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Be less masculine: Report tells military sexual harassment undermines combat readiness

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Promoting empathy and cracking down on hypermasculinity may help the Department of Defense to reduce unwanted sexual behavior and improve combat readiness, a new government report on sexual violence in the military says.

Unwanted sexual behaviors ‒ such as sexual harassment, sexual assault, and domestic violence ‒ “undermine core values, unit cohesion, combat readiness, and public goodwill,” says the report, published this month by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and signed by Brenda Farrell, director of defense capabilities and management.

The report pointed out that “interconnected, inappropriate behaviors” are part of a “continuum of harm” that creates a climate conducive to sexual harassment, assault and violence. The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for fiscal year 2017 expanded the definition of sexual harassment in the military beyond sex discrimination, to make it “an adverse behavior on the spectrum of behavior that can contribute to an increase in the incidence of sexual assault.” Both the Pentagon and the separate service branches have yet to update their policies to reflect this new definition, the GAO found.

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The report also urged the Pentagon to incorporate the guidelines for preventing and dealing with sexual violence developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The Pentagon is ignoring risk factors identified by the CDC such as “alcohol and drug use, hypermasculinity, emotionally unsupportive family environments, general tolerance of sexual violence within the community, and societal norms that support male superiority and sexual entitlement,” the report says.

Also ignored by the DoD are protective factors such as “emotional health and connectedness, and empathy and concern for how one’s actions affect others.”

“CDC’s research has also established that survivors of one form of violence are more likely to be victims of other forms of violence, that survivors of violence are at higher risk for behaving violently, and that people who behave violently are more likely to commit other forms of violence,” the GAO report notes, apparently seeking to make a distinction between violence in authorized military conflict and personal violence.

Noting that the DoD instructed the services in 2014 to develop mechanisms for reporting incidents of sexual harassment anonymously, the GAO said that such mechanisms are not yet part of the department-wide sexual violence policies.

4-story-tall phallus painted on NYC building for ‘healthy community’ (GRAPHIC ART)

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A feminist street artist has veered from her usual topic of giant vaginas, instead stunning New York City’s Lower East side with a 40-foot tall penis graffiti on an apartment building.

Swedish street artist Carolina Falkholt chose the side of 303 Broome St. as the canvas for her four-story phallic masterpiece. Her previous work has featured in multiple museum exhibitions, most recently in Wanas Konst, Gothenburg Museum of Art, and Eskilstuna Art Museum. Falkholt says she wants to challenge gender stereotypes and sexual taboos.

“I have never heard so much laughter and seen so many happy faces behind my back when painting as for today doing this wall on Broome Street,” Falkholt wrote on Instagram.

Falkholt is infamous for highly graphic depictions of human genitalia, plastering a massive vulva onto a building in Sweden in 2015 and, more recently painting another, more abstract depiction of a vulva on 56 Pike Street, near to this latest Christmas Eve penis mural.

Reaction to the work has been mixed, with local residents up in arms in an online residents group, complaining about the excessive vulgarity, especially for a residential neighborhood.

“It’s ugly,” said neighbor Qun Chen, 47, as cited by The New York Post.“There’s a lot of kids that live in this building and in the neighborhood — it’s not good for the kids, they’re little.”

“It’s not offensive — it’s 2017,” said Felton Chen, 30, no relation. “It doesn’t bother me.”

The piece was commissioned by The New Allen Foundation, run by a local Peruvian restaurant named Baby Brassa. “Created by Franco Noriega and Milan Kelez… [the] art foundation unites a collective of graffiti artists and muralist that are transforming Allen Street into the city’s premiere street art gallery,” the collective’s website reads.

The building’s superintendent, Jason Estrada told NBC that "no one knew" ahead of time about the highly graphic glans. "It's art, man. At the end of the day, it's freedom of expression. I'm into street art, and I like it. It doesn't bother me," he said, as cited by NBC New York.

"Talking about these subjects in public space is a must for a healthy, nonviolent community/world," Falkholt said as cited by NBC New York. "And the dialogue created around feminist public art pieces raises awareness."

Argentine prosecutor’s death ruled a murder

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The ruling marks the first time a judge has called the death of public prosecutor Alberto Nisman a murder, in a case that has been rife with speculation and conspiracy theories.Nisman was found dead in his Buenos Aires apartment on January 18, 2015, from a gunshot wound to his head. Days earlier, he had filed a report accusing former President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and other officials of covering up Iran's involvement in a 1994 Jewish community center bombing that left 85 people dead and more than 300 wounded. Initially, Fernández and others called his death a suicide. But tests found no gunpowder residue on Nisman's hands or traces of blood on his arms to suggest the bullet wound was self-inflicted, judge Julián Ercolini wrote in a 656-page ruling."The death of Prosecutor Nisman was not a suicide, and was brought about by a third party and in a painful manner," Ercolini said in the ruling. In the ruling, Ercolini charged Diego Lagomarsino with accessory to murder. Lagomarsino was the last person inside the prosecutor's apartment, and Nisman was killed with a weapon belonging to Lagomarsino, the judge said. Lagomarsino, an IT security expert who worked for Nisman, has maintained that he gave Nisman his gun at the prosecutor's insistence. According to Lagomarsino, Nisman called him to his home on January 17 worried for his safety. But Lagomarsino has insisted he had nothing to do with Nisman's death.When he died, Nisman was overseeing the investigation of the 1994 bombing of the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association. In his report, Nisman alleged that Fernandez and Foreign Minister Héctor Timerman wanted to cover up Iran's involvement in order to boost trade — specifically, oil imports and grain exports — with the Islamic republic.The Fernández administration hit back sharply after the allegations, denying a cover-up of Iranian links. At the time, Fernández said Nisman's claims "were intended to lie, disguise and confuse."After filing the complaint, Nisman made a prescient comment about the investigation: "I could end up dead from this," he told a reporter. Then, the night before he was scheduled to testify before lawmakers, his body was found.

CNN's Mariano Castillo, Mayra Cuevas and Eliott C. McLaughlin contributed to this report.

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Hug it out? Americans divided over sexual harassment standards – poll

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A new poll reveals that Americans do not agree on whether a “non-consensual hug” should be considered sexual harassment. Seven other hypothetical situations were also put before people to determine what was appropriate or not.

The majority of Americans agree that non-consensual groping or kissing should be considered sexual harassment, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll released Wednesday. However, the poll found that Americans of different genders, races and ages bring diverse opinions to the workplace when it comes to other behaviors.

The December 13-18 poll asked more than 3,000 American adults about eight different hypothetical situations, and whether they should be considered sexual harassment.

Only 38 percent of those polled agreed that “unwanted compliments about your appearance” should be considered sexual harassment, while 47 percent said they should not. However, the poll found that Americans were split when it comes to telling “dirty jokes” in the workplace, with 41 percent agreeing it constitutes sexual harassment, and 44 percent saying it doesn’t.

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Nearly half, 44 percent, of those polled said they consider non-consensual hugs from a co-worker to be sexual harassment, while 40 percent said they did not.

The poll found men and women had very different opinions on touching a co-worker without their consent, with 19 percent of men saying that they do not consider it to be sexual harassment, compared to only 11 percent of women. The poll did not specifically define non-consensual touching.

There was also a difference of opinion among Americans of different races, with 52 percent of minorities agreeing that non-consensual hugging is considered sexual harassment, compared to only 39 percent of whites. Americans of different ages were also divided, with 94 percent of baby boomers, who were born 1946-64, agreeing that sending “pornographic pictures” to a co-worker constitutes sexual harassment, compared to only 83 percent of millennials born after 1982.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which is responsible for enforcing federal discrimination laws in the workplace, defines sexual harassment as any “unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature.”

$9.7mn in property lost in Afghanistan, Pentagon’s watchdog says

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The US has, since 2012, 'lost' some $9,7 million in assets in Afghanistan because of the army's negligence, Pentagon’s watchdog has revealed, adding enemy troops might have even used the resources against US troops.

The ‘Army Oversight of Logistics. Civil Augmentation Program Government-Furnished Property in Afghanistan’ report was released by the Inspector General of the US Department of Defense earlier in December. It analyzed the US army-administered Logistics Civil Augmentation Program (LOGCAP) which enlists contractors to provide housing, transportation and facilities maintenance for US forces. The program is tasked with maintaining Government-furnished property (GFP) in Afghanistan, servicing heating and air conditioning units, forklifts and power generators.

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The key finding of the study highlighted the US army's negligence in managing US assets and that it didn’t conduct "effective oversight” of it's inventory. “LOGCAP contractors themselves reported more than $9.7 million in GFP losses since 2012,” the report says. And as US army officials did not maintain accurate records of all the property, they cannot be certain that “all contractor GFP losses have been identified, investigated, and reported.”

“As of May 2017, the US army didn’t maintain accountability of at least 26,993 items, valued at $99.9 million,” the document said. It added the property was at increased risk of “being lost, stolen, or unaccounted for without Army detection.”

“If enemy forces obtain certain controlled items, such as personal protective equipment, they could be used against US and Coalition forces,” it said further. LOGCAP’s “lack of accountability” limited the US army’s ability to sustain its bases in Afghanistan in a proper manner, the company adds. Specifically, the US military had to rely on contractors’ records “for procurement-related decision making.” At least 20 fire trucks worth $8.6 million, and six semi-trucks worth $1.3 million, were among the items 'lost' due to negligence.

This is not the first report that questions US management strategy in Afghanistan. In August this year, the US Agency for International Development (USAID) revealed that its mission in the war-ravaged country failed to report fresults from 91 percent of Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund (ARTF) contributions in its 2013-2015 annual reports. USAID provided Afghanistan with $1,5 billion, according to the data.

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‘We’ll no longer let US generosity be taken advantage of’: Haley hails $285mn cut to UN budget

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Cutting the “bloated” UN budget by $285 million next year is a “big step in right direction,” according to US envoy Nikki Haley. The news comes after reports from the UN that some critical aid programs were underfunded this year.

The US Mission to the United Nations announced on Sunday that it had secured a major curb in the global organization’s budget for 2018 and 2019. Commenting on the announcement, US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley said the cut would end benefits the international community has gained from “American generosity.”

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Washington “reduced the UN’s bloated management and support functions, bolstered support for key US priorities throughout the world, and instilled more discipline and accountability throughout the UN system,” reads a statement from the US mission.

According to Haley, “the inefficiency and overspending of the United Nations are well known.” Washington will no longer “let the generosity of the American people be taken advantage of or remain unchecked.”

“This historic reduction in spending – in addition to many other moves toward a more efficient and accountable UN – is a big step in the right direction,” the ambassador asserted.

The US has long contributed the biggest share to UN funds, which in 2017 amounted to 22 percent of the organization’s $5.4 billion two-year regular budget. The regular budget is separate from the UN funds allocated for its global peacekeeping operations, which cost the organization $7.8 billion in 2017 alone.

The contributions are agreed upon by the 193-member UN General Assembly and are assessed by considering the size of a country’s economy and other factors, including GDP and the national income.

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Raul Castro Fast Facts

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Personal:
Birth date:
June 3, 1931Birth place: Biran, CubaBirth name: Raul Modesto Castro RuzFather: Angel Castro, a wealthy Spanish landownerMother: Lina Ruz, a cook and maid to Angel Castro's first wifeMarriage: Vilma Espin (1959-2007, her death) Children: Mariela, Nilsa, Deborah, AlejandroEducation: Attended the University of HavanaTimeline:
1953 –
Attempts, along with his older brother Fidel Castro, to overthrow the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista, after which both are sentenced to 15 years in prison. They are released less than two years later as part of an amnesty for political prisoners. Both go into exile in Mexico. January 1, 1959 – The Castros successfully overthrow the Batista government. January 1959 – Three weeks after taking power, Fidel Castro states that his brother is to be his successor, telling supporters, "Behind me are others more radical than I."October 1959 – Fidel Castro appoints Raul to several prominent roles in his government including defense minister.April 1961 – Raul Castro's troops defeat the CIA-led Bay of Pigs invasion. 1962 – Becomesdeputy prime minister.July 1962 – In a visit to the Soviet Union, Raul Castro is promised missiles. This development leads to the US-Cuban Missile crisis. 1970s – Is involved in the military conflicts in Angola and Ethiopia. 1972 – Appointed first deputy prime minister (later called vice president).1991 – Helps Cuba navigate a severe financial crisis after the fall of the Soviet Union. October 1997 – Cuba's Communist Party officially designates Raul Castro as Fidel Castro's successor should he die or be unable to perform his duties. 2001 – In an interview with Cuban state television, Raul Castro says he'd like to see Cuba improve its relationship with the United States: "I am among those who believe that it would be in imperialism's interest to try, with our irreconcilable differences, to normalize relations as much as possible during Fidel's life." July 31, 2006 –Fidel Castro temporarily hands over power to Raul while undergoing intestinal surgery.February 19, 2008 –Fidel Castro, in a letter, resigns from office. This paves the way for the National Assembly to select Raul as Cuba's new leader.February 24, 2008 – Raul Castro is chosen by Cuba's National Assembly to be the country's new president.April 28, 2008 – Announces that many death row prisoners will have their sentences commuted as part of a reform agenda.December 2008 – Makes first international trip as president, visiting Venezuela's president Hugo Chavez. March 2, 2009 –Reorganizes his Cabinet, replacing long-time aides to Fidel Castro.April 6, 2009 – Meets with visiting members of the US Congressional Black Caucus.April 19, 2011 –Elected to succeed Fidel Castro as first secretary of the Communist Party. March 2012 –Pope Benedict XVI visits Cuba and meets Castro. The pontiff prays for "those deprived of freedom" and talks about human rights throughout his tour of the country. February 24, 2013 – After being reelected by the National Assembly, Castro announces he will step down in 2018, at the end of his second five-year term. December 17, 2014 – Cuba and the United States announce plans to renew diplomatic relations after a half-century of tension. April 12, 2015 – Castro meets with President Barack Obama during the Summit of the Americas in Panama.May 10, 2015 – Meets Pope Francis for the first time. They talk for 50 minutes at the Vatican. Castro thanks the Pope for facilitating talks between Cuba and the United States. He later says he may rejoin the Catholic Church.March 20-22, 2016 – During a historic trip to Cuba, Obama visits Raul Castro to discuss human rights and ending the economic embargo. Obama is the first sitting president to visit Cuba since 1928, when Calvin Coolidge traveled to the island via boat. November 25, 2016 – Announces the death of Fidel Castro on Cuban state-run media.December 21, 2017 –Cuban officials announce that Castro will not retire as planned when his presidential term ends on February 24, 2018. Due to ongoing issues related to recovery from Hurricane Irma, the naming of Castro's successor will be delayed until April 19, 2018, according to Cuban state-run media.

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Legal US marijuana sales up 30% in 2017 – report

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Legal cannabis sales in the US have seen a sharp increase this year, with total purchases growing by 30 percent, a report by Marijuana Business Daily says. It suggests sales could grow even more next year.

Legal pot sales could increase by another 45 percent in 2018, the latest annual report by Marijuana Business Daily said. The publication, a trade news website for professionals in the recreational and medical cannabis industry in the US, further forecasts that legal weed sales in America could quadruple between 2016 and 2021, with the marijuana market eventually hitting highs of $17 billion in sales.

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As sales figures rise, so too the debate around its legalization. It's no longer a taboo topic as the number of people supporting such a move swells in the US. According to Gallup's October 2017 annual survey on cannabis, as many as 64 percent of respondents said they want to see pot legalized, an all-time record, according to some media outlets. The number of weed legalization supporters in the US has grown by almost 40 percent since 1995, when California became the first US state to legalize marijuana for medicinal use. Back then, only about 25 percent backed the idea to legalize the herb.

Eight US states – Nevada, Maine, Colorado, Washington, California, Massachusetts, Alaska, and Oregon – have so far decriminalized the sale and possession of weed both for medical and recreational use. The District of Columbia also decriminalized the personal use of cannabis, but not its commercial sale. In total, 23 US states have laws that allow the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes to some extent. However, on a federal level, it is still illegal to possess, use, buy, sell, or cultivate marijuana.

READ MORE: Canada could make a fortune from legalized pot

Uruguay is currently the only country in the world which has fully legalized marijuana. The cultivation of cannabis was legalized in 2014, and its sale became legal in July 2017. Canada could possibly soon follow suit. The Cannabis Act was introduced in the Canadian Senate in late November. It is overwhelmingly backed by the general public and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and legislation is expected to be passed by July 2018, perhaps even earlier. The annual sales of weed in Canada is projected to range between $2.3 billion and $4.5 billion by 2021, according to the Marijuana Business Daily.

‘Show us the evidence’: N. Korea invites US to prove Pyongyang’s WannaCry connection

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North Korea has demanded the US provide evidence to support its claims that the WannaCry ransomware attack was engineered by Pyongyang. The attack crippled 200,000 computers in 150 countries earlier in 2017.

Washington’s allegations are merely a “baseless provocation” used to generate tensions between the countries, Pak Song Il, the North Korean ambassador for American affairs at the UN, told AP.

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Pyongyang considers these claims an attempt to create an “extremely confrontational atmosphere,” the North’s top official stated. “If they are so sure, show us the evidence,” the envoy added.

Earlier in December, White House Homeland Security advisor Tom Bossert wrote an Op-Ed claiming that the US has proof that it was North Korea behind the WannaCry cyber-attack, citing a "careful investigation." Bossert named Pyongyang as the culprit in the attack, although no particular organization or person affiliated with the North Korean government was specifically named.

In May 2017, the global WannaCry cyber-attack targeted computers worldwide. During the attack, personal data was stolen from private users and ransom payment was requested in the form of bitcoin.

Following the ransomware attack, speculation emerged that North Korea may have played a significant role in the hack. Neel Mehta, a prominent Google security researcher, revealed a resemblance between the code used in what is said to be an early version of WannaCry ransomware, and that of a hacking tool attributed to the notorious Lazarus Group in a Twitter post.

‘Secret Santa’ who gifted horse manure to Mnuchin likens himself to Jesus

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Dropping horse manure as a Christmas gift to US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin was a Jesus-like act, the man behind the stunt said, comparing the Republicans to Biblical merchants “ripping off the American people.”

Robby Strong, who has claimed responsibility for delivering a gift-wrapped box with horse manure to the Bel Air area where Mnuchin lives, said he took on the example of Jesus, who had “cleansed” the Temple by putting merchants and money changers to flight as they turned the house of God into a “den of thieves.”

"What I did, I would like to compare to what Jesus did when he went into the temple and overturned the tables of the moneychangers, who were exploiting the people financially in the name of religion. I feel like that's what the GOP has done to the American people," Strong told KPCC radio.

On his Twitter page, Strong drew another religious parallel, comparing himself to none other than Martin Luther, and his gift of “95 feces” to the 95 theses Luther nailed to the church door of Wittenberg Castle. “It’s time for another Reformation,” said Strong.

The festively wrapped package raised quite a stink and a stir in the Bel Air neighbourhood when it was discovered by Mnuchin’s neighbour Saturday night, causing a bomb scare and drawing in the Secret Service. Despite it all, no charges have been brought against Strong so far, although the Secret Service reportedly interviewed him.

While the man said he was not expecting to walk free, Strong noted that he couldn’t see anything that would be deemed punishable under the law in his actions. “Is there a law that you can’t drop off a box of poo? Not really,” he said, as cited by Al.com.

And although the festive 'box of poo' propelled him into the spotlight, Strong has a history of activism and was an organizer for Occupy L.A. The activist told KPCC he is aware the stunt could spell trouble for him, including with the LA Department of Mental Health, where he works as a psychologist.

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He, however, appeared to show no remorse by saying: “In the long run, if we don’t do stuff like this, what are we going to have left?”

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