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One of the most intense storms in world history has hit the Philippines. Typhoon Haiyan has already killed at least four people, injured several others and prompted millions to flee. President Benigno Aquino has warned the country faces “calamity.” With sustained winds of up to 199 miles per hour, it may be the most powerful storm ever to make landfall. On many islands, streets are flooded, communication is cut off, trees are down, and power is out. After battering the Philippines, Haiyan is on track to hit Vietnam and Laos over the weekend.
Iran, the United States and five other countries appear to be on the brink of an agreement to curb Iran’s nuclear efforts — in return for easing crippling Western sanctions. Secretary of State John Kerry is arriving in Geneva today in a bid to finalize the agreement. On Thursday, White House spokesperson Jay Carney signaled the easing of sanctions would be limited.
Jay Carney: “In exchange for concrete, verifiable measures to address the P5+1’s concerns during the first step, the P5+1 would consider limited, targeted and reversible relief that does not affect our core sanctions architecture. That core sanctions architecture would be maintained until there is a final comprehensive, verifiable agreement that resolves the international community’s concerns.”
In Los Angeles, more than 50 people were arrested outside a new Wal-Mart store Thursday night in what organizers hailed as the largest single act of civil disobedience ever against the retailer. The workers are protesting what they call “poverty wages” and calling for minimum pay of $25,000 a year. Surrounded by police officers in riot gear, they sat down in a circle on César Chávez Avenue and refused to move, shutting down the street. It is the latest in a wave of actions targeting Wal-Mart in recent months.
President Obama has apologized to Americans who are losing their current health insurance plans under his health reform law, despite his repeated assurances they could keep their policies. Obama issued the apology in an interview with NBC News.
President Obama: “I am sorry that they are finding themselves in this situation based on assurances they got from me. We’ve got to work hard to make sure that they know we hear them and that we’re going to do everything we can to deal with folks who find themselves in a tough position as a consequence of this.”
The Obama administration is reportedly set today to release long-awaited rules requiring equal insurance coverage for mental health and addiction.
The Pentagon says reports of sexual assault in the military increased by 46 percent in the past fiscal year. In total, more than 3,500 sexual assaults were reported from last October through June, compared to roughly 2,400 over the same period the previous year. Pentagon officials claim the spike shows more victims are coming forward. But sexual assaults are still dramatically underreported in military ranks; a recent survey estimated 26,000 people were sexually assaulted in 2011 alone. A new report released Thursday by the American Civil Liberties Union and Service Women’s Action Network revealed victims of military sexual assault continue to receive government disability benefits at a far lower rate than those who suffer non-sexual trauma.
A British judge has ordered the release of audio from a helmet-mounted camera that captured the execution of an Afghan man by three British soldiers in 2011. The soldiers are being tried at a court-martial for the man’s murder. On the recording, a soldier rejects another’s offer to shoot the man in the head as too “obvious.” Then he shoots the Afghan in the chest. After the shooting, the soldier tells his colleagues “Obviously this doesn’t go anywhere … I just broke the Geneva Convention.” Listen carefully.
Soldier A: “It’s nothing you wouldn’t do to us.”
Soldier B: “I know.”
Soldier A: “Obviously this doesn’t go anywhere, fellas.”
Soldier B: “Yeah, roger, mate.”
Soldier A: “I just broke the Geneva Convention.”
Soldier B: “Yeah, roger.”
The soldier who shot the Afghan has claimed he believed the man was already dead.
The Senate has approved a landmark bill to ban workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Ten Republicans joined Democrats in supporting the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. House Speaker John Boehner has opposed the bill, making it unlikely even to get a vote in the House.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is taking steps to ban harmful artificial trans fats from foods. The agency’s proposed restrictions would target trans-fat-containing oils found in foods ranging from frozen pizza to microwave popcorn. FDA chief Margaret Hamburg said the rules could prevent 20,000 heart attacks and 7,000 deaths from heart disease each year.
The Pakistani Taliban has chosen a hardline militant commander as its new leader, dealing a blow to renewed peace talks with the Pakistani government. Mullah Fazlullah ordered the assassination attempt on Pakistani schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai. He has rejected peace talks and vowed to avenge the death of his predecessor, who was killed by a U.S. drone strike last week.
The United States lost its voting rights today at the global cultural agency UNESCO after failing to pay its dues for three years in protest over the agency’s recognition of Palestine. U.S. law compels the automatic withholding of funds from U.N. agencies that accept Palestine as a member, which UNESCO did in 2011. UNESCO protects sites with cultural significance and promotes issues ranging from press freedom to girls’ education. The withholding of U.S. contributions, which accounted for nearly a quarter of the agency’s overall budget, have forced it to slash several programs.
The heads of Britain’s three spy agencies faced questions before the British Parliament Thursday about surveillance practices revealed by Edward Snowden, including collaboration with the U.S. National Security Agency. Sir John Sawers, head of MI6, claimed Snowden’s leaks have caused damage.
John Sawers: “The leaks from Snowden have been very damaging. They’ve put our operations at risk. It’s clear that our adversaries are rubbing their hands with glee. Al-Qaeda is lapping it up.”
Brazil and Germany introduced a United Nations resolution to curb unfettered electronic surveillance. According to Edward Snowden’s leaks, both countries have been targeted by U.S. spying, including surveillance of their leaders. Brazil’s ambassador the United Nations spoke before a U.N. General Assembly committee that deals with human rights.
Antonio de Aguiar Patriota: “As President Dilma Rousseff stated as she opened this year’s general debate, we are facing a situation of grave violations of human rights and civil liberties as a result of mass surveillance of personal communications and collection of data. She made clear that in the absence of the right to privacy, there can be no true freedom of opinion and expression and no effective democracy. Surely, all of those in Brazil and Latin America who fought against authoritarianism and censorship are keenly aware of this reality.”
New revelations Thursday highlight the role of U.S. agencies beyond the National Security Agency in electronic spying. According to The New York Times, the CIA pays AT&T more than $10 million a year to mine its phone records database, which includes international calls involving Americans. The company cooperates voluntarily with the CIA, turning over records from a vast collection that extends beyond AT&T’s customers to include calls handled by its equipment.
New details have emerged on the FBI’s surveillance of Antiwar.com. Documents received under a records request by the ACLU of Northern California show the FBI monitored the site for at least six years, in part because it mistakenly believed a founding editor had threatened to hack the FBI’s website. An ACLU attorney says the surveillance violated federal law.
The Federal Aviation Administration has released an initial plan for domestic drones to be used more widely by 2015. The rules require agencies that will oversee drone testing to release plans for privacy, but it does not lay out what the practices should be. In a statement, an American Civil Liberties Union legislative counsel called for “concrete restrictions on how data from drones can be used and how long it can be stored.” According to the FAA, more than 80 law enforcement agencies are already authorized to use drones.
The Toronto Star has released a new video of embattled Toronto Mayor Rob Ford engaging in a profanity-laced tirade about how he wants to murder an unidentified person.
Rob Ford : “He dies or I die, brother. (Inaudible). Brother, you better see me f—ing go to (inaudible). When he’s down, I’ll rip his f—ing throat out. I’ll poke his eyes out. I will —- f—-k, when he’s dead, I’ll make sure that motherf—er’s dead. I need f—-ing 10 minutes to make sure he’s dead. It’ll be over in five minutes, brother. Ten minutes (inaudible). Brother, it will be a bad (inaudible). I’m a sick motherf—er, dude.”
Ford, the mayor of Canada’s largest city, has faced months of controversy following reports of another video showing him smoking from a crack pipe and making bigoted remarks. Ford apologized for the latest video, saying he was “extremely inebriated.” He is facing increasing calls to resign.
Prosecutors in Illinois are refusing to bring criminal charges against a Chicago police officer who fatally shot an unarmed African-American man in June 2011. Flint Farmer’s death was the third shooting in six months and the second fatality by Officer Gildardo Sierra. Sierra admitted having “multiple” beers before work that night. Video from a dashboard camera appears to show Officer Gildardo standing over Farmer and shooting him in the back. He fired 16 shots; seven hit Farmer. But prosecutors say he reasonably mistook Farmer’s cellphone for a gun.
Police in Iowa fatally shot an unarmed 19-year-old in a pickup truck on the campus of Iowa State University Monday. Tyler Comstock’s father called police after his son took off in the truck following a dispute over his father’s refusal to buy him cigarettes. Police say Comstock rammed a cruiser and refused to turn the truck off. But dispatch audio shows police were twice told to back off. This is the second of two warnings.
Police staffer: “We know the suspect, so we can probably back it off.”
Less than a minute later, a voice announces Comstock has been shot. Comstock’s step-grandfather told the Des Moines Register, “So he didn’t shut the damn truck off, so let’s fire six rounds at him? We’re confused, and we don’t understand.”
In Springfield, Illinois, anti-corruption activists rained fake money onto the State House of Representatives Wednesday in a protest against government corruption in Illinois and around the country. The group Represent.Us has staged similar actions in Michigan and New York. Director Josh Silver said in a statement, “Money talks in Illinois, so we decided to speak to House members in the only language they seem to understand.”