Congress Approves Budget Deal; CBO Cites Lower Savings

Congress has approved the bipartisan budget deal that would cut spending to fund the government through the end of the year. The Senate passed the measure 81 to 19 following a House vote of 260 to 167. More than half of the spending cuts would hit education, labor and health programs. Congressional leaders say the deal will cut $38 billion, but the Congressional Budget Office estimates the actual savings will be less, at between $20 to $25 billion. Further, with the price of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan factored, the U.S. budget deficit will actually increase by more than $3 billion. The vote came as President Obama touted his plan to reduce the deficit by $4 trillion over 12 years. Obama renewed his call to end Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans.

President Obama: "It’s important that we look at our tax code and find a way to work together to not only simplify and make the tax system fairer, but also that we use it as a tool to help us achieve our deficit targets. We can’t exempt anybody from these efforts, that it’s not appropriate for us to ask for sacrifices from everybody except for the two percent of Americans who are doing best, but rather we should ask everybody to participate in this effort to get our fiscal house in order."

U.S., Allies Vow Libya Campaign Until Gaddafi’s Ouster

The U.S., Britain and France are vowing to continue their military operation in Libya until Col. Muammar Gaddafi is overthrown. In a joint statement, the three said, "It is unthinkable that someone who has tried to massacre his own people can play a part in their future government… Col. Gaddafi must go, and go for good." The assertion goes beyond the United Nations mandate authorizing air strikes to protect civilians and impose a no-fly zone. The rebel stronghold in the city of Misurata continues to come under intense fire from Gaddafi’s forces. Witnesses say some 120 rockets were fired at Misurata earlier today, killing eight people and wounding seven others. Around 23 people were killed in attacks by pro-Gaddafi forces on Thursday. Meanwhile in Tripoli, a government spokesperson claimed international air strikes have killed a number of civilians.

Spokesperson: "A few civilians who were killed today here in Tripoli, I know that three men who were walking by a checkpoint were killed immediately here in Tripoli, the south of Tripoli. I know that there are two men also killed in Sirte today."

Italian Peace Activist Slain in Gaza

An Italian peace activist has been slain in the Gaza Strip following his abduction by Palestinian militants. The body of Vittorio Arrigoni was found shortly after his captors posted video of him blindfolded and bloodied. They had vowed to execute him unless their group’s leader was freed from custody by Gaza’s Hamas-led government. Arrigoni had lived in Gaza since 2008 after arriving on a boat carrying humanitarian aid. A friend of Arrigoni’s mourned his death.

Friend: "Why? What did he do? This is a man who came here to break the siege on Gaza. Why? What did he do? He came from across the world, left his country and family and his entire life, and came here to break the siege. And we kill him? Why? What is the reason?"

Gaza Inquiry Panelists Challenge Chair’s Recantation

The three co-panelists of the U.N. probe into the 2008-2009 Israeli assault on the Gaza Strip are rejecting the retraction by their chair, Judge Richard Goldstone, of the report’s key finding. Earlier this month, Goldstone said that he no longer thinks Israel deliberately targeted Palestinian civilians in its three-week assault. In a statement, the three co-panelists—Hina Jilani of Pakistan, Desmond Travers of Ireland, and Christine Chinkin of Britain—write: "[We] find it necessary to dispel any impression that subsequent developments have rendered any part of the mission’s report unsubstantiated, erroneous or inaccurate." They continue: "Had we given in to pressures from any quarter to sanitize our conclusions, we would be doing a serious injustice to the hundreds of innocent civilians killed during the Gaza conflict, the thousands injured, and the hundreds of thousands whose lives continue to be deeply affected by the conflict and the blockade."

Victims’ Relatives Demand Extradition of Cuban Militant

In Cuba, relatives of victims of a Cuban militant living freely in the United States gathered Thursday to urge the United States to extradite him for trial. Cuban exile and anti-Castro militant Luis Posada Carriles was acquitted last week on charges of lying under oath during an immigration hearing. Posada Carriles was accused of lying about his role in a series of bombings in Havana in 1997 that killed an Italian tourist and wounded 12 others. Posada Carriles had formerly admitted on tape to his role in the hotel bombings but later recanted. Posada Carriles is also known as the suspected mastermind of the 1976 bombing of a Cubana airline jet that killed 73 people. A relative of one of those killed in the jetliner bombing called on the United States to extradite Posada Carriles to Venezuela to face charges.

Camilo Rojo: "We are demanding that the law be followed. We are demanding the application of Resolution 1373. We are demanding the 1971 Montreal Convention be respected. We are demanding that the extradition treaty between Venezuela and the United States be respected. But more than anything else, we are demanding that Posada Carriles be recognized as a terrorist."

Activists Denied Entry at BP Shareholders Meeting

In Britain, five people with a delegation of fishermen and residents from the Louisiana and Texas Gulf Coast area were blocked from entering the annual shareholders meeting of the oil giant BP. One of the five, Diane Wilson, covered herself in an oil-like substance to protest environmental damage to the Gulf Coast. Byron Encalade of the Louisiana Oystermen Association said he had come to press BP on compensating Gulf Coast residents.

Byron Encalade: "Those interim claims are not being paid. Our people’s backs are up against the wall. We are facing poverty now."

Mass Graves Found in Iraq

In Iraq, a mass grave of more than 800 bodies has been found in Western Anbar province. Iraqi officials say the victims were opponents of Saddam Hussein killed between 1982 and 1987, when Hussein was backed by the U.S. government.

Challenge to Wisconsin Anti-Union Law Dismissed

A Wisconsin judge has struck down one of three lawsuits challenging Gov. Scott Walker’s anti-union law. The suit from Dane County executive Kathleen Falk was dismissed on the grounds civic entities cannot challenge the constitutionality of state laws.

Walker Admits No Fiscal Benefit to Anti-Union Provision

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker visited Capitol Hill Thursday for an appearance before the House Oversight Committee. Under questioning from Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio, Walker admitted a key provision curbing union rights had no fiscal benefit.

Rep. Dennis Kucinich: "Can you please explain to me and members of this committee how much money this provision saves for your state budget?"

Gov. Scott Walker: "That and a number of other provisions we put in because if you’re going to ask, if you’re going to put in place a change like that, we wanted to make sure that we protected the workers of our state, so that they had a right to know what kind of value they got out of it. It’s the same reason we gave workers the right to choose, which is a fundamental American right, a right to choose whether or not they want to be part of a union, and whether or not they want up to a thousand dollars taken out" —

Rep. Dennis Kucinich: "Would you answer the question? How much money does it save, Governor?"

Gov. Scott Walker: "That particular part doesn’t save any."

Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin also appeared before the panel. In a rebuke of Walker’s approach, Shumlin criticized the targeting of workers’ rights and benefits in the name of balancing budgets.

Gov. Peter Shumlin: "I don’t start with collective bargaining, and I don’t start with my public pensions. I start with the true costs. In Vermont, and this is true of most of the states of the country, healthcare is my biggest rising cost."

Indian Activist Binayak Sen Ordered Freed on Bail

In India, the Indian Supreme Court has granted bail to renowned physician and human rights activist Dr. Binayak Sen. Last year Sen was sentenced to rigorous life imprisonment on the basis of an archaic colonial-era sedition law on allegations of helping a banned group of Maoists. Ruling in favor of bail, the two-judge panel also cast doubt on Sen’s conviction, criticizing prosecutors for targeting him based on literature found to be in his possession.


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