Amid a sweeping crackdown on dissent in Egypt, security forces have forcibly disappeared hundreds of people since the beginning of 2015, according to a new report from Amnesty International.

It's an "unprecedented spike," the group says, with an average of three or four people disappeared every day.

The Republican Party, as it prepares for its convention next week has checked off item No. 1 on its housekeeping list — drafting a party platform. The document reflects the conservative views of its authors, many of whom are party activists. So don't look for any concessions to changing views among the broader public on key social issues.

Many public figures who took to Twitter and Facebook following the murder of five police officers in Dallas have faced public blowback and, in some cases, found their employers less than forgiving about inflammatory and sometimes hateful online comments.

As Venezuela unravels — with shortages of food and medicine, as well as runaway inflation — President Nicolas Maduro is increasingly unpopular. But he's still holding onto power.

"The truth in Venezuela is there is real hunger. We are hungry," says a man who has invited me into his house in the northwestern city of Maracaibo, but doesn't want his name used for fear of reprisals by the government.

The wiry man paces angrily as he speaks. It wasn't always this way, he says, showing how loose his pants are now.

Ask a typical teenage girl about the latest slang and girl crushes and you might get answers like "spilling the tea" and Taylor Swift. But at the Girl Up Leadership Summit in Washington, D.C., the answers were "intersectional feminism" — the idea that there's no one-size-fits-all definition of feminism — and U.N. climate chief Christiana Figueres.

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Arizona Hispanics Poised To Swing State Blue

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Editor's note: This report contains accounts of rape, violence and other disturbing events.

Sex trafficking wasn't a major concern in the early 1980s, when Beth Jacobs was a teenager. If you were a prostitute, the thinking went, it was your choice.

Jacobs thought that too, right up until she came to, on the lot of a dark truck stop one night. She says she had asked a friendly-seeming man for a ride home that afternoon.

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Think Your Job's Hard? Try Being A Congressional Spy Watcher

Jun 14, 2013
Originally published on June 14, 2013 5:32 pm

As the controversy over the National Security Agency's phone and Internet data gathering reminds us, one of Congress' most challenging assignments is oversight of the nation's intelligence community.

Keeping tabs on the part of the federal government that constantly invokes national security to justify its opaqueness has its obvious difficulties and frustrations.

Those frustrations came through in a conversation I had with Rep. Jan Schakowsky, an Illinois Democrat who has served on the House Intelligence Committee for six years. She's the top Democrat on the intelligence oversight subcommittee.

How challenging is it for lawmakers to do oversight of the intelligence community given all the secrecy? I asked.

SCHAKOWSKY: "There's a number of challenges for all of us on the intelligence committee because all of us, maybe with the exception of the chairman and ranking member who may spend most of their time dealing with the issues of the intelligence committee, most of the rest of us are definitely part-timers. We work on other committees.

"So the responsibility of oversight of 16 intelligence agencies, including the huge ones of the CIA and the FBI and the NSA, it's a tremendous responsibility. And yet the cards are stacked against us in many ways, in terms of doing a really good job, particularly for the rank and file.

"Often it's just the chairman and ranking member on both the House and the Senate intelligence committees that are fully read into all the classified information and the covert operations. So we're not always fully up to date and fully briefed on everything."

Compound that with the fact that intelligence officials are by training or inclination in the habit of answering only what they're asked — and sometimes not even that — and the exasperation only grows.

Lawmakers have been known to refer to the whole exercise of trying to pry information from the nation's spymasters as "20 Questions," only their first question isn't "Is it bigger than a breadbox?" but "How much of the 'black budget' is it?"

SCHAKOWSKY: "If you didn't ask exactly the right question, frame it in exactly the right way, you were unlikely to get the information you were really going for.

"You have to dig for it and you have to know to dig for it."

When members are briefed about the most secret operations of U.S. intelligence agencies, that creates other issues. At that point they have to try and keep straight in their heads what is and isn't still classified. That doesn't always work out well.

In 2009, for instance, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the California Democrat who heads the Senate Intelligence Committee, publicly confirmed that the U.S. had drones over Pakistani soil, becoming the first U.S. official to do so and creating something of a ruckus.

SCHAKOWSKY: "You have the problem that we really can't talk to anybody about what we learned. We have to be very careful that we're not disclosing classified information. And that of course includes all of our colleagues who are not on the intelligence committees, it includes all of our personal staff that we work with everyday, and it certainly includes the media as well.

"I think many of us resolve it by saying very little, regardless of how strong our feelings may be about a particular issue.

"Let me give you an example. Even when in the media, the public domain, the issue of drones [was widely discussed], there were many stories, there were many references to drones, the members of the intelligence committee could not even acknowledge that there was such a program, which is awkward at best."

In one of those Washington ironies, it was the fear that lawmakers might stumble into classified territory in discussing the Benghazi attacks that led to the talking points at the heart of the controversy. The House Intelligence Committee's top Democrat, Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger of Maryland, had requested intelligence community guidance on what lawmakers could safely say. The rest is, as they say, history.

Because of the talking-points controversy, Schakowsky suggested that lawmakers would likely take a different approach in the future.

SCHAKOWSKY: "I certainly understand the impulse to ask the intelligence community to tell us what we can say to the public. I think what we're going to see going forward by the way is that members, and particularly leadership, would draft something ourselves and then give it to the intelligence community for them to amend rather than having the first draft and the final product coming out of the intelligence community itself. But this was definitely in my view a process in good faith that began with a pretty simple request."

For years, many policymakers have complained that one of Washington's worst kept secrets is that too many pieces of information are classified. Count Schakowsky among them. She blames the overclassification of national-security information for contributing to the current NSA controversy.

SCHAKOWSKY: It certainly came up ... in the conversation [Thursday morning at a closed hearing] with Gen. [Keith] Alexander [who heads the NSA] ... that certainly a number of us want to see more things declassified.

"My view is that had the program, not any of the details but the program that included the collecting of the metadata, that from the beginning we could have talked about the number of regulations that are used to safeguard privacy, the oversight compliance, legal framework that protect privacy, if all that was made clear to the American people and what metadata means and that no was no individual information, I think had we been able to have a conversation about it at the time ... I think most Americans would have gone along with it. ... So I think sometimes the tendency to overclassify things ends up being a hindrance more than a help."

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