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The Senate has approved a long-stalled farm bill that includes a major cut to food stamps. The measure would reduce funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program by $8.7 billion over a decade. The figure amounts to a loss of $90 per month for 850,000 families in need. The cuts mark a “compromise” between a Republican plan to slash food stamps by $39 billion and a Democratic one to cut them by $4 billion. The bill would also end billions of dollars in direct payments to farmers, but still hand out billions more through the expansion of government-subsidized crop insurance. President Obama is expected to sign the measure into law. In a statement, the Children’s Defense Fund said: “It is shameful that Congress continues to treat poor Americans like second-class citizens by cutting supports they desperately need.”
North Carolina is facing a major spill from a shuttered coal plant near Greensboro. Up to 82,000 tons of coal ash and 27 million gallons of polluted water leaked into the Dan River after a pipe ruptured beneath a coal ash pond owned by Duke Energy. The ash contains toxic metals that could threaten drinking water, including arsenic, mercury, lead and boron. Duke says the leak has been stopped for now.
A new congressional study says President Obama’s healthcare law will likely result in less Americans working full-time jobs. The Congressional Budget Office says around two million workers will choose to work fewer hours because of the expanded access to health insurance under the new law. Republicans have seized on the report to bolster their claims the healthcare law will hurt the economy. But Democrats say the report shows the law will give workers greater choices in freeing them up to avoid full-time jobs just for the sake of obtaining coverage.
The banking giant Morgan Stanley has agreed to pay a $1.25 billion fine for selling toxic securities to the federally backed Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The money will go to the Federal Housing Finance Agency, which has sued Morgan Stanley and more than a dozen other firms for packaging and selling mortgage securities at inflated prices ultimately borne by U.S. taxpayers when the economy crashed in late 2008. Morgan Stanley is said to have falsely marketed over $10 billion in securities it sold to Fannie and Freddie. Also Tuesday, the financial giant JPMorgan agreed to a $614 million fine for thousands of flawed mortgages whose losses were ultimately covered by taxpayers. JPMorgan has paid the government over $20 billion in fines and penalties over the past year.
The Obama administration is reportedly scaling back drone strikes in Pakistan at the Pakistani government’s request. The Washington Post reports Pakistan asked for the pause amidst peace talks with the Taliban. A preliminary meeting between the two sides was delayed on Tuesday after the Pakistani government failed to show up. There appears to have been no U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan since December, the longest pause since 2011. At a hearing in Washington, House Intelligence Committee Chair Mike Rogers blasted President Obama for his pledge last year to rein in drone attacks overseas.
Rep. Mike Rogers: “The president’s May 2013 policy changes for the U.S. targeted strikes are an utter and complete failure, and they leave Americans’ lives at risk. Those changes, while sounding nice in a speech, are today, right now, endangering the lives of Americans at home and our military overseas in a way that is frustrating to our allies and frustrating to those of us who engage in the oversight of our classified activities.”
The latest leaks from Edward Snowden show the British equivalent of the National Security Agency launched cyber-attacks on the online activist groups Anonymous and LulzSec. NBC News reports the GCHQ sabotaged Anonymous chat rooms and planted software to reveal the identities of their participants. Britain appears to be the first known Western government to launch cyber-attacks for which groups like Anonymous have faced jail time. The GCHQ’s operations also disrupted the web traffic and websites of political activists who had no connection to illegal hacking.
A Lithuanian court has ordered a probe of the torture of a Saudi Arabian prisoner held inside a secret CIA prison. Mustafa al-Hawsawi was sent to Lithuania after Pakistan handed him over to U.S. officials in 2003. He says he was subjected to torture and enforced disappearance over a nearly two-year period before being transferred to Guantánamo Bay. In a new ruling, a Lithuanian court ruled Hawsawi is entitled to a full investigation of his ordeal. Amnesty International has praised the move, saying: “The Lithuanian court has set an example for all of Europe and the USA by upholding the rule of law and recognizing that victims of torture and enforced disappearance at the hands of the CIA and European agents have an absolute right to a thorough investigation.”
The Washington, D.C. City Council has advanced a measure to decriminalize marijuana. The move would scrap criminal penalties for marijuana possession in favor of a violation equivalent to a parking ticket. City Councilmember and bill sponsor Tommy Wells said marijuana laws have led to the disproportionate jailing of African Americans.
Tommy Wells: “We’ve had a long period of social and racial injustice related to the war on drugs, especially when it comes to marijuana. Ninety-one percent of the arrests in D.C. related to small amounts of marijuana are African Americans. And you can’t tell me with six universities, not to stereotype, that the only people smoking pot are African-American youth.”
A final vote on the D.C. pot measure is expected later this month.
Members of the Central Park Five and their supporters rallied in New York City on Tuesday to pressure local officials to settle their case. The five black and Latino men were convicted as teenagers for the 1989 beating and rape of a white woman in New York City’s Central Park. Media coverage at the time portrayed the teens as guilty and used racially coded terms to describe them. But their convictions were vacated in 2002 when the real rapist came forward and confessed to the crime, after the five had already served jail terms of up to 13 years. Speaking at City Hall, Yusef Salaam urged Mayor Bill de Blasio to keep his promise to settle the Central Park Five’s case.
Yusef Salaam: “They said 'never again' with the Scottsboro Boys, but we’re the modern-day Scottsboro Boys. And here we are, still standing and still strong. But we’re standing strong because of the support that we’ve been receiving over the years. If the law enforcement oversteps the bounds of the laws just to get a conviction — and I mean, they never thought that the Central Park Five, the truth of the story would come out. People to this day think that we had some kind of involvement with something that happened in Central Park. We were innocent witnesses.”
New York state lawmakers are seeking passage of a bill that would block financing for academic groups that boycott academic institutions in Israel. The measure was introduced after the American Studies Association’s recent vote to boycott Israeli universities over Israel’s treatment of Palestinians. The bill passed the New York State Senate last week, but appears to have stalled for now in the State Assembly. In an editorial, The New York Times criticized the bill, saying it would “trample on academic freedoms” and “chill free speech and dissent.”
The abortion rate in the United States has dropped to its lowest level since 1973. A new study from the Guttmacher Institute suggests more widespread use of contraception likely played a role in the decline, which coincided with a drop in overall pregnancy rates. The historic low occurred in 2011, largely predating the impact of an unprecedented surge in abortion restrictions that began in that year’s legislative session.