President Obama gave further detail on his second-term agenda Tuesday night with the annual State of the Union address. On the climate, Obama called on lawmakers to take action against global warming but refused to commit to binding cuts of U.S. carbon emissions, the world’s largest per capita. With a number of victims of gun violence in attendance, Obama also urged Congress to vote on new gun reform measures including background checks and bans on what he described as “weapons of war and massive ammunition magazines.”
President Obama: “If Congress won’t act soon to protect future generations, I will. I will direct — I will direct my Cabinet to come up with executive actions we can take, now and in the future, to reduce pollution, prepare our communities for the consequences of climate change, and speed the transition to more sustainable sources of energy. It has been two months since Newtown. I know this is not the first time this country has debated how to reduce gun violence. But this time is different. Overwhelming majorities of Americans — Americans who believe in the Second Amendment — have come together around commonsense reform.”
In his speech, President Obama also called on Congress to raise the federal minimum wage to $9 an hour, from $7.25, and to automatically adjust it with inflation.
On Afghanistan, Obama announced his plan to end the longest-running war in U.S. history by withdrawing about half of U.S. forces there by the end of the year.
President Obama: “This spring, our forces will move into a support role, while Afghan security forces take the lead. Tonight, I can announce that over the next year another 34,000 American troops will come home from Afghanistan. This drawdown will continue. And by the end of next year, our war in Afghanistan will be over.”
The announcement of a troop drawdown comes as a U.S. air strike in Afghanistan has killed 10 civilians. The strike hit what the NATO occupation force called a suspected Taliban hideout in the province of Kunar. Most of the dead were women and children.
California police say they believe former Los Angeles police officer Christopher Dorner has died in a final standoff in the snowy mountains of Big Bear. A suspect believed to be Dorner took refuge in a cabin after a car chase with police on Tuesday, leading to a shootout. A single gunshot was reportedly heard from within the cabin before it erupted in flames. Officers are now testing the dead body recovered from the site to confirm they have found Dorner’s remains. San Bernardino County Sheriff’s spokesperson Cindy Bachman said a sheriff’s deputy was killed in the gunfight between Dorner and police, bringing his victim toll to four.
Cindy Bachman: “The suspect that was driving the vehicle abandoned the vehicle and fled on foot into the forest. He barricaded himself in a cabin. At that time, there was an exchange of gunfire between the law enforcement personnel outside of the cabin and the subject inside. During that gunfight, a deputy sheriff — two deputy sheriffs were shot. One of them died after being taken to Loma Linda. The second deputy is currently in surgery and is expected to survive.”
Dorner’s apparent death would end a manhunt that began after he vowed to exact revenge on the LAPD for his firing in 2008.
The Senate Armed Services Committee has voted to advance Chuck Hagel’s defense secretary nomination to a full Senate vote. The vote was held along party lines, with Senator Carl Levin among the Democrats backing Hagel and Senator Lindsey Graham among the Republicans opposed.
Sen. Carl Levin: “If there is a risk here, it is that the defeat of this nomination will leave the Department of Defense leaderless at a time when we face immense budgetary challenges and our military is engaged in combat operations overseas. Such an absence of senior leadership would be unlikely to benefit either our national defense or our men and women in uniform.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham: “The next secretary of defense is going to have to deal with a world on fire, and I just believe that the testimony of Senator Hagel was not reassuring. I don’t think he did come across clear and convincing that he understood our policies toward Iran.”
The United Nations Security Council has voted to “strongly condemn” North Korea for its latest nuclear test. On Tuesday, the Council unanimously voted to censure the North Korean government and vowed punitive measures. North Korea called the test a response to U.S. hostility, including the tightening of sanctions following a rocket launch in December and the recent staging of war games in the Korean Peninsula. On Tuesday, the State Department confirmed it had received a warning from North Korea of a pending nuclear test, but that no dates had been specified.
Syrian rebels have captured a military airport near the restive northern city of Aleppo in their fight against President Bashar al-Assad. The news comes amidst ongoing violence in the capital Damascus, where both sides are fighting for control of key roads. On Tuesday, Navi Pillay, the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, said Syrian civilians are paying the price for U.N. Security Council inaction.
Navi Pillay: “The Security Council is at its best when it acts with a unified voice. The lack of consensus on Syria and the resulting inaction has been disastrous, and civilians on all sides have paid the price. We will be judged against the tragedy that has unfolded before our eyes. This Council, as well as those of us in key positions within the U.N., will rightly be asked what we did.”
According to Pillay, the death toll from Syria’s nearly two-year-old conflict is likely approaching 70,000.
Bahraini forces have broken up a new protest against the ruling monarchy with tear gas and stun grades. Hundreds of people tried to march to the capital Manama’s Pearl Roundabout, the symbol of their uprising against the U.S.-backed Bahraini regime. Thursday marks the uprising’s two-year anniversary, and more protests are planned in defiance of a ban on demonstrations.
Italy’s former top intelligence official has been sentenced to 10 years in prison for his role in the CIA’s kidnapping of an Islamic cleric. The official, Nicolo Pollari, was convicted in the fallout over the abduction of Abu Omar from the streets of Milan in 2003. Omar was taken to U.S. bases in Italy and Germany before being sent to Egypt, where he suffered torture during a four-year imprisonment. Pollari will not have to serve jail time until his efforts for appeal are exhausted. His sentencing comes days after an Italian court gave the CIA’s former station chief a seven-year term in absentia. Twenty-five other Americans have also been convicted in the case, though the United States has rejected their extradition.
Military officials at Guantánamo Bay have admitted they have placed hidden microphones in the rooms where defense attorneys meet with detainees. The disclosure arose in the ongoing pretrial hearings for alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four others. On Tuesday, a Pentagon official acknowledged the meeting rooms are mic’ed, but insisted the military never listens in on attorney-client conversations. Defense attorneys for the 9/11 suspects have expressed doubts about that claim and say their clients’ trials may have been compromised.
The Senate has voted to expand the scope of the landmark Violence Against Women Act. The new legislation affirms an earlier vote granting domestic violence protections to 30 million undocumented immigrants, LGBT people and Native American women. Twenty-two Republicans voted against the measure, including Senators Marco Rubio of Florida and Rand Paul of Kentucky. The vote will add to exisiting pressure on the House, where Republicans have proposed a narrower version.
President Obama has announced he has signed a new executive order to help defend the United States from computer attacks overseas. The measure creates voluntary standards for network security and promotes information sharing with private companies that help run critical U.S. infrastructure. The order is part of a wide package of steps that include the Obama administration’s self-declared right to launch a preemptive cybermilitary strike on foreign targets should the White House deem it necessary to preempt an imminent computer attack from abroad.
In New York, the decision over whether to lift a ban on the gas-drilling process known as “fracking” is facing a delay after regulators studying its health impact said they needed more time to complete a key review. The move could potentially delay the rule-making process for months, leaving the ban in place. On Tuesday, the state’s top environmental regulator said he may speed up the process by issuing permits for fracking before final regulations are created if the health department concludes the process is safe. Critics say fracking, which involves blasting liquid into deep underground rock, threatens the environment, water supplies and public health.
A federal judge has granted class action status to a lawsuit challenging the New York City police tactic known as “stop and frisk.” Judge Shira Scheindlin ruled a group of Bronx residents can bring claims on behalf of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of their neighbors for being accosted outside of the buildings in which they live. The ruling comes one month after Judge Scheindlin ordered police to cease the “stop and frisks” outside of residential buildings under the city’s so-called Clean Halls program.