Ancient Syrian treasures worth $26m shipped to US

Since the start of Syria’s war in 2011, $26 million worth of antiquities have been imported to the United States from the war-torn country, according to Live Science. The news website gathered its information from US Census Bureau documents, which listed many unidentified and undated items, marked only as “over 100 years old.”

The documents did not reveal, however, whether the items were imported illegally or whether profits were being made from their resale. The bulk of the antiques in the Census Bureau documents had arrived in New York, a hub for collectors and dealers.

Ancient historical sites in Egypt, Iraq and Syria have been targeted by robbers since the upheaval brought about by the Arab Spring uprisings of 2011. The Census Bureau data also showed that more than $12 million-worth of Iraqi antiques had been shipped to the US since that same year.

“The profit derived by the Islamists from the illicit trade in antiquities and archaeological treasures is estimated at $150-200 million per year,” Vitaly Churkin wrote in a letter to the UN’s Security Council.

— source alaraby.co.uk

Kentucky Coal Museum installs solar panels to save on electricity bills

In what it says is a cost-saving move, the Kentucky Coal Museum is moving to solar power, according to the Associated Press. The museum is having 80 solar panels installed, which it expects will cut $8,000 off its annual electricity bill. The Courier-Journal writes that the museum currently spends $2,100 a month on electricity. The Kentucky Coal Museum is owned by Southeastern Kentucky Community and Technical College, which is paying for the solar panels.

— source arstechnica.com

Hackers release files indicating NSA monitored global bank transfers

Hackers released documents and files on Friday that cybersecurity experts said indicated the U.S. National Security Agency had accessed the SWIFT interbank messaging system, allowing it to monitor money flows among some Middle Eastern and Latin American banks. The documents and files were released by a group calling themselves The Shadow Brokers. Some of the records bear NSA seals. Also published were many NSA programs for attacking various versions of the Windows operating system, at least some of which still work, researchers said.

— source reuters.com

Oh Thats one of the reason Modi puppet is pushing for digital money in india.

Now Just SIX Men Have as Much Wealth as Half the World’s Population

Yes, inequality is getting worse every year. In early 2016 Oxfam reported that just 62 individuals had the same wealth as the bottom half of humanity. About a year later Oxfam reported that just 8 men had the same wealth as the world’s bottom half. Based on the same methodology and data sources used by Oxfam, that number is now down to 6.

How to account for the dramatic increase in the most flagrant and perverse of extreme inequalities? Two well-documented reasons: (1) The poorest half (and more) of the world has continued to lose wealth; and (2) The VERY richest individuals — especially the top thousand or so — continue to add billions of dollars to their massive fortunes.

Inequality deniers and apologists say the Oxfam methodology is flawed, but they’re missing the big picture. Whether it’s 6 individuals or 62 or 1,000 doesn’t really matter. The data from the Credit Suisse Global Wealth Databook (GWD) and the Forbes Billionaire List provide the best available tools to make it clear that inequality is extreme and pathological and getting worse every year.

How It’s Gone from 62 to 6 in One Year

As of 02/17/17, the world’s 6 richest individuals (all men) had $412 billion. Tables 2-4 and 3-4 of the 2016 GWD reveal that the poorest five deciles of the world population own just .16% of the $256 trillion in global wealth, or $410 billion. That latter figure is based on mid-2016 data, but since then the status of the bottom 50% has not improved, and has in fact likely worsened, as both global debt and global inequality have increased.

Just a year ago, on 03/01/16, the world’s 6 richest men had $343 billion. They’re the same men today, although slightly rearranged as they play “king of the hill”: Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, Jeff Bezos, Amancio Ortega, Mark Zuckerberg, Carlos Slim Helu (with Larry Ellison jockeying for position). The wealth of these six men increased by $69 billion in just one year.

Just a year ago, according to the 2015 GWD, the poorest five deciles of the world population owned much more than today, close to $1.5 trillion. What happened? It’s very clear: the world’s richest 10% (mostly the richest 1%) gained nearly $4 trillion while every other segment of the global population lost wealth.

That’s worth a second look. The world’s total wealth is about $256 trillion, and in JUST ONE YEAR the richest 10% drained nearly $4 trillion away from the rest of civilization.

It’s Not Just the Bottom Half: A 500-Seat Auditorium Could Hold As Much Wealth as 70% of the World’s Population

According to the Forbes Billionaire List, the world’s richest 500 individuals have $4.73 trillion in wealth. Tables 2-4 and 3-4 of the GWD reveal that the poorest seven deciles of the world population own just 1.86% of the $256 trillion in global wealth, or $4.76 trillion. That’s over two-thirds of all the people on earth. That means 5,000,000,000 people — FIVE BILLION people — have, on average, and after debt is figured in, about a thousand dollars each in home and property and savings.

In the U.S., the Forbes 400 Own as Much as 3/5 of the American People

The bottom 60% of Americans, according to Table 6-5 in the GWD, own 3 percent of the nation’s $85 trillion in total wealth, or $2.55 trillion. The Forbes 400 owned $2.4 trillion in October 2016, and that’s been steadily increasing.

So as apologists like the National Review refer to “a growing upper-middle class” of people earning over $100,000 a year, they’re inadvertently offering an explanation for the demise of the middle class: Some are moving up, way up; many others are dropping to the lower-middle-class or below. The once sizable and stable middle of America is splitting into two.

The Deniers Are Lurking

The Boston Globe’s Jeff Jacoby calls the Oxfam analysis “irrelevant.” Reuters contributor Felix Salmon calls it a “silly stat.”

Jacoby’s column includes some stunning assertions. He says, “Just as capitalism made it possible for Gates, Zuckerberg, and the others to reach the highest rung on the economic ladder, it is making it possible for billions of men and women to climb up from the lowest rung. Oxfam’s billionaires are richer than they used to be. So is almost everyone else.” And he quotes writer Johan Norberg: “Poverty as we know it is disappearing from our planet.”

Billions moving up? Almost everyone getting richer? Poverty disappearing?

While we keep hearing about the world “climbing out of poverty,” much of the alleged improvement is due to rapid economic growth in China and creative math on the part of the UN. And yes, many Americans have negative wealth because of debt. A human being doesn’t have to live in a third-world slum to be impoverished.

Yet as inequality ravages the American and world economies, denial grows right along with it. Cato’s Michael Tanner suggests that “even if inequality were growing as fast as critics claim, it would not necessarily be a problem.” George Will, of course, agrees. But like the other deniers, they all protest too much as they try to explain away reality.

— source commondreams.org by Paul Buchheit

Europe’s Largest Pension Funds Heavily Invested in Illegal Israeli Settlements

Europe’s five largest pension funds have €7.5 billion invested in companies with business activities in and around illegal settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories. This is at odds with United Nations guidelines, clear warnings from 18 European countries, and undermines the two-state solution, experts warn.

European investors have billions of euro invested in companies with activities in and around illegal Israeli settlements, according to a new investigation from Danwatch that screened the investment portfolios of Europe’s top five pension fund managers.

Statens pensjonsfond utland (Oljefondet) (NO), Stichting Pensioenfonds ABP (NE), Pensioenfonds Zorg en Welzijn (NE), Arbejdsmarkedets Tillægspension (DK), and Alecta Pensionsförsäkring (SE) have a total of €7.5 billion invested in 36 Israeli and international publicly-traded companies, most of which have long been under public scrutiny because of their activities in the occupied Palestinian territories.

Hugh Lovatt, expert on Israel and Palestine at the respected think-tank European Council on Foreign Relations, explains the problem with settlements:

“Israeli settlements in the occupied territories are illegal and have led to the dispossession of Palestinians and the fragmentation of Palestinian land. They infringe on Palestinian rights and exploit Palestinian natural resources.”

Business activities in and around settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories are not necessarily against the law, but according to the United Nations, investors are obliged to carry out enhanced due diligence and to demonstrate that their activities do not contribute to negative effects on human rights.
Warning from European governments

In addition, 18 European countries warn their citizens and businesses in no uncertain terms against undertaking financial and economic activities that could support illegal Israeli settlements.

“Financial transactions, investments, purchases, tenders, and other economic activities (including services like tourism) in Israeli settlements or benefiting Israeli settlements are associated with legal and economic risks due to the fact that, according to international law, the Israeli settlements are built on occupied land and are not recognised as a lawful part of Israel’s territory,” wrote the Danish Foreign Ministry in a 2014 statement similar to statements published by other countries.

“One should also be aware of possible violations of international humanitarian law and human rights,” the statement warns and refers to OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises (2011) and United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human rights (2011).
Undermining the two-state solution

In addition to the “increased risk of adverse human rights impacts”, as the UN puts it, European investors are also actively undermining the official policy of the EU regarding a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“When European investors finance, fund or facilitate the settlement enterprise and illegal actions in the occupied Palestinian territories, they are contributing to the undermining of the two-state solution and therefore the undermining of the EU’s own foreign policy objectives,” [said] Policy fellow Hugh Lovatt at the European Council for Foreign Relations states to Danwatch.

“And these investments are illegal under international law – or at least very problematic – and exposes European investors to reputational, financial and legal risks,” says Lovatt.

Investments in companies with business activities in and around settlements tie European investors to potential violations of international humanitarian law and Palestinians’ human rights.

Lars Erslev Andersen, a senior researcher at the Danish Institute for International Studies (DIIS), agrees that it is problematic when companies have activities in settlements.

“In my opinion, businesses that have branches or factories in the occupied Palestinian territories help to maintain the occupation and facilitate Israel’s continued construction of settlements, infrastructure and security apparatus in the West Bank,” Andersen tells Danwatch.

“This is problematic, because it undermines the two-state solution, which is gradually becoming an illusion for a great number of people,” [said] Lars Erslev Andersen, senior researcher at DIIS.

Norwegian fund biggest investor

The largest single investor by far is Statens Pensjonsfond Utland, the Government Pension Fund of Norway, with €5.2 billion out of the total €7.5 billion invested in all 36 companies on Danwatch’s list.

This includes €135 million in Caterpillar, which supplies bulldozers for the demolition of Palestinian homes in the occupied territories; €286 million in HeidelbergCement, which has been blacklisted by several other European investors due to exploitation of Palestinian natural resources; and €1.5 billion in Siemens, which has installed traffic systems on Israeli roads in the West Bank and placed bids on projects on occupied territory with Israel Railways.

The Norwegian Government Pension Fund also has €233 million in five Israeli banks financing settlement construction and operating in the West Bank in various ways: Bank Hapoalim, Bank Leumi, First International Bank of Israel Ltd, Israel Discount Bank Ltd and Mizrahi Tefahot Bank Ltd.

These same banks are blacklisted by Europe’s third largest pension fund Pensioenfonds Zorg en Welzijn (PFZW) (NE) which in 2014 ended several years of dialogue.

“Given the day-to-day reality and domestic legal framework they operate in, the banks have limited to no possibilities to end their involvement in the financing of settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories,” wrote PFZW (formerly PGGM) about the decision to divest from Bank Hapoalim, Bank Leumi, First International Bank of Israel, Israel Discount Bank and Mizrahi Tefahot because they finance settlements and operate branches on occupied territory.

Danwatch asked The Norwegian Government Pension Fund specific questions about each of their investments in the 36 specific companies, but received no specific reply. Instead the fund answers in general terms about how they expect companies they invest in to strive to observe “the G20/OECD Principles of Corporate Governance, the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises, and the UN Global Compact.”

“Our expectations are especially relevant for companies with direct operations, supply chains or other business relationships in high-risk sectors, high-risk geographical areas, or otherwise high-risk operational environments,” they explain.

The Norwegian oil fund’s decisions about excluding specific companies is regulated by an independent council appointed by the Norwegian Ministry of Finance.

New findings will be considered

Of the five largest European pension funds, Denmark’s ATP is by far the smallest investor in companies on Danwatch’s list, with about €1 million in total in Siemens and The Priceline Group Inc, the owner of booking.com, which facilitates hotels in a number of settlements. However, ATP’s publicly available stock portfolio does not include index futures, which amounts to almost 95% of ATP’s entire foreign holdings.

On the two specific investments, ATP explains that Danwatch’s findings includes new information not covered by their external screening partner, and that they will have to consider this before they can answer specific questions.

Sweden’s largest pension fund, and Europe’s fifth-largest, Alecta Pensionsförsäkring, only has investments in one company on Danwatch’s list: Volvo Group. The Swedish industrial conglomerate partly owns Merkavim, which provides armoured busses for Egged bus lines in the West Bank, where Volvo busses are also used for transport. Two Volvo-certified garages operate in the illegal industrial zones of Mishor Adumim and Atarot in the occupied West Bank. Furthermore, Volvo excavators are used by the Israeli army to demolish Palestinian houses on occupied land, as documented in February, April and October 2016 in the Palestinian villages of Jinba, Halaweh, Um Al Kher and in the Jordan Valley. Danwatch presented these findings to Volvo Group, but received no reply.

On the subject of house demolitions, Volvo Group stated in 2011 that “Volvo neither can nor wants to take a position in international conflicts […] We regret if they are used for destructive purposes, but it does not stop us from believing that our excavators and vehicles largely play a part in making the world a little better.”

Alecta Pensionsförsäkring explains to Danwatch that their due diligence is outsourced to external partner GES, and that GES confirm their knowledge about the issue and have concluded that Volvo Group’s activities is not a breach against international conventions.

“Volvo has limited possibilities to influence how their products are used and we believe that Volvo cannot be directly linked to human rights violations,” Swedish investor Alecta therefore tells Danwatch.

“Alecta has an active and ongoing dialogue with Volvo as well as with our external partner GES and has so far not received any indication pointing towards an exclusion. If necessary we will as a first priority engage further in our dialogue with Volvo to make them comply with international law, rather than exclude them as an investment,” Alecta says.

Danwatch also contacted the two Dutch pension funds Stichting Pensioenfonds ABP and Pensioenfonds Zorg en Welzijn (PFZW), but received no reply.

— source bdsmovement.net By Mikkel Bahl, Hanan Chemlali & Kristoffer Marslev

Raytheon Stocks Surge After missile Attack, Personally Benefiting Trump

the stocks of the military contractor Raytheon surged following the missile attack, which used 59 of the company’s Tomahawk missiles, estimated to cost $1.4 million apiece. As stocks surged, Raytheon added about $1 billion to its market value Friday morning. According to financial disclosure filings, President Trump personally invests in Raytheon, meaning he profited directly from the attack.

— source democracynow.org