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.”

Latest Developments, March 29

In the latest news and analysis…

Migrant deaths
The Guardian reports that the lead investigator into the maritime deaths of dozens of African migrants has called Europe’s talk of human rights “meaningless.”
“Despite emergency calls being issued and the boat being located and identified by European coastguard officials, no rescue was ever attempted. All but nine of those on board died from thirst and starvation or in storms, including two babies.
The report’s author, Tineke Strik – echoing the words of Mevlüt Çavusoglu, president of the Council of Europe’s parliamentary assembly at the time of the incident – described the tragedy as ‘a dark day for Europe’, and told the Guardian it exposed the continent’s double standards in valuing human life.

The incident has become well known due to the harrowing accounts of the survivors, but the report makes clear that many similar ‘silent tragedies’ have occurred in recent years. Last year a record number of migrant deaths were recorded in the Mediterranean. ‘When you think about the media attention focused on the [Costa] Concordia and then compare it to the more than 1,500 migrant lives lost in the Mediterranean in 2011, the difference is striking,’ Strik said.”

Yemen drones
The Bureau of Investigative Journalism reports there has been a sharp increase in “covert US strikes against alleged militants” in Yemen since the start of the Arab Spring.
“At least 26 US military and CIA strikes involving cruise missiles, aircraft, drones or naval bombardments have taken place in the volatile Gulf nation to date, killing hundreds of alleged militants linked to the regional al Qaeda franchise. But at least 54 civilians have died too, the study found.

At least five US attacks – some involving multiple targets – have so far taken place in Yemen this month alone, in support of a government offensive to drive militants from key locations. In comparison, Pakistan’s tribal areas, the epicentre of the CIA’s controversial drone war, have seen just three US drone strikes in March.”

Sweden’s Saudi scandal
Agence France-Presse reports Sweden’s defence minister has resigned in the midst of controversy over a secret arms deal with Saudi Arabia.
“Earlier this month public broadcaster Swedish Radio said the Swedish Defence Research Agency (FOI) had secret plans since 2007 to help Saudi Arabia build a plant for the production of anti-tank weapons.
The radio said part of the so-called Project Simoom involved the creation of a shell company called SSTI to handle dealings with Saudi Arabia in order to avoid any direct links to FOI and the government.

Sweden has in the past sold weapons to Saudi Arabia, but classified government documents state that Project Simoom ‘pushes the boundaries of what is possible for a Swedish authority,’ the radio said when it broke the story on March 6.”

Apple/Foxconn promises
Reuters reports that Apple has promised to work with Foxconn to increase wages and improve working conditions in their Chinese factories.
“The moves came in response to one of the largest investigations ever conducted of a U.S. company’s operations abroad. Apple had agreed to the probe by the independent Fair Labour Association in response to a crescendo of criticism that its products were built on the backs of mistreated Chinese workers.

Apple, the world’s most valuable corporation, and Foxconn, China’s biggest private-sector employer and Apple’ main contract manufacturer, are so dominant in the global technology industry that their newly forged accord will likely have a substantial ripple effect across the sector.”

Patent objection
The Economic Times reports that the US has criticized India for greenlighting the manufacture of a generic version of a cancer drug for which Germany’s Bayer holds the patent.
“The compulsory licence would allow the company to make a generic, or copycat, version of the patented cancer drug bringing down prices by about 30 times. ‘[US Commerce Secretary John] Bryson said pharmaceuticals was a competitive area and heavy investments went into R&D every year. Any dilution of the international patent regime was a cause for deep concern for the US,’ the official said.
Defending the move, [Indian Commerce & Industry Minister Anand] Sharma said the compulsory licence strictly complied with the flexibility norms provided in the Trips (trade-related intellectual property rights) Agreement of the WTO since a large number of cancer patients died in the country every year as they could not afford treatment.”

Widening Kimberley
Reuters reports that the Kimberley Process is considering expanding the definition of “conflict” it uses in monitoring of the global diamond trade.
“ ‘What we would like to see is in essence that there be a clear agreed understanding amongst the membership that conflict is something more than only a rebel group seeking to overthrow a legitimate government,’ [Kimberley Process chairwoman Gillian Milovanovic] said.”

Madagascar anniversary
Le Monde marks the anniversary of “one of the most significant colonial massacres” which killed tens of thousands in Madagascar over the course of nearly two years.
“This Thursday, March 29, Malagasies commemorate the 65th anniversary of the start of the insurrection. Independent since June 26, 1960 – after 65 years of French colonization – the Red Island remembers a ‘pacification’ that consisted of torture, burned villages, summary executions and a French expeditionary force composed mainly of colonial troops. Some 18,000 soldiers landed in April 1947. Their numbers reached 30,000 in 1948. ” (Translated from the French.)

Extreme extractivism
Human rights lawyer Magdalena Gómez points to the recent deaths of anti-mining protesters as evidence of the excessive power transnational corporations have gained in Mexico.
“We have already heard the usual arguments that attribute the attacks to rifts in the community—and they do exist–but no one stops to analyze that these divisions are promoted by the alliances forged by the mining companies.
The truth is that, beyond the investigations required to arrest and prosecute the masterminds and perpetrators of these crimes, it’s urgent that we look into the devastating effects of the policy of granting mining concessions without regard to the territorial rights of the peoples.

Until the fallacy that transnational corporations are simply private actors is rejected and what has been called “the architecture of impunity” is deconstructed, peoples’ rights will be impossible to guarantee in the face of the reality of governments subjugated to transnational capital.” (Translated by the Center for International Policy’s Michael Kane)

Latest Developments, December 5

In the latest news and analysis…

Unravelling social contract
A new report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development says its member countries are experiencing their highest levels of inequality in over 30 years and calls on governments to revise their tax systems so that wealthy individual pay “their fair share of the tax burden.”
“Launching the report in Paris, OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría said ‘The social contract is starting to unravel in many countries. This study dispels the assumptions that the benefits of economic growth will automatically trickle down to the disadvantaged and that greater inequality fosters greater social mobility. Without a comprehensive strategy for inclusive growth, inequality will continue to rise.’”

Ethiopia’s financial losses
Global Financial Integrity’s Sarah Freitas estimates that Ethiopian losses due to illicit financial outflows amounted to $3.26 in 2009, which was more than the combined value of the development assistance it received and the products it exported.
“What can be done? The first step the international community should take is to hamper the ability of corrupt and tax-evading Ethiopians to launder their money in the global financial system.  This could be accomplished by establishing a global system of automatic exchange of tax information. In this way, Ethiopian authorities could much more easily track the bank accounts their tax evaders have established around the world. Furthermore, the G20 governments could push for an end to shell companies by calling for beneficial owners of all companies, trusts and foundations to be known to government authorities.  This would make it far more difficult for the corrupt and the criminal to hide their ill-gotten gains behind a wall of corporate secrecy.”

SEC contrivances
Butler University’s Mike Koehler, a.k.a. the FCPA Professor, writes about a recent court ruling in New York that pertains to the Securities and Exchange Commission’s practice of resolving cases – whether involving allegations of foreign bribery or not – without requiring an admission or denial of guilt from the defendants.
“In prior cases, Judge Rakoff has said that this policy contributes to a ‘facade of enforcement’ (SEC v. Bank of America) and is a ‘stew of confusion and hypocrisy unworthy of such a proud agency as the SEC.’ (SEC v. Vitesse Semiconductor)
Last week, Judge Rakoff, in denying the SEC-Citigroup settlement, again had pointed words as to the SEC settlement device typically used in FCPA enforcement actions.

‘An application of judicial power that does not rest on facts is worse than mindless, it is inherently dangerous.  The injunctive power of the judiciary is not a free-roving remedy to be invoked at the whim of a regulatory agency, even with the consent of the regulated.  If its deployment does not rest on facts – cold, hard, solid facts, established either by admissions or by trials – it serves no lawful or moral purpose and is simply an engine of oppression.’
Judge Rakoff stated that the ‘SEC, of all agencies, has a duty, inherent in its statutory mission, to see that the truth emerges; and if it fails to do so, this Court must not, in the name of deference or convenience, grant judicial enforcement to the agency’s contrivances.’”

IP enforcement
Intellectual Property Watch reports that a group of civil society organizations has sent a letter to the World Intellectual Property Organization to express concerns over the UN agency’s “approach to enforcement” regarding piracy and counterfeiting.
“The signers highlighted a lack of transparency about WIPO technical assistance activities, the extensive link being made to public health and safety (which they called “questionable and tenuous at best”) as led by industry, and the possibility that WIPO enforcement activities might be undermining existing flexibilities in IP law. Signers included AIDS groups, digital civil liberties groups, and organizations working on development on the ground in countries around the world.”

Asbestos pushing
Canada’s biggest opposition party is criticizing the government for throwing its weight behind the country’s controversial asbestos industry during negotiations for a trade agreement with India.
“In response to questions from [International Trade critic Brian] Masse, the Chief Negotiator for the Canada-India Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement admitted Canada is currently working to eliminate tariffs on asbestos exports to India. Currently there is a 10 per cent duty on asbestos exports to India, the world’s second largest consumer of asbestos.
‘We already dump hundreds of thousands of tons of asbestos each year into developing nations – and now we want to make it easier for asbestos magnates to do so?’ said MP Pat Martin (Winnipeg Centre). ‘This is deplorable and Canadians need to let their government know they will not put up with this any longer.’”

Blood diamond casualty
Global Witness has announced it has left the Kimberley Process, a certification program it helped establish in the hopes of cleaning up the international diamond trade.
“The Kimberley Process’s refusal to evolve and address the clear links between diamonds, violence and tyranny has rendered it increasingly outdated, said the group. Despite intensive efforts over many years by a coalition of NGOs, the scheme’s main flaws and loopholes have not been fixed and most of the governments that run the scheme continue to show no interest in reform.”

A greener Green Revolution
In a Q&A with the Inter Press Service, International Fund for Agricultural Development President Kanayo Nwanze calls for a new kind of agricultural revolution.
“The Green Revolution was successful because it focused on very clear messages: increased fertiliser use, increased improved seeds and irrigation. But we found out in the long term that it is not sustainable. So now we need to look for sustainable approaches to production that do not destroy the environment and are available to a wide spectrum of farmers in Africa and in the world as a whole.”

Transnational coordination
University of California at Santa Barbara’s William Robinson argues the current “global political economy can no longer be contained through consensual mechanisms of social control” and predicts a protracted period of conflict.
“It is noteworthy that those struggling around the world have been shown a strong sense of solidarity and are in communications across whole continents. Just as the Egyptian uprising inspired the US Occupy movement, the latter has been an inspiration for a new round of mass struggle in Egypt. What remains is to extend transnational coordination and move towards transnationally-coordinated programmes.

In my view, the only viable solution to the crisis of global capitalism is a massive redistribution of wealth and power downward towards the poor majority of humanity along the lines of a 21st-century democratic socialism in which humanity is no longer at war with itself and with nature.”