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Obama, Congressional Leaders Hold "Constructive" Debt Talks

President Obama hosted congressional leaders at the White House Thursday for talks on raising the national debt ceiling. Obama called the meeting "constructive" and said negotiations would resume on Sunday.

President Obama: "Everybody acknowledged that we have to get this done before the hard deadline of August 2nd to make sure that America does not default for the first time on its obligations. And everybody acknowledged that there’s going to be pain involved politically on all sides, but our biggest obligation is to make sure that we’re doing the right thing by the American people."

Sen. Sanders: Hands Off Social Security in Debt Talks

The meeting between the White House and congressional leaders about raising the national debt ceiling was held following news reports Obama is now backing significant cuts to Medicare spending and retirement benefits under Social Security in return for Republican support. Although most Republicans continue to oppose a deal, Obama received a major boost on Thursday when House Speaker John Boehner said he supports Obama’s efforts to reach an agreement. Speaking on the Senate floor, Independent Senator Bernie Sanders denounced any proposal targeting Social Security.

Sen. Bernie Sanders: "We of course need a vigorous debate about how we deal with the deficit crisis and our national debt, but Social Security, independently funded with a $2.6 trillion surplus, having not contributed one nickel to the national debt, should not be part of that debate."

Texas Executes Mexican National Despite Denial of Consular Rights

A Mexican national has been executed in Texas despite widespread objections, reaching as far as the White House. Humberto Leal García was killed by lethal injection Thursday shortly after the Supreme Court declined to hear his case in a 5-to-4 vote and Texas Gov. Rick Perry refused to issue a stay. The Obama administration had called for a delay following disclosures Leal was never informed he could have access to Mexican consular officials, as is required under international conventions. Leal was convicted for the 1994 kidnapping, rape and murder of Adria Sauceda, a 16-year-old girl. A Texas prison spokesperson said Leal’s last words included an apology to the victim’s family.

Michelle Lyons: "He gave a lengthy last statement. He said, 'I am sorry for everything that I have done. I've hurt a lot of people. For years, I have never thought that I deserved any type of forgiveness. Lord Jesus Christ in my life, I know He has forgiven me. I have accepted His forgiveness. I have accepted everything. Let this be final and be done. I take the full blame for this."

In seeking a delay, the White House said flouting international treaties at home could endanger U.S. citizens arrested abroad by establishing a precedent for denial of diplomatic access.

EPA to Probe Air Quality Near Montana Exxon Mobil Oil Spill

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has announced plans to collect indoor air samples from homes downstream of an Exxon Mobil oil spill that’s leaked as much as 42,000 gallons of crude oil beneath Montana’s Yellowstone River. The Exxon Mobil Pipeline Company initially downplayed the incident, saying it would only affect 10 miles of the river, but state officials say the spill has already stretched more than 240 miles to near the North Dakota border. Local residents have raised concerns over health risks and reported symptoms including nausea, dizziness and shortness of breath.

Afghans Protest Deadly U.S.-Led Air Strike

Hundreds of people rallied in Afghanistan’s eastern province of Khost Thursday over a U.S.-led NATO air strike that killed at least 11 civilians. The attack was one of the deadliest by the U.S.-led occupation force against Afghan civilians this year.

Protester: "I ask Karzai to pull out these American and NATO forces from our country, if he is able. If Karzai does not listen to our request, we will call for a jihad against America, just as we did against Soviet Russia. You can come and look at those killed in this bombing: three men and eight children, including a one-year-old and a two-year-old."

Congress Threatens Palestinians with Aid Cutoff over Statehood Bid

The House has overwhelmingly approved a measure opposing the Palestinian effort to seek statehood recognition at the United Nations this fall. The Palestinian Authority is preparing to ask the U.N. General Assembly to recognize a Palestinian state in the Occupied Territories along the 1967 borders. The non-binding House resolution calls for a suspension of U.S. aid to Palestinians if they continue with the statehood bid. It passed by a vote of 400 to six, following a similar vote in the Senate last month.

Israel Approves New West Bank Settlement Expansion

Israel plans to expand illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank. This week, a Jerusalem city council member said some 900 new homes were approved for construction in the settlement of Gilo.

Elisha Peleg: "Gilo is no—is not east of Jerusalem. It’s part of Jerusalem, and there is full consensus about all the Israeli neighborhoods, which have been built after ’67, the war of ’67, which we used to call the green border, the green line, because all these neighborhoods will always remain part of Jerusalem."

Israel Prepares to Block Entry of Palestinian Solidarity Activists in "Flytilla"

The Israeli government is launching a massive internal security operation to block an influx of Palestinian solidarity activists arriving from abroad. Hundreds of people are scheduled to fly into Tel Aviv this weekend to visit the occupied West Bank at the invitation of Palestinian civil society groups. The trip is being called the "Flytilla," after the flotilla of ships currently trying to break the naval blockade of Gaza. An Israeli police spokesperson says hundreds of officers will be deployed to block the activists’ entry.

Micky Rosenfeld: "What we know is there are scheduled several hundred activists that will come in over the next 24 to 48 hours, meaning from Thursday night until the end of the weekend, and that’s why all necessary arrangements, security arrangements, are being made."

Saleh Makes Public Appearance; U.N. Warns of Yemen Crisis

Embattled Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh has made his first public appearance since being wounded in an assassination attempt last month. In a televised interview from Saudi Arabia, Saleh said he would welcome a power-sharing deal but continued to reject protesters’ demands that he step down after more than 30 years in power. A United Nations mission to Yemen, meanwhile, has called on the international community to send aid to stave off a humanitarian crisis. The U.N. team says Yemen’s civilians risk becoming the victims of collective punishment without international help. Yemen’s elite Republican Guard has been accused of cutting off supplies to the capital city of Sana’a.

Human Rights Watch Criticizes U.S.-Backed Bahraini Crackdown

Human Rights Watch has denounced the government of Bahrain for a violent crackdown on pro-reform protesters since February. In a statement, Human Rights Watch calls on Bahrain to "end unlawful and incommunicado detention, to free protesters unless legitimate criminal charges can be brought against them, and allow monitoring by independent human rights organizations." The group also suggests at least a partial U.S. role in the crackdown by ignoring abuses of human rights. Bahrain is a key U.S. government ally and home to the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet.

U.S. Returns Small Number of Stolen Iraqi Artifacts

The United States has returned a few dozen national artifacts stolen from Iraq during the U.S.-led invasion of 2003. Thousands of priceless items were smuggled out of Iraq by U.S. military personnel and contractors after the U.S. seized Baghdad. On Thursday, U.S. officials handed over around 30 items to Iraq’s U.S. ambassador at a ceremony in Washington, D.C.

Samir Sumaida’ie: "The looting of the Iraqi museum in Baghdad was heartbreaking for every Iraqi. It really was an attack against our very identity and made us feel that our entire being as a nation was threatened and was in danger."

Around half of the stolen Iraqi artifacts have been returned, but thousands remain missing.

Mass Grave Discovered in Iraq

In Iraq, a massive grave containing some 900 corpses has been uncovered near the central Iraqi city of Diwaniyah. The bodies are believed to belong to Kurds killed by Saddam Hussein’s regime during the 1980s, when he was backed by the U.S. government.

Federal Appeals Court Challenges FCC’s Easing of Media Ownership Rule

A federal appeals court has overturned part of a Federal Communications Commission rule that made it easier for a company to own a newspaper and a broadcast outlet in a single market. The ruling marks the second time the appeals court has intervened in the commission’s attempts to relax media ownership rules. The lawsuit was filed by the Philadelphia-based organization, Prometheus Radio Project.

Immigrant, Women’s Advocates: Don’t Abandon Dominique Strauss-Kahn Accuser

Prosecutors met with defense attorneys for Dominique Strauss-Kahn on Thursday amidst speculation sexual assault charges against the former International Monetary Fund chief will be dropped. Strauss-Kahn was released from house arrest after doubts emerged over the accuser’s credibility. At a news conference, a coalition of women’s and immigrant rights activists said the accuser—an immigrant woman working as a maid at Strauss-Kahn’s New York hotel—should be heard in court.

Dr. Muhammed Nurhussein, chairman of the United African Congress: "This person may have character flaws. So, who among us doesn’t have one? But the fact of the matter remains that the basic elements of the complaint have not been in dispute. And therefore, we are demanding the DA to prosecute this case to the fullest extent of the law. Let this woman be heard. Let her have her day in court, as it is a basic American right to be heard and to have your day in court."

Gunman Kills 7 in Michigan Before Taking Own Life

Seven people were killed in Grand Rapids, Michigan, on Thursday in a shooting spree targeting two homes. The alleged gunman, Rodrick Shonte Dantzler, later took his own life following a car chase and standoff with police.

Workers File New Suit Against Wisconsin Anti-Union Law; Prison Labor Could Replace Public Employees

Wisconsin’s public unions have filed a new lawsuit against Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s anti-collective bargaining law. The lawsuit from two Madison chapters of the AFL-CIO alleges the law is unconstitutional because it exempts public employees such as police and firefighters, thereby violating equal protection rights. This week, opponents of the law have raised alarm that public workers could lose their jobs to Wisconsin prisoners because of the gutting of collective bargaining. Wisconsin prisoners have previously been used for a limited number of state projects, but officials will now have greater leeway to assign them to jobs previously reserved for unionized employees.

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