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HeadlinesJune 21, 2013

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Leaked Docs Detail Broad Guidelines for NSA Retention of Private Info

Jun 21, 2013

More disclosures have emerged from the leaked surveillance operations of the National Security Agency. Documents published by The Guardian Thursday show the NSA can retain the personal information of Americans even if collected without a warrant. Under rules adopted by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, Americans’ emails and phone records can be held if “inadvertently” seized in the process of monitoring a foreigner or if containing significant intelligence or evidence of crimes.

The guidelines also show the NSA generally destroys information inadvertently gathered on U.S. persons, unless the communication is encrypted. In those cases, the data is retained to help the NSA research ways to crack encryption more broadly. Encryption use can also lead to targeting by the NSA if it is deemed to resemble methods by a “foreign power or foreign territory.”

The NSA also retains communications between attorneys and clients in cases where clients are under criminal indictment. According to procedures, portions related to “national security” would be singled out.

In a statement, the American Civil Liberties Union said the revelations “confirm many of our worst fears. The 'targeting' procedures indicate that the NSA is engaged in broad surveillance of Americans’ international communications. The 'minimization' procedures that supposedly protect Americans’ constitutional rights turn out to be far weaker than we imagined they could be.”

Report: Skype Developed Program to Abet Gov’t Spying; Ex-Facebook Exec at NSA

Jun 21, 2013

New details have emerged on ties between U.S. intelligence and the nation’s largest technology firms. The New York Times reports the online communications giant Skype created a secret program to explore ways of providing the government with easy access to customers’ information. Dubbed “Project Chess,” the program was established to navigate the legal and technical obstacles to enabling government monitoring of Skype calls and chats. In another new development, the New York Times has also revealed the former chief security officer for Facebook, Max Kelly, has been working for the National Security Agency since leaving Facebook in 2010.

WikiLeaks Associate: Plane Ready to Bring Snowden to Iceland

Jun 21, 2013

Speculation continues to grow over whether NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden will seek political asylum in Iceland. WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange says he has been in touch with Snowden’s legal team after being approached by an intermediary on Snowden’s behalf. On Thursday, an Icelandic businessman tied to WikiLeaks said he has readied a private plane to fly Snowden from China should the Icelandic government grant asylum.

U.S. Investigating Private Firm that Cleared Snowden

Jun 21, 2013

Federal officials have confirmed they have been investigating for more than a year the private firm that conducted Edward Snowden’s background check. The company, Virginia-based USIS, is the largest contractor vetting security clearances for the U.S. government. It is reportedly being scrutinized for a “systemic failure” to properly assess employees.

House Defeats Farm Aid Bill with Radical Food Stamp Cuts

Jun 21, 2013

The House has defeated the $500 billion farm bill that would have imposed radical cuts on food stamps for low-income Americans. The measure called for $20 billion in cuts to the food stamps program over the next decade. Nearly two million people would have lost access to food stamps, and 200,000 children would have been denied school lunches. Before the overall vote, Republicans also passed an amendment that would have allowed states to impose work requirements on food stamp recipients. Speaking on the House floor, Democratic Rep. Barbara Lee of California, herself a former food stamp recipient, denounced what she called a further attack on poor families.

Rep. Barbara Lee: “I know from personal experience, no one wants to be on food stamps. Many who are on SNAP [Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program] are hard-working people making minimum wage, and others are desperately looking for a job in these difficult economic times. This amendment demands that hungry families search for a job even while it eliminates all employment assistance and job training funds for those very families. Let’s not pretend that by making a family suffer more hunger and more desperation and more hardship, that a job will suddenly appear for them.”

Although the work requirement amendment passed, 62 Republicans ultimately helped Democrats defeat the overall legislation because they wanted even deeper cuts than the bill proposed. After the vote, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi mocked Republicans, calling their handling of the farm bill a “demonstration of major amateur hour.”

GOP Senators Propose Doubling of Border Guards in Immigration Bill

Jun 21, 2013

A group of Republican senators has unveiled a measure that would radically expand border enforcement in order to win support within their party for immigration reform. The proposal would double the number of border guards to 40,000, enough for one guard every 1,000 feet along the border between the United States and Mexico. It would also fund the completion of 700 miles of fencing and surveillance. In a statement, the American Civil Liberties Union criticized the proposal, saying: “Border Patrol has demonstrated itself to be an agency that abuses its power and lacks independent oversight. This massive deployment of force would be simply devastating for border communities.” The Senate move comes as the immigration bill faces uncertainty in the House, where Speaker John Boehner says he would not allow a vote, unless it enjoys a majority of Republican support.

1 Million Rally Across Brazil as Protests Mount

Jun 21, 2013

An estimated one million people rallied across Brazil on Thursday in an historic escalation of the country’s largest protests in two decades. The demonstrations were held in more than 80 cities across Brazil. They came one day after the cities of São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro revoked transit fare hikes that set off the initial protests but have since grown into a movement against government corruption, inequality, failing public services, police brutality and government spending on the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics. Thursday’s protests included an estimated 300,000 in Rio, some 110,000 in São Paulo, and tens of thousands in the capital Brasilia. President Dilma Rousseff has called an emergency meeting for today and has cancelled an upcoming trip to Japan.

Flooding Kills 150 in Northern India

Jun 21, 2013

At least 150 people are dead following massive flash floods in northern India. Rains and landslides have left around 50,000 Hindu pilgrims trapped in a mountainous state. More than 33,000 have been rescued.

Report: Global Warming Will Devastate the World’s Poor

Jun 21, 2013

A new report from the World Bank is warning a global temperature rise of two-degrees Celsius will trap millions of people in poverty and devastation in the coming decades. World Bank President Jim Yong Kim said unless global warming can be slowed, rising temperatures will wreak havoc on poor communities in Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and Southeast Asia.

Jim Yong Kim: “In a two-degree Celsius warmer world, the Earth will have fundamentally changed. The way that the Earth processes water will have changed. And so we’ll have droughts that will be devastating. We’ll have floods that will put cities in danger. And there will be fundamental issues around the ability of poor people to sustain themselves. The thing I worry most about is a two-degree Celsius world, which could be upon us as early as the 2030s and 2040s, will prevent us from lifting people out of poverty. And our goal of ending poverty by 2030 will be out of reach.”

Study: 1 in 3 Women Worldwide Assaulted by Partner

Jun 21, 2013

A new study is warning more than a third of women worldwide are victimized by sexual or physical assault from a partner. Unveiling the findings, Dr. Claudia García-Moreno of the World Health Organization said violence against women is a global epidemic.

Dr. Claudia García-Moreno: “This report for the first time brings together data on the prevalence of different forms of violence against women, and it shows that the problem is widespread and it’s unacceptably high. One in three women globally are affected by either physical or sexual violence from a partner or sexual violence by a non-partner. Violence against women is a global problem that it is widespread and occurs in all regions at unacceptably high levels.”

According to the study, 40 percent of women killed worldwide were slain by a partner.

U.S. Drone Strike Killed 10-Year-Old in Yemen

Jun 21, 2013

Details have emerged on a U.S. drone strike inside Yemen earlier this month. McClatchy reports that in addition to killing five militants, the strike also killed the lead target’s younger brother — a 10-year-old boy named Abdulaziz. The attack occurred June 9th in Jawl province. It was just weeks after President Obama’s address promising greater transparency and caution in the waging of drone strikes abroad. The boy’s killing set off a wave of complaints from local tribal leaders. One told McClatchy: “Killing al Qaida is one thing, but the death of an innocent person is a crime that we cannot accept.”

Gitmo Doctors Reject Call to End Force-Feeding of Hunger-Striking Prisoners

Jun 21, 2013

The Pentagon says calls for military doctors to stop the force-feeding of hunger-striking Guantánamo Bay prisoners have fallen on deaf ears. A group of top U.S. doctors and public health specialists recently published an open plea for their colleagues in the military to boycott the mass force-feeding of prisoners, calling it a form of “aggravated assault.” On Thursday, Guantánamo Bay prison spokesperson Captain Robert Durand said military doctors have rejected those concerns.

Capt. Robert Durand: “This is a lawful order, and I think that that’s — you know, I spoke to our medical folks this morning on that very issue, and he said we’ve not had anyone who’s talked about it or, you know, voiced any concern. So, it’s a — you know, the American Medical Association, the editorials, they are a — they are an opinion, but the law and policy currently is to preserve life through lawful means.”

The Pentagon says 104 of Guantánamo’s 166 remaining prisoners are on hunger strike, but defense attorneys say the number is higher. At least 44 are being force-fed through tubes.

Jury Selection Concludes in Zimmerman Trial, Opening Statements Begin Next Week

Jun 21, 2013

Jury selection has concluded in the murder trial of George Zimmerman, the Florida man who shot and killed unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin last year. Zimmerman will face a six-member, all-female panel, five of them white. Zimmerman faces up to life in prison on charges of second-degree murder. Opening statements begin Monday.

FBI Denies Investigation of Late Journalist Michael Hastings

Jun 21, 2013

The FBI is denying rumors it was investigating the late journalist Michael Hastings before his death in a Los Angeles car crash earlier this week. WikiLeaks has claimed Hastings told one of its attorneys he was under FBI investigation. In a statement on Thursday, the bureau responded: “At no time was journalist Michael Hastings ever under investigation by the FBI.”

Gay “Conversion” Ministry Apologizes, Disbands

Jun 21, 2013

A Christian group devoted to so-called gay “conversion” has closed its doors and apologized to the LGBT community. Exodus International had billed itself as the oldest Christian ministry devoted to the practice of trying to shame gay people into changing their sexual orientation. In an open letter to LGBT people who underwent its practices, Exodus International president Alan Chambers said the group was part of a “system of ignorance,” saying: “I am sorry for the pain and hurt that many of you have experienced. I am sorry some of you spent years working through the shame and guilt when your attractions didn’t change. I am sorry we promoted sexual orientation change efforts and reparative theories about sexual orientation that stigmatized parents.” California last year became the first state in the nation banning so-called “conversion” therapy aimed at minors.

Hunger Strikers Demand Reversal of Philadelphia School Layoffs

Jun 21, 2013

Two Philadelphia public school parents and two workers have launched a hunger strike against a wave of school closures and staff layoffs. Earlier this month, the Philadelphia school district announced the firing 1,200 employees, lunchtime aides responsible for safety and serving food to students. They are among 3,800 school workers who stand to lose their jobs next month in the city’s bid to close a $300 million funding gap. Philadelphia is also closing 23 public schools under a plan approved earlier this year. The hunger strikers are camping out in front of Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett’s field office in downtown Philadelphia during the day and sleeping in a nearby church at night. Meanwhile in Chicago, the school year ended this week with a sit-in at one of the 49 schools being closed down under a plan approved earlier this year.

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