Latest Developments, February 6

Apologies for the mini hiatus. Couldn’t be helped, unfortunately. We now return to our regularly scheduled programming.

In the latest news and analysis…

Recipient charity
The Telegraph reports on new evidence suggesting British aid to India is more important to the donor than to the recipient who dismissed the so-called assistance as “a peanut in our total development exercises.”
“According to a leaked memo, the foreign minister, Nirumpama Rao, proposed ‘not to avail [of] any further DFID [British] assistance with effect from 1st April 2011,’ because of the ‘negative publicity of Indian poverty promoted by DFID’.
But officials at DFID, Britain’s Department for International Development, told the Indians that cancelling the programme would cause ‘grave political embarrassment’ to Britain, according to sources in Delhi.”

Earth 2.0
The Guardian reports on growing concerns that a small group of scientists advocating geoengineering and powerful backers such as Bill Gates and Richard Branson could have “a disproportionate effect” on decisions regarding the appropriate limits to impose on projects offering planet change as a solution to climate change.
“ ‘We will need to protect ourselves from vested interests [and] be sure that choices are not influenced by parties who might make significant amounts of money through a choice to modify climate, especially using proprietary intellectual property,’ said Jane Long, director at large for the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in the US, in a paper delivered to a recent geoengineering conference on ethics.
‘The stakes are very high and scientists are not the best people to deal with the social, ethical or political issues that geoengineering raises,’ said Doug Parr, chief scientist at Greenpeace. ‘The idea that a self-selected group should have so much influence is bizarre.’ ”

Reinforcing bad behaviour
The Guardian also reports Swiss-based commodities giant Glencore was the World Food Programme’s biggest wheat supplier over the past eight months in spite of the UN agency’s pledge to buy from “very poor farmers” and allegations that the kind of speculation of which Glencore is accused increases the likelihood of food crises.
“Glencore admitted that it bet on a rising wheat price after drought in Russia, according to investment bank UBS. “[Glencore’s] agricultural team received very timely reports from Russia farm assets that growing conditions were deteriorating aggressively in the spring and summer of 2010, as the Russian drought set in … This put it in a position to make proprietary trades going long on wheat and corn,” UBS said in a report to potential investors, disclosed by the Financial Times.
On 3 August 2010 the head of Glencore’s Russian grain business, Yury Ognev, urged Moscow to ban grain exports, according to the UBS report. Two days later Russian authorities banned wheat exports, which forced prices up by 15% in two days.”

Seed emergency
The Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology’s Vandana Shiva argues seed patenting has led to huge profits for international biotech corporations but poverty, hunger and even death for India’s farmers.
“As a farmer’s seed supply is eroded, and farmers become dependent on patented GMO seed, the result is debt. India, the home of cotton, has lost its cotton seed diversity and cotton seed sovereignty. Some 95 per cent of the country’s cotton seed is now controlled by Monsanto – and the debt trap created by being forced to buy seed every year – with royalty payments – has pushed hundreds of thousands of farmers to suicide; of the 250,000 farmer suicides, the majority are in the cotton belt.”

Cuts both ways
In arguing the international community must come together to embrace sustainable development, South African President Jacob Zuma and Finnish President Tarja Halonen, who are co-chairs of the UN High-level Panel on Global Sustainability, recognize representative democracy’s potential to provide both hope and of challenges.
“The tyranny of the urgent is never more absolute than during tough times. We need to place long-term thinking above short-term demands, both in the marketplace and at the polling place.”

Central bank capture
Columbia University’s Joseph Stiglitz appears baffled and horrified by the European Central Bank’s opposition to a “deep involuntary restructuring” of Greece’s sovereign debt.
“The final oddity of the ECB’s stance concerns democratic governance. Deciding whether a credit event has occurred is left to a secret committee of the International Swaps and Derivatives Association, an industry group that has a vested interest in the outcome. If news reports are correct, some members of the committee have been using their position to promote more accommodative negotiating positions. But it seems unconscionable that the ECB would delegate to a secret committee of self-interested market participants the right to determine what is an acceptable debt restructuring.

The ECB’s behavior should not be surprising: as we have seen elsewhere, institutions that are not democratically accountable tend to be captured by special interests. That was true before 2008; unfortunately for Europe – and for the global economy – the problem has not been adequately addressed since then.”

Third way
Columbia University’s Joseph Massad calls for the international community to avoid the false choice between Syrian fascism and US imperialism.
“The monumental loss of Iraqi lives and the destruction of their country as well as the ongoing destruction and killings in Libya belie the Syrian exile opposition’s call for imperial invasion of Syria as the way to peace, democracy and to stop the ongoing carnage in the country.

Unlike Fred Halliday and his pro-imperialist Arab and non-Arab acolytes, we need never choose between imperialism and fascism; we must unequivocally opt for the third choice, which has proven its efficacy historically and is much less costly no matter the sacrifices it requires: fighting against domestic despotism and US imperialism simultaneously (and the two have been in most cases one and the same force), and supporting home-grown struggles for democratic transformation and social justice that are not financed and controlled by the oil tyrannies of the Gulf and their US imperial master.”

Latest Developments, January 20

 

In the latest news and analysis…

The value of nature
The Guardian reports on a new study that argues some of the world’s poorest people should be paid $500 billion a year for the service they provide by preserving natural habitats.
“Many of the benefits of conservation, so-called ‘ecosystem services’, are invisible – for instance, maintaining wooded land can help to prevent mudslides during heavy rainfall, and provides valuable watersheds that keep rivers healthy and provide clean drinking water, as well as absorbing carbon dioxide from the air. These benefits are not assigned an economic value, however, so that chopping down trees or destroying habitats appears to deliver an instant economic return, when in fact it is leading to economic losses that are only obvious when it is too late.”

Hunger games
The World Development Movement’s Innocent Sithole writes about a new report on the role of European banks and private finance in food speculation and “land grabbing.”
“Our report identifies the biggest culprits in food speculation as Deutsche Bank, Barclays, the Dutch pension fund ABP, the German financial services group Allianz and French banking group BNP Paribas. We have since nominated Barclays for the 2012 Public Eye ‘shame’ awards for its financial speculation in food prices. Barclays is estimated to make up to £340 million a year from speculating in food ‘futures’ markets, making it the biggest UK player in the markets.”

Politics of xenophobia
Yahoo! News reports on the “hard line” taken by Republican presidential hopefuls on both legal and illegal immigration in the lead-up to the South Carolina primary.
“In talking about reducing legal immigration, Santorum–intentionally or not–aligned himself with the group NumbersUSA, which is spending up to $150,000 in South Carolina to run TV ads that criticize the federal government for admitting what the group considers to be too many legal immigrants each year.

Both legal and illegal immigration streams to America have fallen sharply since the recession began in 2008, even as state legislatures have increasingly passed immigration-related laws over the same period.”

Lethal policy
The University of Notre Dame’s Mary Ellen O’Connell argues America’s increasing use of “targeted killings” – a tactic it publicly opposed in the early years of the George W. Bush administration  – runs counter to its stated goal of promoting a “just and sustainable international order where the rights and responsibilities of nations and peoples are upheld, especially the fundamental rights of every human being.”
“The US did not support such killing for fundamental reasons of law and morality. Fundamental principles of law protect the human right to life and due process of law. Unlike torture, which is never permitted, states are permitted to allow designated authorities to carry out the use of lethal force in certain limited situations. In situations of armed conflict hostilities, lawful combatants will not be prosecuted for killing that complies with international humanitarian law. Today, under the international legal definition of armed conflict, the United States is involved in such hostilities in one country only: Afghanistan.
Beyond Afghanistan, any use of lethal force by designated authorities of the United States must follow the normal human rights limits on peacetime resort to lethal force. Authorities may engage in lethal force when necessary to save a human life immediately, if there is no alternative. In other cases, an attempt to arrest is required, followed by a fair trial within a reasonable period.”

Green growth
Oxfam’s Kate Raworth looks into the extent to which G20 countries have succeeded in decoupling economic growth and resource use.
“The vast majority of high-income countries in the G20 have so far provided no evidence that they can make economic growth environmentally sustainable. Of course, most have barely started to put in place the policies required to make it happen – but delay will only make it harder. So what does the G20 evidence show? That absolute decoupling is possible (we’ve seen it!), at least for some of the countries, for some resources, for some of the time. But that’s a far cry from believing that environmentally sustainable GDP growth is possible everywhere, all the time, indefinitely.”

OccupyLSX
The Institute of Development Studies’ Alex Shankland writes about the “subversive ruliness” of Occupy the London Stock Exchange.
“The Occupiers are fully committed to non-violence, but also to using direct action and surprise tactics that may or may not involve breaking the law.
So far, so unruly. But I would argue that paradoxically the real significance of the model of contestation provided by the camp lies not in law-breaking, but in rule-making. Transparent, rule-bound behaviour is absolutely central to the political practices that characterise OccupyLSX. This, in turn, is central to the unique power of the challenge that it poses to the intermingled political and financial interests whose unruly, untransparent and often downright illegal practices have left their disastrous mark both on London and on communities across the world.”

Ecuadorean example
Jawaharlal Nehru University’s Jayati Ghosh argues that in the space of a few short years, Ecuador has gone from a “basket case” to a development example for the world.
“All this may sound too good to be true, and certainly the process of transformation has only just begun. There are bound to be conflicts with those whose profits and power are threatened, as well as other hurdles along the way. But for those who believe that we are not condemned to the gloomy status quo, and that societies can do things differently, what is happening in Ecuador provides inspiration and even guidance. The rest of the world has much to learn from this ongoing radical experiment.”

Fear of debt
Robert Skidelsky, a member of the British House of Lords, argues there are a number of logical flaws to the prevailing thinking that debt reduction through “fiscal consolidation” is necessary for countries to enjoy healthy, sustainable economies.
“Third, the national debt is not a net burden on future generations. Even if it gives rise to future tax liabilities (and some of it will), these will be transfers from taxpayers to bond holders. This may have disagreeable distributional consequences. But trying to reduce it now will be a net burden on future generations: income will be lowered immediately, profits will fall, pension funds will be diminished, investment projects will be canceled or postponed, and houses, hospitals, and schools will not be built. Future generations will be worse off, having been deprived of assets that they might otherwise have had.”

Latest Developments, December 21

In the latest news and analysis…

Corporate liability
Lawfare reports the Obama administration has filed a brief with the US Supreme Court supporting Nigerian plaintiffs in the Kiobel lawsuit against oil-giant Shell, arguing corporations can be held liable under federal law for abuses committed abroad.  
“The brief –signed by State Department Legal Adviser Harold Koh and (somewhat surprisingly) by Commerce General Counsel Cameron Kerry in addition to Solicitor General Don Verrilli – argues that the question of corporate liability under the Alien Tort Statute is governed by federal common law, not by international law, although international law “informs” the issue.  And the brief goes on to argue that under federal common law, corporations may be held liable for violations of both domestic and international law: “[C]orporations have been subject to suit for centuries, and the concept of corporate liability is a well-settled part of our ‘legal culture.’”  The brief states that the United States is not aware of any international law “norm” that would prohibit corporations from being sued for violations of international law.”

Nationalization
Agence France-Presse reports a provincial branch of South Africa’s ruling African National Congress party has voted in favour of a resolution calling for land expropriation and mine nationalization. 
“ ‘All productive land must be nationalised. Compensation must not be paid on the land itself but on improvements. The price must be determined by the state through the state evaluator,’ the party’s Limpopo provincial chairman Soviet Lekganyane was shown as saying by the eNews channel.

‘We reiterate our call for nationalisation of mines and other key strategic sectors like Sasol and ArcelorMittal,’ Lekganyane was quoted as saying by the Sapa news agency, referring to major oil and steel activities.”

Air battle
The Associated Press reports that an EU court has upheld a law charging airlines flying to Europe for their carbon emissions but a US trade group, Airlines for America, is vowing to continue fighting the “unilateral” and “counterproductive” measures. 
“The European Court of Justice in Luxembourg dismissed arguments that imposing the European Union’s cap-and-trade carbon credits program on flights to and from European airports infringes on national sovereignty or violates international aviation treaties. U.S. and other non-European airlines had sued the EU, arguing that they were exempt from the law.”

Selling development
The Institute of Development Studies’ Spencer Henson raises some concerns over NGO efforts to “sell development” by promoting the idea that buying certain products will benefit poor people half a world away.
“First, it is very much based on the notion of benevolence of the (powerful) rich towards the (powerless) poor. UK consumers can decide how to spend their money at Christmas whereas the poor have little money to spend on anything. Further, as a wealthy donor the consumer can decide who is ‘deserving’ of their charity, however they might judge this.
Second, and more importantly, efforts to sell development do little or nothing to challenge the very reasons that people are poor…and the need for benevolence by the rich in the first place. Thus, how is it that such global inequality exists, and what can be done about it? The act of buying a goat, a charity Christmas card or a handicraft fails to challenge the status quo. Some would even argue that buying development perpetuates the very systems that make people poor in the first place.”

IFI reform
PIMCO’s Mohamed El-Erian argues the economic convergence that is changing the previously Western-dominated global order is unpredictable and requires “deep reform of the multilateral system” and its institutions.
“Multilateral institutions, particularly the IMF, have responded by pumping an unfathomable amount of financing into Europe. But, instead of reversing the disorderly deleveraging and encouraging new private investments, this official financing has merely shifted liabilities from the private sector to the public sector. Moreover, many emerging-market countries have noted that the policy conditionality attached to the tens of billions of dollars that have been shipped to Europe pales in comparison with what was imposed on them in the 1990’s and early 2000’s.”

Food speculation
The Guardian speaks to a food expert whose research predicted the Arab Spring and forecasts high food prices will trigger global riots and revolutions in the next two years unless something is done to rein in speculation. 
“[The New England Complex Systems Institute’s Yaneer Bar-Yam] believes the time has come for global regulators to step in and manage the global market. Their first task would be to guarantee transparency and make public information previously shrouded in secrecy – such as who holds the biggest stakes in global commodities. Transparent accounting practices would have made the disappearance of $1.2 bn worth of customer money from the books of MF Global less a matter of sleight of hand and more a matter of international crime.
The second part of the speculation solution hinges on a return to traditional position limits in commodities, limits enforced by international laws geared to stop bankers, hedge funds and sovereign wealth funds from going long on the world’s food supply and, in effect, gambling on hunger.”

Charter cities
Oxfam’s Duncan Green expresses concern over the life-size radical experiment with charter cities Honduras is about to undertake. 
“On the basis of the Economist piece, at least, the Trujillo charter city looks like a mess. The government is going to bypass constitution, laws etc, outsource the lot to private interests and rely for good governance on a commission of overstretched VIPs. If the hyperactive [Center for Global Development president Nancy] Birdsall is typical, they will have so many other commitments that they really are not going to be able to invest the time to micromanage a potentially chaotic period of institution-building. I emailed Nancy about this and she replied that yes, there are big risks, but the world needs more experiments like this not least because ‘we don’t know in the development community how to ‘produce’ good governance’. She points out that there are resources, e.g. to pay at least one aide per member of the transparency board. But that still seems like a pretty skeletal arrangement and many of the criticisms I quoted in my original post apply in this case too. Got a bad feeling about this one.” 

Latest Developments, December 7

In the latest news and analysis…

Climate loopholes
The Guardian reports that India is taking wealthy countries to task at the climate change talks in Durban, insisting they need to get serious about cutting emissions.
“To bolster its argument that rich countries must do more, India referred to a recent study by the Stockholm Environment Institute of the pledges made last year in Cancún by all countries. It shows that developing countries are pledging 30%-50% more cuts than the rich, and that the rich may be able to avoid taking any action whatever to meet their pledges by taking advantage of accounting loopholes.
Sivan Kartha and Peter Erickson of the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) said: ‘Developing countries pledges amount to more absolute mitigation than all developed countries. Unless accounting rules for Annex 1 countries are made more stringent, then Annex 1 countries will be able to formally comply with their pledges with very little actual mitigation and possibly none at all.’”

Climate debt
The Inter Press Service reports on opposition in Nepal to the government’s acceptance of millions of dollars in loans for climate change mitigation projects.
“‘Nepal has one of the lowest greenhouse gas emission levels in the world due to its low industrialisation,’ [secretary of the All-Nepal Peasants’ Federation, Hari] Parajuli adds. ‘It also has forests covering nearly 40 percent of its land. Yet, the developed countries that cause pollution are now seeking to make Nepal take loans and pay them interest.’
Parajuli says the protests are also against the involvement of the World Bank.
‘We don’t regard it positively,’ he says. ‘It is not service-oriented but works for profit.’”

Naming land grabbers
A new Oakland Institute report argues that at while the EU and US give food and emergency aid to victims of famine and war, their development and energy policies harm Africa’s people and environment.
“Development agencies including USAID and the World Bank Group are often the architects of these [unregulated land] deals that promise benefits for Africans but fail to deliver. Furthermore, the research shows that US and EU energy policies that tout the benefits of agrofuels and carbon credits–key elements of these land deals–are actually making climate change a bigger problem.

[The Oakland Institute’s Anuradha] Mittal noted that people can follow the supply chain to identify the bad actors–who claim benefits for Africa but seldom deliver: so-called developers who determine how land will be used (such as Iowa-based based AgriSol Energy and Texas-based Nile Trading Development), companies that grow non-food crops on the land (including Sun Biofuels and Addax Bioenergy), and groups that buy up agrofuels and timber (including major western airlines such as Lufthansa).”

Food speculation
A new report by the Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations (SOMO) argues for regulation of “purely financial speculation in commodity derivatives markets” that has spiralled out of control in recent years and is contributing to soaring food prices.
“SOMO calls on European governments to respect the precautionary principle enshrined in the Lisbon Treaty and to act decisively to bring back financial speculation in commodity derivatives markets. The European Parliament currently has an opportunity to do just this by strengthening the proposed Markets in Financial Instruments Directive and Regulation (MiFID and MiFIR).”

Calling out Soros
The FCPA Professor, the alter ego of Butler University’s Mike Koehler, accuses billionaire philanthropist George Soros of not walking his talk on foreign bribery.
“If the Soros funded Open Society Foundations believe that all corporations involved in [a Foreign Corrupt Practices Act] enforcement action have a “bad or wrongful purpose,” that current standards “simply do not permit successful prosecution of innocent, mistaken or unknowing persons” and that companies involved in an FCPA enforcement action are corrupt, then why does Soros Fund Management LLC invest in so many FCPA violators or companies subject to FCPA scrutiny?
The Fund’s recent 13F filing (in a 13F filing institutional investment managers disclose fund holdings) indicates substantial investments in the following companies that have recently resolved FCPA enforcement actions or are otherwise the subject of current FCPA scrutiny:  Alliance One International, El Paso, Flowserve, Halliburton, Hewlett-Packard, KBR, Motorola Solutions, Parker Drilling, Pfizer, Tidewater, Weatherford International, Tyco International, and Lyondellbasell Industries.”

Drone boom
The Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Trevor Timm argues that, with the unmanned aircraft market worth nearly $100 billion across more than 50 countries, the debate about drones needs to extend well beyond their use or misuse by the US military.
“Whether they are being used for surveillance or all-out combat, drones will soon pose serious risks for all of the world’s citizens. They can offer governments, police departments, or private citizens unprecedented capabilities for spying, and given their security vulnerabilities, the potential consequences could be endless.”

Treating symptoms
Dean Chahim, a University of Washington student and co-founder of the Critical Development Forum, calls on young people to engage in more political activism at home in order to change the global order.
“My generation has been sold a dogma of the individual as the solution to inequality and poverty. The older generation glorifies our individual achievements as “social entrepreneurs” while brushing the total failure of our economic system under the rug. Is it any wonder our youth think that if they start enough NGOs, go abroad two weeks at a time, design a new widget, or send a few bras – all will be well in the world?”

Spam tax
Oxfam’s Duncan Green mines the comments section of a Financial Times blog to provide a “lovely analogy” for a proposed financial transaction tax (Tobin/Robin Hood tax).
“Think of spam email: when sending emails is essentially free, sending out millions of spam emails can be profitable even if a fraction of respondents would take the bait. But if you had to pay even a nominal charge, even less than a penny, per email sent, that ‘business model’ would essentially become loss making in many cases. The Tobin tax would have a similar effect on a lot of this ‘phantom liquidity’ we get across many markets through high frequency traders – who, after all, are playing a zero sum game mostly, with their profits essentially being losses for a lot of other players. A small transaction cost might just be enough to discourage a lot of this socially useless activity.”