President Obama has formally unveiled his proposals to reform the nation’s gun laws more than a month after the shooting massacre in Newtown. On Wednesday, Obama called for reinstating the ban on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines, expanding background checks for gun buyers, improving the delivery of mental health services, and allowing schools to hire up to 1,000 school resource officers and counselors. Obama presented his plan alongside Vice President Joe Biden, who headed the White House task force appointed after Newtown.
President Obama: “In the month since 20 precious children and six brave adults were violently taken from us at Sandy Hook Elementary, more than 900 of our fellow Americans have reportedly died at the end of a gun — 900 in the past month. And every day we wait, that number will keep growing. So I’m putting forward a specific set of proposals based on the work of Joe’s (Biden) task force. And in the days ahead, I intend to use whatever weight this office holds to make them a reality.”
The White House plan is expected to meet stiff resistance from House Republicans and even some Senate Democrats in states with loose restrictions on firearms. In a statement, the National Rifle Association vowed to challenge Obama with what it called “the fight of the century.” In his remarks, Obama called on the American people to help him push gun control through Congress.
President Obama: “This will not happen unless the American people demand it. If parents and teachers, police officers and pastors, if hunters and sportsmen, if responsible gun owners, if Americans of every background stand up and say, 'Enough. We've suffered too much pain and care too much about our children to allow this to continue,’ then change will — change will come.”
In a statement, the nation’s leading gun control advocacy group, the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, endorsed Obama’s plan, saying the White House has exhibited “tremendous leadership” in its “comprehensive policy recommendations to address gun violence.” The American Civil Liberties Union, meanwhile, expressed concern about Obama’s call for more police officers in schools, saying: “We fear neutral sounding safety policies, such as putting more cops in school will lead to the over-incarceration of school-age children, especially students of color and students with disabilities, who are disproportionately arrested and prosecuted for issues that would normally be handled by school administrators.”
The judge overseeing the pretrial hearing of alleged Army whistleblower Bradley Manning has ruled the government must prove Manning wanted to aid the enemy as prosecutors have alleged. On Wednesday, Colonel Denise Lind told prosecutors to prove that Manning knew, or should have known, the documents he is accused of passing to WikiLeaks would end up being seen by members of al-Qaeda. Lind also granted a defense request to present evidence that Manning carefully selected documents he knew would not harm the United States. Manning has previously offered to plead guilty to releasing the documents if the government drops its most serious charges, including aiding the enemy. Also Wednesday, defense attorneys tried to argue for the case’s dismissal on the grounds Manning has been denied the right to a speedy trial. By the time his trial begins in June, Manning will have been in detention for 1,101 days, nearly 10 times the maximum allowed by military rules between arrest and trial.
A group of foreign and Algerian workers have been taken hostage in Algeria in what their kidnappers call retaliation for the French bombing of neighboring Mali. The standoff is being described as one of the biggest international hostage crises in decades. In Washington, State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland confirmed Americans are among the group.
Victoria Nuland: “The best information that we have at this time is that U.S. citizens are among the hostages. I hope you will understand that in order to protect their safety, I am not going to get into numbers, I am not going to get into names, I’m not going to get into any further details, as we continue to work on this issue with the Algerian authorities and also with their employers.”
Algerian troops have now reportedly surrounded the complex where the hostages are being held. The government of Algeria had previously warned against French intervention in neighboring Mali and has now sealed off their shared border.
The hostage crisis in Algeria comes as French troops have launched ground operations inside Mali days after their bombing campaign began. According to The New York Times, unnamed U.S. officials say the incident in Algeria could mark the beginning of a wave of regional attacks on foreigners and that if the American hostages are harmed, then the Obama administration “might reconsider [its] pledges not to commit ground troops to the battle” in Mali.
The Obama administration is preparing to recognize the government of Somalia for the first time in more than 20 years. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is expected to formally make the announcement in a meeting with Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud in Washington. The move will come just days after the United States took part in a failed attempt by France to rescue a captured secret agent inside of Somalia.
The U.S. military has confirmed it has halted the transfer of detainees to some Afghan prisons over ongoing abuses including torture. The Obama administration had resumed the transfers last year after pausing them in the wake of a 2011 United Nations investigation that found widespread abuses. Despite its qualms with the Afghan military’s handling of detainees, the United States continues to hold prisoners without charge or trial at Afghanistan’s Bagram prison.
The United Nations says it has received permission from Syria to expand efforts to feed the estimated 2.5 million people suffering from hunger during Syria’s internal crisis. On Wednesday, World Food Programme Executive Director Ertharin Cousin says collaboration with local partners could mean the delivery of aid to an additional one million Syrians.
Ertharin Cousin: “Last week, we were given a list of 110 additional NGOs that we can now work with, 110. We have assessed the operational capacity of that 110, and we have identified 44 NGOs on that list that will give us the ability to scale up to another million persons.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has taken what is being described as a subtle dig at President Obama following widespread reports of a rift between the two. Bloomberg News has recently reported that Obama chided Netanyahu’s government in private, apparently saying, “Israel doesn’t know what its own best interests are,” and expressing the view that Netanyahu is a “political coward.” Visiting an Israeli army base on Wednesday, Netanyahu appeared to respond.
Prime Minister Netanyahu: “I think everyone understands that only Israeli citizens will be the ones who determine who loyally represents the state of Israel’s vital interests. In the past four years, we have faced tremendous pressures. We were demanded to restrain pressure against Iran, to withdraw to the 1967 border lines, to divide Jerusalem, that we won’t build in Jerusalem. We repelled those pressures, and I shall continue to protect Israel’s vital interests for the sake of the security of Israel’s citizens.”
Despite talk of a rift between President Obama and Netanyahu, Obama has yet to take any action on one of the most controversial settlement expansions by the Israeli government in years. Israel is now expanding the E1 settlement in the West Bank after putting it on hold since objections were raised under George W. Bush. The E1 zone is particularly sensitive because its completion would bisect the West Bank, dashing whatever remote hopes remain for a two-state solution. But the Obama administration has refused to cut aid or even offer criticism, limiting its reaction to calling the E1 expansion “counterproductive.”
New details have been revealed on the Obama administration’s weapons sales to Bahrain during the ruling monarchy’s ongoing crackdown on opposition protesters. The website ProPublica reports the United States has sold weaponry, including ammunition, combat vehicle parts, communications equipment, Black Hawk helicopters, and an undisclosed missile system, to Bahrain since the protests began nearly two years ago. It is unclear if all the purchases were delivered, but they provide a key window into the extent of U.S. support for the Bahraini regime as it faced international condemnation for repressing dissent. Although the weapons are supposed to only be used for self-defense, some may have been used against civilian demonstrators. Bahraini helicopters reportedly fired on protesters in March 2011, around the same time Bahrain made a helicopter-related acquisition from the United States.
A group of leading climate scientists has renewed calls for President Obama to reject the Keystone XL oil pipeline in his upcoming second term. Obama will soon decide whether to allow the company TransCanada’s plan to move tar sands oil from Canada to refineries in the Gulf Coast after putting off a decision until after the 2012 campaign. In an open letter, the scientists, including NASA climatologist James Hansen, write: “We hope, as scientists, that you will demonstrate the seriousness of your climate convictions by refusing to permit Keystone XL; to do otherwise would be to undermine your legacy.” The letter was released by the group 350.org, which is organizing a major Presidents’ Day rally in Washington, D.C., next month to oppose the pipeline.
A recent study in Canada has found the development of the tar sands oil fields in Alberta has led to increased levels of carcinogenic compounds in surrounding lakes and a wider contamination than previously known. Canadian government-backed researchers say deposits of cancer-causing chemicals have grown steadily since major oil sands production began in 1978.
Indigenous-led protests continued across Canada on Wednesday with a national day of action to address the state of living conditions for First Nations. Among a series of actions, hundreds of natives slowed traffic on the Ambassador Bridge connecting Detroit with the neighboring Canadian town of Windsor, Ontario. The protests were held in solidarity with the “Idle No More” movement, an indigenous-led effort to protest the federal government’s treatment of native peoples and its record on the environment.
Europe, India, the United States and Japan have all grounded Boeing’s new 787 “Dreamliner” jets over safety concerns following a series of incidents. The Federal Aviation Administration ordered all 787s taken out of service Wednesday, and European officials followed suit today. The 787 is Boeing’s newest jet, and the company is reportedly depending heavily on its success. It has suffered from several issues, including a fire on a plane parked in Boston and the emergency landing of a plane in Japan that had burn marks around its main battery.
Today is the 100th birthday of the legendary media activist Everett Parker. Active for more than six decades, Parker is best known for spearheading the challenge to Mississippi television station WLBT in the 1960s, which ultimately had its license revoked for attempting to squelch the voices of the civil rights movement of the time. In a 2008 interview with Democracy Now!, Parker discussed his efforts to monitor racist television networks as founder of the Office of Communication of the United Church of Christ.
Everett Parker: “I went down, and I really looked at stations throughout the —— from New Orleans to the East Coast and found that it was a very bad situation. And I had earlier -— teaching at Yale Divinity School, I had developed a new way of monitoring television stations.”
Parker identified the KKK-backed WLBT as a frequent target of public complaints and FCC reprimands regarding its public service. He filed a “petition to deny renewal” with the FCC, initiating a process that eventually got the station’s license revoked by a federal court and had far-reaching consequences in American broadcasting. Today he is 100 years old.