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HeadlinesJuly 31, 2013

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Bradley Manning Acquitted on “Aiding the Enemy” Charge, Guilty on 20 Other Counts

Jul 31, 2013

The sentencing hearing for Army whistleblower Bradley Manning begins today following his acquittal on the most serious charge he faced, aiding the enemy, but conviction on 20 other counts. On Tuesday, Manning was found guilty of violating the Espionage Act and other charges for leaking hundreds of thousands of government documents to WikiLeaks. In beating the “aiding the enemy” charge, Manning avoids an automatic life sentence, but he still faces a maximum of 136 years in prison on the remaining counts. The sentencing phase is expected to last at least a week, with more than 20 witnesses set to appear.

Senate Hearing Tackles NSA Surveillance

Jul 31, 2013

The Senate Judiciary Committee is holding its first hearing today on the government surveillance operations exposed by National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden. Top officials from the Justice Department and the NSA are expected to testify. The journalist who has published the bulk of Snowden’s revelations, Glenn Greenwald of The Guardian, was due to testify by video-link to a separate hearing in the House, but the panel was cancelled after President Obama scheduled a meeting with House Democrats.

Wyden: NSA Violations “More Serious” Than Acknowledged by Gov’t

Jul 31, 2013

On Tuesday, Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon said the NSA has committed “more serious” violations of existing limits on spying than the government has disclosed. Speaking to MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell, Wyden said his concerns came on top of a recent admission from National Intelligence Director James Clapper over violations of court orders.

Sen. Ron Wyden: “They did say last Friday that there had been violations of those court orders with respect to the bulk phone record collection, so that’s on the record. I’ll tell you those violations are more serious than they stated.”

Wyden has been unable to explain his concerns in detail because the surveillance operations are classified. On Friday, James Clapper sent Wyden a letter admitting “a number of compliance problems” with the bulk collection of U.S. phone data, but said there were “no findings of any intentional or bad-faith violations.” Clapper has previously apologized for falsely telling Wyden during a March hearing the NSA does “not wittingly” collect data on millions of Americans.

U.S. to Declassify Verizon Order on Phone Records

Jul 31, 2013

On the eve of today’s Senate hearing on government spying, U.S. intelligence agencies said they would declassify more information about National Security Agency surveillance operations, including the order disclosed by whistleblower Edward Snowden that orders Verizon to hand over all phone records. The announcement follows polls showing increased public skepticism of government surveillance and last week’s narrow House defeat of a measure to block the bulk collection of data on all phone calls placed in the United States.

Appeals Court Upholds Warrantless Cellphone Tracking

Jul 31, 2013

A federal appeals court has ruled law enforcement agencies can obtain location data on U.S. cellphone users without a warrant. In a 2-to-1 decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit upheld the practice of seizing the location data of phone calls from major telecoms even with no court order. The court’s majority okayed the practice on the grounds location data is a “business record” and therefore not protected by the Fourth Amendment right to privacy. A report last year from the American Civil Liberties Union found just a fraction of more than 200 police departments that admitted to tracking cellphones routinely obtained warrants. The tracking is said to be so commonplace that cellular providers are providing police with manuals outlining the range of data they store and the pricing for police to obtain it. Catherine Crump, an ACLU attorney, called the ruling “a big deal and a big blow to Americans’ privacy rights.”

Obama Seeks “Grand Bargain” With GOP on Reducing Tax Rates, Gov’t Jobs

Jul 31, 2013

President Obama is calling on Republicans to accept a new “grand bargain” aimed at reviving economic opportunities for the middle class. Speaking in Tennessee, Obama offered to cut the corporate tax in return for new government programs to create jobs.

President Obama: “So, here’s the bottom line: If folks in Washington really want a grand bargain, how about a grand bargain for middle-class jobs? How about a grand bargain for middle-class jobs? Here’s the bottom line: I’m willing to work with Republicans on reforming our corporate tax code, as long as we use the money from transitioning to a simpler tax system for a significant investment in creating middle-class jobs. That’s the deal.”

Obama’s comments come as part of a new White House effort billed as an attempt to take on widening U.S. inequality. In an interview with The New York Times, Obama said: “If we don’t do anything … income inequality will continue to rise. That’s not a future that we should accept.”

Kerry: Mideast Talks Seek “Final-Status” Deal Within 9 Months

Jul 31, 2013

The first full session of renewed Middle East peace talks was held Tuesday in Washington. Israeli and Palestinian negotiators agreed to meet within two weeks as part of a nine-month timetable to reach a comprehensive agreement. Secretary of State John Kerry said the parties have agreed to address the core issues behind the Israel-Palestine conflict.

Secretary of State John Kerry: “The parties have agreed here today that all of the final-status issues, all of the core issues, and all other issues are all on the table for negotiation, and they are on the table with one simple goal: a view to ending the conflict, ending the claims. Our objective will be to achieve a final-status agreement over the course of the next nine months. A viable two-state solution is the only way this conflict can end, and there is not much time to achieve it, and there is no other alternative.”

Report Shows Growth of Israeli Settler Population in West Bank

Jul 31, 2013

As the Mideast peace talks were held, a new report from the Israeli group Peace Now said the Israeli settlement population in the occupied West Bank has grown more than twice as fast as Israel proper in the last three years. Peace Now activist Lior Amichai said the Israeli government has continued to encourage migration to the settlements.

Lior Amichai: “The growth in the settlements is much higher than the annual growth inside Israel. In the West Bank settlements, we’re talking about a 5 percent growth in population each year, much higher than the 2 percent or less than 2 percent inside Israel proper. This shows that the Israeli government is encouraging Israeli citizens to move and immigrate into the West Bank settlements, despite perhaps, what some would say, Israel’s intentions for a two-state solution, or the government of Israel.”

Violence Thwarts Food Aid Delivery to 600,000 Syrians

Jul 31, 2013

The United Nations says mounting violence in Syria has prevented the delivery of food to around 600,000 people. A spokesperson for the World Food Programme said U.N. aid has only reached 2.4 million out of three million Syrians in need.

Elisabeth Byrs: “More areas are becoming inaccessible due to increased fighting. The WFP planned to reach three million people in July, but the upsurge of violence across many areas in Damascus and Homs and the proliferation of checkpoints on the roads around major cities are affecting the pace of food dispatches. WFP has dispatched food for 2.4 million people — short of the July goal, which is — the goal is three million people.”

Obama Taps GOP Senators for Egypt Talks

Jul 31, 2013

President Obama has asked Republican Senators Lindsey Graham and John McCain to travel to Egypt for talks with the interim government and opposition figures. The announcement follows Tuesday’s meeting between European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and the ousted Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi. It was Morsi’s first known outside contact since he was removed from office earlier this month. Later in the day, Ashton met with Egyptian Vice President Mohamed ElBaradei.

Catherine Ashton: “Only an inclusive process will work, and though I recognize that is challenging, it is really important to begin now.”

Mohamad Elbaradei: “To end polarization through peaceful means, and that’s exactly what we are trying to do. That’s exactly why Lady Ashton and the European Union has been here to try to help. That’s why we are having all sorts of conversations with everybody. So I’m still optimistic. I still hope once we lower the temperature, once we contain the violence that is taking place, then there will be room for a peaceful way to disband demonstration in different parts of the country and then go into a serious dialogue.”

JPMorgan Pays $410 Million Fine for Energy Price Scheme

Jul 31, 2013

The financial giant JPMorgan is paying a $410 million fine for driving up energy prices in California and the Midwest. JPMorgan agreed to the penalty without admitting to government allegations it manipulated utilities to raise the price of electricity. It is the largest settlement in the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s history. The British firm Barclays has been hit with a similar fine but is refusing to pay. JPMorgan is facing a more expensive government penalty for its role in pushing toxic mortgage-backed securities. According to The New York Times, the firm is currently under investigation from eight different federal regulators

MIT Releases Probe of Own Handling of Aaron Swartz Case

Jul 31, 2013

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology has released a long-awaited report on its handling of the prosecution of Aaron Swartz, the Internet freedom activist who committed suicide in January. Swartz took his own life weeks before he was set to go to trial for using MIT’s network to download millions of articles provided by the nonprofit research service JSTOR. He was facing 35 years in prison, a penalty supporters called excessively harsh. The MIT review concludes the school remained neutral in the prosecution of Swartz, but adds it failed to “duly take into account the wider background of information policy against which the prosecution played out and in which MIT people have traditionally been passionate leaders.” Friends and colleagues of Swartz have denounced the report as a whitewash. Ben Wikler, who co-founded the radio show “Flaming Sword of Justice” with Aaron Swartz, spoke to Democracy Now! on Tuesday.

Ben Wikler: “When I found out what MIT had concluded, I got angry. MIT promised to investigate the full facts of the case. Somehow it’s decided that it was neutral throughout. And the MIT president said that their actions were reasonable and in good faith and appropriate. In fact, MIT was working with the prosecution and stonewalling the defense, as people who were close to Aaron know. So this is really just a whitewash. And it’s disappointing and, frankly, makes me furious.”

Swartz’s attorneys have filed an ethics complaint against federal prosecutors, saying they withheld exculpatory evidence.

DEA Pays $4.1 Million to Student Abandoned in Prison Cell

Jul 31, 2013

The Drug Enforcement Administration has agreed to pay a $4.1 million settlement to a San Diego college student who nearly lost his life after being left handcuffed in a cell for more than four days without food or water. Daniel Chong had been arrested after being arrested at a 4/20 celebration of marijuana culture. He was not charged with any crime and was due to be released. But instead, the DEA says agents forgot about Chong after placing him inside a holding cell in handcuffs. Chong says he could hear DEA staffers outside his cell, but no one answered his pleas for help. He drank his own urine in a bid to survive before finally being found just as he says he felt his life slipping away. None of the agents involved will face charges.

6 Activists Detained in Senate Building Protesting Guantánamo Bay

Jul 31, 2013

Six activists with the group CodePink were arrested inside the Senate Hart building on Tuesday for a protest calling for the closure of Guantánamo Bay. Three of the demonstrators are currently on a long-term hunger strike in solidarity with hunger-striking Guantánamo prisoners.

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