The whistleblower’s latest leaks reveal that UK surveillance and the NSA targeted Germans, the Israeli PM and EU chief, and aid organizations. Also on the snoop list: humanitarian operations such as the U.N. development program and children’s charity UNICEF, and independent health charities like Médecins du Monde. This latest revelation won’t go over well in Washington given the criticism of the NSA following reports that it had been eavesdropping on German chancellor, Angela Merkel. Aid execs are also not impressed.
The Presidential Daily Brief
The UN evacuated a Sudanese base after a deadly attack, as President Obama warns that violence there has pushed the new nation to a precipice. Three UN peacekeepers died Thursday. The army has lost ground to rebel gangs. Tens of thousands of people have sought refuge, and the U.S. and Britain started evacuations and warned citizens to flee. The UN Security Counsel is holding emergency talks Friday. African mediators call Friday talks “productive” in efforts to keep the continent’s youngest nation from civil war.
The Obama administration announced late on Thursday that it would allow some of the Americans whose individual insurance policies have been canceled to purchase bare-bones plans for 2014. The surprise decision, just days before a Dec. 23 deadline to elect coverage for next year, would enable them to purchase plans with low payments and very high deductibles that were only available to people under 30 or who had qualified for specific exemptions. The announcement upset insurers, who priced new plans based on the assumption that such individuals would roll over into healthcare exchange plans, and gave Republicans more fodder.
The International Criminal Court appeared to suffer another major setback on Thursday in the case against Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta, as Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda asked for more time to gather evidence. Kenyatta is charged with orchestrating the 2007 post-election violence that killed more than 1,100 Kenyans. Bensouda acknowledged that after losing two key witnesses — one admitted to lying, and one is no longer willing to testify — the prosecution’s case no longer met the evidentiary standards set by the court. The investigation has been beset with problems, as President Kenyatta has rallied other African leaders to his cause and Kenyan officials have blocked access to witnesses and evidence.
As part of the U.S. Justice Department’s recent push to reduce sentences in non-violent crimes and rein in the nation’s sizeable prison population, President Obama commuted the sentences of eight federal inmates with convictions related to crack cocaine. Obama also pardoned 13 others. All eight inmates had already served at least 15 years in prison and were sentenced before the 2010 Fair Sentencing Act, which sought to reduce the dramatic disparity between sentences for crack and powder cocaine.
EU leaders are expected to announce a bank reform deal this week to start of a banking union. The three-part process would eventually include a single central regulator, a set procedure for winding down failed banks, and a common deposit guarantee. Meetings in Brussels this week focused on the second element, and in the future a Single Resolution Board will make the call on when to shutter a bank. A $75 billion resolution fund will also be created over the next ten years. The ultimate goal is to keep bank collapses from derailing national economies and destabilizing the euro.
North Korea threatens to attack South Korea in a fax sent Thursday. (CNN).
The ceiling of London’s Apollo Theater collapses during a show, injuring more than 80. (The Guardian).
A mayor is among at least four killed in a shooting at Manila airport. (CNN).
Putin pardons jailed tycoon and arch-rival Mikhail Khodorkovsky. (USA Today).
N.J. Governor Chris Christie to sign version of Dream Act into law. (NYT).
Can cocktails help keep you from getting sick? (Mother Jones).
Anti-gay comments to a magazine reporter earned “Duck Dynasty” patriarch Phil Robertson a suspension from the number one U.S. reality TV show. Republican leaders say his case is one of First Amendment free speech, and he should be allowed to express his opinion. As one critic posits, the issue highlights the national culture dichotomy between middle-American audiences who embrace the values of the TV stars versus those who embrace gay rights. Of course, the biggest question might be whether viewers tune out, too.
Since 1993, when a Spanish clown drew a crowd of 700 in war-stricken Croatia, Clowns Without Borders has worked to deliver a little levity to places in crisis. The organization has affiliates in nine countries, including a troupe currently operating in Syria. Jesters have also visited Mexico, Haiti, Colombia, Peru and South Africa. These jokers recognize that food, water and medicines have to come first. But they’re not afraid to push boundaries and recently performed a checkpoint skit in Palestine. After all, “clowns have different rules.”
Concerned New Yorkers, dressed as book covers and as billionaires, gathered on 42nd Street this week to protest the proposed demolition of the library’s stacks storage space. The Library Lovers League is concerned that the changes to library facilities are designed to free up space for luxury apartments. The library refutes this claim, saying that the books are being reorganized to optimize user experience. Either way, the plan has been temporarily put on hold due to a lawsuit filed by five scholars who claim that the removal of 3 million items from the stacks would hinder their research.
The Gaia satellite, the European Space Agency’s $620 million, 20-year investment, has lift-off. It has a five-year, 15-million kilometer mission to survey a billion of the Milky Way’s stars. Data from Gaia’s two telescopes and billion-pixel camera will be used to create the largest and most precise 3D map of the galaxy ever made. Researchers hope to get not only a clearer picture of the galaxy as it is, but as it might evolve over the next few million years.
Forget Mega Millions: Jeffrey Gonano has a $1 million Picasso. The 1914 painting entitled ”L’Homme au Gibus (Man with Opera Hat)” was raffled off online as part of a charity effort to save the ancient Lebanese city of Tyre from development. About 50,000 raffle tickets were sold. Picasso’s grandson Oliver Picasso gave his blessing to the event, saying that he felt sure his grandfather would have wanted to help the cause. Gonano had no particular plans for the 100-year-old painting. “I was looking for art and I thought, ’I might as well’,” he said.
What would Brian Boitano do? As the famous South Park jingle goes, “he’d make a plan and he’d follow through.” The 1988 gold medalist will join the U.S. Olympic delegation to the Sochi games — and, he says, will be representing his country by coming out as gay. Boitano cited America’s “diversity, openness, and tolerance” in his announcement, a nudge at Russia’s fraught LGBT politics in the lead-up to the Olympics. Boitano’s public coming out follows British Olympic swimmer Tom Daley, who announced he was in a relationship with a man earlier this month.
Source: USA Today