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Wednesday, October 30, 2013

NSA Revelations, Outrage and Hypocrisy

As European leaders express their outrage over their private phone lines being tapped, they are currently impeding legislation to improve data privacy in Europe. This is sadly unsurprising, since the NSA has claimed all its European records were turned over by allied spy services. A recent report by El Mundo revealing that Spain colluded in the NSA’s widespread surveillance of its citizens suggests the organization may actually be telling the truth.

General Keith Alexander has adamantly opposed any additional restrictions or oversight on the grounds that it would lead to “this nation being attacked.” His claims echo official NSA talking points instructing officials to cite the 9/11 attacks as a ‘sound bite’ to justify its surveillance activities.

Today alone, the Italian magazine Panorama reported that the NSA spied on the Vatican during the papal conclave and The Washington Post revealed that the NSA has broken into the main communications links that connect Yahoo and Google data centers around the world, enabling it to collect data at will from hundreds of millions of accounts. In one month, it processed 181,280,466 records ranging from metadata (e.g. who sent or received e-mails and when) to text, audio and video content. It should be noted that the NSA already has front-door access to both companies’ user accounts.

What remains unclear is how, exactly, any of this prevents terrorist attacks.

Congo Troops Take Last Rebel Stronghold

Congolese government troops entered the eastern border town of Bunagana today, the main base of the M23 rebel group. Bunagana was the first town seized by the M23 rebels 20 months ago and was the last to fall. It is the latest in a string of successes for the Congolese army over the last 5 days that have left the M23 with only a small sliver of territory still in its control. A UN special representative has called it “the military end of the M23.”

Tens of thousands have fled across the border to neighboring Uganda to avoid the heavy fighting – the number of refugees surged from 5,000 to more than 10,000 within hours. After the gunshots subsided, however, civilians began returning to the area and the citizens of Bunagana came out to celebrate in the streets.

Egypt’s ‘Old Guard’ Ascendant

Egyptian security forces captured Essam Erian, one of the few remaining leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood who was still free, completing the incarceration of the organization’s senior officials. He has not yet been charged with a crime. Students at Cairo’s al-Azhar university protested his detention, smashing windows, throwing chairs and graffitiing the administrative building. Egyptian forces fired tear gas at the students and arrested at least 20.

It is the most recent of a litany troubling signs that the old order is being restored after the military takeover. Recently, the judges presiding over the case against Muslim Brotherhood leaders stepped down, citing “uneasiness” over the trial, apparently under pressure to hold it inside the prison. A disgraced general fired by then-President Mohamed Morsi over widespread corruption allegations has been quietly reinstated and put in charge of the general intelligence service. Finally, Egypt’s top prosecutor has ordered an investigation into satirist Bassem Yousef (often referred to as ‘Egypt’s Jon Stewart’), alleging his show had harmed national interests.

Widespread Sex Crimes on College Campuses

A new study has found that 9 out of 10 sexual assaults on campus are committed by serial rapists, offering eye-opening proof of exactly how many assaults are the indirect result of colleges failing to investigate rape claims or punish those found guilty of sexual assault. Out of 2,000 men interviewed, only 6% described sexual encounters that met the legal definition of rape, and the majority of those assaulted multiple women. While much has been written on the dangers of drinking for young women, perhaps more focus should be put on that small percentage of men who deliberately use alcohol to incapacitate them.

This is by no means only a problem for straight women: LGBT youths have been largely ignored during this debate, despite the fact that over one third of the LGBT community has experienced sexual assault.

Recent Discoveries about the Universe

Using the most sensitive dark matter detector yet, scientists have not yet found a trace of the substance that is thought to make up 27% of the universe. This is only the first step, however, and the signal is so clean that scientists are optimistic that the detector will pick up a dark matter particle should it appear.

A team of astrophysicists at the German Aerospace Center has discovered the most extensive planetary system to date and it is very similar to our solar system: seven planets circling the star KOI-351 at various distances, the rocky planets closest, the gas giants furthest.

Astronomers also announced today the discovery of the first Earth-size planet made of the same mixture of rock and iron as the Earth, orbiting a star similar to the sun. Kepler 78b, however, is less than a million miles from its parent star, which means half its surface is likely molten and its full orbital circuit takes less than 12 hours.

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