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HeadlinesApril 15, 2015

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Congress to Have Say in Iran Deal After Obama Backs Down

Apr 15, 2015

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee has approved a measure that would give Congress a say in the final nuclear deal with Iran. The bill was passed by unanimous vote after President Obama withdrew his opposition. The White House says the bill was sufficiently modified to address its concerns, but the bill’s sponsors say the administration backed down rather than face a bipartisan rebuke. The measure calls for a Senate review of a final nuclear deal and a potential congressional vote on lifting sanctions. If Congress votes to reject the Iran deal, the Senate would need a 67-vote majority to overturn a veto from President Obama. Senator Bob Corker outlined the terms.

Sen. Bob Corker: “Congress stays involved if an agreement is reached. And if one is not disapproved, Congress stays involved. And every 90 days, the administration has to certify that, in every way, Iran is in compliance. And if there are violations within a 10-day period, they have to give that to Congress, so that we have the ability, if we wish, to quickly reapply the sanctions that, if a deal is approved, would be alleviated.”

The full Senate is expected to approve the measure when it takes it up later this month. If Obama cannot override a veto of a measure rejecting the deal, he could become the only leader involved unable to fully honor the pledges made.

Obama to Remove Cuba from List of State Sponsors of Terrorism

Apr 15, 2015

President Obama has told Congress he will remove Cuba from a U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism, clearing a main obstacle to restoring diplomatic relations with Havana. Obama’s move came just days after he and Cuban President Raúl Castro sat down at a summit in Panama for the first meeting of its kind in half a century. Cuba was placed on the terrorism list in 1982 at a time when Havana was supporting liberation struggles in Africa and Latin America. Once Cuba is officially removed from the list in 45 days, Iran, Sudan and Syria will be the only countries remaining.

U.N. Security Council Imposes Arms Embargo on Houthis in Yemen

Apr 15, 2015

The U.N. Security Council has passed a resolution imposing an arms embargo on Houthi rebels in Yemen. U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power said the measure targets those stoking Yemen’s violence.

Samantha Power: “The United States strongly supports the adoption of today’s resolution, which imposes consequences on the Houthi and former President Saleh, demands that the Houthi cease military operations, and calls on all sides to once again return to the negotiating table. The imposition of a global asset freeze and travel ban on Ahmed Ali Saleh and Abdul-Malik al-Houthi, as well as a targeted arms embargo, shows that this council will take action against those who continue to undermine efforts toward reconciliation.”

Several Yemen analysts say the measure could intensify the siege of Yemen, which has choked off its economy and denied vital supplies to a country in crisis.

U.N. Warns of Civilian Toll in Saudi, Houthi Attacks; U.S. Increases Intelligence Sharing

Apr 15, 2015

The measure adopts no restrictions on the military campaign led by Saudi Arabia, and excludes an initial Russian proposal for a humanitarian pause in the Saudi-led strikes. According to U.N. figures, at least 364 civilians have been killed and more than 680 wounded since the Saudi strikes began three weeks ago. Both the strikes and Houthi rebel attacks have been blamed. On Tuesday, the U.N. high commissioner for human rights warned that both sides may have committed war crimes, and urged Saudi Arabia to avoid bombing civilians and public infrastructure. The Saudi-led strikes have hit hospitals, schools, a refugee camp and several neighborhoods. According to The Wall Street Journal, U.S. officials have privately voiced concerns to Saudi counterparts about civilian casualties and the operation’s broader aims. But they have also increased support for the strikes in recent days, “providing them with direct targeting support for sites the kingdom wants to bomb.”

U.S. Drone Strike Reportedly Kills AQAP Leader in Yemen

Apr 15, 2015

In the other news from Yemen, the group al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula says one its senior leaders has died in a U.S. drone strike. Ibrahim al-Rubaish, a top Saudi figure in AQAP and a former Guantánamo Bay prisoner, was reportedly killed on Sunday. Al-Rubaish had a $5 million bounty on his head.

Study: U.S. Drone Strikes Continue to Claim Civilian Lives in Yemen

Apr 15, 2015

The latest U.S. drone strike comes as a new study by the Open Society Justice Foundation has found that these strikes have killed Yemeni civilians, despite President Obama’s vow to launch attacks only if there is “near certainty” no innocents will be harmed. Abdulrasheed al-Faqih, the report’s co-author, said: “In incident after incident, eye-witnesses told us of watching civilians being burned alive, or of losing parents, siblings and children in U.S. drone strikes. Civilians wanted to know why they had been targeted when they were not affiliated with al-Qaeda. They wanted justice.”

Aid Groups Seek Global Effort to End Israeli Blockade of Gaza

Apr 15, 2015

A coalition of 45 aid groups is appealing for global pressure to end the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip. The Association of International Development Agencies says reconstruction is barely underway on the thousands of homes destroyed in last summer’s six-week Israeli assault. Meanwhile, living conditions have only worsened as Israel continues the siege and foreign aid is at a trickle. Just 26 percent of $3.5 billion pledged at a donors’ conference in October has arrived. The groups say that without open borders and a durable Israel-Hamas ceasefire, “a return to conflict — and the cycles of damage and donor-funded reconstruction that accompany it — is inevitable.”

Egyptian Court Sentences 14 to Death, American to Life

Apr 15, 2015

An Egyptian court has confirmed the death sentences of 14 people, including Mohammed Badie, leader of the Muslim Brotherhood. Badie has been sentenced to death before, with those sentences later reduced to life imprisonment. The court also sentenced American citizen Mohamed Soltan to life in prison on charges of supporting the Brotherhood and transmitting false news. The defendants were tried for events surrounding the Rabaa massacre of August 2013, when Egyptian forces killed hundreds of protesters opposing a military coup. The verdicts will be appealed to Egypt’s highest civilian court. They come just two weeks after the Obama administration lifted a freeze on military aid to the Egyptian regime. In a statement, the White House condemned Soltan’s life sentence and demanded his immediate release.

9-Year-Old Victim Reportedly Pregnant After Rape in ISIS Captivity

Apr 15, 2015

A nine-year-old girl is reportedly pregnant after being gang-raped in captivity by the militant group Islamic State in Iraq. The girl is one of more than 200 Yazidi Christians released by ISIS last week. She has been flown to Germany for medical treatment. Aid workers say she is so young, she could die if she delivers the baby.

Clinton Backs Constitutional Amendment on Campaign Finance

Apr 15, 2015

Hillary Rodham Clinton has kicked off her bid for the Democratic presidential nomination with her first formal campaigning in Iowa. Outlining her agenda, Clinton told supporters she backs a constitutional amendment to get “unaccountable money” out of politics.

Hillary Rodham Clinton: “We need to build the economy of tomorrow, not yesterday. We need to strengthen families and communities, because that’s where it all starts. We need to fix our dysfunctional political system and get unaccountable money out of it once and for all, even if that takes a constitutional amendment. And we need to protect our country from the threats that we see and the ones that are on the horizon. So I’m here in Iowa to begin a conversation about how we do that.”

2 Charged for Sexual Assault on Crowded Florida Beach

Apr 15, 2015

Two college students have been charged for a sexual assault that Florida police say was witnessed in broad daylight, but that no one tried to stop. Cellphone video shows the suspects surrounding an incapacitated woman on a crowded beach filled with college students on their spring break. Police say the victim was then gang-raped while a large crowd stood around. A third suspect is being sought. The woman says she believes she was drugged and does not remember the incident.

Former Educators Sentenced for Atlanta School Cheating Scandal

Apr 15, 2015

Former educators in Atlanta, Georgia, have been given prison sentences of up to seven years for their roles in a massive cheating scandal at public schools. Prosecutors say teachers were forced to modify incorrect answers, and students were even allowed to fix their responses during exams. Twenty-one other defendants avoided trial with plea deals, but the nine sentenced to jail rejected sentencing agreements so they can appeal. It is said to be one of the largest school cheating scandals in U.S. history. Donald Bullock, an educator who reached a plea deal, apologized for his role.

Donald Bullock: “I, Donald Bullock, do hereby sincerely apologize to the students, my fellow staff members, parents and the Atlanta Public School System, as well as the greater metropolitan Atlanta community, for my involvement in the 2009 CRC Administration, resulting in cheating or other dysfunctional acts.”

The case has fueled new scrutiny of the education system’s reliance on standardized testing, which critics say incentivizes cheating. According to The New York Times, “cheating has grown at school districts around the country as standardized testing has become a primary means of evaluating teachers, principals and schools.”

New York Students Stage Mass Boycott of Standardized Tests

Apr 15, 2015

In a mass show of opposition to standardized testing, tens of thousands of parents in New York state had their children boycott the annual English Language Arts exam. The action is seen as a major challenge to the education agenda of Gov. Andrew Cuomo and to standardized testing nationwide.

World Bank Chief Calls for Carbon Tax; Harvard Sees Protests over Fossil Fuel Divestment

Apr 15, 2015

The head of the World Bank has endorsed calls for a carbon tax and an end to subsidies for fossil fuels. Speaking to The Guardian, Jim Yong Kim said poor countries are feeling “the boot of climate change on their neck,” adding: “We need to get rid of fossil fuel subsidies now.” This comes as students at Harvard University are holding “Harvard Heat Week,” a bid to pressure the school to divest from the fossil fuel industry. Actions are taking place including an occupation of the Harvard Alumni Association and a blockade of administration buildings.

Dozens Arrested in Protests Against Police Violence, Racial Profiling

Apr 15, 2015

Protests have been held from coast to coast in a day of action against police violence and racial profiling. In New York City, some 250 people with the Stop Mass Incarceration Network marched across the Brooklyn Bridge.

Protester: “I just want to stop the police brutality against my Latinos and my black people, because 99 percent of the time the cops are in Bushwick, East New York, Harlem, everywhere, committing violence against Spanish people, black people. Well, we can’t have this, you know, because it’s like, why they gotta abuse us?”

Dozens of people were arrested as scuffles between demonstrators and police broke out and traffic was disrupted for several hours. Activists were also detained in Los Angeles after a large crowd blocked a Metro track during Tuesday rush hour. The protests follow the recent police killings of unarmed African Americans Walter Scott in South Carolina and Eric Harris in Oklahoma. Each incident was caught on video.

Fast-Food & Other Low-Wage Workers Stage Nationwide Day of Action

Apr 15, 2015

Protests are being held across the country today in what organizers call the “largest-ever mobilization of underpaid workers.” Fast-food workers in 230 cities are walking off the job as part of the “Fight for $15” campaign, a push for a $15-an-hour minimum wage. Hundreds of workers in Boston held their action one day early in deference to today’s anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombings. In New York City, the day of protest kicked off this morning at a McDonald’s in Brooklyn. Students will also walk out at more than 200 schools in what is being described as the “biggest campus protests since the anti-apartheid movement.” The students and fast-food workers will be joined by low-wage employees from other fields and businesses, including home care, child care, airport and Wal-Mart.

Study: Low Wages Force Reliance on Over $150 Billion in Public Assistance

Apr 15, 2015

Organizers say the actions are being held on Tax Day to highlight the public assistance needed to support underpaid workers. A new study says low wages are forcing working families to rely on more than $150 billion in public assistance. According to the University of California Center for Labor Research and Education, more than half of combined state and federal spending on public assistance goes to working families.

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