Latest Developments, August 15

In the latest news and analysis…

GMO fail
The Food & Environment Reporting Network’s Tom Laskawy writes that a supposedly worm-resistant seed developed by agri-business giant Monsanto is “basically backfiring” in the drought-hit American Midwest:

“Historically, farmers managed corn rootworms through traditional crop rotations. These rootworms eat corn exclusively, so by alternating a corn crop with soy or another alternative, farmers would deprive the insects of food and the rootworm larvae would die off. This, by the way, is an age-old technique (originally part of the Native American Three Sisters agricultural tradition) that generates profits only for the farmer — not for seed companies.
Indeed, this abandonment of crop rotation was the other ‘innovation’ of Monsanto’s Bt corn — aside from releasing its own pesticide, that is. Farmers could now grow corn season after season in the same field. At the time, it seemed like an amazing development to farmers across the country — and remains so to starry-eyed, tech-loving politicians and industry representatives.”

Reining in private security
Inter Press Service reports on the latest international attempts to make so-called private military security contractors accountable for their actions:

“The [UN] draft Convention on PMSCs identifies a set of inherent state functions, including detention, interrogation and intelligence that private companies could not perform.
The fact that major clients of PMSCs – most notably the U.S. and the U.K. – have employed contractors for a number of these functions poses questions about whether these states would back regulation that curtails their ability to outsource the use of force.
‘It’s a pie in the sky,’ according to [the trade association International Security Operations Association’s Doug] Brooks.
Instead, he is rallying his troops around the International Code of Conduct, which brings together stakeholders from industry, government and civil society in an effort to create a gold standard for industry providers who voluntarily commit themselves to abiding by the Code.”

Fracking omissions
Bloomberg investigates the effectiveness of a “voluntary website that oil and gas companies helped design amid calls for mandatory disclosure”:

“Energy companies failed to list more than two out of every five fracked wells in eight U.S. states from April 11, 2011, when FracFocus began operating, through the end of last year, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The gaps reveal shortcomings in the voluntary approach to transparency on the site, which has received funding from oil and gas trade groups and $1.5 million from the U.S. Department of Energy.”

Suggested fine
Bloomberg also reports that a Nigerian government agency wants oil giant Chevron to pay $3 billion over a deadly explosion that caused a 46-day fire earlier this year, just as a new spill has been spotted near an offshore Exxon facility:

“ ‘Having looked at the relevant literature and what happens in other countries, we recommended a fine of $3 billion for Chevron,’ National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency’s Director-General Peter Idabor said in an interview in Abuja, the capital, yesterday. For now, the planned penalty is only a suggestion and ‘still not conclusive’ as it requires the approval of lawmakers and President Goodluck Jonathan’s government, he said.

NOSDRA is also investigating a seven-week gas leak that started on March 20 at the Obite field operated by Total SA (FP)’s Nigerian unit to determine appropriate penalty, Idabor said. The agency had suggested to the government in July that Royal Dutch Shell Plc (RDSA) pay a $5 billion fine for an oil leak in December from its offshore Bonga field that caused the country’s worst spill in more than a decade. Shell said less than 40,000 barrels leaked.”

Banks on a diet
The Financial Times reports the number of European banks that are “either discontinuing investment funds linked to food commodities or ceasing to issue new ones” now stands at five:

“Food campaigners welcomed the steps, but said that banks needed to do far more. ‘Great news – but they are still keeping their investment vehicles on oil,’ said Christine Haigh of the World Development Movement, one of the most vociferous critics of speculation in commodities.
However, bankers said that the move was not an admission that speculation drives food commodity prices up but an attempt to protect their reputation amid fierce criticism.”

Redefining blood diamonds
IDEX Online reports that the Kimberley Process is considering new definitions of “conflict” to serve as a guideline for regulating the international diamond trade:

“The FAQ goes on to clarify that ‘Such a definition would not apply to individual or isolated cases. Neither would this apply to violence that is unrelated to diamonds.’
This clarification is apparently in response to concerns by countries worried that internal issues may be used as an excuse to exclude them from KP on political grounds. Among them are most large diamond countries – Russia, China, Israel and most African countries – all mine, trade or manufacture rough or polished diamonds.”

African drone war
Wired reports that it is now possible to “begin to define — however vaguely — the scope and scale” of America’s use of drones in Somalia:

“It took a surprise — and ultimately doomed — invasion of Somalia by regional power Ethiopia to open the door for a stronger U.S. presence in East Africa. American commandos followed along behind the Ethiopian tank columns as side-firing AC-130 gunships provided lethal top cover.
Where once the small U.S. force in East Africa had relied mostly on a single large base in Djibouti, just north of Somalia, in the wake of the Ethiopian blitz American bases sprouted across the region. The CIA and American security contractors set up shop alongside a U.N.-backed peacekeeping force at the shell-crated international airport in Mogadishu. American contractors quietly carved a secret airstrip out of a forest in Arba Minch, Ethiopia. Under the guise of tracking Somali pirates, the Pentagon negotiated permission to base people and planes on the Indian Ocean island nation of the Seychelles.
Soon all these bases would support drone aircraft being churned out at an accelerating rate by the U.S. aerospace industry.”

Feminism as counterterrorism
New York University’s Vasuki Nesiah writes that “security feminism” has become an increasingly integral, and not altogether unproblematic, part of US foreign policy over the last decade:

“Bringing a feminist agenda to foreign policy has been a fraught initiative. Indeed, those strands of feminism that have invested in the ‘securitizing’ project have done more to condemn feminism than redeem foreign policy. Foreign policy has been inextricably tied to the politics of counterterrorism and empire, so it is not surprising that such efforts towards convergence have been deeply troubled. The task of the moment is not formulating a common ‘feminist’ agenda. Rather we need to analyze the stakes of the national security paradigm and highlight divergences within feminisms.”

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