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Wednesday, July 31, 2013

U.S. Government Declassifies NSA Court Order

The U.S. government declassified a document that explicates the National Security Agency’s spying capabilities in greater detail than was previously publicly known. The document, which was written on April 25 and disclosed at the Senate judiciary committee hearing on Wednesday, backed up Edward Snowden’s claims about the NSA. For example, when outlining the rules for sifting through metadata collected under the program, the document states that the “NSA shall ensure, through adequate and appropriate technical and management controls, that queries of the [business records] metadata for intelligence analysis purposes will be initiated only using a selection term that has been [reasonable articulable suspicion]-approved,” meaning that if NSA employees simply claim that a target meets “reasonable articulable suspicion” (called “NAS” within the NSA), a judge does not verify this claim and the NSA employee can search the database.

During Wednesday’s Senate judiciary committee hearing, Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) criticized the facts in the document, arguing, “I assure you as a recovering lawyer myself there is no context in civil discovery or otherwise to take in information from each and every American who owns a telephone.” Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-CA), chairwoman of the Senate judiciary committee, defended the program, saying, “I support this program. I think based on what I know, [terrorists] will come after us. And I think we need to prevent an attack wherever we can from happening. That doesn’t mean that we can’t make some changes.”

Egyptian Government Disperses Pro-Morsi Protesters

The Egyptian government told the country’s security and police forces to break up pro-Morsi protests in Cairo. Dorreya Sharaf, the Information Minister of Egypt, said, “The continuation of the grave situation in Rabaa and Nahda squares and the acts of terrorism, intimidation and cutting off roads is no longer acceptable.”

The government claims that the protests threaten national security and must be ended by “all necessary measures”. Gehad el-Haddad, spokesman for the Muslim Brotherhood, responded, “We are not leaving. Rabaa is an open, peaceful sit-in of citizens protesting against the coup. People can roam freely through here and see there is no threat here. We don’t intend on dispersing it any time soon.”

The Obama administration urged the government to end state-sanctioned violence and to transition into a democratic society as soon as possible, but refused to label the overthrow of Morsi a coup d’état, which, under U.S. law, would require a suspension of the $1.5 billion annual aid to Egypt.

Obama Defends Potential Fed Chairman Nominee Summers

U.S. president Barack Obama defended one of his potential nominees for Federal Reserve chairman, Larry Summer, against criticism, saying that while he’s “not even close” to making a choice, Summers is a rock of stability who helped turn the economy around after the 2008 financial crisis. Obama’s remarks come after a leak that Summers was the “overwhelming favorite” to replace current chairman Ben Bernanke over Janet Yellen, the current vice chairman of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System.

After news that Summers was the potential favorite to become the next chairman of the Federal Reserve system, critics argued that not only was Summers a poor pick for the job due to his enigmatic views on monetary policy, but also that Yellen was a more capable pick. Obama is expected to nominate a successor once Bernanke’s term ends in January 2014.

Zimbabwe Holds Presidential Election

Amid allegations of voter fraud and vote-rigging, Zimbabwe held presidential elections on Wednesday. The election was a clear referendum on the presidency of Robert Mugabe, who controversially redistributed white-owned farms to black farmers. Zimbabwe, which has been hit hard by hyperinflation destroyed the currency and led many to abandon it. His main challenger is Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, who was elected Prime Minister under a coalition government after Mugabe failed to achieve a majority of the vote in 2009.

If Mugabe loses, he is highly unlikely to relinquish power easily, as many of his main supporters have stated that Tsvangirai is a “Western puppet” and that they would not accept a Tsvangirai victory. Election results are expected within five days. If a candidate does not receive more than 50% of the vote, a run-off election will be held in September.

Dolly’s Creator Urges Scientists to Clone Mammoth

Ian Wilmut, creator of Dolly, the first cloned sheep, expressed his support for cloning a wooly mammoth after a preserved mammoth carcass was found. Wilmut claimed that scientists could use mammoth stem cells to clone the animal, adding, “I’ve always been very sceptical about the whole idea, but it dawned on me that if you could clear the first hurdle of getting viable cells from mammoths, you might be able to do something useful and interesting.” He later hedged, adding, “”I would say it’s fairly unlikely, but the world is full of surprises,” after expressing concern for the animals’ well-being.

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