Kuwait Becomes Latest Saudi Ally to Downgrade Ties With Iran

Compliments of Washington Post 

Kuwait became the latest in a growing list of Saudi Arabian allies to cut or downgrade ties with Iran, saying Tuesday that it has recalled its ambassador to Tehran in solidarity with the kingdom as tensions deepen.

The widening rifts — opened by the execution of a prominent Shiite cleric in Saudi Arabia on Saturday — have pitted Saudi Arabia and its Sunni allies against Tehran’s Shiite leadership. The confrontations could push the region dangerously closer to conflict and imperil critical objectives including peace efforts in Syria and the fight against the Islamic State.

Calls for restraint have come from around the world as each side digs in.

Bahrain and Sudan earlier joined Saudi Arabia in severing diplomatic relations with Iran on Monday. The United Arab Emirates, a key Iranian trading partner, recalled its ambassador, and then Kuwait followed suit.

Shiite-led protests, meanwhile, have flared across the Middle East. In Tehran, the Saudi Embassy was ransacked and burned just hours after the cleric, Nimr Baqr al-Nimr, was put to death.

Nimr was a leading voice among Saudi Arabia’s Shiite minority, which has complained of discrimination and other pressures at the hands of the kingdom’s Sunni rulers. Saudi authorities convicted Nimr of terrorism-related acts.

Among the worries is whether the impasse could set back attempts at finding a political formula to end the civil war in Syria, where Iran backs the government of President Bashar al-Assad and Saudi Arabia is on the opposite side as a major supporter of anti-Assad factions.

After emergency talks in Riyadh, the United Nations’ special envoyfor Syria, Staffan de Mistura, said Tuesday that Saudi leaders had expressed “clear determination” not to let the disputes derail Syrian peace bids. De Mistura next travels to Tehran to assess whether the talks between rival Syrian factions can go ahead as scheduled Jan. 25.

The diplomatic feud also could become an unwelcome distraction for Washington and its Western allies in the fight against the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.

The Obama administration, caught in the middle by its quest for a closer relationship with Iran and its long-standing alliance with Saudi Arabia, said it hoped Tehran and Riyadh would dial back the hostile rhetoric that has fueled the worst crisis between the regional rivals in decades.

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Dutch Government Backs Strong Encryption, Condemns Backdoors

Compliments of The Daily Dot 

The Netherlands government issued a strong statement on Monday against weakening encryption for the purposes of law enforcement and intelligence agencies.

The move comes as governments in the United Kingdom andChina act to legally require companies to give them access to wide swaths of encrypted Internet traffic. U.S. lawmakers are alsoconsidering introducing similar legislation.

The Dutch executive cabinet endorsed “the importance of strong encryption for Internet security to support the protection of privacy for citizens, companies, the government, and the entire Dutch economy,” Ard van der Steur, the Dutch minister of security and justice, wrote in the statement. “Therefore, the government believes that it is currently not desirable to take legal measures against the development, availability and use of encryption within the Netherlands.”

Encryption scrambles data so that only those with the keys to unscramble it can access it. For example, Internet users utilize encryption whenever they access a website that has an HTTPS connection, which protects their Web traffic from interception, and Apple iOS devices and Google Android devices are encrypted by default when the user turns on the lock screen.

Last month, the Netherlands parliament committed €500,000 in funding to OpenSSL, a free set of encryption tools used widely and sponsored in part by the United States government.

“Confidence in secure communication and storage data is essential for the future growth potential of the Dutch economy, which is mainly in the digital economy,” Van der Steur wrote.

“Encryption supports respect for privacy and the secret communication of citizens by providing them a means to communicate protected data confidentially and with integrity. This is also important for the exercise of the freedom of expression. For example, it enables citizens, but also allows empowers important democratic functions like journalism by allowing confidential communication.”

Encryption is protected under privacy laws in Articles 10 and 13 in the Dutch constitution, Van der Steur argued, as well as Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights and Articles 7 and 8 in the European Union Charter.

Weakening encryption will also expose Internet traffic to eavesdropping by criminals, terrorists, and foreign intelligence services, Van der Steur said. That’s an argument supported by awide variety of technologists warning against the weakening of encryption.

“The protection of these fundamental rights is applicable to the digital world,” he wrote.

The minister of security and justice described at length the virtues of encryption, from protecting laptops against theft to allowing the Dutch government itself to communicate online safely with its citizens about taxes and digital IDs.

“Cryptography is key to security in the digital domain,” Van der Steur argued.

The rights are not absolute, however, and “infringement is permissible” given “a legitimate purpose” as well as regulation and restriction by law, he said.

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Canada Going Ahead With Saudi Arms Deal Despite Condemning Executions

Compliments of The Globe Unlimited 

The Canadian government is proceeding with a controversial $15-billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia even as it publicly condemns Riyadh for a mass execution of 47 people, including a dissident Shia Muslim cleric.

Foreign Affairs Minster Stéphane Dion released a statement this week decrying the capital punishment meted out Jan. 2 and calling on the Saudis to respect peaceful dissent and respect human rights. Sheik Nimr al-Nimr, the Shia cleric, was executed along with 46 others convicted on terrorism charges.

But the biggest Saudi mass execution in decades – delivered by beheading and in a few cases firing squad – is not moving Ottawa to reconsider a massive deal to supply the Mideast country with armoured fighting vehicles. The transaction will support about 3,000 jobs in Canada for 14 years.

“A private company is delivering the goods according to a signed contract with the government of Saudi Arabia. The government of Canada has no intention of cancelling that contract,” Adam Barratt, director of communications for Mr. Dion, said on Monday.

Federal rules oblige Ottawa to examine whether arms shipments to countries with poor human-rights records, such as Saudi Arabia, would endanger the local population.

This is no ordinary transaction between a Canadian company and a foreign customer.

The former Conservative government used its diplomatic resources to lobby the Saudis hard for this contract. A federal Crown corporation brokered the agreement on behalf of General Dynamics Land Systems Canada, a subsidiary of a major U.S. defence contractor.

The Canadian Commercial Corporation, the Crown agency that helps Canadian exporters access markets abroad, is the prime contractor, ultimately responsible for delivery of the light armoured vehicles to Riyadh.

Cesar Jaramillo, executive director of Project Ploughshares, an anti-war group that tracks arms sales, said on Monday that Mr. Dion’s criticism of the mass executions carried out by Riyadh sounds unconvincing given Ottawa’s unwillingness to cancel the arms sale.

“Canada’s condemnation of the most recent gross human-rights violations by the Saudi regime rings somewhat hollow against the backdrop of the $15-billion worth of Canadian military exports that this very regime is set to receive with Ottawa’s blessing,” Mr. Jaramillo said.

The light armoured vehicles made by General Dynamics Land Systems in London, Ont., are marketed as equipped with automatic weapons. The LAV 6.0 model is described as having “effective firepower to defeat soft and armoured targets.”

A spokesman for General Dynamics Land Systems on Monday said the company has entered the “material procurement phase” of the LAV contract, which means it is acquiring components and materials from suppliers to build the product.

Critics including Project Ploughshares and Amnesty International have cited Riyadh’s abysmal human-rights record and said this transaction would appear to violate Canada’s export-control regime.

The Department of Foreign Affairs is required to screen requests to export military goods to countries “whose governments have a persistent record of serious violations of the human rights of their citizens.” Among other things, it must obtain assurances that “there is no reasonable risk that the goods might be used against the civilian population.”

Human-rights groups say it is hard to imagine how the Saudi transaction could pass this test. Activists allege Saudi Arabia sent Canadian-made fighting vehicles into Bahrain in 2011 to help quell a democratic uprising. The Canadian government does not deny this happened. It says only that it does not believe the vehicles were used to beat back protests.

Most of the 47 executed on Jan. 2 were Sunnis convicted of al-Qaeda attacks in Saudi Arabia a decade ago.

Sheik al-Nimr, the most vocal critic of the ruling Al Saud family among the Shia minority, had come to be seen as a leader of the sect’s younger activists, who rejected the quiet approach of older community leaders.

The prominent cleric’s death has triggered a diplomatic war between Sunni-ruled Saudi Arabia and Iran, where Shia Muslims form the majority. Saudi Arabia cut ties with Iran on Sunday after an angry mob stormed its embassy in Tehran.

Canada is making plans to expand diplomatic relations with Iran. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said before the October election he wanted to reopen Canada’s embassy in Tehran.

Conservative foreign affairs critic Tony Clement is urging the Liberals to shelve the idea.

“Iran continues to be a dangerous state sponsor of terrorist groups around the world. When Iran moves away from its terrorist activities, Canada should then act to restore relations,” Mr. Clement said.

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Why Working Fewer Hours Would Make Us More Productive

Compliments of The Guardian 

I worked 100-hour plus weeks as a hospital doctor in the early 1990s. Those dangerous rotas left me low and unable to string a sentence together, let alone give sick people what they needed. Doctors’ crazy hours were reduced, but it seems they may be returning with the new junior doctors’ contract.

Meanwhile, David Cameron will head to Brussels for EU negotiations, planning to insist that UK workers should continue to be able to opt out of the 48-hour maximum working week. Long working hours are on the agenda.

But what about tackling the issue at its roots? What if everyone had a shorter working week? We would be healthier and happier, and society would be less unequal and more sustainable.

A top public health doctor recently said that long working hours was a big cause of mental ill health, and a big 2015 study linked long working hours with an increased risk of stroke and heart disease.

Less time at work would mean more time to care for children and family, be a school governor, look in on elderly neighbours, or organise a game of football. It would mean more time to create the community spiderweb of connections and favours and reciprocation that keeps the world going round.

More than 6 million of us in Britain work more than 45 hours a week, while 1.85 million of us are unemployed. While it would need to happen gradually, alongside some reskilling and training, a shorter working week for all would mean fairer distribution of available work. It would reduce the number of people working far too many hours, and also the number with no work at all.

For people on lower incomes, it would have to go hand-in-hand with a living wage – something that Britain now agrees on, across the political spectrum. For higher earners, it would fulfil pent-up demand – in London, for example, only 3% of jobs with average or higher salary levels are advertised as part-time, according to Timewise Foundation.

It would help with gender equality too, as men would have more time to look after the kids and the house. About 85% of in-work British men work more than 30 hours a week, but only 57% of in-work women.

Shorter hours could also help mitigate climate change. According to a report from the US Center for Economic and Policy Research, reduced greenhouse gas emissions go hand-in-hand with shorter working hours for a variety of factors including lower levels of consumption.

With all these benefits, cutting the working week should be at the top of every politician’s agenda. But it bumps up against some big prejudices. Would the economy fall apart? How would our open-all-hours society function? And wouldn’t we turn into a nation of couch potatoes?

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Truths of Diversity Policies

Compliment of Harvard 

U.S. companies spend millions annually on diversity programs and policies. Mission statements and recruitment materials touting companies’ commitment to diversity are ubiquitous. And many managers are tasked with the complex goal of “managing diversity” – which can mean anything from ensuring equal employment opportunity compliance, to instituting cultural sensitivity training programs, to focusing on the recruitment and retention of minorities and women.

Are all of these efforts working? In terms of increasing demographic diversity, the answer appears to be not really. The most commonly used diversity programs do little to increase representation of minorities and women. A longitudinal study of over 700 U.S. companies found that implementing diversity training programs has little positive effect and may even decreaserepresentation of black women.

Most people assume that diversity policies make companies fairer for womenand minorities, though the data suggest otherwise. Even when there is clear evidence of discrimination at a company, the presence of a diversity policy leads people to discount claims of unfair treatment. In previous research, we’ve found that this is especially true for members of dominant groups and those who tend to believe that the system is generally fair.

All this has a real effect in court. In a 2011 Supreme Court class action case, Walmart successfully used the mere presence of its anti-discrimination policy to defend itself against allegations of gender discrimination. And Walmart isn’t alone: the “diversity defense” often succeeds, making organizations less accountable for discriminatory practices.

There’s another way the rhetoric of diversity can result in inaccurate and counterproductive beliefs. In a recent experiment, we found evidence that it not only makes white men believe that women and minorities are being treated fairly — whether that’s true or not — it also makes them more likely to believe that they themselves are being treated unfairly.

We put young white men through a hiring simulation for an entry-level job at a fictional technology firm. For half of the “applicants,” the firm’s recruitment materials briefly mentioned its pro-diversity values. For the other half, the materials did not mention diversity. In all other ways, the firm was described identically. All of the applicants then underwent a standardized job interview while we videotaped their performance and measured their cardiovascular stress responses.

Compared to white men interviewing at the company that did not mention diversity, white men interviewing for the pro-diversity company expected more unfair treatment and discrimination against whites. They also performed more poorly in the job interview, as judged by independent raters. And their cardiovascular responses during the interview revealed that they were more stressed.

Thus, pro-diversity messages signaled to these white men that they might be undervalued and discriminated against. These concerns interfered with their interview performance and caused their bodies to respond as if they were under threat. Importantly, diversity messages led to these effects regardless of these men’s political ideology, attitudes toward minority groups, beliefs about the prevalence of discrimination against whites, or beliefs about the fairness of the world. This suggests just how widespread negative responses to diversity may be among white men: the responses exist even among those who endorse the tenets of diversity and inclusion.

In another set of experiments, we found that diversity initiatives also seem to do little to convince minorities that companies will treat them more fairly. Participants from ethnic minorities viewed a pro-diversity company as no more inclusive, no better to work for, and no less likely to discriminate against minorities than a company without a pro-diversity stance. (Other researchers have seen more promising results of pro-diversity rhetoric and images, but it’s clear they’re no panacea.)

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Hawaii Raises Smoking Age to 21; Military Supports New Law

Compliments of Denver and The West 

Hawaii is raising the legal smoking to age 21 for traditional and electronic cigarettes on Jan. 1, becoming the first state in the nation to do so.

Public health officials are hoping that by making it more difficult for young people to get their hands on cigarettes, they will keep them from developing an unhealthy addiction.

“In Hawaii, about one in four students in high school try their first cigarette each year, and one in three who get hooked will die prematurely,” said Lola Irvin, administrator with the chronic disease prevention and health promotion division of the Hawaii Department of Health.

Officials included electronic smoking devices in the law after noticing a spike in the number of students trying electronic cigarettes. The percentage of Hawaii public high school students smoking electronic cigarettes quadrupled over four years to 22 percent in 2015, and among middle-schoolers, 12 percent reported using them in 2015, a sixfold increase over four years.

While Hawaii is the first state to raise the smoking age to 21, more than 100 cities and counties have already done so, including New York City. The town of Needham, Massachusetts, raised the smoking age to 21 in 2005, and a decade later the percentage of adults smoking was 50 percent lower than the rest of the state.

Several military bases in Hawaii expressed their support for the move, saying their bases would comply with the state law.

“We see it as a fitness and readiness issue,” said Bill Doughty, spokesman for the Navy Region Hawaii. “When we can prevent sailors from smoking or using tobacco, if we can get them to quit, then that improves their fitness and readiness, and it saves them a ton of money too.”

But critics say that if a man or woman is old enough to potentially die defending their country, they’re old enough to make a decision about smoking. “If you can serve the country, you should be able to have a drink and a cigarette,” said Justin Warren, 22, an X-ray technician in the Army.

Taylor Dwyer, 21, also an Army X-ray technician, said smoking is a “way for us to come down after the work day. It’s not like a regular work day. It’s a lot more stressful, especially for people who are in combat jobs.”

Rear Adm. John Fuller, commander of Navy Region Hawaii, countered those arguments in a blog post, saying “If someone is young enough to fight for their country, they should be free from addiction to a deadly drug.”

As the state begins enforcing the law, the first three months of the year will be dedicated to educating the public, so warnings will be handed out instead of fines, officials said.

After that, young people caught smoking will be fined $10 for the first offense and $50 or community service for any further offenses. Retailers caught selling cigarettes to people under 21 can be fined $500 for the first offense and up to $2,000 for later offenses.

The Health Department has distributed about 4,000 signs to 650 vendors, said Lila Johnson, public health educator at the agency. To reach tourists, officials have been meeting with representatives from the tourism industry, business and hotels, and officials plan to produce signs in different languages, she said.

“People are going to be coming in and out of our state that aren’t aware of it,” Johnson said. “It’s a matter of education. We hope to see a lot more states picking it up so we’re not the only one.”

Sabrina Olaes, 18, said she started organizing events to educate her classmates about the dangers of smoking after getting frustrated finding herself surrounded by fumes from electronic cigarettes in the girl’s bathroom at her school.

She called the tobacco industry’s marketing practices deceptive, and said some of the flavors of electronic cigarettes are targeted at young people. But her smoking friends didn’t always want to hear what she had to say.

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Death of Man Restrained at a D.C. Hospital Ruled a Homicide

Compliments of Washington Post 

The death of a 74-year-old man who suffered neck injuries during a struggle with security guards last fall at MedStar Washington Hospital Center has been ruled a homicide, authorities said Monday.

James E. McBride, who had been a patient, was restrained by guards who were trying to bring him back to the hospital after he left without signing out on Sept. 29. He died two days later.

The D.C. medical examiner’s office said Monday that McBride’s cause of death was “blunt force injuries” of the neck. It also said the injuries involved “cervical spinal cord transection” and “vertebral artery compression.” They did not offer a further explanation.

D.C. police officials said they continue to investigate the death but they declined to comment further. Bill Miller, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office in the District, said Monday that there is an ongoing investigation into the case. He said no charges have been filed.

Family members previously issued a statement saying McBride, who lived in Northwest Washington, was a “loving husband to his wife of 40 years, and a wonderful father to his son and daughter.” Family members could not be reached Monday.

In a statement released Monday, the hospital said the incident “was devastating to all of us at MedStar Washington Hospital Center, and our hearts continue to go out to the patient’s family.” The statement said the hospital is cooperating with authorities.

Hospital officials also said in the statement that reviews conducted after the incident have led to changes including enhancing training of care teams and security officers. They also created a team to respond to some “high-risk” situations.

The hospital said the reviews “were focused on ensuring that nothing like this ever happens again.”

The incident began about 5 p.m. Sept. 29 when McBride left the hospital, Washington Hospital Center officials said. They would not say why McBride was at the hospital.

The patient’s nurse and a security guard found him across the street, near MedStar National Rehabilitation Hospital, according to hospital officials. The nurse and guard walked the man back to the hospital grounds and turned him over to two other security guards.

A police report said the patient and guards were still outside the hospital when McBride “became non-compliant and resisted and a struggle ensued.” According to that report, McBride was “taken to the ground” by two of the people, and a third “utilized hand controls to restrain” him.

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Why The U.S. Does not Count Meat Producers’ Climate Emissions

Compliments of Grist 

If the Paris climate pact is going to succeed at staving off climate change disaster, the 195 participating countries will need to achieve a difficult feat — trust.

Yet the U.S. government already is failing to implement its own rules on tracking emissions. It is not collecting emission reports from one of the country’s largest sources of greenhouse gases: meat production.

In its latest appropriations bill passed Friday, Congress renewed a provision that prevents the Environmental Protection Agency from requiring emission reports from livestock producers. The move came only days after U.S. officials stressed to other governments the importance of accurate reporting at the Paris climate negotiations.

The U.S. government collects the reports from 41 other sectors, making the meat industry the only major source of greenhouse gases in the country excluded from filing annual reports.

Livestock producers, which include meat and dairy farming, account for about 15 percent of greenhouse gas emissions around the world. That’s more than all the world’s exhaust-belching cars, buses, boats, and trains combined.

The EPA has called the emission reports “essential in guiding the steps we take to address the problem of climate change.”

As a result of having inadequate information on livestock producers, the U.S. government is vastly underreporting its true greenhouse gas emissions, according to a growing consensus of American scientists.

In 2013, a team of researchers from Harvard University, Stanford University, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and elsewhere worked together to collect air samples and analyze actual emissions near large livestock operations such as cattle feeding lots in California, Nebraska, and Iowa. They found that greenhouse gas emissions from livestock were twice as bad as what the EPA estimated. Subsequent studies have found similar results.

The United States is underreporting its total greenhouse gas emissions to the United Nations by about 4 percent per year as a result of bad livestock data — nearly equivalent to the entire emissions of Spain, according to the 2013 study.

The EPA’s ban on collecting reports from the U.S. livestock industry, which is the second-largest in the world behind only China, goes back several years.

In 2008, Congress instructed the EPA to draft regulation requiring the country’s largest greenhouse gas emitters to file annual reports. The following year, the EPA finalized those regulations, requiring dozens of industries — including large-scale livestock producers — to report their emissions.

But the EPA never received a single report from meat producers. In 2010, when the first reports were to be collected, Congress attached a provision to the EPA’s budget. It prohibited the agency from spending money to collect emission reports on livestock producers — specifically the greenhouse gases emitted from some of the 335 million tons of manure produced each year.

Monitoring and curbing greenhouse gases from livestock is considered vital to stopping global warming, according to scientists.

A recent report published in the Environmental Law Reporter cited several studies showing that forecasted growth in worldwide agricultural emissions alone — unless curbed — will push global temperatures past the tipping point.

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