A report released Monday by Human Rights Watch and the American Civil Liberties Union found that mass surveillance by the NSA and other spying agencies is seriously undermining press freedom and citizens' ability to hold the U.S. government accountable.
In the 120-page document, "With Liberty to Monitor All," the civil liberties organizations report that mass electronic surveillance, in addition to intruding on Americans' private lives, has a chilling effect on the media and broader freedoms of speech and association. The study includes interviews with journalists who say that their sources and colleagues are now more cautious about the information they share and report out of fear of government reprisal. "People are increasingly scared to talk about anything," said one Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter.
"The U.S. holds itself out as a model of freedom and democracy, but its own surveillance programs are threatening the values it claims to represent," said report author Alex Sinha. "The U.S. should genuinely confront the fact that its massive surveillance programs are damaging many critically important rights." Bonnie Kristian
For his 97th birthday, Bill Grun lived out his childhood dream of becoming a firefighter.
The Doylestown, Pennsylvania, resident spent 70 rewarding years as a teacher, but always admired firefighters. "I'll say one thing about firemen — they are really gutsy," he told Fox 29. "We get choked up on candle smoke, and those fellas have to face all that stuff. It's tough." He was surprised on Monday by the all-volunteer crew of the Doylestown Fire Company, who came and picked him up from his retirement home with a ladder truck. While there weren't any fires to fight that day, Grun did have a very important job: He was in charge of the siren. Catherine Garcia
The Venezuelan government is accusing the Organization of American States (OAS) of meddling in the country's affairs, and said it plans on leaving the Washington-based group as soon as possible.
The announcement came after the OAS voted to hold a meeting with foreign ministers to talk about the economic crisis and protests rocking Venezuela. Inflation is soon expected to reach 700 percent, and there is a shortage of food and medicine. Nearly 30 people have been killed during anti-government protests, including a demonstrator who was hit in the head by a tear gas canister Wednesday in Caracas.
The opposition is asking for early elections, and blames President Nicolas Maduro's socialist party for the country's woes; the government is blaming business elites. The Venezuelan government has also accused the United States of attempting to undermine Maduro's party, and Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez said the OAS is focusing on her country while ignoring what she called violations of democracy in Brazil, the BBC reports. Catherine Garcia
Coming up on 100 days in office and "desperate for positive accomplishments to celebrate," President Trump is bragging about signing 30 executive orders, Seth Meyers said on Wednesday's Late Night, unimpressed. This "is ridiculous," he said. "Claiming you've been a good president just because you signed a lot of executive orders makes no sense. But don't just take it from me." After a series of clips of Trump pooh-poohing former President Barack Obama's relatively restrained use of executive orders, and his golfing, Meyers shook his head: "It is, at this point, like a law of physics: For every Trump action there's an equal and opposite Trump clip." He gave New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie the same treatment, only sadder.
Meyers breezed through Trump's sharp reversals on NATO and funding for his Mexico border wall, plus Ivanka Trump's trip to Berlin, then turned to Trump's new tax plan: "So the president has very little to show for his first 100 days, which may be why Trump, who sold himself as a champion of the forgotten man, is setting his sights on a new goal: a giant tax cut for corporations." He ran through a short, familiar list of people who would benefit from such a tax cut, then noted that the actual details of the plan are still pretty vague. When Trump tried to explain his plan, as he did to The Associated Press, is was largely "unintelligible." "Trump's answers are literally just Mad Libs now," Meyers said, and he came up with one for Trump's tax proposal. Watch below. Peter Weber
After speaking with the leaders of Mexico and Canada, President Trump "agreed not to terminate NAFTA at this time," the White House announced Wednesday night.
The North American Free Trade Agreement between the U.S., Mexico, and Canada was implemented in 1994, and while on the campaign trail, Trump called it a "job killer" and a "disaster." In a statement, the White House said Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto "agreed to proceed swiftly, according to their required internal procedures, to enable the renegotiation" of the trade deal to "the benefit of all three countries."
Earlier in the day, a senior administration official told The New York Times the White House was finalizing the wording of an order to withdraw from the deal, with the draft reportedly written by Trump's chief strategist, Stephen Bannon, and Peter Navarro, the head of the National Trade Council. Catherine Garcia
Family of a man killed by a death row inmate buys the inmate's daughter a plane ticket for a final visit
The family of a Missouri man killed by an Arkansas inmate scheduled to be executed on Thursday sent the inmate's daughter a plane ticket so she could see him for the first time in 17 years.
In 1999, Kenneth Williams, now 38, escaped from prison and was being chased in a stolen car by police when he rammed into a water delivery truck being driven by Michael Greenwood. Greenwood died instantly. Kayla Greenwood was 5 at the time of her father's death, and her mother, Stacey, was pregnant with twin boys. After the Springfield News-Leader interviewed Kayla about the upcoming execution, she was moved to contact Williams' 21-year-old daughter, Jasmine. Once the Greenwood family found out she hadn't seen her father in 17 years and he has never met her toddler daughter, they purchased tickets for mother and daughter to fly from Washington to Little Rock, and Kayla, her mother, her stepfather, and the twins drove down on Wednesday morning to meet them and drive to the prison.
Kayla said the family sent Williams a message letting him know they forgave him, and Jasmine told her that when "the warden read the email to him, he broke out in tears. When he found out that we are bringing his daughter and granddaughter to see him and that my mom and dad bought the tickets, he was crying to the attorney." It was important that Jasmine and her daughter have time with Williams, Kayla said, and her family was "excited to come, as if it was happening for us."
Williams is in prison for the murder of a college cheerleader, and he murdered another man during his escape; he later confessed to a third murder that took place in 1998. Arkansas is pushing to execute eight death row inmates, because the state's stockpile of lethal injection drugs is set to expire at the end of the month; if Williams is put to death on Thursday, it will be the fourth execution in Arkansas in a week. Catherine Garcia
As the 25th anniversary of the L.A. riots approaches, witnesses who watched as stores went up in flames and angry cries filled the streets are remembering what unfolded on April 29, 1992.
The riots began after four white police officers were acquitted of assault after being videotaped kicking and striking black motorist Rodney King while he was on the ground. After the Watts riot in the 1960s, white flight hit South Los Angeles, and black residents said they were targeted by police officers because of the color of their skin. Tensions were also high between residents and newly-arrived Korean immigrants running neighborhood stores; a few weeks before the King beating, a Korean liquor store owner shot and killed a black teenager over a bottle of orange juice. For many witnesses to the riots who spoke with The Associated Press, all of this made it easy to see why South Los Angeles went up in flames.
Some vividly remember the looting — Dee Young was 27 at the time, and watched as the first group hit a liquor store, running off with cases of pilfered alcohol. He never left South Los Angeles, and said today, things have gotten "90 percent" better. "People in the neighborhood need to work together — black, Hispanic, even white people — and they are coming back here, if slowly but surely," he said. Aurea Montes-Rodriguez, now the executive vice president of the Community Coalition of South Los Angeles, was 16 during the riots, and saw a man park his car in front of an electronics store as he prepared to steal a television; while he was inside, his vehicle was stolen.
About 200 liquor stores burned down during the riots, and even more were looted. James Oh, 68, bought Tom's Liquor on the corner of Florence and Normandie eight years ago, and brought in items residents appreciate — there are now milk and eggs on the shelves, not just alcohol. He came to the neighborhood to fight stereotypes of Korean-American business owners, he told AP. "If you invest in the community, you have to be involved in the community," he said. "Communication is everything." Read more about their stories — as well as how a New York Times photographer whose jaw was broken by an angry mob was rescued by a recently returned veteran — at The Associated Press. Catherine Garcia
Foreign fighters are leaving the Islamic State in droves, with many surrendering to or being caught by Turkish border police over the last few weeks, The Guardian reports.
People who sympathized with the terrorist group are also fleeing, as ISIS loses ground in its stronghold of Raqqa, Syria. Last week, Kary Paul Kleman, a 46-year-old from Florida, and Stefan Aristidou of London surrendered at the Kilis crossing, accompanied by Aristidou's British wife, Kleman's Syrian wife, and two Egyptian women whose husbands were killed in battle, The Guardian reports. Aristidou claimed he traveled to Syria two years ago not to fight but to live, later admitting he was in Raqqa. Kleman's mother said after he got a divorce, he converted to Islam and moved to Egypt in 2011. He married and divorced an Egyptian woman, then moved to Dubai and married a Syrian woman. His family said he went to Syria in 2015 to help with humanitarian efforts.
The United States estimates that up to 30,000 foreign fighters have likely crossed into Syria to fight with ISIS, and as many as 25,000 have been killed. Turkish and European officials have said their embassies are being contacted by ISIS fighters who have joined in recent years and are asking to return home, The Guardian reports. While many foreigners are ready to leave ISIS, there are others more committed than ever; Western intelligence officials believe that at least 250 ISIS fighters over the last two years have been smuggled over the Turkish border and are now in Europe. Catherine Garcia