ICYMI: World news for week of July 15

House OKs scaled-down farm bill sans food stamps 

Republicans pushed a scaled-down farm bill through the House Thursday, putting off a fight over food stamp spending and giving GOP leaders a victory after a decisive defeat on the larger bill last month.

Republicans faced significant opposition to the plan from Democrats, farm groups and conservative groups that threatened to use the vote against GOP members in future campaigns. But Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., navigated his colleagues to a narrow 216-208 vote by convincing Republican members that this was the best chance to get the bill passed and erase the embarrassment of the June loss.

Any other path to passage would have most likely included concessions to Democrats who opposed the original bill.

Last month, 62 Republicans voted against a broader bill after House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Cantor supported it. Only 12 Republicans voted against the new measure and no Democrats voted for it.

Republicans said the food stamp part of the legislation would be dealt with separately at a later date, and Cantor said after the vote that Republicans would “act with dispatch” to get that legislation to the floor. That bill is expected to make cuts much deeper than the original bill, which trimmed around three percent, or about $2 billion a year, from the $80 billion-a-year feeding program.
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Thousands of California inmates refuse meals in protest 

Nearly 30,000 of the 133,000 inmates in California prisons refused meals in support of inmates held in solitary confinement at Pelican Bay State Prison, corrections officials said Tuesday.

The meals were refused Monday and Tuesday as inmates announced what they said would be the third extended hunger strike in two years protesting conditions for the more than 4,500 gang members, gang associates and serious offenders held in the security housing units. Many of those inmates are kept in solitary confinement, sometimes for decades.

The protest is the latest disruption for a prison system already facing legal and logistical challenges. Officials are struggling to move about 2,600 inmates from two Central Valley prisons because they are considered especially vulnerable to a potentially fatal airborne fungus. They also are appealing a separate court order requiring the state to release nearly 10,000 inmates by year’s end to reduce prison crowding as the best way to improve conditions for sick and mentally ill inmates.

The isolation units that are the focus of the hunger strike are at Pelican Bay near the Oregon border and at three other maximum security prisons around the state.

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Justice Department tightens guidelines on reporter data 

The Justice Department announced Friday that it is toughening its guidelines for subpoenaing reporters’ phone records, and also raising the standard the government needs to meet before it can issue search warrants to gather reporters’ email.

The changes follow disclosures that the Justice Department secretly subpoenaed almost two months of telephone records for 21 phone lines used by reporters and editors for The Associated Press and secretly used a warrant to obtain some emails of a Fox News journalist. After a barrage of criticism from lawmakers, the news media and civil liberties groups, Obama ordered Attorney General Eric Holder to review the Justice Department’s policy on obtaining such material, and set Friday as the deadline.

In announcing the changes, the Justice Department said it will create a News Media Review Committee to advise its top officials when the department seeks media-related records in investigations.

Under one of the changes being made, the government must give advance notice to the news media about subpoena requests for reporters’ phone records unless the attorney general determines that “for compelling reasons,” such notice would pose a clear and substantial threat to the integrity of the investigation. That is a change from the current procedure, which puts the decision in the hands of the assistant attorney general for the criminal division, with review by the attorney general.

In another change, the government will issue search warrants directed at a reporter’s email only when that member of the news media is the focus of a criminal investigation for conduct not connected to ordinary newsgathering activities.

Boston Marathon bombing suspect pleads not guilty 

His arm in a cast and his face swollen, a blas’ÛΩ-looking Dzhokhar Tsarnaev pleaded not guilty Wednesday in the Boston Marathon bombing in a seven-minute proceeding that marked his first appearance in public since his capture in mid-April.

As survivors of the bombing looked on, Tsarnaev, 19, gave a small, lopsided smile to his two sisters upon arriving in the courtroom. He appeared to have a jaw injury and there was swelling around his left eye and cheek.

Leaning into the microphone, he told a federal judge, “Not guilty,” in his Russian accent and said it over and over as the charges were read. Then he was led away in handcuffs, making a kissing gesture toward his family with his lips. One of his sisters sobbed loudly, resting her head on a woman seated next to her.

Tsarnaev, who has been hospitalized since his capture with wounds suffered in a shootout and getaway attempt, faces 30 federal charges, including using a weapon of mass destruction to kill, in connection with the April 15 attack, which left three people dead and more than 260 wounded. He could get the death penalty if prosecutors choose to pursue it.
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Homeland Security Secretary Napolitano resigning 

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano announced her resignation Friday to take over the University of California system, leaving behind a huge department still working to adjust to the merger of nearly two dozen agencies after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

The former Arizona governor came to President Barack Obama’s Cabinet with plans to fix the nation’s broken immigration system, and she is leaving in the midst of a heated battle in Congress over how – or if – that overhaul will be accomplished.

It is not clear whom Obama may be considering to replace her.