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Campaigns Buying Personal Data to Influence Votes

New details have been revealed on the efforts by Democrats and Republicans to mine American voters’ personal data to influence the outcome of next month’s election. The New York Times reports the Obama and Romney campaigns are purchasing an unprecedented amount of personal information from private companies and using it to encourage or convince targeted voters to head to the polls. The information collected includes everything from religious ties, interest in pornographic sites, product preferences, financial status, social media affiliations and whether a voter has gay friends. That information is then used to shape the approach of unsolicited phone calls from campaign staffers to the voters, based on how they have been analyzed. Some voters will even be pushed to vote by being publicly "shamed," when the campaign publicly divulges how frequently they and their neighbors have previously voted in the hopes that public disclosure will spur them to action.

Obama, Romney Prepare for 2nd Presidential Debate

With just over three weeks until the election, President Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney will hold their second debate on Tuesday at New York’s Hofstra University. On Friday, Romney and vice-presidential nominee Paul Ryan addressed supporters in Ohio just hours after Ryan squared off against Vice President Joe Biden.

Mitt Romney: "When it came to jobs, both last night with Vice President Biden and my debate with President Obama, they didn’t have a plan for creating jobs for middle-income Americans. They say they care for middle-income Americans, and I believe they care. They just don’t know what to do, and so they say, well, they’re going to have another stimulus. How did the last one work out, you know?"

Paul Ryan: "What we are witnessing when we turn our TVs on a daily basis is the unraveling of the Obama foreign policy. And when you say it’s OK to impose these devastating cuts in our military or that we don’t need any more Lima-built M1 tanks, what we are doing is we’re projecting weakness. And when we project weakness abroad, our enemies become more brazen, our enemies are more tempting to test us, and our allies are less willing to trust us."

Meanwhile, Vice President Biden addressed supporters in Wisconsin, where he said the differences between the two campaigns are as stark as any in his lifetime.

Vice President Joe Biden: "Anyone who watched that debate, I don’t think there’s any doubt that Congressman Ryan and I, Governor Romney and the president, we have a fundamentally different vision for America and, quite frankly, a fundamentally different value set. And the fact is that the differences that we have about the future of this country are, quite frankly, profound. They’re as profound as any differences in any presidential campaign that I have observed, that I’ve been involved in."

HRW: Syrian Regime Dropping Cluster Bombs on Civilians

The Syrian government is being accused of continuing to drop cluster bombs on civilian areas in recent attacks on rebel strongholds. In a new report, Human Rights Watch says the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has used military planes and helicopters to drop the cluster munitions, further endangering civilians with the unexploded bomblets left on the ground. Human Rights Watch U.N. Director Philippe Bolopion condemned the bombings.

Philippe Bolopion: "If we needed any further proof of the Syrian government’s complete disregard for the lives of its own citizens and its own children, well, here it is, because we know now that the government is using cluster munitions in populated areas. And, of course, these weapons are extremely dangerous for the civilian population and the children, because most of the bomblets that are left on the ground do not detonate on impact and they remain active for weeks, months and sometimes years."

U.K. to Begin Afghan Withdrawal in 2013

The British government has announced plans to withdraw thousands of troops from Afghanistan next year. British Defense Secretary Philip Hammond says despite the withdrawals, more than half of British troops in Afghanistan will still remain behind until the U.S. pullout one year later in 2014.

British Defense Secretary Philip Hammond: "I would expect it to be significant, which means thousands, not hundreds, but I would not expect it to be the majority of our forces out by the end of next year. We will have — by the beginning of 2013, we’ll have 9,000 troops there, and by the end of 2014, we’ll have virtually none. And I would expect there to be a significant step at the end of 2013."

Study: U.S. Bombings Caused "Staggering Increases" in Iraqi Birth Defects, Miscarriages

A new study has provided further evidence of the damage to Iraqi public health caused by the 2003 U.S. invasion and occupation. The Bulletin of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology found "staggering increases" in Iraqi birth defects and miscarriages in the Iraqi cities of Basra and Fallujah, which both endured heavy U.S. bombing. Iraqi children were found to have elevated levels of mercury and lead, key elements in the manufacture of bullets and bombs. Overall, the study says U.S. bombings have left a "footprint of metal in the population," causing a "public health crisis." Next March will mark the Iraq War’s 10th anniversary.

Torture in U.S. Custody to Be Raised at Gitmo Hearing for 9/11 Suspects

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four suspected co-conspirators will appear today in a Guantánamo Bay military courtroom for a pretrial hearing in their tribunals for plotting the 9/11 attacks. All five of the men were once held in secret CIA prisons before being sent to Guantánamo in 2006. Ahead of today’s hearing, the military prosecutor and the military attorney in the case sparred over the admissibility of the suspects’ alleged torture while in U.S. custody.

Mark Martins, prosecutor: "I have said that no statement under the Military Commissions Act obtained as a result of torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or coercion is admissible. That’s true. That refers to the prosecution’s case against an accused. It can’t be admitted. That is not to imply that there can be no addressing by the military commission of evidence of mistreatment. I have never said that, and that’s not what the Military Commissions Act reads."

Capt. Jason Wright, defense attorney: "From a legal perspective, it’s unconscionable that somehow the government would maintain that three-and-a-half years or four-and-a-half years of someone’s life can’t be discussed — and not just those years where they may not have been doing anything of substance, but those years where our government tortured them."

Pakistani Teenage Activist Flown to U.K. for Medical Treatment

The Pakistani teenage activist shot for advocating girls’ education has been flown to Britain to undergo further medical treatment. Fourteen-year-old Malala Yousafzai was on her way home from school last Tuesday when Taliban militants shot her in the head and neck, leaving her critically wounded. The Taliban says she was deliberately targeted for her vocal campaigning against efforts to stop girls from attending school. On Sunday, a Pakistani military spokesperson briefed reporters on Malala’s treatment and the effort to apprehend her attackers.

Asim Saleem Bajwa: "We met the team of doctors, and as per them, Malala is still on ventilator. They reduced her sedation today in order to carry out a better clinical assessment by the neurosurgeons. That happened. Malala did respond to that, and she did move her four limbs, which is a positive development that way. There have been apprehensions. There are investigations which are going on, and everyone concerned is trying to pursue and get hold of the gang which was involved in doing this."

Philippines, Rebels Sign Preliminary Accord for Peace Talks

The Philippine government has signed a preliminary peace deal with the country’s largest Muslim rebel group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. The pact lays the groundwork for negotiations to resolve the conflict by 2016. Steps would include the establishment of an autonomous Muslim region in the southern area of the island of Mindanao.

Colombian Peace Talks Kick Off in Norway

Talks begin today in Norway between the Colombian government and Colombia’s largest rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC. Ahead of the negotiations, Kristian Berg of Norway’s Peace Research Institute Oslo said addressing economic inequality and establishing lasting trust will be pivotal to a successful agreement.

Kristian Berg: "The challenges in Colombia are certainly running very, very deep. Trust is in itself a key problem, given that the last negotiations and the ceasefire concluded in the context of those negotiations were basically misused by the government to clamp down on some of its adversaries. Also the economic inequality in Colombia is of massive dimensions, and one critical issue in the negotiations will be the ability to really look at economic redistribution."

The talks are due to move on to Cuba after concluding in Norway.

10 Arrested in Bahrain Protest Crackdown

Ten people were arrested in Bahrain on Friday when government forces disrupted a pro-democracy protest. Police fired teargas and stun grenades at a crowd of hundreds of demonstrators marching against the U.S.-backed Sunni monarchy. It was the latest in a series of protests against the Bahraini regime. Bahrain is a key U.S. government ally, hosting the Navy’s Fifth Fleet.

"Global Noise" Anti-Austerity Protests Held Worldwide

Rallies were held in dozens of cities on Saturday under the banner of "Global Noise," a worldwide day of protest against austerity and inequality. Organizers called on demonstrators to create a global "casserole march," inspired by protests featuring the banging of pots and pans by the Indignados in Spain and the "Red Square" student movement in Quebec. In Madrid, thousands of people marked "Global Noise" with a march to the headquarters of the European Union, just one day after it was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Obama Campaign Office Targeted in Denver

Police in Denver are investigating the shooting of President Obama’s local campaign office on Friday. People were inside the office when a single bullet was fired through the window, but no one was injured.

Former Senator Arlen Specter Dies at 82

Former Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter has died at the age of 82. Specter achieved national prominence in the early 1990s during the confirmation hearings of future Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, when he harshly questioned Anita Hill, the law professor who had accused Thomas of sexual harassment. Specter drew criticism after accusing Hill of "perjury" and helping to push through Thomas’ controversial appointment. A longtime Republican, Specter again made headlines in 2009 when he crossed the aisle to join the Democrats. He retired after losing his seat the following year.

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