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HeadlinesJuly 22, 2013

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Thousands Join “Justice for Trayvon” Rallies Nationwide

Jul 22, 2013

Thousands of demonstrators rallied nationwide on Saturday one week after the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the shooting death of unarmed African-American teenager Trayvon Martin. In New York City, Trayvon Martin’s mother, Sybrina Fulton, addressed a rally of hundreds of people in front of police headquarters.

Sybrina Fulton: “As I sat in the courtroom, it made me think that they were talking about another man. And it wasn’t. It was a child, who thought as a child, who acted as a child, who behaved as a child. And don’t take my word for it. He had a drink and candy. So, not only — not only do I vow to you to do what I can for Trayvon Martin, I promise you I’m going to work hard for your children, as well, because it’s important.”

Fulton was joined by speakers including the Reverend Al Sharpton. The musicians Jay Z and Beyoncé were among those in attendance, drawing calls from the crowd of “Boycott Florida” after Stevie Wonder’s announcement last week. Wonder said he would not perform in any state with “Stand Your Ground” laws in effect. The “Justice for Trayvon” rallies were held in dozens of other cities including Miami, Orlando, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Oakland and Atlanta.

Obama Questions “Stand Your Ground” Laws

Jul 22, 2013

On Friday, President Barack Obama surprised reporters in the White House briefing room by delivering his first public remarks on the death of Trayvon Martin since Zimmerman’s acquittal. In comments that touched not only on the racial elements of the shooting, but on the broader issue of racial profiling, Obama said Trayvon Martin could have been him as a young man. Obama announced no policy changes or actions in response to Zimmerman’s acquittal. But he questioned the “Stand Your Ground” laws that delayed Zimmerman’s arrest and were included in jury instructions.

President Obama: “For those who resist that idea that we should think about something like these Stand Your Ground laws, I just ask people to consider if Trayvon Martin was of age and armed, could he have stood his ground on that sidewalk? And do we actually think that he would have been justified in shooting Mr. Zimmerman, who had followed him in a car, because he felt threatened? And if the answer to that question is at least ambiguous, then it seems to me that we might want to examine those kinds of laws.”

Pentagon: 71 Guantánamo Prisoners to Receive Parole Hearings

Jul 22, 2013

The Pentagon has announced 71 Guantánamo Bay prisoners will face parole-style hearings at an undetermined date. The six-member, all-military boards will not rule on whether prisoners are being lawfully held, but if their imprisonment is needed to protect the United States from major threats. In addition to having no timetable, the military has yet to disclose which prisoners will go first and whether the media will be allowed to observe. President Obama first ordered the reviews two years ago. The 71 prisoners do not include the 86 others who have already been cleared for release but remain behind bars. The news comes amidst a prolonged hunger strike by Guantánamo prisoners, with at least 46 being force-fed.

FISA Court OKs New Order for Bulk Collection of Phone Data

Jul 22, 2013

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court has authorized a new round of bulk surveillance on the phone data of calls in the United States. The last order was among the many disclosures of National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden when the surveillance story broke last month. The order Snowden revealed expired on Friday.

Panama Releases Ex-CIA Officer Sought by Italy in Torture, Kidnap Case

Jul 22, 2013

A former CIA officer arrested in Panama in connection with an Italian conviction has returned to the United States. Robert Seldon Lady, who ran the CIA’s station in Milan, was convicted in Italy and sentenced to nine years in prison for the kidnapping of a cleric known as Abu Omar in 2003. Omar was snatched from the streets of Milan and taken to U.S. bases in Italy and Germany before being sent to Egypt, where he says he was tortured. Lady was detained in Panama last Thursday at the Italian government’s request. But just one day later, he was released and put on a U.S.-bound plane. It is rumored the Obama administration applied pressure on Panama behind the scenes, but details have yet to emerge. Italy says its request for Lady’s extradition was “disregarded without plausible explanations.” The incident comes just as the United States is seeking Edward Snowden’s extradition from Russia and the thwarting of his potential asylum in Latin America.

Attacks Kill Dozens in Iraq

Jul 22, 2013

At least 83 people were killed in a weekend of violence across Iraq. The deadliest day came on Saturday, with at least 70 dead. Iraq is seeing its worst sectarian violence since 2008, with more than 2,800 killed since the start of April, and more than 450 dead this month.

Palestinian Authority: Formal Talks Won’t Happen Without Israeli Settlement Freeze

Jul 22, 2013

The Obama administration has announced an agreement to convene preliminary talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority after nearly three years. Talks have been stalled since late 2010 over Palestinian demands that Israel halt settlement expansion in the occupied West Bank. On Friday, Secretary of State John Kerry said he’s secured pledges to hold initial talks.

Secretary of State John Kerry: “I am pleased to announce that we have reached an agreement that establishes a basis for resuming direct final status negotiations between the Palestinians and the Israelis. This is a significant and welcome step forward. We know that the challenges require some very tough choices in the days ahead. Today, however, I am hopeful.”

Kerry says he expects to host officials from both sides in the coming weeks. The Palestinian Authority has already played down the agreement, saying it would not begin formal negotiations until Israel meets its demand to freeze settlement expansion.

Venezuela Suspends U.S. Talks After Criticism from U.N. Nominee

Jul 22, 2013

Venezuela says it has halted a bid to improve ties with the United States in response to the comments of President Obama’s nominee for U.N. ambassador. At her Senate confirmation hearing last week, Samantha Power vowed to confront a “crackdown on civil society” in countries including Venezuela. In a statement, the Venezuelan government announced it would abandon talks with the U.S., saying it “will never accept interference” in its internal affairs. The United States and Venezuela had launched reconciliation efforts last month with a meeting between Secretary of State John Kerry and Venezuela’s foreign minister in Guatemala.

U.S. Jets Drop Unarmed Bombs on Australian Reef

Jul 22, 2013

The U.S. military has sparked criticism in Australia after dropping four unarmed bombs on a protected natural park. Two U.S. jets were forced to dump the explosives when their training mission was canceled and they needed to lose the extra weight to conserve fuel. The inert bombs were dropped on the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, a highly sensitive environmental area. The U.S. Navy says it is planning a mission to recover the bombs. Environmentalists and antiwar activists had already been protesting the training missions, which come as part of annual U.S.-Australian war games. Larissa Waters, an Australian senator, said: “Have we gone completely mad? Is this how we look after our World Heritage area now — letting a foreign power drop bombs on it?”

Japan: Fukushima Nuclear Plant Leaking Contaminated Water Into the Sea

Jul 22, 2013

Japan has acknowledged for the first time the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant has leaked contaminated water in the sea. The plant’s operator admitted earlier this month that radioactive material had likely been leaking for the past two years, ever since it was heavily damaged by a massive earthquake and tsunami. Radiation levels have spiked in groundwater surrounding the plant, but officials say the leak has been contained to the surrounding bay.

At Least 75 Killed in China Earthquake

Jul 22, 2013

Chinese state media reports a series of earthquakes in the rural western province of Gansu today have killed at least 75 people. Hundreds of others were injured. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the initial quake had a magnitude of 5.9.

Michigan Judge Challenges Detroit Bankruptcy Filing

Jul 22, 2013

A Michigan judge has ordered Detroit to withdraw the city’s bankruptcy petition because it could cut the pensions of retired public employees, thereby violating the state’s constitution. Michigan’s attorney general quickly appealed the ruling after it came down on Friday. Detroit last week became the largest city in the United States to file for bankruptcy, with unpayable debts estimated at $18 billion. About half of those debts are in unfunded pensions and benefits to thousands of public workers and retirees. Speaking to Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday, Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr said pension cuts are inevitable.

Kevyn Orr: “We’re going to have a dialogue with the pension funds about what we can do. And there are two different funds — police and fire and general services. And they may have different levels of funding. And all we’re talking about in this restructuring is the unfunded component of those pension funds. I want to be clear, the pensioners…”

Chris Wallace: “But that’s billions of dollars.”

Kevyn Orr: “It’s a significant sum of money. Make no mistake about it. And there are going to have to be concessions. Concessions may be different for each fund, and they’re going to be focused on the unfunded portion. But they will have some component of their pensions.”

Chris Wallace: “But you are saying that pensioners who worked for the city for decades are not going to get the benefits they thought they were going to get.”

Kevyn Orr: “There are going to be some adjustments. There are probably going to be need to be some adjustments.”

Bankruptcy proceedings could begin as early as this week. If approved in court, Detroit’s bankruptcy would force creditors to enter into negotiations on resolving its debt. Michigan’s Republican Gov. Rick Snyder has downplayed the prospect of a bailout from Washington, saying he would not seek the federal government’s help.

New York Times Reporter Ordered to Testify in Trial of Alleged Source

Jul 22, 2013

A federal appeals court has ordered a New York Times correspondent to testify in the criminal trial of an ex-CIA officer accused of being his source. Prosecutors believe Jeffrey Sterling gave The New York Times’ James Risen information on the CIA’s role in disrupting Iran’s nuclear program. A federal judge previously threw out a similar subpoena leveled at Risen, but the Obama administration appealed. In a divided two-to-one opinion, the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ruled Friday that Risen must testify because the First Amendment does not protect reporters who receive unauthorized leaks from testifying against their sources. In a dissent, Judge Roger Gregory said: “The majority exalts the interests of the government while unduly trampling those of the press, and in doing so, severely impinges on the press and the free flow of information in our society.” Risen has vowed to go to prison rather than testify and to bring his appeal before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Helen Thomas, “Dean of White House Press Corps,” Dies at 92

Jul 22, 2013

The trailblazing journalist Helen Thomas has died at the age of 92. Widely known as “the dean of the White House press corps,” Thomas became the first woman assigned to the White House full-time by a news service when she began to cover the Kennedy administration. She went on to cover every president since until controversial comments on the Israel-Palestine conflict forced her to retire in 2010. Throughout the two-term Bush administration, she asked some of the most critical questions in the White House press newsroom. She challenged the administration on issues including the Iraq War and its massive civilian toll, the threat of an attack on Iran, the refusal to sign a cluster bomb treaty, the ongoing killings of Afghanistan civilians, and its critical support for Israel’s attacks on Gaza and Lebanon. In July 2007, President George W. Bush reverted to a presidential press conference tradition he had long ignored: giving Thomas the first question.

President George W. Bush: “Now, I will be glad to answer a few questions, starting with Ms. Thomas.”

Helen Thomas: “Mr. President, you started this war, a war of your choosing, and you can end it alone, today, at this point, bring in peacekeepers, U.N. peacekeepers. Two million Iraqis have fled their country as refugees. Two million more are displaced. Thousands and thousands are dead. Don’t you understand? You have brought the al-Qaeda into Iraq.”

President George W. Bush: “Actually, I was hoping to solve the Iraqi issue diplomatically. That’s why I went to the United Nations and worked with the United Nations Security Council, which unanimously passed a resolution that said disclose, disarm or face serious consequences. That was the message, a clear message to Saddam Hussein. He chose the course.”

Helen Thomas: “Didn’t we go into Iraq…”

President George W. Bush: “It was his decision.”

Earlier that year, Democracy Now! interviewed Thomas at the Media Reform Conference in Memphis. I asked her for her take on the consolidation of media control by a small number of corporations.

Helen Thomas: “I’d tell them, forget about all those profits, and help the country, that the media should be a public service. You cannot have a democracy without an informed people. And that should be their role. They can make their money everywhere else.”

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