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Friday, August 2, 2013

US Issues Global Travel Alert

Citing an unspecified threat from al-Qaeda, the US State Department issued a global travel alert, warning American citizens that there is a potential for terrorism, particularly in the Middle East and North Africa. It urged Americans overseas to take extra precautions, sign up for State Department alerts and register with the US consulate in whichever country they are visiting.

The alert warned that al-Qaeda or its allies might target US government or private interests, and specifically noted modes of public transportation as a possible target. The State Department has decided to close 21 consulates and embassies stretching from Mauritania to Afghanistan this weekend, with the potential for some missions to remain closed for longer.

Germany Ends Spying Pact with US and UK

In what is mostly a symbolic move, Germany canceled a Cold War era surveillance pact with the US and the UK, in response to Edward Snowden’s revelations about the NSA. The move is intended to show that Germany is taking steps to stop unwarranted surveillance of its citizens. The government had insisted that the US and UK were not given permission to break Germany’s strict privacy laws, however, it conceded last month that this 1960s agreement did allow these countries to ask German authorities to conduct surveillance for them.

New documents also reveal that the US outsourced spy work to the UK’s Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), paying it $150 million over three years to spy on the NSA’s behalf.  Because the UK has extremely surveillance-friendly laws, this may well have included work that is prohibited under US law. UK Ministers have accused the GCHQ of doing the NSA’s “dirty work” and of “selling their services to a foreign power.”

Climate Change Linked to Violence

A study published in Science this month found evidence that even tiny shifts in the climate increase rates of domestic violence, assault and other violent crimes.

The researchers pulled from archeology, criminology, economics, geography, history, political science and psychology to reach this conclusion: “For each 1 standard deviation (10) change in climate toward warmer temperatures or more extreme rainfall, median estimates indicate that the frequency of interpersonal violence rises 4% and the frequency of intergroup conflict rises 14%.”

In response to various weather patterns, they found increases in reports of domestic violence in India and Australia, land invasions in Brazil and an increase in the number of assaults and murders in the US and Tanzania.

Egypt’s Conflict Leaves Hamas in Limbo

Egypt’s military coup has left Hamas without its most important international ally and ordinary Palestinians are finding their lives caught up in Egypt’s fate. Hamas is the Gaza branch of deposed president Mohammed Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood, and Egypt’s generals have portrayed Morsi and Hamas as conspiring together to destabilize Egypt.

Thousands of workers in Gaza have been laid off since Egypt closed its borders, while tens of thousands of Palestinians studying and working in Egypt struggle to keep a low profile, worrying they will be targeted in an anti-Hamas backlash.

The future is uncertain for Hamas – yesterday, US Secretary of State John Kerry said that the generals were, in effect, restoring democracy when they overthrew Morsi, thereby strengthening the interim government and weakening the chances that Egypt’s next leader will be sympathetic to their cause.

Meanwhile, Egypt’s police have created a blockade around the pro-Morsi protests, supposedly as an alternative to clearing them.

Court Rulings Blur Lines Between Spy and Leaker

The US government’s avid prosecution of leakers uses new legal theories that are likely to change the right to freedom of speech as we know it. Recent court rulings have redefined the conventional view of the First Amendment’s role in national security issues, undermining America’s long-term understandings about the crucial role of the media.

Pfc. Bradley Manning may have escaped ‘aiding the enemy’ charges, but the military judge ruled that there was no constitutional problem with the government’s legal theory. This means that now, leaking classified information is considered a form of treason if the government can prove the leaker knew he was giving intelligence to the enemy “through indirect means.”

The prosecution of leakers and journalists, combined with the torture Manning endured (not to mention Abu Ghraib) have led the US to the point where it felt it necessary to promise Russia that it would not torture or execute Edward Snowden if Russia handed him over.

Weekend Read: How Much Military Do We Need?

“The US once regarded a standing army as a form of tyranny. Now it spends more on defense than all other nations combined.” – The New Yorker.

 

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