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Bureaucrats Squabble Over Oceanic Slaughter

May 4, 2013 Leave a comment

Bureaucrats Squabble Over Oceanic Slaughter

Two bodies of European diplomacy have squared off over proposed regulations on the fishing industry. Ministers of The European Parliament have been rebuffed by their legislative counterparts The Council of the European Union, the latter attempting to neuter a newly ratified ban on the practice of fish discards.

An overwhelming majority of Members of the European Parliament (MEP) voted in February to immediately end the dumping of viable catches at sea. National ministers who make up The Council are calling for a staggered implementation of the ban taking place between 2014 and 2017 depending on the species in question, as well as permanently allowing up to 7% of any given catch to be dumped as accidental by-catches.

Dumping perfectly good fish has been the fishing industry’s way around existing quotas on particular species. Ships laden with lower-priced catches routinely toss unwanted breeds to make way for more lucrative catches as they prepare to pull into harbor. Few fish can survive the trauma of being caught, stored and released, resulting in tons of carcasses wasted on the sea floor. Activists and scientists condemn the practice which has contributed to the depletion of fish stocks around the world. More than 1 million tons are discarded by European fleets annually. The European Commission estimates that 23% of all catches are tossed overboard while activists place that figure at closer to 40%. Read more…

Inspiring Terrible Things

January 1, 2013 Leave a comment

Federal agents are fighting the greatest scourge since Bolsheviks infiltrated washrooms across America. Throughout the nation teams of local police and the FBI—Joint Terrorism Task Forces—are scrutinizing security footage and wiretaps while prosecutors issue grand jury subpoenas.

On December 26th, 2012, Matthew Pfeiffer reported for imprisonment to Seattle’s Federal Detention Center. He joins Katherine Olejnik and Matthew Duran, held in contempt for refusing to testify before a grand jury investigating anarchist collectives in the Pacific Northwest. The price of silence, for not offering circumstantial evidence against photographs and names presented during closed sessions without judge or legal representation, can amount to continued incarceration until March of 2014 when the grand jury dissolves.

None are charged with any further crime. None are suspected of wrongdoing. The US attorney in charge admits that this imprisonment is a form of coercion to compel testimony. Read more…

Tides Hit the New England Grid

October 3, 2012 Leave a comment

History was quietly made off the coast of Maine on September 13th when an underwater turbine, anchored on the floor of Cobscook Bay, came online. It’s the first time a commercially licensed tidal power project has generated electricity for the grid and signals the first step in exploiting a renewable resource that the Department of Energy (DOE) suggests can contribute up to 15% of the nation’s electrical power by 2030.

The Cobscook Bay project is administered by Ocean Renewable Power Company (ORPC) who developed and implemented the TidGen Power System. TidGen is an array of metal foil sheets resembling a vacuum cleaner head mounted on struts, running roughly 100ft across and 30ft high. Currently in pilot phase, the project will eventually add two additional TidGen turbines, each with a peak output of 180kw. Upon completion the project is expected to generate enough power for a hundred homes.

Coastal Maine is a hotbed of kinetic energy. The project location enjoys regular 20ft tides and possibly serves as a laboratory to prepare future models for the neighboring Bay of Fundy, whose 50ft tides are the world’s highest. Read more…

Pussy Riot to Ai Weiwei: The Confused Crushing of Dissent

August 28, 2012 Leave a comment

Protesters in Times Square. Protesters in London. Protesters in France. Protesters in countries all around the world wearing masks and waving signs: Free Pussy Riot. Protesters safe from arrest and prosecution standing outside Russian consulates while new laws frighten Muscovites from becoming the next Maria Alyokhina, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Yekaterina Samutsevich.

Worldwide outcry is the expected end of the predictable soap opera that was the Pussy Riot trial and not even the brazen antics of a chainsaw wheeling Feman activist in Kyiv serves as a surprise twist before the credits roll. The moment a Youtube video of women violating the patriarchal order of the Orthodox Church, spiritual legitimacy for the return of Vladimir Putin and hungry for tax breaks and former properties, embarrassed powerful old men there was no question that an example would be made. Heavily armed security forces conducted raids and arrests, court proceedings so transparently scripted that even embittered Russian journalists became disruptive, Madonna risking nothing by making trite declarations from the stage, accusations of Western hypocrisy and paranoid allusions to foreign agents infiltrating Russian activist groups– each scene played out tired and stale. The only development more surprising than the accused not receiving the maximum sentence was that authorities orchestrating this pantomime bothered to frame their reactionary persecution as legally legitimate. Read more…

Foreign Investment in Tanzania: Impacts Past & Perceived

June 28, 2012 Leave a comment

Masai women’s group on their land in Arusha

Fourth in a series. Begin at the Introduction, then Wants & Needs, then The Agrisol Proposal.

Chinese factory workers earn less than their American counterparts. People in the Cambodian garment industry or Indian call-centers will be paid less than the same functionaries in more developed nations. The standard and cost of living is lower in the third world. Opportunities are lacking. Consumer and producer relationships subsist on the gulf between richer and poorer.

Companies from the states or Europe can hire abroad and insist on strict labor guidelines. The fact that American corporations benefit from places which violate the standards protecting workers here is morally and ethically reprehensible. That a government would sign an agreement with a foreign company knowing that wealth will stem from misery is criminal.

The contracts crafted by Agrisol Energy and Tanzania are open to interpretation. Either the company develops a business model which generates profit without abusing the residents of its host country or the government safeguards its people from absolute exploitation. Already direct capital injection is stripped from the deal. The lease agreement raises little cash for Tanzania; relaxed tariffs and wealth repatriation will fail to benefit the people who are most impacted by large-scale agricultural projects. Local manufacturing firms, assuming there are some up to the task, will not profit from sales of tractors or combines– Agrisol already expects to bring in Monsanto, John Deere and Stine.1

Success will depend on Agrisol’s ability to pay workers, who will leave their own subsistence farms, enough to compensate the loss of food production. The company needs to sell some crops to local markets at local rates to protect against the price fluctuations which will result. If employees are trained in modern techniques which they could share with their families everyone benefits. If neighboring communities see an investment in infrastructure Agrisol could prove its detractors wrong. None of this is going to be easy to accomplish. Business demands will compel Agrisol to shift focus to the bottom line, and only the Tanzanian government can ensure that citizens are protected. Read more…

Foreign Investment in Tanzania: The Agrisol Proposal

June 4, 2012 Leave a comment

Agrisol Presentation to the Prime Minister of Tanzania

Third in a series. Begin at the Introduction, then Wants & Needs.

Agrisol Energy is the most prominent name of an international consortium attached to this controversial deal. Businesses from three continents include the Iowa-based agricultural company, the Dubai financier Pharos Financial Group and the Tanzanian investment firm Serengeti Advisers. Each brings to the table seasoned veterans of business, agriculture and energy, sparking either assurance or suspicion depending who you ask.

The roots of Agrisol itself stem from Summit Group, started by serial agricultural entrepreneur Bruce Rastetter and built on the foundation of his Heartland Pork (once the 13th largest American pork supplier, 4th since being sold in 2004) and his biofuels company Hawkeye Energy Holdings, since sold to KOCH Industries. Summit, also of Alden, Iowa, is a technologically intensive, integrated, high-density agribusiness powerhouse.

Pharos Financial Group began during the lucrative, post-Soviet privatization free-for-all of the 1990’s, and controls the contributing Pharos Global Agriculture Fund. Rastetter is CEO and Tim Callahan, Managing Director of Summit Group and formerly the CFO of Hawkeye Energy Holdings, is CFO. Callahan also once worked for Credit Suisse, where Pharos Financial Group CEO Peter Halloran was once employed. 1, 2

On the domestic front is Serengeti Advisers, who hold a quarter stake in this multinational endeavor. The Director, Iddi Simba, was formerly a minister of trade and industry. He is also currently facing fraud charges for his role on the board of another Tanzanian company, and was asked to resign his government post after a commodities scandal.

Iowa State University was originally presented to the Prime Minister of Tanzania as a partner, entrusted with educating farmers to maximize their productivity and determining the best horticultural approach to the project. After rancorous media coverage Wendy Wintersteen, Dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at ISU, was finally forced to publicly distance the school from Agrisol. Local heavyweight Rastettter was appointed to the Board of Regents by governor Terry Branstad, recipient of re-election contributions, and has donated millions to the school. That the proposed sites in Tanzania continued to house Burundi refugees pushed things over the edge. Read more…

Foreign Investment in Tanzania: Wants & Needs

April 2, 2012 Leave a comment

Second in a series. Begin at the introduction.

People want investment. No country, from Tunisia to South Africa, can compete economically with the West. World Bank assistance to Tanzania topped $3bn in 2009, nearly double the amount a decade before. Funds are being spent on infrastructure and attracting foreign capital.

Post-British Empire Tanzania adopted socialist reforms, an understandable reaction to colonialism. But the Soviet Union collapsed and China embraced the global market, leaving no choice but to take fledgling steps towards privatization. The country seems to have escaped the widespread corruption which afflicted Russia’s own liberalization, but just because it’s not Zimbabwe or Kazakhstan doesn’t mean that greasing a palm doesn’t lube the wheels of bureaucracy.

Agriculture comprises more than a quarter of the GDP, most exports and around 80% of employment. Small enterprises have made in-roads into diversifying the economy, exploiting the natural beauty of Mount Kilimanjaro, Lake Victoria and the Serengeti. Tourism is an valuable and growing contributor to the coffer but any hippie will tell you it’s impossible cashing in on nature unless you can process and package the hell out of it. Austrian backpackers chasing after wildebeests may fund wildlife preserves but they won’t pay for skyscrapers in Dar Es Salaam. Mining is similarly growing and gold is a major export. Speculators suspect that vast reserves of metals and minerals remain untapped but the industry remains small, possibly due to concerns over the ecological impact. Natural gas exploitation has ratcheted up in response to regional issues with hydroelectricity but extraction has yet to lead to the power market.1 Read more…