Rallies Held Nationwide to Protest Keystone XL Oil Pipeline After State Dept. Report

Across the United States on Monday protesters took to the streets for hundreds of rallies urging President Obama to reject the Keystone XL oil pipeline. The actions in at least 44 states followed a State Department report claiming the pipeline’s northern leg would have a minimal impact on climate change. Environmentalists disagree, saying plans to pipe 830,000 barrels of oil per day from Alberta’s tar sands to the U.S. Gulf Coast would accelerate global warming and threaten communities along the pipeline’s route. Here in New York City, scores of people rallied in Union Square, including environmentalist Bill McKibben of 350.org.

Bill McKibben: "This issue has already brought more Americans into the streets than any environmental issue in decades, and now, finally, we’re at the point of decision. It’s out of the hands of the bought-off bureaucrats who have been delaying it in the State Department for years and doing the bidding of the fossil fuel industry. Now we’re going to find out whether John Kerry and Barack Obama are similarly captives of the oil industry or whether they’re willing to really stand up when it counts for the commitments they’ve made about climate change."

Report: Cancer-Causing Pollutants from Alberta’s Oil Sands Vastly Underestimated

The protests against the Keystone XL oil pipeline came as a new study revealed emissions of toxic pollutants from the Alberta tar sands have been vastly underestimated. Researchers at the University of Toronto Scarborough say actual levels of pollutants known as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons are far higher than estimates accepted by the Canadian government. The pollutants have been tied to a higher risk of asthma as well as cancer.

Congress Urged to Raise Debt Ceiling or Risk Default

U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew is calling on Congress to act quickly to raise the nation’s borrowing limit. A temporary suspension of the debt ceiling expires on Friday after it was passed in October following the government shutdown. Lew warned a delay could cause the United States to default on its obligations by the end of the month.

Treasury Secretary Jack Lew: "Without borrowing authority, at some point very soon, it would not be possible to meet all of the obligations of the federal government. The truth is, the longer we wait, the greater the risks become. Whether it’s the economic recovery, the financial markets or the dependability of Social Security payments and military salaries, these are not things to put at risk."

U.S. Internet Firms Release Data on Secret NSA Requests

Major Internet firms in the United States have begun releasing data about the amount of user information they secretly hand over to the government. A legal deal reached last week allows the companies to disclose broad details about the number of orders they receive from the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. Yahoo, for example, reports that it received FISA requests for user content affecting at least 30,000 accounts during the first six months of last year alone.

Germany: Hacker Group Accuses Merkel Gov’t of Illegally Aiding U.S. Spying

In Germany, a hacker group has filed a criminal complaint accusing the government of Chancellor Angela Merkel of illegally helping the United States spy on Germans. Outcry in Germany previously erupted over news the U.S. spied on Merkel’s cellphone. But the Chaos Computer Club now accuses Merkel’s government of illegally collaborating with the National Security Agency and its British counterpart. In a recent interview with the German TV station NDR, NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden described the relationship between German and U.S. spy agencies.

Edward Snowden: "I would describe it as intimate. As a matter of fact, the first way I described it in our written interview was that the German services and the U.S. services are in bed together. They not only share information, the reporting of results from intelligence, but they actually share the tools and the infrastructure; they work together against joint targets in services. And there’s a lot of danger in this."

Al-Qaeda Renounces Ties with Powerful Militant Group in Syria

Al-Qaeda has renounced ties with a powerful militant group active in Iraq and Syria. Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri had previously ordered the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant to disband and return to Iraq, endorsing the Nusra Front as the group’s official branch in Syria. Fighting between rebel factions in Syria has reportedly killed more than 2,000 people this year alone. The Iraqi government, meanwhile, says its army and allied tribesmen killed 57 ISIL fighters in Anbar province on Monday.

Report: Afghan President Karzai in Secret Contact with Taliban on Peace Deal

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has reportedly been in secret contact with the Taliban in a bid to reach a possible peace deal, without the involvement of the United States. The New York Times reports the contacts could explain Karzai’s recent refusal to sign a long-term deal to keep U.S. troops in Afghanistan, as well as his release of Taliban prisoners despite U.S. opposition.

Idaho: More Than 40 LGBT Activists Arrested Demanding Ban on Discrimination

In Idaho, more than 40 LGBT activists were arrested after blocking the entrance to the Idaho State Senate. Wearing T-shirts that said, "Add the 4 Words, Idaho," the protesters called for lawmakers to add "sexual orientation" and "gender identity" to a law banning other forms of discrimination. The law currently does not define anti-LGBT violence as a hate crime. There is no state law in Idaho –- or at the federal level -– to prevent people from being fired or denied housing because of their sexuality. Among those arrested Monday was former Democratic Idaho State Senator Nicole LeFavour.

Nicole LeFavour: "We’re not leaving until lawmakers return to their committee rooms and begin the work of passing a bill to add the words and finally say in law that cruelty to gay and transgender people is wrong. If they don’t, they might as well be saying it’s fine. And too many people are being hurt. It’s time they finally do something."

In order to remove former State Senator Nicole LeFavour from the chamber, the Idaho State Senate voted to suspend its rules allowing former lawmakers access to the floor.

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