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Nathan Oelker

Edward Snowden held up in bigger snow den: Russia

Snowden backed up by Putin

Edward Snowden, the man who recently leaked details of the National Security Agency’s surveillance programs, is currently in the transit zone of Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport. Russian President Vladimir Putin has refused to extradite Snowden to the U.S.

As CBS News correspondent Bob Orr reported Monday night, the White House has been pressuring Russia to send Snowden back before he can find asylum elsewhere.

Snowden’s next stop is being speculated, and he was once again absent for a flight to Cuba Tuesday morning. Putin said that Snowden hasn’t yet crossed the Russian border and is free to go anywhere.

“He arrived as a transit passenger. He does not need a visa or any other documents. As a transit passenger, he has the right to buy a ticket and fly wherever he wants. He did not cross the state border, therefore he does not need a visa,” Putin said.

During a visit to Finland Tuesday, Putin also dismissed U.S. accusations over this matter as “ravings and rubbish,” and dispelled notions that Russian security agencies are aiding Snowden, stating that, “Our special services have never worked with Mr. Snowden and are not working with him today.”

Regarding a U.S. request to extradite him, Putin said that Russia doesn’t have an extradition agreement with the U.S. and therefore wouldn’t honor the U.S. request. American officials have been cautious by stating that they are not seeking a formal extradition, but instead have insisted that Snowden be expelled from Russia. Putin gave no signal that he would be doing that either.

Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, also refused U.S. demands to extradite Snowden, stating similarly that Snowden hadn’t crossed the Russian border and insisted that Russia has nothing to do with him, his relations with U.S. justice or his travel plans.

“He chose his itinerary on his own,” Lavrov insisted on Snowden. “He has not crossed the Russian border.” Lavrov added that accusations against Russia of “violation of U.S. laws and even some sort of conspiracy” in regards to Snowden is “absolutely ungrounded and unacceptable.”

However, Putin voiced hope that Snowden will depart as quickly as possible and that his stopover at Moscow’s airport wouldn’t affect bilateral ties.

Similarly, during a stop in Saudi Arabia, Secretary of State John Kerry replied by stating that the U.S. is not looking for a confrontation with Russia. Speaking in Jiddah, Kerry said that while it’s true the U.S. has no extradition treaty with Russia, Moscow should comply with common law practices concerning fugitives between nations.

“I would simply appeal for calm and reasonableness,” Kerry said. “We would hope that Russia would not side with someone who is a fugitive from justice.”

According to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, Snowden is traveling with a WikiLeaks representative and he’s in good spirits. Snowden has not been seen or publicly photographed since his arrival in Moscow on Sunday. Snowden’s assumed plan was to fly to Cuba and then make his way to Ecuador for possible political asylum. Snowden had also previously discussed seeking asylum in Iceland.

U.S. officials thought they cornered in Snowden in Hong Kong, but officials in China said the arrest request from Washington was flawed, and Snowden was allowed to leave Sunday and make his way to Russia.

Snowden’s eventual destination is not clear, but the Ecuadorian government has confirmed that he has applied for asylum there. Other possible travel stops for Snowden include Venezuela, Cuba, and Iceland.

Snowden has four laptops with him containing the U.S. government’s most sensitive secrets.

Supreme Court Strikes Down Heart of Voting Rights Act

Court decision affects federal involvement

The Supreme Court on Tuesday struck down a key part of the voting rights act, making a 5-4 decision that drastically scales back the federal government’s power to reject state laws it believes discriminates against minority voters. These include efforts to tighten identification requirements and limit early voting hours at the ballot box. The Obama administration has aggressively fought these laws as they’ve swept 30 states in the past few years.
So let’s break this down. Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, reauthorized for another 25 years in 2006, gives the federal government the ability to pre-emptively reject changes to election law in states and counties that have a history of discrimination toward minority voters. The law covers nine states and portions of seven more, most of them being in the South.
Now, the formula used to decide what states are vulnerable to this review (as Section 4 of the law describes) is based on voter turnout and registration data from decades ago. So states that had a discriminatory poll test in the 1960s and low turnout among minority voters have to obtain special permission from the federal government to change their election laws, despite the fact that turnout rates between minorities and whites has equalized.
The justices ruled that due to these facts, this is unfair to the states covered under it, as Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the opinion: “The coverage formula that Congress reauthorized in 2006 ignores these developments, keeping the focus on decades-old date relevant to decades-old problems. Our country has changed, and while any racial discrimination in voting is too much, Congress must ensure that the legalization it passes to remedy that problem speaks to current conditions.”
Such laws have factored into several recent disputes. The Justice Department used Section 5 of the law to strike down voter ID laws in Texas and South Carolina last year, and also blocked early voting restrictions in five Florida counties. This is because minority voters are more likely than whites to vote early in person, but are less likely than whites to have a government-issued photo ID. Making things worse with partisanship, some Democrats argued that these laws were intentionally trying to suppress minority turnout in order to benefit Republicans.
Now the court has passed responsibilities to Congress, stating that it’s up to them to create a current formula based on current data (and how long will that take?). Since Congress is more divided along party lines now than in 2006, it’s highly unlikely that they’ll tackle this.
Additionally, this causes untold worries for civil rights groups, who have warned that the decision will negatively affect minorities living in covered jurisdictions. “This is a sad day for democracy,” said Myrna Perez, deputy director of the Brennan Center for Justice advocacy center. “The Voting Rights Act is a needed and instrumental tool in our fight to eradicate racial discrimination and the Supreme Court’s decision today has made it much harder to utilize this tool effectively.”

Ron Burgundy is Back for “Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues”

Burgundy Finally Reappears After Astoundingly Long Promotional Campaign

Ron Burgundy is returning with the Channel 4 News Team after nearly a decade has passed in both universes. Will Ferrell last donned his trademark ’70s mustache and coif for the original “Anchorman” in 2004, and his counterpart Burgundy will face the challenge of adjusting to the 1980s in his new 2013 adventure as shown in the official trailer released Wednesday.

In “Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues,” Burgundy and his team of Channel 4 correspondents (reprising Steve Carell and Paul Rudd) relocate from San Diego to New York to fill new jobs at a 24-hour news channel. CNN, Fox, MSNBC jokes are nothing short of imminent with Ferrell declaring in the trailer: “I’m going to do what God put Ron Burgundy on this earth to do…Have salon-quality hair and read the news.”

More characters join the mix with Burgundy, including James Marsden, Kristen Wiig playing an off-beat love interest for Carell’s Brick Tamland, and Meagan Good as a prospective girlfriend for Burgundy.

While the original “Anchorman” dealt with Burgundy and associates dealing with women in the workplace, “The Legend Continues” will explore race relations—with Ferrell in the lead, we know how this’ll go. One scene that surely serves as an indication is where Burgundy tries “assimilating” with Good ’s family during dinner, and it makes for a hilariously uncomfortable situation where Burgundy completely fails at cultural sensitivity.

Finally this official trailer is released after an astoundingly long promotional campaign. Online public interest was ignited with a few extremely early teasers that reintroduced us to the recurring characters but not much else. The original teaser was released in May 2012 at about the time that work on the script was reported to have gotten underway. Filming didn’t start until March of this year, and even after the official trailer was released Wednesday, the film still won’t come out until December 20. It’s like the idea was being promoted more than the movie, and with this much anticipation, hopefully it’ll be worth the wait.

Drones Flying the Skies Reveals FBI Director Robert Mueller

Drones threaten Americans’ privacy say senators

Drones are being used to conduct surveillance on US soil, FBI Director Robert Mueller revealed for the first time Wednesday. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) inquired about the scope of drone roving, and Mueller stated that drones are used in very narrow cases for surveillance, following in the footsteps of the Drug Enforcement Agency and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

“It’s very seldom used and generally used in a particular incident when you need the capability,” Mueller said when asked about the FBIs use of drones for surveillance. “It is very narrowly focused on particularized cases and particularized needs.”

Mueller also stated that the bureau’s development of policies governing drone use and privacy protections is just starting.

“We are in the initial stages of doing that,” said Mueller, adding that this drone program is in its infancy. “I will tell you that our footprint is very small. We have very few of limited use, and we’re exploring not only the use, but the necessary guidelines for that use.”

Responding to inquiries over protections that the FBI has in place for privacy, Mueller stated the main safeguard is the way drones are used. Mueller also added that drones were used “in a very, very minimal way, and very seldom.”

This revelation about the FBI’s drone program comes as lawmakers and civil liberties groups are raising concerns about government intrusions of privacy following the leaked disclosure of two guarded National Security Agency surveillance programs that monitor and collect Americans’ phone and email records. So despite the reassurances from Mueller, several legislators are alarmed over this revelation about the drone program—but ambiguously in some cases. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calf.), while being a supporter of the recently revealed date collection program of the National Security Agency, told Mueller that drones present risks to Americans’ privacy.

“I think the greatest threat to the privacy of Americans is the drone, and the use of the drone and the very few regulations that are on it today, and the booming industry of commercial drones,” Feinstein said.

Sen. Mark Udall of Colorado, an Intelligence Committee member who has been critical of government surveillance, was also alarmed by this news. He was concerned that the FBI had not yet developed a policy to regulate its drone use.

“Unmanned aerial systems have the potential to more efficiently and effectively perform law enforcement duties, but the American people expect the FBI and other government agencies to first and foremost protect their constitutional rights,” said Udall in a statement. “I am concerned the FBI is deploying drone technology while only being in the ‘initial stages’ of developing guidelines to protect Americans’ privacy rights. I look forward to learning more about this program and will do everything in my power to hold the FBI accountable and ensure its actions respect the US Constitution.”

James Gandolfini Dies

Gandolfini best known for “The Sopranos”

James Gandolfini, who left in indispensable mark on the new Golden Age of TV in the role of tortured mob boss Tony Soprano, died in Italy Wednesday at the age of 51.

Dr. Claudio Modini of the Policlinic Umberto I hospital in Rome said Gandolfini suffered cardiac arrest. After being rushed to the hospital at 10:40 p.m. resuscitation efforts failed and Gandolfini was pronounced dead at 11:00 p.m.

Gandolfini was discovered in his hotel room by a family member, but it’s not known exactly whom. Antonio D’Amore, manager of Rome’s Boscolo Exedra hotal, has been quoted as saying it was Gandolfini’s 13-year-old son, Michael.

Gandolfini was in Italy to receive an award at and attend the closing ceremony of the Taormina Film Festival in Sicily this weekend. Organizers of the event said that “he was very happy to receive this prize and be able to travel to Italy,” and also that Gandolfini will be honored instead with a tribute “remembering his career and talent.”

Gandolfini was a well-traveled actor by the time he shot to fame in 1999 with the program, which earned him six Emmy Awards during the show’s six-year run, Gandolfini also left behind a rich legacy of film and stage work in a tragically-shortened life.

“He was a genius,” said “Sopranos” creator David Chase of Gandolfini. “Anyone who saw him even in the smallest of his performances knows that. He is one of the greatest actors of this or any time. A great deal of genius resided in those sad eyes.”

Gandolfini was an actor who also refused to be limited by his star-making role as Tony Soprano. After the show’s breathtaking blackout finale in 2007, Gandolfini successfully evaded being typecast as a mobster, and was upbeat about the work he did afterward. These included roles as then-CIA director Leon Panetta in “Zero Dark Thirty,” the old-school father of a wanna-be rocker in the David Chase ’60s period drama “Not Fade Away,” and an aged, washed-up hit man in Andrew Dominick’s crime film “Killing Them Softly.”

Gandolfini also garnered accolades on Broadway, earning a best-actor Tony Award nomination for 2009’s “God of Carnage.” Also using his star clout, Gandolfini produced a pair of HBO documentaries about veterans affairs, a cause close to him.

Gandolfini grew up in Park Ridge, New Jersey, earned a communications degree from Rutgers University, then worked as a bartender, bouncer, and nightclub manager in New York. Gandolfini discovered acting at 25, had his first big break in a Broadway production of “A Streetcar Named Desire,” and made his film debut in Sidney Lumet’s 1992 film “A Stranger Among Us.”

Dave Chappelle is Back!

Elusive Comedian to Co-Headline Tour

Dave Chappelle, after generally laying low for the past eight years, is returning to high-profile touring by co-headlining Funny Or Die Presents The Oddball Comedy and Curiosity Tour, a five-weekend comedy tour happening later this summer.

Since leaving his immensely popular Comedy Central sketch program “Chappelle’s Show” mid-way through the third season in 2005 due to burnout, Chappelle has remained an elusive figure. Living in Ohio with his family far away from the “death-grip” of Hollywood, he has occasionally performed around the country during the past decade to varying reception. But a string of impromptu shows in February, where Chappelle performed at The Comedy Cellar in New York with Chris Rock, Kevin Hart, and others fueled rumors that he would go on tour.

Finally, his long-waiting fans, remembering the good ol’ days by watching “Chappelle’s Show” sketches and Dave’s stand-up excerpts on YouTube, will have their wishes granted as the Oddball tour plays 13 cities in five weeks starting on August 23 in Austin, Texas. Other performers on the roster include Al Madrigal, Brody Stevens, Chris D’Elia, Demetri Martin, Hannibal Buress, Jim Jeffries, John Mulaney, and Kristen Schaal. This is the first time that Funny or Die has launched such a large-scale tour.

NSA Update: Obama Plays Down Surveillance “Ruckus”

NSA concerns continue

NSA news thickened during an interview with PBS’ Charlie Rose on Monday when President Barack Obama downplayed the widespread controversial surveillance program conducted by that agency.

“If you’re a US person, then NSA is not listening to your phone calls and it’s not targeting your emails unless it’s getting an individualized court order,” Obama said in the interview.

However, the president did acknowledge critics’ warnings by admitting that the NSA’s two exposed programs—one that collects telephone records and the other that gathers internet communications—have “the enormous potential for abuse.”

Obama insists that for the government to conduct that type of abuse right now would be illegal. Edward Snowden, the source for this NSA exposé, reached the opposite conclusion, arguing that such established legal limits are meaningless unless the citizenry is given technological safeguards to protect against government inclusion. Snowden has warned, “The restrictions against this are policy based, not technically based, and can change at any time.”

When asked about allotting transparency of this government surveillance, Obama insists: “It is transparent. That’s why we set up the FISA court. However, this is problematic, because the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court conducts its rulings in secret and turns down only a tiny handful of government requests.

The remainder of this interview concerned the ultimate decision to arm the Syrian rebels against Bashar al-Assad’s regime, with only these few comments about the NSA’s surveillance program, and that should make everyone increasingly wary and skeptical. And keep in mind that under the PATRIOT Act, these “individualized court order[s]” no longer require a search warrant. Just keep that in mind the next time you think, “Oh well, it has nothing to do with me.”

Uploading Your Digital Self Could Make You Live Forever

Uploading Digital Personalities Topic of Global Futures Congress

Uploading your personality could be possible with the Singularity. Have you heard of the Singularity yet? If you’re a college student and definitely if you’re a millennial, you should know about this predicted event set to occur in 2045 where technology is expected to surpass human brainpower to create a type of superintelligence. At this point, human brains and computer hard drives are expected to be uploaded as one, the eponymous “singularity.”

This topic was the main subject of the Global Futures 2045 International Congress, a futuristic conference held from June 14-15 in New York City initiated by Russian multi-millionaire Dmitry Itskov. Walking a line between hardcore science and sci-fi, a group of scientific luminaries and spiritual leaders gave talks on several “transhumanist” subtopics.

Based on the exponential movement Moore’s law, which says computer processing power doubles every two years, this event and uploading are seemingly unavoidable. Ray Kurzweil, an inventor, futurist, and current director of engineering at Google who came up with this concept of the singularity, presented evidence like the advances of genetic sequencing and 3D printing to back his case.

Going further, Itskov and other transhumanists believe that we could eventually cheat death by uploading our minds to a computer, discarding the need for a biological body. (Calling Descartes or The Matrix anyone?) This made the conference quite surreal when Martine Rothblatt—lawyer, author and entrepreneur—discussed this in her talk “The Purpose of Biotechnology is the End of Death.”

Rothblatt introduced the concept of “mindclones,” which are uploaded, digital versions of humans that could live forever and be collected into a “mindfile,” an online repository of personalities. (Get started on this Zuckerburg, MindFile is Facebook for mid-21st century). But would an uploaded mindclone be alive? That’s dependent on her definition, which basically concludes that the mind needn’t be embedded in a physical body, and an uploaded personality could be equaled to software or hardware. But the debate rages on, so hurry up with LGBT matters, Congress, because mindclone civil rights are coming up fast.

But even if we are able to upload our mindclones and “exist” in a mindfile, will we still have to go to work and worry about money? And how would we be governed and how frighteningly simple will it be to control this population? Keep all this in mind the next time you hear the term “Singularity.”

Naked Participants on New Discovery Channel Show

Penises! Vaginas!

Now that I have your attention, the Discovery Channel will be blurring out those organs on its new reality show “Naked and Afraid.” This new survival show, which will test participants’ ability to hunt for food and build shelter, will surely push the limits of acceptability (for a reality show, that’s certainly a challenge) because this one drops its cast members into wild, remote locales, completely nude.

“Naked and Afraid” will feature two complete strangers, a man and woman, for 21 days as they work to survive while navigating their way to a predetermined rescue location, one to ten miles from the drop-off point. Each episode features a different couple in a new natural obstacle course and premieres on June 23.

Additionally, the survivalists are allowed one personal item, a “rudimentary map,” and constantly rolling Go Pro cameras. Along with the participants’ camera footage, a four-person crew tracked and shot the couple the entire time. And once a day, the producers collected memory cards from the Go Pros and checked the batteries.

But of course, they’re nude. And while traversing the landscape of Panama, Borneo, or the Maldives might be a first time for the self-identified “survivalists,” the network is totally experienced with these forays. “Naked Castaway,” which premiered in April, featured explorer Ed Stafford as he survived for 60 days without food, tools, or clothing on a remote Fijian island.

Sadly, the storied educational programmer, which has constructed its legacy with documentary series like “Planet Earth” and “Africa” and built its related programming with “Shark Week,” has increasingly turned from non-fiction fare to unscripted work to forage for new viewers.

But back to the cool stuff, Denise Contis, an executive producer on the show, has denied that the Discovery Channel was striving for shock value with the nudity. “It’s the ultimate survival show. Neither of them have clothes and by the time they are on the ground it is a complete non-issue.”

So you decide, and we’ll wait for the next controversy.

Obama Officials Using Secret Email Accounts

“President Obama is committed to creating the most open and accessible administration in American history. That begins with taking comments and questions from you, the public, through our website,” says the White House’s correspondence page.

It’s a lofty goal, but one also punctured by The Associated Press’ discovery that several Obama appointees are using secret government email accounts to conduct official business. This complicates the agencies’ legal obligations to locate and turn over their correspondence and related records for Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, congressional inquiries, or other investigations because people assigned to compile these records would need to know about the accounts in order to search them.

Not to mention, secret accounts only serve to fuel accusations of deviance or corruption with the decisions or actions of government officials.

While House spokesman Jay Carney recognized the practice Tuesday, and expressed approval for Cabinet secretaries and other high-profile officials to have what are being called alternative email accounts, safe from unwanted messages.

“There’s nothing secret,” Carney said, and maintained that all email accounts, public and otherwise, were subjected to congressional oversight and FOIA requests.

Carney would not say if White House officials use secret accounts, and thickening matters, the president’s staff, like Congress, is exempt from turning over records under the open records law. Under this law, the AP reviewed hundreds of pages of government emails and couldn’t independently locate times when material from the identified secret accounts was turned over.

A few nonpublic government addresses have been identified by the AP so far, including Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius. There has been once instance of a secret address being published, found in a message from Labor Department spokesman Carl Fillichio which was turned over to the advocacy group Americans for Limited Government. The email also included the nonpublic address for Seth D. Harris, the current acting labor secretary, as recipient; he maintains at least three separate email accounts.

So while this investigation is certainly complex with several layers of information and raw data, what can it mean for us? Is this really a measure to avoid hassles with correspondence, or something more menacing used to avoid detection? While it’s dangerous to start making assumptions as the investigation is breaking, it’s certainly cause to pay attention, and keep watching.