Syria Peace Talks Resume in Geneva; Civilians Evacuated from Homs

The second round of Syrian peace talks resume today in Geneva after a one-week pause. Syrian government and opposition representatives have met separately with U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi as the two sides face continued divisions on a number of issues, including the future of President Bashar al-Assad. The meeting comes as more than 600 civilians were evacuated from the besieged city of Homs on Sunday as part of a deal brokered in the first round of talks.

Afghan Civilians Deaths Up 14% in 2013; 35% for Women, Children

New figures show an increasing number of civilians are dying in Afghanistan. The United Nations says civilian casualties rose 14 percent in 2013.

Jan Kubis, head of U.N. Mission in Afghanistan: "Unfortunately, civilian casualties in Afghanistan armed conflict increased by 14 percent in 2013, and we, UNAMA, documented 8,615 civilian casualties. Out of that, 2,959 civilian deaths and 5,656 injured in 2013, marking a 7 percent increase in deaths and a 17 percent increase in injuries compared to 2012."

Last year was the worst for Afghan women and children since 2009, with casualties rising a combined 35 percent.

Bangladesh Factory Owners Surrender over Deadly Fire

Two owners of the Bangladesh garment factory where 112 workers died in a 2012 fire have turned themselves in. Delwar Hossain and his wife Mahmuda Akter are among six wanted in connection with the worst factory fire in Bangladesh’s history. Many of the victims died because Tazreen factory managers ordered workers back to their posts even as an alarm rang and smoke rose. The two owners face up to life in prison.

Report: Snowden Used Cheap Software to Take NSA Docs

U.S. intelligence officials are claiming Edward Snowden stole internal National Security Agency documents by using cheap and widely available software that still went mostly undetected. Speaking to The New York Times, investigators looking into Snowden’s case say he deployed a simple "web crawler" that automatically downloaded some 1.7 million files. In a statement, Snowden responded: "It’s ironic that officials are giving classified information to journalists in an effort to discredit me for giving classified information to journalists. The difference is that I did so to inform the public about the government’s actions, and they’re doing so to misinform the public about mine."

U.S. Using NSA Metadata, Phone Tracking for Drone Strikes

In the latest of Snowden’s disclosures, new information has emerged on the National Security Agency’s secret role in U.S. military and CIA assassinations overseas. The NSA is using complex analysis of electronic surveillance, rather than human intelligence, as the primary method to locate targets for lethal drone strikes. The NSA identifies targets based on controversial metadata analysis and cellphone tracking technologies, an unreliable tactic that has resulted in the deaths of innocent or unidentified people. The disclosure is made in the first article by journalists Jeremy Scahill and Glenn Greenwald for their new journalism venture, First Look Media. Watch our exclusive interview with them today.

Up to 100,000 Stage "Moral March" Against North Carolina GOP

Tens of thousands of people marched in Raleigh, North Carolina, on Saturday to protest the far-right policies of the state’s Republican government. The "Moral March" was an outgrowth of last year’s "Moral Mondays" protests, 13 weeks of actions against what critics call a Republican assault on poor people, the unemployed, voting rights, education, the environment, healthcare and women’s rights. Protest organizer, Rev. William Barber, the head of the NAACP in North Carolina, said Republican policies have forced marginalized communities to stand together.

Rev. William Barber: "We have been called together to fight against a dangerous agenda of extremist laws by the ultra-conservative right wing that is choosing the low road, policies that are constitutionally inconsistent, morally indefensible and economically insane. It’s extreme, and it’s mighty low, to cut Medicaid for more than 500,000 people in a state of 1.7 million poor people and knowing that 2,800 will die. It’s mighty low to raise taxes on 900,000 poor people and working citizens in order to lower taxes for 23 of the wealthiest families."

More than 1,000 people were arrested in the Moral Mondays protests last year. Estimates of Saturday’s turnout reached as high as 100,000 people. Rev. Barber ended his remarks with a tribute to the diversity of groups coming together to march as one.

Rev. William Barber: "We are black. We are white. We are Latino. We are Native American. We are Democrat. We are Republican. We are independent. We are people of faith. We are people not of faith, but who, though they are secular, they still believe in a moral universe. We are people. We are natives and immigrants. We are business leaders and workers and unemployed. We are doctors and the uninsured. We are gay. We are straight. We are students. We are parents. We are retirees. We are North Carolina. We are America. And we are here, and we ain’t going nowhere!"

Duke Energy Urged to Move Coal Ash Away from Water Sources After North Carolina Spill

Protesters have rallied at the Charlotte headquarters of Duke Energy, the company behind one of the worst coal ash spills in U.S. history. Up to 82,000 tons of coal ash and 27 million gallons of contaminated water spilled into North Carolina’s Dan River earlier this month after a pipe burst underneath a waste pond. The river has turned grey for miles, and environmentalists say they have found arsenic levels 35 times higher than the maximum set by federal regulators. The group Charlotte Environmental Action is calling on Duke Energy to stop storing coal ash near lakes and riversides, and instead bury it in landfills. On Friday, Duke Energy apologized for the spill and pledged to clean up its toxic waste.

Justice Dept. Expands LGBT Rights in Federal Sites

The Justice Department is expanding protections for same-sex couples in every program with federal jurisdiction. Under the new policies, married same-sex partners will have expanded rights in areas from courthouses to prisons to pensions. These include the right to avoid testimony that would incriminate a spouse, conjugal visits in prisons, and survivors’ benefits for spouses. Attorney General Eric Holder announced the change in a speech Saturday night.

Attorney General Eric Holder: "This means that in every courthouse, in every proceeding and in every place where a member of the Department of Justice stands on behalf of the United States, they will strive to ensure that same-sex marriages receive the same privileges, the same protections and the same rights as opposite-sex marriages under federal law."

U.S. Eases Immigration Rules for War Zone Refugees

The Obama administration has eased immigration rules for people fleeing war-torn countries. The move would exempt refugees from anti-terrorism provisions if they provided only minor material support to militants not officially designated as terrorists by the U.S. government. The policy change was announced in response to Syria’s massive refugee flight, with more than 2.3 million displaced. Republicans are denouncing the measure as executive overreach.

Accused U.S. Servicemembers in Japan Evading Punishment for Sex Crimes

Newly disclosed records show most U.S. servicemembers accused of sexual crimes in Japan are either receiving light punishments or none at all. The Naval Criminal Investigative Service says of 473 marines and sailors accused of sex crimes, less than half were given some punishment, and just 68 went to prison. The data also shows a growing number of victims are halting cooperation with investigators as cases proceed.

Beef Parts Recalled in U.S. over "Diseased and Unsound Animals"

A livestock company has recalled 8.7 million pounds of beef parts over the use of "diseased and unsound animals" and a lack of proper inspection. The Rancho Feeding Corporation says the meat was shipped to California, Florida, Illinois and Texas in the first week of January.

NATO 3 Activists Found Not Guilty on Terror Charges

Three activists have been found not guilty on the most serious charges concerning an alleged terror plot against Chicago’s 2012 NATO summit. Brian Jacob Church, Brent Betterly and Jared Chase — known as the NATO 3 — were arrested after undercover police helped them make Molotov cocktails. They faced up to 175 years in prison under a post-9/11 anti-terrorism law invoked for the first time in their case. On Friday, a jury rejected the charges of providing material support for terrorism and conspiracy to commit terrorism. The three were instead convicted of misdemeanor mob action and felony possession of an incendiary device. Supporters say police entrapped the NATO 3 and prosecutors brought excessive charges to justify the summit’s high security costs.

Anti-Drone Protesters Get 15 Days Behind Bars

Seventeen activists arrested for protesting U.S. drone warfare at a New York air base in 2012 have been found guilty of disorderly conduct, but not guilty of trespassing. The 17 were detained after creating a blockade outside the Hancock Field Air National Guard Base, holding signs and pictures of children killed by U.S. drone attacks overseas. The base is used to pilot overseas U.S. drones remotely. On Friday, the activists were sentenced to the maximum 15 days behind bars, which the judge called a message to encourage the demonstrators to stop their protests.

Ex-Editor Leaving NYT to Launch Criminal Justice News Site

Former New York Times executive editor and current op-ed columnist Bill Keller is leaving the newspaper to launch a nonprofit news site focused on the U.S. criminal justice system. Keller will run The Marshall Project, founded by Wall Street veteran and former journalist Neil Barsky. Keller says the site will serve as "a bit of a wake-up call to a public that has gotten a little numbed to the scandal that our criminal justice system is."

College Football Star Poised to Become NFL’s First Openly Gay Player

A college football star and top NFL prospect has come out as gay. Michael Sam, a defensive lineman for the University of Missouri, went public on Sunday in an interview with The New York Times.

Michael Sam: "I’m Michael Sam. I’m a football player, and I’m gay. … Is this a huge deal? I understand it is. But my purpose and focus right now is playing football. I don’t think I should be defined as Michael Sam, the gay athlete, the gay football player. I want to be defined, Michael Sam, for being a great person and have great character. You know, I probably may be the first, but I won’t be the last. And I think only good things is gonna come from this."

Sam was a first-team All-American and the Southeastern Conference’s defensive player for the year as a lineman for the University of Missouri. He is expected to be selected in the early rounds of May’s NFL draft, which would make him the NFL’s first openly gay athlete.


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