Latest Developments, April 3

In today’s news and analysis…

Huge loophole
Agence France-Presse highlights some of the perceived shortcomings of the Arms Trade Treaty which has been approved by “an overwhelming 154-3 margin” in the UN General Assembly:

“The treaty has no automatic enforcement. However, it seeks to force the weapons industry within accepted boundaries.

However, the Conflict Awareness Project, a non-governmental research organisation, said the treaty left a huge loophole by not directly addressing the role of middlemen in arms dealing networks.
‘Since the broker is the central actor using the cover of legitimate business to divert weapons into the illicit trade, of all actors, this is the one requiring the strictest regulation,’ CAP’s executive director Kathi Lynn Austin said.”

Landmark ruling
The Guardian reports that India’s Supreme Court has ruled against Swiss pharmaceutical giant Novartis whose efforts to obtain a patent for a cancer drug were deemed to constitute an attempt at “evergreening”:

“At stake in the legal battle was not just the right of generic companies to make cheap drugs for India once original patents expire but also access to newer drugs for poorer countries in much of Africa and Asia. India has long been known as the pharmacy of the developing world.

In a statement, the Cancer Patients Aid Association in India (CPAA), which had opposed the patent application, said: ‘We are very happy that the court has recognised the right of patients to access affordable medicines over profits for big pharmaceutical companies through patents. Our access to affordable treatment will not be possible if the medicines are patented. It is a huge victory for human rights.’ ”

Bad image
The Antioquia School of Engineering’s Santiago Ortega Arango writes that Canadian mining companies have recently been the targets of popular protests in “at least 10 countries”:

“Canada is very well represented in global mining conflicts because, in large part, Canada is the home of most of the junior mining companies of the world,” says Ramsey Hart, the Canada program co-ordinator at Mining Watch, an Ottawa-based advocacy group.
The reason for this, he says, is that Canada has a favourable environment for high-risk, speculative investments, the kind that drives international mineral exploration.
Unlike the U.S. Alien Tort Statute, which allows foreign citizens to bring American companies to U.S. courts for abuses committed in a foreign country, there are no mechanisms to hold Canadian companies overseas accountable for their social and environmental policies. ‘We’ve just completely dropped that ball,’ Ramsey says.

New relationship
The Canadian government is celebrating a new “competitive edge for Canadian exporters” as the Canada-Panama Free Trade Agreement goes into effect:

“In less than six years, the Harper government has concluded free trade agreements with nine countries: Colombia, Honduras, Jordan, Panama, Peru and the European Free Trade Association member states of Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland. In addition, Canada is in ongoing trade negotiations with the European Union, India, Japan and the members of the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Upon implementation April 1, 2013, Panama will immediately eliminate tariffs on 95 percent of non-agricultural imports and 78 percent of agricultural imports from Canada…

Most of Panama’s remaining tariffs will be eliminated over a period of 5 to 15 years.”

Carbon colonialism
The Nigerian Current reports that the newly formed No REDD in Africa Network blames a UN emissions reduction scheme for “rampant land grabs and neocolonialism”:

“[Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest degradation] is a carbon offset mechanism whereby industrialized Northern countries use forests, agriculture, soils and even water as sponges for their pollution instead of reducing greenhouse gas emissions at source.
Nnimmo Bassey, Alternative Nobel Prize Laureate and former Executive Director of ERA/Friends of the Earth Nigeria said that ‘REDD is no longer just a false solution but a new form of colonialism…We launch the No REDD in Africa Network to defend the continent from carbon colonialism.’
In the UN-REDD Framework Document, the United Nations itself admits that REDD could result in the ‘lock-up of forests,’ ‘loss of land’ and ‘new risks for the poor.’ ”

Wrong approach
The University of Utrecht’s Annelies Zoomers and the Broker magazine’s Evert-jan Quak argue that current efforts to rein in land grabbing fail to get at the root of the problem:

“These problems are the result of the commoditisation of nature and neoliberal policies in general, rather than narrowing the causes of the land rush solely to the current food, climate and energy crisis. Land-titling programmes and codes of conducts are therefore a continuation of the same economic principles.
Furthermore, land governance and policies focussing on land grabbing narrow the scope of the problem and the solution to agriculture. However, urban expansion, infrastructure projects, mining, special economic zones, and tourism projects also spark the rush for land and speculative forces to purchase land in rural areas that affect rural communities. Finally, there is no coherence between policies on food security, climate change, biodiversity and poverty eradication. One problem can be solved (for example REDD and REDD+ to tackle carbon emissions by fast reforestation projects) but create others (small farmers losing their land). A much more interdisciplinary way of policy-making should therefore be enforced.”

Bank crimes
MIT’s Simon Johnson argues that when it comes to international money laundering, “complicit bankers have nothing to fear from the US justice system”:

“To be on the safe side, though, miscreants should be sure to use a really large global bank for all their money-laundering needs.
There may be fines, but the largest financial companies are unlikely to face criminal actions or meaningful sanctions. The Department of Justice has decided that these banks are too big to prosecute to the full extent of the law, though why this also gets employees and executives off the hook remains a mystery. And the Federal Reserve refuses to rescind bank licenses, undermining the credibility, legitimacy and stability of the financial system.”

Basic income
The Guardian’s Geoge Monbiot makes the case for everyone, whether rich or poor, to receive a “guaranteed sum” each week:

“A basic income removes the stigma of benefits while also breaking open what politicians call the welfare trap. Because taking work would not reduce your entitlement to social security, there would be no disincentive to find a job – all the money you earn is extra income. The poor are not forced by desperation into the arms of unscrupulous employers: people will work if conditions are good and pay fair, but will refuse to be treated like mules. It redresses the wild imbalance in bargaining power that the current system exacerbates.”

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Latest Developments, August 3

In the latest news and analysis…

0.7% rethink
The European Centre for Development Policy Management’s Niels Keijzer questions the continued relevance of the decades-old (though largely unmet) commitment made by wealthy countries to devote 0.7 percent of their GDP to foreign aid:

“Measuring development efforts in a ‘post-0.7 world’ may therefore need a much stronger focus on actions in policy areas beyond aid; a reporting system would check how far donors promoted development other than by giving development assistance. This requires monitoring national policies and international policy positions on issues such as visa facilitation, banking secrecy, arms export, agricultural subsidies, fisheries and renewable energy.

The focus on ‘proving’ the effectiveness of ODA in splendid isolation – ie ‘value for money’ – continues. But is it now time to move away from it?”

Assault on Mother Earth
Nnimmo’s Reflections reports that a court in Ecuador has agreed to hear a suit against oil-giant BP on the grounds that the 2010 Gulf of Mexico spill may have amounted to a violation of the rights of nature, as enshrined in the Ecuadorian constitution:

“In the suit the plaintiffs demand, among other things, actions on release of information, restoration, compensation and a guarantee of non-recurrence. With regard to compensation, the demands are that ‘British Petroleum be ordered to commit to leaving untapped an equivalent amount of oil to the oil spilled in the Gulf’. Secondly, that ‘British Petroleum be ordered to redirect investment earmarked for further exploration towards strategies aimed a leaving oil underground as a more effective mechanism for compensating nature for the current impact on its climate cycles due to oil production.’ ”

Delta fiasco
Amnesty International and the Centre for Environment, Human Rights and Development have released a statement condemning the investigation process into oil spills in the Niger Delta:

“ ‘The investigation process into oil spills in the Niger Delta is a fiasco. There is more investment in public relations messaging than in facing up to the fact that much of the oil infrastructure is old, poorly maintained and prone to leaks – some of them devastating in terms of their human rights impact,’ said Audrey Gaughran, Director of Global Issues at Amnesty International.
‘No matter what evidence is presented to Shell about oil spills, they constantly hide behind the “sabotage” excuse and dodge their responsibility for massive pollution that is due to their failure to properly maintain their infrastructure and make it safe, and to properly clean up oil spills.’ ”

Drones and democracy
The Bureau of Investigative Journalism reports that a top Pakistani diplomat believes US drone strikes are doing serious harm to his country:

“[High Commissioner to London, Wajid Shamsul Hasan] also claims that some factions of the US government still prefer to work with ‘just one man’ rather than a democratically-elected government, and accuses the US of ‘talking in miles’ when it comes to democracy but of ‘moving in inches.’

‘What has been the whole outcome of these drone attacks is, that you have rather directly or indirectly contributed to destabilizing or undermining the democratic government. Because people really make fun of the democratic government – when you pass a resolution against drone attacks in the parliament, and nothing happens. The Americans don’t listen to you, and they continue to violate your territory.’
The army too risks being seen as impotent, he warns the United States.”

Strong words
The Citizen reports that former Tanzanian president Benjamin Mkapa has said EU Economic Partnership Agreements are “a poisoned chalice and must be rejected,” likening them to a second Scramble for Africa:

“He  said the country would lose more than $62.4 million a year from tariff elimination when the EPA is fully implemented. He said the zero rating of taxes on imports, as among the EPA conditions, would put the country’s future production at risk as it would allow more goods from the EU, thus killing local industries.

‘Unlike the Berlin Conference of 1884/85, which Balkanised Africa among 13 European powers as a guaranteed source of raw materials and market, the current contraption under EPA is the modern day equivalent of the Berlin Conference,’ said Mr Mkapa. ”

Saying no to REDD+
Inter Press Service reports that civil society groups in El Salvador are asking the World Bank to reject their government’s proposal to join an international anti-deforestation scheme they believe is bad for the environment:

“They argue that, beyond the praiseworthy aim of preserving forests in developing countries, the mechanism does nothing to enforce reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by the industrialised countries that are the prime causes of the pollution.
‘This is perverse logic on the part of sectors emitting the most greenhouse gases, like industry, energy generation and transport, which produce 60 percent of all emissions and are seeking to avoid responsibility,’ said Ivette Aguilar, an expert on climate change.
‘Rich countries do not want to change their consumption patterns,’ she told IPS.”

SEC scolded
US Senators Dick Lugar and Benjamin Cardin say there is “no excuse” for the Securities and Exchange Commission’s delays in implementing legislation that would require US-listed extractive companies to disclose all payments made to foreign governments:

“Our offices consulted with the SEC before we drafted the legislation and — at the agency’s urging — we gave it leeway to write the specific reporting rules within the confines of the law after consulting with industry, investor groups, the public, and other interested parties. The April 2011, deadline has passed. We have called for an investigation into the SEC’s failure to follow the clear letter of the law.

With a Commission vote not scheduled until late August, the lengthy delay has raised fears that the SEC may dilute the regulation, either by granting a broad exemption to countries that don’t want the public to know the sums they receive, or by limiting the specifics of the payments disclosed. The law is clear on both points: no exemptions, and project by project reporting. We urge the commission: follow the law and issue the rule.”

Fallujah fallout
Al Jazeera asks if the US is coming clean about its use of unconventional weapons in Fallujah in 2004 and the “possible link” with the Iraqi city’s high number of birth defects:

“ ‘Some kind of dust or material, whether it’s uranium, whether it’s some chemical we don’t know, must’ve got into the air, must’ve got into people’s bodies and into their food and their water … there are traces, most of the material are inside the individual parents,’ [according to weapons researcher Dai Williams].”

Latest Developments, May 29

 

In the latest news and analysis…

Monetizing nature
The World Development Movement’s Hannah Griffiths rejects the idea, underlying schemes such as the UN’s Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation program (REDD), that nature needs to be assigned a price in order to be protected.
“The co-option of the term green economy to mean commodifying and marketising nature is made worse because it is in danger of dominating the Rio+20 summit at the expense of some of the really positive policies being proposed. These include ending massive subsidies for fossil fuels and other dirty industries, supporting greener industries instead, and moving away from taxing social goods (such as labour) towards taxing social bads (such as pollution).
But in the longer term, a real green economy would need to overcome even thornier issues. We need to change our consumption and production patterns and end the obsession with economic growth, looking instead at other indicators of a healthily functioning society.”

Déjà vu all over again
The Independent Online reports that a South African community, which appeared to have won its fight to keep mining off its territory, now faces another prospecting application from the local subsidiary of an Australian mining company.
“The Amadiba Crisis Committee (ACC) said in a statement that it was outraged that the community again faced a mining application even after Minister of Mineral Resources Susan Shabangu revoked Transworld Energy and Minerals’ (TEM) mining rights last year. TEM is a subsidiary of [Australia’s Mineral Resource Commodities].

Shabangu revoked TEM’s mining right in May last year due to outstanding environmental issues, and the company was given 90 days to provide additional information.”

Fake vaccines
The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine’s Heidi Larson argues the CIA’s use of fake immunizations in Pakistan has hurt the global fight against polio.
“It is no coincidence that the remaining three countries in the world which have polio endemics are Nigeria, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Yes, there are geographical challenges and financial challenges. And, yes, finding Bin Laden has been a global security priority. But deep-seated suspicions about the motives of those who provide polio vaccines have persisted in some circles from Nigeria to Pakistan, and the CIA’s choice of immunisation as a strategy to find Bin Laden has only given credence to the conspiracies.
There must have been a better, more ethical, way. This choice of action has jeopardised people’s trust in vaccines, and in particular the polio-eradication campaign, now so close to success – broken trust that will take years to restore. Was this strategy worth this sacrifice of trust and the loss of opportunity for the final eradication of a disease scourge – another threat to human security?”

Fed transparency
The New American reports on the progress of proposed US legislation that would “thoroughly audit the secretive Federal Reserve.”
“The legislation, H.R. 459, already has over 225 co-sponsors in the House including an impressive roster of senior Democrats and Republicans, some of whom chair important committees. In the Senate, however, a similar bill has only about 20 co-sponsors so far, forcing Audit-the-Fed activists to wage a massive campaign aimed at exposing Senators who refuse to support transparency at the shadowy central bank. Polls in recent years revealed that four out of five Americans support auditing the Fed. ”

Survival of the fittest
Dublin-based economist David McWilliams argues the EU fiscal treaty offers more of a straitjacket than the kind of union he witnessed on the other side of the Atlantic.
“Many years ago, like many of my generation, I emigrated looking for work. I ended up as a dishwasher in Boston. Boston too had a boom and bust in the late 1980s but when it collapsed the rest of the US didn’t punish it, it transferred money via the federal budget to help it recover.
With this treaty, the EU envisages the opposite: cutting spending in the periphery when we most need help. In so doing, it creates lower growth, higher unemployment, more political instability and more capital flows from the periphery to the core.”

AFRICOM expansion
In a Q&A with the Real News Network, Friends of the Congo’s Maurice Carney talks about America’s role in the “escalation of the militarization” of Africa.
“There are terrorist groups operating, you know, in Somalia and the Maghreb, Sahara, Northwest Africa. But I think it’s overblown, because if we look at where [US Africa Command] is and where it’s operating, it’s not solely in areas where we see some presence of terrorist groups. I’ll give you an example. In the Central African region, for example, there are no terrorist groups in—that we’re aware of, anyways—in Rwanda, and they receive large shipments of equipment, they get training, intelligence, and money from the United States. So although terrorism is a casus belli for the United States, we see that the larger issue is the protection of their strategic interests and their economic interests on the continent.”

Facing the Truth
Moyers & Company’s Bill Moyers and Michael Winship argue that the best way for the US to honour its troops is to renew the country’s commitment to the rule of law.
“So here we are, into our eleventh year after 9/11, still at war in Afghanistan, still at war with terrorists, still at war with our collective conscience as we grapple with how to protect our country from attack without violating the basic values of civilization – the rule of law, striving to achieve our aims without corrupting them, and restraint in the use of power over others, especially when exercised in secret.
In future days and years, how will we come to cope with the reality of what we have done in the name of security? Many other societies do seem to try harder than we do to come to terms with horrendous behavior commissioned or condoned by a government.”

Emerging left
Jawaharlal Nehru University’s Jayati Ghosh identifies seven characteristics of the new global left that she believes holds the key to a brighter future for humanity.
“Fifth, the emerging left goes far beyond traditional left paradigms in recognising the different and possibly overlapping social and cultural identities that shape economic, political and social realities. It is now realised that addressing issues only in class terms is not sufficient, and many strands of the emerging left are now much more explicitly (even dominantly) concerned with addressing the inequalities, oppression and exploitation associated with social attributes, race, community, and so on.”

Latest Developments, December 13

In the latest news and analysis…

Siemens charges
Reuters reports US prosecutors have charged eight executives at German electronics giant Siemens with paying $100 million worth of bribes in Argentina.
“Between 1996 and 2007, the executives paid bribes intended for top Argentina officials, including two presidents and cabinet ministers, according to the criminal charges and a separate civil lawsuit brought by the top market regulator, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. The charges were filed in U.S. District Court in Manhattan.
The defendants face criminal charges of conspiracy to violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) anti-fraud statute, as well as wire fraud and money laundering, crimes that carry a possible maximum prison term of 25 years.”

Fighting REDD
The Inter Press Service reports that a new coalition is voicing its opposition to the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) projects, which are meant to provide market incentives for protecting forests.
“The new Global Alliance of Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities against REDD and for Life issued a statement stating that based on “in-depth investigations, a growing number of recent reports provide evidence that indigenous peoples are being subjected to violations of their rights as a result of the implementation of REDD+-type programs and policies.”
‘Indigenous peoples and local forest communities will not place our lives and lands in the hands of corporate polluters,’ said Tom Goldtooth, executive director of the Indigenous Environmental Network, based in the United States.”

Kyoto regrets
The UN News Centre reports the organization’s top climate change official has expressed “regret” over Canada’s Kyoto pullout and suggested rich countries must do more to meet their emissions pledges.
“Whether or not Canada is a Party to the Kyoto Protocol, it has a legal obligation under the [UN Framework Convention on Climate Change] to reduce its emissions, and a moral obligation to itself and future generations to lead in the global effort,” [Christiana Figueres] said. “Industrialized countries, whose emissions have risen significantly since 1990, as is the case for Canada, remain in a weaker position to call on developing countries to limit their emissions.”

Lords of poverty
The Telegraph reports Somalia’s prime minister is accusing international aid agencies of being “lords of poverty” who are exaggerating the severity of his country’s food crisis to further their own ends.
“Seated in his air-conditioned office, Mr [Abdiweli Mohammed] Ali said the UN’s judgment that famine had struck his capital was wrong. ‘I have no idea how this international community makes the grading. You ask them and tell me how they did it. They don’t know what they’re talking about. But what I can say is enough relief came to Somalia and we provided enough relief to those affected by the famine.’
Mr Ali added: ‘I don’t believe there’s a famine in Mogadishu. Absolutely no. You know the aid agencies became an entrenched interest group and they say all kind of things that they want to say.’
Mr Ali cited a searing critique of aid workers, ‘Lords of Poverty’, written by Graham Hancock, a British author, in 1989. ‘I don’t want to be a conspiracy theorist, but I believe a lot of what has been said in the ‘Lords of Poverty’ book by Graham Hancock,’ added the prime minister.”

Afghan questions
The American Security Project’s Joshua Foust takes issue with a new Foreign Policy piece that suggests Afghanistan is “a much better place” now than it was before the NATO invasion.
“Things in much of the country really are not good, and leaving the internet data archives (and even Kabul!) can show that to anyone brave enough to look for it. If the international community had spent $100 billion on development over ten years and accomplished nothing, that would be shocking. So it’s no surprise that some things have improved. What Kenny should be asking isn’t, did we get anything for our vast expenditure, but have the improvements been worth the cost? And could another policy have achieved the same or more at less cost?
Those are the kinds of questions aid and development boosters don’t like to answer. I wish they would.”

Nuclear testing ban
Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt and Mexican Foreign Minister Patricia Espinosa Cantellano call on the remaining eight key countries to follow Indonesia’s recent example and ratify the ban on nuclear testing.
“For the five decades following World War II, a nuclear test shook and irradiated the planet on average every nine days. This era was ended in 1996, when the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly. But, for the CTBT to enter into force, all 44 states specified as holders of nuclear technology must ratify it. Until they do, the specter of nuclear testing will continue to haunt us.”

European illusions
The University of Cambridge’s Tarak Barkawi argues the UK’s left and right both hold views of the EU that have little to do with reality.
“At its core, Europe has always been a capitalist project, and is at its most successful as a single market regulated by unelected officials. The EU’s social agenda pales in significance to its economic powers, and as a diplomatic and military actor it has never achieved real weight as a “force for good”. Much less noticed is the EU’s brutal anti-immigration policy. It has built a gulag of concentration camps across North Africa and prefers to let migrants drown in the Mediterranean rather than admit them to Europe.”

Different kind of economics
Oxfam’s Duncan Green lists a number of concerns he took away from his participation in “an initial discussion” with the World Bank regarding the World Development Report’s 2013 edition, which will focus on jobs.
“Third, great that jobs are presented as the ‘hinge’ of development. But from the presentation, it looks like that hinge will then be explored almost entirely in terms of improving the enabling environment for employers. That could easily end up producing a kinder, gentler tweak of the standard Washington Consensus: make it easier to hire and fire and otherwise ‘flexibilize’ the workforce; trade unions are a ‘distortion’ to the efficient workings of labour markets etc (see Kanbur’s point three). Why not, as Christina Weller from CAFOD suggested in the meeting, focus on the enabling environment for workers, starting by asking them what makes for decent, life-enhancing jobs?”