Latest Developments, December 13

In the latest news and analysis…

New trade accord
The European Parliament has approved a free trade agreement with Colombia and Peru, which will involve “a further limitation of export and import tariffs” between the trading partners, according to Colombia Reports:

“Human and labor rights organizations had objected the bill, claiming Colombia was not in compliance with international labor and human rights norms. Opponents within the [European Parliament] had claimed that the pact would additionally increase the risk of illegal money flows between the world’s two largest producers of cocaine and the world’s second largest cocaine consumer market.”

Pacific militarization
Reuters reports that the US military looks set to increase its number of troops, ships and aircraft in the Philippines:

“ ‘What we are discussing right now is increasing the rotational presence of U.S. forces,’ Carlos Sorreta, the foreign ministry’s Assistant Secretary for American Affairs, told reporters. A five-year joint U.S.-Philippine military exercise plan would be approved this week, he added.
The size of the increase in the U.S. military assets in the Philippines, a former U.S. colony, was unclear.
But it comes as the Philippines, Australia and other parts of the region have seen a resurgence of U.S. warships, planes and personnel under Washington’s so-called ‘pivot’ in foreign, economic and security policy towards Asia announced last year.”

Resource war
Iraqi politicians are warning that US oil companies “could be responsible for causing a civil war” if they proceed with drilling in disputed areas, according to Iraq Oil Report:

“Both the central government and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) have deployed thousands of troops near the contested border between north and south, including land where the American companies ExxonMobil and Hunt Oil have agreed to drill for oil.
In some areas, the opposing forces are less than a mile apart, well within the range of each other’s weapons.
‘If Exxon starts drilling, they will find tanks around them,’ said Sami Alaskary, a member of Parliament and influential adviser to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.”

Big deal
The Guardian’s John Vidal writes that the much-maligned UN climate talks that took place recently in Doha did produce “one landmark agreement ” that will change future negotiations:

“Countries agreed to the principle of ‘loss and damage’, to help victims of climate change. The door is now at least half open for countries to be recompensed for slow onset events such as rising sea levels, continual droughts and storms.
Opinions are divided over what could practically emerge. There will be further meetings and discussions in the coming months and an international mechanism is expected to be set up next year. Financial experts like PwC say it could be a massive climate-risk insurance facility. Developing countries hope it could be a new fund to specifically channel money to countries experiencing damage linked to climate change.”

Papua New Guinea guinea pigs
Reuters reports that a dispute between Papua New Guinea and a Canadian company is threatening a “groundbreaking” but controversial mining project that aims to extract gold from the ocean floor:

“The impoverished country has a long legacy of mining projects derailed by environmental disasters, landowner uprisings and corruption.
Mining from vessels is seen as a way of avoiding some of the landowner disputes that have plagued other projects. Still, the project has been criticised for failing to adequately assess environmental risks.
‘No one knows what the impacts of this form of mining will be,’ said Wences Magun, national co-ordinator for Mas Kagin Tapani, a Papua New Guinea environmental group.
‘Communities want to know what concrete steps the prime minister will now take to ensure we are not being used us as guinea pigs in a sea bed mining experiment.’ ”

Plane denial
Agence France-Presse reports that French state-owned nuclear giant Areva has denied giving millions as a controversial “bonus” to uranium-rich Niger for the purchase of a pair of jets:

“Areva gave Niger ‘no-strings, non-targeted budgetary assistance worth 17 billion CFA francs (about €26 million),’ Zakari Oumarou, parliamentary president of the ruling Nigerien Party for Democracy and Socialism (PNSD), told AFP.
‘The government of Niger then decided to allocate 10 billion CFA francs (€15 million) for the purchase of a presidential plane, for which the state had already set aside 4 billion CFA francs (€6 million) in the 2013 budget,” he said, emphasizing that the purchase was ‘a necessity’ given the ‘weight of years’ of the current aircraft.

But Areva denied having given any such budgetary assistance. ‘No payment was made by the company,’ insisted a spokesperson contacted by AFP in Paris.” [Translated from the French.]

Chixoy revisited
Jubilee Debt Campaign’s Nick Dearden suggests the World Bank has not learned the right lessons in the 30 years since it helped fund a Guatemalan hydroelectric project whose construction involved hundreds of murders:

“It is unlikely that Chixoy would have been able to go ahead without the backing of the banks, yet their internal reports made no mention of the massacres.
Today, as former dictator Efraín Ríos Montt is brought to trial in Guatemala on counts of genocide, the survivors of the Chixoy massacre have still not received reparations – despite an acceptance by the banks that they are owed something.

Although the massacre at Chixoy was certainly extreme, it is symptomatic of a problem that goes to the heart of the World Bank’s idea of what development is. The best role the World Bank can play is to make reparations for the damage it has done – and clear the way for people who believe development is about people’s rights rather than corporate profits.”

Martial comfort
My Own Private Guantanamo’s Matt Cornell discusses the imagery of contemporary American warfare:

“Drones aren’t very iconic in the Western imagination, perhaps because we don’t look at them. They ‘look’ at the enemy, extending our predatory gaze to the corners of the globe. Appropriately, the key image from ‘the greatest manhunt in history’ is not the rumored photo of bin Laden’s corpse, but a picture of the most powerful people in the world, huddled around a television, watching his killing unfold in real time, as if at a 24 viewing party.
Drones embody two things that have come to define the post-9/11 era: unlimited surveillance and a war without borders. When I saw the Camo Snuggie in a drugstore the other day, I took it as an accidental visual metaphor for modern warfare. Here is a white man, wearing the camouflage of a soldier but far from a battlefield, swaddled and safe from harm, pushing buttons on a remote control.”

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.”

Latest Developments, September 11

In the latest news and analysis…

Hippocratic development
Harvard University’s Dani Rodrik makes his case for a different approach to development after the Millennium Development Goals expire in 2015:

“First, a new global compact should focus more directly on rich countries’ responsibilities. Second, it should emphasize policies beyond aid and trade that have an equal, if not greater, impact on poor countries’ development prospects.
A short list of such policies would include: carbon taxes and other measures to ameliorate climate change; more work visas to allow larger temporary migration flows from poor countries; strict controls on arms sales to developing nations; reduced support for repressive regimes; and improved sharing of financial information to reduce money laundering and tax avoidance.
Notice that most of these measures are actually aimed at reducing damage – for example, climate change, military conflict, and financial crime – that otherwise results from rich countries’ conduct. ‘Do no harm’ is as good a principle here as it is in medicine.”

New beginning
Reuters reports that Somalia’s lawmakers have chosen “political newcomer” Hassan Sheikh Mohamud as the country’s new president:

“Somalia has lacked an effective central government since the outbreak of civil war in 1991.
The capital, however, which until last year witnessed street battles between al Qaeda-linked al Shabaab militants and African soldiers, is now a vibrant city where reconstructed houses are slowly replacing bullet-riddled structures.
Monday’s vote was seen as a culmination of a regionally brokered, U.N.-backed roadmap to end that conflict, during which tens of thousands of people were killed and many more fled.
Despite being on the back foot, the militants still control swathes of southern and central Somalia, while pirates, regional administrations and local militia group also vie for control of chunks of the mostly lawless Horn of Africa country.”

Questionable exports
Lisa Nandy, chair of the UK’s All-Party Parliamentary Group, explains why the body is looking into government financing of British exports

“Concerns have been raised by a number of academics and NGOs that, because cover is provided for projects that the private sector won’t fund, the majority of business on [UK Export Finance]’s books are in risky projects or places, overwhelmingly in the arms trade, oil and aerospace industries. Airbus, for example, received 89% of the [Export Credits Guarantee Department]’s support last year.
Campaigners have also claimed that the Department is under very little scrutiny – the majority of projects are not screened for human rights abuses, environmental impact or even child labour; there is no mechanism for complaints for the people who are affected by the projects it supports and there is no evaluation of the projects that the government invests in.”

Nature’s value
The Guardian reports that the International Union for Conservation of Nature has released a list of the world’s 100 most endangered species and suggested certain seemingly well-intentioned conservation tactics may actually be harmful:

“In order to justify spending money on conservation efforts, scientists have felt under increasing pressure to argue for the human benefits that would accrue – for instance, calling for forests to be preserved because they can prevent landslides and naturally purify water for human consumption rather than because forests should be maintained for their own sake.
In some cases, the potential for ‘useful’ purposes for some species is contributing to their destruction. The wild yam of South Africa is supposed to have cancer-alleviating properties, according to traditional medicine, but the resulting hunt for the plant is threatening its very existence.
In others, the commercialisation of nature is having a damaging effect – the Franklin’s bumble bee, found in California and Oregon, is under threat because of diseases spread by commercially bred bumblebees.”

Biofuel U-turn
Reuters reports the European Union plans to impose limits on the use of “crop-based biofuels” due to concerns they do little to reduce emissions while contributing to higher food prices:

“The draft rules, which will need the approval of EU governments and lawmakers, represent a major shift in Europe’s much-criticized biofuel policy and a tacit admission by policymakers that the EU’s 2020 biofuel target was flawed from the outset.
The plans also include a promise to end all public subsidies for crop-based biofuels after the current legislation expires in 2020, effectively ensuring the decline of a European sector now estimated to be worth 17 billion euros ($21.7 billion) a year.”

Carbon crash
The Guardian reports that the UN’s global carbon trading scheme has “essentially collapsed”:

“Billions of dollars have been raised in the past seven years through the United Nations’ system to set up greenhouse gas-cutting projects, such as windfarms and solar panels, in poor nations. But the failure of governments to provide firm guarantees to continue with the system beyond this year has raised serious concerns over whether it can survive.
A panel convened by the UN reported on Monday at a meeting in Bangkok that the system, known as the clean development mechanism (CDM), was in dire need of rescue. The panel warned that allowing the CDM to collapse would make it harder in future to raise finance to help developing countries cut carbon.”

Time to reassess
Tamtam Info reports that France’s state-owned nuclear group Areva has changed its plans for a new Nigerien uranium mining project since receiving the environmental green light:

“Given the real threat to both the environment and public health that Areva’s decision poses, the Commission for Independent Research and Information on Radioactivity (CRIIRAD) and the environmental NGO Aghir in Man has alerted the Nigerien government and demanded that Areva undergo another environment impact assessment for its uranium mining project at Imouraren and provide precise answers relating to the hydrological impact and storage of radioactive waste, as well as the means for compensating affected populations.” [Translated from the French.]

Green counterrevolution
The Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology’s Vandana Shiva argues that industrial agriculture is the cause of hunger and malnutrition, rather than the cure:

“Industrial agriculture, sold as the Green Revolution and 2nd Green Revolution to Third World countries, is a chemical intensive, capital intensive, fossil fuel intensive system. It must, by its very structure, push farmers into debt, and indebted farmers everywhere are pushed off the land, as their farms are foreclosed and appropriated. In poor countries, farmers trapped in debt for purchasing costly chemicals and non-renewable seeds sell the food they grow to pay back debt. That is why hunger today is a rural phenomenon. The debt-creating negative economy of high cost industrial farming is a hunger producing system, not a hunger reduction system. Wherever chemicals and commercial seeds have spread, farmers are in debt, and lose entitlement to their own produce. They become trapped in poverty and hunger.”