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.”

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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.”

An interview with Poddala Jayantha

Here’s the video of our interview with Poddala Jayantha. This is the final installment of my series on Poddala.

Appeal from the journalist

I’ve recently received a large amount of feedback with regards to my recent stories about Poddala Jayantha and the media in Sri Lanka. I understand that the situation is not as I have portrayed it, but I am currently working to compile an article summarizing all of the information I have been given in hopes to convey the most accurate information possible.

Please, I encourage you to leave me feedback and provide me with whatever information possible.

Q & A with Poddala Jayantha

Poddala Jayantha, Image borrowed from Neruppu.com

He has deep brown eyes, a thick black beard and dark skin flecked with white blotches caused by acid when it is poured on human skin. He sat up in his chair and spoke softly in Sinhalese that was, in turn, interpreted by his colleague, Sanath de Silva.

His name is Poddala Jayantha. He is a Sri Lankan journalist who was tortured, beaten and nearly killed because he spoke against his government and claimed to be fighting for freedom of expression and human rights.

He sat down with the Iowa State Daily following his lecture for a brief question and answer session.

Why did you become an investigative journalist?

“He became an investigative journalist because he realized that there were abuses and you know there was corruption,” Silva said. “There were huge amounts of public funds being wasted, pilfered away. So he thought that if he stopped it, a little bit of that would trickle down to the public, which would help the poor people, the needy people.”

Were you worried about the potential repercussions of being an investigative reporter?

“Before 2005, Sri Lanka and journalists never went through these sort of problems. There were restrictions — but not to this level, not to this degree.”

What sort of censorship have you experienced in your career?

“For him, it was a unique situation. His first job was with a government media institution, so when he discovered certain wrongdoings, he had to butt heads with the editors who were not willing to publish that because they were government media. It certainly encouraged him and gave him much inspiration so that someday he could get to the other side and investigate further.”

What was the biggest challenge you encountered as a journalist?

“He had two problems. As an investigative journalist, when he was doing that, when he was revealing those secrets he had death threats from the culprits. Then the second one was that he was fighting for the freedom of the media. Then he had threats from the government. Those were the challenges he never overcame, but he tried to beat them.”

What was the content of your most controversial stories?

“Totally political.”

How would you compare media and free speech in Sri Lanka to that in America?

“Last time when it snowed in New York, the headline in one of the papers was ‘Mayor, go home.’ Something like that is unmentionable in a country like Sri Lanka. He would have been killed had he done that. [Jayantha] felt so sad about the situation in Sri Lanka, you know. He said it’s so frustrating, even if you are there you can’t do much. At least by being here he can at least enlighten the rest of the world.”

Is it worth it?

“He says that everything he has done has not been fruitful, but he says that the ones he has revealed and the change that he has initiated he thinks that’s enough for him.”

You spoke of your attack in 2009. Why do you think you were attacked?

“He published the article and just went into hiding. He knew there were threats and he was used to that sort of threats. But the actual threat, for this one, came when he was fighting for the rights of the media. When he was fighting for the rights of the media against the government, only then did the real thing happen. Then he was abducted.”

How do you feel now that you’ve been forced to live in exile for fear of being killed?

“Some of my colleagues are still there and they have to bear the brunt of the burden. In those days, I used to be part of it. I used to share. I’m sad, but the only consolation is that my family and my daughter are safe.”

What do you hope to see in the future?

“He’s waiting for things to change before he goes back. We have a huge responsibility back home, all of us. The people are going through untold miseries there. There’s no short answer, and there’s no shortcut, but we have to have a democracy, a transparent democracy.”

“[Sri Lanka] is not a democracy now. Even our constitution enshrines all these fundamental rights, but it could be stretched, twisted to suit them because we have a poor situation, so we have to change the system. We need to have an absolute democracy where people can ask for accountability.”

Jayantha currently lives in political asylum in New York City where he works as a human rights activist attempting to raise awareness of the situation in Sri Lanka. He encouraged students to read about Sri Lanka, “fall in love with it” and to keep investigating; to learn the truth.

Despite research, questions remain..

Human rights have been a major topic in the Sri Lankan media and have been brought to light by numerous journalists and non-governmental organizations.

Sri Lanka recently pulled out of a 26-year civil war and is desperately trying to rebuild itself. The bloody war between the Sri Lankan government and the rebel group, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, produced numerous human rights violations and war crimes that drew the attention of both foreign governments and non-governmental organizations across the globe.

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam is a separatist organization based in northern Sri Lanka that began a movement attempting to form an independent Tamil state in the late 1970s. The organization is known for its terrorist attacks and assassination of Sri Lankan government officials.

Both sides of the conflict have been accused of numerous human rights violations, including the use of human shields, indiscriminate shelling and preventing essential humanitarian aid from reaching the population.

Separatist forces even allegedly forcibly recruited civilians, including children, into their ranks, which contributed to the massive number of deaths that are estimated between 80,000 and 100,000, through the quarter of a century of conflict.

Although both parties have been accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity, presently, none have been tried, according to the Human Rights Watch report.

Despite the attempted intervention of foreign parties, the populace continues to struggle. According to a report from the Human Rights Watch, the Sri Lankan government continues to attempt to control the population through threats and attacks on humanitarian workers, journalists and human rights defenders.

However, the situation may be quite different than how it is depicted in the Human Rights Watch reports and accounts from journalists, including Poddala Jayantha, a Sri Lankan journalist who recently spoke at Iowa State as part of First Amendment Day.

Incidentally, some ISU students from Sri Lanka see the issue very differently. Migara Perera, junior in mechanical engineering and resident of Colombo — the capitol of Sri Lanka — has a completely different opinion of his government and the separatists.

“There is no way [the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam] can be a good party,” Perera said. “There is no way we should give human rights for them because they were killing innocent people. So, how can we give human rights to them?”

Accordingly, he is supportive of his government and optimistic for his country’s future.

“Right now they’re trying to get on the level with the minorities,” Perera said. “It’s not easy. It’s the nature of the world, even in this place. Everywhere the minority suffers, but not like those days. Right now, the government is trying to rehabilitate the [The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam] how they can. They’re trying their best.”

Sarini Mapalagama, junior in industrial engineering, had a similar opinion of the situation. She, too, is wary of the separatists.

“There were lot of suicide bombings going on in the country, and it was frightening while there was traffic on the roads, since we wouldn’t know when the next bomb would explode,” Mapalagama said in an email. “It was frightening to use public transportation since [the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam] targeted [sic] places where there would be many people as possible.”

Mapalagama was also skeptical as to the reports issued from the numerous journalists and non-governmental organizations within the country, including the work of Poddala Jayantha.

“I personally wouldn’t like him since he is a [the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam] supporter,” Mapalagama said. “The whole country was trying to win the civil war against [the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam] and few journalists like this give out wrong information to the world, when we were in the middle of a war.”

She, too, is optimistic for the future and confident in her government.

“The government is taking measures to develop the country after winning the war against terrorists,” Mapalagama said. “Millions of Rupees were lost due to the war, but now all the government owned money can be used for the betterment of civilians.”

Mapalagama was also critical of the efforts of the United Nations and supportive of her government.

“[The] U.N. mentioned that the government violated human rights during the war. But the president denied that argument since the forces are not commanded to kill innocent civilians but to attack only the terrorists,” she said. “[The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam] was violating human rights as they were training young children to become soldiers and to become suicide bombers.”

Disagreements between the citizens and the government raise further questions that remain only to be solved through time.

Branstad block environmental regulations

Gov. Terry Branstad Photo By Washington Times

Gov. Terry Branstad issued an executive order preventing the Iowa Department of Natural Resources from implementing regulations passed the Environmental Protection Agency aimed to limit emissions of diesel electric power generators. Branstad signed Executive Order 72 on Monday, aimed to override regulations that would require retrofitting generators resulting in high implementation costs.

In his executive order, Branstad cited the potential problems with the installation of expensive new catalytic filters that “imposes unnecessary and crippling costs on small Iowa municipal utilities” that would the transfer to the consumer and lead to a spike in utility rates.

The National Environmental Standards for Air Pollutants would apply to generators that employ Rotary Internal Combustion Engines that utility companies use in order to supply electricity during peak hours when they cannot purchase or produce enough power to prevent brownouts or blackouts. NESHAP for RICE is intended to limit the production of ozone and smog that comes from burning diesel fuel.

“They’re trying to set a standard so that they can try to make sure that those kind of engines have some kind of performance standard relative to emissions,” said Brian Trower, assistant director of electric services for Ames Utilities.

However, Trower was unsure as to whether the regulations had merit because many of the generators do not operate full time.

“The amount of pollution coming from them is minimal because they don’t run much,” he said. “It’s just the EPA trying to make sure that there aren’t a lot of engines out there that are polluting a lot.”

In most instances, diesel-powered generators are used less than an hour a year for testing and maintenance, but some function more frequently.

Unlike in the city of Ames, excessive use is especially prevalent in smaller communities that purchase their electricity from larger entities and are generally more dependent on backup generators.

The regulations were later amended to exclude generators that operate less than 15 hours per year in order to spare other infrequently used facilities.

“We stand at the opposite end of things,” said Leland Searles, air quality program director of the Iowa Environmental Council. “The council feels that these are necessary with a few exemptions, but we recognize that it is important to recognize certain exemptions that Branstad stated in his executive order.”

However, Searles was skeptical as to whether the executive order would be effective. He stated that, because the original regulations were imposed by the federal government, they would simply be implemented at a later date through federal, rather than state entities.

Searles, is also much more concerned about the potential health risks associated with the pollution from the burning diesel fuel. He was unsure as to whether the initial costs of the generators would outweigh the potential health costs that result from the smog.

“Typically these diesel generators do not operate constantly,” Searles said. “The rule applies to them because they feel that it is necessary to curb the emissions from the generators, so the IEC feels that these rules are a good idea to protect public health.”

Branstad did not reference the health problems associated with the generators, but was confident in the financial benefits of vetoing the RICE standards.

“This administration is serious about removing burdensome regulations,” Branstad said in a prepared statement. “The economic impacts of administrative rules need to be considered when being adopted.”

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