President Obama is set to unveil his plans for reforming the National Security Agency’s sweeping spy programs today after they were brought to light by Edward Snowden. News reports citing unnamed officials say Obama will call on the NSA to end its bulk control of Americans’ phone data. A White House panel recommended the data be stored outside government hands. Reuters reports Obama will order that, effective immediately, “We will take steps to modify the program so that a judicial finding is required before we query the database.” But Obama will not say who will control the data, instead requesting congressional input on where to store it. Responding to an earlier report about the speech in The New York Times, American Civil Liberties Union Executive Director Anthony Romero said, “Keeping the storage of all Americans’ data in government hands and asking 'lawmakers to weigh in,' as reported, is passing the buck –- when the buck should stop with the president.”
A study this week confirmed the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of U.S. phone records has had “no discernible impact on preventing acts of terrorism.” The New America Foundation analysis covers 225 terrorism cases since 9/11. It says the massive sweep of telephone metadata provided evidence to launch just one case -– a San Diego cabdriver and three others convicted, not of any plots against the United States, but of sending money to a militant group in Somalia.
The latest report from The Guardian based on Edward Snowden’s leaks says the National Security Agency has collected nearly 200 million text messages a day from around the world. Through a program called “Prefer,” the NSA uses text messages –- including automated texts, like missed call alerts –- to gather data such as travel plans, contacts and credit card information.
A top U.N. official has warned the conflict in Central African Republic is at risk of becoming a genocide. Fighting between Muslim and Christian militias has displaced more than one million people and killed more than 1,000 last month alone. John Ging, director of U.N. humanitarian operations, called for an immediate response from the international community.
John Ging: “The stakes are extremely high. It has all the elements that we have seen elsewhere, in places like Rwanda and Bosnia. The elements are there, the seeds are there for a genocide. There’s no question about that.”
A new report warns greenhouse gas emissions have risen around the world even as the need to address global warming becomes increasingly dire. The leaked report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) finds emissions rose more than 2 percent per year on average from 2000 to 2010. Around the world, governments are spending far more on fossil fuel subsidies than on clean energy. The report says the lack of global action could make climate change impossible to reverse without expensive and unproven technology.
Syria’s main Western-backed opposition group is set to vote today on whether to attend next week’s peace talks in Geneva. Speaking on the eve of the decision, Secretary of State John Kerry sought to assure the opposition President Bashar al-Assad would not be part of a transitional government.
John Kerry: “Any names put forward for leadership of Syria’s transition must, according to the terms of Geneva I and every one of the reiterations of that being the heart and soul of Geneva II — those names must be agreed to by both the opposition and the regime.”
Afghan President Hamid Karzai says U.S. troops killed eight civilians, including seven children, during an operation in Parwan Province. Afghan officials say the deaths resulted from air strikes after a gun battle erupted when U.S. Special Forces tried to enter a home early Wednesday morning. U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan acknowledged two civilians had been killed in what they called an Afghan-led mission to “disrupt insurgent activity.”
President Obama is renewing pleas for Senate Democrats to drop plans for new sanctions against Iran. Leading Democrats have joined with Republicans to push for new sanctions, despite the historic agreement that slowed Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief. Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein of California blasted the push for sanctions, saying it could “collapse” the deal with Iran just before it is set to go into effect next week.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein: “How does that make any kind of common sense? It defies logic, it threatens instant reverse, and it ends what’s been unprecedented diplomacy. Do we want to really take that on our shoulders? And candidly, in my view, it’s a march to war.”
Ohio has executed a prisoner using an untested two-drug method despite warnings it might cause immense suffering. It took nearly 25 minutes for the lethal injection to kill Dennis McGuire. McGuire’s lawyers had tried to halt the execution, warning he could “experience the agony and terror of air hunger as he struggles to breathe.” But an Ohio state prosecutor argued McGuire was “not entitled to a pain-free execution,” and a judge allowed it to go forward. A witness described what happened.
Witness: “I would say for 10 to 13 minutes Mr. McGuire appeared to be gasping for air. I don’t know if it was air hunger or exactly what it was, but all I’m going to tell you is the description. He gasped deeply. There was kind of a rattling, guttural sound. There was a kind of a snorting through his nose. A couple times he definitely appeared to be choking.”
Ohio officials say they were forced to use the untried drug method of midazolam and hydromorphone amid a shortage of pentobarbitol after the Danish manufacturer banned its use in U.S. executions.
A bipartisan group of lawmakers has introduced a new bill to help restore the Voting Rights Act after the Supreme Court struck down a key provision last June. Among other provisions, the bill would create a new formula for determining which states must seek federal permission before making election-related changes, after the court rejected the old formula. But civil rights groups have expressed concerns about the bill’s exemptions for voter ID laws that disproportionately impact people of color and the poor.
Republicans have renewed their push to restrict reproductive rights at the federal level. On Wednesday, the House Judiciary Committee passed a sweeping anti-choice bill. Among other provisions, it would deny tax subsidies to women under the new healthcare law if the insurance they obtain covers abortion. While presiding over the bill’s markup, Republican Congressmember Bob Goodlatte of Virginia suggested it could promote job growth if women have more babies.
Rep. Bob Goodlatte: “It is very much the case that those of us in the majority support this legislation because it’s the morally right thing to do, but it also is very, very true that having a growing population and having new children brought into the world is not harmful to job creation. It very much promotes job creation for all the care and services and so on that need to be provided by a lot of people to raise children.”
In response to the committee’s actions, congressional delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton of Washington, D.C., said: “Today’s mark-up, if you think about it, launched the kick-off on the 'War on Women II.'”
The world’s largest retailer has signed onto an agreement to improve wages and working conditions for farmworkers in its supply chain. According to the Coalition for Immokalee Workers, about 30,000 workers will directly benefit from Wal-Mart’s decision to join its Fair Food Program. Eleven other companies have joined the program, including Chipotle, McDonald’s and Whole Foods.
An independent federal agency has filed a formal complaint against Wal-Mart for illegally retaliating against workers who took part in historic strikes and protests against it. The National Labor Relations Board has accused Wal-Mart of unlawfully firing 19 workers as well as threatening, disciplining and surveilling scores of others in states across the country.
In California, three teenagers who sexually assaulted a 15-year-old girl who later took her own life have been sentenced to up to 45 days in a juvenile prison. The teens have admitted to sexually assaulting Audrie Pott and then circulating pictures they had taken of her while she was passed out. The pictures featured mocking words they had written on Pott’s body. Pott hanged herself eight days later. Two of the perpetrators have already finished serving their 30-day sentences.