Tens of Thousands Rally for Humane Immigration Reform

Tens of thousands of immigrants from around the country joined allies from the labor movement and beyond on Wednesday for a massive "Rally for Citizenship" on Capitol Hill. Organizers say they hope to create momentum for a comprehensive and humane immigration reform bill as a bipartisan Senate group prepares to unveil legislation.

Senate Immigration Plan Sets Cumbersome Border Requirements

As thousands rallied on Capitol Hill, more details emerged on the Senate’s bipartisan immigration talks. The proposal sets what some call impossible goals on so-called "border security" before undocumented immigrants can obtain green cards. According to The Wall Street Journal, U.S. immigration officials would have to certify complete monitoring of the southern U.S. border and a 90 percent success rate in blocking unlawful entry in certain areas. Only then could the nation’s estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants apply for permanent residency. The process is expected to take at least 10 years. The current proposal also maintains a timetable of at least 13 years for undocumented immigrants to become eligible for citizenship.

Obama Budget Plan Endorses Social Security Cuts

President Obama has formally released his proposal for a 2014 budget. As expected, the plan leaves in place a cut to benefits provided under Social Security. Obama’s budget endorses a new formula to reduce Social Security cost-of-living benefits, known as a chained CPI. By doing so, Obama becomes the first Democratic president in history to target Social Security in his budget. The plan would also cut over $350 billion from Medicare, $19 billion from Medicaid, and tens of millions from the government’s heating assistance program for low-income Americans. Overall, the proposed cuts to government spending total over $1.2 trillion . Speaking at the White House, Obama said he met Republicans more than halfway.

President Obama: "If anyone thinks I’ll finish the job of deficit reduction on the backs of middle-class families or through spending cuts alone that actually hurt our economy short-term, they should think again. When it comes to deficit reduction, I’ve already met Republicans more than halfway. So in the coming days and weeks, I hope that Republicans will come forward and demonstrate that they’re really as serious — as serious about the deficits and debt as they claim to be."

Petition Opposing Chained CPI Draws 2.3 Million Signatures

President Obama’s call for Social Security cuts has sparked outrage among progressives. In a statement, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka called the plan "wrong and indefensible." A coalition of lawmakers and organizations has delivered petitions with more than 2.3 million signatures to the White House opposing the chained CPI. In return for his overture to Republicans, Obama’s budget calls for more than $500 billion in new taxes on the wealthy as well $78 billion in levies on tobacco. It also calls for cutting farm subsidies and raising the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $9 an hour, lower than he has previously endorsed. House Speaker John Boehner praised Obama’s offer to cut social spending but rejected his bid for new taxes.

House Speaker John Boehner: "Why don’t we do what we can agree to do? Why don’t we find the common ground that we do have and move on that? The president got his tax hikes in January, and we don’t need to be raising taxes on the American people. So I’m hopeful in the coming weeks we’ll have an opportunity, through the budget process, to come to some agreement."

Senate to Hold First Gun-Control Vote After Compromise on Background Checks

The Senate is holding a vote today on whether to take up the gun-control package that materialized in response to the shooting massacre in Newtown, Connecticut. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced the vote after a number of Republicans backed down on vows of a filibuster. On Wednesday, Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Republican Senator Patrick Toomey of Pennsylvania unveiled their compromise on one of the bill’s remaining provisions to expand background checks. The Manchin-Toomey amendment would expand background checks to all commercial gun sales but exclude gifts and transfers between relatives. Speaking to reporters, Manchin and Toomey said their compromise will help the bill’s chances.

Sen. Joe Manchin: "Today is just the start of a healthy debate that must end with the Senate and House hopefully passing these commonsense measures and the president signing it into law."

Sen. Pat Toomey: "What matters to me is doing the right thing, and I think this is the right thing. And I think most Pennsylvanians will agree that making it more difficult for criminals and mentally ill people to obtain guns is the right thing to do. Securing the rights of law-abiding citizens is also the right thing to do. So that’s what’s most important to me."

The gun-control package excludes a number of critical measures, including an assault weapons ban, though it will likely come up as an amendment.

Michelle Obama Pushes Gun-Control Vote

Speaking in her hometown of Chicago, first lady Michelle Obama urged public support for a gun-control bill. Obama invoked the killing of Hadiya Pendleton, a 15-year-old girl shot dead in Chicago earlier this year just days after performing at President Obama’s inauguration.

First lady Michelle Obama: "Right now, my husband is fighting as hard as he can and engaging as many people as he can to pass commonsense reforms to protect our children from gun violence. And these reforms deserve a vote in Congress. As he said, we can’t stop all the violence in the world, but if there is even one thing we can do, even one step we can take to save another child or another parent from the grief that’s visited families like Hadiya’s and so many others here today, then don’t we have an obligation to try?"

Rhode Island Introduces Gun-Control Measure

As gun control comes before lawmakers on Capitol Hill, Rhode Island has become the latest state to take up the issue at the state level. Democratic lawmakers have unveiled a measure that would make Rhode Island the fifth state to enact a sweeping gun-control law in the aftermath of Newtown.

Military Court Raises Burden for Manning Prosecutors; Internet, Phone Access Curbed

A military judge has raised the burden of proof for military prosecutors in their effort to win a conviction of Army whistleblower Bradley Manning. On Wednesday, Col. Denise Lind said prosecutors must prove Manning had "reason to believe" the files he gave to WikiLeaks could have been used to harm the United States or aid its enemies. Prosecutors had argued they should only have to prove Manning knowingly and willfully disclosed the files. Lind did grant prosecutors’ request to submit evidence showing Osama bin Laden had copies of some of the files released by WikiLeaks at his Pakistan compound. Prosecutors are expected to call one of the commandos involved in the bin Laden raid as a witness, though his identity will be concealed. Military officials, meanwhile, have announced a ban on all cellphones and Internet access at the trial’s media center. The move comes in response to the disclosure of secretly recorded audio of Bradley Manning’s statement to the court in February. Manning’s comments were released by the Freedom of the Press Foundation and broadcast here on Democracy Now! March 12.

HRW: Over 4,300 Civilians Killed in Syrian Strikes

Human Rights Watch is accusing the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad of killing more than 4,300 civilians in air strikes since last summer. In a new report, the group says many attacks were indiscriminate, deliberate and amount to war crimes. Human Rights Watch Associate Director Anna Neistat said most of the strikes hit areas where no fighting was taking place.

Anna Neistat: "We believe that more than 4,000 civilians have been killed as a result of aerial attacks. It is an enormous number, and most of the civilians died in areas where there is no fighting going on, where there is no military activity. These are civilians that were either deliberately targeted or killed as a result of unlawful, indiscriminate attacks, which we believe were committed willfully and thus constitute war crimes."

U.N. Warns of Funding Shortfall for Syrian Refugees

The report comes as the United Nations says the official number of Syrian refugees is now more than 1.3 million. The U.N.’s refugee coordinator for Syria said a massive aid effort is being threatened by funding shortfall.

Panos Moumtzis: "As of today, we have reached the 1,300,000 Syrian refugees registered, all with appointments, in the neighboring countries. This is a significant increase, if you think that today, one year ago, 12 months ago, the actual figure was 30,000. So, in 12 months we have gone from 30,000 Syrian refugees to 1,300,000. There is an acute shortfall of $700 million, while we have exceeded the planning figure. We have reached a point where we feel we are at a breaking point."

Hagel: North Korea "Skating Very Close to a Dangerous Line"

The United States and South Korea say they are on high alert for a North Korean missile launch after the North Korean regime reportedly stationed five medium-range rockets on its east coast. Although North Korea has threatened attacks in recent weeks, it is unlikely to take any action that would elicit a U.S. response. The United States, meanwhile, is continuing to conduct war games with South Korea amidst the standoff. In Washington, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel warned North Korean rhetoric is "skating close to a dangerous line."

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel: "North Korea has been, with its bellicose rhetoric, with its actions, have been skating very close to a dangerous line. Their actions and their words have not helped defuse a combustible situation."

Witness Ties Guatemalan President to Maya Killings in Montt Trial

Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina has been directly accused in Guatemalan court of ordering executions during Guatemala’s decades-long campaign against Maya indigenous people, which resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands. The accusation came during the ongoing trial of former U.S.-backed dictator Efraín Ríos Montt on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity. A former military mechanic named Hugo Reyes told the court that President Pérez, then serving as an army major and using the name Tito Arias, ordered soldiers to burn and pillage a Maya Ixil area in the 1980s. Reyes told the court: "The soldiers, on orders from [Otto Pérez Molina] ... coordinated the burning and looting, in order to later execute people." President Pérez has denied the allegations and says he only acted to help civilians.

Colombians Stage Nationwide March for Peace

Tens of thousands of Colombians have taken part in a nationwide march calling for peace with Colombia’s FARC rebels. Carrying balloons and dressed in white, the march descended on the main square in the capital of Bogota. Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos is holding talks with the FARC but has ruled out an immediate ceasefire.

Canadian Teen Commits Suicide over Alleged Rape, Bullying

A Canadian teenager and alleged rape victim has died following an attempted suicide. Seventeen-year-old Rehtaeh Parsons was taken off life support on Sunday days after she tried to hang herself. Family members say she was devastated after being raped by four teenage boys in November 2011 and publicly bullied after a photograph of the incident was shared at her school. The alleged rapists were never charged after investigators cited insufficient evidence. Rehtaeh’s mother, Leah Parsons, wrote: "Rehtaeh is gone today because of the four boys that thought that raping a 15-year-old girl was okay, and to distribute a photo to ruin her spirit and reputation would be fun." Similar to its actions in the Steubenville rape case, the hacker group Anonymous has launched a campaign calling for Nova Scotia Justice Minister Ross Landry to take legal action. In a statement, Anonymous said it would reveal the identities of two of the alleged rapists if justice is not pursued.


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