EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

January 4, 2014

Around the world and the Nation


The Eagle-Tribune

---- — WASHINGTON (AP) — A secretive U.S. spy court has ruled again that the National Security Agency can keep collecting every American’s telephone records every day, in the midst of dueling decisions in two civilian federal courts about whether the surveillance program is constitutional.

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court yesterday renewed the NSA phone collection program, said Shawn Turner, a spokesman for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. Such periodic requests are somewhat formulaic but required since the program started in 2006.

The latest approval was the first since two conflicting court decisions about whether the program is lawful and since a presidential advisory panel recommended that the NSA no longer be allowed to collect and store the phone records and search them without obtaining separate court approval for each search.

In a statement, Turner said that 15 judges on the U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court on 36 occasions over the past seven years have approved the NSA’s collection of U.S. phone records as lawful.

Also yesterday, government lawyers turned to U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to block one federal judge’s decision that threatens the NSA phone records program.

Health overhaul plans too skimpy for people with modest incomes and high medical costs

WASHINGTON (AP) — For working people making modest wages and struggling with high medical bills from chronic disease, President Barack Obama’s health care plan sounds like long-awaited relief. But the promise could go unfulfilled.

It’s true that patients with cancer and difficult conditions such as multiple sclerosis or Crohn’s will be able to get insurance and financial help with monthly premiums.

But their annual out-of-pocket costs could still be so high they’ll have trouble staying out of debt.

You couldn’t call them uninsured any longer. You might say they’re “underinsured.”

These gaps “need to be addressed in order to fulfill the intention of the Affordable Care Act,” said Brian Rosen, a senior vice president of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. “There are certainly challenges for cancer patients.”

Both sides argue with Kerry’s diplomatic pursuit of peace for Israel

JERUSALEM (AP) — U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s closed-door diplomacy to broker peace between Israel and the Palestinians has burst into a public spat, with both sides trading blistering criticisms, Republican senators showing up in Jerusalem to argue Israel’s side, and Palestinian demonstrators protesting his visit.

Kerry is on his 10th visit to the region to try to craft a peace treaty that would create a Palestinian state alongside Israel.

He met for three hours yesterday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Later in the day, Kerry traveled to Ramallah, West Bank, to speak with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Although battered by sniping from all sides, Kerry remained upbeat — at least publicly.

Asked if he was making progress, Kerry replied that progress is being made every day.

Earlier, about 150 Palestinians demonstrators marched through the streets of downtown Ramallah to protest Kerry’s visit. They carried Palestinian flags and signs that said: “The northern, central and southern Jordan Valley are a genuine part of Palestinian sovereignty.” The West Bank’s Jordan Valley is a strategic area along the border with Jordan that Israeli hardliners, including members of Netanyahu’s Likud Party, say must be annexed by Israel for its own security.

DNA tests confirm man in Lebanese custody is top al-Qaida suspect

BEIRUT (AP) — DNA tests confirmed that a man in government custody is the alleged leader of an al-Qaida-linked group that has conducted attacks across the Middle East before shifting its focus to Syria’s civil war, Lebanese authorities said yesterday.

The suspected militant, Majid al-Majid, is the purported commander of the Abdullah Azzam Brigades and one of the 85 most-wanted individuals in his native Saudi Arabia. The U.S. State Department designated the group a foreign terrorist organization in 2012, freezing any assets it holds in the United States and banning Americans from doing business with the group.

The brigades have claimed responsibility for attacks throughout the region, including the 2010 bombing of a Japanese oil tanker in the Persian Gulf and several rocket strikes from Lebanon into Israel. The most recent attack claimed by the group was the double suicide bombing in November outside the Iranian Embassy in Beirut.

Reports first surfaced in Lebanon early this week that authorities had detained al-Majid. Security officials eventually confirmed that they had a suspect in custody, but said they were not certain of his identity.

Lebanese and Saudi officials said DNA samples taken from the suspect would be checked against al-Majid’s relatives in Saudi Arabia, and the Lebanese army said Friday that tests established the detainee was indeed al-Majid. Lebanese officials still have not disclosed when or where he was taken into custody, and his current location has not been made public.

New high-tech San Antonio library offers look at a future without traditional book collections

SAN ANTONIO (AP) — Texas has seen the future of the public library, and it looks a lot like an Apple Store: Rows of glossy iMacs beckon. iPads mounted on a tangerine-colored bar invite readers. And hundreds of other tablets stand ready for checkout to anyone with a borrowing card.

Even the librarians imitate Apple’s dress code, wearing matching shirts and that standard-bearer of geek-chic, the hoodie. But this $2.3 million library might be most notable for what it does not have — any actual books.

That makes Bexar County’s BiblioTech the nation’s only bookless public library, a distinction that has attracted scores of digital bookworms, plus emissaries from as far away as Hong Kong who want to learn about the idea and possibly take it home.

“I told our people that you need to take a look at this. This is the future,” said Mary Graham, vice president of South Carolina’s Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce. “If you’re going to be building new library facilities, this is what you need to be doing.”

All-digital libraries have been on college campuses for years. But the county, which runs no other libraries, made history when it decided to open BiblioTech. It is the first bookless public library system in the country, according to information gathered by the American Library Association.