Credit agency Moody’s has downgraded the credit ratings of 15 of the world’s biggest banks, saying all are at risk of major losses. The downgraded banks include Morgan Stanley, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, Bank of America, Deutsche Bank, Credit Suisse and JPMorgan Chase, which recently lost $3 billion on risky bets. In a statement, a Moody’s executive said the banks “have significant exposure to the volatility and risk of outsized losses inherent to capital market activities.”
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange remains holed up inside the Ecuadorian embassy in London after seeking refuge in a last-ditch bid to avoid extradition to Sweden, where he faces questioning on allegations of sexual assault. On Thursday, Assange met with Ecuador’s ambassador to Britain, while Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa said his government continues to review Assange’s request. A WikiLeaks spokesperson said Ecuadorian officials have been supportive of Assange so far.
Kristinn Hrafnsson: “We’re very grateful, of course, for the support of the ambassador and the Ecuadorians. It’s putting some strain on the staff, and we’re grateful for that. But I think it’s known that the Ecuadorian government and President Rafael Correa is a supporter of WikiLeaks and what WikiLeaks stands for, as should everybody. It’s the ideals of basic, good journalism, transparency and information freedom.”
Although the Swedish government has yet to charge Julian Assange, he is concerned that once he is extradited to Sweden, he could then be extradited to the United States.
Protests continue at the Rio+20 U.N. Conference on Sustainable Development in Brazil. On Thursday, civil society delegates staged a walkout of the talks to call for bold action against global warming. Meanwhile, hundreds of indigenous activists marched through the streets of Rio de Janeiro to deliver a petition demanding fairer treatment over land and other rights.
Tom Goldtooth: “What we are concerned about is that Mother Earth is not for sale. Mother Earth is not a commodity to be traded on the trading system. The trees are not for sale.”
Speaking to world leaders inside the U.N. Conference on Sustainable Development in Brazil, Bolivian President Evo Morales called on rich, Western countries to change their attitudes toward the world’s ecosystem.
Bolivian President Evo Morales: “It is not possible that the so-called 200-, 300-year-old 'civilization' is able to destroy the harmonious life that the indigenous people have lived for 5,000 years. This shows the enormous difference between the Eastern nations, the South countries, and especially the social movements that live in harmony with Mother Earth.”
Egyptian activists are gearing up for another day of mass protest today against the ruling military council. Islamist and secular groups have called for country-wide demonstrations in the aftermath of the council’s dissolving of parliament and weakening of presidential authority last week. On Thursday, supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood gathered in Tahrir Square after former Prime Minister Ahmed Shafik claimed victory in the undecided presidential runoff. One protester said the Brotherhood’s candidate, Mohamed Morsi, will be declared the winner when vote counting is complete.
Abdul Rahman Ahmed: “We have a paper from judges that Morsi is the real president. The civil organizations and the rights organizations here declare that the real president is Morsi. So we have a paper, we have evidence that Morsi is the president. So, where is the role for America? America is the state for freedom, the state for justice. So we want — we ask America to stand beside the revolutionists, to win — to win the heart of Egyptian peoples.”
In Afghanistan, Taliban fighters have ended a 13-hour siege of a lakeside hotel near the capital of Kabul. At least 18 people were killed.
Congress is facing a looming deadline to extend low-interest rates on federally subsidized Stafford loans or plunge millions of students into deeper debt. The rates were reduced to 3.4 percent in 2007 but will double on July 1st for new loans unless Congress intervenes. On Thursday, President Obama urged a group of students visiting the White House to pressure lawmakers.
President Obama: “You keep this going. Don’t stop until it’s actually done. There is nothing more powerful than millions of voices that are calling for change, and all of your voices can make a difference. So keep telling Congress to do what’s right, to get this done. Tell them now is not the time to double interest rates on your student loans. Tell them to double down on an investment in a strong and secure middle class — and that means your education.”
The Senate has passed a version of the Farm Bill that includes $1 trillion in spending over the next decade both for aid to U.S. farmers and for food stamps to low-income families. The Senate bill cuts about $4.5 billion from the food stamp program, and the House is expected to seek even deeper cuts. The bill ends direct subsidies to U.S. farmers but expands the crop insurance program, which would cost $9 billion annually. Environmentalists have hailed a requirement that farmers who receive insurance subsidies must have basic environmental protections in place. But the bill has also come under criticism for failing to tackle the control of large agribusiness. In a statement, the group Food & Water Watch criticized the measure, saying: “The Senate passed a farm bill that left the largest agribusiness and food processing companies firmly in control of America’s food system.”
The Supreme Court has ruled a law aimed at reducing sentencing disparities between users of crack cocaine and powdered cocaine should apply to those whose cases were pending when the law took effect. The Fair Sentencing Act was passed in 2010 to address a racial gap in prison terms between users of crack cocaine, who tend to more commonly be African American, and users of powdered cocaine, who are more often white. The law loosened harsh mandatory prison terms imposed in the mid-1980s that set one gram of crack cocaine equal to 100 grams of powdered cocaine. On Wednesday, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of two Illinois men who were sentenced to 10-year prison terms for selling crack. While their offenses were committed before the law took effect, both were sentenced after it was signed by President Obama.
Video and audiotapes have been released of Sanford, Florida, police officers interrogating George Zimmerman about his fatal shooting of unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin. The videos include Zimmerman reenacting the killing for officers at the murder scene one day after the slaying. In a video of a separate interrogation, Zimmerman makes two astounding claims: that Trayvon Martin, upon seeing that Zimmerman had a gun, did not retreat, but instead went ahead and said to Zimmerman, “You’re going to die.” Zimmerman also claims that after he shot Martin at close range, Martin looked up at him and said, “You got me.”
George Zimmerman: “When I shifted, my jacket came up and my shirt came up and exposed my firearm. And that’s when he said — he like sat up and looked and said, ’You’re going to die tonight, [expletive].’ And I felt him take one hand off my mouth and slide it down my chest. And I just pinched his arm, and I grabbed my gun, and I aimed it at him and fired one shot. He kind of sat back and said, 'You got me,' or 'You got me,' 'You got it,' something like that.”
Zimmerman was recently jailed for lying about his finances during his bond hearing. Trayvon Martin’s family has yet to respond directly to the new Zimmerman tapes. On Thursday, Martin’s parents were featured guests at the National Association of Black Journalists Convention in New Orleans. Martin’s mother, Sybrina Fulton, talked about losing her son.
Sybrina Fulton: “This was our life. You know, this was my son. This was just not a news story and tomorrow it’s gone. I have to live with this the rest of my life.”
Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign is holding a gathering this weekend for its top financial backers. Around 300 donors who have given at least $50,000 will convene in Park City, Utah, for two days of meetings with Romney and his top aides.
Mitt Romney continues to face scrutiny over his time at the helm of the private equity firm Bain Capital. The Washington Post reports that under Romney’s leadership, Bain invested in a number of companies that specialized in outsourcing U.S. jobs overseas to lower-wage countries like China and India. Bain’s holdings spanned a number of firms that were known as pioneers in the practice of sending jobs to call centers and factories making computer parts abroad.
The federal government has auctioned off sections of the Gulf of Mexico for offshore oil drilling for the first time since the area was hit by the worst oil spill in U.S. history. Companies submitted $1.7 billion in winning bids for areas off the coast of Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi. Oil company BP reportedly won dozens of leases to drill in the region near the site of its historic 2010 disaster. Environmental groups had tried to block the sale with a lawsuit earlier this week, saying the drilling would imperil an already battered ecosystem.