Identity cards could be used to spy on people

The compulsory identity card could be used to carry out surveillance on people, MPs warned today.

Members of the Home Affairs Select Committee said it was concerned that the way the authorities use sensitive data gathered in the multi-billion pound programme could “creep” to include spying.

The all-party committee also urged ministers to make plans on how to deal with the theft of personal details from the National Identity Scheme, which will build a massive database on every person over 16 in Britain.

It accepted ministers’ assurances that surveillance was not part of current plans, but asked for a guarantee that no expansion would take place without MPs’ approval.

“We are concerned … about the potential for ‘function creep’ in terms of the surveillance potential of the National Identity Scheme,” the report said.

“Any ambiguity about the objectives of the scheme puts in jeopardy the public’s trust in the scheme itself and in the Government’s ability to run it.

Read moreIdentity cards could be used to spy on people

The Cyber Militia Defends America

The U.S. government has quietly gone ahead and formed several special security organizations for policing the internet.

Because there is such a (trained, not to mention talented) manpower shortage right now (and in the foreseeable future), this was done on the cheap. An effective force could not be recruited, even if everyone agreed to accept government pay levels, because of the huge expense.

One solution that was suggested even before September 11, 2001, and eventually caught on, was to organize and reward the pro bono cybersecurity efforts that have been going on for some time. A lot of talented whitehats just get pissed off and go after bad guys on their own nickel.

An example is HoneyNet (the pro bono network of honeypots set up to attract, analyze and document backhat activities and techniques). One suggestion that did not fly was setting up a “CyberCorps” as a separate corporation, with a few really good people to run it, and enough budget to pay market rate for the right people, and still have a close working relationship with government agencies and commercial firms that spend a lot on net security (banks and brokerages, for example.)

Instead, a “Cyber Corps” program was set up to give tuition assistance to college students studying computer security, in order to increase the number of qualified experts in this area. Meanwhile, the Department of Homeland Security established working relationships with existing computer security groups, while the Department of Defense encouraged the services to set up computer security operations. The air force established the Cyber Command, a major operation that, it is hoped, will give the air force the lead (and most of the budget) for defense related Internet security operations.

Read moreThe Cyber Militia Defends America

Biotech giants demand a high price for saving the planet

Related Articles:
–  Exposed: the great GM crops myth

The World According to Monsanto – A documentary that Americans won’t ever see

At stake is no less than control of the world’s food supply.

BIODIVERSITY: Privatisation Making Seeds Themselves Infertile

Companies accused of ‘profiteering’ as they attempt to patent crop genes

Giant biotech companies are privatising the world’s protection against climate change by filing hundreds of monopoly patents on genes that help crops resist it, a new investigation has concluded.

The study – by the authoritative Action Group on Erosion, Technology and Concentration (ETC Group), based in Ottawa, Canada – has found that nine firms have filed at least 532 patents around the world on about 55 different genes offering protection against heat, drought and floods. If granted, the companies would be given control of crucial natural raw material needed to maintain food supplies in an increasingly hungry world.

Last week, as world leaders met in Rome to discuss the food crisis, GM companies promoted their technologies as the answer to hunger. On Thursday, Monsanto – the biggest and most controversial firm – announced a “commitment” to increase food production, partly by developing crops that need less water.

“Together we must meet the needs for increased food, fibre and energy, while preserving the environment,” said the company’s head, Hugh Grant. “These commitments represent the beginning of a journey that we will expand on and deepen in the years ahead.”

The ETC Group calls this “an opportunistic public relations strategy”, adding: “Monsanto’s business is selling patented seeds for industrial agriculture – not addressing a humanitarian food crisis.”

The report of its investigation shows that Monsanto and BASF – which last year announced a $1.5bn “collaboration” to develop new GM crops, including “ones more tolerant to adverse environmental conditions such as drought” – have between them filed patents for 27 of the 55 genes. Others had been filed by companies such as Bayer, Syngenta and Dow.

The reports says some of the applications are sweeping. One would cover more than 30 crops from oats to oil palms, triticale to tea, and potatoes to perennial grass – “in other words, virtually all food crops”.

It says the “corporate grab on climate-tolerant genes” means that “a handful of transnational companies are now positioned to determine who gets access to key genetic traits and what price they must pay”.

Small farmers in developing countries will be particularly hard hit by such “climate-change profiteering”. Patenting will make the crops expensive and ensure that poor farmers have to buy them every year, by prohibiting them from saving seeds from one harvest to grow for the next.

According to the report, conventional, non-GM breeding techniques are making remarkable progress in developing crops that can tolerate heat, floods and drought. A new Asian rice, due to go on the market next year, can stand being submerged for two weeks without affecting yields, while a new African one flowers early in the morning, escaping the heat of the day.

But, it says, “the patent grab is sucking up money and resources that could be spent on affordable, farmer-based strategies for survival”.

It concludes: “These patented technologies will ultimately concentrate corporate power, drive up costs, inhibit independent research and further undermine the rights of farmers to save and exchange seeds”.

But Croplife, which represents the world’s plant-science industry, retorts; “Patenting is very important. That is how we protect intellectual property and ensure we continue to bring new innovations to the marketplace.” It denies that biotechnology companies are seeking to monopolise world food supplies.

Read moreBiotech giants demand a high price for saving the planet

Pentagon blocked Cheney’s attack on Iran

WASHINGTON – Pentagon officials firmly opposed a proposal by Vice President Dick Cheney last summer for airstrikes against the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) bases by insisting that the administration would have to make clear decisions about how far the United States would go in escalating the conflict with Iran, according to a former George W Bush administration official.

J Scott Carpenter, who was then deputy assistant secretary of state in the State Department’s Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, recalled in an interview that senior Defense Department (DoD) officials and the Joint Chiefs used the escalation issue as the main argument against the Cheney proposal.

McClatchy newspapers reported last August that Cheney had proposal several weeks earlier “launching airstrikes at suspected training camps in Iran”, citing two officials involved in Iran policy.

According to Carpenter, who is now at the Washington Institute on Near East Policy, a strongly pro-Israel think-tank, Pentagon officials argued that no decision should be made about the limited airstrike on Iran without a thorough discussion of the sequence of events that would follow an Iranian retaliation for such an attack. Carpenter said the DoD officials insisted that the Bush administration had to make “a policy decision about how far the administration would go – what would happen after the Iranians would go after our folks”.

Read morePentagon blocked Cheney’s attack on Iran

U.K. – Police raids safe deposit boxes


Officers believe the boxes were being used to store criminal assets

Six suitcases packed with suspected gold dust and about £30m in cash have been found during searches of safety deposit centres in London, police say.

Detectives also found heroin and cocaine, evidence linked to child sex abuse and forged passports.

The Met Police believe criminals used the centres in Park Lane, Hampstead and Edgware to store criminal assets.

Armed police continue to guard the buildings as specialist officers search the 7,000 safety deposit boxes.

So far only a third of the boxes have been opened and the finds have also included a firearm, counterfeit currency, several works of Renaissance art and a substantial amount of high value jewellery.

I am confident that this operation will have a damaging impact on organised crime in London and around the rest of the country
Commander Allan Gibson

Speaking after the raids Commander Allan Gibson said: “Search teams have been working around the clock to open all the boxes at the location and are progressing well, although we are likely to remain at the locations for some time yet.

“This is a complex and unique investigation that will use all of the expertise within the economic crime command and the findings are within our expectations at this stage.

“I am confident that this operation will have a damaging impact on organised crime in London and around the rest of the country.”

Read moreU.K. – Police raids safe deposit boxes

WA gas explosion fallout serious for iron ore, gold and base metals suppliers

The Varanus Island gas explosion and subsequent loss of around 30 percent of the state’s gas supplies is creating serious problems for the state’s massive mining industry and will affect productivity and supply for months, rather than weeks.

“Western Australia supplies about a third of the world’s iron ore, 20 percent of the gold and tens of thousands of tonnes of copper, nickel, zinc, lead and other industrial staples.”
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PERTH (Reuters) – Western Australian miners, which supply the world with metals and iron ore, fear sharp falls in productivity and lay-offs after a gas-plant explosion robbed them of power, industry and local government officials said on Sunday.

“This is very serious,” Reg Howard Smith, head of the state’s Chamber of Minerals and Energy, said after crisis talks with some of the world’s biggest resources firms, including BHP Billiton BHP..AX(BLT.L), Rio Tinto (RIO.AX)(RIO.L) and BP (BP.L).

“We’re seeing some stand-downs of staff occurring and we’re still deciding what needs to be done,” Smith told Reuters.

Western Australia lost about a third of its energy supplies last week when an explosion crippled a gas-handling plant on the tiny island of Varanus, about 100 km (62 miles) off Australia’s northwest coast. The Varanus plant, close to offshore gas fields, is operated by a unit of U.S.-based Apache Corp (APA.N).

Tim Wall, managing director of Apache’s Australian unit, said on Sunday he was sticking with an earlier estimate of “months, not weeks” before damage to the plant and associated gas pipelines was repaired and operations could restart.

Western Australia’s state government is trying to import more diesel from Asia to offset the drop in gas supplies, state premier Alan Carpenter said, noting that BP, which operates a diesel refinery in the state, was already at maximum production.

But getting diesel to remote, outback mines could take time.

“There is no wand to make this crisis disappear,” Carpenter told reporters on Sunday. “It’s one thing to get the diesel here on ships and another to where it’s needed by truck.”

Western Australia supplies about a third of the world’s iron ore, 20 percent of the gold and tens of thousands of tonnes of copper, nickel, zinc, lead and other industrial staples.

Read moreWA gas explosion fallout serious for iron ore, gold and base metals suppliers

Gold

Realated articles (Gold, Silver, M3):
Buying Opportunity For Gold And Silver
Fed’s Direct Loans to Banks Climb to Record Level
How Low Can The Dollar Go? Zero Value

What is the biggest mistake you can make with your money in 2008? Ignoring gold, silver and their related inflation hedges can lose you more money than all the other mistakes you can make put together, except for playing the roulette table in Vegas.

Once in a lifetime, there comes a chance to turn a relatively small amount of money into a fortune, and this is one of them. We are in the early stages of a massive multi-year bull market in the metals. The supply-demand situation beggars belief. This is as close to riskless as anything I have ever recommended in 31 years of publishing The Ruff Times. You can put a list of mining stocks on the wall, throw a dart at them, invest in the holes and make a lot of money, in effect creating your personal mutual fund. When the wind blows, even the turkeys fly. Of course you can make lot more money picking the sheep from the goats, and that is what the Ruff Times is for, separating the biggest winners from the holes in the ground surrounded by liars.

A word of caution: all my words of advice are for the long term only. In the short term, gold and silver can do anything, go anywhere. In the last bull market of the ‘70s-‘80s gold went from $120 to $850, but there were discouraging retreats of as much as 30% several times along the way. It was attacked by speculators, central banks, and even Uncle Sam through Jimmy Carter. But gold and silver prevailed, even though chickens bailed out from time to time. I was new to the advice business back then, and even I got scared out once for a little while.

Actually, this is “déjà vu all over again,” as said the master of malapropism, Yogi Berra. It’s an eerie repeat of the 1970s, only more so. All the same factors that drove that historic 1970s bull market are back, only a lot more so; an explosion of money creation by the Federal Reserve that is so great they have even stopped publishing a monthly report on M-3, the most trustworthy measure of changes in the money supply. I guess they no longer know, or don’t want you to know, the embarrassing numbers.

Actually, it’s worse than that. Did you know that the phrase “printing press” no longer means much when it comes to money? Actually, less than five percent of the money is actually minted, printed or coined! The rest of it is in cyberspace, created at the Federal Reserve, or by commercial banks. The amount is beyond comprehension. This process is called “monetary inflation,” and that is what ultimately drives price inflation and drives gold and silver. The more money is created, the higher go the precious metals.

Read moreGold

Israel ready for Military Operation in Gaza

Gaza decision in days

Army is ready for Gaza operation, waiting for Olmert to make final decision

“The sand in the hourglass is running out,” Defense Minister Ehud Barak promised Thursday in a meeting with municipal leaders in the Gaza region.

His words could be understood to mean that a significant IDF operation in Gaza is in the cards, and that we are not talking about months or weeks from now, but rather, something that will take place within days. The military blow, he said, will come before the lull.

Barak is attempting to blur his message and refrain from giving Hamas any clues, but it appears he already decided – even before the cabinet meeting and consultations with other ministers – that a truce with Hamas without a military blow that precedes it is no longer a realistic option.

It appears that on this issue he is in agreement with the prime minister. The IDF chief of staff also decided that there is no other way but a military operation, even though the political leadership is unable to point to a required diplomatic achievement that would stem from this high-risk military move.

The army would perhaps prefer air attacks accompanied by some ground operations against a very large number of Hamas targets. Yet this is not very realistic, because for such activity to take place military intelligence and the Shin Bet are supposed to provide hundreds of high-quality targets, and this, how shall we put it, is not quite working out.

What is left is to take over problematic areas on the ground, using the air power lever, in the hopes that developments would not require a reserves call-up and full occupation of the Strip.

On Thursday, we still saw contacts between the Defense Ministry and the Egyptians regarding the answers Israel is supposed to provide to the truce offer and regarding a trip by top defense official Amos Gilad to Egypt. For the time being, Gilad is not going anywhere, Hamas is not giving any good reason to believe in the truce, and the IDF is on alert ahead of various types of operations in the Strip.

We are talking about phased activity, the plans are in place, and the army is practicing at this time. If the activity expands to occupying significant parts of the Strip for long periods of time there is also a plan for a reserves call-up.

Hamas must be laughing

The IDF is prepared to engage in fighting vis-à-vis Gaza within a short period of time. What are we waiting for? Why does it have to take days? We’ve already been there. Bush came and went, and the 60th birthday celebrations are over. So what’s the excuse now for not taking off the gloves against Gaza? The Shavuot holiday? Indeed, that’s a good reason not to spoil the people’s mood and the trips to the Negev. But Shavuot will be followed by summer vacation and then by Rosh Hashana. We can always find reasons to postpone tough decisions.

(Madness alive and well. – The Infinite Unknown)

Read moreIsrael ready for Military Operation in Gaza

Iran demands Security Council action on Israel threat

WASHINGTON, June 7 (Reuters) – Iran demanded action from the U.N. Security Council about an Israeli threat to attack its nuclear sites if it continues uranium enrichment, according to a letter released on Saturday by Iranian U.N. Ambassador Mohammad Khazaee.

Israeli Transport Minister Shaul Mofaz was quoted on Friday in an Israeli newspaper saying that an attack on Iran looks “unavoidable” given the apparent failure of sanctions to deny Tehran technology with bomb-making potential.

“Such a dangerous threat against a sovereign state and a member of the United Nations constitutes a manifest violation of international law and contravenes the most fundamental principles of the Charter of the United Nations, and, thus, requires a resolute and clear response on the part of the United Nations, particularly the Security Council,” Khazaee’s letter to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, dated June 6, said.

Iran has defied Western pressure to abandon its uranium enrichment projects, which it says are for peaceful electricity generation.

Tehran has also threatened to retaliate against Israel, believed to have the Middle East’s only atomic arsenal, and U.S. targets in the Gulf, if there is any attack on Iran.

Mofaz’s threat against Iran was the most explicit from a member of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s government, which has preferred to hint at a possible use of force.

Read moreIran demands Security Council action on Israel threat

The Future Is Now? Pretty Soon, at Least

Before we get to Ray Kurzweil’s plan for upgrading the “suboptimal software” in your brain, let me pass on some of the cheery news he brought to the World Science Festival last week in New York.

Do you have trouble sticking to a diet? Have patience. Within 10 years, Dr. Kurzweil explained, there will be a drug that lets you eat whatever you want without gaining weight.

Worried about greenhouse gas emissions? Have faith. Solar power may look terribly uneconomical at the moment, but with the exponential progress being made in nanoengineering, Dr. Kurzweil calculates that it’ll be cost-competitive with fossil fuels in just five years, and that within 20 years all our energy will come from clean sources.

Are you depressed by the prospect of dying? Well, if you can hang on another 15 years, your life expectancy will keep rising every year faster than you’re aging. And then, before the century is even half over, you can be around for the Singularity, that revolutionary transition when humans and/or machines start evolving into immortal beings with ever-improving software.

At least that’s Dr. Kurzweil’s calculation. It may sound too good to be true, but even his critics acknowledge he’s not your ordinary sci-fi fantasist. He is a futurist with a track record and enough credibility for the National Academy of Engineering to publish his sunny forecast for solar energy.

He makes his predictions using what he calls the Law of Accelerating Returns, a concept he illustrated at the festival with a history of his own inventions for the blind. In 1976, when he pioneered a device that could scan books and read them aloud, it was the size of a washing machine.

Two decades ago he predicted that “early in the 21st century” blind people would be able to read anything anywhere using a handheld device. In 2002 he narrowed the arrival date to 2008. On Thursday night at the festival, he pulled out a new gadget the size of a cellphone, and when he pointed it at the brochure for the science festival, it had no trouble reading the text aloud.

This invention, Dr. Kurzweil said, was no harder to anticipate than some of the predictions he made in the late 1980s, like the explosive growth of the Internet in the 1990s and a computer chess champion by 1998. (He was off by a year – Deep Blue’s chess victory came in 1997.)

Read moreThe Future Is Now? Pretty Soon, at Least