Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn … social media sites encourage users to create a digital trail of life events. But a recent survey shows that Americans might be having second thoughts about uploading details of their lives to the Internet.
Internet users say that their pictures, birth dates, e-mail addresses, and cellphone numbers are available online, but what concerns those surveyed the most is the privacy of their e-mails and online searches, two of the items hardest to keep from Internet companies.
Eighty-six percent of Internet users have taken steps online to remove, or mask their digital footprints – ranging from clearing cookies to encrypting their e-mail, according to a Pew Research report released on Thursday. Most Internet users – 59 percent – do not think it is possible to be completely anonymous online.
“Users clearly want the option of being anonymous online and increasingly worry that this is not possible,” said Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project. “Their concerns apply to an entire ecosystem of surveillance.”
Internet giants' information-harvesting techniques have come under increased public scrutiny in the past few months after former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden leaked classified documents detailing a large-scale, secret data collection plan, PRISM.
However, the Pew report does not show that Americans are concerned about online government surveillance. Internet users “are more intent on trying to mask their personal information from hackers, advertisers, friends, and family members than they are trying to avoid observation by the government,” says Mr. Rainie.
Thirty-three percent of users wish to avoid hackers, or criminals, followed by 28 percent of users who want to avoid advertisers. In comparison, only 5 percent of Internet users reported they wanted to avoid government observation.
“There is a possibility that our questions were answered the way they were because people were thinking about their day-to-day activities,” says Rainie, in an e-mail.
“Advertisers – or avoiding advertisers – might be a more top-of-mind thought for users because they encounter advertising all the time online and probably have to think about their approach to it. In contrast, government observation just isn’t something that people directly encounter during regular Internet activities," he adds.
However, government surveillance programs, like the NSA's PRISM, would not operate if major Internet companies weren't mining troves of data about their users. The same metadata that tells a social media site what kind of ad to use is the same information that the government accesses to pinpoint national security threats.
Both Facebook and Google have been entangled in recent lawsuits that accuse the companies of taking advantage of the wealth of consumer data the companies have amassed, and using it to better target their advertising.
Facebook was accused of using approximately 150 million users' images to promote products and services through the Sponsored Stories program, and ended up agreeing to pay $9.5 million to settle the case. Meanwhile, Google is the defendant in an ongoing court case that accuses the company of violating consumers' privacy by accessing their e-mail content to better target advertising. The content of e-mails is considered to be the most sensitive piece of information by consumers, according to the Pew report.
Three days after the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s iconic "I Have a Dream" speech, a meeting took place that the civil rights leader probably never would have envisioned: A Ku Klux Klan member and officials for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People held a meeting to discuss race relations.
Last Saturday, KKK organizer John Abarr walked into a conference room at the Parkway Plaza Hotel in Casper, Wyo., went through a security check, and then greeted four local NAACP leaders.
For several months Jimmy Simmons, president of the Casper NAACP, had heard reports about black men getting beat up – usually when they were with white women – in Gillette, Wyo. Klan pamphlets began circulating there around the same time. A frustrated Mr. Simmons considered holding a rally against the Klan.
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After all, the NAACP was founded to empower groups that the KKK sought to intimidate into submission.
But Simmons decided to do something different: He reached out to Klan leaders.
“If you want to talk about hate, get a hater,” he said. “Let him tell you something about hate,” he said, according to the Casper Star-Tribune, which had exclusive coverage of Saturday's meeting.
Rosemary Lytle, president of the Colorado, Montana and Wyoming State Area Conference for the NAACP, said she had told Simmons not to arrange the meeting, according to the Star-Tribune. Bradley Jenkins, the UKA's imperial wizard, said he sanctioned the event, AP reported.
On Saturday, Mr. Abarr tried to disassociate the Klan from its violent past, painting the organization as a cultural entity, rather than a white supremacist group.
“I just know what it is today,” he said during the meeting. “I had relatives in the Klan in the ’20s, and they didn’t lynch anybody.” Hate-driven violence may still occur, but those perpetrators are hoodlums, and there's no proof it is Klan violence, Abarr explained, according to the Star-Tribune.
“You’re really confusing me, because I don’t think you understand the seriousness of your group,” said Mel Hamilton, another representative of the NAACP who was present.
Abarr said he knew nothing about the reported occurrences in Gillette, AP reported.
Abarr would not discuss how the Klan evolved or what exactly it does, according to the Star-Tribune. He did say that he holds the Klan rank of kleagle, or an organizer, in Great Falls, Mont.
“What I like to do is recruit really radical kids, then calm them down after they join,” Abarr said in response to questions about the Klan encouraging racial tensions.
He also listed his own credentials as a member of antiracist groups including the American Civil Liberties Union and the Southern Poverty Law Center. (A lawsuit from the Southern Poverty Law Center led to the dismantling of the original UKA in the 1980s, according to AP.)
But Abarr’s Twitter account – @TheHoodedone33 – tells a different story. “We must unite as a race and take back our country,” is part of a milder tweet from earlier this year.
During the meeting, Abarr also espoused ideas about secession. He said the northwestern United States – Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, Washington, and Oregon – should legally secede from the Union and form a white territory. Primarily black states should also secede, he said.
In an odd finale to the meeting, Abarr became a member of the NAACP at Simmons’s invitation. The membership cost $30, and Abarr added a $20 donation before he snapped his briefcase shut, shook hands with Simmons, and left the hotel.
"I don't know if we accomplished too much," Abarr said, according to AP.
Simmons took a measured view. "It's about opening dialogue with a group that claims they're trying to reform themselves from violence," he said, according to AP. "They're trying to shed that violent skin, but it seems like they're just changing the packaging."
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On Saturday morning, 64-year-old Diana Nyad slipped off her white terry cloth robe, put on her swim cap and goggles, and jumped into the Hemingway Marina in Havana, Cuba. After two days and two nights of swimming, Ms. Nyad touched the shores of Key West, Fla. She had become the first person to swim across the Straits of Florida without the protection of a shark cage.
A throng of cheering supporters and eager reporters greeted the sunburnt swimmer, who returned the salutations with a fist pump.
"I got three messages," said Nyad just after she reached the shore. “One is we should never, ever give up. Two is you never are too old to chase your dreams. Three is it looks like a solitary sport, but it’s a team.”
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The often temperamental weather along the route, together with the myriad of jellyfish and sharks in the waters make the swim a formidable task.
Nyad remembers dreaming about swimming across the Florida Straits during her first visit to Cuba before the Communist takeover when she was 8 years old. By 1978, Nyad had become an elite marathon swimmer, and made her first attempt to cross. The trip ended due to difficult water conditions. During the 1970s, the swimmer won multiple other swimming marathons, even becoming the first woman to swim around the island of Manhattan at age 26.
Throughout the past three decades, Nyad has worn a variety of different hats, working as a sports journalist for publications such as The New York Times and Newsweek, and authoring several books about sports training, all while continuing to swim.
But in the past several years, Nyad has revisited the goal of crossing the Florida Straits, dubbing it the "Xtreme Dream."
"It's all authentic. It's a great story. You have a dream 35 years ago – doesn't come to fruition, but you move on with life. But it's somewhere back there. Then you turn 60, and your mom just dies, and you're looking for something. And the dream comes waking out of your imagination," Nyad told CNN's chief medical correspondent Sanjay Gupta.
A team of nearly 40 crew members accompanied the swimmer from the start of her journey to the end, updating Nyad's progress on the swimmer's blog, feeding her liquid meals through a tube at regular intervals, and warding off natural threats to the swimmer's progress, such as sharks and jellyfish.
To keep her mind clear while completing the grueling 111-mile swim, Nyad hummed her favorite lullabies and songs to herself, including "Ticket to Ride," and "Paperback Writer" by the Beatles, according to The New York Times.
"It was really rough that first day, Saturday, after the start and I just said: 'Forget about the surface up. Get your hands in somehow, and with your left hand, say, push Cuba back, and push Florida towards you,' " Nyad told reporters after her swim.
The only other person to have successfully swum the crossing from Cuba to Florida was Australian Susie Maroney in 1997. However, Ms. Maroney, who was 22 at the time of her crossing, completed the swim in a protective shark cage, according to an article in the Boca Raton newspaper. The wake created by the cage creates a draft that somewhat helps the swimmer.
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The massive blaze known as the Rim Fire has become California’s four-largest fire ever, at times filling Yosemite National Park with smoke as Labor Day weekend visitors try to enjoy one of America’s natural crown jewels.
Firefighters are making steady progress – containment increased from 35 percent Saturday to 40 percent Sunday – but the conflagration burning for two weeks now has grown to 348 square miles, including about six percent of Yosemite’s backcountry.
"Despite firefighters' efforts, the remote Rim Fire burning near and in Yosemite National Park continues to be very active," the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said in a statement Saturday morning.
Firefighters have carried out controlled burns around two groves of Giant Sequoia trees – the largest living things on earth, some of which are believed to be 2,000 years old – to clear away debris that could otherwise fuel a fire to such an intensity that it dangerously licks at the trees' crowns.
"We are working very hard to protect that,” said fire incident spokeswoman Leslie Auriemmo. “All the lines are in place so it doesn't go into those groves.”
About 4,800 people are working to put out the fire, including firefighters from agencies across California and some 700 specially trained California prison inmates.
The next few days could be critical as the fire continues to move through inaccessible steep terrain where helicopters and air tankers do their best to slow the spread, officials report.
Meanwhile, the Incident Information System said in a statement, "Continued warmer and drier weather is forecasted for the next several days, which will elevate control concerns and slow burnout progress.”
The cause of the blaze has yet to be determined, but an illegal marijuana-growing operation may have been involved.
One fire official in Tuolumne County offered a tantalizing clue when he recently told a community meeting that the fire was likely caused by marijuana growers, the San Jose Mercury News reported Friday.
"We don't know the exact cause," said Todd McNeal, fire chief in Twain Harte, a town that has been in the path of the flames. But he told a community meeting that it was "highly suspect that there might have been some sort of illicit grove, a marijuana-grow-type thing."
"We know it's human caused. There was no lightning in the area," he said.
NOAA and NASA satellites show that smoke from California’s Rim Fire has drifted thousands of miles, merging with smoke from agricultural burning in the Mississippi Valley.
Fast-food workers across America are going on strike Thursday in what they hope will be the largest strike ever for their industry.
Workers in at least 35 cities are expected to picket chains like McDonald’s, Burger King, Kentucky Fried Chicken, and Wendy’s to demand higher wages and the right to unionize.
In July, about 2,200 fast-food workers participated in a one-day strike in seven cities, the largest effort to date. That followed nearly a year of protests that originated in New York City in November 2012.
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“Hold the burgers! Hold the fries! Make our wages super-size!” chanted strikers outside a McDonald’s in Detroit Thursday.
Protesters are calling for $15-an-hour wages, more than double the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, which would increase the annual earnings of a full-time employee from $15,000 a year to $31,000 a year.
While a young workforce and quick turnover have traditionally characterized the fast-food industry, protesters say the Great Recession caused more parents and older workers to rely on fast-food jobs. But they can’t survive on current wages, they say.
“Because of the difficulty of getting jobs in general … for people with relatively modest education levels, you have a lot of people working in these companies who are trying to support a family based upon their earnings alone,” Ronald Ehrenberg, a professor of industrial and labor relations and economics at Cornell University, told Time. “That’s very, very difficult to do.”
Industry officials counter that the demographics of fast-food workers haven’t substantially changed. Officials at the National Restaurant Association say only 5 percent of restaurant employees earn the federal minimum wage and that 7 of 10 fast-food workers earning an entry-level wage are under the age of 25.
Moreover, the number of strikers is also only a small percentage of the roughly 2.4 million fast-food workers in the United States, opponents say.
Supporters point to a study by the Economic Policy Institute that calculated that 88 percent of workers in jobs paying less than $10 an hour are older than 20, and a third are older than 40, reports USA Today.
At the federal level, President Obama and some members of Congress have pressed for a raise in the minimum wage – but nowhere near the protesters’ demands of $15 an hour. Mr. Obama supports a $9-an-hour minimum wage.
On Thursday, Labor Secretary Thomas Perez said the fast-food strikes show the need to raise the minimum wage.
A complicating factor in the fast-food wage fight is that most Mickey-Ds and Burger Kings are franchised, and local owners set wages.
Here is a sampling of voices from protesters across the country:
“Nancy Salgado, 26, of Chicago, earns $8.25 an hour, Illinois' minimum wage, as a McDonald's cashier, though she has worked for the company for 10 years. Ms. Salgado, who has no health benefits, says she relies on Medicaid to provide health care for her two children and often skimps on their clothing purchases,” reports USA Today.
"If they give you a raise, it's like 10 cents [an hour]," she said. "I'm like, 'Really? You guys make millions and billions a year.' "
“Zendra Flores is a single parent making $8 an hour at a Subway sandwich shop on Federal Boulevard in Denver,” reports the Denver Post. “Flores wants to go back to school but is worried about supporting her 6-year-old.
"I am not looking to stay in fast food forever, I'm looking for another job with better wages, but I still think this is good to support," Ms. Flores said. "At first I thought the $15 was steep, but then I started thinking about it and that is what it would take."
Kansas City, Mo.
“Morris Cornley, 57, began working as a delivery driver at a Jimmy John's gourmet sandwich outlet in Kansas City, Mo., early last year, after he was laid off from his $45,000-a-year truck-driving job. He earns $7.35 an hour and works about 33 hours a week, taking home $370 or so every two weeks after taxes,” according to USA Today.
"I'm not really living – I'm surviving," said Cornley, who plans to take part in demonstrations Thursday.
"These are the jobs that are out there – fast-food jobs," he said. "I could be in this industry for quite a long time and, if I am, I'd like to make a living wage."
“These companies that own these fast food restaurants, they make way too much money off the backs of the employees,” Dearius Merritt, a 24-year-old worker at Church’s Chicken in Memphis who earns $13 an hour and plans on participating in the demonstrations, told Time.
“I’m in the store every day with these workers that make $7.25.… If I’m 30 years old and this is what I have to do to survive, then I deserve a living wage off of it.”
“I make $7.85 at Burger King as a guest ambassador and team leader, where I train new employees on restaurant regulations and perform the manager's duties in their absence. Before Burger King, I worked at Church's for 12 years, starting at $6.30 and ending at just a little more than $8 an hour,” wrote Willietta Dukes in a Guardian opinion column.
“I've never walked off a job before. I don't consider myself an activist, and I've never been involved with politics. I'm a mother with two sons, and, like any mom knows, raising two teenage boys is tough. Raising them as a single mother, on less than $8 an hour, is nearly impossible, though.”
It's not fair that the top managers of our businesses make enough to put their kids through prestigious colleges, buy houses, and live well, and I am on food stamps and need public health care,” co-organizer Shonda Roberts of Oakland, Calif., told the San Francisco Chronicle.
"There are millions of people like me, and I think they can afford to pay us $15 an hour," she said. "We are worth it."
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The Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant in Vernon, Vt., will be shut down by the end of next year due to financial factors, the company that owns the plant announced Tuesday, in the latest sign of a difficult economic climate for nuclear power companies.
Entergy Corp., the New Orleans-based company that owns Vermont Yankee, plans on closing and decommissioning the plant by the fourth quarter of 2014, in cooperation with the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission. It is the fifth nuclear plant this year to close or to have plans made for its closure.
"This was an agonizing decision and an extremely tough call for us," Leo Denault, Entergy's chairman and chief executive officer said in a written statement. "Vermont Yankee has an immensely talented, dedicated and loyal workforce, and a solid base of support among many in the community. We recognize that closing the plant on this schedule was not the outcome they had hoped for, but we have reluctantly concluded that it is the appropriate action for us to take under the circumstances."
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The company said the decision to close was based on “a number of financial factors” including sustained lower power prices stemming from the natural-gas revolution, a high cost structure for the plant, and what it called "wholesale market design flaws" that artificially deflate energy prices. Some 630 people work at the plant.
Likely also a contributing factor was the ongoing legal battle with the state of Vermont, where state officials had been trying to shutter the plant on their own authority. In 2006 the state legislature granted itself the authority to close the plant and in 2010 voted to do so.
The legal dispute had been turning in Entergy’s favor. Earlier this month a federal appeals court ruled that the Vermont Legislature did not have the authority to close the plant. Entergy had indicated in 2010 that it was considering selling the plant, a single unit boiling water reactor, The Wall Street Journal reports.
Entergy Corp. isn’t the only nuclear power company facing economic challenges. In June, Southern California Edison pulled the plug on the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, a 45-year-old facility in northern San Diego County, because of the high cost of repairs needed less than three years after the company invested $780 million in upgrades.
In May, Dominion Resources shut down the Kewaunee Power Station in Carleton, Wis., saying at the time that the “decision was based purely on economics," and in February, Duke Energy announced plans to shut down the reactor at the Crystal River power station in Florida because of a crack in the containment dome.
Meanwhile, utilities have plans to build three new reactors, the Monitor reported in June.
Supporters of nuclear power say that nuclear power is an important long-term energy source for the US and that the closures mean more support should be given to the industry.
“This announcement, and the retirement of Wisconsin’s high-performing Kewaunee nuclear facility earlier this year, is jarring evidence that market reform is essential to ensure that the nation maintains a diversified portfolio of electricity options,” said Marvin Fertel, Nuclear Energy Institute president and chief executive officer, in a statement. “Failure to do so will jeopardize reliable electricity supplies and leave consumers vulnerable to steep or long-term electricity price swings.”
The United States has 100 nuclear power reactors in 31 states, operated by 30 different power companies, according to the World Nuclear Association.
Electricity produced from the plants accounted for nearly 20 percent of total electrical output in 2011, the association says.
Since 2009, technological advances in extracting shale oil have resulted in sustained low prices for natural gas and wholesale energy.
Bernie Sanders, a US senator from Vermont, praised the decision to close Vermont Yankee.
“I am delighted that Entergy will shut down the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant which has had so many problems in recent years,” he said. “The closure will allow Vermont to focus on leading the nation toward safer and more economical sources of sustainable and renewable energy like solar, wind, geothermal and biomass."
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The National Security Agency (NSA) has bugged United Nations and European Union internal communications, according to secret documents obtained by former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden and disclosed by the German news magazine Der Spiegel.
The story, published Sunday, charges that the NSA “infiltrated the Europeans’ internal computer network between New York and Washington, used US embassies abroad to intercept communications, and eavesdropped on video conferences of UN diplomats.” Among the UN activities targeted by the NSA, Der Spiegel says, was the UN’s Vienna-based nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency.
The report also asserts that there are “secret eavesdropping posts in 80 US embassies and consulates around the world,” which the NSA operates along with the Central Intelligence Agency. The program is referred to as the “Special Collection Service.”
The UN responded to the report on Monday. UN spokesman Farhan Haq said that the United Nations will "reach out" to US officials about the reports of eavesdropping, as it has in the past when such allegations have been raised, The Associated Press reported.
Mr. Haq noted that “the inviolability of diplomatic missions, including the United Nations and other international organizations, whose functions are protected by the relevant international conventions like the Vienna Convention, has been well-established international law.” He added, "Therefore, member-states are expected to act accordingly to protect the inviolability of diplomatic missions."
President Obama defended NSA surveillance programs in his Aug. 9 press conference as necessary to protect the nation and its citizens against terrorist attacks. It is “intelligence that helps us protect the American people and they're worth preserving,” Mr. Obama said. The authors of the Der Speigel report say the surveillance aimed at the UN, EU, and various nations is “intensive and well-organized – and it has little or nothing to do with counter-terrorism.”
Spying at the UN and elsewhere is far from uncommon. “Even in UN circles a little bit of spying has always been viewed as a minor offense,” the Der Spiegel report acknowledges. In fact, the NSA documents that Mr. Snowden provided to Der Spiegel included one that reveals the NSA caught the Chinese spying on the UN in 2011. So the NSA penetrated the Chinese communications and proceeded to “tap into Chinese SIGINT (signals intelligence) collection," Der Spiegel reports. Thus, spies were spying on spies.
The jury that found US Army Maj. Nidal Hasan guilty on all counts for the 2009 shooting rampage at Fort Hood, Texas, will now decide whether he is sentenced to the death penalty or to a life in prison.
The sentencing portion of the trial begins Monday after Major Hasan, a former Army psychiatrist, was found guilty Friday on all 45 charges for killing 13 soldiers and wounding another 31 about a month before he and his unit were to deploy to Afghanistan.
Prosecutors are expected to call more than a dozen family members of those killed to speak about the impact of the loss of their loved ones.
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Hasan may also take the witness stand to speak publicly for the first time since the shootings and has the option of presenting mitigating circumstances. Unlike during the trial phase, Hasan can make a statement without being cross-examined by prosecutors, if he chooses to speak without being under oath.
“On Friday, Hasan told the judge he needed time to prepare, perhaps an extra day after the prosecution finishes, an indication that he planned to present something at sentencing,” the Los Angeles Times reports.
Hasan’s civilian lawyer, John Galligan, has also suggested that Hasan could put himself on the witness stand this week, the Associated Press writes.
Legal analysts believe Hasan could use his statement to speak about the defense that military judge Col. Tara Osborn had prohibited: that he was defending Taliban leaders from attack by US soldiers about to deploy from Fort Hood.
Hasan chose to continue serving as his own attorney during the sentencing phase, even after Colonel Osborn again urged him to consider letting his court-appointed standby attorneys represent him during the sentencing phase.
“I’m only doing this to protect you and to ensure that your choice is made with your eyes wide open,” she said, according to the Times.
The standby lawyers have suggested that Hasan is seeking the death penalty, something Hasan has denied. But during the trial, Hasan admitted to being the shooter in his opening statement and did not call any witnesses on his behalf. He questioned only three of the 89 witnesses called by prosecutors and did not give a closing argument.
In 2010, Hasan told a psychiatric review board that he believed that being executed by the Army would give him martyrdom status among Islamic jihadis.
The lack of a vigorous defense creates a particularly troublesome problem for the jury, some experts say.
"All criminal trials – whether civilian or military – depend on an adversarial system," Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, told CNN. "Where there is too much agreement between opposing sides, or where the defendant refuses to put on a spirited case, does not always lead to a true result. Hasan may be setting himself up for a death sentence. The question is whether this military jury will accommodate him."
The jury must be unanimous in order for Hasan to receive the death penalty. That sentence triggers an automatic appeal. Ultimately, the US president must approve a military death sentence.
No American soldier has been executed since 1961, in part because many military death sentences have been overturned on appeal.
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The US Navy has sent a fourth warship armed with Tomahawk cruise missiles into the eastern Mediterranean Sea, the Associated Press reported. The USS Mahan was scheduled to return to its base in Norfolk, Va., but on Friday commander of the US Sixth Fleet extended the tour of the Arleigh Burke-class destroyer.
"The Defense Department has a responsibility to provide the president with options for contingencies, and that requires positioning our forces, positioning our assets, to be able to carry out different options — whatever options the president might choose," Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told reporters traveling with him to Asia on Saturday.
The US Navy used Tomahawk cruise missiles in 2011 as part of an international military action that led to the overthrow of the Libyan government. But for a variety of reasons, Libya isn't a likely model for international intervention in Syria.
President Obama met with national security advisers Saturday to discuss his options after the alleged sarin gas attack on rebel forces in the suburbs of Damascus. American and European intelligence agencies have made a preliminary assessment that chemical weapons were used by Syrian forces, according to the Guardian. The international aid group Doctors Without Borders says it treated some 3,600 patients with "neurotoxic symptoms," and of those, 355 have died.
While the US president would like more evidence to justify any military action – and would prefer to have United Nations support – neither seems likely in the near term.
The UN has a team of chemical weapons inspectors in Syria, but the UN does not have Syrian government permission to enter the area of the alleged attack this week. And the UN is concerned about sending its team into an active war zone.
"It's an active war zone in Damascus," said Kennedy, who has gained extensive experience managing U.N. humanitarian operations in the world's deadliest trouble spots over the past 20 years. "I was there a few months ago: you hear every day impacts, shells, there might be 10 in a day, you might hear 80 in a day. You can see airstrikes, you can see artillery. You get shot at, I was only there for 3 and ½ days as a visitor and my car was shot, we were shot at twice," including once by an unidentified sniper.
If the US decides to take military action, it isn't likely to get UN Security Council approval. Most analysts say that Syria's allies, Russia and China, would likely object as they did earlier this week when the UN Security Council tried to issue a statement that called on the UN to “urgently investigate” the chemical weapons attack Wednesday.
One US military option getting some attention now is the Kosovo air war model of intervention. In 1999, President Bill Clinton, in a somewhat similar situation – without UN Security Council backing – decided not to put any US boots on the ground, but ordered airstrikes. The New York Times reports that the Obama administration is looking at the Kosovo precedent.
"Kosovo is an obvious precedent for Mr. Obama because, as in Syria, civilians were killed and Russia had longstanding ties to the government authorities accused of the abuses. In 1999, President Bill Clinton used the endorsement of NATO and the rationale of protecting a vulnerable population to justify 78 days of airstrikes."
In Foreign Policy, Kosovo's foreign minister Enver Hoxhaj also makes the case for a Kosovo-style air war in Syria:
"The NATO intervention in Kosovo in 1999 serves as a model for our allies in the West and the Arab world to end Syrian suffering. Back then, humanitarian intervention by the international community not only brought an end to ethnic cleaning, but it also showed that the classical idea of state sovereignty cannot be used as a shield to justify repressive policies and crimes against humanity.
The intervention in Kosovo also affirmed that, even without the mandate of the U.N. Security Council, countries should act to prevent regimes from abusing human rights. As a country that today enjoys freedom and democracy thanks to NATO action, we are strong supporters of the idea that sovereignty is not a right, but a responsibility. Speaking from experience, the time has come for the international community to offer protection to the people of Syria."
Even as the US considers military options, Syrian officials have responded by providing "evidence" that the chemical weapons attacks Wednesday were a last-ditch effort by Syrian rebel forces to hold the outskirts of Damascus. Syrian state TV broadcast images of plastic jugs, gas masks, vials of an unspecified medication, explosives and other items that it said were seized from rebel hideouts. It did not, however, show any video of soldiers reportedly affected by toxic gas in the fighting in the Jobar neighborhood of Damascus, according to the Associated Press.
Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, who pleaded guilty to killing 16 Afghans in a shooting spree last year, was sentenced Friday to life in prison without parole, legally closing an episode of one of the worst atrocities of the Afghanistan war.
Jurors deliberated for less than two hours after hearing closing arguments Friday morning at the sentencing hearing for Bales, who pleaded guilty in June to avoid the death penalty. A jury of six soldiers was asked to decide if Bales deserved a sentence of life in prison or the possibility of parole after 20 years.
The “stomach churning” words of Bales to a fellow soldier midway through the attack were enough to prove he knew what he was doing in the early-morning massacre, prosecutor Lt. Col. Jay Morse said Friday morning at the hearing at an Army base in Washington State.
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Bales woke up a fellow soldier partway through his rampage and said, “My count is 20,” referring to the number of people he thought he’d killed, Morse said. Bales was returning to his base in Kandahar Province to get more ammunition for the shooting spree when he told the soldier of the killings, but the soldier didn’t believe him and went back to sleep, BBC reports.
Prosecutors on Friday morning showed pictures of a young girl whom Bales killed, as well as video surveillance that showed him returning to the base with "the methodical, confident gait of a man who's accomplished his mission,” Morse said.
Defense attorney Emma Scanlan acknowledged the atrocities, but asked jurors to weigh his earlier honorable record in the military and give him a “sliver of light” with a sentence that had the possibility of parole.
Defense lawyers had suggested in the past few months that post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury played a role in the massacre. Yet they chose not to call any medical witnesses or present evidence that Bales was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder or other mental-health issues.
The Seattle Times, quoting defense lawyer John Henry Browne, said "he has ‘a ton of documentation’ from Bales’ Army medical file and other sources proving his client’s PTSD, but the defense chose not to introduce it.”
“We didn’t want to open that door,” Mr. Browne said, “because then, you get into a battle of the experts. I don’t think juries like that.”
Instead, the defense called former soldiers and friends, including former NFL player Marc Edwards, to vouch for Bales’s character.
For Bales to have received the possibility of parole, at least two jurors would have had to support such a sentence.
The closing arguments and sentence came a day after Bales apologized in court.
“I am sorry, truly, truly sorry, for what I did to those people,” he said. “I murdered their families. If I could bring their family members back, I would in a heartbeat.”
Nine Afghans who were flown in for the sentencing hearing to testify against Bales chose not to be in court when he spoke.
"If someone loses one child, you can imagine how devastated their life would be," said Haji Mohammad Wazir, who lost 11 family members, including his mother, wife, and six of his seven children, in Bales's attack.
Bales took the stand Thursday in unsworn testimony so he could not be cross-examined by the prosecution. He did not describe the killings or why they happened.
Bales described the trouble he had readjusting to civilian life after deployments, including becoming angry, drinking heavily, and taking sleeping pills. He began to see a counselor but quit because he didn't think it was working and he didn't want to appear weak, he said.
When Bales pleaded guilty, he said he could offer no explanation for his actions: “As far as why: I've asked that question a million times since then," he said. "There's not a good reason in this world for why I did the horrible things I did."
The killings “marked the worst case of civilian deaths blamed on a U.S. soldier since the Vietnam War and further eroded strained U.S.-Afghan relations after more than a decade of conflict in Afghanistan,” Reuters wrote.
• Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.
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