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HeadlinesMay 16, 2013

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IRS Commissioner Forced to Resign over Extra Scrutiny of Right-Wing Groups

May 16, 2013

The Obama administration has forced out the acting commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service, Steven Miller, in the uproar over the extra scrutiny of tea party and other right-wing groups seeking to become tax-exempt. The IRS singled out organizations with the terms “tea party” or “patriots” in their names while investigating who qualifies as social welfare organizations under U.S. tax law. At the White House, President Obama vowed to punish those responsible.

President Obama: “It’s inexcusable, and Americans are right to be angry about it, and I am angry about it. I will not tolerate this kind of behavior in any agency, but especially in the IRS, given the power that it has and the reach that it has in all of our lives. Today, Secretary [Jack] Lew took the first step by requesting and accepting the resignation of the acting commissioner of the IRS, because given the controversy surrounding this audit, it’s important to institute new leadership that can help restore confidence going forward.”

The IRS turned to the controversial vetting process after becoming flooded with applications for tax-exempt status in the aftermath of the 2010 Supreme Court decision Citizens United. Groups such as Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS claimed to be social welfare organizations while spending tens of millions of dollars on political operations.

Holder: Deputy Signed Off on AP Subpoenas

May 16, 2013

Attorney General Eric Holder appeared before Congress on Wednesday amidst controversy over government spying on the Associated Press. The Justice Department has admitted to seizing the work, home and cellphone records of almost 100 AP reporters and editors. The action came as part of a probe into the leaks behind an AP story about how U.S. intelligence thwarted a Yemen-based al-Qaeda bombing plot on a U.S.-bound airplane. Speaking to the House Judiciary Committee, Holder continued to maintain the subpoena was not his decision after having recused himself from the case last year.

Attorney General Eric Holder: “The decision to issue this subpoena was made by the people who are presently involved in the case. The matter is being supervised by the deputy attorney general. I am not familiar with the reasons why the subpoena was constructed in the way that it was, because I’m simply not a part of the case.”

Holder went on to confirm the official who signed off on the monitoring was his direct subordinate and longtime friend, Deputy Attorney General James Cole. Asked for his views on a hypothetical scenario in which hundreds of journalists’ phone records are subpoenaed, Holder said he could not rule it out.

Holder Unsure of How Many Journalist Subpoenas He’s Approved

May 16, 2013

In an earlier interview with National Public Radio, Attorney General Eric Holder said he is unsure how many times journalists’ records have been subpoenaed under his watch.

Attorney General Eric Holder: “I’m not sure how many of those cases that I have actually signed off on. I take them very seriously. I know that I have refused to sign a few, pushed a few back for modifications.”

Report: Verizon Gave Justice Dept. Records of 2 Journalists

May 16, 2013

The New York Times reports the telecom giant Verizon handed over the cellphone records of two Associated Press journalists without making any effort to inform them they were being targeted.

White House Seeks Revival of Media Shield Law

May 16, 2013

Amidst allegations of violating press freedom in pursuing the Associated Press, the Obama administration announced Wednesday it has asked Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York to reintroduce federal shield law legislation to protect the media from subpoenas.

Dem Rep. Blasts Holder for Drug War, Marijuana Crackdown

May 16, 2013

During Wednesday’s congressional appearance, Attorney General Eric Holder was questioned on a number of other topics, including the administration’s failure to close Guantánamo Bay and the ongoing scandal surrounding the IRS. Democratic Rep. Steve Cohen of Tennessee took Holder to task over the Justice Department’s record on the drug war, including a continued crackdown on dispensaries providing medical marijuana.

Rep. Steve Cohen: “The Pew Research Group shows that 52 percent of Americans think marijuana should not be illegal. And yet there are people in jail, and your Justice Department is continuing to put people in jail, for sale and use, on occasion, of marijuana. That’s something the American public has finally caught up with. There was a cultural lag. And it’s been an injustice for 40 years in this country to take people’s liberty for something that was similar to alcohol. You have continued what is allowing the Mexican cartels’ power, and the power to make money, ruin Mexico, hurt our country, by having a prohibition in the late 20th and 21st century. We saw it didn’t work in this country in the ’20s. We remedied it. This is the time to remedy this prohibition.”

In response, Holder said he still plans to announce a new Justice Department policy on how to respond to Washington and Colorado’s legalization of recreational marijuana.

Suicide Attack Kills 10 in Kabul; Group Tells AP of Plans to Target U.S. Soldiers

May 16, 2013

A suicide bombing in Afghanistan’s capital of Kabul has reportedly killed at least four NATO servicemembers and six Afghan civilians, some of whom are believed to be children. Afghan police say they found the bodies of four Americans. A militant group told the Associated Press they have created a new cell to attack U.S. and other coalition soldiers in response to reports the U.S. plans to keep bases and troops in Afghanistan after the withdrawal next year. The United States has denied seeking permanent bases in Afghanistan.

U.N. General Assembly Condemns Syrian Gov’t as Toll Passes 80,000

May 16, 2013

The United Nations says the death toll from Syria’s two-year civil war has reached 80,000 — an increase of around 20,000 since January. The figure was released as the U.N. General Assembly overwhelmingly approved a measure condemning the Syrian government for attacks on civilians. U.S. Deputy Ambassador Rosemary DiCarlo backed the resolution.

U.S. Deputy Ambassador Rosemary DiCarlo: “Adopting this resolution will send a clear message that the political solution we all seek is the best way to end the suffering of the people of Syria. We support this resolution, have co-sponsored it and urge member states to vote in favor of it.”

Palestinians Mark 65th Anniversary of “Nakba”

May 16, 2013

Protests were held across the occupied Palestinian territories on Wednesday to mark the 65th anniversary of the Nakba, or “catastrophe,” when hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were displaced from their homes during the period around Israel’s declaration of statehood in 1948. Clashes between demonstrators and Israeli soldiers erupted in several West Bank areas.

Up to 6 Dead in Cambodia Shoe Factory Collapse

May 16, 2013

Up to six workers have died in a collapse of a shoe factory in Cambodia. The factory produced footwear for the Japanese company Asics.

White House Releases Emails on Benghazi Talking Points

May 16, 2013

The White House has released 100 emails showing the initial government discussions on how to describe the fatal attack on the U.S. compound in Benghazi, Libya, last year. Republicans have accused the White House of misrepresenting the attack in order to safeguard President Obama’s campaign for re-election. But the emails show no political interference from the White House and no objections to linking the attack to militant groups. One reference to the group Ansar al-Sharia was removed after discussions between the FBI and CIA yielded concerns over disclosing classified information and compromising an ongoing investigation.

U.S. Earns $50.6 Billion Profit on Student Interest

May 16, 2013

New figures show the U.S. government is reaping a huge windfall off of the interest on student loans. The Congressional Budget Office is forecasting a profit of $50.6 billion from the interest it charges students paying back their college debt. The figure is 43 percent higher than an initial estimate of $35.5 billion. The news comes days after Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren introduced a measure that would lower student loan interest rates to 0.75 percent — the same rate given to big banks. Rates for government-subsidized Stafford student loans are set to double in July to 6.8 percent.

Regulators Back Down on New Derivatives Rule

May 16, 2013

Federal regulators have bowed to a Wall Street pushback against new rules to oversee the trading of derivatives. The Commodity Futures Trading Commission had been planning on imposing a rule requiring asset managers to seek quotes from five different banks when dealing in derivatives contracts. Supporters say the rule would have increased competition and lessened the control of a handful of firms over 90 percent of the market. But after objections from major banks, the CFTC says it will lower the requirement for soliciting derivatives from five banks to two.

Hundreds Take Part in Milwaukee Fast-Food, Retail Strike

May 16, 2013

Hundreds of fast-food and retail workers staged a one-day strike in Milwaukee on Wednesday as part of a national effort for a $15-an-hour wage and the right to unionize without intimidation.

Jennifer Epps-Addison: “Fast food and retail, it’s one of the fastest-growing industries. It’s one of the most profitable, with $200 billion in profits. And yet these are the lowest-paid workers in our economy. They’re standing up and saying, 'Our families can't survive on $7.25 an hour.’”

Workers gathered in large numbers outside restaurant chains, including McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s and Taco Bell, holding signs and chanting slogans. Milwaukee is the fifth city to see a fast-food workers strike in six weeks, following Detroit, St. Louis, Chicago and New York City.

North Dakota Abortion Clinic Challenges New Restriction

May 16, 2013

North Dakota’s sole abortion clinic has filed a lawsuit against a new law that could force its closure. The measure says doctors providing abortions must have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital. On Wednesday, the Red River Women’s Clinic filed a court challenge calling the law unconstitutional. The clinic says its doctors will likely be unable to obtain privileges at the three local hospitals. One is for veterans, another is Catholic, and the third requires doctors to admit at least five patients a year. In 15 years of operation, the clinic has sent just one patient to the hospital in an ambulance. A similar measure threatening Mississippi’s only abortion clinic has been put on hold pending a final ruling.

Charges Dropped Against NYPD Officer in Shooting Death of Ramarley Graham

May 16, 2013

A New York judge has dismissed manslaughter charges against a New York City police officer accused in the shooting death of an unarmed African-American teen. Ramarley Graham was shot at close range on February 2, 2012, after being chased by narcotics officers into his building. Police say Graham was trying to empty a small bag of marijuana into the toilet before he was killed. The officer, Richard Haste, was charged with manslaughter last year. On Wednesday, Haste’s indictment was dismissed on the grounds prosecutors gave wrong guidelines to the grand jury. In his ruling, Judge Steven Barrett said he reluctantly came to the decision solely on procedural grounds, not because of insufficient evidence. It is unknown if prosecutors will appeal. Graham’s mother, Constance Malcolm, was hospitalized after leaving the courtroom in tears. The Graham family filed its own lawsuit against the NYPD earlier this year.

New DNA Evidence Could Clear Florida Death Row Prisoner

May 16, 2013

Defense attorneys for an undocumented immigrant on death row in Florida have submitted new DNA evidence that they say should set him free. Clemente Aguirre-Jarquin was convicted for the 2004 murders of two neighbors, a mother and daughter, at the Florida trailer park where he lived. Aguirre has maintained he found the victims’ blood-soaked bodies but did not call police out of fear he would be deported back to his native Honduras. The Innocence Project says new DNA tests have found that eight blood stains at the crime scene matched the victims’ daughter and granddaughter, Samantha Williams, while none matched Aguirre. Witnesses say Williams has since confessed to the killings on two occasions.

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