The global fallout from the leaks of former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden escalated Wednesday after new claims of U.S. spying on Germany. German Chancellor Angela Merkel personally phoned President Obama to complain about the apparent tapping of her cellphone. The German government did not provide details, but the newspaper Der Speigel says Merkel acted following an inquiry by its reporters. In Washington, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said the United States is not spying on Merkel, but left out whether the United States has done so in the past.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney: “I can tell you that today President Obama and Chancellor Merkel spoke by telephone regarding the allegations that you mentioned, that the U.S. National Security Agency intercepted the communications of the German chancellor. And I can tell you that the president assured the chancellor that the United States is not monitoring and will not monitor the communications of the chancellor.”
According to a spokesperson, Merkel told Obama that U.S. spying “would be a grave breach of trust” and “must cease immediately.” As part of the continued fallout, German’s Foreign Ministry has now summoned the U.S. ambassador to Germany, John Emerson, to discuss the spying claims. The spat with Germany comes just days after it was revealed the U.S. carried out the mass surveillance of French citizens and also spied on French diplomats. Snowden’s leaks also disclosed the NSA hacked the email accounts of then-President Felipe Calderón in 2010 and of current Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto before he was elected.
Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has directly urged President Obama to end U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan. Obama and Sharif spoke after meeting at the White House.
President Obama: “We agreed that we need to continue to find constructive ways to partner together, ways that respect Pakistan’s sovereignty, that respect the concerns of both countries. And I’m optimistic that we can continue to make important strides in moving forward, because both the Pakistani people and the American people have suffered terribly from terrorism in the past.”
Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif: “Pakistan and the United States have a strong ongoing counterterrorism cooperation. We have agreed to further strengthen this cooperation. I also brought up the issue of drones in our meeting, emphasizing the need for an end to such strikes.”
Despite Sharif’s public comments, The Washington Post reports the Pakistani government and the United States have closely cooperated on the drone strikes in Pakistan. Secret CIA documents and Pakistani memos show the Pakistani government has received regular U.S. briefings on strikes and the number of casualties. In the briefings, the United States has routinely claimed that no civilians were harmed. A report this week from Amnesty International uncovered new civilian deaths from U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan, and said the killings may amount to war crimes.
Large parts of Syria were hit by blackouts on Wednesday after rebels attacked a southern gas pipeline. The power outages extended to the capital Damascus, which was reported to have gone completely dark.
Secretary of State John Kerry held talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Italy on Wednesday at the end of a three-day European tour. Before the meeting, Kerry focused his remarks on backing the Israeli stance on Iran’s nuclear program.
Secretary of State John Kerry: “We have made clear and we are adamant that words are no substitute for actions. And what we will need, all of us, in order to be satisfied with respect to the United Nations sanctions, to the demands of the IAEA, as well as to our own security requirements, we will need to know that actions are being taken which make it crystal clear, undeniably clear, fail-safe, to the world that whatever program is pursued is indeed a peaceful program.”
Russia has reduced the charges against the “Arctic 30,” the 30 people detained in a direct action against Russia’s first Arctic offshore oil rig last month. The 28 Greenpeace activists and two journalists are no longer accused of piracy but are still facing charges of “hooliganism” that could land them in jail for up to seven years. At a hearing on Wednesday where bail was denied, one of the Greenpeace activists said the group was unlawfully captured at sea.
Dima Litvinov: “I’m glad that there’s information about us still going, but, I mean, we’re not staying in order to do the action. We came here in order to protest, and we did not come here in order to go to prison. In fact, we’ve not come to Russia at all — we were brought here under threat of fire.”
The federal government has extended the deadline for buying health insurance through the new online exchanges by six weeks, to March 31. Under the Affordable Care Act, Americans who go without insurance for three consecutive months will be forced to pay a penalty. The Obama administration says the deadline extension is unrelated to the complications that have plagued the exchanges since they came online at the start of the month. Four contractors involved in the rollout glitches are testifying before a House panel today.
A federal jury has found Bank of America liable for one count of civil fraud in the sale of toxic mortgages. Prosecutors had accused Bank of America of executing a scheme that would blindly hand out mortgages without proper checks and then turn around and sell the toxic loans to the government-controlled Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. While Bank of America reaped a windfall, Fannie and Freddie were stuck with huge losses and foreclosed properties. The scheme was known as the “hustle” and originated under the firm Countrywide Financial, which Bank of America took over in 2008. The Justice Department is seeking a fine from Bank of America of more than $848 million.
Opening arguments began Wednesday in a trial set to determine the outcome of Detroit’s bankruptcy filing, the largest by a municipality in U.S. history. The trial pits the city and state government against thousands of current and former city employees whose pensions and medical benefits face major cuts. As the hearing began, hundreds of demonstrators rallied outside the courtroom.
Protester: “It makes me feel as if I’m irrelevant, insignificant and my voice just — it just doesn’t matter. So we have to get out and show support for those who have been unjustly treated in this whole bankruptcy scheme.”
Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder is among the public officials expected to testify during the multi-day trial.
A new poll shows legalizing marijuana is now favored by a majority of Americans for the first time on record. According to Gallup, marijuana legalization has 58 percent support, a 10 percent jump from a year ago.
The Federal Communications Commission has extended the application deadline for thousands of new noncommercial, low-power FM radio licenses. The FCC opened up the LPFM spectrum earlier this year in response to a lengthy public campaign, giving nonprofits, labor unions and community groups a one-time-only chance to own a bit of the broadcast airwaves. Because of the government shutdown, the FCC has moved the deadline from October 29 to November 14.
In Washington state, agribusiness companies and food manufacturers are pouring millions of dollars into an effort to defeat what could become the country’s first law requiring the labeling of genetically modified foods and seeds. Washington residents will vote on Initiative 522 on November 5. But companies opposed to labeling are funding a more than $17 million effort to derail it. Monsanto donated nearly $5 million, and DuPont has given more than $3 million, while Pepsi, Coca-Cola and Nestle have dedicated more than $1 million each. Labeling supporters have raised less than a third of their opponents; their largest donor is Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps. A recent New York Times poll found 93 percent of Americans want labels on food containing GMOs. Sixty-four countries require it.
Legislators on one Hawaiian island recently passed their own bill restricting pesticide use by companies developing genetically modified plants. Because of its location, Kauai has become a hot spot for new genetically modified crops, particularly corn, which is grown by companies including DuPont, Syngenta and Dow. But residents say pesticides from the fields are making them sick. Last week the Kauai County Council passed a measure that requires the companies to disclose which pesticides they use and establishes buffer zones around medical facilities, schools and homes.