Heirs to Rockefeller Oil Fortune Divest from Fossil Fuels over Climate Change

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Courtesy of Suzanne Goldberg @ The Guardian:

The heirs to the fabled Rockefeller oil fortune withdrew their funds from fossil fuel investments on Monday, lending a symbolic boost to a $50bn divestment campaign ahead of a United Nations summit on climate change.

The former vice-president, Al Gore, will present the divestment commitments to world leaders, making the case that investments in oil and coal have an uncertain future.

With Monday’s announcement, more than 800 global investors – including foundations such as the Rockefeller Brothers, religious groups, healthcare organisations, cities and universities – have pledged to withdraw a total of $50bn from fossil fuel investments over the next five years.

The Rockefeller Brothers Fund controls about $860m in assets, said Beth Dorsey, the chief executive of the Wallace Global Fund and the Divest-Invest movement, which has led the divestment campaign. About 7% are invested in fossil fuels.

But the Rockefellers’ decision to cut their ties with oil lends the divestment campaign huge symbolic importance because of their family history. The divestment move also helps bring a campaign launched by scrappy activists on college campuses into the financial mainstream.

But for oil, there may not have been a Rockefeller fortune. John and William Rockefeller were the co-founders of the Standard Oil Company, which at the time operated the world’s biggest refineries, and overtime spawned Exxon, Amoco and Chevron.

Now, after a year of deliberations, the descendants of those original Rockefellers had decided the time had come to move away from oil. Continue reading

How Westbrook Partners came to loom over a small east London community

Courtesy of Amelia Hill and Robert Booth @ The Guardian:

For more than 80 years, the Lever family have run the New Era housing estate in east London as a philanthropic concern, enabling teaching assistants, NHS staff and construction workers to live near their places of work while paying affordable rents.

Now the grandson of Arthur Barsht, the man who built the 93-flat estate, has defended his family’s decision to sell the properties to an American private equity company. He has, he suggested, little sympathy for the families who could be evicted before Christmas.

The plight of the tight-knit community living in a small corner of London has links that stretch across the Atlantic to American firefighters, teachers and police; and far beyond, to international property deals in Munich, Paris and Tokyo.

The entire community’s homes were bought from underneath them in March by Westbrook Partners with the help of Richard Benyon, the Conservative MP whose multimillion-pound family estate was a partner on the deal. Now Westbrook plans to raise rents sky-high, forcing residents – most of whom have leases with a break clause of just two weeks – into homelessness.

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Russell Brand joins the protest to save social housing at the New Era estate earlier this month. Photograph: Jules Annan/Barcroft Media

The families say they may have to leave London, swapping their tight-knit familiar community for towns and cities where they know no one. Wherever they end up, however, the British taxpayer will have to foot the bill to house many of them – indirectly contributing to Westbrook’s profits.

Continue reading

Named and shamed: The government MPs profiting from NHS sell-off

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Sickening: These are some of the prominent government ministers who have profited from allowing private companies to provide NHS healthcare services. Meanwhile…

Courtesy of Voxpolitical:

Here’s a new wrinkle on an old story: The social media have been publishing lists of MPs with shares in private healthcare companies – and therefore have their noses in the trough as these companies profit from NHS contracts – since before the Health and Social Care Act 2012 was passed. Now the Unite union has published its own list and the mainstream media have got involved.

Good for Unite – at last this corruption is receiving the attention it deserves.

Named on the list of 71 Coalition MPs (64 Tories; seven Liberal Democrats) are David Cameron and Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, along with former Health Secretary Andrew Lansley – proving that corruption played a huge part in the introduction of private firms into NHS work.

Nick Clegg and Vince Cable are also named, providing a clear indication of why the Liberal Democrats colluded in this – we can only call it – crime. Even though none of the politicians mentioned in the list acted against current UK laws, they all acted dishonestly in claiming that the change was good for the country when in fact they meant it was good for themselves.

How many of them declared this clear conflict of interest while voting for the Health and Social Care Act in 2012? None seems the most likely answer.

According to the Daily Mirror, “All 71 MPs named in the dossier voted in favour of the Government’s controversial Health and Social Care Act in 2012, which opened up the NHS to more private firms.”

The revelation comes ahead of Friday’s vote on Labour MP Clive Efford’s Private Members’ Bill, which calls on MPs to scrap key sections of the Act.

This Bill is not to be confused with Labour’s plan to abolish the Act altogether, which could only happen after a Labour government is elected in May next year. The UK Parliamentary system works in such a way that the sitting government can never lose a whipped vote as its members outnumber all other groups in the House of Commons; it is a shame that this blog has to spell it out but some readers have demonstrated a lack of understanding in this regard.

The list includes Andrew Lansley’s now-infamous £21,000 donation in November 2009 from John Nash, the former chairman of Care UK, and Jeremy Hunt received more than £20,000 from hedge fund baron Andrew Law, a major investor in healthcare firms. Continue reading

Destroying Online Freedom in the Name of Counter-Terrorism Will make the World a More Dangerous Place

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Photo: Reuters

Courtesy of Carly Nyst @ The Telegraph:

Robert Hannigan, the new head of GCHQ, announced his arrival this week with a call for “greater co-operation” with security forces by tech companies. Hannigan’s article in the Financial Times illustrated vividly the destructive ideology that has driven the infiltration by the British and American intelligence agencies into every aspects of the digital realm – an unquestioning faith in the righteous purpose of intelligence agencies, a complete mischaracterisation of the nature of the internet and its value, and a frightening belief that companies stand only on the side of the State, rather than in the interests of the privacy and security of their users.

Hannigan’s decision to enter the debate in this way is extraordinary. In a parliamentary democracy based on the Rule of Law, it is not appropriate for civil servants to speak for government or set policy.

His rhetoric is all the more disappointing for being the first public response by GCHQ to the serious challenges to the lawfulness of its activities since the first of the Snowden revelations in summer 2013.
Such activities include, of course, mass surveillance of all communications in and out of the British Isles, warrantless access to the NSA’s databases, the hacking of user devices and even the infiltration of Yahoo webcam chats.

Over the past year, in courts and inquiries and the media, GCHQ has refused to confirm or deny any of its wrongdoings, and the Government has refused to engage in any constructive conversation on how to prevent the overreach of intelligence agencies in the digital age.

Rather than acknowledge the very real misgivings that the British people have in the accountability of the services charged with protecting their security, Hannigan has used his public platform as an exercise in ex-post justification, and to launch the case for expanded powers. The audacity of such an attack, even as GCHQ is under the review of the Intelligence Services Committee, the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation and the Investigatory Powers Tribunal, is astounding. Continue reading

I’m Terrified of My New TV: Why I’m Scared to Turn This Thing On — And You’d Be, Too

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Cross-posted on Salon and courtesy of Brennan Center:

I just bought a new TV. The old one had a good run, but after the volume got stuck on 63, I decided it was time to replace it. I am now the owner of a new “smart” TV, which promises to deliver streaming multimedia content, games, apps, social media, and Internet browsing. Oh, and TV too.

The only problem is that I’m now afraid to use it. You would be too — if you read through the 46-page privacy policy.

The amount of data this thing collects is staggering. It logs where, when, how, and for how long you use the TV. It sets tracking cookies and beacons designed to detect “when you have viewed particular content or a particular email message.” It records “the apps you use, the websites you visit, and how you interact with content.” It ignores “do-not-track” requests as a considered matter of policy.

It also has a built-in camera — with facial recognition. The purpose is to provide “gesture control” for the TV and enable you to log in to a personalized account using your face. On the upside, the images are saved on the TV instead of uploaded to a corporate server. On the downside, the Internet connection makes the whole TV vulnerable to hackers who have demonstrated the ability to take complete control of the machine.

More troubling is the microphone. The TV boasts a “voice recognition” feature that allows viewers to control the screen with voice commands. But the service comes with a rather ominous warning: “Please be aware that if your spoken words include personal or other sensitive information, that information will be among the data captured and transmitted to a third party.” Got that? Don’t say personal or sensitive stuff in front of the TV.

You may not be watching, but the telescreen is listening. Continue reading