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Israeli group spotlights sham of Israeli construction freeze

By Brian Ennis – IMEMC & Agencies – August 04, 2010

An Israeli NGO has documented widespread disregard for the construction freeze that was supposed to be enforced in the West Bank settlements.

Peace Now, an Israeli group which focuses on illegal settlements, saw an incredible amount of construction in the settlements in spite of the supposed freeze on new construction. The freeze was put in place this past January by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and is set to expire at the end of September.

Peace Now documented 492 violations of this construction freeze. Using aerial photographs and other tools the group determined that construction had begun on over 600 units in sixty different settlements throughout the West Bank. 492 of these were directly in violation of the freeze.

Other research by the group indicates that in a normal period of construction in the settlements which matches the time of this freeze there would be construction of about 1130 new homes. This shows that during the “freeze” construction has only slowed by about half.

A report from the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics released recently has some interesting numbers on the population the illegal settlements. It points out that between the period of 1972 and 2009 settlement population increased forty fold. This is compared to only a doubling of population in Israel and the Syrian Golan Heights.

August 4, 2010 Posted by | Deception, Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism | 1 Comment

Israeli police raze rebuilt Bedouin village

Ma’an – 04/08/2010

AL-ARAQIB, Israel: Hundreds of Israeli police stormed an unrecognized Bedouin village Wednesday, less than one week after it was razed to make way for Jewish National Fund forest, witnesses said.

Residents, who remained in the Negev-area village to rebuild, said clashes erupted with police, sent to clear the Bedouin who had not left the area.

The dwellings were rebuilt following a decision by the Higher Follow-Up Committee for Arab Citizens of Israel, the online news site Arab48 reported. The decision was made following the demolition of the buildings on 27 July.

Witnesses said bulldozers tore down the new structures, prompting the clashes, in which five people sustained injuries, including Palestinian member of Israel’s Knesset Taleb As-Sana, as Israeli police tried to remove him from one of the sit-in tents.

Salem Abu Madeghem and Awad Abu Fareeh, field researchers for the civil rights group in Israel Adalah, as well as two others, sustained injuries, residents said, adding that all were transferred to hospital for treatment.

Spokesman for Israel’s police Mickey Rosenfeld said a number of shacks were taken down in the village, and noted several were taken in for questioning. Others, he added, were arrested “for causing disturbances at the scene and police are in and around the village at the moment to prevent further disturbances.”

The Islamic Movement in Israel’s chief Sheikh Mussa Abu Ayyad said his organization would stand by the Bedouin residents, who are all citizens of Israel, and would provide services for them.

Locals said they intended to return to their village to once again rebuild the homes.

On 27 July, all 40 homes in the Al-Araqib village were destroyed and 300 residents were evicted during the raid which began at 4:30 a.m. after the Israeli government deemed the village illegally built on state land. The Bedouin residents say they have proof of land ownership, and have been in court for several years.

Approximately 1,500 police officers participated including special riot forces, mounted officers, helicopters, and bulldozers.

At least 200 children were left homeless as a result, as police removed residents property into prepared containers, and bulldozers razed buildings and sheepfolds, local activists said in a statement. Fruit orchards and olive grove trees were destroyed in the process.

Israeli activists who were present at the demolition described the move as an “act of war, such as is undertaken against an enemy.”

August 4, 2010 Posted by | Aletho News | Comments Off on Israeli police raze rebuilt Bedouin village

NYT: Pervasive surveillance is a serious threat — in China

By Glenn Greenwald| August 3, 2010

Yesterday, I wrote about the proliferation of the private online surveillance industry, how it furnishes ever more thorough and invasive information to the U.S. Government about citizens’ online activities, and why that destruction of privacy is so dangerous  My Salon colleague, Dan Gillmor, yesterday detailed just how comprehensive are the online surveillance capabilities which enable all of this.  Today, The New York Times confronts the same problem of privacy destruction at the hands of a pervasive Surveillance State . . . in China.  In a perfectly interesting article, Michael Wines describes how the Chinese Government has placed surveillance cameras covering virtually every public space in two of its more “restive” provinces, which last year saw deadly fighting between ethnic minorities and the Government.  He describes the dangers as follows:

Much of the proliferation is driven by the same rationales as in Western nations: police forces stretched thin, rising crime, mushrooming traffic jams and the bureaucratic overkill that attends any mention of terrorism.

But China also has another overriding concern — controlling social order and monitoring dissent. And some human rights advocates say they fear that the melding of ever improving digital technologies and the absence of legal restraints on surveillance raise the specter of genuinely Orwellian control over society. . . .

Officials say the cameras leverage the latest technology to battle crime and terrorism Guangdong provincial officials told Chinese news services last year that their new cameras had deterred more than 18,000 street crimes even before the one million cameras had been fully deployed. In Kunming, in south-central China, crime dropped 10 percent after the police installed new cameras, the city’s deputy police chief told a security forum last spring.

That said — and some Western skeptics dispute claims of the cameras’ crime-fighting success — China’s video surveillance clearly has a darker side. . . . The longer-term concern . . . is that video surveillance will become a pervasive tool for controlling not only China’s comparative handful of dissidents, but the masses of people who ordinarily would not run afoul of the state.

So government surveillance “clearly has a darker side” and could become “a pervasive tool for controlling not only dissidents, but the masses of people who ordinarily would not run afoul of the state”?  You don’t say.  Thank God we don’t live in a place like China where that happens, but instead in the U.S., where surveillance is only motivated by a desire to stop Terrorism and other crimes.

It’s certainly true that China deploys surveillance cameras far more aggressively, at least in these two provinces, than the U.S. does.  But the level of other types of at least equally invasive surveillance by the U.S. Government — including warrantless monitoring of telephone and Internet communications records, as well as Internet browsing activities — is approaching the level of absoluteness.  As the ACLU’s privacy expert Chris Calabrese told me yesterday:  “if the Government can monitor your Internet searches and store your broswing history, the list of websites you visit, that’s close to being able to read your mind.”  And, of course, the 2008 FISA Amendments Act dramatically expanded the Government’s ability to read the content of Americans’ emails and eavesdrop on their calls without warrants.

It isn’t as though the U.S. has no history of severe surveillance abuses by the Government against its citizens.  The opposite is true.  It’s not really hyperbole to say that every decade of the last century has seen such abuses, with a fairly unbroken trend toward more ever-invasive measures, including many in the last decade.  The only episode that imposed some mild restraints — the mid-1970s reforms brought about by the Church Committee’s exposure of decades of severe abuses — has been drowned by the post-9/11 explosion of the Surveillance State.  And then there was that instantly forgotten Washington Post series from a couple weeks ago documenting how our Surveillance State is so vast and secretive that nobody even knows what it does, let alone restrains it.

But anyway:  let’s fret about the dark side of China’s surveillance activities.  It’s always bizarre how eager we are to focus on the threatening acts of other countries’ Governments and how finely attuned we’re willing to be to the likelihood for abuse — over there — while blissfully averting our eyes from similar threats from our own Government and remaining happily faithful that our own government officials would never do such things no matter how many times they do.

August 4, 2010 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Full Spectrum Dominance, Mainstream Media, Warmongering | 2 Comments

The Orinoco Belt has a strong and, indeed, enviable competitive position

VHeadline | August 1, 2010

Former Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA) Finance Coordinator Oliver L  Campbell writes: I have just read a story by Daniel Wallis of Reuters entitled “Venezuela revels in oil reserves — challenges remain.” Reading between the lines, I sense a veiled criticism much of which I believe is not merited. I have tried to give another, more realistic, and certainly more upbeat, assessment in the following comments.

Venezuela indeed intends to increase its oil reserves, but to say it “hopes to catapult past Saudi Arabia” as the world leader is colorful reporting that omits to mention the historical context.

It has been known since the 1920s, when the first exploration took place, that large amounts of heavy oil existed in the Orinoco Oil Belt. Some wells were drilled there in the 1930s, but work stopped since no commercial use could be found for the heavy oil until the beginning of the 1980s when Orimulsion was developed as a fuel for power plants. However, it was not till the end of the 1990s, when the four “strategic associations” were formed, that oil production started on a large scale.

Though it was known that huge deposits existed, no one saw a pressing need or hurry to quantify them. The present government decided to do so, primarily as a matter of national pride and the international prestige that comes from having the world’s largest oil reserves. A secondary factor is that OPEC quotas take into account both proven reserves and production capacity and, by increasing the former to Saudi Arabia’s level, Venezuela hopes in future to be allowed to increase its present production. The fact that international oil companies were prepared to bid for the Carabobo and Junin blocks before certification of the increase in the reserves shows they gave it little importance. The geologists knew huge reserves were there and certification was very much a paper exercise.

Mr Wallis refers to 513 billion barrels of recoverable oil “if costs were not an issue.” But they are not since costs are certainly much lower than those for deepwater, offshore drilling or those in the Athabasca Tar Sands. It is unfortunate the Orinoco Belt crudes and Athabasca crudes are often mentioned together as being tar sands. This is wrong since the oil in Orinoco Belt is accumulated in reservoirs in the subsurface, whereas the bitumen in the Athabasca Tar Sands is found near the surface mixed with sand, clay and minerals.

Neither is there anything unconventional about the production process in the Orinoco Belt. Wells are drilled in a cluster of up to 24 from one location using what is known as horizontal drilling — drilling is diagonal till the oil sands are reached when it switches to horizontal. With a temperature of 50ºC, oil flows easily and large electric pumps pump it to the surface without difficulty. On reaching the surface, the oil cools and becomes viscous like a thick tar. It is then blended with a light crude of 32ºAPI to produce a 16ºAPI crude of commercial quality. Alternatively, it is mixed with a diluent and pumped to the upgrader on the coast to be upgraded to either 16ºAPI or 32ºAPI depending on the plant. The diluent is recovered and pumped back to the production area.

So the only unconventional aspect of the 8º to 9ºAPI oil being currently produced is that it needs to blended or upgraded to make it commercially viable. I labour this point so the reader will understand that oil from the Oil Belt is produced like any heavy crude. Contrast this with the Athabasca crude which is obtained by surface mining that involves making huge holes in the ground and then separating the oil from the sands. Exploitation there has been called “a looming ecological disaster” and many Canadians are opposed to it. The separation process consumes a huge quantity of natural gas to heat large amounts of water. The toxic waste is stored in tailing ponds which are so huge that they cover 80 square miles and can be seen from space. The Orinoco Belt has none of these problems, and I have heard of no pressure group objecting to its development.

Mr Wallis states “The technology needed to pump the Orinoco’s ultra-heavy crude is much more complicated and expensive” than it is for light oil.

Though true, the complicated production aspect was solved a long time ago by the four strategic associations. The expensive part applies to the upgrading since blending with a lighter crude is not a costly operation. PDVSA do not publish individual crude production costs, but the average for all crudes, excluding depreciation, in 2008 was $7 a barrel. Add, say, another $3 for the Orinoco Belt extra-heavy crudes and then $5 for upgrading, plus another $5 to cover depreciation and you get a total cost of $20 a barrel at the outside. Compare this with $30 a barrel or more for Athabasca and $40 or more for deep sea production and you see Venezuela is in a privileged position. Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq and other Middle East countries have lower costs, but only Saudi Arabia has comparable oil reserves.

My geologist colleagues question why a 20% recovery factor has been assumed when the current rate is only 9%, and I must admit I am surprised Ryder Scott agreed to it. But, taking a practical approach, does it really matter if the recoverable reserves are stated as 500 billion or 250 billion barrels? The latter would provide a production of 5,000,000 b/d for 137 years by which time who knows if oil will be used as fuel.

I disagree with Mr Wallis that planned projects “in isolated rural areas that lack even basic infrastructure” will create serious problems. Oil is produced in much more inhospitable places than the Orinoco Belt. I accompanied General Alfonzo Ravard, the president of PDVSA, on a visit to the area in 1980 and access was not that difficult. It must have improved since then. Anyway, oil companies are used to operating in difficult terrains and far from the towns. There is no comparison with working in Alaska or Canada under freezing conditions and the permafrost of the tundra, nor with being stationed on a platform 200 miles from land which is truly isolated. Once again, Venezuela is in the privileged position of having oil on land which vehicles can easily reach.

The consultant who asked “to what extent will PDVSA let their partners participate?” should have known the answer. PDVSA owns at least 60% of the shares in each of the mixed companies. Though people refer to them as joint ventures, legally they are not since joint ventures require joint decision taking. PDVSA considers them to be subsidiaries and consolidates them as such in the accounts. But they let the minority shareholders “participate,” or play an active role, by placing their employees either on the Board or in senior executive positions. They realise many of them have key skills which PDVSA lack.

I agree the companies are a disparate bunch — some have ample experience of extra heavy oil production and others have none at all. Venezuela favours other state companies and the trouble with some of these is not just a lack of experience but also a lack of financial resource. State companies often have to compete with other sectors of the economy — hospitals, schools, housing, roads, power plants — for funds. Mr Wallis is right in expressing “doubts about when touted projects to tap the area” will come on stream. The history so far has been largely of procrastination and missed targets.

The quote that “Oil in the ground has zero value” sounds sagacious but is fatuous — companies sell or farm out acreage frequently for large sums. They paid large bonuses upfront for the oil in the ground before any production in the Orinoco Belt started. In Venezuela’s case, the OPEC quota means present oil production is restricted so, guess what? PDVSA have closed in the oil that produces least return per barrel because of its higher cost — oil from the Orinoco Belt. There is thus no immediate hurry to increase production capacity, though clearly that is what PDVSA aims for within the next couple of years.

Mr Wallis points out the risk of investing in Venezuela. But I think that risk in the Oil Belt has receded since royalty was increased to 33%, income tax set at 50% and the mixed companies were formed. These conditions are so tough that the country can hardly squeeze any more from the foreign companies. PDVSA is also strapped for cash and has trouble meeting its 60% capital investment commitment so it would make no sense to undertake further expropriations.

A risk that does exist is not being able to repatriate dividends in a timely fashion since, to conserve cash, PDVSA has delayed the payment of dividends in other mixed companies.

However, state companies in the Orinoco Belt have political clout and can also exert diplomatic pressure to ensure prompt payment–the private companies can get a free ride on their coat-tails.

I trust I have made my case that the Orinoco Belt has a strong and, indeed, enviable competitive position, certainly better than Athabasca which also holds huge reserves. In addition, the easy accessibility on land means its production costs are half those offshore in deep water.

August 4, 2010 Posted by | Deception, Economics | Comments Off on The Orinoco Belt has a strong and, indeed, enviable competitive position