Shell money and they are all at the disposal of the company for it to use it any how it likes,’ said Celestine Nkabari at the Niger delta campaign group Social Action.”

Oil transparency
Najwa al-Beshti, a former employee of the National Oil Corporation of Libya, calls on the US Securities and Exchange Commission and European regulators to bring in strong transparency requirements for extractive industry companies operating abroad:

“Oil industry lobbyists are using their influence in Washington and Brussels to try to undermine transparency measures that could help prevent future tyrants from emerging. That must not be allowed to happen.
When Colonel Qaddafi was in power, I worked for Libya’s state-owned National Oil Corporation, in a position that allowed me to observe corruption firsthand. I helped produce audits that detailed the mismanagement of millions of dollars of oil revenues, including the systematic underpricing of oil and the discounting of prices for select foreign companies.”

Ethanol rules
The Washington Post reports on a new study exploring the potential impact on global food prices of various possible adjustments to US policy regulating ethanol production:

“Under the fourth option there, the EPA allows a fairly big relaxation of the ethanol rule next year. (A waiver this year is unlikely.) Refiners are required to use 25 percent less ethanol. And ethanol producers can carry over their credits from previous years. In that case, corn prices could drop more than 20 percent, to $6.56 per bushel. That’s about where corn prices would have been if we only had a ‘weak drought’ this year. In other words, by relaxing the ethanol rule, the EPA could essentially turn a ‘strong drought’ into a ‘weak drought’ as far as prices are concerned.”

Ecuador bashing
The Overseas Development Institute’s Jonathan Glennie argues that the British media’s treatment of Ecuador during the drama involving Wikileaks founder Julian Assange has been characterized by “the dismissiveness that remains the hallmark of western foreign policy instincts”:

“In otherwise thoughtful comments criticising the Ecuadorian government on its press freedom record on Channel 4 News last week, David Aaronovitch, an influential British journalist said: “I’m not sure [the Ecuadorians] would understand what human rights were if they came and smacked them over the back of the head.”
Such language doubtless makes for good TV, but it’s both incredibly rude and not a little myopic: many people around the world would say the same of Britain – and with good cause, given the hardly glowing record of its government and companies.”