Washington Post, By Christopher Ingraham, November 23
Here’s an interesting factoid about contemporary policing: In 2014, for the first time ever, law enforcement officers took more property from American citizens than burglars did. Martin Armstrong pointed this out at his blog, Armstrong Economics, last week.
Officers can take cash and property from people without convicting or even charging them with a crime — yes, really! — through the highly controversial practice known as civil asset forfeiture. Last year, according to the Institute for Justice, the Treasury and Justice departments deposited more than $5 billion into their respective asset forfeiture funds. That same year, the FBI reports that burglary losses topped out at $3.5 billion.
Armstrong claims that “the police are now taking more assets than the criminals,” but this isn’t exactly right: The FBI also tracks property losses from larceny and theft, in addition to plain ol’ burglary. If you add up all the property stolen in 2014, from burglary, theft, motor vehicle theft and other means, you arrive at roughly $12.3 billion, according to the FBI. That’s more than double the federal asset forfeiture haul.
AP, By Seth Borenstein, November 22
Washington – A first-of-its-kind examination of the Amazon’s trees found that as many as half the species may be threatened with extinction or heading that way because of massive deforestation. Among the more than 5,000 tree species in deep trouble: the ones that produce Brazil nuts and mahogany.
An international team of 158 scientists found that depending on the degree to which deforestation comes under control in the next 35 years, between 36 and 57 percent of the 16,000 tree species in the tropical rainforest area would be considered threatened. The study is published in Friday’s edition of Science Advances.
The range rests on whether cutting down the region’s forest continues at the rate of the late 20th and early 21st centuries or slows to lesser levels proposed in 2006, study authors said. If deforestation continues at the same pace, nearly 8,700 tree types are in trouble, but the number of species at risk could be as low as 5,500 if nations are able to cut back as planned, said study coauthor Nigel Pitman, from the Field Museum in Chicago.
ABC.au, By Peter Burton, November 17
What impact will the attacks have on the Paris Climate Change Conference scheduled to begin in 12 days?
While already complicated, the talks will now take place within a state of emergency that is threatening to limit public participation.
Events in Paris continue to unfold at a dizzying pace. But in the coming days we will learn a lot by paying attention to how parties use (and abuse) the language of freedom and liberty.
French authorities reportedly asked the company to block certain content.
Mother Jones, By Josh Harkinson, November 17
Over the past three days, Twitter has been preventing its users in France from viewing certain images and keywords related to the Paris attacks. The censorship, first reported today by the French newspaper Le Monde, applies to a keyword used by supporters of the Islamic State, tweets advocating terrorism, and, more controversially, graphic photographs taken inside the Bataclan after the terrorist attacks there left dozens dead.
On Sunday, France’s National Police used its Twitter account to ask social media users not to contribute to “the spread of photos of crime scenes,” out of “respect for victims and their families.” It encouraged Twitter users to send links to photos from the Bataclan massacre to PHAROS, a government website that compiles reports of illegal online activity.
On the same day, French law enforcement officials sent a request directly to Twitter, demanding the removal of certain tweets, according to Lumen, a Harvard University database of government takedown requests. The reasons the authorities gave for the request were a “serious attack on human dignity (images of cadavers)” and “secrecy of the investigation.”
“France has become nothing short of a nightmare when it comes to free speech,” says Jonathan Turley, a professor of public interest law at George Washington University. “The French government has aggressively rolled back free speech protections for years. I never thought I would see the day when France would become the leader in censorship and the criminalization of speech, however, it has become precisely that.”
The presence of identical fissile materials in three smuggling incidents indicates someone has a larger cache and is hunting for a buyer
The Center for Public Integrity, By Douglas Birch, R Jeffrey Smith, November 12
CHISINAU, Moldova – The sample of highly-enriched uranium, of a type that could be used in a nuclear bomb, arrived here on a rainy summer day four years ago, in a blue shopping bag carried by a former policeman.
According to court documents, the bag quickly passed through the hands of three others on its way to a prospective buyer. It was not the first time such material had passed through this city, raising international alarms: It had happened twice before. And mysteriously, in all three cases, spanning more than a decade, the nuclear material appeared to have the same origin – a restricted military installation in Russia.
This news would quickly reach Washington. But that day, the first to pick up the blue bag was the wife of a former Russian military officer, who handed it off to a friend while she went shopping in this former Soviet city’s ragged downtown.
Not long afterward, a 57-year old lawyer named Teodor Chetrus, from a provincial town near the Ukrainian border, retrieved it and brought it to a meeting with a man named Ruslan Andropov. According to an account by Moldovan police, the two men had, earlier in the day, visited a local bank, where Chetrus confirmed that Andropov had deposited more than $330,000 as an initial payment.
And Its Problems as a Counterterrorism Strategy
Foreign Affairs, By Fait Muedini, November 3
With the Syrian civil war in its fourth year—and now with Russia’s direct intervention on behalf of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad—Washington is more keen than ever to push back the self-proclaimed Islamic State (also known as ISIS). And at least when it comes to that mission, the Assad government is looking to join in. Just over a year ago, Assad government spokesperson Mohamed Jihad al-Laham reached out to the U.S. Congress to ask for support in the fight against ISIS and to criticize the rebel forces that the United States supports as being just as radical as the larger group. In his letter, Laham also suggested promoting Sufism—a mystical branch of Islam—as a mechanism to alter the violent behavior of terrorist actors.
The inclusion of Sufism in Laham’s plea for military support might seem out of place. But since 9/11, such sentiments have become routine as the United States, the United Kingdom, and other Western countries have come up against hard-line Islamist groups. In most cases, the West has opted for a multipronged response, which usually includes increased counterterrorism surveillance, military intervention, and the sponsorship of “friendly” and “tolerant” interpretations of Islam both domestically and abroad. The logic is that messages of tolerance could thwart would-be jihadists from becoming indoctrinated by less tolerant religious strands.
In fact, the sponsoring of Sufism is a popular choice around the world, including in Algeria, Morocco, Pakistan, and Russia. In Algeria, President Abdelaziz Bouteflika has invested resources in promoting Sufi education; the state has promoted Sufi leaders’ activities and also allows Sufi groups to disperse information and literature in the country. King Mohammed VI of Morocco continues to call upon Sufi symbolism in his speeches and has attempted to control and reshape religious education in the country by promoting a Sufi agenda. In Pakistan, political leaders often go to Sufi shrines in order to show the public their closeness to Sufi orders. Furthermore, they court Sufi leaders for political support. And in Russia, President Vladimir Putin has also promoted Sufism in Chechnya through the installation of Ramzan Kadyrov as head of the republic. A strong ally to the Kremlin, Kadyrov is a member of the Qadiriyya Sufi order and frequently uses Sufism to counter Islamists in the region. All this provides Putin with greater control over the region and the state with an opportunity to support a brand of Islam that challenges more literal interpretations of the faith.
AFP, By Hashim Safi, November 5
Medical charity MSF Thursday released chilling details from a devastating US bombing of an Afghan hospital, saying staff and patients had been decapitated and lost their limbs with some gunned down from the air.
The raid on October 3 in the northern city in Kunduz killed at least 30 people, sparking an avalanche of global condemnation and forcing the French-founded charity to close the trauma centre.
An AC-130 gunship repeatedly bombed the hospital for around an hour even as MSF staff sent out harrowing messages to officials in Kabul and Washington, informing them of heavy casualties, the charity said in an internal review of the strike.
Médecins Sans Frontières: Afghanistan: MSF releases internal review of the Kunduz hospital attack
Religious belief appears to have negative influence on children’s altruism and judgments of others’ actions even as parents see them as ‘more empathetic’
The Guardian, By Harriet Sherwood, November 6
Children from religious families are less kind and more punitive than those from non-religious households, according to a new study.
Academics from seven universities across the world studied Christian, Muslim and non-religious children to test the relationship between religion and morality.
They found that religious belief is a negative influence on children’s altruism.
“Overall, our findings … contradict the commonsense and popular assumption that children from religious households are more altruistic and kind towards others,” said the authors of The Negative Association Between Religiousness and Children’s Altruism Across the World, published this week in Current Biology.
“More generally, they call into question whether religion is vital for moral development, supporting the idea that secularisation of moral discourse will not reduce human kindness – in fact, it will do just the opposite.”
The findings “robustly demonstrate that children from households identifying as either of the two major world religions (Christianity and Islam) were less altruistic than children from non-religious households”.
Older children, usually those with a longer exposure to religion, “exhibit[ed] the greatest negative relations”.
AP, November 4
Bucharest, Romania — The latest on the fire in a Romanian nightclub that killed more than 30 people, and the political crisis it has set off. All times local.
More than 10,000 people have gathered for a second day in Bucharest and cities around Romania calling for early elections after Prime Minister Victor Ponta and his government resigned in the wake of a deadly nightclub fire.
Protesters massed late Wednesday in University Square in downtown Bucharest, a traditional site for anti-government rallies, calling for early elections and better governance.
Calling on others to join the protest, they yelled: “Get out of your homes if you care!” And “Don’t be afraid, the country is rising up!”
They marched later toward the Parliament. Protesters also took to the streets in the cities of Cluj, Timisoara and Constanta.
Landmark decision legalizes recreational use for marijuana club members only; move likely to force legislative action.
Al Jazeera, By Alfonso Serrano, November 4
Smoking marijuana is a basic human right. That extraordinary argument swayed Mexico’s Supreme Court on Wednesday, when it ruled that a federal health law prohibiting cannabis cultivation and personal use violates the constitution — an unprecedented decision that may trigger similar court appeals and pressure the country’s congress to weigh widespread legalization of the drug.
In a landmark interpretation of drug laws widely blamed for violence that has claimed thousands of lives in Mexico, a panel of five judges ruled in favor of a nonprofit marijuana club — the Mexican Society for Responsible and Tolerant Autoconsumption, or SMART — which argued that the health law violates the right to the “free development of one’s personality.” In essence, SMART lawyers successfully claimed that the constitution allows individuals the autonomy to experiment with the effects of cannabis despite the potential dangers the practice entails.
The 4-1 ruling followed an injunction filed by SMART against a 2013 ruling by Mexico’s health regulator that prohibited the organization from cultivating and consuming cannabis for recreational purposes.
“It’s a historic ruling because it centers the drug policy discussion on human rights, because it declares that prohibitions concerning personal use and cultivation are excessive,” said Lisa Sánchez, Latin America program manager for U.K.-based the nonprofit Transform Drug Policy Foundation. “This is a very important step. It not only gives us jurisprudence. It demonstrates an incoherence between the country’s most qualified jurists and congressional legislation. This should have an effect on Congress to reform [drug] policy as soon as possible.”