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Former Spymaster to Lead North Korea’s Olympic Ceremony Delegation

World News (NY Times) - 19 hours 44 min ago
Kim Yong-chol, a high-ranking North Korean official accused of overseeing deadly attacks on the South, will visit South Korea to discuss the possibility of future talks.

When Jokes Become a Crime: Free Speech Under Fire in Lebanon

World News (NY Times) - 20 hours 18 min ago
A surge of legal cases against entertainers, journalists and activists has raised concerns about one of the Arab world’s freest environments.

Winter Olympics: GB out of men's curling after losing tie-breaker to Switzerland

BBC News - 20 hours 27 min ago
Great Britain's men's curling team are out of the Winter Olympics after losing a tie-breaker against Switzerland.

Thousands of US Citizens Jailed Over Debts as Small as US$28

Informed Comment - 20 hours 42 min ago

TeleSur | – –

One in three Americans has been reported to a private collection agency with the majority of cases affecting Latin American and African-American communities.

The United States, where the streets are paved with gold and US$28 can send a young single mother or an 80-year-old grandmother to jail for a week or longer.

In a world where an estimated 77 million citizens are weighed down with hundreds of dollars in debt, thousands are sent to jail every year, says a new report, ‘A Pound of Flesh’ published Wednesday by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

Despite the fact that debtors’ prisons were eliminated from the civil system in the mid-1800’s, hundreds of African-American and people of Latin American descent wind up in prison with U.S. Marshals citing bounced checks, unpaid water bills or student loans as they are carted off to the nearest federal institution.

The ACLU’s report is the first to analyze the private debt collection industry across the U.S. According to its author, Jennifer Turner, a human rights research at ACLU, “The private debt collection industry uses prosecutors and judges as weapons against millions of Americans who can’t afford to pay their bills.”

More than 6,000 debt collection firms operate in the United States, collecting billions of dollars each year and keeping a high percentage of their gains for the trouble.

Turner analyzed over 1,000 cases of civil court-issued arrest warrants for debtors and found that a number of arrests have been made for debts as little as $10, bank errors, and non-existent charges. One in three Americans has been reported to a private collection agency with the majority of cases arising from minority sectors.

“Consumers have little chance of justice when our courts take the debt collector’s side in almost every case—even to the point of ordering people jailed until they pay up,” she said.

In one case cited in the report, a disabled woman with a prosthetic leg was shackled by her waist and feet by two armed U.S. marshals before being put in jail overnight.

“They had a warrant for my arrest and I asked them for what, he didn’t say what it was for. He said, ‘He’ll tell you later,’” said Tracie Mozie of Dickinson, Texas, who found later she was imprisoned for failing to pay a US$1,500 federal student loan from 1986 which mushroomed to US$13,000 in interest and fees.

However, Mozie was luckier than some. Other debtors could be held as long as two weeks for an inflated phone bill.

Via TeleSur

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As China Puts Pressure on Taiwan, Signs of a U.S. Pushback

World News (NY Times) - 20 hours 48 min ago
Concern about the self-governing island’s fate seems to be building in Washington, even as President Trump seeks China’s help on other issues.

In Irony, Ahmedinezhad calls for Free Elections in Iran

Informed Comment - 21 hours 59 sec ago

Middle East Monitor |- –

Former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose 2009 re-election prompted mass unrest over alleged vote rigging, has called for “free” presidential and parliamentary elections in an open letter to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Reuters reports.

Khamenei backed Ahmadinejad after his return to power kicked off protests in which dozens of people were killed and hundreds arrested, rattling the ruling theocracy, before security forces led by the elite Revolutionary Guards stamped out the unrest.

But a rift developed between the two in 2011 when Khamenei, who has the ultimate say over all policy in the Islamic Republic, reversed Ahmadinejad’s dismissal of the minister of intelligence and suggested he had overstepped his authority.

Ahmadinejad, a brash, populist hardliner while in office, could not run in the 2013 election as he had served the maximum two consecutive terms. He was succeeded by pragmatist Hassan Rouhani, who won election by landslide then and again last year.

While Rouhani has called for a liberalisation of the economy and society and on the Revolutionary Guards not to interfere in elections, he has stopped short of explicitly advocating checks on the Supreme Leader’s powers – something Ahmadinejad addressed in the letter to Khamenei published on his website on Wednesday.

“An immediate and essential need is the holding of quick and free elections for the presidency and the parliament, of course without the engineering of the Guardian Council and interference of military and security institutions, so the people have the right to choose,” Ahmadinejad wrote.

His critics previously accused the Guardian Council, a body that vets presidential and parliamentary candidates with an eye to Khamenei’s wishes, of tilting elections in his favour in 2005 and 2009. However, Ahmadinejad was disqualified by the Council prior to last year’s presidential election.

Ahmadinejad’s letter also called for “fundamental reforms” in the three branches of government – executive, parliament and judiciary – as well as the office of the Supreme Leader. He did not elaborate on what reforms he had in mind.

But it is nearly unheard of in Iran for officials to publicly criticise Khamenei or his powers; insulting the Supreme Leader is a crime.

Serious unrest broke out in December for the first time since 2009, mainly over economic hardships but protesters soon targeted a perceived lack of democracy as well, demanding the removal of top officials including Khamenei.

At least 25 people were killed in the unrest and thousands detained before security forces cracked down in earnest and the protests fizzled out in January.

Ahmadinejad also called for the release of political prisoners and dismissal of hardline judiciary chief Ayatollah Sadeq Amoli Larijani, whom he has accused of unfairly targeting his allies.

Ahmadinejad’s presidency revolved around his appeal to Iran’s conservative, small-town working class and rural poor, and critics said his recent attacks on Iran’s clerical and security establishment after years of relative silence could be an attempt to lay the groundwork for a political comeback.

Rouhani’s popularity has waned over his failure to notably improve the economy and ease repression in everyday life despite his 2015 deal with world powers that secured an end to sanctions on Iran in return for curbs on its nuclear programme.

“Ahmadinejad and his group have become a lot more active in criticising the judiciary and government. He’s continuing on a populist path,” said Roozbeh Mirebrahimi, a journalist who worked for reformist Iranian dailies and now lives in New York.

Via Middle East Monitor

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Winter Olympics: Crashes & corks - David Wise wins epic ski halfpipe final

BBC News - 21 hours 38 min ago
Watch highlights of a thrilling ski halfpipe final as defending Winter Olympic champion David Wise becomes the first man to complete four double corks.

Justin Trudeau's 'Bollywood' wardrobe amuses Indians

BBC News - 21 hours 52 min ago
The Canadian prime minister has been wearing traditional Indian attire at every possible opportunity.

Seas Rising ever Faster as Humans burn more Fossil Fuels (NASA Image)

Informed Comment - Thu, 22 Feb 2018 - 1:40am

Image via NASA

NASA’s Earth Observatory writes:

“Global sea level rise has been accelerating in recent decades, according to a new study based on 25 years of NASA and European satellite data. This acceleration has been driven mainly by increased ice melting in Greenland and Antarctica, and it has the potential to double the total sea level rise projected by 2100, according to lead author Steve Nerem, a scientist at the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES) and the University of Colorado.

If things continue to change at the observed pace, sea level will rise 65 centimeters (26 inches) by 2100, enough to cause significant problems for coastal cities. The team—comprised of scientists from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, the University of Colorado, the University of South Florida, and Old Dominion University—recently published their work in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“This is almost certainly a conservative estimate,” said Nerem, who is a member of NASA’s Sea Level Change team. “Our extrapolation assumes that sea level continues to change in the future as it has over the last 25 years. Given the large changes we are seeing in the ice sheets today, that is not likely.”

—–

Materials published on the Earth Observatory, including images, are freely available for re-publication or re-use.

We ask that NASA’s Earth Observatory be given credit for its original materials; the only mandatory credit is NASA.

The Papers: 'Landmark' Worboys ruling and Brexit divisions

BBC News - Thu, 22 Feb 2018 - 12:57am
Thursday's papers cover the latest on taxi rapist John Worboys, Tory in-fighting over Brexit and experts endorse use of antidepressants.

Jimmy Kimmel eviscerates Donald Trump Jr. for supporting conspiracies about Parkland students: ‘Your brain is not functioning’

The Raw Story - Thu, 22 Feb 2018 - 12:16am

During his opening monologue Wednesday, late-night host Jimmy Kimmel highlighted the thousands of high school students across the United States walked out of classrooms. Kimmel noted it was “on the day after the Florida State House refused to even debate a bill to ban assault weapons and large...

The post Jimmy Kimmel eviscerates Donald Trump Jr. for supporting conspiracies about Parkland students: ‘Your brain is not functioning’ appeared first on Raw Story.

Winter Olympics: David Wise defends men's ski halfpipe title

BBC News - Wed, 21 Feb 2018 - 11:56pm
American freestyle skier David Wise holds his nerve to defend his Olympic halfpipe title in Pyeongchang.

Syria war: UN plea to end 'hell on earth' Eastern Ghouta crisis

BBC News - Wed, 21 Feb 2018 - 11:23pm
The UN Secretary General is calling for an end to the fighting so aid can enter the rebel-held area.

Winter Olympics: David Wise wins gold with historic ski halfpipe display

BBC News - Wed, 21 Feb 2018 - 11:17pm
Defending Olympic champion David Wise becomes the first man to complete all four double corks in an Olympics ski halfpipe final to win gold in Pyeongchang.

Watch Stoneman Douglas students sing powerful song they wrote in wake of shooting: ‘We’re tired of hearing we’re too young to make a change’

The Raw Story - Wed, 21 Feb 2018 - 11:12pm

The Stoneman Douglas Drama Club wrote an empowering song demanding change. Titling the song “Shine,” the students stood surrounded by their parents, classmates, teachers, elected officials and community members desperately searching for answers. “You’re not gonna knock us dow...

The post Watch Stoneman Douglas students sing powerful song they wrote in wake of shooting: ‘We’re tired of hearing we’re too young to make a change’ appeared first on Raw Story.

Calais: The camp that never really closes

BBC News - Wed, 21 Feb 2018 - 11:11pm
Police in Calais have told the BBC that they fear another jungle camp will establish.

Letter 46: Turnbull Goes to Washington, We Go to the Pub

World News (NY Times) - Wed, 21 Feb 2018 - 11:08pm
This week’s Australia Letter: Hobart’s best chicken Parma, and other news.

Broward county sheriff hammers NRA’s Dana Loesch: ‘You’re not standing up’ for Parkland students

The Raw Story - Wed, 21 Feb 2018 - 10:41pm

Broward county sheriff Scott Israel went off on the National Riffle Association spokesperson Dana Loesch during the CNN town hall Wednesday. “I understand that you’re standing up for the NRA,” he began. “And I understand that’s what you’re supposed to do. But you ...

The post Broward county sheriff hammers NRA’s Dana Loesch: ‘You’re not standing up’ for Parkland students appeared first on Raw Story.

Florida congressman blasts ‘broken democracy’ for allowing NRA to ‘buy our elections’

The Raw Story - Wed, 21 Feb 2018 - 10:35pm

Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL) on Wednesday admitted that the proliferation of assault rifles in the United States shows that our democracy is “broken.” “If a majority of Americans have long supported stricter gun control regulations but our elected officials who are supposed to represent ...

The post Florida congressman blasts ‘broken democracy’ for allowing NRA to ‘buy our elections’ appeared first on Raw Story.

Brits 2018: The real winners and losers

BBC News - Wed, 21 Feb 2018 - 10:34pm
From best mum to worst metaphor, these are the only Brit awards that really count.
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