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HeadlinesAugust 05, 2013

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U.S. Extends Closing of 19 Diplomatic Posts amid Security Fears

Aug 05, 2013

The Obama administration has announced it will keep 19 diplomatic outposts in North Africa and the Middle East closed for up to a week due to fears of a possible militant threat. Ramped-up security measures were in place over the weekend at some of the 22 posts shuttered by the concerns. Senator Saxby Chambliss, the top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said communications had been intercepted that were reminiscent of what was heard before the 9/11 attacks. Speaking on NBC’s Meet the Press, Senator Chambliss credited the National Security Agency’s spy programs with detecting the threat.

Saxby Chambliss: “These programs are controversial. We understand that. They’re very sensitive. But they’re also very important, because they are what lead us to have the — or allow us to have the ability to gather this chatter that I referred to. If we did not have these programs, then we simply wouldn’t be able to listen in on the bad guys. And I will say that it’s the 702 program that has allowed us to pick up on this chatter. That’s the program that allows us to listen overseas, not on domestic soil, but overseas.”

NSA Critics Hold 2nd Nationwide Protest

Aug 05, 2013

Opponents of the National Security Agency’s sweeping surveillance at home and abroad held a second nationwide day of action against the programs Sunday. The group “Restore the Fourth” protested in several U.S. cities on what it dubbed “1984 Day,” named for the book by George Orwell about a dystopian surveillance society. The group held its first round of protests on July 4.

New Iranian President Hassan Rouhani Urges End to Sanctions

Aug 05, 2013

In Iran, Hassan Rouhani took the presidential oath of office Sunday, replacing outgoing President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Rouhani is seen as a moderate who could pave the way for talks over Iran’s disputed nuclear program. His inauguration came days after the U.S. House of Representatives passed its harshest sanctions yet on Iran, focusing on the country’s oil exports. During his inaugural address, Rouhani called for an end to the sanctions.

President Hassan Rouhani: “Interactions based on equal footing and cooperation will be the basis of our relations with other countries. On this basis, proportionate to the behavior and approach of the other side, in view of improving and promoting future ties, we will ascertain our next step. So I will say this: If you want the right response, don’t speak with Iran in the language of sanctions; speak in the language of respect.”

Zimbabwean Opposition Disputes Re-election of President Mugabe

Aug 05, 2013

In Zimbabwe, election officials say President Robert Mugabe has been re-elected to a seventh term in office with more than 60 percent of the vote. The declaration came despite widespread claims of fraud, including reports by a local observer group that up to a million people were prevented from casting ballots. Mugabe’s main challenger, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, denounced the results as fraudulent and said his party, the Movement for Democratic Change, rejects it.

Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai: “The MDC national council resolved that once all remedies have been exhausted, the people of Zimbabwe should be allowed fresh opportunity to freely, fairly elect a government of their choice. In this regard, a credible, free and fair, legitimate election must be held as soon as possible.”

U.S. Issues Conflicting Messages on Pakistan Drone Strikes

Aug 05, 2013

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism says last month saw three U.S. drone strikes carried out in Pakistan, the highest number since January. Last week, Secretary of State John Kerry told Pakistanis in a television interview that President Obama had a “very real timeline” for ending the strikes. But the State Department’s own spokespeople quickly contradicted him: Jen Psaki said in a statement there was “no exact timeline,” while Marie Harf said, “In no way would we ever deprive ourselves of a tool to fight a threat if it arises.” The Bureau has also released new evidence the CIA targeted rescuers last year at the scene of prior drone strikes in Pakistan, conducting so-called double-tap strikes that in some cases may be considered war crimes. The reports are the latest sign there has been little change in the Obama administration’s covert drone wars, despite pledges in recent months for reforms including greater transparency.

Egypt: Muslim Brotherhood Leaders to Face Trial; Nobel Winner Tawakkul Karman Denied Entry

Aug 05, 2013

An Egyptian court says leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood will face trial later this month on charges of inciting violence during deadly clashes in the lead-up to the army’s ouster of President Mohamed Morsi. Foreign diplomats, including U.S. Deputy Secretary of State William Burns, met with jailed deputy Brotherhood leader Khairat el-Shater today. But according to Al Jazeera, el-Shater refused to negotiate, instead demanding the diplomats meet with the ousted president. Morsi’s supporters are still camped out in two key Cairo squares despite government warnings. On Sunday, Yemeni Nobel Peace Prize laureate Tawakkul Karman was denied entry to Egypt as she sought to join the protests against Morsi’s ouster. The state news agency Mena said Karman had been placed on a list of people barred from entering Egypt. The United States has still declined to name Morsi’s ouster a military coup. Last week, Secretary of State John Kerry issued his strongest words yet in favor of the military’s actions.

John Kerry: “The military was asked to intervene by millions and millions of people, all of whom were afraid of a descendance into chaos, into violence. And the military did not take over, to the best of our judgment, so far — so far — to run the country. There’s a civilian government. In effect, they were restoring democracy.”

Israeli Cabinet Expands List of Settlements Eligible for Subsidies

Aug 05, 2013

The Israeli Cabinet has increased the number settlements in the occupied West Bank deemed eligible for government subsidies in a move that could cast a shadow on ongoing peace talks with the Palestinians. The Israeli group Peace Now says the Cabinet vote expanded the number of eligible settlements from 85 to 91. Palestinian officials quickly condemned the move. Peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority resumed last week for the first time in three years and are set to continue this month in the Middle East. The last talks broke down after Palestinians insisted that Israel stop expanding the West Bank settlements.

Honduran President Orders Militarization of Prison After Fatal Riot

Aug 05, 2013

In Honduras, President Porfirio Lobo has ordered the military to take control of the country’s main prison following a riot that killed at least three prisoners and injured a dozen. The violence Saturday came one day after the release of a report from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights that found prisoners effectively run 24 prisons in Honduras because the state has abandoned control.

Judge Rules Woman with Down Syndrome Can Live with Friends

Aug 05, 2013

In a victory for disability rights in the United States, a judge in Virginia has rejected a guardianship request from the parents of a woman with Down syndrome, instead ruling Jenny Hatch can live with friends as she wanted. Hatch’s parents sought guardianship rights that would have allowed them to keep the 29-year-old in a group home against her will. But Jenny had run away from a series of group homes over the past year, complaining she was treated like a child. On Friday, Newport News Circuit Court Judge David Pugh designated Jenny’s friends — a couple who also hired her to work at their thrift store — as her temporary guardians for a year with the goal that, beyond that, she might live more independently. In a statement, Susan Mizner, disability counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, said, “Disability is no excuse to deprive someone of her basic civil liberties, and we are thrilled that Jenny will get some control of her life back.”

U.S. Judge Extends Hold on Wisconsin Anti-Abortion Law

Aug 05, 2013

A federal judge has indefinitely blocked part of a new Wisconsin law requiring abortion providers to obtain admitting privileges at a nearby hospital. The move extends an earlier hold on the measure while a legal challenge proceeds. Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union have filed a lawsuit saying the law would force two out of four abortion facilities in Wisconsin to close. Courts have recently blocked similar laws in other states. Admitting privileges can be impossible for abortion providers to obtain because hospitals may oppose abortion or require doctors to admit a certain number of patients. On Friday, U.S. District Judge William Conley ruled: “Even if there were some evidence that the admitting privileges requirement would actually further women’s health, any benefit is greatly outweighed by the burdens caused by increased travel, decreased access and, at least for some women, the denial of an in-state option for abortion services.”

Wisconsin Man Sentenced to 10 Years for Plot to Kill Abortion Doctor

Aug 05, 2013

A Wisconsin man was sentenced Friday to 10 years in prison for plotting to kill an abortion doctor at a Madison, Wisconsin, Planned Parenthood. Ralph Lang was arrested in 2011 after his gun accidentally went off in a Madison motel room. He told police he planned to “lay out abortionists because they are killing babies.” Lang’s sentence will be reduced by nearly two-and-a-half years as credit for time served.

Sikhs Mark 1st Anniversary of Temple Shooting in Oak Creek, Wisconsin

Aug 05, 2013

Members of the Sikh community in Wisconsin are remembering six people killed one year ago today when a neo-Nazi gunman opened fire on worshipers at a temple in Oak Creek. Events were held at the temple over the weekend to commemorate the shooting. Gurmukh Singh was among those reflecting on the one-year anniversary.

Gurmukh Singh: “In the year since that day, I’d say I’m just really, really — I’m just really proud to be a part of this community, just in general as a Sikh, in general as a Wisconsonite. It really just shows how a community can come together in the wake of something terrible and really transform that incident into something positive. The amount of positive energy, the amount of outreach and support that I think this community has done is incredible.”

Ahead of today’s anniversary, Attorney General Eric Holder announced the Justice Department will begin collecting data on hate crimes committed against Sikhs along with other religious groups.

More Than 200 Arrested in “Summer Heat” Protest at Chevron Refinery in California

Aug 05, 2013

On Saturday, 210 people were arrested at the Chevron refinery in Richmond, California, in the latest mass mobilization against fossil fuel dependence and climate change. Thousands of people marched to the refinery to condemn safety issues at the plant and to call for renewable alternatives to fossil fuels. The protest came ahead of Tuesday’s one-year anniversary of a massive fire at the Chevron refinery, which sent toxic smoke billowing into the air, hospitalizing roughly 15,000 people with respiratory issues. The city of Richmond has filed a lawsuit against Chevron over the fire, claiming it followed a series of similar incidents. This weekend’s protest was part of a wave of “Summer Heat” actions led by the environmental group 350.org. The group’s founder, Bill McKibben, was among those who were arrested.

Bill McKibben: “The reason that we’re here is because Chevron is a really bad actor. OK? In the places where they get their oil, they’re a bad actor. Ask the people in Canada fighting their fracking. Ask the people in Ecuador who have had to live with their waste. When they get it here to refine it, they’re a bad actor. They sent 15,000 of their neighbors to the hospital. And they are bad, bad actors on this planet. They have nine billion barrels of oil in their reserves. OK? If they burn most of those, then we cannot deal with climate change.”

Special thanks to John Hamilton for this report.

Dream Defenders Win “Stand Your Ground” Hearings, Remain in Florida Capitol

Aug 05, 2013

In Florida, the group Dream Defenders is continuing to occupy the Florida State Capitol where they have been demanding the repeal of Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law for nearly three weeks. The demonstrators celebrated a partial victory Friday when Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford announced he will order hearings this fall to review the law, which impacted instructions to the jury that acquitted George Zimmerman in the killing of Trayvon Martin. But Weatherford assigned a staunch supporter of Stand Your Ground to chair the hearings — Republican state Congressmember Matt Gaetz, who on said Friday, “I don’t support changing one damn comma” of the Stand Your Ground law. Dream Defenders executive director Phillip Agnew called the hearings a “critical first step,” but said the group will continue sitting in against Stand Your Ground and other wider issues including racial profiling and the school-to-prison pipeline.

Sculptor Removes Contested Quotation from Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial

Aug 05, 2013

A sculptor has removed a controversial quotation from the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial in Washington, D.C. The inscription read, “I was a drum major for justice, peace, and righteousness,” a partial quotation from one of King’s sermons. Here’s what King actually said during a sermon at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1968.

Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.: “Yes, if you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice. Say that I was a drum major for peace. I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter.”

Critics, including poet Maya Angelou, said the shortened version of King’s quotation made him appear arrogant. The completed memorial will have groove marks in place of the disputed words. It’s due to be finished in time for the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington later this month.

Civil Rights Attorney Julius Chambers Dies at 76

Aug 05, 2013

The civil rights attorney Julius Chambers has died at the age of 76 after a long illness. According to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, Chambers was a founding member of the first racially integrated law firm in North Carolina who litigated and argued a number of key desegregation and voting rights cases before the Supreme Court. The group said in a statement: “[Julius Chambers] was a man of tremendous courage. His home and his car were firebombed on separate occasions in 1965, and his office was burned to the ground in 1971, during the height of some of his most contentious civil rights litigation in North Carolina. When he spoke of these events, Chambers was typically matter-of-fact, insisting always that you 'just keep fighting.'” Julius Chambers died on Friday in North Carolina.

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