Latest Developments, January 9

In the latest news and analysis…

UN drones
Inner City Press reports that Rwanda is “far from the only member” of the UN Security Council raising questions about the proposed use of surveillance drones by the UN in eastern DR Congo:

“Tuesday, sources exclusively tell Inner City Press, not only Russia (through co-Deputy Permanent Representative Petr Iliichev) and China but also Azerbaijan and Guatemala, both through their Permanent Representatives, expressed concern about [Department of Peacekeeping Operations chief Hervé] Ladsous’ proposed used of drones.
The concerns ranged from the control of information — that is, who would get it — to compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization rules. And, as Inner City Press first reported, concerns were again expressed about the tender process.”

Torture settlement
The Associated Press reports that a US defense contractor has paid $5.28 million to former inmates of Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison over torture allegations:

“The settlement in the case involving Engility Holdings Inc. of Chantilly, Va., marks the first successful effort by lawyers for former prisoners at Abu Ghraib and other detention centers to collect money from a U.S. defense contractor in lawsuits alleging torture. Another contractor, CACI, is expected to go to trial over similar allegations this summer.
The payments were disclosed in a document that Engility filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission two months ago but which has gone essentially unnoticed.”

Not onboard
The Toronto Star reports that Canada’s prime minister, Stephen Harper, told the president of the African Union and Benin his government “is not considering a direct Canadian military mission” in Mali, but he did take care of some business with Benin:

“There has been speculation that Canada is laying the groundwork for a military foray into Mali and Defence Minister Peter MacKay raised eyebrows last week when he said Canada might send military trainers.
But Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird’s officials have played down the possibility of an armed mission to Mali.

After meeting with [AU and Benin president Thomas Boni] Yayi, Harper announced Canada and Benin have signed a foreign investor protection agreement and that Ottawa will provide $18.2 million over eight years to support improvements in Benin’s public administration.”

Small club
Inter Press Service reports that the US is under renewed pressure from civil society for being one of only seven countries yet to ratify the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW):

“So far, 187 out of 194 countries have ratified CEDAW, but the non-ratifiers include Iran, Sudan, South Sudan, Somalia, Palau, Tonga and the United States.

The U.N. General Assembly adopted CEDAW back in 1979. The treaty consists of a preamble and 30 articles, which according to the United Nations, ‘defines what constitutes discrimination against women and sets up an agenda for national action to end such discrimination.’
And countries that have ratified CEDAW are legally bound to put its provisions into practice.”

Aid control
The Canadian Press reports that Haiti’s prime minister, Laurent Lamothe, has said he wants to have more say over how Canadian aid to his country gets spent:

“ ‘For any future co-operation, when it’s decided to resume, we will ask the Canadian government to focus on the priorities of the Haitian government,’ he said by telephone after meeting with Canada’s ambassador to Haiti in the capital of Port-au-Prince.
‘Basically, the development assistance, because of the perceived weakness of Haitian institutions, was routed directly to NGOs (non-government organizations) and Canadian firms…
‘That weakened our institutions.’

Lamothe insists his government’s hands are tied when it comes to development programs because it doesn’t receive any of CIDA’s aid. He wants Canada — and other donor countries — to work together to find a way to involve Haiti’s institutions in the process.”

The business of closing borders
Inter Press Service reports that security and weapons companies stand to make big bucks from the EU’s tougher stance on immigration:

“Thirteen companies and consortiums (Israel Aerospace Industries, Lockheed Martin, FAST Protect AG, L-3 Communications, FLIR Systems, SCOTTY Group Austria, Diamond Airborne Sensing, Inmarsat, Thales, AeroVision, AeroVironment, Altus, BlueBird) demonstrated technological solutions for maritime surveillance.

The demonstrations are part of the preparation for the launch of EUROSUR, the European External Border Surveillance System meant to enhance cooperation between border control agencies of EU member states and to promote surveillance of EU’s external borders by [EU border agency] Frontex, with a particular focus on the Mediterranean and North Africa, in view of controlling migration to Europe.
Surveillance plans envisage the possibility of using drones to spot migrant boats trying to cross the Mediterranean.”

Hijacking the climate
The Guardian reports that the World Economic Forum has warned geoengineering aimed at preventing global warming could do more harm than good:

“ ‘The global climate could, in effect, be hijacked. For example, an island state threatened with rising sea levels may decide they have nothing to lose, or a well-funded individual with good intentions may take matters into their own hands,’ the report notes. It said there are ‘signs that this is already starting to occur’, highlighting the case of a story broken by the Guardian involving the dumping of 100 tonnes of iron sulphate off the Canadian coast in 2012, in a bid to spawn plankton and capture carbon.”

Big picture
Columbia University’s Joseph Stiglitz argues it is dangerous for the global community to focus on immediate economic issues to the exclusion of long-term problems:

“An economic and political system that does not deliver for most citizens is one that is not sustainable in the long run. Eventually, faith in democracy and the market economy will erode, and the legitimacy of existing institutions and arrangements will be called into question.
The good news is that the gap between the emerging and advanced countries has narrowed greatly in the last three decades. Nonetheless, hundreds of millions of people remain in poverty, and there has been only a little progress in reducing the gap between the least developed countries and the rest.
Here, unfair trade agreements – including the persistence of unjustifiable agricultural subsidies, which depress the prices upon which the income of many of the poorest depend – have played a role. The developed countries have not lived up to their promise in Doha in November 2001 to create a pro-development trade regime, or to their pledge at the G-8 summit in Gleneagles in 2005 to provide significantly more assistance to the poorest countries.”

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Latest Developments, December 18

In the latest news and analysis…

Asymmetric grief
The Guardian’s George Monbiot points out that drone war-waging American officials and the world’s media seem to consider the deaths of innocent children far less tragic in some contexts than in others:

“It must follow that what applies to the children murdered [in Newtown, Connecticut] by a deranged young man also applies to the children murdered in Pakistan by a sombre American president. These children are just as important, just as real, just as deserving of the world’s concern. Yet there are no presidential speeches or presidential tears for them, no pictures on the front pages of the world’s newspapers, no interviews with grieving relatives, no minute analysis of what happened and why.

‘Are we,’ Obama asked on Sunday, ‘prepared to say that such violence visited on our children year after year after year is somehow the price of our freedom?’ It’s a valid question. He should apply it to the violence he is visiting on the children of Pakistan.”

Plugging leaks
Global Financial Integrity has released its annual study on “the amount of money flowing out of developing economies via crime, corruption and tax evasion” and called for global action to limit this draining of resources:

“Policies advocated by GFI include:

  • Addressing the problems posed by anonymous shell companies, foundations, and trusts by requiring confirmation of beneficial ownership in all banking and securities accounts, and demanding that information on the true, human owner of all corporations, trusts, and foundations be disclosed upon formation and be available to law enforcement;
  • Reforming customs and trade protocols to detect and curtail trade mispricing;
  • Requiring the country-by-country of sales, profits and taxes paid by multinational corporations;
  • Requiring the automatic cross-border exchange of tax information on personal and business accounts;
  • Harmonizing predicate offenses under anti-money laundering laws across all Financial Action Task Force cooperating countries; and
  • Ensuring that the anti-money laundering regulations already on the books are strongly enforced.”

Behaving like adults
Foreign Policy reports that former senator Chuck Hagel, one of the frontrunners to become the next US secretary of defense, has a history of opposing sanctions and endorsing engagement in dealing with perceived threats to international stability:

“ ‘Engagement is not appeasement. Diplomacy is not appeasement. Great nations engage. Powerful nations must be the adults in world affairs. Anything less will result in disastrous, useless, preventable global conflict,’ Hagel said in a Brookings Institution speech in 2008.

On Syria, Hagel was a longtime supporter of engagement with the regime of President Bashar al-Assad and his father before him, Hafez al-Assad. After meeting with Assad the elder in 1998, Hagel said, ‘Peace comes through dealing with people. Peace doesn’t come at the end of a bayonet or the end of a gun.’ ”

Vulture setback
The Guardian reports that an international tribunal has ordered Ghana to release an Argentine ship and crew detained due to aggressive collection tactics by an American “vulture fund“:

“The vessel arrived at Tema on 1 October, but was prevented from leaving three days later by a court order obtained by the investment vulture fund NML Capital, which is suing the Argentinian government for non-payment of a $1.6bn (£988m) debt.

Ahead of the tribunal’s decision, the UN independent expert on foreign debt and human rights, Cephas Lumina, said: ‘Vulture funds, such as NML Capital, should not be allowed to purchase debts of distressed companies or sovereign states on the secondary market, for a sum far less than the face value of the debt obligation, and then seek repayment of the nominal full face value of the debt together with interest, penalties and legal costs or impound assets of heavily indebted countries in an attempt to force repayment.’ ”

WTO contender
Reuters reports that a former Ghanaian trade minister, Alan John Kwadwo Kyerematen, has become “the first official candidate” to succeed France’s Pascal Lamy as head of the World Trade Organization:

“Many trade diplomats think the job should go to an African, Latin American or Caribbean candidate, since all but one head of the 17-year-old WTO have been from developed countries. The exception was Thailand’s Supachai Panitchpakdi.
But Lamy has said there was no system of rotating the job between countries and regions and said his successor, chosen by consensus, should be picked on the basis of competence alone.”

Deep sea concerns
Inter Press Service reports on some of the worries being expressed over the prospect of deep sea mining in the territorial waters of a number of Pacific island states:

“The International Seabed Authority (ISA) and the Applied Geoscience and Technology Division of the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SOPAC) concluded last year, ‘The current level of knowledge and understanding of deep sea ecology does not make it possible to issue any conclusive risk assessment of the effects of large-scale commercial seabed mining.’
Furthermore, many Pacific Island states are yet to establish appropriate DSM legislation and regulatory bodies.
‘PNG does not yet have all of its maritime boundaries established,’ [the University of Papua New Guinea’s] Kaluwin said. ‘The government does not yet have appropriate off-shore or deep sea mining policies and legislation in place.  We also need to address the traditional rights of landowners and communities over the marine environment.’

Hannah Lily, legal advisor to the [EU’s Deep Sea Minerals Project], told IPS, ‘Appropriate regulatory mechanisms, which require of proposed DSM (projects) further in-depth scientific research and analysis, should be in place before any DSM mining project takes place.’ ”

Atmospheric governance
The Economist’s Free Exchange blog argues that, in a world where countries cannot seem to agree on collective emissions reductions, people should expect more and more “unilateral geoengineering gambits“:

“Large, northerly countries like Canada and Russia have an almost unchecked ability to adapt but smaller and more equatorial places will quickly run out of options. It is unrealistic to suppose that unilaterial geoengineering schemes won’t be an inevitable result.
Such schemes could pose huge risks. Successful, precisely deployed efforts might nonetheless have unpredictable and substantial side effects or unpleasant distributional costs. Without a forum to address such effects, geopolitical tensions could worsen in a hurry.

If the world can’t create a functional international forum for addressing atmospheric management—one with teeth—then the costs of global warming are going to be far higher than they ought to be, whatever the mix of policies used to attack it.”

Latest Developments, November 1

In the latest news and analysis…

Base talks
Radio France Internationale reports that negotiations are underway over where foreign troops will be based for a looming military intervention in Mali:

“Time and again, Mali declared there was no need for foreign troops in Bamako to secure institutions, but those troops were welcome in the North to fight Islamist forces. To which the international community responded there was no way its troops would go directly to the North, straight into the lion’s den.
Both sides have softened their position and in the end, the following solution is taking shape: foreign headquarters could be located in Koulikoro, 50km from Bamako. But Bamako’s airport will be the hub for aerial operations.” [Translated from the French.]

Ocean grabbing
The UN’s right to food expert has urged world governments to “take urgent steps to protect, sustain, and share the benefits” of fisheries and oceans:

“ ‘“Ocean-grabbing” – in the shape of shady access agreements that harm small-scale fishers, unreported catch, incursions into protected waters, and the diversion of resources away from local populations – can be as serious a threat as “land-grabbing,”’ [Olivier] De Schutter said as he unveiled a new report on fisheries and the right to food.

The UN expert called on governments to rethink the models of fisheries that they support, highlighting that small-scale fishers actually catch more fish per gallon of fuel than industrial fleets, and discard fewer fish. ‘Industrial fishing in far-flung waters may seem like the economic option, but only because fleets are able to pocket major subsidies while externalizing the costs of over-fishing and resource degradation. Future generations will pay the price when the oceans run dry,’ he said.”

Young adults
Reuters reports that Argentina’s lower house has voted 131 to 2 in favour of lowering the country’s voting age from 18 to 16:

“Skeptics say the new law is aimed at drumming up support for the president before legislative elections scheduled a year from now. Supporters say the measure aims to bring Argentina in line with progressive countries such as Ecuador and Brazil that have already extended voting right to people as young as 16.
[President Cristina] Fernandez-allied lower house member Diana Conti said the bill ‘is neither opportunistic nor demagogic,’ but rather seeks ‘to widen the electoral base of our democracy.’

More than a million new voters are estimated to be eligible to cast ballots now that the bill has passed both houses. The Senate approved the measure earlier this month.”

MDG blind spot
A new Save the Children report argues that the successors to the Millennium Development Goals must include a global strategy for tackling inequality, not just extreme deprivation:

“Consideration of how to tackle capital flight and to strengthen domestic taxation measures will be key to increasing domestic revenues. It is now widely accepted that illicit financial outflows (dominated by corporate tax evasion) dwarf receipts of aid.
Progressive taxation plays a critical role in raising revenues to fund social protection mechanisms and universal access to basic services, and also in establishing the social contract between states and citizens upon which effective political representation and accountability depend.
A major issue for the post-2015 framework is to what extent it should emphasise both domestic budgetary transparency and the international financial transparency between states that is necessary to combat illicit flows.”

Strangelovian world
The Environmental Defense Fund’s Gernot Wagner calls for scientific and governance measures to be taken now in preparation for the inevitable turn to geoengineering as a quick, cheap fix against climate change:

“Imagine a country badly hit by adverse climate changes: India’s crops are wilting; China’s rivers are drying up. Millions of people are suffering. What government, under such circumstances, would not feel justified in taking drastic action, even in defiance of world opinion?
Once we reach that tipping point, there won’t be time to reverse warming by pursuing collective strategies to move the world onto a more sustainable growth path. Instead, speed will be of the essence, which will mean trying untested and largely hypothetical techniques like mimicking volcanoes and putting sulfur particles in the stratosphere to create an artificial shield from the sun.
That artificial sunscreen may well cool the earth. But what else might it do? Floods somewhere, droughts in other places, and a host of unknown and largely unknowable effects in between. That’s the scary prospect. And we’d be experimenting on a planetary scale, in warp speed.”

Dirty Money
Deutsche Welle reports that there were more money laundering cases in Germany last year than at any time since the country’s Anti-Money Laundering Act came into effect in 1993:

“An especially clever trick is to legalize dirty money by running it past insolvency proceedings. Lately, it’s not only commodities that are exchanged, but services between larger networks of companies which are difficult to control. Even the trade of CO2 emission certificates is now being used as a means for money laundering.
Yet another problem arises when illegally acquired money is transfered to non-involved third parties to circumvent confiscation. In 2010, the authorities succeeded in only 150 out of 600 preliminary proceedings on this front.According to a study published by the Tax Justice Network that examined 70 countries, Germany is one of the biggest havens for tax evasion – ranking even before Switzerland, the Cayman Islands, Luxembourg or Jersey.”

Contentious project
Le Soleil reports that an Australian-owned mining project in Senegal is proving rather unpopular with the local population:

“Come to see how things are coming along for Grande Côte Opérations, a company specialized in the extraction and separation of sand, the Minister of Energy and Mines, Aly Ngouille Ndiaye, was greeted, along with his delegation, by angry crowds, demanding more participation in the project. According to the spokesman for the youth of Diogo, Mansour Diop, the protesters want more jobs and a better handling of compensation for their ancestral lands which have been given over to the company.
In their view, the rate of compensation has been too low. Minister Aly Ngouille Ndiaye said he was sympathetic to the claims of people who have seen their agricultural land expropriated by this large-scale project.” [Translated from the French.]

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.”