Latest Developments, June 13

In the latest news and analysis…

Making the rules
The Wall Street Journal reports on the unilateral actions that US officials believe their country can legally take in and around Syria:

“Proponents of the proposal say a no-fly zone could be imposed without a U.N. Security Council resolution, since the U.S. would not regularly enter Syrian airspace and wouldn’t hold Syrian territory.
U.S. planes have air-to-air missiles that could destroy Syrian planes from long ranges. But officials said that aircraft may be required to enter Syrian air space if threatened by advancing Syrian planes. Such an incursion by the U.S., if it were to happen, could be justified as self-defense, officials say.”

Continental boom
The Guardian reports on new UN population projections that suggest an equitable world will require a massively increased voice for Africa:

“The UN report World population prospects: the 2012 revision, published on Thursday, predicts the world’s population, now at 7.2 billion, will reach 8.1 billion in 2025. By mid-century, the world’s population is expected to top 9.5 billion, reaching nearly 11 billion by 2100.
More than half of the growth predicted between now and 2050 is expected in Africa, where the number of people is set to more than double, from 1.1 billion to 2.4 billion. Africa’s population will continue to rise even if there is a future drop in the average number of children each woman has, says the report, which predicts the number of people living on the continent could reach 4.2 billion (or more than 35% of total global population) by 2100.”

Unanimous gene ruling
Inter Press Service reports that all nine members of the US Supreme Court have agreed that “naturally occurring DNA” cannot be patented:

“The decision overturns three decades of practise to the contrary by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
Health and civil liberties groups are celebrating the unusual unanimous ruling, as are consumer protection advocates.
Although the case dealt specifically with questions regarding the ‘isolating’ of genes within the human genome, the judges did not limit their decision to human genetics, meaning the case will have an effect throughout the biotechnology industry.”

Fear of transparency
The Independent reports that UK Prime Minister David Cameron has asked his Canadian counterpart, Stephen Harper, not to block an agreement aimed at cracking down on “secret companies used for money laundering, tax evasion and terrorist activity” at next week’s G8 summit:

“But after talks in Downing Street last night it was doubtful whether Canada would back Mr Cameron’s ‘full disclosure’ plan for the eight leading economies to create registers of who controls and owns every company based in their country.”

The US and Russia also have doubts about public registers. Mr Cameron may have to settle for a Plan B, under which the G8 nations would set up private registers that could be accessed only by tax and law enforcement authorities. It is not certain Canada would agree to that. Aid agencies say private registers would be second best because it would be harder for the world’s poorest countries to track individuals and businesses avoiding tax in their nations who hide behind anonymous ‘shell companies.’ ”

Tax hunger
Olivier De Schutter, the UN special rapporteur on the right to food, writes that “nothing is more crucial in financial or symbolic terms” in the fight against hunger than tax justice:

“It’s not just the usual suspect tax havens that are culpable. The whole world is a tax haven for companies able to navigate between its tax jurisdictions. The G8 cannot control tax policy in developing countries, but it can clamp down on the multinationals and individuals whose wealth is often earned in developing countries but domiciled and managed in London, New York and Paris, perversely causing more cash to flow from poor countries to rich countries than vice versa.”

Green fraud
The Oakland Institute’s Anuradha Mittal uses the example of a US-based company’s duplicitous attempts to establish a massive palm-oil plantation in Cameroon as a reminder that “Africa is open for business, not for theft”:

“Last year, after complaints about [Herakles Farms] to the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) highlighted the company’s alleged environmental violations, [CEO Bruce] Wrobel made no attempts to set the record straight. Instead, Herakles resigned from the Roundtable before the claims were to be investigated, spuriously stating that they ‘remain committed’ to RSPO’s standards.

This is a sobering lesson for all parties involved – that the land rush by foreign investors into African nations is not philanthropically driven, despite claims to the contrary. Rather, companies such as Herakles Farms have exploited images of poverty and hunger, and couched their efforts in the language of sustainability, allowing them to handily reap profits from Africa’s resources while undermining national laws, local communities and the environment.”

ICC judged
The Institute for Security Studies’ Solomon Dersso argues that the International Criminal Court’s claims that it is immune to political influence are not entirely convincing:

“While legally speaking this position is largely true, the nature and structure of international politics is such that the application of international justice processes more often than not reflects the distribution of power within the international community. The ICC is not immune to this, and the way in which the ICC launched its case in Libya is a testimony. The speed with which and the way the ICC prosecutor launched this case also betrays the ICC’s acquiescence to its instrumentalisation by UN Security Council politics.

Some of the referrals, such as those in Uganda and Kenya, were inspired by domestic political calculations rather than the interest to serve justice. Indeed, in charging some people and not others in these cases, the ICC was in some ways playing local politics.”

Bad name
The Huffington Post reports that National Football League commissioner Roger Goodell is standing by a team name that a group of US Congress members recently called a “racial, derogatory slur”:

“ ‘The Washington Redskins name has thus from its origin represented a positive meaning distinct from any disparagement that could be viewed in some other context,’ Goodell wrote. ‘For the team’s millions of fans and customers, who represent one of America’s most ethnically and geographically diverse fan bases, the name is a unifying force that stands for strength, courage, pride and respect.’ ”

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Latest Developments, January 4

In the latest news and analysis…

Absurd rationale
Responding to the surprise statement by “rogue Canadian minister” Julian Fantino that Canada has frozen new aid to Haiti, former Associated Press Haiti correspondent Jonathan Katz offered the following flurry of tweets:

“Fantino is demonstrating how aid works: Rich country dictates terms. When the program fails, the poor country gets blamed. #Haiti #Canada
Canada disbursed $657 million from the quake to Sept. 2012 ‘for Haiti,’ but only about 2% went to the Haitian government.
It hasn’t told the UN Office of the Special envoy where 66% of its recovery funds went. Another $192.7 million is pledged and not disbursed.
Canada has, however, been better than most countries in delivering its 2010 donors conference pledge.
But when you give, say, $18.2 million to UNDP for Champ de Mars housing, and two years later there isn’t adequate housing, who’s to blame?
Some argue freezing aid would be a good start. But Fantino’s rationale–that Haitians owe Canadians results–is absurd on its face.
Again, admitting that aid isn’t working in Haiti is fine. It’s accurate.
… But saying, ‘Well, we did all we could. It’s their problem now,’ IS the problem.
If Canada’s govt didn’t bother to tell Haiti’s govt it was freezing aid–and the Haitians didn’t even notice–that’s all you need to know.”

Border arming
Russia Today reports that a group of US troops have arrived in Turkey, marking the start of NATO’s Patriot missile deployment along the Syrian border:

“The batteries will be operated by troops of their respective countries: The US and Germany are sending about 400 troops each, while the Netherlands will have around 360 soldiers manning their Patriot [surface-to-air missiles].

Critics of the Patriot deployment say that they can be used to create a no-fly zone in Syria, protecting rebels from government airstrikes. A NATO-imposed no-fly zone in Libya in 2011 eventually led to the downfall of the country’s longtime leader Muammar Gaddafi.”

Gitmo renewal
Human Rights Watch criticizes US President Barack Obama for refusing to veto a defense spending bill that blocks the closure of the Guantanamo Bay prison, even though he says the facility “weakens our national security”:

“However, he claimed the need to sign the legislation, saying the demand for funding was ‘too great to ignore.’ Obama issued a similar statement when signing the [National Defense Authorization Act] the previous year.
In fact, the NDAA authorizes funding for most Defense Department operations, but it is not essential for the US armed forces to function, Human Rights Watch said. It does not actually fund the Defense Department, but authorizes the allocation of appropriated funds. If Obama had vetoed the 2013 authorization act, last year’s NDAA authorization would still have been in effect. Four of five presidents preceding Obama vetoed a defense authorization act.”

Unwanted attention
Public Eye has announced Alstom, Coal India, G4S, Goldman Sachs, Lonmin, Repower and Shell as the 2013 nominees for the world’s worst company:

“Online voting for the worst offender of the year runs from today until midday January 23, 2013. This year’s shortlist features the seven most egregious cases of corporate crime selected by our newly conceived jury of internationally known business ethicists from 20 expert reports about potentially deserving candidates. The reports were compiled by the Institute for Business Ethics at the University of St. Gall. More than 50 NGOs from all over the globe nominated companies.”

Investment disagreement
The Toronto Star reports that Canadian First Nations groups have announced they plan to take the federal government to court, alleging a lack of consultation over a proposed investment agreement with China:

“The Harper government says [the Canada-China Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement] will benefit Canada by increasing two-way trade and investment with China, which will be the world’s largest economy within a decade. Most importantly, according to the Conservatives, the deal will help protect Canadian investors from unfair or discriminatory treatment in China.
But opponents say the guarantees of equal treatment in these types of treaties give foreign corporations undue power to sue Canadian governments at every level if environmental, safety or other regulations are seen as unfair by foreign investors. ”

Economic mirage
Development consultant Rick Rowden argues that despite all the breathless reports of Africa’s rapid economic rise, “increased growth and trade are not development”:

“Though African countries desperately need the policy space to adopt industrial policies, the rich countries are pushing loan conditions and trade and investment agreements that block them from doing so, all the while proffering a happy narrative about ‘the rise of Africa.’ The very idea of industrialization has been dropped from the official development agenda. Yet there’s a reason why we all regularly refer to the rich, industrialized countries in the OECD as ‘industrialized.’
Despite the important gains in services industries and per capita incomes, Africa is still not rising, and services alone will not create enough jobs to absorb the millions of unemployed youth in Africa’s growing urban areas. Instead, steps must be taken to revise WTO agreements and the many trade agreements and bilateral investment treaties currently being negotiated so that Africa has the freedom to adopt the industrial policies it needs in order to make genuine progress.”

Amazing mea culpa
The Washington Post’s Howard Schneider examines the admission by IMF chief economist Olivier Blanchard that the financial institution had not foreseen the impacts of the austerity measures it prescribed for Greece and other struggling European economies:

“But the paper includes some subtle and potentially troubling insights into how the fund works. Blanchard – effectively the top dog when it comes to economic science at the fund – writes in the paper that he could not actually determine what multipliers economists at the country level were using in their forecasts. The number was implicit in their forecasting models – a background assumption rather than a variable that needed to be fine-tuned based on national circumstances or peculiarities.
Heading into a crisis that nearly tore the euro zone apart, in other words, neither Blanchard or any one of the fund’s vast army of technicians thought to reexamine whether important assumptions about the region would still hold true in times of crisis.”

Latest Developments, November 8

In the latest news and analysis…

Border missiles
The New York Times reports that Turkey may be looking to install Patriot missiles along its border with Syria, giving rise to speculation that the US and its allies are working on “a more robust plan” to deal with the Syrian conflict:

“The development, coming only hours after President Obama had won re-election, raised speculation that the United States and its allies were working on a more robust plan to deal with the 20-month-old conflict in Syria during the second Obama administration term. Further reinforcing that speculation, Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain said he was prepared to open direct lines of communication with Syrian rebel commanders.

The lack of a cohesive Syrian opposition has been partly blamed for preventing a more robust international effort on Syria. Efforts to create a more unified coalition of anti-Assad groups sputtered along this week in Doha, Qatar, where a meeting was scheduled for Thursday to try to implement an American-backed plan to broaden the opposition to include more factions, including more representatives of the military units doing the fighting.”

Libyan commandos
Reuters reports that the US is seeking recruits among Libya’s militias for “a commando force which they plan to train to fight militants”:

“A team of about 10 Americans from the embassy in Tripoli visited a paramilitary base in the eastern city of Benghazi 10 days ago to interview and get to know potential recruits, according to militia commander Fathi al-Obeidi.

Obeidi said the interviewers also took note of the types of uniforms the men were wearing and asked about their opinion on security in Libya.
He said that the team of American officials included the U.S. charge d’affaires Laurence Pope and the future head trainer of the Libyan special forces team.
‘I’ve been asked to help pick about 400 of these young men between the ages of 19 and 25 to train for this force,’ he said. ‘They could be trained either in Libya or abroad.’ ”

Growing smaller
Inter Press Service reports on efforts to devise a plan for reducing the “human footprint on Earth’s systems”:

“ ‘By not proactively pursuing a path of degrowth, then we accept that instead of degrowth we’ll have an uncontrolled global contraction that will lead to much more discomfort and human suffering than degrowth ever would,’ [according to Erik Assadourian, a senior fellow at the Worldwatch Institute].”

Sustainable growth?
Journalist and academic Desné Masie raises some concerns about Africa’s much-vaunted recent economic growth:

“The BIG question is whether the second scramble for Africa can contain capital flight and see corporate social responsibility distribute profits back to the communities in which companies operate.
The mining and resources scramble currently taking place also won’t have the best outcome for the environment, people and long-term sustainability. These industries are the heaviest polluters and exploiters of human capital. Green and fairtrade economies would be preferable alternatives for Africans. Excessive financial sector development should also be approached with caution.”

Four more drones
Wired’s Spencer Ackerman writes that Barack Obama’s second term as US president is likely to see increased military action in Africa, primarily in the form of “robot attacks”:

“The [drone] strikes have spread from Pakistan to Yemen to Somalia. And now that Obama’s been reelected, expect them to spread to Mali, another country most Americans neither know nor understand. The northern part of the North African country has fallen into militant hands. U.S.-aligned forces are currently plotting to take it back. The coming arrival of Army Gen. David Rodriguez, the former day-to-day commander of the Afghanistan war, as leader of U.S. forces in Africa is a signal that Obama wants someone experienced at managing protracted wars on a continent where large troop footprints aren’t available.”

Double non-taxation
The Tax Justice Network takes issue with “the world’s dominant system for taxing multinational corporations” and the way discussions on international corporate taxation tend to get framed:

“[The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development] seems paranoid about the possibility of double taxation, but seems rather unconcerned about what is sometimes called ‘double non-taxation’ – that is, where the income is taxed nowhere. But whose interests are more important here? Those of the multinationals? Or those of the wider societies upon which they depend, which provide these multinationals with so many benefits that many seem unwilling to pay taxes to support?
On the subject of double taxation, TJN would also add that one might consider it an issue that is being framed in the wrong way. It is complex, but typically a company subject to ‘double taxation’ might suffer it only to a certain degree, so it may suffers an effective tax rate of, say, 25 percent instead of 22 percent if it weren’t suffering ‘double taxation’. If one talks about ‘double taxation’ then accounting firms and multinationals will complain bitterly – but if you talk instead about a somewhat higher effective tax rate, then you have the basis for a far more reasonable discussion.”

Arms treaty optimism
Reuters reports that the US has joined 156 other countries in voting for resuming efforts to hash out a UN agreement that would regulate “the $70 billion global conventional arms trade”:

“U.S. officials have acknowledged privately that the treaty under discussion would have no effect on domestic gun sales and ownership because it would apply only to exports.
The main reason the arms trade talks are taking place at all is that the United States – the world’s biggest arms trader accounting for more than 40 percent of global conventional arms transfers – reversed U.S. policy on the issue after Obama was first elected and decided in 2009 to support a treaty.”

Cruel and unusual treatment
Human Rights Watch’s Ian Kysel argues for an end to solitary confinement of children in US prisons, which he calls “a gross violation of human rights and constitutional law”:

“We don’t let teens under 18 vote. We don’t let them buy cigarettes or beer. Yet we have no problem treating them like adults when they are sent to jail or prison for serious crimes.

Solitary confinement is a common practice in U.S. jails and prisons, and one that has been the subject of increasing scrutiny in recent years due to its cruelty. An estimated 95,000 people under 18 were held in adult jails and prisons in the United States last year. Many are held in isolation for 22 to 24 hours a day, in some cases for weeks or months at a time. While there, they are often denied exercise, counseling, education and family visits.”