The U.S. Supreme Court is confronting the issue of same-sex marriage for a second day in a row today. Justices will hear arguments on the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act that denies federal benefits to legally married same-sex couples. On Tuesday, the justices considered the legality of California’s Proposition 8 ban on same-sex marriage. Remarks from the justices suggested they are wary of endorsing a broad right for same-sex couples to marry, despite what many marriage equality advocates had hoped.
Protests are continuing in Cyprus as the country’s economic crisis has appeared to deepen following the negotiation of a massive European bailout. Officials are expected to unveil new controls before banks reopen to stave off a rush by people concerned about their savings. Large depositors in Cyprus are now reportedly facing losses of roughly 40 percent. On Tuesday, employees at the country’s largest bank occupied their workplace amid fears they could lose their jobs.
Andreas Vassiliou: “It is a big demonstration. The workers of the Bank of Cyprus have shown once more that they are demanding their rights. We are carrying out a very dignified and peaceful protest, and it is only to secure the rights of the employees of the Bank of Cyprus.”
In Egypt, a leading blogger and activist has been released after turning himself in for questioning amid a feared crackdown on opposition protesters. Alaa Abd El Fattah was one of five activists whose arrests were ordered after violent clashes last week between supporters and opponents of President Mohamed Morsi. He was accused of inciting violence on social media. He wore a prison jumpsuit as he turned himself in to the prosecutor general’s office in order to show his willingness to go to jail, but he was released following hours of questioning. He was a leading voice in the revolution that ousted President Hosni Mubarak and was imprisoned for two months in a high-profile case while Egypt was under military control. After his release without charge in December 2011, he appeared on Democracy Now! and described the conditions in prison.
Alaa Abd El Fattah: “I was in a complete darkness for five days. It was very filthy and very crowded. It was nine of us in a two-by-three-meter cell, having no access to water or toilet except 10 minutes per day. You know, so, basically, they knew they couldn’t torture me, because of the solidarity and the media attention, so they just made sure to try and use every other measure to, you know, put me at discomfort or at a psychological pressure.”
A mass protest is expected today in Chicago against the city’s decision to close 54 public schools, mostly in African-American neighborhoods. Some 30,000 students will be impacted. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, President Obama’s former chief of staff, has defended the closings, saying he does not want students trapped in failing schools. Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis has announced that today, “Some of us are going to put our bodies on the line.”
North Dakota has enacted a series of historic anti-choice measures that could effectively end abortion in the state. On Tuesday, Republican Gov. Jack Dalrymple signed a measure banning abortion once an embryonic heartbeat is detectable, which can happen at six weeks of pregnancy or even earlier. A second law signed by Dalrymple, aimed at shutting down the state’s only abortion clinic, requires hospital admitting privileges for abortion providers. And a third makes North Dakota the first state to ban abortions sought because of genetic abnormalities.
Former CIA director David Petraeus has apologized publicly for the extramarital affair that forced him to resign last November. His speech Tuesday to military veterans and ROTC students at the University of Southern California is seen as a possible step by Petraeus toward a new career in the private sector. Before leading the CIA, Petraeus directed troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. He apologized for the affair he had with his biographer, Paula Broadwell.
David Petraeus: “I join you keenly aware that I am regarded in a different light now than I was a year ago. I’m also keenly aware that the reason for my recent journey was my own doing. So please allow me to begin my remarks for this evening by reiterating how deeply I regret and apologize for the circumstances that led to my resignation from the CIA and caused such pain for my family, friends and supporters.”
President Obama has appointed Julia Pierson as the first woman ever to lead the Secret Service, an agency charged with protecting the president, his family and other officials. Pierson is a longtime Secret Service agent who previously served as a police officer in Orlando, Florida. She takes over from Mark Sullivan, whose tenure was marked by scandal after it was revealed agents had hired sex workers during a presidential trip to Colombia.
A group of five countries says they have reached a deal to challenge the U.S.-dominated World Bank and International Monetary Fund by creating their own development bank. Leaders from the so-called BRICS countries — Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa — are gathered in Durban, South Africa, for a two-day summit. Together the countries account for 25 percent of global GDP and 40 percent of the world’s population.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says more than half of rivers and streams in the United States are in such unhealthy shape they cannot adequately support aquatic life. EPA sampling found more than 55 percent of waterways tested were in poor condition, compared to just 21 percent in good health. The most widespread cause was pollution fueled by human activity, with high levels of phosphorus — a component of fertilizers, pesticides and detergents — found in 40 percent of rivers and streams.
New research says oil drilling was likely behind a major earthquake that struck Oklahoma in 2011. A study published Tuesday in the journal Geology says the 5.6-magnitude quake was caused by oil waste being pumped deep underground. The quake injured two people, damaged homes and was felt across 14 states. It was the largest earthquake to hit the central United States in decades and the largest ever recorded in Oklahoma.
Two Ithaca, New York, residents have been released on bond after refusing to answer questions about their immigration status as they attempted to board a domestic flight in Texas. Omar Figueredo and Nancy Morales were stopped twice by Border Patrol agents before they could proceed to a security checkpoint at an airport in Brownsville. Both times they refused to disclose their citizenship status. The first time, they missed their flight. After returning a second time and refusing to answer again, they were arrested by police and held for roughly seven hours. They documented both incidents on video. Democracy Now! spoke with Omar Figueredo after he was released on Tuesday.
Omar Figueredo: “What I was really trying to accomplish was to put into question the authority that the Border Patrol has to harass and to force people to answer questions that they don’t have to answer when they’re traveling within the 60-to-100-mile border zone in the U.S.”
Both Omar Figueredo and Nancy Morales are U.S. citizens. Omar said his action was part of a larger trend of people refusing to answer what they say are unwarranted and racially targeted questions at Border Patrol checkpoints, and then uploading video footage online.
Activists in New York City staged a flash mob inside a pharmacy on Tuesday to demand unfettered access to emergency contraception. The morning-after pill is available without a prescription to those 17 and older. In 2011, Obama’s Health and Human Services head, Kathleen Sebelius, overruled FDA drug regulators for the first time in history and rejected making it over-the-counter and available without a prescription to women of all ages. Purchasers still need to show ID to buy it. The group National Women’s Liberation has been fighting for universal access to the morning-after pill through a federal lawsuit with a decision expected in the next week. At Tuesday’s action, dozens of people stocked boxes of Plan B on the shelves and called for it to be in front of the counter — not behind it. Brooke Eliazar-Macke said she joined the lawsuit in part because of her own experience.
Brooke Eliazar-Macke: “As a teenager, I needed the morning-after pill, and I couldn’t get it. Because of the age requirement, I couldn’t buy it on my own. And so I risked pregnancy rather than being able to buy a safe and effective form of birth control. And no girl or woman should have to do that.”