Latest Developments, May 17

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In the latest news and analysis…

Forever war
The New York Times reports on the current debate over the “authorization to use military force,” a 2001 statute that provides the legal basis for America’s so-called War on Terror:

“Human rights groups that want to see the 12-year-old military conflict wind down fear that a new authorization would create an open-ended ‘forever war.’
Some supporters of continuing the wartime approach to terrorism indefinitely fear that the war’s legal basis is eroding and needs to be bolstered, while others worry that a new statute might contain limits that would reduce the power that the Obama administration claims it already wields under the 2001 version.
And still others say that whatever the right policy may be, Congress should protect its constitutional role by explicitly authorizing the parameters of the war, rather than ceding that decision to the executive branch.”

Oil fraud
Sweetcrude reports that Shell has been accused of falsifying the results of an investigation into an oil spill in Nigeria’s Niger Delta:

“About 80 oil producing communities in Warri North and Warri South-West Local Government Areas of Delta State made the allegation, Wednesday, in Warri at a meeting with officials of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, NIMASA, and the Nigerian Naval Service, NNS Delta.
The communities are alleging that SNEPCo fabricated the result of samples of oil, soil and surface water collected for test from a few communities impacted by the Bonga oil spill.”

Credits galore
European Voice reports that big polluters are profiting from the EU emissions trading scheme:

“According to the analysis, carried out by Bloomberg New Energy Finance, the steel, cement, refining, lime, glass, ceramics and pulp sectors all generated a profit within the system by being over-allocated emission allowances in the scheme.

‘The ETS as a whole has been a financial support to the energy intensive industries…who usually complain that the ETS is killing them,’ asserted a [European Commission] official.”

No more tax avoidance
The Guardian reports that the CEO of UK banking giant Lloyds has promised to (more or less) stop using tax havens:

“Chief executive António Horta-Osório said the 39%-taxpayer owned bank had embarked on a systematic review of ‘so-called tax havens’ after a shareholder demanded to know why the bank was the seventh biggest user of such facilities.

‘In 2012 alone we have closed 60 of those companies and that is more than 20% of the total. We are going to close all of them unless there are strong business reasons for our customers to keep them there,’ he said at the meeting in Edinburgh. He later clarified that ‘business reasons’ did not mean ‘tax reasons’.”

Continued colonialism
Al Jazeera reports that a new study argues that living conditions for Canada’s aboriginal population provides “motives for an insurgency”:

“ ‘The Canadian right-wing establishment is seizing on this to justify its own agenda of stricter controls and the continued criminalisation of native people who defend their rights,’ Taiaiake Alfred, chair of the centre for indigenous governance at the University of Victoria, and one of Canada’s most influential aboriginal intellectuals, told Al Jazeera. ‘The positive elements of Canadian society – progressive values and social justice – are founded on the ongoing injustice of land theft and murder of indigenous people.’
In November, Paul Martin, Canada’s former prime minister and a business tycoon, echoed Alfred’s comments, albeit in a softer tone. ‘We have never admitted to ourselves that we were, and still are, a colonial power,’ he said.”

Shadowy corners
Oxfam’s Ben Phillips calls for a modern resurgence of the kind of “free-thinking insubordination” that helped bring about the renaissance and reformation:

“To exhalt the humble, we’re going to have to humble the exhalted.
That’s why charities are so focused on getting the G8 to deliver on transparency in land investments and in taxation – because knowledge is power, because stealing is harder in broad daylight. The G8 would, no doubt, prefer if we only asked them to beneficent. But we’re insisting, most of all, that they are transparent, and end their role in providing shadowy corners for shady characters to hide their dodgy deals.”

Bad food
Sylvia Szabo argues in Global Policy for a new understanding of food security:

“Even, if hunger was to be completely eradicated, it would not mean that the planet would become food secure. Already today, developing countries, including those in Africa, are experiencing an increased consumption of processed foods. Obesity and chronic diseases are gradually becoming a new challenge in African societies, although many do not yet realise the gravity of the problem.

The stigma of food insecurity seems to be focused only on the developing world, but it has become a global problem and should be conceptualised as such.”

Self-appointed helpers
Former development worker Nora Schenkel discusses her disillusionment at the gulf between the rhetoric and reality of aid work in Haiti:

“Most Haitians only ever meet Westerners in our capacity as self-appointed helpers. We are never just here because we want to be in Haiti; we claim we are here to better Haitians’ lives. But they have seen us come and go for decades, and they are poorer than ever before.
Meanwhile, they see us leaving the grocery store with bags of food that cost more than what they make in a month. They watch us get into large air-conditioned cars and drive by them, always by them. They see us going home to nice, big houses, shielded by high walls.”

Growing gap
Bloomberg reports that US manufacturing giant Caterpillar has become a “symbol of the growing divergence in corporate America between profits and wages”

“In January 2012, Caterpillar locked out union workers at a locomotive factory in Ontario after they rejected a pay cut of about 50 percent; the company shuttered the plant and moved production to Muncie, Ind., where workers accepted lower wages.

As Caterpillar squeezed hourly workers for concessions, [CEO Doug] Oberhelman’s own pay rose 60 percent in 2011, to more than $16 million. Although the company’s profits have declined in recent quarters (largely because of a decline in commodities prices, which has hurt all mining equipment makers), Caterpillar announced on April 22 that Oberhelman’s compensation had jumped again, to $22 million.

As a percentage of gross domestic product, corporate earnings recently hit their highest level in more than 60 years, and wages fell to new lows, according to Moody’s Analytics.”

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Latest Developments, November 28

In the latest news and analysis…

Beyond aid
The Center for Global Development’s Owen Barder argues that over the past decade, “there has been very little overall progress in the policies of rich countries which affect prospects in poor countries”:

“But people from developing countries are clear that development policy today must mean more than giving aid. With growing economic success, they want to benefit more from the resources and services which they supply to the world. They do not want aid as compensation for global trade rules which are stacked against them: they want the rules changed. They do not want merely to be compensated for the damage done to the environment by industrialised countries; they want the destruction of our shared planet to stop.

Aid agencies and campaigners make a powerful case for increases in aid, and for improving its quality. But many have neglected the other issues which developing countries are increasingly demanding must be addressed and which are likely to be at least as important. This paralysis in the face of a changing agenda should come as no surprise. All aid agencies have to spend their budget wisely and avoid waste (or worse). But working to improve the policies on fisheries, patents or tax is always discretionary, however important it might be. Nobody in the government department responsible for these policies will complain if the development ministry leaves them alone. The people who stand to lose are in developing countries: and they have no voice and no vote when these priorities are set.”

US exceptionalism
The Hill reports that US President Barack Obama has signed into law a bill that will exempt US airlines from EU carbon fees:

“The White House had been under pressure from environmental groups to veto the bill. Those advocates want Obama to address climate change more forcefully in his second term, and said the emissions bill provided an opportunity to chart a new course.

‘However, there is a silver lining here — the administration has appointed high level representatives to pursue a global solution for aviation and climate,’ [the World Wildlife Fund’s Keya] Chatterjee said. ‘The White House now must endorse a global, market-based measure to rein in carbon pollution from aviation. If they do, we are optimistic that the U.S. can work with [International Civil Aviation Organization] to develop a package of policies that will reduce our share of global emissions.’ ”

Right to development
350.org’s Bill McKibben, the Environmental Rights Action’s Nnimmo Bassey and Focus on the Global South’s Pablo Solon call the COP 18 climate talks currently underway in Doha “the time to act for the future of humanity and Nature”:

“Rich countries who have poured most of the carbon into the atmosphere (especially the planet’s sole superpower) need to take the lead in emission reductions and the emerging economies have also to make commitments to reduce the exploitation of oil, coal and gas. The right to development should be understood as the obligation of the states to guarantee the basic needs of the population to enjoy a fulfilled and happy life, and not as a free ticket for a consumer and extractivist society that doesn’t take into account the limits of the planet and the wellbeing of all humans.”

Killer fashion
Al Jazeera provides a roundup of the global clothing lines who were customers of the Bangladeshi garment factory where a fire killed “at least 110 people” over the weekend:

“Survivors and witnesses told AFP that workers, most of them women, tried to escape the burning factory, which supplied clothes to international brands including Walmart, European chain C&A and the Hong Kong-based Li & Fung company.
Order books and clothing found at the site show the company was also making clothing for Disney Pixar, Sears and other Western brands.
The Associated Press news agency reports that blue and off-white shorts from ENYCE, the label now owned by Hip Hop mogul Sean ‘Diddy’ Combs, were piled and stacked in cartons on the floor.”

Pipeline colonialism
A First Nations group in Canada’s westernmost province has issued a letter to “the illegitimate colonial governments of Canada and British Columbia, and to all parties involved in the proposed Pacific Trails Pipeline project” warning against attempts to bring a natural gas pipeline through their territory:

“Under Wet’suwet’en law, the people of these lands have an inalienable right to their traditional territories, and the right to defend it. Even by Canadian law, the Supreme Court Dalgamuukw case decision explicitly recognizes the authority of hereditary chiefs, not elected Indian Act bands or councils. As such, any further unauthorized incursion into traditional Wet’suwet’en territory will be considered an act of colonialism, and an act of aggression towards our sovereignty.”

Tackling offshoring
Global Witness’s Rosie Sharpe argues that the opacity of the global financial system is a major contributor to the perpetuation of poverty:

“Why don’t Congolese citizens know who bought the rights to six of their country’s best copper and cobalt mines? Because they were bought by anonymous firms registered in the British Virgin Islands. And, what’s more, these companies bought them at a snip – in some cases just a 20th of their estimated value – and then sold some of them on for much, much more. Someone pocketed a fortune, but hidden company ownership means neither we, nor Congolese citizens, can know who.

If we want to make poverty history, we have to make corruption history. And if we want to make corruption history, we have to make anonymous companies history. Global Witness has been calling for the names of the true, beneficial owners of companies and other corporate vehicles to be made public. Nominee directors and shareholders should have to declare themselves as such and say who they’re working for.”

Minimum tax
Berkshire Hathaway’s Warren Buffett makes the case for a minimum tax on America’s wealthiest people:

“I would suggest 30 percent of taxable income between $1 million and $10 million, and 35 percent on amounts above that. A plain and simple rule like that will block the efforts of lobbyists, lawyers and contribution-hungry legislators to keep the ultrarich paying rates well below those incurred by people with income just a tiny fraction of ours. Only a minimum tax on very high incomes will prevent the stated tax rate from being eviscerated by these warriors for the wealthy.”