Category Archives: Crime

Peña plunges, crime rises, woes, and a win


A summary of events south of the border. . .

Peña plunges in the polls

The digits are so low he’d envy Trump’s numbers.

From teleSUR English:

Only 12 percent of Mexicans approve of the performance of President Enrique Peña Nieto, a new poll by newspaper Reforma found Wednesday, the lowest approval rating for a Mexican president since the paper began polling in 1995. At the beginning of his term in December 2012, Peña Nieto had a 61 percent approval rating.

His approval ratings hit a record low this month following the economic crisis and accusations of corruption, human rights violations and plagiarism. Most recently, his decision to raise gas prices by 20 percent has caused deadly riots and looting across the country.

The poll also shows 27 percent of voters favor the opposition leftist Morena party of Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador in next year’s presidential election, compared with 24 percent for the conservative National Action Party and only 17 percent for Pena Nieto’s Institutional Revolutionary Party.

The discontent with the ruling party also comes with the president’s decision to ignore public opinion claims regarding issues like the 43 disappeared Ayotzinapa students and the mounting human rights violations during his administration.

Peña Nieto and his political allies have been plagued by corruption allegations throughout his tenure while Mexico has endured escalating rates of violence, drug trafficking and forced disappearances.

More murders, this time in Cancun

Cartel violence is claiming bodies in a favorite venue for young U.S. tourists.

From El País:

Two shootouts in two days this week that left nine people dead and at least 15 people injured have shattered the calm of Cancún, threatening the beach resort’s position as the jewel in the crown of Mexico’s tourism industry.

On Monday, a man opened fire in the Blue Parrot nightclub in nearby Playa del Carmen, which was hosting the BPM electronic music festival. Five people died, among them a Canadian, US national and an Italian, and 15 were wounded in the attack, footage of which was posted on social networks.

The following day, armed men attacked the State Attorney General’s office in Cancún, killing a policeman. Four of the attackers were gunned down and five others arrested.

Security analyst Alejandro Hope says that the incidents were a spillover from mounting tension between criminal gangs fighting for control of the drugs trade, extortion and other illegal activities in the area.

“Things have been getting worse for several months; last summer there were attacks on massage parlors and brothels, but this has made the news because the shootout took place at an international event and there were foreign victims, while the attack on the State Attorney’s office is a direct challenge to authority,” he says.

TrumpOnomics™ worries in Mexico

And it’s not the cost of the wall that’s the biggest concern.

It’s jobs.

From teleSUR English:

Concerns about the policies to be pursued by the incoming Trump administration have caused a freeze on new investment in maquiladoras on the Mexican side of the border, where thousands of workers in that industry face an uncertain future.

Case in point is Ciudad Juarez, a city across from El Paso, Texas, where the first of the maquiladoras — plants where goods are assembled for export — was installed in 1968 and the maquila industry accounts for more than 60 percent of the local economy.

Trump, who takes office Friday, has said he will impose tariffs of up to 35 percent on U.S. companies who move operations to Mexico with the idea of selling their products back to the U.S. market.

Amid pressure by Trump, Ford made a surprise announcement early this year that it would cancel plans for a US$1.6 billion plant in Mexico and instead invest that money in Michigan.

That would mark an abrupt shift away from the current climate of virtually tariff-free U.S.-Mexico trade for qualifying goods under the North American Free Trade Agreement, which the president-elect says must be renegotiated.

Mass movement halts water privatization

Delightful!

And exemplary.

From teleSUR English:

A privatizing water law in the Mexican state of Baja California was repealed Tuesday following mass demonstrations against further privatization.

The state’s Governor Francisco Vega issued the decree Tuesday but would not answer press questions, only stating that the decision will benefit the people of Baja California.

The head of Infrastructure and Urban Development Edmundo Guevara, who was the main target of protests for proposing to privatize potable water services, was also in attendance.

Meanwhile, protesters are blocking state facilities in the state capital to demand the resignation of the local president and the deputies who voted in favor of the water law.

They also demanded the state eliminate the gas tax and immediately pay salaries and benefits kept from state employees.

Saving the best for last: Obama frees Manning


Barack Obama, who has ordered the prosecution of more whistleblowers than all previous presidents combined, has finally decided to set one of them go.

From the Associated Press:

President Barack Obama granted clemency to Chelsea Manning on Tuesday, allowing the transgender Army intelligence officer convicted of leaking more than 700,000 U.S. documents to go free nearly three decades early.

Embracing his clemency powers days before leaving office, Obama also pardoned 64 individuals including retired Gen. James Cartwright, charged with making false statements during another leak probe. Manning was one of 209 inmates with sentences commuted by Obama, who has now granted more commutations than any other president in history.

>snip<

Manning has been serving a 35-year sentence for leaking classified government and military documents to WikiLeaks, along with some battlefield video. She was convicted in military court of violating the Espionage Act and other offenses and spent more than six years behind bars. She asked Obama last November to commute her sentence to time served.

Her case has pitted LGBT rights activists, who warned about her mental health and treatment as a transgender woman living in a men’s prison, against national security hawks who said she did devastating damage to U.S. interests. The former cheered Obama’s move, while the latter called it an outrageous act that set a dangerous precedent.

Yet Obama did not grant a pardon to another prominent leaker, former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, whom the U.S. has been unable to extradite from Russia. Snowden hasn’t formally applied for clemency, though his supporters have called for it. Yet the White House drew a distinction between the unapologetic Snowden and Manning, whom officials noted has expressed remorse and served several years already for her crime.

2016 proved a black year for personal privacy


In brief, new laws and executive orders have given uintelligence agencies in the U.S. and U.K. unprecedented powers to gather a near-infinite harvest of the digital traces of our lives.

And in the U.S., gleanings once accessible only to a handful of political, military, and diplomatic elites will now be open to a host of law enforcement agencies.

From the New York Times:

In its final days, the Obama administration has expanded the power of the National Security Agency to share globally intercepted personal communications with the government’s 16 other intelligence agencies before applying privacy protections.

The new rules significantly relax longstanding limits on what the N.S.A. may do with the information gathered by its most powerful surveillance operations, which are largely unregulated by American wiretapping laws. These include collecting satellite transmissions, phone calls and emails that cross network switches abroad, and messages between people abroad that cross domestic network switches.

The change means that far more officials will be searching through raw data. Essentially, the government is reducing the risk that the N.S.A. will fail to recognize that a piece of information would be valuable to another agency, but increasing the risk that officials will see private information about innocent people.

Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch signed the new rules, permitting the N.S.A. to disseminate “raw signals intelligence information,” on Jan. 3, after the director of national intelligence, James R. Clapper Jr., signed them on Dec. 15, according to a 23-page, largely declassified copy of the procedures.

Previously, the N.S.A. filtered information before sharing intercepted communications with another agency, like the C.I.A. or the intelligence branches of the F.B.I. and the Drug Enforcement Administration. The N.S.A.’s analysts passed on only information they deemed pertinent, screening out the identities of innocent people and irrelevant personal information.

More from the Intercept:

The change was in the works long before there was any expectation that someone like Trump might become president. The last-minute adoption of the procedures is one of many examples of the Obama administration making new executive powers established by the Bush administration permanent, on the assumption that the executive branch could be trusted to police itself.

Executive Order 12333, often referred to as “twelve triple-three,” has attracted less debate than congressional wiretapping laws, but serves as authorization for the NSA’s most massive surveillance programs — far more than the NSA’s other programs combined. Under 12333, the NSA taps phone and internet backbones throughout the world, records the phone calls of entire countries, vacuums up traffic from Google and Yahoo’s data centers overseas, and more.

In 2014, The Intercept revealed that the NSA uses 12333 as a legal basis for an internal NSA search engine that spans more than 850 billion phone and internet records and contains the unfiltered private information of millions of Americans.

In 2014, a former state department official described NSA surveillance under 12333 as a “universe of collection and storage” beyond what Congress has authorized.

And a Snooper’s Charter takes effect in the U.K.

It’s called the Investigatory Powers Act 2016, more familiarly known as the Snooper’s Charter [full text here].

The Guardian reported on the measure’s passage on 19 November:

A bill giving the UK intelligence agencies and police the most sweeping surveillance powers in the western world has passed into law with barely a whimper, meeting only token resistance over the past 12 months from inside parliament and barely any from outside.

The Investigatory Powers Act, passed on Thursday, legalises a whole range of tools for snooping and hacking by the security services unmatched by any other country in western Europe or even the US.

The security agencies and police began the year braced for at least some opposition, rehearsing arguments for the debate. In the end, faced with public apathy and an opposition in disarray, the government did not have to make a single substantial concession to the privacy lobby.

US whistleblower Edward Snowden tweeted: “The UK has just legalised the most extreme surveillance in the history of western democracy. It goes further than many autocracies.”

One major organization, the National Council for Civil Liberties [counterpart of the American Civil Liberties Union in the U.S.], is on the legal offensive.

From their website:

Liberty is launching a landmark legal challenge to the extreme mass surveillance powers in the Government’s new Investigatory Powers Act – which lets the state monitor everybody’s web history and email, text and phone records, and hack computers, phones and tablets on an industrial scale.

Liberty is seeking a High Court judicial review of the core bulk powers in the so-called Snoopers’ Charter – and calling on the public to help it take on the challenge by donating via crowdfunding platform CrowdJustice.

Martha Spurrier, Director of Liberty, said: “Last year, this Government exploited fear and distraction to quietly create the most extreme surveillance regime of any democracy in history. Hundreds of thousands of people have since called for this Act’s repeal because they see it for what it is – an unprecedented, unjustified assault on our freedom.

“We hope anybody with an interest in defending our democracy, privacy, press freedom, fair trials, protest rights, free speech and the safety and cybersecurity of everyone in the UK will support this crowdfunded challenge, and make 2017 the year we reclaim our rights.”

The Investigatory Powers Act passed in an atmosphere of shambolic political opposition last year, despite the Government failing to provide any evidence that such indiscriminate powers were lawful or necessary to prevent or detect crime. A petition calling for its repeal

Liberty will seek to challenge the lawfulness of the following powers, which it believes breach the public’s rights:

  • the Act lets police and agencies access, control and alter electronic devices like computers, phones and tablets on an industrial scale, regardless of whether their owners are suspected of involvement in crime – leaving them vulnerable to further attack by hackers.
  • the Act allows the state to read texts, online messages and emails and listen in on calls en masse, without requiring suspicion of criminal activity.

Bulk acquisition of everybody’s communications data and internet history

  • the Act forces communications companies and service providers to hand over records of everybody’s emails, phone calls and texts and entire web browsing history to state agencies to store, data-mine and profile at its will. This provides a goldmine of valuable personal information for criminal hackers and foreign spies.
  • the Act lets agencies acquire and link vast databases held by the public or private sector. These contain details on religion, ethnic origin, sexuality, political leanings and health problems, potentially on the entire population – and are ripe for abuse and discrimination.

The secret agreements giving those new laws more power

From a review [open access] of the implications of revelations contained in the Snowden leaks in the International Journal of Law and Information Technology:

The US and UK’s signals intelligence agencies, National Security Agency (NSA) and Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), have gained access to very large volumes of Internet communications and data, for extremely broad ‘foreign intelligence’ purposes. A declassified 2011 US court order shows that NSA was already accessing more than 250 million ‘Internet communications’ each year. GCHQ is recording 3 days of international Internet traffic transiting the UK and 30 days of ‘metadata’ about these communications, and has gained access to ‘the majority’ of European Internet and telephone communications. NSA and GCHQ ‘collection’ of data is via intercepts of Internet traffic flowing through international fibre optic cables operated by telecommunications companies, and through automated searches carried out by Internet companies such as Microsoft, Apple, Google and Facebook on their internal systems, as well as the provision of complete records of all US telephone calls by AT&T, Verizon and others. NSA Director Keith Alexander asked his staff in 2008: ‘Why can’t we collect all the signals all the time?’—and they have set out to implement this vision.

The US and UK laws compel this cooperation by telecommunications and Internet companies (including ‘cloud computing’ providers that increasingly provide the infrastructure for Internet services).5 Other European governments cooperate with the USA–UK–Canada–Australia–New Zealand ‘Five Eyes’ intelligence alliance, notably an additional four countries in a ‘9-Eyes’ group (France, The Netherlands, Norway and Denmark) and a further five (Germany, Sweden, Spain, Belgium and Italy) in a ‘14-Eyes’ configuration.

NSA has further bugged EU offices and computer networks in Washington DC and New York, and gained access to UN internal videoconferencing systems. It has interception equipment and staff (jointly with the CIA) at 80 US embassies.

NSA has compromised at least 85,000 ‘strategically chosen’ machines in computer networks around the world; each device ‘in some cases … opens the door to hundreds or thousands of others.’ A new automated system is capable of managing ‘potentially millions’ of compromised machines for intelligence gathering and ‘active attack’. NSA conducted 231 ‘offensive operations’ in 2011, which represents ‘an evolution in policy, which in the past sought to preserve an international norm against acts of aggression in cyberspace, in part because U.S. economic and military power depend so heavily on computers’. NSA is spending $250 million each year to sabotage security standards and systems so that it can maintain access to encrypted data. GCHQ has developed methods to access encrypted data communications to Hotmail, Google, Facebook and Yahoo!

And if is those international agreements that magnify the impact of the increased panoptical powers in the United States and Great Britain.

And foremost among those pacts in the UKUSA Agreement, an accord granting London and Washington unparalleled access to each others intelligence gleanings.

Headline of the day: Assange offers U.S. a deal


From the London Daily Mail:

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange agrees to extradition if Barack Obama releases U.S. military whistleblower Chelsea Manning

  • WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to agree to be extradited to United States if President Obama grants Chelsea Manning clemency
  • Manning is serving a 35-year sentence for leaking U.S. military documents
  • WikiLeaks tweeted on Thursday saying Assange will agree to extradition
  • He has been in Ecuadoran embassy in London since June 2012

Headline of the day: A question of theodicy?


From El País:

Supreme Court judge blames violence against women on “evil”

  • Antonio Salas started a Twitter war by denying that such attacks are an educational problem.
  • Teresa Franco, a delegate for women’s affairs with the Spanish association of military personnel AUME, argued that men do not kill women because they are “wicked (biologically)” but “because they have learned that women belong to them.”
  • Salas replied: “So, those who abuse and kill do so because of an educational problem, not because they are intrinsically bad. I don’t believe that’s how it is.”

Chart of the day II: A modest Obama improvement


blog-chart

From the Pew Research Center [emphasis added]:

President Barack Obama is on pace to leave the White House with a smaller federal prison population than when he took office – a distinction no president since Jimmy Carter has had, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

The number of sentenced prisoners in federal custody fell 5% (or 7,981 inmates) between the end of 2009, Obama’s first year in office, and 2015, the most recent year for which BJS has final, end-of-year statistics. Preliminary figures for 2016 show the decline continued during Obama’s last full year in office and that the overall reduction during his tenure will likely exceed 5%.

By contrast, the federal prison population increased significantly under every other president since 1981.

During the eight years of Ronald Reagan’s tenure, for example, the number of sentenced inmates in federal custody rose 78% (or 16,539 prisoners), the largest percentage increase for any administration on record. It went up 39% (16,946 prisoners) during the four years of George H.W. Bush’s presidency; 56% (38,769 prisoners) during the eight years of Bill Clinton’s tenure; and 32% (36,784 prisoners) during the eight years of George W. Bush’s administration. In absolute numbers, the increase during Clinton’s tenure was the largest on record.

Gasolinazo heats up, more deaths in Mexico


Riots fueled by the severe gas hikes forced on Mexican motorists by the government of President Enrique Peña Nieto in the wake of his partial privatization of Pemex, the national oil company, have claimed still more lives.

Dubbed the gasolinazo [previously], the price hikes have inspired massive protests, riots, looting, and shootings.

The latest from teleSUR English:

Protests over a double-digit hike in gasoline prices in Mexico continue in at least 22 states of the country, officials said on Friday, as they confirmed that the wave of violent lootings and blockades has left three people dead and at least 700 arrested.

Business leaders estimate that some 1,000 shops and companies have been looted or vandalized this week as others closed over fears of being robbed.

Protesters argue that the government’s decision to raise fuel prices by up to 20 percent has no justification in an oil-rich country, but the government insists that the move responds to international prices and not a result of the government’s neoliberal reforms.

On Thursday night President Enrique Peña Nieto used a nationally televised New Year’s address to defend the increase, again.

“It is a difficult change, but as president, it is precisely my responsibility to take difficult decisions in the present to avoid major problems in the future,” said Peña Nieto, whose approval rating has fallen below 23 percent.

The unpopular leader said that keeping the same prices would have cost the government US$9.3 billion, forcing the suspension of health care and welfare programs.

“I ask you, what would you have done?” he said.

While acknowledging the widespread anger, Peña Nieto said he would forge ahead with the liberalized or deregulated price scheme, which removes fuel subsidies and allow gasoline prices to be determined by prevailing international prices.