Environment

Don’t Believe the Media Propaganda: Tory Lead in Polls Is Falling

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 29/11/2019 - 3:09am in

Mike has put up a very informative piece contradicting today’s latest piece of media propaganda about Tory popularity. According to today’s I and a number of other papers, a polling company has predicted that the Tories will get a 68 seat majority in the Commons at the coming election. This apparently comes from a company that got the result of the 2017 election right.

But Mike notes that the information used as the basis for the poll is dated. And an analysis of the Tories election strategy by Dr Moderate has shown that they moved from offence to defence. They’ve shifted from targeting Labour seats with large majorities to ultra-marginals and trying to defend Tory seats. And Mike’s article also notes that Johnson’s own behaviour hardly demonstrates the calm confidence with which their supporters are trying to impress us. Johnson is showing his made of the kind of mettle Tweezer was: he’s running scared, and running away from tough interviews. Andrew Neil interviewed the Labour leader last week, and was supposed to give Boris the same kind of grilling he dished out to Corbyn. But this ain’t happening, folks. Johnson has scarpered. He is also not going to appear on Channel 4’s election leaders’ debate today on the climate crisis. And he isn’t going to attend the Beeb’s 7-way leaders’ debate tomorrow, though Corbyn won’t either.

Mike comments

It seems the cowardly Johnson is afraid that he may face questioning over his own sexism, racism and attempts to spread Islamophobia, the many lies he has told – including to the Queen, and perhaps about his alleged financial connections with Russian money and with hedge fund bosses who apparently supported his bid to become Tory leader in return for a “no deal” Brexit.

It seems Boris was originally going to be represented at the debate by Dominic Raab. But Raab isn’t going to be there. He’s been replaced instead by Chief Secretary to the Treasury Rishi Sunak. Raab has some questions to answer himself, as he deliberately excluded the family of Harry Dunn, the teenager allegedly killed by Anne Sacoolas at a constituency hustings.

And the polls over the past few weeks have also been all over the place. For example, on Monday, 25th November 2019, the I carried a story by their political editor, Nigel Morris, that the Observer had published a poll at the weekend stating that the Tories had a 19 point lead over Labour. Their popularity was at 47 per cent, while Labours was at 28 per cent. Other polls, the article said, had given the Tories leads of 13, 12, 11, and 10 points. And the article opened by claiming that polls showed that the Conservatives had an average lead of 12-13 points.

Which is interesting, as I seem to remember that a week before that, the papers, including the I, had been yelling that the Tories had a 20 point lead.  

And the Tory lead in the polls seems to have fallen still further. The following day, Tuesday, 26th November 2019, another article by Morris revealed that after the publication of the Labour manifesto the Tories’ lead fell to just 7 points. The new poll findings placed the Tories on 41 per cent and Labour on 34 per cent.

And Dr Moderate in his Twitter analysis has noted that Labour’s polling has increased by 4.3 per cent. This is despite the Tories launching their own manifesto and trying to revive the anti-Semitism smear campaign.

Mike concludes his article with

Support for Labour is increasing day by day and Tory attempts to stop it have failed.

But the Tory-supporting media, including the BBC, are telling you the opposite at a time when the law says they must be impartial.

Never mind the polls – the Tories are terrified and Boris Johnson is running away from scrutiny

Quite. The trend for Labour in the polls is upward. And the Tory press and media are terrified of people being inspired by it.

 

A prisão de integrantes de ONG por fogo na Amazônia tem todo jeito de armação

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 28/11/2019 - 6:11am in

Tags 

Environment

Documentos, vídeos, interceptações telefônicas, uma investigação de dois meses. Policiais de óculos escuros, mídia devidamente avisada e pautada, fotografias de divulgação, coletiva de imprensa marcada. Tudo pronto para a notícia: polícia prendeu quatro brigadistas ligados à ONGs acusados de atearem fogo na mata em Alter do Chão para receber dinheiro. Saiu em todos os jornais. No dia seguinte, Bolsonaro pisaria pela primeira vez na Amazônia desde a crise internacional provocada pelas queimadas na região. Um roteiro estranhamente sincronizado.

Os presos são Daniel Gutierrez Govino, João Victor Pereira Romano, Gustavo de Almeida Fernandes e Marcelo Aron Cwerner, membros da Brigada de Incêndio de Alter do Chão, no Pará. Eles foram detidos ontem sob a acusação de terem provocado um incêndio criminoso na Área de Proteção Ambiental da região – levados à cadeia, tiveram os cabelos raspados. A polícia também apreendeu equipamentos na ONG Saúde e Alegria, que atua na região, e na qual um dos brigadistas trabalha.

Segundo a Polícia Civil, responsável pela investigação, os brigadistas, ligados à ONG, teriam elaborado plano de colocar fogo na floresta para escandalizar o planeta e receber doações de ONGs internacionais para combater o incêndio que eles mesmos teriam iniciado. “A pessoa jurídica deles conseguiu um contrato com a WWF, venderam 40 imagens para a WWF para uso exclusivo por R$ 70 mil, e a WWF conseguiu doações como do ator Leonardo DiCaprio no valor de US$ 500 mil para auxiliar as ONGs no combate às queimadas na Amazônia”, disse o delegado José Humberto Melo Jr. na coletiva de imprensa.

Melo Jr. falou à Globonews que a polícia investigava a possibilidade de o incêndio ter sido criminoso quando desconfiou de um grupo que, segundo ele, tinha “vantagens financeiras” com os incêndios. Grampearam os brigadistas e usaram os diálogos para fundamentar a acusação. Enquanto ele dava entrevista, a Globonews cravou no letreiro na tela: “brigadistas desviavam as doações para combate a incêndios”.

Como provas, a polícia divulgou gravações de conversas dos brigadistas. Também mencionou um vídeo divulgado pelo próprio grupo. “Eles gravaram o início de um fogo, de uma queimada. Só que só estavam eles”, disse o delegado. “Ali não teria como começar um fogo se não fosse por eles”. Esse é um dos vídeos que os brigadistas divulgaram na época:

A defesa dos brigadistas diz que eles são inocentes e que não teve acesso aos vídeos usados como evidências pela polícia e que, por isso, tem duas hipóteses. A primeira é de que “as imagens sejam de treinamento de voluntários da Brigada, em que focos de fogo controlados são criados para exercícios práticos”, feitas com apoio dos bombeiros e com licenças emitidas pelos órgãos responsáveis. A outra é de que a ação mostre uma tática conhecida como “fogo contra fogo”, também realizada em conjunto com os bombeiros para proteger áreas.

As conversas do grupo também foram divulgadas com pirotecnia. A mídia noticiou frases ditas pelos brigadistas que, segundo a polícia, comprovariam a intenção deles de provocar incêndio para ganhar dinheiro. “A vaquinha deu R$ 100 mil pra galera. Vaquinha nossa. Tá maravilhoso!”, diz um dos brigadistas em uma conversa. “Tirem suas próprias conclusões”, tuitou o ministro Ricardo Salles:

Mas o blog Ambiência, da Folha, teve acesso aos diálogos completos. E eles mostram que, de fato, os brigadistas falaram sobre dinheiro de doações — mas discutiam quais exatamente seriam as contrapartidas para ele. “Com dúvidas básicas que mostram inexperiência e preocupação com a correção, um dos brigadistas chega a perguntar se precisaria devolver o equipamento após o contrato, ao que o representante da WWF responde ‘não, é de vocês’”, diz o texto. Essas partes da conversa, é claro, não foram divulgadas.

A brigada, criada em 2018, faz parte da ONG Instituto Aquífero Alter do Chão, criada para articular ações de combate a incêndios na região. Em nota, a defesa dos brigadistas afirma que fez a declaração dos valores recebidos no fim de setembro e que as doações posteriores ainda estão sendo consolidadas em um relatório. Segundo os brigadistas, o valor recebido da WWF foi uma parceria com o instituto para aquisição de equipamentos para a brigada, e as contas serão prestadas no dia 10 de dezembro.

Uma ONG para chamar de culpada

Nesta manhã, a justiça do Pará decidiu manter os quatro brigadistas — todos sem antecedentes criminais — presos. “Mantive as prisões porque as acusações são muito graves de uma possível prática reiterada de incêndios criminosos. O que não significa que eles sejam culpados”, disse o juiz Alexandre Rizzi.

Hoje, o presidente Jair Bolsonaro chega à Amazônia. É a primeira vez que ele pisa na região depois da crise internacional provocada pelos incêndios e pelo desmatamento na área, que chegaram a alimentar, até mesmo, a paranóia de militares e do governo sobre a internacionalização da Amazônia.

Entre agosto e setembro deste ano, o mundo assistiu estarrecido às imagens de queimadas e a divulgação de números do aumento do desmatamento na região. Uma das primeiras reações do presidente foi acusar ONGs que atuam na região de provocarem os incêndios para “chamar a atenção” e conseguir dinheiro. Bolsonaro, como de hábito, não apresentou provas da sua acusação.

“O crime existe, e isso aí nós temos que fazer o possível para que esse crime não aumente, mas nós tiramos dinheiros de ONGs. Dos repasses de fora, 40% ia para ONGs. Não tem mais. Acabamos também com o repasse de dinheiro público. De forma que esse pessoal está sentindo a falta do dinheiro”, ele disse.

Não foi a única vez: o ministro do Meio Ambiente, Ricardo Salles, também insinuou que o Greenpeace seria responsável pelo derramamento de óleo na costa do Nordeste, outro desastre ambiental deste governo.

Com a midiática operação policial que prendeu os brigadistas, Bolsonaro e Salles podem agora justificar a acusação contra as supostas ONGs criminosas. A prisão se encaixa perfeitamente na estratégia do governo de demonizar e enfraquecer organizações não governamentais, um estágio fundamental para implantar o plano do Governo Bolsonaro para a floresta: abrir espaço para mais monocultura, pecuária e mineração. E a polícia civil do Pará deu o que eles precisavam para mostrar serviço na primeira visita do presidente à região depois da crise.

Não há nada nos diálogos que configurem provas robustas contra eles. O que existe é apenas interpretação de trechos de diálogos que, dependendo da inclinação ideológica do leitor, pode significar uma coisa ou outra.

Há uma investigação paralela que corre no Pará para encontrar os responsáveis pelo Dia do Fogo, ação de fazendeiros da região para provocar incêndios ao longo da BR-163. Tocada pela Polícia Federal, ela mostrou que os responsáveis articularam a queimada via WhatsApp — em um grupo que tinha, inclusive, um delegado da Polícia Civil — para dificultar a fiscalização. O grupo é apoiador das políticas de Bolsonaro para a região. Até agora, ninguém foi preso e nenhum acusado foi exibido como troféu na mídia.

As prisões dos brigadistas são suspeitas. Não há nada nos diálogos que configurem provas robustas contra eles. O que existe é apenas interpretação de trechos de diálogos que, dependendo da inclinação ideológica do leitor, pode significar uma coisa ou outra. O material, que é dúbio, não deveria ser suficiente para um juiz privar um cidadão da liberdade sem condenação.

Mas as prisões criam lastro para uma acusação rocambolesca que favorece o presidente – um presidente que tinha viagem marcada para a região em poucos dias. Até que a polícia apresente provas mais fortes, o que temos é uma tentativa da polícia e do juiz de mostrar serviço para agradar Bolsonaro e justificar a ideologia de criminalização de ONGs, uma tese estranhamente popular entre autoridades das profundezas da Amazônia. Uma tese que, enquanto não for provada, é simplesmente falsa.

The post A prisão de integrantes de ONG por fogo na Amazônia tem todo jeito de armação appeared first on The Intercept.

Did an American Billionaire Philanthropist Play a Role in the Imprisonment of Iranian Environmentalists?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 28/11/2019 - 12:00am in

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Environment, World

In September 2017, a group of Iranian environmentalists working on Asiatic cheetah preservation with the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation felt a pang of alarm. Thomas S. Kaplan, a billionaire precious metals investor then best known for his fine art collection, had just made a surprise public appearance in New York at the annual conference of United Against Nuclear Iran. The Iranian environmentalists were concerned because their group had gotten aid from one of Kaplan’s nonpolitical charities. Now, he was speaking before a group that was extremely hostile to their country.

They were right to be alarmed. Within a few months, several of the group’s members would find themselves behind bars — hit with espionage charges by Iran’s notorious judiciary.

Last week, in a closed-door trial that has been criticized for violating due process standards, eight defendants were found guilty on charges of collaborating with an “enemy state,” according to the Washington Post. Six of the eight were sentenced to between six and 10 years in prison, and sentences for the others remain unclear. The case will now likely head to appeal, where advocates for the environmentalists hope that the verdict will be overturned. In either case, their ordeal seems nowhere near its end: The guilty verdict looks to be just another waypoint in a saga that began two harrowing years ago.

Kaplan’s ties to United Against Nuclear Iran had apparently not been clear to the environmentalists until his 2017 appearance at the conference. Founded in 2008, UANI, as the group is known, is a hawkish advocacy group that led the campaign against the Iran nuclear deal and promotes aggressive U.S. policies toward Iran. Though Kaplan’s ties to UANI were known, they had not been widely publicized. But at the group’s confab in 2017, held at the swanky Roosevelt Hotel in Manhattan, Kaplan publicly discussed his role as one of the organization’s major funders.

In a short speech introducing a panel of speakers — including former CIA director and U.S. military commander David Petraeus, former Saudi intelligence chief Prince Turki al-Faisal, and former U.S.-Middle East peace negotiator Dennis Ross — Kaplan compared contemporary Iran to the expansionist empires of Persian antiquity. In his remarks, he colorfully described the country as a “reticulated python” devouring the other countries of the Middle East. He further suggested that Iran’s Shiite Muslim beliefs led it to pursue a strategy of “taqiyya,” or religious dissimulation, allowing it to conceal its true imperial aims.

The gathering was a shot across the bow of Iran’s leadership, coming less than a year after Donald Trump was elected president on a promise to get tough against the Islamic Republic. Appearing at the UANI event was a significant political coming out for a wealthy philanthropist like Kaplan. His support of a group pushing confrontation with Iran suddenly put him at the heart of one of the most sensitive foreign policy issues in the United States. But inside Iran, Kaplan’s speech sowed distress among a group of people who had nothing to do with his high-stakes game of geopolitics.

“People do not understand the impact that their reckless words can have on the lives of people on the other side of the world.”

While the Iranian government bears ultimate responsibility for its actions against the environmentalists, the story of their arrest, detention, and prosecution suggests that political speech made on the other side of the world can have a potentially dangerous ripple effect.

“People do not understand the impact that their reckless words can have on the lives of people on the other side of the world,” said Ramin Seyed-Emami, whose father, Kavous Seyed-Emami, died behind bars shortly after being taken into Iranian custody in the case. “They can do serious harm to people living in very delicate circumstances in Iran.”

An organization founded by Kaplan, Panthera supports projects around the world to protect threatened wild cat species. One of Panthera’s many local NGO partners is based in Iran, the small Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation. Panthera had been providing technical support and advice to the foundation for its work on endangered cheetahs. The environmentalists were said to be in constant touch with Iran’s government about the outside help they were receiving.

Shortly after the UANI conference, however, officials with Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation sent Panthera an urgent letter, first reported by National Geographic and obtained by The Intercept. The letter, sent a few weeks after Kaplan’s speech, expressed obvious concern about Kaplan. “A recent speech and various statements by your Founder and Chairman, Mr. Tom Kaplan and a recent article reiterating same, together with his association with the advocacy group, United Against Nuclear Iran has caused us much alarm and consternation,” said the letter from Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation Board Chair Mahindokht Dehdashtian to Panthera president Luke Hunter. (Hunter is no longer with Panthera and directed The Intercept’s press inquiry to the group.)

“His allegations about our country are absolutely baseless and his statements are insulting to our country and its people,” the letter continued. “We are very sorry to see personal politics have a negative impact on conservation, but these are unusual times.”

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The comments reflected an obvious attempt by the Iranian environmentalists to distance themselves from a Kaplan-funded organization like Panthera. Sources close to the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation, who asked for anonymity to discuss the matter, as well as former employees with the big-cat charity, say that Panthera never responded to their letter.

The environmentalists’ efforts, though, came tragically late. A few months after the UANI conference, in January 2018, Iranian authorities arrested Morad Tahbaz, the founder of the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation, along with eight other conservationists.

The Iranian prisoners have become a cause célèbre among environmentalists, Iranian reformers, and opponents of the regime alike. Their story is one of the politicization of environmental issues — where, for instance, poor environmental management is weaponized by foreign adversaries for propaganda purposes. Yet it is also the story of a billionaire at the center of a burgeoning geopolitical storm. Kaplan’s money has traveled around the world and back, and his political and environmental activism appear to have finally collided.

“While I do not know what has exactly happened to the PWHF environmentalists in prison, I suspect they have repeatedly faced one troubling question during interrogations: ‘why does an American Jewish billionaire, who funds an anti-Iran organization care so much about conserving cheetahs in Iran?'” Kaveh Madani, a former deputy head of Iran’s Department of Environment and now a fellow at Yale, wrote in a Medium post. “Playing reckless political and security games with the environment jeopardizes the sincere and legitimate actions, and even lives of innocent environmentalists.”

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Kavous Seyed-Emami photographed in early 2017.

Photo: Courtesy Mehran Seyed-Emami

The results have been catastrophic for the imprisoned environmentalists. Seyed-Emami, who held dual citizenship in Iran and Canada, died at age 63 in custody at Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison a month into his detention. The government claims the death was a suicide. Shortly after his death, Seyed-Emami’s son Ramin posted a statement to Instagram. “The news of my father’s passing is impossible to fathom,” he wrote. “They say he committed suicide. I still can’t believe this.” Others among the group of detained environmentalists have said they faced mistreatment behind bars.

News of the government’s case has only trickled out from Iranian state media, which reported on allegations that the environmentalists had been helping monitor Iran’s covert military sites. Numerous reports on government-affiliated news websites have tried to tie the environmentalists to espionage and speculated about their relationship with Kaplan himself. The government claimed that camera traps set up by the Persian Wildlife members to monitor cheetahs had been used as part of a plot to gather intelligence on secretive missile launch sites in the country.

Cole Burton, a conservationist at Canada’s University of British Columbia, told PRI this August that it is unlikely such low-resolution, motion-triggered cameras, designed to capture the movements of passing animals, would be a useful tool for gathering such information.

Following their arrests, five of the environmentalists were charged with national security offenses by Iran’s judiciary — crimes that could carry a possible death penalty. Their trial was marred by accusations of torture and failures of due process. At a hearing this February, Niloufar Bayani, one of the detained, rejected the espionage accusations and described torture she claims to have suffered in custody. Bayani reportedly told the court, “If you were being threatened with a needle of hallucinogenic drugs [hovering] above your arm, you would also confess to whatever they wanted you to confess.”

Like many wealthy people with a taste for philanthropy, Kaplan’s money is spread around an assortment of charities. According to its website, Panthera supports projects around the world protecting wild cat species from Latin America to China. There is no evidence that Kaplan’s interest in conservationism ever crossed over with his hard-line geopolitics, or that Panthera’s activities have been influenced by its funder’s political leanings. But to the paranoid, authoritarian security services of a government like Iran’s, any connection between a local conservation NGO and an organization like Panthera can easily look like a conspiracy in the making.

The Iranian government has grounds to view Kaplan as a powerful enemy. UANI’s work goes well beyond advocacy against Iran in Washington. The group’s board includes a number of former top officials from intelligence and national security agencies in the U.S. and Israel. And UANI appears to have a working relationship with the American national security state: In 2015, a federal judge threw out a civil lawsuit against the group when the U.S. government intervened to assert state secrets — a highly unusual step in a civil suit between private parties.

Kaplan also rubs elbows with a laundry list of Iran’s geopolitical foes, particularly officials from the Persian Gulf monarchies. In an article published by a United Arab Emirates-owned media outlet this February, Kaplan described the Emirates and its leaders as “closest partners in more facets of my life than anyone else other than my wife.” The New York Times recently noted that Kaplan — along with former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and French President Nicholas Sarkozy — was a guest of UAE Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, who reportedly funds Panthera, at his annual salon in Abu Dhabi last December.

Panthera itself also has ties to individuals connected with the national security apparatuses of Israel and the United States. The “Conservation Council” listed on Panthera’s website includes David Petraeus, as well as a former official from Israel’s internal secret service, the Shin Bet. Individuals associated with UANI sit on the council, though these affiliations are not listed on the site. Top government officials from the UAE are also listed, including the UAE’s ambassador to the United States, Yousef al-Otaiba, and U.N. Ambassador Lana Nusseibeh. In June, Kaplan signed an agreement tying Panthera to an Arabian leopard conservation initiative founded by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, according to the online news portal Intelligence Online. In 2018, several months after Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi was murdered by Saudi operatives close to bin Salman, Kaplan was spotted in the crown prince’s royal box at an automobile race outside Riyadh.

Panthera and Kaplan did not respond to requests for comment about this article. They have never made any public comments about the arrest of their local partners in Iran. UANI did not respond to a request for comment and neither did the Iranian consulate in New York.

Kaplan’s anti-Iran advocacy, meanwhile, has continued apace. At UANI’s September 2018 conference, while the Iranian conservationists languished in jail, Kaplan showed up again. His appearance, dubbed into Farsi by Voice of America’s Persian language service, seemed calculated to provoke. In front of the cameras, Kaplan was presented with a framed Iranian rial, in recognition of his efforts to help devalue Iran’s currency.

Iran-Environmentalists-1565903306

An “Any Hope for Nature” campaign poster showing detained environmental activists, from left to right, Taher Ghadirian, Niloufar Bayani, Amirhossein Khaleghi, Houman Jokar, Sam Rajabi, Sepideh Kashani, Morad Tahbaz and Abdolreza Kouhpayeh.

Image: Courtesy Mehran Seyed Emami

The environmentalists’ case has become a cause for concern among their colleagues around the world. But the case has also generated anger over the dangerous politicization of environmental issues in Iran and elsewhere. At least one former employee of Panthera, who had contact with the Iranian environmentalists, believes that Kaplan’s decision to mix politics with his environmental interests recklessly endangered Panthera’s local Iranian partners.

“With the wisdom of what we know now, looking back at the board of Panthera, you start wondering, ‘Why didn’t you see it?’”

“As conservationists, we are focused on our subjects. Regardless of the nature of local governments, we try and work with them to find compromises to get them to enact policies help protect endangered species and the environment,” Tanya Rosen, who worked at Panthera for six years, told The Intercept. “Until recently, nobody really paid attention to the implications of having certain donors.”

During her time at Panthera, Rosen, who headed the organization’s snow leopard program in Central Asia, had contact with the Iranian environmentalists now languishing in prison. She described them as apolitical and passionately immersed in their conservation efforts. Before their arrest, Rosen had been working with the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation to set up a summit focused on protecting Iranian cheetahs.

“With the wisdom of what we know now, looking back at the board of Panthera, you start wondering, ‘Why didn’t you see it?’” Rosen said. “It’s important to realize that nobody in Panthera, not even senior staff, knew about Kaplan’s involvement with UANI. He never talked about it, he never made any disclosure about it.”

The politicization of environmental issues — especially on Iran — has been a project not just of private donors but state actors as well. In recent years, U.S. and Israeli government officials have been increasingly vocal about Iran’s environmental problems, including air pollution and chronic water scarcity. Last year, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu released a video addressed to Iranians impacted by drought. His video also introduced a website designed to offer them tips drawn from Israeli water management practices. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and former national security adviser John Bolton — both vocal enemies of the Iranian government — have also made a point of highlighting Iran’s environmental crises in their public remarks.

Earlier this year, UANI released an extensive report about Iran’s environment, drawing further political connections to the issue.

Expressions of concern about Iran’s environment, coming from individuals and groups otherwise better known for threatening war with that country, puts local Iranian conservationists in a difficult position. By politicizing environmental issues, Iran’s adversaries have made the environment an area of interest for Iran’s opaque and frightening national security state, an environmentalist targeted by the regime in connection with the Panthera case, who asked for anonymity for security reasons, told The Intercept. Environmental NGOs in Iran, particularly those with foreign ties, now face a heightened danger from security services that are emboldened to view their field as a potential avenue for foreign espionage.

For Rosen, her experience with Panthera and its abandonment of the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation activists has left a bitter taste. After the arrests, she left Panthera, explaining that she “could no longer work for an organization that doesn’t care about the safety of their staff or their partners.”

Meanwhile, lingering questions remain about how the reckless behavior of Panthera’s founder may have contributed to the calamity that befell the Iranian conservationists.

“This is not just about someone who dislikes a country,” said Rosen. “It’s about someone who is actively funding efforts to affect that country’s politics, while supporting local environmentalists who had no knowledge of his politics.”

The post Did an American Billionaire Philanthropist Play a Role in the Imprisonment of Iranian Environmentalists? appeared first on The Intercept.

Financing a Global Green New Deal: System Change Needed

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 26/11/2019 - 10:50pm in

Discussion of a contested topic: How to pay for a Green New Deal.

Iraqi Children Born Near U.S. Military Base Show Elevated Rates of “Serious Congenital Deformities,” Study Finds

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 26/11/2019 - 3:44am in

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Environment, World

More than a decade and a half after the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, a new study found that babies are being born today with gruesome birth defects connected to the ongoing American military presence there. The report, issued by a team of independent medical researchers and published in the journal Environmental Pollution, examined congenital anomalies recorded in Iraqi babies born near Tallil Air Base, a base operated by the U.S.-led foreign military coalition. According to the study, babies showing severe birth defects — including neurological problems, congenital heart disease, and paralyzed or missing limbs — also had corresponding elevated levels of a radioactive compound known as thorium in their bodies.

“Doctors are regularly encountering anomalies in babies that are so gruesome they cannot even find precedents for them.”

“We collected hair samples, deciduous (baby) teeth, and bone marrow from subjects living in proximity to the base,” said Mozhgan Savabieasfahani, one of the study’s lead researchers. “In all three tissues we see the same trend: higher levels of thorium.” Savabieasfahani, who has authored studies on the radioactive footprint of the U.S. military presence in Iraq for years, says that the new findings contribute to a growing body of evidence about the serious long-term health impact of U.S. military operations on Iraqi civilians. “The closer that you live to a U.S. military base in Iraq,” she said, “the higher the thorium in your body and the more likely you are to suffer serious congenital deformities and birth defects.”

The new study piles onto a growing wealth of knowledge about severe ill effects of the U.S. military on the environments in which it operates. All industrialized military activity is bad for ecological systems, but the U.S., with its enormous military engaged in activities spanning the globe has a particular large environmental footprint. Not only does the U.S. military lead the world in carbon output, but its prodigious presence around the globe leaves a toxic trail of chemicals that local communities have to deal with, from so-called burn pits on bases releasing poisonous smoke to the radiation of depleted uranium rounds mutating the DNA of nearby populations.

The suffering of Iraqis has been particularly acute. The results of the new study added to a laundry list of negative impacts of the U.S.’s long war there to the long-term health of the country’s population. Previous studies, including some contributed by a team led by Savabieasfahani, have pointed to elevated rates of cancer, miscarriages, and radiological poisoning in places like Fallujah, where the U.S. military carried out major assaults during its occupation of the country.

The study published in Environmental Pollution was conducted by a team of independent Iraqi and American researchers in Iraq during the summer and fall of 2016. They analyzed 19 babies born with serious birth defects at a maternity hospital in the vicinity of Tallil Air Base, compared with a control group of 10 healthy newborns.

“Doctors are regularly encountering anomalies in babies that are so gruesome they cannot even find precedents for them,” said Savabieasfahani. “The war has spread so much radiation here that, unless it is cleaned up, generations of Iraqis will continue to be affected.”

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A selection of images from a study by a team of independent medical researchers show deformities suffered by young children living near an active U.S. military base in Iraq.

Images: Study titled "Living near an active U.S. military base in Iraq is associated with significantly higher hair thorium and increased likelihood of congenital anomalies in infants and children," 2019.

Some of these negative health effects of the American war in Iraq can be put down to U.S. forces’ frequent use of munitions containing depleted uranium. Depleted uranium, a byproduct of the enriched uranium used to power nuclear reactors, makes bullets and shells more effective in destroying armored vehicles, owing to its extreme density. But it has been acknowledged to be hazardous to the environment and the long-term health of people living in places where the munitions are used.

“Uranium and thorium were the main focus of this study,” the authors note. “Epidemiological evidence is consistent with an increased risk of congenital anomalies in the offspring of persons exposed to uranium and its depleted forms.” In other words: The researchers found that the more you were around these American weapons, the more likely you were to bear children with deformities and other health problems.

In response to an outcry over its effects, the U.S. military pledged to not use depleted uranium rounds in its bombing campaigns against the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria, but, despite this pledge, a 2017 investigation by the independent research group AirWars and Foreign Policy magazine found that the military had continued to regularly use rounds containing the toxic compound.

These depleted-uranium munitions are among the causes of hazards not only to the civilians in the foreign lands where the U.S. fights its wars, but also to American service members who took part in these conflicts. The chronic illnesses suffered by U.S. soldiers during the 1991 war in Iraq — often from exposure to uranium munitions and other toxic chemicals — have already been categorized as a condition known as “Gulf War syndrome.” The U.S. government has been less interested into the effects of the American military’s chemical footprint on Iraqis. The use of “burn pits” — toxic open-air fires used to dispose military waste — along with other contaminants has had a lasting impact on the health of current and future Iraqi generations.

Researchers conducting the latest study said that a broader study is needed to get definitive results about these health impacts. The images of babies born with defects at the hospital where the study was conducted, Bint Al-Huda Maternity Hospital, about 10 kilometers from Tallil Air Base, are gruesome and harrowing. Savabieasfahani, the lead researcher, said that without an effort by the U.S. military to clean up its radioactive footprint, babies will continue to be born with deformities that her study and others have documented.

“The radioactive footprint of the military could be cleaned up if we had officials who wanted to do so,” said Savabieasfahani. “Unfortunately, even research into the problem of Iraqi birth defects has to be done by independent toxicologists, because the U.S. military and other institutions are not even interested in this issue.”

Correction: November 25, 2019, 3:47 p.m.
This story incorrectly reported that a study published in the journal Environmental Pollution examined Iraqi babies born near Camp Taji. In fact, the study was about Tallil Air Base. The references to Camp Taji, as well as an image of the base, have been replaced.

The post Iraqi Children Born Near U.S. Military Base Show Elevated Rates of “Serious Congenital Deformities,” Study Finds appeared first on The Intercept.

Texas Man Invents Machine that Creates Drinking Water from Air

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 26/11/2019 - 2:17am in

This is pure Dune technology. This short video of just over 2 minutes long from RepsUp 100 channel on YouTube is a news report about a former ranger, Moses West, from Texas, who has invented a device that creates drinking water from the air. He invented his Atmospheric Water Generator back in 2015. West says of his machine that they’re at the point where they can talk about creating 50,000 – 1,000,000 gallons of water. The energy consumption is incredibly low. According to West, it’s far cheaper than groundwater and desalination. He has so far made eight of these machines. They’re in the Bahamas, Puerto Rico and Flint, Michigan.

According to West, the machines are federally approved and the water quality is tested by the Colorado Water Authority. Most of West’s devices were manufactured in Manitowoc, Wisconsin. The news broadcast says that the townspeople should be proud, as one unit provides the town with hundreds of gallons of clean water. It also appears that it doesn’t cost the residents anything, as West works with organisations like the Water Rescue Foundation to cover costs. He also says that people were very happy that somebody actually cared enough to jump over the bureaucracy and do this on a private piece of land. His concern now is to plant these in Flint, Michigan, to help the people there.

I don’t think West’s idea is particularly new. It seems to be a variant on the domestic dehumidifiers that are used to clean the moisture out of people’s homes. Some of these, like the one in the video below from Unbox Therapy on YouTube, manufactured by Ecoloblue, create drinking water from the moisture collected. West seems to have just created a larger, industrial scale version.

It’s a great device, and West is right when he says that there’s a water crisis coming. Back in the 1990s the Financial Times ran an article about how climate change and increasing demands for water are creating conflict. It predicted that in the 21st Century, most wars would be over water. When I was studying for my archaeology Ph.D., I also went to a seminar by a visiting professor, who had researched the effect climate change had through the human past on civilisation. He too was concerned about a coming water shortage. Machines like this could help solve some of those problems.

However, the use of these machines also demonstrates glaring iniquities in the American water supply system. Flint, Michigan, became notorious a few years ago because the local council had allowed companies to pollute the town’s drinking water to truly disgusting levels. People in a superpower like America, the world’s richest country, should not have to rely on charities for their drinking water.

It is, however, very much like something from Science Fiction. I’m reminded of the technology in books and films like Dune and Star Wars to bring water to the desert planets there. Like the system of underground cisterns and windcatchers in Dune to irrigate Arakis, and the moisture vaporators on Tattooine.

Now if only someone would invent something else from Dune – the stillsuit. A suit that collects water from the wearer’s own sweat and urine, and purifies it, turning it into drinking water so that they can survive weeks, even in the deepest desert. And in the 1980s David Lynch film, looked really cool too.

Here’s a brief video from Dune Codex on YouTube explaining how these fictional suits work.

 

Emboldened by Bolsonaro, Land-Hungry Ranchers Are Destroying a Pioneering Project to Help the Poor and Save the Amazon

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 25/11/2019 - 4:01pm in

On the morning of February 12, 2005, American missionary Dorothy Stang was walking by the side of the road in the Brazilian Amazon when she was approached by two gunmen. She was alone. But she shouldn’t have been.

Doti, as she was known, had been receiving death threats since the early 2000s. The 73-year-old Catholic nun, born in Dayton, Ohio, arrived in Brazil in 1966. At the time of her death, she was fighting for a program that set aside land for poor families, giving them a guaranteed income so long as they preserved the forest. The settlements, known as Sustainable Development Projects (or PDS, their Portuguese acronym), resisted for a decade after Stang’s murder. But now, the program runs the risk of collapsing, with the forest and settlers under threat and undefended by the Brazilian government. The situation has worsened under President Jair Bolsonaro, who, since taking office this January, has set about dismantling Brazil’s forest protection programs as part of an all-out assault on the environment.

Bolsonaro’s hostility to environmental efforts has quickly become his signature. In its first eight months, his government suspended agrarian reform efforts, paralyzed IBAMA — the agency in charge of enforcing laws against deforestation — and canceled an international preparatory meeting for COP25, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. His minister of foreign affairs is a climate change denier, and his minister of agriculture is notorious for loosening regulations on dangerous pesticides. This summer, the world watched, appalled, as fires — some of them started by ranchers and loggers who support Bolsonaro — laid waste to swaths of the Amazon.

Yet long before Bolsonaro’s rise, Stang’s philosophy clashed with the local culture in the Brazilian Amazon, where powerful ranchers view deforestation as the only path to economic prosperity. They see trees as valuable lumber and soil as space for cattle and soybeans. Stang wanted to counter the false dilemma presented by agribusiness, by offering an alternative economic model for the forest. But today, clear-cutting, land-hungry ranchers occupy the PDS settlements she founded and are pushing to terminate the entire project.

The ranchers have found ways to invade the lots set aside as PDS settlements, circumventing monitoring mechanisms and packing government agencies with political allies. “Land-grabbers,” or grileiros (a term that comes from an old practice of storing fake deeds in a box with a cricket, or grilo, whose feces would stain the papers yellow and make them look authentically aged), threatened Stang before her death and continue to menace those who are trying to uphold her legacy. Last year, Stang’s successor, Father José Amaro Lopes, was jailed for three months on charges that his supporters say were aimed at silencing him and his work on land rights and forest protection.

On February 11, 2005, the day before Stang’s encounter with the gunmen, she had a meeting with settlers at PDS Esperança (“hope” in Portuguese), one of the projects she helped create. The site is next to a highway and known for its abundant cocoa production. She should have been accompanied by police or officials from the National Institute of Colonization and Agrarian Reform, or INCRA, the Brazilian agency responsible for managing areas dedicated to land reform. At the last minute, however, INCRA didn’t send anyone with her. Stang decided to attend the meeting anyway.

Long before Bolsonaro’s rise, Stang’s philosophy clashed with powerful ranchers in the Amazon, who view deforestation as the only path to economic prosperity.

She climbed onto the back of a motorcycle and rode more than 25 miles through the quagmire typical of the rainy Amazonian winter to offer her support to settlers frightened by the constant threats from ranchers and land-grabbers. She crossed huge areas devastated by livestock until she reached a lush stretch of forest preserved within PDS Esperança.

It was a tense moment. Two months prior, the government had decided that anyone working a piece of land larger than 247 acres would need to prove ownership of it. The move sparked a revolt, as many ranchers and farmers had fake deeds or otherwise couldn’t show that the land was theirs. The new policy would result in the foreclosure of hundreds of title deeds — the lands, according to the federal government, were public.

Around 7:30 a.m. the next day, Rayfran das Neves Sales and Clodoaldo Batista drew close to Stang on the roadside and asked if she was armed. Sensing danger, she held up her Bible. She began reciting passages from the Gospel, witnesses later said. Sales heard, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled,” before he shot the missionary six times. One bullet struck her in the head; the other five pierced her thin body.

It was the first death of Sister Dorothy Stang. In it, she became a symbol in the struggle for agrarian reform and the protection of the Amazon.

People gather during the wake of Dorothy Stang whose casket is drapped in a Brazilian flag in Anapu on Saturday Feb. 15, 2005. Stang, 73, was shot dead on Feb. 12, 2005, in a dispute with an influential rancher in the eastern Amazon state of Para, on the frontier of forest and development, where powerful interests collide with the Amazon's poor. (AP Photo/Paulo Santos) **EFE OUT**

People gather for Dorothy Stang’s wake in Anapu, a city in the state of Pará, on Feb. 15, 2005.

Photo: Paulo Santos/AP

The Missionary’s Dream

Stang was a pioneer in popularizing the concept of sustainability in the far reaches of the Amazon. Since the 1980s, she had united female rural leaders, encouraged the organization of settlers into collectives, and taught sustainable forest management to workers with no formal education. She wasn’t content to let people starve while the federal government was the largest landowner in the country, and enormous areas were unused or barely occupied. The PDSs, for her, were a way to guarantee sustenance for impoverished families and protect the environment at the same time.

Such was Stang’s dedication to helping the poor that she often sheltered families in the blue-green house where she lived, right beside the church in Anapu, a city in the state of Pará. While she was working on establishing the PDSs, Stang sometimes slept in the corridors of INCRA’s offices to pressure them, INCRA employees say. Despite her advanced age, she would take a bus to meetings in Belém, a distant 372 miles from Anapu, and go by motorcycle to access remote corners of the forest. Noemi Miyasaka, a professor at the Federal University of Pará who had followed Stang’s efforts since 1999, told me, “She was tireless and never gave up.”

The missionary’s work was urgent — and remains so — because Pará, a state bigger than Texas and California put together, is the deforestation capital of the world’s largest tropical forest. The missionary chose Pará for two settlements, Esperança and Virola-Jatobá, comprising 260 square miles.

Pará, a state bigger than Texas and California put together, is the deforestation capital of the world’s largest tropical forest.

Locals describe Esperança and Virola-Jatobá as a green oasis amid the ravages that advance upon the Amazon. A local journalist, who wished to remain anonymous fearing threats to his life, said that “they are like a kind of gateway which acts as protection. If they are permanently invaded, the entire forest will come down.”

After international outcry over Stang’s assassination, the Brazilian government — then led by Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva — took a series of measures to consolidate her legacy. Her murder was the catalyst for finally dealing with the longtime problem of land-grabbers, a group which, at that time, controlled 116,000 square miles in Pará alone.

The first measure was the formalization of the PDS system, which gave hundreds of families the right to use a parcel of land in the Amazon. In a PDS, each settler family is entitled to 50 acres where they can cultivate grains and vegetables for subsistence. The rest of the area is a forest preserve. Within this preserve, permanent preservation sites must be conserved. The remaining area can be channeled for collective use through a sustainable forest management plan, implemented following strict environmental rules. The money from the logging returns to the families as income.

The settlers can earn access to federal resources to help them farm and manage the forest sustainably, through projects channeled from INCRA and Embrapa, the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation. Potential sources include the Amazon Fund (a vehicle for international donations to conservation projects).

In the years following Stang’s death, 111 PDSs were created in the Amazon, encompassing 13,000 square miles. The area where Stang was killed became part of PDS Esperança. Beyond the settlements, Lula’s Environment Minister Marina Silva demarcated five new conservation areas, created satellite deforestation warning systems, and developed a project for public forest management that would ensure that protections endured as governments changed. In the 13 years following the missionary’s assassination, deforestation rates fell 72 percent in the Amazon, according to 2018 data from the environment ministry.

Stang’s killers were brought to justice: Sales and Batista were convicted of murder. A court later found that Vitalmiro “Bida” Bastos de Moura, who claimed ownership of the land where it happened, had ordered the killing, and sentenced him to 30 years.

For 12 years, the PDSs held firm against the land-grabbers’ advances. But on November 15, 2017, a band of 200 low-level land-grabbers affiliated with ranching interests took hold of PDS Virola-Jatobá.

That is where Dorothy Stang’s second death began.

 TARSO SARRAF/ESTADAO CONTEUDO. (Agencia Estado via AP Images)

Vitalmiro “Bida” Bastos de Moura, accused of ordering Stang’s killing, on trial on Sept. 19, 2013.

Photo: Tarso Sarraf/Agencia Estado via AP

Invade and Destroy

Despite the government’s efforts, land-grabbers and invaders had never ceased to haunt the Amazon in the north of Pará. A few years after the missionary’s death, illegal logging started up in the area, often under the cover of illegitimate settlements.

An investigation by the Public Prosecutor’s Office initiated in 2007 halted 106 PDS projects, which they baptized as “ghost settlements.” The investigation determined that several of the settlements lacked necessary environmental permits, were located in conservation areas, or benefited loggers in contradiction to the PDS mission. In many cases, the settlements were created with nothing more than a three-page letter, disregarding the legal procedures and studies required to establish them.

Little by little, as accusations of fraud and mismanagement in the PDSs piled up alongside the economic, fiscal, and political crises of the 2010s in Brazil, the government of Dilma Rousseff (who succeeded Lula) lost interest in guaranteeing assistance and security to settlers. But the abandonment was more explicit under Michel Temer, Rousseff’s vice president, who assumed the presidency after she was impeached in 2016. It was under Temer that the invasion of Virola-Jatobá occurred. 

Today, almost two years since the invasion, land-grabbers and loggers in Virola-Jatobá continue to threaten settlers and ship out truckloads of lumber in the middle of the night, including valuable species such as acapu, cumaru and angelim-vermelho. Twice, following court orders, Federal Police have removed the invaders, but each time they have returned, prolonging a drama that relies on the complacency of INCRA, IBAMA, the Federal Police, and state security forces, as well as the sluggishness of the Public Prosecutor’s Office and the judiciary.

Land-grabbers and loggers continue to threaten settlers and ship out truckloads of lumber in the middle of the night.

It’s an exemplary case of government incompetence and neglect. INCRA is the official owner of the PDS lands and the agency that granted the settlers the right to use the land. However, when the gang invaded Virola-Jatobá in November 2017, the agency didn’t send anyone to the settlement. Faced with INCRA’s inaction, the settlers decided to press charges with the Anapu police. But the police refused to file a report, claiming that the area was federal and therefore outside its jurisdiction.

The Virola-Jatobá settlers had to appeal to the Pará Public Defender’s Office, which filed a repossession suit, arguing that the settlers had the right to demand the return of the land without waiting for INCRA to act.

Prosecutor Patricia Xavier, who worked on the case until last November, told me that “INCRA is becoming increasingly inert.” There was no justification, she added, for “the way it deals with one of the most conspicuously confrontational and violent municipalities in the country.”

It took INCRA five months to get on board, but at the end of March 2018, the agency jointly filed a lawsuit with the settlers. On May 28, 2018, Brazil’s Federal Court issued its first repossession order, which was followed by four months of meetings and misunderstandings between the police, the Federal Prosecutor’s Office, INCRA, and Embrapa.

On September 21, 2018, when federal and civil police, firefighters, members of the Public Prosecutor’s Office, and INCRA finally entered the PDS to carry out the repossession order and remove the invaders, officials celebrated the operation with an exchange of WhatsApp messages. But their happiness was short-lived: They found a bleak panorama when they arrived. Photos taken on site showed extensive cleared areas and felled trees.

Anapu_158-1574462688

Scenes of burned forest and felled trees as they were found by federal and civil police, firefighters, members of the Public Prosecutor’s Office, and INCRA when they entered the PDS on Sept. 21, 2018.

Photos: Roberto Porro

The court had ordered the police to remain on location for a month to prevent the gang’s return. But they didn’t, and less than 10 days later, the invaders came back. They set fire to the headquarters of the forest-management project of the Viroa-Jatobá Association near the entrance to the PDS’s forest reserve, and part of the stockpiled wood used to fund the settlement burned in the flames.

With pressure from Embrapa researcher Roberto Porro, UFPA and Public Prosecutor’s Office, in January of this year, the court issued a new repossession order, again calling for a month of police protection. That order took five months to carry out, and this time, police spent 30 days in the area performing daily patrols. But it wasn’t enough.

“We are pretending to maintain possession and the loggers are pretending that they respect us,” an INCRA employee stated in a memo sent to IBAMA and the Public Prosecutor’s Office in June. “The Military Police rounds are made during the day. At that time, the loggers are sleeping! When we leave the PDS, in the late afternoon, they are informed and, from that moment on, start removing the wood.”

The court then stepped in again, ordering the police forces to tighten supervision of Virola-Jatobá. It’s a difficult task: The Amazon’s enormous dimensions and isolated, hard-to-reach areas make it easy to get away with illegal activity. Police operations depend upon coordinated action between various security agencies, which, in the case of Virola-Jatobá, took a year and a half to occur.

Ironically, it was Bolsonaro’s decision to fire the heads of INCRA in every state — fulfilling one of his campaign promises — that finally allowed employees to take back Virola-Jatobá. Since January, the state offices have been leaderless. With no one in charge, the agency’s permanent employees in Pará could prioritize the Virola-Jatobá reintegration, according to a source within INCRA who asked to remain anonymous. After two more months of back-and-forth, police launched a new operation on August 22. It worked. They seized huge logs, trucks, and tractors. The invaders fled. But settlers say it’s still insufficient.

Elvenício Anunciação dos Santos, a farmer since 2002 and chief of the Virola-Jatobá Association, said the logging raids continue. Loggers come in just to clear the forest, without installing themselves permanently, making it hard to catch them. “There is still land-grabbing,” he said. “There are still hidden invaders. It paused because of the [August] operation, but it continues.”

Santos laments the lack of institutional support for the PDS. He knew Dorothy Stang and misses the missionary’s aid. “She helped us a lot to reach the government,” he said.

“There is still land-grabbing. There are still hidden invaders.”

Activists and researchers involved with the settlements blame INCRA’s politicization for the ongoing invasions. In the region, INCRA postings come with control of vast amounts of federal land — and therefore, political power. During the Temer government, the Pará branch of INCRA was commanded by cohorts of Federal Deputy Wladimir Costa. Costa, known as “Wlad,” tattooed Temer’s name on his arm on the eve of Rousseff’s impeachment; when she was voted out, he threw confetti in the House chamber. Now, he’s aligned with Bolsonaro’s policies.

In June 2018, Wlad and his brother Mário Sérgio da Silva Costa were caught distributing individual land concessions within PDS lots, which is illegal (the government owns the land in a PDS; it issues use permits, but not land grants, to settlers). Wlad named Mário Sérgio the superintendent of INCRA’s Santarém office, and his friend Alderley da Silva and party colleague Andrei Viana de Castro in the same function in Altamira, overseeing the PDSs in Pará. “INCRA became an electoral platform for promoting Congressman Wladimir,” the Public Prosecutor’s Office later concluded. (Wlad lost his reelection race in 2018, and earlier this month, both brothers were convicted of administrative misconduct related to the illegal concessions, as well as for using INCRA for political gain. They did not respond to requests for comment.)

As INCRA’s Altamira representatives, Silva and Castro attended meetings about the Virola-Jatobá invasion, but they didn’t forward the internal orders necessary for the agency to head up the repossession effort. Porro, the Embrapa researcher, told me, “They acted like it wasn’t the institution interest to deal with.”

Defenders Under Threat

An INCRA report I obtained describes the land-grabbers’ movements in Virola-Jatobá. They entered at the end of 2017 through the main entrance of the PDS. Other invaders used access roads in a settlement boundary that had already been violated by farmers João and Renato Cintra Cruz. The father and son pair are named in the Pará public defender’s repossession case; according to the complaint, they reportedly sold land to farmers coming from southern Pará. Despite being aware of this history, INCRA took no action against them. (I tried to contact the Cruz family for this article, but couldn’t locate them.)

Once they gained access to the PDS, the gang hired surveyors to mark off more than 200 lots and began clearing the forest for pasture, felling trees by chainsaw to simply burn them and sow pasture. They created an entity called the People’s Freedom Association to give themselves a veneer of legitimacy and started making deals with loggers and land-grabbers interested in the Virola-Jatobá forest. (Attempts to contact the organization’s president were unsuccessful.)

In December 2018, I spoke with Ewerton Giovanni dos Santos, then the director for development at INCRA, stationed in the capital, Brasília. I asked him about the agency’s politicization in Pará, and he changed the subject. He recognized INCRA’s responsibility for the situation in Virola-Jatobá, but believed that the necessary solution went beyond the institution’s authority. “It’s a case of public safety,” he said. “INCRA employees are also threatened.” INCRA did not respond to numerous other requests for comment about their handling of the Virola-Jatobá invasion.

I also contacted the Pará Public Security Bureau, in charge of the state police who were supposed to patrol Virola-Jatobá. The press office notified me that the bureau was not involved because the repossession wasn’t mandated by court order, but rather by a request from the Public Prosecutor’s Office. This was incorrect: There was indeed a court order. I disputed the statement but obtained no further response. After a new court order was issued, the press office said it was awaiting a declaration from INCRA.

“The actual situation is a complete lack of coordination between the agencies, which seems deliberate.”

The Federal Police, who are in charge of the investigation into the invasion of Virola-Jatobá, still hasn’t finished its inquiry, nearly two years after the fact. “It’s a complex job,” said Agent Carlos Castelo, and the Federal Police station in the region handles an area of 89,962 square miles with just three agents. Without the police inquiry, the Public Prosecutor’s Office can’t indict the gang for an environmental crime or ask for them to be detained.

“The actual situation is a complete lack of coordination between the agencies, which seems deliberate,” said Embrapa’s Porro.

More than 13 years after the establishment of PDS Virola-Jatobá, just 55 of the 160 settler families living there have official paperwork from INCRA. Formalizing the settlers’ status “is one of INCRA’s basic obligations, but one it hasn’t fulfilled, instead offering ever-changing excuses,” Porro said. Without a formal concession, the settlers have become easy targets for land-grabbers. (Dos Santos, of INCRA, said that formalizing settlers’ status is difficult and dependent on available budgets and police support.)

The settlers and those who defend their interests are under constant threat, both legally and physically. A recent Human Rights Watch report tallied 28 murders and 44 attempted murders or death threats against people fighting illegal deforestation in Brazil, most of them since 2015. The majority of these cases never made it to court.

Nuns and priests from the Pastoral Land Commission (or CPT, its Portuguese acronym), an organ of the Brazilian Catholic Church focused on the rural poor, are tasked with facilitating dialogue between settlers and the government offices in charge of the PDSs. Carrying out her role as an intermediary for the CPT, Stang was threatened dozens of times. Testifying before a 2004 parliamentary commission investigation, she said, “I receive death threats, publicly, from ranchers and land-grabbers on public land. They dare to threaten me and request my expulsion from Anapu. All this because I cry for justice.”

José Batista Afonso, a lawyer with the CPT, says that accusing activists of crimes is the land-grabbers’ new method of silencing opposition. The strategy has been successful.

On March 27, 2018, as settlers tried to draw INCRA’s attention to the invasion of Virola-Jatobá, police arrested Stang’s successor, Father José Amaro Lopes. The religious leader and activist was accused of seven crimes, among them the wrongful possession of property. The investigation stemmed from a complaint filed by rancher Silvério Albano Fernandes, then president of the Anapu Rural Producers Union, in March 2018. Fernandes accused Amaro of leading a criminal organization behind the occupation of a farm in Anapu. Fernandes claimed ownership of the 7,600-acre lot, but a court has ruled that the lands be returned to the government to promote family settlements. Amaro served as an intermediary between the settlers, the Public Prosecutor’s Office, and INCRA.

CPT lawyers had to appeal to higher courts to secure Amaro’s release. He is now free, but he is prohibited from speaking with the settlers and attending the meetings that made up his day-to-day activities as an activist. Afonso, who defends another 20 activists currently being prosecuted by ranchers, told me in a phone interview that the local justice system in Pará “criminalized social movements.” A local judge had opposed Amaro’s release “on the grounds that he posed a risk to public order by leading a criminal organization. The ones who pose a risk to public order are his accusers,” Afonso said. During a December 2018 event in which he was awarded a prize for human rights, Amaro said, “If I did something wrong, it was putting land into workers’ hands so they could make a living.”

Fernandes disagrees. He told me that “Father Amaro is largely responsible for the numerous invasions that occur in Anapu. Since he was arrested and prohibited from [attending] assemblies, there haven’t been any more invasions.”

Stang had once denounced Fernandes for threatening her. In a statement given to the federal police on December 28, 2002, the missionary said that Fernandes had once given her a ride. Along the way, he told Stang that anyone who tried to take his land would be “up to their shins in blood.” As reported by sources requesting anonymity, Stang had once pointed out Fernandes and his two brothers “as the PDSs’ principal adversaries.” (Fernandes did not respond to questions about Stang’s statement.)

I spoke with Fernandes over a video call as fires in the Amazon made headlines around the world in late August. He made a point of showing me that there was no fire around him, positioning the camera to reveal a bright green field, without a single tree visible on the horizon. His discussion of the fires echoed Bolsonaro: What was happening in the Amazon was a “project of NGOs that want to colonize it only with Indians,” “the NGOs are the villains,” and “everything that you see in the media is a big lie.”

An aerial view of a burned forest area next to a cattle ranch in the state of Pará in Altamira, Brazil, Aug. 31, 2019. A deal reached 10 years ago was meant to stop the setting of fires by ranchers and others, but the ecological arson continues as the Earth warms. (Victor Moriyama/The New York Times) (GDA via AP Images)

An aerial view of burned forest near a cattle ranch in the state of Pará, Brazil, on Aug. 31, 2019.

Photo: Victor Moriyama/The New York Times/GDA via AP

A Government Against the Amazon

Settlements make up about 7 percent of the area that Brazil legally defines as the Amazon. They total 139,000 square miles — an area larger than Germany under constant pressure from interests eager to use the land for cattle and mining and cut down the trees necessary to save the planet from climate catastrophe. An INCRA employee, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of reprisal, told me, “INCRA created the projects but didn’t invest in enforcement policies, infrastructure, or development.”

Take the PDS Terra Nossa, situated in Novo Progresso, in southern Pará. An INCRA report determined that 80 percent of its area had been occupied by land-grabbers. A mining company, Chapleau Exploração Mineral, prospected for gold in the section that had been granted to settlers. A spokesperson for the company’s current owner, Serabi Gold, said that it has no operational activity in the PDS area, but admits that there is “a staff of 25 professionals responsible for the conservation of the project area” at the location and that the company has “opened dialogue with INCRA to obtain definitive authorization to operate in the region.”

Notably, the mining company received permission from the state government and the National Department of Mineral Production without presenting an environmental impact study, as required by law. The Public Prosecutor’s Office filed a civil action seeking to revoke Chapleau’s license, but federal courts denied it. During that process, the mining company admitted to operating in the area since 2007 with INCRA’s knowledge, but said that the agency never contacted them. (INCRA did not respond to questions about Chapleau.)

Another investigation by the Public Prosecutor’s Office this year revealed that INCRA’s office in Santarem, Pará, illegally issued dozens of individual land grants inside a PDS in the western part of the state. On just one day in January 2018, INCRA issued 238 concessions in the PDS Eixo Forte. Several concessions were assigned to the same person, and some of the people listed as beneficiaries were deceased. According to an action by the Public Prosecutor’s Office, “the issuance of individual titles for the collective settlement modalities poses a serious threat to residents, by creating a point of entry for land-grabbers to buy the [concessions] and then threaten the local communities.” In other words, land ownership chaos feeds deforestation and violence.

Poor farmers lose out in the process of privatization.

Since the end of Rousseff’s presidency, the federal government has abandoned agrarian reform. From 2015 to 2019, the budget destined for land purchases related to reform fell 95 percent. Instead, Brasília has settled on a new form of occupation of the Amazon: handing out ownership titles. Issuance of these documents grew 502 percent from 2015 to 2016, and pro-agribusiness leaders in the Amazon are pressuring INCRA to resume “land normalization” in Pará, which, in practice, means giving land titles to land-grabbers.

Poor farmers lose out in the process of privatization. When a farmer gains ownership of the land they are using, they no longer receive INCRA assistance and need to seek their own line of credit. The resulting cycle of debt leads many of them to sell their land and go back to unemployment lines in the cities. In the settlement model, the settler doesn’t earn a title to the land, just the right of use. In exchange, they receive state assistance — a better deal for many farmers.

The settlement model came under further threat in July 2017 when Temer signed a law that changed the rules for occupying federal lands. Environmentalists see the legislation as a green light for land-grabbing; under the new law, the total area that can be privatized per lot has increased from 3,700 acres to 6,100 acres. In addition, people who had occupied land illegally before 2008 could still benefit (whereas before, the limit was 2004. In effect, this rewards more recent land-grabs). The law also permits the purchase of large, occupied areas for 50 percent of the minimum values established by INCRA. “This ends up stimulating new occupations, because they become profitable,” said Brenda Brito, an analyst from Imazon, a research institute specializing in landownership issues in the Amazon. “The government is one of the Amazon’s biggest enemies,” she said.

Things got much worse after Bolsonaro’s election. As the former military man took the lead in the polls, researchers and activists noticed a growing animosity in the field. A group of farmers who oppose the PDS modality in the settlement where Stang was murdered prevented INCRA technicians from doing an inspection, arguing that “it would no longer be a PDS after Jair Bolsonaro’s victory.” Well-known ranchers in the region posted billboards supporting Bolsonaro with his trademark gun-pointing gesture, and people were intimidated. Nuns Katia Webster and Jane Dwyer, two of Stang’s partners in defense of the PDS system, no longer give phone interviews. “People opposed to the PDS’s sustainable model have gained strength,” said Porro.

Bolsonaro’s appointments to government posts tend to oppose the values of the institutions they’re put in charge of. As secretary of land affairs, for example, the president nominated Luiz Antônio Nabhan Garcia, president of the Rural Democratic Union, traditionally a pro-agribusiness entity. At his inauguration, Nabhan Garcia called the Landless Workers Movement, or MST — which organizes the rural poor to occupy unused land — a “criminal organization,” and said he doesn’t negotiate with the landless. Earlier this year, The Intercept Brazil reported that Garcia was involved in hiring militias to threaten MST activists in the early 2000s. Now, Garcia is pushing to allow land to be privatized based on self-declarations of occupancy — and says that the government will verify the claims via satellite imagery. Scholars say that the rule change will give land-grabbers the chance to gain permanent ownership.

Bolsonaro had plans to make the Ministry of the Environment and INCRA subordinate to the Ministry of Agriculture, whose boss, Tereza Cristina, is a prominent advocate for agribusiness and has been labeled the “muse of poison” for her opposition to restrictions on noxious chemicals (to date, the new government has green-lit 410 pesticides). Bolsonaro later backed off the reorganization plan, but as for IBAMA (which is under the environment ministry), officials say they have no duties assigned to them, despite a sudden increase in deforestation and burning.

Since the start of the year, the Amazon has burned at an alarmingly increased rate.

The Ministry of the Environment is working, but backward. Its chief, Ricardo Salles, caused a diplomatic conflict when he ordered an inspection of projects financed by the Amazon Fund, bringing them to a standstill; 350 million reals are frozen, including resources that should be invested in PDSs and other initiatives that combine development and environmental protection. The German and Norwegian governments have suspended donations to the fund in response. Salles has also said that he doesn’t know who Chico Mendes is. Mendes, of course, was Brazil’s most famous environmentalist, murdered in 1988. (Stang was sometimes called “Chico Mendes in a dress.”)

In June, the United Nations classified Bolsonaro as the world’s worst leader when it comes to reducing the impact of climate change on the poor. The government’s contempt has already had a practical effect. Since the start of the year, the Amazon has burned at an alarmingly increased rate: On November 18, official data revealed that deforestation this year increased almost 30 percent, the highest percentage in a decade.

When fires detected by the monitoring radars of the National Institute for Space Research grabbed international attention, Bolsonaro fired the institute’s president, the renowned scientist Ricardo Galvão, and appointed a military man in his place. Bolsonaro attacked world leaders who expressed alarm and refused international help, accusing NGOs of starting the fires (without presenting any proof) and claiming that foreign countries want to take possession of the Amazon.

Bolsonaro’s assault on the Amazon is an acceleration of patterns that have been in place for decades. In 1999, Stang confided to Miyasaka her indignation at the Amazon settlement model as promoted by the government and private industry. “She said that the colonization scheme was doomed to re-concentrate land ownership and degrade the environment, and that they would have to implement a new proposal for environmentally friendly land reform,” Miyasaka recalled. And that was what she did, managing to win over reticent settlers who had never heard of making a living without cutting down the forest.

Dorothy Stang created a model for sustainable, socially conscious development for the Amazon. A model she defended with her own life. A model that is about to collapse.

This story was financed by the Brazil Human Rights Fund.

The post Emboldened by Bolsonaro, Land-Hungry Ranchers Are Destroying a Pioneering Project to Help the Poor and Save the Amazon appeared first on The Intercept.

Hunger Games: Food Abundance and Twisted Truths

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 25/11/2019 - 3:00pm in

Colin Todhunter The world already produces enough food to feed 10 billion people but over two billion are experiencing micronutrient deficiencies (of which 821 million were classed as chronically undernourished in 2018). However, supporters of genetic engineering (GE) crops continually push the narrative that GE technology is required if we are to feed the world and properly support farmers. …

With Coal’s Decline, Pennsylvania Communities Watch the Rise of Natural Gas-fueled Plastics

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 24/11/2019 - 10:25pm in

A growing chorus agrees the expansion of the natural gas industry, which feeds plastics and petrochemical plants like Shell’s, is moving the U.S. in the wrong direction to prevent catastrophic impacts from climate change.

Unmitigated failure

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 24/11/2019 - 6:26pm in

That’s been the response of Australia’s political class, politicians, pundits and journalists alike to the arrival of catastrophic climate change in the form of ubiquitous and semi-permanent bushfires. The failure has been so comprehensive, encompassing nearly everyone in Labor and the LNP, and most of the commentariat, that there is not much point in naming names.

I can’t motivate myself to write a proper analysis of this, so I’ve been reduced to writing a series of snarky tweets.

Update: Sean Kelly spells out the same point in the SMH.

Australia failure, while a significant contribution to the destruction of the planet, is far less significant than China’s apparent reversal of its shift away from coal. I’ll try to write something about this soon if I can manage it.

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