Latest Developments, December 13

In the latest news and analysis…

Siemens charges
Reuters reports US prosecutors have charged eight executives at German electronics giant Siemens with paying $100 million worth of bribes in Argentina.
“Between 1996 and 2007, the executives paid bribes intended for top Argentina officials, including two presidents and cabinet ministers, according to the criminal charges and a separate civil lawsuit brought by the top market regulator, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. The charges were filed in U.S. District Court in Manhattan.
The defendants face criminal charges of conspiracy to violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) anti-fraud statute, as well as wire fraud and money laundering, crimes that carry a possible maximum prison term of 25 years.”

Fighting REDD
The Inter Press Service reports that a new coalition is voicing its opposition to the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) projects, which are meant to provide market incentives for protecting forests.
“The new Global Alliance of Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities against REDD and for Life issued a statement stating that based on “in-depth investigations, a growing number of recent reports provide evidence that indigenous peoples are being subjected to violations of their rights as a result of the implementation of REDD+-type programs and policies.”
‘Indigenous peoples and local forest communities will not place our lives and lands in the hands of corporate polluters,’ said Tom Goldtooth, executive director of the Indigenous Environmental Network, based in the United States.”

Kyoto regrets
The UN News Centre reports the organization’s top climate change official has expressed “regret” over Canada’s Kyoto pullout and suggested rich countries must do more to meet their emissions pledges.
“Whether or not Canada is a Party to the Kyoto Protocol, it has a legal obligation under the [UN Framework Convention on Climate Change] to reduce its emissions, and a moral obligation to itself and future generations to lead in the global effort,” [Christiana Figueres] said. “Industrialized countries, whose emissions have risen significantly since 1990, as is the case for Canada, remain in a weaker position to call on developing countries to limit their emissions.”

Lords of poverty
The Telegraph reports Somalia’s prime minister is accusing international aid agencies of being “lords of poverty” who are exaggerating the severity of his country’s food crisis to further their own ends.
“Seated in his air-conditioned office, Mr [Abdiweli Mohammed] Ali said the UN’s judgment that famine had struck his capital was wrong. ‘I have no idea how this international community makes the grading. You ask them and tell me how they did it. They don’t know what they’re talking about. But what I can say is enough relief came to Somalia and we provided enough relief to those affected by the famine.’
Mr Ali added: ‘I don’t believe there’s a famine in Mogadishu. Absolutely no. You know the aid agencies became an entrenched interest group and they say all kind of things that they want to say.’
Mr Ali cited a searing critique of aid workers, ‘Lords of Poverty’, written by Graham Hancock, a British author, in 1989. ‘I don’t want to be a conspiracy theorist, but I believe a lot of what has been said in the ‘Lords of Poverty’ book by Graham Hancock,’ added the prime minister.”

Afghan questions
The American Security Project’s Joshua Foust takes issue with a new Foreign Policy piece that suggests Afghanistan is “a much better place” now than it was before the NATO invasion.
“Things in much of the country really are not good, and leaving the internet data archives (and even Kabul!) can show that to anyone brave enough to look for it. If the international community had spent $100 billion on development over ten years and accomplished nothing, that would be shocking. So it’s no surprise that some things have improved. What Kenny should be asking isn’t, did we get anything for our vast expenditure, but have the improvements been worth the cost? And could another policy have achieved the same or more at less cost?
Those are the kinds of questions aid and development boosters don’t like to answer. I wish they would.”

Nuclear testing ban
Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt and Mexican Foreign Minister Patricia Espinosa Cantellano call on the remaining eight key countries to follow Indonesia’s recent example and ratify the ban on nuclear testing.
“For the five decades following World War II, a nuclear test shook and irradiated the planet on average every nine days. This era was ended in 1996, when the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly. But, for the CTBT to enter into force, all 44 states specified as holders of nuclear technology must ratify it. Until they do, the specter of nuclear testing will continue to haunt us.”

European illusions
The University of Cambridge’s Tarak Barkawi argues the UK’s left and right both hold views of the EU that have little to do with reality.
“At its core, Europe has always been a capitalist project, and is at its most successful as a single market regulated by unelected officials. The EU’s social agenda pales in significance to its economic powers, and as a diplomatic and military actor it has never achieved real weight as a “force for good”. Much less noticed is the EU’s brutal anti-immigration policy. It has built a gulag of concentration camps across North Africa and prefers to let migrants drown in the Mediterranean rather than admit them to Europe.”

Different kind of economics
Oxfam’s Duncan Green lists a number of concerns he took away from his participation in “an initial discussion” with the World Bank regarding the World Development Report’s 2013 edition, which will focus on jobs.
“Third, great that jobs are presented as the ‘hinge’ of development. But from the presentation, it looks like that hinge will then be explored almost entirely in terms of improving the enabling environment for employers. That could easily end up producing a kinder, gentler tweak of the standard Washington Consensus: make it easier to hire and fire and otherwise ‘flexibilize’ the workforce; trade unions are a ‘distortion’ to the efficient workings of labour markets etc (see Kanbur’s point three). Why not, as Christina Weller from CAFOD suggested in the meeting, focus on the enabling environment for workers, starting by asking them what makes for decent, life-enhancing jobs?”

Latest Developments, December 12

In the latest news and analysis…

Canada out of Kyoto
The New York Times reports that mere hours after the international community agreed at the Durban climate change conference to extend the Kyoto Protocol, Canada has become the first country to withdraw from the accord.
“‘Kyoto, for Canada, is in the past,’ the environment minister, Peter Kent, told reporters shortly after returning from South Africa. He added that Canada would work toward developing an agreement that includes targets for developing nations, particularly China and India.
‘What we have to look at is all major emitters,’ Mr. Kent said.
Under the Kyoto Protocol’s rules, Canada must formally give notice of its intention to withdraw by the end of this year or else face penalties after 2012.
The extent of those penalties, as well as Canada’s ability to redress its inability to meet the treaty’s emission reduction targets, is a matter of some debate.”

Trade mispricing
Global Financial Integrity’s Sarah Freitas writes that the Philippines lost an estimated $142 billion due to illicit financial flows over the last decade, but that corruption and bribery accounted for a relatively small part of that amount .
“The study found that the majority of the illicit outflow, US$113.7 billion, is due to the mispricing of imported and exported goods. Trade mispricing is a phenomenon where individuals and corporations use fraudulent commercial invoices to smuggle money out of the country, usually in order to facilitate tax evasion. A large corporation or very wealthy individual in the Philippines will trade with a counterpart in another country, but will manipulate the price and quantity of exported goods to send more money offshore than represented by what they report to the government. The individual or corporation then collects the extra money later, usually in a bank account in a tax haven or secrecy jurisdiction.
This means that while the Philippines has seen significant outflows from corruption, bribery, and kickbacks, their biggest priority when addressing illicit capital flight should be to tackle trade-related tax evasion.”

Slow start
The Guardian reports that after 40 years of mining uranium in Niger, the French state-owned company Areva has agreed to begin monitoring the health of its employees.
“Deaths from respiratory infections occur at almost twice the national average in Arlit, according to Greenpeace. In a 2010 report, the organisation found water wells in Akokan contaminated with radiation levels up to 500 times higher than normal, and radioactive scrap metal for sale at local markets. Meanwhile, mining activity has drained almost 300bn litres of water from aquifers, key water sources in the desert.”

Biofuel crimes
A new report produced jointly by the Food and Agriculture Organization and Transparency International suggests the troubles with the growing biofuel industry go beyond issues of food security.
“The drive to find alternative energy sources to mitigate climate change has resulted in a rush of money to related investments in countries. Yet many countries with governance and corruption challenges are considered among the most attractive destinations for biofuel investment.
In the case of Colombia, the rapid expansion of the cultivation of palm oil has been linked to reports of paramilitaries, hired by private interests, allegedly pushing poor communities off their land to increase the available area for planting.”

Boycott fever
Forbes blogger E.D. Kain writes about the Florida Family Association’s efforts to get companies to pull their advertising dollars from TLC’s reality TV show All-American Muslim, a campaign the group claims has succeeded with 65 of the 67 companies it pressured.
“The FFA’s statement on the matter reads: ‘‘All-American Muslim’ is propaganda clearly designed to counter legitimate and present-day concerns about many Muslims who are advancing Islamic fundamentalism and Sharia law… The show profiles only Muslims that appear to be ordinary folks while excluding many Islamic believers whose agenda poses a clear and present danger to the liberties and traditional values that the majority of Americans cherish.’”

Durban disappointment
Oxfam’s Tim Gore argues that the final deal that came out of the Durban climate summit prioritized legal obligations over ambition and equity.
“Many developing countries are concerned the terms of the new agreement will pressurise them to act in the same vein as developed countries. The impassioned appeals of India and others to keep fairness at the heart of the new regime are not reflected in the text of the final agreement, which makes no distinction between the relative effort required by large and small historic and per-capita polluters, or between the richest countries and those where millions of people still live in poverty and hunger.”

Ecosocialism
In a Q&A with People of Colour Organize!, British Green politician and activist Derek Wall discusses the concept of ecosocialism and answers whether “zero growth” is possible in a capitalist system.
“The short answer is no. Firms compete to make profit. Those who make the most profit can reinvest in capital and with more efficient machinery they out compete other firms.
Firms have to make profit to survive. It’s not a case of wicked capitalists but instead a system with a built in growth imperative.
The problem is, from declining oil to diminishing fish stocks, an environmental wipeout is occurring.”

Dangerous game
In an Al Jazeera interview, Columbia University economist Jeffrey Sachs talks about the madness, as he sees it, of the American financial system.
“And the problem that the Occupy Wall Street and other protesters have is: you don’t deserve it, you nearly broke the system, you gamed the economy, you’re paying mega fines, yet you’re still in the White House you’re going to the state dinners, you’re paying yourself huge bonuses, what kind of system is this?
When I talk about this in the United States, I’m often attacked, ‘oh, you don’t believe in the free market economy’, I say, how much free market can there be? You say deregulate, the moment the banks get in trouble, you say bail them out, the moment you bail them out, you say go back to deregulation. That’s not a free market, that’s a game, and we have to get out of the game. We have to get back to grown-up behaviour.”