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Tuesday, 4 August 2015

ISIS in Afghanistan: Proxy War against Iran and China

The nature of the war in Afghanistan has shifted dramatically in recent months. While the US and NATO continue to be actively involved in the country – their strategic objectives having changed very little since the Bush administration launched the war nearly a decade and a half ago – the complexion of the battlefield, and the parties actively engaged in the war, has changed significantly.

The emergence of 

ISIS in Afghanistan

, along with the impending withdrawal of US-NATO troops from the country, has driven the Taliban into a marriage of convenience, if not an outright alliance, with Iran. What seemed like an unfathomable scenario just a few years ago, Shia Iran’s support for the hardline Sunni Taliban has become a reality due to the changing circumstances of the war. Though it may be hard to believe, such an alliance is now a critical element of the situation on the ground in Afghanistan. But its significance is far larger than just shifting the balance of power within the country.

Instead, Afghanistan is now in many ways a proxy conflict between the US and its western and Gulf allies on the one hand, and Iran and certain non-western countries, most notably China, on the other. If the contours of the conflict might not be immediately apparent, that is only because the western media, and all the alleged brainiacs of the corporate think tanks, have failed to present the conflict in its true context. The narrative of Afghanistan, to the extent that it’s discussed at all, continues to be about terrorism and stability, nation-building and “support.” But this is a fundamental misunderstanding and mischaracterization of the current war, and the agenda driving it.

And what is this new and dangerous agenda? It is about no less than the future of Afghanistan and Central Asia. It is about the US and its allies clinging to the country, a key foothold in the region, and wanting to find any pretext to maintain their presence. It is about Iran and China positioning themselves in the country for the inevitable moment of US withdrawal and the opening up of Afghanistan’s economy. At the most basic level, it is about access and influence. And, as usual in this part of the world, terrorism and extremism are the most potent weapons.

The New Afghan War: Enter ISIS

When the Islamic State (ISIS) made its 

first public appearance

 in Afghanistan in the fall of 2014 passing out pamphlets in the Afghan refugee camps along the Pakistani border, it was to very little international fanfare. In fact, many doubted at the time whether it was a genuine presence, or merely a publicity stunt designed to raise the terror organization’s public image. However, within a few weeks, ISIS militants committed a 

mass beheading

 in the strategically vital Ghazni province, an important region of the country that lies on the Kabul-Kandahar highway.  This incident officially put ISIS on the map in Afghanistan, and marked a significant sea change in the nature of the conflict there.

While the western media was replete with stories of ISIS and Taliban factions fighting together under the Islamic State’s banner, it has become clear since then that, rather than a collaboration between the groups, there has simply been a steady migration of fighters from the Taliban to ISIS which, if the stories are to be believed, pays much better.  In fact, the last few months have demonstrated that, there is in fact competition between the two, and that Taliban and ISIS groups have fought each other in very intense battles.  As Abdul Hai Akhondzada, deputy head of the Afghan parliament’s national security commission told 

Deutsche Welle

 in June:

Local residents and security officials confirmed that “Islamic State” (IS) fighters killed between 10 and 15 Taliban members in Nangarhar province…The Taliban have been fighting for a long period of time in Afghanistan and they see their position threatened by the emergence of IS. Of course, they won’t give up easily… While IS is fighting to increase its presence in the whole region – not only Afghanistan – the Taliban are fighting to overthrow the Afghan government.

Such skirmishes have now become a regular occurrence, pointing to a growing war between ISIS and Taliban factions. Increasingly, the war is being transformed from one waged by the Taliban against the Kabul government and its US and NATO patrons, into a war with competing groups fighting each other for supremacy on the battlefield and in the political life of the country.

But of course, the true nature of the conflict can only be understood through an examination of the key interests backing each side. And it is here where the shadowy world of terror factions and proxy armies are brought into the light of day.

It is now no secret that ISIS is an asset of western intelligence agencies and governments. The group has been directly sponsored and facilitated and/or allowed to develop unhindered in order to serve a useful purpose in Syria and Iraq. As the now infamous secret 2012 US Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) 


 obtained by Judicial Watch revealed, the US has knowingly promoted the spread of the Islamic State since at least 2012 in order to use it as a weapon against the Assad government. The document noted that, “… there is the possibility of establishing a declared or undeclared Salafist Principality in eastern Syria…and this is exactly what the supporting powers to the opposition want, in order to isolate the Syrian regime, which is considered the strategic depth of the Shia expansion (Iraq and Iran).”

Moreover, intelligence agencies such as Turkish intelligence agency (MIT) have been 


 ISIS militants crossing the border into Syria, as well as 

supporting an international network of terrorists

 to as far away as the Xinjiang province of China. Even US Vice President Joe Biden has 



Our allies in the region were our largest problem in Syria. The Turks were great friends… [and] the Saudis, the Emirates, etcetera. What were they doing?…They poured hundreds of millions of dollars and tens of tons of weapons into anyone who would fight against Assad — except that the people who were being supplied, [they] were al-Nusra, and al-Qaeda, and the extremist elements of jihadis who were coming from other parts of the world.

Given all of this information, it is beyond a shadow of a doubt that ISIS is to a large degree an asset of the US and its western allies. As if one needed further confirmation of this point, former Afghan President Hamid Karzai, himself no stranger to the machination of US intelligence, bluntly 


 just last month that ISIS could not possibly have expanded into Afghanistan “without a foreign hand, without foreign backing.”

In Syria and Iraq, ISIS has essentially done the dirty work for the US and its Gulf and Israeli and Turkish allies. In Libya, ISIS has become a dominant terrorist force led by a 


 US asset. In Yemen, ISIS has gained a foothold and carried out

terrorist actions

 in support of the Saudi – and by extension, US – mission against the Shia Houthi rebels and their allies. Taken in total then, ISIS has proven very effective in furthering the US-NATO-GCC-Israel agenda. So too in Afghanistan.

Iran and Taliban Ally to Counter ISIS and Its Patrons

And it is for this reason that the Taliban has turned to Iran for support. Though Tehran has officially denied providing any weapons or financial support to the Taliban, sources in the region have confirmed that indeed such support is given. A senior Afghan government official speaking to the 

Wall Street Journal 

explained succinctly that, “At the beginning Iran was supporting [the] Taliban financially. But now they are training and equipping them, too.” Afghan security officials have claimed that Iran is hosting Taliban militants at training camps in the cities of Tehran, Mashhad, and Zahedan, and in the province of Kerman. If true, it means that the level of cooperation between the two has moved to a whole new level.

While one might want to maintain some skepticism about all the claims made by US and Afghan officials regarding Iranian support for the Taliban, the alliance makes good strategic sense for Tehran. As Iran fights against ISIS in Syria and Iraq, so too must it check the spread of this terror group in neighboring Afghanistan.

Moreover, Iran understands that ISIS is, in effect, an arm of the power projection of its regional rivals Turkey and Saudi Arabia, both of whom have been primary instigators of the war in Syria and the attempt to break the alliance of Iran-Iraq-Syria-Hezbollah. Therefore, from the Iranian perspective, the Taliban’s war against ISIS in Afghanistan is essentially a new theater in the larger war against ISIS and its backers.

Additionally, there is still another important political rationale behind Tehran’s overtures to the Taliban: leverage and access. Iran is preparing for the impending departure of US-NATO forces from Afghanistan, and it desperately wants to make sure it has friends in the new government which will likely include some key members of the Taliban in important positions. And the recent moves by the 

Taliban to engage in peace talks

 only further this point; Iran wants to be part of a peace deal which could unite the non-ISIS forces in Afghanistan thereby giving Tehran both access and, most importantly, influence over the decision-making apparatus in an independent Afghanistan.

China and the New Afghanistan

Iran certainly has partners in the charm offensive toward the Taliban, most notably China. The last few months have seen a flurry of 


 that China has played host to a Taliban delegation interested in engaging in substantive peace talks with the Kabul government, a move which threatens to fundamentally alter the balance of power in Afghanistan and the region. Assuming the reports are true – by all indications they are – China is positioning itself to become the single most important player in a post-occupation Afghanistan.

Earlier this month in fact, an Afghan delegation from Kabul 

met with Taliban representatives

 in Islamabad, Pakistan to begin the dialogue process. It is a virtual certainty that such talks would never have taken place had the Chinese not intervened and opened direct channels of communication with the Taliban earlier this year. In this way, Beijing has become the key intermediary in the peace process in Afghanistan, a development which is likely to cause a fair amount of consternation in Washington. China has a multitude of reasons for pushing so hard for this dialogue process.

First and foremost, China sees in Afghanistan one of the main keys to its entire regional, and indeed global, strategy, from the New Silk Roads to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. Sitting in the middle of the strategically critical Central Asia region, Afghanistan represents for China both a bridge to its partner, Pakistan, and the key to the former Soviet Republics of Central Asia. Moreover, it represents a critical node in the potential pipeline networks, as well as trading routes.

Beijing also intends to be a major player in the exploitation of the mineral wealth of Afghanistan. The US Geological Survey has estimated that the mineral wealth of Afghanistan is worth roughly 

$1 trillion

, making it some of the most prized land in the world. Iron, copper, cobalt, gold, lithium, and many other minerals are to be found just underneath the surface of Afghanistan; clearly an enticing prospect for China. Indeed, China has already heavily invested in copper mining concessions among others.

It is in this arena where China and its longtime rival India have come into conflict, as Delhi has also been a major player competing for key mining concessions in Afghanistan, including the vast iron ore deposits. Iran also figures into this question as its port of Chabahar, seen as an important prize for both India and China, is the likely destination for the iron ore extracted from Afghanistan, especially if it is to be shipped to India.

Not to be overlooked of course is the security issue. China’s ongoing struggle against Islamic extremism in Xinjiang has led to fears in Beijing that any economic plans could be jeopardized by terrorism-related instability. Xinjiang has seen a number of deadly terrorist attacks in the last eighteen months, including the heinous drive-by 


 that killed dozens and injured over 100 people in May 2014, the 

mass stabbings and bombings

 of November 2014, and the deadly 


 by Uighur terrorists on a traffic checkpoint just last month which left 18 people dead.

And it is here where all these issues converge. China needs Iran both for economic and counter-terrorism reasons. Beijing wants to see Iran act as the driving force in the battle against ISIS terrorism in Afghanistan, as well as in the Middle East, in order to destroy the Saudi-backed and Turkey-backed terror networks that 

support the Uighur extremists

. China also wants to be an active player in Afghanistan in order to both buttress its own national security and to instigate itself as the central economic force in the region. The strategic imperatives couldn’t be clearer.

Seen in this way, Afghanistan is at the very heart of both China’s and Iran’s regional plans. And this fact, more than any other, explains exactly the purpose that ISIS serves in Afghanistan. From the perspective of Washington, nothing could serve US imperial ambitions more effectively than a destabilization of Afghanistan both as justification for continued occupation, and to block Chinese penetration.

So, once again, we see ISIS as the convenient tool of western power projection. No doubt strategic planners in Tehran and Beijing see it too. The question is: will they be able to stop it?

Eric Draitser is an independent geopolitical analyst based in New York City, he is the founder of StopImperialism.org and OP-ed columnist for RT, exclusively for the online magazine 

“New Eastern Outlook”


Scientists Warn ‘Supercharged’ GMOs Could be Used as Bio-weapons

The “gene drive” technology allows GMOs to spread rapidly in the wild. The fear is that these organisms could fall into the wrong hands or accidentally spark a catastrophe. The technology is being touted as a way to revolutionize medicine and agriculture, and supporters say it could, in theory, halt the spread of mosquito-borne diseases like malaria and yellow fever, and eliminate crop pests and invasive species like rats and can toads.

But many scientists are warning that people with nefarious intentions or fumbling handlers could release the gene-drive technology from the lab and harm the environment and human health. It even has the potential to be used by terrorists as a bio-weapon directed against people or livestock because the genes – which are capable of spreading like a virus – will be cheap and easy to produce.

“Just as gene drives can make mosquitoes unfit for hosting and spreading the malaria parasite, they could conceivably be designed with gene drives carrying cargo for delivering lethal bacterial toxins to humans,” said David Gurwitz, a geneticist at Tel Aviv University in Israel.



A group of senior geneticists are calling on the international community to safeguard researchers who want to generate drives by putting security measures in place at laboratories to prevent the genes from escaping accidentally and causingwidespread GMO contamination.

The U.S. National Academy of Sciences launched an extensive review last week of gene-drive technology in “non-human” organisms. This week, the journal Science will publish a group of 27 leading geneticists’ call on the scientific community to be open and transparent about the ‘risks and benefits’ of gene drives. The researchers have produced a minimum set of safety rules to guard against laboratory escapes.

Gene-drive technology is similar to a nuclear chain reaction in that it allows GM genes to be amplified within a breeding population of insects and other animals without any more intervention once the trait has been introduced, including a potentially dangerous one. Lab experiments on fruit flies have shown that a GM gene introduced to just one fly can “infect” nearly every other fly within the breeding population in just a few generations, which defies the normal rules of genetics.

Gene drives rely on a “cassette” of genetic elements that allow a GM gene to jump from one chromosome to another within the same individual with means that within a few generations, all of the sperm or eggs of the animal would carry that GM trait, rather than half. Eventually, none of the animal’s offspring would be free of the trait.

Gurwitz believes the specific instructions for creating gene drives should be classified, just like the technology for making nuclear weapons. At least 27 geneticists have objected to this notion, saying that openness and transparency is the best way to protect against the use of gene drives as a bio-weapon, and that classifying the information would prove to be ineffective and politically counterproductive.

This article originally appeared at Natural Society. 

Meet Solyndra 2.0: This US-Taxpayer-Subsidized Spanish "Renewables" Firm Is Collapsing

News that bonds and stocks of Abengoa SA - the Spanish renewable-energy company - plunged after a plan to shore up capital failed to reassure investors that it can stop burning cash is likely to have passed many by. But coming just one day after President Obama unleashed his Clean Power Plan, the fact that the company - that is now facing significant liquidity concerns - received over $230 million in US taxpayer subsidies in 2014 - despite two ongoing federal investigations - may raise an eyebrow or two as images of Solyndra's government-sponsored farce come to mind... as Diane Feinstein, Ken Salazar, and Bill Richardson - with the help of subsidies and Ex-Im bank loans alledgely exerted their influence to keep this zombie alive.

In 2014, as FreBeacon reports, the Spanish renewable energy company under investigation by at least two federal agencies unveiled a new biofuel production facility on Friday that will receive hundreds of millions of dollars in federal subsidies.



Former employees of the company have alleged that it routinely engages in violations of U.S. immigration, environmental, and workplace safety laws and uses taxpayer funds to hire foreign workers in violation of federal regulations.


The company received a $132.4 million loan guarantee and a $97 million grant to build a new biofuel plant Hugoton, Kansas. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz and Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback attended its ribbon-cutting ceremony on Friday.


The announcement of additional subsidies came even as U.S. Customs and Immigration Service and the Department of Labor conduct investigations into potential legal violations by the company.


Both agencies have policies against commenting on ongoing investigations.


In addition to direct taxpayer support for the company, Abengoa benefitted tremendously from federal mandates for biofuels, according to CEO Manuel Sanchez Ortega.


“This would have been simply impossible without the establishment of the Renewable Fuel Standard,” Ortega said, referring to a federal regulation that mandates the use of certain levels of bio energy in transportation fuels.

And now, less than one year lateras Bloomberg reports,



Abengoa SA’s bonds and shares plunged after the Spanish renewable-energy company’s plan to shore up capital failed to reassure investors that it can stop burning cash.


Abengoa said on Monday that it’s seeking to raise 650 million-euros ($713 million) of capital and dispose of 500 million euros of assets, according to a regulatory filing.The Seville-based company stepped up disposal plans from 400 million euros as recently as Friday, when it also told investors that corporate free cash-flow for 2015 will be as much as 800 million euros lower than previously forecast.


The predicted shortfall is the latest in a series of announcements that have eroded trust in Abengoa’s accounting methods and ability to generate sufficient cash to service its debt. The company, which spooked the market by reclassifying some bonds in November, has consolidated net debt that exceeds 6.5 billion euros.


“There were liquidity concerns before and this downward revision of corporate free cash flow guidance is disappointing,” said Felix Fischer, a credit analyst at Lucror Analytics Pte Ltd. in Singapore. “The capital increase more or less just covers the shortfall. There are serious liquidity concerns for this company and bondholders believe this measure isn’t sufficient.”

It's ugly!!

As Caixabank ominously warns, "we see [Abengoa's] capital increase as necessary to recover confidence in its balance sheet and liquidity."

Which would normally be shrugged off by an American public - meh, what do we care about the bankruptcy of some Spanish energy firm?

Well... combine political influence... US taxpayer subisides... and corruption... and maybe Americans should care... (as Free Beacon details)



Mike Alhalabi, a former senior lead mechanical engineer at Abengoa subsidiary Abener who worked on the Mojave facility, said the company routinely skipped right to international hiring, preferring to bring in workers from its native Spain.


It did so even for menial jobs, Alhalabi recalled.


“They [hired] people to move furniture around and they were all Spanish,” he said. “I mean, this is work that you can hire Americans to do. Why would you bring people from Spain to move furniture around?”


Potentially illegal hiring practices caught the eye of another employee, who said the company was well aware that it was violating U.S. immigration laws.


“What I came to realize, and it took me a while because I didn’t want to realize it, is that they understood. They knew the law. They didn’t care,” said Lydia Evanson, the former human resources director at an Abengoa subsidiary in Arizona.


“I really came to believe that they’re so politically connected that it’s just hubris and arrogance,” Evanson said.


Alhalabi also saw political connections at work. He noted the involvement of former vice president Al Gore, whose company, Generation Investment Management, bought a stake in Abengoa in 2007.


“Behind the scenes, what brought Abengoa to the United States, based on my research, [was] Al Gore,” Alhalabi said in an interview. “He promised to bring U.S. dollars to the company.”


Alhalabi also singled out Sen. Diane Feinstein (D., Calif.), saying she was part of Gore’s team working behind the scenes to support Abengoa’s activities in her home state.


Feinstein in 2010 asked then-Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to expedite an environmental review of one of its stimulus-backed solar plants, despite concerns that it could impact endangered species in the area.


The month after she sent a letter to Salazar making the request, Interior’s Fish and Wildlife Service signed off on the project.


Salazar attended Friday’s ribbon-cutting ceremony for Abengoa’s new biofuel facility.

The company’s political connections are emblematic of an industry that remains reliant on taxpayer subsidies, according to William Yeatman, a senior fellow specializing in energy policy at the Competitive Enterprise Institute.



“It could not be more clear that this company could not survive without access to government favors from political friends,” Yeatman said, citing its reliance on the Renewable Fuels Standard and continued financial support from DOE.


“Alas, the same can be said for the green energy industry as a whole, which would fast wither and die absent a steady diet of taxpayer and ratepayer subsidies,”Yeatman said.


In addition to its DOE subsidies, Abengoa received $185 million in financing in 2012 and 2013 through the U.S. Export-Import bank as former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson (D) sat on the boards of both the federal agency and the company it was subsidizing.


Despite extensive federal support for the company, Alhalabi described a culture of disregard for workplace safety and environmental contamination. Concern over high costs has led to lackluster engineering work at the company’s Mojave facility that could result in an “environmental disaster,” he said.

Solyndra 2.0? Another one off? Or another symptom of the Oligrachic ignorance of where the money comes from...It appears US taxpayers can kiss that money goodbye...

Russia Ready To Send Paratroopers To Syria

As Syria’s civil war enters its fourth year, it’s become something of an open secret that ISIS, for all their bluster and Hollywood-level video editing capabilities, are at best an unhappy side effect of efforts to train and arm the Syrian resistance and at worst, are a "strategic asset" funded and supported by coalition governments. 

In other words, there is indeed a geopolitical chess match going on here that will have far-reaching consequences when the blood and dust settle, but it has nothing to do with ISIS’ far-fetched quest to establish a Medieval caliphate and everything to do with installing a government in Syria that will be more friendly to the interests of the West and its Middle Eastern allies. 

ISIS will remain in play as long as they are necessary, but once the time comes for the US to clean up the mess left by Syria’s three-front war once and for all, that will be all she wrote for this particular CIA asset. Until then, everyone apparently gets to use Islamic State as an excuse to pursue their own political agenda, as evidenced by Turkey’s new war on "terrorists." Not wanting to miss an opportunity to justify what would otherwise be a rather brash declaration, Russia is reportedly ready to send in the paratroopers should Syria request Moscow’s help in battling terrorist elements. Here’s more via Tass:

The Russian Airborne Troops are ready to assist Syria in countering terrorists, if such a task is set by Russia’s leaders, commander of the Airborne Troops Colonel-General Vladimir Shamanov told reporters on Tuesday.

(USSR paratroopers ca. 1975)

"Of course we will execute the decisions set forth by the country’s leadership, if there is a task at hand," Shamanov said, in response to a Syrian reporter’s question about the readiness of the Russian Airborne Troops to render assistance to Syria’s government in its battle against terrorism.

Shamanov noted that Russia and Syria have "long-term good relations." "Many Syrian experts, including military, received education in the Soviet Union and in Russia," Shamanov added.

In other words, two (or three, or four) can play at the "use ISIS as an excuse to go to war with our real enemies" game and just like the US can send in trainers and "forward spotters" to protect its interests in Iraq, so too can Russia send in a few airborne troops to protect its interests in Damascus. 

It’s now only a question of political will and as we’ve outlined on a few occasions recently, it’s not entirely clear how much longer Vladimir Putin is willing to support Bashar al-Assad in the face of the debilitating, Saudi-engineered slump in crude prices and the biting economic sanctions imposed on the Kremlin by Europe.

Cops Hold Little Girl at Gunpoint While Raiding Wrong House Over “Internet Threat”


CHICAGO (CN) – Evansville, Ind. police cannot claim immunity after sending a SWAT team to search an elderly mother’s home when evidence suggested she had nothing to do with threats made against them, the Seventh Circuit ruled.

On June 21, 2012, the Evansville, Ind. police conducted a search of Louise Milan’s home, one day after they found out that someone had been posting threats against police online using the home’s IP address.

However, 68-year-old Milan’s wireless internet network was unprotected by any password, meaning that anyone could have made the threats via the network just by standing in the vicinity of the house.

Two doors down from Milan’s home, police had recently spotted a man named Derrick Murray, who had a history of making threats against the police, and at least two officers believed he was the likely source of the threats, according to court documents.

“Prudence counseled delaying the search of a day or so to try to get a better understanding both of the Milan household and of Murray’s potential responsibility for the threats,” U.S. Circuit Judge Richard Posner said, writing for the three-judge panel. “Prudence went by the board.”

Instead, the police sent an 11-man SWAT team to the house, broke down the door, and threw two “flash bang” grenades through an open window. They then rushed into the house, searched it from top to bottom, and handcuffed Milan and her 18-year-old daughter.

A brief interrogation of the mother and daughter quickly convinced the police that they had nothing to do with the threats made via their internet network, and they were released back to their home with a burnt rug, and broken door. The city paid to replace both the rug and door.

“That the threats might have come from a person (or persons) inside the Milan home who might moreover be armed and dangerous was enough to make the police decide to have the house searched by the department’s SWAT team forthwith, though, to repeat, the threatening messages could instead have emanated from outside the house because of the open network,” Posner said. (Emphasis in original.)

The next day, the police confirmed that Murray was indeed responsible, and asked him politely to present himself at police headquarters.

“The police department’s kid-gloves treatment of Murray is in startling contrast to their flash-bang assault on Mrs. Milan’s home,” Posner said.

Posner noted that Milan’s daughter looked much younger than 18 on the video of the search.

“She is so small, frail, utterly harmless looking, and completely unresisting that the sight of her being led away in handcuffs is disturbing. All that the SWAT officer had to do was take her by the hand and lead her out of the house, which was rapidly filling with smoke from the flash bangs; there was no conceivable reason to handcuff her,” the judge said. 

Privatized, for-profit immigration detention centers force detainees to work for $1-3/day

"We have a name for locking people up and forcing them to do real work without wages. It's called slavery."

So says Carl Takei, a staff attorney with the ACLU National Prison Project, speaking of the privately run detention centers for undocumented immigrants who're facing deportation. These centers are not meant to be punitive, and many of the people in them will have their immigration claims upheld.

But they're run like private prisons, complete with solitary confinement for non-compliance, including non-compliance with orders to do hard physical labor for $1-3/day. The forced labor has already killed at least one worker, who was ordered the jackhammer the ground over a buried power cable and received a lethal shock.

In these detention centers, the captive audience of detainees may only purchase goods from a high-markup commissary that charges 200% to 700% more than nearby stores. For parents who want to give their imprisoned children a small treat -- a $4 bag of chips, say -- the dollar-a-day labor is the only way. Thus it is that the corporations and police departments who run these centers (the notoriously corrupt LA Sheriff's office operates some under contract) can punish their victims both by forcing them to work and forbidding them from working.

The major player in the corruption scandals here is the Geo Group, America's second-largest private prison operator. Systemwide, the "voluntary labor" program for detained migrants saves an estimated $2 billion annually: or, put another way, detained migrants in America are deprived of at least $2 billion in wages every year.

She pointed to the case of Cesar Gonzalez, 36, of Pomona, who was working with a jackhammer while detained at the Mira Loma Detention Center in Lancaster in 2007. He struck a power line, was electrocuted, suffered burns and a heart attack and later died, according to Cal OSHA records.

Gonzalez's wife sued Los Angeles County and the sheriff's office, which contracted with ICE to run the detention center. She received a $750,000 settlement in 2012. Cal OSHA described the immigrant as an employee and faulted the detention center for what happened, fining it $18,750.

“As long as they find people doing that work are covered by Cal OSHA, how is it the position of these private companies and ICE that everybody else doing similar work isn't covered?” Stevens said.

Critics also accuse the for-profit prison companies that run the detention centers of using work as leverage to control detainees.

In April, Cruz and two other detainees filed a federal lawsuit in San Antonio against Geo Group and Homeland Security, alleging they lost their jobs because they staged hunger strikes and work stoppages to demand improved conditions at the Karnes City center.

“As soon as we had the first hunger strike, they took away my work,” said Cruz, who was released in June and now lives with her son in Los Angeles. “They told me it was because I was the leader.”

Taking away immigrants’ jobs at detention centers “is a frequent form of punishment and is pretty potent,” said Free, the Nashville lawyer.

Paid $1 to $3 a day, unauthorized immigrants keep family detention centers running[Molly Hennessy-Fiske/LA Times]

(via Metafilter) 

The Future Will Be Full of Lab Grown Meat

In 2013, the world’s first lab-grown burger was unveiled to the world. It carried a $330,000 price tag, and apparently, it wasn’t all that tasty. But the scientists behind the idea have been hard at work, and artificial meat that’s both cost-effective and palatable may arrive sooner than we think.


It’s not just cow-free beef burgers on the future menu — several groups around the world are attempting to clone chicken breasts and fish fillets, as well. Why do scientists want to grow meat in vats instead of on animals, and how close are we to actually accomplishing it?

The Big Resource Hog

The arguments for growing so-called ‘cultured’ meat are as wide-ranging as the reasons people decide to become vegetarian or vegan. If you’re not vegetarian or vegan, you’ve probably received a mouthful on this subject from a friend or family member before, so I’m going to keep it brief and focus on the argument cultured meat proponents seem to embrace the most: Sustainability.

The meat industry is a huge contributor to humanity’s environmental footprint, accounting for some 18% of our total greenhouse gas emissions. And that number’s deceptively low, because it includes roughly 40% of methane and 65% of nitrous oxide emissions, which are respectively 23 and nearly 300 times more potent climate warming agents than carbon dioxide. What’s more, the environmental footprint of livestock production is growing fast. By 2050, global meat production is projected to double from its 1999 levels, according to the FAO. At that time, the FAO writes, “The environmental impact per unit livestock must be cut by half, just to avoid increasing the level of damage beyond its present level.”…

The information war in Mexico: journalists murdered, citizens monitored

Demonstrators protest the murders of photojournalist Ruben Espinosa, activist Nadia Vera, and three others. August 2, 2015. Photo credit.

by Kade Crockford and Paola Villarreal

On July 31, 2015, assassins broke into an apartment in Mexico City and executed five people: photojournalist Ruben Espinosa, 31, community organizer and human rights activist Nadia Vera, 32, student Yesenia Quiróz, 18, and two unnamed women. Their bodies showed signs of torture.

Espinosa and Vera had fled to Mexico City from the state of Veracruz, 200 miles east the capital, on the Gulf of Mexico. According to the Committee to Project Journalists (CPJ), Veracruz is not only one of the most dangerous states in Mexico for journalists, but one of the most dangerous regions in the world.

At the time of their murders, Espinosa and Vera were living in Mexico City because their criticism of Veracruz' governor, Javier Duarte, was met with threats, surveillance, and harassment, forcing them into exile in their own country. During Duarte’s governorship, at least twelve journalists have been murdered in suspicious circumstances that activists and fellow reporters call political assassinations.

Espinosa arrived in Mexico City in June, and was very vocal about his experience, speaking out against the culture of corruption and violence that drove him from his home. On July 1, 2015, he told a fellow reporter why he left Veracruz for what he thought would be a safe haven in the nation’s capital.

I specialized in social movements. I have a cover shot for Proceso magazine with the governor in it. That cover did a lot of damage, in fact the government bought it up in bulk [to prevent distribution]. It is a photograph where the governor appears wearing a police hat and is walking in profile. Here in Xalapa we have always maintained that the government killed one of our colleagues. I was beaten during the removal of a teachers’ protest in 2013, in Lerdo plaza, along with other colleagues, and because of that we had to march. We forced congress to create the Commission for the Care and Protection of Journalists, which has done no good. I was at the unofficial ceremony to place the plaque in Lerdo plaza, where we honored Regina Martínez—another murdered journalist. I have given courses on safety to other photographers and it has been made clear to me that I am a problem for the state government.

Later, Espinosa says, he was at a demonstration taking photographs of police beating students when a man "who worked for the government grabbed [his] neck and [said] ‘Stop taking pictures unless you want to end up like Regina.’"

The purpose of this kind of intimidation against fearless journalists like Espinosa is clear: to stop negative reporting of government officials or anyone connected to power. Just weeks before his murder, Espinosa put it like this: "What they do not want to happen in Veracruz is investigative journalism, it is prohibited, everyone has to conform to the press release. We are talking about a place where there have been 12 colleagues killed, four disappeared, and from 2000 until today, 17 forced into exile. And every time a congressman or the governor organizes one of their “Freedom of Expression Breakfasts,” it fills up, because disgracefully, the press of Veracruz is at the service of those who feed it." Espinosa meant that literally, alleging that 98% of journalists in the state accept bribes from subjects of stories, either to kill negative reporting or print fluff.

The unraveling of press freedom and attacks on journalists in Mexico should shock and appall all of us, including those of us across the border in the United States. There’s a chilling message here for us, too.

Fueled by the war on drugs and recent Mexican political scandals—including notorious Sinaloa cartel leader El Chapo’s escape from a maximum security prison and the disappearance, last September, of 43 students in Guerrero—outright repression and threats to the press and activists all around Mexico are becoming increasingly common. These violent attacks threaten not just the journalists and their families themselves, but the entire society and even the world.

Journalists like Espinosa are a society’s first line of defense against corruption in public office and the cartels that practically run the state. If the government can successfully intimidate the vast majority of reporters into compliance, and disappear the rest, the entire society loses access to the most powerful asset the people have in a democracy: information.

In a chilling video shot just weeks before her death, fearless human rights activist Nadia Vera is asked who she would hold responsible in the event of her own killing. Speaking as if from beyond the grave, Vera clearly named the governor of Veracruz and his staff, men she says work hand in hand with the drug cartels that are ravaging her society (and our continent).

The July 31 murders of Espinosa, Vera, and the three others demonstrate that Mexico is a lawless state. The very people who have the courage to expose the truth behind Mexico's many struggles with corruption, impunity, and rampant injustice are being silenced. They refused to be bribed or intimidated, and they were thusly murdered. Pablo Escobar’s infamous narco warning, that “If you don’t want silver, you will get lead,” now appears to apply to the Mexican government’s treatment of its own citizens.

And for what? The Mexican students, journalists, and activists killed and disappeared because of their work or protest have not 'done anything wrong.' They shouldn't have had 'anything to hide.' They were not murderers or rapists. Nonetheless, they had (and people like them, still with us among the living, have) ample reason to fear their own government.

But while the Mexican government’s intimidation campaign against journalists—offering the bribe or the bullet—constricts the quality and amount of information the public can access about the powerful, those very powerful people appear hell-bent on acquiring as much information about everyone else as possible.

Mexico: Hacking Team’s most profitable client

In early July, at around the same time Ruben Espinosa fled the state of Veracruz for the capital city, international news broke: hundreds of thousands of emails from the notorious malware firm Hacking Team had been stolen and posted online. Among those emails were contracts and documents revealing that Mexico is the Italian spy company’s largest client, paying out nearly six million Euro for hacking software and services. One purchase order for the Mexican government shows it obtained Hacking Team software called “Remote Control System.”

Hacking Team brags that its Remote Control System can,

Take control of your targets and monitor them regardless of encryption and mobility. It doesn’t matter if you are after an Android phone or a Windows computer: you can monitor all the devices. Remote Control System is invisible to the user, evades antivirus and firewalls, and doesn’t affect the devices’ performance or battery life. Hack into your targets with the most advanced infection vectors available. Enter his wireless network and tackle tactical operations with ad-hoc equipment designed to operate while on the move. Keep an eye on all your targets and manage them remotely, all from a single screen. Be alerted on incoming relevant data and have meaningful events automatically highlighted. Remote Control System: the hacking suite for governmental interception. Right at your fingertips.

Among the Mexican agencies that reportedly contracted with Hacking Team is the Federal Police, which has long faced accusations of extensive narco corruption.

Ruben Espinosa and Nadia Vera weren’t doing anything wrong when they reported on government corruption, or made allegations that the Governor of Veracruz state was in league with the very drug cartels that are eating away at Mexico’s democracy like a cancer. The 43 disappeared students were not doing anything wrong when they protested that same Mexican government. But their peaceful, democratic agitation and fearless freedom of expression nonetheless put them in the target sights of very powerful people—people who presumably had access to lots of information about them, and therefore the means to control and even end their lives.

Here in the United States, hardly a week goes by without the publication of at least one story in the national press about police or federal law enforcement monitoring of political activists. We hear over and over again that the FBI and DHS spy on Black Lives Matter protests and activists across the country. Just today, Mother Jones reports on a private corporation called Zero Fox, which has compiled dossiers on Black Lives Matter activists Deray McKesson and Johnetta Elzie, calling the dissidents “THREAT ACTORS.” Zero Fox even “briefed…classified partners” at the Fort Meade army base in Maryland on Baltimore protest related “intelligence.”

To our knowledge, the US government has not assassinated Black Lives Matter activists for resisting police violence or white supremacy. But there’s precedent that should concern us, especially in light of the relentless reports of corporate and government spying on activists reminiscient of COINTELPRO. In December 1969, the FBI and the Chicago Police Department assassinated Black Panther activists Fred Hampton and Mark Clark in their beds. But there's a brutal, present-day context, too: today, police get away with killing black citizens on a routine basis. Already, nearly 700 people have died during police encounters in calendar year 2015 alone, according to the Guardian newspaper.

Things aren’t as bad here in the US as they are in Mexico, where just speaking out against the state or the narco gangs can get you killed. Journalists in the United States do not generally fear that they will be tortured or murdered simply for doing their jobs. But as journalists are beaten and arrested, and whistleblowers targeted in expensive witch-hunts, the US’ press freedom ranking is falling. We have the world's highest incarceration rate. Police kill far more civilians in the US than in similar nations. Billions of dollars are funneled annually into secretive spy systems that churn out SITUATIONAL AWARENESS bulletins warning about activists like Deray McKesson and Johnetta Elzie. The fundamental power imbalance that has so corroded Mexico’s system of government exists here, too: the government has much too much information about us, and we know far too little about it.

Courageous photojournalist Ruben Espinosa was killed because he spread information to the masses. The brave human rights activist Nadia Vera was killed because she used her words to push back against government corruption and violence. They didn’t do anything wrong, but they had a lot to hide, and a lot to fear. Their work, their lives, their heroism, and their tragic deaths must serve as reminders about why we fight for basic democratic norms like press freedom and freedom of speech.

Espinosa, Vera, and the countless others who have been murdered in Mexico because of their politics or professional integrity weren’t doing anything wrong, but they still ended up dead. To honor their memories, tell their stories to any person who says they don’t mind government spying because they’re law abiding, uninteresting people. Remind those people about what’s happening in Mexico, where you or your entire family could be cut down simply for speaking freely.

We cannot accept a nation or a world in which an imbalance in informational power produces the kind of dynamic that we see unfolding in Mexico today. Let’s never forget Ruben Espinosa and Nadia Vera’s courage. May their heroism breathe life into our struggles for basic rights, no matter where we live. As their tragic deaths remind us, when it comes to basic rights, the stakes couldn’t be higher.

Paola Villarreal is a Ford-Mozilla fellow with the ACLU of Massachusetts and native of Mexico City. She tweets at @paw.