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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Latest Developments, June 7

In the latest news and analysis…

Mining fears
Accounting giant PricewaterhouseCoopers has published its annual report on the state of the world’s top 40 mining companies, in which it expresses concern over “resource nationalism” despite record combined profits of $133 billion in 2011:

“Ownership of resources and mining industry fiscal regimes remain high on the agenda for many governments around the world. Nations are looking to take an increasing share of profits and resources through a range of measures. Ongoing discussions and debates, formal reviews of fiscal regimes, or recently enacted changes have been seen in countries such as Australia, Chile, Ghana, Peru, and South Africa.

Governments are under pressure from local communities and other key stakeholders, and as a result, the stability that previously existed in many nations is deteriorating. High commodity prices have increased the industry’s visibility, triggering stakeholders to seek a bigger piece of the pie.”

Sales assistants
Embassy Magazine reports that the Canadian government is actively helping domestic arms manufacturers find buyers abroad:

“In the last few years, the Canadian Commercial Corporation, a Crown corporation, has helped Canadian firms sell everything from military hardware and weapons to wiretapping technology, forensics for ballistics, surveillance, document detection, sensor systems, bulletproof vests and helmets, training, and other services.
They are partnering with government ministers to get the job done. It’s called ‘co-operative marketing,’ according to CCC president Marc Whittingham.
The way it works is that firms tell the organization which markets they’re interested in, and when corporation representatives or a minister is travelling, they are able to ‘further that pursuit,’ he said.”

Banking rules
The New York Times reports that a hearing into JPMorgan Chase’s “multibillion-dollar trading loss” has led to more talk of the need to impose stricter limits on the activities of US banks:

“Several Democrats have seized on the news of the bank’s loss, saying the case underscores a need to enforce a strict Volcker Rule.
The rule, named for Paul A. Volcker, the former chairman of the Federal Reserve, would ban banks from trading with their own money, a practice known as proprietary trading. Support for the new regulations gained momentum after JPMorgan’s loss disclosure last month.
But the scope of the rule, which regulators plan to complete in the coming months, is unclear. For one, it allows banks to use hedges to offset risk. Regulators have yet to decide how broad to make that hedging exemption, prompting some Democrats to push for clarity.”

Oil troubles
Business Daily reports that the recent discovery of oil in Kenya by UK-based Tullow Oil has touched off tensions in local communities:

“The oil find in Turkana is touching on land ownership and compensation and last week a meeting to discuss the discovery aborted as locals and legislators demanded more involvement in the decisions on the black gold resource.
‘Engagement with the locals has not been smooth. We had planned a forum for Wednesday on the oil discovery but it has aborted on account of consensus. MPs from the two counties and those in relevant committees of Parliament have said they were not consulted,’ said [Energy Ministry Permanent Secretary Patrick] Nyoike.”

Hip hop wars
Columbia University’s Hishaam Aidi writes on the significance of the growing debate over hip hop in Europe:

“European government officials are increasingly worried about the influence that Muslim rap artists wield over youth, and are scrutinising hip hop practices in the immigrant neighbourhoods, trying to decide which Muslim hip hop artists to promote and which to push aside.

The debate over hip hop, Europe’s dominant youth culture, stands in for a much larger debate about race, immigration and national identity. With many of the biggest stars being Muslim, the disputes over which Muslim hip hop artists are ‘moderate’ or ‘radical’ are also disagreements over what kind of Islam to allow into the public space.”

Burma caution
Burma partnership’s Khin Ohmar argues that the international community needs to put the brakes on the sudden race to invest in her country:

“There are no such things as environmental impact or social impact assessments. There is no participation from any group that represents people’s interests in the decision-making process. Rule of law is extremely weak, with a subordinate and ineffective judiciary, arbitrary arrests, widespread corruption and a culture of impunity.
Burma is quite simply not ready. Investment, particularly in the country’s unstable ethnic areas, serves to exacerbate human rights abuses and causes major environmental and social damage. As long as the military has the biggest say in the development of Burma, the status quo won’t really change. Foreign investors should wait until the nation is reconciled before proceeding with the unabated enthusiasm currently on display.”

Big money
UC Berkeley’s Robert Reich looks at the impacts the US Supreme Court’s “grotesque 2010 Citizens United vs Federal Election Commission decision” is having on the country’s presidential election campaign:

“According to the reliable inside-Washington source Politico, the Koch brothers’ network alone will be spending $400m over the next six months trying to defeat Obama, which is more than Senator John McCain spent on his entire 2008 campaign.
Big corporations and Wall Street are also secretly funneling big bucks into front groups like the US Chamber of Commerce that will use the money to air anti-Obama ads, while keeping secret the identities of these firms.”

Fragile union
The Financial Times’ Martin Wolf writes on the inherent difficulty of maintaining an economic union without corresponding political cohesion:

“Given such uncertainty, panic is, alas, rational. A fiat currency backed by heterogeneous sovereigns is irremediably fragile.
Before now, I had never really understood how the 1930s could happen. Now I do. All one needs are fragile economies, a rigid monetary regime, intense debate over what must be done, widespread belief that suffering is good, myopic politicians, an inability to co-operate and failure to stay ahead of events.”