In brief | Nation & World, February 21, 2014


Judge throws out suit challenging NYPD surveillance of Muslims

NEW YORK — The New York Police Department’s intelligence unit didn’t discriminate against Muslims with far-reaching surveillance aimed at identifying “budding terrorist conspiracies” at Newark mosques and other locations in New Jersey, a federal judge ruled on Thursday.

In a written decision filed in federal court in Newark, U.S. District Judge William Martini dismissed a civil rights lawsuit brought in 2012 by eight Muslims who alleged the NYPD’s surveillance programs were unconstitutional because they focused on religion, national origin and race. The suit had accused the department of spying on ordinary people at several mosques, restaurants and grade schools in New Jersey since 2002.

The plaintiffs, including the former principal of a grade school for Muslim girls, “have not alleged facts from which it can be plausibly inferred that they were targeted solely because of their religion,” Martini wrote. “The more likely explanation for the surveillance was to locate budding terrorist conspiracies.”

Health law outreach targets taxi drivers, others, as deadline approaches

CHICAGO — Like most taxi drivers, Sebti Boukarit doesn’t have health insurance. And because he works up to 12 hours a day, six days a week, he hasn’t had much time to sign up under the nation’s new health care law.

But when he arrived at a Chicago city office to renew his taxi license one recent morning, the opportunity was impossible to miss. Enrollment workers had set up a table in the waiting room to snag drivers just like him, who are among the health law’s most desired prospects.

As the March 31 enrollment deadline creeps closer, time is running out for supporters of the law to make up for the months of technical problems that hampered the new insurance exchanges and depressed enrollment.

The latest figures show nearly 3.3 million Americans have signed up for private insurance plans on the insurance marketplaces, about a million short of where the Obama administration had hoped to be at this stage of the rollout.

Study: Afghanistan will need much larger security force than anticipated

WASHINGTON — A new assessment of Afghanistan’s future says the country could revert to a terrorist haven unless U.S. and international partners underwrite a larger — and more expensive — Afghan security force than is currently planned beyond 2014.

The study released Thursday also concludes that this larger force and the government ministries to support it will require international trainers and advisers at least through 2018. U.S. military commanders have recommended such a role following the withdrawal of all U.S. and NATO combat troops in December, but the Obama administration has not yet committed to it.

The study was ordered by Congress and conducted by CNA Strategic Studies, a federally funded research group.

Number of farms declines, farmers getting older

WASHINGTON — The number of U.S. farms is declining even as the value of their crops and livestock has increased over the past five years, a government census of American agriculture released Thursday says.

The survey, taken every five years, shows there were a total of 2.1 million farms in the United States in 2012, down a little more than 4 percent from 2007. That follows a long-term trend of declining numbers of farms.

Also, farmers are getting older — the average age was 58.3 years. But Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack points to a bright spot: a small rise in the number of farmers between 25 and 34 years old.

Vilsack says the boost in the number of younger farmers is partly due to increased interest and government support for locally grown foods and a thriving export market. Many younger farmers work at smaller operations, where the boom in the farm economy and a rising consumer interest in where food is grown have helped them.

That boom has been good to all of farm country: According to the survey, the market values of crops, livestock and total agricultural products were all at record highs. Farms in the United States sold almost $395 billion in products in 2012, 33 percent higher than in 2007.

By wire sources