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Not Everyone Needs to Learn Programming, But Every School Should Offer It

Mother Jones

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From the Washington Post:

In a world that went digital long ago, computer science is not a staple of U.S. education, and some schools do not even offer the course, including 10 of 27 high schools in Virginia’s Fairfax County and six of 25 in Maryland’s Montgomery County….Across the Washington region’s school systems, fewer than one in 10 high school students took computer science this academic year, according to district data.

That first stat surprises me. My very average suburban high school offered two programming courses way back in 1975 (FORTRAN for beginners, COBOL for the advanced class). Sure, back in the dark ages that meant filling in coding sheets, which were sent to the district office, transcribed onto punch cards, and then run on the district’s mainframe. Turnaround time was about two or three days and then you could start fixing your bugs. Still! It taught us the rudiments of writing code. I’m surprised that 40 years later there’s a high school in the entire country that doesn’t offer a programming class of some kind.

The second stat, however, doesn’t surprise me. Or alarm me. It’s about what I’d expect. Despite some recent hype, computer programming really isn’t the kind of class that everyone needs to take. It’s an advanced elective. I’d guess than no more than 10 percent of all students take physics, or advanced algebra, or art class for that matter. Ten percent doesn’t strike me as a horrible number.

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Not Everyone Needs to Learn Programming, But Every School Should Offer It

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Hundreds arrested at anti-Keystone protest in front of White House

Hundreds arrested at anti-Keystone protest in front of White House

XL Dissent

Nearly 400 anti-Keystone protestors were arrested on Sunday after zip-tying themselves to a fence in front of the White House. Activist group characterized the action as the “largest youth civil disobedience at the White House in a generation.”

Those arrested were part of a larger student-led protest coordinated by XL Dissent. Organizers estimated that 1,200 people total participated in the march and rally that called on President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry to reject plans to build the Keystone XL pipeline.

Here are some photos and tweets from the scene:

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Hundreds arrested at anti-Keystone protest in front of White House

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Magic Bust: Here’s What Roger Daltrey Is Helping Boehner and Kerry Unveil

Mother Jones

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The US Capitol’s National Statuary Hall may be full of white supremacists. But tomorrow, it will also be full of Roger Daltrey.

On Wednesday, Daltrey, lead singer of legendary English rock band The Who, will perform at a ceremony honoring Winston Churchill. Secretary of State John Kerry and congressional leaders are expected to attend the event, where a bust of the former British prime minister will be unveiled.

“I am pleased to be part of the celebration of Winston Churchill and the longstanding relationship between the United Kingdom and the United States,” Daltrey said in a statement. “I am honoured to be able to show my appreciation to this great man who, as our Prime Minister, fought for and secured freedom for Britain, America, and the citizens of the world.”

You can watch the ceremony here when it streams live at 11 a.m. EDT on Wednesday. What will Daltrey sing? “A Man in a Purple Dress?” “Won’t Get Fooled Again?” “We’re Not Gonna Take It,” perhaps? You’ll have to watch to find out; Daltrey’s representatives, the Churchill Centre, and the office of House Speaker John Boehner are keeping the set list a secret until show time.

“What better way to celebrate Winston Churchill’s friendship to the United States than to have one of Britain’s most legendary recording artists perform in the halls of the Capitol,” Boehner said in a statement. “Roger’s performance is sure to guarantee that the Churchill bust receives the first-class welcome it deserves.” The Speaker’s office also posted this “teaser” video to YouTube last week, praising Churchill as the “best friend America ever had.”

The dedication ceremony—and Daltrey’s latest gig—is the culmination of Boehner’s nearly two-year effort to place a bust of Churchill in the US Capitol. In December 2011, the House passed a resolution that tasked the Architect of the Capitol with finding an “appropriate statue or bust” of Churchill. This was the fourth piece of legislation sponsored by Boehner after he became House Speaker in January 2011. Here is the resolution that Boehner submitted:

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Republicans have a track record of really caring about busts of Winston Churchill. In 2009, President Obama returned to the British Embassy a Churchill bust that graced the Oval Office in the Bush era. The British press freaked out over this, and it became a conservative meme stateside that was revived in an extraordinarily dumb pseudo-controversy during the 2012 election. “This man, Winston Churchill, used to have his bust in the Oval Office, and if I’m president of the United States, it’ll be there again,” Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney said to a cheering audience at a GOP debate in September 2011.

But the bust being offered a home in Statuary Hall is refreshingly controversy-free. The Chicago-based Churchill Centre, which donated the bust, came up with the idea several weeks ago to invite Daltrey, and contacted Universal Music about bringing the rock star to the US Capitol. “He is an iconic figure in the world of British music of the past 40 years, and he responded very enthusiastically to coming over from the UK,” says Lee Pollock, the Centre’s executive director. “I don’t want to sound flippant, but Churchill contributed so many good things in his time, as did the British musicians of the ’60s and ’70s. They are similarly iconic, in their own rights.”

According to Pollock, Daltrey is playing the gig pro bono. He is expected to perform two songs, and to be accompanied by an acoustic guitar player, a pianist, and a local choir during the hour-long ceremony. Separately, the US Army Chorus will perform “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” which was reportedly one of Churchill’s favorite pieces of music.

This mini-concert isn’t Daltrey’s first encounter with Washington politicians. Here is President George W. Bush honoring Daltrey and Who guitarist Pete Townshend in December 2008:

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Magic Bust: Here’s What Roger Daltrey Is Helping Boehner and Kerry Unveil

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For Climate Scientists, Shutdown Casts Long Shadow

Mother Jones

The government shutdown might be over, but for some climate scientists the headache is just beginning. During the shutdown, National Science Foundation-funded research facilities in Antarctica—where some of the world’s most important climate research takes place—were left with a skeleton staff at just the time of year they would normally be coming back to life after a long, dark winter.

On its first day back online, NSF released a statement saying it would salvage the research season “to the maximum extent possible,” without giving a definite timeline. NSF warned that “certain research and operations activities may be deferred until next year’s austral research season.” For scientists studying everything from ocean acidification to earthquakes to seal pups, the 16 days of the shutdown were 16 missed opportunities to collect irreplaceable data.

One of those scientists was Gretchen Hofmann, a marine biologist at the University of California, Santa Barbara, who published a column today in Nature about her frustration with the shutdown and its long-term impacts on basic research. As Hofmann and her peers stand by for word from NSF, we spoke to her about how some of the worst pain from the last two weeks could be felt by the next generation of up-and-coming scientists.

Climate Desk: What have the last couple weeks been like for you?

Gretchen Hofmann: We have a research project that’s funded to study ocean conditions and ocean acidification in the Southern Ocean, the area around McMurdo Sound. That project was supposed to start October 10, and we were going to deploy one of our field team members down there to go retrieve sensors from under the sea ice. The government shut down and we just sat there and thought, ‘Well, I guess she’s not going,’ and sure enough 24 hours before Lydia Kapsenberg, my grad student, was supposed to deploy, her travel was canceled. A week earlier, my post-doc Amanda Kelley, an NSF funded research fellow, was supposed to go down; she flew down there, landed on the sea ice, and literally was told that the station had gone into caretaker mode. So right away, right in my face, front row center, I had two junior scientists that were really heavily impacted by this. Not only because they stand to lose to data and progress in their careers; it was also really upsetting. I mean, they felt really threatened and jeopardized.

CD: You make the point that while there are impacts for everyone working down there, it’s especially a problem for young scientists, post-docs and grad students. Explain why. What’s different about being in that position that makes a missed opportunity like this even more problematic?

GH: The reason that it’s a sensitive life history stage is because, if we talk about Dr. Kelley, she’s a post-doc, and that’s kind of like being an apprentice electrician: You already have your license, in this case a PhD, and she now comes to work with me to really learn about how to be a scientist. During that time, these jobs are really competitive, and you need to be productive. By that I mean you need to do experiments, you need to publish papers, you need to go to science meetings and get out there. And with no data, with a canceled field season, she will not have that. And so that puts her back incredibly.

And grad students, well, forget about it. Many of them have planned to be at McMurdo to do a specific thing that will give them their PhD or their masters degree. And that’s been completely canceled. It’s even worse sometimes for grad students because if they know they’re going to do something down there, they might spend the whole year training to do that; frankly, they’re not doing anything else. They spent a whole bunch of time getting ready to be there, and when that gets canceled, then they’ve got nothin‘. And so a year of their life could be delayed, they might have to stay in school for another year, their advisor might not have funding for them, so it throws them into a really difficult situation that can also involve financial problems. I worry about this every day. People send you their children, and our country depends on this new talent. And so it’s kind of like we’re eating our young in the Antarctic science community if we can’t rescue the field season.

Amanda Kelley is an unfortunate example of this. She has a two-year fellowship from NSF that just started this summer. She was supposed to work at McMurdo for the field season this October/November, and October/November, 2014, and that’s all the money she has for those two years. And so now, if she loses this field season, she’ll run out of money before she can get a full set of research done. And everyone at NSF will do their utmost to rectify the situation, but whereas I stand to lose some data and an instrument and that’s a drag and sets my research back, you know, I’m protected, I’m tenured. And these guys are not.

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For Climate Scientists, Shutdown Casts Long Shadow

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Urgent Task for Insect: Stop a Relentless Vine


How to Raise the Perfect Dog – Cesar Millan & Melissa Jo Peltier

From the bestselling author and star of National Geographic Channel’s Dog Whisperer , the only resource you’ll need for raising a happy, healthy dog. For the millions of people every year who consider bringing a puppy into their lives–as well as those who have already brought a dog home–Cesar Millan, the preeminent dog behavior expert, says, “Yes, […]

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Black Legion – A Codex: Chaos Space Marines Supplement – Games Workshop

The Black Legion are among the most hated foes of the Imperium, vile traitors and fearsome warriors responsible for ten thousand years of terror and murder. About this Book: This Codex: Chaos Space Marines Supplement charts the history of the Legion, along with their Warmaster Abaddon, who stands poised to lead them to victory over the Imperium. Also inside […]

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Scent of the Missing – Susannah Charleson

An unforgettable memoir from a search-and-rescue pilot and her spirited canine partner In the wake of the Oklahoma City bombing, Susannah Charleson clipped a photo from the newspaper of an exhausted canine handler, face buried in the fur of his search-and-rescue dog. A dog lover and pilot with search experience herself, Susannah was so moved by the image tha […]

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Farsight Enclaves – A Codex: Tau Empire Supplement – Games Workshop

Commander Farsight was once hailed by every Tau caste as a genius warrior-leader without compare. As his career blazed a bloody path across the Damocles Gulf and back again, O’Shovah split away from the Tau Empire, doggedly pursuing the Orks that had killed so many of his Fire caste comrades. It was the first overt sign of a rebellion that was to change the […]

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The Art of Raising a Puppy (Revised Edition) – Monks of New Skete

For more than thirty years the Monks of New Skete have been among America’s most trusted authorities on dog training, canine behavior, and the animal/human bond. In their two now-classic bestsellers, How to be Your Dog’s Best Friend and The Art of Raising a Puppy, the Monks draw on their experience as long-time breeders of German shepherds and as t […]

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Inside of a Dog – Alexandra Horowitz

The bestselling book that asks what dogs know and how they think, now in paperback. The answers will surprise and delight you as Alexandra Horowitz, a cognitive scientist, explains how dogs perceive their daily worlds, each other, and that other quirky animal, the human. Horowitz introduces the reader to dogs’ perceptual and cognitive abilities and then draw […]

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Merle’s Door – Ted Kerasote

Now including a wonderful new photo insert chronicling Merle’s life, this national bestseller explores the relationship between humans and dogs. How would dogs live if they were free? Would they stay with their human friends? Merle and Ted found each other in the Utah desert— Merle was living wild and Ted was looking for a pup to keep him company. As their b […]

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Marley & Me – John Grogan

The heartwarming and unforgettable story of a family and the wondrously neurotic dog who taught them what really matters in life. Now with photos and new material

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Dogtripping – David Rosenfelt

David Rosenfelt’s Dogtripping is moving and funny account of a cross-country move from California to Maine, and the beginnings of a dog rescue foundation When mystery writer David Rosenfelt and his family moved from Southern California to Maine, he thought he had prepared for everything. They had mapped the route, brought three […]

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A Penny Saved – Tamara Berg

This interactive multi-touch ebook, with photo galleries, embedded video, and web links, shows how to transform mere pennies into expensive designer-looking jewelry. No one will believe you made these stunners from scraps of titian-colored metal! Inside, step-by-step instructions for five projects are fast, easy & fun, with tips and tricks to elevate you […]

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Urgent Task for Insect: Stop a Relentless Vine

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Ken Cucinnelli Scrubs His Immigration Hardliner Past

Mother Jones

As a member of the Virginia Senate, GOP gubernatorial nominee Ken Cuccinelli used his email newsletter to tout his role in founding State Legislators for Legal Immigration (SLLI), a group dedicated to cutting off economic, education, and employment opportunities to undocumented immigrants. Cuccinelli, who is now the state’s attorney general, has softened his views in recent months to appeal to a broader audience as he runs for governor. But as a potential swing-state governor, his past statements clash with the Republican National Committee’s post-election autopsy stressing the importance of immigration reform for the future of the party.

SLLI was launched in 2007 by Pennsylvania state Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, a Republican. The group aligned itself with anti-immigration hardliners in an effort to convince the Supreme Court to use the 14th Amendment to end birthright citizenship—a position Cuccinelli endorsed in a Senate resolution urging Congress to take action against what he called “anchor babies.” According to its mission statement, the group also aims “to provide a network of state legislators who are committed to working together in demanding full cooperation among our federal, state and local governments in eliminating all economic attractions and incentives (including, but not limited to: public benefits, welfare, education and employment opportunities) for illegal aliens, as well as securing our borders against unlawful invasion.”

In May 2007, Cuccinelli endorsed SLLI in his newsletter, the Cuccinelli Compass, writing, “I was one of the founding members of State Legislators for Legal Immigration.” He spelled out a version of the group’s mission statement, expressing the importance of eliminating incentives that “continue to lure illegal aliens across the border,” and wrote that he supported sending “illegal aliens back to their home country.” He also wrote, “You can count on me to remain vigilant on this issue!” Cuccinelli sent out the newsletter days after stating in an SLLI press release that “porous borders and lax immigration enforcement have left us vulnerable not only to terrorist attacks but to increasing levels of crime in our communities,” specifically those who “traffic their deadly cocktail of drugs and gang violence into Virginia.” (Read the full text of the email’s immigration section below.)

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Ken Cucinnelli Scrubs His Immigration Hardliner Past

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Seven ways the drought in the West really sucks

Seven ways the drought in the West really sucks

Johnida Dockens

Almost 87 percent of the Western U.S. is in a drought, the Los Angeles Times reports today in a big, gloomy article with big, gloomy pictures. New Mexico is 100 percent droughty. Here are just a few of the ways that sucks.

1. The Rio Grande is so dry that it’s been dubbed the Rio Sand. Satellite photos show reservoirs drying up too.

2. People in parts of New Mexico are having to take drastic measures to get water. “Residents of some towns subsist on trucked-in water,” the L.A. Times reports, “and others are drilling deep wells costing $100,000 or more to sink and still more to operate.”

3. Water wars are flaring up and states are getting litigious. Also from the Times: “Texas has filed suit, arguing that groundwater pumping in New Mexico is reducing Texas’ share of the Rio Grande. Oklahoma has successfully fended off a legal challenge from Texas over water from the Red River.”

4. Wild critters are in trouble. Wildlife managers in New Mexico are bringing water to elk herds so they don’t die of thirst. Some conservationists think those managers should also bring food to bears so the bears don’t lumber into human settlements while desperately seeking sustenance.

5. Trees are taking a beating. Thousands of trees in Albuquerque have died of thirst.

6. Swimming holes are becoming dirt holes. A trio of Texas state agencies is inviting the public to share photos of the drought, and one recurring subject is swimming signs in front of waterless landscapes, like this one.

7. Some desperate farmers in New Mexico have resorted to selling their water to fracking companies so they can afford to pay their bills. As Joe Romm writes at Climate Progress, “The worse news is that many of them are actually pumping the water out of the aquifer to do so. The worst news of all is that once the frackers get through tainting it with their witches’ brew of chemicals, that water often becomes unrecoverable — and then we have the possibility the used fracking water will end up contaminating even more of the groundwater.”

Is climate change to blame for all the droughtiness? The L.A. Times:

The question many here are grappling with is whether the changes are a permanent result of climate change or part of cyclical weather cycle. …

Nonetheless, most long-term plans put together by cattle ranchers, farmers and land managers include the probability that the drought is here to stay.

John Clayshulte, a third-generation rancher and farmer near Las Cruces, removed all his cattle from his federal grazing allotment. “There’s just not any sense putting cows on there. There’s not enough for them to eat,” he said.

“It’s all changed. This used to be shortgrass prairies. We’ve ruined it and it’s never going to come back.”

Lisa Hymas is senior editor at Grist. You can follow her on Twitter and Google+.

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Seven ways the drought in the West really sucks

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How Do You Shield Astronauts and Satellites From Deadly Micrometeorites?

Astronaut Tracy Caldwell Dyson in the ISS’ Cupola, where a micrometeorite hit the window last year. Photo: NASA

Late last month GOES-13, a weather satellite that helps the U.S. government forecast hurricanes, got smacked by a piece of supersonic space dust. A little micrometeorite, a small-but-incredibly-fast piece of space debris, says USA Today, “struck the arm of the satellite’s power-producing solar array, engineers say. The jolt knocked the satellite off balance, and spacecraft instruments automatically turned themselves off.” The orbital collision brought the satellite down for a few weeks as engineers figured out what was wrong.

Astronauts on the International Space Station have had their own run-ins with micrometeorites, too. Last year, one slammed into one of the station’s giant windows. “Micrometeroid and orbital debris (MMOD) impacts are part of life in low Earth orbit,” says Space Safety Magazine. “MMOD impacts occur all the time on ISS and other spacecraft, although most are not easily visible through a window. Returning Space Shuttles have shown pock marks from high velocity MMODs.” As humans enter low-Earth orbit with increasing regularity, the threat posed by small bits of space debris—an errant bolt, say—goes up.

To protect satellites and astronauts (and soon, space tourists), engineers have to give the ships some sort of armor. Right now, NASA uses something called “Whipple Shielding”:

In the 1940s, Fred Whipple proposed a meteoroid shield for spacecraft, called the Whipple shield in recognition of his contribution. The Whipple shield consists of a thin, aluminum “sacrificial” wall mounted at a distance from a rear wall. The function of the first sheet or “BUMPER” is to break up the projectile into a cloud of material containing both projectile and BUMPER debris. This cloud expands while moving across the standoff, resulting in the impactor momentum being distributed over a wide area of the rear wall (Figure 2). The back sheet must be thick enough to withstand the blast loading from the debris cloud and any solid fragments that remain.

In updated versions of this design, says NASA, “bulletproof” Kevlar or other materials are placed between the outer sacrificial wall and the inside plate.

The designs amount to, essentially, putting something thick in the way that will hopefully stop the micrometeorite before it can ram its way all the way through your spacecraft. But once that hole is punctured, the strength of the shield is reduced until it can be repaired—not the greatest if you want to leave your satellite up there for years at a time, or you want your commerical space ship to do back-to-back flights.

The future of spacecraft shielding could stem from ongoing research into “self-healing” shields, materials that automatically repair themselves after they’re hit. The CBC recently toured the Planetary and Space Science Centre at the University of New Brunswick, where researchers use a gigantic gun to simulate micrometeorite strikes and test the space shields of the future:

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One Tiny Piece of Space Debris Can Destroy a Satellite

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How Do You Shield Astronauts and Satellites From Deadly Micrometeorites?

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5 New Revelations About NSA Surveillance

Mother Jones

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In the wake of Edward Snowden’s leaks, National Security Agency and Justice Department officials testified today before the House intelligence committee about the government’s controversial surveillance programs. Here are the five most interesting revelations to emerge from the hearing:

1. Surveillance has contributed to thwarting more than 50 terror plots since 9/11, according to the NSA.
NSA Director Keith Alexander testified that NSA surveillance has played a role in preventing more than 50 terrorist attacks since September 11, 2001. FBI deputy director Sean Joyce provided an outline of four of those cases:

The 2009 arrest of Najibullah Zazi for plotting to bomb the New York City subway system came after the NSA intercepted an email in which he discussed perfecting a bomb recipe. The agency executed search warrants with New York Police Department and found bomb-making components. (Serious questions have been raised about whether the FBI actually needed NSA surveillance in order to obtain this information, since the FBI wouldn’t have had trouble getting a warrant to monitor the email account of a terrorist suspect.)
Using its authority under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), the NSA discovered Khalid Ouzzani’s nascent plans to bomb the New York Stock Exchange. Ouzzani pleaded guilty in 2010 to providing support to Al Qaeda.
NSA surveillance derailed David Headley’s 2009 plan to bomb the offices of a Danish newspaper. At the time, he was considered a suspect in the 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai. He later confessed to conducting surveillance for the Mumbai attacks.
Joyce only provided vague details about a fourth plot: After 9/11, the NSA monitored an individual who had indirect contact with a known foreign terrorist organization overseas. Doing so, he said, allowed the FBI to reopen an investigation and disrupt terrorist activity.

2. The NSA doesn’t need court approval each time it searches Americans’ phone records.
NSA Deputy Director John Inglis said that 22 NSA officials are authorized to approve requests to query an agency database that contains the cellphone metadata of American citizens. (Metadata includes the numbers of incoming and outgoing calls, the date and time the calls took place, and their duration.) Deputy AG Cole also said that all queries of this database must be documented and can be subject to audits. Cole also said that the the NSA does not have to get separate Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) approval for each query; instead, the agency merely has to file a monthly report with the court on how many times the database was queried, and how many of those searches targeted the phone records of Americans.

3. 10 NSA officials have permission to give information about US citizens to the FBI
There are 10 NSA officials—including Inglis and Alexander—involved in determining whether information collected about US citizens can be provided to the FBI. It can only be shared if there’s independent evidence that the target has connections to a terrorist organization. Inglis said that if the information is found to be irrelevant, it must be destroyed. If the NSA mistakenly targets an American citizen, it must report this to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.

4. Other countries are less transparent than the US, officials say.
Cole said that the FISA Amendments Act provides more due process than is afforded to citizens of European countries, including Germany, the United Kingdom, and France. Alexander added that “virtually all” countries have laws that compel telecommunications firms to turn over information on suspects.

5) Fewer than 300 phone numbers were targeted in 2012.
NSA officials say that even though the agency has access to Americans’ phone records, it investigated fewer than 300 phone numbers connected to US citizens in 2012. The officials did not provide any detail on the number of email addresses targeted.

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5 New Revelations About NSA Surveillance

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"The East": How Two Filmmakers’ Freegan Summer Road Trip Became a New Political Thriller Starring a "True Blood" Vampire

Mother Jones

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The East
Fox Searchlight Pictures
116 minutes

The East, a new thriller directed by relative newcomer Zal Batmanglij, follows an eco-terrorist collective that finds elaborate ways to punish CEOs and pharmaceutical companies for committing “worldwide terrorism.” The eco-terrorists, who call themselves The East, are infiltrated by Sarah Moss (played by Brit Marling), a former fed who works as an undercover operative for a private intel firm that looks out for rich polluters. A morally conflicted Sarah quickly comes to sympathize with East members including Izzy (Ellen Page), and grows increasingly attracted to their ringleader Benji (Alexander Skarsgård, of True Blood vamp fame). Bullets fly, sex in the woods occurs, and alliances are tested.

This political thriller is technically based on a true story. But the real-world inspiration for the script didn’t involve any shoot-out or corporate espionage; it started with a rather unusual summer road trip.

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"The East": How Two Filmmakers’ Freegan Summer Road Trip Became a New Political Thriller Starring a "True Blood" Vampire

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