VOL 28 No. 3
The Billionaire Loophole: The Private Equity Tax Escape
by Samuel Bollier
Financial Entanglement and Developing Countries
by C.P. Chandrasekhar
Sin and Society: Part 1
by Edward Alsworth Ross
The Predators' Ball Resumes: Financial Mania and Systemic Risk
an interview with Damon Silvers
The Foreclosure Epidemic: The Cost to Families and Communities of the Predictable Mortgage Meldown
an interview with Alan Fishbein
Behind the Lines
Deregulation and the Financial Crisis
White Collar Drug Pushers - Snake Eyes for the U.S. at WTO - Taming the Giant Corporation
The Lawrence Summers Memorial Award
Greed At a Glance
Names In the News
Behind the Lines
So Long, Wolfowitz
The big bad wolf has left the house. World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz resigned from his post in May following nearly two months of turmoil after it was found he broke ethics rules when giving his girlfriend a salary raise.
"Paul Wolfowitz, now exposed as a corrupt liar, has been an invaluable asset in exposing the fundamental illegitimacy and institutional corruption of the World Bank," Sameer Dossani, executive director of the 50 Years is Enough Network, says satirically. "Though we are not sad to see him go, we would like to take a minute to thank him for bringing to light the rampant corruption, favoritism and double standards that help make these institutions tick."
Wolfowitz defended his actions saying that he had transferred his girlfriend to the State Department in order to avoid the obvious conflict of interest in being her supervisor. The pay raise was compensation for the career disruption.
Giving into demands from Wolfowitz and his attorney on the terms of his resignation, the World Bank board included in their statement that Wolfowitz "assured us that he acted ethically and in the best interests of the institution, and we accept that."
Wolfowitz's tenure at the Bank was riddled in controversy. In a relentless campaign against corruption that many saw as politically motivated, Wolfowitz suspended aid to several countries without consulting board members. World Bank staff members also repeatedly accused Wolfowitz of insulating himself behind small groups of aides, disregarding the counsel of veteran bank officers and running the bank as an adjunct of the Bush administration.
Regarding his resignation Wolfowitz says, "I have concluded it is in the best interests of those whom the institution serves for that mission to be carried forward under new leadership."
Don't Tread on Brazil
A European Union (EU) claim that Brazil was treading on its trade rights by banning the import of used tires was effectively rejected by the World Trade Organization (WTO) in June.
The EU filed a complaint against Brazil in 2005 for banning imports of retreaded tires from EU countries. Brazil justified its restrictions based on environmental, fire hazard and heath grounds, but continued importing retreaded tires from Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay and Venezuela, claiming a ruling by Mercosur - a regional trade pact - required it to do so. The country insisted that it was not equipped to deal with the additional waste created by EU tire imports.
Retreaded tires are used tires that have been rehabilitated for a second and final use. Brazil maintained that the short lifespan of retreaded tires relegates them to dumping grounds more quickly, where they become breeding grounds for mosquitoes that spread malaria, dengue fever and yellow fever.
The WTO case is the first in which a rich country challenged environmental measures taken by a developing country.
A June 2007 decision by a WTO dispute settlement panel found that Brazil's ban violated global trade rules and was therefore illegal. But the panel also noted that with some "adjustments" to the restrictions, the ban could be deemed legal based on health and environmental concerns. Specifically, Brazil needs to deal with the matter consistently in its own courts and overturn the rulings some lower courts made allowing the import of used tires.
"It is an environmental victory for Brazil as a developing country concerned with the health of its people and its environment," says Marcos Orellana of the Center for International Environmental Law, adding that the case will help bring to an end "industrialized countries wanting to export their soon-to-be trash to developing countries."
The EU is appealing the WTO's decision.
Before the Deluge
Another lesson from Hurricane Katrina: Conventional flood control measures, such as dams and levees, not only fail to protect communities from the devastation of floods, they often exacerbate the damages. This according to a June report from the Berkeley, California-based International Rivers Network (IRN).
"Dams and levees can never be fail-proof," says Patrick McCully, executive director of IRN. "And when they fail, they do so spectacularly and sometimes catastrophically. They also provide a false sense of security that encourages unwise development of vulnerable floodplains. We need to learn to live with floods while reducing the damage they cause."
"Before the Deluge: Coping with Floods in a Changing Climate," advocates a "soft path" of flood risk management, which aims to "understand, adapt to and work with the forces of nature." Key elements of soft-path flood management include strategies to reduce the speed and size of the flood waters, improving emergency procedures, implementing regulations to halt development on floodplains, flood-proofing vulnerable buildings and improving dam management.
Levees and dams, considered "hard" flood control, are politically popular, yet approximately one third of all flood disasters in the United States are caused by levee failures. "The consequences of a levee failure can be severe, usually causing much worse flooding than if no levee had been built," the report states. "Levee-break floods are unpredictable, sudden and powerful. Such floods leave little or no time for evacuation and can cause major damages to infrastructure."
Dams and levees create the conditions to make any flood that does occur much more devastating. They lead to sediment deposits on river beds, which reduce channel capacities to absorb storm surges. The straightening and narrowing of rivers for levee construction causes faster-flowing floodwaters. And the reduced flow of sediment caused by dams leads to loss of wetlands and offshore barrier islands, which can greatly reduce the impact of storm surges, as was catastrophically evident with Katrina.
A World of Weapons
Global military spending exceeded $1.2 trillion in 2006, with the United States' $529 billion accounting for 46 percent of the world total, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) reported in SIPRI Yearbook 2007: Armaments, Disarmament and International Security, released in June 2007.
"U.S. military expenditures reached Cold War levels in 2004 and is now going beyond that level," says Elisabeth Sköns, leader of the military expenditure and arms production sector of SIPRI.
The United Kingdom was the second-highest spender, allocating $59 billion to military expenditures. France spent $53 billion. China, whose expenditure was only half of Japan's in 1999, surpassed Japan in 2006, spending an estimated $49.5 billion.
"The level of China's military expenditures is a contested issue," Sköns says, noting that other estimates are "substantially higher" than the SIPRI figure. The U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) estimates China spends between $80 billion and $115 billion on its military.
"These high estimates are often used as an argument when portraying the military threat of China," says Sköns. "But it seems that there is now some consensus building up that the estimates of the DIA and some other sources have been excessively high."
The United States was also the largest arms supplier. The top 100 arms sales totaled $290 billion, with 40 U.S. firms accounting for 63 percent of those sales.
"While much media attention was given to arms deliveries to Iran, mainly from Russia, deliveries from the U.S. and European countries to Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates were significantly larger," the SIPRI report states. Overall, China and India were the largest arms importers.
Sköns notes that the World Health Organization's Commission on Macroeconomics and Health reported that if $57 billion - less than 6 percent of military expenditures - was invested annually in basic health interventions, 8 million lives could be saved each year.
Reed Elsevier Disarms
The power of the pen has once again proved mightier than the sword. After intense pressure from leading academics, authors and medical organizations, academic publisher Reed Elsevier announced in June it is pulling out of the arms trade sector and will no longer organize arms exhibitions.
"It has become increasingly clear that growing numbers of important customers and authors have very real concerns about our involvement in the defense exhibitions business," says Sir Crispin Davis, CEO of Reed Elsevier. "We have listened closely to these concerns and this has led us to conclude that the defense shows are no longer compatible with Reed Elsevier's position as a leading publisher of scientific, medical, legal and business content."
Reed Elsevier organized and ran several of the world's largest arms fairs through its subsidiary companies Reed Exhibitions and Spearhead Exhibitions.
The editors of Reed Elsevier's flagship medical journal, The Lancet, were some of the first to publicly call on Reed Elsevier to "divest itself of all business interests that threaten human, and especially civilian, health and well-being."
In February 2007, the campaign against Reed Elsevier heightened, as the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust, a Quaker organization that provides grants toward political equality and social justice, sold nearly $3 million in Reed Elsevier shares.
That same month, nearly 140 academics from 17 countries sent an open letter to Reed Elsevier calling on the company to cease all involvement and activities in arms fairs. "Arms fairs, marketing the tools of violence, are a major link in the chain of the global arms trade which proliferates arms around the world and fuels a cycle of human, economic and environmental destruction," the letter stated. "This is entirely at odds with the ethical and social obligations we have to promote. … We call on Reed Elsevier to cease all involvement in arms fairs."
Signatories included professors from Brown University, Cambridge University, Oxford University, the University of Edinburgh, the University of Utrecht and the University of California at Berkeley.
- Jennifer Wedekind
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