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HeadlinesMay 14, 2015

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Amtrak Train Traveled at Twice the Speed Limit Before Derailment

May 14, 2015

Safety officials say an Amtrak train that derailed in Philadelphia Tuesday night was traveling at twice the authorized speed. The engineer applied the emergency brakes when the train hit 106 miles per hour just moments before the train went off its tracks. The locomotive and seven passenger cars derailed, with sections of the train so mangled people had to be rescued with the aid of hydraulic tools. Seven people were killed, and more than 200 were injured. After visiting the crash site, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter said the toll could have been worse.

Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter: “To see it in the daytime is almost indescribable. It is painful. And it is amazing, it is incredible, that so many people walked away from that scene last night. I saw people on this street behind us walking off of that train, and I don’t how that happened but for the grace of God.”

The engineer driving the Amtrak train has been identified as 32-year-old Brandon Bostian from New York. According to his attorney, Bostian has no recollection of the crash itself and “no explanation” for what happened.

House GOP Votes to Cut Amtrak Funding

May 14, 2015

Less than 24 hours after the crash, House Republicans voted to cut about a fifth of Amtrak’s budget. They also rebuked attempts to provide funding for an advanced speed-control technology that federal investigators said would have prevented the accident.

Senate Reaches Deal to Vote on Fast-Track Trade Authority

May 14, 2015

The Senate has agreed to advance President Obama’s effort to finalize a global trade deal. Under a compromise, the Senate will vote on three separate trade measures, including the fast-track authority Obama seeks to negotiate the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP. The agreement was reached one day after Senate Democrats blocked debate on fast track.

House Approves Curbs to NSA Bulk Phone Collection

May 14, 2015

The House has overwhelmingly approved a measure that would rein in a key NSA surveillance tactic exposed by Edward Snowden. The USA FREEDOM Act calls for ending the bulk collection of telephone records by requiring the NSA to make specific requests to phone companies for a user’s data, rather than vacuuming up all the records at once. The vote comes just days after a federal appeals court found the bulk collection of phone records is illegal. The measure now goes to the Senate, where top Republicans are leading an effort to keep the bulk spying. Congress faces a June 1 deadline to reauthorize the phone records collection program before it expires.

House Approves Revised GOP Ban on Abortions After 20 Weeks

May 14, 2015

The House has also approved a revised version of an anti-choice measure withdrawn by Republicans earlier this year following a loud outcry. The bill would ban most abortions after 20 weeks. Republican leaders dropped a requirement that rape and incest survivors seeking an exemption first report to police. But they instead imposed mandatory counseling or medical care for such women at least 48 hours before they have an abortion. Minors would have to report rape or incest to law enforcement or child protective services. In a statement, the Center for Reproductive Rights said the measure is “cruel and unconstitutional.”

Afghanistan: 14 Killed in Attack on Kabul Guesthouse

May 14, 2015

In Afghanistan, at least 14 people have been killed after gunmen attacked a guesthouse in the capital Kabul. The attack at the Park Palace Hotel took place during a party for foreigners, and the dead include people from multiple countries, including a U.S. citizen, several people from India and Afghan civilians. The Taliban claimed responsibility, saying it had timed the attack to target “important people and Americans.”

Clashes Erupt in Burundi After General Claims Coup

May 14, 2015

The head of Burundi’s armed forces says an attempted coup against President Pierre Nkurunziza has been thwarted. An army general has claimed to have ousted the president after more than two weeks of protests. Scores of people have died and thousands have fled their homes since unrest broke out over Nkurunziza’s bid for a third term. On Wednesday, large celebrations erupted in the capital after the announcement of a coup. But the jovial scene was followed by heavy clashes between rival forces. Aides to President Nkurunziza have denounced the coup attempt as a “joke” and have vowed his return from a regional summit in Tanzania.

Dozens Killed in Philippine Factory Fire

May 14, 2015

Dozens of people have died in a fire at a rubber slipper factory near the Philippine capital of Manila. At least 72 people have been reported dead, and the toll is expected to rise.

Obama to Host Gulf Leaders at Camp David Summit

May 14, 2015

President Obama is hosting leaders and top officials from Gulf allies today in a summit at Camp David. The meeting was apparently convened to address the countries’ concerns over the nuclear deal with Iran. On Wednesday, President Obama welcomed the Saudi delegation at the White House.

President Obama: “This gives us an opportunity to discuss some of the bilateral issues, including the crisis in Yemen and how we can build on the ceasefire that’s been established to restore a process for an inclusive, legitimate government inside of Yemen, and it will also give us a chance to discuss some of the broader issues that will be the topic of the GCC-U.S. summit tomorrow.”

In an apparent snub tied to displeasure over the Iran deal, Saudi Arabia’s King Salman is skipping today’s summit. The White House says it will announce new initiatives on integrating ballistic missile defense systems and increasing joint military exercises.

Vatican Recognizes Palestinian State in Treaty

May 14, 2015

The Vatican will officially recognize the state of Palestine in a new treaty. The treaty concerns the Vatican’s interests in the Occupied Territories. Earlier drafts referred to the “Palestine Liberation Organization” rather than the “State of Palestine,” but the Vatican has referred to the state of Palestine in other contexts since at least 2012, when the United Nations voted to recognize Palestine as a non-member observer state.

Aid Ship Departs Sweden to Break Gaza Blockade

May 14, 2015

Meanwhile, a ship has departed from Sweden in a bid to break the Israeli blockade of Gaza. The Marianne of Gothenburg is carrying medical equipment and solar panels as part of the third Gaza Freedom Flotilla.

Report: Top Banks to Plead Guilty to Fraud, Antitrust Charges

May 14, 2015

Five of the world’s top banks are reportedly set to plead guilty to a number of fraud and antitrust charges in the United States. According to The New York Times, Barclays, JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup and the Royal Bank of Scotland will together pay billions of dollars in fines and plead guilty to rigging the price of foreign currencies as early as next week. UBS is also expected to plead guilty to charges and pay a $500 million fine. The Justice Department is voiding a previous non-prosecution agreement with UBS over its apparent violations of the terms. The guilty pleas aren’t expected to impact the bank’s operations. The Times said the Securities and Exchange Commission will likely approve waivers that would let the banks “conduct business as usual despite being felons.”

Port of Seattle to Seek Blockade of Shell Rigs for Arctic Drilling

May 14, 2015

The Port of Seattle has voted to seek the blockade of rigs used by the oil giant Shell for its planned drilling in the Arctic this summer. Shell has signed a lease to station its rigs in the Puget Sound while it drills for oil in the pristine and highly remote Chukchi Sea off the coast of Alaska. On Tuesday, the Port of Seattle’s board called for a legal review of Shell’s plans and a temporary postponement of its docking. The move came after a wave of activism challenging Shell’s effort. In a move denounced by environmentalists, the Obama administration granted Shell conditional approval this week to begin its offshore oil drilling in the Arctic.

“Gasland” Director Josh Fox Among 21 Arrested at Gas Storage Facility in Upstate New York

May 14, 2015

Josh Fox, director of “Gasland,” the documentary which exposed the harms of the fracking industry, has been arrested along with 20 other people after forming a human barricade at a natural gas storage facility in upstate New York. The action was part of a long-standing campaign against plans by Crestwood Midstream to expand gas storage in abandoned salt caverns at Seneca Lake, a drinking water source for 100,000 people.

Military Drops Probe of Nurse Who Refused to Force-Feed Hunger Striking Gitmo Prisoners

May 14, 2015

The military has dropped punitive measures against a Guantánamo Bay nurse who last year became the first known prison official to refuse to force-feed hunger-striking detainees. The unidentified Navy medical officer faced potential disciplinary charges that could have led to a discharge and loss of benefits. But the Pentagon announced Wednesday it won’t take action.

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