Daily Archives: April 2, 2011

Town gets hidden cameras monitoring all routes in and out, creating ‘ring of steel’

Royston to be turned into ‘ring of steel’ with cameras watching all routes in and out

Hidden ANPR cameras for Hertfordshire town

pistonheads.com | Mar 30, 2011

Royston in Hertfordshire will become the first place in the UK with hidden cameras monitoring all routes in and out, creating a ‘ring of steel’.

Hidden Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) cameras will be installed by the end of April, recording the details of every vehicle entering and leaving the town. The cameras will store the registration details of anyone who drives through the town on a database in London for up to five years.

The scheme is being trumpeted by its creators as a way to make Royston the safest town in Hertfordshire and will be used to help track the movements of known criminals.


Town’s ‘ring of steel’ raised in Commons

The police, North Hertfordshire District Council (NHDC) and regeneration company Royston First are keen to reassure that the ANPRs won’t be used to keep tabs on the general public, but there are inevitable concerns about personal privacy and the amount of data being stored.

The scheme’s creators may have the public’s best intentions at heart, and those who have nothing to hide should have nothing to fear, as they say. But talk of ‘rings of steel’ does sound alarmingly Draconian. And hidden cameras do seem to smack of underhand motives.

PH editor Chris-R certainly thinks so – but then he does have a bit of an anti-Big Brother thing. His worries are echoed by spokes man for pressure group No CCTV, Charles Farrier. “It is a hugely worrying development,” he told the Royston Weekly News. “It has been developed with no public scrutiny and government legislation. This is the biggest surveillance network that the British public have never heard of.”

So what do you think? Is it nothing to worry about if you’ve got nothing to hide? Or is it only a matter of time before we’re all talking in Newspeak and drinking Victory gin?

Birthing Center for Chinese ‘Maternity Tourists’ Is Shut Down in California

abajournal.com | Mar 29, 2011

By Debra Cassens Weiss

Authorities have shut down a birthing center in California for Chinese “maternity tourists” who wanted their babies born in the United States.

The women paid tens of thousands of dollars to have their babies delivered in a row of connected townhouses on a quiet street lined with palm trees in San Gabriel, the New York Times reports. The story explains the possible incentive: After the babies born here turn 21, they could petition for permanent residence status for their parents.

The discovery of the facility raises questions about whether maternity tourism has entered “a new, more institutionalized phase,” the Times says.

Southern California has become a hub for birth tourism, the Los Angeles Times reports. And the Chinese aren’t the only foreigners targeted, according to the New York Times. Advertisements in Mexico and South Korea tout packages for maternity tourists. One Turkish-owned hotel in New York City includes a stroller with its monthlong “baby stays.”

About 10 women discovered at the California birthing center have gone to U.S. motels or have returned home with their babies. The property owner has been cited for illegal construction.

Controversy over so-called birthing tourism has led to calls for repeal of the 14th Amendment that gives automatic citizenship to children born here, even to illegal immigrants.

Organic farmers sue, seek protection from Monsanto

More than 50 organic farmers, seed dealers, others sue

Plaintiffs seek protection from Monsanto’s patent claims

Group says contamination a given as more GMOs approved

Reuters | Mar 29, 2011

By Carey Gillam

KANSAS CITY, Mo., March 29 (Reuters) – A consortium of U.S. organic farmers and seed dealers filed suit against global seed giant Monsanto Co. (MON.N) on Tuesday, in a move to protect themselves from what they see as a growing threat in the company’s arsenal of genetically modified crops.

The Public Patent Foundation (PUBPAT) filed the suit on behalf of more than 50 organizations challenging the agricultural giant’s patents on its genetically modified seeds. The group is seeking a ruling that would prohibit Monsanto from suing the farmers or dealers if their organic seed becomes contaminated with Monsanto’s patented biotech seed germplasm.

Monsanto is known for its zealous defense of its patents on a range of genetically altered crops. Its patented “Roundup Ready” soybeans, corn and cotton are favorites of U.S. farmers because of their ability to withstand herbicide treatments.

But Monsanto has filed scores of lawsuits and won judgments against farmers they claimed made use of their seed without paying required royalties.

Many farmers have claimed that their fields were inadvertently contaminated without their knowledge, and the issue has been a topic of concern for not only farmers, but also companies that clean and handle seed.

“This case asks whether Monsanto has the right to sue organic farmers for patent infringement if Monsanto’s genetically modified seed should land on their property,” said Dan Ravicher, executive director of PUBPAT, a nonprofit legal services organization, which filed the suit in federal court in the southern district of New York.

Monsanto called the lawsuit misleading and a “publicity stunt” and said it has never sued and has committed to never suing farmers over the inadvertent presence of biotechnology traits in their fields.

Legal precedent supports the validity of Monsanto patents, the company said.

“These efforts seek to reduce private and public investment in the development of new higher-yielding seed technologies. While we respect the views of organic farmers as it relates to the products they choose to grow, we don’t believe that American agriculture faces an all-or-nothing approach,” Monsanto said in a statement.

Ravicher said co-existence is not possible for organics alongside Monsanto’s biotech crops and said it was in Monsanto’s financial interest to eliminate organic seed “so that they can have a total monopoly over our food supply.”

Monsanto’s genetically altered seeds have been a market mainstay since the mid-1990s, and many of its rivals have their own brands of biotech crops that tolerate herbicide, resist insects and have other useful qualities engineered into them.

Organic and conventional farmers have always feared contamination of their supplies by the biotech crops, and those fears have grown as the U.S. government continues to approve more biotech crops.

In the last few months, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has cleared the way for biotech sugar beets, alfalfa, and a new type of biotech corn developed for use in ethanol.

Plaintiffs in the suit include 22 agricultural associations, 12 seed businesses and 26 farms and farmers from around the United States.

Genetically modified corn and soybeans linked to crop diseases and abortions and infertility in livestock

US researcher warning about genetically modified crops spreads, but scientists question claim

Associated Press | Mar 31, 2011

By Michael J. Crumb

DES MOINES, Iowa — The widespread Internet posting of a letter by a retired university researcher who says he has linked genetically modified corn and soybeans to crop diseases and abortions and infertility in livestock has raised concern among scientists that the public will believe his unsupported claim is true.

The letter to the U.S. agriculture secretary has been posted on dozens of websites, generating discussion on message boards about the controversial topic of genetically modified crops and their potential effect on animals and humans.

But other scientists say they have no way to verify Purdue University professor emeritus Don Huber’s claims because he won’t provide evidence to back them up.


Genetically Modified Showdown: Monsanto Sued by Organic Farmers

“People in the scientific community have at times made outlandish claims but it’s been based on research that was flawed in some way, but at least the data was provided to be analyzed and critiqued,” said Bob Hartzler, an Iowa State University agronomy professor who called the letter “extremely unusual, especially coming from the scientific community.”

Huber, 76, wrote the letter to Tom Vilsack in January, warning of a new organism he claims has been found in corn and soybeans modified to resist a weed killer called Roundup. Huber wrote that the organism could lead to a “general collapse of our critical agriculture infrastructure” and further approval of Roundup Ready crops “could be a calamity.”

He told The Associated Press the organism that concerned him was found in much higher concentrations in corn and soybeans grown from so-called Roundup Ready seeds than in grains grown from conventional seed, although the samples of conventional crops tested were too small to get a reliable result.

Huber believes the pathogen has made genetically modified soybeans more susceptible to sudden death syndrome and corn to Goss’ wilt. He also claims it’s linked to spontaneous abortions and infertility in livestock that eat feed generated from those crops.

He said he wrote the letter because he thought the U.S. Department of Agriculture needed to take immediate action and provide resources to further research his claims. He said he doesn’t know how it reached the Internet.

The department acknowledged it had received the letter, but it doesn’t appear the agency is investigating the matter.

Monsanto, the St. Louis-based company that developed Roundup resistant seeds, said in a statement it was not aware of reliable studies that show Roundup Ready crops are more prone to disease.

Huber, who now lives in Melba, Idaho, said he started his research at Purdue in Indiana and continued it in collaboration with other scientists in the Midwest, Florida, Brazil and Canada after retiring in 2006. He declined to name the other scientists, saying they asked to remain anonymous because the attention would distract from the research.

“The information on the new organism was new enough that there wasn’t time for peer-reviewed papers and that it was serious enough I felt it was very important the secretary know what the situation was and that they exercise some caution before moving forward,” Huber said.

The U.S., meanwhile, has moved ahead with an expansion of biotech crops.

In January, the department of agriculture deregulated alfalfa and in February it partially deregulated sugar beets that have been genetically modified to withstand Roundup, which contains a chemical called glyphosate.

Sarkozy in favour of an International Currency of Reference

Ahead of the G20 finance minister summit in Nanjing scheduled for today, the French president proposes to boost the capacity of the International Monetary Fund to supervise currency markets. He also wants Special Drawing Rights to become the currency of reference.

Asia News | Apr 1, 2011

Hong Kong – French President Nicolas Sarkozy wants to enlarge the G7 to better manage currency markets, expand the International Monetary Fund’s oversight capacity in the field, and to the IMF’s currency basket, Special Drawing Right (SDR), the currencies of emerging economies, like the Chinese yuan. The SDR is monetary unit of international reserve assets defined and maintained by the IMF itself. The French leader made the proposal at a G20 meeting of finance ministers in Nanjing, China.

“Greater supervision by the IMF” of nations’ balance of payments and reserves “appears indispensible,” Sarkozy said yesterday at a one-day seminar ahead of the summit.

For him, the proposal can become operative right away. “France supports modifying the IMF’s status to expand its oversight capacity,” he noted. This can counter what he views as a “proliferation of unilateral measures during crises resulting in a new financial protectionism in which all economies suffer”.

The G20, currently chaired by France, has been discussing ways to improve currency market stability and prevent currency wars.

Western nations, led by the United States, have been pressuring China to revalue the yuan, seriously underestimated in their view (by up to 40-45 per cent), and unjustly boosting Chinese exports on world markets.

The US Federal Reserve recently decided to buy hundreds of billions in US treasury bills, a measure many see as a way to tinker with the exchange rate at the expense of other currencies (see Maurizio d’Orlando, “Currency wars and the Fed’s demise,” in AsiaNews, 19 November 2010)

The French proposal has not been welcomed by either the Chinese or the Americans. “Global monetary reforms should be carried out in a pro-active and gradual way. The reform process will be a long-term and complex process,” Chinese Vice Premier Wang Qishan said in his opening remarks at the summit.

Years ago, Beijing first raised the issue of replacing the US dollar as the currency of reference with SDRs (see “Beijing reaffirms the urgent need to replace the dollar with a global currency,” in AsiaNews, 27 June 2009). However, it also does not want to lose control over its own currency.

As a barb against the French proposal on currency market reform, Chinese President Hu Jintao during a meeting with Sarkozy yesterday spoke about the crisis in Libya.

“The aim of the UN’s resolution is to stop violence and protect civilians,” he said. “If the military action brings disaster to innocent civilians and creates a bigger humanitarian crisis, that would violate the original intention of the Security Council resolution”.

US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner also criticised the French plan. For him, the biggest flaw in the current situation is the inconsistency in exchange rate policies. In a thinly veiled reference to China, he noted that some emerging countries ran tightly managed currency regimes that fuelled inflation risks in their own economies, magnified appreciation pressures in others and led to calls for protectionism.

Before any change is made to the SDR, countries “should have flexible exchange rate systems, independent central banks and permit the free movement of capital flows,” Geithner added.

At some level both Washington and Beijing do not want to rock the boat, the Americans because they do not want the dollar to lose its role as a currency of reference, and the Chinese do not want any sudden changes. As the world’s largest holder of foreign currency, two thirds in US dollars or US Securities, any rapid depreciation of the US currency would negatively affect China’s huge reserves.

Experts believe that Sarkozy himself does not expect any immediate results but rather that he is preparing the ground for the G20 summit in Cannes (France) in 2012. The goal is not only to seek a more “stable and resilient” monetary order, but also prepare himself for France’s presidential elections.

China supports G20 to play bigger role in global economic governance

Xinhua | Mar 31, 2011

BEIJING, March 31 (Xinhua) — China said Thursday it backs the Group of 20 (G20) to play a bigger role in global economic governance.

Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu made the remarks when answering a question on G20 summit to be held in Cannes later this year.

China supports France’s hosting Cannes summit, Jiang said in a press release. China is ready to strengthen cooperation with and to make joint efforts with the French side to make preparations for the summit, to promote the summit to produce positive and pragmatic results, she said.

France assumed the G20 presidency in November 2010. On Thursday morning, President Nicolas Sarkozy attended a seminar on the international monetary system in Nanjing, capital of east China’s Jiangsu Province.

“China attaches great importance to President Sarkozy’s attending the seminar on the international monetary system in China, and some Chinese government organs have done a lot work to prepare for the meeting,” Jiang said.

“We believe that the seminar will provide constructive ideas for G20 discussions,” she said.

General Assembly President stresses central role of UN in Global Governance

Switzerland’s Joseph Deiss, President of the U.N. General Assembly, speaks during a press conference after the opening session of the 16th Human Rights Council at the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, Monday, Feb. 28, 2011. (AP Photo/Keystone/Dominic Favre)

un.org | Mar 31, 2011

The United Nations and its General Assembly have a central role to play in shaping a global governance structure that is efficient, open and representative, the President of the 192-member Assembly said today.

“The United Nations enjoys unique legitimacy,” Joseph Deiss said in a lecture delivered in Geneva. “The UN is a Charter-based organization, with purposes and principles, membership and organs, and a budget that are clearly defined.”

At the same time, Mr. Deiss, who made reaffirming the UN’s central role in global governance the theme of last year’s General Debate in New York, added that there are several aspects to consider for the UN to fulfil its central role in the global governance system and thus avoid being marginalized.

First, a strong UN requires a decisive effort to revitalize the General Assembly, to reform the Security Council and review the work of the Human Rights Council.

A second aspect is to strengthen the UN’s economic bodies, particular the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC).

Thirdly, it is necessary to find the appropriate means of communicating, consulting and cooperating with the new actors that have emerged from the private sector, civil society and academic bodies and think tanks, which are playing an increasing role in shaping today’s global world.

Mr. Deiss announced that he will convene an informal debate of the Assembly in June to further reflect on the architecture and the functioning of the global governance system.

“My vision is of a strong United Nations with a strong General Assembly, which should be the main forum for global debate,” said the President.

“With this condition fulfilled, Geneva – as a significant part of the United Nations system – will be in a position to serve as a platform to further shape and influence global governance in its areas of excellence, such as human rights, migration and trade.”