Latest Developments, August 9

In the latest news and analysis…

Pharma bribes
The Washington Post reports that pharmaceutical giant Pfizer has agreed to pay $60 million in fines over US charges that its subsidiaries bribed doctors and health officials in “about a dozen countries“:

“ ‘Pfizer subsidiaries in several countries had bribery so entwined in their sales culture that they offered points and bonus programs to improperly reward foreign officials who proved to be their best customers,’ said Kara Brockmeyer, who heads the SEC unit that enforces the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which makes it a crime to bribe foreign government officials.”

Private security misconduct
The Associated Press reports that the private military company formerly known as Blackwater – now called Academi LLC – has agreed to pay a fine to settle 17 criminal charges, including arms smuggling:

“The list of violations includes possessing automatic weapons in the United States without registration, lying to federal firearms regulators about weapons provided to the king of Jordan, passing secret plans for armored personnel carriers to Sweden and Denmark without U.S. government approval and illegally shipping body armor overseas.

‘For an extended period of time, Academi/Blackwater operated in a manner which demonstrated systemic disregard for U.S. Government laws and regulations,’ said Chris Briese, Special Agent in Charge of the Charlotte Division of the FBI.”

The New York Times reports that a Singaporean diplomat has suggested Europe could benefit from showing greater humility in its relations with other regions:

“ ‘The problem is that Europe sees itself as a ‘normative power,’ as a region which sets the universal norm,’ said [Singapore’s Ambassador-at-Large, Tommy] Koh in a speech marking the 15th anniversary of the Asia-Europe Foundation.

“This role often makes Europe a very poor interlocutor because its mission is not to appreciate alternative views but to impose its view on the world,” said Mr. Koh.

‘I wonder if the day will ever come when Europe will be humble enough to want to learn from Asia,’ he said, singling out the continent’s experience in dealing with multiculturalism, a challenge facing Europe.
He had heard three European leaders declare that multiculturalism was “a failure,” he said.
“I wish that their advisers had suggested that they should visit Southeast Asia to see how other countries have made a success of multiculturalism,” said Mr. Koh.”

Don’t call it a war
Obama administration counterterror chief John Brennan’s description of current American policy in Yemen sounds awfully familiar, according to Wired’s Danger Room blog:

“If you put the U.S. approaches to Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan into a blender, the frothing mixture that emerged would be Yemen policy. Brennan didn’t come close to conceding that the U.S. is at war in Yemen during a Wednesday talk at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington. Rather, Brennan took pains to describe President Obama’s approach to Yemen as a giant development effort — although it’s the type of economic improvement initiative that involves robots of death circling overhead.”

Do no harm
Médecins Sans Fronitères’ Judit Rius Sanjuan argues US enthusiasm for the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership threatens America’s own stated global goal of an AIDS-free generation:

“For example, the U.S. government wants TPP countries to lower the bar for patentability, thereby granting pharmaceutical companies new patents on variations of old drugs with little therapeutic benefit for patients. These provisions could stifle the production of less expensive generic forms. And, the U.S. would make it impossible to challenge a patent’s validity before it is granted – a commonly used tool that helps to prevent frivolous and unwarranted patenting and which is vital to fostering an IP system that rewards innovations benefiting patients. The U.S. demands also extend patent monopolies beyond the traditional 20-year period and make it harder for generics to get regulatory approval, which will serve to keep generics out and prop up drug prices for longer.”

Fuel on the fire
The Guardian’s Seumas Milne contends that foreign intervention is now “driving the escalation of the conflict” in Syria:

“Many in the Syrian opposition would counter that they had no choice but to accept foreign support if they were to defend themselves against the regime’s brutality. But as the independent opposition leader Haytham Manna argues, the militarisation of the uprising weakened its popular and democratic base – while also dramatically increasing the death toll.

But intervention in Syria is prolonging the conflict, rather than delivering a knockout blow. Only pressure for a negotiated settlement, which the west and its friends have so strenuously blocked, can now give Syrians the chance to determine their own future – and halt the country’s descent into darkness.”

Delusions of altruism
Jawaharlal Nehru University’s Jayati Ghosh takes aim at US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who implied in a speech last week that China is using Africa for its resources:

“Certainly, there is more than an element of truth in such warnings. Yet US and European companies continue to try to exploit these countries’ resources as much, if not more, not least through land and other resource grabs. If anything, their concern now is that competition from Chinese and Indian (and even Brazilian and Malaysian) firms is forcing them to offer better terms for their resource extraction. As some Africans put it, it is better to have competing imperialists in action, to allow the objects of interest to play them off against one another. For northern capital used to treating so much of the less developed world as its happy hunting ground, this comes as a nasty shock.

So, please, let’s get real about western ‘help’ to Africa and other poor countries. Most of the developing world has already seen through it, so perhaps it’s time for people in the north to stop deluding themselves?”

Fighting the resource curse
Columbia University’s Joseph Stiglitz urges governments in resource-rich countries to stand up to foreign mining companies so that economic benefits can flow to their citizens:

“Well designed, competitive, transparent auctions can generate much more revenue than sweetheart deals. Contracts, too, should be transparent, and should ensure that if prices soar – as they have repeatedly – the windfall gain does not go only to the company.
Unfortunately, many countries have already signed bad contracts that give a disproportionate share of the resources’ value to private foreign companies. But there is a simple answer: renegotiate; if that is impossible, impose a windfall-profit tax.

Companies will tell Ghana, Uganda, Tanzania, and Mozambique to act quickly, but there is good reason for them to move more deliberately. The resources will not disappear, and commodity prices have been rising. In the meantime, these countries can put in place the institutions, policies, and laws needed to ensure that the resources benefit all of their citizens.”

Latest Developments, December 4

In the latest news and analysis…

Subsidizing Walmart
A new World Development Movement report alleges that so-called climate aid is being used to provide subsidized power to the world’s largest retailer.
“The report, ‘Power to the people?’, details how money taken from the UK aid budget has been used by the World Bank to finance wind farms in the Mexican state of Oaxaca, built without the consent of the indigenous people who own the land. The project produces enough electricity to power 160,000 homes, but is instead being sold at a discounted rate to Walmart. The project is 99 per cent controlled by French electricity giant EDF.”

Disagreement over cluster munitions
The Economist reports on the recent failure of US-led efforts to negotiate a new agreement on cluster munitions that would be less restrictive than the current ban that has been signed by 109 countries and, therefore, more acceptable to the countries that account for 85 percent of the world’s stocks of such weapons.
“The 50-plus countries that opposed the draft protocol, and the campaigners who egged them on, complained that the text still allowed the use of cluster munitions known to cause unacceptable harm. The International Committee of the Red Cross said the American proposal would simply stimulate the development of devices that met the new standards but might still be lethally unreliable; and backsliding from the Oslo rules would set a bad precedent.
The big countries were cross. America (which has argued that a total ban on cluster munitions would make life impossible for NATO) expressed “deep disappointment”. Russia grumbled that opponents were “irrational” and China said they would bear indirect responsibility for future cluster-bomb casualties.”

Outsourcing military missions
Researcher/journalist Jody Ray Bennett argues that the US State Deparment’s awarding of a contract to the controversial DynCorp private security company in the Democratic Republic of Congo is very much in keeping with recent American foreign policy.
“When asked why DynCorp had been awarded a contract back in 2004 to operate in the Sudan, an anonymous US government official told CorpWatch: ‘The answer is simple. We are not allowed to fund a political party or agenda under United States law, so by using private contractors, we can get around those provisions. Think of this as somewhere between a covert program run by the CIA and an overt program run by the United States Agency for International Development. It is a way to avoid oversight by Congress.’”

Blue Helmet mercenaries
Daivd Isenberg, author of Shadow Force: Private Security Contractors in Iraq, looks into the pros and cons of using private military contractors for UN interventions and uses a Stephen Wittels quote to support his point that such troops are only as good as their contract.
“Because the State Department failed to build into Blackwater’s contract strong incentives to treat Iraqis respectfully, the company did not. Indeed, Blackwater had every reason to shoot first and ask questions later with regards to Iraqis since any civilian could, in theory, have been an assassin, and contractors were, for the first few years of the war, immune to prosecution. It should also come as no surprise that in this consequence-free environment, Blackwater employees adopted excessive aggression as their default disposition, even when it served no apparent purpose. Had their assignment and their conduct been properly engineered in their contract from the outset, a strong argument can be made that Blackwater would not today be known as a collection of ‘cowboys.’”

African leadership
Voice of America reports that African leaders are calling for changes in the global fight against HIV/AIDS.
“African Union Social Affairs Commissioner Bience Gawanas says it is time the continent has a greater say in how the fight against sexually-transmitted diseases is fought. Gawanas told a World AIDS Day observance at AU headquarters that the continent most affected by the epidemic must take ownership of the battle to eradicate it.”

African generosity
Globe and Mail columnist Gerald Caplan writes about how much of the West’s wealth has come at the expense of Africa.
“There is not a single African nation that does not suffer from a dearth of trained teachers, health workers and public servants. Meanwhile there are hundreds of thousands of highly trained Africans now working in the West and more are coming as rich countries increasingly demand well-trained immigrants. Like that of other rich countries, the Canadian immigration model, as The Globe’s editorial puts it, “aims to attract the best and brightest from around the globe.” So while International Co-operation Minister Bev Oda announces “new CIDA initiatives for Africa … focused on helping Africa fulfill its future potential,” Immigration Minister Jason Kenney is wooing Africans who could make Africa’s potential a reality.
Is this bureaucratic carelessness or rank hypocrisy? Canada’s case is typical of most rich countries. African governments spend preposterously large sums hiring foreign consultants on short costly contracts to perform the work that could have been done by their own lost experts. Is it necessary to point out that those sums often come out of the foreign aid that we, the so-called “donor” countries, provide? So a nice chunk of our aid goes to pay our own citizens to do work in Africa that Africans are doing in our own countries.”

Manifesto of the appalled economists
The Inter Press Service reports on the growing number of “appalled economists” who are calling on world leaders to change course in the current battle against sovereign debt.
“Although the ‘manifesto of the appalled economists’ was first intended to serve as a basis for debate amongst economists on European economic policies, it has rapidly become a manifesto for thousands who have signed it, not just in Europe, but also across continents and countries from Australia to Brazil. The manifesto is also being discussed in numerous forums.
In the paper, [André] Orléan and his co-authors complain that ‘the neoliberal paradigm is still the only one that is acknowledged as legitimate, despite its obvious failures.’”

Capitalism’s future
Harvard economist Kenneth Rogoff asks if capitalism is sustainable and how it can be improved.
“It is ironic that modern capitalist societies engage in public campaigns to urge individuals to be more attentive to their health, while fostering an economic ecosystem that seduces many consumers into an extremely unhealthy diet. According to the United States Centers for Disease Control, 34% of Americans are obese. Clearly, conventionally measured economic growth – which implies higher consumption – cannot be an end in itself.”

Latest Developments, July 22

In the latest news and analysis…

A new Médecins Sans Frontières report suggests a number of major pharmaceutical companies will no longer provide antiretrovirals at discounted prices to middle-income countries, including ones with large numbers of  people living with HIV, such India, Brazil and Thailand. And while Health Global Access Project’s Brook Baker praises Gilead Sciences for recently becoming the first drug-maker to join the Medicines Patent Pool (MPP) that aims to improve access to affordable HIV/AIDS treatments in poor countries, he argues the move may not have been as philanthropic as it might seem. The agreement excludes many “middle-income countries with a high HIV-burden” and “of the 111 countries included in the geographical scope of the tenofovir MPP license, Gilead has patent applications pending or granted in only 2 of the licensed countries, India and Indonesia.”

In other patent news, World Intellectual Property Organization delegates have wrapped up a week of meetings without completing drafts of treaties to protect genetic resources, traditional knowledge and folklore. A representative of indigenous peoples expressed concern that their voices were not being sufficiently heard.

Britain’s Macmillan Publishers has agreed to a hefty fine for bribes its education division paid in Africa in the hopes of securing contracts. And a confidential government memo dating from 2008 has revealed Canada’s asbestos industry, which critics say endangers the health and lives of people in the handful of poor countries which still import the substance, may be on its last legs due to dwindling reserves.

Somalia’s Al-Shabab militants, who control much of the country, are still blocking a number of aid agencies despite a recent announcement to the contrary and have called the UN’s declaration of famine “pure propaganda” even though the international organization has laid out the specific criteria it uses to make such assessments. The UN secretary general has written a plea for the world community to help the Somali famine’s victims, “the vast majority of them women and children.” Indeed, the photo accompanying the LA Times piece notwithstanding, more than 80 percent of those fleeing Somalia are women and children. This fact has prompted Al Jazeera to ask where the men are, with some suggesting they are being forced to fight in the country’s civil war. Meanwhile, the Guardian’s John Vidal blames the famine, in part, on what he calls an “insidious war” against pastoralists who “produce more and better quality meat and generate more cash per hectare than “modern” Australian and US ranches” but are being squeezed out “by large-scale farming, the expansion of national parks, and game reserves and conservation.”

Al Jazeera also asks if this week’s UN Security Council statement on the threat to global security posed by climate change is “a real opportunity to achieve significant results or an attempt to divert attention from the root causes of the problem and away from the countries that cause global warming and distribute the burden evenly on world nations.”

Council on Foreign Relations president Richard Haass proposes a so-called “restoration” doctrine, by which he means “a U.S. foreign policy based on restoring this country’s strength and replenishing its resources—economic, human and physical.” He says the idea is very different from isolationism in that it involves carrying out an “active foreign policy.” But restoration would mean engaging in “fewer wars of choice” abroad, such as those fought in Vietnam, Iraq and Libya, and making smart cuts to discretionary spending at home. Haass sees restoration as a short-term objective that could lay the groundwork for what he believes should be America’s real foreign policy goal: “integration, which aims to develop rules and institutions to govern international relations and persuade other major powers to see that these rules are followed.”

Reflecting on a new report entitled “Resource Scarcity, Fair Shares and Development,” Oxfam’s Duncan Green argues that both the left and the right argue away the idea of resource limits in their own way. He also says there is an important distinction between the “new scarcity” of planetary capacity and the largely local and socially determined ‘old scarcity’ that has always left poor people on the outside looking in. In his view, most of the scarcities are primarily local and, as a result, “we should be careful about lumping them all together or going too global, especially when it comes to solutions.”

Latest Developments, July 12

In today’s news and analysis…

There was a big step forward in the global fight against HIV/AIDS, as US-based Gilead Sciences became the first pharmaceutical company to agree to place the intellectual property rights for some of its products in the Medicines Patent Pool that will allow generic drug makers to copy them on the cheap. “This is not just a one-off. The whole field is changing … there will be more to follow,” according to Ellen ‘t Hoen, the pool’s executive director.

Unfortunately, the pool only works for drugs that have already been developed, leaving the problem of incentivizing research into illnesses that do not significantly affect wealthy markets. Not to mention the fact that tobacco remains by far the biggest killer worldwide and the possibility that CIA dodginess in Pakistan could fuel the kinds of rumours that hampered polio eradication efforts a few years ago.

US Senator Carl Levin has introduced the “Stop Tax Haven Abuse Act” in the upper house. The proposed law includes a country-by-country reporting provision that would “help anti-corruption and economic development efforts in developing countries by creating more transparency and accountability in the business dealings between multinational companies and governments,” according to Global Financial Integrity director Raymond Baker.

Senator Levin’s proposal follows in the tradition of the Dodd-Frank Act which passed into law last year and is now in the hands of the Securities and Exchange Commission for the formulation of compliance enforcement rules. “In the ongoing rule-making process, the SEC has an opportunity to demonstrate that the United States takes transparency and accountability seriously and intends to act as a global leader in fostering secure, equitable, long-term resource partnerships with developing nations,” according to Oxfam’s Kathryn Martorana.

Speaking at the Open Government Partnership high-level meeting, US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton declared: “I think we can say without fear of contradiction that there is an undeniable connection between how a government operates and whether its people flourish. When a government invites its people to participate, when it is open as to how it makes decisions and allocates resources, when it administers justice equally and transparently, and when it takes a firm stance against corruption of all kinds, that government is, in the modern world, far more likely to succeed in designing and implementing effective policies and services.” Meanwhile, the UN special rapporteur on torture has complained US authorities refuse to grant him unmonitored access to alleged WikiLeaker Bradley Manning.

UK International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell told a London School of Economics audience “this Coalition Government is working to make it easier for companies to do business in Africa – so creating more opportunities for poor people. We are absolutely determined to make this the defining message of the Coalition Government in this area.” With Africa’s share of global manufacturing currently sitting at one percent, there is undoubtedly room for growth.

A Guardian piece celebrates the promotion of a handful of countries from the World Bank’s low-income to lower middle-income designation as evidence it is possible to escape the poverty trap. At the same time, the authors recognize the contribution of cyclical commodity prices to recent income increases in certain African countries, the fact that the African graduates are offtrack on their MDG commitments, and the limitations of a ranking based solely on gross national income (GNI). In fact, one of the promoted countries, Zambia, still sits 153rd out of 172 countries on the UN’s more nuanced Human Development Index, five places behind Haiti.

For those countries that manage to escape the aforementioned poverty trap, a World Bank VP has advice on avoiding “middle-income trap” and “maintaining high growth in developing countries.” Whereas a new World Bank blog post waxes enthusiastic about car-sharing’s potential to take advantage of excess capacity and avoid unnecessary use of non-renewable resources. What the author neglects to consider is that such enterprises are bad for growth and GNI.

The UN Security Council has unanimously adopted a resolution to protect schools and hospitals from becoming military targets. UNICEF executive director Anthony Lake welcomed the news but stressed monitoring, denunciation and sanctions were insufficient to bring about real change. “We also have to find practical new ways to prevent these acts from occurring,” he said.

Transparency International’s Tobias Bock issues a plea for the Arms Trade Treaty currently under negotiation to include anti-corruption provisions, arguing that the massive corruption of the weapons trade can have a major impact on sustainable development. He also points out that while “there are international treaties to control the sale of many goods, from dinosaur bones to postage stamps, there is no such treaty to control the trade in weapons worldwide.”

And for the second straight year, Luanda, Angola and N’Djamena, Chad sit first and third respectively atop the list of the most expensive cities for expatriate workers. Tokyo sits in second spot, sandwiched between the capitals of two of the world’s poorest countries.