Jerry Goll, Watchmaker

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A day in the life at the ISU Parking Division

Keeping the campus from anarchy with Aaron Steffen, ISU Parking Division.

Saskia Sassen and Schloss Dürnstein

by Kaleb Warnock

Schloss Dürnstein, set high above the Danube on one of the most beautiful sections of the Wachau valley is an ironically idyllic place to discuss the overthrow of the global political system. Well, not “overthrow” exactly. Dutch-American sociologist Saskia Sassen has decided that it’s time to re-examine how the world’s people see their roles in the system.

In her lecture, National Security as a Source of Citizen’s Insecurity at the Symposium Dürnstein, the Lynd professor of Sociology at Columbia University and visiting professor at the London School of Economics looked at the evolving role of national states that is disenfranchising the people they were created to protect. According to Sassen, our global system is unsustainable with present levels of inequality and the only way things will be changed is through mobilisation of the people themselves.

Sassen was highly critical of current methods of establishing security, that to her, results in gross inefficiencies from the bureaucracies that shape policymaking. These inefficiences are much more than overhead costs, and the global system isn’t sustainable at its present level of inequality.

“We cannot confront this system on its own terms,” Sassen Said. “We need to create our terms.” She means to “recode” the global system of government and change it from its structure as a “plantation economy” that relies on the masses of people to support the minority on top of the socioeconomic pyramid.

Sasssen discussed her own historiographical analysis of failed empires that results from income disparities, her most recent example being the global financial system. Ultimately, due to the imbalanced structure, the marganilizing of peoples has led to an increase in asymmetrical warfare like terrorism, which has left world powers reeling.

Sassen was also critical of urbanization, which is often percieved as an important

consequence of globalization and technological advancement. However, issues arise when people are relocated to cities as a result of state-sponsored expulsion known as “land grabbing”, in which land is sold out from under native inhabitants to corporations and governments, reaching up to millions of hectares per year. These land grabs only contribute to marginalization through inequality and poverty as there are often few opportunities for those who have been relocated. These land purchases are for corporate farming and products like biofuel that are often exported, and rarely make their way into domestic economies.

“They’re developing all of the land into something that people cannot eat.” Sassen said. “This is another kind of hunger.”

She then led the lecture into the issue of overbearing state security, the United States as the primary example. Recently, the U.S. has seen an explosion in intelligence agencies to counter transnational threats like terrorism and crime.

“The irony of the system is that in order to protect us from the the 10 terrorists, they have to survey 320 million people,” Sassen said. “The system on the one hand is not a direct, immediate threat, but on the other hand, its the inefficiencies that are extraordinary.”

The spy-agency state diminishes peoples’ right to anonymity and has even led denial of habeas corpus through unlawful deportation and detainment. In effect, leading the U.S. into becoming a “turnkey state” in which the population is allowing the state to run itself, and are simply “consumers of citizenship”.

Sassen concluded that there must be avenues through which people can collectivize to combat the organized system of power. Because the disenfranchised outnumber the ruling minority, they must “provide their own terms to convert,” the system and to take their place on the global street to protest the waning legitimacy of the ruling states.

“You have to believe that there is something we also represent,” Sassen said. “We the people make the legitimacy. It’s not just about power.”

Iowa State criticized for involvement in foreign land investment

Borrowed from Bizroo.ro

The Oakland Institute released a report Tuesday condemning an international land development project involving Iowa State University. Several advocacy groups and media organizations, including Dan Rather Reports and the Sierra Club, have been critical of the potential project and have called on the companies to kill the land deal because they believe it will be detrimental to the people of the land.

Several Iowa-based companies are working on this controversial land investment deal in the sub-Sahara African country of Tanzania. AgriSol Energy LLC and Summit Group are attempting to work out a deal with the Tanzanian government that would allow them to lease land in the western part of the country for agricultural development.

Iowa State University conducted research in early 2011 for the Agrisol to aid in the land development. However, the project has continually been referred to as a “land grab,” by media outlets and advocacy organizations, or a scheme that aims to take land out from under Tanzanian people for large companies to develop.

The investment companies claim they aim to develop the fertile land in the rural areas of the western region of the country. However, NGOs and media outlets have alleged that refugees and peasant farmers are currently occupying the land AgriSol hopes to acquire.

AgriSol Energy Tanzania Limited, a joint venture between AgriSol Energy LLC and Serengeti Advisers Limited, claims the land investment is for the benefit of the local economy and aims to make Tanzania an agricultural powerhouse.

“Our objective is to create a large-scale agriculture zone dedicated to producing staple crops and livestock that will help stabilize local food supplies, create jobs and economic opportunity for local populations, spur investment in local infrastructure improvements and develop new, transparent markets for agricultural products,” according to the AgriSol website.

It also claims that profits gained from the farms will provide for co-op organizations and community investment

However, Anuradha Mittal, executive director of the Oakland Institute, an international advocacy organization, vehemently believes the investors’ intentions are not in the Tanzanians’ best interests.

“If you look at the business plan, even if they just planted with corn, at the prices of corn this year, they would be making a net profit of over $300 million a year,” she said. “And that they have all kind of strategic investor status that they are demanding, that means they don’t have to pay import duties, they don’t have to pay property taxes, they can repatriate their profits. So basically you leave nothing in the country.”

Mittal is not alone in her skepticism of the project. Several agricultural development experts are also not confident in its success.

“For one thing, there’s no question that this is a land grab,” said Dennis Keeney of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy and former head of the ISU’s Leopold Center. “They’re getting huge tracts of land that will not be beneficial to the Tanzanian people.”

He said he was worried about the effect farming will have on the land as well, especially given the fact that row crops like corn and soybeans are extremely taxing on the soil.

“Odds are they’re going to have a hard time supporting an irrigated crop like corn or soybeans,” he said. “The secondary effects are always different than what you think they might be.”

ISU professor emeritus Neil Harl, who is an expert in agricultural law and has worked extensively in agricultural development projects, says one of his primary criticisms is that there is a lack of transparency within the business plan, and it is difficult to gauge the role of the companies.

“If [AgriSol] would please give a little more insight into the objective of the project, we would be more at ease, particularly in light of the involvement of an educational institution,” Harl said.

According to Harl, one of the most important questions is whether the project is designed for long term. Also, it is not clear what the design is, and he said he is unsure whether it aims to maximize corporate returns or to help Tanzanians.

Harl stated that in situations like this, the crops are typically for export and that capital is rarely funneled back into the country. Another criticism is that there is very little infrastructure in the country, especially with regards to irrigation, roads and railroads – all of which would have to be built by tax money, levying an even heavier burden on the Tanzanian people.

“This is a bit worrisome to these people. How is this project going to benefit them, if it does?” he said. “It isn’t creating a model a typical displaced person can use.”

AgriSol countered the argument, claiming it would work directly with the farmers, according to its website.

“Yes, small farmers will be consulted during the next phase of our project’s development. We have just completed our feasibility analysis and preliminary planning, which included a series of listening sessions and a workshop led by us, to solicit local input from political, university and technical leaders at the national, regional and district levels. Twelve key needs were identified by our fellow Tanzanians at that workshop and will be incorporated into our program.”

Accordingly, Mittal is critical of Iowa State’s role in the project.

“This is an investment where investors are going in with a state university very actively involved in it…and they’ll be displacing people who have been living there for 40 years,” she said. “There are a few things that stand out. One is the business plan. They’re paying almost nothing, it’s like 50 cents or whatever for the land.”

It its report on the project, the Oakland Institute claims that as many as 160,000 people are going to be relocated on behalf of the project.

“People are not happy about being moved. They are being told they will have $200 dollars when they move and that’s when they’ll become a citizen,” Mittal said. “Their citizenship is based on them agreeing to moving away and dismantling their own homes. So there’s no relocation plan other than something that sounds very harsh.”

Keeney, too, said he was worried about the fate of the potentially displaced people.

“They’re just going to have to go wherever they’re told. It’s not going to be a good outcome,” said Keeney. “It just seems to be the way people treat those they have power over.”

David Acker, ISU associate dean of global agricultural programs, sees things much differently. He was the prime contributor in Iowa State’s role on the project.

“I think “feasibility study” is not the correct word, I would describe it as pre-planning activities,” Acker said of the university’s involvement.

His previous work in Tanzania made him to want to work alongside the Tanzanian people, and therefore he spent time in the country doing research for the project. Acker conduced listening sessions with the Tanzanians and developed a list of 12 areas the Tanzanians thought an agribusiness should contribute to in order to be socially responsible.

The list included programs like community trust funds and AIDS education, which he presented to AgriSol. However, when it came to actual land studies, they had hired consultants outside of Iowa State, according to Acker.

“What I wanted to do was to figure out a way to bring some investment to Tanzania that would help Tanzanians,” Acker said. “Okay it’s going to make some money for investors, otherwise hey, that’s why they call them investors. They don’t want to go and give money away. They’re looking for a way to make money, but they want to file money back in.”

However, Acker is critical of the Oakland report because he claims the areas that contained refugees were not actually being considered by AgriSol.

“If these plots were ever under consideration, they are not now,” he said. “That’s an awful thing to even consider. If you did find a set of business people who were willing to have anything to do with kicking refugees off the land, who would want to have anything to do with them? Not me personally, not Iowa State.”

The acquisition of the land is also controversial due to Tanzanian laws on land ownership. Currently, Tanzanian law prohibits ownership of land within its borders by anyone who is not a Tanzanian citizen. AgriSol plans to avoid the issue by leasing the land from the government instead of purchasing it.

The final piece of the controversial puzzle is the conflict of interest presented by Bruce Rastetter’s role in the projects and his position as president pro tempore of the Iowa Board of Regents.

“At first I was very concerned because they were stepping in a role they couldn’t win,” said Keeney.  He claimed that ISU’s decision to step back from the project was a result of the potential fallout of the conflict of interest being exposed to the public.

“They were worried about the curtain coming up on this one and it not looking good,” he said. “Whether or not ISU would have done it whether he was involved or not is another question. We may never know the answer.”

Rastetter would not speak regarding the project, but in a disclosure statement issued by Rastetter on May 1, 2011, he admitted there was a conflict of interest.

“I am a shareholder in Agrisol Holdings, which is working with the College of Agriculture at Iowa Sate University on a Tanzania Ag Project. Previous to becoming a regent, Agrisol provided a scholarship commitment and travel expense reimbursement for travel to TZ. I additionally have 3 gifts to Iowa State University and the University of Iowa,” the statement said.

Given the conflict of interest, Iowa State chose to step away from direct involvement in the project, only offering to provide basic advisory information in the future.

“Iowa State had to look at its role and say ‘as much as we’d like to be involved with this, it would be a conflict of interest, or at least perceived as a conflict of interest if we were working on an investment that one of the regents was involved with,’ ” Acker said.

However, Iowa State will still be able to provide information on past projects to help advise investors, just as it would with other NGOs and other companies.

“We can’t be involved anymore and that’s a key point. What can we do to be to be helpful that doesn’t involve a direct involvement?” Acker said. “We would basically share any of the information we have on Uganda(a previous development project) and our approach there, hand over the blueprints, it’s public information.”

He is still confident in the project.

“Even if we think it’s a good project, there’s no way we could be involved directly in it,” Acker said. “I have my personal regrets because I feel like we could have done something good, but I think we did the right thing by stepping back.”

Acker also wanted to counter the argument that there were currently no plans, on behalf of Iowa State or AgriSol, to be involved in other areas. According to Acker, AgriSol was given list of 30 parcels of land in Tanzania, places with the refugees were on the list, but they discarded them because they learned the Tanzanian government had not given them accurate information after doing their own investigation.

“That’s probably the sorest point because that became the focus of Dan Rather. It’s a black eye for the AgriSol people,” Acker said. “They’re investors and they want to make money there’s no question about that, but to be considered to be kicking poor people off the land… You can dislike an investor, but I think they felt that that was kind of a cheap shot.”

Acker said he and the university would be very happy to work with any party as long as they have a commitment to sustainable livelihoods.

“All I can say from Iowa State’s point of view is that we have never considered working in those areas, and would never consider it,” he said. “Our commitment was to sustainable rural livelihoods of vulnerable farmers, vulnerable farm families. I didn’t see our role being involved in the profit aspect of it.”

Seeking a soothsayer

The fortune teller, his parrot and his guinew pig

As I stepped off the bus and onto the beach, the sky was already getting dark, even though it was only 6.30pm. The ominous black clouds roll in from the northeast, being pushed in by a strong wind that could only indicate a coming storm. Thankfully, it hadn’t yet begun to rain. I was here at the beach for one purpose: to seek a soothsayer and discover my untold future. The beach at night is nothing like it is at any other time of the day. The sunny, busy sand becomes a festival of spinning lights, sandwich vendors, and wanderers. The lighthouse turns in the background and its beam sweeps across the sky cutting through the black clouds, but only for an instant, and then it’s gone.

My translator inquires to several vendors about finding a soothsayer and we finally happen upon a woman who immediately tells me to sit and hold out my hand. She pulls my hand toward the light and touches it with a stick, which I later find out is called ‘Jakkama’s rod,’ through which she was able to determine that I was a lavish spender and independent. She also told me that I’ve emerged from the bad things in life and will soon be rich. Cool huh? After hearing my fortune, we stood up and ran off at the urging of my translator because the palm reader tried to squeeze an extra hundred rupees out of us.

We continued down the beach and we happened across a man sitting cross-legged in the sand, adjacent a small cage and a table on the ground. The man showed little notice of me as I sat down across from him in the sand and snapped a few pictures. His face was obscured by the flickering shadows of the propane lamp, but I was able to see his deep, heavy eyes that reminded me of something that I couldn’t quite place. The wind had picked up slightly by now; it was completely dark, and no moon peered through the thick cloud cover. He asks me to choose between the Guinea pig or the bird andnaNturally, not being a bird person, I choose the Guinea pig.

The man, Sendel, laid out a deck of cards opposite the small cage, overlapping them in a neat line. He then lifted the cage door, like that of the Roman coliseum, but instead of a tiger, the little Guinea pig emerges and wastes no time in getting down to business. As if guided by some otherworldly force, the small soothsayer immediately pulls out the card to foretell my future. He chooses, the Virgin Mary, which, apparently indicates that I have bright things in my future. However, he also told me that I was a big mouth, and that I shouldn’t keep sharing my plans with everyone, because they won’t come true if I do.

The furry little sage was mysteriously able to predict my future and even told me of my present life, but what role did the man play? He was perhaps the interpreter, but it would seem as if he was just a medium through which the spiritually endowed piglet communicated his miraculous gift.

A morning at the sea

Life as a fisherman can’t be all bad.

These men get up before dawn and head out onto the open water while most of us are still asleep. Waking up early is less than appealing for most of us, but with a view like this, I can’t help but envy the fishermen.

The waves of high tide pound the beach as the sun rises, just as it has since the beginning of time. The morning haze still obstructs the sun’s rays while fishing boats cross the horizon and pass under it.

The beach is alive already; people are all over the boardwalk and even at 5.30 in the morning, one can find people jogging, stretching, or just walking to before the encroaching heat of the summer day. The boardwalk is almost packed, but a short trip over the sand and one will find solitude, aside from the fishermen.

As one finds a place on the beach to sit, people tend to gather around. Not necessarily in very close proximity, but near enough to show that when people seek the solitude of the morning beach, they don’t mind having company.

It remains quite serene here, a rarity in the city of Chennai.

As the red sun begins to peer over the haze like a giant orange pendant dangling over the sea, the beach traffic begins to pick up. Businessmen, tourists, and couples walk along the ocean, but there’s still no one here to surf the breakers of this nearly deserted beach, a scene that most surfers would kill for.

A few tourists take pictures at the sunrise and the colorless shapes of barges and cranes of the shipyard in the distance; crows pick at the tumbling garbage.

A fisherman pulls in his line, throwing back all but one small catfish. Photo by Kaleb Warnock

Being near a massive body of water, it’s hard not to stare into its infinity, something that has pulled humankind to explore its vast surface and depths and fueled our inexhaustible ambition to explore.

As the strong breeze blows outward, it’s easy for one to become lost in the waves and to be awed by the ocean’s majesty. Perhaps that’s why people from nearly all walks of life gather here in the morning.

As I pull up my camera to capture the moment, a Tamilian man squats in front of me because nature calls, indifferent to the fact that he was giving me more than I had hoped for in my shot.

I couldn’t tell what they were doing at first, but three fisherman began bring in their line. One of them started reeling in a string and wrapping it around a piece of cardboard. Now he’s working his way down the beach pulling in the line and picking up the fish. The line he uses has hooks every foot or so with some kind of bait on them and a weight at the end. He doesn’t get much, but he still tossed back all but a single catfish.

I wonder who buys these fish.

Cycling in the city

Photo by Kaleb Warbock

I’m covered with road grit and every time I move even more grit tumbles to the floor. It’s all over my arms and legs, it’s built up at my joints, behind my ears and even lines the band of un-tanned skin under my watch to make a splendid supplement for my horrendous sunburn.As I sit here at the office nursing my wounds, I fight to suppress a smile while thoughts of my experiences bicycling in the city pull me elsewhere.

As the sun rises over the sea, the city streets begin to stir. Barges loom in the distance, and crows case the sand for skittering crabs. It’s 6.30am and I sit on a curb near my bicycle at Marina Beach. There’s nothing better than a morning at the ocean for a farm kid who’s living outside of his landlocked homeland for the first time.

I take Santhome High Road South and the lighthouse slowly peers into view as the ocean speeds by on my left. I zip south of the lighthouse and pass the open fish market as it slowly comes to life while fishing boats lay idly among the nets on the beach after their morning runs. On my right are gutted concrete structures made habitable by tarps and woven palm leaves, and on the left, wooden pallets heavy with the briny aroma of the morning’s catch.It’s quiet, and thoroughly enjoyable.

There’s nothing quite like seeing the city by bicycle, especially when it allows you to see the back end, rather than what you can see from the city bus or a taxi. However, I’ve learned some valuable lessons when it comes to traversing the streets of Chennai.

Generally, the people of the city are very friendly. Their usual impression when they meet me is something like “Oh, you’re foreign! You must be lost,” and most of the time, they’re right. I’m obliged to ask them for directions in order to supplement the spectacularly terrible map I’d purchased when I arrived in the city. They’re always happy to help, but as soon as a Chennaite gets behind the wheel of a car, it’s every man for himself.

One thing I’m not use to, being a foreigner, is the constant struggle as automobiles and bicycles vie to fight through the gridlock. Back in the US, there are definite spaces for bikes and for cars, and is mutually understood that bikes have the right of way because of their inferiority in accident recovery technology. However, bikes here have to fight as hard on the streets as cars do, and the bike lanes are usually occupied by pedestrians anyway. Oh, and the occasional motorcycle or car cruising down the wrong side of the road still throws me for a loop.

I had one specific experience that really helped to teach me the importance of taking side streets. One morning, as I made my way south toward Guindy via Jawaharlal Nehru, I noticed that the sidewalks were beginning to disappear, and I was being forced onto the roadway. To make things worse, there were several exit and entrance lanes that I had to avoid to stay on the main road, so I had to make my way into the center lanes. After nearly being sandwiched between a pair of blaring city busses, I realized that because of my evasive manouvres, I was going to be riding into oncoming traffic. I once again commenced pumping my legs as hard as I could and blinging my bell as much as possible in a 50 foot sprint to overtake another bus. After setting a world record for wearing out a bicycle bell, the gravity of the situation finally dawned on me, and I decided that taking side streets from now on might be a good idea.

Now, as I fly down the narrow alleyways on my massive mountain bike, blowing past packs of dogs, cows, and unidentifiable things hanging in shop windows I definitely turn heads and am subject to angry shouts and gestures from workmen or young cricketers as I blow past. I find it hard not to smile. You get to see all sorts of things when you take the back alleys.

I snap back into focus briefly to assess what I’d missed of my meeting, but I can’t help but drift back to the street.

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