Latest Developments, October 16

In the latest news and analysis…

Reducing oversight
Stars and Stripes calls the Obama administration’s decision to loosen controls over military exports “a big win for the defense industry”:

“Come tomorrow, thousands of parts of military aircraft, such as propeller blades, brake pads and tires will be able to be sent to almost any country in the world, with minimal oversight – even to some countries subject to U.N. arms embargos. U.S. companies will also face fewer checks than in the past when selling some military aircraft to dozens of countries.

Under the new system, whole categories of equipment encompassing tens of thousands of items will move to the Commerce Department, where they will be under more ‘flexible’ controls. Final rules have been issued for six of 19 categories of equipment and more will roll out in the coming months. Some military equipment, such as fighter jets, drones, and other systems and parts, will stay under the State Department’s tighter oversight. Commerce will do interagency human rights reviews before allowing exports, but only as a matter of policy, whereas in the State Department it is required by law.”

Corporate accountability
Reuters reports that a majority of US Supreme Court judges seem to think an American court is not the proper venue for a lawsuit against German auto giant Daimler AG over alleged human rights violations in 1970s Argentina:

“The Daimler case is the second time in the last year that the court has considered how and under what circumstances multinational companies can be sued in U.S. courts for alleged human rights violations.

The legal question in the Daimler case is different from that in the [Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Shell] case, which focused on an obscure federal law called the Alien Tort Statute.
The Daimler case concerns whether a U.S. court has the authority to hear a case against a foreign corporation ‘solely on the fact that an indirect corporate subsidiary performs services on behalf of the defendant’ in the state where the lawsuit was filed, which in this instance was California.
A decision in the Daimler case is expected by the end of June.”

Non-classical intervention
Reuters also reports that France could triple the number of troops it has in the Central African Republic by the end of 2013:

[French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius] has announced a troop increase by year-end once the U.N. Security Council votes in December on a resolution to strengthen a U.N. mission. Sources said it could increase the total French force to between 700-1,200.
‘It wouldn’t be an intervention in the classical sense of the word,’ Fabius said. ‘We’re not going to send parachutists, but there needs to be a presence because the state has been completely unseated.’ ”

Colonial marketing
Inner City Press reports on the latest debates inside the UN’s decolonization committee:

“Friday afternoon in the Fourth Committee, after a week of speeches denouncing the UK for the Malvinas or Falkland Islands, UK Political Coordinator Michael Tatham spoke. He spoke of his country’s ‘modern relationship’ with its territories — if you want to stay, you can.
Moments later Bolivia’s Permanent Representative Sacha Llorenti said that the UK’s invocation of self-determination, for which generations fought, was now being used as ‘colonial marketing.’
Llorenti also took on the United States, calling Puerto Rico a colony and long-jailed Oscar Lopez Rivera a political prisoner.

Papua New Guinea chided France for not turning over education in New Caledonia.”

Rental racism
A BBC investigation of 10 “letting agents” in London suggests that would-be tenants face rampant racism despite equality legislation:

“All 10 were recorded on secret camera saying they would be prepared not to show the flat to African-Caribbean people – and many detailed how they had done it before.
The lettings manager at A to Z Property Services, in Dollis Hill, said: ‘We cannot be shown discriminating against a community. But obviously we’ve got our ways around that.
‘99% of my landlords don’t want Afro-Caribbeans or any troublesome people.’ ”

Moral economy
Spirited Social Change’s Christine Boyle and the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives’ Seth Klein argue it is “wrong to presume that a moral economy would necessarily be one with fewer decent jobs”:

“We offer this simple definition: A moral economy is one in which people do not feel they have to sacrifice their values, harm human dignity or compromise ecological health in order to achieve economic security.
This definition is as much a cultural shift as it is a policy one. It’s not about public vs. private, so much as reconsidering the balance, and bringing a new lens to the economic planning that both governments and businesses undertake.”

Sharing, not caring
Evgeny Morozov writes in the Financial Times that companies pushing the so-called sharing economy are not really looking to build an “economy that benefits everyone”:

“The power model behind the sharing economy is more Michel Foucault than Joseph Stalin: no one forces you to be part of it – but you may have little choice anyway.
A new UN, indeed: the erosion of full-time employment, the disappearance of healthcare and insurance benefits, the assault on unions and the transformation of workers into always-on self-employed entrepreneurs who must think like brands. The sharing economy amplifies the worst excesses of the dominant economic model: it is neoliberalism on steroids.”

Choosing inequality
Columbia University’s Joseph Stiglitz argues that inequality is a policy choice and that the trend of growing disparities in the West is “not universal, or inevitable”:

“In many countries, weak corporate governance and eroding social cohesion have led to increasing gaps between the pay of chief executives and that of ordinary workers — not yet approaching the 500-to-1 level for America’s biggest companies (as estimated by the International Labor Organization) but still greater than pre-recession levels. (Japan, which has curbed executive pay, is a notable exception.) American innovations in rent-seeking — enriching oneself not by making the size of the economic pie bigger but by manipulating the system to seize a larger slice — have gone global.
Asymmetric globalization has also exerted its toll around the globe. Mobile capital has demanded that workers make wage concessions and governments make tax concessions. The result is a race to the bottom. Wages and working conditions are being threatened. Pioneering firms like Apple, whose work relies on enormous advances in science and technology, many of them financed by government, have also shown great dexterity in avoiding taxes. They are willing to take, but not to give back.”

Latest Developments, September 26

In the latest news and analysis…

World Cup slaves
The Guardian reports that migrant workers from Nepal have been dying “at a rate of almost one a day” as Qatar prepares for the 2022 FIFA World Cup:

“The investigation found evidence to suggest that thousands of Nepalese, who make up the single largest group of labourers in Qatar, face exploitation and abuses that amount to modern-day slavery, as defined by the International Labour Organisation, during a building binge paving the way for 2022.
According to documents obtained from the Nepalese embassy in Doha, at least 44 workers died between 4 June and 8 August. More than half died of heart attacks, heart failure or workplace accidents.

The overall picture is of one of the richest nations exploiting one of the poorest to get ready for the world’s most popular sporting tournament.”

Iron politics
Le Monde reports that Western intelligence agencies believe French, South African and Israeli mercenaries working for a “diamond king” are planning a coup in Guinea:

“The CIA document refers to Beny Steinmetz Group Resources, owned by diamond magnate Beny Steinmetz, which is in open conflict with the Guinean government over rights to part of Simandou, the world’s biggest untapped iron ore deposit.

According to the American document quoted by Le Canard Enchaîné, an Israeli security consultant who works closely with BSG helped to form a political front organization, the National Party for Renewal, ‘without doubt funded by BSG’. The party drew up a ‘memo seized by Guinean investigators’ that pledges to maintain BSG’s Simandou mining rights if the party is part of a future government.” [Translated from the French.]

The J word
La Croix reports that France, eager to gain international support for military intervention in the Central African Republic despite opposition from the US and Rwanda, is talking up the threat of radical Islam:

“French diplomats have caught on and are no longer hesitating to talk of ‘sectarian’ confrontations between Muslims and Christians. François Hollande spoke repeatedly in such terms at the UN General Assembly. ‘You are sure to get the Americans’ attention’ if you talk about a risk of jihad, of conflict between Chirstians and Islamists,’ said CCFD-Terre Solidaire’s Zobel Behalal.” [Translated from the French.]

Toxic neighbour
The Economist reports on the tensions between a Canadian-owned gold mine and surrounding communities in the Dominican Republic:

“The investment was presented by both the government and [Pueblo Viejo Dominicana Corporation, owned by Barrick Gold and Goldcorp] as including a clean-up of Rosario’s toxic mess and the installation of systems to keep local watercourses clean. But residents are suing PVDC, claiming that the new mine is poisoning rivers, causing illnesses and the death of farm animals.

PVDC says that, together with local people, it conducts regular, public tests on water and air.
But community leaders say they have no knowledge of such tests. The company has not answered requests to provide the dates on which they were conducted. Tests by the environment ministry, released only after a freedom of information request, found the water in the Margajita river downstream from the mine to be highly acidic, as well as containing sulphides and copper above legal limits.”

Blunt talk
In a Democracy Now! interview, independent journalist Jeremy Scahill discusses US President Barack Obama’s “really naked declaration of imperialism” at the UN General Assembly this week:

“I mean, he pushed back against the Russians when he came out and said I believe America is an exceptional nation. He then defended the Gulf War and basically said that the motivation behind it was about oil and said we are going to continue to take such actions in pursuit of securing natural resources for ourselves and our allies. I mean, this was a pretty incredible and bold declaration he was making, especially given the way that he has tried to portray himself around the world.”

Unfair planet
The Washington Post’s Dylan Matthews writes that the world is 17 times more unequal than the US (which is, in turn, more unequal than Tanzania), with no relief in sight:

“It’s another reminder that, while extreme poverty in the United States is very real, the biggest inequalities, by far, are at the global level. ‘The political instruments for reducing income inequality between the richest 10 per cent and the poorest 40 per cent of the world’s population do not exist,’ author Lars Engberg-Pedersen notes. ‘Progressive taxation, provision of social security, etc. are country-level instruments, and official development assistance comes no way near addressing global inequality.’ ”

Financial complicity
The Oakland Institute’s Alice Martin-Prevel calls the World Bank “an accomplice in global land grabs” and questions some of its fundamental assumptions:

“The report rekindles the assumptions that land registration would somehow give farmers access to low-cost credit to invest in their parcels, improve their yields, and that Africa has abundant ‘surplus land’ which should be delineated and identified in order to be acquired by land developers. (In its 2012 report Our Land, Our Lives, Oxfam debunked the myth of Africa’s ‘unused land,’ showing that most areas targeted by land deals were previously used for small-scale farming, grazing and common resources exploitation by local communities.) Not only are these postulations yet to be proven, but they also assume that customary rights and traditional landownership are part of an underefficient system that needs transformation. The report’s recommendations thus include proposals such as ‘demarcating boundaries and registering communal rights,’ ‘organizing and formalizing communal groups,’ and ‘removing restrictions on land rental markets.’ ”

African drones
Peter Dörrie writes in Medium that “the future of drone warfare, both with and without actual bombs, is in Africa and the future is now”:

“Drones, both armed and unarmed, have likely been active from the U.S. military’s only permanent base on the continent at Camp Lemonier in Djibouti for some years, as well as from more recently established bases in neighboring Ethiopia. Niger is home to the latest deployment of drones to the continent and from their base at Niamey — the Reapers can theoretically cover much of western and central Africa.

While governments may rave about the potential of drones, Africans are well aware of the ambiguous role that Predators and Reapers have played in Pakistan. Especially armed drones — and inevitable civilians lives lost — will produce backlash on the streets and give armed groups an opportunity to style themselves as the underdog fighting against the evil empire.
Then there is also the slippery slope of mission creep.”

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.”