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Photo: A new river runs through it

A deer is seen in floodwaters in the aftermath of Hurricane Irene, Sunday, Aug. 28, 2011, Lincoln Park, N.J. Photo: AP Photo/Julio Cortez

What’s happening with Hurricane Irene? Get updates throughout the weekend

Hurricane Irene. Photo: NOAA

Hurricane Irene, one of the strongest storms to threaten the East Coast in decades, is barreling toward North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, New Jersey, New York and Connecticut. Millions of residents are stocking up on bottled water, canned goods, batteries, flashlights and other emergency supplies. Governors in each of the affected states have declared states of emergency. Residents along the coast are boarding up their homes and duct-taping their windows, and mandatory evacuations displacing millions of people are under way.

Need to Know will be providing updates on the storm throughout the weekend along with our partners at The Climate Desk, including Mother Jones, which has some especially useful — and fascinating — background on the storm here. Meteorologists and public officials are predicting that it could be the most devastating storm to barrage the East Coast in history. The Federal Emergency Management Agency has issued a warning for the entire East Coast, and President Obama has cut short his vacation to return to Washington, D.C., declaring, “If you are in the projected path of this hurricane, you have to take precautions now. Don’t wait, don’t delay.”

For live updates on the storm, follow the Storify widget below. To help us add updates, send your photos, videos and observations to @theclimatedesk on Twitter, or use the hash tag #IreneCD.

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As Palestinians press their plan for a U.N. vote on statehood, stakes grow even higher

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat talks following his meeting with Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil El-Araby, at the Egyptian Foreign Ministry in Cairo, Egypt, Wednesday, June 16, 2011. Photo: AP Photo/Amr Nabil

In late July, Israel’s president Shimon Peres held a series of secret meetings with the chief negotiator for the Palestinian Authority, Saeb Erekat. According to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, the two pored over maps of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, discussing potential land swaps and compensation schemes that would end the impasse and allow the formation of an independent Palestinian state. After four meetings, the talks were scuttled by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The clandestine negotiations were, apparently, a last-ditch attempt at staving off a potential crisis at the United Nations in September, when Palestinian officials plan to seek formal recognition of their state from the international community. That the talks were held in secret is a sign of just how much enmity and distrust has built up between the two sides. Officials seem to have concluded that only talks held out of public view had a chance of succeeding. And even then, they did not.

Now, with Israeli security forces and Palestinian militants in Gaza trading mortar rounds and missiles, and a tenuous ceasefire quickly collapsing after renewed attacks on both sides, the stakes for the U.N. vote have grown even higher. The turmoil engulfing the Middle East has already set Israelis on edge, and stoked fears that a democratic Egypt, or a Syria mired in civil war, could destabilize the region. Mass demonstrations and international recognition of a Palestinian state might only add a match to the tinderbox.

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Photo: Room for more

The smallest frog in the Old World is this pea-sized Microhyla nepenthicola. This one is an adult. Photo: Prof. Indraneil Das/ Institute of Biodiversity and Environmental Conservation

A new report released yesterday by the Public Library of Science’s online journal, PLoS Biology, estimates that the Earth is home to almost 8.8 million species, but mankind has only discovered approximately 1.9 million of them.
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Jon Huntsman opens the door to ‘tax increase,’ challenges the orthodoxy of the Tea Party

Jon Huntsman, the former Utah governor and ambassador to China, is on what his campaign characterizes as a “media blitz” this week, appearing on virtually every cable news network and Sunday talk show. He’s saturating the airwaves in an attempt to revive his faltering presidential bid, which has stumbled from almost the moment it began, crowded out by better-known candidates with more money, more support and more credibility with the conservatives who comprise the Republican base.

In attempting to reclaim the spotlight, Huntsman is also taking a decidedly unorthodox approach: Tacking firmly to the political center, and aggressively confronting the conservative fire-breathers in the race — particularly Rick Perry and Michelle Bachmann. Hints of Huntsman’s new strategy emerged when he became the first, and only, Republican candidate to support the debt ceiling deal reached by President Obama and Congressional leaders earlier this month. Then he cattily declared, on Twitter no less, that he believed the science behind evolution and global warming, unlike most of his opponents.

Now, Huntsman is shaking the very ideological pillars of the modern Republican Party — and, in doing so, threatens to bring the temple of Tea Party orthodoxy crashing down on his head.

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Libya updates: Gadhafi vows ‘martyrdom’ as rebels storm his compound in Tripoli

Update | 10:15 p.m. | Gadhafi vows ‘martyrdom’

As opposition forces stormed Moammar Gadhafi’s compound in Tripoli Tuesday, the Libyan autocrat released a radio message asserting that his desertion of the bunker in Bab al-Aziziya was a “tactical move,” and vowed “martyrdom” in the face of the rebel assault, according to Reuters.

The new message came amid sporadic fighting in Tripoli between loyalist holdouts and rebels, who had descended on the capital city with stunning speed and, by Tuesday evening, had penetrated the Gadhafi compound, where there was no sign of the colonel or his family. The mystery of his whereabouts continued to frustrate opposition leaders and complicated the Libyan conflict’s endgame.

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Shift in U.S. deportation policy provides reprieve for immigrant youth, same-sex couples

Jaquelin Minero, 12, joins immigrant rights groups in Los Angeles Monday, Aug. 15, 2011, calling for an end to the Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) Secure Communities program. Photo: AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes

The Obama administration has long withstood criticism for its immigration policy, which immigration rights advocates say has been too broadly focused, resulting in more deportations during Obama’s two years in office than any other president in history. In a turnaround last week, the federal government responded to these criticisms by announcing a new policy that offers a reprieve from deportation for thousands of undocumented immigrants.

The new policy, which Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano announced Thursday, would shift the government’s deportation priorities to focus primarily on those who pose a threat to national security or public safety, and to put less emphasis on deporting undocumented immigrants with clean criminal records. Under these new terms, the government will reassess some 300,000 pending deportation cases and review them on a case-by-case basis.

In a letter to a group of senators supporting immigration reform, Napolitano wrote: “From a law enforcement and public safety perspective, DHS enforcement resources must continue to be focused on our highest priorities. Doing otherwise hinders our public safety mission — clogging immigration court dockets and diverting DHS enforcement resources away from individuals who pose a threat to public safety.”

This comes as a relief for thousands of undocumented immigrants with clean criminal records who are facing immigration court hearings, including those who immigrated as children with their families and those with family ties in the U.S. – including those in same-sex unions who do not receive federal benefits under the Defense of Marriage Act. In San Francisco, a pending case involving the deportation of Alex Benshimol, a Venezuelan married to another man in the U.S., was dropped early this week. Another high-profile case involving Anthony Makk, an Australian native under threat of being deported and separated from his partner, a U.S. citizen with AIDS, would likely also be granted leniency under the new Homeland Security policy.

The move would also have a significant impact on the growing movement to pass the DREAM Act, the federal bill that would carve a path to citizenship for undocumented students who immigrated as children with their families. Last month, Need to Know spoke with Ju Hong, an undocumented student at U.C. Berkeley and activist who was arrested with a group of students in July during a rally. Authorities released Hong and the other six students arrested that day, but he received a notice for an impending immigration hearing.

“Although I am released, it doesn’t mean I am safe right now,” Hong told Need to Know last month. But under the Obama administration’s new policy, students like Hong would now most likely be protected from the threat of deportation.

However, while pro-immigration advocates have heralded the Obama administration’s decision, not everyone has been so celebratory. Peter T. King, chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, said that the policy was “a blatant attempt to grant amnesty to potentially millions of illegal aliens in this country.” Texas governor and GOP presidential contender Rick Perry, who has been a supporter of his state’s own version of the DREAM Act, criticized the shift as well. The governor’s spokesperson told the Houston Chronicle in an e-mail that the Obama administration was “selectively enforcing our nation’s immigration laws.”

Others still have noted that the new policy does not rid the immigration system of controversial elements such as Secure Communities, the federal program that compels local law enforcement partners to share fingerprints from criminal databases with Immigrations Customs and Enforcement. Critics have argued that under Secure Communities, thousands of immigrants have been targeted and eventually deported from the country on simple misdemeanor arrests. Moreover, it remains unclear what will happen among those who do have criminal histories. At Colorlines, Julianne Hing writes:

How, for instance, will the administration deal with the many people with criminal convictions on their record, whose convictions are old or extremely minor, and who may also otherwise be eligible for relief because they too came to the U.S. as children and have deep family ties in the country and are no threat to national security? Indeed, many young people who are otherwise eligible for the DREAM Act have also had interactions with the criminal justice system. What will happen to them is still yet to be determined. The lives of immigrants are far more complex than policymakers would make it seem.

It remains to be seen whether the policy shift will boost President Obama’s approval numbers among Latino-Americans in the coming months. A recent poll conducted in July and August, before the Department of Homeland Security’s announcement, found his approval rating among registered Latino voters in 21 states fell to 63 percent, down from 68 percent in June and 73 percent in April.

Young activists take DREAMs into their own hands

Photo: Hello, Irene

Jim Abel shops for supplies at Home Depot as he prepares for the possible arrival of Hurricane Irene on August 22, 2011 in West Palm Beach, Florida. Irene is the first hurricane of the 2011 Atlantic season to threaten the U.S. coast, and has already wreaked havoc in the Caribbean. It has the potential to grow into a Category 4 storm by Thursday, reaching winds up to 155 mph. Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

A legal blow for company ‘buying’ military pensions

Last week, we told the story of a company known as “Structured Investments Co.” that offers what it calls “pension buyouts.” Under these “buyouts,” the company gives an individual an immediate lump sum of cash in exchange for some part of that person’s future pension payments.

In our collaboration with the Center for Public Integrity’s iWatch News project, we told the story of Louis Kroot, a former Navy medic, who entered into a deal with this company to help pay off his family’s medical and tax bills. The company gave Lou roughly $92,000 in cash, and in exchange, Lou promised to give the company roughly 95 months of his Navy pension, which works out to over $240,000.

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