Latest Developments, August 16

In the latest news and analysis…

Embassy threatened
The New York Times reports that an Ecuadorean government official has said that Ecuador would be prepared to let Wikileaks founder Julian Assange stay at its London embassy “indefinitely under a type of humanitarian protection”:

“Earlier Wednesday, Ecuador’s foreign minister, Ricardo Patiño, said that the British authorities had threatened to barge into the country’s embassy in London if officials did not hand over Mr. Assange. ‘Today we have received from the United Kingdom an explicit threat in writing that they could assault our embassy in London if Ecuador does not hand over Julian Assange,’ Mr. Patiño said at a news conference in Quito, adding defiantly, ‘We are not a British colony.’

Under diplomatic protocol, Mr. Assange was thought to be off limits while in the embassy. But the BBC reported Wednesday that British officials had raised the notion of revoking the diplomatic immunity of the Ecuadorean Embassy, allowing British officials to enter.”

Consultation required
Al Jazeera reports that a Brazilian judge has suspended construction of a controversial hydroelectric megaproject that is expected to flood 500 sq km of Amazon rainforest: 

“In a statement released on Tuesday, Judge Souza Prudente said that work could only resume on the $11bn, 11,000MW Belo Monte Dam after the indigenous communities living in the area were consulted.
The dam has been condemned by environmentalists and rights activists, who say that it would devastate wildlife and the livelihoods of 40,000 people who live in the area that would be flooded.”

Plain packaging
Bloomberg reports that the backing of Australia’s highest court for a ban on trademarked labeling of cigarette packs has public health experts hoping for a “domino effect” around the world:

“The High Court of Australia today dismissed claims by Japan Tobacco Inc. (2914), British American Tobacco Plc (BATS), Philip Morris International Inc. (PM) and Imperial Tobacco Group Plc that the government illegally seized their intellectual property by barring the display of trademarks on packs. The judges gave no reasons for the decision and said these will be published later.
The ruling is a victory for a government faced with A$31.5 billion ($33 billion) in annual health costs from smoking, a habit it estimates killed 900,000 Australians over six decades. New Zealand and the U.K. are among countries whose governments have indicated interest in implementing similar legislation, which takes effect in Australia Dec. 1.”

Four-star tastes
The Associated Press reports that former US Africa Command head William “Kip” Ward is being investigated “for allegedly spending hundreds of thousands of dollars improperly”:

“The defense officials said Ward is facing numerous allegations that he spent several hundred thousand dollars allowing unauthorized people, including family members, to fly on government planes, and spent excessive amounts of money on hotel rooms, transportation and other expenses when he traveled as head of Africa Command.
A four-star general is the highest rank in the Army.”

Exxon spill
Reuters reports that ExxonMobil is “investigating” an oil spill off Nigeria’s coast that has shut down the local fishing industry:

“Sam Ayadi, a fisherman in Ibeno, said by telephone that no one had been able to go fishing since the spill was first noticed on Sunday.
‘The fishermen are still off the waters due to the spill. We cannot return yet. We are waiting for Mobil to open to discussions with us about what happened,’ he said.
Oil spills are common in Africa’s top energy producer. Stretches of the Niger Delta, a fragile wetlands environment, are coated in crude. Thousands of barrels are spilled every year, and lax enforcement means there are few penalties.”

Aid’s colonial roots
Aid on the Edge of Chaos’s Ben Ramalingam presents a collection of thoughts on the “implications of complexity science for development aid” by Nobel prize-winning economist Elinor Ostrom who passed away in June:

“The lack of long timeframes and a lack of supporting cultures means that aid agencies don’t help people learn how to think about and change the structure of the situations they are facing. In many situations, this is because of colonial roots of aid, which did not respect local institutions – they didn’t understand them so they were treated as non-existent.
The difference between this approach and that of Darwin is stark – the care and diligence that was given to studying animal species in the 19th century is so evident, and it from this that we have evolutionary theory. But these countries also had people, but there was no attempt to understand their knowledge systems, the rules they had developed to manage various kinds of socio-ecological systems… Colonial powers assumed we have the answers, and destroyed social capital. Aid agencies, unfortunately, do much the same thing.”

Haiti’s gold rush
Jacob Kushner writes in Guernica Magazine about “behind closed doors” negotiations between Haitian politicians and foreign mining companies over access to the country’s underground wealth:

“Since 2009, Haiti’s government ministers have been considering a new convention. This would allow Eurasian, Newmont’s business partner, to explore an additional 1300 square kilometers of land in Haiti’s north. But according to Dieuseul Anglade, Haiti’s mining chief of two decades, unlike previous agreements, this one doesn’t include a limit—standard among mining contracts worldwide—on how much of a mine’s revenue the company can write off as costs. Without any cap, a mining company can claim that a mine has an unusually low profit margin, allowing it to pay fewer taxes to the Haitian state; Anglade opposed these terms, and was fired in May.”

Corporate inconvenience
Harvard Law School student Maia Levenson has little sympathy for oil giant Shell’s argument, ahead of its US Supreme Court showdown with Nigerian plaintiffs, that corporate liability for foreign conduct could have “an adverse effect on a company’s stock price and debt rating”:

“Sure, major corporations may find it inconvenient to defend against allegations that they were complicit in crimes against humanity. But that is not a reason to find that they are immune. Major corporations, and the United States itself, are frequently the subject of lawsuits that may have adverse commercial implications—and we don’t deny plaintiffs the opportunity for redress because of the potential or actual costs. If we don’t deny victims a forum for even ordinary claims, why would we do so when the crimes at issue are the very worst kinds imaginable?”

Latest Developments, April 10

In the latest news and analysis…

Inequality warning
The BBC reports that the Asia Development Bank is warning that growing inequality – particularly in China, India and Indonesia – could threaten the continent’s stability.
“During the 1960s and 1970s, Asia was better at ensuring that growth did not marginalise large chunks of the region’s population and was actually reducing the gap between the rich and the poor.
However, over the past decade the sudden explosion of growth and rapid enrichment of many people has seen the rich-poor divide grow. The ADB estimates that currently in most Asian countries the wealthiest 5% of the population now account for 20% of total expenditure.
At the same time, for hundreds of millions of people access to education, healthcare and housing has become more difficult and expensive.”

Hijacking democracy
The Independent reports that two of Britain’s top lobbying firms are offering to help corporate clients benefit from the European Citizens’ Initiative, which is intended to increase public input into EU lawmaking.
“A leaked memo shows that Bell Pottinger, the subject of an undercover investigation published in this newspaper in December last year, has offered to help potential clients set up petitions demanding changes to EU law under the new programme, whose rules specifically bar organisations from doing so.
And information posted on the website of its fellow lobbyist Fleishman-Hillard shows it too is offering to help businesses hijack the initiative, which came into force on 1 April.”

Inivisible Children leaks
RT reports that diplomatic cables published by Wikileaks suggest “collaboration” between the group behind the Kony 2012 video and Uganda’s intelligence services.
“A memo written by a public affairs officer at the US embassy in Uganda documents Invisible Children’s collaboration with Ugandan intelligence services. It notes that the US-based NGO tipped the Ugandan government on the whereabouts of Patrick Komakech, a former child soldier for the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), who was wanted by security officials for extorting money from the government officials, NGO’s and local tribal leaders. Ugandan security organizations jumped the tip and immediately arrested Komakech.

Invisible Children also actively supported Operation Lightning Thunder (OLT), a joint attack by Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo and the then-autonomous South Sudan against the LRA. The operation, which was also received US intelligence and logistical backing, killed more civilians than LRA militants.”

Sacred hills
The Guardian reports that the Dongria Kondh people’s “Avatar-like battle” against a UK-based mining company has reached India’s Supreme Court.
“Lingaraj Azad, a leader of the Save Niyamgiri Committee, said the Dongria Kondh’s campaign was ‘not just that of an isolated tribe for its customary rights over its traditional lands and habitats, but that of the entire world over protecting our natural heritage’.

A government report accused the firm of violations of forest conservation, tribal rights and environmental protection laws in Orissa, a charge subsequently repeated by a panel of forestry experts.”

Illegal lumber
Inter Press Service reports on a new investigation that found more than 20 US companies had imported illegal timber from Peru’s Amazon region in recent years.
“ ‘Exporters in Peru and importers in the United States and around the world are currently integral parts of a systematic flow of illegal timber from the Peruvian Amazon. Sometimes intentionally, sometimes through sheer negligence, each of the actors and agencies involved in this system are working as gears in a well-oiled machine that is ransacking Peru’s forests and undermining the livelihoods and rights of the people that depend on them,’ the [Environmental Investigation Agency] report stated.
The investigation discovered at least 112 shipments of protected cedar and mahogany were illegally laundered with fabricated papers and imported by U.S. companies between 2008 and 2010.”

Complicity in genocide
Groupe Rwanda argues in Billets d’Afrique that the French government was complicit in the Rwandan genocide that started 18 Aprils ago.
“In fact, according to the jurisprudence of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR): ‘…an accused is liable for complicity in genocide if he knowingly and voluntarily aided or abetted or instigated a person or persons to commit genocide, while knowing that such person or persons were committing genocide, even though the accused himself did not have the specific intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, specifically targeted as such.’ In the name of geopolitical considerations dictated by a minority above all accountability due to the so-called ‘reserved domain’ of the head of state, French decision makers consented without qualms to the preparation and subsequent carrying out of the massacre of nearly a million human beings. Once the crime was completed, they did not break their alliance with the killers. François Mitterrand even said to his inner circle in the summer of 1994: ‘You know, in such countries, genocide is not too important.’ ” (Translated from the French.)

Judicial racism
The Guardian’s Gary Younge argues that incidents of judicial racism in the US and UK are not the result of “people simply going rogue.”
“All these perpetrators were reported to the authorities and – in the absence of massive public pressure and media exposure – all were cleared. Both systemic and systematic, the racism these incidents and statistics reveal is embedded within the judicial system itself, rendering it part of the problem rather than the solution. This goes beyond the parental to the political. For it is difficult to escape the conclusion that the state, as currently imagined and experienced, is simply not set up with the purpose of protecting the rights of black people – indeed quite the opposite. It seems to function with the specific intent of violating their rights.”

Skin whitening
India Real Time’s Rupa Subramanya looks into India’s $400 million market for skin-whitening products, including one whose ad promises to “make a woman’s vagina fairer.”
“But before this gets branded a uniquely Indian phenomenon, consider that ever since the craze for the Brazilian wax, skin whitening for your private parts has been a thriving industry in the U.S. and elsewhere for some time. There are skin whitening products for just about every orifice. These were invented and marketed in the West long before they came to India. Like Coca-Cola and many other consumer goods, they’ve arrived here a little later.
The premium on fair skin isn’t unique to India and the developing world.”

Latest Developments, February 27

In the latest news and analysis…

OccupyLSX dismantled
Reuters reports that police have dismantled the Occupy London “anti-capitalist camp” after more than four months of protest outside St Paul’s cathedral.
“The [City of London] Corporation won its right to remove the camp after arguing in court that it hindered planning control, attracted crime, and interfered with a public right of way and the rights of those who wished to worship in the cathedral.
It won a case in the High Court last month for the tents to be taken away. The protesters went to the Court of Appeal arguing that their case had ‘unique and global’ significance but the appeal was rejected.
The protesters could still apply to the European Court of Human Rights.”

Latest from WikiLeaks
WikiLeaks has begun releasing over 5 million emails from Stratfor, a Texas-based company it says “fronts as an intelligence publisher, but provides confidential intelligence services to large corporations” and government agencies.
“The material shows how a private intelligence agency works, and how they target individuals for their corporate and government clients. For example, Stratfor monitored and analysed the online activities of Bhopal activists, including the “Yes Men”, for the US chemical giant Dow Chemical. The activists seek redress for the 1984 Dow Chemical/Union Carbide gas disaster in Bhopal, India. The disaster led to thousands of deaths, injuries in more than half a million people, and lasting environmental damage.”

Class morality
The Globe and Mail reports on new findings that suggest the rich are more likely to behave unethically than the poor.
“In results from seven separate studies, they found a consistent tendency among those they termed ‘upper-class’ to be more likely to break the law while driving, take valued goods from others, lie in negotiations, cheat to increase their chances of winning a prize and endorse unethical behaviour at work.
The reason for the ethical difference was simple, according to the paper being published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a leading U.S. science journal. Wealthier people are more likely to have an attitude that greed is good.”

Legal opinions
The Huffington Post’s Mike Sacks writes that European governments do not share the Obama administration’s enthusiasm for equating “natural and judicial persons” when it comes to liability for crime committed overseas.
“In an ironic twist, the conservative [US Supreme Court] justices, who loudly resist being influenced by foreign legal trends, can look to European interpretations of U.S. law as the best cover for now discovering corporate immunity from international human rights allegations. In briefs filed in support of Royal Dutch Petroleum, the United Kingdom and Netherlands governments wrote that they have long opposed “overly broad assertions of extraterritorial civil jurisdiction” based on foreigners’ claims against foreign defendants for alleged activities in foreign countries. The German government took a similar stance. These positions arose out of all three nations’ express preference for multilateral agreements to resolve such problems, rather than unilateral action by any one country’s courts.”

Burn Berne
Kent Law School’s Alan Story believes there is little hope of  “a ‘balanced’ intellectual property agenda across the world” as long as the global copyright system is governed by the Berne Convention.
“In fact, the Berne Convention, the main provisions of which were drafted by a handful of industrialised countries in 1886 and is essentially unchanged in ideology or substantive assumptions since then, is one of the most lopsided and unequal international legal instruments one can imagine. Almost a decade ago in my Burn Berne article, I wrote that, for the peoples of the global South, Berne ‘operates as Western-based and unreconstructed colonial relic which they had no role in drafting and which was imposed on them without consultation in an earlier era’ ; I concluded the leading international copyright convention was both ‘unbalanced and unbalanceable.’
In 2012, I hold the same view. It is both illusory and delusory to think that a so-called balanced or re-balanced Berne and /or global copyright system can constructed; it is not only wishful, but also wistful, thinking and is based on a naive understanding of how this system operates, as well as its ideology and power relationships within it.”

Fair trade
The Guardian’s Felicity Lawrence argues the Fairtrade movement is guilty of making its case in the language of philanthropy, not rights.
“By doing that it throws responsibility for making sure farmers and workers are fairly paid back on to consumers – who may or may not be able to afford to take their morals shopping, especially in a recession – rather than on the big businesses, the international traders, the manufacturers and the retailers that make substantial profits out of the goods they sell.
Fair trade alone cannot address the core problem of excessively concentrated markets in which a handful of overpowerful transnational corporations dictate terms of trade and suck profits up into their own coffers.
What is needed for really fair trade is a more equitable distribution of the money in the chain. That will only be achieved with a shift in power which requires political action.”

EU overfishing
The Guardian reports that Spain is lobbying hard for stricter new fishing rules not to apply to EU boats operating outside European waters, despite evidence that current practices are overtaxing ocean resources and hurting the economy and diet of African coastal populations.
According to the [Greenpeace] study, the EU paid €142.7m to secure the fishing rights for just one fleet of 34 giant factory trawlers to work in Mauritanian and Moroccan waters between 2006 and 2012. Of this, EU taxpayers paid €128m, and the companies only €14m.
The report shows that these 34 vessels catch 235,000 tonnes a year of fish from the Moroccan and Mauritanian waters, leaving little for the local fishers. Mauritania is one of seven Sahelian countries to have declared a food emergency in the last month and appealed for emergency aid.”

Closing loopholes
UC Berkeley’s Robert Reich cannot understand why US President Barack Obama is talking about cutting corporate taxes.
“Corporate taxes have plummeted as a share of total federal revenues. In 1953, under President Dwight Eisenhower, a Republican, corporate taxes accounted for 32 per cent of total federal tax revenues. Now they’re only ten per cent.
But now the federal budget deficit is ballooning, and in less than a year major cuts are scheduled to slice everything from prenatal care to Medicare. So this would seem to be the ideal time to raise corporate taxes – or at the very least close corporate tax loopholes without lowering corporate rates.”

Latest Developments, February 7

In the latest news and analysis…

Global New Deal
The UN News Centre reports on a new UN Conference on Trade and Development paper that calls for an overhaul of the world’s financial system to produce a “more stable and inclusive” global economy.
“ ‘Financial markets and institutions have become the masters rather than the servants of the real economy, distorting trade and investment, heightening levels of inequality, and posing a systemic threat to economic stability,’ warns the report, which also defines the dominant pattern of international economic relations during the past three decades as ‘finance-driven globalization.’
[UNCTAD Secretary-General] Supachai [Panitchpakdi] instead calls for financial and other resources to be channelled towards ‘the right kinds’ of productive activities, ensuring that measures to diversify economic development are consistent with job creation, food and energy security, and tackling the threat of climate change.”

Arms trade transparency
The BBC reports the UK government is promising to allow greater public scrutiny of arms exports following allegations that weapons it had sold to Middle Eastern regimes were used to suppress popular protests during last year’s Arab Spring.
“The government intends to publish information about licence applications and updates of sales, once they have been awarded.
An independent reviewer could also be appointed to scrutinise the process to ensure it is working ‘correctly’.”

Shooting the messenger
The Wall Street Journal reports a former General Electric executive is alleging he was fired for relaying concerns about the legality of the company’s behaviour abroad.
“ ‘The Plaintiff provided information to his immediate supervisor and to the Ombudsperson for GE regarding potential violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act committed by GE during negotiations for a lucrative, multi-year deal with the Iraqi Ministry of Electricity,’ the complaint said.”

Unethical links
The Ecologist reports a number of “seemingly ethical” Brititsh companies – The Co-operative, Marks & Spencer and Waitrose – are facing criticism over their partnerships with controversial oil giants.
“Greg Muttitt, campaigns and policy director at international development charity War on Want, said: ‘People believe there is an ethical option. The fact these companies are doing deals with unethical businesses shows how limited their ethical commitments are. This will wake people up to how these companies’ ethical policies are only skin deep.’ ”

Democratic deficit
The recently signed international Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) is a potential threat to Internet freedom but the extent of its menace remains unclear because of the opaque and undemocratic negotiation process, according to Oxford Internet Institute graduate student Alexander Furnas.
“It is worth noting that the negotiations throughout most of the process were highly secret with negotiators forced to sign non-disclosure agreements, a fact that, according to one [Wikileaks] cable, made even some of the negotiating parties uncomfortable. There were few avenues for public or civil-society input. Meanwhile many U.S. based multinational corporations and their interest groups, including the Recording Industry Association of America, the Motion Picture Association of America, Sony, and Time Warner were consulted via formal [Office of the US Trade Representative] advisory boards.”

Myth making
The Center for Global Development’s Michael Clemens writes about the birth of an “immigration fiction” as the UK Minister of State for Immigration Damian Green, with the help of the British media, distorts the findings of a recent report by attributing causation where it found only association.
“But the minister’s myth propagates anyway, with help from a docile press. The BBC article on the minister’s speech, for example, simply quotes the minister’s false interpretation of the [Migration Advisory Committee] report, without qualification. The article does not bother to interview any of the MAC report’s authors, who could clarify what they did or did not say. The BBC article does bother to interview anti-immigration activist Sir Andrew Green, who (shocker!) shares the minister’s sadly fictional interpretation of the MAC report.

What does the best economic research show? As I’ve discussed in a peer-reviewed article in a journal of the American Economic Association, barriers to migration from developing countries are far and away the most impoverishing obstacle to the global economy. Even slightly greater labor mobility out of developing countries would add trillions of dollars to the world economy, and most of those gains happen in countries of destination like the UK.”

Zero-sum madness
The Post Carbon Institute’s Richard Heinberg argues that perpetuating the current competition-based global system is not a viable option if survival of the species is our objective.
“Taken together, current cooperative efforts toward resource conservation, climate mitigation and population stabilisation are woefully insufficient – as exemplified by failed climate talks, continued global population growth and ever-heightening international competition for access to dwindling fossil fuel supplies. There are plenty of justifications for pessimism: after all, won’t the first nations to engage in resource conservation lose economic advantage to those that engage in conquest and consumption maximisation? Wouldn’t even one major national holdout undermine a worldwide cooperative effort at climate protection?
Dramatically expanding our international and domestic cooperative efforts at this worrisome moment in history may seem like a tall order. The only advantage to doing so is that it is the only path going forward that does not end in a global tragedy in which the fate of the ‘winners’ is hardly preferable to that of the ‘losers’.”

Body of evidence
The World Bank’s Markus Goldstein writes that there is remarkably little impact evaluation done on interventions and reforms relating to trade policy.
“The need for more evidence is key. As [Olivier] Cadot & co. point out, trade is receiving an increasing amount of policy attention and donors (the World Bank among them) are stepping up support of trade related interventions. But, alas, little work is being done. As a striking example, Cadot & co. review all World Bank trade projects from 1995-2005. Of these 85 projects, only 5 included an impact evaluation that used a comparison group. ”