Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Australian Govt. Weighs Up Joining U.S. Air War In Iraq

from The Australian government is actively considering the commitment of military forces as part of the widening US military intervention in Iraq, according to a front-page article in today’s Australian. While the newspaper focussed on Australian war planes joining the US in air strikes against Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militias, it also pointed to other options including the dispatch of ground forces.

The article was written by the Australian’s foreign editor Greg Sheridan who has close connections with the security establishment in both Canberra and Washington. Murdoch’s newspaper, and Sheridan in particular, have played a prominent role in whipping up a terrorist scare campaign that would be used to justify Australian military involvement.

The Coalition government was one of the first to declare it was fully on board the new US air war in Iraq, parroting concerns about the fate of beleaguered Yazidi minority in Iraq. The Australian military has already carried out so-called humanitarian air drops. Speaking in London on August 12 after high-level intelligence briefings from British officials, Prime Minister Tony Abbott declared that “we certainly don’t rule out” military involvement in US-led operations in Iraq.

Since then, the US has dramatically expanded the scope of its military intervention. The plight of the Yazidis has been pushed into the background as US fighter jets and drones have carried out scores of air strikes against ISIS targets in support of an Iraqi/Kurdish ground offensive to retake the strategic Mosul Dam in northern Iraq.

Speaking at Adelaide University last Thursday, Abbott indicated Canberra was in discussion with the US and other allies, such as Britain, over Australian involvement in Iraq. “We are talking to our partners about how we might contribute to international efforts to protect people against the advances of ISIS terrorists,” he said.

Abbott declared that there had to be “a clear and proportionate role for us” and, in line with Obama’s rhetoric, ruled out anything on the scale of the 2003 US-led invasion. Such caveats are meaningless, however, as the US expands its intervention. Top American officials are already indicating that US air strikes could be extended to ISIS targets inside Syria.

Abbott: Australian troops could return to Iraq
Australian PM at risk of repeating Iraq war mistake

Australian Govt. Sued Over Asylum Detainees' Health Care

from Press TV: Asylum seekers detained on Christmas Island are suing the Australian government and Immigration Minister Scott Morrison for neglecting to provide proper medical care.

A class action filed in the Victoria Supreme Court on Tuesday seeks compensation and asks the court to order the Canberra government and Morrison to provide medical care for asylum seekers who suffered an injury while in detention during the past three years.

The asylum seekers are also seeking an order that asylum seekers be removed from Christmas Island so they can receive appropriate medical care. They say the government has failed to keep track of the medical needs of asylum seekers or ensure adequate medication was available.

A lawyer from Maurice Blackburn, which is acting for the asylum seekers in the class action, says there is a substantial body of evidence pointing to widespread failings for people in detention on Christmas Island, including a poor standard of health care and poor access to any specialist care.
“Too many asylum seekers’ health are being severely compromised by being in detention. Doctors who have first-hand experience of what it is like there say services fall well short of standards the Australian community expects,” Jacob Varghese said.
He added the class action alleges Morrison has failed in his duty of care to protect the health and wellbeing of asylum seekers held in detention of Christmas Island.
“If that duty has been breached, as we allege, asylum seekers are entitled to compensation for the injuries and illnesses they have suffered as a result,” Varghese said.
Over the past several years, thousands of people have been held on Christmas Island in the Indian Ocean. There are currently 759 men, 97 women and 148 children in detention there.

Registered Lobbyists Elbow Their Way Back Into TPP Committees

from Hollywood and big publishers already have an alarming stranglehold over the US Trade Representative's objectives in trade agreements, leading to extreme copyright enforcement and privacy-invading policies in trade deals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement. But now, the White House is doing away with the remaining limits it has on lobbyists influencing federal policies.

Special interests won a federal court ruling earlier this year, where the judge in the case suggested that President Obama's ban on registered lobbyists serving on federal advisory committees violated those lobbyists' rights. In light of this ruling, the White House has sent a memo specifying new rules, permitting lobbyists to once again officially serve on federal agencies if they are representing a specific client (such as say, the Motion Picture Association of America).

These new relaxed rules on lobbyists mean that Hollywood will now be able to exercise their influence on US trade policy more than ever.

Since President Obama enacted the ban in 2010, only non-registered lobbyists were able to serve on these Trade Advisory Committees. These committees currently include hundreds of legal advisors for corporations, who can log in from their own computers to view and comment on the official drafts of trade agreements. Meanwhile, Congress members are only permitted to view the text in a specific room without the ability to take notes or be accompanied by legislative aides. Public representatives are afforded even less access to negotiations than corporate representatives.

It's no wonder that the TPP carries so many anti-user policies. Based upon what we've seen from the leaked Intellectual Property chapter, we know that this current arrangement already gives corporations undue influence over its terms. That's why the TPP includes provisions that criminalize the circumvention of DRM, expand the international standard of copyright terms to life of the author plus 70 years, and cement dangerous liabilities for websites and other Internet intermediaries that will force them to take down and censor users' content.

India May Explore Oil in South China Sea

from India is assessing whether to explore oil in five blocks in the South China sea, on the invitation of Vietnam, a crucial and strategically located south east Asian friend, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) has said.

External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj is on a three-day visit to Vietnam starting today.

China lays claim to most of the South China Sea, but MEA Spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin said Vietnam says these five blocks are in its waters. Hanoi made the offer for exploration to New Delhi in November last year and the latter is assessing data.

Sources said India believes some of these oil wells could be extremely productive and is inclined to take up exploration, though no agreement has been signed yet.

Vietnam is fighting China over maritime boundaries in the South China Sea, which is rich in resources, fishing potential and an extremely busy sea with constant commercial traffic. It looks upon India as a friend and a supporter on disputes with China. 


Monday, 25 August 2014

Microplastic Contaminates Found in Sydney Harbor

from Scientists in the first study of its kind have found microplastic contamination at the bottom of Sydney Harbor, which may pose a threat to the food chain, Australian media reported.
The research by the Sydney Institute of Marine Science tested 27 sites across the harbor, with researchers finding up to 60 microplastics per 100 milligrams of sediment. This was a higher volume than expected even in the cleanest and best-flushed reaches. 

Microplastics are tiny fragments and threads of plastic, which are less than five millimeters long. Professor Emma Johnston from the Sydney Institute, who leads the study, told ABC Australia microplastics represent the “emergence of a new contamination in our harbors.”
Johnston explained that microplastics come from a range of sources, including fleece jackets, facial scrubs and plastic bags and bottles. But scientists still know very little about their effects on the environment.


Chinese Fighter Buzzes US Patrol Aircraft

from A Chinese high-performance fighter intercepted and buzzed a US Navy P-8A maritime patrol and surveillance aircraft on Tuesday in international air space over the South China Sea, the Pentagon confirmed on Friday.

The interception was “very close, very dangerous ... pretty aggressive and very unprofessional,” Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby told reporters.

The Chinese aircraft, a Shenyang J-11B Flanker B from the People’s Liberation Army Air Force, made a number of close passes to the P-8A Poseidon, a military version of the well-known Boeing 737 jetliner.

The interception took place about 135 miles east of Hainan Island, Pentagon officials said, noting that the area in which, per international law, military activities may be conducted “as an exercise of the freedoms of navigation and overflight.”


Saturday, 23 August 2014

Singapore, Australia To Share 'Jihadi Intel'

from Australia and Singapore have vowed to enhance intelligence sharing amid growing fears about the threat posed by jihadist citizens returning home after fighting in Syria and Iraq. 

Ministers from both countries warned of the rising risk posed by the returning fighters who were radicalised and had developed sophisticated skills to carry out terrorist attacks.

"In this context of counter-terrorism and counter radicalisation ... we felt that we could exchange more information because these threats if they materialise will affect all citizens of all races and all religions," Singapore Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said at a press conference with Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop.

Senior Australian government officials led by Ms Bishop are in Singapore for bilateral meetings.
Ms Bishop said Canberra was "also in discussions with our counterparts in Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines as this is not an issue that is isolated".

"If these foreign fighters, as they are called, come back to Australia, come back to our region, then they pose a threat," she said.

"They are hardened, experienced extremists who have undertaken in a number of instances, terrorist activities overseas."

Australia's assistant Defence Minister Stuart Robert said the enhanced information sharing with Singapore would cover "the areas of terrorism, extremism, foreign fighters and the growth of homegrown extremism".

Friday, 22 August 2014

Australian Community Debates The Trans-Pacific Partnership

from On Wednesday 20 August 2014 a public meeting about the looming Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) deal has attracted heated discussion and debate from concerned residents in the bayside suburbs of Melbourne in Trade Minister Andrew Robb’s electorate of Goldstein.

At the meeting three experts; Dr David Legge from La Trobe University, Tom Warne-Smith from the Environmental Justice Victoria and former advisor to the ACT government and Angela Daly from Swinburne University explored the potential impacts of the TPP including upon the cost of medicines, the ability of foreign investors to sue the government and internet privacy.

Dr Legge said that, “The risks of the TPP from a public health point of view, include price increases for medicines and new limits on public health regulation, including tobacco control, food labelling and the marketing of junk food to children. These risks loom particularly large for developing countries joining this agreement. It appears that the main beneficiaries of this agreement will be large foreign owned transnational corporations.”

Mr Warne-Smith stated, “The TPP will lock in a system that prioritises the polluters and entrenches foreign profits over the right of Australians to a healthy environment and the benefits of our unique ecosystems. Already industry has the ear of government at the expense of the community. Adopting the measures in the TPP will entrench this imbalance, making it even harder for communities to protect their local environments.”

Much of the concern was around a provision in the TPP known as Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS), which allows foreign investors to sue the government when laws or regulations are created which harm profits. “An important fea-ture of our democratic system is that the Parliament of the day determines what is in the public interest and how best to protect the collective interest of Australia and Australians. Giving foreign corporations the right to take legal action against Australia for decades to come simply because our politicians make a decision in the best interest of the people who voted for them is fundamentally offensive to most people’s basic expectations about how government should work,” commented Mr. Warne-Smith.

Michael Johnstone, one of the organisers of the meeting said, “We are thrilled with the turn out and level of community interest on the night, we hope the government takes notice of the growing community outrage regarding this secret trade deal and releases the text to allow for proper public analysis before it is signed. We are disappointed that Trade Minister, Andrew Robb, was not here to answer his constituent’s questions.”

The meeting was organised by members of TPP Australia; members of the Australian community worried about the implications of the proposed trade agreement.

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Thailand: Military Chief Appointed As Prime Minister

from General Prayuth has become the first Thai military officer in over 50 years to launch a coup d'etat and to be appointed as prime minister as well.

Thailand's army chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha has consolidated power after the army-appointed National Legislative Assembly (NLA) rubber-stamped his nomination as prime minister.

A total of 191 of the 194 assembly members present picked the 60-year-old as the kingdom's new leader. The remaining three members abstained from voting.

General Prayuth has become the first Thai military officer in over 50 years to launch a coup d'etat and to be appointed as prime minister as well. The last to do that was dictator Field Marshal Sarit Thanarat in 1957.

General Prayuth, who is said to enjoy a challenge, was not at the NLA when the vote was taken; he was celebrating the 64th anniversary of the elite Queen's Guard regiment.

He is part of an elite military clique called Burapha Phayak or "eastern tigers'' which has its roots in the Queen's Guard and has absolute loyalty to the King and Queen.

The 200-seat NLA consists of establishment loyalists handpicked by the regime which seized power on May 22. More than half are serving or retired military and police officers.