The U.N. General Assembly has overwhelmingly approved a measure condemning the Syrian government crackdown on opposition protesters and endorsing an Arab League call for a political transition. The vote on the non-binding measure was 137-to-12, with 17 abstentions. Its approval came nine days after Russia and China vetoed a U.N. Security Council measure with similar language.
The Syrian government is continuing the crackdown in defiance of international pressure. On Thursday, activists said at least 63 people were killed in nationwide violence. Syrian government forces have also arrested a number of high-profile activists in targeted raids. On Thursday, blogger Razan Ghazzawi and rights activist Mazen Darwish of the Syrian Center for Media and Free Expression were detained along with 12 others in Damascus.
In Syria news, U.S. intelligence officials are claiming al-Qaeda members have likely infiltrated the Syrian opposition and carried out recent attacks. In congressional testimony, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said several recent bombings in Syria “had all the earmarks of an al-Qaeda-like attack.”
The Obama administration has unveiled new sanctions against Iran, adding Iran’s intelligence ministry to a list of groups that support global terrorism.
A top U.S. intelligence official said Thursday that Iran is unlikely to provoke a military conflict but would respond if attacked. Defense Intelligence Agency Director Lieutenant General Ronald Burgess made the comment in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Lt. Gen. Ronald Burgess: “To the West, Iran remains committed to threatening U.S. interests in the region through its support to terrorist and militant groups, including in Iraq and Afghanistan, while it remains committed to strengthening its naval, nuclear and missile capabilities. Iran can close the Straits of Hormuz, at least temporarily, and may launch missiles against United States forces and our allies in the region, if it is attacked. Iran could also attempt to employ terrorist surrogates worldwide. However, the agency assesses Iran is unlikely to initiate or intentionally provoke a conflict.”
A Nigerian man has been sentenced to life in prison for the failed jetliner attack on Christmas Day in 2009. Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the so-called “underwear bomber,” was convicted last year for trying to blow up a flight from Amsterdam to Detroit. Prosecutor Barbara McQuade hailed the sentencing.
Barbara McQuade: “Today, in an open courtroom in Detroit, Michigan, a remorseless terrorist has been defeated. We at the U.S. Attorney’s Office are very gratified that the judge imposed the maximum possible sentence of life in prison. In fact, I think she gave him four life imprisonment terms, plus 50 years. And on behalf of these victims—we heard five of them speak today—we are so gratified that the judge rejected the defense argument that no one was harmed in this case.”
Congressional leaders have unveiled a compromise deal that would extend the payroll tax cut and benefits for the long-term unemployed that would otherwise have expired March 1. The measure would reduce the maximum number of weeks for jobless benefits from 99 weeks to 73 weeks. It also would allow states to administer drug tests to applicants who were fired due to drug use or who are applying for jobs in industries that typically test for drugs.
A federal watchdog agency has unveiled plans to regulate debt collectors and credit reporting agencies in a move that could shed light on companies known for their abusive practices. Debt collectors and credit agencies—groups that produce reports on consumer credit history—have gone unregulated by the federal government despite widespread reports of improprieties. Richard Cordray, director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, said, “Debt collectors and credit reporting agencies have gone unsupervised by the federal government for too long.”
The New Jersey State Assembly has approved a same-sex marriage bill following its approval in the State Senate earlier this week. The bill will likely go to Gov. Chris Christie today, who has vowed to issue a veto.
Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping continues a visit to the United States with a visit to California. Xi, who is in line to assume the Chinese presidency in March 2013, came under protest on Thursday in Los Angeles, the final stop on his trip.
Pema Dhondup: “All Tibetans, from Northern and Southern California, have gathered together. There’s no specific person or individual. It’s all Tibetan community as a group. We want to have this voice be heard by all people in the world, and especially the Vice President when he’s here.”
On the campaign trail, Republican hopefuls Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney invoked the visit by Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping on Thursday to vow changes to U.S. policy toward China. Both Santorum and Romney made the comments while campaigning in Michigan.
Rick Santorum: “You know, if we’re going to point the finger at other countries, then we need to look at what we do here in America when it comes to currencies and what we’re doing with the value of the dollar in this country. Let’s have the market do it. And if you do, I am confident that the American worker and American companies can compete with anybody around the world.”
Mitt Romney: “If I’m president of the United States, I will finally take China to the carpet and say, 'Look, you guys, I'm going to label you a currency manipulator and apply tariffs, unless you stop those practices.’ We will not let China continue to steal jobs from the United States of America.”
The singer Willie Nelson has joined with 300,000 other activists in a lawsuit against the U.S. agricultural giant Monsanto, citing the company’s practice of suing small farmers whose fields have been contaminated by Monsanto’s genetically modified seeds. The suit was filed as part of the “Occupy the Food System” campaign protesting the corporate takeover of small farms and the use of harmful pollutants like Monsanto’s “Roundup” herbicide.
The Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times foreign correspondent Anthony Shadid has died at the age of 43. Shadid died of an apparent asthma attack on Thursday while covering the conflict in Syria. An American of Lebanese descent who spoke fluent Arabic, Shadid captured dimensions of life in the Middle East that many others failed to see. His exceptional coverage won him a Pulitzer Prize in 2004 and 2010 for international reporting while covering the U.S. occupation of Iraq. Shadid has been a guest on Democracy Now! several times over the past decade reporting on Libya, Tunisia, Iraq and Lebanon. In an interview with Democracy Now! last April, Shadid talked about what motivates him to keep returning to war zones.
Anthony Shadid: “It’s kind of pretty much the only thing I know how to do — not cover conflict. I actually don’t like covering conflict. I think you have to cover conflict when it’s part of what you do cover. And I do cover the Arab world. You know, I’ve been covering it for 15 years. I think now, finally, is the moment that we see that is transformative in the Arab world, and it does make you even more, I think, eager, in some ways, to cover, to try to bring meaning to it, to witness it.”