Saturday Reads

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Good Morning!!

Amid all the bad news, there’s apparently progress in the negotiations with Iran. The LA Times reported yesterday that a “nuclear deal appears imminent.” Secretary of State John Kerry headed to Geneva, Switzerland yesterday to help out.

After a rocky day Thursday, negotiators appeared for now to have overcome their differences on Iran’s entitlement to enrich uranium and on how to curb progress on a partially built nuclear research reactor that Western powers view as a particular threat.

U.S. Secretary of State John F. Kerry left late Friday for Geneva to help “narrow the differences and move closer to an agreement,” the State Department said. Sergei Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, arrived from Moscow early Friday evening, making him the first of the six nations’ ministers to show up for a possible signing ceremony that would end a decade of usually stalemated negotiations….

A deal would be a first-stage agreement that would give Iran temporary relief from the crushing Western sanctions on its economy in exchange for temporary limits on its nuclear program. Many nations fear that Iran, despite its insistence that its program is for peaceful purposes only, is seeking weapons capability with its huge nuclear infrastructure.

This deal would open the way for tough bargaining on a final, comprehensive agreement that would take six months or longer to be reached.

Isn’t it amazing what you can accomplish with a little carrot and stick diplomacy? Too bad Bush and Cheney never tried it.

From USA Today:

U.S. negotiators and their counterparts from the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia and China have been meeting with the Iranians since Wednesday in an effort to strike an interim deal to delay Iran’s nuclear program while a larger deal is worked out that would prevent the Islamic Republic from obtaining nuclear weapons.

Britain’s Foreign Secretary William Hague spoke of “very difficult negotiations, saying “narrow gaps” remain on the same issues that blocked agreement at the last round earlier this month.

“We’re not here because things are necessarily finished,” Hague told reporters. “We’re here because they’re difficult, and they remain difficult.”

Still, the fact that they are talking is definitely encouraging. In another sign that something is actually happening, the Chinese foreign minister arrived in Geneva today. “Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei said Saturday the talks…have reached the final moment.”

For those of you who still use air travel, the FCC is on the verge of making a decision that could make flying infinitely more annoying that it is already. From The Washington Post: FCC sees backlash after proposing to allow in-flight cellphone calls on planes.

The Federal Communications Commission said Thursday that it will consider rules that would allow air travelers to make calls and use their cellular data plans once a plane reaches 10,000 feet. Restrictions would remain for takeoffs and landings.

The proposal, which will be raised at the commission’s meeting next month, has the backing of the agency’s newly appointed chairman. But the idea is bound to be controversial. Within hours of the announcement, consumers flooded the agency with protests.

One FCC commissioner received hundreds of e-mails complaining that the move would lead to unbearable noise pollution, an aide said. Passengers are already crammed into smaller seats and tighter rows, and being forced to listen to one another’s calls would be yet another indignity, they wrote.

petition quickly went up on the White House Web site Thursday, asking the Obama administration to stop the effort. “This would make an already cranky, uncomfortable travel experience exponentially worse, and as a frequent flier and concerned citizen, I think the administration needs to nip this in the bud,” a resident from Richmond wrote.

Something tells me if this plan goes through, there are going be a lot more air rage incidents in the not-so-friendly skies. But after the uproar, USA Today is reporting that the new FCC commissioner–only three weeks into the job–is backpedaling rapidly.

NEW YORK (AP) — A day after setting off an uproar among travelers opposed to in-flight phone calls, the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission Chairman backtracked, saying he personally isn’t in favor of calls on planes.

The role of the FCC, he added, is to advise if there is a safety issue with using phones on planes. He said there is “no technical reason to prohibit” the use of mobile devices on planes.

“We understand that many passengers would prefer that voice calls not be made on airplanes. I feel that way myself,” chairman Tom Wheeler said in a Friday statement.

The decision to allow calls will ultimately rest with the airlines, Wheeler emphasized.

The Wall Street Journal reports that U.S. District Judge William H. Pauley III “Appears Receptive to Critics of NSA’s Collection of Phone Data.” Back in 1979, the Supreme Court decided that phone records are not private, because we willingly give the information to our telephone company. But now Judge Pauley is questioning that decision based on recent revelations about NSA data collection.

“Doesn’t the information collected here reveal far more?” U.S. District Judge William H. Pauley III asked during a hearing in Manhattan federal court on Friday.

Judge Pauley also questioned whether Congress could authorize the collection when the NSA program’s existence wasn’t widely known among lawmakers.

The hearing stemmed from a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and its New York affiliate days after the program was revealed in news reports that were based on documents provided by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. The groups argue the bulk collection of records called metadata—which includes the phone numbers people dialed and where they were calling from—violates Americans’ privacy rights, as well as federal law.

The judge issued no immediate ruling and left open the possibility that he could dismiss part of the case, because federal law designates the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court as the proper venue for certain national-security issues.

Pauley is a Clinton appointee.

In Pakistan, a protest by about 10,000 people against U.S. drone strikes succeeded in blocking a supply route to and from Afghanistan.

The protest, led by Pakistani politician and cricket star Imran Khan, had more symbolic value than practical impact as there is normally little NATO supply traffic on the road on Saturdays. The blocked route in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province leads to one of two border crossings used to send supplies overland from Pakistan to neighboring Afghanistan.

Khan, whose Tehreek-e-Insaf party runs the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government, called on federal officials to take a firmer stance to force the U.S. to end drone attacks and block NATO supplies across the country.

“We will put pressure on America, and our protest will continue if drone attacks are not stopped,” Khan told the protesters.

The demonstrators dispersed after Khan’s speech, but his party put out a statement saying they will begin stopping trucks from carrying NATO supplies through Khyber Pakhtunkhwa indefinitely beginning Sunday night. That could spark a clash with the federal government.

Raw Story has an update in the case of Kendrick Johnson, the 17-year-old whose body was found inside a gym mat in a Valdosta, GA high school.

At least an hour of footage is missing from each of the four surveillance cameras at Kendrick Johnson’s high school, and the original footage showing how the Georgia teenager died might be gone, CNN reported on Thursday.

“Those files are not original files,” forensics video analyst Grant Fredericks told CNN. “They’re not something investigators should rely on for the truth of the video.”

CNN enlisted Fredericks in order to analyze more than 290 hours of video it acquired from Lowndes County High School, where the 17-year-old was found dead in the gym in January. Local officials initially determined that he died from asphyxiation after getting trapped inside a gym mat, an argument his family has rejected. An independent autopsy ordered by the victim’s family found the cause of death to be “unexplained, apparent non-accidental, blunt force trauma.”

But while the Lowndes Public Schools district told CNN the video it provided was “a raw feed with no edits,” Fredericks disagreed, saying it was “altered in a number of ways, primarily in image quality and likely in dropped information, information loss. There are also a number of files that are corrupted because they’ve not been processed correctly and they’re not playable. I can’t say why they were done that way, but they were not done correctly, and they were not done thoroughly. So we’re missing information.”

Specifically, two of the cameras are missing 65 minutes of footage each, while the other two are missing 130 minutes apiece. Another camera outside of the gymnasium has a time stamp 10 minutes behind the ones inside.

It sounds like the cover had to involve someone in the school administration, doesn’t it?

So . . . it’s kind of a slow news day, but I found a few stories for you to talk about. What are you hearing? Did I miss any big news? Please post your links in the comment thread.