The Syrian government is facing growing pressure to allow an international probe of an alleged chemical weapons attack on the outskirts of Damascus. The Syrian opposition says government forces fired poisonous gas into rebel-held neighborhoods, killing hundreds of people. The alleged attack occurred just days after U.N. inspectors arrived in the country to investigate previous attacks. Russia, a key ally of the Assad regime, says it has asked the Syrian government to cooperate. On Thursday, President Obama called the alleged use of chemical weapons a “big event of grave concern.” At the United Nations, a spokesperson for Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he expects access for international inspectors “without delay.”
Eduardo del Buey: “The secretary-general now calls for the mission, presently in Damascus, to be granted permission and access to swiftly investigate the incident which occurred on the morning of the 21st of August, 2013. A formal request is being sent by the United Nations to the government of Syria in this regard. He expects to receive a positive response without delay.”
In other Syria news, the United Nations has announced the number of children forced to flee Syria has now reached one million. Another two million children have been internally displaced.
Israel has bombed an area near the Lebanese capital of Beirut in response to rocket fire. Three rockets were fired from southern Lebanon into Israel on Thursday, hitting electric lines and several homes, but causing no injuries.
Former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has been placed under house arrest in a military hospital following his transfer from prison on Thursday. Mubarak is serving a life sentence for failing to prevent the killing of demonstrators during the 2011 uprising that toppled his regime, but a court has accepted his appeal for a new trial. He was ordered released after being cleared in separate corruption cases.
Egypt’s military government is facing international pressure to release two Canadians detained a week ago. John Greyson, a Toronto filmmaker, and Tarek Loubani, a doctor, were passing through Cairo on their way to the Gaza Strip. Greyson was to film Loubani as he trained emergency room doctors in Gaza. An Egyptian court has ordered their detention for another two weeks.
British police have opened a criminal probe into the materials seized from the partner of journalist Glenn Greenwald at a London airport. David Miranda was on his way home to Brazil when he was held for nine hours under a British anti-terrorism law. He faced repeated interrogation and had many personal items seized, including thumb drives carrying information used by Greenwald in his reporting on NSA surveillance. On Thursday, a British court ruled investigators can probe Miranda’s seized data for alleged links to terrorism, but not for criminal activity. Miranda attorney Gwendolen Morgan called the ruling a partial victory.
Gwendolen Morgan: “The court accepted today that in order for the Home Office and police to look at that material there has to be a genuine threat to national security. The Home Office and police now have seven days to prove that there is a genuine threat to national security rather than make mere assertions as they have done today. The undertakings that the police sought were stopped in their tracks, and some of the basis on which the police sought to justify their position was roundly rejected.”
The British government has been given one week to pore through Miranda’s seized files.
President Obama has unveiled a new plan to address the high costs of college in the United States. Speaking in Buffalo, Obama said an estimated $1 trillion in student debt is hurting the economy and threatening the futures of millions of young Americans. Obama’s proposal centers around a new official ranking system that would rate colleges on their value to student dollars.
President Obama: “What we want to do is rate them on who’s offering the best value so students and taxpayers get a bigger bang for their buck. Number two, we’re going to jumpstart new competition between colleges — not just on the field or on the court, but in terms of innovation that encourages affordability, and encourages student success, and doesn’t sacrifice educational quality. That’s going to be the second component of it. And the third is, we’re going to make sure that if you have to take on debt to earn your college degree, that you have ways to manage and afford it.”
During a speech in Syracuse, Obama was heckled by two audience members calling on him to pardon Chelsea Manning, the convicted Army whistleblower formerly known as Bradley Manning after announcing a gender transition on Thursday. Both protesters were removed from the event.
The Justice Department has announced a lawsuit seeking to prevent Texas from enacting the voter ID law that helped spark the recent U.S. Supreme Court case over voting rights. A federal court last year ruled the Republican-controlled statehouse in Texas discriminated against people of color in its redrawing of political maps for congressional and legislative districts ahead of the 2012 election. But the ruling was struck down in June when the Supreme Court invalidated a critical portion of the 1965 Voting Rights Act that required nine states with a history of racial discrimination to obtain federal approval for changes to voting rules. Texas began enforcing the voter ID law after the Supreme Court decision came down.
The Justice Department is expected to file lawsuits against other states, possibly in North Carolina, which approved sweeping curbs on voting rights earlier this month. On Thursday, North Carolina’s Republican Gov. Pat McCrory heard direct criticism of the state’s law from former Secretary of State Colin Powell at a public event in Raleigh. Moments after McCrory left the stage, Powell said governments should enact policies that “encourage every American to vote, not make it more difficult to vote.” Powell said the new law sends a message to minority voters that “we are really sort of punishing you.”
A federal appeals court has upheld a lower court ruling that struck down an Arizona law barring funding for the reproductive services group Planned Parenthood. The law banned the use of public funds by state or local government to contract with any organization that provides abortions as one of its services. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals sided with the decision that the law illegally denies Medicaid recipients the right to choose their medical options.
Planned Parenthood has filed a lawsuit challenging a new Indiana law that says clinics that provide the abortion pill must have full surgical facilities on hand. Planned Parenthood says the measure would halt abortions at its clinic in the town of Lafayette.
Dozens of protesters rallied outside the White House on Thursday in a call for a ban on fracking on federal lands. The actor and activist Daryl Hannah was among those taking part.
Daryl Hannah: “We all depend upon the very finite, increasingly finite, fresh, uncontaminated water resources. We depend upon uncontaminated and non-toxic soil. We depend upon an atmosphere and air that is not polluted. And we depend upon a somewhat stable climate. And fracking is anathema to all of those things.”
The Bureau of Land Management recently unveiled proposals for drilling and fracking on public lands. On behalf of more than 200 organizations, the group “Americans Against Fracking” submitted to the White House public comments against fracking from over 650,000 people.
The New York City Council has overruled Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s veto of a pair of measures increasing oversight of the police department and expanding safeguards against profiling. Approved by the City Council earlier this year, the Community Safety Act creates an independent inspector general to oversee the New York City Police Department and broadens the definition of biased profiling to include age, gender, housing status and sexual orientation. Bloomberg had struck them down, calling them “dangerous and irresponsible.” Thursday’s vote overruling Bloomberg came over a week after a federal judge declared the NYPD’s “stop and frisk” tactics unconstitutional for discriminating against people of color, particularly African Americans and Latinos.