On Thursday, Gawker's John Cook announced that the news site's Indiegogo campaign to buy a video allegedly showing Toronto Mayor Rob Ford smoking crack could be in trouble. Raising the necessary $200,000 isn't the problem -- with four days to go, Gawker has already received more than $160,000 in pledges. The problem is that the owners of the footage have gone silent, perhaps in light of the intense media scrutiny the story has generated. "Our confidence that we can get a deal done has ... dimished," Cook wrote.
But that might not be the only snag awaiting the campaign. Canada's National Post has put forward another theory: If Gawker purchases the video from people involved in Toronto's drug trade, the payment could attract the attention of U.S. and Canadian regulatory agencies -- and be seized on the suspicion that it is helping the video's owners "profit from criminal activity."
The article goes on to explain how the case would boil down to whether the person who recorded the alleged footage was simply present at the scene and whipped out a camera, or involved in illicit activities:
[A]n electronic transaction that large between Canada and the United States will likely get flagged to both countries' financial regulatory bodies, said Christine Duhaime, a B.C. lawyer with a specialized anti-money laundering and counter-terrorist financing practice.
Electronic cross-border transactions over $10,000 must be declared, she said.
"Anyone is going to be concerned at any regulatory agency and any police force is going to be concerned with a company coming out and saying they're raising money to buy something from a drug dealer.... There are going to be some red flags. I don't really know how much this is going to be monitored, other than the fact that somebody is going to monitor the payment from Gawker fairly closely, because people have come out and said it is drug dealers [involved]."
The purchase of the video itself isn't illegal, but if the recipient - the details of which must be known for wire transfers and other electronic transactions - is a known criminal and shows up on a list of suspects or suspicious individuals, it will be reported to FINTRAC in Canada or FINCEN in the U.S., she said.
"Assuming it's a legitimate video and it's legally taken, that's not a problem," she said. "Except that it's going to a known drug dealer. Paying to a known drug dealer for a legitimate sale is problematic in and of itself, because the vendor [is] of questionable character and there are questionable activities."
Just one more wrinkle in an incredibly convoluted story.
Dennis Grombkowski/Getty Images
On Friday, chaotic clashes broke out in Georgia as an angry mob -- comprised mainly of young men but also including robed priests and some women -- descended on a gay rights rally commemorating International Day Against Homophobia. A day earlier, the head of the Georgian Orthodox Church had demanded that authorities stop the rally, calling it a "violation of the majority's right."
According to EurasiaNet, the mob, which numbered in the thousands, shouted violent slogans while chasing activists away from downtown Tbilisi. Clamors of "Kill them! Tear them to pieces!" and "Where are they? Don't leave them alive!" rang out as police herded activists into municipal buses and away from the area. As the activists left, protesters pelted the buses with stones and overpowered policemen trying to contain the scene. Seventeen people have reportedly been injured in the violence.
The video footage is quite dramatic:
Members of the Georgian government have spoken out against the attacks. UNM parliamentarian Gigi Tsereteli dismissed today's events as "anarchy" and added that "this is not the state we were building," while Justice Minister Tea Tsulukuani affirmed that "both groups have the right to hold peaceful rallies. Violence is unacceptable." While many have condemned the violence, comments later came from several ruling Georgia Dream party members that criticized the LGBT activists for raising tensions.
On May 15, Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili declared that sexual minorities "have the same rights as any other social groups" in Georgia and that society will "gradually get used to it." Judging from today's episode, Georgian society still has a ways to go.
(H/T: Arianne Swieca)
VANO SHLAMOV/AFP/Getty Images
In the latest example of crisis-mapping during natural disasters, the World Food Program's GIS Coordinator, Fabrice Recalt, has charted out the trajectory and intensity of Cyclone Mahasen and also made a map of available storm shelters, with detailed information on their facilities and potential vulnerability to the storm (everything from number of toilets to available water supply to date of construction).
The "digital humanitarian response" trend of compiling such crucial information has been extremely important in past disasters such as Typhoon Pablo in the Philippines, when geotagged tweets referencing previously publicized disaster hashtags (as in #PabloPH) were mapped out and provided to disaster response teams. The United Nations has embraced crisis-mapping as well.
Cyclone Mahasen, which hit Bangladesh on Thursday and threatens more than 8 million people, including displaced Rohingya Muslims in Burma, has so far mainly affected residents of fishing villages, who may not have benefitted much from Recalt's map. The category 1 cyclone has reportedly killed at least 12 people so far, making the storm much less serious than Cyclone Nargis in 2008, which left more than 130,000 people dead, and it is expected to dissipate within the next 24 hours. But had the storm been more serious, initiatives like Recalt's may have helped save lives.
(h/t Mari Ramos)
MUNIR UZ ZAMAN/AFP/Getty Images
Every year for the past seven May Days, Bolivian President Evo Morales has nationalized key industries as a gesture of populist zeal. But this year he went one (or two or three) steps further. "Today we are only going to nationalize ... the dignity of the Bolivian people," the leftist leader declared in protest of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry's description of Latin America as the "backyard of the United States."
So, how exactly do you go about nationalizing a people's dignity? By kicking out USAID, apparently. Morales accused the aid organization, which has been operating in the country for 49 years, of attempting to undermine his government.
On Wednesday afternoon, USAID issued a statement in response to getting the boot:
The United States government deeply regrets the Bolivian government's decision to expel the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).We deny the baseless allegations made by the Bolivian government.
USAID’s purpose in Bolivia since 1964 has been to help the Bolivian government improve the lives of ordinary Bolivians. All USAID programs have been supportive of the Bolivian government’s National Development Plan, and have been fully coordinated with appropriate government agencies. The United States government has worked in a dedicated fashion over the past five years to establish a relationship based on mutual respect, dialogue, and cooperation with the Bolivian government. This action is further demonstration that the Bolivian government is not interested in that vision.
What is most regrettable is that those who will be most hurt by the Bolivian government’s decision are the Bolivian citizens who have benefited from our collaborative work on education, agriculture, health, alternative development, and the environment.
This is not the first time that the United States and Bolivia have butted heads; in 2008, for instance, Morales expelled the U.S. ambassador and the Drug Enforcement Agency. But only now has the Bolivian people's dignity been caught in the middle.
AIZAR RALDES/AFP/Getty Images
Anonymous, the hacktivist movement meant to simultaneously be the voice of everyone and no one, is getting a bit more institutionalized. How? They're starting a news organization: Your Anon News, a.k.a. YAN.
On Wednesday, YAN's indiegogo campaign came to a close having raised $54,668, well over the intended goal of $2,000. Claiming to be tired of Twitter and Tumblr, "they" (a select unknown group staking a claim to the mask) want to create a media site to support independent journalists instead of just aggregating the news (the money raised this week will go to expenses like web hosting fees).
We will engineer a new website which will allow us to collect breaking reports and blog postings from the best independent reporters online. We'll provide feeds for citizen journalists who livestream events as they are taking place, instead of the 10-second sound bites provided by the corporate media. Likewise, we know it would be beneficial to our followers to exist as a community beyond simple social media interactions. Many people have asked us to establish a site that accomplishes all of this and we've decided it's time we build it.
A noble mission statement. But it raises the question: How will Anonymous remain true to nature and serve as a news organization at the same time?
If, for example, Anonymous is going to devote time and resources to becoming a news organization, it will need to embrace some level of top-down decision-making about its coverage -- an approach that seems highly antithetical to the decentralized dogma that the movement preaches. What stories will it pay attention to? Whose voices will be heard?
For a sample of what we can expect, here's a snapshot from several hours ago of YAN's Twitter feed, which ironically focused on the very breaking news -- the West, Texas explosion, the frantic search for suspects in the Boston Marathon bombing, House approval of a controversial cybersecurity bill -- that the mainstream media was tracking on Thursday (the feeds contains more links than you might expect to the "corporate media").
At one point today, another Twitter feed simply called "Anonymous" called YAN out for lacking evidence in its assertion that there were private military forces at the Boston Marathon.
@youranonnews I hope you have editors for your news site and that they kill tweets/stories like ths. Report the facts.— Anonymous (@AnonyOps) April 18, 2013
With no apparent use of independent media, little coverage of underreported stories, and speculation worthy of the New York Post, welcome to the brave new world of Anonymous news.
This week's 10-year anniversary of the fall of Baghdad prompted plenty of reflections on the Iraq war from soldiers and strategists, columnists and analysts. But we've heard far less from Iraqis themselves.
Here to close that gap is "Riverbend," an Iraqi woman whose blog posts from 2003 to 2007 about daily life after the fall of Saddam were published in the book Baghdad Burning and nominated for the Samuel Johnson prize for non-fiction. "I'm female, Iraqi and 24," she wrote in her first post on Aug. 17, 2003. "That's all you need to know. It's all that matters these days anyway." As my colleague Christian Caryl wrote in a review of her book in 2007, "she has provided us with the most comprehensive Iraqi view of the war to date."
There's the moment when she can no longer work because her company doesn't want to be responsible for the safety of women, her questions about the U.S. awarding highly inflated contracts to Americans when there are plenty of unemployed and highly qualified Iraqi engineers, the shift she sees in the country toward fundamentalism (which she chalks up to fear and frustration), and the sadness she feels for U.S. soldiers. "Just as it isn’t fair that I have to spend my 24th year suffering this whole situation, it doesn’t seem fair that they have to spend their 19th, 20th, etc. suffering it either," she wrote. And then details such as not wearing pajamas to bed given the likelihood of having to wait outside in the cold during a night raid.
After her blog went effectively dark for six years -- her last post on Oct. 22, 2007 documented her arrival in Syria as a refugee -- she suddenly re-emerged this week to offer her take on lessons learned over the past 10 years:
We learned that you can be floating on a sea of oil, but your people can be destitute. Your city can be an open sewer; your women and children can be eating out of trash dumps and begging for money in foreign lands.
We learned that justice does not prevail in this day and age. Innocent people are persecuted and executed daily. Some of them in courts, some of them in streets, and some of them in the private torture chambers.
We are learning that corruption is the way to go. You want a passport issued? Pay someone. You want a document ratified? Pay someone. You want someone dead? Pay someone.
We learned that it's not that difficult to make billions disappear.
We are learning that those amenities we took for granted before 2003, you know- the luxuries - electricity, clean water from faucets, walkable streets, safe schools - those are for deserving populations. Those are for people who don't allow occupiers into their country.
We're learning that the biggest fans of the occupation (you know who you are, you traitors) eventually leave abroad. And where do they go? The USA, most likely, with the UK a close second. If I were an American, I'd be outraged. After spending so much money and so many lives, I'd expect the minor Chalabis and Malikis and Hashimis of Iraq to, well, stay in Iraq. Invest in their country. I'd stand in passport control and ask them, "Weren't you happy when we invaded your country? Weren't you happy we liberated you? Go back. Go back to the country you're so happy with because now, you're free!"
We're learning that militias aren't particular about who they kill. The easiest thing in the world would be to say that Shia militias kill Sunnis and Sunni militias kill Shia, but that's not the way it works. That's too simple.
We're learning that the leaders don't make history. Populations don't make history. Historians don't write history. News networks do. The Foxes, and CNNs, and BBCs, and Jazeeras of the world make history. They twist and turn things to fit their own private agendas.
We're learning that the masks are off. No one is ashamed of the hypocrisy anymore. You can be against one country (like Iran), but empowering them somewhere else (like in Iraq). You can claim to be against religious extremism (like in Afghanistan), but promoting religious extremism somewhere else (like in Iraq and Egypt and Syria).
Those who didn't know it in 2003 are learning (much too late) that an occupation is not the portal to freedom and democracy. The occupiers do not have your best interests at heart.
But despite the closure of these lessons, she adds that ultimately many questions remain:
What about George Bush, Condi, Wolfowitz, and Powell? Will they ever be held accountable for the devastation and the death they wrought in Iraq? Saddam was held accountable for 300,000 Iraqis... Surely someone should be held accountable for the million or so?
Finally, after all is said and done, we shouldn't forget what this was about - making America safer... And are you safer Americans? If you are, why is it that we hear more and more about attacks on your embassies and diplomats? Why is it that you are constantly warned to not go to this country or that one? Is it better now, ten years down the line? Do you feel safer, with hundreds of thousands of Iraqis out of the way (granted half of them were women and children, but children grow up, right?)
And what happened to Riverbend and my family? I eventually moved from Syria. I moved before the heavy fighting, before it got ugly. That’s how fortunate I was. I moved to another country nearby, stayed almost a year, and then made another move to a third Arab country with the hope that, this time, it’ll stick until… Until when? Even the pessimists aren’t sure anymore. When will things improve? When will be able to live normally? How long will it take?
How long? Who knows. It's been 10 years, but it might take another 10 before we can answer that.
India's Bollywood has been known for many things over time: the singing, the dancing, the ten costume changes as characters are miraculously transported to rolling hills in some New Zealand-esque setting. And then, of course, there is the beloved genre of saccharine sweet love.
Boy meets girl. Girl can't be with boy because of parents, religion, his terrible dance moves, or an arranged marriage. Boy persists and sings in the rain. They get married.
But now directors are looking for something new. Cue the new fad of zombie movies. As Reuters reported on Friday, Indian filmmakers are now trying to appeal to a younger audience by producing more zombie films:
Few horror films are made in Bollywood and those that do make it to the big screen tend to focus on ghosts and the after-life, which are common themes in Hindu mythology.
But this year, as Indian cinema celebrates 100 years, three zombie films made in Hindi are slated for release, hoping to compete with blockbuster U.S. zombie movies such as "Warm Bodies" and "World War Z".
Rise of the Zombie is coming out on April 5, and it's a trilogy. Go Goa Gone will come out in May, starring heartthrob Saif Ali Khan as a fake Russian zombie hunter (complete with "blonde" hair). And then there is Rock the Shaadi (Rock the Wedding), which will come out later this year accompanied by a graphic novel.
While Bollywood has typically not had many problems ripping pages from Hollywood's playbook, Luke Kenny, the director of Rise of the Zombie, says he will face a challenge in educating Indian audiences who don't have a culture of zombie folklore. (If you're also wondering how zombies got to India, Go Goa Gone blames it on globalization.)
Of course, you could argue that India has more experience with zombies than one might think. Exhibit A: this take on Michael Jackson's Thriller.
Who knew calling for pedestrian safety could be so dangerous? Earlier today, skirmishes between students and the guards at Egypt's Misr International University resulted in bloodshed following a 15 day sit-in to protest the suspension of 16 students and expulsion of eight.
The suspended students had been calling for greater safety measures after several incidents of pedestrians being hit, hospitalized, and even killed by traffic outside the university. As reported by the Daily News Egypt:
[On March 3], students demanded a pedestrians' bridge outside the university gate to prevent accidents. Protesting students marched to [the University Deputy Chairman Hamdy] Hassan's office to put forward their demand. They claim to have been stopped by the security personnel.
"We have a video of Hassan asking the security personnel to beat anybody who tries to move forward," said Bassem, another MIU student who preferred to withhold his last name. "In another video, Hassan threatens to kill any student who approaches his office."
Hassan denied these claims. "I told the protesting students we could meet in one of the lecture halls; my office was too small to fit us all in," he said, adding that there were between 70 and 100 protesters. "They insisted on coming into the office, so I asked the security personnel to prevent them from breaking into the office, giving them clear instructions not to beat any of them."
Hassan said that after this incident, the university chairman referred the students involved to investigation. The students accuse the administration of arbitrarily suspending students. "We don't even have disciplinary bylaws to resort to," Mustafa said.
Things escalated quickly when protesting students tried entering the campus today. They were met by security who used "rubber bullets, rocks, and fire extinguisher gas." Photos emerging show many with head injuries from bird shot. Video shows the state of chaos around the campus. It's currently unclear if it's campus security or hired security that's engaging in attacks.
Classes have been suspended until further notice.
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