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Shasta and Goliath: Bringing Down Corporate Rule

Mt. Shasta
© Unknown

Mt. Shasta is both a giant and a plucky small town taking on the giants of the corporate world.
Mt. Shasta, a small northern California town of 3,500 residents nestled in the foothills of magnificent Mount Shasta, is taking on corporate power through an unusual process -- democracy.

The citizens of Mt. Shasta have developed an extraordinary ordinance, set to be voted on in the next special or general election, that would prohibit corporations such as Nestle and Coca-Cola from extracting water from the local aquifer. But this is only the beginning. The ordinance would also ban energy-giant PG&E, and any other corporation, from regional cloud seeding, a process that disrupts weather patterns through the use of toxic chemicals such as silver iodide. More generally, it would refuse to recognize corporate personhood, explicitly place the rights of community and local government above the economic interests of multinational corporations, and recognize the rights of nature to exist, flourish, and evolve.

Mt. Shasta is not alone. Rather, it is part of a (so far) quiet municipal movement making its way across the United States in which communities are directly defying corporate rule and affirming the sovereignty of local government.

Since 1998, more than 125 municipalities have passed ordinances that explicitly put their citizens' rights ahead of corporate interests, despite the existence of state and federal laws to the contrary. These communities have banned corporations from dumping toxic sludge, building factory farms, mining, and extracting water for bottling. Many have explicitly refused to recognize corporate personhood. Over a dozen townships in Pennsylvania, Maine, and New Hampshire have recognized the right of nature to exist and flourish (as Ecuador just did in its new national constitution). Four municipalities, including Halifax in Virginia, and Mahoney, Shrewsbury, and Packer in Pennsylvania, have passed laws imposing penalties on corporations for chemical trespass, the involuntary introduction of toxic chemicals into the human body.

Cow

Another blow for families: Fastest rise in prices of staple foods in five years

The prices of a range of basic foods surged at the start of the year, showing the biggest monthly rise in more than five years.

Bread, pasta, and packets and tins of food increased in cost by 2.7 per cent between December and January to reach an annual rate of 6.3 per cent, according to the British Retail Consortium.

Overall, the annual rate of food inflation jumped from 4 per cent to 4.6 per cent, despite claims of supermarkets to be waging a new year price war. This was the largest monthly increase in two years.

Heart

Gazans feed hungry Egyptian troops

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An Egyptian border policeman stands guard on Rafah border.
Over the last three days, Gazans have been giving food to Egyptian soldiers isolated on the Gaza border since the beginning of the popular revolution.

Underground tunnels, which were used to bring basic goods from Egypt into the Gaza Strip, are now working in the opposite direction.

Egyptian soldiers, who have been isolated on the Gaza border for the past 10 days, due to the internal upheaval, are getting bread, canned food and other supplies from the impoverished coastal enclave through the tunnels.

Gaza's merchants have also been sending vegetables, eggs and other staples into Egypt, where store owners have run out of stock because normal supplies are cut off by the unrest, Ha'aretz reported Friday.

Since 2006, Palestinians in the Gaza Strip have resorted to the so-called feeding tubes to deliver their basic needs to the enclave which has been sealed off by an Israeli blockade.

Rafah is the main entry and exit post between Egypt and the coastal enclave.

Millions of people have been holding daily protests in Egyptian cities for the past 12 days. The demonstrators are demanding an immediate end to the 30-year rule of President Hosni Mubarak. The violence has claimed around 300 lives so far.

Light Sabers

Thai, Cambodian forces exchange gunfire near ancient temple

Fighting between Thai and Cambodian troops flared again briefly on Saturday morning, after clashes over an ancient temple claimed by both countries erupted along the border on Friday.

A Thai Army spokesman said one soldier was killed in the latest round of gunfire, and four others were injured. That brings the weekend death toll to two people. Earlier, the country's health minister told the MCOT news agency that one Thai villager was killed by artillery shells fired by Cambodian troops.

Fighting took place on Friday and Saturday near the Preah Vihear temple, an 11th century structure which straddles the boundary between Cambodia and Thailand. The building itself sits on a cliff in Cambodian territory, but the most accessible entrance to the site is on the Thai side.

State media for both countries confirm that there was an exchange of gunfire and artillery on Friday afternoon for about two hours. Both sides are pointing the finger at the other over who fired the first shots.

Footprints

Guardian's Moscow correspondent expelled from Russia

Luke Harding's removal thought to be the first of a British staff journalist from the country since end of cold war.
Image
© Fedor Savintsev/the Guardian
Luke Harding, the Guardian's Moscow correspondent, has been expelled from Russia.

The Guardian's Moscow correspondent has been expelled from Russia, in what is believed to be the first removal of a British staff journalist from the country since the end of the cold war.

Luke Harding's forced departure comes after the newspaper's reporting of the WikiLeaks cables, where he reported on allegations that Russia under the rule of Vladimir Putin had become a "virtual mafia state".

The journalist flew back to Moscow at the weekend after a two-month stint reporting on the contents of the leaked US diplomatic cables from London, but was refused entry when his passport was checked on his arrival.

After spending 45 minutes in an airport cell, he was sent back to the UK on the first available plane - with his visa annulled and his passport only returned to him after taking his seat. Harding was given no specific reason for the decision, although an airport security official working for the Federal Border Service, an arm of the FSB intelligence agency, told him: "For you Russia is closed."

The tightly controlled nature of Russian politics means the expulsion is likely to have been ordered at a very senior level, but the British government has so far been unable to find out any more details about the decision.

Video

Khodorkovsky film vanishes again as director says: 'It's like a bad thriller'

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© Alexander Nemenov/AFP
The documentary, on Russian oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky (above), was stolen for the first time a few weeks ago.
The final edit of a documentary about jailed Russian oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky has been stolen from the director's office in Berlin, just days before its world premiere.

In what police described as a "very professional break-in", four computers containing the last cut of the film, titled simply Khodorkovsky, were removed from Cyril Tuschi's premises.

The documentary was due to be premiered at the Berlin film festival next week.

Khodorkovsky, a fierce critic of Russian president Vladimir Putin, was once his country's richest man but has been in jail on fraud charges since 2005 after falling foul of the Kremlin.

Although police have no leads in the case, there is suspicion that the theft is politically motivated and forms part of a Russian campaign against its critics.

"It's like being in a bad thriller," Tuschi told the Süddeutschezeitung. "Someone is trying to scare me and I must admit that they are succeeding."

This is the second time the film has been stolen. A few weeks ago, when Tuschi went to work on the final edit in Bali, his hotel room was broken into and his computer hard drive taken, according to his PR agency.

Display

Haredi Jews are told that Internet causes cancer

computer
© Unknown

New ultra-Orthodox marketing campaign uses scare tactics to prevent community from Web surfing. 'Internet causes disease, adversity,' Rabbi Shmuel Wosner writes

The Internet causes draught and terminal disease - so claims a new marketing campaign publicized in the ultra-Orthodox community and aims to curb use of the world wide web.

"Where there is Internet, there are no rains," read one of the posters that were pasted in central haredi spots. "Let's remove the idolatry from among us. Hundreds of thousands of cancer patients (suffer) because of the Internet."

Gear

By one measure, federal taxes lowest since 1950

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© Associated Press
President Barack Obama waves as he leaves the stage after speaking at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
Washington - Taxes too high?

Actually, as a share of the nation's economy, Uncle Sam's take this year will be the lowest since 1950, when the Korean War was just getting under way.

And for the third straight year, American families and businesses will pay less in federal taxes than they did under former President George W. Bush, thanks to a weak economy and a growing number of tax breaks for the wealthy and poor alike.

Income tax payments this year will be nearly 13 percent lower than they were in 2008, the last full year of the Bush presidency. Corporate taxes will be lower by a third, according to projections by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.

The poor economy is largely to blame, with corporate profits down and unemployment up. But so is a tax code that grows each year with new deductions, credits and exemptions. The result is that families making as much as $50,000 can avoid paying federal income taxes, if they have at least two dependent children. Low-income families can actually make a profit from the income tax, and the wealthy can significantly cut their payments.

Vader

Egypt police kill three anti-Mubarak protesters in desert clashes

Three killed, several wounded in clashes between police and 3,000 protesters in western province of Egypt, which marked first sizeable anti-Mubarak gathering in the area.

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© AFP
Egyptian demonstrators use a shoe and a broom to hit a picture of President Hosni Mubarak during a protest at Tahrir Square in Cairo on January 30, 2011.

Three people were killed and several suffered gunshot wounds in clashes between security forces and about 3,000 protesters in a western province of Egypt, state TV and security sources said on Wednesday.

The clashes in New Valley, a province that includes an oasis in Egypt's western desert, erupted on Tuesday and continued into Wednesday, according to security sources. State TV said three people died in the fighting but did not provide further details.

It appeared to be the first serious clash between police and protesters since officers all but disappeared from Egyptian streets after they had beaten, teargassed and fired rubber bullets at protesters on Jan. 28, dubbed the "Day of Wrath".

MIB

Should spies spend more time on Twitter?

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© Unknown
London - With unrest and chaos apparently having taken Egypt's rulers and Western states by surprise, governments and spies are increasingly looking to social media like Twitter to detect political threats in advance.

Protesters who overthrew Tunisian President Ben Ali and brought revolution to the streets of Egypt used sites such as Twitter and Facebook to coordinate action. While few credit social media with causing the uprisings, the speed of instant communication it allows is believed to have accelerated events. The same was true for British student protests late last year and a broader, rising tide of anti-austerity actions.

With so much more human interaction taking place online, and Tunisia and Egypt proving online dissent can swiftly yield real world consequences, governing authorities are interested. "In any highly fluid situation, open source information derived from social media can provide very useful insights into where things might be headed," one U.S. official familiar with intelligence matters told Reuters.

Intelligence agencies have long focused attention on extremist websites to detect crime and militancy.

But the idea of having state spies, police and other authority figures watching mainstream Twitter and Facebook feeds closely for signs of dissent might make some people rather uneasy -- particularly in countries with a record of extrajudicial killings and other human rights abuses.