Latest Developments, September 9

In the latest news and analysis…

Glimmer of hope
The Washington Post reports on what it calls “the first indication that a diplomatic solution may be possible” over Syria’s chemical weapons:

“President Obama on Monday called a Russian proposal for Syria to turn over control of its chemical weapons to international monitors in order to avoid a military strike a ‘potentially positive development,’ that could represent a ‘significant breakthrough,’ but he said he remains skeptical the Syrian government would follow through on its obligations based on its recent track record.

On Monday, while meeting with Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem, [Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov] said his country would ask Syria to relinquish control of its chemical weapons to international monitors to prevent a U.S. strike. Lavrov also called on Syria to sign and ratify the Convention on Chemical Weapons, which outlaws the production, stockpiling and use of chemical weapons.

Moualem said Syria ‘welcomes the Russian initiative,’ but he did not say whether his country would agree to what Russia was asking. ‘We also welcome the wisdom of the Russian leadership, which is trying to prevent American aggression against our people,’ Moulaem said.”

Re-homing
Reuters has published a five-part investigative series into “America’s underground market for adopted children”:

“No authority tracks what happens after a child is brought to America, so no one knows how often international adoptions fail. The U.S. government estimates that domestic adoptions fail at a rate ranging from ‘about 10 to 25 percent.’ If international adoptions fail with about the same frequency, then more than 24,000 foreign adoptees are no longer with the parents who brought them to the United States. Some experts say the percentage could be higher given the lack of support for those parents.

The story of the Easons and the girls and boys they have taken through re-homing illustrates the many ways in which the U.S. government fails to protect children of adoptions gone awry. It shows how virtually anyone determined to get a child can do so with ease, and how children brought to America can be abruptly discarded and recycled.”

Throwing bombs
The Globe and Mail reports that Quebec Premier Pauline Marois has spoken out against multiculturalism and in favour of her proposed “charter of values”:

“She told [Montreal’s Le Devoir] that her government is leaning towards the French model of secularism, blasting what she called the English model of multiculturalism.
‘In England, they get into fights and throw bombs at one another because of multiculturalism and people get lost in that type of a society,’ she said.

The Quebec government is planning to lay out a series of ‘orientations’ and ‘proposals’ for its Charter next week, while a full bill will be tabled only after a consultation period, likely later in the fall.”

Anti-graft suggestions
The Wall Street Journal reports that efforts to tackle corruption at last week’s G20 summit were largely of the non-legally binding variety:

“In a progress report, the [anti-graft] working group said it endorsed the non-binding ‘G20 Guiding Principles on Enforcement of the Foreign Bribery Offense’ and ‘Guiding Principles to Combat Solicitation,’ both of which it said identify measures that have been successful at enforcing anti-foreign bribery law.

In addition, a 27-page declaration issued by the G-20 said it established a network to ‘share information and cooperate’ to deny corrupt officials entry into a member country.”

Tracking inequality
Newcastle University’s Peter Edward and King’s College London’s Andy Sumner have written a paper looking at trends in global inequality, both between and within countries, since 1990:

“Not surprisingly, but little noted, is the ‘China effect’ or the role of China in determining
these trends. Indeed, the picture looks rather different when China is excluded: in the rest of the world outside China between-country inequality rose in the 1980s and 1990s but has then stayed relatively constant since 2000. Throughout this entire period within-country inequality has overall been remarkably constant – as some countries have become less equal, others have become more so. In short, in the last 20 to 30 years, falls in total global inequality, and in global between-country inequality, and rises in global within-country inequality are all predominantly attributable to rising prosperity in China.”

Pacific pivot
Ateneo De Manila University’s Richard Heydarian says that the US push for a greater military presence in the Philippines could be “a game-changer” in the South China Sea:

“The proposed agreement provides a framework for the semi-permanent ‘rotational’ stationing of American troops and military hardware in the Philippines and once implemented will provide new strategic ballast to the US’s efforts to counterbalance China’s influence in the region

The US has pushed for a 20-year rotational presence agreement, which would most likely raise some legal debates over its constitutionality.”

Cheaper AFRICOM
The US Government Accountability Office has released a report in which it suggests the Pentagon should consider sending more personnel from its Africa Command, currently based in Germany, to “forward locations”:

“In discussions with GAO, officials from the Central and Southern Commands stated that they had successfully overcome negative effects of having a headquarters in the United States by maintaining a forward presence in their theaters. In sum, neither the analysis nor the letter announcing the decision to retain AFRICOM headquarters in Stuttgart explains why these operational factors outweighed the cost savings and economic benefits associated with moving the headquarters to the United States. Until the costs and benefits of maintaining AFRICOM in Germany are specified and weighed against the costs and benefits of relocating the command, the department may be missing an opportunity to accomplish its missions successfully at a lower cost.”

P5 problems
Veteran journalist Ian Birrell hopes that the international diplomatic standoff over Syria will finally lead to “reforms that are so essential and universally acknowledged” at the UN Security Council:

“Should a corrupt oligarchy have carte blanche in perpetuity to determine the rules of international engagement? And indeed, [does the UK] deserve a permanent seat round the table as our power wanes and we demonstrate a new reluctance to engage in punishing those who break global rules on war? Especially when there is no such authority given to the world’s biggest democracy, India, or to a Muslim nation, or any of the 54 countries in Africa whose continent accounts for more than three-quarters of the council’s debates.

The most hopeful solution is to bring in a second tier of permanent members, then slowly strip away the right to veto of the fractious five through majority voting.”

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Latest Developments, August 14

In the latest news and analysis…

Hunger crimes
The Guardian’s George Monbiot criticizes British Prime Minister David Cameron for holding a summit on world hunger while promoting the use of biofuels, which Monbiot calls a “crime against humanity”:

“Preparing for the prime minister’s hunger summit on Sunday, the international development department argued that, with a rising population, ‘the food production system will need to be radically overhauled, not just to produce more food but to produce it sustainably and fairly to ensure that the poorest people have the access to food that they need’. But another government department – transport – boasts on its website that, thanks to its policies, drivers in this country have now used 4.4bn litres of biofuel.
Of this 30% was produced from recycled cooking oil. The rest consists of 3bn litres of refined energy snatched from the mouths of the people that Cameron claims to be helping.”

Cereal secrets
Oxfam’s Duncan Green draws attention to a new report on four of “the biggest and most influential firms you’ve never heard of,” grain traders whose combined sales topped $300 billion last year:

“[The ABCDs] are not alone, nor unchallenged, but they remain the overwhelmingly dominant traders of grain globally, and what they do is central to understanding international markets (and the domestic politics of food in many countries, too). Too often invisible in policy debates about farmers and consumers, these companies are careful about where and when they get involved in such debates, rarely seeking the limelight. They do not have brand names to protect in the way that a food processor such as Nestlé does. [Archer Daniels Midland] is publicly listed and Bunge is also a fully public company. [Louis] Dreyfus and Cargill remain essentially family-owned businesses. None of the companies is very forthcoming about its activities, and to track their activities requires patience and guesswork. However, despite the difficulties, it is important to understand their role and their interactions with other companies, national and global.”

Iceland’s success
Bloomberg reports that the International Monetary Fund has praised Iceland for its “decision to push losses on to bondholders instead of taxpayers and the safeguarding of a welfare system that shielded the unemployed from penury” following its economic crisis:

“Iceland refused to protect creditors in its banks, which failed in 2008 after their debts bloated to 10 times the size of the economy. The island’s subsequent decision to shield itself from a capital outflow by restricting currency movements allowed the government to ward off a speculative attack, cauterizing the economy’s hemorrhaging. That helped the authorities focus on supporting households and businesses.
‘The fact that Iceland managed to preserve the social welfare system in the face of a very sizeable fiscal consolidation is one of the major achievements under the program and of the Icelandic government,’ [the IMF’s Daria] Zakharova said.”

Hague threats
The Guardian reports that Rwandan opposition parties in exile are planning to ask the International Criminal Court to indict the country’s president, Paul Kagame, for war crimes for his alleged role in neighbouring DR Congo’s conflict:

“The demand to bring charges against Kagame has support among Congolese as well as opposition Rwandan politicians. ‘The politicians in Kinshasa are aware of these charges and they support them, although there have been no official statements as yet,’ said Nzangi Butondo, a Congolese MP representing Goma. ‘We think now is the right time to [go to The Hague]. It is certainly something to raise publicity, but there is also the hope that the ICC will, as a result, at least launch an investigation into this affair.’ ”

Tragedy double standard
The University of Notre Dame’s Naunihal Singh notes how much less attention American media and politicians paid to the recent mass shooting at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin compared to the Dark Knight killings a couple of weeks earlier:

“The two incidents were obviously different in important ways: Holmes shot more people, did so at the opening of a blockbuster film, and was captured alive. There were also the Olympics. However, it is hard to escape the conclusion that Oak Creek would have similarly dominated the news cycle if the shooter had been Muslim and the victims had been white churchgoers. Both the quantity and content of the coverage has been clearly shaped by the identities of the shooter and his victims.”

Oceans Compact
Inter Press Service reports that the UN’s new “compact” for the protection of ocean resources has received lukewarm praise from some environmental activists:

“Asked for a response, Sebastian Losada, senior oceans policy analyst at Greenpeace International, told IPS that Greenpeace welcomes the announcement of the secretary-general, and added, ‘We don’t need more statements of concern nor more summaries of the problems we face.
‘What we do need is urgency in the negotiation rooms to move from words to action. Solutions to the oceans crisis exist and are well known, but they continue to be blocked by short-sighted national interests,’ Losada said.”

Adoption trends
James Bloodworth writes an Independent blog entry on the growing popularity in rich countries of adopting children from poor countries:

“Most of those looking to adopt abroad have, I imagine, the same motivation for doing so as those hoping to adopt domestically: a desire to give a child the best possible start in life. And yet the disparities in power and wealth (as with all disparities in power and wealth) inevitably set up a grossly unequal relationship between budding parents in the west and those who ‘produce’ the adoptees of the future in the developing world. Ethiopia accounted for nearly a quarter of all international adoptions to the US in 2010, second only to China. Adoption is fast becoming Ethiopia’s new export, perhaps soon to overtake coffee. Yet not everybody is happy with the way things are going. ‘We want people to invest in Ethiopia rather than take our children,’ Dr Bulti Gutema, head of the government’s adoption authority, has said. Media investigations have also found evidence to suggest that some adoption agencies have recruited children from intact families.”

Failed index
In a letter to Foreign Policy, the Royal African Society’s Richard Dowden expresses three “fundamental doubts” about the validity of the magazine’s Failed States Index:

“Third, the index misses one vital factor: chronic capital flight from poor countries — especially of the illicit variety — conducted largely by transnational companies avoiding taxes through commodity mispricing. Nearly a trillion dollars was looted from Africa through these methods between 1970 and 2008, according to the Washington-based think tank Global Financial Integrity, and that figure has since risen sharply. Poor countries in other parts of the world suffer from this same problem. Will the index assess the cost of these massive financial outflows on human well-being and governance? Now that would be interesting.”