Latest Developments, November 22

In the latest news and analysis…

Hornet’s nest
France 24 reports on the possible shape of France’s looming military intervention in the Central African Republic, which promises to be “more complicated” than the one in Mali earlier this year:

“ ‘A situation like the one in CAR where the targets aren’t clearly identified, where people don’t wear uniforms, where the adversary doesn’t seize territory can be a real hornet’s nest. That’s why France is going in on tiptoe,’ said retired general Vincent Desportes

France’s foreign minister tried to alleviate concerns about a French intervention by speaking on Thursday of simple ‘support’ for the panafrican force and a deployment that ‘will not be as massive or long’ as the one in Mali. Military experts, however, say that such peacemaking missions generally require a lot of boots on the ground.
‘There’s an immediate need in CAR and it’s obvious that French troops are going to do the work themselves before handing off to [the African Union’s peacekeeping force, MISCA] and turning into a rapid response force,’ said Desportes.” [Translated from the French.]

Preserving impunity
The New York Times reports that a new provisional deal between the US and Afghanistan would mean thousands of American troops stay in the country through 2024:

“After a war that stands as the longest in American history, the security agreement defines a training and counterterrorism mission in Afghanistan lasting at least 10 more years and involving 8,000 to 12,000 troops, mostly American.
Despite the sometimes harsh criticism from Afghan officials during the negotiations, the agreement includes concessions that the Obama administration could not win from Iraq during a similar process in 2011, leading to the final withdrawal of American troops there.
Now, the United States has at least an initial agreement from Afghan officials that American soldiers will not face Afghan prosecution in the course of their duties. And United States Special Operations forces will retain leeway to conduct antiterrorism raids on private Afghan homes — a central American demand that Afghan officials had resisted and described as the last sticking point in negotiations.”

Corporate climate talks
Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman writes about the rise of corporate sponsorship at the UN’s COP 19 climate summit which is wrapping up in Warsaw:

“Among them, Pascoe [Corporate Europe Observatory’s Pascoe Sabido] says, are ‘General Motors, known for funding climate skeptic think tanks like the Heartland Institute in the US; you have BMW, which is doing equal things in Europe, trying to weaken emission standards.’ Grupa Lotos, the second-largest Polish petroleum corporation, has its logo emblazoned on the 11,000 tote bags handed out to delegates here.”

British terror
The BBC reports on evidence suggesting an undercover unit of the British army killed unarmed civilians in Northern Ireland during “the Troubles” of the 1970s:

“Speaking publicly for the first time, the ex-members of the Military Reaction Force (MRF), which was disbanded in 1973, said they had been tasked with ‘hunting down’ IRA members in Belfast.

The details have emerged a day after Northern Ireland’s attorney general, John Larkin, suggested ending any prosecutions over Troubles-related killings that took place before the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.

The MRF’s operational records have been destroyed and its former members refused to incriminate themselves or their comrades in specific incidents when interviewed by Panorama.
But they admitted shooting and killing unarmed civilians.”

Anonymous denial
The Washington Post reports that the latest CIA drone strike in Pakistan, which allegedly killed six people at a madrassa, is creating even more controversy than usual:

“The [US] official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, acknowledged that a madrassa was in the vicinity but said it was not damaged.

Although the United States has carried out dozens of drone strikes in tribal areas in northwest Pakistan, provincial officials said Thursday’s attack was the first in other areas in more than five years.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif also issued a statement Thursday condemning drone strikes, calling them a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty.”

Bogus numbers
The Daily Maverick reports that oft-repeated African hunger statistics appear to be “vastly exaggerated”:

“If twelve people died of ‘hunger’ ever minute in Africa it would mean that 6.3-million people starve to death annually. The limited available data does not support this. According to World Health Organisation mortality data, about 9.5-million people died in Africa in 2011. Of those deaths, only 396,161 were attributed to ‘nutritional deficiencies’.”

Last words
Open Democracy reproduces two letters from a new collection of the final writings of Ogoni rights and environmental activist Ken Saro-Wiwa:

“I don’t think I’ve ever been ‘street-wise’. Bull-headed, yes. You have to be to take on Shell and the cabal that rules Nigeria.

I don’t see Shell and the government allowing me to travel—they must dread what bombs my presence will drop in Europe as I’m supposed to address the Swedish Parliament, the European Parliament in Strasbourg and another meeting in London. There or not, my words will ring through all the places.

Exxon had to pay 5 billion USD for the oil spill from one tanker in Alaska. By the time we’ve created sufficient awareness internationally, it should be possible for us to find assistance should we wish to sue.

As far as I am concerned, Shell should lose its mining lease in Ogoni.

No, Shell are merely hoping that the government will succeed in ‘pacifying’ the Ogoni and then they will move in proudly and calmly to continue to steal. They are in for a fight they will never forget.”

Sleeping with the enemy
The Guardian interviews War on Want’s John Hilary about big NGOs’ excessive coziness with governments and corporations:

“Development-speak is littered with references to partnerships and multi-stakeholder initiatives. Hilary refuses to accept this as evidence of progress and argues instead that even the most positive of such initiatives eventually give sway to the demands of the most powerful.

This ‘wholesale abdication of responsibility’, according to Hilary, has helped turn the issue of corporate accountability into little more than a public relations exercise.

While often brought on to panels and called into debates to give the alternative view, Hilary is not the only one unhappy with the state of British development work. A group called the Progressive Development Forum, for example, of which Hilary is a member, brings together those working in the sector to debate how to reframe conversations away from aid, charity and philanthropy and instead revive narratives of global justice and the need to tackle structural drivers of poverty and inequality.”

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Latest Developments, May 17

Salesman

In the latest news and analysis…

Forever war
The New York Times reports on the current debate over the “authorization to use military force,” a 2001 statute that provides the legal basis for America’s so-called War on Terror:

“Human rights groups that want to see the 12-year-old military conflict wind down fear that a new authorization would create an open-ended ‘forever war.’
Some supporters of continuing the wartime approach to terrorism indefinitely fear that the war’s legal basis is eroding and needs to be bolstered, while others worry that a new statute might contain limits that would reduce the power that the Obama administration claims it already wields under the 2001 version.
And still others say that whatever the right policy may be, Congress should protect its constitutional role by explicitly authorizing the parameters of the war, rather than ceding that decision to the executive branch.”

Oil fraud
Sweetcrude reports that Shell has been accused of falsifying the results of an investigation into an oil spill in Nigeria’s Niger Delta:

“About 80 oil producing communities in Warri North and Warri South-West Local Government Areas of Delta State made the allegation, Wednesday, in Warri at a meeting with officials of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, NIMASA, and the Nigerian Naval Service, NNS Delta.
The communities are alleging that SNEPCo fabricated the result of samples of oil, soil and surface water collected for test from a few communities impacted by the Bonga oil spill.”

Credits galore
European Voice reports that big polluters are profiting from the EU emissions trading scheme:

“According to the analysis, carried out by Bloomberg New Energy Finance, the steel, cement, refining, lime, glass, ceramics and pulp sectors all generated a profit within the system by being over-allocated emission allowances in the scheme.

‘The ETS as a whole has been a financial support to the energy intensive industries…who usually complain that the ETS is killing them,’ asserted a [European Commission] official.”

No more tax avoidance
The Guardian reports that the CEO of UK banking giant Lloyds has promised to (more or less) stop using tax havens:

“Chief executive António Horta-Osório said the 39%-taxpayer owned bank had embarked on a systematic review of ‘so-called tax havens’ after a shareholder demanded to know why the bank was the seventh biggest user of such facilities.

‘In 2012 alone we have closed 60 of those companies and that is more than 20% of the total. We are going to close all of them unless there are strong business reasons for our customers to keep them there,’ he said at the meeting in Edinburgh. He later clarified that ‘business reasons’ did not mean ‘tax reasons’.”

Continued colonialism
Al Jazeera reports that a new study argues that living conditions for Canada’s aboriginal population provides “motives for an insurgency”:

“ ‘The Canadian right-wing establishment is seizing on this to justify its own agenda of stricter controls and the continued criminalisation of native people who defend their rights,’ Taiaiake Alfred, chair of the centre for indigenous governance at the University of Victoria, and one of Canada’s most influential aboriginal intellectuals, told Al Jazeera. ‘The positive elements of Canadian society – progressive values and social justice – are founded on the ongoing injustice of land theft and murder of indigenous people.’
In November, Paul Martin, Canada’s former prime minister and a business tycoon, echoed Alfred’s comments, albeit in a softer tone. ‘We have never admitted to ourselves that we were, and still are, a colonial power,’ he said.”

Shadowy corners
Oxfam’s Ben Phillips calls for a modern resurgence of the kind of “free-thinking insubordination” that helped bring about the renaissance and reformation:

“To exhalt the humble, we’re going to have to humble the exhalted.
That’s why charities are so focused on getting the G8 to deliver on transparency in land investments and in taxation – because knowledge is power, because stealing is harder in broad daylight. The G8 would, no doubt, prefer if we only asked them to beneficent. But we’re insisting, most of all, that they are transparent, and end their role in providing shadowy corners for shady characters to hide their dodgy deals.”

Bad food
Sylvia Szabo argues in Global Policy for a new understanding of food security:

“Even, if hunger was to be completely eradicated, it would not mean that the planet would become food secure. Already today, developing countries, including those in Africa, are experiencing an increased consumption of processed foods. Obesity and chronic diseases are gradually becoming a new challenge in African societies, although many do not yet realise the gravity of the problem.

The stigma of food insecurity seems to be focused only on the developing world, but it has become a global problem and should be conceptualised as such.”

Self-appointed helpers
Former development worker Nora Schenkel discusses her disillusionment at the gulf between the rhetoric and reality of aid work in Haiti:

“Most Haitians only ever meet Westerners in our capacity as self-appointed helpers. We are never just here because we want to be in Haiti; we claim we are here to better Haitians’ lives. But they have seen us come and go for decades, and they are poorer than ever before.
Meanwhile, they see us leaving the grocery store with bags of food that cost more than what they make in a month. They watch us get into large air-conditioned cars and drive by them, always by them. They see us going home to nice, big houses, shielded by high walls.”

Growing gap
Bloomberg reports that US manufacturing giant Caterpillar has become a “symbol of the growing divergence in corporate America between profits and wages”

“In January 2012, Caterpillar locked out union workers at a locomotive factory in Ontario after they rejected a pay cut of about 50 percent; the company shuttered the plant and moved production to Muncie, Ind., where workers accepted lower wages.

As Caterpillar squeezed hourly workers for concessions, [CEO Doug] Oberhelman’s own pay rose 60 percent in 2011, to more than $16 million. Although the company’s profits have declined in recent quarters (largely because of a decline in commodities prices, which has hurt all mining equipment makers), Caterpillar announced on April 22 that Oberhelman’s compensation had jumped again, to $22 million.

As a percentage of gross domestic product, corporate earnings recently hit their highest level in more than 60 years, and wages fell to new lows, according to Moody’s Analytics.”

Latest Developments, November 10

In today’s latest news and analysis…

Beyond aid
The Overseas Development Institute’s Alison Evans reviews UK Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell’s speech on taking a multi-faceted approach to promoting development and she suggests the country “has a lot more to do on its beyond-aid agenda.”
“Mitchell noted the positive ranking of UK funding and policy on climate change in the latest Commitment to Development Index 2011. The same could be said on development-friendly investment and, of course, aid.  What he didn’t mention, however, is that in the very same index, the UK continues to be ranked amongst the bottom four (out of 22 OECD countries) on security (largely reflecting the continued export of military hardware to poor and undemocratic regimes); on technology (mainly regarding spending on research and development and intellectual property rights issues); and, worst of all, on migration (which reflects how easy – or not – it is for people from poor countries to immigrate, access education or find work, send money home, and even return home with new skills and capital). This is the dark side of UK policy on development and it is not heading in the right direction.
As Mitchell celebrates the powerful alchemy of public, private and voluntary sector commitment to development in the UK, he needs also to focus his energy on making UK policy as a whole development-friendly.”

Mining politics
Bloomberg reports the decision by South Africa’s ruling Africa National Congress to suspend Julius Malema is being welcomed by mining executives who had been made nervous by the Youth League leader’s push for nationalizing the country’s mines.
“In April 2010, Citigroup Inc. valued the country’s mineral resources at $2.5 trillion, the most of any nation.
Malema has lobbied the ANC to adopt a policy of nationalization, saying South Africa’s black majority hasn’t benefited adequately from those riches in the 17 years since the end of white-minority rule. Last month, he led thousands of young supporters on a 62-kilometer (39-mile) march between Johannesburg and Pretoria, calling for nationalization and jobs. A quarter of South Africa’s workforce is unemployed.”

Roma deportations
Al Jazeera reports that a European rights watchdog has declared that France’s expulsion of over 1,000 Roma immigrants last year constituted an “aggravated violation of human rights.”
“A Council of Europe committee has now condemned the move as a violation of its social charter – a document that sets out ‘social rights’, such as the right to fair working conditions and to housing. France is a signatory.
France claimed the expulsions were ‘voluntary’ repatriations only.
The committee dismissed the argument, saying ‘the so-called voluntary returns were in fact disguised forced repatriations in the form of collective expulsions’.”

Cleaning bill
Amnesty International and the Centre for Environment, Human Rights and Development  have called on Shell to pay $1 billion as a “first step” toward cleaning up Nigeria’s Niger Delta.
“In 2008, two consecutive spills, caused by faults in a pipeline, resulted in thousands of barrels of oil polluting the land and creek surrounding Bodo, a town of some 69,000 people. Both spills continued for weeks before they were stopped. No proper clean up has ever taken place.
‘The situation in Bodo is symptomatic of the wider situation in the Niger Delta oil industry. The authorities simply do not control the oil companies. Shell and other oil companies have the freedom to act – or fail to act – without fear of sanction. An independent, robust and well-resourced regulator is long overdue, otherwise even more people will continue to suffer at the hands of the oil companies,’ said Patrick Naagbanton, CEHRD’s Coordiantor.
Shell, which recently reported profits of US$ 7.2bn for July-September, initially offered the Bodo community just 50 bags of rice, beans, sugar and tomatoes as relief for the disaster.”

G20 food inaction
The Inter Press Service reports that the U.N.’s special rapporteur on the right to food, Olivier De Schutter, believes the lack of substantive progress on global food policies at last week’s G20 summit was the result of lobbying from commercial interests, especially in biofuel-producing countries.
“Back in 2008, a note released by the World Bank’s development prospects group spotlighted how biofuels were responsible for a full 75 percent of the then skyrocketing food prices.
But in spite of strong evidence that biofuels and agrofuels are ‘one of the major drivers of speculation on the commodities markets and one of the major reasons why we have such high pressure on land in developing countries, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa,’ according to De Schutter, the G20 completely bypassed the issue.”

Legal empowerment
Namati’s Vivek Maru calls on the international community to establish a global fund for “legal empowerment” in order to ensure laws and policies apply as much in practice as in theory.
“Legal empowerment is a public good: it renders governments more accountable, and makes development more equitable. But unlike public health, for example, states have a natural disincentive to support legal empowerment, because it constrains state power – which is all the more reason for a multilateral financing mechanism.
Social movements in India, the Middle East, the United States, and elsewhere are demanding institutions that promote greater citizen participation and oversight. The challenge of responding to those movements does not belong exclusively to a handful of governments. It belongs to all of us.”

Sector equality
The European Network on Debt and Development’s Alex Marriage argues the European Commission’s recently proposed corporate transparency rules need to target more than just mining, oil and gas, and logging companies.
“Evidence presented in [an upcoming] report finds that extractive commodities are only a small part of the problem and accounted for just 5% of the trade mispricing activity taking place between the EU and third countries in 2007. This clearly suggests country-by-country reporting is needed in all sectors.”