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HeadlinesOctober 21, 2013

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JPMorgan Chase to Pay $13 Billion in Record DOJ Settlement over Mortgages

Oct 21, 2013

JPMorgan Chase has reportedly reached a tentative deal with the Justice Department to pay $13 billion to settle claims over its sale of flawed mortgage-backed securities that were at the core of the financial crisis. The settlement includes $9 billion in fines and $4 billion in relief for suffering homeowners. The total represents more than half of JPMorgan’s profits last year and would be the largest any single company has ever paid in a settlement with the Justice Department. The New York Times reports the deal resulted from close talks between JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon and Attorney General Eric Holder. After negotiations over the summer failed to produce a deal, the Justice Department was set to unveil civil charges against the bank at a news conference in late September. But unnamed sources said Dimon called a top Holder aide just four hours before the announcement, requesting a meeting. Dimon and Holder spoke by phone five times over the past two weeks. The deal they reached Friday does not end the prospect of criminal charges for the bank.

U.S. Restarts Aid to Pakistan; Prime Minister Arrives in D.C. for Talks

Oct 21, 2013

The Obama administration has decided to release more than $1.6 billion in military and economic aid to Pakistan. The aid was suspended following tensions over a number of incidents, including the U.S. raid in Pakistan that killed Osama bin Laden, a U.S. airstrike that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers and ongoing U.S. drone strikes. Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is in Washington this week to meet with President Obama. Secretary of State John Kerry welcomed him Sunday.

John Kerry: “We’re very anxious to have a series of high-level, important discussions over the course of the next few days — the vice president, the president, tonight’s dinner. We have a lot to talk about, and the relationship with Pakistan could not be more important — on its own, a democracy that is working hard to get its economy moving and deal with insurgency, and also important to the regional stability.”

U.N. Officials Criticize U.S. Drone Wars in New Reports

Oct 21, 2013

Pakistan has confirmed to a United Nations official that at least 400 civilians have been killed by drone strikes in the past decade, plus an additional 200 victims deemed “probable non-combatants.” Ben Emmerson, U.N. special rapporteur on human rights and counterterrorism, said Pakistani officials acknowledged the number is likely an underestimate. Emmerson called on the United States to release data on civilians killed by drones, saying the CIA’s role in the drone wars in Yemen and Pakistan has “created an almost insurmountable obstacle to transparency.” His report closely followed another one by Christof Heyns, the United Nations special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, who said the use of drones undermines international security.

Diplomats Fuel Confusion over Syria Talks; Car Bomb Kills 37 Outside Hama

Oct 21, 2013

The head of the Arab League has confirmed international talks on Syria’s civil war are scheduled for November 23 in Geneva. Nabil Elaraby spoke at a news conference Sunday.

Nabil Elaraby: “I discussed the Syria file with Lakhdar Brahimi, and it was decided that the Geneva meeting would take place on November 23, and arrangements are being made to prepare for this conference. There are many arrangements to be made, and many difficulties must be overcome to make this conference possible.”

U.N.-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi fueled confusion about the talks by denying during the same news conference that the date had been finalized. The talks came as a car bombing on the outskirts of Hama killed at least 37 people, most of them civilians.

Syria: Clerics Permit Eating of Dogs, Cats amid Starvation in Rebel-Held Areas

Oct 21, 2013

In a lesser-told side of Syria’s civil war, Muslim clerics have reportedly issued a fatwa, or religious ruling, allowing people to eat dogs, cats and donkeys as residents of rebel-held South Damascus face starvation conditions. The Financial Times reports areas, including parts of the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp, have faced an almost total blockade of supplies since the summer, leaving some residents to subsist on leaves, animal feed and the contents of garbage bins. Signs on pro-government checkpoints read “hunger or kneel.” The area is just a short drive from where United Nations weapons inspectors are staying as they carry out an international mandate to destroy Syria’s chemical arsenal.

Train Derailment Sparks Fireball, Evacuations in Alberta, Canada

Oct 21, 2013

In Alberta, Canada, a train carrying crude oil and liquified petroleum gas ran off the tracks on Saturday, sparking a massive fire and forcing roughly 100 people to evacuate. Thirteen cars derailed, one exploded, and at least two others also caught fire. It is the third time a Canadian National Railways train carrying hazardous materials has derailed in the past month. A coordinator for Greenpeace Canada told Reuters: “This is becoming the new normal as we have movements of crude-by-rail skyrocketing at a time when the safety standards have not kept up.”

Commander Defends “Collateral Murder” Pilots: “These are Attack Pilots Wearing Gloves of Steel”

Oct 21, 2013

The commander of the U.S. Apache pilots who were caught on tape firing on civilians in Iraq in the infamous “Collateral Murder” video has spoken out about the incident for the first time. Retired Lieutenant Colonel Chris Walach spoke to the Army Times ahead of the release this past Friday of “The Fifth Estate,” a feature film about WikiLeaks. Walach defended the behavior of the pilots, which was seen around the world after WikiLeaks posted the video, provided by whistleblower Chelsea Manning, in 2010. The video, recorded in July 2007, shows U.S. pilots mocking their victims and celebrating as they carry out an attack that killed 12 people, including two Reuters employees. Reuters driver Saeed Chmagh survived an initial strike, but the pilots fired again when they saw people trying to load the wounded Chmagh into a van.

U.S. SOLDIER 1: “I hear ’em — I lost ’em in the dust.”

U.S. SOLDIER 2: “I got ’em.”

U.S. SOLDIER 3: “Should have a van in the middle of the road with about 12 to 15 bodies.”

U.S. SOLDIER 1: “Oh yeah, look at that. Right through the windshield! Ha ha!”

Earlier this month, Walach, the pilots’ commander, told the Army Times, “In Iraq, you can’t put pink gloves on Apache helicopter pilots and send them into the Ultimate Fighting ring and ask them to take a knee. These are attack pilots wearing gloves of steel, and they go into the ring throwing powerful punches of explosive steel. They are there to win, and they will win.”

Maldives: Police Block Voting in Rescheduled Presidential Election

Oct 21, 2013

In the Maldives, police blocked voting in the country’s rescheduled presidential election Saturday, claiming some candidates had not approved the voter rolls. Election officials said police surrounded their offices in the capital, Male, preventing the vote. Former president and environmental advocate Mohamed Nasheed won the largest number of votes in an election earlier this month, but the Supreme Court rejected the results after another candidate claimed electoral fraud. International monitors called the election free and fair. On Sunday, Nasheed, who was ousted last year in what he described as a coup at gunpoint, called on current President Mohammed Waheed Hassan to resign.

Mohamed Nasheed: “We believe that the only prudent way forward and a possible solution for the situation would be for today Dr. Waheed to resign and the speaker of the Parliament to take over government until November 11, which is just a few weeks, but for elections to be held under his tenure and not under the unelected or unrepresentative rule of Dr. Waheed.”

Obama to Address Glitches Plaguing Healthcare Exchange

Oct 21, 2013

President Obama is set to speak at the White House today about the technical issues that have plagued the rollout of his signature healthcare law. The administration claims some 476,000 applications have been filed through federal and state exchanges. But they have not said how many people have actually enrolled. Now The New York Times reports it may be weeks or even months before the cascade of glitches is resolved. Unnamed sources say the enrollment process is masking deeper issues, and millions of lines of software code may need to be rewritten.

France Summons U.S. Ambassador After Report on NSA Spying

Oct 21, 2013

France has summoned its U.S. ambassador to explain reports based on documents leaked by Edward Snowden that show the National Security Agency accessed more than 70 million French phone records over a period of just 30 days. The report in Le Monde newspaper was co-authored by former Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald. It reveals how the United States swept up text messages containing certain key words and automatically recorded conversations that used certain numbers. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius called the tactics “totally unacceptable.” Earlier reports have unveiled similar programs in Britain and Germany.

Report: NSA Hacked Mexican President’s Email in 2010

Oct 21, 2013

A report in the German magazine Der Spiegel based on Edward Snowden’s leaks and co-authored by Laura Poitras reveals the National Security Agency has been systemically spying on the Mexican government for years. A May 2010 report shows the NSA hacked into an email server used by then-President Felipe Calderón and his Cabinet members as part of an operation dubbed “Flatliquid.” Last month, current Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto summoned the U.S. ambassador following reports the NSA had monitored his communications while he was still a candidate.

Anti-Austerity Protests Sweep Portugal, Italy

Oct 21, 2013

Anti-austerity protests are continuing to sweep across Europe. In Madrid, Spain, last week, a group of scientists, some wearing black, gathered to hold a moment of silence for the research they say has been killed by budget cuts. In Portugal, tens of thousands protested Saturday in the cities of Lisbon and Porto against the government’s plans to extend austerity cuts in next year’s budget. And in Rome, Italy, tens of thousands took to the streets Saturday, a day after transportation, education and healthcare workers launched a 24-hour nationwide strike against continued austerity cuts in Italy’s new budget. A union spokesperson discussed Friday’s strike.

Piero Bernocchi: “We are saying stop the austerity measures that only hurt the weakest — the workers, the pensioners, the unemployed, those who are self-employed. They don’t touch in the slightest way the strong, those that have grown throughout this crisis and caused it.”

Montenegro: LGBT Activists Stage Pride March Despite Anti-Gay Mob

Oct 21, 2013

In Montenegro, a small group of LGBT people held the first-ever gay pride march in the country’s capital, Podgorica, despite being outnumbered 10-to-1 by violent, anti-gay extremists. Some 2,000 police officers guarded the group of 150 marchers as they braved an anti-gay mob that hurled firebombs and rocks. An organizer said, “As of today, gay people are no longer invisible in Montenegro.”

NC Register Becomes 1st in South to Accept Same-Sex Marriage Applications

Oct 21, 2013

Last week, an official in western North Carolina accepted 10 marriage license applications from same-sex couples despite a North Carolina state constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. Buncombe County Register of Deeds Drew Reisinger said he would ask North Carolina’s attorney general to allow the marriages. He is the first deeds registrar in the South to accept same-sex marriage licenses.

Same-Sex Weddings Begin in New Jersey

Oct 21, 2013

Same-sex couples in New Jersey have begun exchanging wedding vows for the first time. On Friday, New Jersey’s Supreme Court rejected a request by Republican Gov. Chris Christie to halt the marriages pending an appeal. The weddings began just after midnight. Newark Mayor Cory Booker, who was recently elected to the U.S. Senate, officiated some of the state’s first ceremonies at Newark City Hall. South Brunswick resident Marsha Shapiro explained why she and her wife wanted to be among the first in New Jersey.

Marsha Shapiro: “We’ve been wanting to get married for a long time. We’ve been together over 24 years. We were religiously married over 21 years ago. We have four children, one grandchild, and another one on the way. It’s time that we get married.”

Daisy Coleman Speaks Out on Maryville Rape Case: “I Refuse to Be a Victim of Cruelty Any Longer”

Oct 21, 2013

The teenage girl whose rape in Maryville, Missouri, sparked a nationwide outcry after the charges were dropped against her accused rapist — a well-connected high-school football player — has written about the experience online. Daisy Coleman was 14 when she says she was raped by Matthew Barnett at a gathering of high-school athletes. In a post on the blog xoJane, Daisy describes how, on that night in 2012, she was told to drink from a tall shot glass. “Then it was like I fell into a dark abyss,” Daisy writes. “That’s all I could ever remember from that night.” Daisy then describes how she was dropped in the snow outside her house in 22-degree weather, where her mother found her in the morning. She describes the outcome of the rape kit, when doctors “verified that our nightmares were real.” And she recalls how after reporting the rape she was “suspended from the cheerleading squad and people told me that I was 'asking for it' and would 'get what was coming.'” Online, people urged her to kill herself, which she tried to do twice. Daisy continues, “I also refuse to be a victim of cruelty any longer. This is why I am saying my name. This is why I am not shutting up.” Daisy’s case went viral after an article in the Kansas City Star and a video by the hacker group Anonymous. Last week the prosecutor who dropped the charges said he was asking for a court-appointed special prosecutor to review the case. Daisy called that announcement “a victory, not just for me, but for every girl.”

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