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New figures have confirmed 2012 was the hottest year on record for the continental United States. On Tuesday, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced an average temperature for 2012 of 55.3 degrees, 1 degree above the previous record and 3.2 degrees more than the 20th-century average. Temperatures were above normal in every month between June 2011 and September 2012, a 16-month stretch that has not occurred since the government began keeping track in 1895. Among a number of other milestones, 2012 also saw the second-most extreme weather on record. The news comes as, across the globe, Australia is dealing with record-shattering heat.
The Obama administration has launched a review of offshore oil drilling in the Arctic following a cascading series of blunders and mishaps by the oil giant Shell. Shell’s recent troubles culminated when its drill rig ran aground last week off the Alaskan coast, sparking concerns of a potential spill. Past problems have included safety and environmental violations on its vessels and the failure during a test of a device meant to control a gushing well. Government officials say the new 60-day review could potentially limit or halt Shell’s ambitions for Arctic drilling. The escalating issues have followed repeated warnings by environmental groups that Shell is unprepared for the harsh and dangerous conditions associated with Arctic drilling. Dan Howells of Greenpeace told The New York Times: "We’ve repeatedly been told Shell is the best in the business, and so we can only conclude after this series of mishaps that the best in the business is simply not good enough for the Arctic." The Coast Guard has launched a separate investigation into the grounding of Shell’s drill rig last week.
Alleged U.S. Army whistleblower Bradley Manning has had his potential sentence reduced should he be convicted for the leaking of classified documents to WikiLeaks. On Tuesday, the judge overseeing Manning’s pretrial hearing said Manning is entitled to 112 days less in prison due to the unlawful conditions of his imprisonment at the Marines Corps brig in Quantico, Virginia. Manning’s ordeal included being held in a six-by-eight-foot cell for at least 23 hours a day and being banned from lying down or even leaning against the wall unless he was sleeping. His attorney had argued his imprisonment was so harsh and inhumane that either his charges should be dropped or he should be given 10 times credit for the nine months he spent there in any sentence he may receive. In her ruling, Judge Denise Lind agreed with the allegations of unlawful abuse, but said Manning will only get one-to-one credit in the reduction of any sentence. In a statement, the Bradley Manning Support Network said: "[The ruling] confirms that Bradley was mistreated, and vindicates the massive protest effect that was required to stop the Marines at Quantico from torturing him. Yet, 112 days is not nearly enough to hold the military accountable for their actions."
A U.S. military contractor has agreed to pay a more than $5 million settlement to 71 former prisoners who suffered torture at the notorious Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. Engility Holdings, formerly known as L-3 Services and before that Titan Corporation, becomes the first U.S. corporation involved in the abuses at Abu Ghraib to compensate its victims, eight years after the scandal first broke. Filed in 2008, the suit accused Engility of "[permitting] scores of its employees to participate in torturing and abusing prisoners over an extended period of time throughout Iraq." One of the plaintiffs, an Iraqi farmer, alleges he was caged, beaten, threatened with dogs and given electric shocks during more than four years in U.S. detention. A case against another contractor, CACI, is set to go to trial later this year.
The Obama administration has left open the possibility of removing all U.S. troops from Afghanistan once combat operations end in 2014. On Tuesday, Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes told reporters the White House has not ruled out a "zero option" policy, rather than other proposals to leave up to 20,000 troops behind. President Obama is scheduled to discuss post-2014 troop levels with Afghan President Hamid Karzai later this week.
The United Nations World Food Programme continues to warn it has been unable to meet the demands of the millions of Syrians who require assistance. The U.N. is currently feeding some 1.5 million people in Syria, but around 2.5 million are believed to be in need. On Tuesday, a spokesperson for U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said aid workers have been able to reach less than half of those requiring food aid.
Martin Nesirky: "U.N. agencies and humanitarian partners continue to reach hundreds of thousands of people in Syria despite insecurity, attacks, road closures, fuel shortages and lack of access to conflict-affected areas. Since the beginning of January, the World Food Programme has reached 800,000 people, and it says that it hopes to reach 1.5 million people with food distributions in Syria this month. It is estimated that 2.5 million people are in need of food assistance in Syria."
Venezuela has delayed the third-term swearing-in ceremony of President Hugo Chávez as he continues to receive medical treatment in Cuba. Chávez has been in Cuba for nearly a month undergoing and recovering from his fourth surgery for cancer. On Tuesday, the head of Venezuela’s National Assembly, Diosdado Cabello, confirmed Chávez is not well enough to make it back in time for Thursday’s swearing-in.
Diosdado Cabello: "The commander president has asked us to inform you that, in accordance with the recommendations of the medical team that is taking care of re-establishing his health, the process of post-operative recovery will extend further than January 10 of this year. Because of this, he will not be able to appear on that day in front of the National Assembly."
The delay has sparked a heated dispute between the government and the political opposition, with Chávez’s foes arguing that Cabello should assume the presidency as head of the National Assembly should Chávez fail to be sworn in.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is reportedly preparing to unveil today what is being described as one of the toughest gun control laws in the country. The measure reportedly includes restrictions of assault weapons, harsher sentences for gun crimes and limits on the capacities of ammunition magazines.
Former Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona has announced a new initiative to take on gun violence. Giffords suffered major head injuries and nearly lost her life in the Tucson shooting rampage that killed six people in 2011. On Tuesday — the second anniversary of her shooting — Giffords and her husband Mark Kelly announced a new group called Americans for Responsible Solutions, which they said will "raise the funds necessary to balance the influence of the gun lobby." Writing in USA Today, Kelly and Giffords said that in the aftermath of the Newtown massacre, "We can’t just hope that the last shooting tragedy will prevent the next. Achieving reforms to reduce gun violence and prevent mass shootings will mean matching gun lobbyists in their reach and resources."
A new report says the Obama administration spent more money on immigration enforcement in the past fiscal year than it did on all other federal law enforcement agencies combined. The Migration Policy Institute says the United States spent about $18 billion on immigration enforcement programs, surpassing the combined budgets of the FBI; Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; Drug Enforcement Administration; and Secret Service. The number of criminal prosecutions for immigration-related violations, meanwhile, has skyrocketed in the past decade, now accounting for more than half of all criminal prosecutions at the federal level. The report’s authors conclude immigration is now the Obama administration’s top law enforcement priority.
Illinois is set to become the latest state to allow undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses. Gov. Pat Quinn has pledged to sign a new bill that will allow about 250,000 immigrants to become licensed drivers. Only Washington and New Mexico currently allow licenses for undocumented people, while Utah allows driving permits. Connecticut recently announced young immigrants who qualify for the Obama administration’s "deferred action" program can apply for licenses.
A federal judge in Manhattan has dealt a major setback to the New York City police tactic known as "stop and frisk." On Tuesday, Judge Shira Scheindlin of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York ruled that police are not allowed to routinely stop pedestrians outside of private residential buildings in the Bronx. The so-called "Clean Halls" program has prompted allegations of police harassment by residents who say they are being accosted outside of the buildings in which they live. In a statement, the Center for Constitutional Rights said: "The stops held unconstitutional today ... are part of a pattern of unconstitutional NYPD stops in all boroughs that have disrupted the lives of New Yorkers, particularly Black and Latino New Yorkers, for over a decade."
The LGBTQ rights activist Jeanne Manford has died at the age of 92. Manford founded the group PFLAG — Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays. In 1972, Manford made headlines after denouncing police for failing to protect her gay son when he was attacked at a protest of the Gay Activists Alliance. In a letter to the New York Post, Manford wrote at the time: "I have a homosexual son, and I love him."