Leaked UN document: countries want to end War on Drugs and prohibition

A rare, leaked UN document reveals deep divisions among member-states about the war on drugs, with many nations demanding treatment and decriminalization instead of prohibition. The draft document, dating from September, is from the UN's attempt to set a global policy on drugs and drug trafficking. The document shows Ecuador demanding an official statement "that the world needs to look beyond prohibition" and Venezuela seeking recognition of "the economic implications of the current dominating health and law enforcement approach in tackling the world drug problem." Other dissenters include Norway, Switzerland and the EU. Read the rest

New CC licenses: tighter, shorter, more readable, more global

Creative Commons has released version 4.0 of its sharing-friendly, easy-to-use copyright licenses. The new licenses represent a significant improvement over earlier versions. They work in over 60 jurisdictions out of the box, without having to choose different versions depending on which country you're in; they're more clearly worded; they eliminate confusion over jurisdiction-specific rights like the European database right and moral rights. They clarify how license users are meant to attribute the works they use; provide for anonymity in license use; and give license users a 30 day window to correct violations, making enforcement simpler. Amazingly, they're also shorter than the previous licenses, and easier to read, to boot. Read the rest

TPP's worst evil: making all future copyright reform impossible

In an excellent editorial, Michael Masnick explains what's so nefarious about the Trans-Pacific Partnership -- the secretive trade treaty whose IP chapter leaked yesterday. As Masnick explains, the worst aspect of this treaty is that it locks in all of our present, overreaching copyright rules, effectively making it impossible for Congress and the Copyright Office to continue their present work on modernizing copyright for the digital age, and ensuring that they can never do so in future: Read the rest

NSA spied on 35 world leaders

A leaked 2006 memo from the NSA to staffers in the White House, State and the Pentagon asked them to search their rolodexes for the personal numbers of world leaders so the Agency could spy on them. At least 35 world leaders were subsequently wiretapped by the NSA. Read the rest

New journal of Southeast Asian science fiction: Lontar

Jason sez, "The first issue of my new literary journal, LONTAR: The Journal of Southeast Asian Speculative Fiction, was just recently released by Singapore-based publisher Math Paper Press. The issue's contributors are Paolo Bacigalupi, Kate Osias, Zen Cho, Paolo Chikiamco, Chris Mooney-Singh, Ang Si Min, Elka Ray Nguyen and Bryan Thao Worra, all of whom present speculative writing from and about the Philippines, Malaysia, Cambodia, Singapore, Laos and Vietnam. The print issue can be ordered online through the BooksActually Web Store, and an ebook version will be available in the coming months. A 25% sample can be read for free at Issuu."

Issue #1 (Thanks, Jason!) Read the rest

The story of the rapist's wife

The rape and murder of a 23-year-old physiotherapy student last December drew worldwide attention to India's struggles with tradition, women's rights, and street harassment. In a piece for the Wall Street Journal, Krishna Pokharel and Aditi Malhotra add another layer to that onion, following the story of Punita Devi, the wife of one of the convicted rapists. She, too, is suffering from the fallout of her husband's choices — and in ways that come back to those issues of tradition and equality. Living in a rural area where widows lose both their honor and any viable means of financial support, Devi is facing a future where she expects to be turned out of her in-laws' home, cannot return to her parents, and is judged and punished ... not for being the wife of a rapist, but for being nobody's wife. Read the rest

Rewire: Digital Cosmopolitans in the Age of Connection

Ethan Zuckerman -- founder of Geekcorps and Global Voices -- is an activist who puts his money where his mouth is. For decades, he's undertaken heroic efforts to foster a global dialog using the Internet, taking practical steps to network netheads from all over the world, giving them the power to work together. He is one of the best-informed commentators on the extent to which the Internet has changed the lives of people in every corner of the globe, and he's also a person with a mission to help people better their lives through technology.

His new book, Rewire: Digital Cosmopolitans in the Age of Connection, is a wonderful, hopeful, and sobering look at the state of the global net. Zuckerman takes us on an evidence-heavy, cautiously optimistic tour of the way that activists have used -- or failed to use -- networks to advance the cause of freedom and economic development. Read the rest

China says it will stop harvesting organs from prisoners

More than half of China's donated organs come from executed prisoners. The Chinese government now says it will begin phasing out that practice, starting in November. All new organ donors must volunteer. Of course, there's good reason to be skeptical of this announcement. As Smithsonian points out, the practice has already been illegal since 2006 with not much done to change it. Meanwhile, a harrowing 2011 investigative report by Ethan Gutmann in the Weekly Standard revealed a system that leaves plenty of room for "volunteer" loopholes. Read the rest

Life in a toxic country

New York Times China correspondent Edward Wong describes his life in heavily polluted Beijing, where he no longer feels safe running outside and, in order to bike around town, dons a black air filter face mask that makes him "look like an Asian Darth Vader". Read the rest

Food aid doesn't work because the primary goal isn't aid

At Nautilus, Jonathan Katz applies a systems-level perspective to the problem of food aid. Every year, the United States spends billions (although much less than it used to) sending shipments of food to countries where people are going hungry. The problem: That aid doesn't solve their hunger as a long-term thing, it just creates a stop-gap measure — and we do it in a way that costs more than it would likely cost to support programs that actually help those people change their lives. Why? Katz argues that it's because food aid evolved more for the benefit of American companies than the long-term benefit of feeding people. Read the rest

Herring Wars: Attack of the Faroe Islands

Herring travel in schools billions of fish strong and, thanks the outsized role they've played in North American and European culture, they've been called the most influential fish in history. Now, threatened first by overfishing and then by the effects of climate change, international organizations have worked to set treaty limits on how many tons of the fish different countries can catch each year. The problem: The limits are more randomly applied, rather than being based on rigorous standards or rules. Now, some countries are voicing their displeasure by resisting the limits, altogether. Begun, these Herring Wars have. Read the rest

Uncovering the cause of the largest mass poisoning in history

Twenty-one children died in India yesterday after eating school lunch food that had been contaminated with insecticide. Authorities are still investigating what happened there, but the Generation Anthropocene podcast has a related episode I wanted to point you towards in the meantime. It's about the struggle to understand the causes behind the largest mass poisoning in history, which began in Bangladesh in the 1980s and is still happening. The 25-minute podcast covers the work of the epidemiologists, doctors, and geologists who figured out that the skin lesions and organ damage affecting millions of Bangladeshis were caused by arsenic ... and then uncovered where all that arsenic was coming from. Read the rest

NSA leaks: US bugged EU offices & networks in DC

An article in Der Speigel expands on the descriptions we've had of the Snowden/NSA leaks, and claims that the US planted bugs in the EU's Washington offices and took over their internal computer network, intercepting its traffic. Read the rest

New NSA leak: BOUNDLESSINFORMANT documents the extent of NSA spying around the world

In the Guardian, Glenn Greenwald and Ewen MacAskill leak a description of another NSA top-secret program, this one codenamed "BOUNDLESSINFORMANT." This is apparently a tool that helps spies keep track of which snooping tools they can deploy in which countries, and it produces pretty, color-coded maps showing where the NSA spying powers are strongest. The Guardian has excellent notes on how this fits in with the ongoing fight between the US Senate and the NSA on whether and how the NSA spies on Americans:

The Boundless Informant documents show the agency collecting almost 3 billion pieces of intelligence from US computer networks over a 30-day period ending in March 2013. One document says it is designed to give NSA officials answers to questions like, "What type of coverage do we have on country X" in "near real-time by asking the SIGINT [signals intelligence] infrastructure."

An NSA factsheet about the program, acquired by the Guardian, says: "The tool allows users to select a country on a map and view the metadata volume and select details about the collections against that country."

Under the heading "Sample use cases", the factsheet also states the tool shows information including: "How many records (and what type) are collected against a particular country."

A snapshot of the Boundless Informant data, contained in a top secret NSA "global heat map" seen by the Guardian, shows that in March 2013 the agency collected 97bn pieces of intelligence from computer networks worldwide.

They quote Judith Emmel, an NSA spokesperson who says, "The continued publication of these allegations about highly classified issues, and other information taken out of context, makes it impossible to conduct a reasonable discussion on the merits of these programs." However, the NSA would not admit the existence of these programs (not even to the senate), prior to this. Read the rest

Obama's trade reps and the MPAA are killing a copyright treaty that gives rights to disabled people

Jim Fruchterman, founder of the NGO Benetech, writes in frustration from the World Intellectual Property Organization in Geneva, where the US Trade Representative is scuttling a treaty that will help blind people and people with other disabilities access copyrighted works, largely by making the (actually rather good) US laws the standard around the world.

Rather than promoting the US approach -- which allows for the creation of works in accessible formats without permission -- the US Trade Rep and his friends from the MPAA are advocating for a treaty that is far more restrictive than US law, ensuring that the US itself could never sign it.

In the process, they're killing a badly needed project to help people with disabilities around the world help each other to access creative works in formats that are adapted for their use.

To give you an idea of the poison pills being advocated for by the MPAA, publishers, and now the U.S. trade delegation, I've outlined the most notable ones below:

1. Commercial Availability Requirements. This poison pill says that if a book is commercially available in an accessible format, it can't be provided by a library to a person with a disability. This is equivalent to walking into a public library and finding padlocks on all the books with a note that says: "If you want to read it, buy it." With a commercial availability requirement, libraries like Bookshare, with hundreds of thousands of accessible books available to people with print disabilities, would have to go through such complex bureaucracy that we couldn't afford to serve people outside the U.S.

Read the rest

Internet penetration is never correlated with increasing power to dictators, and is often correlated with increased freedom

Philip N Howard wonders if there are any countries that have, on balanced, suffered as a result of the coming of the Internet -- say, because improved networks created so many opportunities for dictators to spy on dissidents that it swamped any free speech/free association benefits that the Internet delivered. So he scatter-plotted PolityIV’s democratization scores from 2002/2011, and cross-referenced them with World Bank/ITU data on internet users. The conclusion: by this method, no country experienced a decline in its overall levels of a democracy as it attained widespread Internet penetration, and almost all many countries experienced a rise in democracy levels that correlated to a rise in Internet penetration.

Are there any countries with high internet diffusion rates, where the regime got more authoritarian? The countries that would satisfy this condition should appear in the top left of the graph. Alas, the only candidates that might satisfy these two conditions are Iran, Fiji, and Venezuela. Over the last decade, the regimes governing these countries have become dramatically more authoritarian. Unfortunately for this claim, their technology diffusion rates are not particularly high.

This was a quick sketch, and much more could be done with this data. Some researchers don’t like the PolityIV scores, and there are plenty of reasons to dislike the internet user numbers. Missing data could be imputed, and there may be more meaningful ways to compare over time. Some countries may have moved in one direction and then changed course, all within the last decade. Some only moved one or two points, and really just became slightly more or less democratic.

Read the rest

Guatemala: Rios Montt genocide trial, day 18. "If I can't control the Army, then what am I doing here?"

Rios Montt listens to a prosecution witness, during the tribunal.

I am blogging from inside the Supreme Court in Guatemala City, where the trial of former Guatemalan Army General and US-backed dictator Guatemalan José Efrain Rios Montt and his then chief of intelligence Jose Mauricio Rodriguez Sanchez has reconvened for the 18th day. Here's a good recap of Monday's proceedings, and here's another.

For the past two weeks, I have been here in Guatemala with Miles O'Brien, observing the trial in court and interviewing people involved in the story for a forthcoming report on PBS NewsHour. We have interviewed Rios Montt's daughter, Zury Rios, who is her father's most diligent defender. We have interviewed scientists whose work is entered as evidence in the trial. We traveled to the Ixil area where the conflict at the center of this trial took place, and we interviewed Ixil Maya survivors about their experiences in the US-backed counterinsurgency attacks. We interviewed government officials who worked closely with Ríos Montt, who believe that what happened was not genocide, but the unfortunate collateral damage of a just war against "International Communism."

As covered in previous Boing Boing posts, the past few weeks of the trial have included personal testimonies from dozens of Ixil Maya survivors of mass killings, rapes, torture, forced adoption, and displacement. More than two dozen forensic anthropologists from the Forensic Anthropology Foundation of Guatemala (FAFG) have testified about human remains exhumed and analyzed from mass graves. Many other expert witnesses, or "peritos," have testified: among them, Patrick Ball of hrdag.org, who analyzed data of deaths during the armed conflict, to help judges make their decision about whether the mass killings constituted a focused attack by the Guatemalan Army, led by Ríos Montt, against the Ixil Maya ethnic group. Read the rest

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