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Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Egyptian Army Cracks Down on Free Speech

The streets of Cairo saw violence again yesterday, when riot police attacked a peaceful protest with truncheons, bludgeoning, molesting, and arresting a number of Egypt’s most vocal human rights activists. Yesterday’s outbreak of violence comes despite a newly passed controversial protest law which, while not permissive of any unsanctioned protests, ought to have restrained police action. At least 75 people were detained. Arrest warrants have been issued for more. According to a group of 14 women who were detained after being manhandled, police drove them in a van through the desert where they were dropped off on a remote road in the middle of the night.

To the north in Alexandria, 21 young female defendants were given significant jail terms for forming a human chain late last month, in support of ousted president Mohamed Morsi. Among them were seven teenagers aged 15 and 16, who were sentenced to prison terms until they turn 18. The rest were sentenced to 11 years in prison. “We thought they will get a month or something but we were shocked with the 11 years,” defense lawyer al-Shimaa Ibrahim Saad said. Islamist rights advocate Haitham Abu-Khalil believes today’s sentencing is designed to “break the protests and show that there is no red line.”

NSA Spies on Pornography Habits

According to a secret document obtained by the Huffington Post, the National Security Agency gathers records of online sexual activity and visits to pornographic websites in order to harm the reputations of those whom the agency believes are radicalizing others through incendiary speeches. Six targets, all Muslims, were reportedly identified in the document as examples of how this type of surveillance can be used. According to the Huffington Post, there is no indication as to whether or not the NSA followed through on attempts to discredit the six individuals, either by communicating with them privately about the acquired information or leaking it publicly. Nor was there any discussion in the document of legal or ethical constraints on exploiting surveillance in this manner.

The NSA’s program bares striking resemblance to COINTELPRO, the J. Edgar Hoover-era FBI program which aimed to discredit or marginalize anti-Vietnam war and civil rights activists via blackmail, but in fact harkens back to Projects MINARET and SHAMROCK which, once exposed to the public led to the nominal judicial oversight of the U.S. intelligence community Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. And while the document made no mention of terrorist activities on the part of any of the six targets, according to Shawn Turner, director of public affairs in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, “it should not be surprising that the U.S. government uses all of the lawful tools at our disposal to impede the efforts of valid terrorist targets who seek to harm the nation and radicalize others to violence.”

Silvio Berlusconi Cast Out

Earlier today, the Italian Senate expelled former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi over his tax fraud conviction. As the vote went on, Berlusconi told supporters, “We are here on a bitter day, a day of mourning for democracy.” He continued, “Today they are toasting because they can take an adversary, they say a friend, in front of the executioner’s squad. It is the day they have been waiting for for 20 years.” But Guglielmo Epifani, general secretary of the Democratic Party (PD) disagreed, saying, “the Senate did nothing more than to apply the law. It was the right thing to do, otherwise we would have had the law of the jungle.”

The aging former senator pulled his party out of Prime Minister Enrico Letta’s governing coalition earlier this month. But with the support of 30 legislators who split from Forza Italia, Letta no longer needs Berlusconi’s support. Indeed after handily winning a vote of confidence on next year’s budget, Letta said today that his government was “stronger and more cohesive” and that he would press forward with his reform program.

With his ouster from parliament, Berlusconi will spend the next two years ineligible to run from government. Still he has few, if any, thoughts of receding from the political dais, telling supporters today, “We have to stay in the field and we can’t give up, even if the leader of the centre-right is not a Senator any more. There are leaders of the other parties who are not in parliament either.”

U.K. Prime Criticizes EU Free Movement

In an op-ed entitled, “Free movement within Europe needs to be less free“, United Kingdom Prime Minister David Cameron posits a rush of immigrants at the beginning of next year from Bulgaria and Romania will ruin the U.K.’s welfare state, defending a rash of measures his government unveiled last night. Principally, the new rules will bring about three-month waiting periods before unemployment benefits can be received, more frequent residency tests, and automatic deportations for those caught begging.

The concept of free labor movement for EU nationals is enshrined in Article 45 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, to which Britain is a party. But Cameron hopes to amend what he describes a “monumental mistake” on the part of the U.K.’s previous government. Laszlo Andor, European commissioner for employment, social affairs and inclusion, told the BBC that Cameron’s plan is an “unfortunate over-reaction“, and cautioned, “the unilateral action, unilateral rhetoric, especially if it is happening at this time, is not really helpful because it risks presenting the U.K. as the kind of nasty country in the European Union.”

Friday Read: Two Gunshots on a Summer Night

A number of failures in the investigation of the death of Michelle O’Connell, a Florida sheriff’s deputy’s girlfriend, leaves questions as to whether she commit suicide or was murdered. Walt Bogdanich and Glenn Silber explain in The New York Times.

Weekend Read: Riders on the Storm

Since the Aurora shooting last year, Colorado has spent more than $25 million on mental health care. Natasha Gardener examines where that money went and what’s left to be done in 5280.

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