NSA Powers Expire, Beijing Smoking Ban, Marathon Granny

NSA Powers Expire, Beijing Smoking Ban, Marathon Granny


Key parts of the U.S. Patriot Act that allow the National Security Agency to collect citizen data in bulk have expired after the Senate failed to reach a deal before last night’s midnight renewal deadline. Sen. Rand Paul, who strongly opposes the NSA’s carte blanche spying powers, was triumphant, The Hill writes, though he acknowledged the victory would only be temporary. “They will ultimately get their way,” he said. But the Senate did vote to advance the USA Freedom Act, a bill that would end the NSA’s bulk collection of phone data. Paul is concerned, however, that the power will simply pass from the government to phone companies. The bill’s final passage is expected to come later this week.


“Russia obviously retains the right if needed to deploy its nuclear weapons anywhere on its national territory, including on the Crimean Peninsula,” Russian Foreign Ministry official Mikhail Ulyanov told RIA Novosti. The comments are in response to Ukraine Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin, who said during a NATO meeting in May that “any activity or even signals from Russia on the mere possibility of deploying nuclear weapons in Crimea will be considered the gravest breach in all international norms.”


FIFA President Sepp Blatter, who was elected Friday to a record fifth term as head of the world’s soccer organization, could be questioned by U.S. authorities and even arrested as part of the corruption probe, a former legal chief told Sky News. On Saturday, the 79-year-old reiterated the accusation that the timing of the U.S. probe and last week’s arrests was intended to prevent his reelection.

  • Three major British banks have launched internal investigations into incriminated transactions to find out whether these breached anti-bribery and anti-money-laundering laws, The Daily Telegraph reports.


Happy birthday to both CNN and Morgan Freeman, born respectively in 1980 and 1937. Time for your 57-second shot of history.


Former Georgia President Mikheil Saakashvili has given up his Georgian nationality to be appointed governor of Ukraine’s southern Odessa region. The move prompted an angry reaction from Georgia’s current president, who accused Saakashvili of having “insulted our country and the presidential institution,” RT reports. Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko’s appointment of Saakashvili, who has been blamed for starting the 2008 war with Russia, was mocked in Moscow.

  • Meanwhile, Ukraine’s economy has suffered more than expected due to the conflict with Russia, the IMF says, with the GDP predicted to fall by 9% this year and inflation expected to rise by 46%. The Ukrainian government is reportedly still committed to drastic economic reform to secure an approved IMF loan. Read more from the BBC.


As Le Monde’s Frédéric Saliba reports, unchecked urbanization is destroying what's left of the Mexican capital’s pre-Aztec chinampas, gardens that are grown on shallow lake beds. “Five centuries on, this network of waterways and artificial islands, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is threatened by the city’s disorderly expansion and over-exploitation of its water resources,” Saliba writes. “The government of Mexico City has an action plan, financed by France, to save this enormous district of the capital that is also the home of ancestral farming traditions and exceptional biodiversity. ‘There is no time to lose,’ says resident Claudia Zenteno, pointing with clear frustration at plastic bottles, bags and cans floating in the dark, stagnant water outside her house.”

Read the full article, Racing To Save Mexico City's Floating Gardens.


Iraq Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi admitted in a televised interview yesterday that the ISIS terror group had seized vast quantities of U.S.-made weapons and vehicles, including at least 2,300 Humvees, when it took control of Mosul last year, AFP reports.

  • In a rare interview with the BBC, former CIA director David Petraeus said that the jihadists couldn’t be defeated “just with force of arms,” explaining that the “political component” was also important.


Photo: Luo Xiaoguang/Xinhua/ZUMA

China’s toughest anti-smoking legislation yet takes effect today in Beijing, where smoking in public spaces such as such workplaces, schools and on public transport is now prohibited. Fines of 200 RMB ($32) will be levied for individual transgressors, and a hefty 10,000 RMB ($1,600) fine is in store for venues that ignore the ban. According to Bloomberg, the new law could be a trial run for future nationwide legislation.


The six world powers negotiating with Iran to prevent the country from developing nuclear weapons have finally agreed on a way to restore UN sanctions if Iran is ever found breaking a potential deal, Reuters reports.



The loss of flights MH370 and MH17 last year have left Malaysia Airlines “technically bankrupt,” newly appointed CEO Christoph Mueller said during a news conference. The company, which was facing financial difficulties before the two tragic events, will restructure its operations, a move that will see 6,000 people lose their jobs. Read more from Sky News.


Harriette Thompson, a 92-year-old cancer survivor, has become the oldest woman to run 26.2 miles, finishing San Diego’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon yesterday in 7 hours and 24 minutes.

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Running of the Bulls in Tafalla, northern Spain

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Здравейте!*

Welcome to Monday, where an apparent coup is underway in Sudan, Colombia's most-wanted drug lord gets caught, and Michael Jordan's rookie sneakers score an auction record. We also focus on a report that the Thai government is abusing the country's centuries-old law to protect the monarchy from criticism (lèse-majesté) to target pro-democracy activists and protesters.

[*Zdraveite - Bulgarian]


• Developing: Sudan leaders arrested amid military coup reports: Soldiers have arrested several members of Sudan's transitional government as well as civilian leaders, and Prime Minister Abdallah Hamdok has reportedly been put under house arrest, in what the information ministry called a military coup. Pro-democracy protesters have taken to the streets of the capital city Khartoum where there are reports of gunfire and clashes.

• Colombia's most wanted drug lord to be sent to U.S.: Colombia's most dangerous drug trafficker, known as Otoniel, was caught after a joint army, air force and police operation and faces extradition to the U.S. He led the country's largest criminal gang, and was on the U.S. most wanted list for years.

• Xi speech marks China's UN anniversary: China's President Xi Jinping marked the 50th anniversary of Beijing's entry into the United Nations with a speech calling for greater global cooperation, adding that issues like climate change, terrorism and cyber security needed multilateral solutions. Taiwan was not mentioned.

• German ISIS bride jailed for crimes against humanity: A German court has sentenced a German woman and former member of the Islamic State to 10 years in prison for letting a 5-year-old Yazidi enslaved girl die of thirst in Iraq. The case is one of the world's first trials to prosecute a war crime against the Yazidis.

• COVID update: The Beijing marathon scheduled next weekend has been postponed until further notice as China seeks to stamp out Delta variant outbreak and return to zero cases ahead of the Winter Olympics next February. Meanwhile, coronavirus cases in Eastern Europe have surpassed the 20 million mark as the region fights against its worst outbreak since the pandemic started and vaccination efforts lag.

Goodbye, Gunther: U.S. actor James Michael Tyler, best known for his role as the barista Gunther on the TV show Friends, has died at 59 of prostate cancer.

• Sneakers record: A pair of Michael Jordan's white-and-red Nike shoes, which he wore during his rookie season with the Chicago Bulls in 1984, sold for $1.47 million — a new record price for sneakers at auction.


"The end of a boss," titles Colombian daily El Espectador, reporting on the arrest of drug lord Dairo Antonio Usuga, known as Otoniel, who had led Colombia's largest criminal gang and had been on the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency's most wanted list for years. He was captured in a raid and will be extradited to the U.S.



A Georgia man is being prosecuted for wire fraud after spending most of his business's COVID relief loan to buy one Pokémon trading card for $57,789.


How Thailand's "Lèse-Majesté" law is used to stifle all protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

👑 Thailand's Criminal Code "Lèse-Majesté" Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family. But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

🚨 The recent report "Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand," documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations." The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

💻 The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them. Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind.

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"Children are going to die. People are going to starve."

— The United Nations warns that Afghanistan verges on a "total breakdown" as millions of Afghans, including children, could die of starvation unless urgent action is taken by the international community. The agency calls for the release of frozen assets to avoid economic and social collapse, despite concerns over the Taliban government. A recent report said that about 97% of Afghanistan's population may sink below the poverty line, and World Food Programme (WFP) Executive Director David Beasley warned that more than half of Afghanistan's population of 39 million were facing acute food insecurity and "marching to starvation" in comparison to 14 million two months ago.


Dutch cities have been secretly probing mosques since 2013

At least ten Dutch towns and cities have secretly used a private agency to probe mosques and other local religious organizations, Amsterdam-based daily het NRC reports in an exclusive investigation.

The clandestine operation — funded by NCTV, the National Security Services, the Netherlands' leading counter-terrorism agency — was prompted by the social unrest and uncertainty following multiple terror attacks in 2013, and a rise in Islamic radicalization.

The NCTV, which advises and financially supports municipalities in countering radicalization, put the municipalities in touch with Nuance by Training and Advice (Nuance door Trainingen en Advies, NTA), a private research agency based in Deventer, Netherlands. Among the institutions targeted by the investigations, which came at a cost of circa 500,000 euros, were the Al Mouahidin mosque in the central Dutch town of Ede, and the Nasser mosque east of the city of Utrecht, according to NRC.

Unlike public officials, the private agency can enter the mosques to clandestinely research the situation. In this case, the agents observed activity, talked to visitors, administrators, and religious leaders, and investigated what they do and say on social media.

All findings then wound up in a secret report which includes personal details about what the administrators and teachers studied, who their relatives are, with whom they argued, and how often they had contact with authorities in foreign countries, like Morocco.

It is unclear whether the practice is legal, which is why several members of the Dutch Parliament are now demanding clarification from the outgoing Minister of Justice and Security, Ferd Grapperhaus, who is said to be involved.

"The ease with which the government violates (fundamental) rights when it comes to Islam or Muslims is shocking," Stephan van Baarle, member of the leftist party DENK, told De Volkskrant, another Dutch newspaper.

Leaders of the Muslim organizations that were secretly probed say they feel betrayed. Hassan Saidi, director of one of the mosques investigated, said that the relationship with the local municipality had been good. "This puts a huge dent in the trust I'd had in the municipality," he told the Dutch public broadcaster NOS.

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

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