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The mystery surrounding the whereabouts of National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden is deepening following reports he landed in Moscow Sunday after leaving Hong Kong. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov now insists Snowden never crossed the Russian border. His remarks could simply indicate Snowden remained by the airport and did not technically enter Russian territory. On a conference call with reporters Monday, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange said Snowden is safe.
Julian Assange: “We are aware of where Mr. Snowden is. He is in a safe place, and his spirits are high. Due to the bellicose threats coming from the U.S. administration, we cannot go into further details at this time.”
Ecuador is currently considering Snowden’s request for asylum while the United States has called for Russia to expel him so he can face espionage charges.
The South China Morning Post reports Edward Snowden told them he took the job at National Security Agency contractor Booz Allen Hamilton in order to gather proof of sweeping U.S. surveillance. Snowden also told the paper he plans to screen and release more documents on U.S. spying to journalists in other countries.
The Taliban has claimed responsibility for an early-morning attack near the presidential palace in a heavily guarded area of the Afghan capital Kabul. A Taliban statement said one of the targets was the Ariana Hotel, which houses a CIA station. The attack came as journalists gathered for a news conference where President Hamid Karzai was expected to discuss efforts toward peace talks with the Taliban. Reporters said they ran for cover as militants opened fire and detonated a vehicle bomb. The exact number of casualties is unknown, with reports as many as four attackers and three guards were killed. Meanwhile, in southern Afghanistan a roadside bomb killed 11 members of a family, including eight women.
In Iraq, at least 41 people died Monday in bomb blasts in and around Baghdad and north of the capital. The attacks came as part of a wave of sectarian violence that has killed more than 2,000 people since April.
The Supreme Court has handed a key case on affirmative action back to a federal appeals court. The petitioner in the case, Abigail Fisher, is a white woman who accused the University of Texas-Austin of discrimination for rejecting her. On Monday, the Court refused to overturn its 2003 decision allowing some forms of affirmative action, instead ordering the lower court to consider the issue under a harsher standard.
The Supreme Court also struck potential blows to workers who allege sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace with a pair of decisions Monday. In the first case, the Court narrowly defined a worker’s “supervisor” as someone who can change a person’s employment status, thus limiting legal protections for those harassed by superiors who lack such direct control. In a separate ruling, the Court backed a tighter standard for workers to prove they have been the victims of retaliation after complaining about discrimination. Both rulings were decided by a 5-to-4 vote. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg called on Congress to overturn them with new laws.
Senate lawmakers have backed an amendment to the immigration reform bill that would dramatically increase enforcement along the U.S.-Mexico border. The proposal by Republican senators Bob Corker and John Hoeven would nearly double the number of border agents, expand the use of drones and construct hundreds of miles of border fencing. In total, the plan would cost roughly $40 billion over the next decade. The proposal reportedly spurred roughly a dozen Republicans to throw support behind a reform bill that would extend an eventual path to citizenship to millions of undocumented people.
The second-degree murder trial of George Zimmerman for killing unarmed African-American teenager Trayvon Martin has opened in Florida. During opening statements Monday, attorneys on each side cast conflicting views of Zimmerman’s motives on the night of the shooting last February. Prosecutor John Guy said Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer, had profiled the 17-year-old as suspicious and chose to assume the role of a police officer and follow him. He quoted Zimmerman’s own expletive-laced words to a dispatcher.
John Guy: “Good Morning. 'F—ing punks. These a—holes, they always get away.' Those were the words in that grown man’s mouth as he followed, in the dark, a 17-year-old boy who he didn’t know. And excuse my language, but those were his words, not mine.”
These were prosecutor John Guy’s concluding remarks at the end of his opening statement Monday.
John Guy: “We are confident that at the end of this trial you will know, in your head, in your heart, in your stomach, that George Zimmerman did not shoot Trayvon Martin because he had to. He shot him for the worst of all reasons: because he wanted to. Thank you for your time.”
Defense lawyer Don West argued that Zimmerman killed Martin because he feared for his life after the teenager smashed Zimmerman’s head on the sidewalk, which he suggested constituted a deadly weapon. West told a knock-knock joke toward the beginning of his remarks, a move for which he later apologized.
Don West: “Knock, knock. Who’s there? George Zimmerman. George Zimmerman who? All right, good, you’re on the jury. Nothing? (audience laughs) That’s funny.”
Texas House lawmakers have given final approval to a sweeping anti-abortion bill that would shutter almost all the state’s abortion clinics. The state Senate is set to take up Senate Bill 5 today. Pro-choice demonstrators have flooded the Capitol to protest provisions that include banning abortion at 20 weeks and requiring clinics to meet the standards of hospital-style surgery centers. Critics say only five out of 42 clinics would survive. On Monday, the bill’s Republican House sponsor, state Representative Jodie Laubenberg, suggested rape victims could obtain an abortion by seeking rape kits at an emergency room where “a woman can get cleaned out.” A rape kit is a forensic test that collects evidence used to prosecute sex crimes.
Newly surfaced documents show the targeting of certain groups for extra scrutiny by the Internal Revenue Service extended beyond right-wing or tea party organizations. The terms “progressive,” “Israel” and “Occupy” all appeared on so-called “be-on-the-lookout” lists used by IRS employees reviewing applications for tax-exempt status. Interim IRS chief Danny Werfel told reporters on a conference call Monday the agency has eliminated the use of such lists and admitted: “There was a wide-ranging set of categories and cases that spanned a broad spectrum.” The IRS has apologized for scrutinizing right-wing groups amid a scandal that sparked the exit of several agency officials.
Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has been sentenced to seven years in prison on charges of paying for sex with an underage girl and using his political position to hide the act. A court in Milan also barred Berlusconi from ever serving in public office again. Berlusconi is expected to keep his seat in parliament, however, during an appeal.
Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff has proposed a series of political changes aimed at appeasing historic protests against political corruption and failing public services. The changes include investing more than $20 billion in public transit. As protests continued Monday, two women were fatally struck by a car while blocking a highway in the capital Brasília, bringing the total number killed in the protests to four.
Turkish police have reportedly detained 20 people during raids in the capital Ankara in connection with weeks of widespread anti-government protests. Meanwhile, a police officer who allegedly fatally shot a protester has been released by a court on the grounds the shooting was in self-defense. The ruling has sparked outrage particularly because a video of the shooting went viral online. The video appears to show a police officer firing his gun and then running away.
Former South African President Nelson Mandela remains in critical condition in the hospital where he is suffering from a recurrent lung infection. Mandela’s grandson, Mandla, spoke on Monday.
Mandla Mandela: “We’ve been grateful to South Africans and the people of the global community who have showered the family with prayers, and we are hoping that my grandfather will recover steadily. He is under good care, under the supervision of nurses and doctors, which we’ve been grateful for their efforts in ensuring that they are at his bedside and attending to him.”
In a landmark move for transgender rights, Colorado state officials have ruled a transgender first-grader must be allowed to use the girls’ bathroom at her school, even though she was born male. The state’s Division of Civil Rights said barring six-year-old Coy Mathis from using the girls’ bathroom constituted discrimination. LGBT activists hailed the ruling as the first in U.S. history to say schools must allow transgender students to select restrooms that match their gender identity.
Five people were arrested at the headquarters of Yahoo in California Monday while protesting the firing of 11 Wal-Mart workers who went on strike earlier this month to demand higher wages. Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer is on the board of Wal-Mart. The Nation is reporting at least 26 workers are alleging some form of retaliation by Wal-Mart after they participated in protests against the company.
The website Gawker has published the suicide note of an Iraq War veteran who says he took his own life because the trauma of war left him in constant mental and physical agony. Daniel Somers had been diagnosed with traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress disorder, and other conditions related to the war. He ran hundreds of combat missions as a machine gunner and carried out interrogations as part of an intelligence team in Baghdad. Later, he worked with Joint Special Operations Command as a senior analyst in Mosul. In a letter first quoted by the Phoenix New Times and written to his family before he killed himself just two weeks ago, Daniel Somers wrote: “During my first deployment, I was made to participate in things, the enormity of which is hard to describe. War crimes, crimes against humanity. Though I did not participate willingly, and made what I thought was my best effort to stop these events, there are some things that a person simply can not come back from. I take some pride in that, actually, as to move on in life after being part of such a thing would be the mark of a sociopath in my mind. These things go far beyond what most are even aware of. To force me to do these things and then participate in the ensuing coverup is more than any government has the right to demand. Then, the same government has turned around and abandoned me.” He went on to write, “Any blame rests with them.” Somers killed himself on June 10. He was 30 years old.