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HeadlinesDecember 12, 2012

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Thousands Protest in Michigan as Gov. Signs Anti-Union Bills

Dec 12, 2012

Michigan Republican Gov. Rick Snyder has signed into law two highly controversial anti-union bills, officially making the historic union stronghold the 24th so-called “right-to-work” state in the country. On Tuesday, Snyder was met by thousands of demonstrators at the state Capitol in Lansing, denouncing the bill as an organized attack against labor that will lower wages and diminish collective bargaining rights. State police with riot gear fired pepper spray and arrested at least three people. Michigan Republicans advanced the anti-union bills last week before Democrats gain five House seats in the new legislative session that begins next month.

Manning’s Lawyers Decry Treatment at Close of Pretrial Hearing

Dec 12, 2012

The pretrial hearing of alleged U.S. Army whistleblower Bradley Manning has wrapped up ahead of Manning’s full court-martial slated for early next year. On Tuesday, Manning’s attorneys used their closing statements to decry Manning’s treatment in U.S. custody, saying the military had imposed harsh conditions to punish him over allegations he leaked classified documents to WikiLeaks. Manning attorney David Coombs said the imprisonment at a Virginia brig 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.

White House, GOP Spar over Progress in “Fiscal Cliff” Talks

Dec 12, 2012

The White House continues to trade public barbs with top Republicans amidst ongoing behind-the-scenes talks on averting the so-called fiscal cliff. On Tuesday, House Speaker John Boehner took to the House floor to pressure President Obama on accepting the spending cuts sought by Republicans. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney later fired back at Boehner’s remarks.

John Boehner: “The American people sent us here to work together towards the best possible solution, and that means cutting spending. Now, if the president doesn’t agree with our approach, he’s got an obligation to put forward a plan that can pass both chambers of the Congress, because right now the American people have to be scratching their heads and wondering when is the president going to get serious.”

Jay Carney: “I would note that if there is one fact that should not be in dispute, it ought to be this: The president, unlike any other party to these negotiations, has put forward detailed spending cuts as well as detailed revenue proposals.”

President Obama spoke again with Boehner by telephone on Tuesday, but no major progress has occurred. It is widely believed Obama and the Democrats will agree to address Republican concerns by raising the age of eligibility for Medicare from 65 years old to 67.

Prosecutors Unveil Settlement over HSBC Money Laundering

Dec 12, 2012

Federal and New York state prosecutors have unveiled their $1.9 billion settlement with the banking giant HSBC for a massive money-laundering scheme used by drug cartels and other illegal groups. Among other allegations, the bank reportedly supplied a billion dollars to a firm whose founder had ties to al-Qaeda and shipped billions in cash from Mexico to the United States despite warnings the money was coming from drug cartels. On Tuesday, U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch confirmed that HSBC had avoided charges under a deferred prosecution agreement.

Loretta Lynch: “We are here today to announce the filing of criminal charges against HSBC Bank, both its U.S. entity, HSBC U.S., and the parent HSBC group, for its sustained and systemic failure to guard against the corruption of our financial system by drug traffickers and other criminals and for evading U.S. sanctions law. HSBC, as you know, is one of the largest financial institutions in the world, with affiliates and personnel spanning the globe. Yet during the relevant time periods, they failed to comply with the legal requirements incumbent on all U.S. financial institutions to have in place compliance mechanisms and safeguards to guard against being used for money laundering.”

State and federal officials reportedly agreed to the fine over concerns that criminal charges against one of the world’s largest banks would have hurt the global financial system. Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer outlined some of HSBC’s alleged drug cartel ties.

Lanny Breuer: “From 2006 to 2010, the Sinaloa cartel in Mexico, the Norte del Valle cartel in Colombia and other drug traffickers laundered at least $881 million in illegal narcotics trafficking proceeds through HSBC Bank USA. These traffickers didn’t have to try very hard. They would sometimes deposit hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash in a single day into a single account, using boxes, as Loretta said, designed to fit the precise dimensions of the tellers’ windows in HSBC’s Mexico branches.”

Egypt: Thousands Protest over Constitutional Referendum

Dec 12, 2012

Thousands of people have taken to the streets in Cairo in new rallies for and against a controversial referendum backed by embattled Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi. Thousands of Morsi’s supporters gathered at a mosque three miles from the presidential palace after busing in demonstrators from across the country. Meanwhile, thousands of protesters gathered outside the presidential palace to oppose Morsi and the planned referendum. In a potential nod to the opposition, Egypt’s government now says the vote will take place on Saturday as well as one week later. Egypt’s main opposition leaders, meanwhile, are now urging their supporters to vote “no” in the referendum instead of boycotting it.

Obama: U.S. to Recognize Syrian Opposition Coalition

Dec 12, 2012

President Obama has confirmed his administration will recognize the Syrian opposition coalition as the official representative of the Syrian people, joining previous moves by Britain and France. Obama made the announcement in an interview with ABC News.

President Obama: “We’ve made a decision that the Syrian opposition coalition is now inclusive enough, is reflective and representative enough of the Syrian population, that we consider them the legitimate representative of the Syrian people in opposition to the Assad regime.”

Obama was followed hours later by the Friends of Syria meeting in Morocco, where representatives of Gulf and Western nations also agreed to recognize the Syrian opposition. In the latest violence from Syria, as many as 200 people belonging to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s Alawite minority sect have been killed or injured in a central village. The attackers are unknown.

Israel to Withhold Palestinian Funds over U.N. Vote; Palestinian NGOs Raided in West Bank

Dec 12, 2012

Israel has confirmed it will withhold Palestinian funds until at least March in response to the recent vote for Palestinian recognition at the United Nations. In addition to seizing Palestinian tax revenue, Israel has also announced a radical West Bank settlement expansion since the United Nations voted to grant Palestine the status of a non-member observer state last month. In a speech Tuesday night, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said Palestinians can forget about getting “even one cent” until March.

Avigdor Lieberman: “What we are doing at the moment, for the next four months, we will take back our own money. It’s not their money, it’s ours. It’s our down payments, our payments for their electricity, water and other services. So, first of all, they can forget about getting even one cent in the coming four months. First of all, we’ll take back what is ours, and in four months’ time we will examine and decide how to proceed.”

The announcement came hours after Israeli forces raided the offices of three civil society groups in the West Bank city of Ramallah. Entering overnight, Israeli soldiers broke open the doors of the Women’s Union, the Palestinian NGO Network and Addameer, which works on behalf of Palestinians in Israeli jails. The invading soldiers badly damaged computers and furniture.

U.N.: Afghan Gov’t Failing to Address Violence Against Women

Dec 12, 2012

The United Nations is accusing the Afghan government of failing to protect the rights of women. In a new report, the United Nations says Afghanistan has failed to uphold a landmark 2009 law on Elimination of Violence Against Women. Georgette Gagnon, the head of the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan’s Human Rights Unit, unveiled the report’s findings.

Georgette Gagnon: “It’s important to note that incidents of violence against women still remain largely underreported due to cultural constraints, social norms and taboos, customary practices in discrimination against women. Also, prevailing insecurity and weak rule of law have hampered women’s access to formal justice institutions. We are calling on the Afghan authorities to take, of course, much greater steps to both facilitate reporting of incidents of violence against women and actually open investigations and take on prosecutions.”

North Korea Tests Long-Range Rocket

Dec 12, 2012

North Korea has carried out a new test launch of a long-range rocket for what it calls an experiment to put a satellite into space. Opponents say North Korea is in fact testing for what could one day be a long-range nuclear warhead. Japan and South Korea say they have put their forces on high alert in response.

Chávez Recovering from Cancer Surgery in Cuba

Dec 12, 2012

Venezuela says President Hugo Chávez has undergone successful cancer surgery in Cuba. Chávez traveled to Cuba earlier this week after disclosing that his cancer had returned. Venezuelan Vice President Nicolás Maduro announced Chávez’s surgery in a national address.

Nicolás Maduro: “Today, we can say that after more than six hours of surgery, the operation has ended. Comandante Chávez is now in his room and will begin the special treatments that his team of doctors and experts have prepared for his post-operation phase.”

Mall Shooter Kills 2, Self in Oregon

Dec 12, 2012

In Oregon, a masked gunman shot dead two people at a crowded mall on Tuesday and wounded several others before taking his own life. The shooting at the Clackamas Town Center took place as thousands of people were shopping. A witness described the ensuing panic after the gunfire began.

Tylor Pedersen: “I was inside applying for a job, and the next thing I know, I see a few people running into Sears and away from the middle of the mall, saying that they heard shots and that there’s a shooting going on. I wasn’t sure if it was for real at first, until I’d seen the reaction on their faces that they were serious. And very quickly, the managers started getting everybody away from the entrance of the Sears store and closing down the big doors and locking down all the doors.”

Court Strikes Down Illinois Ban on Concealed Weapons

Dec 12, 2012

A federal appeals court has struck down a ban on concealed weapons in Illinois — the last remaining state where carrying concealed guns is entirely illegal. The decision will force Illinois legislators to write a new law legalizing concealed weapons within 180 days.

TransCanada Ordered to Halt Keystone Pipeline Work on Texas Property

Dec 12, 2012

TransCanada has been ordered to suspend construction on a private property in Texas where it is building part of the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline after a landowner filed a lawsuit saying the company lied about the type of oil it would be transporting. The Keystone XL would bring Canadian tar sands oil to the Texas Gulf Coast. But Texas landowner Michael Bishop, a retired chemist, says the company fraudulently claimed the pipeline would carry “crude oil,” which he says is fundamentally different from the heavier, more solid tar sands material. A Texas judge has signed a temporary restraining order and injunction against work on Bishop’s land until a hearing can be held. The Keystone XL pipeline has faced mass opposition from critics who say it will produce high levels of carbon emissions and endanger communities in its path.

Jailed Environmentalist Daniel McGowan Released to Halfway House

Dec 12, 2012

Environmentalist Daniel McGowan has been released to a New York City halfway house after spending five-and-a-half years in prison for his role in two acts of arson as a member of the Earth Liberation Front. In 2007, McGowan was sentenced to a seven-year term for setting fires at a lumber company and an experimental tree farm in Oregon. The judge ruled he had committed an act of terrorism, even though no one was hurt in either of the actions. McGowan appeared on Democracy Now! just before he went to jail.

Daniel McGowan: “I definitely have regrets. I have regrets that I, you know, employed arson as a tactic. I don’t think morally I’m wrong about what I did, but I do think, strategically and tactically, it was an unwise decision. I wish that I had people in my life at the time to kind of guide me back to a different path. But, you know, I was very disenchanted and very upset about what I saw. I think those feelings are legitimate, and I think young kids that have these feelings right now, and not-so-young kids, are — you know, they’re legitimate thoughts, and we have to — we have to come up with ways of dealing with this crisis and stop ignoring it. And that was my message to the media that day, after sentencing, was we have to stop pretending this is all about crime and punishment and start dealing with, like, real issues, like global climate change.”

McGowan was jailed for nearly all of his term in secretive and highly restrictive prison units known as Communication Management Units, or CMUs. Most prisoners held in CMUs have been Muslim men, but the units have also held non-Muslim political activists. A documentary film about McGowan, “If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front,” was nominated for an Oscar. McGowan was released from prison in Indiana Tuesday and flew back to New York with his wife, Jenny.

Sitar Maestro Ravi Shankar Dies at 92

Dec 12, 2012

The famed musician, composer and sitar maestro Ravi Shankar has died at the age of 92. Shankar was well known for popularizing traditional Indian music around the world.

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