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U.N. rights team aims to probe chemical weapons in Syria: del Ponte U.N. human rights investigators hope to get into Syria soon to try to find out who carried out apparent chemical attacks and other war crimes, Carla del Ponte, of the U.N. commission of inquiry on Syria, said on Monday.
Del Ponte gave no time frame for a visit but said that the team was in touch with U.N. chemical weapons inspectors and awaited their findings from the scene of an August 21 poison gas attack. She said the rights team's work would continue whether or not the United States carried out mooted punitive military strikes against the Syrian government over the attack.
"We are in touch with Syrian authorities to enter and we are on the right track," she told the Swiss Press Club in Geneva.
U.N. human rights officials declined to comment on how any air strike might affect a possible visit, but stressed the need for conditions to be right for the team to conduct their work.
The commission's confidential list of suspected Syrian war criminals was "getting longer", she said, but gave no details.
Del Ponte said Syria had sent a "positive signal" by letting U.N. chemical arms inspectors go to Damascus to collect samples in suburbs allegedly attacked with toxic substances on August 21, which are now being analyzed in European laboratories. The arms inspectors were not mandated to apportion blame for the attack.
That would be the job of the human rights investigators, said del Ponte, a former U.N. war crimes prosecutor. The Geneva-based team has more than 20 experts, some of them specialists in military and ballistics issues. (Reuters)
UN narcotics body warns Uruguay over marijuana bill The International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) says it is concerned by the approval by Uruguayan MPs of a bill which would legalise marijuana.
The INCB says the law would "be in complete contravention to the provisions of the international drug treaties to which Uruguay is party".
Under the new law, the state would assume control of growing and selling cannabis to registered users.
The bill still needs to be passed by Uruguay's senate before becoming law.
The INCB is an independent body of experts established by the United Nations to monitor countries' compliance with international drug treaties. (BBC)
Paying with 'kisses' as Brazil’s social currencies spread Shopkeeper Heraldo Rodrigues da Silva, 55, owns a small store in Sao Benedito, one of the poorest neighbourhoods in Vitoria, the capital of the Brazilian state of Espirito Santo.
On the wall behind his counter, a sign announces that besides the real - Brazil's legal tender - he accepts the "bem", an alternative currency from a local community development bank, Banco Bem.
The goal of...a social currency is to encourage people to use that money within their community and contribute to the development of the local economy” (BBC)
In Colombia, David Cameron's stance on drugs looks cynical -- The prime minister's belief that the war on drugs is working ignores Britain's complicity in the trade Twenty-six years ago, on 17 December 1986, my uncle, Guillermo Cano Isaza, editor of the Colombian daily newspaper, El Espectador, was killed by gunmen paid by Pablo Escobar and his drug trafficking cartel. He had led a journalistic crusade to denounce the corruptive and violent power of drug trafficking. He paid with his life. The newspaper he edited was bombed and became a target as we lived through the bloody years of the so-called "war on drugs".
Back then, and every year since, I've asked myself the same question: was it inevitable? Was there another way to fight the perverse effects of the illegal trade in drugs?
With few positive results to show from the "war", another way now seems possible. Throughout the world, a serious debate is gaining momentum on the inefficacy of prohibition. Prosecuting growers, distributors and consumers leaves a trail of violence and does nothing to curb the sky-high profits of the cartels from corrupting the body politic and police. We need to look at different ways of managing the terrible social effects of drug abuse, while also eliminating the enormous profits of the illegal drug traffic. (London Guardian)
Obama May Levy Carbon Tax to Cut U.S. Deficit, HSBC Says Barack Obama may consider introducing a tax on carbon emissions to help cut the U.S. budget deficit after winning a second term as president, according to HSBC Holdings Plc.
A tax starting at $20 a metric ton of carbon dioxide equivalent and rising at about 6 percent a year could raise $154 billion by 2021, Nick Robins, an analyst at the bank in London, said today in an e-mailed research note, citing Congressional Research Service estimates. “Applied to the Congressional Budget Office’s 2012 baseline, this would halve the fiscal deficit by 2022,” Robins said.
Hurricane Sandy sparked discussion on climate protection in the election after presidential candidates focused on other debates, HSBC said. A continued Republican majority in the U.S. House of Representatives means Obama’s scope for action will be limited, Robins said. Cap-and-trade legislation stalled in the U.S. Senate after narrowly passing the house in 2009. (Bloomberg)
Drug Legalization: A Step Closer, But Still a Long Shot A recent report on drug policy, backed by high-profile political figures, argues for a move away from the “zero tolerance” approach. However, it fails to offer any clear solutions on halting violence and organized crime, and has been rejected by a number of Latin American governments.
The Global Commission on Drug Policy's report (get it English and Spanish here) -- issued June 2 in New York City and signed by an unprecedented 19 high level world leaders, including former presidents of Brazil, Mexico, Colombia and Switzerland, the incumbent Prime Minister of Greece, the former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, the former U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz, the former European Union High Commissioner Javier Solana, and the British billionaire Richard Branson, among others -- may be the most important call ever for reform to the 1988 United Nations Convention on Drugs (pdf version here).
That convention, adopted worldwide and enforced largely by the United States, set the international ground rules for the so-called “war on drugs.”
The Global Commission is trying to rewrite those rules. And this recent proposal is nothing short of a paradigm shift. (In Sight)
An alternative to the new wave of ecofascism By liberating humanity from the compulsion to consume, climate catastrophe can be averted without recourse to authoritarianism - It is time to acknowledge that mainstream environmentalism has failed to prevent climate catastrophe. Its refusal to call for an immediate consumption reduction has backfired and its demise has opened the way for a wave of fascist environmentalists who reject democratic freedom.
One well-known example of the authoritarian turn in environmentalism is James Lovelock, the first scientist to discover the presence of ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons in the atmosphere. Earlier this year he told the Guardian that democracies are incapable of adequately addressing climate change. "I have a feeling," Lovelock said, "that climate change may be an issue as severe as a war. It may be necessary to put democracy on hold for a while." His words may be disturbing, but other ecologists have gone much further.
Take for example Pentti Linkola, a Finnish fisherman and ecological philosopher. Whereas Lovelock puts his faith in advanced technology, Linkola proposes a turn to fascistic primitivism. Their only point of agreement is on the need to suspend democracy. Linkola has built an environmentalist following by calling for an authoritarian, ecological regime that ruthlessly suppresses consumers. (London Guardian)
COLUMN-In drug war, the beginning of the end? Bernd Debusmann Between 1971, when Richard Nixon launched the war on drugs, and 2008, the latest year for which official figures are available, American law enforcement officials made more than 40 million drug arrests. That number roughly equals the population of California, or of the 33 biggest U.S. cities.
Forty million arrests speak volumes about America's longest war, which was meant to throttle drug production at home and abroad, cut supplies across the borders, and keep people from using drugs. The marathon effort has boosted the prison industry but failed so obviously to meet its objectives that there is a growing chorus of calls for the legalization of illicit drugs.
In the United States, that brings together odd bedfellows. Libertarians in the tea party movement, for example, and Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), an organization of former police officers, narcotics agents, judges and prosecutors who favor legalizing all drugs, not only marijuana, the world's most widely-used illicit drug. - "Taking all this together, there is reason to believe that we are at the beginning of the end of the drug war as we know it," says Aaron Houston, a veteran Washington lobbyist for marijuana policy reform.
Far-fetched? Perhaps. But how many people in the late 1920s, at the height of the government's fight against the likes of Al Capone, would have foreseen that alcohol prohibition would end in just a few years? Prohibition lasted from 1920 to 1933 and is now considered a failed experiment in social engineering.
Alcohol and marijuana prohibition have much in common: both in effect handed production, sales and distribution of a commodity in high demand to criminal organizations, both filled the prisons (America's population behind bars is now the world's largest), both diverted the resources of law enforcement, and both created millions of scoff-laws. (Reuters)
'US psywar plan includes 2 hot wars' Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad says the United States and Israel plan to attack two countries in the Middle East as part of a conspiracy to apply pressure on Iran.
"We have precise information that the Americans have devised a plot, according to which they seek to launch a psychological war on Iran," Ahmadinejad stated in an exclusive interview with Press TV on Monday.
"They plan to attack at least two countries in the region within the next three months," he added.
He said the US seeks to achieve two main objectives with the scheme. (Press TV)
Iran sanctions as good as 'used tissue' The nuclear standoff on Iran is bound to deepen, aggravated by new United Nations sanctions on the Islamic republic and the United States digging in its heels against an alternative diplomatic plan that was designed to defuse tensions. - Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula de Silva accused the Security Council of acting out of "obstinacy" in accepting the US-drafted sanctions, "instead of bringing Iran to the table", the official Agencia Brasil news agency quoted Lula as saying. The Security Council had "thrown away a historic opportunity to negotiate calmly over the Iranian nuclear program". (Asia Times)
Safety fluid was removed before oil rig exploded in Gulf In the case of the Deepwater Horizon, Scott Bickford, a lawyer for a rig worker who survived the explosions, said the mud was being extracted from the riser before the top cement cap was in place, and a statement by cementing contractor Halliburton confirmed the top cap was not installed. Mud could have averted catastrophe - But Halliburton said in a statement that it had completed pouring cement that lines the well 20 hours before the blowout. After that cement lining is done, the federal Minerals Management Service requires at least two prefabricated cement plugs to be placed at the bottom of the well and farther up, with mud packed in between. Halliburton's official statement shows there was still one more cement plug to be inserted. (The Times-Picayune)
Huge Petroleum Find In Gulf of Mexico Offers more support for theory that earth contains massive reserves - Last week, Royal Dutch Shell PLC announced the discovery of 100 million barrels of oil in the Gulf of Mexico at a depth more than 25,000 feet below the seabed, in 7,217 feet of water, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal. - One of the continuing fallacies of peak oil theory is that there is a reliable way to know how much undiscovered oil remains yet in the earth. Peak-oil theorists are typically fossil-fuel advocates who believe that since there were only a limited number of fossils, the oil produced from those fossils must also be limited. Abiotic oil theory postulates that oil is formed on a constant basis deep within the mantle of the earth, requiring no deterioration of biological material to produce the oil. (Jerome Corsi)
UN report: World's biggest cities merging into 'mega-regions' Trend towards 'endless cities' could significantly affect population and wealth in the next 50 years - The largest of these, says the report - launched today at the World Urban Forum in Rio de Janeiro - is the Hong Kong-Shenhzen-Guangzhou region in China, home to about 120 million people. Other mega-regions have formed in Japan and Brazil and are developing in India, west Africa and elsewhere.
The trend helped the world pass a tipping point in the last year, with more than half the world's people now living in cities.
The UN said that urbanisation is now "unstoppable". Anna Tibaijuka, outgoing director of UN-Habitat, said: "Just over half the world now lives in cities but by 2050, over 70% of the world will be urban dwellers. By then, only 14% of people in rich countries will live outside cities, and 33% in poor countries."
The development of mega-regions is regarded as generally positive, said the report's co-author Eduardo Lopez Moreno: "They [mega-regions], rather than countries, are now driving wealth." - In a sample survey of world cities, the UN found the most unequal were in South Africa. Johannesburg was the least equal in the world, only marginally ahead of East London, Bloemfontein, and Pretoria.
Latin American, Asian and African cities were generally more equal, but mainly because they were uniformly poor, with a high level of slums and little sanitation. Some of the most the most egalitarian cities were found to be Dhaka and Chittagong in Bangladesh.
The US emerged as one of the most unequal societies with cities like New York, Chicago and Washington less equal than places like Brazzaville in Congo-Brazzaville, Managua in Nicaragua and Davao City in the Phillippines. (London Guardian)
FARC’s Cocaine Sales to Mexico Cartels Prove Too Rich to Subdue Mexican drug cartels are getting cocaine from Colombia’s biggest guerrilla group in a deal that increases the security threat to both nations, according to a document captured by Colombian military intelligence and to a government official in that country.
The agreement was discussed in a meeting between a leader of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, Raul Reyes, and an agent of a Mexican cartel at Reyes’s jungle hideout in mid- 2007, according to a letter Reyes wrote to other guerrilla commanders that was obtained by Bloomberg News.
The pact to bypass middlemen has given Reyes’s group, known as the FARC, an opportunity to double its profit by selling directly to the Mexican cartel, said the government official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. The FARC earned at least $1 billion and maybe several times that amount in the past year, according to officials familiar with the group. The arrangement has strengthened the cartels at a time when they are under pressure from an offensive ordered by Mexican President Felipe Calderon, the Colombian official said. (Bloomberg)
Go forth and multiply a lot less THOMAS MALTHUS first published his “Essay on the Principle of Population”, in which he forecast that population growth would outstrip the world’s food supply, in 1798. His timing was unfortunate, for something started happening around then which made nonsense of his ideas. As industrialisation swept through what is now the developed world, fertility fell sharply, first in France, then in Britain, then throughout Europe and America. When people got richer, families got smaller; and as families got smaller, people got richer.
Now, something similar is happening in developing countries. Fertility is falling and families are shrinking in places— such as Brazil, Indonesia, and even parts of India—that people think of as teeming with children. As our briefing shows, the fertility rate of half the world is now 2.1 or less—the magic number that is consistent with a stable population and is usually called “the replacement rate of fertility”. Sometime between 2020 and 2050 the world’s fertility rate will fall below the global replacement rate. (The Economist)
Even the Part-Time Jobs are Disappearing -- The Economy is a Lie, Too Americans cannot get any truth out of their government about anything, the economy included. Americans are being driven into the ground economically, with one million school children now homeless, while Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke announces that the recession is over.
The spin that masquerades as news is becoming more delusional. Consumer spending is 70% of the US economy. It is the driving force, and it has been shut down. Except for the super rich, there has been no growth in consumer incomes in the 21st century. Statistician John Williams of shadowstats.com reports that real household income has never recovered its pre-2001 peak. - The unemployment rate, as reported, is a fiction and has been since the Clinton administration. The unemployment rate does not include jobless Americans who have been unemployed for more than a year and have given up on finding work. The reported 10% unemployment rate is understated by the millions of Americans who are suffering long-term unemployment and are no longer counted as unemployed. As each month passes, unemployed Americans drop off the unemployment role due to nothing except the passing of time.
The inflation rate, especially “core inflation,” is another fiction. “Core inflation” does not include food and energy, two of Americans’ biggest budget items. The Consumer Price Index (CPI) assumes, ever since the Boskin Commission during the Clinton administration, that if prices of items go up consumers substitute cheaper items. This is certainly the case, but this way of measuring inflation means that the CPI is no longer comparable to past years, because the basket of goods in the index is variable.
The Boskin Commission’s CPI, by lowering the measured rate of inflation, raises the real GDP growth rate. The result of the statistical manipulation is an understated inflation rate, thus eroding the real value of Social Security income, and an overstated growth rate. Statistical manipulation cloaks a declining standard of living. (Counter Punch)
It’s official-the era of cheap oil is over The global energy equation is changing rapidly, and with it is likely to come great power competition, economic peril, rising starvation, growing unrest, environmental disaster, and shrinking energy supplies, no matter what steps are taken (Grist)
New swine flu feared to be weaponized strain According to two mainstream media journalists, one in Mexico City and the other in Jakarta, who spoke to WMR on background, they are convinced that the current outbreak of a new strain of swine flu in Mexico and some parts of the United States is the result of the introduction of a human-engineered pathogen that could result in a widespread global pandemic, with potentially catastrophic consequences for domestic and international travel and commerce (Online Journal)
Viewing cable 09STATE15113, REQUEST FOR INFORMATION:CRITICAL FOREIGN DEPENDENCIES (CRITICAL INFRASTRUCTURE AND KEY RESOURCES LOCATED ABROAD) 15. (S//NF) Following is the 2008 Critical Foreign Dependencies Initiative (CFDI) list (CI/KR organized by region): [BEGIN TEXT OF LIST]
AFRICA Congo (Kinshasa): Cobalt (Mine and Plant) Gabon: Manganese - Battery grade, natural; battery grade, synthetic; chemical grade; ferro; metallurgical grade Guinea: Bauxite (Mine) South Africa: BAE Land System OMC, Benoni, South Africa Brown David Gear Industries LTD, Benoni, South Africa Bushveld Complex (chromite mine) Ferrochromium Manganese - Battery grade, natural; battery grade, synthetic; chemical grade; ferro; metallurgical grade Palladium Mine and Plant Platinum Mines Rhodium EAST ASIA AND THE PACIFIC Australia: Southern Cross undersea cable landing, Brookvale, Australia Southern Cross undersea cable landing, Sydney, Australia Manganese - Battery grade, natural; battery grade, synthetic; chemical grade; ferro; metallurgical grade Nickel Mines Maybe Faulding Mulgrave Victoria, Australia: Manufacturing facility for Midazolam injection. Mayne Pharma (fill/finish), Melbourne, Australia: Sole suppliers of Crotalid Polyvalent Antivenin (CroFab). China: C2C Cable Network undersea cable landing, Chom Hom Kok, Hong Kong C2C Cable Network undersea cable landing Shanghai, China China-US undersea cable landing, Chongming, China China-US undersea cable landing Shantou, China EAC undersea cable landing Tseung Kwan O, Hong Kong FLAG/REACH North Asia Loop undersea cable landing Tong Fuk, Hong Kong Hydroelectric Dam Turbines and Generators Fluorspar (Mine) Germanium Mine Graphite Mine Rare Earth Minerals/Elements Tin Mine and Plant Tungsten - Mine and Plant Polypropylene Filter Material for N-95 Masks Shanghai Port Guangzhou Port Hong Kong Port Ningbo Port Tianjin Port .... (US Department of State)
As More Eat Meat, a Bid to Cut Emissions The cows and pigs dotting these flat green plains in the southern Netherlands create a bucolic landscape. But looked at through the lens of greenhouse gas accounting, they are living smokestacks, spewing methane emissions into the air. - But such fledgling proposals are part of a daunting game of catch-up. In large developing countries like China, India and Brazil, consumption of red meat has risen 33 percent in the last decade. It is expected to double globally between 2000 and 2050. While the global economic downturn may slow the globe’s appetite for meat momentarily, it is not likely to reverse a profound trend. Of the more than 2,000 projects supported by the United Nations’ “green” financing system intended to curb emissions, only 98 are in agriculture. There is no standardized green labeling system for meat, as there is for electric appliances and even fish. (New York Times)
We Need a Bank Of the World The financial crisis is global, and only an international central bank can deal with it - If George W. Bush's upcoming global summit on how to fix the world's broken financial system—an event proposed by several European presidents and prime ministers—is to be a serious effort, the leaders should begin laying the groundwork for establishing a global central bank. - Had it existed, a global central bank would have acted without the air of panic that has been exhibited by national central banks and finance ministries in this meltdown. Ideally, it would have gathered its governing board well in advance of a financial blowup to execute a coordinated rescue and global-stimulus plan, part of what should be its ongoing role of preparing for crises.
It would be hard to overestimate the political pushback that any official proposal for a global central bank would draw from various constituencies, most especially within the United States. Among their many charges, critics will protest the establishment of "world government." But we have a World Trade Organization with legally binding powers over trade disputes. We have a World Health Organization for communicable disease with the ability to quarantine entire countries. And a World Court functions today that has considerable legal and moral clout.
No one should want too much globally centralized oversight. But the world's gathering misery shows that too little leadership from the center can be equally dangerous. The November summit itself won't solve anything, but if it gave instructions to finance ministers and central bankers to explore what a new central bank could do, with a deadline to come back with concrete ideas shortly after a new U.S. president is inaugurated, it will have made real progress on one of the great problems of our times. (Newsweek)
International Institutions and Global Governance Program, World Order in the 21st Century, A New Initiative of the Council on Foreign Relations The program falls squarely within CFR’s historic mission as an independent, nonpartisan membership organization, think tank, and publisher dedicated to being a resource for its members, government officials, business executives, journalists, educators and students, civic and religious leaders, and other interested citizens in order to help them better understand the world and the foreign policy choices facing the United States and other countries. In fulfilling its mandate, the program draws on the CFR’s unique attributes as a premier think tank on matters of foreign policy; as a prominent forum for convening American and international statesmen and opinion leaders; and as a platform for forging bipartisan consensus on the priorities, terms, and conditions of the nation’s global engagement. Throughout its activities, CFR will engage stakeholders and constituencies in the United States and abroad, including governments, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), civil society representatives, and the private sector, whose input and endorsement are critical to ensure the appropriateness and feasibility of any institutional reforms. The program is led by Senior Fellow Stewart Patrick. (Council on Foreign Relations)
"Doomsday Seed Vault" in the Arctic Bill Gates, Rockefeller and the GMO giants know something we don’t - Is it a coincidence that these same organizations, from Norway to the Rockefeller Foundation to the World Bank are also involved in the Svalbard seed bank project? According to Prof. Francis Boyle who drafted the Biological Weapons Anti-Terrorism Act of 1989 enacted by the US Congress, the Pentagon is ‘now gearing up to fight and win biological warfare’ as part of two Bush national strategy directives adopted, he notes, ‘without public knowledge and review’ in 2002. Boyle adds that in 2001-2004 alone the US Federal Government spent $14.5 billion for civilian bio-warfare-related work, a staggering sum. (Global Research)
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