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.”

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Latest Developments, July 12

In the latest news and analysis…

Lethal aid
Reuters reports that while Washington tries to decide whether or not the Egyptian military’s ouster of a democratically elected president constitutes a coup, the US will continue delivering “aid” to Egypt in the form of F-16 fighter jets:

“A U.S. decision to brand [President Mohamed Mursi’s] overthrow a coup would, by U.S. law, require Washington to halt aid to the Egyptian military, which receives the lion’s share of the $1.5 billion in annual U.S. assistance to that country.
The jets, which will likely be delivered in August and are built by Lockheed Martin Corp, are part of the annual aid package, a U.S. defense official said.

Asked about the F-16s, White House spokesman Jay Carney said: ‘It’s our view that we should not … hastily change our aid programs.’ ”

Deportations halted
Voice of America reports that a European court has blocked Malta’s plan to deport Somali migrants to Libya:

“Maltese authorities had intended to send two planes back to Libya carrying 45 Somali migrants who had arrived Tuesday. But the European Court of Human Rights issued a ruling banning the repatriations.

Authorities say more than 400 migrants have arrived on the island in the past week, including babies, pregnant women and three men with gunshot wounds. Most are Eritrean or Somali.
The European Court of Human Rights declared illegal in 2009 the practice of so-called ‘push back’ – where migrants are forced to return where they came from.”

Low standards
The Guardian reports that members of a palm-oil industry sustainability initiative have been implicated in “Asia’s worst air pollution crisis in decades”:

“Greenpeace said its investigation pointed to a wider problem among the industry which is being ignored by the [Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil], which only investigated member companies who had been named in the media, not all member companies in the Sumatran region.
‘Rather than claiming the innocence of members who’ve been reported in the media, the RSPO needs to address the real problem – years of peatland drainage and destruction which is labelled “sustainable” under RSPO rules and has laid the foundation for these disastrous fires,’ said [Greenpeace’s Bustar] Maitar.”

Taking sides
The Azerbaijan Press Agency reports that the Azeri government is accusing France and Germany of violating an arms embargo by selling anti-tank missiles to Armenia:

“The embassies of the aforementioned countries in Azerbaijan were demanded to clarify how these countries that imposed an embargo on the sale of weapons to the conflicting parties could deliver these systems to Armenia.

France and Germany announce that in connection with the Nagorno Karabakh conflict, they are not selling weapons and military vehicles to Azerbaijan and Armenia and have imposed an embargo on this.”

Biofuels shift
Inter Press Service reports that changes to EU regulations on biofuels are eliciting mixed reviews from anti-poverty activists:

“ ‘From the point of view of the climate, this result is unexpectedly positive: from now on only truly sustainable biofuels will be subsidized,’ Marc-Olivier Herman, Oxfam International’s biofuel expert, told IPS.
‘But as far as food security is concerned, the result is outright negative. Last year the Commission proposed 5 percent to protect the existing industry while blocking its expansion. Everything higher than this percentage is unjustifiable. It signifies a subsidised growth of the sector, resulting in more speculation on land and food, causing more food insecurity and hunger.’ ”

Pharma bribes
The BBC reports that “senior executives” of the UK’s biggest pharmaceutical company, GlaxoSmithKline, are under investigation in China over alleged corruption:

“They are being investigated for bribery and tax-related violations, said the Chinese Ministry of Public Security.
They are suspected of offering bribes to officials and doctors in an attempt to boost sales in the country.

‘The case involves many people, the duration of time is long, the amount of money involved is huge and the criminal activities are malicious,’ the ministry said.”

New wealth measure
The Alternative Development and Research Center’s Prahlad Shekhawat welcomes the UN Development Programme’s adoption of a “more inclusive” way of calculating wealth:

“[The Human Development Report 2013] includes both the amount of human well-being that countries generate as measured by the Human Development Index, as well as the level of resource demand and consumption as measured by the Ecological Footprint. It is a big step forward that a leading UN agency has now offered a strategy for alternative development. Earlier versions of the report only included Ecological Footprint outcomes in the background data.
The United Nations HDI is an indicator of human development that measures a country’s achievements in the areas of life expectancy, education, and income. The Ecological Footprint measures a people’s demand on nature and can be compared to available biocapacity. The HDI-Footprint, using simple indicators, prominently reveals how far removed the world is from achieving sustainable development.”

Ethical stain
The British Medical Association’s Eleanor Chrispin and Vivienne Nathanson write that doctors are “increasingly among those expressing concern” about the force-feeding of detainees at Guantanamo Bay prison:

“This year’s annual representative meeting of the BMA condemned the participation of doctors and nurses in force feeding, branding it a ‘stain on medical ethics.’ In doing so, the BMA added its voice to that of the American Medical Association, which denounced the practice in a letter to the secretary of defense of the United States, and in a BMJ editorial. Individual doctors on both sides of the Atlantic have publicly expressed their alarm. While the US authorities continue to pursue a medically supervised regime of force feeding, the more insistent the medical community’s protests will become.
The forced enteral feeding of competent adults, protesting at being held without charge, is a human rights issue. The use of doctors and nurses as instruments to violate detainees’ fundamental rights is an issue of both human rights and medical ethics.”

Drone questions
The BBC reports that British MPs will hold an “inquiry” into the country’s policy on armed drones:

“MPs will examine the UK’s deployment of armed drones and the legal

The Defence Committee will look at the lessons learned from operations in Afghanistan as well as the constraints on the use of drones in the UK and overseas.
MPs will also investigate the future potential for unmanned aerial vehicles, and what capabilities the UK will seek to develop between now and 2020.”

Latest Developments, May 16

In the latest news and analysis…

State of the planet
Agence France-Presse summarizes the World Wildlife Federation’s new Living Planet Report, which says high-income countries have five times the ecological footprint of their poorer counterparts.
“The survey, compiled every two years, reported an average 30 percent decrease in biodiversity since 1970, rising to 60 percent in the hardest-hit tropical regions.

The decline has been most rapid in lower income countries, ‘demonstrating how the poorest and most vulnerable nations are subsidising the lifestyles of wealthier countries,’ said WWF.”

Libyan deaths
Human Rights Watch has released a new report about the 72 civilian deaths it says were caused by NATO strikes in Libya last year.
“The number of civilian deaths from NATO air strikes in Libya was low given the extent of the bombing and duration of the campaign, Human Rights Watch said. Nevertheless, the absence of a clear military target at seven of the eight sites Human Rights Watch visited raises concerns of possible laws-of-war violations that should be investigated.

NATO asserts that it cannot conduct post-operation investigations into civilian casualties in Libya because it has no mandate to operate on the ground. But NATO has not requested permission from Libya’s transitional government to look into the incidents of civilian deaths and should promptly do so, Human Rights Watch said.
‘The overall care NATO took in the campaign is undermined by its refusal to examine the dozens of civilian deaths,’ [HRW’s Fred] Abrahams said.”

Corporate power
The Guardian reports on a legal dispute between a UK hedge fund and an Indian state-controlled coal company, which has some observers asking if the “terms of trade and investment are skewed” in a way that harms poor countries and poor people.
“ ‘What this case really illustrates is how far global trade and investment rules have gone in increasing the power and influence of companies,’ said Ruth Bergan, co-ordinator for the Trade Justice Movement. ‘Under bilateral investment treaties, companies have been given the right to sue states, not in national courts, whether in host or home countries, but in international arbitration centres, based at the International Chamber of Commerce, the World Bank, and a handful of other often highly secretive centres.’ ”

Terror double-standard
The Atlantic’s John Hudson suggests US ambivalence toward assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists is evidence of America’s “flexible definition” of terrorism.
“The Obama administration is moving to delist an Iranian dissident group from the State Department terrorism list, which, as recently as January, reportedly detonated a magnetic bomb under the car of an Iranian scientist. Perhaps unintentionally, the message the move would send appears to be: This activity is OK as long as it’s against Iran.”

Rio+20 deadlock
Inter Press Service reports that two weeks of preparatory talks for next month’s Rio+20 summit have “failed to reach consensus on a global plan of action.”
“ ‘Let us be frank,’ the [UN Conference on Sustainable Development] secretary general Sha Zukang said, ‘the negotiating text is a far cry from the focused political document called for by the general assembly.’ Zukang said the objective should be to arrive in Rio ‘with at least 90% of the text ready, and only the most difficult 10% left to be negotiated there at the highest political levels’.
However, a statement released by a coalition of international NGOs warned that Rio+20 ‘looks set to add almost nothing to global efforts to deliver sustainable development’. ‘Too many governments are using or allowing the talks to undermine established human rights and agreed principles such as equity, precaution and polluter pays,’ it said.”

Western gender problems
UC Santa Barbara’s Hilal Elver argues that a recent Foreign Policy issue on the plight of women around the world failed to acknowledge that gender equality does not exist in Western countries either.
“Anthropologists use the term ‘native informants’ to identify the witness of insiders. Giving a platform to Muslim women writers critical of Islam has also become a very popular tactic in Europe. These commentators claim to speak from bitter experience about how Islam is bad for women. This makes the European public feel comfortable when they adopt public policies against Islamic practices.

FP only pointed to the United States as a good example, how Secretary of State Hillary Clinton works on women’s issues while shaping US foreign policy. I am sure she has many things to say about the United States, if FP would ask, about the relevance of her gender to her unsuccessful presidential campaign. But, this is not what readers seem to care about. It would have been much more impressive and acceptable if such critical issues were presented not only for selected adversary countries and cultures, and if there was not exhibited such bias and partisanship.”

Show trial
The University of Ottawa’s Peter Showler writes about the lack of “sincerity” during a parliamentary investigation into the Canadian government’s proposed changes to national refugee laws.
“[The proceedings] became more show trial than law making. The witnesses called by the Conservatives repeated their versions of the government storyline: Canada is inundated with bogus refugees; we need fast decisions to get rid of the fraudulent claimants; they come here for welfare, not protection; putting smuggled passengers in prison for a year is the only way to stop the smugglers who are evil. The Conservative members rarely asked real questions of their witnesses. They repeated the government litanies about Canada’s generosity and burdens on the Canadian taxpayer followed by ‘would you agree?’

There is an awful, disembodied sensation in watching a show trial. It is the sensation of observing a slow-motion accident through a plate-glass window. Something horrible and inevitable is happening and there is nothing you can do to stop it. You realize the outcome has been decided already. The proceedings became a theatre piece where everyone played their part.”