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You turn to Democracy Now! for ad-free news you can trust. Maybe you come for our daily headlines. Maybe you come for in-depth stories that expose government and corporate abuses of power. This week Democracy Now! is celebrating our 23rd birthday. For over two decades, we've produced our daily news hour without ads, government funding or corporate underwriting. How is this possible? Only with your support. Right now, in honor of Democracy Now!'s birthday, every donation we receive will be doubled by a generous supporter. This means if you give $30 today, Democracy Now! will get $60 to support our daily news hour. Please do your part. It takes just a couple of minutes to make sure that Democracy Now! is there for you and everybody else. Thank you! -Amy Goodman
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Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has announced the proposed renewal of a ban on military assault rifles will not be included in pending gun control legislation due to a lack of support. On Tuesday, Reid told the bill’s sponsor, Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, the ban does not have enough votes to overcome a filibuster.
Sen. Harry Reid: “Right now, her amendment, using the most optimistic numbers, has less than 40 votes. That’s not 60. I have to get something on the floor so we can have votes on that issue and the other issues that I’ve talked about.”
Opposition to the assault weapons ban has crossed partisan lines to include many Democrats. Although it will not be in the new gun control legislation, the ban could still come up for vote as an amendment.
The toll from a series of bombings in Iraq on the 10th anniversary of the U.S. invasion stands at 65 dead and more than 200 wounded. It was the deadliest day of violence in Iraq this year. The group al-Qaeda in Iraq has claimed responsibility.
President Obama has arrived in Israel for his first visit there since taking office. Obama will hold a joint news conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu today followed by talks with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in the occupied West Bank on Thursday. Obama will travel to the West Bank by helicopter, avoiding a drive through the Israeli separation barrier that carves up Palestinian land.
As Obama arrived in Israel, the White House released his annual videotaped message to the Iranian people on the Persian New Year of Nowruz. In his remarks, Obama said the onus is on the Iranian government to peacefully resolve the standoff over its nuclear activities.
President Obama: “If, as Iran’s leaders say, their nuclear program is for peaceful purposes, then there is a basis for a practical solution. It’s a solution that would give Iran access to peaceful nuclear energy while resolving once and for all the serious questions that the world has about the true nature of the Iranian nuclear program. The United States, alongside the rest of the international community, is ready to reach such a solution.”
Both sides of Syria’s conflict have accused the other of using chemical weapons in an attack in the city of Aleppo. At least 31 people were killed, and more than 100 were reportedly wounded, including children. Both the Syrian government and rebel groups say they are investigating the incident. Previous claims of chemical attacks in Syria by both sides have not been substantiated.
The Cyprus government is holding crisis talks today after lawmakers voted to reject a controversial bailout deal with the European Union. The package called on Cyprus to impose a one-time tax on bank deposits as a condition for $13 billion in rescue money. The plan led to protests and massive bank withdrawals over the weekend as Cypriots rushed to protect their savings. Cyprus says it is seeking an alternative to the plan, but few details have emerged. The government has warned of “indescribable misery” if a deal cannot be reached, including the collapse of the country’s biggest banks.
In Guatemala, a landmark trial is underway against former U.S.-backed dictator Efraín Ríos Montt on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity. Ríos Montt is charged in connection with the slaughter of more than 1,700 people in Guatemala’s Ixil region during a scorched-earth campaign purportedly aimed at rooting out guerrillas. He is the first head of state in the Americas to stand trial for genocide. On Tuesday, Nobel Peace Prize winner and indigenous activist Rigoberta Menchú welcomed the court proceedings.
Rigoberta Menchú: “It’s a very big day for Guatemala. It’s a very big day for those of us who have defended our lives in difficult circumstances, very painful circumstances of great isolation, of exile. It looks like our period of pain is ending, because we hope that, from now on, we will be accepted by Guatemalan society, in our polarized society, the society that carries the burden of past genocide on their backs.”
Ríos Montt seized power in 1982, and his 17-month rule is seen as one of the bloodiest chapters in Guatemala’s genocide.
Seven U.S. marines have been killed in an explosion at an Army munitions facility in Nevada. The Pentagon has ordered its forces around the world to ban the mortar rounds that caused the blast, pending an investigation. The facility where the incident occurred is used to train special operations forces heading to the Middle East.
The mortgage giant Freddie Mac has filed suit against more than a dozen banks for losses stemming from the manipulation of the global interest rate Libor. The rigging of Libor altered the benchmark for rates on trillions of dollars in transactions across the globe, meaning millions of borrowers paid the wrong amount on their loans. Along with Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac’s losses from the Libor scandal could top more than $3 billion. Freddie Mac’s suit targets banks including Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase and Credit Suisse. The lawsuit accuses the firms of fixing Libor “to hide their financial problems and to boost their profits.”
A new investigation says U.S. regulators have been quietly settling civil claims with banks whose failures triggered massive federal payouts and helped spur the financial meltdown. The Los Angeles Times reports the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation has settled with the banks for a fraction of what their losses actually cost while agreeing not to publicize the deals to protect the banks’ public image. The FDIC has lost $92.5 billion in the failures of 471 U.S. banks since 2007. But the agency has collected just $787 million in settlements — a tiny fraction of its losses. While the settlements accuse the banks of fraud, negligence, reckless loans to homeowners, falsified documents and other abuses, they have been concealed from the public under nondisclosure deals some say border on illegal.
A new report says the New York City Police Department is dedicating vast amounts of time and energy to arresting hundreds of thousands of people for the low-level misdemeanor of marijuana possession. According to the Drug Policy Alliance, from 2002 to 2012 under Democratic Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the NYPD spent more than one million hours of police officer time arresting roughly 440,000 people for marijuana possession. According to the report: “That is the equivalent of having 31 police officers working eight hours a day, 365 days a year, for 11 years, making only marijuana possession arrests.” Critics of the city’s marijuana arrest policy say it disproportionately targets people of color and diverts resources from more serious offenses.
In other New York news, audio has emerged of NYPD officers confirming the use of quotas for making arrests and issuing summons. In recordings released by The Nation magazine, one officer is heard warning colleagues they will be forced onto patrols in order to meet the desired number of arrests.
Unidentified officer: “When the chief came in and said: 'You know what? You really can't reduce crime much more.’ He said, 'What we can do, though, is get some of our people who aren't chipping in to go to some locations that are having problems and give them [the area’s residents] the business, where rightfully they should. And that’s all we’re asking you to do. That’s all. That’s all. And if we do that, everyone chips in, it’s fine. It’s really non-negotiable, because if you don’t do it now, I’m going to have you work with the boss to make sure it happens.’”
The Nation says the audio recordings could be introduced in a class action lawsuit challenging racial profiling at the NYPD and the controversial policy of stop and frisk.
South Carolina held primaries on Tuesday for the state’s 1st District congressional seat.
Elizabeth Colbert Busch, the sister of comedian Stephen Colbert, won the Democratic nomination. The state’s former governor, Mark Sanford, led the Republican field, advancing to a runoff vote early next month. Sanford is mounting a political comeback after leaving office under the cloud of a highly publicized extramarital affair in 2011.
The website Gawker has published what it says is the private email address of former President George W. Bush on the 10th anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Bush’s information was reportedly obtained by an online hacker who targeted a number of political figures. Gawker published the address under a headline reading: “Wish George W. Bush a Happy Iraq War Day: Here is His Private Email Address.”
Appearing on CNN to discuss the Iraq War’s 10th anniversary, the filmmaker Michael Moore called for the arrest and prosecution of former President George W. Bush, former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and other top officials in their administration.
Michael Moore: “He’s a war criminal, as far as I’m concerned. I don’t understand why he, Bush, Cheney, Wolfowitz are still walking the streets. The fact that no one has paid for this, for this criminal act, that — why would an American, such as George W. Bush, send thousands of Americans off to their deaths? For what reason? And why doesn’t he have to answer for that?”