Latest Development, October 7

In the latest news and analysis…

Two raids
France 24 reports that US claims regarding the legality of the twin military operations in Libya and Somalia over the weekend have left some experts unpersuaded:

“But while the Libya operation may have been permitted under the US’s own statutes, this does not make it acceptable under international law, argues Marcelo Kohen, a professor of international law at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva.
‘The US operation in Libya is a clear violation of the fundamental norms of international law, namely the respect of a country’s territorial integrity and sovereignty,’ he told FRANCE 24.
‘A state cannot remove a foreign citizen, from inside a foreign territory, to be judged in its own country while disregarding international law,’ he said. ‘You need permission. There are existing legal structures among states to address this kind of situation.’
Nevertheless there is little risk of the US facing legal repercussions for the military operation in Libya, said Kohen.
‘No mechanism exists that would allow Libya to go beyond a simple protest, while knowing that this will have no effect.’ ”

Day of tears
Agence France-Presse reports that the deaths of “hundreds of Africans” in a ship that sank off the Italian coast is unlikely to lead to improvements in EU immigration policy:

“For years now, the EU’s executive, the European Commission, has struggled to rouse interest in a single approach to the divisive issue of migration, time after time coming up against a brick wall of national self interest.
‘We need a new policy at the European level,’ said Michele Cercone, spokesman for home affairs commissioner Cecilia Malmstroem.
‘Migration policies are fragmented, inward-looking, left in the hands of member states and subject to domestic political considerations,’ he added. ‘Immigration is viewed as a threat, a problem, never as a potential benefit.’
The Commission wants to open new avenues of legal migration while also sharing the burden among all 28 member states as the floods of impoverished refugees wash up on the shores of southern Europe — in Italy, Malta, Greece, Spain and Cyprus.”

Oversight gaps
The Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights has released a report alleging that a Bangladeshi supplier for US retail clothing giants Gap and Old Navy is forcing workers to put in over 100 hours a week and “shortchanging” them by over $400,000 per year:

“The revelations come in the wake of a series of deadly factory fires and the Rana Plaza building collapse to which Gap has responded with promises to police its suppliers more conscientiously. ‘It is hard to believe that after decades of doing business in Bangladesh and claiming to monitor its suppliers closely, that Gap was unaware of its supplier’s practices and the horrifying conditions imposed upon the people sewing their clothing lines. The best one might say is that Gap is incompetent and failed to supervise its monitors adequately, but it is far more likely that Gap simply ignored and suppressed what its monitors reported. Either way, it calls into question the reliability of any of the company’s recent promises,’ said Charles Kernaghan, IGLHR’s director.”

Canadian spying
As a diplomatic row flares between Brazil and Canada, the Globe and Mail reports that the Canadian government’s habit of sharing intelligence with corporations “is not news”:

“In 2007, then-Natural Resources minister Gary Lunn told the International Pipeline Security Forum, an industry gathering, ‘We have sponsored over 200 industry representatives in obtaining Secret Level II security clearance. This enables us to share information with industry and their associations so that the appropriate security enhancement measures can be adopted.’
This initiative appears to have begun as a way to allow energy companies access to government intelligence on threats to infrastructure, but grew into a broader sharing of information on industry critics, according to Keith Stewart, the Climate and Energy Campaign Coordinator for the environmental organization Greenpeace, who has studied the question of who is getting access to this intelligence.”

Enemy’s enemy
The Washington Post reports that the CIA is “ramping up” its efforts to train Syrian rebels it considers moderate:

“The CIA’s mission, officials said, has been defined by the White House’s desire to seek a political settlement, a scenario that relies on an eventual stalemate among the warring factions rather than a clear victor. As a result, officials said, limits on the agency’s authorities enable it to provide enough support to help ensure that politically moderate, U.S.-supported militias don’t lose but not enough for them to win.
The officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters, said the agency has sent additional paramilitary teams to secret bases in Jordan in recent weeks in a push to double the number of rebel fighters getting CIA instruction and weapons before being sent back to Syria.”

California driving
The Guardian reports that California has adopted new legislation allowing people who are in the US illegally to drive legally:

“ ‘This is only the first step. When a million people without their documents drive legally with respect to the state of California, the rest of this country will have to stand up and take notice,’ said [California Governor Jerry Brown], who officially signed the bill earlier Thursday. ‘No longer are undocumented people in the shadows, they are alive and well and respected in the state of California.’ ”

Free at last
The Associated Press reports that a Louisiana man, known as one third of the Angola Three, has died three days after being released from 41 years of solitary confinement:

“[George Kendall, one of Herman Wallace’s attorneys,] said his client has asked that, after his death, they continue to press the lawsuit challenging Wallace’s ‘unconstitutional confinement in solitary confinement for four decades’.
‘It is [Herman] Wallace’s hope that this litigation will help ensure that others, including his lifelong friend and fellow ‘Angola Three’ member, Albert Woodfox, do not continue to suffer such cruel and unusual confinement even after Mr Wallace is gone,” his legal team said in a written statement.”

Good intentions
Oxfam’s Ben Phillips argues that “posh white blokes”, even the well-intentioned ones, are “holding back the struggle for a fairer world”:

“The evidence is pretty damn conclusive. Posh white blokes aren’t just over-represented in the world of power and money – we’re over- represented in the leadership of the movements challenging that world.

Social movements exist to re-imagine the world and to challenge power relations, but their ability to do so outside is intimately connected with their ability to do so inside. Shifting power, so that decisions are increasingly shaped by people with lived experience of marginalisation, is no mere technical, instrumentalist fix. It goes to the roots of our purpose, it is central to the journey from ‘for’ to ‘with’ and ‘by’.”

Advertisements

Latest Developments, May 2

In the latest news and analysis…

May Day
The Christian Science Monitor offers an overview of May Day demonstrations around the world.
“In Argentina, small explosion went off outside the EU headquarters in Buenos Aires before dawn, breaking a few windows, but there were no injuries and no one was arrested.
Earlier, thousands of workers protested in the Philippines, Indonesia, Taiwan and other Asian nations, demanding wage hikes. They said their take-home pay could not keep up with rising food, energy and housing prices and school fees.
An unemployed father of six set himself on fire in southern Pakistan in an apparent attempt to kill himself because he was mired in poverty, according to police officer Nek Mohammed.”

Food price fear
The Financial Times reports that “industry experts” are predicting food prices will continue to rise over the next two years, though “the surge is unlikely to mirror” the 2007-08 crisis that saw rioting in cities around the world.
“The cost of wheat and rice, the two most important agricultural commodities for global food security because of their status as a staple for billions of people in southern Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, remains stable thanks in large part to bumper crops over the past few years.

Instead, the main concern centres on the price of oilseeds, such as soyabeans, rapeseed and canola, and corn.”

Short-lived peace
The Bureau of Investigative Journalism provides a roundup of US drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia during April.
“CIA drone strikes were on hold for most of the month in Pakistan, as Islamabad continued to insist that the US end the strikes after eight years of bombing.

On April 29 the pause ended when a drone attacked a former school in Miranshah, North Waziristan. Up to six alleged ‘foreign’ militants reportedly died. Pakistan condemned the attack in particularly strong terms, describing it as ‘in total contravention of international law and established norms of interstate relations.’ ”

Unmanned outlaws
Amnesty International’s Tom Parker contests the Obama administration’s claims that drones kill 40 militants for every civilian casualty and that their use is legal.
“In short, we know that [White House counterterrorism adviser John] Brennan’s 40-to-1 metric was, at best, wrong and, at worst, a deliberate falsehood.
We know that drones do kill militants but they also kill innocent civilians.
We know that they kill both of them outside the framework of any recognized international law.
We also know that yesterday’s speech, which masqueraded as an exercise in transparency, was in fact anything but.”

Wal-Mart vote
The New York Times reports that New York City’s pension funds have announced their intention to vote against five Wal-Mart directors seeking re-election at next month’s annual shareholder meeting, due to an alleged bribery cover-up in Mexico.
“ ‘In its relentless drive for profit and expansion, Wal-Mart has paid millions to settle charges that it violated child labor laws and exploited immigrants,’ [New York City comptroller John C. Liu] said Monday, in announcing the decision to vote against the company’s directors. ‘Now we learn that not only did Wal-Mart allegedly bribe its way through Mexico, but may have tried to cover up the corruption. A select few Wal-Mart executives may benefit in the short term, but the company, its share owners and everyone else lose in the long run.’ ”

Geography of domination
Columbia University’s Hamid Dabashi pleads for the US and its allies to step back and give former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan a chance to find a diplomatic resolution to the violence in Syria.
“[Annan] is the only one in a position to give the ruling regime (not just Bashar al-Assad) a way out of this bloody cul de sac. Unconditional surrender should never be the ruling paradigms in these or any other conflict resolution – not because Gaddafi then or Assad now deserves a face-saving strategy, but because Libyan and Syrian people need it for their future.
What ultimately prevents that possibility is not just the quagmire of violence in Syria. It is the imaginative geography of world politics that has historically written Asia, Africa, and Latin America out of the vital decisions affecting the globe. The US and EU have assumed disproportionate power of decision-making in global affairs and the UN is simply a diplomatic extension of their warmongerings. It is that grotesque geography of imperial domination that must be once and for all dismantled for the world determined to liberate itself, to begin to see itself.”

Agrarian crisis
The Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology’s Vandana Shiva argues the orthodox understanding of the economic concept of productivity lies at the root of today’s agricultural, ecological and unemployment crises.
“An artificial ‘production boundary’ was created to measure Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The production boundary defined work and production for sustenance as non-production and non-work – ‘if you produce what you consume, then you don’t produce’. In one fell swoop, nature’s work in providing goods and services disappeared. The production and work of sustenance economies disappeared, the work of hundreds of millions of women disappeared.

The false measure of productivity selects one output from diverse outputs – the single commodity to be produced for the market, and one input from diverse inputs – labour.”

Change of diet
In a Q&A with Inter Press Service, Worldwatch Institute’s Danielle Nierenberg calls for “a restructuring of the entire food system.”
“Factory farming or concentrated operations, this agricultural system really started here in the U.S. and in Europe, (and) is now spreading to the Philippines, Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia. The environmental, public health and animal welfare impact of this is really extreme. You have huge amounts of waste that can’t be utilised by farmlands, surface fertiliser is becoming toxic waste, there’s tropical water pollution, surface water pollution.

We really need to make sure that agriculture is something that sustains and not just some extractive industry.”

Insouciance of war
Author Daniel Richler laments the extent to which people living in a “nation at war” can be almost totally unaffected by the horrors playing out on distant battlefields.
“Is it arrogant to feel this way? To want, in one of these moments, the hockey crowd with their plastic mugs of beer and their popcorn standing for the troops, the families in attendance along the ‘Highway of Heroes’ or others at a policeman’s funeral not to stand, in silence, hands over their hearts in postures received from the movies, to wail inconsolably and furiously – and to riot, damn it, for lost lives rather than a sports result? That would bust the cliché – once, at least, before that scene, too, of thousands outraged at war’s stupidity became a standard part of the war story’s tired repertoire and was repeated, again.”

Latest Developments, May 1

In the latest news and analysis…

Drone admission
The Washington Post reports the Obama administration has, for the first time, “formally acknowledged” its use of drones to conduct targeted killings abroad.
“[White House counterterrorism adviser John] Brennan’s speech was also noteworthy, however, for what he withheld. He did not disclose how many people have been killed, list all the locations where armed drones are being flown or mention the administration’s increasing reliance on ‘signature’ strikes, which allow the CIA to fire missiles even when it doesn’t know the identities of those who could be killed.

Brennan cited respect for the ‘sovereignty’ of other countries, even though a CIA drone strike in Pakistan on Sunday came just weeks after that country’s Parliament voted unanimously to demand that such operations end.
In a question-and-answer session, Brennan declined to discuss the use of signature strikes, which are based on intelligence showing suspicious behavior rather than confirmation of the location of someone on the CIA or military target list.”

May Day test
Reuters says that protests planned for May 1 will provide a “crucial test” of ongoing support for the Occupy movement in the United States.
“Dozens of actions are planned across the country, though there is some skepticism over how many people will turn out and whether it will spell Occupy’s resurgence. The event was first billed as a ‘General Strike,’ but organized labor declined to sign on to that call.

‘If you look closely at movements, they don’t follow a sort of straight trajectory upwards. They stumble, fall, have reverses – sometimes, they’re crushed,’ [former journalist Chris Hedges] said. But Hedges cautioned that writing off Occupy based on the success of May Day would be ‘short-sighted.’ ”

Swiss arrest
The Wall Street Journal reports on the latest legal troubles for Canadian engineering giant SNC-Lavalin, as a former executive has been arrested in Switzerland over his dealings in North Africa where he helped his ex-employers “win billions of dollars in projects” from Libya’s deposed Gadhafi regime.
“SNC is under investigation by Canada’s Royal Canadian Mounted Police, which executed a search warrant against the company on April 13, raiding its Montreal headquarters. The World Bank temporarily debarred a unit of the company as it investigates alleged corruption in a project it funded in Bangladesh. S&P lowered its outlook on the firm earlier this month, citing, among other things, the scandals engulfing the company.”

International justice
The Guardian’s George Monbiot argues that by punishing only “crimes committed by vassal states,” international law fails ordinary people everywhere.
“The bid for power, oil and spheres of influence that Bush and Blair launched in Mesopotamia, using the traditional camouflage of the civilising mission; the colonial war still being fought in Afghanistan, 199 years after the Great Game began; the global policing functions the great powers have arrogated to themselves; the one-sided justice dispensed by international law. All these suggest that imperialism never ended, but merely mutated into new forms. The virtual empire knows no boundaries. Until we begin to recognise and confront it, all of us, black and white, will remain its subjects.”

Media death
Arizona State University’s G. Pascal Zachary points to a recent photo of a dead African boy on the front page of the New York Times as the latest evidence of a double standard in the way American news media display death.
“The disturbing photo might seem appropriate — unless one considers that the children killed by, for instance, American drone attacks in Yemen or Pakistan, never receive similar photographic display. So even on the narrow grounds of newsworthiness, the contradictions are evident and ample: for mysterious ‘reasons,’ dead Africans can be displayed in lavish fashion — this photo of this dead boy was in color! — while death inflicted by Americans cannot be displayed. Neither are the deaths experienced by Americans in combat suitable for front page photographic treatment (or inside the paper either).

This sort of Western bias against Africans remains unconscious, embedded in a set of corrosive meta-narratives that deserve critical engagement with a goal of, someday, replacing them with tropes that do not demean and diminish Africans under the guise of promoting sympathy for them.”

Beyond 0.7%
The Overseas Development Institute’s Jonathan Glennie contends that the ongoing dispute over the Falklands/Malvinas is “a much bigger test of the UK’s commitment to development” than is its willingness to allot 0.7% of GDP to aid.
“The reason the Malvinas issue is felt so keenly across Latin America is that it is a reminder of Britain’s history of economic imperialism in the region. The role Britain played in extracting resources and wealth from Latin America over the past two centuries, with little benefit to the local population, is well known, even if it is the Spanish who are most associated with colonialism. As [Argentinian foreign minister Hector] Timerman puts it: ‘We have 21st-century challenges, and Argentina is still fighting against a 19th-century power.’ Of course, British people have next to no knowledge of this, just as they know little of their imperial history in general.”

Eating plants
The University of the Basque Country’s Michael Marder argues that new evidence suggesting plants communicate with each other and form memories raises questions that lead us to the “final frontiers of dietary ethics.”
“The ‘renewable’ aspects of perennial plants may be accepted by humans as a gift of vegetal being and integrated into their diets.
But it would be harder to justify the cultivation of peas and other annual plants, the entire being of which humans devote to externally imposed ends. In other words, ethically inspired decisions cannot postulate the abstract conceptual unity of all plants; they must, rather, take into account the singularity of each species.”

Export processing zones
The Guardian’s John Vidal writes that foreign corporations operating in Bangladesh’s Chittagong export development zone are treated “royally” while providing questionable social and economic returns.
“Bangladesh has a deep energy crisis, with demand massively outsripping supply, yet companies in the zone get cheap, reliable power, as well as generous 10-year tax holidays, freedom from red tape, duty-free imports, immunity from national laws, cheap labour and low rents. In Chittagong, companies pay just $2.20 monthly to rent a square metre of space, and I was told that the annual rent paid to the Bangladesh government by all the factories on the giant site was just $4m a year.

Their critics say [EDZs] favour the export market rather than the domestic market, exploit poor countries, and allow relaxed environmental and safety standards.”

Latest Developments, December 18

In the latest news and analysis…

From multilateralism to plurilateralism
The Financial Times reports the World Trade Organization’s biennial ministerial meeting has wrapped up without progress on the “stalled” Doha round of talks, which is ostensibly meant to improve the position of poor countries within the global trade system.
“A number of rich economies, including the US and EU, have explored the possibility of a so-called ‘plurilateral agreement’, involving a subset of WTO members which would agree to open their markets only to each other rather than the wider membership. But many emerging-market countries have rejected a move away from the traditional WTO ‘single undertaking’ approach in which negotiations in several areas – agriculture, industrial goods, services – are undertaken in parallel. Plans to address new issues such as climate change and food security within the WTO have also aroused suspicion among some developing countries, which suspect they are a ruse to advance rich countries’ interests.”

Vicious cycle
The UN News Centre reports that a UN human rights experts has said World Trade Organization policies are hurting small-scale farmers in the poorest countries.
“[Olivier De Schutter, Special Rapporteur on the right to food] stressed that the international trade regime must acknowledge the dangers for poor countries in relying excessively on trade, as this exposes them to volatile grain prices, which can quickly change their landscape into one of poverty and hunger, felt by urban and rural consumer alike.
‘The food bills of LDCs increased five- or six-fold between 1992 and 2008. Imports now account for around 25 per cent of their current food consumption. These countries are caught in a vicious cycle. The more they are told to rely on trade, the less they invest in domestic agriculture. And the less they support their own farmers, the more they have to rely on trade,’ he said.”

Drone dangers
Human Rights Watch has called on the US government to transfer command of drone strikes from the CIA to the armed forces and to “clarify its legal rationale for targeted killings.”
“In asserting that targeted attacks on alleged anti-US militants anywhere in the world are lawful, the US undermines the international rules it helped craft over the past half-century. This sets a dangerous precedent for abusive regimes around the globe to conduct drone attacks or other strikes against anyone labeled a terrorist or militant, and undercuts the ability of the US to criticize such attacks.
About 40 other countries currently possess basic drone technology, and the number is expected to expand significantly in coming years. These drones are primarily used for surveillance. China, France, Germany, India, Iran, Israel, Italy, Russia, Turkey, and the United Kingdom either have or are currently seeking drones with attack capability.

Privatizing education
A new Center for Global Development paper reaches the conclusion that low-income countries would benefit from more private schools.
“We find a robust, causal exam performance premium of one standard deviation delivered by private schools. This point estimate is significantly larger than found in previous studies, and dwarfs the impact of narrower interventions within public primary schools in the micro-empirical development literature (see (Kremer 2003)). Furthermore, from a social perspective private schooling is relatively cheap: nearly two-thirds (64%) of children in private schools pay fees less than the median per-child funding levels in public schools circa 2005/6. Taken together, our results suggest that expanding access to private schools may provide a viable route to improving education quality at relatively low cost in low-income countries with weak public school systems.”

Northern knowledge
The Overseas Development Institute’s Jonathan Glennie suggests there is something wrong with knowledge flows within the development industry.
“In terms of value for money, it must be time to set out a timetable to massively reduce the role of northern consultants (generally friendly with the sources of money) and increase the role of southern consultants in the technical co-operation mix.
Unfortunately, the desire of donors to be able to attribute change directly to their dollar or pound, rather than being satisfied to contribute to broader processes, militates against capacity development ever being taken seriously by northern donors. Structures are created more to manage aid than to enable the sharing of knowledge.”

Biosphere bailout
The Guarian’s George Monbiot suggests saving the banks but not the biosphere is bad economic policy.
“This support was issued on demand: as soon as the banks said they wanted help, they got it. On just one day the Federal Reserve made $1.2tr available – more than the world has committed to tackling climate change in 20 years.

No legislator, as far as I know, has yet been able to explain why making $7.7tr available to the banks is affordable, while investing far smaller sums in new technologies and energy saving is not.”

Decline and flail
The London School of Economics’ David Held and Kristian Coates Ulrichsen argue that the post-9/11 wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya may be the latest examples of the historical tendency for declining empires to resort to “flailing out as they attempt to retain the status quo and reverse their decline.”
“In choosing to invade Iraq the Bush administration and Bush’s British ally rode roughshod over considerations of international peace and security, and disregarded the United Nations and the post-war international architecture. NATO continues to bomb Afghanistan even after the death of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan, which also hosts a resurgent Taliban that is once again destroying Afghanistan while destabilizing the fragile nuclear-armed Pakistani state. The intervention in Libya exceeded its UN mandate as NATO willfully misrepresented the nature and intent of its actions to tip the balance of power against Gaddafi. It is difficult to see Libya avoiding the sort of lengthy civil strife that has resulted from the external interventions and acts of imposed regime change in Afghanistan and Iraq. The terrible irony is that the attempts to resist terrorist violence in the decade after 9/11 have ended up weakening the very structures of law and constraints on the use of force that have formed the cornerstone of the international system and bedrock of global security since 1945.”