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Thursday, September 5, 2013

NSA and GCHQ Undermine Internet Privacy and Security

The NSA and the GCHQ (Britain’s equivalent) have successfully circumvented or cracked much of the online security encryption relied upon by hundreds of millions of people to protect the privacy of their personal data as well as online transactions and e-mails.

After losing its public attempt to have its own ‘back door’ in all encryption in the 1990s, the NSA set out to accomplish its goal secretly. This included ensuring the agency controlled the setting of international encryption standards and the use of supercomputers to break encryption. The NSA also spends $250 million a year in collaboration with technology companies and internet service providers to build vulnerabilities into their encryption software.

In perfecting its eavesdropping methods, however, the NSA has undermined its other raison d’être: ensuring the security of American communications. When you build vulnerabilities into any system, you will never be the only one to exploit them. This fact, apparently, was of no concern.

Cambodian Government Obstructing Khmer Rouge Court

The UN and Human Rights Watch (HRW) criticized Cambodia today for failing to pay its part of the cost for the UN-backed Khmer Rouge tribunal, which is tasked with seeking justice for the atrocities committed by the Khmer Rouge in the 1970s, when 1.7 million people died from forced labor, torture, starvation, disease and mass executions.

The agreement states that the UN will pay the salaries of the foreign staff, while the Cambodian government pays the salaries of Cambodian employees. The Cambodian staff, however, have not been paid since May and are currently on strike. HRW said “Prime Minister Hun Sen has spent years obstructing the trials of former Khmer Rouge leaders,” and that this refusal to pay the staff is only the “latest attempt.”

Central African Republic Still in Chaos

The Central African Republic (CAR) continues to teeter on the brink of becoming a failed state after rebel leader Michel Djotodia seized power in March and has subsequently been unable to control his rebel coalition. Human rights organizations have accused various warlords of widespread torture, rape, summary executions and looting of everything from schools to hospitals to government offices. The vice president of CAR’s Parliament of Transition said the military had stopped working and CAR’s population was “abandoned to itself.”

On Wednesday, the government launched a program to collect unauthorized weapons from both civilians and soldiers at the police headquarters in Bangui. A similar program was launched in July, with little success.

One third of the population has been displaced and 1.6 million are in need of food. Malaria has spiked throughout the country and has spread to neighboring Chad.

Walmart Workers Strike in 15 Cities

Thousands of employees are striking today to demand that Walmart commit to providing full-time jobs with a minimum salary of $25,000. The strikes were organized in part to protest the company’s retaliation in June against employees who had pushed for better working conditions, which is illegal under the National Labor Relations Act.

This is despite the fact that competing retailers offer livable wages and benefits as well as the fact that economists say better worker treatment will improve Walmart’s bottom line. It should be noted that this wouldn’t take much: managers at Walmart routinely refuse basic worker accommodations like bathroom breaks. Wages are so low and work so unreliable that employees often must rely on food stamps and/or Medicaid to meet their basic living needs.

Today in Syria Posturing

British Prime Minister David Cameron cited British laboratory tests that had confirmed the use of sarin gas in the August 21st attack. Since Parliament voted against taking military action, however, he admitted he has ‘no hand to play’ in the G-20 summit, but that Britain would ‘lead the argument on humanitarian aid.’

The EU condemned the ‘abhorrent’ chemical attack, but insisted diplomacy was the best way to solve the conflict. It did not specify how. Putin claimed there isn’t enough evidence of a chemical attack to do anything, while the Kremlin’s chief of staff claimed Russia has been sending warships to the Mediterranean Sea for a possible evacuation of Russian civilians.

President Obama continued to push for a limited military intervention to ‘hold the Assad regime accountable.’ While the sentiment is morally justified, the strategy is unlikely to lead to any positive change.

Sweden is still the only country to offer blanket asylum to Syrian refugees.

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