Sunday news round-up: February 23rd – March 1st

An ongoing series that gathers some main headlines from the week, for people too busy to keep an eye on the news.

Top Story: Leaked cables reveal the lies and spies of the world powers: Hundreds of leaked dossiers, cables, and memos from the world’s intelligence agencies have revealed interesting titbits about diplomatic relations. Some of the more interesting revelations include: Mossad documents showing that Israeli PM Bibi Netanyahu lied about Iran’s nuclear weapons capabilities in 2012, files which claim Barack Obama “threatened” Mahmoud Abbas if he continued with his UN bid for Palestinian statehood, files which claim the CIA attempted to contact Hamas (despite the U.S. ban on any affiliation), files which claim South Korean intelligence officials “targeted” the leader of Greenpeace, and files which claim that South Africa is spying on Russia. Although the bulk of the files come from Israel’s intelligence agency Mossad, other leaked documents come from South Africa, which is considered a powerhouse in international spying.

Federal Communications Commission votes yes on net neutrality: The FCC made history this week by ruling – to a vote of 2-3 – that the internet should remain a free and open public utility, and that higher internet speeds should not be subject to higher costs. Internet Service Providers (ISPs) or “cable companies” have spent millions trying to destroy net neutrality in the U.S., with Comcast spending well over $18,000,000 to twist the federal government’s arm, and by extorting companies such as Netflix by intentionally dropping their streaming speeds. President Obama has also received some criticism for his cosy relationship with cable companies, for instance appointing former cable company lobbyist Tom Wheeler to chair the FCC, effectively putting a man in favour of exploitation at the head of the commission which prevents exploitation. Unsurprisingly, the President was notably silent around the time of the ruling. Anti-neutrality corporations and their lobbyists have called for the Republican-controlled Congress to bypass the ruling.

David Cameron sending troops to support Ukrainian army: British Prime Minister David Cameron has announced that around 75 troops will head to Ukraine in order to provide support for the central army, which were battling Russian separatists until the recent ceasefire. Cameron insisted that the troops will not partake in combat, and are instead there to provide everything “from tactical intelligence to logistics to medical care”. The Prime Minister also threatened Russian President Vladimir Putin with consequences if he continues his “deeply damaging” foreign policies. It’s not clear how Cameron’s statements will be received by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President François Hollande, who have both spent the past month trying to maintain an open dialogue with Putin.

Former British Foreign Secretaries implicated in “cash for access” scandal: A joint investigation by the Daily Telegraph and Channel 4’s Dispatches has revealed that two former Foreign Secretaries, Blair’s Jack Straw and John Major’s Malcolm Rifkind, have been selling their influence to private companies. While being secretly filmed, Jack Straw is alleged to have described how he’s used charm and votes to influence EU policy and foreign governments such as Ukraine. Former Foreign Secretary Straw has faced considerable criticism from human rights groups over his complicity not only in the disastrous and illegal Iraq War, but also for his complicity in the CIA’s covert torture programme.

Gay couples may be able to have biological children “in just two years”: Cambridge University has unveiled new stem cell research which shows that it’s possible to make a baby using skin cells. The process involves creating an egg and sperm from skin cells, meaning that a stem-cell child could have two biological fathers or two biological mothers. Although this method is currently a legal grey area, Parliament recently voted to allow the creation of children with the DNA of two women and one man, making Britain the first country in the world to allow three-person IVF. Many gay rights campaigners have hailed the research as being breakthrough, whilst others urged same-sex couples to foster and adopt existing children, rather than creating new ones. This writer thinks same-sex couples should not be responsible for adopting the unwanted children that straight people produce, and should be free to pursue a biological child if they wish to.

Israel shuts off power to parts of the West Bank: The Palestinian cities of Nablus, Ramallah, and Jenin experienced intermittent blackouts this week as the Israel Electric Corporation cut off the supply, citing unpaid bills. The IEC claims that Northern Electric, a Palestinian company which buys power from Israel and distributes it to the West Bank, owes 1.9 billion shekels ($487 million), and must pay or endure permanent blackouts. The Israeli government denies being involved in the decision to shut off power, despite owning 99.85% of the corporation. Palestinian officials have retorted that the Israeli government is withholding massive tax revenues that have been paid by residents of the West Bank, which they claim is a measure of punishment for attempting to join the ICC.

Senior Iranian official claims Iran can “destroy” Tel Aviv in just six minutes: As Iran-Israel relations reach their nadir, a senior Iranian official has claimed that any Israeli military operations on Iranian soil would result in the total destruction of Tel Aviv, Israel’s second-largest city. When asked by journalists about Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s calls for a pre-emptive strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities, Iranian Revolutionary Guard Senior Mujtabi Du Al-Nour explained that Iran could destroy Tel Aviv before Israeli rockets even entered Iranian airspace. Israeli PM Bibi Netanyahu is expected to reference Al-Nour’s statements in his controversial speech to Congress where he will urge the U.S. to stop negotiating with Iran on its nuclear weapons programme, which may or may not exist.

Mars One project halts planned robotics projects: Merely a week after announcing the 100 finalists for the would-be colony on Mars, the Dutch-based non-profit has halted the unmanned robotics programmes that must go ahead before humans can be sent to the Red Planet. Defense firm Lockheed Martin and Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd. were both granted contracts to explore the possibility of a human colony on Mars, but have revealed that their contracts have expired, meaning the project is effectively on hold. It’s not clear why the project has quietly been halted, but some university study groups working with Mars One have expressed concern that the technology the colony would use is insufficient and may lead to crew deaths “within months of landing”, while others have questioned whether Mars One has adequate funding. Without pursuing the robotics programme, the Mars One project looks set to miss its planned deadlines.

Study shows smoking marijuana is “114 times safer” than drinking alcohol: A study published in the Scientific Reports journal compared the relative mortality risks of taking various substances, and the results are surprising. Not only did marijuana come out the lowest risk substance of those considered, but alcohol even surpassed heroin and cocaine in terms of danger of death. Among other things, the study confirms that it is virtually impossible to overdose on marijuana, while it’s relatively easy to overdose on alcohol. Advocates of marijuana legalization both in the U.S. and UK say that the results are further proof that their governments’ drugs policy is outdated.

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