Latest Developments, April 17

In the latest news and analysis…

Shocking cake
The Local reports Swedish culture minister Lena Adelsohn Liljeroth has become embroiled in controversy after her participation in a “racist spectacle” at a Stockholm art museum.
“As part of the installation, which was reportedly meant to highlight the issue of female circumcision, the culture minister began cutting a large cake shaped like a black woman, symbolically starting at the clitoris.

But images of the event, which show a smiling and laughing Adelsohn Liljeroth slicing up the cake, have caused the National Afro-Swedish Association and its members to see red and issue calls for her resignation.
‘According to the Moderna Museet, the “cake party” was meant to problematize female circumcision but how that is accomplished through a cake representing a racist caricature of a black woman complete with “black face” is unclear,’ [the National Afro-Swedish Association’s Kitimbwa] Sabuni said in a statement.”

Excluding biofuels
EurActiv reports that EU “energy aid” to poor countries will not include funding for biofuels, coal or nuclear projects, though gas remains an option.
“Gas is currently a hot-button topic as the UK, France, Poland and the Czech Republic reportedly mount a behind-the-scenes push for the EU’s future climate milestones to be sculpted around ‘low-carbon’ targets – including gas and nuclear – rather than renewable energy.

The EU is the world’s leading donor of energy development aid, providing €278.5 million in 2010, and around €1 billion in the last five years, mostly, the EU says, as seed money to leverage private-sector funds at a ratio of 20:1.”

Laundering banks
Global Witness has called for a “thorough investigation” into UK and US banks alleged to have helped former Nigerian politician James Ibori launder millions in stolen public funds.
“According to the prosecutor, Sasha Wass QC, Ibori and his associates used multiple accounts at Barclays, HSBC, Citibank and Abbey National to launder funds. Millions of pounds passed through these accounts in total, some of which were used to purchase expensive London property.

Banks and lawyers have a legal obligation to identify their customers and carry out ongoing checks to identify any suspicious transactions which they have to report to the authorities. In particular, they are supposed to identify customers who are senior politicians or their family members and close associates, who could potentially represent a corruption risk, and do extra checks on their funds.

The case also shows how money launderers such as Ibori are able to use shell companies spread across different countries to move and conceal their assets. At present it can be incredibly difficult for law enforcement and others to identify the actual person who controls and benefits from a company. Global Witness is calling for all countries to use their company registers to publish details on the real, ‘beneficial’ owner of all companies.”

Glencore abuses
The BBC says it has uncovered evidence of Swiss-based commodity giant Glencore’s involvement in serious human rights abuses in Colombia and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
“Undercover filming showed children as young as ten working in the Glencore-owned Tilwezembe mining concession.
And sales documents show a Glencore subsidiary made payments to the suspected associates of paramilitaries in Colombia.”

Controversial court reforms
Human Rights Watch is calling for proposed reforms to the European Court of Human Rights to be rejected by member countries.
“The draft proposals put forward by the UK contain many positive proposals, including a range of measures aimed at improving implementation of judgments by national authorities, Human Rights Watch said. But two proposals – one to limit the court’s ability to hear cases involving serious human rights abuse and other emphasizing principles that serve the interests of governments over those of the potential victims of human rights violations – are deeply problematic, and risk undermining the court. The UK currently chairs the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers, the organization’s highest decision-making body.”

Legalizing drugs
The International Institute for Strategic Studies’ Nigel Inkster, who was once the assistant chief of Britain’s MI6 secret service, argues the time has come to end the War on Drugs and legalize them.
“Our investigation has shown that the so-called ‘war on drugs’ undermines international security.
Consumer countries of the developed world have seen whole communities devastated by epidemics of drugs misuse and crime. Addicts of drugs such as heroin have been marginalised and stigmatised and many otherwise law-abiding citizens criminalised for their consumption choices.
But the vulnerable producer and transit countries of the developing world have paid a far higher price.”

US corporate tax dodging
The Institute for Policy Studies’ Sarah Anderson and Scott Klinger highlight six ways in which US corporate giants avoid paying taxes.
“AT&T, Boeing, Citigroup, Duke Energy and Ford collectively reported more than $20 billion of US pre-tax income last year, yet none of them paid a dime in federal income taxes. Instead, they claimed refunds of more than $1.3 billion from the IRS.
These corporations are not alone in turning tax dodging into a competitive sport. Last year, US corporations paid an effective tax rate of just 12.1 percent, the lowest level in the last forty years, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Sixty years ago, when Republican President Dwight Eisenhower lived in the White House, corporations paid 32 percent of federal government’s tax receipts; last year they paid 9 percent.”

Back to basics
In a piece addressed to his newborn daughter, Guardian columnist George Monbiot issues a plea for people to embrace a philosophy and collective course of action based on the recognition that she, “like all of us, arose from and belong to the natural world.”
“This is a positive environmentalism, which envisages the rewilding – the ecological restoration – of large tracts of unproductive land and over-exploited sea. It recognises nature’s remarkable capacity to recover, to re-establish the complex web of ecological relationships through which, so far, we have crudely blundered. Rather than fighting only to arrest destruction, it proposes a better, richer world, a place in which, I hope, you would delight to live.”