Monthly Archives: June 2014

The Dictator of Eritrea — Manthorpe

“Fellow Africa hand Remer Tyson and I were huddling behind the thickest wall we could find one bad morning in the Somali capital, Mogadishu, and, as one does as the bullets fly, we grew philosophical, recalls International Affairs analyst Jonathan Manthorpe of a day in 1991. “If Africa had any sense,” said Remer, correspondent for a major American newspaper group, “it would give Somalia to the Eritreans to run.” “Trouble is,” he added, “the Eritreans are far too sensible to take it.”

306px-Isaias_Afwerki_in_2002That was then. Now, Eritrea is called “the North Korea of Africa” writes Manthorpe. An excerpt of today’s column: 

After being the driving force behind the liberation of Ethiopia, the Eritreans gained their own independence in 1993. This was a time when many African nations were overthrowing the rule of “Big Man” dictators and embarking on the stormy transition to forms of democracy. In this sea change, Eritrea, with its compact and resource-rich territory and highly motivated people, was seen as potentially the most successful.

Instead, quite the reverse has happened. Eritrea is now often called “the North Korea of Africa.” That neatly sums up the reality of today’s Eritrea as a grim totalitarian state with prisons crammed full of dissidents, shunned by its neighbours, forced into diplomatic isolation, and with its economy buckling under United Nations sanctions.

No wonder that Eritrea’s diplomats in Canada, as they do elsewhere in the world, try to strong-arm emigrant Eritreans into donating two per cent of their incomes to the government in Asmara back home.

So what went wrong? The answer is President Isayas Afeworki … read more (subscription required)*

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Eritrea: the failure of Africa’s most promising nation

Jonathan Manthorpe’s columnist page is here.

*Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O serves and is entirely funded by modest reader payments. We do not carry advertising or solicit donations from non-journalism foundations or causes. Why?

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Iraq on our mind

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“Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it” — American/Spanish philosopher George Santayana. Photo: a military plaque at Veterans Memorial Park in Rhome,Texas. (Creative Commons)

Events in Iraq have dominated world affairs this week. Reports and analysis in Facts and Opinions provide context:

 
In The Cold War 2.0, Thoughtlines author Jim McNiven looks at the deep historical and geopolitical picture (subscription required):
For 40 years, one big contest played out in the world. It was a kind of arm-wrestling match between the Soviets and the Americans. I use the word ‘Soviets’ to distinguish one contestant from its successor of sorts: today’s Russians. Eventually, the Soviets could not keep their end of the game going and walked away from the table, into history. The last decade of the century was one where there was but one superpower — and it wanted to party. The attacks on America on September 11, 2001, brought that party to a halt. It signified a new game was beginning; not one of two superpowers engaged while the rest of the world largely stayed out of the way, but one where arm-wrestling was replaced by a kind of hide-and-seek. 
In F&O‘s books section ProPublica journalist Jeff Gerth tries to shed light on at least one American politician who voted for the United States invasion: All the Things Hillary Clinton’s Book Doesn’t Say About Iraq (free story):

Having co-authored a 2007 biography of Hillary Clinton, I know that Iraq is not one of her favorite subjects. But with the bloodshed and sectarian division now crippling Iraq, I wondered what her new memoir, Hard Choices, had to say about a country that’s long been a political minefield for her. The answer is not a lot. There is no chapter on its own for Iraq, like there is for Gaza, or Burma or Haiti.

Natural Security columnist Chris Wood considers the destruction in Iraq in Let Nature’s Geography Trump Westphalian View (subscription required):

Millennia of not-always-wise irrigation, a century of water seizures for national ends, and decades of conflict including that now in Iraq, have not been kind to the once-lush basin of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. “Recovery” might yet be possible, in the unlikely event that environmentalists, who are without a name let alone an army, unify the Levant under a Green banner. But the point we all need to grasp is that the former Mesopotamia is merely a little ahead of the rest of us, on the road to bankrupting our natural security.

International Affairs columnist Jonathan Manthorpe looks at the long-term repercussions of America’s invasion of Iraq, and how it “fouled the west’s moral authority in a world where new centres of cultural, political and military power are rapidly emerging. In Bin Laden’s disciples move to realize his dream he writes(subscription required)

There has never been a satisfactory explanation why George W. Bush and his Praetorian Guard nursed such a visceral hatred of Saddam Hussein. But they came to power in 2000 intent on vendetta, and within hours of the September 2001 al-Qaida attacks on New York and Washington the closest officials and advisers around Bush were looking for a Saddam connection. Within days, senior officers in the Pentagon realized with alarm the administration had already loosed the unstoppable juggernaut that would lead to the invasion of Iraq and removal of Saddam in 2003.

WHAT WE ARE READING ELSEWHERE:
 
Of Iraq’s “house of horrors CBC journalist Brian Stewart asks, “How can one even begin to explain such a fiasco?”  One word comes to mind: Hubris.  It’s been in flagrant display this week. Remarkably, given their record and the various demands they be charged with war crimes, former American president George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld and crew — who  can make Saddam Hussein seem wise and statesmanlike — still walk and talk amongst us (and, word, do they talk) long after Hussein was sent to the gallows.

What next? The New York Times‘ David Brooks argues that some answers for Iraq can be found in — of all the world’s bizarre benighted places — Rwanda. Post-genocide Rwanda shows “if you get the political elites behaving decently, you can avoid the worst. Grimly, there’s cause for hope.”  Meanwhile, an American Public Policy Polling poll on June 17 suggests that 74 per cent of Americans oppose sending combat troops to Iraq.

— Deborah Jones

Posted in Current Affairs, Gyroscope Tagged , |

Amid bloodshed, Kenya’s leader plays dangerous game

Uhuru_Kenyatta_Official

Uhuru Kenyatta

In accusing “local political networks” and an “opportunist network of other criminal gangs,” Kenya’s president has tried obliquely to blame his political opposition for recent bloodshed, writes International Affairs analyst Jonathan Manthorpe in today’s column. It’s a dangerous tactic, which focuses attention on a history of bloody rivalry and the country’s ineffectual government since independence from Britain. An excerpt: 

It is logical, but far too easy, to blame the Somali-based militant Islamic group al-Shabaab for massacres in two Kenyan coastal communities on Sunday and Monday in which close to 100 people were killed.

It’s logical because the attacks on the town of Mpeketoni and the nearby village of Majembeni fit into a pattern of about 100 revenge terrorist attacks by al-Shabaab since the Kenyan military invaded Somalia in 2011 to help other regional forces dislodge the Muslim extremists. The most high-profile of these was last September’s terrorist attack on the upmarket Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi in which at least 67 people died.

But, despite al-Shabaab’s claim of responsibility for these latest attacks close to the coastal tourist Mecca of Lamu, domestic political struggles, especially for control of land, look to be a far more likely reason for the bloodshed.

Indeed, Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta said on Tuesday, the massacres were the work of “local political networks” and not al-Shabaab. … read more (subscription required)*

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Local grievances fuel Kenyan massacres

Jonathan Manthorpe’s columnist page is here.

*Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O serves and is entirely funded by modest reader payments. We do not carry advertising or solicit donations from non-journalism foundations or causes. Why?

 

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It’s Complicated: Facebook’s History of Tracking You

by Julia Angwin, ProPublica

 

For years people have noticed a funny thing about Facebook’s ubiquitous Like button. It has been sending data to Facebook tracking the sites you visit. Each time details of the tracking were revealed, Facebook promised that it wasn’t using the data for any commercial purposes.

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Billboard on the Thomson Reuters building welcomes Facebook to Nasdaq, 2012. Photo by ProducerMatthew, Creative Commons licence

No longer. Last week, Facebook announced it will start using its Like button and similar tools to track people across the Internet for advertising purposes.

Here is the long history of the revelations and Facebook’s denials:

Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg introduces the “transformative” Like button …

April 21, 2010 2013 Facebook introduces the “Like” button in 2010 at its F8 developer conference. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg declares that it will be “the most transformative thing we’ve ever done for the Web.”

He says his goal is to encourage a Web where all products and services use people’s real identity. He suggests, in fact, that creating a personally identifiable web experience could be divine: “When you go to heaven, all of your friends are all there and everything is just the way you want it to be,” he says. “Together, lets build a world that is that good.” 

Which sends data …

Nov. 30, 2010 2013 Dutch researcher Arnold Roosendaalpublishes a paper showing that Facebook Like buttons transmit data about users even when the user doesn’t click on the button. Facebook later says that Roosendaal found a “bug.”

even when users don’t click on it … 

May 18, 2011 – The Wall Street Journal reports that Facebook Like buttons and other widgets collect data about users even when they don’t click them. Facebook’s chief technology officer says, “we don’t use them for tracking and they’re not intended for tracking.”

Internet pioneer says log out of Facebook …

Sept. 24, 2011 2013 Veteran tech blogger Dave Winer writes that ” Facebook is scaring me” with its apps like the social reader, which can automatically share stories you read. This “kind of behavior deserves a bad name, like phishing, or spam, or cyber-stalking,” he writes. Winer recommends that users log out of Facebook to prevent being tracked on other websites.

Except logging out doesn’t work …

Sept. 25, 2011 2013 Australian blogger Nik Cubrilovic writes that ” Logging Out of Facebook is Not Enough.” He shows that Facebook is tracking users even when they log out of the site. Facebook responds that it is fixing the issue so people won’t be tracked when they are logged out of Facebook.

Facebook says not to worry…

Sept. 27, 2011 2013 Facebook tells the New York Times that it doesn’t use data from Like buttons and other widgets to track users or target advertising to them, and that it deletes or anonymizes the data within 90 days.

Turns out Facebook has patented the technique …

Oct. 1, 2011 2013 Blogger Michael Arrington digs up a Facebook patent application for “a method 2026 for tracking information about the activities of users of a social networking system while on another domain.” The title of his blog post: ” Brutal Dishonesty.

But, really, don’t worry …

Dec. 7, 2012 2013 As the Wall Street Journal finds that Facebook Like buttons and other widgets appear on two-thirds of 900 websites surveyed, the company says again it only uses data from unclicked Like buttons for security purposes and to fix bugs in its software.

OK, worry …

June 12, 2014 2013 Facebook tells Ad Age that it will start tracking users across the Internet using its widgets such as the Like button.

It’s a bold move. Twitter and Pinterest, which track people with their Tweet and PinIt buttons, offer users the ability to opt out. And Google has pledged it will not combine data from its ad-tracking network DoubleClick with personally identifiable data without user’s opt-in consent. Facebook does not offer an opt-out in its privacy settings.

Instead Facebook asks members to visit an ad industry page, where they can opt out from targeted advertising from Facebook and other companies. The company also says it will let people view and adjust the types of ads they see.

We contacted Facebook to ask them about their tracking habits. They didn’t respond.

Read our recent story about how online tracking is getting creepier, and a piece from our archives rounding up the best reporting on Facebook and your privacy.

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Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O performs journalism for citizens, funded entirely by subscribers and readers who purchase a $1 site day pass. We do not carry advertising or solicit donations from non-journalism foundations or causes.

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F&O’s first magazine feature wins kudos

Brennan B&W

Brian Brennan

Congratulations to F&O founding feature writer Brian Brennan, whose story Canada’s Mayor — F&O’s first original magazine feature — won Runner-up, Best Feature Article, in the 2014 Professional Writers Association of Canada Awards

Here’s what we said on our Frontlines blog to announce the piece when it was published September 30, 2013:

When river flooding inundated downtown Calgary, it caused billions of dollars in damage and tested the leadership of Naheed Nenshi, a first-term mayor who handled the crisis so adroitly that he attracted national and international media attention. 

How did this former policy wonk and self-styled “brown guy,” a liberal and a Muslim, come out of nowhere to defy the stereotypes?

How did Nenshi become the unlikely leader of Canada’s politically conservative energy capital, at a time when oil companies and environmentalists anxiously await a decision from President Obama on the future of the Keystone XL pipeline? 

We thought it was an excellent piece, good enough for our launch. We’re thrilled that PWAC agrees, and we thank the association and congratulate all of the winners. 

Posted in All, Canadian Journalist, Gyroscope Tagged , , , , |

Replace Westphalian Nationalism with Green Unity: Chris Wood

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Marsh Arabs poling a mashoof in the marshes of southern Iraq. Photo by Hassan Janali, United States Army Corps of Engineers

National sovereignty, no matter how zealously protected, cannot achieve natural security, writes Chris Wood in today’s Natural Security column. Critical ecological infrastructure can only be assured if we get past misguided nationalisms, nativism and deep-rooted tribalisms —  past a way of thinking about the world that dates back 366 years and has come to be tagged the “Westphalian” world-view. An excerpt:

My Facts and Opinions colleague Jonathan Manthorpe writes insightfully about the affairs of nations. His great talent is the ability to reveal how their competition, so often ‘analysed’ as though it were the political analog of the FIFA World Cup, is in fact more a case of national logos plastered over vicious backroom feuds among rival local powers vying for control of a lucrative franchise to exploit or, very occasionally, to serve. 

This column has taken the view that those narratives, while still relevant, are increasingly eclipsed by a much bigger one, both overarching and undergirding every other human story. That is the question, put bluntly, of how or whether we will survive the ecological exhaustion of our planet.

This view received an endorsement this past week, from the New York Times’ gadfly of globalization, Thomas Friedman. In a column titled “The Real War of Ideas,2” Friedman brought attention to a diffuse movement that is the other group, beside the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, seeking to bring the Middle East under one rule — for quite different ends — from its mountain wall along the Mediterranean to the Caspian Sea and south to the Persian Gulf. These are the region’s environmentalists.

Their key insight: their deepening eco-pocalypse can only be avoided by letting nature’s geography trump that of nations. ‘Avoided’ may in fact be too optimistic a term for the region often called the cradle of civilization. Millennia of not-always-wise irrigation, a century of water seizures for national ends, and decades of conflict, have not been kind to the once-lush basin of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. A less unrealistic goal might be “recovery.” And that might be possible, in the unlikely event that Friedman’s environmentalists-without-a-name let alone an army, unify the Levant under a Green  … read more (subscription required*).

*Log in on the top right of each page, or click here to purchase a subscription or a $1 site day pass, to read Wood’s column:

Let Nature’s Geography Trump Westphalian View

Click here for Chris Wood’s’s page, with all of his columns for F&O.

*Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O serves and is entirely funded by modest reader payments. We do not carry advertising or solicit donations from non-journalism foundations or causes. Why? 

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On Iraq and America’s Folly

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United States forces captured Saddam Hussein December 13, 2003, at ad-Dawr near Tikrit. Iraqi courts found him guilty of numerous offences. He was executed by hanging December 30, 2006. U.S. Army Photo

From five words flow the events we see today in Iraq, writes International Affairs analyst Jonathan Manthorpe in today’s column. As the United States grappled with a response to 9/11 Donald Rumsfield, then Secretary of Defense, said, “What if Iraq is involved?”  What has  been largely overlooked about America’s invasion of Iraq, Manthorpe argues, “is how conclusively the Iraq invasion fouled the west’s moral authority in a world where new centres of cultural, political and military power are rapidly emerging.” An excerpt: 

There has never been a satisfactory explanation why George W. Bush and his Praetorian Guard nursed such a visceral hatred of Saddam Hussein.

But they came to power in 2000 intent on vendetta, and within hours of the September 2001 al-Qaida attacks on New York and Washington the closest officials and advisers around Bush were looking for a Saddam connection. Within days, senior officers in the Pentagon realized with alarm the administration had already loosed the unstoppable juggernaut that would lead to the invasion of Iraq and removal of Saddam in 2003.

In the intervention months an entirely spurious paper trail was fabricated in Washington and London, creating the fantasy desired by the ideologue dunderheads around Bush. Saddam, they claimed, not only conspired with Osama bin Laden in the attacks on the United States, he had also developed weapons of mass destruction that threatened the entire Middle East and beyond.

Blitzkriegs built on lies never end well. Hundreds of thousands of people have died in over a decade of warfare in Iraq. But now it gets even worse. It is beginning to look as though the Bush coven has created the conditions for bin Laden’s heirs to realize their master’s dream.

Well armed fighters of the fanatical Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), an al-Qaida spin-off group, is marching on the Iraqi capital Baghdad after capturing the central towns of Tikrit and Mosul, the old heartland of Saddam’s regime. The ISIS is, like al-Qaida, a militant group from the Sunni Muslim faction of Islam. The government of Iraq is led by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, a Shia Muslim, whose intolerance for the Sunnis has given ISIS the foothold to become the voice of the Sunni regions.

Bin Laden’s dream was to recreate the Caliphate of Islam’s early days when all Muslims came under one government … read more (subscription)*

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Bin Laden’s disciples move to realize his dream.

Jonathan Manthorpe’s columnist page is here.

*Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O serves and is entirely funded by modest reader payments. We do not carry advertising or solicit donations from non-journalism foundations or causes. Why?

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Online Tracking Increasingly Creepy

 

by Julia Angwin, ProPublica

The marketers that follow you around the web are getting nosier.

Currently, many companies track where users go on the Web — often through cookies — in order to display customized ads. That’s why if you look at a pair of shoes on one site, ads for those shoes may follow you around the Web.

But online marketers are increasingly seeking to track users offline, as well, by collecting data about people’s offline habits — such as recent purchases, where you live, how many kids you have, and what kind of car you drive.

Here’s how it works, according to some revealing marketing literature we came across from digital marketing firm LiveRamp:

  • A retailer — let’s call it The Pricey Store — collects the e-mail addresses of its high-spending customers. (Ever wonder why stores keep bugging you for your email at the checkout counter these days?)
  • The Pricey Store brings the list to LiveRamp, which locates the customers online when the customers use their email address to log into a website that has a relationship with LiveRamp. (The identity of these websites is a closely guarded secret.) The website that has a relationship with LiveRamp then allows LiveRamp to “tag” the customers’ computer with a tracker.
  • When those high-spending customers arrive at PriceyStore.com, they see a version of the site customized to “show more expensive offerings to them.” (Yes, the marketing documents really say that.)

Tracking people using their real names — often called “on boarding” — is a hot trend in Silicon Valley. In 2012, ProPublica documented how political campaigns used onboarding to bombard voters with ads based on their party affiliation and donor history. Since then, Twitter and Facebook have both started offering onboarding services allowing advertisers to find their customers online.

“The marriage of online and offline is the ad targeting of the last 10 years on steroids,” said Scott Howe, chief executive of broker firm Acxiom at a conference earlier this year.

Last month, Acxiom — one of the country’s largest data brokers, which claims to have 3,000 data points on nearly every U.S. consumer — agreed to pay $310 million to purchase onboarding specialist LiveRamp. Acxiom and LiveRamp declined to comment for this article, citing the need to remain quiet until the acquisition is complete.

Companies that match users online and offline identities generally emphasize that the data is still anonymous because users’ actual names aren’t included in the cookie.

But critics worry about the implications of allowing data brokers to profile every person who is connected to the Internet. In May, America’s Federal Trade Commission issued a report that found that data brokers collected information on sensitive categories such as whether an individual is pregnant, has a “diabetes interest,” is interested in a “Bible Lifestyle” or is “likely to seek a [credit-card] chargeback.”

Previously, data brokers primarily sold this data to marketers who sent direct mail — aka “junk mail” — to your home. Now, they have found a new market: online marketing that can be targeted as precisely as junk mail.

“Will these classifications mean that some consumers will only be shown advertisements for subprime loans while others will see ads for credit cards?” Federal Trade Commission Chairwoman Edith Ramirez said at a press conference. “Will some be routinely shunted to inferior customer service?”

The FTC has called for Congress to pass legislation requiring data brokers to allow consumers to access their information and to opt out of targeted marketing. Currently, many data brokers don’t offer people either one.

The Direct Marketing Association, which represents the data broker industry, doesn’t offer a specific opt-out for onboarding. It does offer a global opt-out from all of its members’ direct mail databases, but it only requires members to remove people’s data for three years after they opt-out.

Some companies offer their own opt-outs. Twitter allows users to opt out of onboarding by unchecking the “promoted content” button in their account settings. LiveRamp offers a so-called ” permanent opt-out” for users who do not want to be targeted via their e-mail address.

Facebook does not offer a specific opt-out for onboarding. Instead, it suggests users opt out of the data brokers themselves. A Facebook spokesman says that users who don’t like specific targeted ads can avoid seeing them again by clicking an ‘x’ on the top right corner of the ad and following the links to the advertisers’ opt-out page.

For more information about the market for your data read ProPublica’s guide to “Everything We Know About What Data Brokers Know About You” and learn how you can opt-out from data brokers.

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Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, FactsandOpinions serves, and is funded by, readers. We do not carry advertising or solicit donations from foundations or causes. Our original work in Dispatches, Think and Photo-Essays is available for a $1 site day pass or at a modest subscription price. Use the SUBSCRIBE  form on our freeFrontlines blog to receive blog stories and notices of all new work on site.


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Beijing reneges on Hong Kong freedom: Manthorpe column

China’s reinterpretation of its 1984 agreement with London puts a large question mark over any deal or treaty the Chinese government signs, warns International Affairs analyst Jonathan Manthorpe in today’s column. An excerpt:

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Themis, or Lady Justice, sculpture at Hong Kong’s Central Statue Square Legislative Council Building. Photo by ChvhLR10, Wikimedia, Creative Commons licence

The Chinese government has confirmed what everyone has known for a long time: it was lying when it signed a treaty guaranteeing Hong Kong substantial autonomy, speedy progress to democracy and protection of the rule of law.

Protesters took to the streets in Hong Kong today and burned copies of a “white paper” Beijing issued on Tuesday reminding the territory’s seven million people that their institutions will only be on a loose leash so long as they are “patriotic.” In this context, that means subservience to the will of China’s ruling Communist Party.

There are profound implications in Chinese government’s publication of its position that “the high degree of autonomy of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) is not an inherent power, but one that comes solely from the authorization by the central power.”

The publication comes as pro-democracy groups in Hong Kong anticipate Beijing intends to ensure only its loyalists are eligible to be candidates for the territory’s governor, the Chief Executive, when “free” elections are introduced in 2017. Democracy groups are preparing a mass demonstration to occupy the central business district if the election rules, when they are announced in a few weeks time, contain the expected severe limitations on the process …. read more.*

*Log in on the top right of each page (or click here to purchase a subscription or a $1 site day pass) to read:

Beijing reneges on Hong Kong freedom guarantee.

 

Jonathan Manthorpe’s columnist page is here.

 

*Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O serves and is entirely funded by modest reader payments. We do not carry advertising or solicit donations from non-journalism foundations or causes.

 

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