President Obama is expected to announce today that Vice President Joe Biden will head a new interagency task force on confronting gun violence in the aftermath of last week’s Newtown massacre. The news comes one day after White House spokesperson Jay Carney said Obama will support the bid of Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) to reinstate the ban on assault weapons.
Jay Carney: “[Obama] is actively supportive of, for example, Senator Feinstein’s stated intent to revive a piece of legislation that would reinstate the Assault Weapons Ban. He supports and would support legislation that addresses the problem of the so-called gun show loophole. And there are other elements of gun law legislation — gun legislation that he could support.”
The original Assault Weapons Ban expired in 2004, and the National Rifle Association has succeeded to date in blocking its renewal.
On Tuesday, two more students killed in the Newtown attack were laid to rest: Jessica Rekos and James Mattioli, both six years old. Another six funerals are being held today. Classes have now resumed at most schools in the town, while Sandy Hook Elementary School is still considered a crime scene.
The Newtown massacre continues to prompt action at the state level. On Tuesday, Michigan Republican Gov. Rick Snyder vetoed a measure allowing concealed firearms into schools and other “gun-free” zones.
In yet another new multiple shooting in the United States, four people are dead in Colorado’s Weld County after a murder-suicide. The shooter killed three adult victims before turning the gun on himself.
On Capitol Hill, lawmakers have dropped a provision that would ban the indefinite detention of U.S. citizens under the National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA. The Senate approved an amendment to the NDAA last month that would prevent the military from imprisoning any U.S. citizen or permanent resident deemed a terrorism suspect without charge or trial. But according to the New York Times, congressional negotiators have dropped the provision in the effort to merge the bill’s House and Senate versions. The overall defense authorization act is expected to come up for a vote this week.
The Swiss banking giant UBS has been ordered to pay a $1.5 billion fine for its role in the manipulation of the London Interbank Offered Rate, or Libor, which provides the basis for rates on trillions of dollars in transactions across the globe. The rigging of Libor meant millions of borrowers paid the wrong amount on their loans. The bulk of the fines, $1.2 billion, will be paid in the United States, with the rest going to Britain and Switzerland. As part of its settlement, UBS has also admitted to committing wire fraud through its Tokyo branch on Libor rates in Japanese currency.
At least nine medical workers have been killed in a series of attacks on a polio vaccination effort in Pakistan. Three people were killed earlier today near the city of Peshawar, one day after six workers, all female, were killed in Peshawar and Karachi. The shootings are believed to be a part of a militant campaign against polio eradication in response to the CIA-backed fake vaccination program in Pakistan that helped locate Osama bin Laden. Taliban warlords announced a ban on immunization efforts earlier this year, calling them a cover for espionage. Pakistan is one of three countries in the world where polio remains a large-scale risk.
The Israeli government has announced yet another new round of settlement expansion in the occupied West Bank — 1,500 new settler homes in East Jerusalem’s Ramat Shlomo. It is the latest in a series of Israeli settlement expansions following last month’s historic recognition of Palestine as a non-member observer state by the United Nations. The Obama administration, meanwhile, has issued some of its most forceful public criticism of Israeli settlement expansion to date, yet has acknowledged it will not take any practical steps to respond on the ground. After weeks of international calls for a U.S. response to Israeli settlement growth, State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland criticized Israel on Tuesday.
Victoria Nuland: “We are deeply disappointed that Israel insists on continuing this pattern of provocative action. These repeated announcements and plans of new construction run counter to the cause of peace. Israel’s leaders continually say that they support a path towards a two-state solution, yet these actions only put that goal further at risk.”
Despite the criticism, Nuland went on to acknowledge the Obama administration will leverage none of its political and diplomat clout with Israel — including billions in annual U.S. aid and veto power at the U.N. Security Council — to stop the settlements.
Reporter 1: “You know, you are 'deeply disappointed.' I mean, next week you can be 'exceedingly deeply disappointed' but the Israelis will continue to build. What leverage you can actually exercise?”
Victoria Nuland: “I just answered that question.”
Reporter 1: “I want to ask this, because we keep having — we keep going around this thing.”
Reporter 2: “Would the United — the administration be willing to put this strong language in a Security Council resolution, even though it wouldn’t change the situation on the ground?”
Victoria Nuland: “I don’t think we think that’s a helpful step at this point.”
A news crew from the U.S. network NBC has escaped captivity in Syria after five days. NBC News chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel and his production team were seized by a pro-government militia while traveling inside Syria last week. They were blindfolded and subjected to mock executions before ultimately being freed after their kidnappers lost a firefight at a rebel-controlled checkpoint. Shortly after crossing into Turkey, Engel described the ordeal.
Richard Engel: “We were with some gunmen, some rebels who were escorting us. They executed one of them on the spot. Then they took us to a series of safe houses and interrogation places, and they kept us blindfolded, bound. We weren’t physically beaten or tortured. It was a lot of psychological torture, threats of being killed. They made us choose which one of us would be shot first, and when we refused, there were mock shootings.”
There are at least seven other journalists currently missing in Syria, including U.S. reporter Austin Tice.