Latest Developments, April 9

In the latest news and analysis…

Cluster bomb blacklist
The Guardian reports that in an “unpublicised but co-ordinated move,” four major UK banks and insurance companies have blacklisted corporations that manufacture cluster munitions and landmines.
“The Guardian has learned that major firms such as Lloyds Banking Group (through its investment arm Scottish Widows), Aviva, the UK’s largest insurer, and the Co-op have imposed a blanket ban on holding shares in companies that make or supply cluster munitions, purging them from nearly all their share portfolios.
Royal Bank of Scotland has banned all new lending to the same companies, and is now reviewing its defence industry shareholdings. Similar action is being taken by all the firms to clear out shares in anti-personnel landmine manufacturers, following intense pressure from human rights campaigners.
The industry is operating two parallel ‘stop lists’, which cover a dozen arms companies involved in making or supplying cluster bombs and anti-personnel landmines, including the US defence companies Lockheed Martin and General Dynamics, and the South Korean industrial conglomerate Doosan.”

Bloody F1
Reuters reports on the “increasingly loud calls” for cancellation of the Formula One race scheduled later this month in Bahrain, whose regime continues to face regular protests.
“The governing International Automobile Federation FIA.L, commercial supremo Bernie Ecclestone and Bahrain organisers have all said the April 22 race is on.

FIA president Jean Todt is expected to be in China, as is Ecclestone, and there are likely to be a number of meetings in the Shanghai paddock – possibly up until as late as Sunday morning.
‘Friday has been the busiest day for protests in Bahrain so Saturday looks the most likely day for any emergency meeting (in Shanghai),’ commented one team member.
Last year’s Bahrain Grand Prix was repeatedly re-scheduled and then reluctantly cancelled by organisers due to the violence in the country.”

Unfair policy
Al Jazeera reports that Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff has complained to her American counterpart about the impacts of US monetary policy on the world’s poor.
“Rousseff said low interest rates and other expansionist policies in wealthy nations have created an excess of global liquidity, which in turn has the unintended effect of damaging growth in poorer countries such as Brazil.
She also raised concerns with Obama that sanctions against Iran could fuel tensions in the Middle East and cause a spike in oil prices, threatening the global economic recovery, sources told Reuters news agency on condition of anonymity.”

Hostile environment
The Arizona Daily Star reports on new efforts to find and identify the bodies of migrants who die in Arizona’s desert.
“According to the Pima County Forensic Science Center, in 2011 there were 117 unidentified migrants who died in the Southern Arizona desert.

‘After a while, I started thinking: “Why do we have to just wait for the bodies? Let’s go get them,” ’ [technology liaison for the Office of the Medical Examiner and the Mexican Consulate, Engel] Indo said.
Once or twice a month, Indo plans to take volunteers into the desert on daylong searches for bodies, bones and live people.”

Solidarity tax
Reuters reports that Morocco’s government has decided to implement a “solidarity fund tax” on corporations in order to tackle social inequalities.
“Proceeds from the new tax will help raise 2 billion dirhams ($235 million) for a social solidarity fund to develop poor areas in a country that has one of the widest wealth inequalities in the region and where protesters still take to the streets over poverty, joblessness and corruption.

The 2012 budget now provides for the imposition in 2012 of a tax equal to 1.5 percent of the net profit for firms that make between 50 million and 100 million dirhams in net annual gains, Finance Ministry and parliament officials said.
Firms with annual net profits above 100 million dirhams will be subject to a 2.5 percent tax on their net profit in 2012, they added.”

Construction problems
A Libyan activist writing under the pen name Layla Ibrahim takes issue with the international community’s approach to rebuilding her country.
“The EU is responsible for media and communications training, yet that is still to start. The company, IMG international, hired to do this, is still in the needs assessment phase, for which they require a couple of months. However even when it does start, none of the ‘experts’ are Arabic speakers, which means it is unlikely they’ll be able to help shape the scripts or articles to support our journalists.

As one diplomat said: ‘The EU just about works within the EU; it has no business operating outside. The interests of one European country in Libya are not going to be the same as another, so Libya will suffer from these conflicts of interests as they fight over the same pot.’
In the meantime, Libyan professionals who are desperate to help rebuild their country are being side-lined. Internationals will hire Libyans in the main as fixers/drivers/translators but not in key positions. They will pay vast sums for hotel bills and per diems but will quibble over dinars to hire local staff.”

Ashley Judd’s face
Actor Ashley Judd analyzes a culture in which enormous media attention is focused on a woman’s face that is perceived to have become “puffy.”
“That women are joining in the ongoing disassembling of my appearance is salient. Patriarchy is not men. Patriarchy is a system in which both women and men participate. It privileges, inter alia, the interests of boys and men over the bodily integrity, autonomy, and dignity of girls and women. It is subtle, insidious, and never more dangerous than when women passionately deny that they themselves are engaging in it. This abnormal obsession with women’s faces and bodies has become so normal that we (I include myself at times—I absolutely fall for it still) have internalized patriarchy almost seamlessly. We are unable at times to identify ourselves as our own denigrating abusers, or as abusing other girls and women.”

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Latest Developments, October 21

In the latest news and analysis…

World Bank and human rights
The Guardian’s John Vidal reports on fears that the World Bank’s proposed Programme-for-Results lending could be disastrous for human rights and the environment in poor countries.
“According to the proposals, the new instrument would eliminate or greatly dilute 25 existing safeguards and policies. They include those that apply to forced resettlement, natural habitats, physical and cultural resources, indigenous peoples, forests, safety of dams, natural habitats, and environmental action plans. Most of these policies have taken years of pressure by NGOs to secure.
The bank, which lends more than $50bn a year, is one of the world’s largest providers of loans for mega-projects, many of which are particularly damaging to local people, the environment and the climate. If countries wanting to build giant dams, roads, power and water projects are to be largely freed from acting in a socially responsible way, the NGOs fear bank lending could lead to more forced evictions and human rights abuses.”

Deregulation fever
The Tax Justice Network slams the World Bank’s new Doing Business report for assuming that deregulating the business environment is inherently good and accuses it of being unduly influenced by corporate lobbyists.
“This has meant that countries that don’t provide effective worker protection are deemed ‘business-friendly’, while those that try to protect their environment are deemed ‘unfriendly’.
Among the indicators used in the guide is a Paying Taxes Indicator (PTI), and – you guessed it – countries are ranked according to their corporate tax rates. In Bankspeak taxing business is ‘unfriendly’.”

Beyond GDP
The Broker magazine’s Steffie Verstappen summarizes an online discussion in which the contributors agreed that growth and per capita GDP are inadequate indicators of human wellbeing.
“What we need, suggests [executive director of WOTRO Science for Development in The Hague, Henk] Molenaar, is ‘a single, powerful concept to rival growth’ as the driving force behind development. Needless to say, this is not an easy task. Nonetheless, the concept is likely to be found in the social nature of human beings and not in the logic of accumulation and competition. If we want to make a difference, we should start looking at and measuring development as a social phenomenon that is ‘nested in relations rather than individuals’, Molenaar contends.”

Food trade
The International Food Policy Research Institute’s Sara Gustafson welcomes new limits on commodity trading in the US as “a step toward reducing food price volatility and thus food insecurity.”
“Specifically, the new rules limit the number of commodity contracts that any investor can hold in agriculture, energy, or metals contracts. The trade limits, originally mandated in the Dodd-Frank Financial Reform Act which was passed in July 2010, stemmed from worldwide concerns that commodity index and other funds contributed to the 2008 surge in food and fuel prices, and could again be contributing to recent price spikes. The new rules are intended to prevent commodities markets from becoming too concentrated, which can lead to speculation and market manipulation. Under the new limits, a single trader would be allowed to hold spot month positions equal to 25% of the estimated physical deliverable supply of a given commodity.”

Libyan bonanza
The Press Association reports UK Defence Secretary Philip Hammond is pushing British companies to compete for Libyan reconstruction contracts amid expectations the former rebels will be looking to reward the countries that helped them come to power.
“With the military campaign all but over after the death of Muammar Gaddafi and the defeat of what appears to have been the last pockets of resistance, Mr Hammond said sales directors should be ‘packing their suitcases’ for Libya.”

War and peace
The University of Cambridge’s Tarak Barkawi argues it is far too simplistic to think the death of former Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi’s death will mean the end of that country’s conflict, in part because NATO’s military support meant the erstwhile rebels never had to cooperate  amongst themselves in a way that might have fostered lasting cohesion.
“Diplomats and the UN make tidy distinctions between ‘conflict’ and ‘post-conflict’, upon which their policies are based.
Yet fighting, out in the open or in the shadows, has often preceded and post-dated the official period of hostilities. More fundamentally, there is a continuum between peace and war.”

Out of Iraq
The Associated Press reports US President Barack Obama has announced all American troops will withdraw from Iraq by the end of the year, though several thousand private security contractors will remain.
“Denis McDonough, the White House’s deputy national security adviser, said that in addition to the standard Marine security detail, the U.S. will also have 4,000 to 5,000 contractors to provide security for U.S. diplomats, including at the U.S. embassy in Baghdad and U.S. consulates in Basra and Erbil.
In recent months, Washington had been discussing with Iraqi leaders the possibility of several thousand American troops remaining to continue training Iraqi security forces.
Throughout the discussions, Iraqi leaders refused to give U.S. troops immunity from prosecution in Iraqi courts, and the Americans refused to stay without that guarantee.”

W abroad
The Canadian Centre for International Justice’s Matt Eisenbrandt and the Center for Constitutional Rights’ Katherine Gallagher explain why they believe the Canadian government should have arrested former US president George W. Bush during yesterday’s visit to a Vancouver suburb.
“Canada has ratified the Convention Against Torture and incorporated it into its domestic legislation. Under the global treaty, Canada has the obligation to prosecute a torture suspect present in Canada unless another country seeks the suspect’s extradition to stand trial elsewhere. This is not a matter of discretion. When Mr. Bush is present in Canada, he must be extradited or prosecuted.”