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Next Stop, the UN: Embassy Protectors and Other Groups to Stage UN General Assembly Protest

MintPress News - Mon, 2019-05-20 23:41

WASHINGTON — Following the illegal seizure by U.S. authorities of the Venezuelan Embassy in Washington, the group of activists who lived in the building for 37 days — protecting it from such a seizure at the request of the democratically elected government of Venezuela — is escalating tactics.

In many ways, the fight of the Embassy Protection Collective revealed the extreme tactics the U.S. government is willing to resort to in order to achieve its foreign policy objectives — only in this situation they were weaponized against American citizens as opposed to foreign, usually black and brown, nations.

In Syria, the U.S. government relied on the use of jihadist proxy forces to try to oust President Bashar Al Assad from power. In an audio recording leaked to the New York Times of a meeting between Former Secretary of State John Kerry and Syrian anti-government rebels, Kerry said:

Russia is invited in by the legitimate regime… The reason Russia came in was because ISIL was getting stronger. Daesh was threatening the possibility of going to Damascus, and that’s why Russia came in: because they didn’t want a Daesh government and they supported Assad. And we know that this was growing, we were watching. We saw that Daesh was growing in strength and we thought Assad was threatened.”

In Ukraine, the U.S. bolstered neo-Nazi forces; in Libya, more jihadists; and in Venezuela the U.S. backed violent fascists.

Anthropologist and embassy protector @adriennepine talks about the devastation the US brought to Honduras with the 2009 coup pic.twitter.com/sxzyzGwWV9

— Alex Rubinstein (@RealAlexRubi) May 20, 2019

In D.C., the police outsourced their tactics to a violent, racist mob that attempted to starve out the Embassy Protection Collective, a tack likely taken because, as this MintPress reporter overheard during a briefing amid a Secret Service shift change, their “arrest authority” wasn’t “certain.”

During that same briefing, one officer propagandized another, telling him that the “pro-Guaidó” mob was “essentially the U.S. government,” and that the “anti-war protesters” were “paid by Russia or whatever.”

While the police would sometimes block food from reach activists inside the embassy and sometimes allow it, depending on the situation, U.S. authorities did cut electricity from the building, a move all too reminiscent of the recent devastating blackouts that have hit Venezuela.

“When our electricity was turned off, when our water was turned off, when our food was blocked, we were getting a taste of how the United States acts,” embassy protector Kevin Zeese of Popular Resistance said during a Sunday press conference.

 

A broader movement

This weeks-long standoff, activists believe, must serve as a launch pad for a broader anti-war movement. One day after being let out of jail, Zeese vowed in front of a crowd that had just marched to the White House “We are going to defeat this coup!” The seizure of the embassy, in violation of Article 22 of the Vienna Convention, like the coup attempt in Venezuela, exposed the United States for its non-commitment to — or perhaps outright rejection of — international law and diplomatic norms.

Moments after being released from jail, embassy protector David Paul told MintPress News:

We are gonna keep pushing that, in the court, and all the ways — in the media — to push our case for that. That’s why we and many people around us here stayed in the embassy and why we stayed as long as we did. We hope our case will be favorable. The same principle of sovereignty and international law, it can’t be taken lightly, because it will set a precedent for other embassies to be taken around the world, or our government to pick presidents for other countries.”

Embassy protector @KBZeese of @PopResistance calls for an ‘Occupy the UN’ protest, “A mass rally, at the United Nations, calling for the rule of law, restoration of international law, end of US threats against other nations, economic or military.” pic.twitter.com/tvG31Qpfbs

— Alex Rubinstein (@RealAlexRubi) May 20, 2019

Bringing it to the UN

In addition to taking the battle to the courts, groups that participated in the Embassy Protection Collective — Popular Resistance, Codepink, Answer Coalition — and others are planning to hold a protest outside the United Nations before the General Assembly reconvenes on September 17. Their call to action read in part:

We are calling on social movements around the world on every continent from Caracas to London, Africa to Asia — we are calling on social movements to go to U.S. embassies, [and] call for obeying international law [and] for restoring the Vienna Convention.

The violations of law by the United States must be highlighted and shown. And when we urge that kind of action, we need to do that kind of action here as well. We need in Washington, D.C. to be pressuring our government. We need to be planning on going to the United Nations when the General Assembly meets in the fall. A mass rally, at the United Nations, calling for the rule of law, restoration of international law, end of U.S. threats against other nations, economic or military.

We are going to be outside the UN and the foreign ministers will be there. They’ll have a choice: will they stand for international law or will they stand against international law? The people can force them to make the right choice. So please plan on being in New York City on September 15 when the General Assembly meets and we can get these foreign ministers to take a very clear position in favor of international law and ending U.S. dominance.”

Anti-imperialists believe that the United States maintains a system of global hegemony. For decades, the U.S. has, with impunity, been able to foment coups against countries that nationalize their resources. Major financial institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund function as arms of American capitalism that seek to impose neoliberal shock therapy on countries that don’t play ball in this system.

The U.S. is also the world’s biggest military spender, outspending the seven countries with the next largest defense budgets combined.

Meanwhile, under President Donald Trump, the United States has withdrawn from important systems of accountability, such as the United Nations Human Rights Council and the International Criminal Court.

Feature photo | Members of the Embassy Protection Collective rally outside the White House following the illegal seizure of the Venezuelan embassy in Washington, D.C. by U.S. authorities. Photo | Alexander Rubinstein

Alexander Rubinstein is a staff writer for MintPress News based in Washington, DC. He reports on police, prisons and protests in the United States and the United States’ policing of the world. He previously reported for RT and Sputnik News.

The post Next Stop, the UN: Embassy Protectors and Other Groups to Stage UN General Assembly Protest appeared first on MintPress News.

The Police Were Created to Control Working Class and Poor People, Not ‘Serve and Protect’

Greanville Post - Mon, 2019-05-20 23:39
SAM MITRANI—The police were not created to protect and serve the population. They were not created to stop crime, at least not as most people understand it. And they were certainly not created to promote justice. They were created to protect the new form of wage-labor capitalism that emerged in the mid- to late-19th century from the threat posed by that system’s offspring, the working class.This is a blunt way of stating a nuanced truth, but sometimes nuance just serves to obfuscate.

How US foreign policy spawned terror and Trump

Electronic Intifada - Mon, 2019-05-20 23:14

“Symbiotic relationship” between US hardliners and jihadists fuels Middle East chaos and right-wing extremism.

Ukraine Will Be Able to Restore Its Economy Only By Cooperating With Russia

Vineyard of the Saker - Mon, 2019-05-20 23:14
By Olga Samofalova Translated by Ollie Richardson and Angelina Siard cross posted with https://www.stalkerzone.org/ukraine-will-be-able-to-restore-its-economy-only-by-cooperating-with-russia/ source: https://vz.ru/economy/2019/5/19/978334.html Ukraine is beginning to realise the scale of the damage that it caused to

Two cases of alleged hunting that didn’t make it to court show us why we need a total ban on hunting right now

Canary, The Other - Mon, 2019-05-20 23:03

Campaigners have hit out at the ban on hunting, saying it’s so weak that “clear” cases of illegal acts aren’t getting to court. It comes after investigators dropped two cases of alleged hunting within days of each other. And they show that a total ban on hunting is urgently needed.

Insufficient evidence

On 16 May, anti-hunting group Cheshire Monitors said that the “Cheshire Hounds Hunt [has escaped] prosecution again”. This referred to a 15 November 2018 incident that the monitor group caught on camera. In the video, a member of the hunt is seen collecting a dead fox from undergrowth and putting it into a bin bag. Cheshire Monitors said at the time that it had “comprehensive footage” of illegal hunting, including the killing of the fox.

However, BBC News reported on 17 May that Cheshire Police would take no further action against the Cheshire Hunt. This was because of “insufficient evidence” of intentional hunting, the police said. It also noted the “complexity” of the case.

Prosecution or protection?

When The Canary spoke with Lesley Martin of Cheshire Monitors in March 2019, she was critical of the Hunting Act. Martin, referring to past cases involving Cheshire Monitors that had been dropped, said:

we think the CPS [Crown Prosecution service] hasn’t taken these cases because they know the Hunting Act is so weak. They know the defence lawyers for the hunts are so well-paid and so used to telling lies, they know how to escape through the loopholes.

The most recent case led Martin to repeat her stance. Speaking to The Canary on 20 May, Martin said:

Yet again, we were unable to produce enough evidence to have this hunt in court, due to the hunting act being written to protect these criminals rather than to achieve justice in court. … But unfortunately, the local CPS, who are so poorly funded that many of them have to work from home and have no experience of hunting cases, have yet again felt they have to decline a strong case of lawbreaking.

She went on to say that “although it’s clear to everyone what is going on [in the video] it would not be successful in court”. Martin blamed this on the Hunting Act. She said the law is “so weak [that] the prosecution is unlikely to be successful” against defence lawyers familiar with loopholes in the law.

“Blowing the kill”

Another recent decision exposed such pitfalls in the law. An 18 May press release by Three Counties Hunt Saboteurs said that a CPS decision had led that week to police dropping cases of assault and illegal hunting against the Cotswold Vale Farmers Hunt.

Three Counties Hunt Saboteurs said that on 23 October 2018, the hunt chased and killed an animal in a hedge. The press release went on to say that:

Huntsman Gary Williams could clearly be heard encouraging hounds on from the opposite side of the hedge that hounds were interested in, he was using voice commands and horn calls consistent with ‘traditional’ fox hunting. … It was shortly evident that the hounds had killed, Williams heard ‘blowing the kill’ (a horn call not often heard since the Hunting Act 2004 came into force as it shows that huntsman is aware of a kill taking place, is informing the remainder of the hunt riders and the hounds of it). He was heard praising the hounds and telling them to “break him up, break him up” which means to eat the fox.

In footage of the incident seen by The Canary, hounds go into cry along a hedgerow. A horn call resembling “doubling the horn“, which is used to encourage hounds after a fox has been disturbed, is then heard multiple times. Several seconds later, a horn call similar to “the kill“, which is made when “hounds have caught and killed their quarry”, rings out. And after that, a male voice shouts “break him up”, which the video says is a signal to eat the remains. The video then shows members of the hunt passing a full bin bag between themselves before taking it away.

This happened during cubbing season when young hounds are trained to kill fox cubs.

Dead for days

The press release also said that, in his defence, Williams claimed:

hounds had gone off on a trail (of which no evidence has been provided) and he realised that they were spending time within the hedge. He claims to have realised that there was a fox in the hedge but that it was obvious that it had been dead for several days so he allowed them to have it and encouraged hounds to tear the body up.

Three Counties Hunt Saboteurs said neither it nor the police believed the fox had already been dead for several days.

However, to prove guilt under the Hunting Act, a prosecutor must show that a huntsman intended to kill a mammal such as a fox. This resulted from a 2009 case in which the High Court decided the act of “searching” for mammals wasn’t illegal.

As a result, despite no evidence of trail hunting, the CPS wasn’t confident in Williams’ intention.

Ban all hunting. Now.

The Hunting Act was brought in by Tony Blair‘s Labour government. In his 2010 memoir A Journey, the former prime minister admitted sabotaging the law and telling then-minister of state Hazel Blears to “steer police away from enforcing the law”. The outcome has been an uphill struggle for anti-hunting activists and the police to successfully prosecute hunters.

What these two cases show is that the wording of the law makes it nearly impossible to prove illegal hunting. Even hunters in traditional costume, with a pack of hounds, intentionally moving through habitats native to foxes, hare and deer – and then chasing those animals – isn’t enough to prove illegal hunting. That’s why a total ban on hunting, which stops hounds and hunters going near those creatures, must happen now.

Featured image via Facebook – Cheshire Monitors

By Glen Black

The Pompeo Bolton Tag Team from Hell

Off-Guardian - Mon, 2019-05-20 23:00

Renee Parsons There was little pretense that when former UN Ambassador John Bolton became President Trump’s National Security Adviser and former Rep. Mike Pompeo moved into the Secretary of State position, that either would bring a professionally credible and respectable presence to world diplomacy or foreign affairs. It is fair to say that both have …

The post The Pompeo Bolton Tag Team from Hell appeared first on OffGuardian.

Have Consumers Already Lost the Online Privacy War?

Activist Post - Mon, 2019-05-20 22:58

By Sam Bocetta

Technology has increasingly come to occupy a central role in our lives. Growing numbers of people, however, have expressed concerns over how much of our privacy we’ve sacrificed for the sake of convenience.

Networks are under assault from cyber attacks like never before, resulting in frequent, massive data breaches. Perhaps even more significantly, companies seem to be gathering data on customers, often without their knowledge, in an effort to more precisely target their advertising.

You’ve probably noticed your smartphone suddenly recommending products you were just researching as if the device was hardwired to your brain. This is made possible through bulk user data collection and cookies—not that kind of cookie. This kind of cookie. It enhances advertising but adversely affects personal online privacy.

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One reason is simple carelessness on the part of internet users. Too many of us don’t take cybersecurity seriously, not bothering to take even simple, standard precautions like using a virtual private network (VPN) any time we’re online. Users almost never read the user agreements before signing up for an account with a service like Facebook, treating such opportunities as annoyances and failing to realize that they are signing away the rights to anything they might post online.

Additionally, most people are much too careless about what they post and leave information online as if it were a secure repository. A bit of advice: it’s not.

The Real Cost of Free Stuff

An important but often overlooked point in accounting for why consumers’ privacy is at such risk online has to do with certain economic decisions, wittingly and unwittingly, that we’ve made along the road of internet development. Not only do people unthinkingly post private information online, but they have also grown to expect certain things from the internet.

As economist and technology enthusiast George Gilder pointed out in his recent book Life After Google, technology companies like Google and Facebook have spoiled users by providing all sorts of online services at no direct cost.

These technology companies must find ways to make money, or what’s the point in existing? Hence their incentive to monetize their users’ personal data. Were consumers simply willing to patronize social media or other internet companies that charged them directly for services, bulk data collection and its sale to third parties would either be heavily discouraged or virtually disappear.

As Gilder rightly perceives, however, since consumers have grown accustomed to receiving services online for free, tech companies that try to implement a traditional business model will find it a hard row to hoe. In the age of Google, a search engine that charged users even a small fee would almost certainly be a non-starter, even if that search engine scrupulously kept its hands off all user data.

A Complicit Government

Another significant problem not mentioned often in discussions of this subject is that governments want bulk data collection. When a company like Facebook gathers data on users and builds profiles of them, we should expect that this data will become a resource our dedicated public servants will find a way to tap.

Calls by those like Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg for government regulation of tech companies should be treated with skepticism. Such a move would allow Facebook to avoid responsibility for violating consumer trust. It would also entrench current tech titans (like Facebook) firmly at the head of the pack going forward. By crafting regulation to suit themselves, large tech companies make it more difficult for smaller companies to compete with them in the future.

What’s Being Done about It?

Fully aware of these problems, newer tech companies have invented more creative ways to raise revenue while respecting their users’ privacy and not charging them directly for online services. One such revenue-generating exploit—open to companies that provide blockchain-based services—is the Initial Coin Offering (ICO).

With an ICO, tech companies seeking to provide a blockchain-based service create an associated cryptocurrency and sell that cryptocurrency on the open market, using the money raised to either provide startup capital meant to get the business off the ground or revenue to keep it operational.

Internet 2.0 Focuses on Privacy

By original design, the Internet was not meant to be a particularly private place. To circumvent this, projects like Blockstack have attempted to redesign the Internet with consumer privacy and control over one’s own data in mind. This alternative architecture structures the entire Internet like a blockchain network and grants each user a unique, cryptographically sealed identity.

This Internet 2.0 intends to give users complete control over their own information, no longer requiring them to hand it over in return for using a “free” service like Facebook or Google. Furthermore, because the whole network relies on the consensus-building mechanism of blockchains, it is virtually impossible to hack.

Hacking the network would require an attacker to commandeer enough computing power to be able to control and rewrite a majority of the nodes on the network. For all but the smallest networks, this is infeasible.

The significance of these new innovations is difficult to overstate as they would not only guarantee privacy from large tech companies but from the government, as well. These developments also show a way to tackle the problem of insufficient online privacy through the free market without the need for government involvement.

But What Can You Do?

While we should be grateful that there are technological developments going on right now to eventually help consumers wrest control of their private information back from cybercriminals and overzealous mega-companies, what can you, as an individual, do right now to maintain your online privacy? Here are a few suggestions:

Always Use a VPN:

VPNs encrypt all of your network traffic and keep it beyond the reach of snoops and hackers seeking to harm you. Encryption is indispensable to maintaining online privacy these days. To help you evaluate the suitability of any particular service, take a look at unbiased third-party VPN reviews of major VPN services before purchasing. Also, check associated forums to see if there are any major complaints.

Use strong and unique passwords:

Every password you use online should be long and difficult to guess. Don’t use the same password for multiple accounts online.

Never post private stuff publicly:

Never post anything online that you wouldn’t be comfortable sharing with the entire world. While this might seem self-evident, judging from the terrible decisions made regularly by people who end up in the news, the practice is apparently hard to resist. Everything on the internet is forever. Be careful what you post.

Use a browser like Brave:

If you’re worried about large tech companies collecting your data, the Brave browser is one way to protect yourself. Brave prevents the giant information hogs we’ve been discussing from harvesting your data and using it to target you with advertisements. As an added bonus, you should notice faster browsing speeds, as well.

The Bottom Line

Consumer privacy is under siege in the era of Big Data. Users have grown so accustomed to receiving certain services for free that we’ve been unwitting accomplices in signing away our own privacy in order to save a buck. While the present looks bleak in this regard, it seems we may be near a tipping point. Perhaps the future will usher in substantial changes as more privacy-conscious tech companies work on delivering a new internet business model that returns the power of privacy to each individual consumer.

Sam Bocetta is a retired defense contractor for the U.S. Navy and a freelance journalist. He specializes in finding solutions to seemingly-impossible ballistics engineering problems. Sam writes independently for a handful of security publications, reporting on trends in international trade, InfoSec, cryptography, cyberwarfare, and cyberdefense.

This article was sourced from FEE.org

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Image credit: Pixabay

Categories: News for progressives

A Lib Dem bigshot gives his party the kiss of death ahead of the EU elections

Canary, The Other - Mon, 2019-05-20 22:43

The Liberal Democrats’ former chief secretary to the Treasury, Danny Alexander, just gave his party the kiss of death. Right before the European elections, the now vice president of an investment bank tweeted a chummy picture of himself, George Osborne and Nick Clegg.

It’s hard to think of a worse advertisement for Vince Cable’s Lib Dems ahead of Brits heading to the polls. Because the picture reminded people of the party’s coalition years. This was a period that resulted in the Lib Dems haemorrhaging supporters and losing 49 out of 57 MPs at the 2015 general election.

By the looks of the picture, people would also be foolish to completely rule out the prospect of a cosy Lib Dem / Tory coalition in the future.

Old friends

Alexander tweeted about a recent trip to California in his role as vice president of the Asian Infrastructure Investment bank (AIIB) on 20 May. The AIIB VP also told his Twitter followers that he’d managed to catch up with some “old friends” along the way:

 

…and delighted to have the chance to see some old friends too @George_Osborne @nick_clegg pic.twitter.com/oI3I0VBgs3

— Danny Alexander (@dannyalexander) May 20, 2019

These three ex-politicians held key positions in the coalition government formed in 2010. It was a government whose lasting legacy was inflicting brutal austerity on its people. The UN’s special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Phillip Alston, investigated this austerity programme in 2018. He called the massive poverty levels resulting from it a “social calamity”. He also accused the coalition government, and the Conservative ones that have followed, of making a “political choice” which, for citizens, means:

The state does not have your back any longer. You are on your own.

Team Austerity

Unsurprisingly then, Alexander’s chummy photo went down like a lead balloon:

This photo will go down in history as “Team Austerity” and the pioneers of huge harm to UK, it’s army, police force, NHS and education system. You all look so proud!

— David Cremonesini (@Dubai_allergy) May 20, 2019

San Francisco Returns to Cash as Silicon Valley Pushes Tech on Nation

Activist Post - Mon, 2019-05-20 22:25

By Daniel Taylor

Is a ban on facial recognition and a return to cash showing backlash against Big Tech coming from its home turf?

As Facebook plans on rolling out a cashless payment system, San Francisco is banning credit-only stores, requiring businesses to accept cash.

District Five Supervisor Vallie Brown, who introduced the legislation, said that not allowing cash was unfair to immigrants and the homeless.

Brown wants to go further and ban Amazon’s cashless stores.

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The SFGate added:

Some people also prefer to use cash because they don’t want to leave a digital trail of where they have been and what they have bought.

San Francisco has also banned government use of facial recognition technology.

Wired Magazine reports:

San Francisco’s ban comes amidst a series of proposals that highlight tensions between the city and tech companies that call it home. On Tuesday, the city also unanimously approved a ban on cashless stores, an effort aimed at Amazon’s cashierless Go stores. Waiting in the wings? A so-called “IPO tax,” in response to the endless march of tech companies going public, which would authorize a city-wide vote to raise the tax rate on corporate stock-based compensation.

The Chinese social credit system utilizes cashless payment to control individuals who have a low score.

Multiple individuals in the United States have been banned from banks for their political views while Big Tech purges and censors their content online.

This article was sourced from Old Thinker News.

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Categories: News for progressives

How Poor Oversight and Fraud in Generic Drug Industry Threatens Patients’ Health

Truthout - Mon, 2019-05-20 22:25

Generic drugs amount to 90% of all prescriptions filled in the U.S., most of them made in plants in India and China. Generic drugs can be more affordable, but in her new explosive book Bottle of Lies: The Inside Story of the Generic Drug Boom, investigative journalist Katherine Eban works with two industry whistleblowers to expose how some manufacturers are cutting corners at the cost of quality and safety. This comes as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration just issued its own update on the state of pharmaceutical quality that found the drug quality of factories in India and China scored below the world average. FDA officials say that’s because more robust inspections have uncovered problems and that “the quality of the drug supply has never been higher.”

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We begin today’s show looking at an explosive new investigation that exposes widespread unsafe conditions in many Indian and Chinese factories that manufacture generic drugs that comprise nearly 90% of the pharmaceutical drug supply in the United States. Nearly 80% of the active ingredients of all drugs, brand or generic, as well as almost all antibiotics, are made outside of the United States. Generic drugs are, of course, cheaper than brand-name drugs. But in her new book, Bottle of Lies: The Inside Story of the Generic Drug Boom, journalist Katherine Eban works with two industry whistleblowers to expose how many overseas manufacturers are cutting corners at the cost of quality and safety.

This comes as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration just issued its own update on the state of pharmaceutical quality that found the drug quality of factories in India and China scored below the world average. FDA officials say that’s because more robust inspections have uncovered problems. Two factories in China and India were linked to recalls of the commonly prescribed blood pressure drugs losartan and valsartan, after testing revealed the drugs were tainted with possible carcinogens. The report prompted the FDA’s director of drug evaluation and research to conclude, quote, “the quality of the drug supply has never been higher.”

So, can generic drugs be trusted? For more, we spend the hour with Katherine Eban to discuss this explosive book, Bottle of Lies. She is the author of a previous book on the pharmaceutical industry titled Dangerous Doses: A True Story of Cops, Counterfeiters, and the Contamination of America’s Drug Supply. She’s a contributor to Fortune magazine, was previously staff writer for The New York Times and New York Observer.

Welcome back to Democracy Now! It’s great to have you with us, Katherine.

KATHERINE EBAN: Thank you. So nice to be here.

AMY GOODMAN: So, this is life-and-death information. Start off by talking about what exactly generic drugs are.

KATHERINE EBAN: So, generic drugs are a version of the brand-name drug. They’re not an identical copy, but generic companies reverse-engineer — they break down — the brand-name drug and figure out how to remake it. They have to use the same molecule. They have to use the same route of administration, whether it’s swallowing a pill, injecting. And then they have to submit an application to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. And the FDA reviews data to see whether those drugs are bioequivalent. Do they reach the same peak concentration of drug in the blood? And if the FDA deems that they do, they are approved to make a generic version.

AMY GOODMAN: And explain — what is the breakdown of what Americans take? And also, of course, the insurance industry and what it will cover, which determines what we all imbibe?

KATHERINE EBAN: Right. So, 90% of our drug supply is generic. The majority of those drugs come from overseas. Forty percent alone of all of our generics are manufactured in India. And if you go to a pharmacy, you will automatically be switched to a generic drug if one is available. What’s interesting to me is, even though the name of the manufacturer will be on the label, consumers will not have information about where those drugs are manufactured.

AMY GOODMAN: Why? Did they ever?

KATHERINE EBAN: I’m not sure that they ever did, but the companies claim it’s proprietary. So, for the U.S. consumer, they’re getting less information about where their drugs are made than where their cereal is made, where their shirt is manufactured. That information is simply not available, and you have to be, unfortunately, an investigative journalist to figure out where those drugs are manufactured.

AMY GOODMAN: I bet a lot of people are shaking their heads right now, and they’re going, “I knew, when I switched to a generic, that I felt differently.” Now, what about those who would say, “What? Are you just working for the generic drug companies, and you’re promoting these way more expensive brand drugs?”

KATHERINE EBAN: Right. Well, this is an issue for brand companies and generic alike, because 80% of the ingredients in all our drugs, whether brand or generic, are being manufactured overseas. So, this is really a quality issue that is affecting brand and generic companies. And, you know, I should hasten to add, I’m an independent investigative journalist. I have received absolutely no money from any manufacturing concerns, which is a statement that is disclosed in my book.

AMY GOODMAN: So, also explain what “active ingredients” means.

KATHERINE EBAN: Right.

AMY GOODMAN: Again, nearly 80% of all active ingredients in all drugs, brand or generic —

KATHERINE EBAN: Right.

AMY GOODMAN: — are made outside the United States. And almost all antibiotics are made outside the United States.

KATHERINE EBAN: Right. So, active ingredient is the key ingredient in the drug. It is the sort of synthesized molecule that makes the drug effective. It’s the central — the central element of the drug that has the effect on the person. So, if active ingredient — what’s common, an active ingredient will be manufactured in China. It will be shipped to India. An Indian manufacturer will make the finished dose, and then it will arrive at our pharmacy. And, of course, that is invisible to the consumer.

AMY GOODMAN: So, why did you decide to write Bottle of Lies? What prompted you?

KATHERINE EBAN: It started in 2008, so a decade ago. And I was contacted by an NPR radio show host, Joe Graedon. He runs a show called The People’s Pharmacy. He was concerned because patients were writing in to his show, calling in, and saying that they had symptoms — in some cases devastating symptoms — after being switched to certain generics. And those complaints greatly concerned Joe Graedon, because there was a lot of commonality between them. A lot of patients were complaining about similar or the same drugs. They were complaining about time-released drugs. So, those are slightly more complex. Some of them were suicidal after being switched to antidepressants. Some of them were having seizures after taking epilepsy drugs. And he had been sending these complaints to the FDA, and basically the response he got back was that everything is fine. So, he really felt that somebody with, as he told me — and I saved my notes from that call — he wanted somebody with investigative firepower to look into them.

AMY GOODMAN: I was just talking to a New York Times reporter last night whose sister has epilepsy but didn’t suffer from seizures for years. She took Dilantin. That’s the brand name. But then she had to switch to the generic. It’s all the insurance company would cover.

KATHERINE EBAN: Right.

AMY GOODMAN: And she immediately started to seize.

KATHERINE EBAN: Right.

AMY GOODMAN: But she was not allowed to go back on Dilantin; at least the insurance company wouldn’t cover it. And he was describing to me about his sister that even when she went into the pharmacy and had her doctor’s prescription for Dilantin, the pharmacy would not fill it and would not allow her to actually pay for it.

KATHERINE EBAN: You know, there’s a real disconnect here. If you decide that you don’t want to eat factory-farmed meat, you as a consumer can go into a supermarket and buy organic, grass-fed meat from a small family farm. But if you decide that you don’t want to buy a foreign-manufactured generic or you want to have a brand instead of a generic, a consumer has really no control or power in this equation, which is one of the reasons why this has been sort of so concealed behind layers of insurance companies and middlemen.

AMY GOODMAN: Yet the FDA says a generic medicine is the same as a brand-name medicine in dosage, safety and quality.

KATHERINE EBAN: Right. And on paper, that is true. On paper, that is the FDA’s standard. And they will point to that standard. But what I set out to find out: What is actually going on in these distant manufacturing plants where our drugs are made?

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break, and then we’re going to come back to this discussion.

KATHERINE EBAN: OK.

AMY GOODMAN: I mean, you are a clear investigative journalist on the trail. You worked with whistleblowers, that are astounding, as they go abroad to try to find out how — what kind of conditions these drugs are made in that are the supply for a large sector of the United States. Katherine Eban is author of Bottle of Lies — the book has just come out — The Inside Story of the Generic Drug Boom. This is Democracy Now! We’ll be back with her in a minute.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: “Things You Can Do,” instrumental by Deltron 3030. This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman. We’re spending the hour with investigative journalist Katherine Eban. She’s author of the explosive new book Bottle of Lies: The Inside Story of the Generic Drug Boom. It’s just been published. So, take us on a journey with Peter Baker. Tell us who he is.

KATHERINE EBAN: So, Peter Baker was a 32-year-old FDA investigator. They were called consumer safety officers. And in 2012, the FDA looked around and asked: Would any of its investigators like to relocate overseas to their poorly staffed, remote offices in India or China to investigate the drug plants making our generic drugs? And Peter Baker is a motorcycle-riding, tattooed tough guy who was up for an adventure. But he had another reason that he wanted to volunteer, which was that, by reputation, Indian manufacturers were market leaders in aseptic manufacturing, which is the very demanding manufacturing of making sterile drugs. So he volunteered to relocate, and wound up in New Delhi.

AMY GOODMAN: And explain what he found.

KATHERINE EBAN: So he started investigating these plants. And he had a different way of investigating than a lot of FDA investigators. He skipped the guided tours and the opening slideshows, and he went right to the quality control labs.

AMY GOODMAN: Wait, wait, wait. Are these tours announced in advance?

KATHERINE EBAN: That is one of the big problems. The FDA announces its inspections overseas in advance, sometimes giving two months’ advance notice to plants that they are coming.

AMY GOODMAN: So what does that mean? What can they do in that amount of time?

KATHERINE EBAN: They can do a lot. I mean, as one investigator said, “Give them a weekend, they can put up a building.” But, basically, the accusation is that these plants overseas are staging their inspections. And one of the remarkable findings in my book is that they literally have data fabrication teams that come in, in advance of these inspections, shred documents, fabricate documents, invent quality data, invent standard operating procedures, all in advance of the FDA’s arrival.

AMY GOODMAN: So, he goes into a factory.

KATHERINE EBAN: Yeah. One of the first plants that he went into was a company called Wockhardt, and this was a sterile manufacturing plant where the quality controls are incredibly strict, down to employees having to move very deliberately and slowly so as not to disturb the airflow in the plant. It’s that strict and regulated. And it was his second day of the inspection. He was in a hallway, and he saw an employee at the other end of this long, brightly lit hallway with a clear garbage bag, and the man was walking in a furtive manner. And as soon as the employee saw Peter Baker and his colleague, a microbiologist, he turned around and started walking the other way again. And the microbiologist yelled “Stop!” The man broke into a run. He tossed the garbage bag under a stairwell. And Peter Baker opened the garbage bag and found 75 torn batch records which indicated that insulin the company was manufacturing was contaminated with metallic particles but nonetheless had been released to patients in India and the Middle East.

So, Peter Baker is only responsible for U.S. medications, but he followed the trail of these documents. He went to this area of the plant, which had not been disclosed to the FDA, and he found the plant was manufacturing a sterile injectable cardiac drug on the same equipment that had created the metallic particles. So, he basically exposed deep fraud in this plant.

AMY GOODMAN: And so, what happens then? And I kept talking about the number of Americans who take these drugs, but, I mean, these drugs go out to the world.

KATHERINE EBAN: Absolutely. And actually, as a separate part of my investigation, which is also in the book, the plants make differing levels of quality for different markets. So, basically, their manufacturing standard can be whatever they can get away with. In other words, if they’re sending to other parts of the world, they lower their quality, they lower their quality ingredients, they skip manufacturing steps.

AMY GOODMAN: So, what happens when you find this contamination, when an inspector finds this contamination?

KATHERINE EBAN: Well, in this case, because Peter Baker discovered this, the plant was hit with a massive set of observations, in a form called a 483. They were put on import alert, which means their drugs were restricted from coming into the U.S. market. And so, in that instance, the inspection system worked as it should.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about Ranbaxy?

KATHERINE EBAN: Yeah. So, Ranbaxy was India’s largest drug company and the largest maker of generic drugs and the fastest-growing generic drug maker in the U.S. And in 2005, a young information architect named Dinesh Thakur left Bristol-Myers Squibb and took a job at Ranbaxy. So he moved his family to Gurgaon. And —

AMY GOODMAN: To India.

KATHERINE EBAN: To India. And at a certain moment, his boss, who had also come from the brand pharma sector in England, got concerned about the quality of the data at Ranbaxy and had had some evidence that there was fraudulent data in some of the company’s HIV drugs. And so he gave Thakur an assignment, which was to investigate all of the company’s regulatory filings around the world and get to the bottom of whether there was actually data that existed for all of the claims that the company had made to regulators.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to go back to Peter Baker and what happened to him. So, he exposes this contamination at a major plant in India that’s making heart drugs, among others.

KATHERINE EBAN: In the course of five years, he inspected 86 plants in India and China, and he found some aspect of data fraud or deception at 67 of those plants, really almost four-fifths of the plants that he inspected. And he —

AMY GOODMAN: Repeat that. He found?

KATHERINE EBAN: He found some element of data fraud or data deception in almost four-fifths of the plants that he inspected overseas in India and China. And he did it with a completely different inspection method. Instead of looking at the records that the plant was giving him, he went into the manufacturing plant’s computer systems, and he started looking at deleted audit trails. And he tracked the metadata in the computer systems and realized that in many of these plants they were conducting what are called pretests. They were doing an initial offline screen of the drugs to see what the quality was, and then potentially making alterations to the tests, so that when they retested the drugs in the official system of the plant, they would pass quality tests.

AMY GOODMAN: And what happened to Peter Baker?

KATHERINE EBAN: He left the agency in March. Based on the experiences he had in India — he was followed, he was threatened. In one instance, he was poisoned with tainted water at a plant. Some of the investigators that he worked with were spied on. A hotel room was bugged. And based on this sort of aggregate experience, he was actually diagnosed with post-traumatic stress.

AMY GOODMAN: And the perks that inspectors get? I mean, what you described is hardly a perk — poisoned water. But what about how they’re treated? And how important are these companies to the countries, India and China?

KATHERINE EBAN: Well, one of the huge problems, as we discussed, is that the inspections by the FDA are announced two months in advance. And remarkably, the FDA even turns to these plants to arrange local travel, to arrange hotel ground transportation. And so, what happens is that the inspectors arrive. They’re picked up at the airport in a luxury car. They’re taken to a hotel, where their rooms are magically upgraded, and they never see a bill. There are trips to the Taj Mahal, shopping trips, massages, golf outings — a system that, as one of my sources called it, regulatory tourism. And the problem is, when the FDA says our drug supply has never been safer, they are discounting the fact that the findings of the plants are in this system of preannounced inspections.

AMY GOODMAN: And going back to Ranbaxy, this was the largest drug company in India.

KATHERINE EBAN: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: Explain what happened to it. And also talk about Lipitor.

KATHERINE EBAN: Yeah. So, Dinesh Thakur, who became a whistleblower, began doing —

AMY GOODMAN: Who worked at Bristol in the United States.

KATHERINE EBAN: That’s right.

AMY GOODMAN: Bristol Squibb, and then was recruited to go to India.

KATHERINE EBAN: That’s right. Once he started this research project, which was to investigate the company’s worldwide regulatory filings, he discovered that more than 40 products in over 200 countries — excuse me, more than 200 products in over 40 countries were filed with data that did not exist, falsified data in which the company was literally taking the brand drug and running tests off the brand drug and submitting it as its own data. I mean wild fabrications.

AMY GOODMAN: So, wait. They would use the brand drug, but in fact they would put the results to the generic they were making.

KATHERINE EBAN: That’s right. And this is — you know, this kind of fraudulent data is what they were using to get approval from the U.S. FDA. So, Dinesh Thakur, once this got exposed, his boss went into a board meeting and presented this to a subcommittee of the board of directors. And the question that he got back is: Could the report be buried, and could the laptop that the report was created on be destroyed? So, the company chose to conceal this. Ultimately, his boss resigned, and he was forced out of the company. And he decided to approach regulators with the information that he had, and ultimately he became a whistleblower for the FDA.

AMY GOODMAN: What happened to the drug company, Ranbaxy?

KATHERINE EBAN: Well, they — not only did they continue manufacturing and selling drugs for more than eight years from Dinesh Thakur’s first approach, the FDA, in the middle of what was a criminal investigation of this company for fraud, greenlighted Ranbaxy to manufacture the biggest generic drug in U.S. history, the first generic version of Lipitor.

AMY GOODMAN: And explain what Lipitor is used for.

KATHERINE EBAN: So, Lipitor is a cholesterol-reducing drug, which millions and millions of Americans take. So, it’s called a [statin]. And it is the biggest-selling drug of all time. And one year after Ranbaxy was given the green light to manufacture this, they made about $600 million in six months. Millions of their doses of Lipitor had to be recalled because they were infused with glass fragments.

AMY GOODMAN: And that’s just what we know. They happened to find this.

KATHERINE EBAN: They were under such scrutiny by the FDA that they ended up disclosing the glass fragments to the FDA, yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: What can —

KATHERINE EBAN: And they had to be recalled.

AMY GOODMAN: What can an individual do? I mean, what do you do if you’re taking the generic form of Lipitor and you feel sick, you feel different from when you took Lipitor?

KATHERINE EBAN: Right. So, you know, there is so little disclosure to consumers. I mean, one thing that every consumer can do is, they have a maintenance drug, and they feel it’s working —

AMY GOODMAN: Explain what you mean by “maintenance drug.”

KATHERINE EBAN: If they have a drug that they take every month, day in and day out — and many Americans do. Let’s say they are dispensed a drug that makes them feel good, that seems to be effective, that has minimal side effects.

AMY GOODMAN: So you’re taking it every day, like for thyroid —

KATHERINE EBAN: That’s right.

AMY GOODMAN: — for heart —

KATHERINE EBAN: Right.

AMY GOODMAN: — for cholesterol.

KATHERINE EBAN: Right. What they need to do is look at the manufacturer on the label, OK? They feel pretty good. We are all getting switched from generic to generic to generic every time we go to a pharmacy. But once you know that there is a manufacturer that is working for you, you need to inform your pharmacy that is the drug you want to continue taking.

The other thing consumers should do, which I do when I’m dispensed a drug and there’s a manufacturer name, I go to Google, and I put in ”FDA warning letter” and the name of that manufacturer, in order to see what have the FDA’s findings been about that drug and about that manufacturer.

AMY GOODMAN: So, you have to do the research yourself. Would you take a generic drug? And also, I mean, how it compares to how these brand drugs are made and where they’re made, in the same places?

KATHERINE EBAN: Right, right. Well, I do take generic drugs. Of course, we all take generic drugs. Because I know the history of a lot of these manufacturers, there are companies whose drugs I don’t take and companies whose drugs I will take.

AMY GOODMAN: When we come back, we’re going to talk about how these drugs are dumped on Africa.

KATHERINE EBAN: Yes, absolutely.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to also talk about the story of Cipla —

KATHERINE EBAN: Yes.

AMY GOODMAN: — and the significance of this. We’re talking to Katherine Eban, who is investigative journalist. Her book is just out. It’s an explosive book. It’s called Bottle of Lies: The Inside Story of the Generic Drug Boom. This is Democracy Now! Back with her in a minute.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: “It’s Been Awhile” by Staind, here on Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman. We’re spending the hour with investigative journalist Katherine Eban, author of Bottle of Lies: The Inside Story of the Generic Drug Boom. It’s just been published. I want to turn to the Indian scientist Yusuf Hamied, chair of the drug manufacturer Cipla, who shook the conscience of the global health community by offering to produce generic AIDS medication at a tiny fraction of the cost. This is Dr. Hamied speaking several years ago.

YUSUF HAMIED: You must understand that today in the world there are about 40 million HIV-positive. You must also understand that 8,000-plus are dying every day because of HIV and related illnesses. The problem is not just what Cipla can do. It’s a much wider problem. We’re a small company; we’re not a major company. So I sincerely believe that the effort required is a team effort — the multinational companies, ourselves, the government, or governments of various countries. And it has to be a team effort.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Dr. Yusuf Hamied, Indian scientist. We’re spending the hour with journalist Katherine Eban, author of Bottle of Lies. Talk about Hamied, talk about Cipla, and what he did.

KATHERINE EBAN: Yeah. First, let me just correct myself, which is, Lipitor, of course, is a statin, not a sartan. We were talking about valsartan earlier, so I misspoke.

But Dr. Yusuf Hamied is really one of the great individuals of the 21st century. He looked around, saw this massive AIDS epidemic, and he saw brand companies protecting their drugs through a minefield of patents, and decided something had to be done. And so what he did was he announced, working with a group of activists, that he was prepared to manufacture AIDS drugs for a dollar a day, which was such a dramatic price cut that that set in motion a series of events that led to, ultimately, a very important U.S. program called PEPFAR, in which U.S. taxpayers —

AMY GOODMAN: This was a George W. Bush program.

KATHERINE EBAN: It was under George W. Bush. It was — President Clinton had a big impact on the events that led to it, because the Clinton Foundation helped, working with Indian manufacturers, to reduce the price further to 38 cents a day. He sort of aggregated the buying power of African governments and U.S. taxpayers and sort of, through this groundbreaking coalition, was able to get U.S. taxpayers to buy in bulk AIDS drugs for Africa as a way to tackle the AIDS epidemic.

AMY GOODMAN: What was the response of the global pharmaceutical community?

KATHERINE EBAN: Well, at first, the global pharmaceutical community was actually dead set against this. They were — wanted to protect their patents. And the outcry was so enormous that, ultimately, they waived their patents so that the India manufacturers could make these AIDS cocktails at a very low price.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to go to a tweet you posted about an executive from the Indian-based company Ranbaxy, the largest pharmaceutical company —

KATHERINE EBAN: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: — in India, that was. You wrote, “More telling was a shocking disregard for human life, from some company executives. When discussing the poor quality of the company’s AIDS drugs for Africa, on a conference call, a Ranbaxy medical director said: ‘Who cares? It’s just blacks dying.’”

KATHERINE EBAN: It’s a very disturbing statement. And this was said out loud on a conference call of Ranbaxy executives in about 2004. But it reflected a larger problem in the generic drug industry, which is, a lot of these companies have what’s called dual-track or multitiered production, which is they make their better drugs for more regulated markets, like the U.S. and the EU, and they will make worse-quality drugs for developing markets or markets that they call ”ROW,” which is “rest of world.”

AMY GOODMAN: ”ROW” means “rest of world.”

KATHERINE EBAN: Correct, yes. So those are developing markets where they have made a calculation that because regulation is so poor, they’re not going to get caught.

AMY GOODMAN: So, when someone travels — another example is, when someone travels overseas, they say, “You can’t believe how cheap I can get drugs there, the very same drugs we get in the United States.”

KATHERINE EBAN: Right, right. But they’re of worse —

AMY GOODMAN: That’s not true.

KATHERINE EBAN: — quality. And I shake my head. Even when I was reporting my book, and I traveled to India, and I had friends say, “Can you bring me back some antibiotics?” And I said, “Do you understand what I’m reporting? Why would I do that to you?”

AMY GOODMAN: So, you tweeted about your smoking gun around Ranbaxy.

KATHERINE EBAN: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about the documents you found.

KATHERINE EBAN: Right. So, the smoking gun was this PowerPoint presentation which was shown to a subcommittee of the board of directors. And it spelled out, in detail, that Ranbaxy had fabricated data, completely invented data, for more than 200 products in more than 40 countries, in an effort to just support business needs. In other words, they needed approvals, and they made up data. Inside the company, this document or presentation came to be known as the SAR, which was short for “self-assessment report.” And it really shaped the behavior of a number of the company’s top executives in an effort to suppress this document.

AMY GOODMAN: And again, say what Ranbaxy made and what happened to it.

KATHERINE EBAN: Yeah. So, I mean, Ranbaxy was manufacturing a huge number of generic drugs for the U.S. market. They were manufacturing generic drugs all over the world. Ultimately, this document, the disclosures around this document and prosecution by the U.S. government, not to mention Dinesh Thakur’s heroic efforts, brought down the company.

AMY GOODMAN: Why aren’t drugs, the active ingredients, generics, the brand drugs, antibiotics — why aren’t they made in the United States for U.S. citizens and noncitizens?

KATHERINE EBAN: Right. So, this has been part of a sort of long exodus of manufacturing from the U.S. market. It really started with antibiotics. One of the issues was environmental regulations, and companies wanted to — you know, very stringent or more stringent environmental regulations in the U.S. So, there’s a lot of waste production in manufacturing of antibiotics and drugs generally, so they shifted manufacturing overseas, to China and to India, and a lot of the manufacturing of other drugs followed. And, in fact, the brand-name companies also ended up shifting manufacturing overseas. They bought up manufacturing plants and found that, you know, almost overnight, they could cut some of their costs, by about 80% — the cost of labor, the cost of ingredients. So that was really one of the reasons behind it.

AMY GOODMAN: Could the government produce these drugs?

KATHERINE EBAN: Absolutely. And Elizabeth Warren, in fact, has a very interesting proposal to get the U.S. government to manufacture essential generic drugs. I mean, looked at one way, this is a national security issue. We need to manufacture our own medicine. What if we pissed off India, and they said, “Sorry, no more antibiotics”? We’d really be in a fix.

AMY GOODMAN: Some of the people you spoke to said they avoid taking prescription drugs.

KATHERINE EBAN: Well, they were more specific than that. And, in fact, this was a number of FDA investigators, who, based on the things that they witnessed in these plants overseas, basically have stopped taking generics manufactured overseas.

AMY GOODMAN: Where do they get them then?

KATHERINE EBAN: They try not to get sick. They are very particular about which companies they take drugs from. And it’s based on their own knowledge.

AMY GOODMAN: Are there lists of records? If you’re not an insider FDA inspector, where can you go online to see what companies am I going to get drugs from? And then, if you can go more specifically, and even if I’m going to get a drug from a company, I don’t want it made at this plant or that plant.

KATHERINE EBAN: Right.

AMY GOODMAN: Is there any way to find this out?

KATHERINE EBAN: I have been talking to people about trying to put together forward-facing data for consumers. You know, I don’t have any announcements to make right now on that front, but my hope is that there will be some forward-facing data available for consumers. Unfortunately, right now it’s all just in one bucket over here and one bucket over there. You know, consumers who get really interested in this can look on the FDA’s website for warning letters. Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: What’s happened at the FDA? President Trump prides himself on rolling back regulations in the regulatory agencies, the FDA chief among them.

KATHERINE EBAN: Well, one of the things that’s been going on, which really needs further investigation, is that the FDA has been, almost systematically, downgrading the findings of its own investigators in these overseas generic plants. Now, they just put out a report saying that the quality is very high, and everything is fine, and they’ve got this under control. But, in fact, behind the scenes, they are downgrading from the most serious findings to less serious findings. And, you know, the documentation that I was able to get shows they’re making these decisions for political reasons. They’re making them because drafts of warning letters sat on their desks for too long. And this is something that really needs to be, I think, investigated by Congress.

AMY GOODMAN: In the wake of your book, public health advocate and whistleblower Dinesh Thakur, as well as Erin Fox, senior director of Drug Information and Support Services, University of Utah Health Care, have called on Congress and the FDA to hold hearings on generic drug safety.

KATHERINE EBAN: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you see that happening anytime soon?

KATHERINE EBAN: I’d like to think that it would. I hope it would. You know, it’s very hard to say what, if anything, is going to happen in this political environment.

AMY GOODMAN: Have any lawmakers responded? And how much in the pocket are lawmakers, Democrat and Republican, of the drug industry?

KATHERINE EBAN: Certainly, there is a lot of lobbying — we all know that — by the pharmaceutical companies. I think that lawmakers who have been on this a long time are inclined to look at the role of the FDA in all of this and their claims that their regulation is adequate. I think there is some appetite to do that.

AMY GOODMAN: So, you’ve been working on this book for years, and you’ve been doing this kind of research way beyond the research you did for this book. What shocked you most, Katherine?

KATHERINE EBAN: Some of the falsifications and fabrications that are going on in these plants. For example, they’re even fabricating their own data proving that the plants are sterile. They’re falsifying their microbiology data. They have to test the environment. They have to test the air. They have to test the water. They’re fabricating that data. So, what is real, and what is fake?

AMY GOODMAN: Is there a particular story that sticks in your mind that you cannot shake?

KATHERINE EBAN: I mean, I would have to say Peter Baker’s investigations into the plant, Wockhardt, which I chronicle in my book.

AMY GOODMAN: Peter Baker, the FDA inspector.

KATHERINE EBAN: Yes, absolutely. I mean, from the moment that he lands at an airport, is followed by company representatives, one of whom — there is a man who yanks open the door of his cab, takes a hard look at him, closes it again. The investigators go to the plant. Several of them fall ill because of tainted water. They learn later that even as they were at night in the hotel room talking about their inspections and their findings, the company had bugged the hotel room. That is the level of the —

AMY GOODMAN: And how much support did he get from the FDA?

KATHERINE EBAN: Minimal, absolutely minimal. In fact, they pulled him off of doing inspections. I mean, he’s one of the most — he’s sort of the Pablo Picasso of FDA investigations.

AMY GOODMAN: And he left just now, just this past March.

KATHERINE EBAN: Yes. That’s right.

AMY GOODMAN: Under the Trump FDA.

KATHERINE EBAN: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you for being with us.

KATHERINE EBAN: Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to do Part 2 and post it online at democracynow.org. Investigative journalist Katherine Eban is the author of Bottle of Lies: The Inside Story of the Generic Drug Boom. It’s just been published. Her previous book, Dangerous Doses: A True Story of Cops, Counterfeiters, and the Contamination of America’s Drug Supply.

That does it for our show. Happy Birthday, Simin Farkhondeh! I’m Amy Goodman. Thanks for joining us.

Sen. Ron Wyden Leads on Securing Elections Before 2020

Truthout - Mon, 2019-05-20 22:22

Sen. Ron Wyden’s new proposal to protect the integrity of U.S. elections, the Protecting American Votes and Elections (PAVE) Act of 2019, takes a much needed step forward by requiring a return to paper ballots.

The bill forcefully addresses a grave threat to American democracy — outdated election technologies used in polling places all over the country that run the risk of recording inaccurate votes or even allowing outside actors to maliciously interfere with the votes that individuals cast.

The simple solution: paper ballots and audits of paper ballots. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) along with security experts have long-supported this approach — arguing that the gold standard for security of our election infrastructure is paper ballots that are backed by risk-limiting audits (an audit that statistically determines how many votes need to be recounted in order to confirm an election result). As Sen. Kamala Harris, one of the 14 co-sponsors the bill, recently said, “Russia can’t hack a piece of paper.”

The last two decades have shown that the touchscreen and other machines used at polling places to cast votes are not only susceptible to tampering, but also that the outdated software and poorly configured settings lead to countless problems like inaccurately recording votes or large drop-offs on down-ballot races.

Senator Wyden’s bill sets out necessary steps to make sure that state and local governments can respond to the election security concerns raised by experts:

  • It requires paper ballots and risk-limiting audits in federal elections.
  • It allocates $500 million to states to buy secure machines that can scan paper ballots.
  • It allocates an additional $250 million to states to buy ballot-marking devices to be used by voters with disabilities or who are face language barriers.
  • It bans voting machines from connecting to the internet.
  • It gives the Department of Homeland Security the authority to set mandatory national minimum cybersecurity standards for voting machines, voter registration databases, electronic poll books and election reporting websites.
  • It empowers ordinary voters to enforce these critical safeguards with a private right of action.

The PAVE Act is supported by a large coalition of senators and a companion bill has been introduced in the House of Representatives. The foreign interference in the 2016 election stands to be repeated in 2020 if Congress does not act now to address the numerous concerns with the integrity of our voting system repeatedly identified by the information security community.

Any and all original material on the EFF website may be freely distributed at will under the Creative Commons Attribution License, unless otherwise noted. All material that is not original to EFF may require permission from the copyright holder to redistribute.

SNP deputy blasts BBC Question Time for audience ‘stuffed full of Tory plants’

Canary, The Other - Mon, 2019-05-20 22:22

SNP deputy leader Keith Brown has blasted BBC Question Time for its audience selection process.

“Stuffed full of Tory plants”

The National reported that Brown said the problem went beyond the 16 May episode in Elgin, Scotland:

This latest episode was stuffed full of Tory plants, but the BBC has done nothing to stop far-right and pro-Brexit parties dominating other Question Time audiences.

We’ve been telling BBC bosses for months that they have a credibility issue with the audience selection process.

There’s no excuse for this nonsense, and the BBC has failed to stop it.

Viewers spotted four Conservative politicians in the Elgin audience. One of them was Mary Scanlon, a Tory member of the Scottish parliament for over a decade and a half. The others were Jane Lax, the Moray Conservatives’ honorary treasurer, and two Tory councillors.

Brown continued:

Question Time from Elgin took one audience contribution from someone, pretending to be a member of the public who in fact was a Tory MSP for 17 years. And it took another audience contribution from an individual who presented herself as a Remain voter to attack the SNP on Thursday evening and on Friday appeared in the Conservative party election broadcast.

At any time there would be serious questions to answer about credibility, but just days away from the European elections these matters strike at the very heart of the BBC’s ability to fulfil its statutory and elections obligations.

Brown suggested this is a recurring issue for the BBC. In February, former UKIP candidate Billy Mitchell appeared in the audience for the fourth time. This heightened concerns about the audience selection process, given that Mitchell claimed producers ‘bussed him in’ specifically and that the BBC sends him “offers for tickets all the time”.

BBC response

Responding to previous criticism, a BBC spokesperson said:

Question Time does not bar people from its audience because they have held elected office or are political activists.

There is a selection process to ensure a range of views are heard and last night’s QT audience included supporters of different political parties, including the SNP.

The BBC refused a 2010 freedom of information request to disclose how it ensures the Question Time audience is representative.

Where were the SNP supporters?

On social media, people raised further concerns about the makeup of the audience:

Here's the moment where "the women there in the black" (to quote Fiona Bruce) gets nearly a minute to chat Tory politics with the Tory on the panel. The woman there in the black is former Tory MSP Mary Scanlon – politician for 17 years in Holyrood. pic.twitter.com/za7ghVmqkg

— Leo Mikłasz (@leomiklasz) May 16, 2019

Big questions around the BBC‘s audience producer

The BBC Question Time audience producer, Alison Fuller, has faced personal controversy. As openDemocracy detailed, Fuller deleted all her social media accounts in December 2016. This followed reports she had approached the far-right Lincolnshire English Defence League to join a Question Time audience. Fuller had also joined far-right Facebook groups and shared content from Britain First.

With respect to the ongoing problem, the SNP’s deputy leader also said:

Following a similar incident in February, we pleaded with the BBC to be transparent about the processes around audience selection for Question Time, instead they’ve been defensive and refuse to admit mistakes.

Enough is enough. The BBC should refer itself to [TV regulator] Ofcom and allow them to hold an independent investigation. That’s the only way we’ll get to the heart of whether the individuals identified in the Elgin audience lied on their application forms or whether the BBC knowingly allowed these individuals to masquerade as members of the public.

Featured image via YouTube – The Politics Hub

By James Wright

Pentagon Leaves War Reporters in the Dark

Activist Post - Mon, 2019-05-20 22:20

By Jason Ditz

(ANTIWAR.COM) — As Trump Administration officials continue to talk up war with Iran, one would expect the reporters assigned to the Pentagon to be working overtime to get the specifics of what is happening. But that’s not happening.

The Pentagon has been increasingly opaque about everything ongoing in the military, and is no better when it comes to the potential Iran War, as there just flat-out aren’t any official briefings to get information from.

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In fact, it’s been almost an entire year since May 31, 2018, the last time the Pentagon had an official, on-camera press briefing. Off-camera gaggles for reporters were once a weekly occurrence, but there have been none in 2019.

The reporters at the Pentagon have for months called for a resumption of press briefings, and are adding to those calls with the apparent approach of a major war. It’s not clear if the Pentagon is even considering such a resumption, however, because there is no venue for them to even admit if they are.

By Jason Ditz / Republished with permission / ANTIWAR.COM / Report a typo

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Categories: News for progressives

People With a Lot of Money Are Determining What Culture Is

Truthout - Mon, 2019-05-20 22:18

Janine Jackson interviewed Amin Husain about the decolonization of museums for the May 10, 2019, episode of “CounterSpin.” This is a lightly edited transcript.

Janine Jackson: Last month, the American Museum of Natural History decided it would not allow its Hall of Ocean Life to host a gala for fascist Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro — the institution evidently persuaded that the guy who’s opening new parts of the Amazon to mining, stealing land from indigenous communities he likens to chicken pox and aggressively defunding science was an inappropriate subject for celebration in that particular space.

It didn’t happen out of nowhere. The outcry and its success built on work that’s been going on for years now, calling for accountability from cultural institutions. Our next guest is deeply involved in that work. Amin Husain is an artist and a core organizer with Decolonize This Place. He joins us now by phone from here in town. Welcome to “CounterSpin,” Amin Husain.

Amin Husain: Thanks for having me.

Let me ask you, first, a sort of big question. The theater, museums, art galleries — they’re seen in the United States as noblesse oblige, rich people giving back for the public betterment. Is part of the difficulty of demanding some kind of accountability, or even transparency, the way that these institutions are structured from the get-go, and who they see themselves as accountable to?

Yeah, we’ve been looking at these cultural institutions for a while. And they’re not supported publicly in any material way. So then they rely on “one percenters” (if we can just use that language loosely). And I think within that, they end up not hospitable to communities that they claim to serve. But yet they peddle the idea of, “Oh, this is a community space, everyone’s welcome. You are part of the public, the public is who we cater to.”

But, in fact, there’s a whole other economy going on, in which the people with a lot of money, giving money to these cultural institutions, are really determining what aesthetics is, what culture is, what’s worth showing, who does it cater to.

And it ends up excluding most of the people, if we’re going to talk about New York, in the city. Focusing on the American Museum of Natural History, because each museum has a specificity, we call it a “Hall of White Supremacy.”

If you’ve visited the American Museum of Natural History, that gets a lot of public funding, you realize that, oh, there’s a Hall for African People, and there’s a Hall for African Mammals, and there’s a Hall for Asian People, and there’s a Hall for Asian Mammals. But there’s no Hall for European People. There’s no Hall for White People. And these are the kind of things that, you know, you see these cultural institutions talking about education, but then what they are doing is perpetuating white supremacy, in the children that go to visit.

These are some of the things that we’re calling attention to, but we’re not naive to what’s going on. In a way, museums have always been conceived of as colonial structures. They’re a reflection of the society we live in. And at the same time, we know that they can be something different.

And if they’re not going to be something different, then they’re no longer going to get a pass on pretending to be something good, but in actually advancing bad.

Yeah. We find that’s the same with news media, who are, as we remind regularly, profit-driven businesses that are public in their impact, but not in their decision-making. Museums, as you’re saying, are a site for a bigger project that involves, you know, telling ourselves about ourselves, and who gets to tell that story.

Well, we’ll come back, certainly, to that broader idea. But I do want to ask about Decolonize This Place’s increasingly visible work around Warren Kanders and the Whitney Museum of American Art. Who is Kanders, and what’s at stake there?

So yeah, thanks for the question. Warren Kanders is a person who is the owner of Safariland Group. Safariland Group owns many subsidiaries that create, as they call them, “less lethal” solutions. Really, what they produce, and the way this came to our attention is, they produced the tear gas that was used in Egypt, that was used in Bahrain, that was used in Turkey, that’s been used in Ferguson against protesters, that was used in Baltimore. They also supply vests and holsters to the NYPD. They provide, through subsidiaries, ballistic bullets that are lethal, that are used in Palestine.

And so when that came to our attention, it was surprising. What was surprising is the degree by which a person like Warren Kanders could be a vice president of the Whitney Museum Board of Trustees. That was a little bit shocking, considering that the Whitney puts on shows around protests, around defining what American contemporary art looks like. And to the broader public, I think, the world looks at what the Whitney Museum puts up.

And so for us, what we’ve tried to say, both as artists and as people living in the city, to the Whitney, is that, “No, Kanders can’t be on a board of the Whitney Museum, that claims to be a progressive institution, that claims to serve a public interest.”

We understand that there are many Warren Kanders. You know, the DeVos family is on the board of trustees, you have the Crown family on the board of trustees. But what we’re saying is that Kanders is a prime example of what’s wrong with our cultural institutions, and that the Whitney is being held accountable. And what happens when you hold an institution like the Whitney accountable is that it sends a signal out in the world to other cultural institutions, but also to the people, to the communities that are being harmed by it, that we stand in solidarity with them, that we understand that we do have power, that we’re not powerless, and that museums and institutions like the Whitney, they either are accountable to the communities they claim to serve, or they’re going to be protested in a way that impacts their branding.

Right. We have such a confused view of wealth and of rich people, I think, in this country, that you can see someone who makes their money off misery — there’s no other way to put it — and yet, we will say, well, but if they use that money and create a space where inner-city kids get to look at a Van Gogh, does maybe that all sort of balance out?

And in addition to the idea about the ideas — the cultural reproduction of colonialism, and of ideas of white supremacy — it’s really that these institutions, in some sense, act as money-launderers.

Thank you for saying that. They do act as money-laundering businesses.

But I think people are naive about the art world in general. I think that we as artists, and as broader communities, care about art, and understand it has a deep value. But I think that the people with wealth, this wealth is finding a home in something called “the art system.” Look at Jeff Koons’ piece, the Rabbit costs approximately $70 million; this artist has a rabbit that costs $70 million. Why does anything cost $70 million?

It’s a question that we have to really contend with. And I think the answer isn’t simply because it’s art and a brilliant person made it. It’s actually deeper than that. It houses this wealth that’s stolen, and then it gets traded between people who own wealth, and then you get tax breaks, or a tax write-off, or off of your tax ledger.

Right.

And I think that this is what’s happening with these institutions. These institutions make rich people look better in the way that they’re doing, kind of, philanthropy, but it’s not really philanthropy. And then at the same time, they’re getting all these write-offs, and hiding their money. And then their money comes out in art objects. And these art objects are somehow worth $70 million or $20 million or $10 million.

Right. Well, I want to just go back and say, we heard that the American Museum of Natural History staff, many of them, were, you know, gobsmacked, and I know that Whitney staffers, too, many of them are with you in this fight. I mean, the staff inside these institutions are part of the fight too, right?

Absolutely. I think this is what’s been really important about both the American Museum of Natural History and the Whitney Museum. And shout out to all the staff that have organized.

I think people forget that the organizing around the Whitney Museum happened with the staff, front-end and back-end, of the museum. Over 100 staff members signed a letter asking for the removal of Kanders, for some principles of transparency around where the funding…and some ethical guidelines. Some money you should say “no” to. That’s a minimum basis for a different kind of conversation.

I think what we’ve done with our actions, going to the Whitney every week, and the eighth week is coming up, is to speak to the staff, to go in advance, to talk to them, to share food with them. We’ve explained we understand the inconvenience that protest creates. We know that they are employed. We know we live in a society in which people have to pay bills, and working at the museum is one of the things by which you pay bills. We understand that institutions are complex. What we’re targeting is the leadership of the Whitney Museum, and we’re making sure, to the degree possible, to not make the lives of the employees difficult.

I wanted to ask one question about media. A Decolonize This Place press release last year quoted Whitney director Adam Weinberg, in his praise of the museum as “a safe space for unsafe ideas.” And it reminded me of one news article I saw that lumped the Whitney campaign for the removal of Kanders, lumped it in with other scandals at museums, including, you know, sexually explicit art, and Britain cleaning the Elgin Marbles — not taking them, but cleaning them.

And it sort of felt like, oh, museums are “lightning rods,” they get it from “all sides,” and aren’t they very brave to allow people to disagree, you know?

I’ve seen some heartening media coverage, but I’ve also seen some kind of containing media coverage. And I wonder what you would hope that journalists looking at your work would take away from it, and what you would hope they would not?

Yeah, thank you for that question. I think, as I mentioned, the stakes are high at the Whitney. This isn’t about museums being a lightning rod. This is about the injustices and domination and oppression that exist in our society, that materially impact our lives in this city, right, being materialized in a place like the Whitney.

What that allows for us, then, is not to speak of isms like capitalism, or state violence in a very abstract sense, but to understand how it works — how are we complicit, how are museums not-neutral in that fight?

People forget that when Trump was elected, the Whitney Museum patted itself on the back when it called for J20, right? J20 was all of the so-called political artists gathering together and speaking out against fascism. Where are they today?

So you can put up a show that brings a lot of people in a comfortable space to speak out against fascism, but when you have Warren Kanders a vice president of the Board of Trustees at the Whitney, everyone falls silent.

These are the kind of conversations that we want to have. We don’t presume to know, I don’t presume to know, the answers. I just know that that’s wrong. And it’s also why we held the town hall.

What we imagine is that outlets other than art outlets will cover this. We’ve seen some headway around this in terms of Gothamist, we’re on the radio show with you, this is great, I think “Democracy Now!” did a little segment. But the sad thing about media is that they only cover the drama.

So when we’re protesting and also gathering and being in spaces doing things, that may not be newsworthy. But when we lit sage in the museum in December, the New York Post covered it, the Daily News covered it.

And I think there’s something about this kind of coverage that is somewhat superficial, that follows a particular formula, when in fact the people that are doing this work are from movements, are organizers and artists and educators and young people, student organizers, and elders, and people from communities as far out as East New York…. I mean, this Friday, we’re taking over subway cars from East New York all the way to the Whitney. Because what’s happening at the Whitney isn’t just about a museum, it’s about sites of specificity, of how oppression and domination gets exercised against us. And it’s a way for us to reclaim, hold accountable and change the nature of the conversation.

And we hope that more media outlets will begin to see that there’s a deeper story here than simply a protest. In a way, a protest doesn’t do service to the kind of thinking that’s going on right now. What does it mean to reclaim the city, if not to reclaim our institutions?

We’ve been speaking with Amin Husain from Decolonize This Place. You can learn more about their actions on the site DecolonizeThisPlace.org. Amin Husain, thank you so much for joining us this week on “CounterSpin.”

My pleasure. Thank you.

Netizen Report: Amid WhatsApp Attacks, Advocates Launch Legal Challenge Against Israeli Malware Maker

Activist Post - Mon, 2019-05-20 22:15

By Netizen Report Team

The Advox Netizen Report offers an international snapshot of challenges, victories, and emerging trends in technology and human rights around the world. This report covers news and events from May 10 – 17, 2019.

On May 13, WhatsApp users in multiple countries were targeted with malicious software developed by the Israeli company NSO group and deployed by governments that had purchased the software.

The software appears to have taken advantage of a technical flaw in WhatsApp, that has since been repaired. The attacks were uniquely malicious because of the ease with which they can infect a person’s device — by simply receiving a call or message, a user could unknowingly enable the software to install itself on their device, giving attackers broad access to their private communications and activities.

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NSO Group is the creator of the notorious spyware Pegasus, which the company exclusively sells to governments, typically making contracts with law enforcement and intelligence agencies. Once installed, the software ostensibly allows the attacker to see and document everything that victims do and say on their devices, capturing messages, location and many other pieces of data. It has been linked to attacks on activists and journalists in Mexico, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, where it was found on a device belonging to now-jailed human rights defender Ahmed Mansoor.

In response to this and other attacks that have been documented in recent years by advocacy and tech research groups including The Citizen Lab at University of Toronto and Amnesty International, the Bernstein Institute for Human Rights at New York University and Global Justice Clinic are taking legal action in an effort to stop the company from selling this type of software. They have filed a legal challenge demanding that Israel’s Ministry of Defence revoke the export license of NSO Group.

Their petition argues that NSO Group is violating international human rights law by allowing governments to target human rights activists, as opposed to aiding them solely in “fighting crime and terror,” as dictated by their licensing agreement.

NSO Group is also facing lawsuits filed by individuals accusing the company of helping the governments of Mexico and the United Arab Emirates to surveil members of civil society. Late last year, a Canada-based Saudi dissident filed another lawsuit, alleging that the software had allowed Saudi authorities to snoop on his communications with journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the lead-up to Khashoggi’s October 2018 murder at the Saudi embassy in Istanbul.

Safety tips: How to protect your device and update your WhatsApp

States and companies join ‘Christchurch Call’ to curb violent extremism online

A group of government leaders, tech companies and civil society experts met in Paris on May 15 to discuss the role of the internet in preserving public safety and human rights in the aftermath of the attacks on two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand in March 2019. Several of the governments and companies later signed a non-binding document known as the “Christchurch Call,” a set of principles and commitments concerning the creation and distribution of viral, violent content online.

Spearheaded by the government of New Zealand, the Christchurch Call aims to be “consistent with principles of a free, open and secure internet, without compromising human rights and fundamental freedoms, including freedom of expression” and indicates that any regulation resulting from the deliberations should adhere to international human rights standards. The call also urges internet companies to provide greater public transparency about their policies and processes for removing (and appealing the removal of) violent content.

Google, Facebook, Twitter and Amazon have joined the call. Alongside New Zealand and several EU governments, Australia, Canada, India, Indonesia, Japan and Senegal have signed on. The US declined to sign, with the White House citing its “respect for freedom of expression and freedom of the press.”

Somalia blocks social media for student exams

The Somali government announced that it will shut down access to social media platforms from May 27-31, in an effort to prevent secondary school students from cheating on end-of-year exams. The exam period was postponed in early May, after officials discovered that a copy of exam answers had leaked online. The secretary of education made the announcement on state television on May 13 and offered no details on which platforms would be blocked.

Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for East Africa, Seif Magango, criticized the move, arguing that Somali officials should “explore ways to secure the integrity of the exams without resorting to regressive measures that would curtail access to information and freedom of expression.”

Singapore approves ‘anti-fake news’ law

Singapore’s parliament approved the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act on May 8, 2019. Commonly known as the anti-fake news law, the Act gives broad, unchecked powers to government ministers to compel website administrators, internet service providers, and even private chat groups to immediately correct or remove ‘fake news’ from their domains. But the law’s definition of what counts as fake or false is remarkably vague.

In a letter to Singapore’s prime minister, UN special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression David Kaye wrote:

I am concerned that this overbroad definition of falsehood will lead to the criminalization and suppression of a wide range of expressive conduct, including criticism of the government, and the expression of unpopular, controversial or minority opinions.

Two men in Bangladesh arrested for non-violent Facebook posts

Two men in Bangladesh were arrested after private citizens filed lawsuits against them concerning posts they had written on Facebook. One, Henry Swapon, had criticized a local bishop. The other, Imtiaz Mahmood, had commented on ethnic conflict in the country’s Chittagong region.

Swapon is now facing charges under the Digital Security Act, a 2018 law that criminalizes various types of online speech, ranging from defamatory messages to speech that “injures religious values or sentiments.”

New research

Image: Stylized photo of surveillance cameras. Image by Corey Burger via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

This article was sourced from GlobalVoices.org

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Categories: News for progressives

Don't praise Iceland's Hatari for violating Eurovision boycott

Electronic Intifada - Mon, 2019-05-20 22:07

Waving a Palestinian flag does not make up for crossing a picket line.

Plastics Industry on Track to Burn 14 Percent of World’s Remaining Carbon Budget

Truthout - Mon, 2019-05-20 21:56

The plastics industry plays a major — and growing — role in climate change, according to a report published last week by the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL).

By 2050, making and disposing of plastics could be responsible for a cumulative 56 gigatons of carbon, the report found, up to 14 percent of the world’s remaining carbon budget.

In 2019, the plastics industry is on track to release as much greenhouse gas pollution as 189 new coal-fired power plants running year-round, the report found — and the industry plans to expand so rapidly that by 2030, it will create 1.34 gigatons of climate-changing emissions a year, equal to 295 coal plants.

It’s an expansion that, in the United States, is largely driven by the shale gas rush unleashed by hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.

The petrochemical expansion also comes over the same period of time that international plans to reduce climate change call for rapid reductions in greenhouse gases from all sources — transportation, electricity, and industry.

“Humanity has less than twelve years to cut global greenhouse emissions in half and just three decades to eliminate them almost entirely,” said Carroll Muffett, president of CIEL, citing UN figures. “It has long been clear that plastic threatens the global environment and puts human health at risk. This report demonstrates that plastic, like the rest of the fossil economy, is putting the climate at risk as well.”

“If growth trends continue,” the report concludes, “plastic will account for 20 percent of global oil consumption by 2050.”

The new report, co-authored by Environmental Integrity Project, FracTracker Alliance, Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA), 5 Gyres, and Break Free From Plastic, looks at how plastic production carries major impacts for the climate as it goes from raw materials tapped by the fossil fuel industries all the way through its ultimate disposal or breakdown in the environment.

From Wellhead to Trash Heap

The new report finds climate problems at each stage.

“The story of plastic’s contribution to climate change really begins at the wellhead,” said Matt Kelso, a manager at FracTracker Alliance, which contributed to the report, “and we can therefore say that a portion of carbon emissions from oil and gas production is attributable to the creation of plastics.”

Transforming those raw material into plastic requires massive amounts of energy. On average, the report found, making one ton of plastic created 1.89 metric tons of greenhouse gas pollution.

There are over 300 new petrochemical projects underway in the U.S. alone, most of which will make plastic or plastic additives. “Plastic refining is among the most greenhouse gas-intensive industries in the manufacturing sector — and the fastest growing,” the report finds.

But plastic’s climate impacts don’t end there.

Only 9 percent of plastic is recycled — and while some is landfilled, a growing percentage is burned, either for disposal or for fuel. “Waste incineration, also referred to as Waste-to-Energy, is the primary source of greenhouse gas emissions from plastic waste management, even after considering the electricity that can be generated during the process,” said Doun Moon, a research associate with report co-author GAIA.

The report also describes surprising evidence of how plastic trash in the environment affects the climate. Not only can plastic emit measurable amounts of greenhouse gases as it degrades, but also, the report says, “a small but growing body of research suggests plastic discarded in the environment may be disrupting the ocean’s natural ability to absorb and sequester carbon dioxide.”

All told, the report highlights the growing role that plastic production plays in changing the world’s climate.

“At every moment that we possibly can, we are making conservative, lower-bound estimates,” said lead author Steven Feit. “Setting aside for the moment the health impacts, this massive expansion is really dangerous from a climate perspective.”

Does a Plastic Soup” Ocean Stop Acting as a Carbon Sink?

Submariner Victor Vescovo recently broke deep sea dive records by touching the bottom of the Mariana Trench at a depth of over 35,850 feet.

There, he found a piece of plastic trash amid multiple previously undiscovered species.

It’s just one sign of how much plastic pollution the world’s oceans now contain.

“Every year, more than eight million tonnes of harmful plastic waste end up in the ocean,” U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres said in a May 14 speech in Fuji. “According to one recent study, plastic could outweigh fish in our seas by 2050.”

The CIEL report also highlights how plastic contributes to climate change long after it’s made — and that’s not only when plastic is burned in incinerators.

For one thing, the report notes, recent research reveals that exposing plastic trash to light triggers the release of greenhouse gases from the plastic itself as it breaks down. Polyethylene plastic — the kind that’s mostly used for single-use plastic items — releases methane, ethane, propylene, and ethylene gases.

“This unexpected discovery shows that the degradation and breakdown of plastic represents a previously unrecognized source of greenhouse gases that are expected to increase, especially as more plastic is produced and accumulated in the environment,” CIEL wrote.

But that’s not the only surprising way that plastic — particularly plastic trash that finds its way to the ocean — contributes to climate change.

The oceans have soaked up between 30 and 50 percent of all the carbon dioxide pollution that people have produced since the dawn of the industrial era, the report says.

But there are signs that plastic pollution may be causing a breakdown in the ocean’s ability to act as a carbon sink.

“Phytoplankton take sunlight and they pull in carbon dioxide and they turn it into food, and then get eaten by zooplankton — that’s step one of how the ocean absorbs carbon dioxide,” explained Feit. “There’s evidence mounting that microplastics are interfering with the zooplankton and that chain.”

Plankton plays a little-understood but important role in the ways that the ocean absorbs carbon. For example, a tiny kind of fish known as a lanternfish represent, by mass, half of the fish in the ocean.

Lanternfish eat carbon-rich zooplankton near the sea’s surface and their poop sinks towards the seafloor, keeping that carbon locked away far from the air we breathe. A 2013 study found that lanternfish and similar species sank 30 million tons of carbon a year in the waters off the U.S. West Coast alone.

But as plastic debris breaks down into smaller and smaller bits in the ocean, lanternfish can wind up eating plastic instead of plankton, causing the fish to suffer direct physical harm and chemical poisoning, the LA Times reported in 2017.

And that’s affecting just one of the ways that plankton and the marine food chain directly reduce climate change.

“That [marine food chain] process is 50 percent of the ocean’s ability to absorb carbon,” Feit said.

“Research into these impacts is still in its infancy,” the report concludes, “but early indications that plastic pollution may interfere with the largest natural carbon sink on the planet should be cause for immediate attention and serious concern.”

Plastic Appalachia

On shore, the plastic industry has major expansion plans worldwide — and particularly in the U.S.

Plastic is currently responsible for less annual pollution than cement, which in 2016 produced 2.2 gigatons of CO2, according to the International Energy Agency — but the plastics industry is poised to grow quickly, CIEL found.

“Industrial sources comprised 40 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions in 2014,” the CIEL report said. “Just four sectors — steel, plastic, cement, and aluminum — account for fully three quarters of these emissions. Of the four sectors, plastic is witnessing the most rapid and sustained growth, and it is projected to have the largest growth in emissions under business-as-usual scenarios.”

“Current plans for rapid expansion of production capacity are concentrated in the United States, China, and the Middle East, but also include expansions of petrochemical capacity in Europe and South America,” the report found.

“In an era when we need to be fighting climate change and reducing emissions, the plastics industry is planning to expand,” said Feit. “In the United States, this is driven by shale gas.”

Permits for Shell’s Pennsylvania ethane cracker, a massive plastics plant currently under construction, allow it to release 2.25 million tons of greenhouse gases a year.

That means running Shell’s one plastic-making cracker facility for a year could cause more climate-changing pollution than replacing every passenger car registered in Pittsburgh with 2019’s most gas-guzzling full-size SUV, the Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk 4WD, which the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency clocks in at 13 miles per gallon.

And that’s just the 2.25 million tons of direct emissions from one new plastics plant. Today’s report finds that full life-cycle emissions from plastic production worldwide are slated to grow from over 850 million metric tons of greenhouse gases to over 1,340 million metric tons, over 200 times the climate-changing pollution from Shell’s Pennsylvania plant.

“Of 128 existing or potential facilities that are part of a vast buildout of the petroleum and petrochemical industry in the Ohio River Valley, 38 have data available on permitted emissions increases,” the report found, adding that those 38 projects would add roughly 22 million tons of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere each year, about 10 times the impact of the Shell plant alone.

And that, in turn, means that policy-makers in Appalachia — as well as those on the Gulf Coast — face important decisions on the horizon.

“This is not something that can be just easily turned around once those facilities are built,” said Feit. “Really the surest solution to dealing with the problem of plastics and climate is to reduce plastic production, to keep the fossil fuels in the ground, to move towards eliminating the use of single-use plastics and non-essential plastics.”

Trump — Who Claims He Doesn’t Want War — Threatens “Official End of Iran”

Truthout - Mon, 2019-05-20 21:39

As military tensions between the U.S. and Iran appeared to be gradually cooling despite dangerous provocations from the White House, President Donald Trump — who said publicly last week that he hopes there is not another war in the Middle East — took to Twitter Sunday to threaten “the official end of Iran,” a remark numerous critics condemned as “genocidal.”

“If Iran wants to fight, that will be the official end of Iran. Never threaten the United States again!” Trump tweeted, without specifying how Iran threatened the United States.

Matthew Gertz, a senior fellow at Media Matters for America, speculated that Trump’s threat was prompted by a Fox News segment on Iran.

If Iran wants to fight, that will be the official end of Iran. Never threaten the United States again!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 19, 2019

The U.S. president’s tweet came after a rocket was reportedly fired into Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone, about a mile away from the U.S. Embassy in Iraq. There is no evidence that Iran-backed forces were behind the attack, despite reported “suspicions” from Western diplomats.

Jamal Abdi, president of the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), said in a statement late Sunday that a “similar incident” in Iraq last year “led to Bolton asking the Pentagon for options to militarily strike Iran.”

“President Trump’s saber-rattling about Iran has reached a dangerous new low with his threat to ‘end’ Iran — a country of 83 million men, women, and children,” Abdi said. “There is no doubt that national security adviser John Bolton will use the slightest Iranian action — even bereft of reliable intelligence — as a pretext to push for the war he’s always wanted.”

“President Trump has claimed that he doesn’t want war, but his bombastic rhetoric is ensuring that he walks into one,” Abdi added. “If Trump is sincere about wanting diplomatic compromise, he should cease his policy of economic warfare that is strangling the Iranian people and pursue a tone of mutual respect with Tehran.”

Describing Trump’s tweet as “genocidal rhetoric,” NIAC founder Trita Parsi outlined steps the president should be taking if he actually desires peace with Iran:

By now, you should've learned that making genocidal threats won't make Iran budge.

If you want peace, prepare a serious strategy for diplomacy:

Step 1: Fire Bolton
Step 2: Respect the JCPOA, i.e. lift sanctions
Step 3: Drop all preconditions
Step 4: Adopt respectful rhetoric

— Trita Parsi (@tparsi) May 19, 2019

Trump’s latest threat against Iran came just days after reports on U.S. intelligence challenged the White House narrative of a growing Iranian “threat” in the region, which has been used by American officials like Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to justify aggressive posturing in the Persian Gulf.

The president’s tweet also came as some corporate media outlets and commentators have portrayed Trump as a lone voice against war with Iran in a White House filled with hawks.

For all those people who still think Trump is displeased with and resisting the genocidal neocons he chose to surround himself with https://t.co/UyLgUk9HoV

— Whitney Webb (@_whitneywebb) May 19, 2019

According to the Wall Street Journal, Iranian actions in the Middle East in recent weeks have been defensive moves in response to fears that the U.S. could be planning a military attack.

So according to @WSJ, US-Iran tensions spiked as follows:
1. Hawkish US officials intensify pressure on Iran.
2. Iran fears attack.
3. Iran prepares counter-strikes.
4. US gets spooked, raises threat level.
5. Trump demurs: wants talks, not war.https://t.co/RNyrzamfyr

— Louisa Loveluck (@leloveluck) May 17, 2019

As Common Dreams reported, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani earlier this month called for diplomacy amid U.S. belligerence and urged new negotiations on the Iran nuclear accord, which Trump unilaterally violated last May.

“Since the president reneged on the Iran nuclear deal last year,” said Abdi, “the administration’s policies have been geared towards provoking Iran into retaliation to give cover for a perilous escalation favored by administration hawks.”

“Simply stated, the current state of heightened tensions between the U.S. and Iran is exclusively due to the policies of the Trump administration, which abandoned a nonproliferation agreement that was working in favor of a so-called ‘maximum pressure campaign.'”

Trump’s Trade War With China Is Waged to Make the Rich Richer

Truthout - Mon, 2019-05-20 21:25

Donald Trump seems determined to double down and keep pressing forward on his trade war with China. He promises more and higher tariffs, apparently not realizing that U.S. consumers are the ones paying these taxes — not China’s government or corporations.

While tariffs clearly impose a cost on people in the United States, this cost could be justified as a weapon to change a trading partner’s harmful practices. During his campaign, Trump pledged to wage a trade war with China over its currency policy. He said he would declare China a “currency manipulator” on day one of his administration, putting pressure on China to raise the value of its currency against the dollar.

The value of China’s currency matters, since it determines the relative price of goods and services produced in China and the United States. Ordinarily, the currency of a rapidly growing country with a large trade surplus like China would be expected to rise against the currency of a country with a large trade deficit like the United States. However, China’s government intervened in currency markets to keep its currency from rising, thereby keeping down the price of China’s goods and services.

This was ostensibly the behavior that Trump was determined to change in his China trade war. But now that we are in the war, the currency issue has largely disappeared from the conversation. According to the published accounts, the big issue is over China’s respect for the intellectual property claims (i.e., patent and copyrights) of U.S. corporations.

The most bizarre aspect of this turn is that Trump’s demands in this area have the support of economists and commentators across the political spectrum. We repeatedly hear the line that we have to stop China’s theft of “our” intellectual property.

The problem with this argument is that it is not “our” intellectual property that Trump is protecting. After all, very few people have any patents or copyrights that we are worried about China using without compensation.

The intellectual property that Trump and his allies across the political spectrum want to protect belongs to major corporations like Boeing, Pfizer and Microsoft. Their goal is to make China pay more money to get access to technology these companies have developed. That’s great for their profits — sort of like Trump’s tax cut — but does not help the vast majority of people who do not own lots of stock in these companies.

In fact, if China has to pay more money to these corporations for their technology, it is likely to hurt most U.S. workers for several different reasons.

First, if companies like Boeing and General Electric don’t have to worry about being forced to transfer technology to Chinese companies when they outsource to China, they will have more incentive to outsource to China. That’s about as straightforward as it gets.

Second, the more money that China has to pay for the technology of U.S. companies, the less money they have to pay for other exports from the United States. This means that we will have a larger trade deficit in everything other than technology.

In the same vein, this is yet another policy the U.S. government is pursuing that will increase inequality. If we increase the returns to various technology sectors, then we expect that the highly educated people doing this work will see their pay rise relative to everyone else. As is more generally the case, it is not technology that creates this inequality in wages, it is the policy on inequality.

There is an argument that we should not allow China to just take, at no cost, the technology that we spent hundreds of billions of dollars to develop. That is a reasonable argument, but that hardly implies that we need to force them to respect patent and copyright protection.

We need to ensure that China and other countries share in the cost of developing new technologies. There are far more modern and efficient mechanisms than patent monopolies, which are a relic of the medieval guild system. While negotiating sharing mechanisms may be a difficult process, it is no more difficult than preserving the patent system. President Obama likely would have had the Trans-Pacific Partnership completed and approved by Congress before he left office if it had not been for haggling over terms of drug patent-related protections.

It is also important to recognize that we will likely have far more to gain from having access to China’s technology than the other way around. China is already far and away the global leader in clean technologies, with as much installed solar and wind energy as the rest of the world combined, and an electric car industry that now produces as many cars as all other countries put together.

China currently spends roughly the same share of its GDP on research and development as the United States. Its economy is already 25 percent larger than the U.S. economy and will be more than twice as large in less than a decade. Rather than focusing on bottling up U.S. technology, a forward-thinking trade agenda would be focused on ensuring our access to Chinese technology.

Unfortunately, trade policy is not crafted in the national interest, it is crafted with the goal of making the rich richer. This is what Trump’s trade war is all about. And, as is the case with so many other wars, it is about working-class people being forced to sacrifice by paying high tariffs to advance the goals of the rich.

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