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A federal appeals court has struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, known as DOMA, for discriminating against same-sex couples. The unanimous decision found the federal government does not have the authority to deny benefits to same-sex couples in states such as Massachusetts, which has approved gay marriage. The ruling is expected to be appealed and ultimately end up before the U.S. Supreme Court. In a statement, the marriage equality group Freedom to Marry said: “[This] decision … is a powerful affirmation that the so-called Defense of Marriage Act is an unconstitutional and unjust law whose days are numbered.”
The New York Times has revealed President Obama has waged a major cyberweapons operation against Iran since the early days of his administration. The program, known as “Olympic Games,” has been used to sabotage the computer systems at Iran’s nuclear facilities. It began under the Bush administration, but was significantly expanded when Obama took office in 2009. Obama decided to continue with the program in 2010 even after part of it became public when it accidentally unleashed a computer worm known as Stuxnet across the global internet. Developed with the help of Israeli intelligence, Stuxnet is said to have destroyed some of Iran’s centrifuges, but the full extent of the damage is unclear. The Obama administration’s cyber-campaign in Iran is believed to be the first sustained effort by one country to destroy another’s infrastructure through computer attacks.
House lawmakers have defeated a bill that would have banned abortions based on the sex of the fetus. While most legislators voted in favor of the Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act, or PRENDA, it fell 30 votes short of the two-thirds majority needed to pass. The bill would have imposed possible fines and prison sentences of up to five years on doctors who knowingly performed abortions based on sex, as well as requiring healthcare providers to report suspected violations. Republican supporters had attempted to cast the ban as pro-woman, but critics said it was a bid to further curtail access to safe abortion.
The Justice Department is maintaining the right to continue the warrantless tracking of suspects with GPS, despite a Supreme Court ruling that doing so is illegal. The high court ruled in January that police monitoring through attaching a GPS to a suspect’s vehicle is a constitutionally protected search. The ruling marked a defeat for the Obama administration, which had fought to overturn an appeals court ruling that warrants are required. But in court arguments Thursday, the Justice Department said the warrantless tracking remains legal because the Supreme Court did not specifically state that a search warrant is required in other cases.
The U.N. Human Rights Council is holding an emergency session on Syria in the wake of the massacre of more than 100 people in Houla one week ago. A resolution that’s expected to be approved today blames “pro-government” forces for the attack as part of “repeated and systematic violations of human rights” by the regime of President Bashar al-Assad. On Thursday, a Syrian government spokesperson insisted the killings in Houla were carried out by rebels.
Qassem Jamal Suleiman: “They have never protested or carried weapons against the government. They disagreed with the armed terrorist groups. The aim (of these armed groups) is to bring foreign military intervention against the country in any form and any way.”
Syrian activists say pro-government forces have committed a new mass killing of civilians. On Thursday, 13 factory workers were reportedly forced off of a bus and shot dead near the western town of Qusayr. In Washington, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney warned the Assad regime it is running out of time to see a peaceful resolution to the more than year-long uprising.
Jay Carney: “Assad’s partnership with Iran is a direct offense to the Syrian people, their revolution and to Arabs across the Middle East and North Africa. We are also focused on preventing Iran from continuing to financially, materially and logistically support the Syrian regime. We have made clear — the President and others have made clear that the window of opportunity here to allow for a peaceful political transition in Syria is — will not remain open for long.”
In Israel and the Occupied Territories, an Israeli soldier and a Palestinian militant have been killed in an incident along Israel’s border with the Gaza Strip. The militant entered Israel and killed the soldier before being shot dead. Israel then fired missiles into southern Gaza, injuring three people. The violence comes one day after Israel returned the remains of 91 Palestinian militants who died in various attacks over the years.
Thousands of people marched through the Turkish city of Istanbul on Thursday to mark the second anniversary of the deadly Israeli raid on a Gaza-bound aid ship. Nine Turkish activists, including one with U.S. citizenship, were killed when Israeli commandos stormed the ship, Mavi Marmara, in international waters. Earlier this week, a Turkish court approved an indictment seeking multiple life sentences for four former Israeli military commanders over their alleged involvement in the raid.
The retail giant Wal-Mart has become the latest corporation to drop out of the American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative legislative group with ties to the Koch Brothers. ALEC has come under intense criticism for promoting restrictive voter ID laws and the so-called “Stand Your Ground” self-defense law. The world’s largest retailer, Wal-Mart is also the biggest seller of firearms in the United States.
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has unveiled a proposal to ban larger-size sodas and other sugary drinks in an effort to address obesity. New York City Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said the plan would improve the health and well-being of New Yorkers.
Thomas Farley: “We have a crisis of obesity, and that people often go with the default choice, and if the default choice is something which is very unhealthy that’s feeding into that health crisis, it’s appropriate for the government to say, 'No, we think the default choice should be healthier.' But people still have the choice to purchase more than that. They don’t have the choice to purchase trans fat in restaurants, but they do have the choice here to purchase more sugary beverages if they want to.”
The plan is already facing a corporate backlash. Coca-Cola and McDonald’s both condemned the proposal, which would prohibit many places in the city from selling soft drinks in cups larger than 16 ounces, which is the equivalent of a McDonald’s small. A McDonald’s spokesperson called the ban “narrowly focused and misguided,” while Coca-Cola also criticized it, saying, “New Yorkers expect and deserve better than this.” Public health advocates have hailed the proposal as a necessary move in the fight against obesity.
Reuters is reporting ExxonMobil plans to build a multi-billion-dollar chemical plant in Texas. The proposed plant would produce 1.5 million tons annually of ethylene, a key material used in the production of plastics. While the company previously said it had no plans to expand chemical production in the United States, Reuters reports the low cost of shale-derived natural gas — which is used in chemical production — may have prompted the change. Other companies, including Dow and Royal Dutch Shell, have announced plans to expand chemical production in the United States.
Former senator and presidential candidate John Edwards has evaded conviction in a highly publicized trial for allegations of campaign fraud. On Thursday, a North Carolina jury found Edwards not guilty on one count and failed to reach a verdict on five others, prompting the judge to declare a mistrial. Edwards was accused of funneling campaign donations to cover up an extramarital affair that led to his fathering of an out-of-wedlock child. Prosecutors say Edwards used donor funds to hide his lover and her baby in order to protect his campaign, but defense attorneys say Edwards was seeking to shield his actions from his family. Speaking outside the courthouse, Edwards said he believes he was prosecuted for actions that were personal failings, but not illegal.
John Edwards: “I want to make sure that everyone hears from me and from my voice, that while I do not believe I did anything illegal or ever thought I was doing anything illegal, I did an awful, awful lot that was wrong. And there is no one else responsible for my sins.”