Latest Developments, June 5

In the latest news and analysis…

House cleaning
The Guardian reports that UK Prime Minister David Cameron is urging all of Britain’s oversees territories, including some of the world’s most notorious tax havens, to sign agreements on sharing tax information:

“Britain has made a clampdown on corporate and individual tax avoidance the central theme of its chairmanship of the G8 summit in Northern Ireland on 17 and 18 June, and Cameron has decided that he cannot be a credible chair of the summit if he is not seen to be trying to put Britain’s own house in order.

The precise constitutional relationship between the UK and the overseas territories is a matter of dispute, but some aid agencies claim the UK can in effect force the crown dependencies to close down the tax loopholes.”

War on drones
The Associated Press reports that new Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has pledged to end US drone strikes in his country:

“ ‘This daily routine of drone attacks, this chapter shall now be closed,’ Sharif said to widespread applause. ‘We do respect others’ sovereignty. It is mandatory on others that they respect our sovereignty.’
But he gave few details on how he might end the strikes. Many in Pakistan say the strikes kill large numbers of innocent civilians – something the U.S. denies – and end up breeding more extremism by those seeking retribution.”

Freeze ended
The Financial Times reports that Argentina’s top court has lifted a freeze on assets belonging to US oil giant Chevron, which stemmed from a $19 billion environmental damages ruling in Ecuador:

“The asset freeze had been ordered by Argentine judge Adrián Elcuj Miranda last year under a treaty to which Ecuador and Argentina are signatories.
However, legal action continues on having the Ecuador judgment legally validated by an Argentine court, according to Enrique Bruchou, an Argentine lawyer co-ordinating efforts to seek enforcement of the ruling outside Ecuador. The same judge is hearing that case.

Plaintiffs maintain that Chevron’s subsidiaries cannot be excluded from the environmental damages suit.”

The company you keep
The Guardian reports on the guest list for this year’s summit of the “secretive” Bilderberg group which brings together political and business leaders from Europe and North America for informal talks:

“A list of about 140 participants, made up almost overwhelmingly of white males but described as ‘a diverse group of political leaders and experts from industry’, was published on Monday by the organisation. It included only 14 women.

Attenders from financial backgrounds include Marcus Agius, the former chairman of Barclays who quit the post in the wake of the Libor interbank lending rate scandal, as well as Douglas J Flint, group chairman of HSBC Holdings plc, which was hit with a $1.9bn (£1.25bn) fine last December over allegations it had acted as banker for rogue states, terrorists and drug lords.
Peter Sutherland, the chairman of Goldman Sachs International, and Michael J Evans, vice-chairman of Goldman Sachs & Co, are the participants from the investment banking giant whose involvement in the sale of high-risk mortgage related investments has borne much of the blame for causing the 2008 global financial crisis.”

Big farming
The Thompson Reuters Foundation reports on calls for the UK to stop funding a G8 food scheme for Africa described by critics as representing “a new wave of colonialism”:

“More than 25 UK campaign groups are urging British Prime Minister David Cameron to withhold 395 million pounds pledged to the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition over the next three years.

One major concern is a requirement that African nations change their seed laws, trade laws and land ownership at the expense of local farmers and local food needs.
Campaigners also fear it will allow big multinational seed, fertiliser and agrochemical companies such as Yara, Monsanto, Syngenta and Cargill to set the agenda.”

Sahel security
Voice of America reports on “stepped up” security at Western installations in the Sahel following attacks on foreign-owned gas and uranium facilities since France’s military intervention in Mali began earlier this year:

“ ‘It [France] gets not far short of 80 percent of its electricity from nuclear power – that’s by far the highest proportion in the world. It uses around 12,500 tons of uranium per year. Not far short of a third of that comes from Niger already,’ said [Imperial College London’s Malcolm] Grimston.

‘[French state-owned nuclear giant] Areva has invested something like 1.5 billion euros [almost $2 billion] in the new [Imouraren] mine in Niger. That is a very key area, and I think France will be very keen to maintain its long-term interest and its long-term security in that area,’ he said.”

Oil City
Le Monde reports on the changes – so far, not for the better – in the Ghanaian city of Takoradi since the UK’s Tullow Oil began production at the offshore Jubilee oil field in 2010:

“Local radio journalist Ebenezer Afanyi Dadzie has seen the city change rapidly but without any real improvement in the daily lives of Ghanaians. ‘For the moment, there are additional problems for poor people.’
The arrival of expatriate workers led to an explosion of housing and land prices. ‘A room rented out at 40 cedis [US$20] now costs 80 or 100. Bit by bit, residents have had to leave for the suburbs,’ the journalist explained. A tour of the city centre, where huge hotel complexes have sprung up, demonstrates this real estate madness.

For now, oil production has created few jobs. The men working on the offshore rigs are expats.” [Translated from the French.]

State of siege
The Associated Press reports on “the fear that rules” the area surrounding a mining project in Guatemala owned by Canada’s Tahoe Resources:

“Protesters say the project, called El Escobal, will drain or pollute the local water supply, and hundreds of people have blocked roads and burned buildings to stop it from going forward. That’s tested President Otto Perez Molina, who sent in hundreds of troops and suspended the right to hold public gatherings in four townships near the mine in early May. It was the second time during his 16 months in office that he has declared a state of siege in response to protests against a foreign-run mining project.

[Oscar Morales, president of the Community Development Council] said eight community consultations of 4,222 adults found that nearly all of them opposed the mine. He said he wants to hold another legally binding community consultation about the mine, but municipal governments have refused.”

Latest Developments, February 13

In the latest news and analysis…

Drawdown
The New York Times reports that US President Barack Obama, in his annual State of the Union address, declared his intention to withdraw just over half of American troops from Afghanistan by the end of next year, at which point “our war in Afghanistan will be over”:

“Administration officials said last year that they would determine the size and composition of the American presence after 2014 before determining the withdrawal schedule. But on Tuesday, officials said that Mr. Obama had not yet made a decision on the post-2014 force, which is likely to number no more than 9,000 or so troops and then get progressively smaller.

There still appears to be a debate within the administration about the plans. Officials said there was a reluctance to go public with a final number of troops and a description of their missions while still in the early stage of negotiating a security agreement with the Afghans over retaining a military presence after 2014.”

Military fixation
Ouagadougou-based journalist Peter Dörrie argues that the West’s approach to perceived security threats in Africa’s Sahel could produce “the very outcomes Western powers fear”:

“The decision by EU countries and the US to become even more actively involved militarily will likely only worsen the situation. More military aid to countries in the region means even more weapons and resources to go around. More foreign military personnel means more potential targets, maybe providing the incentive for thus-far local terrorist groups to adopt a more global agenda, as with al-Shabaab in Somalia. And increased terrorist activity will sooner or later lead to calls for drones to be armed and the Sahara to become the latest theatre in the ‘shadow drone war’. All these dynamics will introduce new layers of violence.”

Kidnap collaborators
Reuters reports that an Italian court has sent the country’s former spy chief and his deputy to jail over their role in the “rendition” of an Egyptian cleric:

“An American former CIA station chief was earlier this month given a seven-year jail sentence after imam Abu Omar was snatched from a Milan street in 2003 and flown to Egypt for interrogation during the US “war on terror”.
Milan appeals court judges sentenced Niccolo Pollari, former head of the Sismi military intelligence agency, to 10 years and jailed his former deputy Marco Mancini for nine years.”

Taxing business
The Tax Justice Network calls a new corporate taxation report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development “a potential game-changer”:

“That is a tacit admission by the OECD that the network of international tax treaties, which are drawn up substantially under the guidance of OECD models, constitute an obstacle to progress. Does that last sentence open the door to the potential for a multilateral tax treaty among key states, overriding the current mess of bilateral treaties that collectively help cement the separate-entity principle? Time will tell.
The OECD has also in the past spoken repeatedly about the perils of ‘double taxation’ of corporations due to overlapping tax claims of different jurisdictions, but has been far less interested in talking about ‘double non-taxation’ – that is, where the corporation gets taxed nowhere. We are delighted to see several references to double non-taxation in this report.”

Seed control
The Center for Food Safety (CFS) and Save our Seeds have released a new report arguing current intellectual property rules have led to “a radical shift to consolidation and control of global seed supply”:

“Among the report’s discoveries are several alarming statistics:
• As of January 2013, Monsanto, alleging seed patent infringement, had filed 144 lawsuits involving 410 farmers and 56 small farm businesses in at least 27 different states.
• Today, three corporations control 53 percent of the global commercial seed market.
• Seed consolidation has led to market control resulting in dramatic increases in the price of seeds. From 1995-2011, the average cost to plant one acre of soybeans has risen 325 percent; for cotton prices spiked 516 percent and corn seed prices are up by 259 percent.”

Tax morality
ActionAid’s Chris Jordan blasts Associated British Foods for avoiding taxes that would provide the Zambian government with much needed revenue:

“The financial engineering performed by Associated British Food’s Zambian sugar operations follow an all-too familiar pattern of tax liability reduction. Pre-tax profits of $123m generated since 2007 have been whisked away through the tax havens of Ireland, Mauritius, the Netherlands and Jersey, depriving Zambia of some $17.7m. That’s enough to put 48,000 additional Zambian children in school a year.

On top of these fairly standard tax avoidance schemes, the company also won a court case against the Zambian government, enabling it to exploit a tax break originally designed to support domestic farmers. This saw its tax rate tumble from 35% to just 10%, costing a further $9.3m of revenue. We estimate Zambia has lost $27m in total – a huge sum for one of the poorest countries in the world.”

Literary drone therapy
Struggling to understand how “an elegant and literate man with a cosmopolitan sense of the world” such as Barack Obama came to embrace remote-control assassinations so completely, writer Teju Cole reworks the opening lines of seven famous books:

“Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself. Pity. A signature strike leveled the florist’s.
Call me Ishmael. I was a young man of military age. I was immolated at my wedding. My parents are inconsolable.
Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead bearing a bowl of lather. A bomb whistled in. Blood on the walls. Fire from heaven.
I am an invisible man. My name is unknown. My loves are a mystery. But an unmanned aerial vehicle from a secret location has come for me.
Someone must have slandered Josef K., for one morning, without having done anything truly wrong, he was killed by a Predator drone.
Okonkwo was well known throughout the nine villages and even beyond. His torso was found, not his head.
Mother died today. The program saves American lives.”

Necessary struggle
350 Massachusetts’s Wen Stephenson calls for the climate-justice movement to “embrace its radicalism” in the fight against global warming, a fight he compares to the 19th Century struggle to abolish slavery:

“What resonates, then, is not so much the analogy to slavery itself, or any literal comparison to abolitionist actions, but the role of the abolitionist movement, as a movement, in American and human history — and the necessity now of a movement that is every ounce its morally and politically transformative equivalent.”