Category Archives: Law

Obama demands Europe ease the way for GMOs


The Obama administration maintains the servility expected of both political parties when it comes to running the affairs of state in the singular interests of the corporate bottom line.

In the latest instance of servility, the administration is demanding that the European Union abandon its stricter rules governing GMOs if European car makers want easier access to the American market to be included in the pending Transatlantic trade agreement.

From the Süddeutsche Zeitung:

The United States government is putting more intense and significantly more far-reaching pressure on the European Union than previously thought during the ongoing negotiations to reach an accord on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). This has become evident from copies of confidential negotiation documents that have been made available to Süddeutsche Zeitung and the German radio and television stations WDR and NDR. The material, consisting of 240 pages, was provided by Greenpeace and will be published this coming Monday. Several people familiar with the negotiations confirm that the documents provided are current.

According to the documents, Washington is threatening to prevent the easing of exports for the European car industry in order to force Europe to buy more U.S. agricultural products. The U.S. government concurrently has criticized the fundamental prevention principal of the EU Consumer Centre which protects 500 million Europeans from consuming genetically modified food and hormone-treated meat. The documents further reveal the fact that the U.S. has blocked the urgent European call to replace the controversial private arbitration tribunals, responsible for corporative lawsuits, with a public State model; instead, Washington has made a suggestion on the matter that had hitherto not been disclosed to the public.

The publication of these TTIP documents provides citizens with an unfiltered insight into the negotiations between the U.S. and Europe. Ever since the start of negotiations three years ago, the public could only try to guess what both sides were discussing, which has prompted millions of people to take to the streets in protest of TTIP. While the EU is making its suggestions publicly available, the U.S. insists on keeping their stances on issues secret. Washington utilizes this tactic to ensure a larger scope for negotiations. The disclosure of these 16 TTIP negotiation papers finally offers a fuller transparency for the 800 million people spread over two continents whose lives will be affected by the biggest bilateral trade agreement in history.

The papers allow for a deep insight into U.S. tactics, such as Washington’s active push to prevent the easing of export regulations of the European car industry, as this sector plays a central role in Europe’s economy. One of the confidential documents demonstrates that the U.S. government “hastened to point out that it would need to consult with its industry regarding some of the products and that progress on motor vehicle-related parts would only be possible if the EU showed progress in the discussion on agricultural tariffs.”

More from a second Süddeutsche Zeitung report, focusing on Washington’s thuggery in demanding Europe abandon the precautionary principle, under which GMOs and other products must be proven safe before they can be approved for human consumption.

Instead, Washington demands Europe apply a fair looser standard:

The confidential papers obtained by Süddeutsche Zeitung and the German radio and television stations WDR and NDR, which reveal details of the TTIP negotiations, demonstrate that risk evaluation is a central point of contention in these ongoing talks; two very different approaches to this topic being at the heart of the debate. In the U.S., the scientific principle reigns supreme, meaning that a product is considered safe until the opposite can be proven to be true. Europe on the other hand follows the prevention principle which can prompt bans to be passed even if only the slightest hint of possibly detrimental consequences exists.

The documents demonstrate, for the first time, how invested the U.S. is in annulling the prevention principle. The scientific principle is stressed in several places, such as where hygiene regulations are concerned. The U.S. demands that when “undertaking a risk assessment appropriate to the circumstances, each party shall ensure that it takes into account…the relevant available scientific evidence.” The EU does not exactly reject this proposal but insists on “preserving each Party’s right to protect human, animal or plant life and health in its territory and respecting each Party’s regulatory systems, risk assessment, risk management and policy development processes.”

But what exactly is the scientific principle? “It does, initially, sound very sensible but it hides a perfidious concept which is supposed to enable companies to halt any regulatory legislation processes,” says Bärbel Höhn of the Green Party. The impending ban of a product could therefore be prevented, based on the fact that not enough scientific evidence that relates to its potential dangers has yet come to light. In fact, the U.S. feels that there is a need for both “parties…[to] strengthen their cooperation in the field of standards, technical regulations, and conformity assessment procedures to reduce and eliminate unnecessary technical barriers to trade.” Translated into plain English this means that bans that are not based on the scientific principle are “unnecessary technical barriers to trade,” and that these need to be reduced and eliminated.

In addition to the demands to grease the skids for GMO exports, Washington is also decreeing that Europe must withdraw its demands that tribunals to decide on corporate litigation alleging damages for restrictions should open to the public.

Instead, Washington wants the tribunal sessions to convene in secret with only the barest results to be made public, a process already implemented in the North American Free trade Agreement, where corporations may allege damages before a secret tribunal.

From Deustche Welle:

The German outlets said the documents disclosed by Greenpeace also showed that the US was blocking an EU demand that arbitration panels to handle corporate lawsuits be public not private as sought by Washington.

Greenpeace trade expert Jürgen Knirsch said what had so far trickled out of the talks had “sounded like a nightmare.”

“Now we know that this could very much become reality,” said Knirsch.

The head of Germany’s consumer advisory bureaus Klaus Müller told the SZ that the texts confirmed “pretty much all of our fears in terms of what the US-Americans want to achieve on the food produce market through TTIP.”

What else to expect from a President who began his political career as the Senator from Monsanto?

Headline of the day II: Panoptical eyes of Texas


From the Intercept:

Texas Prisons Assert Right to Censor Inmates’ Families on Social Media

A new rule in Texas that prohibits prisoners from maintaining a social media presence could infringe on the free speech and expression rights of ordinary citizens who maintain accounts on behalf of incarcerated loved ones.

Netanyahu’s zealotry is derailing German alliance


Guilt for the horrors of the Holocaust have made Germany Israel’s most reliable supporter in Europe, the source of massive financial support and reliable political backing.

But the fanaticism of Israeli Prime Minister and his cynical exploitation of guilt are now threatening an already frayed alliance.

From Der Spiegel:

By now, Angela Merkel is used to it. Whenever she meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the confidential content of their discussion appears in an Israeli newspaper a few days later. But the story that appeared in Israel Hayom, a free, pro-Netanyahu newspaper on Feb. 16 surprised even the German chancellor. “Merkel: This Isn’t the Time for Two States,” was the headline. That was the chancellor’s message to Netanyahu, the paper claimed, during the German-Israeli government consultations that had just taken place in Berlin.Merkel’s advisors were furious. The Israeli premier had apparently twisted her words to such a degree that it seemed as though she were supporting his policies. In fact, though, Merkel had repeatedly made it clear to Netanyahu that she believes the effects of Israeli settlement construction in the occupied territories are disastrous. The settlement policy, she believes, makes it unlikely that a viable Palestinian state can be established in accordance with plans aimed at a two-state solution. Any other approach, Merkel and Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier are convinced, would ultimately transform Israel into an apartheid regime. Netanyahu, however, has not shown himself to be the least bit impressed by such arguments.

The Israeli prime minister has always been able to depend on Berlin ultimately standing together with Israel and not joining the country’s most vocal critics. But many, particularly in the Berlin Foreign Ministry, have begun wondering if Germany sent the wrong signals in the past. An example that is frequently mentioned is Chancellor Merkel’s speech in the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, in 2008 when she said that Israeli security is part of Germany’s “raison d’état.”

“The perception has been growing in the German government that Netanyahu is instrumentalizing our friendship,” says Rolf Mützenich, deputy floor leader for the Social Democrats (SPD) in parliament. The SPD is Merkel’s junior coalition partner and Foreign Minister Steinmeier is a leading member of the party. Mützenich says it would be a welcome change if the Foreign Ministry and the Chancellery were to rethink the relationship with Israel.

Wouldn’t it be ironic if the zealous Netanyahu turned out to be Palestine greatest, albeit unintentional, ally?

More environmental woes in Latin America


From Brazil, the first our three stories today, starting with an ongoing problem, reported by the Thomson Reuters Foundation:

Latin America’s largest country is still losing tropical forests the size of two football fields every minute, despite attempts to tackle illegal logging and improve local land rights, a former head of Brazil’s forestry service has said.

Deforestation rates in Brazil, home to the world’s biggest expanse of tropical forests, slowed significantly between 2004 and 2010, but have picked up again in recent years due to a lack of innovation and government planning, Tasso Azevedo told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Preserving forests is a key way to reduce emissions of planet-warming gases and combat climate change, as trees suck carbon out of the atmosphere. Forests are also home to hundreds of thousands of people who depend on them for their livelihood.

“In some cases, we are walking backwards,” warned Azevedo, citing poor cooperation between competing government departments and civil society in Brazil.

And from Brazil and the Thomson Reuters Foundation again, more devastation, this time human, as activists fighting to preserve lands and forests continue to die at the hands of developers:

Land rights campaigners and environmentalists are facing growing violence and intimidation in Brazil, with at least six activists killed so far this year, a human rights group said.

The killings, tracked between January and February 2016, happened in three largely rural Brazilian states with a history of land conflicts: Rondônia, Maranhão, and Alagoas, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) reported this week.

South America’s largest country has some of the world’s widest inequality in land distribution, according to a U.S. government report, with one percent of the population owning nearly half of the country’s land.

A growing number of activists demanding land reform and rights for indigenous people are facing “an increase in acts of violence, repression and criminalization”, the IACHR, that monitors human rights across the Americas, said in a statement.

And for our third story, we move closer to home, via teleSUR English:

The southern Mexican state of Chiapas has been hard hit by the El Niño climate phenomenon causing such an intensive drought that 13 rivers have been completely dried up, Mexican newspaper Reforma said Friday.

State Director of Civil Protection Luis Manuel Garcia told Reforma that 40 Chiapan municipalities have been affected, of which four are experiencing extreme drought.

“All of the biggest rivers in the coastal area of Chiapas have been practically dried up,” Garcia said.

In light of the extreme circumstances, Garcia said they would send a petition to the federal government requesting that they issue a state of emergency decree for three of Chiapas’ municipalities in order to get financial resources from the National Disaster Fund.

Headline of the day: Legalizing roofie rape


From the Guardian:

Oklahoma court: oral sex is not rape if victim is unconscious from drinking

The ruling, a unanimous decision by the state’s criminal appeals court, is sparking outrage among critics who say the judicial system was engaged in victim-blaming and buying outdated notions about rape

Big Brother’s panopticon chills online searches


It’s no secret that we’ve long suspected that the revelations of NSA’s panopticon powers would result in self-censorship online, and now we have evidence in the form of an academic study published right here in Berkeley.

Chilling Effects: Online Surveillance and Wikipedia Use [PDF] has just appeared online from the Berkeley Technology Law Journal, and it’s well worth a read.

Reuters sums up:

Internet traffic to Wikipedia pages summarizing knowledge about terror groups and their tools plunged nearly 30 percent after revelations of widespread Web monitoring by the U.S. National Security Agency, suggesting that concerns about government snooping are hurting the ordinary pursuit of information.

A forthcoming paper in the Berkeley Technology Law Journal analyzes the fall in traffic, arguing that it provides the most direct evidence to date of a so-called “chilling effect,” or negative impact on legal conduct, from the intelligence practices disclosed by fugitive former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

Author Jonathon Penney, a fellow at the University of Toronto’s interdisciplinary Citizen Lab, examined monthly views of Wikipedia articles on 48 topics identified by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security as subjects that they track on social media, including Al Qaeda, dirty bombs and jihad.

In the 16 months prior to the first major Snowden stories in June 2013, the articles drew a variable but an increasing audience, with a low point of about 2.2 million per month rising to 3.0 million just before disclosures of the NSA’s Internet spying programs. Views of the sensitive pages rapidly fell back to 2.2 million a month in the next two months and later dipped under 2.0 million before stabilizing below 2.5 million 14 months later, Penney found.

Here’s a chart from page 37 of the paper dramatically illustrating the decline:

BLOG Terror

More details from Abhimanyu Ghoshal of The Next Web:

In his paper, ‘Chilling Effects: Online Surveillance and Wikipedia Use’, Penney looked at monthly views on Wikipedia pages for 48 topics that the US Department of Homeland Security said it tracks on social media, including ‘Al Qaeda’, ‘terror’, ‘weapons grade’, ‘Abu Sayyaf’, ‘Iran’, ‘extremism’, ‘Nigeria’ and jihad.

He noted that in the 16 months prior to Snowden’s first big reveal, the articles drew between 2.2 million views per month rising to 3 million. After Snowden went public, those figures fell below 2 million before stabilizing at just under 2.5 million 14 months later.

Penney’s paper highlights the ‘chilling effect’ of the government’s snooping programs, which refers to the discouragement of the legitimate exercise of legal rights by the threat of legal sanction – in this case, to seek information and learn about what’s going on around the world.

And the money quote from page 40 of the study itself:

Skepticism among courts, legal scholars, and empirical researchers has persisted about the nature, extent, and even existence of chilling effects due, in large part, to a lack of empirical substantiation. The results in this case study, however, provide empirical evidence consistent with chilling effects on the activities of Internet users due to government surveillance. And, to be clear, the activity here is not only legal—accessing information on Wikipedia—but arguably desirable for a healthy democratic society. It involves Internets users informing themselves about important topics subject to today’s widespread social, political, moral, and public policy debates. The large, statistically significant, and immediate drop in total views for the Wikipedia articles after June 2013 implies a clear and immediate chilling effect. Moreover, the broad and statistically significant shift in the overall trend in the data (e.g. the shift from the second results excluding outliers) suggests any chilling effects observed may be substantial and long-term, rather than weak, temporary, or ephemeral. This study also bolsters support for the existence of the chilling due to the data upon which it relies. It is among the first studies to demonstrate evidence of such a chilling effect using web traffic data (instead of survey responses or search), and the first to do so in relation both to the potential chilling effects on Wikipedia use, and, more broadly, how such government surveillance and other actions impact how people access and obtain information and knowledge online.

We leave the last word to Glenn Greenwald, writing at The Intercept:

The fear that causes self-censorship is well beyond the realm of theory. Ample evidence demonstrates that it’s real – and rational. A study from PEN America writers found that 1 in 6 writers had curbed their content out of fear of surveillance and showed that writers are “not only overwhelmingly worried about government surveillance, but are engaging in self-censorship as a result.” Scholars in Europe have been accused of being terrorist supporters by virtue of possessing research materials on extremist groups, while British libraries refuse to house any material on the Taliban for fear of being prosecuted for material support for terrorism.

There are also numerous psychological studies demonstrating that people who believe they are being watched engage in behavior far more compliant, conformist and submissive than those who believe they are acting without monitoring. That same realization served centuries ago as the foundation of Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon: that behaviors of large groups of people can be effectively controlled through architectural structures that make it possible for them to be watched at any given movement even though they can never know if they are, in fact, being monitored, thus forcing them to act as if they always are being watched. This same self-censorsing, chilling effect of the potential of being surveilled was also the crux of the tyranny about which Orwell warned in 1984:

There was of course no way of knowing whether you were being watched at any given moment. How often, or on what system, the Thought Police plugged in on any individual wire was guesswork. It was even conceivable that they watched everybody all the time. But at any rate they could plug in your wire whenever they wanted to. You have to live – did live, from habit that became instinct – in the assumption that every sound you made was overheard, and, except in darkness, every movement scrutinized.

Well, not quite the last word. Undoubtedly, the net beneficiaries of the reluctance of the populace to look deeper into issues of terrorism serves the interests of a government with a vested interest in keeping secret many of its operations and deepest political motives. . .

Headline of the day: Well pardon me all to hell


From United Press International:

Philippines’ likely next president would pardon self for 1,700 deaths

Rodrigo Duterte, the front-runner in the Philippines’ presidential election, said he would pardon himself and the death squads he led that allegedly killed 1,700 people.