Voting is underway in Israel, where Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faces a tight race for re-election. Polls show Netanyahu’s Likud Party lagging slightly behind the Zionist Union Coalition, led by Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and Yitzhak Herzog. Netanyahu has emphasized his right-wing positions in recent days, visiting the Har Homa settlement in occupied East Jerusalem and vowing to ramp up settlement construction, deemed illegal under international law. In an interview with a website owned by U.S. casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, one of his leading backers, Netanyahu unequivocally vowed never to allow a Palestinian state, if he is re-elected.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: "I think that whoever moves to establish a Palestinian state or intends to withdraw from territory is simply yielding territory for radical Islamic terrorist attacks against Israel. This is the genuine reality that was created here in the past few years. Those who who do not understand that bury their heads in the sand. The left-wing parties do it, bury their heads in the sand, time and again."
The Obama administration has pressed for a peace deal between Israelis and Palestinians which includes a Palestinian state. Netanyahu’s closest rival, Yitzhak Herzog, has sought to capitalize on public frustration with Netanyahu’s hardline policies.
Yitzhak Herzog: "The public is genuinely frustrated. The public want a change, the public ask for a change, and the public aspire for hope and is revolted by and fed up with the status quo. I am the only one who can change the country’s situation. I am the only one who can get a mandate from the president (to form a government). To get a mandate from the president, I need to lead a clear majority over the Likud and Netanyahu."
Running third place in Israeli polls is the Joint List, a coalition of four Arab parties which could be decisive in forming a new coalition that would unseat Netanyahu.
The death toll from a Category 5 cyclone that tore through the South Pacific island nation of Vanuatu has increased to 11, with thousands more displaced. The cyclone reportedly destroyed or damaged 90 percent of buildings in the capital Port Avila. Aid workers who have reached the outer islands say the damage there is even worse. The hospital on the island of Tanna is reportedly operating without a roof.
The storm’s devastation on Vanuatu has unfolded amid growing pressure against the oil, gas and coal companies largely responsible for climate change, which fuels extreme weather. Alumni of Oxford University in Britain occupied a building on campus Monday after the university failed to make a decision on a student-backed call to divest from fossil fuels. The Oxford University Council said it needed more time to consider the proposal. Meanwhile, one of Britain’s leading newspapers has launched its own fossil fuel divestment campaign. The Guardian has partnered with 350.org to launch a petition calling on two philanthropic groups — the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Wellcome Trust — to end their heavy investment in fossil fuels. The Guardian’s editor-in-chief, Alan Rusbridger, wrote: "The argument for a campaign to divest from the world’s most polluting companies is becoming an overwhelming one, on both moral and financial grounds." Rusbridger said The Guardian would also lobby its own parent company, Guardian Media Group, to divest.
In news from Iraq, U.S. officials say Iran has sent weapons to help oust the self-proclaimed Islamic State from the city of Tikrit. U.S. officials told The New York Times that Iran has deployed advanced rockets and missiles in the latest sign of its growing influence in Iraq. Iran is also backing Shiite militias which are helping Iraqi forces fight the militants.
The report about Iran sending weapons to Iraq comes as President Obama acknowledged to Vice News that the origins of the Islamic State lie in the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
President Obama: "ISIL is a direct outgrowth of al-Qaeda in Iraq that grew out of our invasion, which is an example of unintended consequences, which is why we should generally aim before we shoot. We’ve got a 60-country coalition. We will slowly push back ISIL out of Iraq. I’m confident that will happen."
The White House has acknowledged top officials are still consulting retired General David Petraeus for advice about fighting the self-proclaimed Islamic State in Iraq, even though he has pleaded guilty to leaking classified information. Petraeus gave his biographer and lover Paula Broadwell access to his CIA email account and other sensitive material, including reportedly the names of undercover operatives in Afghanistan. But White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said no measures are in place to prevent future security breaches.
Josh Earnest: "He is, I think, legitimately regarded as an expert when it comes to the security situation in Iraq. So I think it’s—it makes a lot of sense for senior administration officials to, on occasion, consult him for advice."
Reporter: "And any particular security precautions that you take in this situation, given his legal entanglements?"
Josh Earnest: "Not that I’m aware of."
In Egypt, a court has sentenced 14 people to death, including Mohammed Badie, leader of the Muslim Brotherhood. Badie has been sentenced to death before with those sentences later reduced to life imprisonment. A final decision is due next month, and the defendants can still appeal.
The United Arab Emirates, another close U.S. ally, has barred a New York University professor from the country after he criticized the monarchy’s exploitation of migrant laborers. Andrew Ross said he learned of the ban after arriving at the airport in New York, where he was set to board a flight to continue his research in the UAE. NYU recently opened a campus in the United Arab Emirates, the construction of which relied on migrant workers laboring under harsh conditions.
The American Civil Liberties Union has sued the Obama administration over the secrecy of its drone wars overseas. The lawsuit seeks basic details about the administration’s so-called targeted killing program, including records on how the government selects targets, determines the risk of potential civilian casualties, and assesses who was actually killed. The ACLU filed a Freedom of Information Act request for the information in October 2013, but has not received any records.
One of Mexico’s leading investigative reporters has been fired from her popular radio show in a case that has ignited protests over freedom of the press. Carmen Aristegui recently exposed how Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto and his wife possess a $7 million mansion built for them by a contractor who received lucrative government deals. Last week, the broadcaster MVS fired two reporters on her team, accusing them of using the MVS name without permission in the launch of a new whistleblowing website called Méxicoleaks. After Aristegui defended the reporters on her broadcast and demanded their reinstatement, she was fired. Speaking to reporters, she vowed to fight back.
Carmen Aristegui: "We’ve spoken with our lawyers, and our lawyers tell us that they have no right to do what they are doing. Our lawyers tell us that we are going to fight. Our lawyers tell us that this is an affront to freedom of expression and that there are a set of irregularities and absolutely condemnable situations."
The Obama administration has criticized Senate Republicans for stalling the nomination of Loretta Lynch, President Obama’s pick to succeed Eric Holder as attorney general. White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest called the delay "unconscionable."
Josh Earnest: "It’s certainly a disappointment that after 128 days since being nominated to be the next attorney general, that Loretta Lynch, a professional, independent, career prosecutor, has not yet gotten a vote in the United States Senate. It’s an unconscionable delay. Ms. Lynch has submitted to more than eight hours of testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee. She answered more than 600 written questions from the senators, to say nothing of the countless other conversations that she has had in more private settings with individual members of the United States Senate."
Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said he will delay a vote on Lynch’s nomination until the Senate passes a bill to create a restitution fund for sex trafficking victims created by fines from people convicted of trafficking crimes. But Democrats have objected to an anti-choice measure tucked into the bill, which they say Republicans failed to adequately disclose. Critics say the provision could force trafficking victims to carry unwanted pregnancies, and dramatically increase future abortion restrictions by expanding a ban on federal taxpayer funding for abortion to include private funds.
Oregon has become the first state in the country to pass an automatic voter registration law, potentially adding 300,000 voters to its rolls. The so-called Motor Voter law automatically registers eligible voters whose information is on file with the Department of Motor Vehicles. Potential voters have a 21-day period to opt out of the voter registry.
Missouri is set to execute a man diagnosed as mentally ill and disabled, unless the state’s highest court ends its long-standing refusal to intervene. Cecil Clayton is missing one-fifth of his frontal lobe as a result of an accident at a lumberyard where he worked. Years after the injury, he was arrested for killing a police officer and sentenced to death despite his apparent confusion over the crime. Psychologists have repeatedly concluded Clayton’s execution would violate the Constitution’s ban on executing insane or intellectually disabled people. But the Missouri Supreme Court has refused six times to hold a hearing the case; unless they change course, he will die today at 6 p.m. CDT.
The U.S. Bureau of Prisons has reportedly cancelled its contract with a private company for the running of a prison known as "Ritmo," or the Guantánamo of Raymondville, Texas. About 2,000 immigrant prisoners staged an uprising at the Willacy County prison last month to protest inadequate healthcare at the facility, which is also known as "tent city," since many of the prisoners slept in Kevlar tents. The prisoners have been evacuated, and the facility will no longer be run by the Management and Training Corporation. The facility was one of 13 privately run so-called "Criminal Alien Requirement" prisons; it housed mostly undocumented immigrants convicted of nonviolent crimes. The American Civil Liberties Union called the closure "a welcome, but long overdue move," and called for the government to end the use of private prisons.
State senators in New Jersey have voted to condemn a $225 million settlement reportedly pushed through by the office of Republican Governor Chris Christie, which saved ExxonMobil billions of dollars. New Jersey quietly agreed to accept less than 3 percent of the $8.9 billion it had initially sought from Exxon over pollution at two refinery sites. On Monday, lawmakers asked a judge to reject the deal, calling it "grossly inappropriate, improper and inadequate."
One of the National Football League’s most promising rookies of the past season has announced he is retiring from professional football over concerns about the impact of repeated head injuries. San Francisco 49ers linebacker Chris Borland, who is 24, said he made the decision after careful research into the links between football, repeated concussions and neurological disease. Borland told ESPN: "I just honestly want to do what’s best for my health. From what I’ve researched and what I’ve experienced, I don’t think it’s worth the risk."