Latest Developments, July 16

In the latest news and analysis…

Free hand
Le Monde reports that the UN and France have signed an agreement granting “freedom of action” to French troops in Mali:

“The text, according to a diplomat, is reminiscent of the mandate for France’s Operation Unicorn in Côte d’Ivoire, whose intervention under UN auspices precipitated the fall of Laurent Gbagbo in 2011.

Before calling for French back-up, the text stresses however, that UN peacekeepers ‘must do all they can’ to resolve a crisis. In the case of an intervention, French support will be ‘direct or indirect, by land or air, within the limits of both its capacities and the deployment of its units.’
Paris, which ‘wants to keep a free hand,’ according to a diplomatic source, will have ‘the choice of means, numbers and location.’ The French army has bases in Senegal, Côte d’Ivoire and Chad. It can also mobilize reinforcements from France, according to the same source.” [Translated from the French.]

American justice
The Atlantic’s Ta-Nehisi Coates argues that a Florida court’s acquittal of a man who shot and killed an unarmed African-American youth was unjust but neither surprising nor, given the current state of the law, wrong:

“It is painful to say this: Trayvon Martin is not a miscarriage of American justice, but American justice itself. This is not our system malfunctioning. It is our system working as intended. To expect our juries, our schools, our police to single-handedly correct for this, is to look at the final play in the final minute of the final quarter and wonder why we couldn’t come back from twenty-four down.
To paraphrase a great man: We are what our record says we are. How can we sensibly expect different?”

Avoiding tax reform
The Guardian reports that the US has blocked a French proposal for the G20 to crack down on tax avoidance by digital companies:

“Senior officials in Washington have made it known they will not stand for rule changes that narrowly target the activities of some of the nation’s fastest growing multinationals, according to sources with knowledge of the situation.

While the Americans concede that the rules need to be updated, they are understood to be pushing for moderate change. They are believed to want tweaks to the existing wording of international tax treaties rather than the creation of wholly new passages dedicated to spelling out how the digital economy should be taxed.”

1,000 days of cholera
The Economist reports on the UN’s ongoing controversial handling of the cholera epidemic its MINUSTAH peacekeepers triggered in Haiti in 2010:

“Critics argue that the UN’s stance is tantamount to claiming impunity—that the UN, an organisation whose mission involves promoting the rule of law, is putting itself above it.

The UN has staunchly refused to entertain the cholera claims in any venue. Its letter to the claimants’ lawyers eschewed their proposals to meet, engage a mediator, or establish an alternative venue to hear the complaints. Whereas [UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon’s] letter to congressmen said that ‘the majority of [the] recommendations’ made by a UN panel of experts to avoid future epidemics were being implemented, a report by a United States-based non-profit group in May found that five of the seven recommendations were only partially implemented, or not at all. And although the UN launched an initiative to fight cholera in Haiti in January 2012, the programme is already falling short: Mr Ban’s letter stated that pledges for the cholera initiated amounted to $207m, $31m less than the UN said would be available last December. It is another failure that by now will hardly surprise the people of Haiti.”

Hunger bill
Princeton University’s Paul Krugman takes aim at the “awesome double standard” of the “monstrous” farm bill passed by the US House of Representatives last week:

“Farm subsidies became a fraud-ridden program that mainly benefits corporations and wealthy individuals. Meanwhile food stamps became a crucial part of the social safety net.
So House Republicans voted to maintain farm subsidies — at a higher level than either the Senate or the White House proposed — while completely eliminating food stamps from the bill.
To fully appreciate what just went down, listen to the rhetoric conservatives often use to justify eliminating safety-net programs. It goes something like this: ‘You’re personally free to help the poor. But the government has no right to take people’s money’ — frequently, at this point, they add the words ‘at the point of a gun’ — ‘and force them to give it to the poor.’
It is, however, apparently perfectly O.K. to take people’s money at the point of a gun and force them to give it to agribusinesses and the wealthy.”

Broken ships
The Guardian explores the dangerous and environmentally harmful shipbreaking industry, which supplies much of the world’s recycled steel:

“One of the problems is steel is a commodity sold in international markets, making it very difficult to trace where it came from by the time it turns up in a consumer product. Improved supply chain transparency would help but would be difficult to manage in any practical way, said [Shipbreaking Platform’s Patrizia] Heidegger, who suggested flipping the problem on its head: make the ship’s owners responsible for ensuring that their products are recycled properly once they are finished with them.

The EU recently voted on regulations that require EU-registered ships to use ‘green’ recycling facilities, but the new rules miss a crucial point, said Heidegger: there is nothing to stop European owners re-registering their ships outside the EU before sending them for breaking. At the moment only around a tenth of vessels are flying European flags when they reach the end of their lives, even though around 40% of the world’s fleet is owned by European companies, she said.”

Dangerous objects
The Washington Post’s Alexandra Petri mocks the security measures undertaken at a Texas Senate debate over proposed changes to the state’s abortion laws:

“Among the latest updates from the Unwanted Texas Efforts To Pass Stringent Anti-Abortion Legislation came the gem that the state senate security was confiscating tampons from spectators entering the gallery to watch debate on HB 2. Guns, of course, were still allowed in the gallery for those with concealed carry licenses.”

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Latest Developments, November 27

 

In the latest news and analysis…

Fatal negligence
The New York Times reports that critics are partly blaming international clothing brands for over 100 deaths in a Bangladeshi garment factory fire:

“Activists say that global clothing brands like Tommy Hilfiger and the Gap and those sold by Walmart need to take responsibility for the working conditions in Bangladeshi factories that produce their clothes.
‘These brands have known for years that many of the factories they choose to work with are death traps,’ Ineke Zeldenrust, the international coordinator for the Clean Clothes Campaign, said in a statement. ‘Their failure to take action amounts to criminal negligence.’ ”

Double standard
Columbia University’s Jeffrey Sachs argues that international oil companies should face “the same standards for environmental cleanup” whether a spill occurs in a rich or poor country:

“In the colonial era, it was the official purpose of imperial power to extract wealth from the administered territories. In the post-colonial period, the methods are better disguised. When oil companies misbehave in Nigeria or elsewhere, they are protected by the power of their home countries. Don’t mess with the companies, they are told by the United States and Europe. Indeed, one of the largest bribes (a reputed $180 million) paid in recent times in Nigeria was by Halliburton, a company tightly intertwined with US political power. (Dick Cheney went from being Halliburton’s CEO to the US vice presidency.)

The world’s governments have recently agreed to move to a new framework for sustainable development, declaring their intention to adopt Sustainable Development Goals at the Rio+20 Summit in June. The SDGs offer a critical opportunity for the world to set clear, compelling standards for government and corporate behavior.”

After 2014
The New York Times also reports on the potential number of foreign troops that will remain in Afghanistan following NATO’s “handover” of the country to local authorities:

“Final decisions on the size of the American and NATO presence after 2014 and its precise configuration have not been made by the United States or its allies. But one option calls for about 10,000 American and several thousand non-American NATO troops.

A major challenge is that Afghanistan will not have an effective air force before 2017, if then. American officials said that NATO airpower would remain in Afghanistan after 2014 but will likely only be used on behalf of NATO and American troops and perhaps Afghan units that are accompanied by NATO advisers.”

Probe promised
The Tanzania Daily News reports that the country’s government has vowed to investigate allegations of serious human rights abuses being committed in areas surrounding mines:

“ ‘We have come across serious allegation that investors are harassing and even killing residents allegedly entering mining sites without permission. If the allegations are confirmed we will take action regardless of the status of an investor,’ [Energy and Minerals Deputy Minister Stephen Masele] said.

He was responding to complaints by residents who said the relationship between mining investors and local residents particularly in Geita was not good calling for the government to intervene before it was too late.”

Debt colonies
Cambridge University’s Ha-Joon Chang argues that indebted countries such as Greece and Argentina should have the right to declare bankruptcy the way corporations do:

“[Greek opposition leader Alexis] Tsipras was asking why most burdens of adjustment for bad loans have to fall on the debtor country and, within them, mostly on its weaker members. And he is right. As they say, it takes two to tango, so those who condemn Greece for imprudent borrowing should also condemn the imprudent lenders that made it possible.

Meanwhile, the absence of rules equivalent to the protection of wage claims in corporate bankruptcy law means that claims by weaker stakeholders – pensions, unemployment insurance, income supports – are the first to go. This creates social unrest, which then threatens recovery by discouraging investment.”

Destructive conferences
In a Q&A with Inter Press Service, the University of KwaZulu Natal’s Patrick Bond argues that international climate summits, such as the UN’s COP 18 which has just kicked off in Doha, simply legitimize the unsustainable behaviour of rich countries:

“It is beyond doubt now that any progress at the multilateral level will require two things: first, a further crash of the emissions trading experiment, so as to finally end the fiction that a market run by international bankers can solve a problem of planet-threatening pollution caused by unregulated markets; and second, a banning of delegations from Washington – the U.S. government and Bretton Woods Institutions – since that’s the city most influenced by climate denialists. Hence every move from the U.S. State Department amounts to sabotage.”

Brain drain numbers
The Financial Times looks at the findings in a new UN report, which explores the pros and cons of highly skilled people emigrating from the world’s poorest countries:

“[Least Developed Countries] not surprisingly suffer the highest rates of ‘brain drain’ in the world, at 18.4 per cent of the population – far above the 10 per cent rate for other developing countries, according to [the UN Conference on Trade and Development]. Six of the 48 LDCs have greater numbers of highly-skilled nationals living abroad than at home.
The total of university-educated ‘LDC emigrants’ stood at 1.3m in 2000 – up 58 per cent from 1990 – and by mid-2011 was estimated to have exceeded 2m, the report said. At these kind of levels, ‘the adverse effects on LDCs can outweigh the benefits from remittances – that is, the billions of dollars that these workers send home to their families every year,’ it says.”

EU subsidies
The Guardian’s George Monbiot attacks the EU’s €50bn-per-year farm subsidies on economic, social and environmental grounds:

“A European rule insists that to receive their main payment farmers must prevent ‘the encroachment of unwanted vegetation on agricultural land’. In other words, they must stop trees and bushes from growing. They don’t have to grow crops or keep animals on the land to get their money, but they do have to keep it mown. All over Europe essential wildlife habitats are destroyed – often on agriculturally worthless land – simply to expand the area eligible for subsidies.”

Latest Developments, October 11

In today’s latest news and analysis…

Playing footsie with tax havens
A new ActionAid report entitled Addicted to Tax Havens indicates that 98 of the UK’s FTSE 100 companies have subsidiaries (over 8,000 in all) based in tax havens.
“Corporate tax avoidance, which is one of the main reasons companies use tax havens, is having a massive impact on rich and poor countries alike. Developing countries currently lose three times more to tax havens than they receive in aid each year.”

SLAPP-happy mining companies
Candice Vallantin writes in the Walrus about a pair of lawsuits involving mining companies and the authors of a book critical of Canadian-owned overseas mining operations in order to highlight the issue of so-called strategic lawsuits against public participation (or SLAPPs) and their potential to make it impossible to criticize powerful entities.
“In December, the same week the Noir Canada lawyers filed their motion for the court to declare Barrick Gold’s case abusive, Pierre Noreau, a law professor at L’Université de Montréal, published an editorial in Le Devoir. Co-signed by more than two dozen law professors from around the country, it laid out the stakes. ‘Behind [this case] remains a fundamental question: Can we still be critical in our society? Should power (and money) always prevail over the right to know, or at least the right to question publicly?… The future of thought rests on this case.’”

Maintaining EU farm subsidies
The Guardian’s Mark Tran reports trade campaigners are unhappy with proposed reforms to the EU’s common agricultural policy (CAP), arguing the changes would have little impact on the massive subsidies that make it virtually impossible for farmers in poor countries to compete.
“CAP reform comes against the background of the EU’s commitment to what it calls policy coherence for development, which seeks to ensure that all policies, not just development, promote growth in developing countries. The continuing high level of farm subsidies will make it hard for EU policymakers to square the circle.”

Grim food forecast
The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2011, a new UN report, foresees no let-up in high, volatile food prices, a scenario that could have wide, long-lasting economic consequences.
“Price volatility makes both smallholder farmers and poor consumers increasingly vulnerable to poverty while short-term price changes can have long-term impacts on development, the report found. Changes in income due to price swings that lead to decreased food consumption can reduce children’s intake of key nutrients during the first 1000 days of life from conception, leading to a permanent reduction of their future earning capacity and an increased likelihood of future poverty, with negative impacts on entire economies.”

Hooray for brain drain
The Center for Global Development’s Charles Kenny argues everybody benefits when skilled professionals migrate from poor to rich countries.
“Michael Clemens at the Center for Global Development finds no evidence that medical brain drain from developing countries leads to shortages of medical staff back home, probably because the opportunity to migrate is one of the things that attracts people to medical school in the first place. For years, nurses have left the Philippines in huge numbers to work abroad, but the country still has more nurses per person than Britain.”

Breakthrough or setback?
Intellectual Property Watch’s William New reports the Medicines Patent Pool has negotiated a new deal for an Indian generics producer to manufacture cheap antiretrovirals, but it remains unclear whether the MPP has addressed concerns expressed over its first agreement signed in July.
“Meanwhile, a newly launched petition against the MPP-Gilead agreement is being led by the International Treatment Preparedness Coalition, and is based on their assessment that the deal with Gilead represents a “setback” for people living with HIV, and that the process is not sufficiently transparent.
The petition…calls for a renegotiation of the voluntary licence agreement, and a moratorium on agreements by the Patent Pool with Indian generics producers until a model can be created. The petition followed a 2 October meeting between activists and the MPP, and has dozens of signatures of individuals and groups.”

Dissecting Millennium Villages
The Guardian’s Madeleine Bunting puts Columbia University economist/development industry superstar Jeffrey Sachs’s Millennium Villages Project under the microscope, asking if it really represents a replicable model for development.
“The nub of the issue was well put by Chris Blattman when he asked on his blog what the MVP will prove. That ‘a gazillion dollars in aid and lots of government attention produces good outcomes’? This is hardly surprising, says Blattman. The point, he adds, is how we test ‘the theory of the big push: that high levels of aid simultaneously attacking many sectors and bottlenecks are needed to spur development; that there are positive interactions and externalities from multiple interventions’.”

Development perks
Global Integrity’s Nathaniel Heller sounds off about the development industry’s self-importance (“Only in the Diplo-Development Universe™ does a trip to a boring industry conference in Toronto turn into a breathless, dramatic ‘mission.’”) and excessive per diems (“The fixed sum for each destination is calculated based on the following process: a large team of economists closely monitors a common basket of goods across geographies, calculates the cost of that basket in local currency, and then apparently multiplies the result by thirteen.”), arguing these seemingly minor flaws may be symptomatic of more serious problems.
“Habits like “going on mission” and fat per diems perpetuate a mindset of process trumping outcomes in international diplomacy and development. International travel becomes the whole point of some people’s jobs, especially in large international organizations and governmental agencies. Achieving actual outcomes (reducing poverty, reforming institutions, promoting peace) somehow gets swept aside in the frenzy to upgrade to business class…”