Latest Developments, August 7

In the latest news and analysis…

Battlefield Yemen
UPI reports on the recent escalation of the American drone campaign in Yemen and the possibility of a US Joint Special Operations Command strike:

“JSOC is the special operations unit that killed U.S.-born Yemeni cleric and al-Qaida member Anwar al-Awlaki with Hellfire missiles in Yemen two years ago next month.
The unit, part of the U.S. Special Operations Command, cooperates closely with the CIA, which resumed drone strikes in Yemen 11 days ago to disrupt al-Qaida’s terrorism plot, the BBC and The Washington Post reported.
The campaign — with four strikes in rapid succession — ends a period in which U.S. drone activity in Yemen has been relatively rare, the Post said.
It’s not clear if the renewed attacks, including a strike in Yemen’s eastern Marib region Tuesday, curbed the danger, U.S. officials told the Post, acknowledging they didn’t know if senior al-Qaida operatives in Yemen had been killed.”

Outsourcing refugees
Al Jazeera reports that Australia (area: 7,692,024 km²) has signed a new deal with Nauru (area: 21 km²) which has agreed to take sea-faring asylum seekers off its hands:

“The memorandum of understanding is similar to a deal [Australian Prime Minister Kevin] Rudd struck with Papua New Guinea prime minister Peter O’Neill a fortnight ago.
Mr Rudd says refugees who arrive in Australia will be sent offshore for processing and will be free to ‘settle and reside in Nauru’.

The announcement comes just a fortnight after asylum seekers being held on Nauru rioted, causing extensive damage to the facility there.
In its economic statement yesterday, the Federal Government said its offshore processing plan was expected to cost $1.1 billion.
The latest announcement is part of Labor’s move to ensure no asylum seeker that arrives in Australia by boat will be resettled in Australia.”

Somali oil
The Financial Times reports that Somalia’s government has given first dibs on oil exploration to former UK Tory leader Michael Howard’s “newly formed” company:

“The weak new government, the most representative in years, said earlier this year the broken state was too fragile to risk oil exploration because it was likely to pit different regions and warlords against each other. UN investigators also said in a report this year that inconsistencies in the legal framework regulating oil ‘risk exacerbating clan divisions and therefore threaten peace and security’.

The UK has hosted a Somalia conference two years running, including a day dedicated to business deals attended by oil executives, and this year opened an embassy within the secure airport area in Mogadishu. A diplomat from the UK also beat Norway to head up the UN mission to Somalia.”

Drug deal
Intellectual Property Watch reports that Swiss pharmaceutical giant Roche has agreed to reduce the cost of an HIV-related drug by up to 90 percent in some countries:

“In the past, [the Medicines Patent Pool] has received criticism for leaving key middle-income countries out of its licensing agreements. The prevalence of patients diagnosed with [cytomegalovirus] retinitis is 14.0% (11.8-16.2%) of people living with HIV in Asia, 12.0% (4.2-19.9%) in Latin America, and 2.2% (1.3-3.1%) in Africa, according to the MPP release.
Despite CMV prevalence in Latin America, major countries in the region such as Brazil and Mexico, are missing from the new agreement with Roche.”

Unaccountable peacekeeping
A new report out of Yale University argues the UN “caused great harm to hundreds of thousands of Haitians” by introducing cholera to a country it was meant to stabilize:

“ ‘The U.N.’s ongoing unwillingness to hold itself accountable to victims violates its obligations under international law. Moreover, in failing to lead by example, the U.N. undercuts its very mission of promoting the rule of law, protecting human rights, and assisting in the further development of Haiti,’ [co-author Tassity] Johnson said.

The report calls for setting up a claims commission, as well as providing a public apology, direct aid to victims, infrastructural support, and adequate funding for the prevention and treatment of cholera. It also emphasizes that the prevention of similar harms in the future requires that the U.N. commit to reforming the waste management practices of its peacekeepers and complying with its contractual and international law obligations.”

War on coal
Princeton University’s Peter Singer argues that we will have to leave “about 80%” of known fossil fuels in the ground in order to save the planet:

“The dividing lines may be less sharp than they were with apartheid, but our continued high level of greenhouse-gas emissions protects the interests of one group of humans – mainly affluent people who are alive today – at the cost of others. (Compared to most of the world’s population, even the American and Australian coal miners who would lose their jobs if the industry shut down are affluent.) Our behavior disregards most of the world’s poor, and everyone who will live on this planet in centuries to come.

In these circumstances, to develop new coal projects is unethical, and to invest in them is to be complicit in this unethical activity.”

Paranoid nation
The Economist calls the extent of the US government’s prioritization of security over liberty “unjust, unwise and un-American”:

“The indefinite incarceration of prisoners in Guantánamo Bay without trial was a denial of due process. It was legal casuistry to redefine the torture of prisoners with waterboarding and stress positions as ‘enhanced interrogation’. The degradation of Iraqi criminals in Abu Ghraib prison in 2003, extraordinary rendition and the rest of it were the result of a culture, led by Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, that was both unAmerican and a recruiting sergeant for its enemies. Mr Obama has stopped the torture, but Guantánamo remains open and the old system of retribution has often been reinforced.

Every democracy needs its secrets. But to uncover the inevitable abuses of power, every democracy needs leaks too.”

Latest Developments, June 22

 

In the latest news and analysis…

Epic fail
The Guardian reports that major NGOs are slamming world leaders for their unwillingness to make firm commitments at the Rio+20 summit on sustainable development:

“ ‘They say they can’t put money on the table because of the economic crisis, but they spend money on greedy banks and on saving those who caused the crisis. They spend $1 trillion a year on subsidies for fossil fuels and then tell us they don’t have any money to give to sustainable development,’ [said Greenpeace’s Daniel Mittler]”

ACTA rejected
Reuters reports that the European Parliament’s trade committee has voted down the proposed Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, which enjoyed the support of the European Commission but faced widespread public opposition:

“The cross-party vote is a signal the legislature will reject ACTA in a final vote on July 4, the first time the European Parliament would write off an international trade agreement since an increase in its powers in 2008.
[British MEP David] Martin said the European Parliament has the authority to ratify commercial treaties, meaning that rejection would preclude any EU member state from signing up on its own.”

Refugee drownings
The Associated Press reports that “scores” of people thought to be asylum seekers may have drowned after a ship capsized between Indonesia and Australia:

“Christmas Island, in the Indian Ocean, is closer to Indonesia than the Australian mainland. It is a popular target for a growing number of asylum seekers, many from Iran, Afghanistan and Sri Lanka, who attempt to reach Australia on overcrowded fishing boats from Indonesia – sometimes with deadly consequences.”

Renditions Inc.
Reprieve has released the first in a series of investigations outing companies alleged to have benefited from the CIA practice of sending suspected terrorists to “black sites,” in this case, a secret prison in Poland:

“The documents show how:
– Private military contractor DynCorp Systems and Solutions arranged the trip for the US Government at a cost of over $330,000
– A Gulfstream jet, identified as N63MU and operated by First Flight / Airborne Inc. carried out the mission
– The round trip from Washington DC passed through Anchorage and Osaka, picked up the prisoners in Bangkok, and transported them via Dubai to the remote Szymany airfield in Poland, before returning via London Luton
– Trip planners Universal Weather and Aviation arranged logistics for the trip”

New pharma plan
Intellectual Property Watch reports that a new pharmaceutical industry initiative, the HIV Medicines Alliance, ostensibly aimed at facilitating access to HIV treatments for poor people, is raising questions about whether it represents a “good-faith effort”:

“Looking at the draft charter from early June, the initiative aims to encourage companies to share in-kind support and patented products royalty-free to least-developed countries under arrangements with generics companies, and demonstrates flexibility on industry’s part.
But it could stop short of a firm commitment to lower prices and availability. For instance, the draft language states that it would ‘work to enable the availability of medicines developed through this Alliance at the lowest possible prices,’ which is perhaps different than stating that the medicines will be available and at prices poor populations can afford.
The new initiative, organised by the Wellcome Trust, reportedly involves Johnson & Johnson and Merck, two companies that have declined to enter negotiations with the [Medicines] Patent Pool.”

Robin Hood in America
Inter Press Service reports that 52 financial sector professionals have signed a letter calling on the US Congress to adopt a financial transaction tax:

“The tax would cover stock trading, derivatives and other financial instruments, but, proponents say, would have a significant impact only on so-called high-frequency trades, in which computer-driven speculators typically hold stocks for mere milliseconds.
‘These taxes will rebalance financial markets away from a short-term trading mentality that has contributed to instability in our financial markets,’ the letter stated. ‘The primary role of financial markets is to raise investment, allocate resources efficiently, and mitigate risk. However, much of today’s financial activity does not contribute to these goals.’ ”

Secret talks
The Globe and Mail’s Gary Mason expresses surprise at the apparent lack of public concern over the “clandestine nature” of Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations:

“According to Public Citizen, the trade deal would limit the extent to which signatory countries could regulate foreign firms operating within their boundaries, effectively giving them greater freedoms than domestic firms.
It also reveals that all of the countries except Australia have agreed to terms around the operation of foreign tribunals, which would arbitrate disputes. The tribunals would be staffed by private-sector lawyers who would rotate between acting as judges and acting as advocates for the investors who might be suing a particular government over a TPP-related matter. Talk about a potential conflict of interest.”

Green recession
The Land Institute’s Stan Cox argues that the fixation “at the top of the global economy” on perpetual growth and ever greater profits makes it impossible to achieve environmental sustainability:

“If we regard limitless growth of the human economy as being essential, then we are asking for the impossible. We’ll burst through all nine of those [planetary] boundaries (and others), ecosystems worldwide will crash, and that will succeed in doing what we failed to do: to put a permanent stop to economic growth.
Reversal of growth could instead be achieved preemptively, to ward off such a collapse. The burden of that intentional contraction, however, must be borne by the rich corporations, governments, and populations of the global North, because that’s where the sheer volume of growth has been greatest, with a corresponding impact on the ecosphere. Impoverished nations, on the other hand, have contributed far less to global breakdown and must be permitted some headroom for the growth required to meet people’s basic needs.”

Latest Developments, November 7

In the latest news and analysis…

Energy governance
Former NATO secretary general Javier Solana and the ESADE Center for Global Economy and Geopolitics’ Ángel Saz-Carranza make the case for a system of global energy governance, arguing that neither an unregulated market nor current multilateral institutions are up to the task.
“Owing mainly to its environmentally negative externalities, an unregulated energy market is not a useful governing mechanism, because it is unable to internalize the environmental costs. It has been calculated that the most contaminating energy sources would have to pay a 70% tax to reflect their negative externalities.
A substantial lack of information in this field is another reason why the free market doesn’t work. Often, as with the properties of a gas reserve, for example, information is technically difficult to obtain. In addition, governments consider natural resources to be strategic and don’t release information about them. Finally, time frames related to energy are usually long: centuries for environmental effects or decades for investments to pay off. Thus, energy must be governed through a system of cooperation and regulation.”

Covert war
The Bureau of Investigative Journalism’s Pratap Chatterjee argues the CIA must prove that two Pakistani boys, aged 12 and 16, who were killed last week in a drone strike posed an imminent threat to US security or else it is guilty of murder.
“Over 2,300 people in Pakistan have been killed by such missiles carried by drone aircraft such as the Predator and the Reaper, and launched by remote control from Langley, Virginia. Tariq and Waheed brought the known total of children killed in this way to 175, according to statistics maintained by the organisation I work for, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.”

First, do no harm
The University of London’s Donna Dickenson writes about the recent discovery that American researchers intentionally infected hundreds of Guatemalans with syphilis in the 1940s, and she warns against ethical complacency today as more and more clinical drug trials are conducted in poor countries.
“In fact, one should view the Guatemalan study, with its incontrovertible horrors, as an extreme example of the biggest ethical problems in research today. Now, as then, richer developed countries are able to put pressure on weaker, poorer ones.
A report in 2010 revealed that foreign citizens made up more than three-quarters of all the subjects in clinical trials conducted by US firms and researchers. The US Food and Drug Administration inspected only 45 of these sites, about 0.7 per cent. There is no suggestion that Third World patients are deliberately being made ill when research is outsourced – unlike in the Guatemalan case – but that does not attenuate the inherent vulnerability of populations lacking basic medical care or experiencing epidemics.”

Investment agreements
The Guardian reports on bilateral investment treaties and how their investor-state dispute mechanism is a powerful and increasingly popular tool for transnational corporations to sue governments whose policies threaten their profits.
“There is growing concern among legal experts and the countries hit by these legal cases that the investment regime, made up of a patchwork of bilateral investment treaties and multilateral agreements, favours corporations over the public interest, puts sovereignty at stake, is chronically lacking in transparency and accountability and has been mis-sold to many developing countries that only realise exactly what they have signed up for when they get sued.

In the last 15 years multinational corporations have increasingly recognised the potential of the ISDM, and this area of law – in which lawyers and arbitrators can command fees of $500 an hour and more – has seen a rapid expansion. A UN report in 2010 noted that 57% of all known cases have been brought in the last five years, with growing numbers of law firms opening large, dedicated sections.”

Affordable medicine
Intellectual Property Watch reports the Medicines Patent Pool, whose goal is to improve access to effective HIV/AIDS treatments in poor countries, has responded to criticism of a deal it signed with a major pharmaceutical company earlier this year.
“The Pool said in its response that the Gilead deal is not a template for the future, and that it includes more countries in its scope than any other HIV licence to date. The response also details how the licence does not undermine flexibilities contained within the World Trade Organization Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS). It also seeks to address concerns related to production of generic products in India and elsewhere.”

Ethical oil
Nobel laureates Jody Williams and Desmond Tutu argue one of their own, US President Barack Obama, will take “one of the single most disastrous decisions of his presidency concerning climate change and the very future of our planet” if he approves construction of the Keystone XL pipeline that would transport oil from Canada’s controversial “tar sands” to the Gulf of Mexico.
“The claim that Alberta’s fossil fuels are “ethical” because Canada is a friend is a specious ploy aimed at perpetuating the world’s addiction to fossil fuels. There is no such thing as ethical fossil fuel, regardless of geographical origin. The ethical choice is to move as quickly as possible away from fossil fuels, period.”

Roadmap for sustainable development
The UNDiplomatic Times’s Bhaskar Menon calls for a specific course of action to be mapped out at next year’s Rio+20 summit in order to actually undertake the radical changes needed to achieve sustainable development.
“The [UN] secretary-general’s report submitted earlier this year to the committee preparing for the [Rio+20] conference noted that to succeed in ‘fundamentally shifting consumption and production patterns onto a more sustainable path’, public policy would have to extend ‘well beyond “getting prices right”’.
However, it did not say what specific policy measures would be necessary. Indeed, nowhere in the massive body of documentation the United Nations has produced since it convened the first Environment Conference in 1972 can we find a single analysis of that issue.”

Latest Developments, October 11

In today’s latest news and analysis…

Playing footsie with tax havens
A new ActionAid report entitled Addicted to Tax Havens indicates that 98 of the UK’s FTSE 100 companies have subsidiaries (over 8,000 in all) based in tax havens.
“Corporate tax avoidance, which is one of the main reasons companies use tax havens, is having a massive impact on rich and poor countries alike. Developing countries currently lose three times more to tax havens than they receive in aid each year.”

SLAPP-happy mining companies
Candice Vallantin writes in the Walrus about a pair of lawsuits involving mining companies and the authors of a book critical of Canadian-owned overseas mining operations in order to highlight the issue of so-called strategic lawsuits against public participation (or SLAPPs) and their potential to make it impossible to criticize powerful entities.
“In December, the same week the Noir Canada lawyers filed their motion for the court to declare Barrick Gold’s case abusive, Pierre Noreau, a law professor at L’Université de Montréal, published an editorial in Le Devoir. Co-signed by more than two dozen law professors from around the country, it laid out the stakes. ‘Behind [this case] remains a fundamental question: Can we still be critical in our society? Should power (and money) always prevail over the right to know, or at least the right to question publicly?… The future of thought rests on this case.’”

Maintaining EU farm subsidies
The Guardian’s Mark Tran reports trade campaigners are unhappy with proposed reforms to the EU’s common agricultural policy (CAP), arguing the changes would have little impact on the massive subsidies that make it virtually impossible for farmers in poor countries to compete.
“CAP reform comes against the background of the EU’s commitment to what it calls policy coherence for development, which seeks to ensure that all policies, not just development, promote growth in developing countries. The continuing high level of farm subsidies will make it hard for EU policymakers to square the circle.”

Grim food forecast
The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2011, a new UN report, foresees no let-up in high, volatile food prices, a scenario that could have wide, long-lasting economic consequences.
“Price volatility makes both smallholder farmers and poor consumers increasingly vulnerable to poverty while short-term price changes can have long-term impacts on development, the report found. Changes in income due to price swings that lead to decreased food consumption can reduce children’s intake of key nutrients during the first 1000 days of life from conception, leading to a permanent reduction of their future earning capacity and an increased likelihood of future poverty, with negative impacts on entire economies.”

Hooray for brain drain
The Center for Global Development’s Charles Kenny argues everybody benefits when skilled professionals migrate from poor to rich countries.
“Michael Clemens at the Center for Global Development finds no evidence that medical brain drain from developing countries leads to shortages of medical staff back home, probably because the opportunity to migrate is one of the things that attracts people to medical school in the first place. For years, nurses have left the Philippines in huge numbers to work abroad, but the country still has more nurses per person than Britain.”

Breakthrough or setback?
Intellectual Property Watch’s William New reports the Medicines Patent Pool has negotiated a new deal for an Indian generics producer to manufacture cheap antiretrovirals, but it remains unclear whether the MPP has addressed concerns expressed over its first agreement signed in July.
“Meanwhile, a newly launched petition against the MPP-Gilead agreement is being led by the International Treatment Preparedness Coalition, and is based on their assessment that the deal with Gilead represents a “setback” for people living with HIV, and that the process is not sufficiently transparent.
The petition…calls for a renegotiation of the voluntary licence agreement, and a moratorium on agreements by the Patent Pool with Indian generics producers until a model can be created. The petition followed a 2 October meeting between activists and the MPP, and has dozens of signatures of individuals and groups.”

Dissecting Millennium Villages
The Guardian’s Madeleine Bunting puts Columbia University economist/development industry superstar Jeffrey Sachs’s Millennium Villages Project under the microscope, asking if it really represents a replicable model for development.
“The nub of the issue was well put by Chris Blattman when he asked on his blog what the MVP will prove. That ‘a gazillion dollars in aid and lots of government attention produces good outcomes’? This is hardly surprising, says Blattman. The point, he adds, is how we test ‘the theory of the big push: that high levels of aid simultaneously attacking many sectors and bottlenecks are needed to spur development; that there are positive interactions and externalities from multiple interventions’.”

Development perks
Global Integrity’s Nathaniel Heller sounds off about the development industry’s self-importance (“Only in the Diplo-Development Universe™ does a trip to a boring industry conference in Toronto turn into a breathless, dramatic ‘mission.’”) and excessive per diems (“The fixed sum for each destination is calculated based on the following process: a large team of economists closely monitors a common basket of goods across geographies, calculates the cost of that basket in local currency, and then apparently multiplies the result by thirteen.”), arguing these seemingly minor flaws may be symptomatic of more serious problems.
“Habits like “going on mission” and fat per diems perpetuate a mindset of process trumping outcomes in international diplomacy and development. International travel becomes the whole point of some people’s jobs, especially in large international organizations and governmental agencies. Achieving actual outcomes (reducing poverty, reforming institutions, promoting peace) somehow gets swept aside in the frenzy to upgrade to business class…”