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The Dangers of Treating Food as a Strategic Asset

Farming
© Unknown

Inside a secure compound at Canadian Security Intelligence Service headquarters this week, I had the rather odd experience of talking to spies about farming.

The spooks at CSIS, like their counterparts in other countries, have recently become obsessed with such loamy topics as marginal crop yields, soil salinity, Indonesian rice futures and dairy-supply bottlenecks. This week, they played host to scores of agrarians, crop economists, agricultural-threat analysts and farm specialists from a dozen countries in an urgent summit on food security, a meeting in which crop-irrigation ratios were treated with the sort of gravity that, a few years ago, would have been reserved for jetliner flight-training facilities in Florida.

And little wonder. As the intelligence officials listened to analyses of Indian irrigation policies and some rather silly talk about Islamist "agroterrorism threats," the world outside was blowing up over food.

The uprising inflaming Egypt on Friday began, let us not forget, with crowds marching in Cairo on Tuesday to chants of "Bread and freedom!" The Tunisian revolution began in December as a bread-price protest. Neither event was ultimately about food, but its increasing share of the household budget became a catalyst for larger tensions.

Comment: See "Doomsday Seed Vault" - Bill Gates, Rockefeller and the GMO giants know something we don't? for more 'food for thought' on why the spooks are so interested in food security right now. As we have noted here on SOTT, Earth Changes are well under way and may cause significant disruptions in the food supply chain.


Eye 1

Mohamed ElBaradei: "If Not Now, When?"

mohamed el baradei
© Lukas Beck / The New York Times
Pro-democracy leader Mohamed El Baradei is calling for Western leaders to explicitly condemn Egypt's current President Hosni Mubarak.

If Western leaders, who have backed the dictator Mubarak for 30 years, cannot stand before the Egyptian people today and say unequivocally, "we support your right of national self-determination," when can they do it?

That's the question that Egyptian democracy leader and Nobel laureate Mohamed ElBaradei has put before Western leaders today.

Speaking to The Guardian UK in Cairo, before the planned protests today, ElBaradei stepped up his calls for Western leaders to explicitly condemn Mubarak, who, as The Guardian noted, has been a close ally of the US:
"The international community must understand we are being denied every human right day by day," he said. "Egypt today is one big prison. If the international community does not speak out it will have a lot of implications. We are fighting for universal values here. If the west is not going to speak out now, then when?"

Bandaid

Israeli NGOs Are Entrenching the Occupation

Image
© Baz Ratner
The army has difficulty effectively controlling its units, and so the task is taken up by the human rights’ organizations.
The Knesset's decision to probe the human rights' groups funding sources, a move motivated by the right's desire to clamp down on the organizations' activity, should be denounced on several accounts.

However, the right-wing parties should be interested in continuing these organizations' activity, for the simple reason that they - albeit unintentionally - are advancing those parties' long-term interest: entrenching the occupation.

In the past decade organizations such as B'Tselem, Machsom Watch and even Breaking the Silence have entered the vacuum in the government's control over the army and in the senior command's control over the field units. The center of gravity of conducting the warfare in the midst of the Palestinian population has been diverted, as is characteristic of this kind of policing-warfare, from the high command to the lower field command, which frequently exercises unbridled force on the population.

The army has difficulty effectively controlling the units, and so the task taken up by the human rights' organizations.

Sherlock

Medical examiner: Pentagon official John Wheeler died after assault

Image

John P. Wheeler III, a former Pentagon official and the first chairman of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, "died as a result of blunt force trauma after being assaulted," the Delaware medical examiner's office said Friday.

A toxicology analysis also was done during the autopsy, but the results were not released.

Police are still trying to determine who committed the crime.

Che Guevara

New protests erupt in Yemen

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© AFP
Cyborg? Protests have been taking place calling for an end to Ali Abdullah Saleh's rule which began in 1978.
Dozens of activists calling for the ouster of Ali Abdullah Saleh, Yemen's president, have clashed with government supporters in Sanaa, the country's capital.

Plainclothes police also attacked the demonstrators, who marched to the Egyptian embassy in Sanaa on Saturday chanting "Ali, leave leave" and "Tunisia left, Egypt after it and Yemen in the coming future".

The chants were referring to the ouster of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia early this month and to continuing demonstrations against Hosni Mubarak, the president of Egypt.

No casualties have been reported in the Yemen clashes.

Tawakel Karman, a female activist who has led several protests in Sanaa during the past week, said that a member of the security forces in civilian clothes tried to attack her with a dagger and a shoe but was stopped by other protesters.

Radar

Arab world 's unrest puts pressure on Jordan king

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© Adam Jan/Agence France-Presse/Getty
Jordan's King Abdullah II has promised reforms
Unrest ripping across the Arab world is putting pressure on Jordan's King Abdullah II, a key U.S. ally who has been making promises of reform in recent days in an apparent attempt to quell domestic discontent over economic degradation and lack of political freedoms.

After two weeks of widespread protests inspired by the revolt that overthrew Tunisia's autocratic president, Abdullah has promised reforms in meetings with members of parliament, former prime ministers, civil society institutions and even Jordan's largest opposition group, the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood Movement.

But his promises appear unlikely to quash the opposition's daring calls to elect their prime minister and Cabinet officials, traditionally appointed by the king.

The Muslim Brotherhood called for fresh demonstrations on Friday to press its demand for political and economic reforms.

Laptop

UK: Anonymous 'hacktivists' released on bail

Image
© Matt Dunham/AP
People protest outside Westminster magistrates court in London in support of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.
WikiLeaks supporters declare arrests as 'declaration of war', as the FBI issues 40 search warrants in the US

The five people arrested in the UK in connection with a spate of online attacks in support of WikiLeaks were today released on police bail, while in the US the FBI has issued search warrants as part of its investigation into online group Anonymous.

The FBI yesterday issued more than 40 search warrants across the US as part of its Anonymous probe, where the distributed denial of services (DDoS) attacks the group carried out on the websites of companies including MasterCard and Visa are punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

Last night Anonymous issued a statement branding the UK arrests "a serious declaration of war" against the group of internet "hacktivists".

Yesterday's arrests are the first in the Metropolitan police's central e-crime unit investigation in the UK.

Three teenagers, aged 15, 16 and 19, were held along with two others in a series of raids in the West Midlands, Northamptonshire, Hertfordshire, Surrey and London early yesterday. The teenagers have to return to their local police station on 13 April and the two men the following day.

Che Guevara

Thousands in Jordan protest, demand PM step down

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© Associated Press
In 3rd day of protests, opposition supporters take to streets in Amman to express anger at rising prices, inflation, unemployment.

Amman, Jordan - Thousands of Jordanian opposition supporters took to the streets Friday in the country's capital demanding the prime minister step down and venting their anger at rising prices, inflation and unemployment.

It was the third consecutive Friday of protests following Muslim prayers in Jordan, inspired by the unrest in Tunisia and rallies in Egypt demanding the downfall of the country's longtime president.

Laptop

Egypt Shows How Easily Internet Can Be Silenced

Egypt protestors
© AFP/Getty
Egyptian demonstrators hold up placards during a protest in central Cairo to demand the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak and calling for reforms.
The move by Egyptian authorities to seal off the country almost entirely from the Internet shows how easily a state can isolate its people when telecoms providers are few and compliant.

In an attempt to stop the frenzied online spread of dissent against President Hosni Mubarak's 30-year rule, not only Facebook and Twitter but the entire Internet was shut down overnight, leaving some 20 million users stranded.

Hundreds of service providers offer connections in Egypt, but just four own the infrastructure - Link Egypt, Vodafone/Raya [VOD-LN 178.15 -0.90 (-0.5%)], Telecom Egypt and Etisalat Misr.

Daniel Karrenberg, chief scientist at RIPE NCC, a European not-for-profit Internet infrastructure forum, says immature markets with few providers can achieve such shutdowns relatively easily.

"The more simple the topology is and the fewer Internet services providers there are, the easier it is for any government or the telco themselves to control access into any geographical area," he said.

"If you have a relatively diverse telecoms market and a very much meshed Internet topology then it's much more difficult to do than if you have the traditional telecoms structure of two decades ago and they control all the international connections. Obviously that creates a choke point," he said.

Cow Skull

Wisconsin cows succumbed to moldy sweet potatoes

There was no apocalyptic cause for the recent deaths of 200 cattle in Central Wisconsin. The steers succumbed in a Portage County feed lot earlier this month, and Doctor Peter Vanderloo at the Wisconsin Veterinary Diagnostic Lab said tests have shown that it was moldy sweet potatoes used in the animals' feed that did them in. "The mold product that grows on sweet potatoes was present in the sweet potatoes," said Vanderloo. "All the clinical science, the death loss, the changes in the steers, are all compatible with this mold.

Sweet potato waste was a major component of the animals' diet at the time of the January 14th incident. Vanderloo said regionally available agricultural byproducts are commonly used to supplement animal rations, and in Central Wisconsin, that's often sweet potatoes, potatoes and other vegetables. There's no danger to humans. "This is a byproduct and it has a lesser value and therefore it can be fed to livestock at a lower cost, so this is not a product that goes in the food chain," Vanderloo explained.

The deaths of the Wisconsin cattle, reported shortly after other mass animal die-offs, fueled wild speculation as to the cause, everything from the end of the Mayan calendar to the second coming and the apocalypse.