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Wednesday, July 17, 2013

NSA Faces Slew of Lawsuits, Ordered to Release Classified Documents

Yahoo won an important legal victory on Monday, when a FISA court ordered the Department of Justice to release the documentation justifying the legality of the PRISM program, as well as those demonstrating that Yahoo resisted the orders the court itself had originally issued. The DOJ now has two weeks in which it must reveal its timeframe for releasing these files, which are sure to be heavily redacted.

The lawsuits are diverse in their legal arguments and in their targets.  Most interestingly, the conservative group Judicial Watch filed a class-action lawsuit against the companies who participated in the NSA’s PRISM program, including Microsoft, AOL, Google, Facebook and Apple. By creating legal and financial strains, this sort of lawsuit threatens the NSA’s crucial relationship with telecommunications and internet companies, as it could force them to reassess the scope of their relationship with the agency.

Without their continual participation, the NSA could still perform “upstream” collection, but could not get complete copies of emails, for example, without going to the companies with a warrant.

Syrian Civil War Has Caused the Worst Refugee Crisis in 20 Years

Syria’s prolonged, bloody civil war now kills 5,000 people every month; every single day so far in 2013, 6,000 more have fled the country. A U.N. official noted that refugee numbers haven’t spiked “at such a frightening rate” since the 1994 Rwandan genocide. At least 6.8 million Syrians are currently in need of urgent humanitarian assistance, but only 14 aid organizations have been allowed in. The U.N. Security Council has done nothing, with Russia and China still refusing to take any action against President Bashar al-Assad. Samantha Power, President Barack Obama’s nominee for ambassador to the U.N., said the world’s inaction on Syria is a “disgrace.”

The explosion of the refugee crisis in neighboring countries, highest in Jordan and Lebanon, threatens to ignite the entire region. The U.N. envoy to Iraq warned that “the battlefields [in Iraq and Syria] are merging.” The last four months have been some of Iraq’s bloodiest in the past five years, with almost 3,000 people killed. It is no longer only Syrian violence spilling over into Iraq, but Iraqi soldiers have reportedly been taking up arms against each other in Syria.

Protests in India After Dozens of Children Die from Contaminated Lunches

At least 25 children, between the ages of 6 and 11, have died and dozens more are hospitalized after eaten a tainted lunch provided by their school. India’s Mid-Day Meal program provides free food to 120 million students across the country, but notoriously suffers bad hygiene. The school cook had told the principle that the new cooking looked “dodgy,” but was told it was safe.  He was also hospitalized.

Early tests suggested the food had been contaminated with organo-phosphorous, a local pesticide used to preserve rice. A small dose would be enough to kill a child, said the hospital’s doctor, but given the critical condition of the children, “there were large quantities of poison” in the food.

Demonstrations against the government swiftly turned violent as enraged and grief-stricken protesters threw rocks at the police station and politicians, set buses and police cars on fire, and burned the region’s chief minister in effigy.

Ethnic Violence in Guinea

Ethnic gangs prowled the streets for two days in Guinea’s second largest city, Nzerekore, in the southeast, leaving at least 11 people dead. A witness said many had been killed with machetes and at least one seemed to have been burned alive. This region is near a porous border with Liberia, Sierra Leone and the Ivory Coast, all of which are still reeling from their own bloody conflicts.

President Alpha Conde called for calm and national unity in the run up to the elections, meant to be the final step in returning Guinea to civilian rule after a 2008 coup. The recent violence follows months of deadlock and deadly clashes (often ethnically driven), until Conde and the opposition finally agreed to hold elections on September 24th. Conde is supported by the second-largest ethnic group in Guinea, the Malinke, while the opposition is backed by the largest, the Peul.

Nifty Science News

A new species of dinosaur was recently discovered in Utah, called the Nasutoceratops titus. Its uniquely large, bony snout, yard-long horns and unadorned bony frill behind its head all indicate that it belongs to a previously unknown group of horned dinosaurs.  It is the first horned dinosaur from the Late Cretaceous in this part of Utah, previously an isolated landmass called Laramidia, and has a different genetic lineage than the horned dinosaurs found in Alaska and Canada.

A giant gas cloud that was first observed heading toward the black hole at the center of our galaxy in 2011 has begun its death spiral. The black hole’s extreme gravity has stretched it out like a piece of spaghetti as astronomers hope to observe the black hole rip it apart and devour it. The black hole at the center of the Milky Way is the closest known “supermassive” black hole, with an estimated mass of four million times that of the sun. It is formally known as Sagittarius A.

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