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Two Palestinians shot dead by Israeli forces lead to clashes with over 30 injured

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International Solidarity Movement | September 23, 2014

Hebron, Occupied Palestine – Violence broke out on the streets of Hebron’s university district (al-Khalil) this morning when Israeli soldiers opened fire on unarmed demonstrators who had been protesting the murders of two Palestinians earlier that day.

Protestors took to the streets after Marwan Kawasme, 29, and Amar Abu Aisha, 32, were killed and burned by Israeli soldiers in the very early hours of this morning. The Israeli military alleged that the two men were behind the deaths of the three settler teenagers in June of this year.

The soldiers used tear gas canisters and live ammunition bullets during the clashes, with numerous injuries including a 15-year-old boy who was shot in the head and is now in a critical condition in hospital. A representative of the Red Cross stated to ISM that there were over 30 injuries, though the exact number is still unknown.

The building where the murders took place was also set on fire and destroyed.

Tensions had been high all morning as word of the two dead Palestinians spread throughout the area. By 8 am around 200 Palestinian residents had gathered to show their frustration at the senseless taking of life. Although stones were thrown, the protesters were unarmed and did not pose a threat to the violent occupying military. The Israeli army, still present after the earlier incident, unleashed dozens of canisters of tear gas leaving many people unable to breath and in need of medical help. Hemmed in and with nowhere to escape to, the protestors hid behind what ever they could find.

The situation further deteriorated when the Israeli soldiers, without warning began to fire live bullets at the protestors, hitting one boy in the head and injuring a number of others.

After an hour of further violence by the Israeli soldiers, the protestors cleared and the injured were taken away.

Throughout the earlier afternoon however similar incidents of unrest were reported around Hebron (al-Khalil).

September 23, 2014 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Subjugation - Torture | , , , | Leave a comment

An unsettled climate

By Judith Curry | Climate Etc. | September 21, 2014

In a press conference last week, UN Secretary-General Ban-Ki Moon stated: “Action on climate change is urgent. The more we delay, the more we will pay in lives and in money.” The recently appointed UN Messenger of Peace Leonardo DiCaprio stated “The debate is over. Climate change is happening now.”

These statements reflect a misunderstanding of the state of climate science and the extent to which we can blame adverse consequences such as extreme weather events on human caused climate change. The climate has always changed and will continue to change. Humans are adding carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, and carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases have a warming effect on the climate. However, there is enduring uncertainty beyond these basic issues, and the most consequential aspects of climate science are the subject of vigorous scientific debate: whether the warming since 1950 has been dominated by human causes, and how the climate will evolve in the 21st century due to both natural and human causes. Societal uncertainties further cloud the issues as to whether warming is ‘dangerous’ and whether we can afford to radically reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

At the heart of the recent scientific debate on climate change is the ‘pause’ or ‘hiatus’ in global warming – the period since 1998 during which global average surface temperatures have not increased. This observed warming hiatus contrasts with the expectation from the 2007 IPCC Fourth Assessment Report that warming would proceed at a rate of 0.2oC/per decade in the early decades of the 21st century. The warming hiatus raises serious questions as to whether the climate model projections of 21st century have much utility for decision making, given uncertainties in climate sensitivity to carbon dioxide, future volcanic eruptions and solar activity, and the multidecadal and century scale oscillations in ocean circulation patterns.

A key argument in favor of emission reductions is concern over the accelerating cost of weather disasters. The accelerating cost is associated with increasing population and wealth in vulnerable regions, and not with any increase in extreme weather events, let alone any increase that can be attributed to human caused climate change. The IPCC Special Report on Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation found little evidence that supports an increase in extreme weather events that can be attributed to humans. There seems to be a collective ‘weather amnesia’, where the more extreme weather of the 1930’s and 1950’s seems to have been forgotten.

Climate science is no more ‘settled’ than anthropogenic global warming is a ‘hoax’. I am concerned that the climate change problem and its solution have been vastly oversimplified. Deep uncertainty beyond the basics is endemic to the climate change problem, which is arguably characterized as a ‘wicked mess.’ A ‘wicked’ problem is complex with dimensions that are difficult to define and changing with time. A ‘mess’ is characterized by the complexity of interrelated issues, with suboptimal solutions that create additional problems.

Nevertheless, the premise of dangerous anthropogenic climate change is the foundation for a far-reaching plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Elements of this plan may be argued as important for associated energy policy reasons, economics, and/or public health and safety. However, claiming an overwhelming scientific justification for the plan based upon anthropogenic global warming does a disservice both to climate science and to the policy process. Science doesn’t dictate to society what choices to make, but science can assess which policies won’t work and can provide information about uncertainty that is critical for the decision making process.

Can we make good decisions under conditions of deep uncertainty about climate change? Uncertainty in itself is not a reason for inaction. Research to develop low-emission energy technologies and energy efficiency measures are examples of ‘robust’ policies that have little downside, while at the same time have ancillary benefits beyond reducing greenhouse gas emissions. However, attempts to modify the climate through reducing CO2 emissions may turn out to be futile. The hiatus in warming observed over the past 16 years demonstrates that CO2 is not a control knob on climate variability on decadal time scales. Even if CO2 mitigation strategies are successful and climate model projections are correct, an impact on the climate would not be expected until the latter part of the 21st century. Solar variability, volcanic eruptions and long-term ocean oscillations will continue to be sources of unpredictable climate surprises.

Whether or not anthropogenic climate change is exacerbating extreme weather events, vulnerability to extreme weather events will continue owing to increasing population and wealth in vulnerable regions. Climate change (regardless of whether the primary cause is natural or anthropogenic) may be less important in driving vulnerability in most regions than increasing population, land use practices, and ecosystem degradation. Regions that find solutions to current problems of climate variability and extreme weather events and address challenges associated with an increasing population are likely to be well prepared to cope with any additional stresses from climate change.

Oversimplification, claiming ‘settled science’ and ignoring uncertainties not only undercuts the political process and dialogue necessary for real solutions in a highly complex world, but acts to retard scientific progress. It’s time to recognize the complexity and wicked nature of the climate problem, so that we can have a more meaningful dialogue on how to address the complex challenges of climate variability and change.

Related essays

In the midst of preparing my essay, Steve Koonin’s WSJ op-ed was published Climate Science is Not Settled.  Most of Koonin’s points are very similar to what I have been saying, I would say the main difference is related to decision making under deep uncertainty. Koonin states “We are very far from the knowledge needed to make good climate policy.” I argue that there are strategies for decision making under deep uncertainty that can be useful for the climate change problem, particularly if you are not trying to solve the problem of extreme weather events by reducing carbon dioxide emissions. But overall I am thrilled by Koonin’s op-ed — since he operates higher in the scientific and policy food chain than I do, his voice adds much gravitas to the message that I think needs to get out regarding climate science and policy. I would also like to add that Koonin chairs the APS Subcommittee that is reviewing the APS climate change policy statement (see my previous post on the APS Workshop, where I met Koonin).

In the midst of the ‘mad crowd’ in New York City attending the People’s Climate March, sober people are trying to figure out ways to broaden the policy debate on climate change and do a better job of characterizing the uncertainty of climate change (both the science itself and the media portrayal of the science). There is concern that the institutions of science are so mired in advocacy on the topic of dangerous anthropogenic climate change that the checks and balances in science, particularly with regard to minority perspectives, are broken.

Richard Lindzen’s CATO essay Reflections on Rapid Response to Unjustified Climate Alarm discusses the kickoff of CATO’s new center on rapid response to climate alarmism. Anthony Watts has announced the formation of a new professional society The Open Atmospheric Society for meteorologists and climatologists, with a new open access journal.  Both of these efforts emphasize public communication. I’m not sure what kind of impact either of these efforts will have, but I wish them well.

My thinking is that we need more voices from influential scientists like Steve Koonin, along with a more mature framing of the climate science problem and decision making framework that allows for dissent and examines a broader spectrum of solutions and approaches.

September 23, 2014 Posted by | Economics, Science and Pseudo-Science, Timeless or most popular | , | Leave a comment

A scramble for lands

GRAIN | September 22, 2014

With all this money pouring into palm oil companies, lands for oil palm plantations are at an all time premium, wherever they can be found.

Oil palm plantations can, however, only be established on a narrow band of lands in tropical areas that are roughly 7 degrees North or South of the equator and that have abundant and evenly spread rainfall. This makes the potential area for new oil palm plantations rather limited. Plus, most of these lands are composed of forests and farmlands that are occupied by indigenous peoples and peasants, some of whom are already growing oil palms for local markets.

The expansion of oil palm plantations, therefore, depends upon companies getting these people to give up their lands. This is not an easy sell, given the meagre jobs and other benefits that an oil palm plantation generates in comparison with the destruction that it causes and the value that the lands already hold for the people. A typical oil palm plantation requires only one poorly paid worker for every 2.3 hectares, while the surrounding communities pay a high price for the deforestation, water use, soil erosion and chemical fertiliser and pesticide contamination that it causes.1 Companies trying to acquire lands from communities also run into customary forms of land governance that do not allow for a company to buy up land one parcel at a time.

The easy way for companies to get around these hurdles is to ensure that the communities do not even know that their lands have been signed away. It is very common in Africa, for instance, for companies to sign land deals directly with the national government without the knowledge of the affected communities. In many cases, the companies signing the deals are obscure companies registered in tax havens with their beneficial owners hidden from view. The managers of these companies tend to come from the mining sector or other extractive industries with long histories of shady deals in Africa. In Papua New Guinea and Indonesia, land deals are typically brokered between local elites and foreign investors, also often with obscure ownership structures registered in tax havens.

Such small shell companies are not in the business of developing plantations. Once the land contracts are signed, they immediately look to sell out to larger companies with the technical capacity and financial resources to build the plantations. And it is usually at this point that the communities come to understand that their lands have been sold.

Most of these cases eventually lead to a situation where a large multinational plantation company, backed by a national government and a multimillion dollar contract, faces off against a poor community trying desperately to hold onto to the lands and forests it needs to survive. It is incredibly difficult for communities to defend themselves against such powerful forces, and those that do risk the threat of violence, whether by paramilitaries in Colombia, police in Sierra Leone, or the army in Indonesia.

Tax havens and land grabs for palm oil in Africa

The case of Atama Resources Inc

In 2010, the Government of the Republic of the Congo signed away more than 400,000 ha to a Congolese registered company called Atama Plantation whose owners remain unknown.2 In return, this mysterious company promised to develop the Congo Basin’s largest ever oil palm plantation, converting 180,000 ha of mostly forested land in the provinces of Cuvette and Sangha while paying the government a token annual fee of $5 per hectare of planted land. The company was under no obligation to conduct environmental or social impact assessments or to consult with affected populations.

When the contract was signed, Atama Plantation was wholly owned by Silvermark Resources Inc, a company registered in the offshore fiscal paradise of the British Virgin Islands.3 The only publicly available information on Silvermark is that it is owned and directed by two shell companies registered in Brunei. Because of the rules of secrecy governing companies registered in Brunei and the British Virgin Islands, it is impossible to know who the actual owners of these companies are.

In 2011, ownership of Atama Plantation was transferred to a holding company in Mauritius, another fiscal paradise, before finally being sold, in 2012, to Malaysia’s Wah Seong Corporation, a “pipe-coating specialist” company with no history in the palm oil sector that is controlled by Malaysian businessman Robert Tan.4

Whoever the owners of Silvermark are, they pocketed an estimated $25 million, without doing anything more than orchestrate the contract with the Congolese government. And, under the deal with Wah Seong, they still hold 39% of the shares with yet another British Virgin Islands registered company with unknown owners holding the remaining 10%.

The case of Liberian Forest Products Inc. (LFPI)

On August 21, 2006 a little known London minerals exploration company announced to the world that it had taken control of 700,000 ha of land in Liberia– equal to about 7% of the country’s entire land area. The owners of Nardina Resources PLC claimed they had acquired rights over this massive chunk of land through a take over of a Liberian company called Liberian Forest Products Inc. (LFPI). Nardina then changed its name to Equatorial Biofuels PLC and then again to Equatorial Palm Oil Ltd (EPO) to reflect its new mandate as a palm oil company. Meanwhile, the original owners of LFPI walked away with £1,555,000 in shares and cash.

But how did the owners of LFPI get hold of such an obscene amount of territory in a country just emerging from over a decade of civil war? And who were these owners anyway?

EPO’s disclosure documents from its listing on the London AIM stock exchange in 2010 show that the money it paid for LFPI went to two offshore companies, Kamina Global Ltd of the British Virgin Islands and Subsea BV of Liberia, which each had 50% shares of LFPI.

Searches conducted in December 2013 through the company registry in Liberia found no record of registration for a company called Subsea BV. However, the articles for registration for LFPI of November 2006 indicate that LFPI is a Liberian company owned by Tony Smith (50%) and A. Kanie Wesso (50%), who are both trustees for a new company to be formed, called Subsea BV. The sole LFPI director named in the document is Mark Slowen, a British businessman operating from Liberia whose name also turns up as the CEO of SubSea Resources DMCC (Dubai Multi Commodities Centre), a company that acquired mineral rights in Liberia at around the same time.

A second business registry document for LFPI from August 2007 refers to LFPI as a British owned company– with ownership split between Mark Slowen (50%) and Kanie Wesso (50%). Both documents describe LFPI as a company whose sole business is logging.

Subsea BV also turns up in the UK business directory as a director of the G4 Group, which has several business interests in Liberia and is controlled by the notorious financial fraudster Lincoln Fraser.5 The G4 Group’s Liberian subsidiary, G4 WAO Inc., exports rubber tree logs and holds a phosphate exploration concession covering 36,000 ha in Bopolu. According to the company website, G4 WAO “manages in excess of one million acres of the best crop growing conditions in the world” and has partnered with the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid-Tropics (ICRISAT) “to establish trial sites on various G4 farming enterprises in Liberia, Ghana and Kenya.”6

Kamina Global Ltd, the other company that was paid by EPO for the acquisition of LFPI, is even more opaque. Legislation in the British Virgin Islands does not require companies to disclose their directors or shareholders, so it was not possible to identify the people behind Kamina Global through company records.7

When EPO acquired LFPI, the contract was under examination by Liberia’s Public Procurement and Concession Commission. It would conclude that the agreement contained “gross irregularities and non-compliance with the law” and EPO was forced to renegotiate. LFPI, now under the ownership of EPO, signed a new contract with the government in 2008, this time covering a much reduced but still valuable 55,000 ha area of land in Butaw. With this concession and another of a similar size in Liberia, EPO went public on the London AIM stock exchange, eventually attracting significant investment from the Siva Group, a Singapore-based holding company of Indian billionaire Chinnakannan Sivasankaran, who has quietly amassed one of the world’s largest land banks for oil palm in just a few years. The Siva Group started buying shares of EPO in 2010 and by 2013 it controlled 36.7% of the company and had formed a 50:50 joint venture with EPO based in Mauritius, called Liberian Palm Developments Ltd, that took control of all of EPO’s Liberian land concessions.8

In 2013, the Siva Group would sell its shares in EPO and its Mauritian joint venture to KL Kepong of Malaysia, one of the world’s largest palm oil companies.

Are Chinese companies grabbing land for palm oil?

China runs neck and neck with India for the world’s number 1 palm oil importer. So it would only make sense that Chinese companies would be involved in the current rush for lands for oil palm plantations. But while there have been several reports of massive land grabs for palm oil by Chinese companies, few of these have materialised.

China’s telecom giant ZTE, which has a biofuels division, was said to have signed an agreement with the Democratic Republic of the Congo to develop 2 million hectares of oil palm plantations. The numbers were later scaled down to 100,000 ha and it now seems like the project has been scrapped entirely.

In 2005, Indonesia’s President Yudhoyono announced a plan to develop 1.8 million hectares of land along the Kalimantan border into oil palm plantations. Several Chinese companies including state-owned investment company CITIC Group were offered one third of the area in return for building roads and railways and details were released of a $600 million project between CITIC and Indonesian palm oil giant Sinar Mas to develop a 100,000 ha plantation in the area, with a $380 million dollar loan from the China Development Bank.9 Sinar Mas’ subsidiary Golden Agri Resources is one of the main suppliers of palm oil to China. The plans, however, were never put into operation.

In 2012, Sinar Mas, which is controlled by Indonesia’s Widjaja family, announced a new partnership for oil palm development with China, this time with state-owned China National Offshore Oil Corp. and another Widjaja controlled company, HKC Holdings of Hong Kong. Wang Jun, the former chairman of CITIC Group, is the honorary chairman and a director of HKC. The companies said the project would be rolled out over eight years in Papua and Kalimantan, “where regional governments had reserved about one million hectares of land for it.”

Less than a year later, the Widjajas cemented another major palm oil deal with China. This time in Africa. In March 2013, Golden Agri Resources’ wholly-owned subsidiary Golden Veroleum Limited procured a $500 million term loan facility from the China Development Bank to support the construction of its 220,000 ha oil palm plantation project in LIberia. Typically the CDB only loans to overseas companies or projects when Chinese companies are directly involved.10

For now, China appears to be channeling most of its investments in palm oil through Asian palm oil companies, such as Sinar Mas, that dominate the global palm oil trade. The only Chinese company making significant direct investments in oil palm plantations has so far been China’s state-owned oil company Sinochem. In April 2012, Sinochem paid 193 million euros to acquire 35% of the Belgian plantations company SIAT, which has oil palm plantations in Gabon, Ghana and Nigeria. It also announced that its rubber company in Cameroon would be expanding its plantations and starting to move into palm oil production.

Cash crop | Communities lose out to oil palm plantations


Notes

1 UNEP, “Oil palm plantations: threats and opportunities for tropical ecosystems,” December 2011

2 See the excellent report, “Seeds of Destruction“, Rainforest Foundation UK, 2013

3 Silvermark is owned by Tinaldi Ltd and the Director is Greenland Ltd. Greenland Ltd is reported to be controlled by Benny Lum (who may just be a proxy). It controls Lamington Capital Inc (maybe Singapore) which is also a shareholder in African Petroleum Corporation Limited. It was also used to direct a transfer of funds to a Thai company that is linked to Thaksin. Both Tanaldi Ltd and Greenland Ltd (Brunei) are registered in Brunei to the address of HMR Trust Ltd (which is involved in offshore financial services). Other documents indicate that Tanaldi Limited is owned by Tan Sri Barry Goh Ming Choon of Malaysia and the company acts as a trust for other Malaysian businessmen. Barry Goh controls B&G Capital Resources Berhad (“BCGR”) which he started in 1994. BGCR has served as the principal contractor to Tenaga Nasional Berhad (TNB), one of the largest government link companies in Malaysia

4 Atama Resources Inc was registered in Mauritius in July 2011, as 100% owned by Silvermark. In 2012, Wah Seong purchases 51% of Atama Resources Inc. through its 100% owned subsidiary WS Agro Ind Pte Ltd (Singapore). 39% remains with Silvermark. 10% is taken by Giant Dragon Group (BVI), which is 100% owned by Marston International Ltd. (BVI), who’s director is Eastern Sky Ltd. (Hong Kong). Eastern Sky is a nominee director for several other companies. The Wah Seong Corporation is largely controlled by Malaysian businessman Robert Tan. Marston International Ltd. is the owner of Pergenia International Limited (PIL) incorporated in British Virgin Island on 10 January 2007 and Netstar Holdings Limited registered in BVI in 2003. Marston International Ltd is also the controlling shareholder of PT Jaya Pari Steel Tbk. (Indonesia). Reports from PT Jaya Pari Steel Tbk say that Marston International Ltd is owned by John Matthew Ashwood (50%) and Brian Whiteman and Robinson McKinstry (50%), who seem only to be proxies and John Ashwood likely works for Vistra, an offshore financial company based in Hong Kong. PT Jaya Pari Steel is a company of the Gunawan family of Indonesia, which is involved in finance and steel. The family controls 46 percent of Indonesia’s PT Bank Panin. Marston International Limited is also a major shareholder in another Gunawan steel company, Betonjaya Manunggal Tbk PT, through its ownership of Profit Add Limited (Samoa). Marston International is listed as a shareholder of Best Dragon Enterprises Limited, alongside Tito Sulistio, who is connected to the Suharto family.

5 Fraser is described by Offshore Alert as a “British conman who masterminded the $400 million Imperial Consolidated fraud” which robbed thousands of pensioners and others of their savings when it went bankrupt in 2002.

6 G4 Group website

7 Kamina’s company registration information indicates that it was registered on 17 March 2006 and struck off on 2 November 2009. It’s registered agent is TMF (BVI) Ltd, a company which manages numerous shell companies on behalf of clients around the world. As written on the same document: “Under the BVI Business Companies Act, 2004 companies are not required to file information on Directors and Shareholders of a company.”

8 Siva Group’s 36.7% share of EPO is held by way of several subsidiaries: Biopalm Energy Limited (16.62%), The Siva Group (16.62%) and Broadcourt Investments Ltd (3.46%).(The joint venture is between EPO’s wholly-owned subsidiary Equatorial Biofuels (Guernsey) Limited and Biopalm Energy Limited, a wholly owned subsidiary of Geoff Palm Ltd based in the offshore city of Labuan, Malaysia, and which is owned by Broadcourt Investments Ltd, a British Virgin Islands registered holding company with Chinnakannan Sivasankaran, the Siva Group’s founder and owner, listed as its only director and shareholder since January 2007.

9 “The Kalimantan border oil palm project,” Milieudefensie – Friends of the Earth Netherlands and the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation, 2006; “China’s investment foray into Indonesia,” Asia Sentinel, 6 June 2013

10 Golden Agri press release

September 23, 2014 Posted by | Corruption, Deception, Economics | , , | Leave a comment

Well oiled resistance

GRAIN | September 22, 2014

The rush to develop oil palm plantations in Africa is a double whammy for the continent. Not only does it involve a huge land grab of peoples’ lands and food producing resources, it also directly undercuts the livelihoods of millions of people involved in Africa’s traditional oil palm sector.

This is not the first time foreigners have pushed an expansion of oil palm in Africa. During the the colonial occupation of the continent, the European powers became interested in palm oil as an industrial lubricant and for making candles. African families were forced to pay a special tax, known as the “takouè” to the colonial authorities, in the form of palm oil and palm nut. King Léopold II of Belgium forced every farmer in the province of Equateur in the Congo to plant 10 palms a year.1

The European powers also established their own oil palm plantations around this time. Plantations were created in West and Central Africa as well as in Southeast Asia. Research stations and collection missions were launched to develop high yielding varieties of oil palms through the cross breeding of traditional or wild varieties.

With independence, most of these plantations and research stations were nationalised, and the new African governments reenergised the expansion of national production. In Bénin, for example, the state-owned Société Nationale du Développement Rural (SONADER) led an expansion of oil palm plantations in the south immediately after independence, while another state-owned company, the Société Nationale pour l’Industrie des Corps Gras (SONICOG) built new palm oil refineries and palm nut processing factories.

But, at the end of the 1990s, World Bank and donor imposed structural adjustment programmes forced African governments to privatise their national palm oil companies and to sell off their mills and plantations. While many national companies simply crumbled away, European companies with old colonial connections captured the most lucrative operations. SOCFIN, controlled by billionaires Vincent Bolloré of France and Hubert Fabri of Belgium, took over national companies in Cameroon, the DRC, Guinea and Nigeria. SIAT, controlled by the family of South African diamond magnate Ernest Oppenheimer and the Belgian Vandebeeck family, took plantations in Gabon, Ghana and Nigeria, while another old money Belgian company, SIPEF took over a chunk of the state-owned oil palm plantations of Côte d’Ivoire. Unilever, one of the world’s largest and oldest food companies, scored plantations too – in the DRC, Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire.

Today there is a second wave of foreign interest in oil palm plantations in Africa. With land for oil palm plantations becoming more difficult and expensive to acquire in Malaysia and Indonesia, companies and speculative investors are keen to open up new frontiers for export production. Some investment is going to Papua and to Latin America, but the biggest target is Africa. A long list of companies, from Asian palm oil giants to Wall Street financial houses, are scrambling to get control over lands on the continent that are favourable to oil palm, especially in the West and Central regions.

Over the past five years, vast areas of land in Africa have been allocated to foreign companies for oil palm plantations by African governments, with minimal if any consultation with the affected populations and many allegations of corruption. Table 1 lists 60 deals covering nearly 4 million hectares over the past decade and a half.

A number of different actors are involved. There are established Asian plantation companies, like Wilmar and Sime Darby, and multinational palm oil traders, like Cargill and Olam, both looking to establish a new basis of palm oil supply for global markets in Africa. But many of the first movers are in fact small obscure companies, typically domiciled in tax havens, whose owners intend only to sign land deals and then sell their companies as soon as possible to larger players with the capacity to develop the plantations. In many cases it is difficult to work out who the owners of these companies are.

Resistance to a landgrab for a new oil palm plantation in Cameroon. (Photo : SEFE)

Resistance to a landgrab for a new oil palm plantation in Cameroon. (Photo : SEFE)

The communities facing land grabs from palm oil companies are under tremendous pressure to accommodate them, with pressure coming from the companies, the government, the local chiefs and even the army and paramilitaries. Those who resist face arrest, harassment and violence. And yet communities in Africa and around the world, from Papua New Guinea to Sarawak, from Cameroon to Guatemala, continue to struggle to stop palm oil companies from entering their lands.

Communities in southwest Cameroon have been involved in a three year struggle to stop the US company Herakles Capital from setting up an oil palm plantation in their area. Despite support from the president of Cameroon, Herakles has been unable to move forward with its plans because the communities are united in their total opposition to the plantation and because of the creative actions that they have undertaken, with support from national and international partners, to put pressure on the company to leave. The company and the government keep coming back and presenting new terms, the latest being a presidential decree that reduces the land allocated to Herakles from 73,000 ha to 20,000 ha and boosts the rent that the company must pay. Community leaders have been arrested and harassed with lawsuits. Yet the communities are sticking to their bottom line demand – no oil palm plantations on their lands.

Cameroon is also a target for the Luxembourg based company SOCFIN, owned by billionaires Vincent Bolloré of France and Hubert Fabri of Belgium. Over the past decade and a half, SOCFIN has taken over lands for oil palm and other crops in several African countries, including Cameroon, DRC, Guinea, Nigeria, Sao Tome & Principe, and Sierra Leone. The company is notorious for human rights abuses and land conflicts at its operations, and for its aggressive tactics against those who oppose it. In the past few years, the company has slapped defamation suits on several organisations and journalists in Africa and Europe that have spoken out against it.

On June 5, 2013, communities affected by SOCFIN plantations in four African countries held simultaneous protest actions against the company, as a delegation of diaspora from these countries and supported by the French group Réseaux d’Action Transnationale (ReAct) presented a joint letter from the various communities to the Annual General Meeting of the Bolloré Group, which is a major shareholder in SOCFIN.

“This initial international protest is just the beginning. We are committed to upholding our rights and Mr. Bolloré will have to understand that,” said Emmanuel Elong, spokesperson for Synaparcam, the Socapalm resident farmers’ union in Cameroon.2

The Jogbahn Clan convinced Liberia's government to stop the expansion of plantations onto their lands. (Photo : Cargo Collective)

The Jogbahn Clan convinced Liberia’s government to stop the expansion of plantations onto their lands. (Photo : Cargo Collective)

Strong community resistance combined with national and international, well targeted pressure, can roll back land grabs. The Jogbahn Clan in Liberia provides an inspiring example. When the British company Equatorial Palm Oil began surveying their lands as part of a deal it signed with the Liberian government, the communities took action to stop the work crews. They then marched to the local government offices to make it clear that they had never been consulted about the deal and that they would never give up their lands for the project. Along the way they were beaten, arrested and thrown in jail. But the communities refused to back down. Local and international NGOs joined their struggle, and exposed what was happening to the world. Finally, in March 2014, community leaders met with the Liberian President, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, and secured a commitment from her to stop the company from expanding on their lands. Now Liberian groups are hoping to replicate these efforts with other affected communities in the country.3

The many different efforts to resist land grabs and maintain local control over palm oil production in Africa, Asia and Latin America demonstrate how committed local communities are to maintaining control over their ancestral lands and their biodiversity, for themselves and for future generations.


Notes

1 World Rainforest Movement, “Oil palm in Africa: past, present and future scenarios,“ 2010

2 Synaparcam, SoGB residents committee, Concern Union Citizen, and MALOA, “West African farmers stand up against Bolloré,” 5 June 2013

3 For more information about the case see: http://sdiliberia.org/node/263

September 23, 2014 Posted by | Economics, Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Timeless or most popular | , | Leave a comment

Ebola, biological warfare against Africa?

By Abayomi Azikiwe | Press TV | September 23, 2014

A team of eight experts and journalists visiting the southern region of the West African state of Guinea were found dead in the town of Nzerekore on Sept. 20. Reports indicate that they were there to educate people about the nature of the disease for the purpose of its prevention.

Reports from Guinea say that the delegation had met with elders in the community but were later attacked by youths. Investigations into the details of the killings are ongoing.

There is tremendous mistrust surrounding the spread of the Ebola virus disease in some West African states where the epidemic has had an impact. Doctors Without Borders reported in April that their teams were forced to withdraw from Macenta in Guinea after being stoned by youths who said they were there to spread the disease.

Newspaper articles and rumors have circulated that the outbreak is a direct result of biological warfare being waged by imperialist countries against the African continent.

Although no one knows what the motivations were of those who carried out the killings in Guinea, obviously there are many people who mistrust the motivations of foreign aid workers responding to the crisis. Guinea is the first country that was identified in the latest spread of the disease, which has periodically struck in Central and West Africa over the last three decades.

Biological warfare and economic underdevelopment

The most widely discussed and controversial article related to the spread of the Ebola virus disease was published by the leading newspaper in Liberia, The Observer. Dr. Cyril Broderick, a former professor of plant pathology at the University there, asserted that the spread of the disease is a direct result of US Department of Defense bio-warfare against Africa.

Broderick’s article was published on Sept. 9 and stated that “Africa must not relegate the Continent to become the locality for disposal and the deposition of hazardous chemicals, dangerous drugs, and chemical or biological agents of emerging diseases. There is urgent need for affirmative action in protecting the less affluent of poorer countries, especially African citizens, whose countries are not as scientifically and industrially endowed as the United States and most Western countries, sources of most viral or bacterial GMOs that are strategically designed as biological weapons. It is most disturbing that the US Government has been operating a viral hemorrhagic fever bioterrorism research laboratory in Sierra Leone.”

This same author goes on to ask “Are there others? Wherever they exist, it is time to terminate them. If any other sites exist, it is advisable to follow the delayed but essential step: Sierra Leone closed the US bioweapons lab and stopped Tulane University for further testing.” (Sept. 9)

Broderick has been attacked for publishing the article, and according to Health Impact News “The western pro-pharma media has chided Dr. Broderick, saying that such an inflammatory piece of writing is ‘irresponsible’ since so many Africans are already distrustful of western medicine. They see western medicine as the answer to Africa’s deadly diseases such as Ebola, while Dr. Broderick sees it as the cause. Dr. Broderick states ‘African people are not ignorant and gullible, as is being implicated.’” (healthimpactnews.com, Sept. 21)

Following the publication of this article, President Barack Obama announced on Sept. 16 that the US would deploy 3,000 troops to the affected West African states as a means to combat the disease. Obama said in a press release that “The United States will leverage the unique capabilities of the US military and broader uniformed services to help bring the epidemic under control. These efforts will entail command and control, logistics expertise, training, and engineering support.” (White House press statement)

Washington is already heavily involved militarily in Africa. Several thousand Pentagon troops, Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) operatives and State Department functionaries are on the continent as part of the US Africa Command (AFRICOM). This intervention since 2008 has created more instability and underdevelopment in Africa as represented by the events in Egypt, Mali, Libya, Somalia, South Sudan and Nigeria, where the ostensible partnerships aimed at curbing “terrorism” has prompted the intensification of conflict, dislocation and in the case of the Horn of Africa, famine.

Pentagon and CIA drone operations have carried out numerous targeted assassinations in Somalia. In Mali, a US-trained military officer returned to this former French colony and staged a coup providing a rationale for internal destabilization as well as an ongoing occupation by Paris.

Cuba offers medical solidarity

Meanwhile the revolutionary nation of Cuba pledged to send medical personnel in the fight against the disease. Cuba has a profound history in providing unconditional solidarity with the African continent.

In an address on Sept. 18 before the United Nations Security Council emergency session on Ebola, Vice Minister of Foreign Relations Abelardo Moreno told the participants that, “Cuba’s response is part of our solidarity with Africa, Asia and Latin America and the Caribbean. Over the last 55 years, we have collaborated in more than 158 countries, with the participation of 325,710 health workers. Some 76,744 collaborators have worked in 39 African countries. Today, in this sector, 4,048 Cubans are serving in 32 African nations, 2,269 of whom are doctors.” (granma.cu, Sept. 19)

Moreno went on the report that, “The medical brigades which will be sent to Africa to fight against Ebola form part of the ‘Henry Reeve International Contingent’ – created in 2005 – composed of doctors specializing in combating disasters and large-scale epidemics. Cuba’s response confirms the values of solidarity which have guided the Cuban Revolution: not to give what we can spare, but to share what we have.”

This approach contrasts sharply with that of the White House and Pentagon. Cuba has built up considerable trust in Africa due to its consistent policy of international solidarity.

At least three countries that have reported Ebola cases are reporting improvements in fighting the disease and its proliferation. In Nigeria, the Federal Government announced that schools would be re-opened on Sept. 22 despite opposition from the sections of the Nigerian Union of Teachers (NUT).

In Sierra Leone, there was a state of emergency declared restricting movements for three days. The government announced on Sept. 22 that the situation was now under control. Similar announcements have been made in reference to developments in Senegal, where at least one case has been reported.

Nonetheless, there have been nearly 3,000 deaths reported from the disease. In addition, there are still numerous questions related to the conditions under which the disease is spread and the most effective means to treat and eradicate the epidemic. (WHO Update, Sept. 22)

This outbreak does draw attention to the need for genuine independence and development on the African continent. The training of medical personnel and scientific researchers would contribute immensely to preventing future healthcare crises.

Cuban revolutionary foreign policy provides an example of how underdeveloped states, which have a legacy of slavery, colonialism and neo-colonialism, can transform through a process of class struggle and self-reliance. With over five decades of hostility from the US, Cuba has been able to make significant contributions to African liberation whether in the fight against settler-colonialism in Southern Africa in the years past or through the contemporary challenges related to the Ebola outbreak, the training of African medical personnel and other healthcare issues.

September 23, 2014 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism | | 7 Comments

High Cost of Bad Journalism on Ukraine

By Robert Parry | Consortium News | September 22, 2014

The costs of the mainstream U.S. media’s wildly anti-Moscow bias in the Ukraine crisis are adding up, as the Obama administration has decided to react to alleged “Russian aggression” by investing as much as $1 trillion in modernizing the U.S. nuclear weapons arsenal.

On Monday, a typically slanted New York Times article justified these modernization plans by describing “Russia on the warpath” and adding: “Congress has expressed less interest in atomic reductions than looking tough in Washington’s escalating confrontation with Moscow.”

But the Ukraine crisis has been a textbook case of the U.S. mainstream media misreporting the facts of a foreign confrontation and then misinterpreting the meaning of the events, a classic case of “garbage in, garbage out.” The core of the false mainstream narrative is that Russian President Vladimir Putin instigated the crisis as an excuse to reclaim territory for the Russian Empire.

While that interpretation of events has been the cornerstone of Official Washington’s “group think,” the reality always was that Putin favored maintaining the status quo in Ukraine. He had no plans to “invade” Ukraine and was satisfied with the elected government of President Viktor Yanukovych. Indeed, when the crisis heated up last February, Putin was distracted by the Sochi Winter Olympics.

Rather than Putin’s “warmongering” – as the Times said in the lead-in to another Monday article – the evidence is clear that it was the United States and the European Union that initiated this confrontation in a bid to pull Ukraine out of Russia’s sphere of influence and into the West’s orbit.

This was a scheme long in the making, but the immediate framework for the crisis took shape a year ago when influential U.S. neocons set their sights on Ukraine and Putin after Putin helped defuse a crisis in Syria by persuading President Barack Obama to set aside plans to bomb Syrian government targets over a disputed Sarin gas attack and instead accept Syria’s willingness to surrender its entire chemical weapons arsenal.

But the neocons and their “liberal interventionist” allies had their hearts set on another “shock and awe” campaign with the goal of precipitating another “regime change” against a Middle East government disfavored by Israel. Putin also worked with Obama to resolve the dispute over Iran’s nuclear program, averting another neocon dream to “bomb, bomb, bomb Iran.”

The Despised Putin

So, Putin suddenly rose to the top of the neocons’ “enemies list” and some prominent neocons quickly detected his vulnerability in Ukraine, a historical route for western invasions of Russia and the scene of extraordinarily bloody fighting during World War II.

National Endowment for Democracy president Carl Gershman, one of the top neocon paymasters spreading around $100 million a year in U.S. taxpayers’ money, declared in late September 2013 that Ukraine represented “the biggest prize” but beyond that was an opportunity to put Putin “on the losing end not just in the near abroad but within Russia itself.”

The context for Gershman’s excitement was a European Union offer of an association agreement to Ukraine’s elected President Viktor Yanukovych, but it came with some nasty strings attached, an austerity plan demanded by the International Monetary Fund that would have made the hard lives of the average Ukrainian even harder.

That prompted Yanukovych to seek a better deal from Putin who offered $15 billion in aid without the IMF’s harsh terms. Yet, once Yanukovych rebuffed the EU plan, his government was targeted by a destabilization campaign that involved scores of political and media projects funded by Gershman’s NED and other U.S. agencies.

Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Victoria Nuland, a neocon holdover who had been an adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney, reminded a group of Ukrainian business leaders that the United States had invested $5 billion in their “European aspirations.” Nuland, wife of prominent neocon Robert Kagan, also showed up at the Maidan square in Kiev passing out cookies to protesters.

The Maidan protests, reflecting western Ukraine’s desire for closer ties to Europe, also were cheered on by neocon Sen. John McCain, who appeared on a podium with leaders of the far-right Svoboda party under a banner honoring Nazi collaborator Stepan Bandera. A year earlier, the European Parliament had identified Svoboda as professing “racist, anti-Semitic and xenophobic views [that] go against the EU’s fundamental values and principles.”

Yet, militants from Svoboda and the even more extreme Right Sektor were emerging as the muscle of the Maidan protests, seizing government buildings and hurling firebombs at police. A well-known Ukrainian neo-Nazi leader, Andriy Parubiy, became the commandant of the Maidan’s “self-defense” forces.

Behind the scenes, Assistant Secretary Nuland was deciding who would take over the Ukrainian government once Yanukovych was ousted. In an intercepted phone call with U.S. Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt, Nuland crossed off some potential leaders and announced that “Yats” – or Arseniy Yatsenyuk – was her guy.

The Coup

On Feb. 20, as the neo-Nazi militias stepped up their attacks on police, a mysterious sniper opened fire on both protesters and police killing scores and bringing the political crisis to a boil. The U.S. news media blamed Yanukovych for the killings though he denied giving such an order and some evidence pointed toward a provocation from the far-right extremists.

As Estonia’s Foreign Minister Urmas Paet said in another intercepted phone call with EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Asthon, “there is a stronger and stronger understanding that behind snipers it was not Yanukovych, it was somebody from the new coalition.”

But the sniper shootings led Yanukovych to agree on Feb. 21 to a deal guaranteed by three European countries – France, Germany and Poland – that he would surrender much of his power and move up elections so he could be voted out of office. He also assented to U.S. demands that he pull back his police.

That last move, however, prompted the neo-Nazi militias to overrun the presidential buildings on Feb. 22 and force Yanukovych’s officials to flee for their lives. Then, rather than seeking to enforce the Feb. 21 agreement, the U.S. State Department promptly declared the coup regime “legitimate” and blamed everything on Yanukovych and Putin.

Nuland’s choice, Yatsenyuk, was made prime minister and the neo-Nazis were rewarded for their crucial role by receiving several ministries, including national security headed by Parubiy. The parliament also voted to ban Russian as an official language (though that was later rescinded), and the IMF austerity demands were pushed through by Yatsenyuk. Not surprisingly, ethnic Russians in the south and east, the base of Yanukovych’s support, began resisting what they regarded as the illegitimate coup regime.

To blame this crisis on Putin simply ignores the facts and defies logic. To presume that Putin instigated the ouster of Yanukovych in some convoluted scheme to seize territory requires you to believe that Putin got the EU to make its reckless association offer, organized the mass protests at the Maidan, convinced neo-Nazis from western Ukraine to throw firebombs at police, and manipulated Gershman, Nuland and McCain to coordinate with the coup-makers – all while appearing to support Yanukovych’s idea for new elections within Ukraine’s constitutional structure.

Though such a crazy conspiracy theory would make people in tinfoil hats blush, this certainly is at the heart of what every “smart” person in Official Washington believes. If you dared to suggest that Putin was actually distracted by the Sochi Olympics last February, was caught off guard by the events in Ukraine, and reacted to a Western-inspired crisis on his border (including his acceptance of Crimea’s request to be readmitted to Russia), you would be immediately dismissed as “a stooge of Moscow.”

Such is how mindless “group think” works in Washington. All the people who matter jump on the bandwagon and smirk at anyone who questions how wise it is to be rolling downhill in some disastrous direction.

But the pols and pundits who appear on U.S. television spouting the conventional wisdom are always the winners in this scenario. They get to look tough, standing up to villains like Yanukovych and Putin and siding with the saintly Maidan protesters. The neo-Nazi brown shirts are whited out of the picture and any Ukrainian who objected to the U.S.-backed coup regime finds a black hat firmly glued on his or her head.

For the neocons, there are both financial and ideological benefits. By shattering the fragile alliance that had evolved between Putin and Obama over Syria and Iran, the neocons seized greater control over U.S. policies in the Middle East and revived the prospects for violent “regime change.”

On a more mundane level – by stirring up a new Cold War – the neocons generate more U.S. government money for military contractors who bestow a portion on Washington think tanks that provide cushy jobs for neocons when they are out of government.

The Losers

The worst losers are the people of Ukraine, most tragically the ethnic Russians in eastern Ukraine, thousands of whom have died from a combination of heavy artillery fire by the Ukrainian army on residential areas followed by street fighting led by brutal neo-Nazi militias who were incorporated into Kiev’s battle plans. [See Consortiumnews.com’sUkraine’s ‘Romantic’ Neo-Nazi Storm Troopers.”]

The devastation of eastern Ukraine, which has driven an estimated one million Ukrainians out of their homes, has left parts of this industrial region in ruins. Of course, in the U.S. media version, it’s all Putin’s fault for deceiving these ethnic Russians with “propaganda” about neo-Nazis and then inducing these deluded individuals to resist the “legitimate” authorities in Kiev.

Notably, America’s righteous “responsibility to protect” crowd, which demanded that Obama begin airstrikes in Syria a year ago, swallowed its moral whistles when it came to the U.S.-backed Kiev regime butchering ethnic Russians in eastern Ukraine (or for that matter, when Israeli forces slaughtered Palestinians in Gaza).

However, beyond the death and destruction in eastern Ukraine, the meddling by Nuland, Gershman and others has pushed all of Ukraine toward financial catastrophe. As “The Business Insider” reported on Sept. 21, “Ukraine Is on the Brink of Total Economic Collapse.”

Author Walter Kurtz wrote:

“Those who have spent any time in Ukraine during the winter know how harsh the weather can get. And at these [current] valuations, hryvnia [Ukraine’s currency] isn’t going to buy much heating fuel from abroad. …

“Inflation rate is running above 14% and will spike sharply from here in the next few months if the currency weakness persists. Real wages are collapsing. … Finally, Ukraine’s fiscal situation is unraveling.”

In other words, the already suffering Ukrainians from the west, east and center of the country can expect to suffer a great deal more. They have been made expendable pawns in a geopolitical chess game played by neocon masters and serving interests far from Lvov, Donetsk and Kiev.

But other victims from these latest machinations by the U.S. political/media elite will include the American taxpayers who will be expected to foot the bill for the new Cold War launched in reaction to Putin’s imaginary scheme to instigate the Ukraine crisis so he could reclaim territory of the Russian Empire.

As nutty as that conspiracy theory is, it is now one of the key reasons why the American people have to spend $1 trillion to modernize the nation’s nuclear arsenal, rather than scaling back the thousands of U.S. atomic weapons to around 900, as had been planned.

Or as one supposed expert, Gary Samore at Harvard, explained to the New York Times : “The most fundamental game changer is Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. That has made any measure to reduce the stockpile unilaterally politically impossible.”

Thus, you can see how hyperbolic journalism and self-interested punditry can end up costing the American taxpayers vast sums of money and contributing to a more dangerous world.

~

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his new book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com).

September 23, 2014 Posted by | Corruption, Economics, Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Militarism, Timeless or most popular, Wars for Israel | , , , , , | 2 Comments

‘China won’t support sanctions against Moscow’

RT | September 23, 2014

ByMbXK2CMAEzpWoChina will never support any sanctions against Russia and will never join them, Valentina Matviyenko, speaker of the Russian parliament’s upper house said, citing Chinese President Xi Jinping, with whom she met on Tuesday.

Both Russia and China believe the sanctions are illegal, ineffective and counterproductive, according to Matviyenko. They are nothing but an attempt “to exert pressure on sovereign states to change their position and to weaken them and suppress their development,” she stressed.

Matviyenko thanked Beijing for its public position towards Western sanctions imposed on Russia over the Ukrainian conflict. China has offered an “absolutely objective” assessment of what is now going on in Ukraine. Moreover, no sanctions will affect the long-term strategic partnership between Moscow and Beijing, which reflects the interests of both peoples, she noted.

Cooperation of Russia and China remains a serious factor in international politics, Matviyenko said, adding that the two states have no disputable issues. Their positions are either close or coincide on major problems, including how to settle international and regional conflicts or deal with new challenges and threats.

September 23, 2014 Posted by | Economics | , , | Leave a comment

Government Placing Itself at Top of New Air Travel Caste System

By Hugh Handeyside | ACLU | September 22, 2014

A new report from the Government Accountability Office shows that the government is going easy on itself when it comes to aviation security screening, and in the process it is stretching the concept of watchlisting to the breaking point. Not only has the Transportation Security Administration expanded its use of blacklists for security screening to identify passengers who may be “unknown threats,” but it also has compiled vast whitelists of individuals—including members of Congress, federal judges, and millions of Department of Defense personnel—who are automatically eligible for expedited screening at airports. These changes have made a broken watchlisting system even more arbitrary, unfair, and discriminatory.

We already know about those at the bottom of this aviation security caste system. We’ve long known that the TSA’s Secure Flight program uses passenger information submitted with airline reservations to screen against watchlists maintained by the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Center, including the No Fly List (which includes individuals who are barred from flying to, from, or over the United States) and the Selectee and Expanded Selectee Lists (which include individuals who are subjected to additional screening every time they fly).

Those watchlists, in turn, are compiled based on criteria that are so overbroad, ambiguous, and riddled with exceptions as to virtually guarantee that innocent individuals will end up blacklisted. Even information of questionable or doubtful reliability can support the “reasonable suspicion” standard that the FBI uses for placing people on the master watchlist. In fact, a single, uncorroborated piece of information—including a Facebook or Twitter post—can be enough to get you on the master watchlist and the Expanded Selectee List.

But the TSA isn’t stopping there. Thanks to the GAO report, we now know that the TSA has modified the Secure Flight program so that it assigns passengers to one of three risk categories: high risk, low risk, or unknown risk. We’ve long been critical of this kind of passenger profiling—which the TSA has proposed in the past—because it inevitably leads to greater intrusion into individuals’ private lives. And of course, it raises the question of what criteria and information the TSA uses to sort people into these categories.

The TSA is keeping those criteria secret, which is part of the problem. However, the GAO report states that the “high-risk” passengers aren’t just those who appear to match a name on the FBI’s No Fly, Selectee, or Expanded Selectee lists (as problematic as those lists may be). Now, the TSA is also using intelligence and law enforcement information, along with “risk-based targeting scenarios and assessments,” to identify passengers who may be “unknown threats.”

In other words, the FBI’s flawed definition of someone who is a suspected threat to aviation security isn’t relaxed enough for the TSA, so the TSA is creating its own blacklists of people who are hypothetical threats. Those people are also subjected to additional screening every time they fly. To make matters worse, another recently published GAO report indicates that the redress process for travelers who have been incorrectly caught up in the watchlisting system does not apply to these new TSA blacklists. So the TSA’s “unknown threats” are truly without recourse.

Moreover, attempting to identify “unknown threats” in the traveling public exacerbates the already unacceptable risk that watchlists will be used for racial and religious profiling—something that leaked documents strongly suggest is already happening.

What about those at the top of this hierarchy? Who gets the privilege of being designated “low risk” and undergoing less onerous screening measures? TSA has established separate lists of entire populations of passengers who, by virtue of their status within the government, get expedited screening, including:

  • Members of Congress
  • Federal judges
  • Department of Defense (DoD) military and civilian personnel (approximately 2.9 million people)
  • Employees of national intelligence agencies (approximately 70,000 people)
  • Homeland Security Advisory Council members and Homeland Security Advisors

These groups receive “Known Traveler Numbers” that they submit when making travel reservations and are then routed to the TSA Pre-Check line when they arrive at the airport. Others (those who have been neither whitelisted nor blacklisted) can apply for expedited screening through Pre-Check by undergoing a background check and submitting biographic information and fingerprints.

Superficially, it’s easy to see the TSA’s logic in focusing on these individuals for whitelisting. Many are involved in defending the country, and some have undergone background checks as part of their positions within the government. But that logic doesn’t stand up under scrutiny. The problem with the TSA’s approach goes to the heart of watchlisting in general: the government is increasingly relying on the unproven and flawed premise that it can predict if a person will commit a dangerous act in the future.

Just as the TSA is blacklisting people who it has decided are unknown, hypothetical threats, it is whitelisting people simply by virtue of their status as employees of the government. That status, however, says next to nothing about whether those individuals will engage in violence or pose a threat to security on any given day. Government employees and officers commit crimes, including crimes that affect national security. Because there is no reason to believe that a given DoD employee is less likely to threaten aviation security than, say, a teacher or an accredited journalist, whitelisting the DoD employee is arbitrary.

The more fundamental problem is how the logic applies to the rest of us.  Instead of subjecting all travelers to the same procedures designed to detect threats to aviation, the government is essentially telling the American public that if we want the same privileges that the government has awarded itself, we’ll have to convince the government that we won’t commit dangerous acts in the future. That means turning over more and more information about ourselves: about who we are, what we do, and with whom we associate. By default, the TSA’s system treats any reluctance to fork over that information as somehow suspicious, and it reinforces the emerging airline security caste system.

Similarly, insulating lawmakers, judges, and other decision-makers from the burdens and inconveniences of air travel does not serve the interests of democracy and fairness. When the government makes status-based decisions about aviation security, it pits Joe Congressman against Joe Sixpack, and unsurprisingly, the congressman comes out ahead.

Ultimately, when we start rewarding or punishing people because of who they are, as opposed to what they’ve done, we drift farther from the principles at the heart of our Constitution.

September 23, 2014 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Full Spectrum Dominance | , | Leave a comment

Israel imposes restrictions around al-Aqsa ahead of Jewish holidays

Ma’an – 23/09/2014

JERUSALEM – Israeli police on Tuesday morning deployed heavily at all gates of the al-Aqsa Mosque compound imposing restrictions on the entry of Muslim worshipers ahead of the Jewish New Year.

A Ma’an reporter in the holy city said Israeli police denied Palestinian men aged under 45 and all women entry to the mosque. Women and men under 45 had to perform dawn prayer in the streets outside the compound, she added.

In addition, police kept all gates closed except the Chain gate and the Council gate where police officers deployed heavily and scrutinized ID cards of worshipers.

Dozens of young men and women who were barred from al-Aqsa gathered outside the gates and chanted slogans denouncing Israeli police procedures and affirming it was their right to access the holy place.

Director of the Jerusalem office of the Palestinian ministry of endowment Sheikh Azzam al-Khatib told Ma’an that Tuesday’s closures of the compound were in preparation for Jewish holidays.

He said Knesset member Miri Regev from the Likud party who chairs the Knesset’s interior and security committee had asked the police to prepare the grounds for visits by Jews during holidays.

“We expect very difficult days in al-Aqsa during the upcoming Jewish holidays,” al-Khatib said.

Israeli forces regularly escort Jewish visitors to the site, leading to tension with Palestinian worshipers.

The compound, which sits just above the Western Wall plaza, houses both the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa mosque and is the third holiest site in Islam.

It is also venerated as Judaism’s most holy place as it sits where Jews believe the First and Second Temples once stood. The Second Temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD.

Al-Aqsa is located in East Jerusalem, a part of the internationally recognized Palestinian territories that have been occupied by the Israeli military since 1967.

September 23, 2014 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Illegal Occupation | , , , , | 1 Comment

Did Israel help US by downing Syrian jet?

By Jonathon Cook | The Blog from Nazareth | September 23, 2014

Today the US – backed by “moderate” Arab states like Saudi Arabia, UAE, Qatar and Jordan – started bombing territory in another sovereign state, Syria, without a UN Security Council resolution or a plausible argument that it is acting in self-defence. That makes it a crime of aggression, defined at Nuremberg as “the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.”

In a sign that Obama’s war on ISIS in Syria could quickly be extended into a war against Syrian president Bashar Assad, Israel downed a Syrian jet inside Syria this morning with a US-funded Patriot missile. According to Israel, the Syrian plane had passed 800 metres into its territory before heading back into Syria, during what the Israeli media say was a sortie against “rebels” operating close to the Israeli border (that’s right – the people Obama is currently bombing but whose injuries are being mended in Israeli hospitals).

Of course, we only have Israel’s word for it that the plane briefly crossed into Israeli [claimed] territory, but watch to see how completely the western media will assume Israel’s story to be the only valid account.

Let’s assume for a second that Israel’s claim is true. Even the Israeli media, presumably echoing the Israeli military, believe the plane was not threatening to attack Israel in any way, and it must have been over Israeli [claimed] territory for seconds, or maybe fractions of a second. But the plane was shot down in Syria because Israeli military “policy stipulates that any plane that breaches its territorial authority must be downed to avoid security risk”. Decoded, that means Syria has to be taught a lesson about who is boss. Israel, remember, has flown over Syrian and Lebanese territory on a regular basis.

The other, strong possibility is that Israel has been told by the US to help keep Syrian skies free of Syrian planes while the US goes about its business breaking international law. See how much play that gets in western media reporting.

CORRECTION:

It has been pointed out to me that actually the Haaretz article implies that when the Syrian plane reportedly crossed into “Israeli territory” it was most likely passing briefly over the Golan – that is, Syrian territory occupied by Israel since 1967.

I appreciate the correction. It exposes an additional layer of misinformation in this whole story.

September 23, 2014 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, War Crimes | , , , | Leave a comment

Syria slams Israel support for ISIL

Press TV – September 23, 2014

Syria has once again slammed the Israeli regime’s support for the Takfiri ISIL militants operating inside the Arab country.

A Syrian military official, whose name was not mentioned in the reports, made the comments on Tuesday after Tel Aviv said earlier in the day that it had shot down a Syrian warplane as it attempted to fly over the ceasefire line into the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

The official confirmed the shooting down and underlined that the move was based on Tel Aviv’s policy of supporting ISIL Takfiris.

The aircraft was apparently a MiG-21 fighter jet which was downed by a surface-to-air Patriot missile, the Army radio said, adding that the wreckage landed on the Syrian side of the plateau.

However, an unnamed Israeli military official identified the downed aircraft as a Sukhoi Su-24 Russian fighter plane.

The development comes amid heavy clashes on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights. The Syrian government has been hitting back at the foreign-backed militants there with frequent airstrikes.

Syria has been gripped by deadly violence since March 2011.

According to reports, the Western powers and their regional allies — especially Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey — are supporting the Takfiris fighting against the Syrian government.

Golan Heights have been under the Israeli occupation since the 1960s. The Tel Aviv regime captured 1,200 square kilometers (460 square miles) of the Golan Heights during the Six-Day War of 1967 and annexed the region in 1981.

September 23, 2014 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Syrian FM: US Informed Syria of Strikes against ISIL

Al-Manar | September 23, 2014

The Syrian Foreign Ministry said Tuesday that the United States has informed Syria’s permanent envoy to the United Nations before launching airstrikes against the militants of the so-called ‘Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant’ (ISIL) terrorist group in Raqqa, state-run SANA news agency reported.

“The United States informed Syria’s permanent envoy to the U.N. before launching airstrikes against ISIL terrorist organization in Raqqa,” a statement of the ministry said.

Syria “backs any international effort that contributes to the fight against terrorists, be it against ISIL, (Al-Qaeda affiliate) Al-Nusra Front or anyone else,” the televised statement added.

U.S. defense officials announced that American and Arab warplanes hammered ISIL militants in eastern Syria early Tuesday, opening a new front in the fight against the terrorist group.

September 23, 2014 Posted by | Aletho News | , | Leave a comment