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President Obama has delivered his sixth State of the Union address, outlining his domestic and foreign policy agenda for his final two years in office. On the foreign policy front, Obama defended his decision to begin normalizing relations with Cuba, called for Congress to pass a new authorization of military force against the Islamic State and vowed again to close Guantánamo. He also urged Congress to give him trade promotion authority, the power to negotiate free trade deals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership. But much of his speech focused on the U.S. economy and efforts to bolster the middle class with a push for education, child care and tax breaks.
President Obama: “It’s now up to us to choose who we want to be over the next 15 years, and for decades to come. Will we accept an economy where only a few of us do spectacularly well? Or will we commit ourselves to an economy that generates rising incomes and chances for everyone who makes the effort?”
For the first time since 2001, the State of the Union address included no mention of the word “al-Qaeda.” But Obama did say three other words that made history — “lesbian,” “bisexual” and “transgender” — marking the first time those words have appeared in a State of the Union address.
President Obama: “That’s why we defend free speech and advocate for political prisoners and condemn the persecution of women or religious minorities or people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. We do these things not only because they are the right thing to do, but because ultimately they will make us safer.”
In Yemen, Shiite Houthi rebels have overtaken the presidential palace and are standing guard outside the residence of President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi in what top Yemeni officials are calling a coup. But the rebels appear to have stopped short of forcing Hadi’s resignation, instead demanding he comply with the terms of a power-sharing deal reached in September when the Houthis seized most of the capital Sana’a.
In the Democratic Republic of Congo, at least 15 people have been killed as police crack down on protesters demanding President Joseph Kabila step down next year. The protests are continuing for a third day today over the government’s plans to hold a census which would delay elections and keep Kabila in power for years.
The United States and Cuba begin historic talks today aimed at restoring full diplomatic ties for the first time in more than half a century. The head of the U.S. delegation, Assistant Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson, will be the highest-ranking U.S. diplomat to enter Cuba in 35 years.
Mexican authorities say an Austrian forensic team has been unable to recover enough DNA to determine whether charred human remains found in the state of Guerrero belong to students missing since September. Federal authorities have claimed local police turned the 43 students over to members of a drug gang, who killed them and burned their bodies, but so far only one student’s remains have been identified. Responding to the latest news, Emiliano Navarrete, father of one of the missing students, said he still doubts the government’s account.
Emiliano Navarrete: “Since the beginning, I have not believed what the government has put forward. I think the kids are still alive. And if this is so, if those remains (found in the dump) belonged to some of the youngsters, there is someone who wanted to get rid of them. Someone got in their way.”
In Bahrain, human rights activist Nabeel Rajab has been sentenced to six months in prison for insulting the government on Twitter. Rajab remains free on bail as he appeals. Last May, Rajab was released from prison after two years for charges including taking part in illegal protests. Click here to watch our interview with him in June 2014.
In the United States, residents of Glendive, Montana, and surrounding areas are being told not to drink their tap water after the cancer-causing chemical benzene was detected following an oil spill. The warning comes days after up to 50,000 gallons of oil spilled into the Yellowstone River, and follows earlier assurances by state officials the spill posed no public safety threat. Glendive sits on the edge of the Bakken Shale, a top oil production site, and near the route of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline.
President Obama has vowed to veto a Republican-backed measure to ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, calling it a “direct challenge” to rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court. The House plans to vote on the ban Thursday, on the 42nd anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court’s decision establishing the legal right to abortion.
A new report finds at least 50 U.S. law enforcement agencies have quietly obtained radar devices which effectively allow them to see inside homes. According to USA Today, the radars can detect human breathing at a distance of more than 50 feet, and penetrate walls to locate someone inside a home and determine if they are moving. Dozens of agencies including the FBI and U.S. marshals have been deploying the radars with little scrutiny by courts or the public.
France has announced a wave of “exceptional measures” to combat terrorism in the wake of the attacks earlier this month on Charlie Hebdo magazine and a kosher supermarket. Prime Minister Manuel Valls said the government will spend the equivalent of $490 million over three years and hire more than 2,600 new staff. The plan includes a major increase in surveillance, including a measure easing the use of phone taps. The news comes as France has detained four people charged with aiding supermarket shooter Amedy Coulibaly.
A French comedian is facing up to seven years in prison for a Facebook post in the wake of the attacks. The comedian, Dieudonné M’bala M’bala, was arrested and charged with inciting terrorism after posting that he felt like “Charlie Coulibaly,” a term which combined the name of targeted magazine Charlie Hebdo and the name of kosher supermarket shooter, Amedy Coulibaly.
The mayor of a Paris suburb appears to have backed down on his bid to ban screenings of an Oscar-nominated film over concerns about terrorism. The film “Timbuktu,” just nominated for best foreign language film, is viewed as an unequivocally anti-jihadist film, which depicts the horrors of jihadist occupation in Mali. But Jacques-Alain Bénisti, mayor of Villiers-sur-Marne, who had not seen the film, said he feared it made an “apology for terrorism.” Following a wave of criticism, he has vowed to reschedule the film and host a debate with religious leaders.