Latest Developments, February 15

In the latest news and analysis…

Onshore havens
The Economist points out that many tax havens are not actually offshore and argues that efforts to rein in financial abuses must “focus on rich-world financial centres as well as Caribbean islands”:

“Mr Obama likes to cite Ugland House, a building in the Cayman Islands that is officially home to 18,000 companies, as the epitome of a rigged system. But Ugland House is not a patch on Delaware (population 917,092), which is home to 945,000 companies, many of which are dodgy shells. Miami is a massive offshore banking centre, offering depositors from emerging markets the sort of protection from prying eyes that their home countries can no longer get away with. The City of London, which pioneered offshore currency trading in the 1950s, still specialises in helping non-residents get around the rules. British shell companies and limited-liability partnerships regularly crop up in criminal cases. London is no better than the Cayman Islands when it comes to controls against money laundering. Other European Union countries are global hubs for a different sort of tax avoidance: companies divert profits to brass-plate subsidiaries in low-tax Luxembourg, Ireland and the Netherlands.”

Mining transparency
Reuters reports that the Guinean government has made its mining contracts public, dating back to independence, as it tries to reinvent the country’s extractive sector:

“The government is also overhauling the country’s mining code and has set up a technical committee to review existing accords, all of which are now published online on a new government website.
Guinean officials have said many of the contracts were signed under non-transparent conditions especially during the rule of a military junta before Conde’s 2010 election. The government says such accords do not benefit the country.

‘Guinea’s action is a model for other countries and demonstrates that making contracts public is possible even in challenging environments,’ Patrick Heller, senior legal adviser at Revenue Watch said in the statement.”

Assassination court
A New York Times editorial lends its weight to the idea of setting up a US court that would determine if terror suspects belong on kill lists as a way of moving toward “bringing national security policy back under the rule of law”:

“ ‘Having the executive being the prosecutor, the judge, the jury and the executioner, all in one, is very contrary to the traditions and the laws of this country,’ Senator Angus King Jr. of Maine said at the [CIA boss nominee John] Brennan hearing. ‘If you’re planning a strike over a matter of days, weeks or months, there is an opportunity to at least go to some outside-of-the-executive-branch body, like the [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court], in a confidential and top-secret way, make the case that this American citizen is an enemy combatant.’ ”

Mining freeze
According to Colombia Reports, a Colombian judge ordered the suspension of all mining activities in an area of nearly 50,000 hectares due to the companies’ lack of prior consultation with local indigenous populations:

“ ‘[This decision] only seeks to prevent the continued violation of the rights of indigenous peoples on their territory [arising from] disproportionate use by people outside the community, and the violence that has been occurring in the area, of which there is much evidence,’ said the judge.

While indigenous communities have a constitutional right to be consulted on the use of their land, the judge did not declare the mining concessions illegal but ordered the suspension to protect indigenous communities while the legality of the titles is determined. Some of the licenses held by the mining companies for the area reportedly do not expire until 2038 and 2041.”

Airport immolation
Agence France-Presse reports that an Ivorian deportee has been hospitalized in serious condition after setting himself on fire at Rome’s Fiumicino airport:

“He had been ordered to present himself to border police at the airport for expulsion from Italy.
The man used a fuel tank and was seen being carried away in a stretcher, wrapped in a fire blanket.”

Dangerous trend
Human Rights Watch’s Benjamin Ward argues that “hatred and intolerance are moving into the mainstream in Europe” and action is required to stem the tide:

“Too often, mainstream European politicians use intolerant or coded language about unpopular minorities. They justify such speech on the ground that the failure to discuss issues like immigration creates political space for extremist parties. But far from neutralizing extremist parties, this kind of rhetoric from government ministers and other mainstream politicians instead legitimizes their views, sending a message to voters that xenophobic, anti-Muslim, or anti-Roma sentiment is acceptable rather than a cause for shame.
Human Rights Watch staff witnessed a Greek MP from a mainstream party describe migrants as ‘cockroaches’ during a Greek Parliamentary committee hearing in November on violence against migrants.”

Immodest claims
In a letter to the Guardian, an ambulance medic takes exception to the idea that banking executives make a “modest” wage for the work they do:

“A multimillion-pound pay packet for a banker’s success or failure is not ‘modest’. We take home in a gruelling year of real blood, sweat and tears what [RBS CEO] Stephen Hester earns in six days. I wish that those who earn such sums would realise that their renumeration is not right. Perhaps they should not apply terms to themselves like ‘I have one of the hardest jobs in the world’ (Fred the Shred) until they see what others do on a fraction of their wage. What comes out of their mouths undermines millions of hard working people in this country. If an ambulance turned up to one of their children severely injured on a country road, would we seem only worth £15 an hour? As they watched as we fought for their child’s life, far from back up and hospital facilities, would they reconsider the value of jobs that do not make a profit?
Would they consider our wages modest as they apply this term to their own? Modest is a powerful word and has to be earned.”

Latest Developments, October 31

In the latest news and analysis…

European intervention
Reuters reports that the European Union is mulling sending “about 200 troops” to Mali for training, not combat, purposes:

“EU leaders said at a summit on Oct. 19 that the Mali crisis was an ‘immediate threat’ to Europe. Foreign ministers had called four days earlier for the EU diplomatic service to draw up a plan to help Mali’s military.
Three such plans have been under consideration, said an EU official: help only with training; training plus reform of the army’s structure; or both of these, plus mentoring.
The third scenario envisaged sending EU troops into combat with Malian troops. But member states are not willing to risk sending their troops into combat, said the official.”

Uranium dispute
The Maravi Post reports that community tensions are growing over an Australian-owned uranium mine in Malawi:

“ ‘Business people in Karonga are not benefiting according to plan. Now they are importing simple things like foodstuffs from foreign companies saying that our things are expensive. Are they serious? How can that be? How can they be importing tomatoes, rice and fish, things the people of Malawi can easily supply?,’ charged [Karonga Business  Community chairperson Wavisanga] Silungwe.
On his part, Karonga Youth for Justice and Development publicity secretary, Stevenson Simusokwe, said that they were representing the people of Karonga, but in real sense the whole country and asked all Malawians to support their cause.
He said that they would block the road that leads to Kayerekera Uranium Mine so that no uranium and foreign foodstuffs go through to frustrate the miners so that they can consider changing their ‘stupid attitude towards the locals.’ ”

America’s third war
Foreign Policy’s Micah Zenko writes that this week marks the 10th anniversary of “the campaign of targeted killings in non-battlefield settings” which has accompanied declared wars in Iraq and Afghanistan:

“Targeted killings have exacted a considerable toll, far beyond what anyone imagined in the immediate post-9/11 era. Although the publicly available numbers vary among research organizations, an estimated 3,400 people have been killed — 13 percent of whom were civilians.

Some claim these figures are too high, and others too low. The truth is that nobody knows.
Despite the immense death toll, it is important to mention this is also the most one-sided war in U.S. history: 3,400 suspected adversaries and civilians to zero (Americans). No U.S. government employee has directly lost his or her life in all of the known targeted killing operations.”

A different world
The Overseas Development Institute’s Claire Melamed argues that agreeing on successors to the Millennium Development Goals will be far more difficult than establishing the original poverty-eliminating benchmarks was in 2000:

“The MDGs were cooked up by a group of rich countries sitting in a room and deciding how they wanted to spend their aid to help poor countries (I exaggerate slightly, but not much). The panel that [UK Prime Minister David] Cameron is co-chairing won’t be like that; there are a lot of different interests at stake, and everyone will want their say when they meet in London this week.
Most poverty is now in middle-income countries, many of which are themselves donors. They’re not going to take kindly to any hint of the big rich countries – like the UK, for example – trying to push them around or tell them what to do within their own borders. And many countries, including some of the poorest, are quite reasonably saying that the rich world has a lot more to do than hand over a bit of cash if poverty is to be ended in a way that doesn’t destroy the planet. This isn’t just about the usual list of aid, trade and debt relief (though that would be a start).”

Semi-transparency
Christian Aid’s Eric Gutierrez writes that the UK government’s commitment to transparency does not seem to extend to the beneficial ownership of companies, country-by-country reporting or open contracting:

“Transparency reforms such as these are politically difficult, but in the longer term they may unlock the cash needed to improve public services across the world.
The Tax Justice Network has pointed out that £13trillion-£21trillion in untaxed private wealth is sloshing around the global financial system, hidden in tax havens. The sums are staggering: £20tn deposited in banks earn about 5% interest a year, or £1tn.
If governments could tax just this interest income at 25%, it would raise revenues of £250bn each year – enough to pay for the millennium development goals, stabilise food prices, create jobs, resolve the global financial crisis – and so on. Christian Aid’s own calculations show that developing countries lose about £100bn a year to tax dodging by multinational corporations alone.”

European breakdown
The Open Society Foundations’ George Soros writes that his plan to establish “solidarity houses” in Greece was inspired by his memories of Europe during World War II:

“The asylum policy of the European Union has broken down and the treatment of migrants, refugees, and other vulnerable groups in Europe in the midst of financial and political crisis is an issue of ongoing concern. In Greece, and elsewhere, far-right parties campaigning on anti-migrant policies have grown in popularity.
The plan to create community centers will not be the ultimate solution. We will continue to pursue long-term solutions to the crisis in the European Union but the short-term need of the most vulnerable is too great to ignore. This has to be a European project and eventually it must find its way into the European budget.”

Trade not aid
The University of London’s Simon Reid-Henry lays out his view of the neoliberal development theories that came to prominence in the 1980s and remain “alive and well in the halls of economic and political power today”:

“In terms of development policy, neoliberalism often boiled down to the belief that an intensified globalisation was itself development, the two being inseparable sides of the same virtuous coin. Hence, instead of seeing that poor countries would be best served through appropriate targeted policies (limiting domestic vulnerability to the global market through protectionist measures like tariffs, say, as South Korea was doing), neoliberals claimed that – since global free markets were both the means and the desired end of development – the only viable object of development policy was to do whatever necessary to make local markets and societies ‘fit’ with the new global imperatives that the rich world’s drive to internationalisation was bringing into focus.”