D.C. Council Votes to Decriminalize Marijuana Possession

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The Washington, D.C. City Council has given final approval of a measure to decriminalize marijuana. The move would scrap criminal penalties for pot possession in favor of a violation equivalent to a parking ticket. City councilmember and bill sponsor Tommy Wells said the new law will address racial disparities in drug arrests.

Tommy Wells: “In D.C., over 90 percent of those arrested for marijuana are African-American. We know, with six universities, the black kids are not the only ones smoking pot. And so, first of all, it gets at a social justice issue. And then, once you do have a drug charge, you’re not going to get a job on a construction site. You’re going to have trouble with a commercial driver’s license. A lot of the jobs that are low-barrier entry jobs, you’re disqualified if you have a drug charge.”

Democratic Mayor Vincent Gray has pledged to sign the measure into law. The District of Columbia would join 17 states that have also decriminalized marijuana possession.

CIA Officials Accused of Spying on Senate Panel

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extra extra newspaperThe CIA has launched an investigation of its own employees over a dispute with a Senate panel probing the agency’s torture and rendition program. Members of the Senate Intelligence Committee say CIA officials illegally monitored their staffers’ work as they compiled the panel’s exhaustive probe on CIA torture. The report has yet to be declassified but reportedly documents extensive abuses and a cover-up by CIA officials to Congress. Details are under wraps, but the new probe reportedly began after the CIA took what Democratic Senator Mark Udall called an “unprecedented action” against his committee.

Appeals Court Orders BP to Resume Gulf Spill Payments

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An appeals court has rejected the oil giant BP’s attempt to limit payouts stemming from its 2010 oil spill in the Gulf. BP had accused local businesses of claiming “fictitious losses” in seeking compensation for damages from the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history. The ruling lifts an injunction that had frozen the payments pending a court decision on BP’s suit.

Prosecutors Drop Key Charges Against Activist-Journalist Barrett Brown

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Federal prosecutors have dropped a number of key charges against Barrett Brown, an activist-journalist covering online surveillance who has spent more than a year behind bars. Supporters say Brown has been unfairly targeted for investigating the highly secretive world of private intelligence and military contractors. On Wednesday, prosecutors dropped 11 of 17 counts, including a charge for posting a weblink online to a document that contained stolen credit card data. All of the dropped charges relate to the hacking of the private intelligence firm Stratfor, which unearthed how the firm monitors activists and spies for corporate clients. The dropping of charges came just one day after Brown’s attorneys filed a motion to have the same counts dropped, arguing posting a weblink is protected by freedom of speech. Brown still faces up to 70 years in prison.

Coal Giant to Pay Record Fine for Appalachia Pollution

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The mining giant Alpha Natural Resources will pay a record fine for years of pollution in the Appalachian Mountains. Alpha has been ordered to pay $27.5 million for thousands of violations of water permits and dumping toxins into waterways. It is the largest-ever fine under Section 402 of the Clean Water Act. The company will also be forced to pay around $200 million to upgrade facilities in five states. Around half of the violations were committed by Massey Energy, which Alpha bought in 2011.

IRS Hearing Prompts Heated Exchange Between Lawmakers

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A House hearing on alleged political targeting by the IRS has turned into a shouting match between the panel’s top members. IRS official Lois Lerner refused to testify in the latest of dozens of hearings into the alleged singling out of right-wing groups for extra scrutiny. Oversight Committee Chair Darrell Issa, a Republican, adjourned the meeting after Lerner repeatedly pleaded the Fifth Amendment. In doing so, he refused to allow the panel’s ranking member, Democrat Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the chance to speak.

Rep. Darrell Issa: “We are adjourned. Close it down. … Mr. Cummings, where is your question?”

Rep. Elijah Cummings: “If you will sit down and allow me to ask the question — I am a member of the Congress of the United States of America! I am tired of this! We have members over here, each who represent 700,000 people. You cannot just have a one-sided investigation. There is absolutely something wrong with that, and it is absolutely un-American.”

Rep. Darrell Issa: “We had a hearing. Hearing’s adjourned. I gave you the opportunity to ask a question. You had no questions.”

Rep. Elijah Cummings: “I do have a question.”

Rep. Darrell Issa: “I gave you [inaudible]. You made a speech”

Rep. Elijah Cummings: “Chairman, what are you hiding?”

Congressman Elijah Cummings was speaking off mic, because the chair of the committee, Darrell Issa, had shut his mic off.

Venezuela: Tens of Thousands Mark Year Since Chávez Death Amidst Opposition Rallies

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Tens of thousands of people marched in Venezuela on Wednesday to mark the one-year anniversary of the death of longtime President Hugo Chávez. The commemorations faced disruption from government opponents, who have staged a series of protests against Chávez’s successor, Nicolás Maduro. Thousands of people rallied against Maduro on the eve of the anniversary.

RT Anchors Criticize Ukraine Coverage on Russia-Owned Network

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In media news, two anchors with Russia’s state-owned U.S. news network, RT, have spoken out against Russian policy in Ukraine on air. On Wednesday, RT anchor Liz Wahl resigned during a live broadcast to protest what she called the network’s biased coverage in favor of the Russian government.

Liz Wahl: “Personally, I cannot be part of a network funded by the Russian government that whitewashes the actions of [Vladimir] Putin. I’m proud to be an American and believe in disseminating the truth, and that is why, after this newscast, I’m resigning.”

RT has dismissed Wahl’s action as a show of “self-promotion.” The resignation came days after another RT anchor, Abby Martin, also spoke out on air, calling the invasion of Crimea an act of “military aggression.” In an interview with CNN, Martin told CNN anchor Piers Morgan that RT has acted no differently than the U.S. corporate media did in cheerleading for the Iraq War.

Abby Martin: “Piers, no different than every other corporate media station. I mean, we’re talking about six corporations that control 90 percent of what Americans see, hear and read; the lead-up to the Iraq War, parroting exactly what the establishment said. I mean, you could reflect the exact same criticism on all the corporate media channels. So, you know, I can only speak for my show. I stayed true to my moral compass. But RT toes a perspective of the Russian foreign policy, just as the entire corporate media apparatus toes the perspective of the U.S. establishment.”

State Department Issues Visa Ban over Ukraine Crisis

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In breaking news, the State Department has announced a new ban on visas for Russian and Ukrainian officials who are “responsible for or complicit in threatening the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine.” The move could lead to the freezing of assets and barring Americans from doing business with targeted individuals.