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Senate Republicans have blocked a sweeping measure aimed at reining in the National Security Agency’s dragnet surveillance. The USA FREEDOM Act would have ended the bulk collection of telephone records by requiring the NSA to make specific requests to phone companies for a user’s data, rather than vacuuming up all the records at once. It would also create a panel to advocate for privacy rights before the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. The measure was a direct consequence of the 2013 leaks by whistleblower Edward Snowden exposing unchecked government surveillance and data collection. But on Tuesday, Republicans helped defeat the bill in a 58-to-42 vote, two shy of the 60 needed to advance. The Republican-controlled House passed a watered-down version earlier this year. The measure faces an uncertain fate next year when Republicans take full control of Congress ahead of a June deadline to re-authorize the phone records collection program.
In another major vote, the Senate has narrowly rejected a measure that would have approved construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline. Fourteen Democrats supported the bill along with all 45 Republicans. But with 59 in favor, the measure failed to pass by just one vote. After the tally was announced, a man reportedly with the Lakota Tribe of South Dakota burst out in song. Republicans have vowed to resurrect the bill in January, when they hold the Senate majority.
Speaking ahead of the vote, House Speaker John Boehner said a potential veto from President Obama would be tantamount to calling the American people “stupid.”
House Speaker John Boehner: “A Keystone pipeline veto would send the signal that this president has no interest in listening to the American people. Vetoing an overwhelmingly popular bill would be a clear indication that he doesn’t care about the American people’s priorities. It would be equivalent of calling the American people stupid.”
The unrest that has gripped Jerusalem has escalated after a deadly attack on five Israeli civilians. The victims were killed when armed Palestinians stormed a synagogue during morning prayers. It was the deadliest attack on Israeli civilians in more than three years and the worst in Jerusalem since 2008. The dead included three U.S.-born rabbis, a British-born rabbi and a Druze police officer. Seven worshipers were injured. The assailants were shot dead by police. The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine has claimed responsibility. The attack came after weeks of unrest fueled in part by a dispute over Jerusalem’s holiest site, known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary and known to Jews as the Temple Mount, as well as the continued expansion of Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem. After the synagogue killings, Israeli settlers launched reprisal attacks in the occupied West Bank, targeting a school near Nablus and Palestinian motorists on a road near Hebron. At least five Palestinians were wounded after Israeli forces fired rubber-coated bullets.
A new United Nations report warns the militant group Islamic State has enough of a weapons stockpile to continue its war for territory in Iraq and Syria for up to two years. Much of the ISIS arsenal was stolen from the U.S.-supplied Iraqi army, which has been overrun by ISIS fighters throughout the year. The report recommends sanctions to cut off the group’s access to money and weapons, including the seizing of its oil tankers. Briefing the Security Council, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said fighting ISIS on a political level might be more effective than U.S.-led airstrikes.
Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein: “I implore the Council to support such efforts to overturn ISIL’s ideology of violence and death, for the sake of the rights of all in Iraq, irrespective of ethnic or religious identity, whether men or women, old or young. Ultimately, support given to the ideological front may be more effective than airstrikes in bringing an end to the longstanding suffering of the people of Iraq.”
Also addressing the Council, Emergency Relief Coordinator Valerie Amos said over two million Iraqis living under ISIS control are in need of urgent aid.
Valerie Amos: “There are currently 3.6 million Iraqis living in areas under the control of ISIL and affiliated armed groups; 2.2 million of them are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance. And despite acute needs, including for shelter, health and food in areas most impacted by the conflict, only meager amounts of assistance have been delivered to areas under ISIL control to date.”
India and Cuba have reported new cases of Ebola in citizens who were in West Africa. A Cuban doctor will be treated in Geneva after contracting the disease in Sierra Leone, where he was a member of Cuba’s 165-member medical team. Meanwhile, an Indian man is being held in isolation at Delhi’s airport after recovering from Ebola in Liberia. The Obama administration has asked Congress to approve $6.2 billion in funding for the international Ebola response. On Tuesday, President Obama urged lawmakers to approve the request before the December recess.
President Obama: “Although we should feel optimistic about our capacity to solve the Ebola crisis, we cannot be complacent simply because the news attention on it has waned. We have to stay with it. And that’s why I’m calling Congress to make sure that it approves, before it leaves, the emergency funding request that we put forward to respond to Ebola both domestically and internationally.”
The United Nations has approved a landmark measure to seek the potential prosecution of North Korean officials for crimes against humanity. On Tuesday, the United Nations General Assembly voted to refer abuses by the North Korean regime to the International Criminal Court. It comes months after a U.N. investigation found North Korean leaders could be guilty of major crimes, including state-sanctioned killings, starvation and torture. The final vote was 119 to 19, with 55 abstentions. Cuba was among the countries to oppose the measure, calling it a “tool to sanction and condemn developing countries.”
Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon has appointed a commission to make recommendations for dealing with the social and racial justice issues raised by the killing of unarmed teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson. Nixon unveiled the 16-member panel on Tuesday.
Gov. Jay Nixon: “Let us heal the divisions exposed by the death of Michael Brown and use this defining moment as the moment we begin to walk a different path. While they are clearly a diverse group, they are united by the shared passion to promote understanding, to hasten healing, to ensure equal opportunities and education and employment, and to safeguard the civil rights of all of our citizens.”
The move comes just one day after Nixon declared a state of emergency in Missouri ahead of the grand jury’s pending decision on whether to indict the officer who killed Brown, Darren Wilson.
Local gun sellers in St. Louis are again reporting a spike in weapons sales as the grand jury decision nears in the Michael Brown shooting case. One store says it has sold two to three times more weapons than normal in recent weeks — an average of 30 to 50 per day.
Missouri has executed death row prisoner Leon Taylor after his last-minute appeals were denied. Taylor was convicted for the 1994 murder of a gas station attendant in Kansas City. He had sought clemency from Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon and a stay from the Supreme Court, but both efforts were rejected Tuesday night. Taylor, who is black, was initially sentenced to death by a judge after the trial jury deadlocked. When the judge’s sentence was thrown out, an all-white jury then sentenced Taylor to death. Defense attorneys argued he was penalized for successfully appealing his first conviction. Lawyers also cited a history of child abuse beginning at the age of five. Taylor is the ninth person to be executed in Missouri this year.
President Obama has ordered a review of the nation’s hostage policy following the execution of Americans kidnapped by the Islamic State. Family members of the hostages have criticized U.S. government policy of refusing to engage with their captors, including the payment of ransom. Freed ISIS captives have said American and British hostages suffered the worst abuses, because of the militants’ political grievances and their governments’ refusal to buy their freedom. A number of European hostages were released after their governments paid a ransom. But the White House says its new review will not include the prohibition on ransom payments. Administration officials say not paying ransoms ultimately protects more Americans by making them less valuable targets.
Martin Wilson-Sulzman: “It means that we have some equality.”
David Sulzman: “It’s a new start. It’s a new start.”
Martin Wilson-Sulzman: “And it can only go up from here, and that’s what it means. And that’s why I’m very happy for us and for the other couples that took that today.”
On Tuesday, the Kansas Supreme Court ruled marriage licenses can only be issued in Johnson County, setting up a new potential court challenge.