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Obama Chides Russia on "Brute Force," Rejects Iraq War Criticism

President Obama continues an overseas tour in Italy today where he’s meeting with Pope Francis for the first time. Wrapping up a visit to Brussels, Obama delivered an address criticizing Russia for annexing Crimea and using what he called "brute force."

President Obama: "Of course, Ukraine is not a member of NATO, in part because of its close and complex history with Russia. Nor will Russia be dislodged from Crimea or deterred from further escalation by military force. But with time, so long as we remain united, the Russian people will recognize that they cannot achieve security, prosperity and the status that they seek through brute force."

In his remarks, President Obama tried to counter Russian claims of U.S. hypocrisy with what critics called a revisionist take on the Iraq War. Obama said the U.S. tried to "work within the international system" before the Iraq invasion.

President Obama: "Russia has pointed to America’s decision to go into Iraq as an example of Western hypocrisy. Now, it is true that the Iraq War was a subject of vigorous debate, not just around the world, but in the United States, as well. I participated in that debate, and I opposed our military intervention there. But even in Iraq, America sought to work within the international system. We did not claim or annex Iraq’s territory. We did not grab its resources for our own gain. Instead, we ended our war and left Iraq to its people."

Obama’s comments omitted the U.S. attacked Iraq without Security Council approval and that the subsequent occupation lasted over eight years.

Ukraine, IMF Agree on $18B Aid for Austerity Reforms

Obama’s comments come as Ukraine has secured a massive bailout from the IMF. The Ukrainian government will receive up to $18 billion in credits and aid in return for accepting austerity measures rejected by the ousted former President Viktor Yanukovych.

Philippines, Muslim Rebels Sign Landmark Peace Deal

The Philippine government has reached an historic peace deal with the country’s largest Muslim rebel group after decades of conflict. The agreement with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front would create an autonomous government on the southern island of Mindanao. In return, the group will renounce armed struggle in its fight for self-determination. An estimated 120,000 people have died in years of fighting between the Philippine government and rebel forces.

Egyptian General Resigns to Clear Run for Presidency

The head of the Egyptian military has stepped down, paving the way for his candidacy in the upcoming presidential elections. General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi led the coup that ousted Egypt’s first democratically elected president, Mohamed Morsi, last July, and has overseen the ensuing crackdown that’s left hundreds dead and thousands behind bars. Sisi has a strong base of support and is expected to win. On Wednesday, one person was killed near Egypt’s Cairo University in ongoing protests against the sentencing of over 500 Muslim Brotherhood members to death. The protests come as over 900 additional Brotherhood members were ordered to stand trial on charges of terrorism and murder.

Study: Executions Rose Worldwide in 2013

A new study says capital punishment is on the rise across the globe. Audrey Gaughran of Amnesty International blamed Iran and Iraq for an increase of over 100 executions over the previous year.

Audrey Gaughran: "Almost a hundred more people were put to death in 2013 compared to 2012. The countries responsible for that sharp spike are largely Iran and Iraq. Four countries also resumed executions during 2013, which was quite troubling. But that said, the overall picture, the long-term picture, in terms of abolition of the death penalty is positive, and if we look back over 10, 20 years, we see a steady decline in the use of the death penalty."

The United States was fifth on the list of executing countries, with 39 killings in 2013.

Oklahoma Judge Strikes Down Secrecy on Execution Drugs

An Oklahoma judge has struck down a law that hides information on the drugs used in lethal injections. Two death row prisoners had sued the state to disclose the source of the drugs to be used in their executions. On Wednesday, District Court Judge Patricia Parrish ruled Oklahoma has violated the Constitution by failing to disclose the name of the drug supplier, the combination of chemicals and the dosages used in executions. The ruling could delay executions in other states where prisoners are challenging similar laws.

Northwestern University Football Players Win Right to Unionize

Football players at Northwestern University have won a historic victory that could change the world of college sports. On Wednesday, the National Labor Relations Board ruled players at private colleges qualify as employees under the law and accordingly have the right to form a union. The Northwestern players are not seeking a salary from the billions in revenue generated by the NCAA, but want medical protections for concussions and other injuries, as well as guarantees on their academic scholarships.

Bank of America in $9.3B Settlement for Selling Toxic Bonds; Ex-CEO Faces 3-Year Ban

The financial giant Bank of America has finalized a $9.3 billion settlement for selling toxic mortgage bonds to the government-backed Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac during the financial crisis. The Justice Department says Bank of America executed a scheme that would blindly hand out mortgages without proper checks and then turn around and sell the toxic loans to Fannie and Freddie. While Bank of America reaped a windfall, Fannie and Freddie were stuck with huge losses and foreclosed properties. Bank of America has also reached a settlement for misleading investors in its takeover of the troubled firm Merrill Lynch. Under the agreement, former Bank of America CEO Kenneth Lewis is banned from serving as an officer or director of a public company for three years.

Connecticut Lawmakers Advance $10.10 Minimum Wage

Connecticut’s state Senate has advanced a measure that would raise the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, the nation’s highest statewide rate. The bill now goes to the state House where it’s expected to pass.

Bin Laden Son-in-Law Convicted in Terrorism Trial

The son-in-law of Osama bin Laden has been convicted on charges of conspiring to kill Americans. Sulaiman Abu Ghaith is the most senior al-Qaeda member to be tried in a U.S. civilian court in the years since 9/11. During testimony, he described meeting with bin Laden inside a cave in Afghanistan just hours after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, but denied having prior knowledge. Ghaith’s court-appointed lawyer said his appearance in videos threatening the U.S. doesn’t prove his involvement in actual plots.

Stanley Cohen: "It’s not about words; it’s not about association. There are clear requirements under the law. You know, if you want to turn around and indict people for words, there’s about 270 congressmen and women right now that have said some pretty incendiary things about a lot of things; maybe we should start there."

During the trial, the court rejected testimony from alleged 9/11 plotter Khalid Sheikh Mohammed that Abu Ghaith had no role in al-Qaeda’s violent operations. He faces a sentence of up to life in prison.

Journalist, Anti-Nuclear Activist Jonathan Schell Dead at 70

And the journalist, author and activist Jonathan Schell has died at the age of 70. A leading advocate for nuclear disarmament, Schell’s bestselling book, "The Fate of the Earth," is recognized for helping spark the anti-nuclear movement of the early 1980s. Speaking to Democracy Now! in 2007, Schell said a nuclear-free world is an achievable goal.

Jonathan Schell: "If we had a president who was dedicated to this aim, I think it could become a reality. The problems — it’s not like global warming, where you perhaps have to change the whole way that we live on a global basis. We know how to get rid of these things. Already, we’ve come down about halfway since the height of the Cold War. We just have to keep going in that direction. It’s a tremendous task, but it’s a notably doable one."

Schell was a longtime writer for The Nation magazine. In a tribute, The Nation editor Katrina vanden Huevel said: "The power and persuasiveness of so much of Jonathan Schell’s work came not only from his elegant style, clarity of analysis and powerful logic but also in the enduring belief that there is no idea so powerful as a moral one."

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