The United States and European Union are calling for new sanctions on Syria similar to those used against the Gaddafi regime ahead of the NATO attack on Libya. At an international "Friends of Syria" gathering in Paris, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton invoked the threat of Chapter 7 under the U.N. Charter, which ranges from economic embargoes to military force. The news come as the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has apparently suffered its highest-level defection to date. On Thursday, opposition activists said Syrian General Manaf Tlas, a member of Assad’s inner circle, had fled to Turkey, reportedly over his anger at the Syrian government’s killing of civilians.
In Syria news, the online whistleblower WikiLeaks continues to release documents from the Syria Files, more than two million emails said to be from Syrian political figures, ministries and associated companies over a six-year period ending earlier this year. WikiLeaks spokesperson Sarah Harrison said the files would embarrass not only the Syrian government but many of its political foes.
Sarah Harrison: "More than two million emails from Syrian political figures, ministries and associated companies, dating from August 2006 to March 2012. This extraordinary data set derives from 680 Syrian-related entities or domain names, including those of the ministries of presidential affairs, foreign affairs, finance, information, transport and culture. The Syria Files shine a light on the inner workings of the Syrian government and economy. But they also reveal how the West and Western companies say one thing and do another."
The Syria Files were unveiled without WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who remains in the Ecuadorean embassy in London seeking to avoid extradition to Sweden. Harrison read a statement on Assange’s behalf.
Sarah Harrison: "WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange cannot be with us today but has given this comment on the Syria Files: 'The material is embarrassing to Syria, but it is also embarrassing to Syria's external opponents. It helps us not merely to criticize one group or another but to understand their interests, actions and thoughts. It is only through understanding this conflict that we can hope to resolve it.’"
Three top figures from Argentina’s former ruling junta have been sentenced to additional time behind bars for the deliberate theft of babies from political prisoners. Former dictators Jorge Rafael Videla and Reynaldo Bignone, as well as former navy officer Jorge Acosta, were found guilty of a systematic plan to take the babies of dissidents and adopt them into military families. All three are already serving jail sentences for other abuses under their regimes. Estela de Carlotto of the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo praised the sentences.
Estela de Carlotto: "This is justice. It has arrived. Remember that we started in 1996, and at that moment we didn’t know whether or not we would ever arrive at this moment and see it in our lifetime. And I think it’s healing for all society to know that they are being judged, condemned, and they will continue to be judged and condemned until the last crime that can be attributed to them."
It is believed the Argentine military dictatorship killed at least 30,000 Argentines during its rule from 1976 to 1983.
Republican candidate Mitt Romney continues to best President Obama in the fundraising race. On Thursday, Romney’s campaign said it took in more than $100 million in June. Romney is expected to be the first candidate in history to out-raise an incumbent president seeking re-election.
Speaking in the battleground state of Ohio, President Obama criticized Romney’s record on the auto industry bailout and announced the United States has launched a new trade complaint over Chinese tariffs.
President Obama: "When the American auto industry was on brink of collapse and more than one million jobs were on the line, Governor Romney said we should just let Detroit go bankrupt. I refused to turn my back on communities like this one. I was betting on the American worker, and I was betting on American industry. And three years later, the American auto industry is coming roaring back. Just this morning, my administration took a new action to hold China accountable for unfair trade practices that harm American automakers."
During his appearance in Ohio, Obama shared an emotional moment with a supporter whose uninsured sister recently died of cancer. In his address, Obama touted the Supreme Court’s recent ruling upholding his signature healthcare law.
President Obama: "I believe that in America nobody should go bankrupt because they get sick. I’ll work with anybody who wants to work with me to continue to improve our healthcare system and our healthcare laws, but the law I passed is here to stay."
A Florida judge has set a new $1 million bond for George Zimmerman, the Florida man who fatally shot the unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin. Zimmerman had initially been freed after posting $150,000 bond but was sent back to jail for lying about his finances.
A record-breaking heat wave continues to scorch the Midwest and could be returning eastward. Weather reports this morning said temperatures in the Midwest could reach the triple digits again while overnight lows barely drop into the seventies. In St. Louis, Missouri, authorities have reported at least three heat-related deaths in recent days. Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of homes from Ohio to Virginia still remain without power after last week’s violent storms. The extreme weather is part of a pattern that some scientists have described as an early glimpse at the future of global warming.
The United Nations is calling for a number of new taxes in a bid to help aid the world’s poor. In a new report, the World Economic and Social Survey calls for proposals including taxes on carbon emissions, financial transactions, and on the world’s billionaires. Robert Vos of the U.N. Department of Economic and Social Affairs unveiled the report.
Robert Vos: "If you tax by, for instance, 1 percent the wealth held by billionaires, so meaning everybody holding more than $1 billion in wealth, that would not really affect them in terms of their incomes or just the revenue. The income flow they would already have on their wealth holding would by far outstrip the tax you would take away from them. So, in that sense, it would be another tax, which also makes sense from any economic theoretical argument."
In Bahrain, a child arrested for taking part in the protests against the U.S.-backed monarchy has been sentenced to one year of home confinement. Eleven-year-old Ali Hassan was recently released after a month behind bars. On Thursday, a court ruled he must be monitored at home for the next 12 months.
Ali Hassan: "We were playing soccer, and the ball went on the other side where the roads were blocked. While I went to get the ball, there was a private car that came towards me, and a person came out running after me. As I tried to run, the person got hold of me. I am a small boy. Why would they still keep me under observation for one year?"
Victims of the 1984 Bhopal disaster have announced plans to appeal a recent judgment dismissing claims against the company, Union Carbide, and its former chair. On December 3, 1984, around 40 metric tons of toxic gases leaked from a Union Carbide plant in Bhopal. The official death toll stands at around 3,500, but campaigners estimate the actual number is closer to 25,000, with many people still suffering. Union Carbide is now owned by Dow Chemical. A second circuit U.S. court recently dismissed an effort to hold Dow and former Union Carbide chair Warren Anderson accountable for the disaster.
The nation’s largest Presbyterian organization has narrowly defeated a measure to divest from three companies linked to Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. On Thursday, the Presbyterian General Assembly voted 333-to-331 to reject a divestment measure. Palestinian solidarity activists say they intend to bring the measure up for another vote in the near future.
California has become the sixth and largest state to call for a constitutional amendment that would overturn Citizens United, the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision that paved the way for massive corporate spending to influence elections. On Thursday, California’s Senate voted 24-to-11 to urge Congress to draft an amendment against Citizens United. The measure had passed the state Assembly in March.
In another vote Thursday, the California Senate passed a bill to help curb the mass deportations of undocumented immigrants who have not committed serious crimes. The California Trust Act would block local law enforcement from turning over immigrants for deportation unless they have been convicted of a serious felony. The bill is California’s attempt to push back against the federal Secure Communities program, where local authorities share fingerprints with immigration officials. The federal program helped lead to the record deportation of around 400,000 people last year. Supporters have called the measure in California an "anti-Arizona" bill because it runs counter to the anti-immigrant crackdowns in Arizona and other states.
A congressional report has found the now-defunct mortgage giant Countrywide Financial offered hundreds of discount loans to lawmakers, government officials and other so-called "VIPs" in a bid to block legislation that would threaten its profits. The report says Countrywide gave hundreds of loans, often with reduced interest rates or fees, to VIPs, including legislators, their staff, and heads of the government-run mortgage company, Fannie Mae. Countrywide played a key role in the housing crash and was once the country’s biggest mortgage lender. According to the report, those who received Countrywide’s special deals were able to influence dozens of legislative measures in the years leading up to the housing crisis.