Latest Developments, September 18

In the latest news and analysis…

Death by GDP
The Zoological Society of London’s Jonathon Baillie argues that America’s improving environment does not mean economic growth is good for biodiversity:

“GDP masquerading as growth has negative implications for biodiversity, as this ‘growth’ only calculates output; or as Joseph Stiglitz, a Nobel Laureate, said: ‘GDP measures only revenues to see how well a firm is doing; far more relevant is the balance sheet, which shows assets and liabilities.’

Some of America’s environmental conditions can be explained by innovation leading to greater efficiency, such as fuel efficiency in cars or more efficient agricultural production. But the majority of the negative impact has simply been exported. The industries that produce the most pollutants have been outsourced to emerging nations that have fewer regulations, in terms of both the environment and labour conditions. Therefore the environmental impact of increased consumption is largely felt beyond the borders of wealthy nations — it is middle- and lower-income nations that experience the majority of environmental degradation and biodiversity loss.

It is self-evident that growth, as currently defined, has a major negative impact upon biodiversity. What needs to change is the definition of growth from a GDP-centric mindset to a balance-sheet approach.”

Toxic legacy
The Associated Press reports that hundreds of Chilean plaintiffs are suing a Swedish mining company for allegedly exporting and dumping toxic waste during the Pinochet era:

“The lawsuit filed with a Swedish district court claims Boliden exported 20,000 tons of mining waste to the Chilean town of Arica in the mid-1980s, despite knowing it was highly toxic and could not be handled safely at the site.
Citizens in a residential area called Polygono claim the waste includes high levels of arsenic, lead and quicksilver, and that it has given them health problems such as cancer, aching bones, breathing difficulties, rashes and miscarriages.”

MINUSTAH misconduct
The Center for Economic and Policy Research reports that an alleged rape by a UN peacekeeper in Haiti is just the latest incident in an alarming pattern of sexual violence:

“In fact, according to the U.N. Conduct and Discipline Unit, there have been 78 allegations of sexual abuse and exploitation by members of MINUSTAH reported in just the last 7 years.
Responding to the latest allegation, the U.N. mission noted that ‘the UN has a zero tolerance policy regarding sexual exploitation and abuse that we, at MINUSTAH, strictly enforce.’ However the U.N. lacks the authority to hold accountable those who are found responsible. Troops stationed in Haiti under the U.N. mission are subject only to the justice system of their home country.

Through the first 8 months of 2013, there had already been 13 allegations. The latest makes 14. While MINUSTAH makes up less than 10 percent of U.N. peacekeeping forces worldwide, the mission has accounted for over 35 percent of all sexual abuse and exploitation allegations against all such U.N. forces in 2013.”

Corrupt companies
Canada.com reports that companies from wealthy, English-speaking countries dominate the World Bank’s newly updated corporate blacklist:

“The World Bank bans companies from participating in aid and development contracts if they ‘have been sanctioned under the Bank’s fraud and corruption policy.’

Companies with head offices listed in Canada, which does not include overseas subsidiaries, comprise 119 names on the World Bank list, the most of any country. The U.S. is second with 44 debarred firms, Indonesia third with 43 and Britain close behind with 40.”

Juggling act
The Financial Times reports on mining industry opposition to South African attempts at ensuring its people “benefit more equitably” from natural resource exploitation:

“ ‘What you can hear from all parts of Africa and elsewhere is that developing countries don’t want an extractive relationship either with the bigger emerging markets or with the developed countries. They want a relationship where there is value addition to the minerals, so that jobs are created, skills are created and technology imparted, and that this contributes to overall social and economic development,’ [South African Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan] told the FT.
The bill, as it stands, aims to do this by allowing the mines minister the discretion to determine the quantity and set the price at which mining companies sell to local industries.”

Visit cancelled
Bloomberg reports that Brazil’s president has called off a scheduled trip to Washington over allegations of US espionage:

“[Dilma Rousseff] said Sept. 6 she was outraged by allegations that the U.S. National Security Agency monitored her e-mail and telephone communications with top aides. The NSA also spied on state-controlled Petroleo Brasileiro SA, according to accusations presented by U.S. journalist Glenn Greenwald based on documents leaked by fugitive security analyst Edward Snowden.

Rousseff’s decision marks the second head of state meeting with Obama that has been canceled because of documents leaked by Snowden.”

Canadian xenophobia
The National Post reports on a new poll revealing the extent of ethnic and religious hatred across Canada:

“About half of Bloc Quebecois and Parti Quebecois supporters think that Muslims and Jews have too much influence in their province, while nearly a third of British Columbians think the same of Sikhs and Asians, a new poll suggests.
While that sentiment is particularly pronounced by separatists and in Quebec in general, the rest of Canada fares little better in the Forum Poll on multiculturalism, with about one-third of Canadians saying Muslims have too much influence in their home province.”

Unmissable opportunity
Global Witness is among 59 NGOs urging the EU to stop European businesses from “fuelling conflict and human rights abuses” through the purchase of natural resources:

“ ‘As the world’s largest trading bloc, and home to many leading global companies trading and manufacturing natural resources, the EU’s leverage over global supply chains is hugely significant,’ said Chantal Daniels of Christian Aid. ‘This is an unmissable opportunity for the EU to bring in strong and effective legislation. If they fail to do so then business will continue as usual and most companies will not check whether their purchases have funded conflict,’ added Zobel Behalal of CCFD-Terre Solidaire.”

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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.”

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.”

Eurocentrism
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, March 25

In the latest news and analysis…

World Bank nomination
Boston University’s Muhammad Zaman praises the Obama administration’s choice of nominee for World Bank president – a position held exclusively by US citizens since the institution’s foundation – though not because of Jim Yong Kim’s Korean birth.
“The argument about him being a great choice because of the country of his birth, a developing Korea of the 1960s, is not particularly strong. He was fortunate to be raised by highly educated parents in the U.S. and went to some of the best institutions in the country for his training. To me, it was what he did with that training is the most interesting and exciting part. It is his deep conviction to change the status quo in global health, and his innovations in both research and practice that set him apart. From ‘Partners in Health,’ a paradigm shift in global health practice, to WHO, Harvard and then leadership at Dartmouth map the course of a man who has the necessary intellect to create bold and transformative changes for some of the most pressing problems of our time.”

Nuclear morality
United Press International reports that US President Barack Obama has said his country has a “moral obligation” to reduce its nuclear arsenal.
“ ‘I believe the United States has a unique responsibility to act — indeed, we have a moral obligation,’ Obama told students at South Korea’s Hankuk University of Foreign Studies.
‘I say this as president of the only nation ever to use nuclear weapons,’ Obama said. ‘I say it as a commander in chief who knows that our nuclear codes are never far from my side. Most of all, I say it as a father, who wants my two young daughters to grow up in a world where everything they know and love can’t be instantly wiped out.’ ”

Floating armouries
The Associated Press reports that private security companies are maintaining “floating armories” in international waters off Africa’s east coast so as to skirt laws governing the movement of weapons.
“Floating armories have become a viable business in the wake of increased security practices by the maritime industry, which has struggled for years to combat attacks by Somali pirates. But those in the industry say the standards vary widely.

There are between 10 and 12 ships operating as floating armories at any one time. About half a dozen are located in the Red Sea, three off the United Arab Emirates and a couple off the island nation of Madagascar, said Thomas Jakobsson of Sea Marshals Ltd.”

Shell mega-suit
Agence France-Presse reports British lawyers representing over 11,000 Nigerian plaintiffs have launched a lawsuit against oil giant Shell over spills in the Niger Delta.
“Shell’s Nigerian unit, Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria (SPDC), has admitted liability for two spills of a total of about 4,000 barrels, after the spills were independently verified.
But Shell strongly contests the claims of London-based lawyers Leigh Day that some 500,000 barrels were spilled, arguing that the majority of spills are caused by illegal attempts to tap into pipelines.
Most of the claims were brought by people who claim their livelihood as fishermen has been destroyed.”

New UN expert
The Center for International Environmental Law reports that the UN Human Rights Council has agreed to appoint an independent expert on human rights and the environment.
“The Council’s resolution establishes an institutional vehicle to advance the linkages between Human Rights and the Environment.  It is expected that this new Special Procedure will lay the basis for the Council’s recognition of a universal right to a healthy environment.  In addition the new Independent Expert is tasked with identifying and promoting best practices relating to the use of human rights obligations to strengthen environmental protection.”

Pax ethnica
Queen’s University’s Will Kymlicka reviews a book that aims to “resuscitate the dream” of multiculturalism by showcasing five examples of ethnic harmony from around the world.
“And yet I worry about the strategy of invoking ‘unsung exceptions.’ After all, the very idea that these are exceptions implies that ethnic conflict is the norm. And, indeed, the authors describe these five cases as ‘harbingers of multiethnic peace in an otherwise feral world,’ which have overcome ‘history’s most pernicious quandary’ and ‘most intractable problem.’
Yet this, too, is a myth that must be challenged. There is nothing normal about ethnic violence. Many people think that Africa is being torn asunder by ethnic conflicts, but studies have shown that if you randomly pick any two neighbouring ethnic groups in Africa, the likelihood that they are involved in violent conflict is infinitesimally small. In describing their five cases as exceptions, Meyer and Brysac may unintentionally be reproducing the myth that ethnic diversity is prone to violence. I would have preferred a more direct attack on the claim that ethnic diversity creates a ‘pernicious quandary,’ rather than trying to identify ‘exceptions’ to the alleged quandary.”

Race to the bottom
In a Q&A with TrustLaw, Tanzanian bishop Stephen Munga rejects the argument that increased government regulation puts a country’s mining industry at a competitive disadvantage.
“That is really one-sided thinking. Across Africa there is a big discussion on mine nationalisation. And that is coming up because we don’t see good bills. It’s not a question of who is going to have the lowest figures, it’s a question of who’s going to deliver so that local communities can benefit.
For African governments now, since they’re getting a lot of pressure from civil society, whoever comes up with a good bill, is the one who’s going to win. Otherwise, you already have about five countries that are discussing mining nationalisation.”

RIP world music
Ian Birrell writes on the Guardian’s music blog that the term “world music” has become “outdated and increasingly offensive.”
“For a start, it implies cultural superiority. Artists from America and Europe tend not to get stuck in the world section, just those that don’t speak English or come from “exotic” parts of the world. They can be consigned safely to the world music ghetto, ignored by the mainstream and drooled over by those who approach music as an offshoot of anthropology.”