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HeadlinesMarch 19, 2014

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Report: NSA Recording All of Foreign Nation’s Phone Calls

Mar 19, 2014

The latest disclosures from Edward Snowden show the National Security Agency is recording every single phone call of an undisclosed foreign country. A surveillance system called ”MYSTIC” stores billions of phone conversations for up to 30 days. Phone calls are also being recorded in another four countries on a more limited basis. The Washington Post has withheld naming the targeted countries at the U.S. government’s request. At the White House, Press Secretary Jay Carney declined to comment.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney: “I haven’t seen the report, and I don’t have a response to it, except to say that we don’t, as a general rule, comment on every specific allegation or report. You know, we make clear what activity the NSA and our intelligence activity — our intelligence community engages in, and the fact that they are bound by our laws and the oversight of three branches of government.”

The MYSTIC operation has been in effect since 2009. In a statement, the American Civil Liberties Union criticized the program, saying: “This is a truly chilling revelation, and it’s one that underscores how high the stakes are in the debate we’re now having about bulk surveillance. The NSA has always wanted to record everything, and now it has the capacity to do so.”

Snowden to TED Conference: “We Don’t Have to Give Up Our Liberty”

Mar 19, 2014

As the latest revelation emerged, Edward Snowden continued a remote speaking tour with an address to the TEDx conference in Vancouver, Canada. Speaking from Russia through a robot that wheeled out onto the stage, Snowden urged global citizens to work together against unwarranted government surveillance.

Edward Snowden: “The last year has been a reminder that democracy may die behind closed doors, but we as individuals are born behind those same closed doors. And we don’t have to give up our privacy to have good government. We don’t have to give up our liberty to have security. And I think by working together, we can have both open government and private lives. And I look forward to working with everyone around the world to see that happen.”

Russia Seizes Ukrainian Navy Base After Announcing Crimea Annexation

Mar 19, 2014

Russia has seized control of a Ukrainian Navy base one day after formally announcing the annexation of Crimea. A Russian flag was raised above the base today in the Crimean port of Sevastopol. The seizure also follows the killing of a Ukrainian soldier in Crimea by unidentified shooters. In a speech Tuesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin declared Crimea a part of Russsia and rejected the new government that seized power in Ukraine last month.

Russian President Vladimir Putin: “Crimea has always been and remains an inseparable part of Russia. This conviction, based on truth and fairness, has always been resolute and was passed from generation to generation. Both time and circumstances could not erase it. Dramatic changes that our country went through in the 20th century could not erase it either. It is also clear that there is still no legitimate executive power in Ukraine. There is no one to talk to there. Many state bodies are seized by impostors. And on top of that, they don’t control anything in their country.”

In his remarks, Putin also blasted what he called Western hypocrisy on Crimea, saying the U.S. selectively applies international law according to its political interests.

Russian President Vladimir Putin: “Our Western partners, headed by the United States of America, prefer in their practical policy to be guided not by the international law, but by the right of the strong. They started to believe that they have been chosen and they are unique, that they are allowed to decide the fate of the world, that only they could always be right. They do whatever they want.”

U.S. Threatens New Sanctions on Russia

Mar 19, 2014

The Obama administration has threatened a new round of sanctions on top of those announced against Russian officials earlier this week. In Washington, Secretary of State John Kerry dismissed Putin’s remarks.

Secretary of State John Kerry: “I must say I was really struck and somewhat surprised and even disappointed by the interpretations and the facts as they were articulated by the president (Putin). With all due respect, they really just didn’t jibe with reality or with what’s happening on the ground. And the president may have his version of history, but I believe that he and Russia, for what they have done, are on the wrong side of history.”

U.N. Panel: Enough Evidence to Indict Syrian Combatants for War Crimes

Mar 19, 2014

United Nations investigators have expanded their list of suspected war criminals from both sides of Syria’s civil war. Panel chair Paulo Pinheiro and inquiry member Carla Del Ponte said they’ve collected enough evidence to indict.

Paulo Pinheiro: “This so-called perpetrators list contains names of persons individually criminally responsible for some war crimes and human rights violations, the names of heads of intelligence branches and detention facilities where torture was found, names of military commanders who target civilians, airports from which barrel bomb attacks are planted and executed, and names of armed groups involved in attacking and displacing civilians.”

Carla Del Ponte: “I must say as former prosecutor that I would be glad to be prosecutor of this office of the prosecutor, because the commission have collected a lot of evidences that can be used tomorrow to prepare an indictment.”

U.S. Suspends Syrian Embassy, Consulates

Mar 19, 2014

The Obama administration has suspended the Syrian Embassy in Washington and ordered the expulsion of its diplomats and staff. Secretary of State John Kerry said the Assad regime has lost the right to claim diplomatic legitimacy.

Secretary of State John Kerry: “We just felt the idea that this embassy is sitting here with representation, that we could take seriously, is an insult. And we closed it. It’s that simple. And we’ll see what happens in other places, but the Assad regime can never regain legitimacy in Syria. Whether they win, don’t win, they can’t regain legitimacy.”

Greenpeace Activists Detained at French Nuclear Plant

Mar 19, 2014

Thirty-four activists with the environmental group Greenpeace were arrested in France on Tuesday in a protest against the country’s oldest nuclear plant. The activists broke into the facility and unveiled anti-nuclear banners calling for its closure.

France Bans Monsanto GM Corn

Mar 19, 2014

France meanwhile has banned the agribusiness giant Monsanto’s genetically modified corn ahead of the annual season of sowing maize. Monsanto’s GM corn is the only variety allowed in the European Union. But France has long attempted to ban all GM crops, alleging threats to health and the environment.

Dozens Arrested Protesting Denial of Medicaid Expansion in Georgia

Mar 19, 2014

Nearly 40 people have been arrested at the Georgia State Senate in Atlanta protesting a bill that would bar the expansion of Medicaid. Georgia is one of a number of Republican-led states that have opted out of Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act. Activists stood up in the Senate gallery on Tuesday as lawmakers began debate on a measure that would reaffirm Georgia’s stance. It was the largest protest to date by Moral Monday Georgia, an outgrowth of the North Carolina group that has staged regular rallies against state Republicans since last April.

Undocumented Immigrant Who Hid in Church Basement Re-Enters U.S.

Mar 19, 2014

Dozens of people crossed the Mexican border into California Tuesday in the latest such action by immigrants challenging the Obama administration’s record deportations. The crossing was led by Elvira Arellano, a woman who made national headlines when she spent a year inside a Chicago church with her son, seeking refuge from deportation. She was deported in 2007. Arellano re-entered the U.S. on Tuesday with her two children and was taken into detention. Many participants in the protest were young people known as “DREAMers” brought to the United States as children.

Obama Admin Denies Record Number of FOIA Requests on Security Grounds

Mar 19, 2014

New figures show the Obama administration denied a record number of Freedom of Information Act requests last year despite pledges of transparency. According to the Associated Press, the White House denied or partially censored 36 percent of FOIA requests. In a record 57 percent of cases, the administration cited grounds of national security. Upon first taking office, President Obama had vowed to make his administration “the most open and transparent in history.”

New York City Advocate Calls for Hotline to Report Fast-Food Wage Theft

Mar 19, 2014

A group of fast-food workers rallied in front of a New York City McDonald’s on Tuesday in support of lawsuits accusing the company of wage theft. Employees have filed suit in three states, claiming McDonald’s and its franchises have stolen their wages through a range of illegal practices. Workers’ accusations include being forced to work while off the clock, having hours deleted from their time cards and being denied meal and rest breaks. McDonald’s worker Franklin La Paz said he’s been consistently overworked and underpaid.

Franklin La Paz: “My name is Franklin. I am 25 years old and work just over 30 hours a week at McDonald’s. I work in McDonald’s to make ends meet, but I’ve also been a victim of wage theft, and I’m here today because it has to stop. Like Jennifer, I’ve never been paid the state-mandated uniform maintenance fee, but for months now I’ve also been forced to work off the clock and after my shift ends at midnight, two nights a week for five to 10 minutes, sometimes 10 to 20 minutes off the clock. It means doing clean-up and other basic job duties. It may not sound like a lot, but when you’re living on the edge like me, every penny counts.”

Also addressing the crowd, New York City Public Advocate Letitia James said she will formally propose a measure to establish a hotline for workers to report wage theft.

Letitia James: “Fast-food corporations are regularly committing wage theft by not paying workers for tasks performed before clocking in or after clocking out, not paying workers for all the hours they work, not providing workers with a required meal break. It is unacceptable, and it’s now time that government steps in and supports these workers and protects their salaries — and supports their right to organize, so that they could have a decent salary, a living salary to make ends meet in New York City.”

U.S. Vets Shunned by Army Racism Awarded Medal of Honor

Mar 19, 2014

And two dozen U.S. veterans belonging to ethnic minorities have been awarded the Medal of Honor after long being denied because of racism. The veterans from Vietnam, Korea and World War II had gone unrecognized for heroic acts because of the racial biases of their commanders. Just three members of the group of 22 were alive to attend Tuesday’s ceremony. President Obama honored their service in what he called an effort “to set the record straight.”

President Obama: “For their gallantry under fire, each of these soldiers was long ago recognized with the Army’s second-highest award, the Distinguished Service Cross. But ask their fellow veterans, ask their families, and they’ll tell you that their extraordinary deeds merited the highest recognition. And today we have the chance to set the record straight.”

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