Latest Developments, November 21

In the latest news and analysis…

Itching for action
Le Nouvel Observateur reports that France may not wait for the UN’s green light to launch a military intervention in the Central African Republic:

“ ‘We are preparing to intervene in the Central African Republic, probably just after France hosts the African security summit scheduled for December 6 and 7, but before if necessary,’ a French official said.

Since September, in addition to the 420 soldiers already on the ground to protect Bangui’s airport, the French army has discretely pre-positioned troops in various countries in the region in preparation for a CAR intervention.

The legal basis for the planned operation has not yet been established.” [Translated from the French.]

Detention quotas
National Public Radio reports that US law requires that at least 34,000 immigrants be held in detention centres at all times:

“The detention bed mandate, which began in 2009, is just part of the massive increase in enforcement-only immigration policies over the last two decades. The last time Congress passed a broad immigration law dealing with something other than enforcement — such as overhauling visa or guest worker policies — was 1986.

‘They’re trying to pick people up for either very minor traffic violations or other minor convictions that wouldn’t be considered serious, but that they can quantify as a criminal alien,’ says Nina Rabin, an immigration law professor at the University of Arizona.”

Privatizing nature
The Scotsman reports on the debate over “natural capital accounting” that is playing out on the sidelines of a UN-backed conference in Edinburgh:

“As the two-day inaugural World Forum on Natural Capital gets under way in Edinburgh, economic justice groups have condemned its aim to put a price tag on resources such as water, air, geology and all life on earth so companies can include these ‘stocks’ in their balance sheets.
Organisers of the United Nations-backed conference claim the planet is more likely to be protected if its assets are given a financial value, but activists fighting global poverty believe this will lead to speculators buying and selling environmental assets for profit.
It amounts to ‘privatising nature’, according to representatives of European protest groups who are today hosting a counter event called the Forum on Natural Commons.”

Beyond aid
The Center for Global Development has released its annual Commitment to Development Index, which “goes beyond measures of foreign aid” to assess trade, migration, environment, etc. policies in 27 of the world’s richest countries:

“Finland does best on finance because of very good financial transparency and support to investment in developing countries. Switzerland comes last, mainly because it lacks financial transparency and does not have a national agency to offer political risk insurance. Norway takes first place on migration, accepting the most migrants for its size and bearing a large share of refugee burden, unlike the last-ranked Slovakia, which is relatively closed to migrants from developing countries.

Canada is not party to the Kyoto Protocol and has high fossil-fuel production, high greenhouse gas emissions, and low gas taxes, putting it at the bottom.

Last-ranked Sweden is proportionally the largest arms exporter to developing countries and does not help protect sea lanes.

In short, all countries could do much more to spread prosperity.”

Inconvenient laws
The Canadian Press reports that a Canadian company is demanding “expeditious” changes to Romanian mining laws so it can go ahead with what would be Europe’s largest open-pit gold mine:

“The chief executive officer of Gabriel Resources Ltd. says it needs quick progress on a new mining law in Romania or the company will be forced to do ‘something radically different’ with its controversial gold project.
A draft bill that specifically would have allowed the Rosia Montana project, one of Europe’s biggest gold mining projects, to go ahead was rejected by a Romanian parliamentary commission last week.

Gabriel Resources CEO Jonathan Henry said Tuesday that the company’s shareholders are running out of patience.

He did not say what ‘radically different’ would mean, but said the company was looking at all of its options.”

Right to privacy
Foreign Policy reports that the US is leading the charge against German and Brazilian efforts to have online privacy recognized as an international human right:

“The United States and its allies, according to diplomats, outside observers, and documents, contend that the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights does not apply to foreign espionage.
In recent days, the United States circulated to its allies a confidential paper highlighting American objectives in the negotiations, ‘Right to Privacy in the Digital Age — U.S. Redlines.’ It calls for changing the Brazilian and German text so ‘that references to privacy rights are referring explicitly to States’ obligations under ICCPR and remove suggestion that such obligations apply extraterritorially.’ In other words: America wants to make sure it preserves the right to spy overseas.

There is no extraterritorial obligation on states ‘to comply with human rights,’ explained one diplomat who supports the U.S. position. ‘The obligation is on states to uphold the human rights of citizens within their territory and areas of their jurisdictions.’ ”

Generic fears
Intellectual Property Watch reports on rich-country concerns that India’s approach to intellectual property rights could spread to other places:

“Over the past 12 to 18 months, there have been several developments in India related to patents that have stirred foreign industry and government criticism, but have been applauded by public health advocates. These include high-profile court decisions such as Novartis, in which the Supreme Court ruled that cancer drug Glivec cannot be patented in India because it does not represent a true innovation. The outcome was seen as having a potential impact beyond India’s borders.
India also issued a compulsory licence on a [cancer] medicine that caused significant concern among the patent-holding industry.”

Sweet 16
The Associated Press reports that Illinois has become the 16th US state to legalize same-sex marriage:

“ ‘We understand in our state that part of our unfinished business is to help other states in the United States of America achieve marriage equality,’ [Illinois Governor Pat Quinn] said before he signed the bill on a desk once used by President Abraham Lincoln. He said part of that mission was to ensure that ‘love is not relegated to a second class status to any citizen in our country.’ ”

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Latest Developments, June 14

In the latest news and analysis…

US bases in Africa
The Washington Post reports on America’s growing network of military bases in Africa:

“About a dozen air bases have been established in Africa since 2007, according to a former senior U.S. commander involved in setting up the network. Most are small operations run out of secluded hangars at African military bases or civilian airports.

The operations have intensified in recent months, part of a growing shadow war against al-Qaeda affiliates and other militant groups. The surveillance is overseen by U.S. Special Operations forces but relies heavily on private military contractors and support from African troops.”

Enemy’s enemy
Sahel Blog’s Alex Thurston points to a common feature among many of the African countries where the US has established military bases:

“In my view having bases in a country involves the US in (or exposes the US to, if you prefer) local politics, one way or another. US military involvement in local politics, including in Africa, is nothing new. But it is worth pointing out, time and again, that most of the key partner countries for the military in Africa are run by presidents/prime-ministers-for-life: Ethiopia’s Meles Zenawi (in power since 1995), Burkina Faso’s Blaise Compaore (in power since 1987), Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni (in power since 1986), Djibouti’s Ismael Omar Guellah (in power since 1999), etc. The contradictions between such partnerships and stated US ideals of democracy promotion are now so familiar as to be hardly worth mentioning. A more pragmatic point may be that the stability won through decades of rule by one person or clique can often prove quite brittle when put to the test.”

America’s Africa strategy
But in the foreword to the “U.S. Strategy Toward Sub-Saharan Africa,” US President Barack Obama stresses America’s unwavering commitment to African democracy, the strengthening of which is one of the “four pillars” laid out in the new document:

“Our message to those who would derail the democratic process is clear and unequivocal: the United States will not stand idly by when actors threaten legitimately elected governments or manipulate the fairness and integrity of democratic processes, and we will stand in steady partnership with those who are committed to the principles of equality, justice, and the rule of law.”

Selective memory
Vanderbilt University’s Peter James Hudson argues that the “story of achievement, progress and world-uniting vision” being presented by Citigroup as it marks its 200th anniversary does not fit with the role played in Haiti by the banking giant back when it was called the National City Bank of New York:

“In 1914, [National City’s Roger Leslie] Farnham, who once described the Haitian people as ‘nothing but grownup children,’ drafted a memorandum for William Jennings Bryan — then U.S. secretary of state — arguing for military intervention as a way of protecting American interests in Haiti. Sending troops, Farnham insisted, would not only stabilize the country, but be welcomed by most Haitians.

For National City, the occupation provided ideal conditions for business, offering the bank the authority to reorganize Haitian finances just as Vanderlip had envisioned in 1909. By 1922, National City had secured complete control of Banque Nationale and floated a $16 million loan refinancing Haiti’s internal and external debts. Amortization payments were effectively guaranteed from Haiti’s customs revenue, and the loan contract was backed up by the U.S. State Department.”

Nature’s price
The World Bank’s Rachel Kyte writes about the growing enthusiasm for “natural capital accounting”:

“Many countries are looking beyond GDP to help them address the challenges undervaluing natural capital has created. What they need is a measure of a country’s wealth that includes all of its capital — produced, social, human, and natural capital.
In Botswana at the Summit for Sustainability in Africa this afternoon, 10 African countries endorsed the need to move toward factoring natural capital into systems of national accounting. By Rio +20, the upcoming UN Conference on Sustainable Development, we hope to see 50 countries and 50 private corporations join this effort.”

Green capitalism
Inter Press Service reports on concerns that corporate lobbyists will co-opt sustainability discussions at the upcoming G20 summit in Mexico:

“It’s an agenda for investors,” Diana Aguiar, representative of the Brazilian Network for the Integration of Peoples (REBRIP), told IPS. “The idea is that natural resources won’t be preserved if no monetary value is put on them. This is a very mistaken premise. They see it as a business.

Fomenting free movement of green or sustainable products is one of the recommendations that Business 20 (B20) – which represents companies in the G20 bloc – set forth to the governments. The issue is to be discussed at the summit.
In a 102-page report on recommendations of the B20 task force, to which IPS had access, the business executives laid out suggestions on food security, green growth, employment, trade, investment, technology and innovation, and financing for growth and development.”

Trees as luxury goods
In a Q&A with Colorlines, environmental journalist Tim De Chant discusses his ‘income inequality, seen from space’ project:

“I had stumbled across a paper that spoke on how different income groups and neighborhoods showed what economists call ‘demand for trees.’ Wealthy people demand more trees, and have money to pay for them and the land needed. They found that for every one percent increase in income, the demand for trees increased by 1.76 percent. According to economists, this correlation reflects a luxury good. This was pretty disheartening. I don’t think trees should be a benefit reserved for the wealthy.”

Sustainable rights
In an interview with Inter Press Service, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navanethem Pillay stresses the importance of factoring human rights into sustainable development strategies:

“For example, in recent years, we have seen that technocratic efforts towards sustainable development have excluded many communities from the process of decision-making, causing economic and social inequalities to be exacerbated and human rights to be sidelined.
Indigenous peoples have seen threats to their lands and livelihoods from some emission reduction schemes, scarce food-growing lands have sometimes been diverted for the production of biofuels, and massive infrastructure projects have resulted in the forced eviction and relocation of entire communities.”