The Republican-controlled House has approved a long-stalled farm bill that would continue heavy subsidies for crops like corn and soybeans, while seeing a major cut to food stamps for those in need. The bill would end billions of dollars in direct payments to farmers while expanding government-subsidized crop insurance. The additional $8.6 billion in food stamp cuts follows a $5 billion cut in November. The move will slash food aid for many families by about $90 per month. The plan represents a "compromise" between a Republican plan to cut food stamps by $39 billion and a Democratic one to cut them by $4 billion. The Congressional Progressive Caucus urged members to vote against the bill, but overall 89 Democrats joined with the Republican majority. Both the Senate and President Obama are expected to endorse the measure.
President Obama hit the road Wednesday one day after his State of the Union vow to take executive action should Republicans thwart his efforts on economic progress. Speaking at a Costco store in Maryland, Obama touted his plan to boost the minimum wage of federal contractors to $10.10 an hour.
President Obama: "Now, some of my ideas, I’ll need Congress, but America can’t just stand still if Congress isn’t doing anything. I’m not going to stand still either. Wherever I can take steps to expand opportunity for more families, I’m going to do it, with or without Congress. Nobody who works full-time should ever have to raise a family in poverty. And that is why I firmly believe it’s time to give America a raise."
Obama is also backing a congressional bill that would raise the minimum wage for all Americans to $10.10. But a new analysis from the Center for Economic and Policy Research says that if the minimum wage were kept in line with productivity gains since 1968, it would now be more than double that amount, at $21.72.
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper has launched a new attack on whistleblower Edward Snowden. Speaking before the Senate Intelligence Committee, Clapper called on Snowden to return all stolen documents to the National Security Agency after causing what he called major harm to U.S. security. Clapper also suggested that the journalists who have published Snowden’s leaks are his "accomplices."
James Clapper: "Snowden claims that he’s won and that his mission is accomplished. If that is so, I call on him and his accomplices to facilitate the return of the remaining stolen documents that have not yet been exposed to prevent even more damage to U.S. security. But what I do want to speak to, as the nation’s senior intelligence officer, is the profound damage that his disclosures have caused and continue to cause. As a consequence, the nation is less safe and its people less secure. What Snowden has stolen and exposed has gone way, way beyond his professed concerns with so-called domestic surveillance programs."
Snowden has repeatedly maintained he’s no longer in possession of any of the documents he took from the NSA, having passed them on to journalists to report at their discretion. Clapper was appearing before the same panel he was caught lying to last year about the deliberate collection of Americans’ personal information.
Whistleblower Edward Snowden was honored Wednesday with his second nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize. Two Swedish lawmakers say they tapped Snowden for "whistleblowing [that] has contributed to a more stable and peaceful world order."
In the latest of Edward Snowden’s disclosures, The Huffington Post reports the National Security Agency spied on foreign governments before and during the 2009 U.N. climate summit in Copenhagen. An internal NSA document says its analysts and foreign partners briefed U.S. negotiators on other countries’ "preparations and goals," saying: "signals intelligence will undoubtedly play a significant role in keeping our negotiators as well informed as possible throughout the 2-week event." The NSA has declined to comment on these latest revelations. The 2009 Copenhagen summit ended in failure after the world’s leading polluters could not agree on a binding follow-up to the Kyoto Protocol.
Also testifying in Wednesday’s Senate hearing, Attorney General Eric Holder said he believes the bulk collection of phone records by the National Security Agency is constitutional, but will still be reformed on the orders of President Obama.
Eric Holder: "I’d say that 15 judges in the FISA court (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court), two judges — one in California, one in New York — have looked at this question and made the determination that the 215 program is, in fact, constitutional. One judge in Washington, D.C., has decided it is not. But I think that really only deals with one-half of the question. I believe that they are correct that it is constitutional. It is an appropriate use, in a constitutional sense, of the government’s power. But the question is, and as — what the president has posed to us, just because we can do something, should we do it?"
A terror suspect facing trial in the United States is challenging the government’s effort to use evidence obtained by the National Security Agency. Jamshid Muhtorov is accused of providing material support to an Uzbek terrorist group in Afghanistan. In a new court filing, the American Civil Liberties Union says the government should not be allowed to use communications that were obtained without proper court review. Muhtorov is the first defendant to challenge the 2008 law that authorized the government’s collection of personal information from phone and Internet providers when the target is thought to be overseas.
The Syrian peace conference is in its final round of talks before wrapping up on Friday. U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi said the Assad regime and members of the Syrian opposition have made little progress, but called for patience.
Lakhdar Brahimi: "I do not expect that we will achieve anything substantive. I am very happy that we are still talking, that the ice is breaking slowly — but it is breaking — and that we will separate on Friday and discuss what we will do when we resume. I did not expect — I am not disappointed, because I did not expect any result this first time. This is exactly what I thought we would do, just talk to one another and also agree that we will continue talking to one another."
Friday’s talks will focus on setting up a follow-up for the next round of negotiations. The two sides remain deadlocked over the role of Bashar al-Assad in a future transitional government.
The European Union is poised to deepen its ties with Cuba. According to Reuters, EU foreign ministers will agree next month to launch talks on a pact that will boost trade and investment with Cuba, as well as increase dialogue on human rights. In the past, the United States has put pressure on Europe to increase Cuba’s isolation. The United States has maintained an embargo against Cuba since 1962.
New details have emerged on the Bush-era secret CIA jail used to hold and torture foreign prisoners in Poland. The Washington Post reports the CIA gave Polish counterparts $15 million in cash for use of the prison in 2003. Two interrogators who worked at the prison were removed from Poland after carrying out a mock execution on a prisoner. The Polish government is probing its own hosting of the site, but the case has lagged for years without results.
A U.S. marine whose conviction was overturned for the 2006 killing of an Iraqi civilian is facing a new trial. Sgt. Lawrence Hutchins had been the only one of seven U.S. servicemembers involved to receive a murder conviction. He served six years in prison before being freed after an appeals court ruled prosecutors used inadmissible evidence. The victim, Hashim Ibrahim Awad, was dragged from his home in the town of Haditha, shot, and then planted with a weapon to make it appear he was planning an attack. The Marine Corps says Hutchins will now be retried on the same charges.
Missouri has executed a death row prisoner just 24 hours after the U.S. Supreme Court granted him a stay. Herbert Smulls was sentenced to death for the 1991 murder of a jewelry store owner. His attorneys had won a delay after arguing Missouri should be forced to name the compounding pharmacy used to produce the execution drug, which is not subject to federal oversight. But the Supreme Court followed up by denying all of Smulls’ appeals, clearing the way for his death. Missouri began using a new execution drug last year after a drug manufacturer stopped making the state’s long-running three-drug combination.
A New York congressmember has apologized after being caught on tape threatening a television reporter’s life. In an interview following Tuesday night’s State of the Union, Republican Rep. Michael Grimm lashed out at NY1’s Michael Scotto for questioning him about alleged campaign finance violations.
Michael Scotto: "All right. So, Congressman Michael Grimm does not want to talk about some of the allegations concerning his campaign finances. We wanted to get him on camera on that, but he, as you saw, refused to talk about that. Back to you. … What? I just wanted to talk to you."
Rep. Michael Grimm: "Let me be clear to you, you ever do that to me again I’ll throw you off this f———g balcony."
Michael Scotto: "Why? I just wanted to ask you..."
Rep. Michael Grimm: "If you ever do that to me again."
Michael Scotto: "Why? Why? This is — it’s a valid question."
Rep. Michael Grimm: "No, no, you’re not man enough. You’re not man enough. I’ll break you in half. Like a boy."
Grimm initially refused NY1’s demand for an apology, saying he had done the network "a favor by rushing to do their interview in lieu of several other requests." But he later issued a statement saying he called Scotto personally to express regret. Other reporters have now come forward to claim prior instances of Grimm’s verbal abuse.