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Thursday, September 5, 2013

Californian Prisoner Strike Breaks

According to a statement by Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity, inmates have ended the largest hunger strike in California history after two state legislators promised to hold hearings to investigate and address prisoner concerns. At the strike’s peak, more than 30,000 prisoners were refusing food over correctional facility policies which included keeping a number of prisoners in solitary containment for years at a time. The state has roughly 4,000 inmates in segregation cells, possibly another 6,600 in temporary isolation. Last month the U.N. Special Rapporteur on torture, Juan E. Méndez called on the U.S. to abolish solitary confinement. “Even if solitary confinement is applied for short periods of time, it often causes mental and physical suffering or humiliation, amounting to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, and if the resulting pain or sufferings are severe, solitary confinement even amounts to torture.”

California Corrections Secretary Jeffrey Beard was buoyed by the PHSS announcement, saying, “we are pleased this dangerous strike has been called off before any inmates became seriously ill.” In Mid August, a court ruling allowed prison officials to begin force-feeding some members of the strike, even if those prisoners had signed and nominally binding ‘do not resuscitate’ orders.

The numbers had dwindled to roughly 100 striking people yesterday, and under advisement of their lawyers, the initial vanguard of prisoners called an end to the strike despite few concrete gains. The PHSS statement concluded acknowledging this fact. “We’ve gained a lot of positive ground towards achieving our goals. However, there’s still much to be done. Our resistance will continue to build and grow until we have won our human rights.”

Walmart Workers On Strike

A large number of Walmart employees participated in a strike all across the U.S. today, seeking better pay and the reinstatement of employees fired for protesting earlier this Summer. Most Walmart employees earn minimum wage, and are below the poverty level. According to Organization United for Respect at Walmart (OURWalmart), strikers are asking for a $25,000 wage floor for full-time employees. Strikers also say Walmart has illegally fired employees for attempting to unionize. Walmart spokesperson Kory Lundberg, disagreed saying “Many of these associates did not show up for work without any notice. It’s pretty disrespectful to their co-workers, because it disrespects those who now have to pick up that extra work.”

Barbara Gertz, who was arrested while forming a human chain outside of Walmart’s New York Corporate Offices today, laments the state of affairs at Walmart. “We want them to change. We want them to start treating their associates fairly and give them the ability to support their families. When you get a full-time job, you get that to be able to have a house or home and support your family,” she told Al-Jazeera. “You can’t do that at Walmart.”

Mexico Passes Controversial Education Bill

Thousands in Mexico have taken to the streets to protest a recently passed measure requiring educators to pass tests periodically in order to keep their jobs. President Enrique Pena Nieto proposed this bill along with a number of other reform hoping the would boost his country’s lagging economy. While the bill enjoys broad support in Mexico, some were disappointed at concessions made to La Maestra, the powerful teacher’s union. Marco A. Fernández the research director at México Evalúa, noted that, “the changes incorporated to the original proposal as a result of the teacher mobilizations undermine the strength of these efforts.” Still he sees it as “a first step in trying to dismantle a corrupt system.”

Teachers in Mexico commonly purchase or inherit their positions, which many say allows a number of less meritorious candidates to take jobs that ought to go to others. But irregular funding and little to no material support has also plagued the profession. “We do need a reform, but one that stems from our basic needs,” said protesting teacher Irais Zárate. La Maestra members say the government’s bill destroys job security while doing nothing to assist teachers in their jobs.

NSA Circumvents Encryption

The New York Times reports that the U.S. National Security Agency has circumvented or cracked much of the digital encryption that allowed for secure storage and transmission of sensitive data on the internet. The $250m a year project called Bullrun, according to documents leaked by whistleblower Edward Snowden, used myriad techniques to achieve the NSA goal of complete access to the world’s data bypassing common security features like SSL and VPNs. “For the past decade, NSA has led an aggressive, multi-pronged effort to break widely used Internet encryption technologies,” said a 2010 memo describing a briefing about NSA accomplishments in Bullrun for employees of its U.K. counterpart, Government Communications Headquarters. “Cryptanalytic capabilities are now coming online. Vast amounts of encrypted Internet data which have up till now been discarded are now exploitable.”

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