Latest Developments, June 10

In the latest news and analysis…

Absurd economy
David Woodward, a new economics foundation fellow, welcomes new talk of worldwide poverty eradication but says the current global system is incapable of delivering such results:

“There is an absurdity to the idea of raising the average income of more than 7 billion people to more than $100,000 a year merely to ensure that everyone has an income of at least $465. But in the present context of global carbon constraints, it goes far beyond the absurd. It is both dangerous and counterproductive.

Merely relying on global growth (and the continuation of recent improvements in development policy) to eradicate extreme poverty is simply not a viable course. We can only hope to eradicate poverty – even by the highly restrictive $1.25 definition – through a major increase in the share of the benefits of global growth that accrue to the world’s poorest by a factor of more than five.
And that would require a fundamental rethink of our whole approach, not only to development, but to the operation of the global economy.”

Militarized internet
The Guardian reports on a leaked document indicating that US President Barack Obama has ordered the creation of a list of targets for potential cyber attacks should “national interests and equities” be considered under threat:

“The 18-page Presidential Policy Directive 20, issued in October last year but never published, states that what it calls Offensive Cyber Effects Operations (OCEO) ‘can offer unique and unconventional capabilities to advance US national objectives around the world with little or no warning to the adversary or target and with potential effects ranging from subtle to severely damaging’.

Obama’s move to establish a potentially aggressive cyber warfare doctrine will heighten fears over the increasing militarization of the internet.”

Outsourced dirty work
Radio France Internationale reports that a new agreement between the European Union and Morocco could pave the way for Africa’s first migrant detention centres:

“On Friday June 7 in Brussels, Morocco signed a text that requires Rabat to negotiate and cooperate with Europe on immigration matters. In exchange for certain favours, Morocco is agreeing to take in all migrants who reached Europe illegally via Morocco,

Morocco is the first Mediterranean country to enter into such a partnership with the EU.

The concern is that Europe is trying to ship its migration problems outside its borders without any guarantees that human rights will be respected.” [Translated from the French.]

Fighting transparency
Postmedia News reports that the Canadian government is being accused of opposing proposed G8 measures aimed at fighting global tax avoidance:

“Tax watchdog groups say Canada is resisting efforts by [UK Prime Minister David] Cameron and G8 countries on a couple of measures that would further combat tax evasion, including identifying the true owners of offshore accounts and shell companies by disclosing what’s called beneficial ownership information.

Canadians for Tax Fairness, an advocacy group that’s part of a larger global network, says its sources also indicate Canada is fighting measures that would call for automatic tax information exchange agreements between countries that would help governments better track tax cheats.”

Timber barons
Global Witness has released a new report showing how logging companies are moving from loophole to loophole in order access Liberia’s rainforests:

“When the government halted logging under [Private Use Permits] in August, companies immediately began submitting large numbers of applications for Community Forest Management Agreements (CFMA). However, CFMAs are intended to allow communities to manage forests themselves, and it is illegal for anyone other than communities to submit CFMA applications. Once again, companies are targeting small scale permits and exploiting communities to get access to the forests.”

Strings attached
Friends of the Earth’s Kirtana Chandrasekaran and Nnimmo Bassey express concern over some of the “far-reaching changes to [African] land, seed and farming policies” demanded by the G8’s New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition:

“Mozambique, for example, is committed to ‘systematically ceasing to distribute free and unimproved [non-commercial] seeds to farmers except in emergencies’. The new alliance will lock poor farmers into buying increasingly expensive seeds – including genetically modified seeds – allow corporate monopolies in seed selling, and escalate the loss of precious genetic diversity in seeds – absolutely key in the fight against hunger. It will also open the door to genetically modified (GM) crops in Africa by stopping farmers’ access to traditional local varieties and forcing them to buy private seeds.

Several countries have been asked to speed up the takeover of land by foreign investors. Ethiopia, for instance, will ‘Refine land law, if necessary, to encourage long-term land leasing’, while companies are already asking for up to 500,000 hectares (12.35m acres) of land in Ivory Coast under this scheme.”

Investor activism
Novethic has released a new report looking into the impacts of investors, primarily in northern Europe, who blacklist companies over alleged human rights abuses:

“The calling out of companies by investors, if echoed by public opinion and the media, can be a game changer. In order to maximize impact, investors must coordinate their efforts. If they adopt common definitions of the human rights they want to see respected and they take action together, progress will be significant.” [Translated from the French.]

Drone terror
Al Jazeera reports on the experiences of “terrorised” civilians who have witnessed America’s drone war up close and personal in Yemen:

“The repercussions were devastating. The villagers marched the next day, chanting: ‘Obama, why do you spill our blood?’ But President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi met their pleas for answers with silence.
Salem’s mother died two weeks later apparently from shock. [Faisal Ahmed bin Ali Jaber]’s sister Hayat, the mother of Walid, refuses to leave her home, and said she is ‘waiting to join my so’. Faisal’s daughter Heba was so stricken with fear she didn’t leave her home for twenty days. She still needs psychiatric care.
‘The people in the village are so afraid now,’ Faisal sighed. ‘Everything has changed. They think they can be killed anywhere.’ ”

Latest Developments, May 23

In the latest news and analysis…

Perpetual war
The Washington Post provides a transcript of US President Barack Obama’s speech (complete with interruptions) laying out his vision of national security, including the use of drone strikes and the Guantanamo Bay prison:

“To say a military tactic is legal, or even effective, is not to say it is wise or moral in every instance, for the same progress that gives us the technology to strike half a world away also demands the discipline to constrain that power, or risk abusing it.

Now, this last point is critical because much of the criticism about drone strikes, both here at home and abroad, understandably centers on reports of civilian casualties. There’s a wide gap between U.S. assessments of such casualties and nongovernmental reports. Nevertheless, it is a hard fact that U.S. strikes have resulted in civilian casualties, a risk that exists in every war.
And for the families of those civilians, no words or legal construct can justify their loss.

We cannot use force everywhere that a radical ideology takes root. And in the absence of a strategy that reduces the wellspring of extremism, a perpetual war through drones or special forces or troop deployments will prove self-defeating and alter our country in troubling ways.

The original premise for opening Gitmo, that detainees would not be able to challenge their detention, was found unconstitutional five years ago. In the meantime, Gitmo has become a symbol around the world for an America that flouts the rule of law.

Look at the current situation, where we are force-feeding detainees who are being held on a hunger strike. I’m willing to cut [Code Pink’s Medea Benjamin] who interrupted me some slack because it’s worth being passionate about. Is this who we are? Is that something our founders foresaw? Is that the America we want to leave our children?”

Gitmo upgrades
USA Today reports that despite President Obama’s apparent enthusiasm for shutting down the prison at Guantanamo Bay, the Pentagon is seeking nearly half a billion dollars for “maintaining and upgrading” the controversial facility:

“The budget request for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1 calls for $79 million for detention operations, the same as the current year, and $20.5 million for the office of military commissions, an increase over the current amount of $12.6 million. The request also includes $40 million for a fiber optic cable and $99 million for operation and maintenance.
The Pentagon also wants $200 million for military construction to upgrade temporary facilities. That work could take eight to 10 years as the military has to transport workers to the island, rely on limited housing and fly in building material.”

Mine attack
The Guardian reports that a uranium mine run by French state-owned nuclear giant Areva has been hit by one of a pair of simultaneous suicide bombings in Niger:

“Areva, the world’s second largest uranium producer, said that its mine was ‘badly damaged’ forcing it to stop production.
Although Areva has been attacked by [al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb] in the past – with five French workers taken hostage at the site in 2010 – the latest attacks are the first of their kind in Niger. Niger has been singled out as a target for its role in the military intervention in Mali, for its relationship with France – which obtains 20% of its uranium from Niger – and with the US, which signed an agreement this year to establish a new military base in the country.”

Lagarde in court
Agence France-Presse reports that the stakes are “huge” for the International Monetary Fund as its chief appears for questioning in a French court over her role in a corruption case:

“Criminal charges against [Christine] Lagarde, 57, would mark the second scandal in a row for an IMF chief, after her predecessor Dominique Strauss-Kahn, also from France, resigned in disgrace over an alleged assault on a New York hotel maid.

[Prosecutors] have suggested Lagarde, who at the time was finance minister, was partly responsible for “numerous anomalies and irregularities” which could lead to charges for complicity in fraud and misappropriation of public funds.”

Moving down
Human Rights Watch has released a new report in which it alleges that many of the families who were relocated to make way for foreign-owned coal projects in Mozambique now lack reliable access to food, water and employment:

“The 122-page report, ‘What is a House without Food?’ Mozambique’s Coal Mining Boom and Resettlements,’ examines how serious shortcomings in government policy and mining companies’ implementation uprooted largely self-sufficient farming communities and resettled them to arid land far from rivers and markets. These communities have experienced periods of food insecurity or, when available, dependence on short-term food assistance financed by Vale and Rio Tinto.

According to 2012 government data, approved mining concessions and exploration licenses cover approximately 3.4 million hectares, or 34 percent of Tete province’s area. Coal mining accounts for roughly one-third of these.
This figure jumps to roughly six million hectares, or approximately 60 percent of Tete province’s area, when licenses pending approval are included. Not all exploration activity leads to mining projects, but the high concentration of land designated for mining licenses contributes to conflicts over land use.”

Stockholm riots
The BBC reports that the fourth night of rioting in Sweden’s capital saw the violence spread beyond Husby, a “deprived, largely immigrant suburb”:

“Stockholm police spokesman Kjell Lindgren said the rioters were a ‘mixture of every kind of people’.
Activists in the Husby area have accused police of racist behaviour – an accusation greeted with scepticism by the police themselves.

The Stockholm police spokesman said rioting had occurred in both deprived parts of the city and parts that would be considered ‘normal’.”

G8 roadmap
Oxfam’s Ben Phillips lays out what he believes the G8 must do to start tackling international tax dodging and land grabbing:

“On land, success at the G8 would include a land transparency initiative, and regulatory guidance to G8 companies and investors, so that the G8 is not complicit in land grabbing. As French Development Minister Pascal Canfin said this week, ‘Without transparency and without protections, land investment can end up as looting. Where the Voluntary Guidelines are not being followed, land investment shouldn’t follow.’
On tax, success at the G8 would include a public registry of the ultimate owners of offshore assets, a deal on sharing of tax information not only between rich countries but with the poorest countries too, and – as they hold one third of the offshore wealth – these agreements must include, in full, all the British Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies.”

Latest Developments, March 14

In the latest news and analysis…

Measuring inequality
The UN Development Programme has released its 2013 Human Development Report, which argues that the vast majority of countries have made progress in recent years but “national averages hide large variations” within countries:

“[Human Development Index] comparisons are typically made between countries in the North and the South, and on this basis the world is becoming less unequal. Nevertheless, national averages hide large variations in human experience, and wide disparities remain within countries of both the North and the South. The United States, for example, had an HDI value of 0.94 in 2012, ranking it third globally. The HDI value for residents of Latin American origin was close to 0.75, while the HDI value for African-Americans was close to 0.70 in 2010–2011. But the average HDI value for an African-American in Louisiana was 0.47. Similar ethnic disparities in HDI achievement in very high HDI countries can be seen in the Roma populations of southern Europe.”

Arming rebels
Time reports that France is pushing hard to lift a European embargo that is preventing the provision of arms to rebels fighting to topple Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad:

“In the most emphatic sign yet that Paris intends to get weapons and ammunition flowing to anti-Assad fighters, French Foreign Affairs Minister Laurent Fabius said March 14 that if the E.U. and other international partners fail to heed that call, France may act on its own to bolster rebel fighting capacity.
‘The position we’ve taken, with [President] François Hollande, is to demand a lifting the arms embargo… [as] one of the only ways to get the situation moving politically,’ Fabius told France Info radio Thursday morning. Asked what France would do if its partners refused that request, Fabius indicated Paris would act unilaterally, reminding listeners that ‘France is a sovereign nation’.”

Outsourced borders
Jeune Afrique reports that Médecins Sans Frontières has alleged the European Union bears much of the responsibility for the grim conditions migrants endure in Morocco, where it is shutting its operations:

“ ‘In the last 10 years, Brussels has toughened its border controls and externalized its migration policy more and more. From a transit country, Morocco has also become a destination country by default,’ [the MSF report said]. As a result, a large number of undocumented migrants from south of the Sahara, 20,000 to 25,000 according to local organizations, are now waiting in Morocco for a hypothetical journey to European soil via Spain. According to MSF, their vulnerability increases with the length of their stay.” [Translated from the French.]

Chemical contamination
Reuters reports that oil giant Shell and chemical manufacturer BASF have agreed to pay hundreds of millions in compensation to former workers in Brazil for exposure to toxic substances:

“Brazil’s public labor prosecution service said 60 people were killed from prolonged exposure to chemicals used to make pesticides at the plant. The factory began operating in the 1970s in Paulinia in Sao Paulo state until government authorities ordered it to shut down in 2002.

Gislaine Rossetti, a spokeswoman at BASF, told Reuters the companies would not disclose the proportion of the total compensation each would pay. Shell would be solely responsible for reparations linked to soil pollution, she said.”

Gold on hold
Reuters also reports that a shipment from a mine owned by Canada’s two biggest gold mining companies is being detained in the Dominican Republic whose president recently demanded a renegotiation of the mine’s operating contract:

“Fernando Fernandez, director of customs in the Dominican Republic, said the shipment was halted because of a problem with documentation.
‘When it is resolved, the shipment will go out,’ he told reporters.
Pueblo Viejo, one of world’s largest new gold projects, is jointly owned by Barrick and Canada’s second largest gold miner, Goldcorp Inc.
On Feb. 27, in a speech marking the 169th anniversary of the Dominican Republic’s independence, Mr. Medina said the terms of the contract with the two Canadian miners were unacceptable and demanded more benefits from the mine. The contract was negotiated before Mr. Medina took office last August.”

Silent torture
A UN torture expert has called for an investigation into the use of solitary confinement in the Americas:

“ ‘Despite the fact that many examples show that the region of the Americas is not an exception to the global trend of abuses in the use of solitary confinement, I am concerned about the general lack of official information and statistics on the use of solitary confinement,’ Mr. Méndez said, recalling the harmful effects of this widespread practice he comprehensively documented in his 2011 global report to the UN General Assembly (see below).
‘The use of solitary confinement can only be accepted under exceptional circumstances, and should only be applied as a last resort measure in which its length must be as short as possible, it should be duly communicated and it should offer minimum due process guarantees when it is used as a disciplinary sanction,’ the Special Rapporteur said.

He called for the absolute prohibition of solitary confinement on juveniles and persons with mental disabilities and for an equally absolute prohibition on indefinite or prolonged solitary confinement. For purposes of defining what constitutes prolonged solitary confinement, he suggested the benchmark of any term exceeding 15 days.”

Global pillage
Oxfam’s Ben Phillips is happy to report that the issue of land grabs – or “pillage” (on a “truly staggering” scale) as he calls it – has arrived on the agenda of the upcoming G8 meeting:

“Every six days land the size of London is bought and sold – often by people who have never even visited it, sometimes in an online click-and-buy. Some of those who take over the land will grow crops – often for biofuels rather than for food and, when for food, often for export rather than for locals. Others just put up a fence and wait for the price of the land to go up while around them people go hungry.”

Diplomatic anachronism
A Los Angeles Times editorial argues that the US should stop maintaining Cuba on its list of terrorist-sponsoring countries simply because “it disagrees with the United States’ approach to fighting international terrorism, not because it supports terrorism”:

“None of the reasons that landed Cuba on the list in 1982 still exist. A 2012 report by the State Department found that Havana no longer provides weapons or paramilitary training to Marxist rebels in Latin America or Africa. In fact, Cuba is currently hosting peace talks between the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia and President Juan Manuel Santos’ government. And Cuban officials condemned the 9/11 attacks on the United States.

Clinging to that designation when the evidence for it has passed fails to recognize Cuba’s progress and reinforces doubts about America’s willingness to play fair in the region.”

Latest Developments, May 18

In the latest news and analysis…

G8(ish) summit
Deutshce Welle reports on the issues and questions facing the G8 as it convenes this weekend in Camp David, where the presidents of Ethiopia, Tanzania, Ghana and Benin will be in attendance, but Russia’s will not.
“The list of topics is long for a summit that doesn’t even last 24 hours. It spans from food security for Africa to the nuclear debate with Iran, troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, further course of action in Syria and North Korea all the way to climate protection.

So time and again the question arises what the point of the G8 summits even is. After all: the eight countries represent 15 percent of the world’s population and two-thirds of the international economic performance. It is a loose union of states, without any solid organization, financing or rules. It was created as a forum in the middle of the oil crisis in the 1970s to coordinate economic and trade issues. But political and economic questions are now regularly on the agenda – even when the G20 is considered the more powerful economic forum and the UN Security Council regulates sanction mechanisms.”

US army to Africa
Al Jazeera reports that a combat brigade will be assigned next year to the US military’s Africa Command “to do training and participate in military exercises” around the continent.
“General Ray Odierno, the army’s chief of staff, says the plan is part of a new effort to provide US commanders around the globe with troops on a rotational basis to meet the military needs of their regions.
This pilot programme sends troops to an area that has become a greater priority for the Obama administration since it includes several nations from where it perceives an increasing threat to the US and the region.”

Let them eat tobacco
Inter Press Service reports that Malawi’s IMF-prescribed currency devaluation earlier this month has made life more difficult for the country’s poor by causing a huge hike in food prices but should help the tobacco industry.
“Tobacco is the country’s main revenue earner, accounting for up to 60 percent – or 950 million dollars – of foreign exchange. According to the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security, Malawi’s tobacco accounts for five percent of the world’s total exports.

‘On the export front, the devaluation will lead to increased demand for Malawi’s exports in the short run. In the long run, this is expected to stimulate production and thus lead to increased production of exportable goods … thereby generating foreign currency,’ said [the Malawi Economic Justice Network’s Dalitso] Kubalasa.
He added that because the prices of imports had automatically risen and become unaffordable for some, the situation would motivate locals to substitute these goods with commodities that can be produced locally. It would provide an incentive to local industry, he said.
But he admitted that the devaluation would affect the country’s middle class and poor.”

Matter of conscience
The Harvard School of Public Health’s Winston Hide explains that his conscience compelled his resignation from the editorial board of the Elsevier-published Genomics journal.
“No longer can I work for a system that provides solid profits for the publisher while effectively denying colleagues in developing countries access to research findings.”

The vast majority of biomedical scientists in Africa attempt to perform globally competitive research without up-to-date access to the wealth of biomedical literature taken for granted at western institutions. In Africa, your university may have subscriptions to only a handful of scientific journals.

So I’d prefer to devote the limited time I have available to an open access journal that provides its work at no cost to researchers who urgently require its contents to improve their environment.”

Growing debt
The Guardian reports that a few short years after a series of debt cancellations, total external debt owed by “developing countries” increased by $437 billion in 2010 to reach $4 trillion.
“A major chunk of the debt owed by 32 countries, mostly in sub-Saharan Africa, was eliminated by the heavily indebted poor countries (HIPC) initiative of the World Bank and IMF, which was reinforced by the G8’s 2005 multilateral debt relief initiative (MDRI).
But many poor countries in Asia and Latin America (for example, Jamaica and El Salvador) did not have debts written off because their income per capita was too high to meet the IMF and World Bank criteria. Others, such as Bangladesh, did not qualify for cancellation because their debts were seen as sustainable.

But even in countries that did qualify for debt write-offs, there is evidence that external debts, which fell significantly after 1995, are on the rise again.
‘These loans are building up again,’ said [the Jubilee Debt Campaign’ Tim] Jones. ‘It can go unnoticed if economies are growing and exports are on the rise – but as soon as there’s a crisis like a drought or flood it becomes a huge problem.’ ”

Techno fixations
In a review of two new books on transformative technology, Sona Partners’ Timothy Ogden slams “techno-utopianism.”
“In the few places where [Abundance authors Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler] begin to acknowledge that the problems that keep much of the world disenfranchised, impoverished, and unhealthy are not technological in origin, they quickly explain that we already ‘know’ how to deal with those issues. For instance, we ‘know’ that ‘community support is the most critical component for any water solution’ and ‘maintenance workers need to be incentivized.’ Now that we know these facts, a technology breakthrough is all that’s needed to fix global water problems. I wonder what technology will fix global justice problems now that we know all people are created equal.”

Too hot for TED
The Atlantic reproduces venture capitalist Nick Hanauer’s speech on inequality that TED University deemed “too politically controversial to post on their web site,” in which he questions the conventional wisdom that rich people and businesses create jobs.
“Anyone who’s ever run a business knows that hiring more people is a capitalist’s course of last resort, something we do only when increasing customer demand requires it. In this sense, calling ourselves job creators isn’t just inaccurate, it’s disingenuous.
That’s why our current policies are so upside down. When you have a tax system in which most of the exemptions and the lowest rates benefit the richest, all in the name of job creation, all that happens is that the rich get richer.
Since 1980, the share of income for the richest Americans has more than tripled while effective tax rates have declined by close to 50%.”