Against the Death Cult: We Must Not Let Ruthless Ideologues Destroy the Climate and Kill Us All

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Agriculture

The Niger delta is burning. The oil companies plumbing the river basin of its black gold have found an ingenious way of dealing with the natural gas they consider a waste by-product of the extraction process. Capturing the gas would be costly, inefficient – so instead, they flare it off. Across the delta, towers of flame burn day and night, some of them stretching ten storeys into the sky.

Gas flaring was officially banned in Nigeria in 1984 – but still, two million people live within four kilometres of a flare site, at risk of the cancers, neurological, reproductive and respiratory problems linked to the pollutants released into the air. The soil is hotter, and crop yields have dwindled; “You plant, and before you know it, everything is dead”. When the rains come, they are black. Oil spills spew from the pipelines of Shell and ENI, the biggest operators in the area. Shell has reported 17.5 million litres lost since 2011; Amnesty International say that’s likely a hefty underestimate. The spills have poisoned drinking water, and destroyed the livelihoods of the fishermen who once combed the delta. 

We are over the brink. People have already lost their lives to hurricanes and bush fires and flooding, to toxins and crop failures – all disasters rooted in fossil-fuel dependent extractive capitalism, bankrolled by a deregulated financial sector. People continue to lose their lives. Global temperatures soar, and a monstrous future slouches towards us from the ecocidal imaginations of the handful of humans directly invested in a doctrine of global annihilation. Now, the death drive built into the heart of our economy reveals itself in ever more undeniable terms; the skull is showing through the skin. 

Scientists at ExxonMobil confirmed the truth of climate change in the 1980s, at the very latest. Since then, Exxon and its fellow fossil fuel companies have spent decades sponsoring climate change denial and blocking efforts to legislate against apocalypse. Under their auspices, newspapers and broadcasters and politicians revelled in a vicious subterfuge disguised as pious gnosticism; asking how we can know for sure that climate change is caused by human activity. In recent years, this strategy has buckled under the weight of public outrage and scientific proof.

The science is clear: only an ambitious, rapid overhaul of the fundaments of our economy gives us hope of survival. And that hope is tantalisingly within our grasp. We have the technology, and we have the financial capacity; all that’s missing is the political will to give those solutions heft, muscle and cold hard cash.

Now, culprit companies are suddenly flouting their green credentials to shore up their position as custodians of the future. Shell Oil has made a big song and dance about its investments in green technology. Goldman Sachs has funded research into how to make cities “resilient to climate change”. These are little more than attempts to seduce and cajole worried publics and skittish investors. Still these companies hoard over-valued assets, continue ploughing resources into carbon-heavy industries, show no signs of leaving enough fossil fuels in the ground to avoid the breakdown of the climate, the potential collapse of civilisation and the extinction of life on earth. Negotiators were banned from mentioning climate change in recent UK-US trade talks. the UK government has subsidised the fossil fuel industry to the tune of 10bn in a decade, and its legislators continue to take its lobby money in return. They defend their right to starve out and flood and burn chunks of human existence – and make money doing it. 

We are being held hostage by a cabal of ruthless ideologues whose only loyalty is to a doctrine of global death. Their success thrives on silence, isolation, manipulation, denial. They are united in their opposition to reality, in their determination to hunt down or hound out real alternatives that threaten their mortal stranglehold on power. All other doctrines are heresy, and their preachers envoys of a sinister delusion. They are unique guardians of a dark and dazzling reality.

If this took place among a handful of hippies beckoning oblivion from the heat haze of a california desert we would call it is: a death cult. Instead, it is orchestrated from sumptuous glass towers, from the velvet inner chambers of parliament – so we call it business as usual. 

To these science-backed suggestions that economic alternatives are possible – even urgent, necessary, beautiful – they react with vitriol and incredulity. Saving the world may sound appealing, but it clashes intolerably with the cultish diktat: ‘There Is No Alternative”. Partisans of the Green New Deal like Alexandra Ocasio Cortez are dismissed at best as well-meaning dreamers or childish hysterics, and, at worst, nightmarish envoys of backdoor totalitarianism. Indeed, grassroots activists have been murdered for organising against big polluters. The political allegiances are clear: Defending life is foolish. Annihilation is inevitable. We have only to accept it graciously, to walk into its arms.

Rightwing politicians barter casually about the difference between a decarbonisation target of 2030, 2045, 2050, 2060 as a matter of messaging and electoral success. As though that difference were not cashed out in millions of deaths. Such differences slide off the sunny, addled mind of the cultist, for whom life and death are indistinguishable. 

A chosen few will be spared; the golden ones who walk in the light. As the asset-stripping and plundering continues apace, so the market for luxury disaster insurance packages has grown, with companies offering high-tech flood defences, private firefighters, private security to guard against mobs of looters. Theirs is a gilded world where disaster can never truly happen to them – because it never truly has. That no insurance policy in the world will provide them with breathable air or sustainable agriculture is a matter for the others, the ghosts, the un-living, those whose existence never really registered. Us.   

Broadcasters tried to haul Boris Johnson before the court of the living on Thursday night for the climate change debate, to account for Conservative policy proposals which present a 50% risk of tipping the world into irreversible, runaway climate breakdown, to account for his fossil fuel backers. He responded by threatening them with censure and legal action. Cult leaders can tolerate no scrutiny of their fragile world picture, no challenge to their power. 

We can break the stranglehold, and commit the death cultists to the bleak annals of history where they belong. It is time to choose only those who have chosen life.   

Eleanor Penny is a writer and a regular contributor to Novara Media. 

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Google, Facebook business models threat to human rights: Amnesty | ABS-CBN News

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Facebook Chairman and CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies at a House Financial Services Committee hearing in Washington, US, Oct. 23, 2019. Erin Scott, Reuters

SAN FRANCISCO — The data-collection business model fueling Facebook and Google represents a threat to human rights around the world, Amnesty International said in a report Wednesday.

The organization argued that offering people free online services and then using information about them to target money-making ads imperils a gamut of rights including freedom of opinion and expression.

“Despite the real value of the services they provide, Google and Facebook’s platforms come at a systemic cost,” Amnesty said in its report, “Surveillance Giants.”

“The companies’ surveillance-based business model forces people to make a Faustian bargain, whereby they are only able to enjoy their human rights online by submitting to a system predicated on human rights abuse.”

With ubiquitous surveillance, the two online giants are able to collect massive amounts of data which may be used against their customers, according to the London-based human rights group.

The business model is “inherently incompatible with the right to privacy,” Amnesty contended.

The report maintained that the two Silicon Valley firms have established “near-total dominance over the primary channels through which people connect and engage with the online world,” giving them unprecedented power over people’s lives.

“Google and Facebook dominate our modern lives — amassing unparalleled power over the digital world by harvesting and monetizing the personal data of billions of people,” said Kumi Naidoo, Amnesty International’s secretary general.

“Their insidious control of our digital lives undermines the very essence of privacy and is one of the defining human rights challenges of our era.”

The report called for governments to implement policies that ensure access to online services while protecting user privacy.

“Governments have an obligation to protect people from human rights abuses by corporations,” Amnesty maintained.

“But for the past two decades, technology companies have been largely left to self-regulate.”

DISPUTE ON FINDINGS

Facebook pushed back against what it contended were inaccuracies in the report, saying it strongly disagreed with its business model being characterized as surveillance-based.

“Our business model is what allows us to offer an important service where people can exercise foundational human rights — to have a voice (freedom of expression) and be able to connect (freedom of association and assembly),” said a letter from Facebook privacy and public policy director Steve Satterfield in an annex to the Amnesty report.

“Facebook’s business model is not, as your summary suggests, driven by the collection of data about people.”

Facebook spotlighted its measures implemented which limit data information used for ad targeting; controls provided to users regarding their data; and steps taken to restrict abuses by apps on the social network.

“As you correctly note, we do not sell data; we sell ads,” Facebook said.

Facebook chief and co-founder Mark Zuckerberg has called for governments to implement uniform rules regarding data-handling instead of leaving private companies to make crucial social decisions such as the limits of free speech.

Google did not offer a specific written response.

But the Amnesty report noted that Google announced this month it would limit data that it shares with advertisers through its ad auction platform, following the launch of an inquiry by the Irish data protection authority and had launched a new feature allowing users to delete location data.

© Agence France-Presse

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Reprieve on the way for 119 Nigerians on death row in Malaysia | P.M. News

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Malaysia execution for drug trafficking

The 119 Nigerians on death row in Malaysia may be saved from the executioner if the country’s legislature passed a bill to abolish the death penalty as being proposed by the country’s law minister Liew Vui Keong.

The minister plans to table the bill in the March 2020 sitting of Dewan Rakyat, Malaysia’s Lower House of Parliament.

According to Amnesty’s latest report, Fatally Flawed: Why Malaysia must abolish the Death Penalty, 1,281 people are on death row as of February 2019.

Foreigners make up a significant 44 percent, 568 people, with Nigerians accounting for 119. They were sentenced to death for drug trafficking.

“Nationals from Nigeria made up 21 per cent of this group, with those from Indonesia (16%), Iran (15%), India (10%), Philippines (8%) and Thailand (6%) following suit”, Amnesty said.

Amnesty International latest report: Nigerians on death row may get some reprieve soon

“A significant 73 per cent of all those under sentence of death have been convicted of drug trafficking under Section 39(b) of the Dangerous of Drugs Act, 1952 — an extremely high figure for an offence that does not even meet the threshold of the ‘most serious crimes’ under international law and standards and for which the death penalty must not be imposed,” AI said in the report.

The Nigerians have not been executed because of a moratorium on executions in place since October 2018 as the government mulls law reform.

A special task force led by immediate past chief justice Richard Malanjum has also been set up to study alternative penalties for laws carrying mandatory capital punishment.

Amnesty report points at various flaws in the Malaysian legal system, including denial of complete legal aid to foreigners.

Amnesty also said that insufficient funding of legal aid also hinders Malaysians from accessing proper representation, especially those who live in rural areas and who are not able to afford a lawyer.

“It is further concerning that because of how legal aid is structured in the different schemes that provide no free legal representatives until the trial is due to start, many defendants are left awaiting trial without any legal assistance for significant periods that have extended from months to, in most cases, two to five years,” the report read.

For foreign nationals, the report noted delays of more than 24 hours to several days before their respective embassies were informed of their arrests. This is despite international law which states that prompt communication is necessary.

Amnesty, which campaigns to end to capital punishment worldwide, called for competent legal representation be made available to all defendants.

It also called upon the police to inform all detainees of their right to legal aid.

‘Secretive’ pardons, executions

Aside from the pre and post-trial stages, gaps in legal aid also affected the ability of inmates to acquire assistance when filing their pardon petitions, noted Amnesty.

When it was available, the report cited a lawyer’s testimony about how prison officials pre-selected inmates who would be able to receive legal aid, all of whom were Malaysians.

“The decision on who gets that support is not transparent and creates an additional degree of arbitrariness and discrimination in the death penalty system,” it said.

The NGO further urged the government to solve the delays and lack of transparency in clemency proceedings.

Pardons can only be granted by the Yang Di-Pertuan Agong and the state rulers after consulting the Pardons Board. However, clear procedures for them are not laid out in Malaysian law except for some guidelines in the Prison Regulations 2000.

In practice, the report noted that inmates are often informed of their right to clemency but not the criteria for pardon consideration.

Inmates and their families are often left without any news from the authorities for a long period after submitting their petition.

The report also noted instances of delays by prison authorities in communicating the result of a pardon petition to an inmate’s family.

In the case of rejected clemency petitions, Amnesty noted that families were not informed of the date and time of impending executions except that they would happen “soon”.

“Some of the letters handed over to the families were dated two weeks earlier, suggesting that the prison authorities had held on to this information until only days before the scheduled date of the hangings,” it said.

Amnesty urged Pardon Boards to disclose all relevant information to inmates to allow them to prepare adequately for the pardon petitions.

It also wanted the boards to promptly update inmates, their families and their lawyers on the progress of their applications.

Following objections to abolishing the death penalty in total, the Pakatan Harapan government is now looking at replacing the mandatory death penalty for 11 serious criminal offences to allow for judicial discretion.

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Anthony Joshua and Andy Ruiz Jr. rematch in Saudi Arabia draws criticism

Anthony Joshua and Andy Ruiz Jr. rematch in Saudi Arabia draws criticism - CNN

(CNN)The decision to stage the rematch between Anthony Joshua and Andy Ruiz Jr. in Saudi Arabia has drawn heavy criticism from human rights group Amnesty International.

“Neutral grounds — LETS GO [sic],” the 29-year-old wrote on social media about the fight which is being dubbed the “Clash on the Dunes.”
The seventh-round stoppage in Madison Square Garden was Joshua’s first defeat in his career and he will look to regain the WBA, IBF, WBO and IBO titles he ceded to Ruiz, who was crowned Mexico’s first ever heavyweight champion.
    Saudi Arabia has hosted a number of fights in recent times, including Amir Khan’s win over Billy Dib and Callum Smith’s World Boxing Super Series victory against George Groves.
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    It also welcomed the opening race of the 2018-19 Formule E season, motorsport’s all-electric race series, and will stage the world’s richest horse race — with a prize purse of $20 million — next year.
    However, the middle east country’s “abysmal human rights record” has been called into question by Amnesty International UK, which urged Joshua to “inform himself of the human rights situation” ahead of the rematch.
    “If Anthony Joshua fights Andy Ruiz Jr in Saudi Arabia, it’s likely to be yet another opportunity for the Saudi authorities to try to ‘sportswash’ their severely tarnished image,” said Felix Jakens, Amnesty International UK’s Head of Campaigns.
    “Despite some long-overdue reforms on women’s rights, Saudi Arabia is currently in the grip of a sweeping human rights crackdown — with women’s rights activists, lawyers and members of the Shia minority community all being targeted.
    “There’s been no justice over the gruesome murder of Jamal Khashoggi, and the Saudi-led military coalition in Yemen is carrying out indiscriminate attacks on homes, hospitals and market-places with horrific consequences for Yemeni civilians.”
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      Anthony Joshua on boxing, Brexit and Nigeria

    CNN has reached out to Joshua’s promoters and the General Sports Authority of Saudi Arabia for comment but is yet to receive a response.
    However, in a press conference on Monday, Joshua’s promoter Eddie Hearn officially announced that the fight would be taking place in a purpose-built, 15,000-seat venue in Diriyah.
    “Organizations bigger than us have taken events to Saudi Arabia. If [the country] is willing to invest in the sport of boxing for the right reasons, I’m in,” said Hearn.
    “Every promoter in boxing has been in talks with Saudi Arabia, Dubai etc. Mayweather and Pacquaio considered it, this is the first time it will actually happen.
    “I couldn’t believe how good the World Boxing Super Series final was there. Financially, it is viable. Formula One, the European golf tour, the Italia Cup, the biggest horse racing race, it all happens here.”
    Ruiz, who was born in California but has Mexican parents, had made calls for the rematch to be held in Tijuana where he made his professional debut in 2009.
      The Principality Stadium in Wales — the site of two professional victories for Joshua — had previously been thought of as the most likely site for the fight.
      “Ruiz had a moan about the UK,” added Hearn. “We said: there’s your neutral venue.”

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