Latest Developments, April 12

In the latest news and analysis…

Suppressing dissent
A letter signed by 49 former officials from the UN Conference on Trade and Development says wealthy countries are trying to silence the organization because its economic analyses provide an alternative to the views of Western-dominated institutions, such as the World Bank and IMF.
“No organisation correctly foresaw the current crisis, and no organisation has a magic wand to deal with present difficulties. But it is unquestionable that the crisis originated in and is widespread among the countries that now wish to stifle debate about global economic policies, despite their own manifest failings in this area.

So the developed countries in Geneva have seized the occasion to stifle UNCTAD’s capacity to think outside the box. This is neither a cost-saving measure nor an attempt to ‘eliminate duplication’ as some would claim. The budget for UNCTAD’s research work is peanuts and disparate views on economic policy are needed today more than ever as the world clamours for new economic thinking as a sustainable way out of the current crisis. No, it is rather – if you cannot kill the message, at least kill the messenger. ”

ICC reparations
IRIN reports that, following the International Criminal Court’s first-ever conviction last month, reparations for the victims has become a “thorny issue.”
“No other international criminal tribunal has ever awarded reparations, but under ICC rules, those who have suffered injury or harm from a crime for which someone is convicted could receive restitution, compensation or rehabilitation.

‘The ICC was initially thinking of symbolic reparations,’ [Witness’s Bukeni] Waruzi said. ‘They were saying something like building a statue in the village that will really honour the victims. But reparations cannot be symbolic, because the crimes were not symbolic. It is now for the ICC to take full responsibility, to actually manage the expectations.’ ”

Spanish integration
Inter Press Service reports Spain’s latest national budget has cut off all funding for “social insertion, employment and education programmes” for immigrants to the debt-ridden country.
“SOS Racismo predicts that the disappearance of the fund will paralyse ‘hundreds of municipal and regional integration plans,’ and said its removal contravenes European Union agreements, such as the European Agenda for the Integration of Third-Country Nationals, established in July 2011.
According to SOS Racismo, ‘economic crises have different timescales to those needed to evaluate the extent of integration of an immigrant population that in recent years has seen its employment and family expectations frustrated.’ ”

Phasing out executions
Human Rights Watch says that five American states abolishing the death penalty in five years is a “clear sign” of the growing momentum against capital punishment in the US.
“Since 2007, the death penalty has been eliminated in New Jersey, New York, New Mexico, and Illinois. After Connecticut joins them, 17 US states will have rejected capital punishment.  Thirteen states that have the penalty on the books have not used it for at least five years. Challenges to the death penalty are also being mounted in California and Maryland.”

Big-box hate
The Atlantic reports on a new study which found a correlation between the presence of big-box stores and hate groups in communities across the US.
“Before anyone gets too worked up, the study’s authors aren’t saying that Walmarts cause hate groups to form (they’re also using Walmart here as a stand-in for all big box stores; Target merely got off the hook in the study headline). Rather, this research suggests national mega-stores like Walmart may fray the social capital in a community – by disrupting its economy and displacing the community leaders who run local businesses – in ways that enable hate groups to take hold.

Of all the variables [the study’s authors] looked at, the number of Walmarts in a county was the second-most significant predictor of the presence of hate groups, behind only the designation of a county as a Metropolitan Statistical Area, or in other words an urban one.”

Private aid
Global Humanitarian Assistance has published a new report on the increasing privatization of humanitarian and development assistance, and some of the transparency issues associated with this trend.
“While global private support to large-scale emergencies is relatively easy to gauge, it remains unclear how much private money is out there in any given year. While the absence of dedicated tracking mechanisms for this type of financing certainly does nothing to improve clarity, it is the lack of consistent reporting on the income and expenditure of private aid funding globally that makes any attempt at tracking it a near impossible mission.

If tracking total private voluntary contributions for humanitarian aid is a challenging task, gauging where this private money goes is an even more difficult enterprise. Very few humanitarian organisations report their private country or sector expenditure separately from their overall funding allocation.”

Drug-war addiction
The Universidad de Di Tella’s Juan Gabriel Tokatlian hopes the Obama administration’s appointment of a new “drug warrior” for Latin America and the Caribbean will mean a change of American tactics in the region.
“And, throughout Latin America, the situation has only worsened since the 1990’s. Indeed, Latin American countries’ US-backed fight against drugs has had universally destructive consequences in terms of civil-military relations, human-rights violations, and corruption.

The military and political challenges are significant, the risks are considerable, and the benefits are uncertain. But if [United States Southern Command] does not implement major changes in how it prosecutes the drug war, the US will find itself facing an increasingly volatile and dangerous set of neighbors to the south.”

Extractive politics
OpenOil’s Johnny West argues the extractive industry is inherently more political than other forms of business and any attempts to regulate it must take this feature into account.
“Once you recognise rent as the essence of the global oil and the mining industries, you must recognise that everything about them is as much political, and geo-political, as it is economic. That is how historically mismanagement of those industries has led to such massive corruption and conflict. Nobody ever went to war over car manufacturing or internet service provision. When it comes to bananas or silicon chips, or intellectual copyright, the term ‘trade war’ is, thankfully, a metaphor.

With oil, business is politics and politics is business, whatever anyone says. Technocratic solutions can only pick up where broader political questions have been settled.”

Latest Developments, March 9

In the latest news and analysis…

Bad food
The Guardian reports that a UN food expert has said what people eat, in both rich and poor countries, is leading to a “public health disaster” that requires action from the world’s governments.
“The solutions offered by agribusiness of more hi-tech or fortified foods cannot solve the problems, which are systemic, according to [UN special rapporteur on the right to food, Olivier] De Schutter.
But since this view is in effect an attack on the major economic interests of the west, the question is how the rapporteur thinks change can be brought about. For De Schutter, the UN agencies that have influence over policy in the area of food and health are where they were with tobacco in the 1980s. At the UN high-level summit on non-communicable disease in New York last September, the US blocked tougher wording on goals to combat the epidemics of obesity, diabetes and heart disease in order to protect their agrifood companies.”

Growing hate
Reuters reports that a new Southern Poverty Law Center study has found “hate groups” are on the rise in the US.
“The center counted 1,018 hate groups in the United States last year, up from 1,002 in 2010. The number of groups have been increasing since 2000, when the center counted 602.
[The center’s Mark] Potok said it was hard to gauge how many Americans are members of hate groups, but estimated the number was between 200,000 and 300,000 people.

The law center also found the number of groups specifically targeting gays and lesbians rose to 27 in 2011 from 17 in 2010, and the number of anti-Muslim groups jumped to 30 from 10.
But the number of so-called “nativist extremist” groups who harass people they suspect of being illegal immigrants appeared to be in decline. The number of those groups dropped to 184 in 2011 from 319 the year before.”

Odious contracts
The Center for Global Development’s Kimberly Ann Elliott makes the case for “preemptive contract sanctions” as a new way for policy makers to apply additional pressure on “illegitimate” regimes.
“The informal group of Western and Arab states known as ‘Friends of Syria’ should declare that the Assad regime is illegitimate and that contracts signed after the date of the declaration would be unenforceable in the courts of those countries. The broader the group, the more legitimate and politically credible the declaration would be, but the U.S. and UK are the critical players because of the role that the international financial centers in New York and London play in world commerce.”

World Bank, USA
The Wall Street Journal reports the next World Bank president will be a 12th consecutive American, but it will not be Columbia University’s Jeffrey Sachs who recently launched a public campaign for the position.
“Since World Bank President Robert Zoellick confirmed his departure three weeks ago, no serious people have doubted that the U.S. would maintain its hold on the job – even if they wished for a truly merit-based process that cast aside nationality. Created after World War II, the World Bank has always had an American as president while a European has led the IMF. The combined shares of U.S. and European nations in each organization make it nearly impossible for a candidate from another background to break the unwritten, informal agreement.”

Women making laws
There is “little correlation” between the number of women in a country’s parliament and that country’s performance on other traditional development indicators, according to Manuela Picq who has just wrapped up a stint as visiting professor and research fellow at Amherst College.
“Women’s presence in politics signifies neither a cultural pattern unique to Europe nor is it a monopoly of a presumably more civilised West. Many non-European societies do as well or better, proving the universality of women participation in politics as well as the inadequacy of claims to export women agency.
Politically powerful countries are not leading global trends when it comes to women presence in politics. In fact, indicators show that it is often quite the contrary, meaning that the US and Europe cannot invoke women’s rights when attempting to justify political, economic or military interventions.”

Free-trade blinders
Harvard University’s Dani Rodrik warns against “fetishizing globalization simply because it expands the economic pie.”
“To pass judgment on redistributive outcomes, we need to know about the circumstances that cause them.

If we do not condone redistribution that violates widely shared moral codes at home, why should we accept it just because it involves transactions across political borders?”

Respecting plants
The University of the Basque Country’s Michael Marder argues that public indifference to a “seismic change” in the field of botany is symptomatic of humanity’s unthinking domination of plants, as well as the further entrenching of English as an “imperial language.”
“Just as, up to and including the age of Descartes and Spinoza, no one took philosophy and other fields of inquiry seriously unless the treatises were written in Latin, so the contemporary production of what counts as credible (or, at the very least, effective) knowledge adheres to the gold standard of English and translation into English.
This is not to say that we should be nostalgic for arcane Latin locutions that carried with them a different set of hegemonic traits superimposed, for instance, onto plants. Rather, we ought to realise that rethinking human relation to plants is not only a matter of ethics, but also of survival, for all species, kingdoms and the planet as a whole.”

Good intentions
The New York Times’ Eduardo Porter writes that Western campaigns to end child labour in poor countries can have unfortunate unintended consequences.
“In Sialkot, Pakistan, a 1997 program to stop children from stitching soccer balls misfired even though the program replaced some of families’ lost income and helped children enter school. Moving stitching from homes to centers that could be easily monitored made it more difficult for the mostly female work force to work. One report said family incomes dropped by 20 percent.”