Latest Developments, September 18

In the latest news and analysis…

Death by GDP
The Zoological Society of London’s Jonathon Baillie argues that America’s improving environment does not mean economic growth is good for biodiversity:

“GDP masquerading as growth has negative implications for biodiversity, as this ‘growth’ only calculates output; or as Joseph Stiglitz, a Nobel Laureate, said: ‘GDP measures only revenues to see how well a firm is doing; far more relevant is the balance sheet, which shows assets and liabilities.’

Some of America’s environmental conditions can be explained by innovation leading to greater efficiency, such as fuel efficiency in cars or more efficient agricultural production. But the majority of the negative impact has simply been exported. The industries that produce the most pollutants have been outsourced to emerging nations that have fewer regulations, in terms of both the environment and labour conditions. Therefore the environmental impact of increased consumption is largely felt beyond the borders of wealthy nations — it is middle- and lower-income nations that experience the majority of environmental degradation and biodiversity loss.

It is self-evident that growth, as currently defined, has a major negative impact upon biodiversity. What needs to change is the definition of growth from a GDP-centric mindset to a balance-sheet approach.”

Toxic legacy
The Associated Press reports that hundreds of Chilean plaintiffs are suing a Swedish mining company for allegedly exporting and dumping toxic waste during the Pinochet era:

“The lawsuit filed with a Swedish district court claims Boliden exported 20,000 tons of mining waste to the Chilean town of Arica in the mid-1980s, despite knowing it was highly toxic and could not be handled safely at the site.
Citizens in a residential area called Polygono claim the waste includes high levels of arsenic, lead and quicksilver, and that it has given them health problems such as cancer, aching bones, breathing difficulties, rashes and miscarriages.”

MINUSTAH misconduct
The Center for Economic and Policy Research reports that an alleged rape by a UN peacekeeper in Haiti is just the latest incident in an alarming pattern of sexual violence:

“In fact, according to the U.N. Conduct and Discipline Unit, there have been 78 allegations of sexual abuse and exploitation by members of MINUSTAH reported in just the last 7 years.
Responding to the latest allegation, the U.N. mission noted that ‘the UN has a zero tolerance policy regarding sexual exploitation and abuse that we, at MINUSTAH, strictly enforce.’ However the U.N. lacks the authority to hold accountable those who are found responsible. Troops stationed in Haiti under the U.N. mission are subject only to the justice system of their home country.

Through the first 8 months of 2013, there had already been 13 allegations. The latest makes 14. While MINUSTAH makes up less than 10 percent of U.N. peacekeeping forces worldwide, the mission has accounted for over 35 percent of all sexual abuse and exploitation allegations against all such U.N. forces in 2013.”

Corrupt companies
Canada.com reports that companies from wealthy, English-speaking countries dominate the World Bank’s newly updated corporate blacklist:

“The World Bank bans companies from participating in aid and development contracts if they ‘have been sanctioned under the Bank’s fraud and corruption policy.’

Companies with head offices listed in Canada, which does not include overseas subsidiaries, comprise 119 names on the World Bank list, the most of any country. The U.S. is second with 44 debarred firms, Indonesia third with 43 and Britain close behind with 40.”

Juggling act
The Financial Times reports on mining industry opposition to South African attempts at ensuring its people “benefit more equitably” from natural resource exploitation:

“ ‘What you can hear from all parts of Africa and elsewhere is that developing countries don’t want an extractive relationship either with the bigger emerging markets or with the developed countries. They want a relationship where there is value addition to the minerals, so that jobs are created, skills are created and technology imparted, and that this contributes to overall social and economic development,’ [South African Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan] told the FT.
The bill, as it stands, aims to do this by allowing the mines minister the discretion to determine the quantity and set the price at which mining companies sell to local industries.”

Visit cancelled
Bloomberg reports that Brazil’s president has called off a scheduled trip to Washington over allegations of US espionage:

“[Dilma Rousseff] said Sept. 6 she was outraged by allegations that the U.S. National Security Agency monitored her e-mail and telephone communications with top aides. The NSA also spied on state-controlled Petroleo Brasileiro SA, according to accusations presented by U.S. journalist Glenn Greenwald based on documents leaked by fugitive security analyst Edward Snowden.

Rousseff’s decision marks the second head of state meeting with Obama that has been canceled because of documents leaked by Snowden.”

Canadian xenophobia
The National Post reports on a new poll revealing the extent of ethnic and religious hatred across Canada:

“About half of Bloc Quebecois and Parti Quebecois supporters think that Muslims and Jews have too much influence in their province, while nearly a third of British Columbians think the same of Sikhs and Asians, a new poll suggests.
While that sentiment is particularly pronounced by separatists and in Quebec in general, the rest of Canada fares little better in the Forum Poll on multiculturalism, with about one-third of Canadians saying Muslims have too much influence in their home province.”

Unmissable opportunity
Global Witness is among 59 NGOs urging the EU to stop European businesses from “fuelling conflict and human rights abuses” through the purchase of natural resources:

“ ‘As the world’s largest trading bloc, and home to many leading global companies trading and manufacturing natural resources, the EU’s leverage over global supply chains is hugely significant,’ said Chantal Daniels of Christian Aid. ‘This is an unmissable opportunity for the EU to bring in strong and effective legislation. If they fail to do so then business will continue as usual and most companies will not check whether their purchases have funded conflict,’ added Zobel Behalal of CCFD-Terre Solidaire.”

Advertisements

Latest Developments, August 8

In the latest news and analysis…

Swiss segregation
The BBC reports that some Swiss towns are planning to ban asylum-seekers from “public places such as swimming pools, playing fields and libraries”:

“Asylum-seekers are to be housed in special centres, mainly former army barracks, and the first one has opened in the town of Bremgarten.

Roman Staub, mayor of the town of Menzingen, said asylum-seekers should be banned from ‘sensitive areas’ such as the vicinity of a school. ‘This is certainly a very difficult area, because here asylum-seekers could meet our schoolchildren – young girls or young boys,’ he said.
In Bremgarten, a church will also be off-limits to asylum-seekers.”

Plan of death
The Guardian reports on a consultation exercise intended as a “reality check” for the UN panel tasked with formulating the post-2015 successors to the Millennium Development Goals:

“Four groups were consulted, each comprising 10 to 14 people, including urban slum dwellers, people with disabilities, nomadic and indigenous people, and those from remote communities.

The most radical vision came from Brazil’s panel, which saw present patterns of development as tantamount to developing a ‘plan of death’ for the planet. The group proposed a so-called plan for global life emphasising the importance of dignity. ‘We understand dignity as the complete fulfilment of human rights and basic security in terms of housing, access to land, health, nourishment, education, transport and leisure,’ it said.”

Strike five
Reuters reports that the latest of a string of US drone strikes in Yemen, the fifth in less than two weeks, has killed “at least six” people:

“Witnesses and local officials in the province of Shabwa said the drone fired at least six missiles at two vehicles in a remote area some 70 km (50 miles) north of the provincial capital, Ataq. Both vehicles were destroyed.
Residents who rushed to the scene found only charred bodies, they said.”

More war
The Financial Times’ Geoff Dyer writes that US President Barrack Obama’s recent pledge to dial down his country’s so-called war on terror has been “largely shredded”:

“It is not clear that the terror threat, which appears to be focused on the Yemen-based al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), is a reason to double-down on the war on terror tactics.
Some observers believe the plot could be a sign of weakness of an al-Qaeda leadership that is desperate for a high-profile incident to boost its standing. Others suggest that the continued strength of AQAP is a form of blowback for the heavy US drone campaign in Yemen. While the targets of drone strikes in Afghanistan and Pakistan have often been foreign fighters, in Yemen they have been aimed at locals with families and tribes.”

NGO sideshow
The School of Oriental and African Studies’ Michael Jennings argues that six-figure executive salaries are not the real problem with international charities:

“This latest furore is a distraction from what is a genuinely important point made in the Telegraph’s exposé: the need for transparency and openness in organisations that work in the development and humanitarian relief sector. Not just because they receive and spend hundreds of millions of pounds of public funds, but because their decisions affect the lives and prospects of some of the most marginalised people in the world.
There have been significant moves in recent years to make donors and recipient governments more transparent in their dealings. But given the amounts of money donors spend through NGOs, these organisations also need to be equally transparent: in terms of the money they receive, the evaluations of the projects and programmes they engage in, and their own dealings with governments, lobbyists, thinktanks and private sector companies. The best already do this. But transparency is too important to be left to best intentions.”

Bad business
Reuters reports that Guinea could invalidate an Israeli-owned company’s mining permits if its employees are found guilty of corruption:

“BSGR, the mining arm of Israeli billionaire Beny Steinmetz’s business empire, is battling Guinea over the right to mine one of the world’s largest untapped iron-ore deposits, known as Simandou.
The Guinean government alleges that BSGR bribed officials and Mamadie Toure, the wife of former President Lansana Conte, to win permits, or titles, to develop the northern half of the deposit, a charge the company has repeatedly rejected.

U.S. authorities in January began investigating potential illegal payments made to obtain mining concessions in Guinea and transfers of those payments into the United States.”

Depicting Africa
Wronging Rights’ Amanda Taub calls for a simple, Bechdel-style test to be applied to films and TV shows set in Africa:

“The Bechdel test is a feminist movie evaluation tool introduced by cartoonist Alison Bechdel. To pass the test, a movie must (1) have two or more female characters, (2) who talk to each other, (3) about a topic other than a man. If a movie doesn’t pass the test, that’s a sign that it’s lacking in female characters, and/or just using them as emotional MacGuffins for the males around them. (Many, many movies do not pass this test.)
I think it’s about time for us to introduce an equivalent test for African characters: if a movie or TV show is set in Africa, then it should (1) have at least two African characters, (2) who talk to each other, (3) about a topic other than poverty, disease, or violent conflict.”

Surveillance dissident
Princeton University’s Richard Falk objects on a number of levels to mainstream US media’s “pro-government bias” in the ongoing Edward Snowden controversy:

“[F]irstly, by consistently referring to Snowden by the demeaning designation of ‘leaker’ rather than as ‘whistleblower’ or ‘surveillance dissident,’ both more respectful and accurate.

Thirdly, the media’s refusal to point out that espionage, the main accusation against Snowden, is the quintessential ‘political offense’ in international law, and as such is routinely excluded from any list of extraditable offenses.

Of course, Putin’s new identity as ‘human rights defender’ lacks any principled credibility given his approach to political dissent in Russia, but that does not diminish the basic correctness of his response to Snowden. There is a certain obtuseness in the American diplomatic shrillness in this instance. Snowden’s acts of espionage are pure political offense.”

Latest Developments, July 30

In the latest news and analysis…

Official xenophobia
The Guardian reports on divisions within the British government over a campaign telling illegal immigrants to “go home” and a possible move to require residents of certain countries to pay a security deposit before visiting:

“A day after the Liberal Democrat business secretary, Vince Cable, called the campaign ‘stupid and offensive’, a No 10 [Downing Street] spokesman said [UK PM] David Cameron disagreed, adding that the posters and leaflets were attracting ‘a great deal of interest’.
In a separate move, Lib Dem sources said that a Home Office plan to force visitors from certain Asian and African countries to pay a £3,000 bond before being allowed to visit the UK had not been agreed within the coalition. Reports saying the plan had been signed off prompted a particularly angry reaction from India.”

Mali election
Reuters reports that Mali’s presidential vote went fairly smoothly on Sunday, suggesting “world powers, especially France” were right to insist on the hastily organized election:

“Chief EU observer Louis Michel said on Monday the election took place in a calm atmosphere and participation exceeded 50 percent in some places.
Turnout at some polling stations visited by Reuters on Sunday was more than 50 percent, while participation in previous presidential elections has never exceeded 40 percent.
‘No major incidents were reported even though there were some imperfections,’ Michel told journalists in Bamako.
Some Malians had difficulty finding polling stations and thousands displaced by the war are likely to have missed the vote as they would not have received the newly-printed ID cards.”

Opinion shift
The Guardian reports on a new poll indicating that for the first time since the 9/11 attacks, more Americans are worried about their civil liberties than the threat of terrorism:

“Among other things, Pew finds that ‘a majority of Americans – 56% – say that federal courts fail to provide adequate limits on the telephone and internet data the government is collecting as part of its anti-terrorism efforts.’ And ‘an even larger percentage (70%) believes that the government uses this data for purposes other than investigating terrorism.’ Moreover, ‘63% think the government is also gathering information about the content of communications.’ That demonstrates a decisive rejection of the US government’s three primary defenses of its secret programs: there is adequate oversight; we’re not listening to the content of communication; and the spying is only used to Keep You Safe™.”

Global citizenship
The New York Times marks the passing of Garry Davis, the “self-declared World Citizen No. 1” who believed the end of nation-states would mean the end of war:

“The One World model has had its share of prominent adherents, among them Albert Schweitzer, Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Einstein and E. B. White.
But where most advocates have been content to write and lecture, Mr. Davis was no armchair theorist: 60 years ago, he established the World Government of World Citizens, a self-proclaimed international governmental body that has issued documents — passports, identity cards, birth and marriage certificates — and occasional postage stamps and currency.

In November 1948, six months after renouncing his [US] citizenship in Paris, Mr. Davis stormed a session of the United Nations General Assembly there.
‘We, the people, want the peace which only a world government can give,’ he proclaimed. ‘The sovereign states you represent divide us and lead us to the abyss of total war.’ ”

Charitable-industrial complex
Peter Buffett, chairman of the NoVo Foundation and son of multi-billionaire Warren Buffett, discusses the dangers of “philanthropic colonialism” and “conscience laundering”:

“Inside any important philanthropy meeting, you witness heads of state meeting with investment managers and corporate leaders. All are searching for answers with their right hand to problems that others in the room have created with their left.

As more lives and communities are destroyed by the system that creates vast amounts of wealth for the few, the more heroic it sounds to ‘give back.’ It’s what I would call ‘conscience laundering’ — feeling better about accumulating more than any one person could possibly need to live on by sprinkling a little around as an act of charity.
But this just keeps the existing structure of inequality in place. The rich sleep better at night, while others get just enough to keep the pot from boiling over. Nearly every time someone feels better by doing good, on the other side of the world (or street), someone else is further locked into a system that will not allow the true flourishing of his or her nature or the opportunity to live a joyful and fulfilled life.

It’s time for a new operating system. Not a 2.0 or a 3.0, but something built from the ground up. New code.”

Unmanned & warrantless
The Washington Times reports that the FBI has told the US Congress it does not see any need to obtain case-by-case permission for drone surveillance:

“Then, in a follow-up letter [Senator Rand] Paul released Monday, [assistant director for the FBI’s congressional liaison office Stephen D.] Kelly said they don’t believe they ever need to obtain a warrant to conduct drone surveillance as long as it’s done within guidelines.
He said they take their lead from several Supreme Court cases that don’t deal directly with drones but do cover manned aerial surveillance.”

Smear tactics
Inter Press Service reports that the efforts by American “vulture capitalists” to make huge profits off Argentina’s 2001 debt default go well beyond the courtroom:

“The public relations effort, which focuses on Argentina’s increasingly friendly relations with Iran, comes as the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama is weighing whether to side with Argentina before the Supreme Court in its battle with Wall Street.

That the White House is backing away from its earlier defences of Argentina indicates that the millions of dollars U.S. hedge funds have spent lobbying members of the administration, Congress and the press are starting to change the debate, with Iran about as popular as Iraq was in 2002.”

Lastest Developments, August 23

In the latest news and analysis…

First impressions
The Wall Street Journal provides a sampling of initial responses to the US Securities and Exchange Commission’s adoption of long-delayed rules regarding conflict minerals and extractive industry transparency:

“The consensus seemed to be that the business community scored some victories on section 1502 [of the Dodd-Frank financial reform package], the so-called ‘conflict minerals provision,’ that requires companies to examine their supply chains to determine and disclose if their products contain minerals from the Democratic Republic of Congo or surrounding countries.
Meanwhile, good governance groups seemed happy with the rules on section 1504,which requires companies to disclose to the SEC all payments made to either the U.S. or a foreign government for the extraction of oil and minerals.”

Presidential warning
Agence France-Presse reports that South African President Jacob Zuma has warned mining companies to treat their workers better, as tensions began to radiate beyond the Lonmin facility where 44 striking miners were killed last week:

“Pointing out that the mining industry has assets valued at $2.5 trillion excluding coal and uranium, Zuma said the sector should be able to pay its workers a better wage.
‘In fact it should not be such an industry that has the lowest paid worker, given the wealth they have,’ he said during a memorial lecture to honour a former leader of the ruling African National Congress. He also noted that the government issued a directive to improve housing conditions for mine workers two years ago, but an audit conducted at mines in the North West province’s Rusternburg platinum belt showed only half were in compliance with the mining charter.
In one case, a company is housing 166 workers in a hostel block with just four toilets and four showers to share between them, the president said. ‘Sanctions for non-compliance with the charter include the cancellation of mining rights or licences,’ Zuma said.”

Extraordinary court
Human Rights Watch is calling a new agreement between Senegal and the African Union “an important step in the long campaign” to bring former Chadian president Hissène Habré to trial:

“Negotiations in July between the African Union and Senegal resulted in a plan to try Habré before a special court in the Senegalese justice system with African judges appointed by the AU presiding over his trial and any appeal. The August 22 agreement commits the parties to the plan and to a timetable that would have the court operational by the end of the year.
The new agreement calls for ‘Extraordinary African Chambers’ to be created inside the existing Senegalese court structure in Dakar. The chambers will have sections to handle investigations, trials, and appeals. The trial court and the appeals court will each consist of two Senegalese judges and a president from another African country.”

Roma restrictions
Reuters reports that the French government plans to “expand the number of sectors” where Roma people living in France are allowed to look for jobs:

“A government-approved list of jobs that are considered open to Roma people, which now stands at 150 and includes trades such as roofers, will be extended, according to a statement by [Prime Minister Jean-Marc] Ayrault’s office.
Two weeks ago, police evicted around 300 people from illegal campsites near the cities of Lille and Lyon and sent 240 of them on a plane back to Romania. The swoops recalled a crackdown two years before for which Sarkozy drew international criticism.”

Conga opposition
The Associated Press reports that a new public opinion poll suggests there is little local support for a $5 billion gold-mining project in northern Peru, which has raised fears of contaminated water supplies:

“The Ipsos-Apoyo poll in Cajamarca province found just 15 percent approve of the Conga project, with 78 percent disapproving and 7 percent with no opinion. U.S.-based Newmont Mining Co. is the mine’s majority owner.

Hundreds of Conga opponents held a second day of peaceful protests in the region Wednesday against what would be Peru’s biggest mine. They defied a state of emergency suspending the right of assembly that was imposed in early July after five people died during violent protests.”

American food
Reuters reports on a new study which found that Americans “throw away nearly half their food,” thereby wasting about $165 billion annually:

“ ‘As a country, we’re essentially tossing every other piece of food that crosses our path. That’s money and precious resources down the drain,’ said Dana Gunders, a scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council’s food and agriculture program.

Particularly worrisome, the organization said, was evidence that there has been a 50 percent jump in U.S. food waste since the 1970s.

‘No matter how sustainably our food is farmed, if it’s not being eaten, it is not a good use of resources,’ said Gunders.”

Glencore hearts droughts
The Guardian reports that the “food chief” at commodities-trading giant Glencore has said a crop-destroying drought in the US is good for business:

“Chris Mahoney, the trader’s director of agricultural products, who owns about £500m of Glencore shares, said the devastating US drought had created an opportunity for the company to make much more money.
‘In terms of the outlook for the balance of the year, the environment is a good one. High prices, lots of volatility, a lot of dislocation, tightness, a lot of arbitrage opportunities [the purchase and sale of an asset in order to profit from price differences in different markets],’ he said on a conference call .

‘They [Glencore] are millionaires making money from other people’s misery caused by the drought,’ [global food trade expert Raj Patel] said. ‘It’s the sad fact of how the international food system – that they pushed for and our governments gave to them – works.’ ”

NAM rising
As the Non-Aligned Movement prepares for next week’s Tehran summit, Trinity College’s Vijay Prashad suggests that the 120-nation group may be about to emerge from its decades in the wilderness:

“Until the last decade there have been few attempts to create an ideological and institutional alternative to neoliberalism or to unipolar imperialism.

With the arrival of the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) in the past few years, the mood has lifted. The much more assertive presence of the BRICS inside the NAM and in the United Nations has raised hopes that US and European intransigence will no longer determine the destiny of the world.”