Latest Developments, August 9

In the latest news and analysis…

Three strikes
The Bureau of Investigative Journalism reports on three more US drone strikes in Yemen, bringing the total over the last 12 days to eight attacks:

“A Yemeni official told the Associated Press the bodies were seen lying charred alongside their vehicle. The anonymous source said five of the dead were Yemeni while the sixth was of another Arab nationality. However local security officials told CNN only four of the dead had links to [al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula] – two were civilians. This was the second time civilian casualties were reported in this series of [eight] strikes.

Unnamed US officials told NBC News drones launched this strike and the six before it in response to intercepted communications suggesting a terrorist attack was coming. The officials said ‘there is no evidence any of those killed could be considered among al Qaeda leadership.”

Tons of radioactivity
Reuters reports that Japan’s Fukushima nuclear plant is leaking 300 tons of “highly radioactive water” daily into the Pacific Ocean:

“The revelation amounted to an acknowledgement that plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co (Tepco) has yet to come to grips with the scale of the catastrophe, 2 1/2 years after the plant was hit by a huge earthquake and tsunami. Tepco only recently admitted water had leaked at all.

Local fishermen and independent researchers had already suspected a leak of radioactive water, but Tepco denied the claims.”

Still waiting
The BBC reports that the recent security scare said to be emanating from Yemen could impact the long awaited release of the many Yemeni detainees at Guantanamo Bay:

“In another development, a Yemeni diplomatic source told BBC Arabic that the US had suspended arrangements to return about 100 Yemeni detainees from the Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba.
However a White House official said there had been no policy change and that President Barack Obama’s May decision to lift a moratorium on transferring Guantanamo detainees to Yemen remained in effect.
‘He lifted the moratorium on transfers in favour of a case-by-case evaluation. That evaluation necessarily will take into account security conditions. The security situation is always taken into account,’ the official told the BBC.”

Soy victims
Time Magazine reports that one of US agribusiness giant Monsanto’s products may be poisoning people in Paraguay:

“Around 9,000 families a year in a nation of fewer than 7 million people migrate from the countryside to cities because of soy monoculture, according to BaseIS, an Asunción-based social research center. ‘Peasants are displaced because they are being poisoned,’ says Óscar Rivas, a former environment minister.
Dionisio Gómez moved to Asunción in 1998 because the water in Campo Agua’e, his village in the state of Canindeyú, was contaminated. ‘They would fumigate the soy and the chemicals infiltrated our land,’ says Gómez, who now lives in a slum. Two of Gómez’s children were stillborn with defects. Doctors never gave a cause, but academic studies — including a 2008 paper on Paraguay published by the American Academy of Pediatrics — say herbicides, specifically glyphosate, cause birth malformations.
Monsanto, the multinational that first brought glyphosate to market, says on its Paraguayan website that none of the studies are ‘serious.’ ”

Multinational corruption
The BBC reports that a South African corruption inquiry into a massive 1999 arms deal has finally begun:

“The huge deal – post-apartheid South Africa’s largest such transaction – was intended to modernise its national defences through the purchase of fighter jets, submarines, corvettes, helicopters and tanks.
It involved companies from Germany, Italy, Sweden, Britain, France and South Africa.
The initial cost was about $3bn (£2bn) but this has since ballooned to around $7bn.
Corruption allegations swirled around the deal from the start.”

Sweatshop locator
The New York Times reports on a Hong Kong-based company that is the top “matchmaker” between factories in poor countries and retailers in rich countries:

“But in pioneering and perfecting the global hunt for ways to produce clothing more quickly and cheaply, Li & Fung, which had $20 billion in revenue last year, has been described by critics as the garment industry’s ‘sweatshop locator.’
‘If globalization is a race to the bottom, where lowest wages win,’ said Cathy Feingold, director of international affairs for the A.F.L.-C.I.O., ‘Li & Fung is the sherpa showing companies the fastest route down that slope.’ ”

Staying put
Reuters reports that, “despite grumbles,” multinational oil companies do not appear to be leaving the Niger Delta anytime soon:

“ ‘Nigeria’s “difficult” operating environment, security concerns and the non-passage of the [Petroleum Industry Bill] all provide useful cover for what may essentially be a portfolio optimisation process,’ said Razia Khan, Head of Africa Research at Standard Chartered.

If anything, they will use their grievances as leverage in negotiations with government over licenses and taxes.”

Sacrosanct secrecy
Reuters also reports that a Swiss court has upheld the continued detention of a witness in a French tax evasion investigation for violating the country’s famous banking secrecy:

“Pierre Condamin-Gerbier, a former employee at Geneva-based private bank Reyl & Cie, has said he has a list of French politicians with undeclared funds in secret Swiss bank accounts and in July appeared before a French parliamentary commission investigating tax fraud.
He was arrested shortly after his return from France when an investigation was opened against him into allegations of dealing in commercial information.

Herve Falciani, a former employee of HSBC’s private banking unit in Switzerland who gave evidence at the same French parliamentary commission investigation is wanted in Switzerland on charges of stealing data on tens of thousands of bank accounts that a number of European countries have used to pursue suspected tax evaders.”

Inequality’s bright side
Oxfam’s Ben Phillips explains why, despite the fact that the world’s “300 richest people have the same wealth as the 3 billion poorest,” he is optimistic about global inequality:

“Because we are talking about it. Because people are saying it’s a problem. Because in a counterpoint to how the neoliberals of the 70s and 80s changed the conversation from community to individualism to break the post-war consensus that had limited inequality, so now the conversation is shifting back to community. People are challenging the idea that “economic shock treatment” cures when it literally kills. They are speaking out against the profit maximisation mantra that corporations should behave in ways which we would call psychopathic in normal human interaction.
When problems are invisibilised they cannot be fixed.”

Latest Developments, February 7

In the latest news and analysis…

French exit strategy
Reuters reports that France is calling for UN peacekeepers to take over from the “African-led military mission” in Mali by April:

“According to diplomats at the United Nations, the Security Council is looking at adopting a resolution at the end of February or early March to replace the current African mission under the United Nations.
It would then take 45-60 days to ‘re-hat’ them as U.N. forces, which would involve a reduction of their number, the diplomats said.

French sources said the exact role of French troops in Mali under a U.N. mandate would have to be defined.”

Alternative Mining Indaba
The Daily Maverick’s Rebecca Davis writes that South Africa’s annual mining mega-convention, the Mining Indaba, is being accused of “deliberately excluding any potentially oppositional voices, like those of civil society or – crazy idea – miners”:

“A venture now in its fourth year, the [Alternative Mining Indaba] aims to give voice to mining’s critics, and members of mining-affected communities. Made up of a collective of NGOs and faith-based organisations, the impetus for the initiative came from Tanzania, where mining communities complained of toxic effects on health. ‘For 18 years the Mining Indaba has been meeting and talking about dividing up mineral resources, but there is no representation of people that live in these areas and are most seriously inconvenienced,’ Mandla Hadebe, programme manager for the Economic Justice Network, told the Daily Maverick.
The group of protestors carried signs bearing the words ‘Remember the slain of Marikana’, ‘No To Tax Dodgers’, and ‘If It’s Not Okay In Canada, It’s Not Okay In Africa!’ ”

Sharing the wealth
Bloomberg reports that Zambia’s state-controlled investor is calling on foreign mining companies such as Vedanta and Glencore to contribute higher dividends:

“Zambia, Africa’s biggest copper producer, privatized its mining industry between 1996 and 2001, maintaining minority stakes ranging from 10 percent to 21 percent in the companies, which it holds through ZCCM. The degree to which the country benefits from its copper resources has become a point of political contention, with the government accusing mining companies of avoiding as much as $2 billion a year in tax.
ZCCM wants the companies in which it has shareholdings to alter their dividend policies to improve transparency and increase payouts, [ZCCM CEO Mukela] Muyunda said in the Jan. 31 interview. He said dividends are the last priority for some companies, and this ‘doesn’t work for us.’ ”

Missed opportunity
Global Witness argues the European Commission’s proposed new legislation on financial crime does not go far enough in two key areas:

“Criminals currently find it easy to abuse European companies to hide their identity and therefore their assets. ‘Who owns and controls European companies should not be secret,’ said Robert Palmer, campaigner at Global Witness. ‘The names of the ultimate, beneficial, owners should be made public.’ A European Commission study found that public registries of the beneficial owners of companies would be more cost effective than other options.
Instead, under the Commission’s proposal, companies will only be required to know themselves who their ultimate owners are. This will be of limited help.

The proposal does not do enough to tackle professionals that facilitate tax evasion. ‘The Commission proposal allows bankers, lawyers and accountants who facilitate tax evasion to get away with it. They should face money laundering charges for this insidious activity which costs developing countries billions every year’ said Alex Marriage, Policy and Outreach Analyst at [the European Network on Debt and Development].”

Open secret
Gawker’s Adrian Chen tears into some of America’s most respected news organizations for decisiding not to report on a drone base in Saudi Arabia for more than a year after learning about it:

“In the case of the Saudi drone base, the Times and the Post weren’t protecting a state secret: They were helping the CIA bury an inconvenient story.
Reading the Times and Post stories on the Saudia Arabia drone base used by the CIA to assassinate American cleric Anwar al-awlaki in Yemen, one is left with the impression that its existence had become known for the first time today. In fact, the Times of London reported 18 months ago that the CIA was ‘launching daily missions with unmanned Predator aircraft from bases in Saudi Arabia, Oman, Djibouti and the United Arab Emirates.’ ”

Not budging
Inter Press Service reports that the World Bank is standing by its forestry policies despite both internal and external criticism:

“ ‘The allocation of large logging concessions, millions of hectares, to mostly foreign companies is still the prevailing model in many countries in the Congo Basin to manage forests,’ Susanne Breitkopf, a Washington-based senior political adviser on forest and climate with Greenpeace International, told IPS, referring to the vast tropical rainforests that cover six countries in Central Africa.
‘That clashes with local use by communities, and economically the local communities are not benefitting from this. As it turns out, these are often low-paid, low-quality jobs without contracts. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, we found that over time local communities are often poorer than when the companies arrive.’ ”

History matters
Based on his experiences at last month’s World Economic Forum, Columbia University’s Joseph Stiglitz writes that the global financial crisis has reduced the West’s power but has not necessarily changed how the rest of the world feels towards it:

“In response to one development expert’s heartfelt despair that unfair trade treaties and unfulfilled promises of aid have cost the developed countries their moral authority, [a mining company executive from a developing country] retorted: ‘The West never had any moral authority.’ Colonialism, slavery, the splintering of Africa into small countries, and a long history of resource exploitation may be matters of the distant past to the perpetrators, but not so to those who suffered as a result.”

Force majeure
Mining.com reports that uranium supplies are under threat due to a huge storm in Kazakhstan and unrest in the Sahel:

“State-owned Kazatomprom has since reported that operation of the affected uranium mines has been halted, and that repair of the power transmission lines could take anywhere between one to five months. Analysts estimate that the power outage could lead to a shortfall in uranium supply of up to 21 million pounds.

Areva’s two uranium operations in Niger have an estimated total output of 10.9 million pounds of uranium this year, much of which could be disrupted if conflict spreads from Mali to Niger, where France has already taken the precaution of dispatching special forces soldiers and helicopters.”