The Supreme Court has agreed to take on cases that could decide if corporations can ignore parts of federal law based on the religious beliefs of their owners. The cases center around the controversy over whether for-profit corporations must fully cover birth control in the health insurance they provide for their employees. Two companies — Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood — object to provisions in the Affordable Care Act requiring companies to provide contraceptive coverage in employees’ health plans. The firms say they oppose birth control mandates on religious grounds. The case could force a rehashing of the landmark Citizens United decision, which ruled companies have freedom of expression rights that allow unlimited spending on political campaigns. The court could now decide whether companies also have religious freedom rights.
The United States has flown two warplanes over the disputed East China Sea, defying a recent edict from China. The Chinese government said over the weekend it must be notified of any flights over part of the small island chain that is also claimed by Japan. The Pentagon says it flew two B-52 bombers as part of a previously scheduled exercise. The United States, Japan and several other governments have rejected China’s claim to an “air defense zone” over the area.
The Obama administration continues to warn Afghanistan of an early pullout of U.S. forces if it fails to ratify a security pact by the end of the year. Afghan President Hamid Karzai is seeking to delay his signature, calling for an end to U.S. home raids and the release of prisoners from Guantánamo Bay. National Security Adviser Susan Rice issued a warning to Karzai after meeting with him in Kabul.
Susan Rice: “If the agreement isn’t signed promptly, what I said to the president is we would have no choice. We would be compelled by necessity, not by our preference, to have to begin to plan for the prospect that we will not be able to keep our troops here, because they will not be invited because the BSA will not have been signed. And then the nature of our partnership and the investments that we have made will be more difficult to sustain.”
A prosecutor in Egypt has ordered the arrest of two leading activists after they took part in demonstrations against a sweeping new anti-protest law. Ahmed Maher is a founder of the April 6 Youth Movement, which played a key role in the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak during the 2011 uprising. Both he and the prominent Egyptian blogger Alaa Abd El-Fattah attended protests outside the Egyptian Parliament Tuesday, where at least two dozen others were reportedly detained. The new law forces protesters to obtain seven different permits in order to hold public rallies, making protests all but impossible. In Geneva, a spokesperson for the United Nations high commissioner for human rights criticized the measure.
Rupert Colville: “The high commissioner for human rights, Navi Pillay, is today warning that a new law regulating demonstrations in Egypt, which was announced on Sunday, could lead to serious breaches of the right to freedom of peaceful assembly. She states unequivocally that for a range of reasons the law should be amended. Of particular concern are provisions on the use of force by law enforcement officials and the excessive sanctions, including massive fines as well as prison sentences, that can be imposed on those found to be in breach of the law.”
Protests are continuing in Honduras over the contested presidential election. Right-wing ruling party candidate Juan Orlando Hernández has named his transition team after election officials said he had an irreversible lead in the vote. But supporters of his challenger, Xiomara Castro, wife of ousted President Manuel Zelaya, have denounced the results as fraudulent. Hundreds of students took to the streets of the capital Tegucigalpa Tuesday where they faced tear gas from riot police. A student activist rejected the results of Sunday’s election.
Geraldina Carbajal: “We, the students, are here to protest the election fraud that happened on Sunday, November 24. They didn’t respect the decisions of the people. We, as students, have the responsibility to take to the streets to inspire the people to not accept the fraud. We know that Juan Orlando paid the tribunal off so that they would declare him president.”
New leaks from Edward Snowden show the National Security Agency has gathered records on the online sexual activity of Muslim targets in a bid to discredit them. The Huffington Post reports the NSA has identified at least six Muslim leaders whose speeches have the potential to radicalize their audiences with an “extremist message.” None are accused of involvement in terror plots. The NSA has apparently collected evidence of their online activity, including visits to pornography sites in a bid to undermine their credibility or intimidate them into silence. It is unclear if the NSA carried out any of its plans.
Microsoft is reportedly developing a new project to encrypt its online traffic over fears of National Security Agency surveillance. The Washington Post reports Microsoft is expanding its encryption based on concerns the NSA has broken into its global communications links. It emerged last month the NSA has tapped into the private networks of Microsoft rivals Google and Yahoo.
A United Nations panel has advanced a landmark measure affirming rights against unwarranted government surveillance. Germany and Brazil drafted the resolution after the leaks of Edward Snowden showed widespread U.S. spying abroad. The U.N. General Assembly’s Third Committee approved it by consensus on Tuesday, setting up a full General Assembly vote next month. The German ambassador to the United Nations, Peter Wittig, spoke after Tuesday’s vote.
Peter Wittig: “For the first time in the framework of the United Nations, this resolution unequivocally states that the same rights that people have offline must also be protected online. It also emphasizes that unlawful and arbitrary surveillance and the interception of communications are highly intrusive acts that violate the right to privacy and may also violate the freedom of expression. Furthermore, the resolution expresses deep concern at the negative impact that various forms of extraterritorial surveillance may have on the exercise and enjoyment of human rights.”
The spying measure was weakened at the request of the United States and Britain. The original draft said foreign surveillance could amount to “human rights violations and abuses.” But after objections from the United States and Britain, the text was changed to express concern over the “negative impact” of surveillance on human rights.
A new investigation has revealed the CIA kept a secret detention center at Guantánamo Bay to turn prisoners into double agents. According to the Associated Press, CIA agents used the facility “Penny Lane” to recruit prisoners and then send them back home to kill suspected terrorists. The prisoners were given cottages equipped with private kitchens, showers and real beds. At least one prisoner was forced to comply after CIA agents threatened to harm his children. The double agents were paid millions of dollars before the program ended in 2006.
At least 30 Haitian migrants have been found dead at sea after their boat capsized off the Bahamas. Bahamian forces and the U.S. Coast Guard rescued 110 people, including 60 who were clinging to the ship. The passengers were trying to make it to the United States. They are being held at the Coral Harbor military base and face likely deportation.
Caribbean countries have voted to stall the membership effort of the Dominican Republican in the regional group CARICOM over a court ruling cracking down on Haitian residents. The Dominican Constitutional Court issued a decision in September denying citizenship rights to thousands of Haitian descendants. On Tuesday, CARICOM members called on the Dominican government to override the ruling.
Cuba says it is shutting down most consular services in the United States after getting shunned by all major banks. The Cuban government says it was dropped by M&T Bank after the firm closed the last of its accounts serving foreign missions. Cuba says it has been unable to find another bank to replace M&T because of restrictions under the U.S. embargo. The shutdown could affect the travel plans of hundreds of people seeking to visit Cuba over the holidays.
A new study warns methane emissions in the United States are far higher than the government claims. According to Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, the United States released 49 million tons of methane in 2008, compared to an estimate of 32 million by the Environmental Protection Agency. The study’s co-author, Anna Michalak, said: “The total U.S. impact on the world’s energy budget is different than we thought, and it’s worse.”
CBS News has forced correspondent Lara Logan and producer Max McClellan to take a leave of absence over a discredited report on the deadly attack on the U.S. diplomatic site in Benghazi, Libya. Logan was forced to apologize after the claims of her source, security contractor Dylan Davies, proved to be false. Davies claimed to be an eyewitness to the attack, but it turned out he was not there. In an internal review, a CBS executive found that Logan should not have been assigned to cover the Benghazi attack because of her public call for a U.S. military response.