The House has passed a controversial so-called “cyber security” measure in defiance of a veto threat from President Obama. On Thursday, 42 Democrats joined 206 Republicans to approve the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, or CISPA, in a surprise vote. The measure would allow private internet companies like Google, Facebook and Microsoft to hand over troves of confidential customer records and communications to the National Security Agency, FBI and Department of Homeland Security, effectively legalizing a secret domestic surveillance program already run by the NSA. Backers say the measure is needed to help private firms crack down on foreign entities — including the Chinese and Russian governments — committing online economic espionage. But the bill has faced widespread opposition from online privacy advocates and drawn threats of a White House veto. The measure passed after lawmakers approved an amendment that would widely expand the government’s ability to use the information it collects. Speaking to Democracy Now! on Thursday, Michelle Richardson of the American Civil Liberties Union said the bill would severely undermine privacy rights.
Michelle Richardson: “Current law now creates a presumption of privacy in our phone calls, emails and internet records, and they say that companies have to keep them private unless there’s an emergency or the government serves them with a subpoena or warrant. And in one fell swoop, this bill will say that these privacy laws simply no longer apply. So, all of the process afforded under those laws, the protections, the congressional reporting, the role of a judge, all of that is swept away in one bill and will allow companies to decide how much and what type of information they want to turn over to the government.”
The United States and Japan have finalized a deal that will scale back the U.S. military presence on the island of Okinawa by relocating soldiers to other Asia-Pacific bases. Under the pact, 5,000 soldiers will be moved to Guam while another 4,000 will be sent to other locations, including Hawaii and Australia.
At least four U.S. troops have died in two separate attacks in Afghanistan. One servicemember was killed and three others were wounded when an Afghan soldier opened fire in southern Kandahar. It was the latest in a string of attacks against NATO occupation forces by members of the Afghan army. Meanwhile, another three U.S. soldiers were killed in a bombing in an eastern province. In a separate incident, three Afghan women were killed in the crossfire of fighting between NATO soldiers and Taliban fighters. It’s unclear who fired the fatal shots.
The Secret Service is investigating reports that agents hired prostitutes in El Salvador a year before a similar scandal broke out in Colombia this month. Secret Service agents reportedly got drunk at a strip club in San Salvador, paid for sexual acts and brought escorts to their rooms, bragging that they “did this all the time.” The alleged incident happened in 2011 just days before President Obama arrived for a state visit. Secret Service agents and U.S. military personnel were reportedly both involved in a prostitution scandal earlier this month that overshadowed Obama’s visit to Colombia. Meanwhile, in Brazil, a former sex worker says she plans to sue five U.S. embassy personnel for reportedly assaulting her outside a strip club last year. Romilda Aparecida Ferreira said she was badly injured after she was thrown out of an embassy van and run over.
Romilda Aparecida Ferreira: “They grabbed me by the waist and threw me out of the van. That was when I tried to get up, and then I felt my leg burning because I had fallen under the van and one of the tires ran over me. They left me there and drove off.”
Clashes erupted in Bahrain on Thursday after the funeral for a protester reportedly beaten to death by police. Bahraini protesters threw Molotov cocktails, and police fired tear gas and stun grenades, after mourners took part in a march to honor Bahraini activist Salah Abbas Habib following his death on Saturday. Opposition leaders say Habib’s body showed signs of torture. In other Bahrain news, Zainab Alkhawaja, a Bahraini activist and the daughter of jailed hunger striker Abdulhadi Alkhawaja, has been ordered to remain behind bars for seven days for protesting her father’s imprisonment. The elder Alkhawaja has been on a hunger strike for more than two months while serving a life sentence for his role in the uprising.
Palestinian demonstrators marched in the occupied West Bank on Thursday in another show of solidarity with a growing number of Palestinian prisoners staging a mass hunger strike in Israeli jails. Israeli forces fired tear gas as protesters staged a rally near the military camp of Ofer. At least 1,350 Palestinian prisoners launched a hunger strike earlier this month, and supporters say the number has now grown to more than 2,000.
The White House continues to gear up for President Obama’s re-election campaign with Mitt Romney’s emergence as the presumptive Republican nominee. On Thursday, Vice President Joe Biden delivered a speech in New York touting President Obama’s foreign policy while criticizing Romney as a throwback to the days of President George W. Bush.
Vice President Joe Biden: “If you’re looking for a bumper sticker to sum up how President Obama has handled what we inherited, it’s pretty simple: Osama bin Laden is dead, and General Motors is alive. Governor Romney’s national security policies, in our view, would return us to a past we’ve worked so hard to move beyond. And in this regard, there is no difference in what Governor Romney says and what he’s proposed for our economy than he’s done in foreign policy. In every instance, in our view, he takes us back to the failed policies that got us into the mess that President Obama has dug us out of and the mess that we — got us into this in the first place.”
In a widely mocked gaffe, Biden tried to portray Obama as aggressive on Iran by saying, “Now is the time to heed the timeless advice from Teddy Roosevelt: 'Speak softly and carry a big stick.' End of quote. I promise you, the President has a big stick.”
A paraplegic Chicago man has filed a lawsuit accusing Chicago police of wrongful arrest and physical abuse. Reginald Edwards, who is African American, says he was recharging his electronic wheelchair in a restaurant when the clerk demanded he leave and called police. Edwards says two officers pushed him out onto the street and struck him in the face. The officers then allegedly demanded that Edwards hide his injuries from their supervisor.
A federal appeals court has overturned the conviction of an African-American mayor in Louisiana whose prosecution had sparked accusations of racial bias. Bobby Higginbotham, the former mayor of the town of Waterproof, was initially convicted on allegations of illegally raising his salary and other improprieties. But supporters say Higginbotham was targeted for trying to modernize the town’s police department and in the process angering the area’s white sheriff and prosecutor. Higginbotham was convicted in a trial that saw a number of irregularities, including his lack of legal counsel after prosecutors blocked his attorney and the public defender had a conflict of interest. Although one possible sentence was probation, Higginbotham has instead spent the last 10 months in jail. In a two-to-one ruling this week, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the former mayor’s conviction and vacated his sentence.
George Zimmerman, the Florida man charged in the killing of Trayvon Martin, has reportedly raised over $200,000 for his defense. The money was collected through Zimmerman’s now-defunct website, which contained photos of pro-Zimmerman slogans, including a sign at a rally by Koran-burning Pastor Terry Jones and a photo of a vandalized black cultural center at Ohio State University where someone spray-painted the words “Long Live Zimmerman.” Zimmerman was released on $150,000 bail earlier this week.
A new study has found climate change is dramatically accelerating the evaporation and rainfall of water over oceans, raising fresh concerns about the effect of climate change on extreme weather. Scientists in the United States and Australia measured changing salt levels in the ocean over the past 50 years and concluded that the water cycle over the oceans has intensified by about 4 percent as the world has been getting warmer.
Massive student protests against education cuts and tuition hikes are continuing in Chile, as well as in the Canadian province of Quebec. On Wednesday, an estimated 50,000 students marched in the Chilean capital of Santiago. Meanwhile, in Montreal, at least 85 people were arrested after protests erupted over the breakdown of talks with the provincial government. The Quebec student strike is in its 10th week.
Activists gathered in New York City’s Union Square Thursday to announce plans for a massive May Day protest that will include immigrant groups, workers unions and members of Occupy Wall Street. The protesters called for “the 99 percent” to unify on May 1 and urged all workers, the unemployed, undocumented people and Occupy activists to join them in Union Square. Chris Silvera is Secretary-Treasurer of Teamsters Local 808.
Chris Silvera: “We want Teamsters. We want laborers. We want the RSDWU. We want the United Food and Commercial Workers. This is a day that should be represented by hundreds of thousands marching like they did in 1886. We have to turn back the clock on Mr. Romney, on Mr. Obama, on the Congress, on Mario Cuomo, on Bloomberg. And the 99 percent has to get their share.”
Tens of thousands of people gathered in the rain in Oslo, Norway, on Thursday to protest massacre suspect Anders Behring Breivik by singing a Norwegian version of Pete Seeger’s song, “My Rainbow Race.” All across the country, Norwegians flocked to public squares to mark Breivik’s trial with peaceful singing. Breivik is charged with killing 77 people in a bomb-and-shooting rampage, including 69 killed at a Labor Party youth camp, most of whom were teenagers. He has said he targeted the ruling Labor Party because their policies were too open to Muslim immigrants. The Norwegian version of Seeger’s song, which is about living together in harmony, was specifically targeted by Breivik in testimony last week as evidence of brainwashing by “cultural Marxists” in Norwegian schools. Protesters also marched on the courthouse in Oslo, laying red and white flowers on the steps outside.