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HeadlinesDecember 17, 2013

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Judge Deals Major Blow to NSA Phone Spying

Dec 17, 2013

A federal judge has struck a historic blow to the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of phone records. On Monday, U.S. District Judge Richard Leon ruled the NSA program “almost certainly” violates the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution. Judge Leon, who was appointed by former President George W. Bush, wrote, “I cannot imagine a more 'indiscriminate' and 'arbitrary invasion' than this systematic and high-tech collection and retention of personal data on virtually every single citizen.” But Judge Leon stayed his injunction pending an expected appeal by the Obama administration.

Iraq: More Than 70 Killed in Wave of Attacks

Dec 17, 2013

More than 70 people died in a wave of attacks across Iraq on Monday, many of them Shiites preparing for an annual pilgrimage. In Baghdad, twin car bombs killed 25 Shiites; the second blast happened as people rushed to aid the first round of victims. Another dozen Shiites en route to Baghdad from the city of Mosul were pulled from their bus and shot dead. It was Iraq’s bloodiest day in nearly two months.

Yemeni Parliament Backs Ban on U.S. Drone Attacks After Deadliest Strike This Year

Dec 17, 2013

Yemen’s parliament has called for banning U.S. drone attacks just days after the deadliest U.S. strike there this year. Thursday’s attack on a procession traveling to a wedding reportedly killed 17 people, most of them civilians. The deaths sparked mass protests as family members demanded compensation and an apology. In a largely symbolic move Sunday, members of parliament voted nearly unanimously to end U.S. strikes.

Senator Abdul Karim Shiban: “After the series of tragedies caused by drones, parliament members from all parties believe that the drones are putting the nation into an extremely dangerous situation, and it is time to put an end to this.”

Such votes by Yemen’s parliament are not binding and can be rejected by the president.

U.N. Makes Historic Fund Appeal for Syria

Dec 17, 2013

The United Nations has launched its largest-ever funding appeal for a single crisis, requesting $6.5 billion in funds for the people of Syria. The U.N. estimates nearly three-quarters of Syria’s population will need humanitarian aid next year. Speaking in Geneva, U.N. humanitarian chief Valerie Amos said the agency is seeking $12.9 billion in overall humanitarian aid.

Valerie Amos: “The plans total 12.9 billion to reach everyone we hope to help in 2014. This is the largest amount we have ever had to request at the start of the year. Six-point-five billion of this will support our efforts in Syria and in neighboring countries. And again, this is the largest-ever appeal for a single crisis. Even if there were an end to the violence in Syria tomorrow, we would still have a major humanitarian crisis on our hands.”

The United Nations’ latest request surpasses its call in June for more than $4 billion in aid to Syria, only 60 percent of which has actually been funded so far.

Report: Polio-Hit Area in Syria Excluded from Vaccine Drive

Dec 17, 2013

Reuters reports a largely rebel-held area of Syria where polio broke out this year was excluded from a 2012 government vaccination campaign. At least 15 cases of polio have been recorded in the province of Deir ez-Zor.

U.N.: 1.3 Million at Risk of Hunger in Central African Republic

Dec 17, 2013

The United Nations is warning up to a quarter of the population of Central African Republic is at risk of going hungry amid a violent sectarian crisis. Fighting between Muslims and Christians has killed more than 500 people in the capital Bangui. The Muslim president has signaled he may be open to negotiations with Christian militias. But the head of the U.N. World Food Program warned the violence could leave a lasting impact.

Ertharin Cousin: “We’ve identified that there are probably 1.3 million people who are food insecure. And we also know that because the farmers haven’t been able to access their farms, that we’ve missed this year’s planting season, so that when we get to the harvest in the spring, the problem will be even more exacerbated.”

Last week, the aid group Doctors Without Borders criticized what it called an “appalling performance” by U.N. agencies in Central African Republic, saying there had been “no evidence of an adequate humanitarian reaction” there.

Curfew Imposed in South Sudan After Alleged Coup Attempt

Dec 17, 2013

The president of South Sudan imposed an overnight curfew following what he called an attempted coup by soldiers supporting his former deputy. President Salva Kiir fired his vice president and cabinet in July amid criticism over failing infrastructure. Kiir said the government was in full control of the capital Juba Monday, but there were reports of gunfire continuing into the early hours of this morning.

U.S. Repatriates 2 Guantánamo Prisoners to Saudi Arabia

Dec 17, 2013

The United States has repatriated two Guantánamo prisoners to Saudi Arabia four years after they were both recommended for transfer. The two men had been held for nearly a dozen years without trial. Meanwhile, the Sudanese government says it expects the last two Guantánamo prisoners from Sudan to be transferred there by Wednesday. Those transfers would bring the total number of prisoners at Guantánamo to 158 after two prisoners were sent to Algeria against their will earlier this month.

Group of U.S. Scholars Joins Boycott of Israel

Dec 17, 2013

A group representing thousands of U.S. scholars has voted to boycott Israeli universities. The American Studies Association is the largest group of U.S. academics to join the global campaign to boycott and divest from Israel over its treatment of Palestinians. Members backed the boycott by a ratio of more than 2-to-1, citing “the documented impact of the Israeli occupation on Palestinian scholars and students” and “the extent to which Israeli institutions of higher education are a party to state policies that violate human rights.”

Kerry Pledges New Aid for Law Enforcement in Asia Trip

Dec 17, 2013

Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in the Philippines today to advance a deal for increased military ties. On Monday, Kerry was in Vietnam, where he pledged $32.5 million in new aid to help China’s neighbors boost law enforcement at sea. His trip to Asia comes amid tensions with China over its announcement of an air defense zone in the East China Sea. Kerry continued to reject the zone during his remarks in Hanoi.

John Kerry: “China’s announcement will not change how the United States conducts military operations in the region. This is a concern about which we have been very, very candid, and we’ve been very direct with the Chinese. The zone should not be implemented, and China should refrain from taking similar unilateral actions elsewhere in the region, and particularly over the South China Sea.”

Senate Poised to Pass Budget Deal

Dec 17, 2013

The Senate appears poised to approve a two-year budget deal after it was passed by the House last week. The deal eases across-the-board spending cuts, but does not extend unemployment benefits for some 1.3 million people, which are set to expire on December 28.

Jeh Johnson Confirmed as Homeland Security Chief

Dec 17, 2013

The Senate has confirmed former top Pentagon lawyer Jeh Johnson to lead the Department of Homeland Security. Johnson played a key role in the Obama administration’s drone wars and detention of terror suspects.

Judge Strikes Down Part of Utah’s Anti-Polygamy Law

Dec 17, 2013

In Utah, a federal judge has struck down parts of Utah’s ban on polygamy. The judge ruled that while Utah can prevent people from obtaining multiple marriage licenses, it can’t enforce a ban on cohabitation, which is the provision used to prosecute polygamists. The case stemmed from a lawsuit brought by Kody Brown, who stars with his four wives in the reality TV show “Sister Wives.”

Brazil: Workers Protest Unsafe Conditions at World Cup Stadium

Dec 17, 2013

In Brazil, construction workers at a stadium that will host part of next year’s World Cup went on strike to demand safer conditions after a worker plummeted to his death on Saturday. The worker was the second to die from a fall at the stadium in the city of Manaus. At least three other workers have died on construction sites of World Cup stadiums. Meanwhile, police raided a protest occupation at a former indigenous museum near the Maracana soccer stadium in Rio de Janeiro. Brazil canceled a planned demolition of the building following protests earlier this year, but protesters still fear it could be destroyed.

Amazon Workers in Germany Go on Strike

Dec 17, 2013

In Germany, more than 1,000 workers went on strike against the U.S. retailer Amazon on Monday as part of an ongoing dispute over wages, conditions and terms of employment. Workers are vowing to wage more actions this week amid the busy pre-Christmas shopping season.

Heiner Reimann, Verdi union official: “We demand from Amazon that they sign a labor agreement with us based on the regulations of the retail industry. This would mean that Amazon employees starting new in the company would earn about 7,000 euros more per year. We also demand humane working conditions and salaries which allow for decent living conditions.”

Michael Furgoll, Amazon worker: “I think that our boss, Jeff Bezos, has such large private assets that he might as well share them a little with the employees who make all the money. In my view, that’s only fair.”

A group of Amazon warehouse workers from Germany traveled to the United States for a protest Monday outside Amazon’s Seattle headquarters.

Report: U.S. Oil Production Headed for Near-Record High Due to Fracking

Dec 17, 2013

New government figures predict the amount of crude oil produced in the United States will soar to a near-historic high in the coming years due largely to the controversial technique of fracking. According to the Energy Information Administration, U.S. oil output will hit 9.5 million barrels per day by 2016, just under the record of 9.6 million set in 1970. Fracking, which involves blasting chemicals into shale rock, is also fueling a rise in natural-gas production.

White House Accused of “Systematically” Delaying Key Rules Ahead of 2012 Election

Dec 17, 2013

Current and former Obama administration officials have confirmed the White House “systematically” delayed a series of regulations to avoid controversy in the 2012 election. The Washington Post reports federal agencies were told to hold off on key environmental, worker safety and healthcare rules for up to a year. The stalling meant a number were either lengthily postponed or never enacted. The delays were said to be “clearly political,” and far more extensive than similar maneuverings by previous administrations. The delayed rules include standards for cleaner gasoline, lower-pollution vehicles, and federal protections for bodies of water.

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