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Friday, August 9, 2013

Obama Pledges Surveillance Oversight

President Barack Obama released new information on America’s spying activities today, and proposed changes meant to reassure the public that the NSA’s programs do not infringe on our privacy (even though we know for certain they do).  He announced the creation of a high-level task force made up of intelligence and civil liberties experts that would advise the government and supported steps to make the deliberations in front of the Federal Intelligence Surveillance Court more adversarial (currently, the Department of Justice simply makes its case and the court decides). His speech follows the closure today of two encrypted e-mail services for reasons linked to US intelligence.

Aside from closing e-mail services, the NSA has finally offered evidence for why collecting metadata from all Americans’ phones is necessary: the discovery of wire transfers totaling $8,500 from San Diego to Somalia, allegedly to senior members of al-Qaeda.  In 2008. This is currently the best rationale for spying on Americans the NSA has released.

Meanwhile, the UK has been quietly stripping people of their British citizenship without their knowledge often while they are abroad.

Al-Qaeda’s Growing Influence in North Africa

Inquiries into the bloody assault on an Algerian gas plant are uncovering increasing evidence that jihadis throughout North Africa are in some degree of contact with each other – specifically, the assailants who killed 39 workers at the plant were in contact with the jihadis who killed the US ambassador in Bengazi. It is not clear whether there is a direct link between the attacks.

Very few details are available about the rise of jihadis in the wake of the Arab Spring, but what little is known indicates that al-Qaeda affiliates stretch further across North and West Africa than previously realized. At the center of this expansion is Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). Born during Algeria’s civil war in the 1990s, it has since expanded into Tunisia, Libya and, until recently, Mali. The civil war in Syria has also drawn jihadis from across the entire region, merging groups that otherwise might have stayed separate.

Egypt On Course To More Bloodshed

Tens of thousands of supporters of ousted President Mohammed Morsi marched again today, the Muslim holiday of Eid el-Fitr, which marks the end of Ramadan. The government seems poised to break up the sit-ins as soon as the holiday is over.

Dozens were injured in clashes with police throughout the day. The specter of more bloodshed to come looms large, especially when senior members of the Muslim Brotherhood include this sort of rhetoric in their speeches: “Kill as much as you like. I won’t move an inch… We will offer a million martyrs.”

As the protests have continued, a lack of police presence and a sense of lawlessness have led to a spike in the street harassment of women. Activists have been trying to stop it for two years, and some have become frustrated enough to try a new approach: grabbing men who have allegedly harassed women and spray-painting “I am a harasser” on their shirts.

 Zimbabwe Opposition Demands Reelection, Not Optimistic

The Movement for Democratic Change challenged President Robert Mugabe’s election victory by filing papers with the Constitutional Court asking for the vote to be annulled due to widespread alleged illegalities and intimidation of voters. Zimbabwe’s electoral commission announced last weekend that Mugabe won with 61% of the vote, which would extend his 33-year-rule for 5 more years.

As Mugabe’s party dominates the judiciary, the suit is unlikely to succeed. Across the country, Zimbabweans were depressed by the election’s result, which simply continues the endless, tense status quo. Some say they have given up ever voting again. Even the phrase “Vakariga” (“they rigged the election”) has become a common saying. “It’s just a game for these politicians,” said one woman. “They don’t take us seriously, so why should we care?”

Half Of All Greek Firms Cheat On Taxes

Nationwide spot-checks by the Greek tax inspectors revealed that one out of every two firms in Greece is cheating the government out of revenue in one way or another. Numbers released by the Finance Ministry showed that between July 25 and August 5, 731 out of 1,465 businesses had violated tax law. The debt-hobbled government is low on revenue and under increasing pressure from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund to improve tax collection.

The government has repeatedly tried to clamp down on tax fraud, but clearly, the problem remains rampant.

Weekend Read: Algeria’s Tattooed Women

The tradition of decorative facial tattoos is fading in Algeria, but the tradition lives on in other forms. In Al Jazeera.

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