Sunday, 31 August 2014

Asia-Pacific Perspective: Aussie Terrornoia, South China Sea and Fukushima Updates

Welcome back once again to The Asia-Pacific Perspective, that monthly show where James Corbett of and Broc West of break down all the latest news and headlines from the Asia-Pacific region. In this month’s conversation:


STORY 1: Aussie Terrornoia / G20 Updates
Australian Proposal Would Require Suspicionless Domestic Spying by ISPs
What Will Happen When Australian Police Have Military Weapons?
Concerns Brisbane residents still unaware of G20 police powers

STORY 2: South China Sea Updates
China Adding Military Facilities On Spratly Islands
US spy plane may have triggered Chinese jet interception by dropping sonar buoy
Philippines Military to Offer Cruise Service in South China Sea

STORY 3: Fukushima / Nuclear Updates
Japanese Govt. To Disclose Fukushima NPP Chief’s Testimony
TEPCO Found Liable For Evacuee’s Suicide
Looking Inside Fukushima Daiichi with Muon Tomography
Seoul To Run Out Of Storage For Spent Nuclear Fuel By 2016
Australia’s Radioactive Racism

Reports Australian Govt. Planning To Send Arms To Iraq

from A decision on Australia’s initial contribution to the US-led international campaign against the Islamic State insurgency in Iraq will be revealed today and it is expected to include heavy transport aircraft of the RAAF based in the Gulf, it is being reported. 
Prime Minister Tony Abbott will announce today that Australia has agreed to a US request for air transport and the planes will fly guns and munitions supplied by other nations into northern Iraq for Kurdish fighters resisting the IS, a report in News Corp Sunday newspapers says.

US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel and Secretary of State John Kerry met Australian ministers at the AUSMIN talks in Sydney in mid-August.

Other countries reportedly joining the US-led effort include Britain, Canada, Italy, France, Albania, Croatia and Denmark.

It is now believed the US may ask Australia for RAAF Super Hornets to support US air strikes as early as this week after NATO talks in Wales, today’s report says.

Friday, 29 August 2014

Australia's Radioactive Racism

from After a seven-year struggle, Traditional Owners of Muckaty in the Northern Territory have won a landmark victory by stopping a proposed national nuclear waste dump. A similar proposal was defeated ten years earlier in South Australia, again due to  community opposition. But rather than reconsider their racist ‘solution’ to Australia’s nuclear waste problem – that is, dumping it on Aboriginal land – the Abbott government is desperately trying to find another remote site.

 The NT government is actively assisting, with Chief Minister Adam Giles upping the ante and supporting the idea that an international nuclear dump could be the antidote to Aboriginal poverty.

The Commonwealth plan for an NT dump dates from the Howard years. Low-level waste, including medical waste, would be buried in shallow unlined trenches and would remain there permanently. Long-lived intermediate level waste, including reprocessed spent nuclear fuel rods and components of a decommissioned reactor, would be stored in an above ground shed. Though flagged as ‘temporary’, it would remain for at least 300 years, and there are no guarantees it would ever be removed.

In 2007, the Northern Land Council offered up a small area of Muckaty Aboriginal Land Trust, 120km north of Tennant Creek. As compensation, eleven million dollars would be held in a charitable trust for infrastructure, including roads and housing. An additional one million would be set aside for scholarships from the Department of Education.

A small family group was attracted by the offer. Family leader Ms A Lauder (deceased) told a Senate Inquiry in 2010 that Commonwealth policies to stop investment in small Aboriginal homelands meant some were considering other options to survive on their land.

But a clear majority of Muckaty Traditional Owners were opposed to the deal and felt their Land Rights had been violated.

What Will Happen When Australian Police Have Military Weapons?

from The militarisation of U.S. police forces began with the (symptomatically titled) War on Drugs and then accelerated massively with the War on Terror. Since 9/11, the US Department of Homeland Security has provided something like US$40 billion in direct grants to state and local law enforcement, much of which has been spent on systems and devices perfected in actual war zones.

In 2012, one estimate put the total expenditure of US federal funds on homeland security-related activities and equipment in the wake of 9/11 at a staggering US$635 billion.

Naturally, the acquisition of combat gear both fosters and relies upon an increasing perception of those being policed as an enemy to be pacified, if not suppressed, a mentality that pervades the security services more generally.

‘To conclude that “the police” have become increasingly militarized,’ writes Stephan Salisbury, ‘casts too narrow a net. The truth is that virtually the entire apparatus of government has been mobilised and militarised right down to the university campus.’

Only in America, right? Well, no, not quite.

In Australia, the governments plan for metadata epitomises the same post-9/11 attitude of generalised suspicion, while counter-terrorism has become more and more influential on state policing. In the wake of Occupy Melbourne, David Vakalis and Jude McCulloch noted that:

‘Specialist squads like the Force Response Unit (FRU), the military-trained Special Operations Group (SOG) and the ‘counter-terrorism’ Security Intelligence Group (SIG) were rationalised on the basis of ‘terrorism’. These squads have gradually come to have a greater influence on regular policing, particularly the policing of protests. Many of the most controversial and problematic policing incidents in Victoria since the early 1980s, including assaulting peaceful protestors and using pressure points and neck holds, can be linked to the SOG or its influence over operational tactics.’

But in Western Australia, police have gone further, announcing in 2013 the acquisition of the $400,000 Ballistic Engineered Armoured Response Counter Attack Truck (known as ‘Bearcat’), a vehicle whose features include ‘gun ports, rotating roof hatch, two electric winches, emergency light/sirens, spot/flood lights, battering ram, tear gas deployment nozzle, thermal cameras, common remotely operated weapon station and protection against chemical, biological, radiological nuclear and high-yield explosives’.

During the G20 conference scheduled for Brisbane this November, we’re likely to see exactly the conditions in which militarised policing flourishes.

China Adding Military Facilities On Spratly Islands

from NHK World: The Philippine military says China is adding weapons and other equipment to its facilities built on reefs in the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea.

Aerial photos taken by the Philippine military show that China is beefing up existing facilities while building new installations elsewhere.

NHK has obtained newly taken photos of the reefs under China's effective control. The islands are claimed by China, the Philippines, and other countries.

The photos of Mischief Reef taken in April show solar panels, radar facilities, and what look like machine guns.

They show that the facilities have been modernized and more militarized over the past 4 years.
Photos of Fiery Cross Reef show a heliport and what look like agricultural greenhouses and gun platforms.

On Subi Reef, a white spherical object believed to be a large radar facility can be seen. (pictured)

Philippine military officials say they have confirmed work to beef up or build new facilities in at least 7 locations.

Other photos show reclamation and large-scale construction work getting under way at Johnson Reef and other reefs.

The officials say they are closely monitoring China's activities.

The Spratly Islands are located near the center of the South China Sea. The officials say greater militarization of the islands by China could lead to an increase in China's military influence in the South China Sea.

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.