Latest Developments, April 23

In the latest news and analysis…

Operation Serval extended
Radio France Internationale reports that French politicians have voted overwhelmingly in favour of extending the military intervention in Mali beyond the initial four-month timeframe:

“All the political parties agreed on the need to continue the French intervention in Mali: 342 votes for, 0 votes against. Later in the evening, senators confirmed this vote by 326 votes for and 0 votes against.

Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault also made an important announcement: starting in July, the UN could contribute peacekeepers to join the French and African forces.” [Translated from the French.]

Apology questioned
The Globe and Mail reports that the Canadian government is under fire for failing to hand over documents to a commission investigating years of abuse of indigenous students at church-run residential schools:

“The Department of Aboriginal Affairs has given about a million records to the commission and has promised hundreds of thousands more. But 23 other departments have yet to follow suit.

‘We respect the fact that it’s really a huge task,’ said [Truth and Reconciliation Commission chair Justice Murray Sinclair].
‘But the reality is that we haven’t seen any additional documents,’ he said, ‘which really tells us that the government wasn’t ready, that it had done no preparation whatsoever.’

Alvin Fiddler, the deputy chief of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation in Northern Ontario, said Monday that failure to produce the records would cast doubt on the historic apology for the residential school system that Prime Minister Stephen Harper made in 2008 on behalf of Canadians. ‘It goes back to the question of how sincere was he and how sincere was the apology,’ Mr. Fiddler said.”

Patent loophole
Reuters reports that South Africa plans to rework its intellectual property laws in order to make cancer and HIV/AIDS medication more affordable:

“Central to the reforms is closing a loophole known as ‘ever-greening’, whereby drug companies slightly modify an existing drug whose patent is about to expire and then claim it is a new drug, thereby extending its patent protection and their profits.

As an example, [Julia Hill of Médecins Sans Frontières] said India had avoided patenting Novartis cancer medication imatinib, as opposed to South Africa, which granted an initial patent in 1993 that only expires this month.
In addition, Hill said South Africa had granted secondary patents on imatinib to extend Novartis’ monopoly until 2022, meaning it costs $34,000 a year to treat a patient – 259 times more than the cheapest Indian generic alternative”

Swing and a miss
The Associated Press reports that a US judge has blocked an attempt by the government to seize a “$38.5 million Gulfstream jet” from the son of Equatorial Guinea’s president:

“The Justice Department had alleged that Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue bought the jet with money derived from extortion, misappropriation, theft and embezzlement. But U.S. District Judge Rudolph Contreras ruled Friday that the government did not link the jet to any specific illicit acts and dismissed the civil forfeiture complaint.”

The worst thing
The Royal African Society’s Richard Dowden argues it would be better for G8 countries to “stop doing bad things to poor countries” than to pledge more aid:

“The worst thing we – the British – do is to maintain the world’s most iniquitous secret tax havens.

On average, between 2002 and 2006 $857 billion flowed into developing countries each year. Of that $84bn was aid, $187bn was migrant remittances, $226bn foreign direct investment and $380bn was loans. Meanwhile, on average every year over the same period, $1205bn flowed out: $130bn profits for investors, $456bn in debt repayments and a whopping $619bn in ‘illicit flows’. Some of that is corruption money – about 3%. About 30% goes through criminal networks but some 60% of the ‘outflow’ is tax avoidance schemes. Unaccountable and un-transparent tax havens – many of them British – are where these schemes operate.”

Institutionalizing torture
Foreign Policy’s James Traub writes that a recent report on US torture after 9/11 shows how a democratic country can engage in “things that are repugnant to its principles”:

“Military dictators can simply order dissidents to be pushed out of planes into the sea or thrown into prison to rot; the political leaders of a democracy need the legitimacy of law to justify otherwise despicable acts, whether it’s Jim Crow legislation or the fraudulent treaties that drove Native Americans from their land.

Americans have an apparently ineradicable view of themselves as a force for good. Republicans shamelessly play to this angelic self-conception when they accuse Obama of not subscribing to the national credo of ‘American exceptionalism.’ But what dark deeds has that credo excused! To know for a certainty that your ends are noble is to excuse yourself in advance for whatever means you choose to fight your adversaries, who by definition must be evil.”

Casual racism
Anthropologist Sarah Kendzior describes as “irresponsible” the media’s emphasis on the Chechen ethnicity of the suspects in the Boston Marathon bombing:

“One hundred years ago, the violent act of one Polish-American [who assassinated US President William McKinley] caused a country to treat all Polish-Americans with suspicion. Now, the Poles have become ‘white’ – which is to say they are largely safe from the accusations of treason and murderous intent that ethnic groups deemed non-white routinely face. When a Polish-American commits a crime, his ethnicity does not go on trial with him.
But this change is not a triumph for America. It is a tragedy that it happened to Poles then, and a greater tragedy that we have not learned our lesson and it happens still – to Hispanics, to Arabs, to Chechens, to any immigrant who comes here seeking refuge and finds prejudice instead.”

Bean drain
The UN News Centre reports that two UN experts have said the World Bank-led privatization of Burundi’s coffee industry is hurting farmers:

“In 2007, the Burundian President declared that coffee was owned by the growers until it was exported, an arrangement that allowed them to manage the supply chain and entitled them to 72 per cent of revenues from coffee sales on international markets.
However, in 2008-2009 the Burundian Government moved towards full privatization of the industry under alleged pressure from the World Bank, whose support for public health programmes was reportedly tied to coffee sector reforms. Since then, less than 5 per cent of Burundian coffee was processed in the country, with the higher value-added operations taking place abroad.”

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Latest Developments, April 18

In the latest news and analysis…

Radical revision
The New York Times editorial board calls the US Supreme Court’s decision in a case pitting Nigerian plaintiffs against oil giant Shell “a giant setback for human rights”:

“The court declared that a 1789 law called the Alien Tort Statute does not allow foreigners to sue in American courts to seek redress ‘for violations of the law of nations occurring outside the United States.’

But Chief Justice John Roberts Jr., writing for the majority, said that even where claims of atrocities ‘touch and concern the territory of the United States, they must do so with sufficient force’ to overcome a presumption that the statute does not apply to actions outside this country.
That presumption radically revises and undermines the way the statute has been applied for a generation. It has been limited by the types of human rights abuses it covers — but not by where they take place. The effect is to greatly narrow the statute’s reach.”

Silver lining
Reuters’s Alison Frankel writes, however, that human rights lawyers found some glimmers of hope in the Kiobel ruling:

“In the concurrence, [Justice Stephen] Breyer disputed the majority’s presumption against the extraterritoriality of the [Alien Tort Statute], though he agreed that the Nigerians’ case does not belong in U.S. courts. He laid out a different standard for ATS litigation: ‘I would find jurisdiction under this statute where (1) the alleged tort occurs on American soil, (2) the defendant is an American national, or (3) the defendant’s conduct substantially and adversely affects an important American national interest, and that includes a distinct interest in preventing the United States from becoming a safe harbor … for a torturer or other common enemy of mankind.’ ”

Senators heart guns
Former US Congresswoman and shooting victim Gabrielle Giffords excoriates the senators who have voted against increased gun control:

“We cannot allow the status quo — desperately protected by the gun lobby so that they can make more money by spreading fear and misinformation — to go on.

The senators who voted against background checks for online and gun-show sales, and those who voted against checks to screen out would-be gun buyers with mental illness, failed to do their job.
They looked at these most benign and practical of solutions, offered by moderates from each party, and then they looked over their shoulder at the powerful, shadowy gun lobby — and brought shame on themselves and our government itself by choosing to do nothing.”

Big debarment
The Globe and Mail reports that the World Bank has banned Canadian engineering firm SNC-Lavalin and 100 of its subsidiaries from bidding on World Bank contracts for the next 10 years:

“The World Bank’s announcement about SNC, which was made Wednesday, also expanded the list of countries where the embattled engineering company has been accused of corruption. The bank said it has uncovered evidence that SNC conspired to bribe public officials in Cambodia and that it has passed that information along to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, who are already probing the company’s activities in Libya, Algeria and Bangladesh.
The 10-year prohibition was negotiated between the company and the bank and is the largest debarment that a company has agreed to as part of a settlement since the bank began sanctioning firms that seek to corrupt public officials.”

US torture
A new report by the Constitution Project alleges it is “indisputable” that the US practiced torture after the 9/11 attacks:

“The sweeping, 577-page report says that while brutality has occurred in every American war, there never before had been ‘the kind of considered and detailed discussions that occurred after 9/11 directly involving a president and his top advisers on the wisdom, propriety and legality of inflicting pain and torment on some detainees in our custody.’ ”

Bad guest
A group of NGOs is calling on Canadian mining company Infinito Gold to stop its “decade-long harassment” of Costa Rica’s people and government, harassment they say includes the new threat of a $1 billion lawsuit:

“The [Costa Rican] courts told the Canadian company it could not develop the Crucitas mine, and told Infinito to pack up and go.
Instead of leaving, the company ratcheted-up a campaign of intimidation, attempting to censor a University of Costa Rica course focussed on the mining project and launching defamation suits against two professors and three other Costa Ricans who have spoken out publicly about the potential impact that this mining activity could have on a fragile environment.”

A tale of two archipelagos
The Guardian reports that a controversial UK official is going from administering the Chagos Islands, all of whose inhabitants Britain deported decades ago, to governing the Falkland Islands, for whose inhabitants Britain went to war a few years later:

“A US embassy cable published in the Guardian in December 2010 quoted a senior Foreign Office official, Colin Roberts, telling the Americans that as a result of imposing the marine reserve, there would be no ‘human footprints’ or ‘Man Fridays’ on the islands.
He said the plan would ‘in effect, put paid to resettlement claims of the archipelago’s former residents’, according to the cable.
The case is the first resulting from the leak of classified US cables in which UK officials have been ordered to appear.
Roberts, commissioner of the [British Indian Ocean Territory] at the time of his meeting with US officials in May 2009, will take up a new post next year as governor of the Falkland Islands, the high court heard on Monday.”

Carbon bubble
Environmental author Duncan Clark asks if we “can we bring ourselves to prioritise a safe planet over cheap fuels, flights, power and goods”:

“Blithely ignoring the fact that there is already far more accessible fuel than can be safely burned, pension fund managers and other investors are allowing listed fossil fuel companies to spend the best part of $1tn a year (comparable to the US defence budget, or more than $100 for every person on the planet) to find and develop yet more reserves.
If and when we emerge from this insanity, the carbon bubble will burst and those investments will turn out to have been as toxic as sub-prime mortgages. Don’t take my word for it. HSBC analysts recently concluded that oil giants such as BP – beloved of UK pension funds – could have their value cut in half if the world decides to tackle climate change. Coal companies can expect an even rougher ride, and yet our financial regulators still allow them to float on stock markets without mentioning in their share prospectuses that their assets may soon need to be written off.”

Latest Developments, March 7

In the latest news and analysis…

Drone filibuster
The Washington Post reports that US Senator Rand Paul has ended a nearly 13-hour speech aimed at raising questions about American policy on extrajudicial killings:

“Paul said he was ‘alarmed’ by a lack of definition for who can be targeted by drone strikes. He suggested that many colleges in the 1960s were full of people who may have been considered enemies of the state.
‘Are you going to drop . . . a Hellfire missile on Jane Fonda?’ he asked at one point.
Repeatedly, Paul suggested that his cause was not partisan and not meant as a personal attack on the president — only on his drone policy.

‘I would be here if it were a Republican president doing this,’ Paul added. ‘Really, the great irony of this is that President Obama’s opinion on this is an extension of George Bush’s opinion.’ ”

New timetable
The BBC reports that France’s president, François Hollande, has said some of the 4,000 French troops currently in Mali will pull out next month:

“France had initially said that troop numbers would decrease from March if all went according to plan.
On Wednesday, Mr Hollande said that the ‘final phase’ of the French intervention ‘will last through March and from April there will be a decrease in the number of French soldiers in Mali as African forces will take over, supported by the Europeans’.”

See no evil
The Guardian reports on new evidence suggesting ex-CIA boss David Petraeus had extensive knowledge of torture being committed during his time as top commander in Iraq:

“[Special police commando] detention centres bought video cameras, funded by the US military, which they used to film detainees for the show [called ‘Terrorism In The Hands of Justice’]. When the show began to outrage the Iraqi public, [General Muntadher al-Samari] remembers being in the home of General Adnan Thabit – head of the special commandos – when a call came from Petraeus’s office demanding that they stop showing tortured men on TV.

Thabit is dismissive of the idea that the Americans he dealt with were unaware of what the commandos were doing. ‘Until I left, the Americans knew about everything I did; they knew what was going on in the interrogations and they knew the detainees. Even some of the intelligence about the detainees came to us from them – they are lying.’”

The grapes of graft
Reuters reports that an Italian vineyard may be key for an investigation into bribes allegedly paid by energy firm Eni to obtain oil and gas contracts in Algeria:

“[Farid Noureddine] Bedjaoui is suspected of channeling nearly 198 million euros in bribes to officials in Algeria via a company called Pearl Partners Limited for eight contracts totaling $11 billion awarded to [Eni subsidiary] Saipem, Europe’s biggest oil services company, between 2007-9, the warrant says.

The Feb 6 warrant alleges [Pietro Varone, former chief operating officer of Saipem’s engineering arm] recommended Pearl Partners to the Saipem board to advise on Saipem’s business activities in Algeria and the Middle East.
Varone was one of several senior managers at Saipem and Eni to resign in December as a result of the investigation. Eni and Saipem have denied wrongdoing.
Eni, Italy’s largest company in terms of market value, is the biggest foreign energy operator in Africa. It has operated in Algeria since 1981 and has extensive gas interests there.”

Fighting words
The Council of Canadians provides a transcript of comments made by a Greek mayor to the Canadian ambassador over a mining project planned by Vancouver-based Eldorado Gold:

“ ‘We have studies that establish the utter devastation and we don’t want to discuss it any further. We are tired. What we want from you is to leave us alone so that we can develop here our agriculture, our stock farming, our fishery, our tourism, our forests, so that we can manage, through what we know, to keep the purity of our country, to advance,’ [said Alexandroupolis mayor Evangelos Labakis].

“You will get the gold, the 450 tons and we will keep the cyanide? Why should we do that when we have the opportunity to develop and we will do it?’ ”

Mining’s shadow
An Ottawa Citizen editorial calls on Ottawa to hold to account Canadian mining companies that behave badly abroad:

“Canada has many reasons to take a lead role in addressing unethical and illegal behaviour of mining companies around the world. A compelling one is that Canada is a major player on the world stage and companies that get into trouble are, therefore, frequently Canadian.
And, although the mining industry and the federal government have both been behind a major push to encourage corporate social responsibility, the federal government must do more, especially now that the giant mining industry is also at the centre of a shift in Canadian foreign aid toward more partnerships with private companies operating overseas.
With so much riding on our mining industry, Canada must move to remove the shadow that bad corporate citizens cast on it.”

Dirty City
TrustLaw reports that Transparency International’s new UK head has said London is “a clearing house for international corruption”:

“[TI-UK’s Robert] Barrington was one of a group of experts who drafted the official guidance to the UK Bribery Act, Britain’s strict new anti-bribery law. Since the Act came into force in July 2011, it has generated just two prosecutions, both for relatively minor bribery offences.

One reason for the small number of prosecutions under the Bribery Act is that Britain’s main anti-corruption prosecutor, the Serious Fraud Office (SFO), has had its funding slashed in the last five years, Barrington said.”

Sharing benefits
Intellectual Property Watch reports that one expert has described the Nagoya Protocol, a proposed UN text on cultural diversity and traditional knowledge, as a “masterpiece of erratic treaty drafting”:

“In correspondence with Intellectual Property Watch, [the University of Sienna’s Riccardo] Pavoni said: ‘The Nagoya Protocol is absolutely neutral in relation to the issue of patentability of genetic material. The principle of sovereign rights over genetic resources may only allow states to ban the exploration and/or exportation of genetic resources found in their territories, but may not prevent a company from seeking patent protection in its home state or in other countries where such patents are granted.’
The core issue, he said, ‘is that of securing that genetic material has been accessed pursuant to the prior informed consent of the source country and that some form of benefit-sharing has been agreed upon with the same country.’ ”

Latest Developments, January 9

In the latest news and analysis…

UN drones
Inner City Press reports that Rwanda is “far from the only member” of the UN Security Council raising questions about the proposed use of surveillance drones by the UN in eastern DR Congo:

“Tuesday, sources exclusively tell Inner City Press, not only Russia (through co-Deputy Permanent Representative Petr Iliichev) and China but also Azerbaijan and Guatemala, both through their Permanent Representatives, expressed concern about [Department of Peacekeeping Operations chief Hervé] Ladsous’ proposed used of drones.
The concerns ranged from the control of information — that is, who would get it — to compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization rules. And, as Inner City Press first reported, concerns were again expressed about the tender process.”

Torture settlement
The Associated Press reports that a US defense contractor has paid $5.28 million to former inmates of Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison over torture allegations:

“The settlement in the case involving Engility Holdings Inc. of Chantilly, Va., marks the first successful effort by lawyers for former prisoners at Abu Ghraib and other detention centers to collect money from a U.S. defense contractor in lawsuits alleging torture. Another contractor, CACI, is expected to go to trial over similar allegations this summer.
The payments were disclosed in a document that Engility filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission two months ago but which has gone essentially unnoticed.”

Not onboard
The Toronto Star reports that Canada’s prime minister, Stephen Harper, told the president of the African Union and Benin his government “is not considering a direct Canadian military mission” in Mali, but he did take care of some business with Benin:

“There has been speculation that Canada is laying the groundwork for a military foray into Mali and Defence Minister Peter MacKay raised eyebrows last week when he said Canada might send military trainers.
But Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird’s officials have played down the possibility of an armed mission to Mali.

After meeting with [AU and Benin president Thomas Boni] Yayi, Harper announced Canada and Benin have signed a foreign investor protection agreement and that Ottawa will provide $18.2 million over eight years to support improvements in Benin’s public administration.”

Small club
Inter Press Service reports that the US is under renewed pressure from civil society for being one of only seven countries yet to ratify the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW):

“So far, 187 out of 194 countries have ratified CEDAW, but the non-ratifiers include Iran, Sudan, South Sudan, Somalia, Palau, Tonga and the United States.

The U.N. General Assembly adopted CEDAW back in 1979. The treaty consists of a preamble and 30 articles, which according to the United Nations, ‘defines what constitutes discrimination against women and sets up an agenda for national action to end such discrimination.’
And countries that have ratified CEDAW are legally bound to put its provisions into practice.”

Aid control
The Canadian Press reports that Haiti’s prime minister, Laurent Lamothe, has said he wants to have more say over how Canadian aid to his country gets spent:

“ ‘For any future co-operation, when it’s decided to resume, we will ask the Canadian government to focus on the priorities of the Haitian government,’ he said by telephone after meeting with Canada’s ambassador to Haiti in the capital of Port-au-Prince.
‘Basically, the development assistance, because of the perceived weakness of Haitian institutions, was routed directly to NGOs (non-government organizations) and Canadian firms…
‘That weakened our institutions.’

Lamothe insists his government’s hands are tied when it comes to development programs because it doesn’t receive any of CIDA’s aid. He wants Canada — and other donor countries — to work together to find a way to involve Haiti’s institutions in the process.”

The business of closing borders
Inter Press Service reports that security and weapons companies stand to make big bucks from the EU’s tougher stance on immigration:

“Thirteen companies and consortiums (Israel Aerospace Industries, Lockheed Martin, FAST Protect AG, L-3 Communications, FLIR Systems, SCOTTY Group Austria, Diamond Airborne Sensing, Inmarsat, Thales, AeroVision, AeroVironment, Altus, BlueBird) demonstrated technological solutions for maritime surveillance.

The demonstrations are part of the preparation for the launch of EUROSUR, the European External Border Surveillance System meant to enhance cooperation between border control agencies of EU member states and to promote surveillance of EU’s external borders by [EU border agency] Frontex, with a particular focus on the Mediterranean and North Africa, in view of controlling migration to Europe.
Surveillance plans envisage the possibility of using drones to spot migrant boats trying to cross the Mediterranean.”

Hijacking the climate
The Guardian reports that the World Economic Forum has warned geoengineering aimed at preventing global warming could do more harm than good:

“ ‘The global climate could, in effect, be hijacked. For example, an island state threatened with rising sea levels may decide they have nothing to lose, or a well-funded individual with good intentions may take matters into their own hands,’ the report notes. It said there are ‘signs that this is already starting to occur’, highlighting the case of a story broken by the Guardian involving the dumping of 100 tonnes of iron sulphate off the Canadian coast in 2012, in a bid to spawn plankton and capture carbon.”

Big picture
Columbia University’s Joseph Stiglitz argues it is dangerous for the global community to focus on immediate economic issues to the exclusion of long-term problems:

“An economic and political system that does not deliver for most citizens is one that is not sustainable in the long run. Eventually, faith in democracy and the market economy will erode, and the legitimacy of existing institutions and arrangements will be called into question.
The good news is that the gap between the emerging and advanced countries has narrowed greatly in the last three decades. Nonetheless, hundreds of millions of people remain in poverty, and there has been only a little progress in reducing the gap between the least developed countries and the rest.
Here, unfair trade agreements – including the persistence of unjustifiable agricultural subsidies, which depress the prices upon which the income of many of the poorest depend – have played a role. The developed countries have not lived up to their promise in Doha in November 2001 to create a pro-development trade regime, or to their pledge at the G-8 summit in Gleneagles in 2005 to provide significantly more assistance to the poorest countries.”

Latest Developments, December 12

In the latest news and analysis…

Rebel recognition
The New York Times reports that the US has announced it now considers an opposition coalition to be Syria’s “legitimate representative” even though it is unclear how much authority the group actually has over rebel fighters:

“Moreover, [the recognition] draws an even sharper line between those elements of the opposition that the United States champions and those it rejects. The Obama administration coupled its recognition with the designation hours earlier of a militant Syrian rebel group, the Nusra Front, as a foreign terrorist organization, affiliated with Al Qaeda.

But Mr. Obama’s move does not go so far as to confer on the opposition the legal authority of a state. It does not, for example, recognize the opposition’s right to have access to Syrian government funds, take over the Syrian Embassy in Washington or enter into binding diplomatic commitments.”

Too big to jail
Global Witness points out that 47,000 people died in Mexico’s drug war during the time that HSBC “failed to check whether the dollars it was shipping from Mexico to the US were drugs money,” an oversight for which Europe’s biggest bank has agreed to pay a $1.9 billion fine:

“ ‘Fines alone are not going to change banks’ behaviour: the chances of being caught are relatively small and the potential profits from accepting dodgy clients are too big.  Fines are seen as a cost of doing business,’ said Rosie Sharpe, campaigner at Global Witness.
‘Instead, regulators should hold senior bankers legally responsible for their banks’ money laundering performance.  At the very least, senior bankers should be prevented from working in the industry, akin to the way in which doctors can be struck off.  Bonuses should be clawed back, and, in the most serious cases, senior bankers should face jail,’ said Sharpe.”

Uranium politics
NGO l’Observatoire du nucléaire sees the hand of a French state-owned company in the sudden alteration of Niger’s 2013 budget:

“This change, probably illegal, consisted of adding to the national budget 17 billion CFA francs (about €26 million) ‘given’ to Niger by the French nuclear company Areva, of which 10 billion CFA francs (more than €15 million) are set to go directly to purchasing an airplane for Nigerien President Mahamadou Issoufou.
This is a clear act of corruption, in moral terms if not legal ones, by Areva which expects thereby to maintain its grip on Niger’s uranium, in order to supply French nuclear power plants.

It just so happens that Mr. Issoufou is a former director of a uranium mining company, Somaïr, which is an Areva subsidiary!” [Translated from the French.]

Patent trolls
Reuters reports that in the US, more patent lawsuits have been brought this year by “entities that don’t make anything than those that do”:

“This year, about 61 percent of all patent lawsuits filed through December 1 were brought by patent-assertion entities, or individuals and companies that work aggressively and opportunistically to assert patents as a business model rather than build their own technology, according to a paper by Colleen Chien, a law professor at Santa Clara University.
That compares with 45 percent in 2011 and 23 percent five years ago.”

Corruption’s infrastructure
The Center for Global Development’s William Savedoff suggests some measures rich countries can take to help stem illicit financial flows, which he calls “a problem for world governance”:

“There is only so much the developed world can do to promote better governance in developing countries; after all, developed countries don’t have such a great track record of addressing corruption at home – whether it comes to Super PACs in the US or Berlusconi’s comeback after conviction on tax fraud. But we can make a big difference if rich and powerful countries were to stop protecting and enforcing repayment of odious debt; hindering recovery of stolen assets; allowing multinationals to make facilitation payments; and hiding oil and mineral royalty payments from public view.”

Aid business
Olivier De Schutter, the UN special rapporteur on the right to food, raises concerns about the potential impacts on Africa’s food security of a new US-led initiative to increase private sector investment in the continent’s agriculture:

“One of the [New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition] projects will see agri-food giant Cargill, subsidised by G8 development funding, take some 40,000 hectares of farmland in Mozambique. This comes at a time when peasant movements and smallholders across the developing world are calling out for their access to land to be secured in the face of land grabs.

And aid must not result in a long-term dependency on expensive technologies that may eventually force the most marginal farmers, who have the greatest difficulties accessing credit, to leave the land.”

Pathological consumption
The Guardian’s George Monbiot argues that consumer culture is “screwing the planet” for the sake of acquiring largely useless items:

“People in eastern Congo are massacred to facilitate smartphone upgrades of ever diminishing marginal utility. Forests are felled to make ‘personalised heart-shaped wooden cheese board sets’. Rivers are poisoned to manufacture talking fish. This is pathological consumption: a world-consuming epidemic of collective madness, rendered so normal by advertising and by the media that we scarcely notice what has happened to us.

This boom has not happened by accident. Our lives have been corralled and shaped in order to encourage it. World trade rules force countries to participate in the festival of junk. Governments cut taxes, deregulate business, manipulate interest rates to stimulate spending. But seldom do the engineers of these policies stop and ask, ‘spending on what?’ When every conceivable want and need has been met (among those who have disposable money), growth depends on selling the utterly useless. The solemnity of the state, its might and majesty, are harnessed to the task of delivering Terry the Swearing Turtle to our doors.”

Moral legacy
Mother Jones’s Adam Serwer suggests the makers of Zero Dark Thirty, the new Hollywood movie about the American hunt for Osama bin Laden, are “rehabilitating torture”:

“The critical acclaim Zero Dark Thirty is already receiving suggests that it may do what Karl Rove could not have done with all the money in the world: embed in the popular imagination the efficacy, even the necessity, of torture, despite available evidence to the contrary. Whatever the artistic merits of the film, that will be its moral legacy.”