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The government’s authority to sweep up millions of Americans’ phone records has temporarily expired after the Senate failed to renew it before a midnight deadline. Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky blocked an extension of bulk surveillance and two other USA PATRIOT Act measures during a special Sunday session. The Senate later voted 77 to 17 to now consider the measure known as the USA FREEDOM Act, which would reform bulk collection 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. This month marks two years since whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed the NSA’s mass surveillance tactics.
A weekend of violence in Syria has left dozens of people dead. Government bombings killed at least 70 people, mostly civilians, on Saturday in the northern province of Aleppo. Some 65 people died in government attacks on the city of Qamishli. At least 40 people were killed and dozens seriously wounded when an explosion set off a fire at a clinic in the northeastern province of Hasakah.
The U.S. has formally removed Cuba from its list of state sponsors of terrorism, clearing a main obstacle to restoring diplomatic ties with Havana. State Department spokesperson Jeff Rathke made the announcement.
Jeff Rathke: “We’ve issued this morning a statement about the rescission of Cuba’s designation as a state sponsor of terrorism. It is effective today, May 29, 2015. And this reflects our assessment after undertaking the review that was requested by the president, our assessment that Cuba meets the statutory criteria for rescission.”
Cuba was placed on the terrorism list in 1982 at a time Havana was supporting liberation struggles in Africa and Latin America. President Obama ordered a review of Cuba’s inclusion as part of his bid to normalize relations. But broad sanctions under the existing U.S. embargo on Cuba make the move all but symbolic. Talks are continuing between the two sides on reopening embassies.
European officials say at least 5,000 migrants have been rescued in the Mediterranean since Friday. The migrants were on 25 vessels that left from Libya on their way to various European countries. It’s said to be the biggest wave of migrants this year so far.
The beleaguered head of the soccer governing body FIFA has won a fifth term amidst a corruption scandal in his top ranks. Sepp Blatter was re-elected on Friday just days after the indictments of 14 people, including two FIFA vice presidents, on corruption charges. Michael van Praag, a former rival contender, criticized the vote.
Michael van Praag: “We did our very best. I spent a lot of time in the last couple of months to help achieving a change. Now, it proves that the majority of this congress don’t want a change. Now, that says a lot about the people who voted this way.”
Friday’s session also saw Palestinian delegates withdraw a bid to suspend Israel over its restrictions on the movement of Palestinian soccer players in the Occupied Territories. Palestinian football chief Jibril Rajoub announced his decision.
Jibril Rajoub: “I am here to find a solution for a painful issue so close to the hearts of all defenders of football ethics and values, rather than to score goals even against those who are responsible for my football family suffering. I decided to drop the suspension, but it does not mean that I give up the resistance according to the statutes of FIFA.”
The FIFA Congress instead approved a measure establishing a new committee representing both sides to resolve disputes. In the Palestinian city of Ramallah, Zeid Shueidi of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement criticized the outcome.
Zeid Shueidi :”The Palestinian BDS National Committee is disappointed that the entire FIFA Congress, including the Palestinian Football Association, have not lived up to their obligation and stated principles. FIFA and its membership have delayed the suspension of Israel, but they cannot delay the growth of the international boycott of Israel or prevent the continued isolation of Israel.”
An Egyptian-American activist has returned to the United States after nearly two years behind bars in Egypt. Mohamed Soltan was arrested in September 2013 and had been on hunger strike for over a year in protest. He was recently sentenced to life in prison on charges of supporting the Muslim Brotherhood and transmitting false news. But he was freed over the weekend after the U.S. helped secure his release.
New figures show the death toll from police shootings in the United States this year is twice the official figure. The Washington Post says police have shot dead at least 385 people in 2015, an average of almost 2.6 per day. The FBI’s death rate for police killings over the last decade is 1.1 per day. More than 80 percent of those killed were said to have been carrying a potentially deadly weapon, while 16 percent were unarmed. African Americans were disproportionately high among the victims, killed at three times the rate of other racial groups.
More than 200 protesters, including some carrying weapons, gathered in Phoenix on Friday for an anti-Islam rally. An equal number of counter-protesters met the group as they stood outside the Islamic Community Center during evening prayers. The organizer of the anti-Islam protest says he called the event after two gunmen tried to attack an anti-Muslim gathering in Texas last month. More than a dozen participants carried semi-automatic weapons amid chants of anti-Islam slogans. Imraan Siddiqi of the Council on American-Islamic Relations said local officials had failed to speak out in opposition.
Imraan Siddiqi: “These are your own citizens that are here in Phoenix. There’s 50,000 Muslims that live here in Phoenix. It’s a growing community. We’re voters. We’re positive contributors to society. But how come there’s some type of political hot potato that takes place when the Muslim community is being targeted?”
A Muslim passenger is accusing United Airlines of discrimination after she was told she could not have an unopened can of soda because it could be used as a weapon. Tahera Ahmad, who wears a headscarf, was on board a flight to Washington, D.C., when she asked for an unopened Diet Coke. Although another passenger was given an unopened beverage, Ahmad was told she could not have one because it was a security risk. United says it has apologized.
A new website is targeting pro-Palestinian college activists by seeking to deny them jobs after they graduate. Dubbed “Canary Mission,” the site profiles dozens of students and graduates involved in the Palestinian cause, in the hopes employers won’t hire them. In a promotional video, a narrator asks for help in ensuring that “today’s radicals are not tomorrow’s employees.”
Canary Mission ad: “These individuals are applying for jobs within your company. There is no record of their membership of radical organizations. No one remembers their yelling profanities on campus or attending Jew-hating conference and anti-American rallies. All evidence has been eradicated, and soon they will be part of your team. Canary Mission’s simple interface allows you to easily explore profiles of radical individuals and organizations. BDS News will keep you up-to-date with the latest developments. And follow our blog for an in-depth analysis of radical campus activity. Join us to combat this wave of hatred, protect freedom and make campus life safe for everyone. It is your duty to ensure that today’s radicals are not tomorrow’s employees.”
The targeted students include members of Students for Justice in Palestine, which is active on campuses nationwide. Although the students’ names, photographs and biographical information are extensively shown, the Canary Mission keeps its own backers and staffers completely secret.
Former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley has announced his bid for the Democratic presidential nomination. In his kickoff address, O’Malley voiced indirect criticism of fellow candidates Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush.
Martin O’Malley: “The presidency is not a crown to be passed back and forth by you between two royal families. It is a sacred trust to be earned from the American people, an exercise on behalf of the people of these United States. The only way we are going to rebuild the American dream is if we retake control of our own American government.”
O’Malley’s tenure as Baltimore mayor has come under scrutiny since the riots over the death of Freddie Gray. He oversaw a drop in the crime rate but was accused by critics of rigging the numbers and encouraging abusive policing. May was Baltimore’s deadliest month in more than four decades, with 43 reported homicides.
Secretary of State John Kerry has cut short a European trip after breaking his leg in a biking accident. Kerry sustained the injury Saturday in France after wrapping up a new session of talks with Iran. He will be treated in Boston and is expected to make a full recovery.
And Beau Biden, the eldest son of Vice President Joe Biden, has died of brain cancer. He was 46 years old. Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid paid tribute to Biden on Sunday.
Sen. Harry Reid: “Beau left us far too soon, 46 years old, but I’m certain his family will take solace knowing he lived a selfless, noble life. And for my friend, Joe Biden, who I served in Congress with for so many, many years, I extend my deepest thoughts and condolences to you, Joe.”
Biden served eight years as Delaware attorney general and had planned on running for governor in 2016.