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Iraq Makes Gains in Offensive to Retake Tikrit

Mar 11, 2015

The Iraqi military and Iranian-backed Shiite militias have seized large parts of Tikrit as part of their offensive to retake the city from the self-proclaimed Islamic State. The operation marks Iraq’s largest military attempt to roll back the gains made by ISIS last June. Iranian advisers and Iranian-backed Shiite fighters are playing a key role while the United States has been sidelined.

Colombia Halts Air Raids for 1 Month as FARC Peace Talks Progress

Mar 11, 2015

Colombia is halting air attacks on FARC rebels for one month as peace talks between the two sides advance. Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said the pause reflects the rebels’ adherence to a unilateral ceasefire declared in December, and could be extended if the ceasefire continues to hold.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos: “To boost the de-escalation of the conflict, I have decided to order the Ministry of Defense and the commanders of the armed forces to stop bombings over FARC camps for a month. After that time we will review the implementation of the unilateral ceasefire, and according to the results, we will decide whether to continue.”

Cuban-brokered negotiations in Havana have made progress on several key issues, including land reform, political integration of ex-rebels, the drug trade, and clearing landmines from rural areas.

Ferguson City Manager Faulted in DOJ Report Resigns

Mar 11, 2015

The city manager of Ferguson, Missouri, has resigned in the continued fallout from a federal probe into systemic racial bias. In its report last week, the Justice Department blamed John Shaw for overseeing a municipal system that targets African Americans for arrest and then profits off of their fines. Ferguson Mayor James Knowles announced Shaw’s departure.

Ferguson Mayor James Knowles: “I think the city and John came to a mutual agreement that we want to be able to move forward as a community. John and the city felt this was an opportunity to do that and start fresh.”

As city manager, Shaw was the most powerful local official in Ferguson. His departure comes one day after the local municipal court judge, Ronald Brockmeyer, was also forced to resign his post. A court clerk and two police supervisors were forced out last week for sending racist emails.

Clinton Says Private Email Account was “for Convenience,” Not Secrecy

Mar 11, 2015

Former secretary of state and presumed Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has spoken out for the first time on the controversy surrounding her personal email account. Clinton used a private account rather than a government one during her State Department tenure, and her aides failed to preserve her emails on government servers in a possible violation of federal law. On Monday, Clinton said using a personal account was a matter of convenience, and that staffers have handed over her government-related emails for public use.

Hillary Clinton: “When I got to work as secretary of state, I opted for convenience to use my personal email account, which was allowed by the State Department, because I thought it would be easier to carry just one device for my work and for my personal emails instead of two. Looking back, it would have been better if I’d simply used a second email account and carried a second phone, but at the time, this didn’t seem like an issue. … The server will remain private, and I think that the State Department will be able, over time, to release all of the records that were provided.”

In fact, a few weeks ago at a business women’s summit, Hillary Clinton said that she does use two phones — a BlackBerry and an iPhone. The law changed in 2009 around using government email. Colin Powell didn’t use it. Hillary Clinton didn’t, though her term went beyond 2009. The first person to use the State Department government email as secretary of state was John Kerry.

GOP Senator Behind Iran Letter Tied to Pro-Israel Groups, Weapons Industry

Mar 11, 2015

Hillary Clinton also weighed in on the controversy surrounding a Republican letter to Iran aiming to undermine the ongoing nuclear talks. An open letter from 47 Republican senators warned the Iranian government the deal could be nixed by a Republican Congress or future Republican president.

Hillary Clinton: “The recent letter from Republican senators was out of step with the best traditions of American leadership. And one has to ask: What was the purpose of this letter? There appear to be two logical answers. Either these senators were trying to be helpful to the Iranians or harmful to the commander-in-chief in the midst of high-stakes international diplomacy. Either answer does discredit to the letters’ signatories.”

According to the website Lobe Log, the senator who spearheaded the letter, freshman Arkansas Republican Sen. Tom Cotton, received nearly $1 million in donations to his election campaign efforts last year from the Emergency Committee for Israel, run by neoconservative pundit Bill Kristol. The Intercept reports Cotton was set to appear at a secretive meeting of weapons contractors one day after sending the letter on Monday.

Obama Admin Withdraws Bullet Ban under Gun Lobby Pressure

Mar 11, 2015

The Obama administration has pulled a measure to limit ammunition in assault rifles and handguns under pressure from the gun lobby. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives had called for banning the M855 “green tip” ammunition in AR-15s, because it could be used to pierce through police body armor. But the proposal was withdrawn after a campaign by the National Rifle Association and several Republican members of Congress.

Senators Unveil Comprehensive Federal Medical Marijuana Protections

Mar 11, 2015

A bipartisan group of senators has introduced what is being described as the first comprehensive medical marijuana legislation in the nation’s history. The CARERS Act from Republican Senator Rand Paul and Democratic Senators Cory Booker and Kirsten Gillibrand would end the federal prohibition on medical marijuana and let states set their own rules. Booker and Gillibrand helped unveil the measure.

Sen. Cory Booker: “Today, we join together to say enough is enough. Our federal government has long overstepped the boundaries of common sense, fiscal prudence and compassion with its marijuana laws. These laws must change.”

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand: “This new bill, the CARERS Act, which would recognize that marijuana has accepted medical uses, and would recognize the will of voters in 23 states that have decided that denying families access is wrong. The bipartisan bill would finally allow patients and families including veterans in those 23 states to access medical care without fear of prosecution.”

Wikipedia, HRW Join Other Groups in Challenge to NSA Surveillance

Mar 11, 2015

A coalition of online, media, legal and political advocacy groups has filed suit over the U.S. government’s mass surveillance. Organizations including Wikipedia and Human Rights Watch are challenging the National Security Agency’s Upstream program, which taps into the fiber-optic cables moving Internet traffic around the world. Attorney Patrick Toomey of the American Civil Liberties Union said the spying violates constitutional protections.

Patrick Toomey: “The NSA’s indiscriminate copying and searching through Americans’ international communications imposes a chilling effect on basic freedoms: the freedom of speech, the freedom of expression, the freedom of inquiry. And it also is an invasion of Americans’ right to privacy in those communications. We have long operated in this country on a basic rule that the government does not search your home, your papers, and today your emails, when you’ve done nothing wrong. And the flip side of that rule is that the government must go to a court with individualized suspicion when it wants access to those materials.”

The Supreme Court previously rejected an American Civil Liberties Union challenge to warrantless spying on the grounds the plaintiffs could not prove they were targeted.

North Carolina Fines Duke Energy $25.1 Million for Environmental Damage

Mar 11, 2015

North Carolina has fined the utility giant Duke Energy $25.1 million, the largest environmental fine in state history. The penalty concerns groundwater contamination from a coal ash plant near Wilmington. It is separate from a pending fine at the federal level for Duke’s spill of more than 35 million gallons of coal ash into the Dan River, one of the worst such spills in U.S. history.

Utah Lawmakers Back Firing Squads If Lethal Injections Ruled Out

Mar 11, 2015

Lawmakers in Utah have approved a measure that would reintroduce the firing squad if lethal injections are unavailable for state executions. Utah Gov. Gary Herbert says he has not yet decided whether he will sign the bill into law.

Japan Marks 70th Anniversary of U.S. Bombing of Tokyo; 4 Years Since Fukushima

Mar 11, 2015

A ceremony was held in Tokyo on Tuesday to mark the 70th anniversary of the U.S. bombing of the city. The so-called Operation Meetinghouse air raid of March 1945 is known as the deadliest in history, killing more than 100,000 people and leaving much of Tokyo in flames. Today, Japan is marking the fourth anniversary of the earthquake and tsunami that killed some 18,000 people and set off a nuclear meltdown at the Fukushima plant.

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