Latest Developments, February 27

In the latest news and analysis…

OccupyLSX dismantled
Reuters reports that police have dismantled the Occupy London “anti-capitalist camp” after more than four months of protest outside St Paul’s cathedral.
“The [City of London] Corporation won its right to remove the camp after arguing in court that it hindered planning control, attracted crime, and interfered with a public right of way and the rights of those who wished to worship in the cathedral.
It won a case in the High Court last month for the tents to be taken away. The protesters went to the Court of Appeal arguing that their case had ‘unique and global’ significance but the appeal was rejected.
The protesters could still apply to the European Court of Human Rights.”

Latest from WikiLeaks
WikiLeaks has begun releasing over 5 million emails from Stratfor, a Texas-based company it says “fronts as an intelligence publisher, but provides confidential intelligence services to large corporations” and government agencies.
“The material shows how a private intelligence agency works, and how they target individuals for their corporate and government clients. For example, Stratfor monitored and analysed the online activities of Bhopal activists, including the “Yes Men”, for the US chemical giant Dow Chemical. The activists seek redress for the 1984 Dow Chemical/Union Carbide gas disaster in Bhopal, India. The disaster led to thousands of deaths, injuries in more than half a million people, and lasting environmental damage.”

Class morality
The Globe and Mail reports on new findings that suggest the rich are more likely to behave unethically than the poor.
“In results from seven separate studies, they found a consistent tendency among those they termed ‘upper-class’ to be more likely to break the law while driving, take valued goods from others, lie in negotiations, cheat to increase their chances of winning a prize and endorse unethical behaviour at work.
The reason for the ethical difference was simple, according to the paper being published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a leading U.S. science journal. Wealthier people are more likely to have an attitude that greed is good.”

Legal opinions
The Huffington Post’s Mike Sacks writes that European governments do not share the Obama administration’s enthusiasm for equating “natural and judicial persons” when it comes to liability for crime committed overseas.
“In an ironic twist, the conservative [US Supreme Court] justices, who loudly resist being influenced by foreign legal trends, can look to European interpretations of U.S. law as the best cover for now discovering corporate immunity from international human rights allegations. In briefs filed in support of Royal Dutch Petroleum, the United Kingdom and Netherlands governments wrote that they have long opposed “overly broad assertions of extraterritorial civil jurisdiction” based on foreigners’ claims against foreign defendants for alleged activities in foreign countries. The German government took a similar stance. These positions arose out of all three nations’ express preference for multilateral agreements to resolve such problems, rather than unilateral action by any one country’s courts.”

Burn Berne
Kent Law School’s Alan Story believes there is little hope of  “a ‘balanced’ intellectual property agenda across the world” as long as the global copyright system is governed by the Berne Convention.
“In fact, the Berne Convention, the main provisions of which were drafted by a handful of industrialised countries in 1886 and is essentially unchanged in ideology or substantive assumptions since then, is one of the most lopsided and unequal international legal instruments one can imagine. Almost a decade ago in my Burn Berne article, I wrote that, for the peoples of the global South, Berne ‘operates as Western-based and unreconstructed colonial relic which they had no role in drafting and which was imposed on them without consultation in an earlier era’ ; I concluded the leading international copyright convention was both ‘unbalanced and unbalanceable.’
In 2012, I hold the same view. It is both illusory and delusory to think that a so-called balanced or re-balanced Berne and /or global copyright system can constructed; it is not only wishful, but also wistful, thinking and is based on a naive understanding of how this system operates, as well as its ideology and power relationships within it.”

Fair trade
The Guardian’s Felicity Lawrence argues the Fairtrade movement is guilty of making its case in the language of philanthropy, not rights.
“By doing that it throws responsibility for making sure farmers and workers are fairly paid back on to consumers – who may or may not be able to afford to take their morals shopping, especially in a recession – rather than on the big businesses, the international traders, the manufacturers and the retailers that make substantial profits out of the goods they sell.
Fair trade alone cannot address the core problem of excessively concentrated markets in which a handful of overpowerful transnational corporations dictate terms of trade and suck profits up into their own coffers.
What is needed for really fair trade is a more equitable distribution of the money in the chain. That will only be achieved with a shift in power which requires political action.”

EU overfishing
The Guardian reports that Spain is lobbying hard for stricter new fishing rules not to apply to EU boats operating outside European waters, despite evidence that current practices are overtaxing ocean resources and hurting the economy and diet of African coastal populations.
According to the [Greenpeace] study, the EU paid €142.7m to secure the fishing rights for just one fleet of 34 giant factory trawlers to work in Mauritanian and Moroccan waters between 2006 and 2012. Of this, EU taxpayers paid €128m, and the companies only €14m.
The report shows that these 34 vessels catch 235,000 tonnes a year of fish from the Moroccan and Mauritanian waters, leaving little for the local fishers. Mauritania is one of seven Sahelian countries to have declared a food emergency in the last month and appealed for emergency aid.”

Closing loopholes
UC Berkeley’s Robert Reich cannot understand why US President Barack Obama is talking about cutting corporate taxes.
“Corporate taxes have plummeted as a share of total federal revenues. In 1953, under President Dwight Eisenhower, a Republican, corporate taxes accounted for 32 per cent of total federal tax revenues. Now they’re only ten per cent.
But now the federal budget deficit is ballooning, and in less than a year major cuts are scheduled to slice everything from prenatal care to Medicare. So this would seem to be the ideal time to raise corporate taxes – or at the very least close corporate tax loopholes without lowering corporate rates.”

Latest Developments, January 20


In the latest news and analysis…

The value of nature
The Guardian reports on a new study that argues some of the world’s poorest people should be paid $500 billion a year for the service they provide by preserving natural habitats.
“Many of the benefits of conservation, so-called ‘ecosystem services’, are invisible – for instance, maintaining wooded land can help to prevent mudslides during heavy rainfall, and provides valuable watersheds that keep rivers healthy and provide clean drinking water, as well as absorbing carbon dioxide from the air. These benefits are not assigned an economic value, however, so that chopping down trees or destroying habitats appears to deliver an instant economic return, when in fact it is leading to economic losses that are only obvious when it is too late.”

Hunger games
The World Development Movement’s Innocent Sithole writes about a new report on the role of European banks and private finance in food speculation and “land grabbing.”
“Our report identifies the biggest culprits in food speculation as Deutsche Bank, Barclays, the Dutch pension fund ABP, the German financial services group Allianz and French banking group BNP Paribas. We have since nominated Barclays for the 2012 Public Eye ‘shame’ awards for its financial speculation in food prices. Barclays is estimated to make up to £340 million a year from speculating in food ‘futures’ markets, making it the biggest UK player in the markets.”

Politics of xenophobia
Yahoo! News reports on the “hard line” taken by Republican presidential hopefuls on both legal and illegal immigration in the lead-up to the South Carolina primary.
“In talking about reducing legal immigration, Santorum–intentionally or not–aligned himself with the group NumbersUSA, which is spending up to $150,000 in South Carolina to run TV ads that criticize the federal government for admitting what the group considers to be too many legal immigrants each year.

Both legal and illegal immigration streams to America have fallen sharply since the recession began in 2008, even as state legislatures have increasingly passed immigration-related laws over the same period.”

Lethal policy
The University of Notre Dame’s Mary Ellen O’Connell argues America’s increasing use of “targeted killings” – a tactic it publicly opposed in the early years of the George W. Bush administration  – runs counter to its stated goal of promoting a “just and sustainable international order where the rights and responsibilities of nations and peoples are upheld, especially the fundamental rights of every human being.”
“The US did not support such killing for fundamental reasons of law and morality. Fundamental principles of law protect the human right to life and due process of law. Unlike torture, which is never permitted, states are permitted to allow designated authorities to carry out the use of lethal force in certain limited situations. In situations of armed conflict hostilities, lawful combatants will not be prosecuted for killing that complies with international humanitarian law. Today, under the international legal definition of armed conflict, the United States is involved in such hostilities in one country only: Afghanistan.
Beyond Afghanistan, any use of lethal force by designated authorities of the United States must follow the normal human rights limits on peacetime resort to lethal force. Authorities may engage in lethal force when necessary to save a human life immediately, if there is no alternative. In other cases, an attempt to arrest is required, followed by a fair trial within a reasonable period.”

Green growth
Oxfam’s Kate Raworth looks into the extent to which G20 countries have succeeded in decoupling economic growth and resource use.
“The vast majority of high-income countries in the G20 have so far provided no evidence that they can make economic growth environmentally sustainable. Of course, most have barely started to put in place the policies required to make it happen – but delay will only make it harder. So what does the G20 evidence show? That absolute decoupling is possible (we’ve seen it!), at least for some of the countries, for some resources, for some of the time. But that’s a far cry from believing that environmentally sustainable GDP growth is possible everywhere, all the time, indefinitely.”

The Institute of Development Studies’ Alex Shankland writes about the “subversive ruliness” of Occupy the London Stock Exchange.
“The Occupiers are fully committed to non-violence, but also to using direct action and surprise tactics that may or may not involve breaking the law.
So far, so unruly. But I would argue that paradoxically the real significance of the model of contestation provided by the camp lies not in law-breaking, but in rule-making. Transparent, rule-bound behaviour is absolutely central to the political practices that characterise OccupyLSX. This, in turn, is central to the unique power of the challenge that it poses to the intermingled political and financial interests whose unruly, untransparent and often downright illegal practices have left their disastrous mark both on London and on communities across the world.”

Ecuadorean example
Jawaharlal Nehru University’s Jayati Ghosh argues that in the space of a few short years, Ecuador has gone from a “basket case” to a development example for the world.
“All this may sound too good to be true, and certainly the process of transformation has only just begun. There are bound to be conflicts with those whose profits and power are threatened, as well as other hurdles along the way. But for those who believe that we are not condemned to the gloomy status quo, and that societies can do things differently, what is happening in Ecuador provides inspiration and even guidance. The rest of the world has much to learn from this ongoing radical experiment.”

Fear of debt
Robert Skidelsky, a member of the British House of Lords, argues there are a number of logical flaws to the prevailing thinking that debt reduction through “fiscal consolidation” is necessary for countries to enjoy healthy, sustainable economies.
“Third, the national debt is not a net burden on future generations. Even if it gives rise to future tax liabilities (and some of it will), these will be transfers from taxpayers to bond holders. This may have disagreeable distributional consequences. But trying to reduce it now will be a net burden on future generations: income will be lowered immediately, profits will fall, pension funds will be diminished, investment projects will be canceled or postponed, and houses, hospitals, and schools will not be built. Future generations will be worse off, having been deprived of assets that they might otherwise have had.”