Archive for September, 2013

DHS Checkpoint refusals

Monsanto Protection Act’ quietly extended by Congress

Monsanto Protection Act’ quietly extended by Congress

A budget provision protecting genetically-modified seeds from litigation in the face of health risks was extended for three months in an approved US House of Representatives’ spending bill on Tuesday evening.

Called “The Monsanto Protection Act” by opponents, the budget rider shields biotech behemoths like Monsanto, Cargill and others from the threat of lawsuits and bars federal courts from intervening to force an end to the sale of a GMO (genetically-modified organism) even if the genetically-engineered product causes damaging health effects.

The biotech rider first made news in March when it was a last-minute addition to the successfully-passed House Agriculture Appropriations Bill for 2013, a short-term funding bill that was approved to avoid a federal government shutdown.

The current three-month extension is part of the short-term FY14 Continuing Resolution spending bill.

The Center for Food Safety, a vocal opponent of the rider, released a statement expressing dismay that the measure once again avoided proper legislative process while usurping the power to challenge GMO products in court.

“The rider represents an unprecedented attack on US judicial review, which is an essential element of US law and provides a critical check on government decisions that may negatively impact human health, the environment or livelihoods,”  they wrote. “This also raises potential jurisdictional concerns with the Senate Agriculture and Judiciary Committees that merited hearings by the Committees before its consideration.”

Following the original vote in March, President Barack Obama signed the provision into law as part of larger legislation to avoid a government shutdown. Rallies took place worldwide in May protesting the clandestine effort to protect the powerful companies from judicial scrutiny.

To read the full article, click the link above.

UN team finds no proof on chemical weapons

UN team finds no proof on chemical weapons

United Nations investigators have listed a wide range of crimes against humanity and war crimes committed in Syria, but provided no conclusion on the issue of chemical weapons use.

“On the evidence currently available, it was not possible to reach a finding about the chemical agents used, their delivery systems or the perpetrators,” the team probing human rights violations in Syria said in its latest report on Wednesday.

It was clear however that “the majority of casualties result from unlawful attacks using conventional weapons,” the Commission of Inquiry on Syria said in a statement

Forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad’s regime “have continued to conduct widespread attacks on the civilian population, committing murder, torture, rape and enforced disappearance as crimes against humanity,” according to the report, which covers the period from May 15 to July 15.

It also charged that anti-government groups had “committed war crimes,” including murder, torture and hostage-taking.

Since the beginning of the year, the commission concluded that government-loyal forces were responsible for eight massacres, while opposition forces had committed one. Nine others were still under investigation.

The report does not address the period after July 15, which includes the August 21 suspected chemical attack on civilians near Damascus that sparked international outrage and could still lead to US-led military strikes, despite intense diplomatic efforts to avoid them.

In Wednesday’s statement though, the four-member commission led by Brazilian Paulo Sergio Pinheiro insisted on the “need for accountability, both to bring to justice those who used them (chemical weapons, if confirmed) … and to deter anyone else from using these abhorrent methods of warfare.”

The commission, which has been tasked with probing rights violations in Syria since shortly after the conflict erupted in March 2011, warned that the conflict in Syria which has already left more than 100,000 people dead and forced more than two million Syrians to flee the country, “has taken a dangerous turn.”

“Failure to bring about a political settlement has allowed the conflict not only to deepen in its intransigence but also to widen, expanding to new actors and to new, previously unimaginable crimes,” the commission said.

The investigators, who are set to present their findings to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on Monday, however rejected military action as a solution to the crisis.

“There is an urgent need for a cessation of hostilities and a return to negotiations, leading to a political settlement,” the commission said, warning that military strikes would “not only intensify the suffering inside the country but will also serve to keep such a settlement beyond our collective reach.”

The report came amid renewed hope that a Russian diplomatic initiative could rid the Assad regime of chemical weapons and remove the need for a “limited” US-led military strike on Syria.

Agence France-Presse

Microsoft, Google sue US for right to reveal nature of surveillance requests

Microsoft, Google sue US for right to reveal nature of surveillance requests

Microsoft and Google announced Friday they are going forward with a lawsuit against the US government for the right to reveal more information about official requests for customer data by American intelligence.

The companies originally filed suits in June following revelations provided by Edward Snowden of their relationship with the National Security Agency and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which oversees the government’s requests of the companies’ systems.

Microsoft’s general counsel Brad Smith announced the companies were following through with a suit, saying negotiations with the government since June have not yielded significant progress. The companies maintain they should be allowed to disclose the nature of their relationship with government spying — via the program known as PRISM — in the face of public criticism after the NSA stories were reported by The Guardian and The Washington Post.

“On six occasions in recent weeks we agreed with the Department of Justice to extend the Government’s deadline to reply to these lawsuits.  We hoped that these discussions would lead to an agreement acceptable to all.  While we appreciate the good faith and earnest efforts by the capable Government lawyers with whom we negotiated, we are disappointed that these negotiations ended in failure,” Smith wrote in a post entitled “Standing Together for Greater Transparency” on Microsoft’s corporate blog.

The companies deny PRISM allows the government direct access to their systems, but they are not legally able to disclose how often they have been asked to provide information on users.

“We believe we have a clear right under the US Constitution to share more information with the public,” Smith wrote. “The purpose of our litigation is to uphold this right so that we can disclose additional data.”

Though the US government has said it will reveal more details of the nature and scope of their requests of the companies in 2012, Smith said it’s not enough.

“We believe it is vital to publish information that clearly shows the number of national security demands for user content, such as the text of an email,” he wrote.

In 2012, the secret FISA court granted 1,856 government requests for customer data while rejecting none.