Latest Developments, July 30

In the latest news and analysis…

Official xenophobia
The Guardian reports on divisions within the British government over a campaign telling illegal immigrants to “go home” and a possible move to require residents of certain countries to pay a security deposit before visiting:

“A day after the Liberal Democrat business secretary, Vince Cable, called the campaign ‘stupid and offensive’, a No 10 [Downing Street] spokesman said [UK PM] David Cameron disagreed, adding that the posters and leaflets were attracting ‘a great deal of interest’.
In a separate move, Lib Dem sources said that a Home Office plan to force visitors from certain Asian and African countries to pay a £3,000 bond before being allowed to visit the UK had not been agreed within the coalition. Reports saying the plan had been signed off prompted a particularly angry reaction from India.”

Mali election
Reuters reports that Mali’s presidential vote went fairly smoothly on Sunday, suggesting “world powers, especially France” were right to insist on the hastily organized election:

“Chief EU observer Louis Michel said on Monday the election took place in a calm atmosphere and participation exceeded 50 percent in some places.
Turnout at some polling stations visited by Reuters on Sunday was more than 50 percent, while participation in previous presidential elections has never exceeded 40 percent.
‘No major incidents were reported even though there were some imperfections,’ Michel told journalists in Bamako.
Some Malians had difficulty finding polling stations and thousands displaced by the war are likely to have missed the vote as they would not have received the newly-printed ID cards.”

Opinion shift
The Guardian reports on a new poll indicating that for the first time since the 9/11 attacks, more Americans are worried about their civil liberties than the threat of terrorism:

“Among other things, Pew finds that ‘a majority of Americans – 56% – say that federal courts fail to provide adequate limits on the telephone and internet data the government is collecting as part of its anti-terrorism efforts.’ And ‘an even larger percentage (70%) believes that the government uses this data for purposes other than investigating terrorism.’ Moreover, ‘63% think the government is also gathering information about the content of communications.’ That demonstrates a decisive rejection of the US government’s three primary defenses of its secret programs: there is adequate oversight; we’re not listening to the content of communication; and the spying is only used to Keep You Safe™.”

Global citizenship
The New York Times marks the passing of Garry Davis, the “self-declared World Citizen No. 1” who believed the end of nation-states would mean the end of war:

“The One World model has had its share of prominent adherents, among them Albert Schweitzer, Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Einstein and E. B. White.
But where most advocates have been content to write and lecture, Mr. Davis was no armchair theorist: 60 years ago, he established the World Government of World Citizens, a self-proclaimed international governmental body that has issued documents — passports, identity cards, birth and marriage certificates — and occasional postage stamps and currency.

In November 1948, six months after renouncing his [US] citizenship in Paris, Mr. Davis stormed a session of the United Nations General Assembly there.
‘We, the people, want the peace which only a world government can give,’ he proclaimed. ‘The sovereign states you represent divide us and lead us to the abyss of total war.’ ”

Charitable-industrial complex
Peter Buffett, chairman of the NoVo Foundation and son of multi-billionaire Warren Buffett, discusses the dangers of “philanthropic colonialism” and “conscience laundering”:

“Inside any important philanthropy meeting, you witness heads of state meeting with investment managers and corporate leaders. All are searching for answers with their right hand to problems that others in the room have created with their left.

As more lives and communities are destroyed by the system that creates vast amounts of wealth for the few, the more heroic it sounds to ‘give back.’ It’s what I would call ‘conscience laundering’ — feeling better about accumulating more than any one person could possibly need to live on by sprinkling a little around as an act of charity.
But this just keeps the existing structure of inequality in place. The rich sleep better at night, while others get just enough to keep the pot from boiling over. Nearly every time someone feels better by doing good, on the other side of the world (or street), someone else is further locked into a system that will not allow the true flourishing of his or her nature or the opportunity to live a joyful and fulfilled life.

It’s time for a new operating system. Not a 2.0 or a 3.0, but something built from the ground up. New code.”

Unmanned & warrantless
The Washington Times reports that the FBI has told the US Congress it does not see any need to obtain case-by-case permission for drone surveillance:

“Then, in a follow-up letter [Senator Rand] Paul released Monday, [assistant director for the FBI’s congressional liaison office Stephen D.] Kelly said they don’t believe they ever need to obtain a warrant to conduct drone surveillance as long as it’s done within guidelines.
He said they take their lead from several Supreme Court cases that don’t deal directly with drones but do cover manned aerial surveillance.”

Smear tactics
Inter Press Service reports that the efforts by American “vulture capitalists” to make huge profits off Argentina’s 2001 debt default go well beyond the courtroom:

“The public relations effort, which focuses on Argentina’s increasingly friendly relations with Iran, comes as the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama is weighing whether to side with Argentina before the Supreme Court in its battle with Wall Street.

That the White House is backing away from its earlier defences of Argentina indicates that the millions of dollars U.S. hedge funds have spent lobbying members of the administration, Congress and the press are starting to change the debate, with Iran about as popular as Iraq was in 2002.”

Latest Developments, May 10

In the latest news and analysis…

Symbolic shift
The New York Times reports that US President Barack Obama has said he thinks same-sex marriage should be legal.
“While Mr. Obama’s announcement was significant from a symbolic standpoint, more important as a practical matter were Mr. Obama’s decision not to enforce the marriage act and his successful push in 2010 to repeal the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ law that prohibited openly gay men and lesbians from serving in the military. For that reason, gay rights groups had been largely enthusiastic about his re-election campaign while being pragmatically resigned to his not publicly supporting same-sex marriage before the election.
Mr. Obama’s announcement has little substantive impact — as an aide said, ‘It’s not like we’re trying to pass legislation.’ ”

Development triumvirate
The Guardian reports that the UN has appointed British Prime Minister David Cameron, Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to lead efforts on coming up with post-2015 successors to the Millennium Development Goals.
“The three leaders will represent the world’s rich, middle- and low-income countries.

The Overseas Development Institute’s Claire] Melamed said the panel can be expected to restate the existing agenda, considering the failure to reach many of the targets, and discuss growth and employment, areas on which it will be relatively easy to reach agreement.
‘It will be trickier on more social and political issues such as governance and accountability,” she said. “When you reach down into talking about the how rather than how much, I imagine that will be more difficult.’ ”

New bedfellows
The Financial Times reports on the apparent shift “from confrontation to collaboration” in the relationship between NGOs and big business.
“Ironically, the new-found harmony between NGOs and business reflects a less happy reality: that the scale of problems we face – such as food security, water preservation and child labour – are simply too large for any one group or international forum to tackle. ‘The global middle class will grow from 2bn to 5bn in 20 years and lead to huge change in agriculture,’ explains Andy Wales, senior vice-president, sustainable development at SABMiller. ‘There is no way any sector on its own can do that.’
However, Mr Wales and his peers are equally clear that resolving these problems is dictated by self-interest rather than pure altruism.

NGOs are useful bodies to have on board when it comes to a second catalyst: securing raw material supplies – as illustrated by the farmers working with NGOs and SABMiller.”

Illegal bill
Embassy Magazine reports that a UN official has said that certain aspects of the Canadian government’s proposed new refugee policy would be at odds with international law.
“Chief among the parts of the bill worrying to [UNHCR’s Furio] De Angelis was one that lets the government detain an asylum seeker from an ‘irregular arrival,’ such as the boatload of 492 Tamils that arrived on British Columbia’s shores two years ago, for up to a year without review.
That is ‘at variance,’ he said in an interview after his testimony, with part of the UN convention that states that countries, such as Canada, that play by its rules shouldn’t penalize refugees who might enter illegally or restrict their movements unless necessary.
‘UNHCR strongly recommends that the government refrain from introducing a mandatory detention regime for irregular arrivals in relation to refugees and asylum seekers, and that alternatives to detention be explored,” said Mr. De Angelis during his testimony.’ ”

Playing with food
The “casino” that is food speculation must be shut down, acording to Frederick Kaufman, a contributing editor at Harper’s Magazine.
“Commodity markets stand at the base of the $600tn global derivatives business, a generally unregulated miasma of over-the-counter swaps, index fund madness, and Wall Street roulette that ignited the mortgage meltdown, toppled AIG and Lehman Brothers, spurred the global currency crisis, and produced the present sorry state of the global economy, whereby a few chosen hedge fund managers haul in billions of dollars while 1 billion human beings find themselves unable to scrape together enough to eat.

All of which leads to the inevitable conclusion that the only way to stop speculation in food commodities is neither high-level debate nor regulation – how quaint and New Dealish – but criminalisation. Indeed, US senator Maria Cantwell and US congressman Ed Markey are now crafting a bill to make gambling on the world’s food supply illegal.”

Inequality numbers
Oxfam’s Duncan Green reviews (and quotes at length) a paper on inequality by the University of Cambridge’s Gabriel Palma, which contains findings Green considers “extremely important.”
“What [the graph] shows is that the real driver of inequality variations within countries is the richest 10% (and probably only the richest fraction of them). Even the next richest 10% basically gets the same chunk of national income across all countries. Palma puts this down to ‘one of the key characteristics of neo-liberal economic reforms: its ‘winner-takes-all’ proclivity.’ ”

Banned ingredients
Simon Fraser University’s Paul Meyer argues for fundamental changes to the international negotiation process at the heart of nuclear disarmament efforts.
“Not since a couple of weeks in the summer of 1998 has the Conference on Disarmament been able to undertake official work on a fissile material ban. Fourteen years of idleness on this, as all the while certain states continue to add to their stockpiles of fissile material and the nuclear weapons fashioned from them.
It doesn’t take a deep student of diplomatic affairs to discern the link between the consensus-based conference’s inability to agree on a programme of work including a fissile material ban, and the fact that amongst its member states it counts those still actively producing this essential nuclear weapon material.
To be repeating this formula in the face of almost fifteen years of inaction would seem to represent the triumph of hope over experience—or to put it more bluntly, of convenience over commitment.”

Tax cuts
Harvard’s Steven Strauss looks into the “article of faith among conservatives” that lower taxes create wealth for everyone.
“Actually the post World War II American economy provides a nice empirical test of this hypothesis — the maximum marginal income tax rate gradually declined from about 90% to about 35%. Shouldn’t this decline have lead to an explosion of economic growth as our wealth creators were unleashed? Sorry, Sarah Palin… it didn’t.
During the ultra high tax 1950s (top marginal income tax rate of 90%), the United States had some of its best real economic growth (over 4%/year). And, for the decade where we had our lowest marginal income tax rates — we had our worst real economic growth (about 1.5%/year).”

Latest Developments, November 14

In the latest news and analysis…

Aid Transparency Index
Publish What You Fund has released its first Aid Transparency Index, in which the list of donor countries that performed ‘poorly’ includes the US, Canada, Australia, Germany, France, Spain, Italy, Japan and Norway.
“In the course of the research, a number of countries provided worrying examples of how poor reporting can distort perceptions of whether aid is well spent:
• Almost the only information available about one of France’s biggest aid beneficiaries, Cote d’Ivoire, related to a project commemorating 20 years of research into chimpanzees
• Greece provided no information about its current aid activities, but an annual report from 2009 included pictures of a half-built block of flats in Serbia as evidence of an ‘implemented project’
• Austria is the fourth biggest recipient of Austrian Development Agency aid according to the government’s database of ‘agreed contracts’”

Mining and inequality
Yao Graham of Third World Network-Africa argues booming profits for mining companies are not translating into comparable increases in revenues for the African countries in which they operate.
“The case of Zambia, for which copper makes up about 80 per cent of export earnings, is a good illustration of the asymmetry of power and benefits between mining companies on the one hand and African states on the other. Zambia levies a derisory 0.6 per cent royalty on copper in some cases.
In 2004, with copper prices averaging $2,868 US per tonne, it earned $8 million US in budget revenue from 400,000 tonnes of copper exported by foreign mining companies. This is a mere fraction of the $200 million US it earned in 1992, before privatization, from the same volume and similar price of copper. In the meantime, with the quadrupling of copper prices between 2002 and 2008, firms operating in Zambia such as the Canadian company First Quantum Minerals, have seen sharp jumps.”

Derailing Doha
The Fairtrade Foundation’s Aurelie Walker presents 10 pieces of evidence to support her contention that the World Trade Organization’s so-called Doha Development Round of negotiations has seen the marginalization of the very countries it was supposed to help.
“The WTO has failed to live up to its promises over the past decade, which reveals a wider systemic problem in the global community. True and lasting solutions to global economic problems can only come when the model of global competitiveness between countries becomes one of genuine cooperation.”

Planetary patriotism
California State University, Sacramento’s Angus Wright discusses the obstacles and necessary conditions to addressing global environmental challenges.
“The secret we seek is what inspires humans to act positively and creatively in the face of huge challenges. As humanity faces the environmental crisis, this is its greatest challenge: How do we elicit the kind of collective and individual action and creativity that will be needed?
I think previous experience implies that it cannot be fear alone, nor opportunity alone, nor persuasion alone, nor organisation alone, but a blend of these elements, with much else. We have been able to lump these things together successfully in the past in something called patriotism – a powerful force for good and ill – and now we need something like a planetary patriotism. But no planetary patriotism can be built without acknowledging and dealing with the major things that divide us as well as the challenge that must unite us. Putting on a happy face won’t cut it.”

Sustainable Development Goals
The Overseas Development Institute’s Claire Melamed argues that truly sustainable development will require more than simply coming up with eco-focused counterparts to the Millennium Development Goals.
“If economic growth is to be truly green, developing countries will need to leapfrog over much of our recent history of technological development and have immediate access to the kind of shiny new technologies that are still prohibitively expensive in much of the rich world.
This is possible – with dramatic changes to intellectual property laws, and with the kind of subsidies that until now have been reserved exclusively for the wealthiest farmers.  Neither are particularly likely, and this is just a taster of the huge changes in policy in almost every country if ‘sustainable development’ is to become a reality. We might even have to broach the subject of how more growth in one country might mean less in another.”

Seeming green
The Copenhagen Consensus Center’s Bjørn Lomborg argues political rhetoric about greening economies does not correspond to what is currently feasible in the real world.
“Danish politicians – like politicians elsewhere – claim that a green economy will cost nothing, or may even be a source of new growth. Unfortunately, this is not true. Globally, there is a clear correlation between higher growth rates and higher CO2 emissions. Furthermore, nearly every green energy source is still more expensive than fossil fuels, even when calculating pollution costs.”

Drones and literature
Reuters’ Myra MacDonald argues a recent short story about drone strikes in Pakistan is illustrative of a narrative she considers both problematic and increasingly important.
“We will return to the short story later, but first step back a bit and consider that the narrative gaining traction, at least in urban Punjab, is that the people of the tribal areas have been radicalised by American drone attacks.  Pakistan’s rising political star, Imran Khan, attracted tens of thousands to a rally in Lahore last month with a version of this narrative. Stop the drones, and the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), or Pakistani Taliban, can be engaged in peace talks to end a wave of bombings across Pakistan.”

Philanthropy and facts
In his overview of current trends in philanthropy, Oxfam’s Duncan Green suggests the Arab Spring and networks are hot, while the State and analysis are not at the ongoing Bellagio Initiative Summit.
“I don’t attend many discussions where I find myself wishing for fewer stories, and more analysis, but this was one of them – more NGO than the NGOs when it comes to substituting heart-warming anecdotes for academic rigour.”

Latest Developments, September 29

In the latest news and analysis…

Aid grump
Humanosphere’s Tom Paulson offers a summary of a recent interview with New York University’s Bill Easterly whom he describes as an “aid grump.”
“The historical record is pretty clear that success in development comes from people doing development themselves. Outsiders can help in modest ways, such as in a response to a disaster. But there’s no evidence aid can become the main engine of development to transform the Third World into the First World, poverty to prosperity.”

The evolution of philanthropreneurs
Oxfam’s Duncan Green draws attention to some of the highlights – mainly to do with taxation of the extractive industries, tobacco and transportation, as well as thoughts on how to tap into migrant worker remittances and sovereign wealth funds – of a leaked preview to the report Bill Gates will present to the G20 later this year.
“Does Bill Gates’ protagonism mark a further shift of the big philanthropreneurs (and their foundations) from an insistence on sticking to the relatively straightforward world of ‘stuf’ (vaccines, infrastructure, seeds, microfinance) to the more complex business of influencing systems and policies, which are every bit as crucial to development? Hope so.”

Another billionaire philanthropist, George Soros, prescribes some measures he believes Europe must undertake in order to avoid triggering “another Great Depression with incalculable political consequences.”
“Three bold steps are needed. First, the governments of the eurozone must agree in principle on a new treaty creating a common treasury for the eurozone. In the meantime, the major banks must be put under the direction of the European Central Bank in exchange for a temporary guarantee and permanent recapitalization. Third, the ECB would enable countries such as Italy and Spain temporarily to refinance their debt at a very low cost.”

Panic tax
The Institute of Development Studies’ Lawrence Haddad suggests the Financial Transactions (or Tobin or Robin Hood) Tax just proposed by European Commission President José Manuel Barroso might not be as effective a tool against market volatility as a “a Panic Tax, the Tobin Tax’s first cousin.”
“The Panic Tax…does not tax the level of financial transactions, but the speed at which they occur.
This gets at Tobin’s original concern directly and deals with the dangers introduced by High Frequency Traders.”

CSR Binarism
The Institute for Human Rights and Business’s John Morrison expresses concern, in a letter to the Financial Times, that British Labour leader Ed Miliband has too simplistic a view of companies as being either good or bad.
“Company structures are value-neutral creations; it is the actions that business takes that have positive or negative impacts. What is needed is an undertaking from current or future UK governments also to intervene when an otherwise acceptable company does a very bad thing – such as the decision by Vodafone to close its Egyptian network at the end of January this year when its customers were most at need.”

Roma evictions
Human Rights Watch has condemned what it describes as “mass evictions and expulsions of Eastern European Roma” by the French government and the apparent indifference of European authorities.
“The European Commission gave France the all-clear, but the situation for Roma in France has only grown worse,” according to Human Rights Watch researcher Judith Sunderland. “It’s vital for the commission to renew its scrutiny of these abusive practices, which breach EU and human rights law.”

Irregular arrivals
Embassy Magazine reports that with Canada’s Conservative government now holding a majority of seats in parliament, the fight against a proposed toughening of the country’s immigration laws looks set to move to the courts, spearheaded by the newly formed Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers.
“The bill defines human smuggling as an offence and sets out tough penalties. But the bill also lets the immigration minister designate an ‘irregular arrival’ of a group of people to Canada, whose members may be arrested without a warrant and detained for at least a year, unless their claim has been resolved or they get special permission from the minister.
Some refugee lawyers have said this clearly violates the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which, in Section 7 guarantees the right not to be deprived of life, liberty and security of the person except ‘in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice.’”

Dangerous schlock
Foreign Policy’s Brett Keller is not a fan of the new film Machine Gun Preacher which he describes as “Hollywood’s latest take on the ‘white man saves Africa’ theme,” possibly a pack of lies and quite probably dangerous.
“But by conflating humanitarian work with Wild West-style vigilantism, Childers makes the world more dangerous for the many aid workers risking their lives to do good in places like South Sudan. The anonymous aid worker who writes the widely read blog Tales from the Hood makes this point: ‘We [aid workers] very often go into insecure places where our presence and the associated suspicion that we may have ulterior motives puts not only us, but our local colleagues and those we’re trying to help at greater risk, too…. Every time [Childers] puts up another video of himself jumping into his white SUV with an AK47 across his lap, he increases the likelihood that I or someone I care about is going to get shot.’”

Latest Developments, September 23

In today’s latest news and analysis…

Normalizing drones
Reuters reports on the deterioration in US-Pakistan relations, with the most recent incident – chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen’s allegation that Pakistan’s intelligence agency is a “veritable arm” of the violent Haqqani network which operates inside Afghanistan – suggesting targeted assassinations have become less controversial than harsh words expressed publicly.
“Mahmud Durrani, a retired major general and former Pakistani ambassador to Washington, said both sides should ease tensions to avoid American military action beyond drone strikes or economic sanctions.”

Arming against democracy
Human Rights Watch has called on the US to hold off on selling $53 million in armoured vehicles and missiles to Bahrain in light of alleged abuses committed against “peaceful critics” of the regime.
“It will be hard for people to take US statements about democracy and human rights in the Middle East seriously when, rather than hold its ally Bahrain to account, it appears to reward repression with new weapons,” according to the group’s deputy Washington director, Maria McFarland.

Who you gonna believe?
In the aftermath of Oxfam allegations that a British company’s carbon offset project in Uganda had led to the forcible eviction of more than 20,000 people, the Wall Street Journal reports the New Forests Company said all relocations were “voluntary, legal and fully respected and in accord with all stringent protocols” and the World Bank said the project “had met its standards so far.”
“Matt Grainger, an Oxfam spokesman and co-author of the Uganda report, faults New Forests and its investors for not digging deeper into the project. In interviews with hundreds of former residents, he said, ‘we can’t find any evictee that doesn’t describe violence….We can’t find anybody who was compensated.’”

Diplomatic oil leak
The Courthouse News Service reports on Wikileaks cables describing efforts by Chevron to convince the Ecuadorean government to make a massive lawsuit over pollution in the Amazon rainforest go away despite the oil company’s public criticism of the country’s “politicized” courts.
“Chevron had begun to quietly explore with senior GOE officials whether it could implement a series of social projects in the concession area in exchange for GOE support for ending the case, but now that the expert has released a huge estimate for alleged damage, it might be hard for the GOE to go that route, even if it has the ability to bring the case to a close,” according to a note written by former US ambassador Linda Jewell April 7, 2008.

Putting the green in greenwash
A new Bottom Up Thinking post suggests that even if companies that donate funds to tropical conservation “are consciously attempting to atone for their ‘bad’ acts elsewhere that have harmed the cause of conservation,” pragmatic engagement may be the best approach.
“Wrapped up in all this is one of the big questions of CSR: compensatory philanthropy versus integration into core business practices. I think just about everyone agrees that it is better not to sin in the first place, than to make some later atonement, and thus conservation BINGOs need to be wary of cosying up to big polluting businesses who are fundamentally uninterested in changing their ways… But on the other side of the coin, we must be realistic: the modern world consumes an awful lot of resources (hydrocarbons, minerals, timber, food) whose production or extraction is inevitably messy. So, yes, we should constantly push polluters to improve their acts, but we should accept that some environmental damage is unavoidable, and welcome their attempts to atone for this elsewhere.”

With or without you
Embassy Magazine reports that British Prime Minister David Cameron, on a visit to Canada, suggested that an outcome of increased global trade liberalization was more important than a process of inclusive negotiation.
“And if we can’t get a deal involving everyone, then we need to look at other ways in which to drive forward with the trade liberalization the world needs, ensuring the continued work of the WTO preventing any collapse back to protectionism,” he told Parliament. “But going forwards, perhaps with a coalition of the willing where countries like Britain and Canada who want to, can forge ahead with more ambitious deals and others can join later if they choose.”

An end in itself
The Trade Justice Movement’s Ruth Bergan criticizes the G20’s development working group for prioritizing the interests of big business and seeing development as a means to increasing trade.
“While governments are allowed to continue doing business in the G20, we should expect little more than lip service to development and a shopping list of measures to benefit the vested interests of the private sector. The WTO may be in freefall, but we must be vigilant that the G20, which does not even pretend to be democratic or accountable, does not become a substitute.”

The trouble with accountability
The Institute of Development Studies’ Noshua Watson argues that because pressure from domestic voters can reduce the quality of foreign aid provided by governments in wealthy countries, official development assistance needs to be supplemented by other sources of non-state giving.
“The provision of global public goods is dependent on the willingness of the most fortunate to give to the less fortunate. Whether this aid actually contributes to development and wellbeing depends on how aligned donors’ intentions are with recipients’ needs. It also depends on recipients’ capacities to use that aid. Because they are not responsible to the voting public, philanthropies can more closely meet recipients’ needs and help them build capacity.”