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HeadlinesDecember 23, 2011

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Bradley Manning Pretrial Hearing Concludes

Dec 23, 2011

The pretrial military hearing for alleged Army whistleblower Bradley Manning has concluded after six days. Manning faces life in prison, and possibly death, for allegedly leaking classified video and diplomatic cables to WikiLeaks. In closing arguments, the defense said the government had failed to properly address Manning’s emotional state, while the prosecution argued the WikiLeaks disclosures had helped al-Qaeda. The presiding officer will now have at least three weeks to decide whether Manning is to stand trial.

Boehner Relents on Tax Cut Deal, Pushes Keystone

Dec 23, 2011

House Republicans have backed down on their opposition to a bipartisan Senate measure to extend a payroll tax cut set to expire at year’s end. On Thursday, House Speaker John Boehner relented following growing criticism from within his own party. Announcing a deal with Senate Democrats, Boehner said a full-year payroll tax cut will be negotiated through conference committee.

House Speaker John Boehner: “The Senate will join the House in immediately appointing conferees, with instructions to reach an agreement in the weeks ahead on a full, one-year payroll tax deduction, along with unemployment reforms, an extension of unemployment [benefits], and the so-called 'doc fix' for two years. We expect that there will—these members will work expeditiously to complete the one-year extension that all of us want.”

Boehner had previously insisted on including a number of unrelated proposals, including the Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada. In his remarks, Boehner said he retains hope that Keystone will be approved as part of the long-term spending deal.

House Speaker John Boehner: “One important provision in this measure that I want to highlight is the Keystone pipeline. As you know, this project would create tens of thousands of jobs in our country. This jobs project has bipartisan support in the House and Senate. It’s backed by a broad-based coalition. And I hope the President will approve this pipeline to put those Americans to work.”

40 Killed in Damascus Suicide Attack

Dec 23, 2011

At least 40 people have been killed and more than 100 wounded in a double-suicide car combing in the Syrian capital Damascus. Syrian authorities say most of the dead were civilians. It was the first attack of its kind to hit Damascus since the Syrian uprising broke out nine months ago. Violence, meanwhile, continues in other parts of Syria, where government forces are attempting to crush opposition protests. Eight people were reportedly killed in the city of Homs after government forces fired on protesters leaving a mosque.

Egyptians Rally in Tahrir Against Military Rule

Dec 23, 2011

In Egypt, scores of people are gathering in Cairo’s Tahrir Square today in the latest protest against military rule. The rally follows a recent wave of violence against protesters that saw 17 people killed.

Pakistan Rejects U.S. Probe of Deadly NATO Bombing

Dec 23, 2011

Pakistan has rejected the conclusions of a U.S. probe into an attack on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border last month that left 24 Pakistani solders dead. On Thursday, the Pentagon said U.S. and Afghan commandos incorrectly determined there were no Pakistani forces in the area before the air strike. But the probe also faulted Pakistan, saying Pakistani soldiers had mistakenly fired at U.S. troops and that both sides had failed to properly communicate. In Washington, Pentagon spokesperson George Little expressed regret for the deaths.

George Little: “Inadequate coordination by U.S. and Pakistani military officers operating through the border coordination center, including our reliance on incorrect mapping information shared with the Pakistani liaison officer, resulted in a misunderstanding about the true location of Pakistani military units. This, coupled with other gaps in information about the activities and placement of units from both sides, contributed to the tragic result. For the loss of life and for the lack of proper coordination between U.S. and Pakistani forces that contributed to those losses, we express our deepest regret.”

In response to the probe, the Pakistani military rejected any blame and said the U.S. report is “short on facts.”

U.S., Russia Spar over Probe of Libyan Civilian Deaths

Dec 23, 2011

The United Nations Security Council has rejected a probe into the deaths of scores of civilians in the NATO bombing of Libya earlier this year. In a story featured on Thursday’s Democracy Now!, a New York Times investigation found at least 40 civilians, and perhaps more than 70, were killed by NATO. The dead included at least 29 women or children. On Thursday, the Russian ambassador to the United Nations, Vitaly Churkin, said a probe is needed to determine the exact toll.

Vitaly Churkin: “The matter of civilian casualties, we believe, is particularly—from the bombing campaign, is particularly important because we need to have a serious analysis. Some members of the council, I can share with you, thought that somehow it was a diversion from Syria coming from us, asking why we’re not discussing Syria. I gave a very simple response: 'Because today we are discussing Libya. It is on our agenda, so it's a matter coming out of the situation in Libya.’ So this is where it stands now.”

The United States has refused to allow a U.N. Security Council probe into Libyan civilian deaths. In response to the proposal, U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice accused Russia of trying to distract from its opposition to a measure condemning the Syrian crackdown.

Susan Rice: “This is a distraction and a diversion, and it is a diversion from the fact that this council’s actions, and that of NATO and its partners, saved tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of Libyan lives. That is something we should be celebrating. It is certainly something that the people of Libya are celebrating. And if the Libyans want to work with NATO to investigate any concerns they have, we’re more than willing to do that. I think it’s notable that we have not heard that call from the Libyan government. So let us—let us see this for what it is. This is duplicative, it’s redundant, it’s superfluous, and it’s a stunt.”

Massive Shell Oil Spill Approaches Nigerian Coast

Dec 23, 2011

Communities along Nigeria’s Niger Delta have been put on alert following a major oil spill from the oil giant Shell. Satellite images indicate the spill has spread over 356 square miles, appearing to be the worst in the area in over a decade. A massive oil slick is making its way to the Nigerian coast, threatening local wildlife and massive pollution along the shore. Shell says less than 40,000 barrels have leaked so far, but Nigeria’s National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency says the spill could be three times as large. The spill comes just four months after the United Nations said it would take 30 years and around $1 billion for a small section of the delta to recover from environmental damage caused by Shell and other companies.

Federal Judge Blocks Key Provisions in South Carolina Anti-Immigrant Law

Dec 23, 2011

A federal judge has blocked several key measures of South Carolina’s anti-immigrant law, the latest in a series of judgments against similar measures nationwide. On Thursday, U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel froze a number of provisions he said would breach the federal government’s sole authority to oversee immigration enforcement. The measures include rules forcing police officers to check the immigration status of individuals if the officer has “reasonable suspicion” they are undocumented. The Justice Department and a coalition of civil rights groups had sued to prevent the law from taking effect next month.

Thousands Take Part in California Nurses’ Strike

Dec 23, 2011

Thousands of California nurses walked off the job on Thursday in their latest protest over benefits and working conditions. The one-day strike spanned nine hospitals in the Los Angeles and San Francisco areas. DeAnn McEwen of the National Nurses United Executive Council spoke outside Memorial Hospital in Long Beach.

DeAnn McEwen: “We’re out here because the hospitals refused to put safe staffing language in the contract, number one. Number two, the healthcare takeaways they’ve got on the table. They want to ask us to pay more money for healthcare, and this is a healthcare facility. Sick and vulnerable patients deserve healthy nurses to care for them.”

Police Clear Occupy Camps in Albany, Berkeley

Dec 23, 2011

Two more Occupy encampments have been cleared in police raids. In Albany, New York, the encampment at Academy Park was torn down after police rushed protesters with pepper spray. One protester appeared to have suffered a seizure after being pepper-sprayed and was taken away in an ambulance. Meanwhile in California, police have cleared the Occupy Berkeley encampment in Civic Center Park.

U.S. Asks Science Journals to Withhold Study Findings

Dec 23, 2011

For the first time in history, a U.S. government advisory board has asked scientific journals not to publish scientific findings, for fear the information could be used by terrorist groups to construct lethal viruses and kick off worldwide epidemics. The National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity, overseen by the National Institute of Health, has asked Nature and Science to leave out the details of a study conducted in the Netherlands and the United States. The study led to the creation of a highly transmissible form of a deadly flu virus. The virus, officially known as A(H5N1), causes bird flu. It doesn’t typically transfer between humans, but when it does, it is exceptionally deadly. Scientists have worried that if the virus did develop the capacity to easily pass from person to person, it could lead to one of the most catastrophic pandemics ever. The panel says the scientists should publish the conclusion of their findings, but omit certain details that would allow the experiments to be recreated. Bruce Alpert, editor of Science, noted that the findings revealed that the virus could be more easily evolved into a dangerous state than previously believed and could be spread through the air. Scientists say they will probably withhold some information if the government provides a way for legitimate researchers to information.

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