Category Archives: Resources

American invader threatens Africa’s food supplies


It’s a stealthy invader, an illegal immigrant, and it threatens to cause still more instability in a continent struggling with conflict and First World profiteers, but its impacts portend famine and yet more instability and violence.

Making matters worse, the invasion comes at a critical moment when the continent faces imminent threats from drought and climate change.

From MercoPress:

New research announced by scientists at CABI (Center for Agriculture and Bioscience Information) confirms that a recently introduced crop-destroying armyworm caterpillar is now spreading rapidly across Mainland Africa and could spread to tropical Asia and the Mediterranean in the next few years, becoming a major threat to agricultural trade worldwide.

Fall armyworm is native to North and South America and can devastate maize production, the staple food crop that is essential for food security in large areas of Africa. It destroys young plants, attacking their growing points and burrowing into the cobs.

An indigenous pest in the Americas, it has not previously been established outside the region. In the past year, it was found in parts of West Africa for the first time and now a UK based CABI-led investigation has confirmed it to be present in Ghana. It can be expected to spread to the limits of suitable African habitat within a few years.

Plant doctors working in CABI’s Plantwise plant clinics, which work to help farmers lose less of what they grow, have found evidence of two species of fall armyworm in Ghana for the first time. This has been confirmed by DNA analysis undertaken at CABI’s molecular laboratory in Egham, Surrey (UK). In Africa, researchers are working to understand how it got there, how it spreads, and how farmers can control it in an environmentally friendly way.

CABI Chief Scientist, Dr. Matthew Cock said, “We are now able to confirm that the fall armyworm is spreading very rapidly outside the Americas, and it can be expected to spread to the limits of suitable African habitat within just a few years. It likely travelled to Africa as adults or egg masses on direct commercial flights and has since been spread within Africa by its own strong flight ability and carried as a contaminant on crop produce.”

More threats loom: Drought and climate change

The introduction to a very alarming report from IRIN tells the basics:

The once-fertile fields of South Africa’s Western Cape region are filled with scorched patches of earth, dying plants, and wasted crops.

The scene is now common throughout eastern and southern Africa, as droughts for three consecutive years have decimated crops and caused widespread hunger. New research indicates that it is partly due to climate change driven by human action, which has worsened the El Niño weather phenomenon.

“This is about as bad as it has ever been,” said Chris Harvey, as he walked to his farm´s irrigation dam, where the water level has fallen six metres in 10 months.

“We might not be able to grow any vegetables next year,” his wife Sue added.

Dams in the area are drying out, symptomatic of the continent´s battle with years of poor rainfall. The droughts in eastern and southern Africa beginning in 2015 have affected tens of millions of people. The latest numbers from the UN suggest that 24 million people are facing food insecurity in eastern Africa alone, not counting millions of people in the southern region.

According to a new study published by the American Meteorological Society, such conditions will become increasingly normal as climate change takes its toll.

“We are advising governments to expect yearly disasters, droughts, floods, and also now diseases,” David Phiri, the UN´s food and agriculture coordinator in Southern Africa, told IRIN.

Is Duterte, unlike Trump, a green populist thug?


Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte [previously] may be a murdering populist thug who says Donald Trump makes him “feel like a saint,” notorious for his personal participation in one of more of the thousands of police and vigilante murders of alleged drug users and dealers that have characterized his rule since he took the helm last June, but is a green murdering populist thug as well?

That possibility was raised today after his environmental secretary announced the closure of more than half of the country’s notoriously dirty mines, declaring it a matter of social justice, especially for the island nation’s original inhabitants.

The announcement came less than two weeks after the murder of an indigenous anti-mining activist, 27-year-old Veronico “Nico” Lapsay Delamente, a member of the Mamanwa tribe.

The story from teleSUR English:

In a move to address the environmental and human costs of the mining industry in the Philippines, President Rodrigo Duterte’s secretary of the environment and natural resources, Regina Lopez, has ordered the closure of 23 of 41 of the country’s mines.

The move has perturbed the mining industry — which has threatened to fight back through legal action.

“My issue here is not about mining, my issue here is social justice,” Lopez, a staunch environmentalist, said at a briefing that showed footage of damage from mining activities, especially in Indigenous communities.

“Why is mining more important than people’s lives?”

The announcement has raised the price of global nickel prices, as the Philippines is the world’s largest nickel ore exporter. Lopez has also ordered for the suspension of five other mines as well, after having conducted an official standards audit.

The suspensions include the country’s top gold mine, operated by Australia’s OceanaGold Corp., which has threatened to take legal action if the mine is closed. The corporation’s CEO, Mick Wilkes, said the decision was unjustified.

Protesters win Mexican gas price hike delay


Following privatization of large parts of the state-owned national oil company, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto gave his people a New Year’s present — a twenty percent hike in the price of gasoline.

First, some background.

Big Oil is still smarting over the 18 March 1938 decision of Mexican President Lázaro Cárdenas to nationalize foreign oil company holdings in the midst of a sometimes violent strike by Mexicans employed by U.S. and Anglo-Dutch oil companies.

The result was the creation of Petróleos Mexicanos, better known as Pemex.

In recent decades, as the neoliberal ideology metastasized, aging infrastructure and politically backed corruption took their toll, as new corporate extraction technologies and aging oil fields caught Pemex in a double bind.

Neoliberalism dictated the solution: Privatize.

So in 2014 Peña won congressional backing to sell off the rights to all new oil fields, leaving Pemex with the aging existing fields and those rapidly obsolescing pipelines and refineries.

Stuck with the increasingly costly side of the deal, Peña ordered the price hike.

The gasolinazo [gasoline punch], which now meant a tank of gas cost more than a minimum wage worker’s daily pay, sent Mexicans pouring into the streets, blocking off roads, barricading the U.S. border, and engaging in violent, sometimes lethal, confrontations with police and the military.

And now their actions have borne fruit.

From teleSUR English:

The Mexican government announced late Friday that it would postpone a second scheduled hike in gas prices, known as the ‘gasolinazo’, in response to the massive protests which have taken place since the first price hike at the start of January.

The Secretariat of Finance and Public credit declared that for the next two weeks the maximum prices for both regular gasoline and diesel fuel will remain the same since prices here hiked upwards of 20 percent on Jan. 1 2017.

The announcement came after protests continued to rock Mexico this week over the massive spike in gas prices which has crippled much of Mexico’s economy and led to massive social upheaval.

Since the Jan. 1 ending of fuel subsidies which led to the price hike, more than 500 people have been arrested throughout the country during protests which saw tens of thousands of people taking the streets, hundreds of gas stations closed, and a reported 250 stores looted.

Protests continued Friday and more were expected for Saturday in anticipation of the hike.

“The austerity measures already announced by the Government of the Republic, as well as the recent evolution of the exchange rate and the international price of gasoline, have created the conditions to keep the maximum prices unchanged during the indicated period,” the secretariat said in a statement release on Friday.

Critics have accused Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto and other government officials of ransacking Mexico’s state oil company, Pemex, which has undergone a gradual privatization process in recent years that has broken up the longstanding monopoly.

Mexican ban on Monsanto’s GMO corn upheld


Perhaps the most singular example of 21st Century rentier capitalism is agrabiz giant Monsanto.

The company has staked its future on a one-two punch, depriving farmers of what they’ve always cherished and protected, the right to hold some of their crop back each year to provide seed for next year’s crop.

With its patented GMO crops [previously], genetically engineered to withstand the company’s own patented weed-killer, the company not only leases one-time intellectual property rights in its seed but peddles the poison needed for those crops to survive.

Oh, and never mind that the genes herbicide-resistant genes have jumped to other plants, creating a so-called superweeds that require yet another round of gene tweaking accompanied by the release of yet more tepxic weed-killers.

Mexico, homeland to the root races of the world’s corn crops, has been fighting to keep Monsanto’s GMO corn out of their country, and now those GMO opponents have won another roung in an ongoing struggle

From teleSUR English:

A ban on planting genetically modified corn in Mexico is likely to continue for years as a slow-moving legal battle grinds on, said a top executive of U.S.-based seed and agrochemical company Monsanto Co.

Last week, a Mexican court upheld a late 2013 ruling that temporarily halted even pilot plots of GMO corn following a legal challenge over its effects on the environment.

Monsanto regional corporate director Laura Tamayo said in an interview that it will likely be “years” before the company can make any progress against the ban.

While Mexico is self-sufficient in white corn used to make the country’s staple tortillas, it depends on imports of mostly GMO yellow corn from the United States for its livestock.

Several years ago, Monsanto submitted two applications for the commercial planting of GMO corn in Mexico. Both sought 1.7 million acres in the northwestern state of Sinaloa, the country’s largest corn-producing area. Both applications are still pending for Monsanto.

Mexico is the birthplace of modern corn, domesticated about 8,000 years ago and today the planet’s most-produced grain.

Critics say genetically modified corn plantings will contaminate age-old native varieties and that toxins designed to protect the GMO grain against pests may be linked to elevated insect mortality.

Austerity forces Greeks to sell assets abroad


We have consistently held that the whole purpose of austerity regimes implemented and enforced by the world’s institutional lenders has but one goal: The concentrate wealth at the top.

The latest example comes from Greece, where the Troika of the International Monetary Fund, European Central Bank, and the European Commission have forced the sales of nationally owned transportation systems, healthcare programs, the electric power grid, ports, islands, and other assets.

The austerity regime also forces Greeks to pay more in taxes and fees, while mandating public and private sector pay, pension, and benefit cuts.

So it should come as now surprise that Greeks are being forced to sell their homes, businesses, and other assets to foreing buyers,

From Kathimerini:

The mergers and acquisitions (M&A) chart of Greece in 2016 that PricewaterhouseCoopers presented on Wednesday showed that foreigners have been acquiring assets in Greece while Greeks have generally been selling.

In total last year assets with a combined value of 4.4 billion euros changed hands in 38 transactions. The value level is about two-and-a-half times that recorded in 2015. Sixty-two percent of that amount came from National Bank’s sale of Finansbank in Turkey.

Last year’s M&A crop was dominated by what PwC dubbed “divestment of the systemic banks from their non-core assets.” This divestment fetched about 3.3 billion euros, or 75 percent of all transactions’ value. When the 500 million euros from privatizations (Piraeus Port Authority, Astir Palace etc) are added, then 2016 can be seen as the year of almost compulsory divestment. Without that, the M&A transaction volume would have come to just 600 million euros.

In recent years the M&A cycle has been “incoming,” with PwC analysts noting that foreign buyers are trying to take advantage of the drop in the value of Greek assets, as three in five transactions last year concerned acquisitions of Greek assets by foreign investors.

Republicans rush to sell off our public lands


UPDATE: We found the perfect accompaniment for our story in this editorial cartoon from the Salt Lake Tribune:

Pat Bagley: This Land Was Our Land. . .

BLOG Land.jpg

Donald Trump, who never saw a piece of magnificent scenery as anything other than the site of the next TrumpErection™, some of the nation’s most cherished landscape is merely opportunity waiting to happen.

And so it is that his rapacious Republican cohorts are moving on his campaign promise to see off a hunk chunk of the national commons.

Back on 18 November,m the New York Times reported:

Uranium mines around the Grand Canyon. Oil drilling rigs studding the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. New coal and timber leases in the national forests. States divvying up millions of acres of federal land to dispose of as they wish.

To environmental groups, it would be a nightmare. To miners, loggers, ranchers and conservative politicians in resource-dependent areas, it would be about time. Either way, Donald J. Trump’s election presages huge potential change on America’s 640 million acres of federal public lands, from the deep seas east of Maine to the volcanic coasts of Hawaii.

“Into a new world,” said Bruce Babbitt, who ran the Interior Department under President Bill Clinton.

In Western states, where about half of all land is controlled by federal agencies, Mr. Trump’s supporters hope the pendulum swings back from what they say are overbearing Obama administration regulations that put sage grouse and owls ahead of economic growth.

Congress rushes to act

Then this on 19 January from the Guardian:

Republican lawmakers have quietly laid the foundation to give away Americans’ birthright: 640m acres of national land. In a single line of changes to the rules for the House of Representatives, Republicans have overwritten the value of federal lands, easing the path to disposing of federal property even if doing so loses money for the government and provides no demonstrable compensation to American citizens.

At stake are areas managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), National Forests and Federal Wildlife Refuges, which contribute to an estimated $646bn each year in economic stimulus from recreation on public lands and 6.1m jobs. Transferring these lands to the states, critics fear, could decimate those numbers by eliminating mixed-use requirements, limiting public access and turning over large portions for energy or property development.

In addition to economic stimulus from outdoor activities, federal land creates revenue through oil and gas production, logging and other industrial uses. According to the BLM, in 2016, it made $2bn in royalty revenue from federal leases. The Outdoor Industry Association estimates federal tax revenue from the recreation economy at almost $40bn.

Ignoring those figures, the new language for the House budget, authored by Utah Republican representative Rob Bishop, who has a history of fighting to transfer public land to the states, says that federal land is effectively worthless. Transferring public land to “state, local government or tribal entity shall not be considered as providing new budget authority, decreasing revenues, increasing mandatory spending or increasing outlays.”

And another blow falls

And then came this, posted 30 January by the Guardian:

Now that Republicans have quietly drawn a path to give away much of Americans’ public land, US representative Jason Chaffetz of Utah has introduced what the Wilderness Society is calling “step two” in the GOP’s plan to offload federal property.

The new piece of legislation would direct the interior secretary to immediately sell off an area of public land the size of Connecticut. In a press release for House Bill 621, Chaffetz, a Tea Party Republican, claimed that the 3.3m acres of national land, maintained by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), served “no purpose for taxpayers”.

But many in the 10 states that would lose federal land in the bill disagree, and public land rallies in opposition are bringing together environmentalists and sportsmen across the west.

Set aside for mixed use, BLM land is leased for oil, gas and timber, but is also open to campers, cyclists and other outdoor enthusiasts. As well as providing corridors for gray wolves and grizzly bears, low-lying BLM land often makes up the winter pasture for big game species, such as elk, pronghorn and big-horned sheep.

snip<

Chaffetz introduced the bill alongside a second piece of legislation that would strip the BLM and the US Forest Service of law enforcement capabilities, a move in line with the Utah delegation’s opposition to all federal land management.

“The other bill hamstrings our ability to manage and ensure that our public lands are being kept safe,” said Bobby McEnaney of the Natural Resources Defense Council. “When you have those two combined, it’s a fairly cynical approach to how public lands can be managed.”

We spent the happiest years of our childhood exploring public lands in Colorado, Wyoming,, Utah, New Mexico, and Arizona, camping out under the stars of in the homemade camper on the back of a Chevrolet pickup.

To see those lands sold off to the looters brings tears to tired old eyes.

ISIS hails Trump’s travel ban as a major victory


And, of course, they’re absolutely right.

From the Washington Post:

Jihadist groups on Sunday celebrated the Trump administration’s ban on travel from seven Muslim-majority countries, saying the new policy validates their claim that the United States is at war with Islam.

Comments posted to pro-Islamic State social media accounts predicted that President Trump’s executive order would persuade American Muslims to side with the extremists. One posting hailed the U.S. president as “the best caller to Islam,” while others predicted that Trump would soon launch a new war in the Middle East.

“[Islamic State leader Abu Bakr] al-Baghdadi has the right to come out and inform Trump that banning Muslims from entering America is a ‘blessed ban,’” said one posting to a pro-Islamic State channel on Telegram, a social-media platform. The writer compared the executive order to the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, which Islamic militant leaders at the time hailed as a “blessed invasion” that ignited anti-Western fervor across the Islamic world.

>snip<

Robert Richer, a 35-year CIA veteran and former chief of the agency’s Near East division, said the ban was a “strategic mistake” that could undermine future efforts to recruit spies and collect vital information about terrorists and their plans. How, he asked, can CIA officers persuade Iraqi and Syrian nationals to risk their lives to help the United States?

“This was a win for jihadists and other anti-U.S. forces,” said Richer, the deputy chief of the agency’s Operations Directorate during the George W. Bush administration. “It fuels the belief out there that Americans are anti-Islam. Otherwise, it accomplishes nothing, because the ones we are most concerned about can still get to the United States.”

But given that Trump has already declared he think America has a right to seize the Iraq’s oil and “maybe we’ll have another chance,” could there be a deeper game involved, one in which more warfare leads to outright invasion with the specific intent of seizing oilfields in the Mideast and, say Libya, which has the world’s finest reserves of light, sweet crude oil?

Given that he’s picked the CEO of ExxonMobil, one of the world’s largest oil companies, as his Secretary of State we’d have to say that ours in a legitimate question and worthy of serious consideration.