Carter Center shuts Egypt office over rights concerns

BBC News reports:

Former US President Jimmy Carter observes Egypt's presidential election in Cairo on 24 May 2012‘A human rights group founded by former US President Jimmy Carter has closed its office in Egypt because of the restrictions on democratic rights.

The Carter Center also said it would not send a mission to observe this year’s parliamentary elections. It cited the “crackdown on dissidents, opposition groups, and critical journalists, together with heightened restrictions on core freedoms”.

The organisation opened an office in Cairo after the 2011 uprising. It sought to support the country’s democratic transition after President Hosni Mubarak was deposed.’

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In Egypt, an authoritarian regime holds sway again

Ahdaf Soueif, an Egyptian novelist and political commentator, writes for The Guardian:

‘Since 30 June 2013, some 40,000 people have been arrested and 16,000 of them remain in prison. The majority probably belong to the now outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, of whom some will have committed acts of violence; most will not. The rest, maybe 8,000 or 9,000, are split between revolutionary activists and bystanders caught up in police dragnets and used to make up required figures.

The state is commandeering every resource to establish control over the country. And even establishments that had their own intifadas during Mubarak’s time – for example, the judiciary, the universities, the media – have scampered into the fold. It’s not quite that they’re toeing the government line, but more that they have identified their own interests with “stability” and against “revolutionary change”.

A shocking manifestation of this confluence of interests is how judges and prosecutors work seamlessly with the ministry of the interior. Police drag people into custody, prosecution charges them from a now famous menu of “destructive” activities, judges decree their imprisonment on remand, postpone their trials month after month and then pass ridiculous and patently unjust sentences.

Most of the political prisoners are young. An estimated 1,000 minors, for example, across nine governorates, are in prison. And an estimated 2,000 students. Every case has its individuality, its absurdity, its heartbreak. Together, it adds up to a war on the young.’

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Egypt’s U.S-Backed Military Regime is Brutalizing Student Protestors

Murtaza Hussain writes for The Intercept:

Featured photo - Egypt’s U.S-Backed Military Regime is Brutalizing Student Protestors‘Just a few short months after John Kerry disingenuously congratulated Egypt’s military junta for “transitioning to democracy”, the young students who helped galvanize the 2011 Egyptian Revolution are back protesting its increasingly draconian rule. Campus protests have broken out in several major cities calling for the release of imprisoned student activists and for the removal of new limits on academic freedom imposed by the regime.

As part of wide-ranging campaign to stifle popular dissent, the government of President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi has recently given itself broad powers to directly appoint university heads, dismiss faculty without the possibility of appeal, and force students to sign documents promising “not to participate in political activities” in their housing applications. Private security firms have also been hired to enforce order on campus and monitor activists.

Predictably, these measures have led to outrage among students – and equally as predictable, their protests have been met with harsh retribution from the military regime.’

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CEO Of French Oil Giant Total Dies In Moscow Plane Accident

Amnesty: Summary executions but no mass graves found in Ukraine

Renee Lewis reports for Al Jazeera:

Amnesty International spoke with victims of human rights abuses and their families in the Luhansk and Donetsk regions. ‘Summary executions have been carried out by both sides of the conflict in Ukraine but the scale of the killings appear to have been “hugely exaggerated,” a report by Amnesty International said Monday.

Based on interviews with victims of human rights abuses, relatives, eyewitnesses and officials, researchers found that some the more shocking Russian media articles relating to “mass graves” were overblown, but the report added that it was difficult to get accurate information from eastern Ukraine, where pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian forces have been battling for control since April.

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HRW: Ukrainian Government Forces Used of Cluster Munitions in Populated Areas

The Kohl Protocols: A new book reveals how the former German Chancellor sees his fellow politicians

Tony Paterson reports for The Independent:

‘He is still called the “father of unification”, but, 25 years on from the fall of the Berlin Wall, a new biography of Helmut Kohl has exposed the former German chancellor as a scathing critic of fellow politicians, who was adamant that people power had nothing to do with communism’s collapse.

The deeply unflattering portrait of Mr Kohl, now 84, is based on 630 hours of interviews he gave to a journalist in 2001 – three years after he was ousted as chancellor in Germany’s 1998 election. Last week, Mr Kohl’s lawyers dropped an attempt to prevent publication of the book after the appeal was rejected by a German court.’

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Isaac Asimov’s Newly Published 1959 Paper for DARPA on Creativity

Matt Novak reports for Gizmodo:

‘Isaac Asimov was one of the great sci-fi writers of the 20th century. So naturally, at the dawn of the space age, the military wanted to tap his brain. In 1959 he was approached by ARPA (now known as DARPA) to “think outside of the box” about how ideas are formed. His brief work for the organization has never been published, until today.’

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Cold War spy plane isn’t ready to retire

Tim Starks writes for McClatchy:

‘The iconic U-2 spy plane, with its long, sagging wings and a reputation for being challenging to fly and harder to land, is one of the oldest aircraft in the U.S. fleet, with a storied history to match: The downing of Francis Gary Powers is a touchstone moment in the Cold War, and many a UFO rumor can be attributed to the plane’s early flight tests at the government’s secret Area 51 in the Nevada desert.

One year before of the 60th anniversary of its first flight in 1955, the U-2 is on the chopping block, where it has been many times before. President Barack Obama’s fiscal 2015 budget called for its retirement to begin in 2016, and while one of the fiscal 2015 defense spending and authorization bills would block the move, others do not explicitly do so.

Yet the U-2 has avoided death time and again, owing to its versatility, its reliability, its low operating cost and the inability of rival airborne surveillance systems to replace what it offers. Only two budgets ago, the Obama administration proposed retiring the Global Hawk Block 30 reconnaissance drone, citing the U-2’s capabilities for the same job; this year, it has taken the opposite stance, saying Global Hawk advancements have made the U-2 less essential.

And unlike some of its 1950s peers, such as the B-52 bomber or KC-135 refueling tanker, there is no plan to build a successor, a “next generation” spy plane. That means the U-2 could be here to stay.’

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Cemetery overcrowding around the world

From the Associated Press:

‘Cemetery overcrowding is an issue that resonates around the world, particularly in its most cramped cities and among religions that forbid or discourage cremation. The reality of relying on finite land resources to cope with the endless stream of the dying has brought about creative solutions.’

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Expelled Nazis paid millions in U.S. Social Security benefits

Richard Lardner, David Rising and Randy Herschaft report for the Associated Press:

‘Dozens of suspected Nazi war criminals and SS guards collected millions of dollars in U.S. Social Security benefits after being forced out of the United States, an Associated Press investigation has found.

The payments, underwritten by American taxpayers, flowed through a legal loophole that gave the U.S. Justice Department leverage to persuade Nazi suspects to leave the U.S. If they agreed to go, or simply fled before deportation, they could keep their Social Security, according to interviews and internal U.S. government records.

Among those receiving benefits were armed SS troops who guarded the network of Nazi camps where millions of Jews perished; a rocket scientist who used slave laborers to advance his research in the Third Reich; and a Nazi collaborator who engineered the arrest and execution of thousands of Jews in Poland.’

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Joe Biden’s Son Hunter Kicked Out of Navy for Cocaine

NBC News reports:

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden (R) points to some faces in the crowd with his son Hunter. (Reuters/Carlos Barria )‘Vice President Joe Biden’s son was booted from the Navy Reserve because he tested positive for drugs, it was revealed on Thursday.

A U.S. official told NBC News that Hunter Biden was kicked out of the Reserve earlier this year after he failed a drug test.

The official said Biden failed the test in 2013, but he was not kicked out until Feb. 14 of this year. Senior U.S. officials told NBC News that Biden, 44, tested positive for cocaine. The Wall Street Journal first reported the incident.’

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Ukraine confirms Russia winter gas deal

The Herald Sun reports:

‘Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has said he has reached a deal with Russia to ensure supplies of natural gas to his country this winter.

THE two sides agreed that Ukraine would pay $US385 ($A416.55) per 1000 cubic metres of gas between now and March 31, Poroshenko said in a nationally televised interview on Saturday night.

That is a much lower figure than the US$485 that Russian energy giant Gazprom had so far been demanding.”I can say that Ukraine will have gas and warmth this winter,” Poroshenko said.Poroshenko, who met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Milan last week, said the agreement could be finalised in Brussels on Tuesday at a meeting between Russian, Ukrainian and EU officials.’

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German Intelligence: Pro-Russian Rebels Downed MH17 With BUK Missile Stolen From Ukrainian Military Base

Spiegel reports:

‘After completing a detailed analysis, Germany’s foreign intelligence service, the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), has concluded that pro-Russian rebels were responsible for the crash of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 on July 19 in eastern Ukraine while on route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur.

In an Oct. 8 presentation given to members of the parliamentary control committee, the Bundestag body responsible for monitoring the work of German intelligence, BND President Gerhard Schindler provided ample evidence to back up his case, including satellite images and diverse photo evidence. The BND has intelligence indicating that pro-Russian separatists captured a BUK air defense missile system at a Ukrainian military base and fired a missile on July 17 that exploded in direct proximity to the Malaysian aircraft, which had been carrying 298 people.’

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“Women Are Being Driven Offline”: Feminist Anita Sarkeesian Terrorized for Critique of Video Games

‘Anita Sarkeesian, a prominent feminist critic of video games, was forced to cancel a speech at Utah State University last week after the school received an email threatening to carry out “the deadliest shooting in American history” at the event. The email sender wrote: “feminists have ruined my life and I will have my revenge.” The sender used the moniker Marc Lepine, the name of a man who killed 14 women, most of them female engineering students, in a mass shooting in Montreal in 1989. Sarkeesian canceled the talk after being told that under Utah law, campus police could not prevent people from bringing guns. We speak to Sarkeesian about the incident, the “Gamergate” controversy, and her campaign to expose misogyny, sexism and violence against female characters in video games despite repeated physical threats. “Online harassment, especially gendered online harassment, is an epidemic,” Sarkeesian says. “Women are being driven out, they’re being driven offline; this isn’t just in gaming, this is happening across the board online, especially with women who participate in or work in male-dominated industries.”‘ (Democracy Now!)

The Men and Women Who Help Rule North Korea From the Shadows

Editor’s Note: Everything we learn about North Korea must be taken with a degree of scepticism. The two main sources of information about the country predominantly come from South Korean intelligence and defectors from the North, both of which will have their own agendas. There’s also no shortage of Western think-tanks with ties to the U.S. military establishment quoted in articles on North Korea. Still, it’s an interesting read and worth a share. 

Keegan Hamilton writes for VICE News:

‘[...] Coup speculation was rampant during Kim’s time in the shadows. Former top propaganda official Jang Jin-sung told VICE News that the North Korean government is largely controlled by men from the country’s Organization and Guidance Department (OGD), a shadowy agency formerly headed by Kim Jong-il. Jang has argued that OGD bureaucrats cemented their grip on power late last year by executing Kim’s influential uncle, Jang Song-thaek.

There is no consensus among North Korea experts about who actually runs the country. Some believe Kim Jong-un still has absolute control. Others suggest influential aides and family members are able to manipulate him however they please. Nobody outside of a few Pyongyang elites can say for certain, and they don’t grant a whole lot of interviews.

But whether Kim is a mighty despot or a mere puppet, he is undoubtedly surrounded by an entourage of cunning bureaucrats, powerful generals, and reclusive siblings who help set his agenda, shape his policies, and ensure that the day-to-day business of the country runs as smoothly as it can in the Hermit Kingdom.’

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UK police use loophole to hack phones and email

Dominic Kennedy reports for The Times:

‘Police are hacking into hundreds of people’s voicemails, text messages and emails without their knowledge, The Times has discovered.

Forces are using a loophole in surveillance laws that allows them to see stored messages without obtaining a warrant from the home secretary.

Civil liberties campaigners reacted with concern to the disclosure that police were snooping on personal messages so often, without any external monitoring and with few safeguards.

Surveillance laws protect the public from having live phone messages, texts and emails accessed by police unless a warrant is granted by the home secretary.’

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Album of the Week ~ Syro by Aphex Twin (2014)

‘Ethical’ funds still pouring money into coal, oil and gas, new report finds

Rupert Jones reports for The Guardian:

‘Should ethical investment funds be putting millions of pounds of people’s money into oil, gas and coal companies?

A new report says too many UK ethical funds are still invested in fossil fuels and heavily polluting industries, at a time when growing numbers of people are looking to reduce their exposure to these sectors.

Launched to coincide with Good Money Week (the new name for National Ethical Investment Week), which kicks off on Sunday 19 October, the report from ethical independent financial adviser firm Barchester Green names the “sinners” and “winners” of the multibillion-pound ethical and environmental funds industry.’

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Japanese Governor Says It’s Too Soon To Restart Nuclear Reactors After Fukushima

Mari Yamaguchi reports for the Associated Press:

‘A Japanese governor said Wednesday the country should not restart any nuclear plants until the cause of the Fukushima meltdown is fully understood and nearby communities have emergency plans that can effectively respond to another major accident.

Hirohiko Izumida, governor of central Niigata prefecture — home to the seven-reactor Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant — said regulators look at equipment but don’t evaluate local evacuation plans.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is pushing to restart two reactors in southern Japan that last month were the first to be approved under stricter safety requirements introduced after the Fukushima disaster. Nuclear Regulation Authority Chairman Shunichi Tanaka has called the new standard one of the world’s highest.

Abe has said he will restart all reactors deemed safe, reversing the previous government’s policy of phasing out nuclear power.’

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Marshall Islands nuke suit against U.S. gets Nobel winners’ support

Bob Egelko reports for the San Francisco Chronicle:

‘The Marshall Islands, a small nation in the northern Pacific that endured 67 U.S. atomic tests in the 1940s and 1950s, has sued the United States in a Bay Area federal court, claiming violations of an international nuclear weapons treaty and seeking a court order that would require the U.S. to enter negotiations on nuclear disarmament within a year. The suit appears to be a longshot — Justice Department lawyers are seeking dismissal on multiple grounds, including a lack of judicial authority over the issue — but it recently picked up some eminent support.

In an open letter to the islands’ government and its people, 68 advocates of disarmament and human rights from 22 nations, including two Nobel Peace Prize winners, endorsed the federal lawsuit and a parallel suit the Marshall Islands have filed in the World Court against all nine nuclear weapons nations.’

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The Maldives’ Trash Island

Stephanie Valera reports for Weather.com:

Miles of litter: Thilafushi is an artificial island in the Maldives where about 400 tonnes of rubbish is dumped every day‘With its luxurious resorts, white-sand beaches and crystal-clear waters, the Maldives is known as a luxury destination. Its tourism industry has been steadily growing the past few years. In 2013, the stunning archipelago located in the Indian Ocean , according to Maldives’ Minivan News.

But there’s a dark side to paradise.

Not far from the Maldives’ capital of Male, only a half-hour boat ride away, mountains of trash and waste pile up on Thilafushi island, marring the seascape of the normally idyllic archipelago. The artificial island, created as a municipal landfill, receives almost 400 tons of garbage a year.’

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False Advertising: Red Bull to pay $13m because it doesn’t ‘give you wings’

Pamela Newenham reports for The Irish Times:

‘So, a can of Red Bull doesn’t give you wings after all. The energy drink giant has agreed to pay $13 million to settle a lawsuit in the US over false advertising.

The drinks maker is refunding customers who were allegedly deceived by a marketing slogan that said “Red Bull gives you wings.”

The Austrian company admitted no wrongdoing, but said it would give a $10 refund or $15 worth of products to US customers who purchased Red Bull between January 1st 2002 and October 3rd 2014.’

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“It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.”

Citizenfour: Laura Poitras on the Crypto Tools That Made Her Snowden Film Possible

Andy Greenberg writes for Wired:

‘As a journalist, Laura Poitras was the quiet mastermind behind the publication of Edward Snowden’s unprecedented NSA leak. As a filmmaker, her new movieCitizenfour makes clear she’s one of the most important directors working in documentary today. And when it comes to security technology, she’s a serious geek.

In the closing credits of Citizenfour, Poitras took the unusual step of adding an acknowledgment of the free software projects that made the film possible: The roll call includes the anonymity software Tor, the Tor-based operating system Tails, GPG encryption, Off-The-Record (OTR) encrypted instant messaging, hard disk encryption software Truecrypt, and Linux. All of that describes a technical setup that goes well beyond the precautions taken by most national security reporters, not to mention documentary filmmakers.

Poitras argues that without those technologies, neither her reporting on the Snowden leaks nor her film itself would have been possible. In an interview ahead of the October 24th opening of Citizenfour in theaters, she talked about the importance of those crypto tools, how to make a film in the shadow of the NSA, and a new era of high-level whistleblowing.’

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Citizenfour: Snowden Film Tests Hollywood’s Obama Backers

Michael Cieply writes for The New York Times:

‘Early in Laura Poitras’s documentary “Citizenfour,” Edward J. Snowden, who exposed vast electronic surveillance by the United States government, tells what pushed him to go public.

“As I saw the promise of the Obama administration betrayed, and walked away from,” says Mr. Snowden, referring to drone strikes and invasive monitoring by the National Security Agency, “it really hardened me to action.”

But do some of President Obama’s staunch Hollywood supporters share his sentiment?

Her provocative, and deeply admiring, look at Mr. Snowden — which had its premiere at the New York Film Festival on Oct. 10 — arrived here this week amid high hopes, intense curiosity and more than a few raised eyebrows over its sharp critique of Mr. Obama, a president who has enjoyed strong support in the movie world.’

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The NSA’s Moonlighting Problem

Allen McDuffee reports for The Atlantic:

‘In Washington, the revolving door between government service and more lucrative ventures is common, if not expected. However, having one foot in each has raised questions for the National Security Agency, which has launched an internal review of one senior official who was recruited by former NSA director Keith Alexander to work for his new—and very lucrative—cybersecurity private venture.

Patrick Dowd, the NSA’s Chief Technological Officer, is allowed to work up to 20 hours a week for Alexander’s firm, IronNet Cybersecurity, Inc., according to Reuters, which broke the story on the deal. Although the arrangement was apparently approved by NSA managers and does not appear to break any laws on its face, it does raise questions about ethics and the dividing line between business and one of the most secretive agencies in government.’

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What ‘Democracy’ Really Means in U.S. and New York Times Jargon: Latin America Edition

Glenn Greenwald writes for The Intercept:

Featured photo - What ‘Democracy’ Really Means in U.S. and New York Times Jargon: Latin America Edition‘One of the most accidentally revealing media accounts highlighting the real meaning of “democracy” in U.S. discourse is a still-remarkable 2002 New York Times Editorial on the U.S.-backed military coup in Venezuela, which temporarily removed that country’s democratically elected (and very popular) president, Hugo Chávez. Rather than describe that coup as what it was by definition – a direct attack on democracy by a foreign power and domestic military which disliked the popularly elected president – the Times, in the most Orwellian fashion imaginable, literally celebrated the coup as a victory for democracy:

With yesterday’s resignation of President Hugo Chávez, Venezuelan democracy is no longer threatened by a would-be dictator. Mr. Chávez, a ruinous demagogue, stepped down after the military intervened and handed power to a respected business leader, Pedro Carmona.

Thankfully, said the NYT, democracy in Venezuela was no longer in danger . . . because the democratically-elected leader was forcibly removed by the military and replaced by an unelected, pro-U.S. “business leader.” The Champions of Democracy at the NYT then demanded a ruler more to their liking: “Venezuela urgently needs a leader with a strong democratic mandate to clean up the mess, encourage entrepreneurial freedom and slim down and professionalize the bureaucracy.”’

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iEmpire: Apple’s Sordid Business Practices Are Even Worse Than You Think

Arun Gupta writes for AlterNet:

‘Behind the sleek face of the iPad is an ugly backstory that reveals once more the horrors of globalization. The buzz about Apple’s sordid business practices comes courtesy of the New York Times series on the “iEconomy.” In some ways it’s well reported but adds little new to what critics of the Taiwan-based Foxconn, the world’s largest electronics manufacturer, have been saying for years. The series’ biggest impact may be discomfiting Apple fanatics who as they read the articles realize that the iPad they are holding is assembled from child labor, toxic shop floors, involuntary overtime, suicidal working conditions, and preventable accidents that kill and maim workers.

It turns out the story is much worse. Researchers with the Hong Kong-based Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehavior (SACOM) say that legions of vocational and university students, some as young as 16, are forced to take months’-long “internships” in Foxconn’s mainland China factories assembling Apple products. The details of the internship program paint a far more disturbing picture than the Times does of how Foxconn, “the Chinese hell factory,” treats its workers, relying on public humiliation, military discipline, forced labor and physical abuse as management tools to hold down costs and extract maximum profits for Apple.’

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The age of loneliness is killing us

George Monbiot writes for The Guardian:

File:Thoma Loneliness.jpg‘What do we call this time? It’s not the information age: the collapse of popular education movements left a void filled by marketing andconspiracy theories. Like the stone age, iron age and space age, the digital age says plenty about our artefacts but little about society. The anthropocene, in which humans exert a major impact on the biosphere, fails to distinguish this century from the previous 20. What clear social change marks out our time from those that precede it? To me it’s obvious. This is the Age of Loneliness.’

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