Obama: Extend Tax Cut for Earners Under $250,000

President Obama has renewed his spat with Republicans over the Bush-era tax cuts, calling on Congress to approve a one-year extension only for those making under $250,000 a year. Speaking at the White House, Obama said the tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans should expire.

President Obama: "I believe it’s time to let the tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans — folks like myself — to expire. I’m calling on Congress to extend the tax cuts for the 98 percent of Americans who make less than $250,000 for another year. Let’s not hold the vast majority of Americans and our entire economy hostage while we debate the merits of another tax cut for the wealthy. We can have that debate. We can have that debate, but let’s not hold up working on the thing that we already agree on."

Republicans are planning to vote on preserving the tax cut for the wealthiest in the coming weeks, a move the White House says would draw a veto.

U.S. Breaks New Heat Records in 2012

The United States has broken yet another heat record, with the first six months of 2012 now officially the hottest ever recorded in the continental U.S. in a calendar year. The past 12 months have also been the hottest in recorded history, beating out the record for the previous 12 months. In the last two weeks of June alone, more than 170 all-time heat records were either broken or tied. Blistering heat and drought have fueled record wildfires, damaged the nation’s corn crop and killed scores of people. The fires have consumed 1.3 million acres, the second-biggest area to burn during any June on record. While the Great Plains are facing the worst drought in a quarter century, drenching rains in Florida made last month the wettest June on record there. As the Midwest and East get a respite from the heat, storms are now predicted across swaths of the country, from the Mid-Atlantic to the southern Rockies. Climate experts have described the recent spate of extreme weather as a preview of the planet’s long-term future under global warming.

Annan, Assad Hold New Talks in Damascus

U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan says he has reached a new understanding with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to stop the violence raging in Syria. Annan spoke after meeting Assad in Damascus.

Kofi Annan: "We discussed the need to end the violence and ways and means of doing so. We agreed an approach which we will also share with the — which I will share with the armed opposition. I also stressed the importance of moving ahead with a political dialogue, which the president accepts."

Annan did not provide details of his new plan, which he says he will now take to Syria’s opposition. Before meeting with rebel groups, Annan flew to Tehran for talks with the Iranian government, whose involvement is opposed by the United States.

ICC Sentences Ex-Congolese Rebel Leader to 14 Years

The International Criminal Court has sentenced Congolese rebel leader Thomas Lubanga to 14 years in prison. Lubanga was found guilty in April of recruiting and using child soldiers during the Democratic Republic of Congo’s 1998 to 2003 war. He is the first suspect to be convicted and sentenced at The Hague since the ICC was established a decade ago. Under the terms of his sentencing, Lubanga will end up spending eight more years behind bars.

Bahraini Activist Sentenced to 3 Months for Criticizing Monarchy

A prominent human rights activist in Bahrain has been sentenced to three months in prison for publicly criticizing the U.S.-backed monarchy. Nabeel Rajab, the president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, was detained last month after criticizing the Bahraini government in Twitter messages and in media appearances, including one on Democracy Now! in May. Rajab had only been out of jail for a few days after spending the previous three weeks behind bars. Rajab’s attorneys say they will appeal the sentence, but his next hearing will not come until mid-September.

Israeli Panel Claims Legality of Settlements, Outposts

In Israel and the Occupied Territories, an Israeli government committee has affirmed Israel’s self-proclaimed right to build settlements throughout the occupied West Bank and recommended the legalization of dozens of settler outposts that have not received government authorization. The International Court of Justice has already ruled that all of Israel’s West Bank settlements are illegal, but Israel has said it would only consider dismantling scattered outposts that it has not officially approved. The settlers have used the outposts to steal even more Palestinian land than has already been seized. Using the Jewish biblical terms for the West Bank, Israeli Infrastructure Minister Uzi Landau said the panel’s findings affirmed settlers’ rights to maintain the outposts, as well.

Uzi Landau: "It’s a highly authoritative document, which not only spells out again the right of the Jews to settle all over Judea and Samaria, as was originally decided upon by the League of Nations."

Texas Opts Out of Medicaid Expansion

Texas Gov. Rick Perry has rejected parts of Obama’s landmark healthcare reform law, saying the state will not expand Medicaid or create a health insurance exchange. In a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, Perry said he will refuse billions of dollars in federal funding rather than accept what he called "brazen intrusions into the sovereignty of our state." Texas has the highest percentage of uninsured people in the country, with nearly a quarter of its population, or 6.2 million people, lacking health insurance. In an interview with Fox News anchor Jenna Lee, Perry dismissed concerns for the plight of his state’s uninsured.

Jenna Lee: "The facts are, one out of four Texans is without health insurance, one out of four Texans is on Medicare or Medicaid. The health crisis, the big crisis for the country and for your state, what is the solution?"

Gov. Rick Perry: "The idea that this federal government, which doesn’t like Texas to begin with, to pick and choose and come up with some data and say somehow Texas has, you know, the worst healthcare system in the world is just fake and false on its face. The real issue here is about freedom."

Six Republican governors have now rejected Obama’s Medicaid provision, keeping out millions of low-income people from the Medicaid expansion. Late last month, the Supreme Court upheld the core of Obama’s landmark healthcare law but also ruled states could opt out of the provision that expands Medicaid by broadening eligibility requirements.

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