Archive for the ‘Topics’ Category

18
Dec

Wal-Mart de Mexico was an aggressive and creative corrupter, offering large payoffs to get what the law otherwise prohibited, an examination by The New York Times found.

By DAVID BARSTOW and ALEJANDRA XANIC von BERTRAB

Wal-Mart longed to build in Elda Pineda’s alfalfa field. It was an ideal location, just off this town’s bustling main entrance and barely a mile from its ancient pyramids, which draw tourists from around the world. With its usual precision, Wal-Mart calculated it would attract 250 customers an hour if only it could put a store in Mrs. Pineda’s field.

One major obstacle stood in Wal-Mart’s way.

After years of study, the town’s elected leaders had just approved a new zoning map. The leaders wanted to limit growth near the pyramids, and they considered the town’s main entrance too congested already. As a result, the 2003 zoning map prohibited commercial development on Mrs. Pineda’s field, seemingly dooming Wal-Mart’s hopes.

But 30 miles away in Mexico City, at the headquarters of Wal-Mart de Mexico, executives were not about to be thwarted by an unfavorable zoning decision. Instead, records and interviews show, they decided to undo the damage with one well-placed $52,000 bribe.

The plan was simple. The zoning map would not become law until it was published in a government newspaper. So Wal-Mart de Mexico arranged to bribe an official to change the map before it was sent to the newspaper, records and interviews show. Sure enough, when the map was published, the zoning for Mrs. Pineda’s field was redrawn to allow Wal-Mart’s store.

Problem solved.

Wal-Mart de Mexico broke ground months later, provoking fierce opposition. Protesters decried the very idea of a Wal-Mart so close to a cultural treasure. They contended the town’s traditional public markets would be decimated, its traffic mess made worse. Months of hunger strikes and sit-ins consumed Mexico’s news media. Yet for all the scrutiny, the story of the altered map remained a secret. The store opened for Christmas 2004, affirming Wal-Mart’s emerging dominance in Mexico. Read more…

As published in www.nytimes.com on December 17, 2012 (a version of this article appeared in print on December 18, 2012, on page A1 of the New York edition with the headline: The Bribery Aisle: How Wal-Mart Used Payoffs To Get Its Way in Mexico).

17
Dec

President faces uninvented threats from around the world

By Edward Luce

Asked about the fiscal cliff’s impact on foreign perceptions of the US, David Rothkopf, a former Clinton official, quipped: “If Lindsay Lohan were arrested again tomorrow, how much would it change your opinion of her?” The cliff is a domestic crisis of choice rather than of necessity so it is still possible to make light of it. The same cannot be said of Barack Obama’s overseas inbox.

At a moment of acute Washington navel gazing, Mr Obama faces an ominous range of uninvented threats from around the world. Whether 2013 turns out to be the year of Iran, Syria, Egypt, North Korea or Afghanistan, or a mix of the above, they march to their own time. One or two, notably Iran, could be time bombs. Alas, the fracas over Susan Rice’s withdrawal from consideration as secretary of state last week suggests Mr Obama will be distracted for some time by Washington’s clock – the one that is stuck at 11.59pm.

Mr Obama is this week likely to announce John Kerry as his choice to replace Hillary Clinton. But even the smoothest nomination will not go through the Senate until January. Foreign diplomats chafing at the Do Not Disturb sign hanging outside the White House for much of this year find it is still there six weeks after the election. Even at the price of jettisoning his most trusted foreign policy adviser, Mr Obama is trying to conserve all his leverage for the cliff and beyond. Most importantly, it is swallowing his time.

On Iran, in particular, there is little to waste. Among Washington’s foreign policy luminaries, it is hard to find one who claims to know the Obama administration’s strategy. Some speculate that the White House may have already established a back channel dialogue with Tehran led by someone like Thomas Pickering, the veteran state department envoy. If so, it would be reassuring. But this is a hope rather than an estimate. Others worry that Mr Obama lacks a real strategy to communicate. Read more…

As published in www.ft.com on December 16, 2012.

14
Dec

The moral choices on interrogations

By David Ignatius

Mark Boal, screenwriter of the new movie “Zero Dark Thirty,” says he wanted to tell a story that conveyed the moral complexities of the hunt to kill Osama bin Laden. The debate already churning around the film shows that he and director Kathryn Bigelow succeeded in that, and much else.

The movie tells the story of the relentless pursuit of bin Laden, seen through a character called “Maya,” who is based on one of the real-life CIA targeters who tracked down the al-Qaeda leader. It was Maya’s good sense to focus on the courier “Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti,” who finally led the targeters to their prey.

But it’s a muted victory. In the haunting last scene of the film, Maya is seen sitting in a C-130 cargo plane at Bagram air base after she has identified bin Laden’s body. One of the crew asks her where she wants to go. She doesn’t know what to answer, and this frames the uncertainty of America itself: What did we accomplish in killing bin Laden? At what cost? Where do we go next?

The debate about the film centers on what role torture played in pinpointing al-Kuwaiti and then bin Laden himself. The film suggests that without “enhanced interrogation techniques” (the Orwellian euphemism), Maya might not have made the match. The movie doesn’t “advocate” torture — which it shows in horrifyingly believable detail — but it does demonstrate how evidence gleaned from it led to bin Laden’s door. Could Maya have gotten there some other way? The film doesn’t speculate.

Some critics contend that the film is wrong because, first, torture is ineffective and, second, bin Laden could have been found through other tactics. But I fear this argument softens the moral dilemma and overlooks part of the factual record. I asked intelligence officials to clarify some of the details, and they responded with information that may help audiences evaluate “Zero Dark Thirty” when it opens Dec. 19. Read more…

As published in www.washingtonpost.com on December 12, 2012.

13
Dec

For Better Planning, Watch Global Demographic Trends

By Joseph Chamie

Figure 1. Uneven growth: Near 95 percent of the world’s annual demographic growth takes place in less developed regions; yet more than half the world’s GDP is center in the more developed economies. Source: United Nations and World Bank

While governments and institutions try to grapple with economic uncertainty and volatility an important factor of relative certainty is often overlooked: demography. One may not know how the markets will behave, but demographic trends can provide instructive and relative certainty for the near term to deal with debt, taxes, unemployment and entitlements, to name a few. Dismissal of major demographic trends, seven of which described below, will in all likelihood result in ill-conceived policies, unsustainable programs and squandered resources.

First, at an estimated 7 billion, the world’s population is growing at 1.1 percent annually, or 78 million people, half the peak level of 2.1 percent in the late 1960s. Although the world’s demographic growth rate is continuing to slow due to declining birthrates, the 8 billion world population mark will likely be reached by 2025. This growth will increase the world’s working age population, 15 to 64 years, by 610 million and those aged 65 years and older by 290 million, increases of 13 and 52 percent, respectively.

Second, nearly all of the world’s annual demographic growth – close to 95 percent – is occurring in less developed regions. Top seven contributing nations are India, 22 percent; China, 9 percent; Nigeria, 5 percent; Pakistan, 4 percent; Indonesia, 3 percent; Brazil, 2 percent; and Ethiopia, 2 percent (see Figure 1). Due to its much higher growth, the juggernaut population of India – currently larger than all the developed regions combined – is expected to overtake China in a decade, when the Indian population is projected to reach 1.4 billion. Among more developed regions, the nation contributing most to world population growth is the United States at 3 percent, and the growth of the next six nations, including Spain, Italy, Australia, the United Kingdom, France and Canada, ranges from 0.7 to 0.5 percent.

Though nearly all of the world’s demographic growth is occurring in less developed regions, 54 percent of the world’s GDP is carried out by the 10 largest national economies of the more developed countries (Figure 1). Collectively, these more developed countries – led by the United States, Japan and Germany – represent 14 percent of world population, expected to decline to 11 percent by midcentury. Read more…

Joseph Chamie, former director of the United Nations Population Division, recently stepped down as research director at the Center for Migration Studies.

As published by Yale Global on December 12, 2012.

12
Dec

By Choe Sang-Hun and David E. Sanger

This photo released by the state-run Korean Central News Agency shows North Korean technicians monitoring the launch of an Unha-3 rocket carrying the satellite Kwangmyongsong-3, or Shining Star-3, into orbit on Wednesday.

North Korea appeared to have put what it said was a satellite into orbit on Wednesday, a boost for the country’s young leader, Kim Jong-un, in his struggle to be hailed at home as a worthy successor to his father and to be regarded as a serious rival by the United States and its allies in the region.

With the surprise launch on Wednesday morning of a rocket that flew beyond the Philippines and apparently put an object into orbit, North Korea showed that after a series of failures it was clearing key technical hurdles toward mastering the technology needed to build an intercontinental ballistic missile, analysts said.

The launch prompted the United States and its two main Asian allies, Japan and South Korea, to demand further United Nations sanctions on North Korea. But it was far from clear how far China, the North’s main ally, might be prepared to go in joining that push.

China said that it “regrets” the launch, the first time it has used that word in the context of the North’s rocket program. The Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, Hong Lei, also said that North Korea’s right to a peaceful space program was “subject to limitations by relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions,” somewhat tougher language than China has used on that subject in the past.

“North Korea, as a member of the United Nations, has the obligation to abide by relevant resolutions of the United Nations Security Council,” Mr. Hong said at a regular briefing in Beijing. But he declined to say whether North Korea had lived up to that obligation or whether China had received advance notice that the launch would happen Wednesday.

In North Korea, the apparent success gave Mr. Kim a propaganda boon. After state television announced the “important news” that the Unha-3 rocket had put the satellite Kwangmyongsong-3, or Shining Star-3, into orbit, government vehicles with loudspeakers rolled through the streets of the North Korean capital, Pyongyang, blaring the news, according to the North’s state-run Korean Central News Agency. The Associated Press, which has a bureau in Pyongyang, reported dancing in the streets. Read more…

As published in www.nytimes.com on December 12, 2012.

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