News from North America, Monday 20th May 2013

Reuters: “President Barack Obama, under fire for security lapses at a U.S. mission in Libya, will in a speech on Thursday lay out his wide-ranging counter-terrorism policy, from the controversial use of drones to efforts to close the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Obama’s use of military drone aircraft to attack extremists has drawn fire and increased tensions in countries like Pakistan and been criticized by human rights activists in the United States.

His inability to follow through on a 2008 campaign pledge to close the Guantanamo Bay prison has been dramatized by a hunger strike among many of the terrorism suspects being held there.

And the resurgence in recent weeks of questions surrounding the deaths of U.S. ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens and three other Americans in an attack on a U.S. facility in Benghazi, Libya, last year has put Obama on the defensive.”

Salon: “How do you stop one anti-government extremist from coordinating a trillion dollar ‘paper terrorism’ scheme involving a raft of false financial documents, or deal with another who sues prosecutors for allegedly conspiring against him by using poor grammar?

This is the question that state governments and federal agencies are faced with, ever since a surge of people who consider themselves ‘sovereign citizens’ began acting on their belief that all aspects of law and government are illegitimate. The Southern Poverty Law Center estimates that in 2011 there were approximately 100,000 ‘hard-core’ believers in sovereign citizen ideology, though it’s a tough number to nail down because the movement is so disparate. For the same reason — and because, by their nature, members of the movement don’t believe in laws — it’s also tough to draft legislation to specifically target those crimes favored by sovereign citizens.”

New York Times: “Three months after hackers working for a cyberunit of China’s People’s Liberation Army went silent amid evidence that they had stolen data from scores of American companies and government agencies, they appear to have resumed their attacks using different techniques, according to computer industry security experts and American officials.

The Obama administration had bet that ‘naming and shaming’ the groups, first in industry reports and then in the Pentagon’s own detailed survey of Chinese military capabilities, might prompt China’s new leadership to crack down on the military’s highly organized team of hackers — or at least urge them to become more subtle.”

BBC News: “Russia has named the alleged US intelligence chief in Moscow – a move seen as breaching diplomatic protocol.

It follows Moscow’s decision to expel US diplomat Ryan Fogle, who was accused of trying to recruit a Russian intelligence officer as a spy.

Mr Fogle, a purported CIA agent, was arrested on Tuesday while wearing a blond wig and was briefly detained.

Russia says it warned the CIA Moscow station chief in 2011 to stop the ‘provocative’ recruitment of spies.”

The Guardian: “The fatal shooting of a gay man just blocks from New York’s historic Stonewall Inn was a hate crime and could be linked to a rash of recent homophobic attacks, police said.

Before opening fire early Saturday, the gunman confronted the victim and his companion in Greenwich Village, yelling: ‘What are you, gay wrestlers?’. The suspect then asked if the pair ‘want to die here’ before shooting victim Marc Carson in the face.

Carson, 32, was taken to hospital but died of his wounds. The gunman, identified as 33-year-old Elliot Morales, fled but was chased by officers and arrested. Morales appeared on Sunday in Manhattan criminal court and was charged with murder as a hate crime and with criminal possession of a weapon and menacing.”

Boston Globe: “Harvard students, outraged over a doctoral dissertation arguing that Hispanic immigrants lack ‘raw cognitive ability or intelligence,’ this week urged the university to investigate how the thesis came to be approved and to ban future research on racial superiority.

The students presented 1,200 signatures to president Drew Faust and the dean of the John F. Kennedy School of Government, David Ellwood.

‘Academic freedom and a reasoned debate are essential to our academic community,’ the petition said. ‘However, the Harvard Kennedy School cannot ethically stand behind academic work advocating a national policy of exclusion and advancing an agenda of discrimination.’”

Daily Telegraph: “Authorities in hazardous materials suits have searched an apartment in the Washington city of Spokane, after the recent discovery of a pair of letters containing the deadly poison ricin that were sent to public buildings.

Few details have been released in the case, and no arrests have been made. Federal investigators have been searching for the person who sent the letters, which were postmarked Tuesday in Spokane.

The letters were addressed to the downtown post office and the adjacent federal building, but authorities have not released a potential motive. They also have not said whether the letters targeted anyone in particular.”

Al-Jazeera: “Activists demanding the closure of the Guantanamo Bay prison have marked the 100th day of a hunger strike there by submitting a petition to the White House containing some 370,000 signatures.

A group of activists wearing orange jumpsuits and black hoods like those used on detainees at Guantanamo Bay gathered outside the White House on Friday to call for the immediate closure of the controversial jail.

‘Immoral, illegal, ineffective,’ a banner read.

Richard Killmer, executive director of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, said that ‘years of detention without charge or trial have created a sense of desperation and hopelessness among the men at Guantanamo, which has led over 100 of them to join a hunger strike’.

Colonel Morris Davis, a former military prosecutor at Guantanamo, handed over the petition to the White House.”

Comment: Wall Street Journal: ‘The Good News About Race and Voting’ by Andrew Kohut. “In the next several weeks the Supreme Court is expected to rule on the constitutionality of the requirement that several states, mostly in the South, get ‘pre-clearance’ from the Justice Department before they make any changes to their election laws. The requirement was part of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which was an emergency measure to outlaw the profound racial discrimination that was disenfranchising African-Americans.

The justices won’t necessarily find a rationale for their decision based on current election polling data. Nevertheless, the experience of voters in recent elections will no doubt be illuminating to the justices, and to all Americans who are concerned with voting rights.

In the past three presidential elections, very few Americans reported having problems or difficulties voting according to Pew Research Center surveys. In its Nov. 8-12 poll in 2012, just 4% of whites answered yes to the question: ‘Did you have any problems or difficulties voting this year, or not.’ Only 2% of African-Americans responded affirmatively.”

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