Thursday, December 29, 2011

From rice to shrimps and ginger - adapting to saltwater intrusion

HANOI, 28 December 2011 (IRIN) - Rising sea levels and saltwater intrusion in Vietnam’s fertile Mekong Delta are forcing farmers and development agencies to rethink how livelihoods can be maintained, using methods such as genetic modification, new crop varieties and simple farming fixes

With support from the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research, the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in March 2011 launched a four-year project to introduce the flood-tolerant SUB1 gene and Saltol, a salt-tolerant gene, to Vietnamese rice varieties. 

Transferring the genetic information - a process known as introgression - is expected to take three years. Because the genes are being introduced to rice currently grown in Vietnam, farmers will not need to learn new farming practices. Transferring the genetic information - a process known as introgression - is expected to take three years. Because the genes are being introduced to rice currently grown in Vietnam, farmers will not need to learn new farming practices.

“We are on track. It’s three years, and in the fourth year, we’ll try to disseminate this new variety,” said Reiner Wassmann, a climate change specialist with the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI). 

The Mekong Delta is the country’s rice basket, and Vietnam is the world’s second largest rice exporter. With soil and crops already being damaged by saltwater intrusion, farmers and development agencies are troubleshooting ways to cope.  Some rice paddies in Thanh Hoa Province have been converted to shrimp ponds, according to Nguyen Viet Nghi, CARE’s project manager of a community-based mangrove reforestation programme in Thanh Hoa. 

“It was done by farmers themselves, and CARE is planning to support them combine mangroves and shrimp development in their ponds,” said Nghi. More

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

A Universal Library

MELBOURNE – Scholars have long dreamed of a universal library containing everything that has ever been written. Then, in 2004, Google announced that it would begin digitally scanning all the books held by five major research libraries. Suddenly, the library of utopia seemed within reach.

Indeed, a digital universal library would be even better than any earlier thinker could have imagined, because every work would be available to everyone, everywhere, at all times. And the library could include not only books and articles, but also paintings, music, films, and every other form of creative expression that can be captured in digital form. 
But Google’s plan had a catch. Most of the works held by those research libraries are still in copyright. Google said that it would scan the entire book, irrespective of its copyright status, but that users searching for something in copyrighted books would be shown only a snippet. This, it argued, was “fair use” – and thus permitted under copyright laws in the same way that one may quote a sentence or two from a book for the purpose of a review or discussion.

Publishers and authors disagreed, and some sued Google for breach of copyright, eventually agreeing to settle their claim in exchange for a share of Google’s revenue. Last month, in a Manhattan court, Judge Denny Chin rejected that proposed settlement, in part because it would have given Google a de factomonopoly over the digital versions of so-called “orphan” books – that is, books that are still in copyright, but no longer in print, and whose copyright ownership is difficult to determine. More



Thursday, December 22, 2011

Compassion Is Our New Currency

Notes on 2011’s Preoccupied Hearts and Minds 

Usually at year’s end, we’re supposed to look back at events just passed -- and forward, in prediction mode, to the year to come. But just look around you! This moment is so extraordinary that it has hardly registered. People in thousands of communities across the United States and elsewhere are living in public, experimenting with direct democracy, calling things by their true names, and obliging the media and politicians to do the same.

The breadth of this movement is one thing, its depth another. It has rejected not just the particulars of our economic system, but the whole set of moral and emotional assumptions on which it’s based. Take the pair shown in a photograph from Occupy Austin in Texas.  The amiable-looking elderlywoman is holding a sign whose computer-printed words say, “Money has stolen our vote.” The older man next to her with the baseball cap is holding a sign handwritten on cardboard that states, “We are our brothers’ keeper.”

The photo of the two of them offers just a peek into a single moment in the remarkable period we’re living through and the astonishing movement that’s drawn in… well, if not 99% of us, then a striking enough percentage: everyone from teen pop superstar Miley Cyrus with her Occupy-homage video to Alaska Yup’ik elder Esther Green ice-fishing and holding a sign that says “Yirqa Kuik” in big letters, with the translation -- “occupy the river” -- in little ones below.

The woman with the stolen-votes sign is referring to them. Her companion is talking about us, all of us, and our fundamental principles. His sign comes straight out of Genesis, a denial of what that competitive entrepreneur Cain said to God after foreclosing on his brother Abel’s life. He was not, he claimed, his brother’s keeper; we are not, he insisted, beholden to each other, but separate, isolated, each of us for ourselves.

Think of Cain as the first Social Darwinist and this Occupier in Austin as his opposite, claiming, no, our operating system should be love; we are all connected; we must take care of each other. And this movement, he’s saying, is about what the Argentinian uprising that began a decade ago, on December 19, 2001, called politica afectiva, the politics of affection.

If it’s a movement about love, it’s also about the money they so unjustly took, and continue to take, from us -- and about the fact that, right now, money and love are at war with each other. After all, in the American heartland, people are beginning to be imprisoned for debt, while the Occupy movement is arguing for debt forgiveness, renegotiation, and debt jubilees. More


Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Durban and everything that matters

A HUNDRED years from now, looking back, the only question that will appear important about the historical moment in which we now live is the question of whether or not we did anything to arrest climate change. 

Everything else—the financial crisis, the life or death of the euro, authoritarianism or democracy in China and Russia, the Great Stagnation or the innovation renaissance, democratisation and/or political Islam in the Arab world, Newt or Mitt or another four years of Barack—all this will fade into insignificance beside the question of whether we managed to do anything about human industrial civilisation changing the climate of Planet Earth. It's extremely hard to focus on this, because environmentalism goes in and out of political fashion depending on the economy, war, and so forth. But from the perspective of our great-grandchildren, the only thing that's going to seem important is whether we burned all the fossil fuel on the planet and sent global temperatures up by at least 4 degrees Celsius in the next century, or whether we took collective action, shifted our energy sources, and held the global temperature rise to 2 degrees or less.

Actually, I take that back: there are two possibilities. The first is that global warming will seem to have been the overwhelmingly important question, a hundred years on. The other possibility is more depressing, but I'll get to that later.

So, the global climate change conference in Durban surprised most everyone and managed to pull out a deal at the last minute. I found this surprising because unlike other organised bodies that tend to swirl around in terrifyingly chaotic bickering before pulling out a deal at the last second, such as the United States Congress or the European Union, the global climate change conference doesn't have anything immediately at stake for any of the participants. No governments would have fallen if the negotiators in Durban had failed to reach an agreement (more's the pity). And yet they reached one. This seems to indicate that something in the politics of climate change may have shifted a bit. More

Friday, December 9, 2011

Robert Fisk: Bankers are the dictators of the West

Robert Fisk I salute you, you are the only one with large enough cajones to tell the truth.


Writing from the very region that produces more clich├ęs per square foot than any other "story" – the Middle East – I should perhaps pause before I say I have never read so much garbage, so much utter drivel, as I have about the world financial crisis.

But I will not hold my fire. It seems to me that the reporting of the collapse of capitalism has reached a new low which even the Middle East cannot surpass for sheer unadulterated obedience to the very institutions and Harvard "experts" who have helped to bring about the whole criminal disaster.

Let's kick off with the "Arab Spring" – in itself a grotesque verbal distortion of the great Arab/Muslim awakening which is shaking the Middle East – and the trashy parallels with the social protests in Western capitals. We've been deluged with reports of how the poor or the disadvantaged in the West have "taken a leaf" out of the "Arab spring" book, how demonstrators in America, Canada, Britain, Spain and Greece have been "inspired" by the huge demonstrations that brought down the regimes in Egypt, Tunisia and – up to a point – Libya. But this is nonsense.

The real comparison, needless to say, has been dodged by Western reporters, so keen to extol the anti-dictator rebellions of the Arabs, so anxious to ignore protests against "democratic" Western governments, so desperate to disparage these demonstrations, to suggest that they are merely picking up on the latest fad in the Arab world. The truth is somewhat different. What drove the Arabs in their tens of thousands and then their millions on to the streets of Middle East capitals was a demand for dignity and a refusal to accept that the local family-ruled dictators actually owned their countries. The Mubaraks and the Ben Alis and the Gaddafis and the kings and emirs of the Gulf (and Jordan) and the Assads all believed that they had property rights to their entire nations. Egypt belonged to Mubarak Inc, Tunisia to Ben Ali Inc (and the Traboulsi family), Libya to Gaddafi Inc. And so on. The Arab martyrs against dictatorship died to prove that their countries belonged to their own people.

And that is the true parallel in the West. The protest movements are indeed against Big Business – a perfectly justified cause – and against "governments". What they have really divined, however, albeit a bit late in the day, is that they have for decades bought into a fraudulent democracy: they dutifully vote for political parties – which then hand their democratic mandate and people's power to the banks and the derivative traders and the rating agencies, all three backed up by the slovenly and dishonest coterie of "experts" from America's top universities and "think tanks", who maintain the fiction that this is a crisis of globalisation rather than a massive financial con trick foisted on the voters. More

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Christine Lagarde: The Arab Spring, One Year On

Almost one year ago, countries in the Middle East region embarked upon a historical transformation. Today, the state of play remains uncertain, with the setbacks and intensity of disruptions larger than expected. 

Here, I am thinking especially of the deplorable loss of life in places like Libya, Syria, and Yemen. And we are now moving into the most difficult, risky, and uncertain period of all.

As I mentioned in a speech today hosted by the Safadi Foundation at theWilson Center in Washington D.C., we are in the middle of a delicate transition between “rejecting the past” and “defining the future.” It is a period when hard choices must be made, when post-revolutionary euphoria must give some way to practical concerns. It also does not help that this is happening at a time of great turmoil in the global economy. But I remain hopeful. The final destination is clear: the Arab Spring is still poised to unleash the potential of the Arab people.

It will be important to manage this difficult transition in an orderly way. More


Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Is modern capitalism sustainable?

Cambridge, United Kingdom - I am often asked if the recent global financial crisis marks the beginning of the end of modern capitalism. It is a curious question, because it seems to presume that there is a viable replacement waiting in the wings. The truth of the matter is that, for now at least, the only serious alternatives to today's dominant Anglo-American paradigm are other forms of capitalism.

Continental European capitalism, which combines generous health and social benefits with reasonable working hours, long vacation periods, early retirement and relatively equal income distributions, would seem to have everything to recommend it - except sustainability. China's Darwinian capitalism, with its fierce 
competition among export firms, a weak social safety net, and widespread government intervention, is widely touted as the inevitable heir to Western capitalism, if only because of China's huge size and consistent outsize growth rate. Yet China's economic system is continually evolving.

Indeed, it is far from clear how far China's political, economic and financial structures will continue to transform themselves, and whether China will eventually morph into capitalism's new exemplar. In any case, China is still encumbered by the usual social, economic and financial vulnerabilities of a rapidly growing lower-income country.

Perhaps the real point is that, in the broad sweep of history, all current forms of capitalism are ultimately transitional. Modern-day capitalism has had an extraordinary run since the start of the Industrial Revolution two centuries ago, lifting billions of ordinary people out of abject poverty. Marxism and heavy-handed socialism have disastrous records by comparison. But, as industrialisation and technological progress spread to Asia (and now to Africa), someday the struggle for subsistence will no longer be a primary imperative, and contemporary capitalism's numerous flaws may loom larger.

First, even the leading capitalist economies have failed to price public goods such as clean air and water effectively. The failure of efforts to conclude a new global climate-change agreement is symptomatic of the paralysis. More

Obama attacks Republican economic theory: ‘It’s never worked’


President Obama, in one of his most expansive speeches to date, declared on Tuesday that supply-side economics is a failure and called “gaping inequality” across the country a moral shortcoming that is distorting American democracy.
Obama’s speech in Kansas was not just another attack on Congress, or a plea to pass his jobs bill. He did not roll out a new, snappy slogan – such as telling the audience that “we can’t wait” to enact new laws.
Instead, Obama delivered a searing indictment of Republican economic theory, setting the stage for the coming presidential campaign. Summoning the image of a populist Theodore Roosevelt — in the same town (Osawatomie) where Roosevelt delivered a famous speech on economic fairness in 1910 — Obama deployed the language of right and wrong, fairness and unfairness, in a lengthy address that aides said he largely wrote himself.
The theory of “trickle down economics,” which holds that greater wealth at the top generates jobs and income for the masses below, drew some of Obama’s harshest criticism.
“It’s a simple theory — one that speaks to our rugged individualism and healthy skepticism of too much government. It fits well on a bumper sticker. Here’s the problem: It doesn’t work,” Obama said of supply-side economics, drawing extended applause. “It’s never worked.” More

Monday, December 5, 2011

Inuit hunter takes climate-change message to Durban conference

It took 30 hours of flying, but Inuit hunter Jordan Konek has arrived in the land of surfers and palm trees with a message for the world’s politicians: Climate change is real, and it could devastate Canada’s Arctic people.

At his home in Arviat on the western shores of Hudson Bay, the snow is arriving later and melting sooner. Hunters are falling through the ice or becoming trapped in slush. Polar bears are so desperate for food that they are raiding the town’s garbage dumps. “The Inuit see this and the world should know this,” Mr. Konek says. “It’s happening right before our eyes. If we’re going to be ignored, it’s like putting a shotgun in our mouth and pulling the trigger.”

Mr. Konek, 23, and his cousin, 21-year-old Curtis Konek, are hoping their message will get through to the negotiators from 190 countries who are struggling to reach agreement on how to combat global warming. But the Durban climate conference has failed to make much progress in its first week, and analysts are warning of a potential breakdown in its final week.

Unlike previous climate summits, few prominent leaders will attend the final days of negotiations, knowing there will be little glory to share. Only 12 heads of state, mostly from Africa and small Pacific islands, are scheduled to arrive in Durban this week. Most of the politicians here will be lower-ranking ministers, including Canadian Environment Minister Peter Kent, who was due to arrive late Sunday night. More

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Global rebellion: The coming chaos?

Santa Barbara, CA - As the crisis of global capitalism spirals out of control, the powers that be in the global system appear to be adrift and unable to proposal viable solutions. From the slaughter of dozens of young protesters by the army in Egypt to the brutal repression of the Occupy movement in the United States, and the water cannons brandished by the militarised police in Chile against students and workers, states and ruling classes are unable are to hold back the tide of worldwide popular rebellion and must resort to ever more generalised repression.

Simply put, the immense structural inequalities of the global political economy can no longer be contained through consensual mechanisms of social control. The ruling classes have lost legitimacy; we are witnessing a breakdown of ruling-class hegemony on a world scale.

To understand what is happening in this second decade of the new century we need to see the big picture in historic and structural context. Global elites had hoped and expected that the "Great Depression" that began with the mortgage crisis and the collapse of the global financial system in 2008 would be a cyclical downturn that could be resolved through state-sponsored bailouts and stimulus packages. But it has become clear that this is a structural crisis. Cyclical crises are on-going episodes in the capitalist system, occurring and about once a decade and usually last 18 months to two years. There were world recessions in the early 1980s, the early 1990s, and the early 21st century.

Structural crises are deeper; their resolution requires a fundamental restructuring of the system. Earlier world structural crises of the 1890s, the 1930s and the 1970s were resolved through a reorganisation of the system that produced new models of capitalism. "Resolved" does not mean that the problems faced by a majority of humanity under capitalism were resolved but that the reorganisation of the capitalist system in each case overcame the constraints to a resumption of capital accumulation on a world scale. The crisis of the 1890s was resolved in the cores of world capitalism through the export of capital and a new round of imperialist expansion. The Great Depression of the 1930s was resolved through the turn to variants of social democracy in both the North and the South - welfare, populist, or developmentalist capitalism that involved redistribution, the creation of public sectors, and state regulation of the market. More