Latest Developments, January 29

In the latest news and analysis…

Sahel drones
The Wall Street Journal reports that the US and Niger have signed a military agreement paving the way for what could be the first of several new American drone bases in the region:

“The U.S. and France are moving to create an intelligence hub in Niger that could include a base, near Mali’s border, for American drones that could monitor al Qaeda-linked militants in Mali’s vast desert north, U.S. officials said.

The signing of the so-called status-of-forces agreement with Niger was a necessary precursor for American military operations there, officials said.

Other countries in the region are also seen by U.S. officials as possible hosts for drone bases.

Current and former officials said the Central Intelligence Agency or the U.S. military may be able to reach a deal in which Algeria provides a drone base in exchange for equipment and training.”

Invisible war
Al Jazeera reports that both journalists and humanitarian workers trying to gain access to the conflict zones in Mali are distraught that they have neither freedom of movement nor access to even the most basic information:

“French officials have organised no press conferences in Bamako. Their press contingent in Bamako consists of a one-man band, whose main function is to refer media queries to Paris.
The Malian army has likewise restricted media access, barring journalists and human rights organisations from areas safely in its hands such as Konna and Sevare for some days. The lack of freedom of movement has also drawn criticism from aid groups, who say people are being blocked from fleeing the conflict.
On top of the roadblocks, communications have been cut wherever operations are underway, making it impossible to independently verify what is taking place.

There are no official death tolls either for civilians or soldiers. No-one interviewed by Al Jazeera could say where prisoners of war were being held or how they were being treated.”

Closer closure
The New York Times reports that the US State Department is reassigning and not replacing the official tasked with closing the prison at Guantanamo Bay:

“The announcement that no senior official in President Obama’s second term will succeed [Daniel] Fried in working primarily on diplomatic issues pertaining to repatriating or resettling detainees appeared to signal that the administration does not currently see the closing of the prison as a realistic priority, despite repeated statements that it still intends to do so.

Mr. Fried’s special envoy post was created in 2009, shortly after Mr. Obama took office and promised to close the prison in his first year. A career diplomat, Mr. Fried traveled the world negotiating the repatriation of some 31 low-level detainees and persuading third-party countries to resettle about 40 who were cleared for release but could not be sent home because of fears of abuse.
But the outward flow of detainees slowed almost to a halt as Congress imposed restrictions on further transfers, leaving Mr. Fried with less to do.”

134 countries
The Center for American Progress’s John Norris argues that the US may be providing “military aid” to too many countries:

“In 2012 the United States delivered bilateral security assistance to 134 countries — meaning that every country on Earth had about a 75 percent chance of receiving U.S. military aid. Once you weed out places like North Korea and Vatican City, you are pretty much assured of receiving military aid no matter how large or small your country, no matter how democratic or despotic your regime, no matter how lofty or minimal your GDP.

Equally troubling, military and economic assistance are treated as quite different creatures. For economic assistance, the United States has increasingly insisted that aid recipients at least demonstrate some marginal commitment to democracy and open markets. Not so on the military side, where concerns about corruption, the rule of law, and human rights are treated as something we are too polite to ask about.”

Right to move
The Raw Story reports that former New Jersey judge turned Fox News analyst Andrew Napolitano believes the US government should not have the right to restrict immigration:

“ ‘This is the natural law, a natural right,’ he added. ‘Rights come from your humanity. It doesn’t matter where your mother was when you were born.’ ”

Worked to death
The Mail and Guardian reports on the state of health of South Africa’s hundreds of thousands of current and former mine workers:

“The department of labour puts the number of former miners in Southern Africa who live with pneumoconiosis, which includes lung diseases such as asbestosis and silicosis, at nearly 500 000.

Health department figures show that the mining sector is responsible for 9 out of every ten cases of reported occupational lung diseases, and the gold mining industry has the fastest-growing TB epidemic in the world.”

Labour pains
The Financial Times reports that American tech giant Apple has found a range of workers’ rights violations, including child labour, in its supply chain:

“The California-based company, which has stepped up its auditing efforts in the past year under chief executive Tim Cook, said it had uncovered 106 ‘active cases’ of children being employed by its suppliers over the course of 2012, and 70 people who had been underage and either left or passed the age of 16 by the time of its audit.
None of those individuals is still employed by the suppliers, after Apple worked with its partners to help them spot fake identification documents or falsified records.

Overall it found that just under a quarter of its suppliers failed to comply with its labour and human rights standards, with other breaches including 11 facilities using bonded labour.”

Licence to drill
The School for International Training’s Christian Parenti argues that pressuring institutions to “divest their portfolios of fossil fuel investments” is not the best way to alter the oil industry’s behaviour:

“Some divesters say they can revoke corporations’ ‘social license to operate,’ a problematic term that emanates from the ‘corporate social responsibility’ scene and basically means ‘corporate reputation.’
Big Carbon has already lost its ‘social license’ and with no apparent effect on its real operations. Every year Gallup asks Americans how they feel about 25 leading industries. Every year oil shows up dead last as the most disliked industry in America. Last year it had a 61 percent disapproval rating.
What we need to revoke is Big Carbon’s actual, legal license to operate. Government grants that right. And the moral crisis generated by protest must crystallize as state action.”

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Latest Developments, March 21

In the latest news and analysis…

White Savior Industrial Complex
Novelist Teju Cole argues that Americans should focus on reducing the negative impacts of their own government’s actions abroad before trying to “help” by intervening in Africa.
“Let us begin our activism right here: with the money-driven villainy at the heart of American foreign policy. To do this would be to give up the illusion that the sentimental need to ‘make a difference’ trumps all other considerations. What innocent heroes don’t always understand is that they play a useful role for people who have much more cynical motives. The White Savior Industrial Complex is a valve for releasing the unbearable pressures that build in a system built on pillage. We can participate in the economic destruction of Haiti over long years, but when the earthquake strikes it feels good to send $10 each to the rescue fund. I have no opposition, in principle, to such donations (I frequently make them myself), but we must do such things only with awareness of what else is involved. If we are going to interfere in the lives of others, a little due diligence is a minimum requirement.”

Silicosis suit
Reuters reports that “the biggest class action suit Africa has ever seen” is looming for South Africa’s gold mining companies as thousands of former miners with damaged lungs join a fast-growing list of plaintiffs.
“A successful suit could collectively cost mining companies such as AngloGold Ashanti, Gold Fields, Harmony and global giant AngloAmerican billions of dollars, according to legal and industry experts. The largest settlement to date by the mining industry in South Africa was $100 million in 2003 in a case brought by [Richard] Spoor against an asbestos company.

It’s hard to estimate the potential size of a silicosis class action. South Africa is the source of 40 percent of all the gold ever mined. At its height in the 1980s the industry employed 500,000 men – two-thirds of them from Lesotho, Mozambique and the Eastern Cape – although production has fallen behind China and Australia and employment since halved. But silicosis can take years to show up and check-ups are at best haphazard. A 2005 study by the National Institute of Occupational Health in Johannesburg, based on autopsies of miners, suggested 52 in every 100 had the disease.”

World Bank options
Reuters also reports Nigerian Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and former Colombian Finance Minister Jose Antonio Ocampo are set to become candidates for the World Bank presidency but the US “is still likely to ensure that another American will succeed” outgoing president Robert Zoellick.
“All of the World Bank’s 187 members nations have committed to a merit-based process to select Zoellick’s successor.
Emerging and developing economies have long talked up their desire to break U.S. and European dominance of the Bretton Woods Institutions, but have until now have failed to build a coalition large enough to change the status quo.”

Limiting patents
Intellectual Property Watch reports that the US Supreme Court has ruled against the right to patent “an invention that merely applies known technology to natural phenomena.”
“The ruling is likely to a major impact on the medical and biotech industry. Many methods of medical diagnoses and medical treatment are now unpatentable. And the ruling may kill patents on human genes – including Myriad Genetics Inc.’s controversial patent on two breast cancer genes. The Federal Circuit (America’s so-called “patent court”) recently upheld Myriad’s patent, but that ruling is now in trouble, according to many experts.”

Suspect behaviour
The Guardian reports the story of a former FBI informant who says the agency’s efforts to prevent terrorist plots too often consisted of entrapment.
“In the case of the Newburgh Four – where four men were convicted for a fake terror attack on Jewish targets in the Bronx – a confidential informant offered $250,000, a free holiday and a car to one suspect for help with the attack.

Such actions have led Muslim civil rights groups to wonder if their communities are being unfairly targeted in a spying game that is rigged against them. Monteilh says that is exactly what happens. ‘The way the FBI conducts their operations, It is all about entrapment … I know the game, I know the dynamics of it. It’s such a joke, a real joke. There is no real hunt. It’s fixed,’ he said.”

Better but…
Human Rights Watch reports that labour conditions for migrant workers are improving at an Abu Dhabi mega-construction project that includes new branches of New York University, the Louvre and the Guggenheim, but problems remain.
“In addition, Human Rights Watch found that contractors are regularly confiscating worker passports and substituting worker contracts with less favorable ones when the workers arrive in the UAE. While the developers and institutions on Saadiyat have pledged to end these practices, and the scale of the problems Human Rights Watch documented is not as bad as in 2009, the continuation of poor practices in a number of cases reflects ongoing gaps in protection. The parties that benefit from these ventures need to make an unequivocal pledge to reimburse workers found to have paid recruitment fees in contravention of existing policies. The educational and cultural institutions and local developers also need to investigate and effectively enforce penalty provisions against contractors who disregard policies meant to protect workers from abuse.”

Lowering rents
The Centre for Economic and Policy Research’s Dean Baker takes issue with the argument that the prospect of enormous profits is necessary to drive innovation.
“The question is not whether we are better off with Steve Jobs getting very rich and all the products that Apple developed, or having Steve Jobs be poor and not having these products; the question is whether it was necessary for Jobs to get quite so rich in order to get these products.

Suppose we paid for the research and development of prescription drugs upfront rather than by giving drug companies patent monopolies. As a result of these monopolies, drugs that would sell for $5 per prescription in a free market sell for hundreds or even thousands of dollars. The savings from this switch could potentially save us more than $200bn a year and provide us with better health care.”