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HeadlinesJune 28, 2013

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Senate Approves Landmark Immigration Bill After Border Amendment Draws GOP Support

Jun 28, 2013

The Senate has approved the long-awaited immigration reform bill that creates a path to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants while imposing unprecedented new measures for border security. Fourteen Republicans joined a united Democratic caucus to pass the bill by a vote of 68 to 32. It includes an amendment that radically expands enforcement along the U.S.-Mexico border, spending $46 billion to nearly double the number of border agents to 40,000, expand the use of drones, and construct around 700 miles of border fencing. The measure now faces an uncertain fate in the House, where Speaker John Boehner says he will not allow a vote without the majority support of Republican members.

NSA Swept Up Mass Internet “Metadata” Until 2011

Jun 28, 2013

The latest disclosures from National Security Agency documents leaked by Edward Snowden to The Guardian show the U.S. government collected bulk “metadata” on the emails of millions of Americans for about 10 years. Under a program that fell under the overall NSA domestic surveillance operation known as “Stellar Wind,” the government swept up information including email accounts and IP addresses, but not the contents of the messages themselves. The program began by targeting emails with at least one party outside the United States, but expanded in 2007 to domestic messages. The Obama administration continued the effort after taking office before shutting it down in 2011. The disclosures confirm the claims of William Binney, the career NSA official turned whistleblower. Binney has said the NSA took an electronic surveillance program he developed, ThinThread, and used it to conduct mass surveillance on a national scale. He resigned from the NSA in 2001 in opposition to what he called illegal spying. According to The Guardian, the collection of Internet metadata appears to have triggered the famed March 2004 confrontation in the hospital room of then-Attorney General John Ashcroft when he refused to sign off on re-authorizing the warrantless surveillance program.

Ecuador Renounces Trade Benefits After U.S. Questions Ties over Snowden Case

Jun 28, 2013

Ecuador is defiantly resisting U.S. calls to reject the asylum bid of National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden. On Thursday, the Ecuadorean government said it would waive preferential trade rights after U.S. officials suggested they could be revoked. In Washington, U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman said the Obama administration will evaluate Ecuador’s eligibility for trade benefits and review a petition calling for their revocation. Forman’s comments came one day after Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez said that welcoming Snowden “would severely jeopardize” U.S. relations with Ecuador. In Quito, Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa said his country’s “dignity has no price.”

Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa: “All of a sudden, trade tariffs became an instrument of blackmail: behave or leave the free trade movement. In the face of threats, insolence and arrogance of certain U.S. sectors, which have pressured to remove the preferential tariffs because of the Snowden case, Ecuador tells the world: We unilaterally and irrevocably denounce the preferential tariffs. Our dignity has no price.”

Correa’s government followed up with a dig at the Obama administration by offering to donate millions of dollars for human rights training in the United States on matters of “privacy, torture and other actions that are denigrating to humanity.” Later in the day, Correa said Ecuador cannot evaluate Snowden’s asylum bid until he is within Ecuadorean territory. Snowden is believed to remain in a transit area of a Moscow airport.

Obama Plays Down Snowden Extradition Bid

Jun 28, 2013

Speaking during his visit to Senegal, President Obama said he expects other countries to hand NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden over without having to resort to diplomatic wrangling, but played down talk of an international rift over Snowden’s fate.

President Obama: “My continued expectation is that Russia or other countries that have talked about potentially providing Mr. Snowden asylum recognize that they are part of an international community and that they should be abiding by international law. And we’ll continue to press them as hard as — as hard as we can to make sure that they do so. But let me — one last thing, because you asked a final question: No, I’m not going to be scrambling jets to get a 29-year-old hacker.”

Report: Snowden Derided Gov’t Leaks in 2009 Chat

Jun 28, 2013

Edward Snowden’s leaking of National Security Agency documents appears to have come after a major change of heart on the issue of government whistleblowers. In online chat logs from 2009 released by Ars Technica this week, someone using Snowden’s screen name criticized the disclosure of classified government information, saying those who do so “should be shot.” The criticism came in response to a New York Times article based on leaked information about U.S. cyber-attacks on Iran.

Retired U.S. General Under Investigation for Stuxnet Leaks

Jun 28, 2013

A former top-ranking Pentagon general is reportedly under investigation for leaking the information that publicly exposed a U.S. cyberwarfare operation against Iran. NBC News reports retired Marine General James “Hoss” Cartwright, the former vice chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has been notified of a Justice Department probe into whether he leaked information to The New York Times on the computer virus known as Stuxnet. The United States used Stuxnet to sabotage the systems at Iran’s nuclear facilities, but in doing so accidentally set off a computer worm across the global Internet. Cartwright retired from the military in August 2011.

Syrian Exile Group Says Toll Exceeds 100,000

Jun 28, 2013

An exiled Syrian opposition group has put the death toll in Syria’s more than two-year civil war at more than 100,000. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says it arrived at the figure by adding up its daily tally of killings since the conflict began in March 2011. The United Nations reported in April a death toll of more than 93,000.

Obama Heads to South Africa; Mandela Remains Critical But Stable

Jun 28, 2013

The family of former South African President Nelson Mandela says his condition remains critical but stable. Mandela’s daughter says he is responding to touch but is also warning that “anything is imminent.” President Obama arrives in South Africa today to continue his three-nation African tour. Speaking on Thursday, Obama paid tribute to Mandela’s legacy.

President Obama: “I’ve had the privilege of meeting Madiba and speaking to him. And he is a personal hero, but I don’t think I’m unique in that regard; I think he’s a hero for the world. And if and when he passes from this place, one thing I think we’ll all know is that his legacy is one that will linger on throughout the ages.”

Boston Suspect Charged with 30 Counts, Could Face Execution

Jun 28, 2013

The surviving suspect in the Boston Marathon bombing, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, has been indicted on 30 counts, including the murders of four people. U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz unveiled the charges in Boston.

Carmen Ortiz: “The indictment alleges that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is responsible for the deaths of Krystle Marie Campbell, Lingzi Lu, Martin Richard and Officer Sean Collier, and also for maiming, burning and wounding scores of others. Today’s charges reflect the serious and violent nature of the events that occurred on April 15 and the tragic series of events that followed. The defendant’s alleged conduct forever changed lives. The victims, their families and this community have shown extraordinary strength and resilience in the face of this senseless violence. And it is with the hundreds of injured, as well as the victims in this case, in mind that we proceed to seek and make sure that justice is served.”

Tsarnaev could face the death penalty if convicted. The indictment includes details on what he allegedly scribbled inside the boat where he was captured in a Boston resident’s backyard. Referring to attacks on Muslims by the U.S. overseas, Tsnarnaev is said to have written in part: “The U.S. Government is killing our innocent civilians. … Stop killing our innocent people and we will stop.”

Texas Gov. Perry Launches Personal Attack on Senator Behind Filibuster

Jun 28, 2013

Texas Gov. Rick Perry has launched a personal attack on State Senator Wendy Davis just days after her nearly 11-hour filibuster thwarted a Republican effort to close most of the state’s abortion clinics. Speaking before the nation’s largest anti-choice group, the National Right to Life Committee, Perry invoked Davis’ own experience as a teenage mother born to a single mom.

Gov. Rick Perry: “The fact is, who are we to say that children born into the worst of circumstances can’t grow to live successful lives? In fact, even the woman who filibustered the Senate the other day was born into difficult circumstances. She was the daughter of a single woman. She was a teenage mother herself. She managed to eventually graduate from Harvard Law School and serve in the Texas Senate. It’s just unfortunate that she hasn’t learned from her own example that every life must be given a chance to realize its full potential and that every life matters.”

In a statement, Davis said Perry’s comments are “without dignity and tarnish the high office he holds. They are small words that reflect a dark and negative point of view.” Perry has called a second special legislative session to revive the bill that Davis and her supporters defeated earlier this week.

Ohio Lawmakers Approve Anti-Choice Budget Bill Amidst Protests

Jun 28, 2013

In Ohio, pro-choice advocates gathered at the state Capitol Thursday to protest sweeping anti-abortion measures in the state budget. Inspired by this week’s “people’s filibuster” in Texas, scores of people massed on the state Capitol steps. They later shouted “Shame on you!” as lawmakers passed a budget that would effectively defund Planned Parenthood, shift funds to deceptive crisis pregnancy centers, impose restrictions that could shut down clinics and require providers to detect any fetal heartbeat and then tell the patient about it before an abortion. The budget is now in the hands of Gov. John Kasich, who is anti-choice.

U.S. Suspends Bangladesh Trade Benefits over Worker Safety

Jun 28, 2013

The United States is suspending trade preferences for Bangladesh, citing concerns about safety and labor violations in the Bangladeshi garment industry. The move follows a wave of public campaigning spurred by the factory collapse that killed more than 1,100 garment workers in April and a fire that killed 112 last November. On Saturday, activists are gathering in New York City’s Petrosino Square to pressure major retailers that have refused to sign on to a safety accord for Bangladeshi factories making their products. The targeted companies include the Gap, Target and Wal-Mart.

Israel Announces New Settlement Construction During Kerry Visit

Jun 28, 2013

Secretary of State John Kerry is holding talks with Israeli and Palestinian leaders as the Obama administration seeks to revive stalled negotiations. On the eve of Kerry’s visit, Israel announced the construction of dozens of new homes in an East Jerusalem settlement. Palestinians are comparing the episode to when Netanyahu’s government approved the construction of more than 1,600 settlement homes during a 2010 visit by Vice President Joe Biden.

Congress to Miss Deadline to Avert Doubling of Student Loan Rates

Jun 28, 2013

Congressional lawmakers say it is unlikely they will reach a deal to avoid the doubling of interest rates on government-backed student loans before a deadline next week. Rates for government-subsidized Stafford student loans to low-income students are set to rise on Monday from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent. The rate would equal the percentage paid by students with unsubsidized loans. The impasse centers around bipartisan differences over whether to cap interest rates on consolidated loans and whether government profits from the loans should go toward paying down the federal deficit. Although lawmakers expect to miss the deadline, Senate Democrats say they will hold a vote as early as July 10. Last month, the Congressional Budget Office forecast a profit of $50.6 billion from the interest it charges students paying back their college debt. Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren has proposed a measure that would lower student loan interest rates to 0.75 percent — the same rate given to big banks on government loans.

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