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Ear to the Ground

WikiLeaks Releases Snowden Statement, Vermont Decriminalizes Pot, and More

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Posted on Jul 1, 2013

Snowden Speaks: On Monday, NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden released a statement through WikiLeaks, marking the first time we’ve heard from Snowden since he fled from Hong Kong to Moscow after the U.S. charged him with espionage for leaking top secret documents on National Security Agency surveillance programs. In the statement, dated July 1, Snowden says, “On Thursday, President Obama declared before the world that he would not permit any diplomatic ‘wheeling and dealing’ over my case. Yet now it is being reported that after promising not to do so, the President ordered his Vice President to pressure the leaders of nations from which I have requested protection to deny my asylum petitions.” Snowden continues: “This kind of deception from a world leader is not justice, and neither is the extralegal penalty of exile. These are the old, bad tools of political aggression. Their purpose is to frighten, not me, but those who would come after me.” (Read more)

Political Inaction: Thanks to Congress literally doing nothing, interest rates on federal student loans doubled Monday from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent. The increased rate—which works out to a cost of about $2,600 per student—will affect the roughly 7 million who take out loans to pay for their college education this fall. It will not, however, impact those who already have them. Lawmakers have known about the July 1 deadline for an entire year, and yet, despite the lengthy amount of time Democrats and Republicans had to strike a deal, an agreement could not be reached. How typical of Congress these days, right? But all hope is not lost: The White House believes a deal will be reached on loans and that it will include retroactive protection from doubling rates. (Read more

War on Women Continues: Republican Ohio Gov. John Kasich has signed a new budget bill that, in addition to a massive $2.7 billion tax cut and a sales tax hike, included cuts to low-cost family planning services and several controversial anti-abortion measures. As a result, women seeking abortions in the state will now be forced to undergo a trans-abdominal ultrasound before they can get the legal procedure. Opponents of the measure also say the bill will likely cause three clinics that provide abortions in the state to close. Rape crisis clinics are also in jeopardy of losing their public funding, though “crisis pregnancy centers”—which typically are run by religious organizations and are known to dole out inaccurate health information—will be funded. Said Stephanie Knight, the president of Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio: “These provisions in the Ohio state budget are part of an orchestrated effort to roll back women’s rights and access to health care in Ohio. The budget is only the latest in a series of restrictive laws signed by John Kasich that have hurt the women in our state who need more access to health care, not less.” (Read more)

Special Session #2 Starts: Ohio, of course, is hardly the only place where the right to get a legal abortion is being threatened right now—in Texas, another special legislative session has begun because Republicans failed to pass an extremely restrictive anti-abortion bill after Sen. Wendy Davis’ incredible 11 plus-hour filibuster last week. The Republican-controlled legislature, however, is vowing to pass the bill this time even as opponents gather to mount another protest. The controversial legislation would ban pregnant women from getting an abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy and would close most of the state’s clinics that provide abortions, among other things. It appears Republicans have already learned their lesson from the last session. Although the first day of the 30-day legislative session lasted only an hour before recessing for the week, that was all the time Republicans needed to refer the bill to committees for hearings and get the ball rolling. The last session was already underway by the time the GOP-controlled legislature introduced the legislation. “They’ll probably be a little bit smarter about how they try to move this bill in this next session starting on Monday,” Davis said Sunday during an interview on CBS’ “Face the Nation.” “But what they now have to confront is that the eyes of Texas, the eyes of the country are watching and they are going to be held accountable for the decisions that they make in this process.” (Read more)

Moral Mondays: More than 600 people have been arrested in North Carolina since protesters began demonstrating against the rightward move of the state’s GOP-controlled government back in April. Dubbed “Moral Mondays,” thousands of protesters have been gathering weekly outside the capitol in Raleigh to speak out against the Republican-led government—the first since Reconstruction—which is pushing drastic changes on a number of economic issues that Democrats say will help the wealthy and hurt the poor. Bloomberg reports: “Entering their 10th week, the protests recall demonstrations over public-employee rights in Wisconsin, Ohio and Michigan in 2011, and during a Texas Senate filibuster last week, spurring a commotion that blocked a vote on an anti-abortion bill pushed by Republicans.” (Read more)

Pot Law: A law decriminalizing marijuana in Vermont went into effect Monday, making it the 17th state where it is no longer illegal to possess small amounts of the substance. The bill, which was signed into law last month by Gov. Peter Shumlin, replaces criminal penalties for those possessing up to an ounce of marijuana and up to 5 grams of hashish with fines. However, it is still a criminal offense in the state to carry more than 1 ounce of pot. A Public Policy Polling survey showed that in 2012, a majority of Vermont voters supported removing criminal penalties for possession of small amounts of pot. Vermont is the second to last state in New England to decriminalize pot. The only one in the region that hasn’t done so yet? New Hampshire. (Read more)

—Posted by Tracy Bloom.

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