Latest Developments, July 16

In the latest news and analysis…

Free hand
Le Monde reports that the UN and France have signed an agreement granting “freedom of action” to French troops in Mali:

“The text, according to a diplomat, is reminiscent of the mandate for France’s Operation Unicorn in Côte d’Ivoire, whose intervention under UN auspices precipitated the fall of Laurent Gbagbo in 2011.

Before calling for French back-up, the text stresses however, that UN peacekeepers ‘must do all they can’ to resolve a crisis. In the case of an intervention, French support will be ‘direct or indirect, by land or air, within the limits of both its capacities and the deployment of its units.’
Paris, which ‘wants to keep a free hand,’ according to a diplomatic source, will have ‘the choice of means, numbers and location.’ The French army has bases in Senegal, Côte d’Ivoire and Chad. It can also mobilize reinforcements from France, according to the same source.” [Translated from the French.]

American justice
The Atlantic’s Ta-Nehisi Coates argues that a Florida court’s acquittal of a man who shot and killed an unarmed African-American youth was unjust but neither surprising nor, given the current state of the law, wrong:

“It is painful to say this: Trayvon Martin is not a miscarriage of American justice, but American justice itself. This is not our system malfunctioning. It is our system working as intended. To expect our juries, our schools, our police to single-handedly correct for this, is to look at the final play in the final minute of the final quarter and wonder why we couldn’t come back from twenty-four down.
To paraphrase a great man: We are what our record says we are. How can we sensibly expect different?”

Avoiding tax reform
The Guardian reports that the US has blocked a French proposal for the G20 to crack down on tax avoidance by digital companies:

“Senior officials in Washington have made it known they will not stand for rule changes that narrowly target the activities of some of the nation’s fastest growing multinationals, according to sources with knowledge of the situation.

While the Americans concede that the rules need to be updated, they are understood to be pushing for moderate change. They are believed to want tweaks to the existing wording of international tax treaties rather than the creation of wholly new passages dedicated to spelling out how the digital economy should be taxed.”

1,000 days of cholera
The Economist reports on the UN’s ongoing controversial handling of the cholera epidemic its MINUSTAH peacekeepers triggered in Haiti in 2010:

“Critics argue that the UN’s stance is tantamount to claiming impunity—that the UN, an organisation whose mission involves promoting the rule of law, is putting itself above it.

The UN has staunchly refused to entertain the cholera claims in any venue. Its letter to the claimants’ lawyers eschewed their proposals to meet, engage a mediator, or establish an alternative venue to hear the complaints. Whereas [UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon’s] letter to congressmen said that ‘the majority of [the] recommendations’ made by a UN panel of experts to avoid future epidemics were being implemented, a report by a United States-based non-profit group in May found that five of the seven recommendations were only partially implemented, or not at all. And although the UN launched an initiative to fight cholera in Haiti in January 2012, the programme is already falling short: Mr Ban’s letter stated that pledges for the cholera initiated amounted to $207m, $31m less than the UN said would be available last December. It is another failure that by now will hardly surprise the people of Haiti.”

Hunger bill
Princeton University’s Paul Krugman takes aim at the “awesome double standard” of the “monstrous” farm bill passed by the US House of Representatives last week:

“Farm subsidies became a fraud-ridden program that mainly benefits corporations and wealthy individuals. Meanwhile food stamps became a crucial part of the social safety net.
So House Republicans voted to maintain farm subsidies — at a higher level than either the Senate or the White House proposed — while completely eliminating food stamps from the bill.
To fully appreciate what just went down, listen to the rhetoric conservatives often use to justify eliminating safety-net programs. It goes something like this: ‘You’re personally free to help the poor. But the government has no right to take people’s money’ — frequently, at this point, they add the words ‘at the point of a gun’ — ‘and force them to give it to the poor.’
It is, however, apparently perfectly O.K. to take people’s money at the point of a gun and force them to give it to agribusinesses and the wealthy.”

Broken ships
The Guardian explores the dangerous and environmentally harmful shipbreaking industry, which supplies much of the world’s recycled steel:

“One of the problems is steel is a commodity sold in international markets, making it very difficult to trace where it came from by the time it turns up in a consumer product. Improved supply chain transparency would help but would be difficult to manage in any practical way, said [Shipbreaking Platform’s Patrizia] Heidegger, who suggested flipping the problem on its head: make the ship’s owners responsible for ensuring that their products are recycled properly once they are finished with them.

The EU recently voted on regulations that require EU-registered ships to use ‘green’ recycling facilities, but the new rules miss a crucial point, said Heidegger: there is nothing to stop European owners re-registering their ships outside the EU before sending them for breaking. At the moment only around a tenth of vessels are flying European flags when they reach the end of their lives, even though around 40% of the world’s fleet is owned by European companies, she said.”

Dangerous objects
The Washington Post’s Alexandra Petri mocks the security measures undertaken at a Texas Senate debate over proposed changes to the state’s abortion laws:

“Among the latest updates from the Unwanted Texas Efforts To Pass Stringent Anti-Abortion Legislation came the gem that the state senate security was confiscating tampons from spectators entering the gallery to watch debate on HB 2. Guns, of course, were still allowed in the gallery for those with concealed carry licenses.”

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Latest Developments, May 14

In the latest news and analysis…

Arming Bahrain
Reuters reports that the US has decided to resume “some military sales” to Bahrain, despite heavy criticism of the Gulf state’s human rights record.
“The State Department did not give a total value for the items being released but emphasized that the equipment being approved was “not used for crowd control” as the majority Shi’ite community continues to protest against the Sunni royal family following a crackdown last year.
U.S. officials said among the sales now allowed to go forward would be harbor security vessels and upgrades to turbo-fan engines used in F-16 fighter aircraft as well as legislation which could pave the way for a future sale of a naval frigate.
Items still on hold, besides the missiles and the Humvees, include teargas, teargas launchers and stun grenades.”

Trayvon targets
Gawker reports that someone selling gun range targets designed to look like murdered Florida teen Trayvon Martin said the market response was “overwhelming” and the item sold out in two days.
“The Orlando-based [Local 6] news station says it spotted an ad for the targets — since removed — on a ‘popular firearms auction website.’ They feature a black hoodie similar to the one worn by Martin on the night he was shot by self-appointed neighborhood watch captain George Zimmerman, along with a drawing of a Skittles bag and a can of iced tea.”

Hurting one’s cause
Reuters reports that JPMorgan Chase’s $2 billion in losses have given new impetus to the push for greater regulation of the US banking sector.
“Analysts said it is not yet clear if the trades would have violated the forthcoming Volcker rule reform.
[CEO Jamie] Dimon has been critical of the Volcker rule, a provision in Dodd-Frank that will ban banks from proprietary trading, or trades that are made solely for their own profit.

On Friday, Democratic senators Carl Levin and Jeff Merkley, who wrote the legislative language on the Volcker rule, said the outstanding proposal is flawed because it would give banks the latitude to hedge against portfolio risk as opposed to individual positions.
‘That’s a big enough loophole that a Mack truck could drive right through it,’ Levin said during a conference call.”

Worse than useless
The Overseas Development Institute’s Jonathan Glennie gives his take on what “all the talk of corporate social responsibility” is really worth when it comes to large-scale mining operations.
“The era of voluntary guidelines has not only been ineffective, it has been worse than useless. Although they may have led to incremental improvements in some areas, their real purpose has been to undermine attempts to develop effective legal sanction, both national and international, which is the only thing that will ultimately keep the destructive instincts of mega-wealthy companies at bay.”

New France?
Senegalese singer Baaba Maal assesses the significance of François Hollande’s election as new French president.
“I’m Senegalese and France is very connected to my country. France needs to open its eyes to the potential of its former colonies and to realise that these relationships have changed. People want to collaborate but with mutual respect. Whether that’s a respect for our culture, for our governments or for our business potential. It’s about sitting around the same table and talking together as equals. Of course our relationship hasn’t always been easy but we are in it together.”

Taliban poetry
The New York Times’ C.J. Chivers reviews a new collection of poetry written by Afghan insurgents.
“The Afghan war, of course, is a far broader phenomenon than its cemeteries, rifle skirmishes, house searches, airstrikes and bombs. The anthology covers wider themes, too, giving voice to many common Afghan complaints, including that the influx of Western cash has been corrupting to those who have received it and alienating to most everyone else.
I am astonished at this time of the dollars;
In poverty, I lost friendship.

Capitalist values
Essayist William Deresiewicz writes on the fundamental nature of capitalism and the policy implications of popular sentiment toward the wealthy.
“There are ethical corporations, yes, and ethical businesspeople, but ethics in capitalism is purely optional, purely extrinsic. To expect morality in the market is to commit a category error. Capitalist values are antithetical to Christian ones. (How the loudest Christians in our public life can also be the most bellicose proponents of an unbridled free market is a matter for their own consciences.) Capitalist values are also antithetical to democratic ones. Like Christian ethics, the principles of republican government require us to consider the interests of others. Capitalism, which entails the single-minded pursuit of profit, would have us believe that it’s every man for himself.”

Latest Developments, March 19

In the latest news and analysis…

Arms stats
The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute has released new statistics indicating the international arms trade increased by 24 percent in 2007-2011 compared to previous five-year period, with the usual suspects still dominating the market.
“The five biggest suppliers of major conventional weapons in the period 2007– 11 were the United States, Russia, Germany, France and the United Kingdom. The USA and Russia remained by far the largest exporters, accounting for 30 per cent and 24 per cent of all exports, respectively. The top 5 suppliers accounted for 75 per cent of exports of major conventional weapons in the period 2007–11, compared with 78 per cent for the same five suppliers in the period 2002–2006.”

Apple dividend
KPCC’s Mike DeBord suggests Apple’s decision to reduce its cash surplus by paying its shareholders a quarterly dividend is both morally and strategically questionable.
“So when you think about it, Apple’s cash hoard has really come from extracting profits from its Asian contract manufacturers, who support Apple’s 30-plus profit margins by slashing their own; and by extracting profits from the likes of Verizon and AT&T, who have to subsidize customer purchases of ex-pen-sive iPhones. For the moment, Foxconn and American’s biggest wireless providers are willing to accept a redistribution of wealth from their balance sheets to Apple’s. But you have to wonder how long that will last — especially if people like [ValueWalk’s Paul] Shea are right and the post-Jobs Apple shifts its focus from product innovation to the care and feeding of shareholders (more than 70 percent of who are big institutional investors and hedge funds).”

Grim forecast
In a blog post announcing the release of a new environmental outlook to 2050, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s Patrick Love writes that “we’re all doomed.”
“The [greenhouse gas] mitigation actions pledged by countries in the 2010 Cancún Agreements at the UN Climate Change Conference will not be enough to prevent the global average temperature from exceeding the 2C threshold, unless very rapid and costly emission reductions are realised after 2020.
Projections like these are probably familiar to most people interested in environmental issues, but other figures in the book may prove more of a shock, notably concerning health. We may be damaging the environment, but it’s killing us. Today, unsafe water kills more people than all forms of violence, but air pollution is set to become the world’s top environmental cause of premature mortality, overtaking dirty water and lack of sanitation.”

Dam guidelines
The Guardian reports that new voluntary guidelines for assessing the impacts of large hydroelectric dams are gathering support from corporations, while critics cry “greenwash.”
“Zachary Hurwitz, policy programme coordinator at International Rivers, said the protocol could create opportunities for dam builders to make sustainability claims while potentially undermining legislative and civil society-led efforts to hold them accountable for the social and environmental impacts of their projects.
‘There are ways to better regulate dam building,’ he said. ‘It is by the legislative process, through harmonising-upwards country regulatory systems in order to truly come to a global binding standard, with the ability to penalise developers.’ ”

Trayvon Martin
GlobalGrind.com’s Michael Skolnik writes about last month’s fatal shooting of an African-American teenager in a Florida gated community, arguing that “the rights I take for granted [as a white American] are only valid if I fight to give those same rights to others.”
“I got a lot of emails about Trayvon.  I have read a lot of articles.  I have seen a lot of television segments.  The message is consistent.  Most of the commentators, writers, op-ed pages agree.  Something went wrong.  Trayvon was murdered.  Racially profiled. Race. America’s elephant that never seems to leave the room. But, the part that doesn’t sit well with me is that all of the messengers of this message are all black too.  I mean, it was only two weeks ago when almost every white person I knew was tweeting about stopping a brutal African warlord from killing more innocent children.  And they even took thirty minutes out of their busy schedules to watch a movie about dude.  They bought t-shirts.  Some bracelets. Even tweeted at Rihanna to take a stance.  But, a 17 year old American kid is followed and then ultimately killed by a neighborhood vigilante who happens to be carrying a semi-automatic weapon and my white friends are quiet.  Eerily quiet. Not even a trending topic for the young man.”

Abolishing tax havens
The UN Millennium Campaign’s Charles Abugre writes that corrupt government officials are not the main culprits behind illicit capital flight from Africa, an estimated 65-70 percent of which is attributable to “commercial activities, especially through trade mis-pricing of goods”.
“Africa is experiencing economic growth, and for the increasing wealth to be channelled to public services, development and the achievement of the millennium development goals by 2015, it is urgent the problem of tax havens as a conduit for illicit outflows is addressed. The high-level panel set up by the African Union, the African Development Bank and the UN Economic Commission for Africa, and chaired by former South African president Thabo Mbeki, is a significant step forward – and testifies to the importance of this issue for Africa’s development. The ball is now in the court of the rich countries.”

A world bank
It is time for the US to give up its unwritten right to appoint World Bank presidents in favour of a more open, meritocratic process, according to François Bourguignon, Nicholas Stern and Joseph Stiglitz, all of whom held senior positions at the bank in the past.
“The developed countries have declared the importance of an ‘open, transparent and merit-based process’ many times. They have recognised the importance of trust, credibility and collaboration in overcoming global challenges, particularly that of poverty. Yet when the moment comes for decision, they cannot resist the temptation to perpetuate the monopoly. This is not only hypocritical, it also destroys the trust and spirit of collaboration needed to manage the profound problems facing the world.”

Lundins fight back
The Local reports the sons of Lundin Group founder Adolf Lundin have responded to allegations their company consists of “opportunistic, dictator-hugging businessmen” who show little regard for human rights in their search for natural resources.
“The allegations refer to alleged human rights abuses in connection with oil exploration in southern Sudan between 1997 and 2003.
Magnus Elving of the International Prosecution Chamber in Stockholm (Internationella åklagarkammaren i Stockholm) is investigating claims made in a report entitled “Unpaid Debt” framed by an umbrella group named the European Coalition on Oil in Sudan (ECOS) and present in 2010.
The report alleges that Sudanese troops, in collaboration with militias, attacked and drove away the civilian population in areas where companies could drill for oil.”