Newscast for Friday, August 30, 2013

  • After UK votes against military action in Syria, US discloses partial assessment of attack
  • Syrian residents describe ongoing fighting, lack of medicine at site of attack near Damascus
  • Massive spying budget funds US surveillance programs, according to leaked docs
  • In Seattle, residents cultivate edible forest to feed local community

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Anti-war rallies planned as US moves towards military action in Syria

As the United States and France move towards military action in Syria, Syrian-Americans are voicing concern for the safety of their families back in the Middle East.  FSRN’s Theresa Campagna reports from Chicago.

Anti-war protesters in several cities worldwide will march Saturday, saying a Western intervention in Syria will only intensify the war already happening on-the-ground.  This morning, both President Obama and President Hollande of France told the press they want military intervention, despite their ally’s vote against it in the UK.

“My cousin was on his way to his senior, like exam, you know, his high school exam you know.  It was the same day the university was bombed.”

That’s Bassel Al-Madani, a Syrian American in Chicago who has been fundraising to send money to family in Syria since February.  He says most Syrians are getting by, despite the war.  But like many Syrian-Americans, Al-Madani wants it to end so his family can move on. FSRN, Theresa Campagna, Chicago.

Muslim Brotherhood turn out high for Friday protests

Thousands of supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood came out in large numbers today in several Egyptian cities.  Protesters like Engineer Mustafa Hadi filled the streets in Nasser City, calling for a return to democratic rule after the takeover by General Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi.

“When El-Sisi and his supporters speak of people, they only mean their supporters.  We cannot know where is the majority and what is the majority choice unless we have elections.  And they decided to kill us if we say ‘no.’”

FSRN’s Sean David Hobbs was in Nasser City.  He witnessed the crowd beat up a man suspected of being a plain-clothes police officer. Several police and protester deaths have been reporter across the country. Journalist Enas AbdAllah told FSRN the government-controlled media is not helping the situation.

“The national media is with the military coup. So how can we come together? There is a very big gap between the two sides of citizens in Egypt.”

Government security forces today raided the studios of an Al Jazeera affiliate, according to Reporters Without Borders, and are currently detaining six Al Jazeera employees. Other outlets have also been targeted.

Colorado ready to comply with new federal marijuana guidelines

The Department of Justice released guidelines yesterday effectively allowing states to regulate marijuana as long as they meet a set of federal priorities. FSRN’s Jim Pullen brings us the reaction from Colorado, where recreational use of marijuana is now legal.

Colorado officials say that the state is ready to comply with the federal guidelines.  US Attorneys will now frame marijuana enforcement within the context of eight priorities, including distribution and marketing to minors, cartels and gangs, interstate trafficking, and firearms. States and local jurisdictions will be allowed to regulate marijuana if they implement and enforce rules that effectively address the eight threats. Colorado has moved forward on robust state and local regulations, following a November vote that allows adults over 21 to legally grow up to six plants and possess up to one ounce of marijuana for recreational use. The new federal guidelines resolves questions about how the government is going to treat large, commercial businesses involved in the marijuana industry, says University of Denver professor Sam Kamin, an expert on marijuana regulation.

“And this says we recognize that distinction is not a significant one, and in fact says that simply because a business is large and for profit, doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s necessarily violating or that we’ll prosecute under the Controlled Substances Act.”

A state task force is finalizing rules that must be completed by October 15th.  Kamin says that Colorado’s robust rule-making is a model for other states. Jim Pullen, FSRN, Boulder.

Privacy activists “award” biggest violators of the year with Big Brother honors

And finally, last night in Amsterdam, the Dutch privacy group Bits of Freedom handed out the Big Brother Awards to the two biggest privacy violators of the year. The dubious honors are given out annually in several countries throughout Europe. With recent revelations about widespread US government monitoring of citizen communications, organizers are seeking to drive home the idea that “fighting crime by committing one” is not an acceptable tactic. FSRN’s Peter Teffer reports from Amsterdam.

“De winnaar…  van de publieksprijs van de Big Brother Awards 2013 is…  Ivo Opstelten!”

The Dutch minister for Security and Justice, Ivo Opstelten was the winner if this year’s audience award. He was given the “prize” for privacy-violating policies, like one plan to allow police officers to search and even control computers of suspects.  Although he was not present at the ceremony in Amsterdam, Opstelten did respond via a video message, in which he jokingly filmed himself with a drone. The US National Security Agency was also nominated, but perhaps the Dutch voters thought it better to stay close to home. American hacker Jacob Appelbaum, who gave a key note speech, noted in reference to the NSA head, that at least the Dutch minister was generous enough to send a response.

“Imagine if we wanted to ask General Alexander for a comment like that. It would never happen.”

A jury prize was also given to the Dutch tax office, which accessed information from other governmental agencies that should have been deleted.  Peter Teffer, FSRN, Amsterdam.


After UK votes against military action in Syria, US discloses partial assessment of attack

Western support for a military strike on Syria is narrowing after NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the alliance had no plans to intervene and the British House of Commons voted against the action. Prime Minister David Cameron, speaking last night, after the parliamentary vote:

“I strongly believe in the need for a tough response to the use of chemical weapons, but I also believe in respecting the will of this House of Commons. It is very clear tonight that while the House has not passed a motion, it is clear to me that the British Parliament, reflecting the views of the British people, does not want to see British military action. I get that, and the government will act accordingly.”

Despite the waning support of key allies, the Obama administration says it’s still weighing options. Today, officials released a four-page document outlining why the US believes the Syrian government carried out chemical weapon attacks last week. The document states that officials “have intelligence” that leads them to “assess” that Syrian government personnel prepared chemical munitions in advance of the attack and were operating in the Damascus suburb of ‘Adra between August 18 and the early morning hours of August 21, when the attacks took place. The document released to the public does not include photos, satellite imagery, audio or video evidence. Speaking today, Secretary of State John Kerry vowed not to repeat the lead up to the Iraq war, when the US used false information to make the case for the military invasion of Iraq.

“Our intelligence community has carefully reviewed and re-reviewed information regarding this attack and I will tell you, it has done so more than mindful of the Iraq experience. We will not repeat that moment.”

The document released by US officials also states that the US “intercepted communications involving a senior official intimately familiar with the offensive who confirmed that chemical weapons were used by the regime on August 21.” The document does not identify that Syrian official or include a transcript of the intercepted communications. Kerry acknowledged that the declassified information made public was limited.

“In order to protect sources and methods, some of what we know will only be released to members of Congress, the representative of the American people. That means that some things we do know we can’t talk about publicly.”

Kerry called the attacks a “crime against humanity” and said a preliminary US assessment into deaths found more than 1,400 people killed, including at least 426 children. Anti-war protesters are planning demonstrations in a number of US and global cities Saturday. They also gathered at the White House Thursday, calling for a non-violent response to the conflict in Syria. Noor Mir is the anti-drone campaign coordinator at CODEPINK. She said a military strike would lead to more civilian deaths.

“Even if a chemical weapon was used and the Assad regime is definitely at fault and is brutal, it must be held accountable. This is not the way to do it. If they do end up striking upon Syria, they will be striking on densely-populated areas which is where most of the fighting is taking place. What’s going to happen is more and more civilians are going to die.”

Syrian residents describe ongoing fighting, lack of medicine at site of attack near Damascus

Human rights groups inside Syria are calling for more investigations into the attacks on August 21 and non-military options, such as referral of evidence to the International Criminal Court. One of those groups is the Violations Documentation Center. Bassam al Ahmad is a spokesperson for the group, also known as VDC. He joins us from Istanbul.

Massive spying budget funds US surveillance programs, according to leaked docs

Secret government documents leaked by former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden and published by the Washington Post this week have shed light on which agencies get what share of a more than $50 billion annual budget that so far lacked public oversight. The documents show how much taxpayer money is given to tech companies for handing over private data about their users and that thousand of government employees work on circumventing encryption. Legal experts and transparency advocates say the government needs to release much more information so the public can have an informed debate on which programs deserve how much taxpayer money. In Washington, FSRN’s Alice Ollstein has more.

In Seattle, residents cultivate edible forest to feed local community

Across the country, communities are creating alternatives to the model of industrial agriculture and finding ways to both care for the earth and grow healthy food. One of these solutions is called a food forest, a sustainable method of growing edible plants and trees. One of the nation’s largest is Beacon Food Forest in Seattle, Washington where the urban food movement is transforming parkland one acre at a time. FSRN’s Martha Baskin has our story.

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