Latest Developments, June 7

In the latest news and analysis…

Mining fears
Accounting giant PricewaterhouseCoopers has published its annual report on the state of the world’s top 40 mining companies, in which it expresses concern over “resource nationalism” despite record combined profits of $133 billion in 2011:

“Ownership of resources and mining industry fiscal regimes remain high on the agenda for many governments around the world. Nations are looking to take an increasing share of profits and resources through a range of measures. Ongoing discussions and debates, formal reviews of fiscal regimes, or recently enacted changes have been seen in countries such as Australia, Chile, Ghana, Peru, and South Africa.

Governments are under pressure from local communities and other key stakeholders, and as a result, the stability that previously existed in many nations is deteriorating. High commodity prices have increased the industry’s visibility, triggering stakeholders to seek a bigger piece of the pie.”

Sales assistants
Embassy Magazine reports that the Canadian government is actively helping domestic arms manufacturers find buyers abroad:

“In the last few years, the Canadian Commercial Corporation, a Crown corporation, has helped Canadian firms sell everything from military hardware and weapons to wiretapping technology, forensics for ballistics, surveillance, document detection, sensor systems, bulletproof vests and helmets, training, and other services.
They are partnering with government ministers to get the job done. It’s called ‘co-operative marketing,’ according to CCC president Marc Whittingham.
The way it works is that firms tell the organization which markets they’re interested in, and when corporation representatives or a minister is travelling, they are able to ‘further that pursuit,’ he said.”

Banking rules
The New York Times reports that a hearing into JPMorgan Chase’s “multibillion-dollar trading loss” has led to more talk of the need to impose stricter limits on the activities of US banks:

“Several Democrats have seized on the news of the bank’s loss, saying the case underscores a need to enforce a strict Volcker Rule.
The rule, named for Paul A. Volcker, the former chairman of the Federal Reserve, would ban banks from trading with their own money, a practice known as proprietary trading. Support for the new regulations gained momentum after JPMorgan’s loss disclosure last month.
But the scope of the rule, which regulators plan to complete in the coming months, is unclear. For one, it allows banks to use hedges to offset risk. Regulators have yet to decide how broad to make that hedging exemption, prompting some Democrats to push for clarity.”

Oil troubles
Business Daily reports that the recent discovery of oil in Kenya by UK-based Tullow Oil has touched off tensions in local communities:

“The oil find in Turkana is touching on land ownership and compensation and last week a meeting to discuss the discovery aborted as locals and legislators demanded more involvement in the decisions on the black gold resource.
‘Engagement with the locals has not been smooth. We had planned a forum for Wednesday on the oil discovery but it has aborted on account of consensus. MPs from the two counties and those in relevant committees of Parliament have said they were not consulted,’ said [Energy Ministry Permanent Secretary Patrick] Nyoike.”

Hip hop wars
Columbia University’s Hishaam Aidi writes on the significance of the growing debate over hip hop in Europe:

“European government officials are increasingly worried about the influence that Muslim rap artists wield over youth, and are scrutinising hip hop practices in the immigrant neighbourhoods, trying to decide which Muslim hip hop artists to promote and which to push aside.

The debate over hip hop, Europe’s dominant youth culture, stands in for a much larger debate about race, immigration and national identity. With many of the biggest stars being Muslim, the disputes over which Muslim hip hop artists are ‘moderate’ or ‘radical’ are also disagreements over what kind of Islam to allow into the public space.”

Burma caution
Burma partnership’s Khin Ohmar argues that the international community needs to put the brakes on the sudden race to invest in her country:

“There are no such things as environmental impact or social impact assessments. There is no participation from any group that represents people’s interests in the decision-making process. Rule of law is extremely weak, with a subordinate and ineffective judiciary, arbitrary arrests, widespread corruption and a culture of impunity.
Burma is quite simply not ready. Investment, particularly in the country’s unstable ethnic areas, serves to exacerbate human rights abuses and causes major environmental and social damage. As long as the military has the biggest say in the development of Burma, the status quo won’t really change. Foreign investors should wait until the nation is reconciled before proceeding with the unabated enthusiasm currently on display.”

Big money
UC Berkeley’s Robert Reich looks at the impacts the US Supreme Court’s “grotesque 2010 Citizens United vs Federal Election Commission decision” is having on the country’s presidential election campaign:

“According to the reliable inside-Washington source Politico, the Koch brothers’ network alone will be spending $400m over the next six months trying to defeat Obama, which is more than Senator John McCain spent on his entire 2008 campaign.
Big corporations and Wall Street are also secretly funneling big bucks into front groups like the US Chamber of Commerce that will use the money to air anti-Obama ads, while keeping secret the identities of these firms.”

Fragile union
The Financial Times’ Martin Wolf writes on the inherent difficulty of maintaining an economic union without corresponding political cohesion:

“Given such uncertainty, panic is, alas, rational. A fiat currency backed by heterogeneous sovereigns is irremediably fragile.
Before now, I had never really understood how the 1930s could happen. Now I do. All one needs are fragile economies, a rigid monetary regime, intense debate over what must be done, widespread belief that suffering is good, myopic politicians, an inability to co-operate and failure to stay ahead of events.”

Latest Developments, January 17

In the latest news and analysis…

Resource nationalism
British consulting group Maplecroft has added “resource nationalism” in some of the world’s poorest countries to the latest edition of its annual Political Risk Atlas, which identifies potential problems around the globe for businesses and investors.
“Potential actions by governments can include nationalising an entire industry. For example, in August 2011, Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez announced his intention to nationalise the country’s gold industry. Likewise in Guinea in 2010, the state sought a renegotiation of contracts, saying it would become a minority shareholder in all mining contracts. Comparable events have occurred in 2011 in other parts of South America and Africa and are likely to be repeated, especially if a global economic slowdown begins to cut into government tax revenues.”

Fueling hunger
The Center for Global Development’s Kimberly Ann Elliott welcomes the end of billions in US subsidies for biofuels but laments the fact that “advanced biofuels that are not food-based are still not available.”
“For developing countries, that means that corn-based ethanol will remain the major biofuel in the United States, diverting a third or more of the corn crop and keeping upward pressure on food prices. The elimination of the blenders’ credit will do little to change that because, while the subsidy bolstered producer profitability when corn prices spiked in 2008 and again last year, it was not a major factor driving demand for ethanol. The congressional mandate requiring that biofuels be blended into gasoline put a floor under the market, which encouraged investment.  Thus, actual production has exceeded the mandated level in every year because oil prices have been high enough to make ethanol competitive.”

Sins of emission
Mongabay reports on an Atlanta-based company that emits more greenhouse gases than Finland and owns the top three facilities on the US Environmental Protection Agency’s list of the top 100 sources of emissions in the country.
“For its part, Southern Company told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that their emissions are ‘indicative’ of their power plants ‘being among the nation’s largest generators of electricity,’ adding that, ‘Southern Company complies with all environmental regulations and supports transparency in emissions reporting. The company is a leader in environmental research, development and implementation.’ Southern company serves around 4 million people. In 2014 the corporation is opening a new coal plant in Mississippi that will reportedly capture 60 percent of its greenhouse gas emissions.
According to its records Southern Company spent over $8 million in lobbying the U.S. government last year. A profile of the company on, run by nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, reads ‘Southern has been one of the biggest proponents for electricity deregulation” and “gives most of its money to Republicans.’ ”

Re-assigning blame
The New School for Social Research’s Tarak Barkawi is perplexed by the use of the word “inhuman” to describe a video apparently showing US marines urinating on the dead bodies of Taliban fighters in Afghanistan.
“For senior US officials to help purvey accusations of the worst kind against the US military – as inhuman – makes little sense. While offering assurances that they will clean house, they should strongly distance themselves from the notion that this is a peculiarly US issue. Iraqis, Afghans, Americans and others have been mutilating each others’ corpses for some years now.
Such officials ought to remember also that these are the kinds of things that happen in the wars they are themselves directing. As the Japanese officer quoted above remarked, “it is the war that forces us to do the killing”.
For the rest of us in the liberal-minded citizenry, we would do well to recall that wars are initiated and sustained by leaders and governments, and by the powerful interests and passions that back them.
To vent frustration for this situation by easy condemnation of some young enlisted marines is a bit like pissing on corpses.”

Corporate charity
The Overseas Development Institute’s Jonathan Glennie asks if “big company charity” is really better for the poor than “transforming core business practices” would be.
“In Western Union’s case, the big issue is transaction charges. There is a strong case that simply giving money to the poor (especially women) is the best way to help them out of poverty. So, without doubting the good work being done by Western Union, is spending through a foundation more effective than simply reducing the transaction charge and letting poor people purchase the things they know they need, such as better food, drugs or schooling?

Fundamentally, we should be wary of applauding corporates for charitable giving which, generally speaking, is concerned as much with PR as development outcomes, and is essentially funded by the taxpayer or consumer anyway.”

Demanding justice
Oxfam’s Farah Karimi argues “changing the division of power” in the world is necessary to ensure everyone has access to land, food, water and other essential but increasingly scarce resources.
“There is a third challenge, besides increased scarcity and shrinking political space: the current governance gap. The old governance system dominated by Western industrialized countries is in decay, while a new system that reflects the new global power relations isn’t yet functioning. Of course the G20 has emerged– but key issues such as poverty, justice and sustainable development don’t really feature on the G20’s agenda. The power and impact of globally operating companies is growing, enhancing the need for global governance. But the G20 doesn’t at all succeed in addressing vital global challenges or guaranteeing global goods.”

That which shall not be named
Intellectual Property Watch reports on a speech by World Health Organization head Margaret Chan, in which she praised the global body for its “consistent ability” to forge agreements on fair IP rules, though as the article goes on to say, the issue of counterfeit medicines has been particularly problematic.
“Chan did not directly mention the issue of counterfeit and substandard medical products by name, perhaps because of the difficulty in finding acceptable words by which to refer to it. The issue of “substandard/spurious/falsely-labelled/falsified/counterfeit medical products” – as it has been dubbed by member states in an effort to appease all sides – has been controversial at WHO in recent years. But members managed to agree in October on a new mechanism for addressing the issue.”