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A federal appeals court has upheld a 2008 law granting immunity to telecom companies that aided the Bush administration’s warrantless domestic spy program. Groups including the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the American Civil Liberties Union had filed an appeal consolidating 33 different cases against the companies — including AT&T, Sprint Nextel, Verizon and BellSouth — after a lower court ruled that the firms are protected by Congress-mandated retroactive immunity. But on Thursday, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the dismissal of the telecom suits, ruling the retroactive immunity law is constitutional. The ruling could mark the end of legal attempts to hold the telecom firms accountable for the spying in court. But in a victory for civil liberties advocates, the court revived a separate legal attempt to sue the government for the warrantless domestic spying program. A lower court had dismissed the case after the government successfully argued it would jeopardize so-called “state secrets.” The Electronic Frontier Foundation, which brought the case, hailed the ruling, saying, “The American people may [finally] get a judicial ruling on whether the massive spying done on them since 9/11 is legal or not.”
The Wall Street Journal is reporting U.S. prosecutors are preparing to bring criminal charges against employees of the oil giant BP for last year’s oil spill in waters off the Gulf Coast. The charges would mark the first against BP over the disaster.
A federal judge has accused the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission of misleading an appeals court and withholding important information. On Thursday, U.S. District Court Judge Jed Rakoff of New York said the SEC had misled a federal appeals court in seeking to overturn his recent decision rejecting a proposed $285 million settlement between Citigroup and the Securities and Exchange Commission over Citigroup’s sale of toxic mortgage debt. In a major decision last month, Rakoff had said the proposed settlement was “neither reasonable, nor fair, nor adequate, nor in the public interest” and “pocket change to any entity as large as Citigroup.” The SEC had accused Citigroup of selling $1 billion of deceptive mortgage-backed securities in 2007 just as the nation’s housing bubble was about to burst. Citigroup made $160 million in profits on the transaction, while investors lost $700 million.
Republican candidates are entering their final weekend of campaigning before Tuesday’s Iowa caucus selects the first winner of the primary season. Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney is holding a slim lead in the polls. On Thursday, Romney continued his attacks on President Obama.
Mitt Romney: “The President says he wants to fundamentally transform America. I don’t want to transform America into something else. I want to restore the principles that our founders, our patriots, that they recognized. I don’t want to become Europe. Europe isn’t working in Europe. I don’t want Europe to be here.”
Texas Rep. Ron Paul is running second behind Romney in Iowa, despite a recent controversy over bigoted comments published in a newsletter bearing his name in two decades ago. On Thursday, Paul continued with his campaign theme of criticizing the bailout of Wall Street firms.
Rep. Ron Paul: “Their special interests have benefited, the Wall Streeters get bailed out, and the debt is being dumped on the people. And that has to be reversed, let me tell you.”
Paul’s campaign received a boost this week after the Iowa chair of Rep. Michele Bachmann’s campaign joined his team. On Thursday, Bachmann told reporters the defection was due to financial reasons, a claim Paul denies.
Rep. Michele Bachmann: “He had told me specifically that he was offered money, a great deal of money, from the Ron Paul campaign, and that’s why he was leaving.”
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is already looking beyond Iowa amidst sinking poll numbers. Gingrich says he expects wide support in the upcoming primaries after Iowa, including South Carolina.
Newt Gingrich: “It very much depends on what happens. It depends what the margins are. But yeah, there are more than three tickets. And considering that I’m 20 points ahead in some of the states, it would be fairly foolish for me not to stay in the race. And it is a long way from here to picking a nominee.”
Gingrich faced new questions over his post-congressional lobbying career this week following the disclosure he received a surge in donations from major U.S. energy companies after changing his stance on climate change. One month after joining House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in a 2008 ad for a global warming awareness campaign backed by former Vice President Al Gore, Gingrich began calling for increased gas drilling and the rejection of cap-and-trade legislation for carbon pollution. According to the Washington Post, Gingrich’s group, American Solutions for Winning the Future, immediately received a flood of energy industry donations eventually topping $2 million.
Egyptian forces raided the offices of a number of human rights and civil society groups in Cairo on Thursday amidst growing criticism of the ruling military regime. The groups included the U.S.-funded National Democratic Institute and International Republican Institute. Staffers reported being locked inside their offices and having their belongings seized, including books and laptops. The Egyptian military says it targeted 17 Egyptian and international groups as part of a probe into their foreign funding. In Washington, State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland criticized the raid, saying it could jeopardize U.S. foreign assistance.
Victoria Nuland: “The United States is deeply
concerned that Egyptian judicial and police officials raided the offices of a number of non-governmental organizations today, including the National Democratic Institute and the International Republican Institute. This action is inconsistent with the bilateral cooperation we have had over many years. We do have a number of new reporting and transparency requirements on funding to Egypt that we have to make to the Congress. The Egyptian government is well aware of that, and it certainly needs to be aware of that in the context of how quickly this issue gets resolved.”
Syrian forces have fired on protesters in the Assad regime’s ongoing crackdown on opposition activists. Witnesses say at least 25 people were killed by Syrian forces on Thursday.
North Korea has issued a defiant call rejecting a change in direction under new leader Kim Jong-un. In its first official communication directed at the outside world following the death of Kim Jong-il, the North Korean government addressed whom it called “foolish politicians around the world” and “puppet forces in South Korea.”
North Korean State Television newsreader: “On this occasion, we solemnly declare with confidence that foolish politicians around the world, including the puppet forces in South Korea, should not expect any changes from us. The sea of bloody tears by our people and military will chase the rebellious faction until the end, to become the sea of revenge, burning the rebellious faction until nothing is left. The sound of mourning will become the roaring of the sound of the gunfire to collapse the puppets’ stronghold.”
Russia says it has contained a huge fire that engulfed a nuclear submarine undergoing repairs. After hours of dousing flames with water from helicopters and tugboats, Russian firefighters partially submerged the vessel at a naval shipyard. Russian officials say there was no radiation leak because the reactors had been shut down before repairs began.
A number of former Argentine military leaders from the seven-year dictatorship ending in 1983 have been sentenced for the killing and torture of activists during their regime. The defendants included Argentina’s last dictator, Reynaldo Bignone, who was sentenced to 15 years after being sentenced to 25 years in a separate case last year. The former head of the air force, Hipolito Mariani, was sentenced to eight months house arrest, prompting an outcry from activists and relatives of the victims. A member of the group, Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo, criticized the sentences as too lenient.
Nora Cortiñas: “We can’t tolerate these sentences. They are laughable for the crimes they committed. What more proof do they need? Do they want the victims who were tortured and killed to come up from the bottom of the ocean, to rise from the earth and testify against the crimes that were committed? What more proof has to be given?”
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