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Senate Passes Financial Reform Bill

The Senate has passed a sweeping reform of financial regulation that’s been described as the biggest overhaul of financial rules since the 1930s. The 59-to-39 vote came largely on party lines. Two Democratic senators, Russ Feingold of Wisconsin and Maria Cantwell of Washington, voted against the bill, saying it does not go far enough in preventing another economic meltdown. Four Republicans also broke party ranks to support the measure. Shortly before the final vote was held, President Obama praised the bill at the White House.

President Obama: "Because of financial reform, the American people will never again be asked to foot the bill for Wall Street’s mistakes. There will be no more taxpayer-funded bailouts, period. If a large financial institution should ever fail, we will have the tools to wind it down without endangering the larger economy, and there will be new rules to prevent financial institutions from becoming too big to fail in the first place, so that we don’t have another AIG."

The bill now appears headed to a House-Senate conference committee, where lawmakers will work to resolve differences between the two chambers.

BP Admits Oil Spill Is Larger Than Prior Estimates

BP has acknowledged its estimates of the amount of oil leaking into the Gulf were too low. On Thursday, BP said it’s now capturing 5,000 barrels of oil a day from the leaking pipe — the same amount it had previously said was leaking every day. The Environmental Protection Agency, meanwhile, has ordered BP to use a new chemical dispersant to break up the oil leaking into the Gulf, citing concerns around the initial dispersants’ effect on marine life.

Blair Resigns as National Intelligence Director

Dennis Blair has announced his resignation as Director of National Intelligence after sixteenth months on the job. The move comes just two days after a Senate report criticized Blair’s office for newly uncovered lapses before the failed Christmas Day airline bombing. He reportedly decided to resign this week after being informed President Obama is looking to appoint a successor. Blair is the highest-ranking Obama administration official to step down.

Jobless Benefit Claims Increase

New figures show claims for unemployment benefits have increased for the first time in five weeks. The Labor Department says jobless claims topped 471,000 last week, an increase of over five percent.

Jailed US Hikers Reunite with Mothers in First Public Appearance Since Arrests

The three US hikers jailed in Iran were reunited with their visiting mothers on Thursday for the first time since their arrests last July. Shane Bauer, Sarah Shourd and Josh Fattal were detained after straying across Iran’s border during a hiking trip in northern Iraq. Their mothers arrived in Tehran this week after the Iranian government okayed their visas. In their first public appearance since their detention, the three hikers discussed their ordeal in prison. Sarah Shourd said she spends most of her days in solitude.

Sarah Shourd: "This gesture, humanitarian gesture, it means everything in the world to us. I’ve been thinking about my mother’s face and seeing her smile and looking into her eyes for a really long time. Our treatment is decent. It’s really difficult being alone. Shane and Joshua are in a room together, but I’m alone, and that’s the most difficult thing for me. But I see them twice a day, so...We have good food, and we have medical care, which is appreciated. And we have reading materials and television."

The three hikers have been held on espionage charges and could face trial. Shane Bauer told reporters he maintains hope for being released.

Shane Bauer: "We hope that Iran can continue with the humanitarian gestures, like letting our mothers come, by releasing us on humanitarian grounds."

Calderón Urges US to Reinstate Assault Weapons Ban

Mexican President Felipe Calderón is urging the US to reinstate the assault weapons ban. Speaking before a joint session of Congress, Calderón said violence has spiked in Mexico since the ban expired in 2004. Calderón also renewed his criticism of Arizona’s recent anti-immigrant law.

Mexican President Felipe Calderón: "It is a law that not only ignores a reality that cannot be erased by decree, but also introduces a terrible idea: using racial profiling as a basis for law enforcement. And that is why I agree — I agree with the President, who says the new law carries a great amount of risk when core values that we all care about are breached."

US Probes Killings of Afghan Civilians

The US military says it’s opened a probe into the "unlawful" killings of at least three Afghan civilians. A number of soldiers are said to be under investigation, including one who’s been detained in pretrial confinement. The Pentagon says the soldiers are also being probed for "illegal drug use, assault and conspiracy."

Maldives Hosts Afghan Peace Talks

The island nation of the Maldives is hosting informal peace talks between representatives from the Taliban and the Afghan government. Afghan President Hamid Karzai is said to oppose the meeting but has sent observers to take part.

Palestinians Continue Boycott of Israeli Settlement Goods

In Israel and the Occupied Territories, the Israeli government is pressuring the Palestinian Authority to call off a boycott of West Bank settlements. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas signed an order last month barring Palestinians from working in Israeli settlements and selling settlement products. On Thursday, Israeli Trade and Labor Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer called for an end to the boycott, saying it goes against "the atmosphere we are trying to create in our region." But on the West Bank, Palestinian organizer Haitham Kayaleh was one of thousands of Palestinians taking part in a campaign to inform the public on which goods to boycott.

Haitham Kayaleh: "What is happening today is Palestinian grassroots volunteers, around 3,000 today who are leading this campaign, going around from house to house providing people with the information needed that would help them get rid of settlement products, and they encourage them, of course, to replace it with Palestinian products instead."

South Korea Accuses North Korea of Torpedoing Warship

South Korea has formally accused North Korea of torpedoing one of its warships in March, killing forty-six sailors. The sinking could mark one of the biggest military provocations between the two nations since the end of the Korean War. The US assisted South Korea with the probe. On Thursday, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the US is consulting with South Korea on how to respond.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates: "We certainly support the findings of the Korean — the South Korean investigation. We obviously are in close consultation with the Koreans. The attack was against one of their ships. And we will — naturally, they would have the lead in determining the path forward. They’ve laid out some paths forward, and we will be consulting very closely with them."

Dalai Lama Encouraged by Tsunami, Haiti Earthquake Response

The exiled Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama is in New York this week for a series of public lectures. On Thursday, the Dalai Lama told an audience at Radio City Music Hall that he sees hope for the future of the planet in the outpouring of generosity following the 2004 tsunami and the January earthquake in Haiti.

The Dalai Lama: "When tsunami disasters happened and the Haiti disaster, you see the response from the the rest of the world. Immense! Such response at the early part of the twentieth century, impossible. So these are the signs we human beings [are] becoming more sensible. And also they developed sense of oneness of entire six billion human beings. These are positive. Therefore, these are the sources of my optimism."

Cuban Musician Silvio Rodriguez Granted US Visa

And the prominent Cuban musician Silvio Rodriguez has been granted a visa to perform in the United States nearly one year after the State Department prevented him from entering. Rodriguez was unable to perform at the ninetieth birthday celebration for Pete Seeger in May 2009 after his visa application was stalled. The new visa will allow him to perform at New York’s Carnegie Hall next month.


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