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The Obama administration is preparing to ask Congress to reform the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of phone records – one of the most controversial NSA practices exposed by Edward Snowden. The New York Times, citing unnamed officials, says the proposal would leave the bulk data in the hands of phone companies. To obtain specific records, the NSA would seek permission from a judge in the form of a new kind of court order. While the NSA currently retains bulk data for five years, phone companies would not have to keep it beyond 18 months.
New satellite data indicates a plane carrying 239 people that vanished nearly two weeks ago crashed into the Indian Ocean, leaving no survivors. Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak made the announcement on Tuesday.
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak: “This is a remote location, far from any possible landing sites. It is therefore with deep sadness and regret that I must inform you that, according to this new data, Flight MH370 ended in the southern Indian Ocean.”
Despite an extensive search involving multiple countries, the plane’s wreckage has yet to be recovered.
The United States and its allies have expelled Russia from the powerful Group of 8 industralized nations in response to Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine. Ukrainian troops are leaving Crimea after it voted to join Russia following the ouster of Ukraine’s pro-Russian president, Viktor Yanukovych. The Group of 7 say they will boycott a June summit in Sochi, Russia, instead holding their own talks in Brussels. The group also threatened harsher sanctions if Russia continues its incursions in Ukraine.
The action came as Senate lawmakers in the United States advanced a bill to guarantee $1 billion in loans to Ukraine’s new pro-European government with an added $100 million in direct aid. Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said the measure has broad bipartisan support.
Sen. Harry Reid: “Ukraine needs this money. We had Senator Durbin on a Sunday show, Senator Ayotte on a Sunday show, speaking together that this country needs our help. And without this money, help that we give will be a pat on the back, not really much help. So, I’m very grateful to have the support of Democrats and Republicans, as in bipartisan, to move this aid package forward this evening. I hope that the obstruction will stop. I’m hopeful and somewhat confident that this legislation will receive the strong bipartisan support that it deserves.”
A right-wing nationalist leader has been shot dead in Ukraine. The Interior Ministry said Oleksandr Muzychko died in a shootout with police. He was a leader of Right Sector, a group that was active in the protests against President Yanukoych.
An election office has come under attack in the Afghan capital Kabul. It’s unclear how many may be dead amid an assault by militants involving both explosions and a gun battle with security forces. It’s the latest attack in the lead-up to presidential elections set for April 5.
The death toll from a mudslide northeast of Seattle, Washington, has risen to 14, with 176 people reported missing. Several people were injured and about 30 homes destroyed.
In news from Africa, more than 100 Congolese refugees have died after a boat carrying them home from Uganda capsized on Lake Albert. Uganda said it had recovered 107 bodies, including 57 children. As many as 250 people were on board.
In Egypt, three Al Jazeera journalists have been denied bail after nearly three months in prison. Peter Greste, Baher Mohamed and Mohamed Fahmy stand accused of belonging to or aiding a terrorist organization. They appeared in court inside a cage on Monday, when their case was adjourned for a week. Fahmy condemned the proceedings.
Mohamed Fahmy: “Today’s proceedings show that there is — it seems like all the witnesses have some amnesia or something, Alzheimer’s. There’s a lot of discrepancies in the documents and what they are saying themselves. The prosecutor has a lot to answer for, for allowing the four engineers in the Maspero state TV to have exactly the same copy/paste testimony, that we have seen in our video.”
Mohamed Fahmy says he has been denied proper medical care after his shoulder was broken during his arrest. Egyptian prosecutors accuse Al Jazeera of supporting the Muslim Brotherhood of ousted President Mohamed Morsi, which has been declared a terrorist group and subjected to a widening crackdown. On Monday, 529 Brotherhood supporters were sentenced to death. A new mass trial has opened involving 683 people, including top Brotherhood leader Mohammed Badie.
In Spain, hundreds of thousands of people have taken to the streets to protest austerity policies imposed by the European Union. The so-called dignity marches drew residents from across the country to Madrid over the weekend to protest Spain’s 26 percent unemployment rate and call for greater investment in healthcare, education and housing. The protests were largely peaceful, but a government report said dozens were injured in clashes between protesters and police, who fired rubber bullets to disperse the demonstrators.
The United Nations has released new data on the accelerating impact of climate change. The U.N. World Meteorological Organization reports 13 of the 14 warmest years on record have all occurred in this century. In the Southern Hemisphere, Australia saw its hottest year on record last year, while Argentina saw its second hottest. The agency’s secretary-general, Michel Jarraud, described the global trend.
Michel Jarraud: “Every decade has been warmer than the preceding one over the last 40 years. In other words, the decade 2001-2010 was warmer than the '90s, which in turn were warmer than the ’80s, which were warmer than the ’70s. All the best models were used for this study, and the conclusion is actually very interesting and of concern. The conclusion is that these heat waves, it is not possible to reproduce these heat waves in the models if you don't take into account human influence.”
Jarraud also noted greenhouse gases are at a record high, meaning that Earth’s atmosphere and oceans will continue to warm for centuries to come.
In related news, the World Health Organization estimates air pollution killed seven million people in 2012. The agency said one in eight deaths worldwide were tied to air pollution, making it the single largest environmental health risk in the world.
The U.S. Supreme Court hears arguments today in two key cases about an employee’s right to birth control under the Affordable Care Act. The cases challenge the requirement that insurance plans provided by employers cover contraception. The law already contains exemptions for religious nonprofits, but now two for-profit companies, Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood, say they should also be exempt due to religious beliefs. At stake is not only the issue of contraception, but the question of whether corporations have religious rights. The case against the contraceptive mandate has reportedly been bolstered by an alliance of dozens of anti-choice and free-market groups working closely with top state employees in Ohio, Michigan, Alabama and West Virginia. According to records obtained by RH Reality Check, the group Alliance Defending Freedom has played the role of “air traffic controller” by drumming up legal briefs submitted to the court in support of the two companies. Reproductive health advocates plan to hold a “Not My Boss’s Business” rally at the Supreme Court today.
Protests are planned in New Mexico today after Albuquerque police shot and killed a homeless man who appeared to be surrendering. James Boyd was sleeping at a campsite in the Sandia Foothills last week when police arrived. Video from a police helmet cam show officers deploying a flash grenade and then firing at Boyd from yards away after he picks up his belongings and turns away. Police fire beanbags and deploy a police dog as Boyd lies on the ground, pleading with them not to hurt him and saying he can’t move. Police Chief Gorden Eden said the shooting was justified after Boyd threatened the officers with knives. But Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry rejected the chief’s assessment.
Mayor Richard Berry: “He’s new in the chief position, but that’s no excuse. I think he was — you know, shouldn’t have said that. I think what we all need to do in a horrific situation like this is we need to thoroughly and comprehensively go through the process.”
The Albuquerque Police Department already faces federal scrutiny after carrying out three dozen shootings since 2010.
In New York City, a corrections officer was arrested by FBI agents Monday over the death at Rikers Island of a mentally ill prisoner whose pleas for help went unheeded for hours. Jason Echevarria was a 25-year-old prisoner with bipolar disorder. In August 2012, he ate a packet of detergent and began vomiting and pleading for medical help. According to the complaint, Captain Terrence Pendergrass repeatedly ignored reports Echevarria was ill, at one point telling a subordinate he shouldn’t be bothered unless “there was a dead body.” The next morning, Echevarria was found dead in his cell. According to the medical examiner, the linings of his tongue and throat were burned off by the soap chemicals. Earlier this month, Echevarria’s supporters rallied to call for Pendergrass’s firing. The victim’s father, Ramon Echevarria, described his son’s time in the prison’s solitary housing unit, or SHU.
Ramon Echevarria: “When you put a person in a SHU for two months, six months, you’re breaking this person’s mental capacity down to zero. He did something bad, fine. But treat him as a human being, not like an animal. He has rights. He has civil rights. He’s got rights in this world.”
Last week, news emerged a mentally ill homeless veteran had died in an overheated cell at Rikers. An official told the Associated Press Jerome Murdough “basically baked to death.”