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10 things you need to know today: May 23, 2014

A prison guard in the electric chair room at Sing Sing Prison, New York, in 1951. This technology may be making a comeback in Tennessee.

A prison guard in the electric chair room at Sing Sing Prison, New York, in 1951. This technology may be making a comeback in Tennessee. (Evening Standard/Getty Images)

The Week

The House approves limits on NSA spying, Tennessee brings back the electric chair, and more

1. House approves sharp limits on NSA surveillance
The House of Representatives on Thursday passed a bill that would prevent the National Security Agency from mining Americans’ phone records in the hunt for terrorists. Facebook, Google, and Apple withdrew support because they said the bill had been watered down with amendments allowing the continued collection of bulk internet data. Supporters said the bill constituted progress toward ending abuses exposed by NSA leaker Edward Snowden. [San Jose Mercury News]

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2. States consider alternatives to lethal injection
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam (R) signed a bill Thursday allowing the use of the electric chair when lethal injection drugs are not available, making the state the first to bring back the chair in cases where condemned inmates can’t choose their method of execution. The move came after President Obama called for reviewing lethal injections due to Oklahoma’s botched April execution. Wyoming is considering using a firing squad. [The Associated Press]

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3. Thailand’s military leader calls talks after coup
Thailand’s army chief, Gen. Prayuth Chan-Ocha, tightened his grip on power on Friday, announcing a travel ban for leading politicians. Ousted Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and the caretaker prime minister who replaced her met with Prayuth after he summoned them and other political leaders for talks. Prayuth staged a bloodless coup on Thursday, vowing to restore stability after months of protests and political deadlock. [CNN]

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4. Wildfire erupts near Arizona tourism center
A rapidly spreading Arizona wildfire is threatening to force more than 3,000 people out of their homes. About 300 homes were evacuated as the fire engulfed 4,830 acres near Slide Rock State Park outside the tourism and retirement hub of Sedona. About 840 people were fighting the blaze, which was totally uncontained as of late Thursday. [CNN]

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5. Obama touts tourism at Baseball Hall of Fame
President Obama on Thursday became the first sitting president to visit the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. He used the stop to launch an effort to boost tourism — particularly visits to the U.S. by foreigners. Obama has called on federal agencies to streamline the process of getting foreign tourists through airports. “If they come into LaGuardia faster, then they can get to Cooperstown faster,” Obama said. [New York Daily News]

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6. IRS delays hearing on rules regarding tax-exempt groups’ political work
The Internal Revenue Service postponed a Thursday hearing on controversial new rules regarding the political activities of tax-exempt groups, saying it needed to revise the rules. The IRS has faced sharp criticism from conservatives who say the Obama administration wants the rules to silence critics, and liberals who think the proposals go too far. The agency got more than 150,000 comments during a public input period that ended three months ago. [The Washington Post]

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7. HP announces deep job cuts
Hewlett-Packard is laying off up to 16,000 employees — on top of 34,000 already cut — as CEO Meg Whitman steps up efforts to turn around the personal computer maker. The announcement came Thursday after HP reported its 11th straight quarterly sales decline. HP, which employed 317,500 worldwide at the end of 2013, is the world’s biggest PC maker, but competition from smartphones and tablets have been cutting into its sales. [The New York Times]

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8. Postal Service starts selling Harvey Milk stamp
The U.S. Postal Service on Thursday unveiled a stamp honoring slain San Francisco supervisor Harvey Milk, one of the nation’s first openly gay elected officials. Crowds lined up to buy the stamps in Milk’s old neighborhood. “It was just like when Elvis Presley went on sale,” a postal worker said. Milk passed the nation’s first strict gay-rights ordinance before he and mayor George Moscone were assassinated at City Hall in 1978. [San Francisco Chronicle]

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9. China sentences billionaire to death
A Chinese court on Friday sentenced billionaire businessman Liu Han to death, calling him and his brother “deeply evil” and saying they led a “mafia-style” gang responsible for nine murders over two decades. “Their impact on society was extremely bad,” the court said. The condemning of Liu, who was once chairman of one of the biggest companies in southwest China, came as part of President Xi Jinping’s crackdown on corruption. [The Washington Post]

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10. Landon Donovan cut from U.S. World Cup team
Landon Donovan — widely considered the greatest U.S. male soccer player ever — was cut from the U.S. World Cup team on Thursday. Coach Jurgen Klinsmann said excluding Donovan, 32, from the roster in what would have been his fourth World Cup was the toughest decision of his coaching career. Donovan, the team’s all-time leading scorer, said he was crushed but would be cheering on his teammates when play begins in Brazil next month. [USA Today]

Rep. Michael Grimm, facing federal charges, surrenders to FBI

Rep. Michael G. Grimm (R-N.Y.) faces federal charges related to his past ownership of a restaurant in Manhattan. | Carolyn Kaster/AP

Mr. Tough Guy turns himself in…

The Washington Post

Rep. Michael G. Grimm (R-N.Y.) surrendered Monday morning to federal authorities in New York as he faces multiple charges connected to a restaurant business he operated before entering Congress in 2011, according to sources familiar with the long-running probe into the lawmaker’s finances.

Grimm spent much of the weekend hunkered down, bracing for the unveiling of the federal charges, which were due to be disclosed after his surrender. He turned himself in to the FBI at an undisclosed location Monday morning and was taken to Lower Manhattan for processing. The charges stem from his ownership of a Manhattan health-food restaurant that has ties to an Israeli fundraiser who served as a liaison between Grimm and a mystic, celebrity rabbi whose followers donated more than $500,000 to Grimm’s campaign in 2010.

While the investigation has focused on Grimm’s fundraising, U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch is expected to announce an indictment centered on his restaurant business, which Grimm launched after leaving the FBI in 2006, according to officials familiar with the investigation who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the pending charges.

The state fined the Upper East Side restaurant, Healthalicious, $88,000 for not providing workers compensation. In a lawsuit against the company, workers accused the owners of not paying proper wages and sometimes giving out cash payments to skirt tax and business laws.

It is unclear whether federal prosecutors will eventually expand the charges to encompass Grimm’s campaign activities, but investigators have been moving on that side of the case against several key players, some with ties to the restaurant.

New York FBI spokesman Peter Donald declined to comment.

Healthalicious was run by a Grimm company that was connected to another company affiliated with Israeli fundraiser Ofer Biton. Last August, Biton pleaded guilty to filing false documents in 2010 when he sought an investor visa. The plea ended a standoff of several months, during which prosecutors asserted that Biton was not cooperating in their Grimm investigation.

Biton often served as a go-between for Grimm, a Roman Catholic, and followers of Yoshiyahu Yosef Pinto, a multi-millionaire celebrity rabbi with a strong following in the United States. Pinto is currently in discussions with officials in Israel over a plea deal in a case involving alleged bribery of police leaders there, according to Israeli reports. Pinto has congregations and charitable institutions in the United States and Israel, according to the Associated Press, and reportedly has close relationships with many business leaders, politicians and celebrities, including the Miami Heat’s LeBron James. Forbes Israel recently ranked Pinto as Israel’s seventh-richest rabbi, with a net worth of about $21 million.

The donations from Pinto’s followers proved crucial for Grimm in his 2010 campaign, his first political race, demonstrating to party leaders that he was a viable candidate. He narrowly beat the Democratic incumbent after a campaign that he devoted to his own biography, trumpeting his background as a Marine and an undercover FBI agent as a sign of his ethical standing.

On Friday, prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York unsealed an indictment against Diana Durand, a close friend of Grimm’s, alleging that the Houston businesswoman ran a straw-donor scheme that brought in more than $10,000 to Grimm’s 2010 campaign. The charges included lying to investigators in 2012 when they asked about her alleged reimbursement of Grimm donors.

While Grimm’s attorney has proclaimed the lawmaker’s innocence, the charges and the investigation have provided an opening for his Democratic opponent, former New York City councilman Domenic Recchia, who barnstormed the congressional district over the weekend. Recchia bounced around Staten Island and the southern end of Brooklyn, concluding the weekend at a charity event Sunday evening at the Yellow Hook Grille in Brooklyn. Upon his arrival, a waitress rushed up to Recchia and expressed interest in volunteering with his campaign.

Already inclined to support Recchia, Jessica Hauser told him that the arrival of new charges in the Grimm case “makes me extra inclined to volunteer.”

Recchia has tried to keep the campaign focused on kitchen-table issues, but he took indirect swipes at the congressman’s legal problems. “It’s very troubling what has transpired,” he said, suggesting that the criminal case will make it harder for Grimm to serve his constituents. “They want someone who is going to focus on them 100 percent.”

Despite Grimm’s legal predicament, Republicans are probably stuck with the embattled congressman on the ballot because the filing deadline for candidates passed two weeks ago. Some New York Republicans are angry about the timing of the charges, fearful that the case could get worse and leave them without a viable candidate in November. Grimm is the only Republican who represents any part of New York City.

The lawmaker’s attorney, William McGinley, denies that Grimm violated any laws and predicted that he “will be vindicated” when the case is concluded.

House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) has not spoken to Grimm about the indictment, according to aides. Neither Boehner nor Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) has commented about Grimm’s future. The National Republican Congressional Committee has declined to comment on the case. In some previous ethics cases, Boehner has called for lawmakers to resign or removed them from their committee assignments.

Grimm sits on the Financial Services Committee, which oversees Wall Street and the banking industry.

Despite the investigation, Grimm has remained a prolific fundraiser. Through March 31, he brought in more than $1.8 million for his reelection campaign and had more than $1.1 million in his account. However, the case has left a cloud over his political finances.

He paid $50,000 to McGinley’s law firm, Patton Boggs, in the last quarter, and his campaign reports show that he owes an additional $417,000 to the firm.

Here’s The History Of NYPD Abuse That Turned Its PR Campaign Into A Twitter Assault

NYPDFrisk

CREDIT: PHOTO POSTED BY OCCUPY WALL STREET’S TWITTER ACCOUNT.

Apparently, it was not the response the NYPD was expecting.  Well done Twitterverse, well done…

Think Progress

The New York Police Department may be showing early signs of reforming its practices, but it still hasn’t come to terms with its image. In a PR gaffe that was seemingly predictable to everyone but the NYPD, the Department put out a call on Twitter for constituents to send positive photos about the Department’s work under the hashtag #myNYPD.

Tweeters documented a litany of alleged encounters that ended with detached retinas, a young black boy with a scarred face, and countless instances of beatings caught on camera:

The campaign had gone so awry by morning that the New York Daily News splashed the headline “Bash Tag” across its front page Wednesday morning.

But even now that Mayor Bill de Blasio has cut back on the rampant stop-and-frisks, Muslim spying, and brutality that became synonymous with former Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s NYPD, the department doesn’t seem to have shed the attitude that prompted NYPD Chief Ray Kelly to declare last year, “You might read something snarky on Twitter, but I could take you right now to 125th Street in Harlem and young men will stop me for my picture and give me a very favorable and friendly greeting.”

And while one of the NYPD’s biggest mistakes was failing to realize that Twitter is an inherently inhospitable forum for glowing public relations, it’s worth taking a look back at the patterns of systemic abuse that underlie the outrage:

Targeting young black and Hispanic men. The NYPD’s systematic campaign against the city’s young minority men is not just evidenced by statistics that show they stopped more young black men in 2011 than there are young black men in the city. The federal judge who ruled the police department’s stop-and-frisk program unconstitutional also found that the department explicitly targeted Hispanic and black men between the ages of 14 and 20 as “the right people,” and established de facto stop quotas that fueled the pervasive tactic.

Aiming to “instill fear” in residents. The administration that thought stop-and-frisk was the answer to everything developed its reputation in part through a campaign of fear. One state senator testified at the trial on NYPD’s stop-and-frisk program that New York Police Department Commissioner Raymond Kelly said his goal was to “instill fear” in young minority men. In one incident, an officer admitted during the trial that he told a 13-year-old to stop “crying like a girl” as he handcuffed and detained him.

Inflicting disproportionate violence. In September, NYPD officers shot two innocent bystanders when they were aiming for a mentally ill man, who they were purportedly intending to subdue with gunshots. Prosecutors later charged the mentally ill man for the injuries to the bystanders. In January, an 84-year-old man was left bloodied and hospitalizedafter he was allegedly beaten by police over a jaywalking stop. And during Occupy Wall Street Protests, officers reportedly used violence “without apparent need or justification” 130 times.

Labeling entire mosques terror cells so it could spy on abuse. One of the greatest reforms of the new NYPD under Mayor Bill de Blasio was disbanding the NYPD’s Demographics Unit, which engaged in pervasive spying of the Muslim community after 9/11. But the unit existed until just six days ago, and among its major accomplishments werelabeling entire mosques terror cells without any evidence of wrongdoing, and paying a 19-year-old informant to “bait” Muslims into criminal activity.

Over-zealous policing. While the vast majority of the rampant police stops under the Bloomberg administration resulted in no arrest at all, the most common reason for arrest was for marijuana, even though public possession of marijuana was already decriminalized in New York. The program intended to thwart gun violence snagged very few guns. And other prominent arrests included a 7-year-old who alleged stole $5 from an elementary school classmate, a street artist thrown to the ground for touching the sidewalk, and a real estate broker arrested for being a “smart ass.”

Arrest for documenting abuse. As evidenced by the most recent campaign, the only reason the public knows about many of the most egregious NYPD incidents is because they were documented by photos or recordings. But many individuals have reported arrests and even beatings by NYPD officer for trying to exercise their First Amendment right to record the police. The department even circulated a “wanted” poster for a couple that was legally recording stop-and-frisks.

10 things you need to know today: March 17, 2014

An election official stands next to ballot boxes in Bakhchisaraj, Ukraine. 

An election official stands next to ballot boxes in Bakhchisaraj, Ukraine. | (AP Photo/Max Vetrov)

The Week

1. Crimea votes to leave Ukraine and join Russia
Crimeans voted overwhelmingly Sunday to secede from Ukraine and join Russia. Officials said 96 percent favored breaking away. Crimea’s parliament voted Monday to formally declare independence for the primarily ethnic-Russian peninsula. The U.S. and Europe were expected to announce sanctions on Moscow and warned it not to annex Crimea. President Obama said the U.S. would never recognize the secession vote. [The New York TimesThe Associated Press]
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2. March Madness begins
Florida was named the top-seeded team in this year’s 68-team NCAA basketball tournament, which gets underway this week. The Gators, the favored team in the South region, went undefeated in the Southeastern Conference on the way to the SEC tournament championship. They play their first game Thursday. The No. 1 seeds in the other three brackets went to Arizona (West), Wichita State (Midwest), and Virginia (East). [Los Angeles Times]
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3. Guinness pulls sponsorship of New York’s St. Patrick’s parade
Irish brewer Guinness, a key sponsor, pulled out of New York City’s Monday St. Patrick’s Day parade over organizers’ refusal to let gay organizations participate openly. Heineken and Sam Adams had already made similar moves. Mayor Bill de Blasio plans to boycott the parade, too. On Sunday, Boston Mayor Martin Walsh skipped his city’s parade after the collapse of a deal to let gay groups march. [The Boston GlobeThe Washington Post]
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4. General strikes a plea deal in sexual assault case
Brig. Gen. Jeffrey A. Sinclair reportedly has agreed to a plea deal calling for the dismissal of a rape charge in exchange for guilty pleas to lesser charges, including that he had an affair with a junior and later “maltreated” her. Army officials declined to confirm any deal, saying the outcome of the negotiations between prosecutors and the defense would be presented to a judge at Fort Bragg, N.C., on Monday. [The Washington Post]
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5. Westboro Baptist Church founder may be near death
The Rev. Fred Phelps Sr., founder of the virulently anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church, is “on the edge of death at Midland Hospice house in Topeka, Kansas,” his son, Nathan Phelps, posted on Facebook. Spokesmen at the church, which is known for picketing military funerals and declaring soldiers’ deaths to be God’s punishment for tolerating homosexuality, said Phelps, 84, was not as sick as his son claimed. [Kansas City Star]
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6. Syria takes a key border town from rebels
Syrian government forces seized the longtime rebel stronghold of Yabrud near the Lebanese border on Sunday, dealing a painful blow to opposition fighters as their battle against President Bashar al-Assad’s regime enters its fourth year. Government troops were aided by Lebanese Hezbollah militiamen, who had also helped take the border town of Qusayr last spring. [The New York Times]
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7. Thousands of Nigerians die in stampede of job applicants
At least 16 people died in Nigeria when 500,000 hopefuls rushed to apply for 4,556 government jobs, the official News Agency of Nigeria reported Sunday. Interior Minister Abba Moro said the people who were trampled “lost their lives through their impatience.” Human rights activists, however, said the government bore responsibility because it invited more applicants than it could handle. [The Associated Press]
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8. Navy SEALs retake rebel-held tanker filled with Libyan oil
Navy SEALs recaptured a hijacked oil tanker from Libyan rebels late Sunday. The raid, off the coast of Cyprus, was requested by the governments of Cyprus and Libya. The tanker, Morning Glory, was seized earlier this month by three armed Libyans. It left a rebel-held eastern Libyan port on March 10, filled with 234,000 barrels of oil that militia seeking autonomy for the region hoped to sell. [BBC News]
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9. Greenland’s ice sheet is melting faster than expected
Rising temperatures are melting Greenland’s ice sheet at a quickening pace, according to a study published in the journal Nature Climate Change. Greenland is even losing ice in its northeast region, which was stable for 25 years but has seen its ice loss triple since 2003. Scientists say the melting of so much of Greenland’s ice sheet, second in size only to Antarctica’s, will cause global sea-levels to rise. [USA Today]
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10. Seinfeld‘s “Newman” is the victim of a death hoax
Wayne Knight, known to Seinfeld fans as Newman, emphatically denied on Sunday that he had died, after several outlets reported a day earlier that the actor was killed in a tractor-trailer accident near the Pennsylvania-New York state border. “Some of you will be glad to hear this, others strangely disappointed,” Knight tweeted. “But — I am alive and well!” [Daily News]

New York City, Philadelphia, Atlantic City Break Temperature Records During December Heat Wave

The New York skyline, including the Empire State Building, is shown in this Dec. 1, 2013 aerial photo. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

We’re experiencing similar temperatures here in Atlanta.  Yet, those climate change deniers (mostly big oil supporters) turn a blind eye to this ever increasing problem…

The Huffington Post

New York City, Philadelphia and Atlantic City, N.J., have broken temperature records during a brief December heat wave.

The National Weather Service says the temperature in Central Park hit a record-setting 65 degrees Saturday. The previous record was 62, set in 2011 and 1923.

Philadelphia and Atlantic City, N.J., reached 67 degrees on Saturday afternoon. That broke Atlantic City’s previous mark of 63 degrees, set in 2011, and bested Philadelphia’s previous high of 66 degrees, set in 1895.

The temperature rose to a balmy 68 in Wilmington, Del., beating the previous mark of 65, set in 1895. And the 64 degrees recorded in Newark, N.J. broke the previous mark of 62, set in 2011.

Sunday is supposed to be even warmer in the region. Temperatures could top 70.

Taegan Goddard’s Political Wire 12-21-2013

Obamas arrive in Hawaii 12-21-2013

Taegan Goddard’s Political Wire

Obamas Arrive in Hawaii for Vacation [The Caucus] 12/21/2013 7:33:22 AM
After an end-of-the-year news conference, President Obama and his family touched down in Hawaii, his boyhood home, for a …

Monkey Cage: ‘Father Christmas’: The week in one song [Politico] 12/21/2013 8:00:27 AM
With the holiday five days away, I give you Christmas, as seen through the acerbic eyes of Ray Davies and the Kinks. Read full …

GovBeat: Chris Christie just took a big risk on immigration [CBS News] 12/21/2013 7:30:37 AM
In late September 2011, Rick Perry was riding high. Just a month and a half after joining the race for the Republican …

5 takeaways: Obama’s news conference [CBS News] 12/20/2013 5:13:36 PM 
Obama’s message: If you liked 2013, you’ll love 2014.

From crime to cigarettes, Bloomberg leaves his mark on New York [Reuters]12/21/2013 7:03:09 AM
NEW YORK (Reuters) – Love him or hate him, one thing is for sure: New Yorkers will not forget outgoing Mayor Michael Bloomberg …

Weekly addresses: GOP says Obamacare fails young people; White House looks ahead to 2014 [The Trail] 12/21/2013 6:00:06 AM
(CNN) – House Republicans took aim at Obamacare in their weekly address, while in his own weekly address President Obama …

Analysis: How the White House is rebranding Obamacare for ‘young invincibles’[Reuters] 12/21/2013 1:05:06 AM
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Last summer, White House officials planning a nationwide push to urge young adults to enroll in new …

Obama: Diverse Olympic delegation “speaks for itself” [Politico] 12/21/2013 12:25:29 AM
President Obama explains his decision to send LGBT athletes in the U.S. delegation to Olympics in Sochi, Russia, saying such …

Obama sidesteps question about Snowden amnesty [Politico] 12/21/2013 12:24:33 AM
President Obama says NSA leaker Edward Snowden started a worthwhile conversation about privacy, but he also damaged U.S. …

Federal Judge Rules That Same-Sex Marriage Is Legal in Utah [New York Times]12/20/2013 11:19:33 PM
The judge said that Utah’s amendment barring same-sex marriage violated the United States Constitution. If the ruling is …

2013: The year of gay marriage? [NBC News] 12/20/2013 1:17:01 PM
We’ve already published our 10 biggest political stories of the year. They include the government shutdown, the bungled …

10 things you need to know today: December 19, 2013

The Fed's decision to start tapering sent stocks unexpectedly soaring. 

The Fed’s decision to start tapering sent stocks unexpectedly soaring. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

The Week

Stocks soar as the Fed tapers its stimulus, advisers urge Obama to curb NSA spying, and more

1. Fed curbs its bond-buying stimulus program
Stocks surged around the world early Thursday after the Federal Reserve announced it was tapering its effort to stimulate the economy by purchasing bonds. The Fed will cut back by $10 billion at the beginning of 2014, but will still pump $75 billion into the economy in January, before gradually ending its purchases by year’s end. The Fed also announced it was strengthening its plans to keep short-term interest rates near zero. The moves signal that the job market is making solid gains but still needs some help. U.S. stock futures fell back after hitting records on Wednesday. [Wall Street JournalLos Angeles Times]
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2. Advisers recommend limiting NSA spying
A panel of advisers on Wednesday urged President Obama to limit the National Security Agency’s surveillance powers. The panel, echoing a recent court ruling, said that the NSA should not be allowed to collect phone logs in the hunt for terrorists. Instead, the advisers said, the information should be left in the hands of telecommunications companies to protect privacy, and intelligence agencies should be required to get a court order before doing any data mining. [New York Times]
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3. Senate sends Obama a budget deal
The Senate passed the bipartisan, two-year budget deal on Wednesday, sending it to President Obama for his signature. The agreement amounts to a pledge by Republicans and Democrats to avoid a government shutdown when a temporary spending measure expires Jan. 15. It says nothing about what will happen the next time the government reaches the debt limit, so there could be another budget clash when that happens, in late February or early March. [Washington Post]
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4. Foreigners evacuating South Sudan as rebels seize a town
The U.K. and U.S. sent planes Thursday evacuate British and American nationals from South Sudan as violence spread following government claims of a failed coup attempt. The British government announced its decision to get its citizens out of the oil-rich country a day after rebels seized control of a town in the country’s north from the South Sudanese Army. [BBC NewsNew York Times]
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5. Potential security breach reported at Target stores
The Secret Service is investigating a potentially massive security breach involving the credit card information of up to 40 million Target shoppers, USA Today reported on Wednesday. The problem appears to have started around Black Friday, the busiest shopping day of the year. Krebs on Security says information may have been stolen from the magnetic stripe on the backs of cards used at most of Target’s 1,800 stores around the nation. [USA Today]
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6. Kerry tries to calm India’s outrage over diplomat’s arrest
Secretary of State John Kerry is reportedly meeting with India’s external affairs minister on Thursday to soothe tensions over the arrest of India’s deputy consul general in New York, Devyani Khobragade. Prosecutors say Khobragade lied in an application for a visa for her housekeeper, dramatically inflating what she pays the woman. Indian officials say Khobragade was subjected to a “barbaric” strip search and are demanding an apology. [CNN]
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7. Congress reaches deal to send some Guantanamo prisoners home
Members of Congress have reached a tentative deal that could allow the transfer of about half of the detainees at Guantanamo Bay to their home countries. The compromise, part of a broad defense bill, still has to pass the Senate. A vote is expected later this week. If it clears that hurdle, the deal would mark a rare victory for President Obama’s push to close the controversial prison for terror suspects. [Associated Press]
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8. Obama is expected to nominate Baucus as China ambassador
President Obama reportedly plans to name outgoing Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) as the next U.S. ambassador to China. Baucus has served in the Senate since 1978, but has already said he would not run for reelection when his term ends in 2014. If he leaves early, he’ll be giving up the chairmanship of the Senate Finance Committee in the middle of a push to rewrite the tax code, dampening the effort’s chances in this Congress. [Politico]
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9. Guantanamo nativity scenes spark a controversy
The commander at the Guantanamo Bay naval base, Capt. J.R. Nettleton, ordered the removal of Nativity scenes from two dining halls on Wednesday after the Military Religious Freedom Foundation complained the displays improperly promoted Christianity. The decorations will be moved to the base’s chapel. “The spirit of the Navy’s policy on this is, if it’s religious, it goes to the chapel,” Nettleton said. [Associated PressMiami Herald]
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10. Duck Dynasty star suspended over anti-gay remarks
Phil Robertson has been suspended from the Duck Dynasty reality TV show over homophobic remarks he made in GQ magazine. Robertson, 67, said gay sex was “not logical,” and sinful, equating it to bestiality and sleeping around. A&E Networks said it was “extremely disappointed” over the comments, and gay-rights activists said they “fly in the face of what true Christians believe.” [New York Daily News]

Mayor Bloomberg On Homeless Girl Featured In The New York Times: ‘That’s Just The Way God Works’

bloomberg2

CREDIT: AP

Mayor Michael Bloomberg and people in his economic class are so out of touch with real world problems..

Think Progress 

Outgoing Mayor Michael Bloomberg (I-NY) went on the defensive when asked whether he was moved by the New York Times’ powerful series on a homeless family struggling to survive in New York City. Bloomberg defended his homelessness policies and claimed that 11-year-old Dasani, the star of the piece, ended up in dire straits due to bad luck.

“This kid was dealt a bad hand. I don’t know quite why. That’s just the way God works. Sometimes some of us are lucky and some of us are not,” he told Politicker, calling her plight “a sad situation.”

Bloomberg argued that New York “has done more than any city to help the homeless,” citing the city’s policies of subsidized health care, job training, and shelter counseling. “But if you are poor and homeless you’d be better off in New York City than anyplace else,” he insisted.

The New York Times series explicitly tied Bloomberg’s homelessness policies to Dasani’s destitute situation. “The Bloomberg administration adopted sweeping new policies intended to push the homeless to become more self-reliant,” the Times’ Andrea Elliott wrote. “They would no longer get priority access to public housing and other programs, but would receive short-term help with rent.”

As a result, Dasani’s family and others like hers found themselves unable to escape the shelter system. Homelessness swelled by 60 percent during Bloomberg’s term, despite his vow to reduce the city’s homeless population by two-thirds in five years. The mayor told the New York Times last year that families were staying in shelters longer because he had improved them to be “a much more pleasurable experience than they ever had before” — a quote that stood in stark contrast with Elliott’s descriptions of Dasani’s decrepit shelter, which is still operating after inspectors cited it for violations 400 times.

Bloomberg went on to attack the media for not understanding how good Dasani and her family have it compared to poor people in developing countries. “I think one of the problems is a lot of journalists have never looked around the world,” he said, going on to tell the reporter that “your smirk shows you haven’t been outside the country and don’t know what poverty means elsewheres.”

Mayor-Elect Bill De Blasio last week said he was deeply affected by Dasani’s story, vowing, “We are simply not going to allow this kind of reality to continue.”

10 things you need to know today: December 18, 2013

Right wing activists in New Delhi protest the U.S.’s treatment of an Indian diplomat.
(AP Photo/Saurabh Das)

The Week

The budget deal clears a Senate hurdle, India protests the arrest of a diplomat in New York, and more

1. Budget deal beats filibuster threat
A two-year bipartisan budget deal cleared a final major hurdle in the Senate on Tuesday, when a majority of 67 senators beat the threat of a GOP filibuster and approved a final vote on the measure. It could be approved as soon as Wednesday. The budget plan would restore $63 billion in automatic cuts to defense and domestic programs, while trimming the deficit by reducing military and federal employee pensions. [New York Times]
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2. India protests arrest of diplomat in New York
Indian officials reacted angrily on Tuesday to the arrest and alleged strip search of India’s deputy consul general, Devyani Khobragade, in New York City. Khobragade was accused of submitting false documents that overstated her housekeeper’s pay to secure the woman a work visa. Indian officials said Khobragade was mistreated before posting $250,000 bail. India reportedly retaliated by stripping some U.S. officials in New Delhi of diplomatic privileges. [New York Daily News]
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3. Russia gives Ukraine a bailout, sparking new protests
Russian President Vladimir Putin offered Ukraine a $15 billion bailout on Tuesday, and slashed gas prices to strengthen its ties with the financially struggling country. The move will help Ukraine avoid bankruptcy, but it prompted fresh protests in Kiev by crowds angry at Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich for dropping a proposed trade deal with the European Union and renewing the former Soviet republic’s close relations with Moscow. [Reuters]
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4. Harvard student charged with bomb hoax
Massachusetts prosecutors on Tuesday charged a Harvard undergraduate, Eldo Kim, with making a bomb threat that forced authorities to evacuate four buildings during final exams. Police said Kim, 20, sent emails to university police and administrators on Monday warning there were “shrapnel bombs” in the buildings, three of which were in historic Harvard Yard. The bomb-hoax charge is punishable with up to five years in prison. [Boston Globe]
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5. Hundreds die in clashes after South Sudan coup attempt
Fighting in South Sudan has killed up to 500 people as violence spread after an alleged coup attempt, United Nations diplomats said Tuesday. The oil-rich East African country’s government said it had arrested 10 high-ranking politicians accused of being involved in the plot, and was searching for their leader, a former vice president. The turmoil comes just two and a half years after South Sudan, Africa’s newest state, seceded from Sudan. [Associated PressReuters]
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6. Two dead in Reno hospital shooting
Two people were killed and another two injured Tuesday in a shooting spree at a Reno medical facility. Police said one of the dead was the alleged shooter, who appeared to have died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Investigators did not immediately say what firearm had been used, or what they believed to be the motive for the crime. [USA Today]
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7. Zimmerman painting fetches bids exceeding $100,000
A painting made by George Zimmerman, the man who shot Trayvon Martin but was acquitted on murder charges, had received a high bid of $110,100 on eBay as of early Wednesday. The 18-by-24-inch image features a blue American flag and part of the Pledge of Allegiance. “Everyone has been asking what I have been doing with myself,” eBay user therealgeorgez posted. “I found a creative, way to express myself” that “allows me to remain indoors.” [Los Angeles Times]
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8. U.K. police say Princess Diana was not murdered
British police said Tuesday that an investigation turned up “no credible evidence” to support suspicions that the British military had something to do with the deaths of Princess Diana, her boyfriend, and their driver 16 years ago. “Every reasonable line of enquiry was objectively pursued in order to fully evaluate any potential evidence,” London’s Metropolitan Police said in a statement concluding the inquiry. [CNN]
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9. Two winners share the second biggest U.S. lottery prize ever
Two winning tickets were drawn Tuesday night for a $636 million Mega Millions lottery jackpot. Alex Traverso, a spokesperson for the California Lottery, said the kitty might grow to $648 million once the numbers are tallied from last-minute sales, which Traverso said reached 25,000 tickets per minute. Either way, the prize will be the second largest lottery jackpot in U.S. history, falling just short of the $656 million record. [CBS/AP]
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10. Obama appoints gay athletes to Olympic delegation
President Obama sent a message of protest to Russia over its anti-gay law, passed earlier this year, by announcing Tuesday that the White House delegation to the opening ceremony of the Sochi Winter Olympics would include a gay athlete, former tennis champion Billie Jean King. The delegation will not include the president, first lady, or the vice president for the first time since the 2000 Sydney Summer Games. [USA Today]

 

10 things you need to know today: December 2, 2013

How to tip a delivery drone? 

How to tip a delivery drone? (YouTube)

The Week

The NTSB investigates New York’s deadly train wreck, Amazon plans to use drones for deliveries, and more

1. Investigators search for clues in deadly train derailment
Commuters from New York City’s northern suburbs face delays on Monday as the National Transportation Safety Board begins an exhaustive investigation into Sunday’s train derailment that killed four people and injured 63 others. The train will be flipped upright to search for more victims. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the track appeared sound, leaving speed a suspected cause. The train’s operator reportedly said the brakes failed. [Fox NewsNew York Times]
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2. Amazon plans to use drones for 30-minute deliveries
Amazon.com is testing delivery drones to bring light packages to customers inside a 10-mile radius of the online retail giant’s hubs, CEO Jeff Bezos said on CBS’ 60 Minutes Sunday night. Bezos said the company is waiting for Federal Aviation Administration approval for its octocopter delivery machines. “It will work, and it will happen,” Bezos said, “and it’s gonna be a lot of fun.” [Bloomberg]
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3. Critics say HealthCare.gov fixes are not complete
Skeptics from both parties say the Obama administration has more work ahead to fix HealthCare.gov, despite a White House report saying that the ObamaCare website is working 90 percent of the time thanks to upgrades implemented ahead of a December 1 deadline. Insurers warn that glitches in the back-end systems that deliver customer information to insurers still haven’t been fixed, so some people will be unable to enroll for coverage. [Washington TimesNew York Times]
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4. Black Friday deals reduce total sales for U.S. retailers
Heavy discounting dented the haul at stores over Thanksgiving weekend, according to the National Retail Federation. At $57.4 billion, total sales were down 3 percent from 2012 despite record crowds. The trend should continue through the holiday season, with stores offering profit-busting bargains to attract budget-conscious consumers — beginning with new deals on Cyber Monday, the biggest online shopping day every year since 2010. [ReutersCNN]
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5. China launches its first lunar rover mission
Early Monday, China successfully launched a rocket carrying a robotic rover to explore the surface of the moon. In two weeks, the Chang’e 3 probe will attempt to touch down on the moon’s Bay of Rainbows in what would be the Chinese space program’s first soft-landing anywhere in space, then deploy the six-wheeled, solar-powered “Jade Rabbit” rover. China plans to send another probe in 2020 to prepare for landing its first astronauts on the moon. [USA Today]
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6. Thailand’s prime minister rejects an ultimatum from protesters
Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra on Monday rejected an ultimatum from protesters to resign. Protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban said Sunday that he had met with Shinawatra and told her she had two days to “return power to the people,” although he didn’t say what would happen if Shinawatra didn’t bend. Four people have died in eight days of protests. Police have started using tear gas to contain crowds demanding a “people’s coup.” [Bangkok PostBBC News]
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7. Egyptian committee approves a draft constitution
A 50-member committee in Egypt approved 247 articles in a new constitution — one by one — on Sunday, state-run Nile TV and al-Ahram Online reported. The draft now goes to Egypt’s interim president, Adly Mansour, who is expected to ratify it on Tuesday and set a date for a popular referendum to approve it. The document would ban religious parties and give more power to the military, which ousted Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in July. [CNN]
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8. Gay marriage ban in Croatia passes easily
Croatians overwhelmingly approved a ban on same-sex marriage in a referendum on Sunday. While Americans are warming to gay marriage, two-thirds of the Croatians who cast ballots backed changing the country’s constitution to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman. Hundreds of gay rights supporters rallied against the measure on Saturday, but a Catholic group drew up a petition supporting it that more than 700,000 people signed. [BBC News]
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9. Scientists scramble to determine why starfish are wasting away
Sea stars are dying off in unprecedented numbers off America’s East and West coasts. Marine scientists say the creatures, commonly known as starfish, are being turned to goo by an unknown wasting disease. Researchers aren’t sure what’s going on. “These kinds of events are sentinels of change,” says Drew Harvell, a Cornell University expert on marine diseases. “It’s pretty important to figure out what’s going on.” [Washington Post]
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10. Baby panda gets a name
The National Zoo revealed the name of its baby giant panda on Sunday. The cub — the second surviving cub to be born at the Washington, D.C., park — will be called Bao Bao, which means “precious” or “treasure.” The little panda’s name was one of five Mandarin options, and people around the world cast 123,000 votes. The name was announced 100 days after the cub’s birth, in accordance with Chinese custom. [New York Times]