Pope accusations — The Vatican vigorously defended Pope Francis on Friday by seeking to discredit accusations that he failed to oppose and may even have collaborated with Argentina’s feared military junta during the so-called “dirty war" against left-wing activists. The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, called the accusations against the former Jorge Mario Bergoglio, who served as a Jesuit provincial superior and then archbishop of Buenos Aires, stale and the work of “anti-clerical left-wing elements to attack the church that must be decisively rejected."
U.N. criticizes drone strikes — A top U.N. investigator issued a statement Friday criticizing Washington’s drone missile campaign against Islamic militants in Pakistan as a violation of the South Asian nation’s sovereignty, a stance that echoes Islamabad’s public condemnation of the tactic but not one that is expected to end the airstrikes.
CIA drone records — A federal appeals court held Friday that the Central Intelligence Agency must disclose, at least to a judge, a description of its records on drone strikes in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union. The 19-page opinion by Judge Merrick Garland rejected an effort by the Obama administration to keep secret any aspect of the CIA’s interest in the use of drone strikes to kill terrorism suspects abroad.
Obama pushes clean fuels — Envisioning cars that can go “coast to coast without using a drop of oil," President Barack Obama on Friday urged Congress to authorize spending $2 billion over the next decade to expand research into electric cars and biofuels to wean automobiles off gasoline. Obama, expanding on an initiative he addressed in his State of the Union speech last month, said the United States must shift its cars and trucks entirely off oil to avoid perpetual fluctuations in gas prices.
Maryland death penalty — The Maryland House of Delegates voted Friday to repeal the state’s death penalty, sending the measure to the governor for his signature. “This is a historic decision today in Maryland," said Ben Jealous, president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. “Today, Maryland joins 17 other states and every other country in the Western world" in abolishing the death penalty, Jealous said.
Russian political opposition — In a striking move to purge the Russian Parliament of even the faintest of contrarian voices, legislative leaders on Friday accused an opposition lawmaker of treason and demanded an ethics investigation, saying that the legislator had used a visit to Washington earlier this month to urge the United States to meddle in Russia’s internal affairs. The accused lawmaker, Dmitry Gudkov, is one of just two members of the State Duma who are leading supporters of the Russian political opposition.
Republican tax plan — The tax plan embedded in the House Republican budget would cut taxes by $5.7 trillion over the next decade, with the benefits flowing disproportionately to very wealthy households, according to a new analysis by the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center. Taxpayers earning more than $1 million a year would benefit the most from the GOP tax plan, the analysis shows, reaping an average $400,000 tax break that would send their after-tax income soaring by nearly 20 percent. Meanwhile, taxpayers earning between $40,000 and $50,000 a year — closer to the national average — would see their taxes cut by about $666 on average, increasing their after-tax income by less than 2 percent.