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U.N. Declares Famine in Southern Somalia

The United Nations has declared a state of famine in drought-stricken areas of southern Somalia amidst one of the worst humanitarian crises of the past half-century. Nearly half of Somalia’s population — 3.7 million people — are said to be in a state of "crisis", the vast majority in the south. The U.N.’s humanitarian coordinator for Somalia, Mark Bowden, said the crisis will likely get worse.

Mark Bowden: "I can confirm that this assessment highlights the shocking severity of the crisis facing millions of people in Somalia at the moment. More specifically, the analysis that has been undertaken confirms that a state of famine exists in parts of Bakool and Lower Shabelle regions of southern Somalia. The rest of southern Somalia is close to famine conditions, and it is likely the conditions will deteriorate further in the next month."

The United Nations says acute malnutrition has reached 30 percent in Bakool and Lower Shabelle, with some areas seeing malnutrition rates of 50 percent for children under five. At least 500,000 children are at risk of death in the Horn of Africa, which has been devastated by high food prices, violence, and the driest conditions in decades. David Kaatrud of the World Food Programme said aid groups are struggling to reach those in need now that the militant group al-Shabab has lifted a ban on foreign organizations.

David Kaatrud: "We’re facing an alarming humanitarian situation in central and southern Somalia right now, which is an area we’ve had limited access since last year. Amongst the effects of this are refugees streaming across the border from the effects of drought, high food prices and violence, and moving into the camps in Ethiopia and Kenya. And amongst this group, we find a high level of malnutrition. Rates of acute malnutrition among children are something to one in two in the camps in Ethiopia and one in three in the camps in Kenya."

Cameron, Murdoch Address Phone-Hacking Scandal

British Prime Minister David Cameron has appeared before the British parliamentary hearing to face questioning over the phone-hacking scandal enveloping the Rupert Murdoch media empire and causing an upheaval in British politics. Cameron’s appearance comes one day after Murdoch and his son James Murdoch testified for the first time since the scandal blew open earlier this month. Under questioning from British parliamentarian Jim Sheridan, the elder Murdoch refused to accept responsibility for the scandal. Murdoch’s testimony was interrupted by a protester who attempted to smear him in the face with a paper plate covered in shaving foam.

News Exec Advised Top British Aide

British Prime Minister David Cameron’s appearance today follows new revelations surrounding his government’s ties to Rupert Murdoch’s media conglomerate, News International. Cameron’s Conservative Party has now acknowledged former Murdoch executive, Neil Wallis, may have given Cameron’s former communications director, Andy Coulson, unpaid advice before last year’s election. Coulson, who also previously worked at News International, was arrested earlier this month.

Report: News International Tried to Block Phone-Hacking Probe

A new British parliamentary committee report says Rupert Murdoch’s News International newspaper business "deliberately" tried to block a police investigation into phone hacking by journalists.

Families of 9/11 Victims Press for Meeting on Phone Hacking by Journalists at Murdoch’s News Corp.

The FBI is investigating whether employees at Rupert Murdoch’s U.S.-based News Corporation tried to bribe police and hack into the voicemails of people killed in the 9/11 attacks. The families of 9/11 victims have asked to meet with the FBI and top Obama administration officials about the allegations. On Tuesday, Norman Siegel, an attorney for 9/11 family members, spoke out in New York City.

Norman Siegel: "We’re not at this point accusing anyone, including News Corp., of any wrongdoing. But in view of the apparent hacking in the U.K., the question becomes, logically, whether or not any of that happened here in New York or in the United States. And so, our aim is to sit down with our government agencies and find out how they’re going to investigate."

Obama Backs Bipartisan Senate Plan in Debt-Limit Standoff; Deal Would Reduce Taxes on Wealthy

President Obama is touting a bipartisan Senate budget plan to resolve the impasse over raising the federal debt limit before an August 2 deadline. The so-called Gang of Six senators have proposed immediate savings of $500 billion, an overhaul of Social Security and Medicare, as well as tax changes to generate some $1 trillion in revenue. While Democrats have previously backed raising taxes on wealthy households and corporations, the new bipartisan plan would raise government revenue by eliminating a number of popular tax breaks and deductions, including write-offs for home mortgage interest and employer-provided health benefits. Going further, the plan calls for using those savings to, in fact, lower taxes for the wealthy, with the top individual and corporate tax rates dropping from 35 percent to 29 percent. At the White House, President Obama said the plan provides a basis for ongoing talks.

President Obama: "We have a Democratic president and administration that is prepared to sign a tough package that includes both spending cuts, modifications to Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare that would strengthen those systems and allow them to move forward and would include a revenue component. We now have a bipartisan group of senators who agree with that balanced approach."

Syrian Forces Kill 15 Mourning Slain Protesters

Syrian government forces have killed at least 15 people in the city of Homs as part of an ongoing crackdown on protests against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The victims had gathered for the funerals of 10 protesters killed in previous clashes. Syrian forces reportedly chased fleeing mourners with a tank. Human rights groups estimate at least 1,400 civilians have been killed since the crackdown began more than four months ago.

Israel to Deport Jailed Flotilla Passengers

Passengers on the last ship in the Gaza-bound international aid flotilla are set for deportation from Israel after their boat was seized at sea. The passengers and crew of the French boat, Dignité-Al Karama, offered no resistance as Israeli forces took over the vessel and towed it into the Ashdod port. An Israeli navy admiral acknowledged the activists were peaceful, but defended the siege of Gaza.

Israeli Navy Rear Admiral Rani Ben Yehuda: "We know that on this ship there were no arms, but if the naval security blockade will be taken off, we are sure that this line will be used to smuggle weapons into Gaza."

The passengers are still being detained at the port, and supporters are calling for their release.

2 Indicted in Alleged Pakistan Lobbying Scheme

The FBI is claiming Pakistan’s ISI spy agency has spent the last two decades secretly funneling millions of dollars into United States election campaigns and political offices to influence U.S. foreign policy. The allegations were part of a 43-page affidavit filed in connection with the indictment of two U.S. citizens. The suspects are Zaheer Ahmad, who is in Pakistan, and Syed Fai, who lives in Virginia. Fai directs the Kashmiri American Council, a group that promotes self-determination for Kashmir through lobbying and fundraising events. The FBI says the group was largely financed by the ISI and donated as much as $100,000 annually to U.S. political campaigns. U.S. authorities say the bulk of the organization’s costs were covered by straw contributors who were subsequently reimbursed by the ISI. The organization’s goal was allegedly to influence the U.S. government to push India to allow Kashmir to vote for independence.

FBI Arrests 16 in Raids Targeting Online Hackers

The FBI has arrested 16 people in a series of nationwide raids targeting two of the world’s most well-known hacking organizations. Fourteen of the suspects were arrested for their alleged links to a December attack on the online payment site, PayPal. The loosely affiliated hacker activist group, Anonymous, took credit for the breach in response to PayPal’s suspension of accounts that donated money to the whistleblower website, WikiLeaks. An additional suspect was arrested for an Anonymous-linked breach of the FBI-affiliated website, InfraGard. The final suspect was arrested for allegedly lifting files from AT&T’s computer system and providing them to LulzSec, a separate hacking group with ties to Anonymous. The suspects were charged with conspiring to intentionally damage protected computers, which is punishable by a maximum of 10 years in prison. The arrests came as LulzSec reportedly breached the computer systems of News International, The Sun, The Times and The Sunday Times, all Murdoch-owned publications.

Minnesota Legislature Ends State Shutdown

The Minnesota State Legislature has approved a round of budget bills to end the longest government shutdown in state history. The shutdown in Minnesota lasted nearly three weeks, resulting in the furlough of more than 22,000 state workers.

Democratic State Senator Survives Wisconsin Recall Vote

Voters in Wisconsin have backed a Democratic candidate who faced a recall over his opposition to the state’s law stripping public workers of collective bargaining rights. State Senator Dave Hansen beat out a Republican challenger to retain his seat. Hansen and two other Democrats have been targeted for opposing the law, while six Republicans face recall votes for supporting it.

African-American Mother Faces More Jail Time than Drunk Driver Who Killed Her Son

A grieving African-American mother in Georgia is facing the potential of more time in prison than the drunk driver who struck and killed her child and then fled the scene. Raquel Nelson lost her four-year-old son while trying to shuttle him across a five-lane highway, along with two of her other children. Jerry Guy, a partially blind man who has admitted to having consumed alcohol and painkillers beforehand, hit the young boy with his vehicle. The child later died of his injuries. Nelson and her daughter were also struck and suffered injuries. An all-white jury has convicted Nelson of homicide by vehicle in the second degree, jaywalking and reckless conduct. She could serve up to three years in prison. Meanwhile, the drunk driver, Guy, who was previously convicted of two hit-and-runs in one day in 1997, was initially charged with hit and run, first degree homicide by a vehicle and cruelty to children. But the charges were later dropped to simply hit and run. Guy served a six-month jail term and will spend the remainder of his five-year sentence on probation.


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