Latest Developments, May 18

In the latest news and analysis…

G8(ish) summit
Deutshce Welle reports on the issues and questions facing the G8 as it convenes this weekend in Camp David, where the presidents of Ethiopia, Tanzania, Ghana and Benin will be in attendance, but Russia’s will not.
“The list of topics is long for a summit that doesn’t even last 24 hours. It spans from food security for Africa to the nuclear debate with Iran, troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, further course of action in Syria and North Korea all the way to climate protection.

So time and again the question arises what the point of the G8 summits even is. After all: the eight countries represent 15 percent of the world’s population and two-thirds of the international economic performance. It is a loose union of states, without any solid organization, financing or rules. It was created as a forum in the middle of the oil crisis in the 1970s to coordinate economic and trade issues. But political and economic questions are now regularly on the agenda – even when the G20 is considered the more powerful economic forum and the UN Security Council regulates sanction mechanisms.”

US army to Africa
Al Jazeera reports that a combat brigade will be assigned next year to the US military’s Africa Command “to do training and participate in military exercises” around the continent.
“General Ray Odierno, the army’s chief of staff, says the plan is part of a new effort to provide US commanders around the globe with troops on a rotational basis to meet the military needs of their regions.
This pilot programme sends troops to an area that has become a greater priority for the Obama administration since it includes several nations from where it perceives an increasing threat to the US and the region.”

Let them eat tobacco
Inter Press Service reports that Malawi’s IMF-prescribed currency devaluation earlier this month has made life more difficult for the country’s poor by causing a huge hike in food prices but should help the tobacco industry.
“Tobacco is the country’s main revenue earner, accounting for up to 60 percent – or 950 million dollars – of foreign exchange. According to the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security, Malawi’s tobacco accounts for five percent of the world’s total exports.

‘On the export front, the devaluation will lead to increased demand for Malawi’s exports in the short run. In the long run, this is expected to stimulate production and thus lead to increased production of exportable goods … thereby generating foreign currency,’ said [the Malawi Economic Justice Network’s Dalitso] Kubalasa.
He added that because the prices of imports had automatically risen and become unaffordable for some, the situation would motivate locals to substitute these goods with commodities that can be produced locally. It would provide an incentive to local industry, he said.
But he admitted that the devaluation would affect the country’s middle class and poor.”

Matter of conscience
The Harvard School of Public Health’s Winston Hide explains that his conscience compelled his resignation from the editorial board of the Elsevier-published Genomics journal.
“No longer can I work for a system that provides solid profits for the publisher while effectively denying colleagues in developing countries access to research findings.”

The vast majority of biomedical scientists in Africa attempt to perform globally competitive research without up-to-date access to the wealth of biomedical literature taken for granted at western institutions. In Africa, your university may have subscriptions to only a handful of scientific journals.

So I’d prefer to devote the limited time I have available to an open access journal that provides its work at no cost to researchers who urgently require its contents to improve their environment.”

Growing debt
The Guardian reports that a few short years after a series of debt cancellations, total external debt owed by “developing countries” increased by $437 billion in 2010 to reach $4 trillion.
“A major chunk of the debt owed by 32 countries, mostly in sub-Saharan Africa, was eliminated by the heavily indebted poor countries (HIPC) initiative of the World Bank and IMF, which was reinforced by the G8’s 2005 multilateral debt relief initiative (MDRI).
But many poor countries in Asia and Latin America (for example, Jamaica and El Salvador) did not have debts written off because their income per capita was too high to meet the IMF and World Bank criteria. Others, such as Bangladesh, did not qualify for cancellation because their debts were seen as sustainable.

But even in countries that did qualify for debt write-offs, there is evidence that external debts, which fell significantly after 1995, are on the rise again.
‘These loans are building up again,’ said [the Jubilee Debt Campaign’ Tim] Jones. ‘It can go unnoticed if economies are growing and exports are on the rise – but as soon as there’s a crisis like a drought or flood it becomes a huge problem.’ ”

Techno fixations
In a review of two new books on transformative technology, Sona Partners’ Timothy Ogden slams “techno-utopianism.”
“In the few places where [Abundance authors Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler] begin to acknowledge that the problems that keep much of the world disenfranchised, impoverished, and unhealthy are not technological in origin, they quickly explain that we already ‘know’ how to deal with those issues. For instance, we ‘know’ that ‘community support is the most critical component for any water solution’ and ‘maintenance workers need to be incentivized.’ Now that we know these facts, a technology breakthrough is all that’s needed to fix global water problems. I wonder what technology will fix global justice problems now that we know all people are created equal.”

Too hot for TED
The Atlantic reproduces venture capitalist Nick Hanauer’s speech on inequality that TED University deemed “too politically controversial to post on their web site,” in which he questions the conventional wisdom that rich people and businesses create jobs.
“Anyone who’s ever run a business knows that hiring more people is a capitalist’s course of last resort, something we do only when increasing customer demand requires it. In this sense, calling ourselves job creators isn’t just inaccurate, it’s disingenuous.
That’s why our current policies are so upside down. When you have a tax system in which most of the exemptions and the lowest rates benefit the richest, all in the name of job creation, all that happens is that the rich get richer.
Since 1980, the share of income for the richest Americans has more than tripled while effective tax rates have declined by close to 50%.”