Latest Developments, August 22

In the latest news and analysis…

The unexpected appearance of a smiling, victory sign-flashing Saif al-Islam Gadhafi after he had supposedly been arrested by rebel forces suggests there may yet be a few twists in the Libyan conflict that has already lasted six months despite roughly 20,000 NATO aerial missions. Nevertheless, with the apparent crumbling of the Gadhafi regime over the last few days, all those nagging questions about Libya’s rebels and what they would do with power may be about to be answered. Beyond concerns about the ability of such disparate groups to work together without the focus provided by a common enemy, the New America Foundation’s Barak Barfi wonders if they have the competencies required for the work that lies ahead: “Short on skilled experts, a post-Qaddafi Libya risks becoming dependent on foreign assistance, much like the Palestinians, who live largely from international aid rather than from their own economic activity.” But as far as Europe is concerned, the business news coming out of Libya is good for now.

As for assessing the NATO mission, the Financial Times reports: “Few, if any, civilian casualties were incurred on the ground; no alliance aircraft or personnel were lost; and the mission saw no flagrant breaches of the remit it received from the UN, which defined the goal of the operation as the protection of civilians on the ground.” But media watchdog Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting has some questions (as does Amnesty International) about reports of civilian deaths, and US congressman Dennis Kucinich argues “the war against Libya has seen countless violations of United Nations security council resolutions (UNSCRs) by Nato and UN member states.”

The Wall Street Journal reports the US Justice Department is getting creative in trying to go after foreign officials who demand bribes, even though the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act is intended for the pursuit of those involved in the supply side of corruption. But lawyers for the ex-governor of the Tourism Authority of Thailand and her daughter are challenging the money laundering charges against their clients: “No court has allowed the making of a payment that is an essential element of the predicate unlawful activity—such as a bribe in bribery case—constitute ‘promotion’ of that same activity.”

Ghana’s Adom News reports tension is growing between Canadian miner Xtra Gold and inhabitants of a community who say their drinking water has been polluted and their lands expropriated, and are threatening to “deal ruthlessly” with the company. Local MP Kwasi Amoako Atta said the company needed to learn how to conduct business in the area: “Even if you have the required documents to back your operations you need to seek clearance from the town leaders, the mere fact that you have the license does not give you the permission to jump into people’s land and start mining.”

The Center for Economic and Policy Research’s Mark Weisbrot has a grim update on the state of reconstruction and resettlement in Haiti’s capital Port-au-Prince: “Nineteen months after the earthquake, almost 600,000 Haitian people are still living in camps, mostly under tents and tarps. Despite the billions of dollars of aid pledged by governments and donors since the earthquake, there are probably less than 50,000 that have been resettled. And for the 600,000 homeless, the strategy seems to be moving in the direction of evictions – without regard as to where they might end up.”

The Center for Global Development’s Michael Clemens presents an economic argument for opening the world’s borders to free movement of people. According to his calculations, taking such a step could increase global GDP by 20-60 percent or tens of trillions of dollars. University of Toronto political scientist Joseph Carens has long called for open borders but he does so on moral grounds: “Citizenship in Western liberal democracies is the modern equivalent of feudal privilege—an inherited status that greatly enhances one’s life chances. Like feudal birthright privileges, restrictive citizenship is hard to justify when one thinks about it closely.”

UN Under Secretary General Philippe Douste-Blazy argues revenues from the tax on financial transactions (re)proposed by the leaders of France and Germany last week should not just go to helping Europe’s struggling economies: “If the crisis is destroying jobs at home, it is destroying lives in the South.” He believes such a “micro-tax” could raise $100-$200 billion a year and would help “globalize solidarity.”

While the Overseas Development Institute’s Jonathan Glennie notes the World Bank “has had a bad couple of decades,” he also believes the it remains important in its ability to raise the profile of certain issues and mobilize governments to take action. But he says it “needs to become a bank for the world, ditching its history of favouring the interests of a few powerful shareholders.” To illustrate his point he takes the example of the debt cancellation campaign which started in the 1980s but did not convince the bank to cancel debts until 2005, “and then only with neoliberal strings attached.” The decades of delay, according to Glennie, were “because the bank is set up to look after the interests of the creditor countries, rather than the debtors, however hard decent officials seek to change that.” Until that changes, he believes the World Bank will be unable “to fulfil its idealistic mandate.”

The Guardian’s George Monbiot writes on the delusions and ravages of perpetual growth: “To sustain the illusion, we have inflicted more damage since 1950 to the planet’s living systems than we achieved in the preceding 100,000 years. The damage will last for centuries; the benefits might not see out the year.” He points to Tim Jackson’s 2009 Prosperity Without Growth as “the beginning of a plan.”


Latest Developments, July 27

In the latest news and analysis…

The UK has recognized the Libyan rebels as “the sole governmental authority in Libya” and unfrozen $150 million in oil revenues, measures the Gadhafi regime has termed “irresponsible” and “illegal.” On the other hand, the British and French seem to be opening the door for Gadhafi to stay in Libya as long as he gives up power, a position that is not popular with the International Criminal Court. Referring to the ICC’s insistence on Gadhafi’s arrest as “a monkey wrench into the diplomatic machinery,” James Dorsey says “it may well help to make the irony of the need for humanitarian help for Qaddafi-held areas of Libya that result from the international community’s own actions a reality.”

A power struggle appears to be underway between members of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) – a group of 34 rich countries that includes none of the BRIC nations (Brazil, Russia, India and China) – and those on the outside over who gets to set global tax rules. The rich countries believe the OECD should retain that privilege, while their opponents want to see an increased role for the UN’s Committee of Experts on International Cooperation in Tax Matters. In a blog update, one of the authors of the Guardian piece wrote: “According to preliminary indications, things haven’t gone very well in Geneva this afternoon for developing countries – but we await further information.”

Greenpeace Argentina has released a report (in Spanish) accusing Canada’s Barrick Gold of destroying glaciers in Argentina and Chile and flouting national environmental laws in the process. Daniel Whalen of the Council on Hemispheric Affairs suggests such behaviour by Canadian mining companies is all too common. Given that Canada’s mining industry is the largest in the world, he argues “it is imperative that Ottawa hold its industries accountable to some approximation of environmental and human rights standards, both at home and abroad.”

Vedanta Resources, an Indian mining company which has its head office and is traded in London, faced protests at its annual general meeting over alleged human rights and environmental abuses, as well as its plans to set up an open-pit bauxite mine in an area considered sacred by local indigenous people. Among those protesting was asset manager Aviva Investors, “a small but vocal shareholder whose move to join the protest marks a more activist stance from institutional investors on social issues,” according to a Reuters report.

Diageo, the world’s biggest maker of spirits, has agreed to a settlement over American allegations it paid $2.7 million in bribes to officials in India, Thailand and South Korea to improve whiskey sales and get tax breaks. “Without admitting or denying the charges, Diageo agreed to desist from further violations and pay $11.3 million in disgorgement, $2.1 million in prejudgment interest and a $3 million penalty,” according to the Wall Street Journal.

The Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network has released a statement decrying proposed budget cuts to the US Agency for International Development and the State Department it claims would “roll back the huge progress that has been achieved in making U.S. foreign assistance more effective and accountable, impeding ongoing efforts to ensure that taxpayer dollars are getting into the hands of people who need our help.”  Meanwhile, New York University’s Richard Gowan warns that aid “retrenchment” is likely to become the norm in Europe over the next few years. “The question is whether this will be smart retrenchment – with governments, NGOs and international organizations actually working out how to introduce sensible reductions, evaluate what works, etc. – or a poorly-coordinated set of budget cuts justified by vague appeals to “the need for austerity”.”  Answering his own question, Gowan says all signs point to the latter.

Jonathan Glennie writes in the Guardian the English language has moved beyond “aid” – the preferred term is now “development cooperation” – but he is not convinced the shift represents more than semantics. “Rich countries (old and new) will still make decisions based on a mix of interest, ideology and altruism, just as they always have; it will take more than a progressive declaration to change the power mechanisms inherent in international relations.” Moreover, he points out that aid discourse over the last half decade has focused increasingly on efficiencies and cost cutting and he worries the new linguistic shift could mean it would no longer be only “aid concepts that are colonised and techno-fied, but the broader development agenda.”

Similarly, development experts Stephen Brown and John Sinclair point out the Canadian International Development Agency’s new open data initiative provides access to aid inputs but not to the outputs. So, for example, one can see how much money Canada gave to Haiti following last year’s earthquake, but not the actual impacts of those hundreds of millions of dollars. “If the government wants to show it is fully committed to aid transparency,” the authors argue, “it will join the International Aid Transparency Initiative. This would involve much more than quantitative information on some very selective inputs—it would also require more complete data on participating organizations, activities and budgets, as well as public access to actual documentation—all downloadable from the CIDA website.”

The Center for Global Development’s Charles Kenny walks his readers through the arbitrariness of World Bank country income classification and suggests an “attempt to make the income and [International Development Association] thresholds actually reflect something about the nature of countries independent of their relationship to the World Bank and its arcane concerns with civil works preference.”

As the Canadian government deliberates over setting appropriate immigration levels, the Embassy Magazine’s Jim Creskey supports the idea, put forth in a new book, “that Western governments should simply accept the inevitable and open their borders” and he argues for “putting the very important idea of people first before the abstract idea of national borders.”