Latest Developments, August 15

In the latest news and analysis…

Window dressing
The New York Times reports the US is cancelling war games but so far maintaining massive military aid to Egypt, as President Obama said the violent crackdown against protestors in Cairo means “traditional cooperation cannot continue as usual”:

“Mr. Obama’s announcement, though less sweeping than other potential steps like suspending $1.3 billion in American military aid to Egypt, is the first concrete American response to the violence, which American officials for weeks have urged the Egyptian authorities to avoid.
The joint military exercises, known as Bright Star, were scheduled to start next month.

The president said he had asked his national security staff to study whether further measures were warranted, given the widespread bloodshed in Cairo and other cities.”

Workers in diapers
ABC News reports on alleged “problems” at a Korean-owned factory in Honduras that makes parts for American cars:

“For starters, workers at this factory claim that the company has restricted bathroom time so severely that some female employees have actually chosen to wear diapers on the assembly line to avoid wetting themselves.
Workers also accuse the company of firing almost anyone who joins the factory’s union, especially those who take on leadership roles. Union leaders claim that Kyungshin-Lear forces pregnant women to stand up for hours as they assemble electrical wiring systems for U.S. cars, and say that the company has violated workers’ rights to privacy by placing video cameras in the factory’s bathrooms.”

Tax-haven aid
The Guardian reports that the “investment arm” of the UK government’s aid agency is routing much of its money through tax havens:

“A Guardian analysis of data released in response to a Freedom of Information request reveals how the CDC spent almost £180m of a total £375m of development money via Mauritius, the Cayman Islands, Luxembourg, Guernsey, Jersey and Vanuatu.

Wholly owned by [the Department for International Development], CDC is supposed to be a ‘pioneering investor’ in developing countries. Its net investments count as official aid, and towards meeting the UK commitment to spend 0.7% of gross national income as aid. Coalition development secretaries have pushed for increased private sector investment as a core plank of British aid policy.

Development experts said the CDC’s use of tax havens undermined the UK’s efforts to help poor countries.”

Sweet deal
Reuters reports that Italian oil giant Eni has agreed to pay the Mozambican government a single-digit tax rate on the $4.2 billion sale of a gas field stake:

“Analysts had estimated that the oil and gas group’s tax bill on the deal could be as high as $1.35 billion if Mozambique imposed capital gains tax of 32 percent – a fixed rate its parliament tried to make law in December.
President Armando Guebuza has put the draft law on hold.
‘On the face of it, it seems to me a very good rate indeed,’ Mediobanca Securities oil analyst Andrea Scauri said.”

Trade over democracy
Trent University’s Paula Butler and York University graduate student Evans Rubara question the legality of the new Canada-Tanzania investment agreement if, as it seems, the negotiations were not “subject to a legitimate democratic process”:

“Given Canada’s stated commitment to supporting transparency in governance practices in countries of the Global South, did Canada take any steps to encourage or enable the Tanzanian government to popularize the content of the proposed investment agreement, educate the citizenry and provide forums for discussion and debate?
Notably, the official signed version of the Foreign Investment Protection Agreement between the United Republic of Tanzania and Canada is written only in Canada’s two official languages – English and French – and not in Kiswahili. Does a Kiswahili translation exist, and if so, has it been circulated to Tanzanian stakeholders such as parliamentarians, local governments and civil society organizations? It appears not.”

Rights of nature
Environment & Energy Publishing reports on an American environmentalist who is calling for “a paradigm shift in how laws — and, thus, the courts — view nature”:

“The nation’s most important environmental laws, [the Earth Law Center’s Linda Sheehan] argues, condone the degradation of natural resources and threats to public health by allowing polluters to continue discharging contaminants, albeit within permit limits. The laws view the environment as property, she contends, instead of taking a more holistic view. Nature, she argues, has inherent legal rights.
Welcome to the ‘rights of nature’ movement, which Sheehan compares to earlier crusades to secure full rights of citizenship for African-Americans and women. Both groups, she notes, were once considered property.”

Fear & loathing in Yemen
Reuters reports on the anger stoked among Yemenis by the recent spate of US drone strikes in their country:

“Drones have killed at least 37 people in just over two weeks amid extra security measures that have frayed Yemeni nerves.
In Sanaa, a U.S. reconnaissance plane buzzed overhead for hours each day and security checkpoints mushroomed across the capital during the normally joyous Muslim Eid al-Fitr feast.
‘[President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi] has done nothing for Yemen, except to let American planes kill people whose guilt is not known,’ complained Majida al-Maqtari, a Sanaa school teacher who said she had voted for Hadi in the last election but would back an opponent next time.”

Diminishing renewables
The Copenhagen Consensus Center’s Bjørn Lomborg scoffs at the notion that the world is relying more and more on renewable energy sources:

“The most renewables-intensive places in the world are also the poorest. Africa gets almost 50% of its energy from renewables, compared to just 8% for the [Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development]. Even the European OECD countries, at 11.8%, are below the global average.
The reality is that humanity has spent recent centuries getting away from renewables. In 1800, the world obtained 94% of its energy from renewable sources. That figure has been declining ever since.”

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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].”