Category Archives: USA

2014 Pulitzer Prizes honor NSA revelations

Fans of Edward Snowden can be satisfied. As expected, The Washington Post and The Guardian won the Pulitzer Prize in Public Service for revealing the U.S. government’s sweeping surveillance efforts in stories based on thousands of secret documents handed over by National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden.

The award, announced in New York on Monday, comes 10 months after the Guardian published the first report based on the leaks from Snowden, revealing the agency’s bulk collection of US citizens’ phone records. In the series of articles that ensued, teams of journalists at the Guardian and the Washington Post published the most substantial disclosures of US government secrets since the Pentagon Papers on the Vietnam war in 1971.

A Virtual Conversation With Edward Snowden - 2014 SXSW Music, Film + Interactive FestivalThe former NSA contractor Edward Snowden issued a statement on Monday in response to the decision by the Pulitzer prize committee to reward the Guardian and the Washington Post with its top 2014 award.

”I am grateful to the committee for their recognition of the efforts of those involved in the last year’s reporting, and join others around the world in congratulating Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras, Barton Gellman, Ewen MacAskill and all of the others at the Guardian and Washington Post on winning the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service.

Today’s decision is a vindication for everyone who believes that the public has a role in government. We owe it to the efforts of the brave reporters and their colleagues who kept working in the face of extraordinary intimidation, including the forced destruction of journalistic materials, the inappropriate use of terrorism laws, and so many other means of pressure to get them to stop what the world now recognises was work of vital public importance.

This decision reminds us that what no individual conscience can change, a free press can. My efforts would have been meaningless without the dedication, passion, and skill of these newspapers, and they have my gratitude and respect for their extraordinary service to our society. Their work has given us a better future and a more accountable democracy” said Snowden.

At the Guardian, the NSA reporting was led by Glenn Greenwald, Ewen MacAskill and film-maker Laura Poitras, and at the Washington Post by Barton Gellman, who also co-operated with Poitras. All four journalists were honoured with a George Polk journalism award last week for their work on the NSA story.

The Pulitzers have been bestowed since 1917, at the bequest of the legendary boston_globenewspaper publisher Joseph Pulitzer who established the honour in his will as a means of encouraging publicly-spirited journalism. Awards were given in 22 categories this year: the Boston Globe received the Pulitzer for breaking for “exhaustive and empathetic” coverage of the Boston marathon bombing. Journalists in the Globe newsroom held observed a period of silence on Monday in memory of the victims, a day before the one-year anniversary of the attack.

To the category International Reporting were awarded Jason Szep and Andrew R.C. Marshall of Reuters for their courageous reports on the violent persecution of the Rohingya, a Muslim minority in Myanmar that, in efforts to flee the country, often falls victim to predatory human-trafficking networks. Donna Tartt’s bestselling novel “The Goldfinch,” published by Little, Brown, won the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for fiction.

The integral list of the 2014 Pulitzer Prize Winners can be read here.

Barack Obama – double oath ceremony for the second term

United States President Barack Obama will keep his date with history on Monday as he will be sworn in for the second day in a row during a traditional public ceremony steeped in symbolism and watched by millions of Americans.

USA OBAMA SWEARING INYesterday, President Obama takes the oath of office for his second term in a private White House ceremony ahead of Monday’s inauguration festivities. The ceremony has marked the end of a presidential term and beginning of the second. According to the 20th amendment of the U.S. Constitution, the mandate of elected President begins at noon on January 20. Because January 20, the date on which Obama has officially ended his first term at the helm of the United States, this year fell on a Sunday, are organized two oath ceremonies.
The first ceremony, private, took place on Sunday in the Blue Room, was officiated by Chief Justice John G. Roberts. Surrounded by family, friends and staff, in the Blue Room of the White House, Mr. Obama had placed his hand on the historic Robinson family bible, selected specifically for the occasion, and recited the 35-word presidential oath.

Monday’s inauguration festivities

The second ceremony is scheduled for Monday and will be held outside the West Front of the Capitol, established of American Congress  (at 11:30 local time / 16:55 GMT). Mr. Obama had selected historical bibles including those used by Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King for his swearing in ceremonies.

“I will be honoured to again stand on the Inaugural platform and take part in this important American tradition,” Mr. Obama had said earlier this month.

At the public ceremony will be attended by more than a half million Americans (between 800,000 and 900,000 people, the CNN reported.). After the speech at the Capitol, Obama will walk to Pennsylvania Avenue, which connects the seat of legislative power and the executive power of the United States.
After oath ceremony,  a big parade will follow the same avenue, where Barack Obama will attend from a huge gallery installed near the White House. Inaugural balls, held at Congress Center in Washington, will take until late at night.

US Senate approves fiscal cliff legislation

The Senate moved the U.S. economy back from the edge of a “fiscal cliff” on Tuesday, voting to avoid imminent tax hikes and spending cuts in a bipartisan deal that could still face stiff challenges in the House of Representatives, report Reuters.

us-senateIn a rare New Year’s session and two hours after deadline (at around 2 a.m. EST), senators voted 89-8 to raise some taxes on the wealthy while making permanent low tax rates on the middle class that have been in place for a decade. Senate passage set the stage for a final showdown in the House of Representatives, where a vote was expected later Tuesday or perhaps Wednesday.

“But the measure did little to rein in huge annual budget deficits that have helped push the U.S. debt to $16.4 trillion”, said Financial Times. The agreement came too late for Congress to meet its own deadline of New Year’s Eve for passing laws to halt $600 billion in tax hikes and spending cuts which strictly speaking came into force on Tuesday. But with the New Year’s Day holiday there wasn’t real world impact and Congress still had time to draw up legislation, approve it and backdate it to avoid the harsh fiscal measures. More, because the financial markets were closed, giving them a second chance to return to try to head off the fiscal cliff.

What means this deal ?

“Under the deal, taxes would remain steady for the middle class and rise at incomes over $400,000 for individuals and $450,000 for couples — levels higher than President Obama had campaigned for in his successful drive for a second term in office”, says USAToday.

“Spending cuts totaling $24 billion over two months aimed at the Pentagon and domestic programs would be deferred. That would allow the White House and lawmakers time to regroup before plunging very quickly into a new round of budget brinkmanship certain to revolve around Republican calls to rein in the cost of Medicare and other government benefit programs”

Shortly after the Senate vote, President Obama said, “While neither Democrats nor Republicans got everything they wanted, this agreement is the right thing to do for our country and the House should pass it without delay”.

One set of taxes is set to go up in 2013: The deal does not address the end of the payroll tax holiday on Tuesday. That tax will rise by 2%, back to its 2010 level.

The deal also stops scheduled pay increases for Congress set for spring 2013 and includes a nine-month extension of the farm bill, which had been delayed for months because of differences between the House and Senate versions of the legislation that sets U.S. agricultural policy every five years.

Update / 2 January 2013 – U.S. markets surged more than 2 percent Wednesday morning, hours after Congress approved a plan to avoid the “fiscal cliff” by raising taxes on American’s wealthiest households.