Latest Developments, September 20

In the latest news and analysis…

GM food alert
The Telegraph reports on a new study suggesting the NK603 type of genetically modified corn sold by agribusiness giant Monsanto may be toxic:

“Although previous safety trials have established that the corn had no adverse effects on animals after 90 days, the trial is thought to be the first to examine its health impact over a longer scale.

After two years, a normal lifespan for rats, between 50 and 80 per cent of all the female rats fed the corn or weedkiller developed at least one large tumour, compared with 30 per cent from a small control group.
Male rats in the treated groups were more likely to develop serious kidney and liver damage.
Dr Michael Antoniou, of King’s College London, who contributed to the project, said: ‘This is the most thorough research ever published into the health effects of GM food crops and the herbicide Roundup on rats. It shows an extraordinary number of tumours developing earlier and more aggressively – particularly in female animals.’ ”

Rendition verdict
The BBC reports that an Italian appeals court has upheld guilty verdicts against 23 Americans accused of kidnapping a terror suspect who was “allegedly flown to Egypt and tortured”:

“The Americans were tried in absentia, in the first trial involving extraordinary rendition, the CIA’s practice of transferring suspects to countries where torture is permitted.
The practice has been condemned by human rights groups as a violation of international agreements.
The group of Americans – 22 of whom were CIA agents and one an Air Force pilot – are believed to be living in the US and are unlikely to serve their sentences.”

Shadow wars
Wired’s Spencer Ackerman writes about the new face of American war, currently on display in Yemen and East Africa:

“Not only are they undeclared wars, they depend on concealing the U.S. role in them. One method of concealment is to use stealthy forces like elite commandos or tools that require a small logistical footprint, like drones. Another method is to use proxy forces to wage them. In Yemen, for instance, the U.S. is training the local forces to fight al-Qaida in its stead, and they come bearing cash and weapons.

With the American public sick of war, those proxies are increasingly crucial.
And it’s not even just counterterrorism. So-called ‘Security Force Assistance’ is a major preoccupation for the U.S. Army in general as its involvement in Afghanistan winds down. When Gen. Martin Dempsey was asked in 2011 what the future of the Army was, he said it involved mentoring foreign partner militaries so the U.S. doesn’t have to intervene during crises, bolstering weak armies. Dempsey, of course, is now America’s top military officer.”

A more insidious kind of corruption
The New Economics Foundation’s James Meadway argues that excessive executive pay – FTSE 100 company heads now make 120 times more than their average employees – has “bled into the public and voluntary spheres”:

“Corruption in the developing countries is well known and well reported. It distorts aid and ruins lives. But there is a more insidious kind of corruption, widespread in the developed world, in which those at the top of society claim greater and greater rewards, justifying it by reference to the demands of the market.”

Western havens
Global Witness’s Stefanie Ostfeld argues that Western countries are doing too little to ensure their banks do not store riches siphoned illegally from poor nations:

“In the United States, it is perfectly legal to incorporate a company without disclosing who actually owns and controls it. More information is needed to obtain a driver’s license than to open an anonymous shell company in most states. This allows corrupt foreign officials, weapons smugglers, tax evaders, and drug traffickers to disguise their identities when accessing a bank. In fact, a study of 150 cases of large-scale corruption showed that American shell companies were used more often than those registered in any other country.”

Human rights double standard
Human Rights Watch accuses British politicians and media of thinking their country is above needing the sorts of human rights mechanisms they prescribe to other nations:

“The critics appear to suggest that the UK’s protection of basic liberties is already sufficient through domestic laws and institutions and that it is somehow inappropriate or insulting to use a similar framework – that of human rights – to consider the treatment of people by the state in the UK, as we might for those living under dictatorships. They also argue that measures to promote human rights, notably the Human Rights Act, benefit the undeserving at the expense of society as a whole, including criminals seeking to evade punishment or foreign terrorists wishing to avoid deportation.”

Corruption double standard
Southern Illinois University’s Mike Koehler thinks it strange that the US is cracking down on foreign bribery cases when it “has legitimized corporate influence” over its own government:

“Yet the U.S. political expenditures discussed above are perfectly legal.  In Citizens United, the Supreme Court stated that such expenditures ‘do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption.’
Yet payments made in the foreign context, even payments that pale in magnitude and degree, would be clear crimes under U.S. law because they indeed ‘give rise to corruption and the appearance of corruption.’

Do we reflexively label a ‘foreign official’ who receives ‘things of value’ directly or indirectly from private business interests as corrupt, yet when a U.S. official similarly receives ‘things of value’ directly or indirectly from private business interests we merely say ‘well, no one said our system is perfect’?”

Growth industry
A South African Civil Society Information Service piece by “multidisciplinarian” Glenn Ashton highlights concerns over the lack of controls on the pesticide industry in South Africa, where sales have increased fivefold since 1994:

“The only oversight of the pesticide industry is self-oversight. The industry body AVCASA (the Association of Veterinary and Crop Associations of South Africa) attempts to portray itself as a responsible industry body. However this is fundamentally contradictory as its central aim is to increase sales, which it has excelled at.
AVCASA appears equally frustrated with the states failure to update legislation. Even so AVCASA has not, for instance, enforced any compulsory deposit system on pesticide containers. This remains a major problem as they remain used by the poor for food and water containers.
While the industry maintains some statistics there are huge gaps in the record. There is no record of pesticide sales from 2000 – 2006. Statistical details remain proprietary.”

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