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HeadlinesDecember 11, 2013

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Jobless Benefits in Limbo After Bipartisan Budget Deal

Dec 11, 2013

Congressional negotiators have reached a budget deal for government funding through 2015 while averting the threat of another shutdown at the beginning of next year. The bipartisan agreement reduces spending cuts under the sequester by $63 billion, replacing them with new airline fees and cuts to federal pensions. Republican Rep. Paul Ryan and Democratic Sen. Patty Murray called the deal a win for both sides.

Rep. Paul Ryan: “I think this agreement is a clear improvement on the status quo. This agreement makes sure that we don’t have a government shutdown scenario in January. It makes sure that we don’t have another government shutdown scenario in October. It makes sure that we don’t lurch from crisis to crisis.”

Sen. Patty Murray: “Our deal puts jobs and economic growth first by rolling back sequestration’s harmful cuts to education and medical research and infrastructure investments and defense jobs for the next two years.”

As part of the deal, Democrats dropped their demand to include an extension of unemployment benefits set to expire this month. Democrats say they will instead push for the jobless benefits in a separate measure.

Federal Agencies Approve Long-Delayed Volcker Rule

Dec 11, 2013

Federal regulators have given final approval to a long-delayed measure increasing oversight of Wall Street banks. The Volcker Rule aims to curb proprietary trading, in which banks trade financial securities from their own commercial accounts. The rule was included in the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial reform bill, but needed final approval from all five federal banking agencies, including the SEC and the Federal Reserve. In a major win for banks, the final version grants some exemptions and effectively hands them responsibility for judging their own compliance. In a statement, the group Public Citizen called the Volcker Rule’s approval “a step forward toward a safer financial system” but warned: “There still could be too many opportunities for banks to disguise as permitted activity what should be deemed prohibited proprietary trading.”

Thousands Queue to Pay Respects as Mandela Body Lies in State

Dec 11, 2013

The body of Nelson Mandela is lying in state today following Tuesday’s memorial service at a soccer stadium in Soweto. Thousands of people are lining up to file past Mandela’s casket at the Union Buildings, where he was inaugurated as South Africa’s first black president in 1994. South Africa’s week of remembrance will end Sunday with Mandela’s burial in his home village of Qunu. Tuesday’s memorial saw a historic handshake between President Obama and Cuban President Raúl Castro, sparking Republican criticism of Obama at home. Republican Sen. John McCain compared the gesture to British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s handshake with Adolf Hitler at the outset of World War II. Meanwhile, advocates for the deaf voiced outrage after the sign language interpreter for the memorial turned out to be a fraud. A man posing as an interpreter made gestures from the stage, but his hand signals amounted to gibberish.

Accepting Nobel Peace Prize, OPCW Calls on Holdouts to Ratify Chemical Weapons Treaty

Dec 11, 2013

The Nobel Prizes were awarded Tuesday at a pair of ceremonies in Sweden and Norway. The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons won the Nobel Peace Prize for its work to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal. Accepting the award, OPCW director Ahmet Uzumcu called on the six states outside the Chemical Weapons Convention to ratify it.

Ahmet Uzumcu: “International consensus on the elimination of Syria’s chemical weapons has as its basis the same consensus that drove the Chemical Weapons Convention to conclusion. The challenge now is to persuade those six countries still outside the convention to join it — without delay or conditions.”

The six countries are Israel, Burma, Angola, North Korea, South Sudan and Egypt. In his remarks, Uzumcu paid tribute to the victims of chemical attacks.

Ahmet Uzumcu: “Chemical weapons evolved over time, with the discovery of new and deadlier agents. But whatever their form, they share one common purpose: to invoke fear and submission through the horrifying nature of their impact. Scores of victims beyond the battlefield have attested to this. In accepting this prize on behalf of the OPCW, I also pay homage to all these victims.”

Ukraine Police Pull Back from Protest Raid

Dec 11, 2013

Riot police in Ukraine have pulled back after storming a large protest encampment in Kiev. Hundreds of officers raided Independence Square Tuesday night in a bid to crush the epicenter of weeks of public demonstrations against the government. President Viktor Yanukovych has faced calls to resign over his decision to strengthen ties with Russia over the European Union. The protests appeared to grow overnight after Tuesday’s raid.

U.S. Suspends Aid to Rebel-Held Northern Syria

Dec 11, 2013

The United States has suspended aid into northern Syria following clashes between Islamist rebels and the main opposition coalition. Fighters from the Islamic Front seized bases belonging to the Free Syrian Army last week amidst growing infighting between forces opposed to the Assad regime.

Uruguay Legalizes National Market for Marijuana

Dec 11, 2013

Uruguay has become the first country to legalize a national market for the growth and sale of marijuana. The Uruguayan Senate approved a historic measure on Tuesday that will allow registered citizens to purchase up to 40 grams a month from licensed pharmacies and grow plants in their own homes. Hundreds of people celebrated the vote outside the Uruguayuan Senate.

Demonstrator: “Today is a historic day, not only for Uruguay, but for all the world. Uruguay is the first country to regulate the marijuana market. There is a wager now, and social organizations will continue working for this to be efficient. But today, above all, is a day of celebration, as you can see from the people outside of the legislative palace.”

The law will take effect in Uruguay early next year.

Indian Supreme Court Reinstates Ban on Gay Sex

Dec 11, 2013

India’s Supreme Court has reinstated a law banning homosexual sex. The ban was struck down four years ago, but renewed on Tuesday after the court upheld a section of the penal code dating back to 1860. Indian officials say they plan to keep a database of those prosecuted under the law. In a statement, Human Rights Watch called the ruling a “setback to human dignity.”

Senate Confirms Housing, Judicial Picks After Filibuster Curbs

Dec 11, 2013

The Senate has begun confirming long-stalled presidential nominees after rolling back the use of the filibuster. On Tuesday, Democrats approved Rep. Melvin Watt to head the Federal Housing Finance Agency and Patricia Ann Millett to a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Historic changes approved by Democrats last month lower the threshold for ending filibusters of presidential nominees from 60 votes to 51 votes. That means a minority vote can no longer block a majority’s support for a nomination. In retaliation, Republicans used Senate rules to make Tuesday’s votes as drawn-out as possible.

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