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The Pentagon has confirmed plans to lift the longstanding military ban on women in combat. The move will overturn a 1994 rule that formally barred women from taking on front-line roles, although in reality thousands of women have still fought. In being officially allowed to serve in combat roles, women will be afforded opportunities for medals of recognition as well as for advancement to positions they have been unable to pursue. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta reportedly came to the decision based on a recommendation from the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who wrote: "The time has come ... to eliminate all unnecessary gender-based barriers to service." A formal announcement is expected today.
The Republican-controlled House has passed a measure to lift the debt ceiling until May, avoiding a new showdown with President Obama at least for a few months. The move would temporarily suspend the federal government’s $16.4 trillion borrowing limit until May 18, without the dollar-for-dollar spending cuts that Republicans have demanded. In a bid to pressure the Senate, the legislation calls for withholding the salaries of lawmakers if one of the chambers of Congress fails to pass a budget blueprint by mid-April. The Senate is expected to approve the measure this week.
The United States appears to be escalating its drone war in Yemen with yet another deadly attack. At least six people were killed in northern Yemen on Wednesday in the fifth U.S. strike in as many days. The drone reportedly hit a moving vehicle, burning the corpses beyond recognition. Recent U.S. drone attacks in Yemen have killed at least 20 people and sparked protests from residents claiming the loss of civilian life.
A suicide bombing in northern Iraq has killed at least 35 people and wounded more than 75 others. The attack struck a Shia mosque during a funeral for the relative of a slain politician. It was the deadliest act of violence Iraq has seen in six months.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton appeared before Congress on Wednesday to answer questions surrounding the September 11th attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya. U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans were killed after militants attacked the consulate amidst protests against an anti-Muslim film. During her testimony, Clinton faced repeated attempts by congressional Republicans to blame the incident on alleged White House and State Department negligence. In one of several testy exchanges with Republicans, Clinton rejected Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson’s criticism of the administration’s initial handling of the consulate attack.
Sen. Ron Johnson: "Again, we were misled that there were supposedly protests and then something sprang out of that, an assault sprang out of that. And that was easily ascertained that that was not the fact, and the American people could have known that within days, and they didn’t know that."
Secretary Of State Hillary Clinton: "With all due respect, the fact is, we had four dead Americans."
Sen. Ron Johnson: "I understand."
Secretary Of State Hillary Clinton: "Was it because of a protest? Or was it because of guys out for a walk one night who decided they’d go kill some Americans? What difference at this point does it make? It is our job to figure out what happened and do everything we can to prevent it from ever happening again, Senator. Now, honestly, I will do my best to answer your questions about this, but the fact is that people were trying in real time to get to the best information."
Clinton was making her last formal appearance before Congress before leaving the State Department. She is expected to step down as Secretary of State in the coming days once her successor, Democratic Senator John Kerry, is confirmed.
British Prime Minister David Cameron has pledged to hold a national referendum on whether to leave the European Union. On Wednesday, Cameron ended months of speculation with a televised address.
British Prime Minister David Cameron: "It is time for the British people to have their say. It is time for us to settle this question about Britain and Europe. And when we have negotiated that new settlement, we will give the British people a referendum with a very simple in-or-out choice: to stay in the European Union on these new terms or to come out altogether. It will be an in-out referendum."
Under the terms of his proposal, Cameron’s EU referendum will not take place unless he wins re-election in 2015.
The Israeli military continues to carry out deadly attacks in the occupied West Bank. In the latest incident, a 21-year-old Palestinian woman was killed and another local youth was wounded when Israeli forces opened fire at a school. A witness said the slain victim, Lubna Hanash, was standing with a group of companions when they came under fire.
Ahmed Abu Kheran: "Two Israeli solders traveling in a white car pointed their weapons, shooting indiscriminately at a college, where the women were standing at the entrance, and there was another man inside. They shot three people, and then a large number of soldiers arrived."
Lubna Hanash was laid to rest at a funeral in her hometown of Bethlehem hours after her death. She was one several unarmed Palestinians killed by Israeli troops in the Occupied Territories this month.
New figures show the percentage of U.S. unionized workers has reached its lowest point in 76 years. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 11.3 percent of U.S. workers belonged to a union in 2012, down from 11.8 percent the year prior. The total number of unionized workers dropped by 400,000, even though overall employment increased by 2.4 million. Union membership has come under further assault in recent years with the help of state legislation, including Wisconsin’s rollback of collective bargaining and so-called "right to work" laws in Indiana and Michigan. In a statement, the AFL-CIO said: "Working women and men urgently need a voice on the job today, but the sad truth is that it has become more difficult for them to have one."
Republican lawmakers in Virginia are sparking outrage for pushing through a controversial gerrymandering bill while one of its members was away. On Monday — a federal holiday and the day of President Obama’s inauguration — the Virginia Senate approved a measure to redraw the state’s electoral map in a way that could turn the current 20-20 split with Democrats into a decisive Republican majority. The bill was approved by one vote because Democratic State Senator Henry Marsh was out of state attending the inauguration in Washington. A recent internal report by the Republican State Leadership Committee boasted that the party maintained its House majority by gerrymandering congressional districts in traditionally Democratic states.
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