Latest Developments, November 21

In the latest news and analysis…

Itching for action
Le Nouvel Observateur reports that France may not wait for the UN’s green light to launch a military intervention in the Central African Republic:

“ ‘We are preparing to intervene in the Central African Republic, probably just after France hosts the African security summit scheduled for December 6 and 7, but before if necessary,’ a French official said.

Since September, in addition to the 420 soldiers already on the ground to protect Bangui’s airport, the French army has discretely pre-positioned troops in various countries in the region in preparation for a CAR intervention.

The legal basis for the planned operation has not yet been established.” [Translated from the French.]

Detention quotas
National Public Radio reports that US law requires that at least 34,000 immigrants be held in detention centres at all times:

“The detention bed mandate, which began in 2009, is just part of the massive increase in enforcement-only immigration policies over the last two decades. The last time Congress passed a broad immigration law dealing with something other than enforcement — such as overhauling visa or guest worker policies — was 1986.

‘They’re trying to pick people up for either very minor traffic violations or other minor convictions that wouldn’t be considered serious, but that they can quantify as a criminal alien,’ says Nina Rabin, an immigration law professor at the University of Arizona.”

Privatizing nature
The Scotsman reports on the debate over “natural capital accounting” that is playing out on the sidelines of a UN-backed conference in Edinburgh:

“As the two-day inaugural World Forum on Natural Capital gets under way in Edinburgh, economic justice groups have condemned its aim to put a price tag on resources such as water, air, geology and all life on earth so companies can include these ‘stocks’ in their balance sheets.
Organisers of the United Nations-backed conference claim the planet is more likely to be protected if its assets are given a financial value, but activists fighting global poverty believe this will lead to speculators buying and selling environmental assets for profit.
It amounts to ‘privatising nature’, according to representatives of European protest groups who are today hosting a counter event called the Forum on Natural Commons.”

Beyond aid
The Center for Global Development has released its annual Commitment to Development Index, which “goes beyond measures of foreign aid” to assess trade, migration, environment, etc. policies in 27 of the world’s richest countries:

“Finland does best on finance because of very good financial transparency and support to investment in developing countries. Switzerland comes last, mainly because it lacks financial transparency and does not have a national agency to offer political risk insurance. Norway takes first place on migration, accepting the most migrants for its size and bearing a large share of refugee burden, unlike the last-ranked Slovakia, which is relatively closed to migrants from developing countries.

Canada is not party to the Kyoto Protocol and has high fossil-fuel production, high greenhouse gas emissions, and low gas taxes, putting it at the bottom.

Last-ranked Sweden is proportionally the largest arms exporter to developing countries and does not help protect sea lanes.

In short, all countries could do much more to spread prosperity.”

Inconvenient laws
The Canadian Press reports that a Canadian company is demanding “expeditious” changes to Romanian mining laws so it can go ahead with what would be Europe’s largest open-pit gold mine:

“The chief executive officer of Gabriel Resources Ltd. says it needs quick progress on a new mining law in Romania or the company will be forced to do ‘something radically different’ with its controversial gold project.
A draft bill that specifically would have allowed the Rosia Montana project, one of Europe’s biggest gold mining projects, to go ahead was rejected by a Romanian parliamentary commission last week.

Gabriel Resources CEO Jonathan Henry said Tuesday that the company’s shareholders are running out of patience.

He did not say what ‘radically different’ would mean, but said the company was looking at all of its options.”

Right to privacy
Foreign Policy reports that the US is leading the charge against German and Brazilian efforts to have online privacy recognized as an international human right:

“The United States and its allies, according to diplomats, outside observers, and documents, contend that the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights does not apply to foreign espionage.
In recent days, the United States circulated to its allies a confidential paper highlighting American objectives in the negotiations, ‘Right to Privacy in the Digital Age — U.S. Redlines.’ It calls for changing the Brazilian and German text so ‘that references to privacy rights are referring explicitly to States’ obligations under ICCPR and remove suggestion that such obligations apply extraterritorially.’ In other words: America wants to make sure it preserves the right to spy overseas.

There is no extraterritorial obligation on states ‘to comply with human rights,’ explained one diplomat who supports the U.S. position. ‘The obligation is on states to uphold the human rights of citizens within their territory and areas of their jurisdictions.’ ”

Generic fears
Intellectual Property Watch reports on rich-country concerns that India’s approach to intellectual property rights could spread to other places:

“Over the past 12 to 18 months, there have been several developments in India related to patents that have stirred foreign industry and government criticism, but have been applauded by public health advocates. These include high-profile court decisions such as Novartis, in which the Supreme Court ruled that cancer drug Glivec cannot be patented in India because it does not represent a true innovation. The outcome was seen as having a potential impact beyond India’s borders.
India also issued a compulsory licence on a [cancer] medicine that caused significant concern among the patent-holding industry.”

Sweet 16
The Associated Press reports that Illinois has become the 16th US state to legalize same-sex marriage:

“ ‘We understand in our state that part of our unfinished business is to help other states in the United States of America achieve marriage equality,’ [Illinois Governor Pat Quinn] said before he signed the bill on a desk once used by President Abraham Lincoln. He said part of that mission was to ensure that ‘love is not relegated to a second class status to any citizen in our country.’ ”

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Latest Developments, October 25

In the latest news and analysis…

On revolution
New Statesman guest-editor Russell Brand writes that “consciousness itself must change” if humans and the planet they inhabit are to survive:

“Capitalism is not real; it is an idea. America is not real; it is an idea that someone had ages ago. Britain, Christianity, Islam, karate, Wednesdays are all just ideas that we choose to believe in and very nice ideas they are, too, when they serve a purpose. These concepts, though, cannot be served to the detriment of actual reality.
The reality is we have a spherical ecosystem, suspended in, as far as we know, infinite space upon which there are billions of carbon-based life forms, of which we presume ourselves to be the most important, and a limited amount of resources.
The only systems we can afford to employ are those that rationally serve the planet first, then all humanity. Not out of some woolly, bullshit tree-hugging piffle but because we live on it, currently without alternatives.”

Operation Hydra
Al Jazeera reports that France has launched another “major” military operation in Northern Mali, this time with contributions from the host country and the UN:

“ ‘We have engaged, with the Malian army and (UN mission) MINUSMA, in a large-scale operation’ in the so-called Niger Loop, an area hugging a curve of the Niger River between Timbuktu and Gao, French general staff spokesman Colonel Gilles Jaron said.
‘It is the first time we have seen forces of significant size working together,’ Jaron said.
About 1,500 troops are involved, including some 600 French, 600 Malians and 300 UN soldiers. The goal of the mission — dubbed ‘Hydra’ — was ‘to put pressure on any terrorist movements to avoid their resurgence,’ he said.”

Accessory to international crime
Global Witness is calling on the UK government to require the country’s oil and mining companies to reveal who really owns them:

“The submission provides detail on alleged corporate malpractice involving UK-listed and UK-registered firms: the Eurasian Natural Resources Corporation and Glencore; Royal Dutch Shell and the Italian oil company Eni.
All the cases “relied on secrecy over company ownership and lax regulation, in both the UK and in its Crown Dependencies and Overseas Territories,” Global Witness writes in its submission. ‘This has made the UK an accessory to international crime and has undermined the effectiveness of UK aid to resource-rich developing countries.’ ”

G20 gap
The World Economic Forum has released its 2013 Global Gender Gap report which concludes no G20 country ranks in the world’s top 10 for gender equality:

“Elsewhere, in 14th place Germany is the highest-placed individual G20 economy, although it falls one place from 2012. Next is South Africa (17th, down one), the United Kingdom (level on 18th) and Canada (up one to 20th). The United States comes 23rd, also down one place since 2012. After South Africa, the next highest BRICS nation is Russia (61st), followed by Brazil (62nd), China (69th) and India (101st).”

Dark corners
The New York Times editorial board calls for “greater transparency and accountability” from the US government regarding its use of armed drones:

“Both President George W. Bush and Mr. Obama have used the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, and the state of war that has existed since as cause to target terrorist suspects. But under international law, parties to armed conflict must minimize harm to civilians in a war zone and observe rules about what is or isn’t a lawful military target.
Hence Mr. Obama’s promised guidelines. But those guidelines have never been made public, so there is no way to judge whether or how well they are being carried out. Similarly, because the government won’t talk about the attacks, there is no way of judging whether the military is honoring Mr. Obama’s pledge that ‘there must be near-certainty that no civilians will be killed or injured’ before authorizing a strike.”

Intellectual shift
The Guardian reports on a group of economics students at the University of Manchester who are “plotting a quiet revolution against orthodox free-market teaching”:

“A growing number of top economists, such as Ha-Joon Chang, who teaches economics at Cambridge University, are backing the students.
Next month the society plans to publish a manifesto proposing sweeping reforms to the University of Manchester’s curriculum, with the hope that other institutions will follow suit.

Some leading economists have criticised university economics teaching, among them Paul Krugman, a Nobel prize winner and professor at Princeton university who has attacked the complacency of economics education in the US.
In an article for the New York Times in 2009, Krugman wrote: ‘As I see it, the economics profession went astray because economists, as a group, mistook beauty, clad in impressive-looking mathematics, for truth.’ ”

Private surveillance industry
Rolling Stone’s John Knefel reports on the private companies that are helping governments and corporations “monitor dissent”:

“While the specifics of which police departments utilize what surveillance technologies is often unclear, there is evidence to suggest that use of mass surveillance against individuals not under direct investigation is common. ‘The default is mass surveillance, the same as NSA’s “collect it all” mindset,’ says [Privacy International’s Eric] King. ‘There’s not a single company that if you installed their product, [it] would comply with what anyone without a security clearance would think is appropriate, lawful use.’ ”

Marriage equality
The Washington Post’s Sean Sullivan discusses a map of the US that has changed dramatically over the last decade:

“[Last week’s court ruling in New Jersey] means the number of states where gay marriage is legal now stands at 14 plus the District of Columbia.

About 10 years ago, the map would have looked very different. Massachusetts became the first state to legalize gay marriage, in November 2003.”

Latest Developments, May 10

In the latest news and analysis…

Symbolic shift
The New York Times reports that US President Barack Obama has said he thinks same-sex marriage should be legal.
“While Mr. Obama’s announcement was significant from a symbolic standpoint, more important as a practical matter were Mr. Obama’s decision not to enforce the marriage act and his successful push in 2010 to repeal the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ law that prohibited openly gay men and lesbians from serving in the military. For that reason, gay rights groups had been largely enthusiastic about his re-election campaign while being pragmatically resigned to his not publicly supporting same-sex marriage before the election.
Mr. Obama’s announcement has little substantive impact — as an aide said, ‘It’s not like we’re trying to pass legislation.’ ”

Development triumvirate
The Guardian reports that the UN has appointed British Prime Minister David Cameron, Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to lead efforts on coming up with post-2015 successors to the Millennium Development Goals.
“The three leaders will represent the world’s rich, middle- and low-income countries.

The Overseas Development Institute’s Claire] Melamed said the panel can be expected to restate the existing agenda, considering the failure to reach many of the targets, and discuss growth and employment, areas on which it will be relatively easy to reach agreement.
‘It will be trickier on more social and political issues such as governance and accountability,” she said. “When you reach down into talking about the how rather than how much, I imagine that will be more difficult.’ ”

New bedfellows
The Financial Times reports on the apparent shift “from confrontation to collaboration” in the relationship between NGOs and big business.
“Ironically, the new-found harmony between NGOs and business reflects a less happy reality: that the scale of problems we face – such as food security, water preservation and child labour – are simply too large for any one group or international forum to tackle. ‘The global middle class will grow from 2bn to 5bn in 20 years and lead to huge change in agriculture,’ explains Andy Wales, senior vice-president, sustainable development at SABMiller. ‘There is no way any sector on its own can do that.’
However, Mr Wales and his peers are equally clear that resolving these problems is dictated by self-interest rather than pure altruism.

NGOs are useful bodies to have on board when it comes to a second catalyst: securing raw material supplies – as illustrated by the farmers working with NGOs and SABMiller.”

Illegal bill
Embassy Magazine reports that a UN official has said that certain aspects of the Canadian government’s proposed new refugee policy would be at odds with international law.
“Chief among the parts of the bill worrying to [UNHCR’s Furio] De Angelis was one that lets the government detain an asylum seeker from an ‘irregular arrival,’ such as the boatload of 492 Tamils that arrived on British Columbia’s shores two years ago, for up to a year without review.
That is ‘at variance,’ he said in an interview after his testimony, with part of the UN convention that states that countries, such as Canada, that play by its rules shouldn’t penalize refugees who might enter illegally or restrict their movements unless necessary.
‘UNHCR strongly recommends that the government refrain from introducing a mandatory detention regime for irregular arrivals in relation to refugees and asylum seekers, and that alternatives to detention be explored,” said Mr. De Angelis during his testimony.’ ”

Playing with food
The “casino” that is food speculation must be shut down, acording to Frederick Kaufman, a contributing editor at Harper’s Magazine.
“Commodity markets stand at the base of the $600tn global derivatives business, a generally unregulated miasma of over-the-counter swaps, index fund madness, and Wall Street roulette that ignited the mortgage meltdown, toppled AIG and Lehman Brothers, spurred the global currency crisis, and produced the present sorry state of the global economy, whereby a few chosen hedge fund managers haul in billions of dollars while 1 billion human beings find themselves unable to scrape together enough to eat.

All of which leads to the inevitable conclusion that the only way to stop speculation in food commodities is neither high-level debate nor regulation – how quaint and New Dealish – but criminalisation. Indeed, US senator Maria Cantwell and US congressman Ed Markey are now crafting a bill to make gambling on the world’s food supply illegal.”

Inequality numbers
Oxfam’s Duncan Green reviews (and quotes at length) a paper on inequality by the University of Cambridge’s Gabriel Palma, which contains findings Green considers “extremely important.”
“What [the graph] shows is that the real driver of inequality variations within countries is the richest 10% (and probably only the richest fraction of them). Even the next richest 10% basically gets the same chunk of national income across all countries. Palma puts this down to ‘one of the key characteristics of neo-liberal economic reforms: its ‘winner-takes-all’ proclivity.’ ”

Banned ingredients
Simon Fraser University’s Paul Meyer argues for fundamental changes to the international negotiation process at the heart of nuclear disarmament efforts.
“Not since a couple of weeks in the summer of 1998 has the Conference on Disarmament been able to undertake official work on a fissile material ban. Fourteen years of idleness on this, as all the while certain states continue to add to their stockpiles of fissile material and the nuclear weapons fashioned from them.
It doesn’t take a deep student of diplomatic affairs to discern the link between the consensus-based conference’s inability to agree on a programme of work including a fissile material ban, and the fact that amongst its member states it counts those still actively producing this essential nuclear weapon material.
To be repeating this formula in the face of almost fifteen years of inaction would seem to represent the triumph of hope over experience—or to put it more bluntly, of convenience over commitment.”

Tax cuts
Harvard’s Steven Strauss looks into the “article of faith among conservatives” that lower taxes create wealth for everyone.
“Actually the post World War II American economy provides a nice empirical test of this hypothesis — the maximum marginal income tax rate gradually declined from about 90% to about 35%. Shouldn’t this decline have lead to an explosion of economic growth as our wealth creators were unleashed? Sorry, Sarah Palin… it didn’t.
During the ultra high tax 1950s (top marginal income tax rate of 90%), the United States had some of its best real economic growth (over 4%/year). And, for the decade where we had our lowest marginal income tax rates — we had our worst real economic growth (about 1.5%/year).”