Saturday, October 26, 2013

Palestinians reach out to 50+ nations calling for economic boycott of Israeli settlers

A Palestinian man waves his national flag on the sidelines of a march organized by inhabitants of the West Bank village Nabi Saleh to protest against the expansion of Jewish settlements on Palestinian land. (AFP Photo/Abbas Momani)
A Palestinian man waves his national flag on the sidelines of a march organized by inhabitants of the West Bank village Nabi Saleh to protest against the expansion of Jewish settlements on Palestinian land. (AFP Photo/Abbas Momani)
 
 
The Palestinian Authority is ramping up its diplomatic efforts against Israeli settlements in the territories it occupied in the 1967 war. It has called on 50 countries around the world to freeze business dealings and withdraw investments.
In letters to countries in Latin America and Europe, as well as to South Africa, Australia, Japan and South Korea, the Palestinian Authority asked governments to put pressure on local companies and discourage any relations with the Israeli settlements, Muhammad Shtayyeh, a senior Palestinian official, told the Financial Times.
The messages also requested that Israeli companies with connections to the settlements are barred from doing business in those countries. Citizens of those countries should be advised to abandon the settlements, because staying there is illegal, the Palestinian Authority said.
The campaign for an economic boycott was also given a boost by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas during his trip to Europe.
"I call on European companies and foreign companies doing business in the settlements to put an end to their activities," he said following his meeting with European Council President Herman van Rompuy this week.
The campaign follows the EU’s decision in June to ban financial assistance to any Israeli organizations operating in the West Bank, East Jerusalem or the Golan Heights from 2014. The decision infuriated Israel and prevented the country from participating in the Horizon 2020 European scientific exchange program.
Also, in recent months, several individual members of the European Union, including the UK and the Netherlands, began to warn their companies against dealing with Israeli settlements in the occupied territories. This month Dutch infrastructure giant Royal HaskoningDHV announced the withdrawal from a wastewater treatment plant project in East Jerusalem, because the location is outside of the pre-1967 border of Israel.
There are currently more than 500,000 Israelis living in the settlements, which continue to be a point of bitter dispute with Palestinians. Many countries consider their existence unlawful and say they are a major stumbling block on the path toward a peaceful Middle East.
The government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been actively encouraging development of the controversial settlements in defiance of foreign criticism, which comes even from Israel’s long-time ally the US
 

Rock, paper, surveillance: US Army investing in smarter ‘spy rocks’

A TV grab from Russian television RTR Channel shows what it said was a transmitter in an imitation rock which British diplomats used for spying on a Moscow street and then downloading classified information from it. Russia's intelligence services accused British embassy officials on Monday, January 23, 2006, of spying in Moscow after state television said British diplomats had used a fake rock to try to secure state secrets. (Reuters)
A TV grab from Russian television RTR Channel shows what it said was a transmitter in an imitation rock which British diplomats used for spying on a Moscow street and then downloading classified information from it. Russia's intelligence services accused British embassy officials on Monday, January 23, 2006, of spying in Moscow after state television said British diplomats had used a fake rock to try to secure state secrets. (Reuters)
 
 
Hi-tech weapons manufacturer Lockheed Martin presented its latest effort in surveillance technology this week – a web of self-organising sensors with the ability to trigger any kind of device from a distance and have it operating autonomously.
The presentation took place at the annual meeting of The Association of the United States Army (AUSA) that took place Monday through Wednesday.
The goal of the defense contractor’s much lauded “field and forget” technology is to offer vast coverage at little operation cost, as well as the ability for units to remain in sleep mode and without maintenance for years on end. It relies on the sun for power, Wired reported from the meeting.
The official name given to the technology is SPAN – or Self-Powered Ad-hoc Network – a “covert, perpetually self-powered wireless sensor network” that offers its users “unobtrusive, continuous surveillance” at sizes so small it could fit into a rock.
When remotely triggered, the self-organizing sensors can do anything from starting up a camera to ordering a computer to alert human personnel when a civil structure is in danger or simply disrepair.
The SPAN system was originally introduced last year. Earlier in 2013, a former Lockheed Martin subcontractor made headlines by trying to sell an earlier prototype of the “surveillance rock” a few years ago for $10 million. The original idea had had been scrapped by the manufacturer and did not come to fruition.

A handout picture released by the official Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) on March 7, 2013 shows rocks used to "camouflage" surveillance cameras found on the Syrian coast, which Syrian authorities said were "Israeli spy gear". State television broadcast pictures of "Israeli spy gear" unearthed in Syria, in what it said was proof of Israel's involvement in the armed revolt against President Bashar al-Assad, as Damascus blames foreign-backed terrorists for the deadly uprising against Assad that broke out in March 2011. (AFP/SANA)
A handout picture released by the official Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) on March 7, 2013 shows rocks used to "camouflage" surveillance cameras found on the Syrian coast, which Syrian authorities said were "Israeli spy gear". State television broadcast pictures of "Israeli spy gear" unearthed in Syria, in what it said was proof of Israel's involvement in the armed revolt against President Bashar al-Assad, as Damascus blames foreign-backed terrorists for the deadly uprising against Assad that broke out in March 2011. (AFP/SANA)
However, the high-tech rocks being marketed now are an entirely new invention. The company proudly announced that the concealed nature of SPAN sensors allows them to “reduce the likelihood of discovery and tampering.”

This comes on the heels of an embarrassing incident involving British intelligence and Russia, in 2006, when British spies used a fake rock in a Moscow park to exchange information between agents and embassy staff.

At the time, a report on Russian television claimed there was proof that British spies were using electronic equipment hidden inside a fake rock to exchange information between agents and embassy staff. The British government of then-PM Tony Blair initially denied using the spy rocks, but in 2012 his chief of staff at the time, Jonathan Powell, admitted to the surveillance, calling it “embarrassing.”

Iran also discovered a spy rock, at the site of a uranium enrichment site, in September 2012. 
While troops were patrolling the classified site’s perimeter, they found a monitoring device in a rock. When they had approached it, the device exploded; it was presumably rigged to self-destruct on approach.

It was not clear who was behind placing the device at the Iranian nuclear facility, but Israeli, British and American agents have reportedly been actively involved in surveilling Iran’s military and unclear activities, given the countries’ fear of a nuclear-capable Iran. 

Battle of the bulge: US food corporations fueling obesity epidemic with addictive ingredients

By 2030, more than half of Americans could be obese, taxing the nation’s health while costing the country $500 billion in lost economic productivity. The food industry, however, is doing its best to keep the public hooked – no matter what the price.
With one out of three adults clinically obese and 40 percent of children officially overweight, the US is the fattest country in the developed world. The burgeoning public health crisis will see instances of diabetes, heart disease, stroke and cancer skyrocket over the next two decades, taking an already strained healthcare system to breaking point.

But with food manufacturers keen on keeping customers loyal while maximizing their profits, public health concerns are likely to be dwarfed by the bottom line.

“What these food scientists have done is that they’ve gone to a lab and they’ve created these chemical concoctions that are very sweet, very fatty and very salty. And they call that the bliss point. Meaning they’ve created addictive foods that are going to get consumers hooked and they’re going to keep wanting to come back for more and more foods,”
Elizabeth Kucinich, of Physicians Committee For Responsible Medicine, told RT.
 
And while critics might also point toward issues of self-control, the foods which are least healthy are also the cheapest, although this reality is more a failure of government policy than an inevitable reality.

In 1980, no one had even heard of high-fructose corn syrup. But agricultural subsidies highly distorted market prices, bringing about the rise of cheap corn, which is a staple of highly processed foods like soft drinks and much of what you find on the supermarket shelves.

Between 1985 and 2010, the price of beverages sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup fell 24 percent in real terms, with American children consuming on average an extra 130 calories daily from soft drinks.
If that wasn’t bad enough, a 2010 Princeton University study found that rats with access to high-fructose corn syrup gained substantially more weight than those with access to table sugar, even if their overall caloric intake was equal.  

However, a plan by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg to limit soda drinking cups to 16 ounces, for example, was met with derision, even when the public health benefits of such a ban were obvious.

And it’s not just corn. Casein, a milk protein commonly used in processed foods, also has addictive qualities that lead to overeating.

“Milk protein… casein, when it breaks down in our digestive system, turns into casomorphin, [which] is relative to morphine – the drug,” Kenneth Kendrick, a whistleblower and food safety advocate, told RT. “It gives us a little stimulation in our brain and gives us a little bit of pleasure.”

Kendrik said the reason why food in the US is both addictive and laden with fat, sugar and salt is simple.  

“In one word, I would say: greed. We obviously are putting money above public health,” he said. “Just like with cigarettes, we want to keep people addicted. I equate it to what the cigarette industry did. They deliberately wanted to put things in that were addictive because that drives sales and will continue to drive generations of sales.”

But as savvy and unrestrained marketing campaigns allow corporations full rein to market their products to the US public, the defeat of California’s Proposition 37, which would have required the labeling of all food products containing genetically modified organisms, proves that they want full control over the narrative about what US consumers are putting into their bodies.

While European countries require genetically modified foods to be labelled, in the US the biotech industry and corporations like Pepsi Co. and Coca Cola spent millions last year to defeat the California ballot initiative for GMO genetically modified organism labeling,” Kucinich said.
It is this perfect storm of labeling control, addictive food additives and shockingly effective marketing that has America on course for an epidemic of monumental proportions.

Crashing the ban: Saudi Arabian women buckle up for social change

A woman drives a car in Saudi Arabia (Reuters/Faisal Al Nasser)
A woman drives a car in Saudi Arabia (Reuters/Faisal Al Nasser)
 
 
Riyadh is gearing up for a different sort of “road rage” Saturday as women get behind the wheel to challenge a de-facto ban on female car drivers. Women are defying authoritarian cyber-dissident laws that forbid online support for protests.
As this Arab monarchy of some 30 million people slowly opens the window of opportunity for its women, Saudi females now seem more inclined to run the red light, so to speak, on other restrictions, including unwritten rules that ban them from driving.

This has prompted some women to participate in a motorized protest on Saturday to challenge the ruling of Muslim clerics, those behind-the-scene wielders of hefty influence over the kingdom’s monarchy who argue that women driving cars is a violation of Sharia law.

Although not quite on the same level as the hand wringing that greeted the arrival of the anti-pregnancy “pill” in the West back in the 1970s, clerics warn that "licentiousness and lewdness" will spread if women acquire the freedom to drive.

A top cleric sparked huge controversy last month when he said that medical studies proved that driving a car damages a woman's ovaries.

Demonstrations are illegal in Saudi Arabia, where the al-Saud family has held a firm grip on power since 1932. The country’s first significant protest in favor of women drivers was held in 1995. Some 50 women who took to their cars in that campaign were imprisoned for 24 hours and had their passports confiscated. Others lost their jobs.

In June 2011, dozens of women drove in several cities to protest the arrest of a woman after she posted a video of herself driving. Two months later, a woman found guilty of driving received a sentence of 10 lashes. However, the sentence was overturned in April 2012.

On Tuesday, 200 Muslim clerics and preachers assembled at the Saudi Royal Court, which is the chief executive office of the king, to protest against the campaign in support of women driving, according to Saudi news website www.sabq.org.

"If those behind the conspiracy of women driving approach the house from the back, the sheikhs (will arrive) through the front doors," said Sheikh Nasser bin Salman al-Omar, secretary-general of the League of Muslim Scholars, the website reported.  
Police checkpoints are visible in some parts of Riyadh, witnesses told Reuters, and there appeared to be more traffic patrols than usual on the streets of the capital.
Meanwhile, activists have already posted a video of a woman - identified as May Al Sawyan - driving a car in Riyadh, AP reported. She is seen wearing sunglasses and her hair is covered by the headscarf traditionally worn by Saudi women. 

Online supporters beware


This year, organizers of the protest, in an effort to attract more participants to their cause, are taking to the internet to popularize the event. Popular social media sites, including Twitter and Facebook, have been used to bring more women on board the campaign.

Activists say they have received over 16,000 signatures on an online petition in favor of the change.

These developments have not escaped the notice of the authorities.

Friday's issue of the Arab newspaper Al-Hayat quoted Saudi Interior Ministry spokesman Turki al-Faisal as saying “cyber-dissident laws” could be enforced against anyone supporting the campaign.

In Saudi Arabia, where public beheadings are still employed for murder and other serious crimes, anybody found guilty of signaling their support of the demonstration could be slapped with five-year prison sentences and hefty fines, Marwan al-Ruwqi, a Saudi consultant on cyber laws, was quoted as saying.

At the same time, however, opponents of the campaign are also taking advantage of social media to attack women activists.

The London-based rights group Amnesty International said the main website of the campaign, oct26driving.org, was hacked early Friday and replaced with the message: "End the leadership of Saudi women."

Curb on driving and freedom


The irony of Saudi Arabia’s implicit ban on female drivers is that the women who are fighting for their right to curse and swear in traffic jams have already received international driving licenses abroad – but only after gaining permission to hop on a commercial jet from a male “guardian.”

Under Saudi law, every adult female is required to have a male relative as her guardian, who is legally entitled to make a number of decisions on behalf of the woman, including permission to travel, study and work.

Meanwhile, any step forward that women in Saudi Arabia are acquiring – which includes the right to vote and participate in municipal elections in 2015 – seems to move back two steps by the refusal to let women drive a car.

As Saudi-born writer and journalist Wajeha Al-Huwaider, one of the Arab world's best-known feminists, explained: "In a world of technology, rapid globalization and continuous international challenges, improving the lot of Saudi women and mobilizing them is no longer a matter of choice and luxury. It is a necessity.”

Saudi officials must improve its efforts to remove the “fear from the hearts of the women” so they can participate in the building of society, she added.

The cost of the ban on female drivers is also cited as a reason for the campaign, as families are forced to rely on chauffeurs to accomplish the simplest errands.

However, there have been some notable advances for Saudi women under King Abdullah. In addition to winning the right to vote, as well as participate in municipal elections, 30 women have been granted seats in the 150-member Shura Consultative Council.

Saudi Arabia remains the only country in the world that forbids women from driving, and judging by recent events, that ruling may be in place for some time: a proposal by three of the new women delegates in the council to open discussion on the driving ban was rejected outright by the council’s male majority. 

Brazil riot police teargas bus fare-rise protesters amid mass clashes (PHOTOS, VIDEO)


A demonstration demanding free public transportation ended with a riot at a bus station in Brazil’s Sao Paulo. At least six people have been arrested as riot police used tear gas to disperse the protesters.
The violence culminated a protest march Friday, which lasted for some three hours. Part of a crowd of hundreds of demonstrator broke off and attacked a bus terminal in Sao Paulo’s center, police said.
The rioters set on fire a bust and destroyed cash and ticket machines. Police says many of the masked vandals at the station were members of the so-called Black Bloc anarchist group.
Riot police used tear gas and batons against the protesters. A police colonel was hit on the head by a rock amid the clashes, Brazilian media reported.

A masked demonstrator throws a stone against a bus after a demonstration against rising public transport costs and demanding better public services in Sao Paulo, Brazil, on October 25, 2013. (AFP Photo/Nelson Almeida)
A masked demonstrator throws a stone against a bus after a demonstration against rising public transport costs and demanding better public services in Sao Paulo, Brazil, on October 25, 2013. (AFP Photo/Nelson Almeida)

The confrontation continued elsewhere in the city, when some people fled from the bus station and erected barricades.
A hike in bus fares triggered massive protest demonstrations in Brazil in June, when millions of people took to the streets to voice their anger at corruption, poor public services and government spending on projects like hosting the 2014 World Cup football tournament.
Friday’s march in Sao Paulo comes on the same day that President Dilma Rousseff announced a $2.4 billion plan to improve public transportation in the city.


People protest against rising public transport costs and demanding better public services in Sao Paulo, Brazil, on October 25, 2013. (AFP Photo/Nelson Almeida)
People protest against rising public transport costs and demanding better public services in Sao Paulo, Brazil, on October 25, 2013. (AFP Photo/Nelson Almeida)


An autobus burns after a demonstration against rising public transport costs and demanding better public services in Sao Paulo, Brazil, on October 25, 2013. (AFP Photo/Nelson Almeida)
An autobus burns after a demonstration against rising public transport costs and demanding better public services in Sao Paulo, Brazil, on October 25, 2013. (AFP Photo/Nelson Almeida)


Masked demonstrators vandalize bank ATM machines following a demonstration against rising public transport costs and demanding better public services in Sao Paulo, Brazil, on October 25, 2013. (AFP Photo/Nelson Almeida)
Masked demonstrators vandalize bank ATM machines following a demonstration against rising public transport costs and demanding better public services in Sao Paulo, Brazil, on October 25, 2013. (AFP Photo/Nelson Almeida)





FBI makes record $28 million Bitcoin bust

US authorities have reported their largest-ever Bitcoin bust amounting to $28 million of the digital currency. It was seized from the owner of the controversial Silk Road website, which was shut down three weeks ago.
A Friday statement by federal prosecutors in New York details the seizure of 144,336 bitcoins, which were discovered on the computer belonging to Silk Road founder Ross William Ulbricht, alias “Dread Pirate Roberts,” Reuters reports. Ulbricht was arrested Oct. 1 in San Francisco on several charges of conspiracy.
Ulbricht’s lawyer could not be reached for comment, but the accused earlier denied all the allegations.
Since its inception in 2011, the now closed website was an anonymous hub for anything from drug deals to weapons and computer hacking programs – even hiring assassins, the Justice Department said.
The digital currency itself has been around since 2008, but it was not until 2011 that authorities showed greater interest in it, following the discovery of the connection to Silk Road and the near to 1 million registered users regularly engaging in illegal activities.
The current bust was part of a joint civil action against Ulbricht and his website. He is expected to appear in court in a matter of weeks to face charges of conspiring to traffic narcotics, launder money and hack computer networks.
Ulbricht’s arrest and the bitcoin seizure followed a string of international arrests of Silk Road users by Swedish, British and US authorities, a testament to the scale of the international crackdown on the website. The director of Britain’s newly-founded National Crime Agency (NCA), Keith Bristow, warned Oct. 9 that the “latest arrests are just the start” and “there are many more to come."
Bristow added that bitcoin will also now be closely watched, after his agency seized millions of pounds of the electronic currency.
Together with the previous figure of 30,000 bitcoins, the new FBI bust puts the current value of seized currency at $33 million, the US Attorney General’s Office said. In the two years Ulbricht’s website was in operation, about $1.2 billion in bitcoins were traded. Silk Road charged between 8 and 15 percent in commissions.

George Frey/Getty Images/AFP
George Frey/Getty Images/AFP
Following Ulbricht’s arrest and the seizure of 26,000 bitcoins from a public wallet, an FBI-linked public wallet was discovered by Reddit users the next day. The owner could not be identified for certain, but bitcoin users quickly seized the opportunity to use it as a platform for voicing their opinions about the FBI.
They made tiny donations to the wallet, dubbed ‘Silkroad Seized Coins’ on another website – Blockchain.info, which allowed them to post comments – the majority of them bashing the FBI for trying to “control” the bitcoin business instead of seeking justice.
But even now, weeks after Ulbricht’s arrest, it remains unclear what the FBI have actually “seized.” To use bitcoins someone must have a private password corresponding to each wallet.
The previous public wallet seizure was carried out easily because those bitcoins were at the less-protected escrow account of the website, Extreme Tech wrote at the time of Ulbricht’s arrest. Ulbricht’s estimated $80 million personal wealth in bitcoins has remained inaccessible to the FBI, and it also remains unclear what the FBI would do with the bitcoins if they did have access to them – as the US government refuses to recognize the currency as legal tender.
The authorities may be able to prevent Ulbricht from transferring the money, but without having the ability to access the bitcoins, seizing them is not much more than simply confiscating a computer.
The success of the Silk Road website was attributed to its operating on the encrypted Tor network, which made its dealings nearly impossible to trace. One transaction would also generate a vast number of fake ones with the purpose of masking the original buyer and seller – another effect of Bitcoin’s anonymous and decentralized nature.

Police militarization expo Urban Shield descends on Oakland

AFP Photo / Kimihiro Hoshino
AFP Photo / Kimihiro Hoshino
 
SWAT teams, military contractors and law enforcement from the world over are gathering this weekend in Oakland, CA for the annual event Urban Shield, a training and weapons expo made possible by the Department of Homeland Security and arms manufacturers.
Urban Shield, coordinated by the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office, exists under the guise of fighting terrorism and “disaster preparedness” in heavily-populated areas. The event is partly a trade show for a myriad militarized tactical gear and weapons, but there are also training exercises and war-game competitions that teams from California to Guam to Qatar will take part in this weekend. The exercises include protest suppression techniques and SWAT-team-raid simulations.
Past participants in the simulations include the counter-terrorism Israeli Border Police Unit Yamam, which allegedly conducts extra-judicial assassinations of Palestinians, journalist Max Blumenthal has reported. In addition, Bahrain police units, which have devastated its country’s ongoing peaceful protests against the monarch in recent years, have participated in Urban Shield events.
The event is ultimately overseen by a California-based private firm Cytel Inc. and is hosted by the Bay Area Urban Security Initiative (UASI), a law enforcement coalition representing Oakland, San Francisco, San Jose, and ten Bay Area Counties.
According to East Bay Express, UASI receives its funding from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which has given the Bay Area's police forces millions of dollars since 2009 to fund the annual event and other projects.
In 2012, DHS gave half a billion dollars to police departments in 31 metro regions across the US to "address the unique planning, organization, equipment, training, and exercise needs of high-threat, high-density urban areas," according to the DHS website.
For this year’s event, the Alameda Sheriff’s received $7.5 million in federal funding, according to the War Resisters League.
"What Urban Shield represents to us is the epitome of state repression that has been impacting communities of color and immigrant communities for decades," Lara Kiswani, of the Arab Resource and Organizing Center, told Common Dreams. "Different strategies of surveillance against Arabs and Muslims and brown and black people are being used as tactics against our people back home. This is the militarization of the police."
As US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have waned, major weapons manufacturers have turned to militarizing police units for a new source of revenue. Major names that have provided the US and others with arms - Lockheed Martin, ATK and Colt, among a few - are helping sponsor this year’s Urban Shield.
ATK (Alliant Techsystems) is the Pentagon’s largest supplier of munitions, including depleted uranium munitions.
Colt makes firearms for the military and law enforcement, advertising their wares as such: “From the jungles of Vietnam to the burning sands of the Middle East, Colt weapons have been combat tested under the most extreme conditions by the U.S. armed forces.”
Lockheed, arguably the most powerful military contractor in the world, did $47 billion in business in 2012, much of which came from the US government, including funding for the massively-priced F-35 program.
With US-favored contractors present and the amount the US has offered to pay for the conference, as journalist Rania Khalek pointed out, “that means the federal government is essentially financing a major marketing opportunity for companies invested in police militarization and criminal justice privatization.”
Other participants include drone makers, crowd-control experts, DNA-gathering device makers, tear-gas exporters and armored-vehicle manufacturers.
"The United States exports repression globally," said Kiswani. "The way the occupations in the Arab world repress people, and Israel represses the people of Palestine, these are the same strategies used against communities of color and poor people at home."
The event will draw committed protests that aim to point out the connections between police militarization and the dangers to the communities they patrol.
"We see events like Urban Shield as one of the main engines of militarization of the police and everyday life," Ali Issa of the War Resisters League told Common Dreams.
A coalition of 20 anti-police brutality groups around the Bay area have united for the Facing Urban Shield Action Network to organize protests against the gathering.
"The Bay Area has a long legacy of organizing against police violence," Kiswani said. "We are making those links and trying to raise awareness in our own communities and across communities. We must be prepared to protect our communities in the face of these repression strategies."
Organizers will also offer statements from pro-democracy activists in Bahrain, Palestine, Canada and Turkey.
"My unarmed son was shot with military weapons by the police," protester Dionne Smith-Downes told Common Dreams, saying her son died from his wounds. "I feel that military weapons should not be used in a community."
 

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