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HeadlinesDecember 16, 2015

Fifth Republican Debate Focuses on Expanding Military, Wars

Dec 16, 2015

The nine leading Republican presidential candidates squared off last night in Las Vegas at the Venetian casino, owned by Republican billionaire backer Sheldon Adelson. It was the first debate since Donald Trump shook up the race by proposing to ban Muslims from entering the United States. Trump has gained an all-time high in a recent national poll. As he criticized the cost of wars in the Middle East Tuesday night, Trump was interrupted by protester Kai Newkirk, who decried billionaire politicians.

Donald Trump: “In my opinion”—

Kai Newkirk: “The American people deserve free and fair elections, not billionaire auctions.”

Wolf Blitzer: “Go ahead, Mr. Trump.”

Donald Trump: “In my opinion, we’ve spent $4 trillion trying to topple various people that, frankly, if they were there and if we could have spent that $4 trillion in the United States to fix our roads, our bridges and all of the other problems, our airports and all of the other problems we have, we would have been a lot better off. I can tell you that right now.”

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, who has been trailing in the polls, took aim at Donald Trump’s positions, including his proposal to ban Muslims immigrants.

Jeb Bush: “Look, this is not a serious proposal. In fact, it will push the Muslim world, the Arab world, away from us at a time when we need to re-engage with them to be able to create a strategy to destroy ISIS. So, Donald, you know, is great at the one-liners. But he’s a chaos candidate. And he’d be a chaos president. He would not be the commander-in-chief we need to keep our country safe.”

Much of the debate focused on national security, with candidates pushing for increasing the size of the U.S. military, escalating the wars in the Middle East and expanding the power of the National Security Agency. We’ll talk more about last night’s debate after headlines.

Kerry: U.S. Not Seeking Regime Change in Syria

Dec 16, 2015

Secretary of State John Kerry says the United States is not seeking the ouster of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Speaking in Moscow following talks with Russian leaders, Kerry backed the Russian demand that it be left to the Syrian people to determine if Assad remains in power.

Secretary of State John Kerry: “The United States and our partners are not seeking so-called regime change, as it is known, in Syria. What we have said is that we don’t believe that Assad himself has the ability to be able to lead the future Syria. But we didn’t—you know, we focused today not on our differences about what can or can’t be done immediately about Assad. We focused on a process.”

Report: U.S. Overlooked Torture, Killings by Iraq-Backed Militias

Dec 16, 2015

Defense Secretary Ash Carter is in Iraq for talks on the U.S.-led campaign against the self-proclaimed Islamic State. His trip comes amid revelations the United States has overlooked killings and torture by Shiite militias sponsored by the Iraqi government. Reuters reports both Iraq and the U.S. military launched investigations following the discovery in 2005 of a secret Baghdad prison where 168 prisoners were found in horrific conditions. Neither report was ever published. The U.S. report, obtained by Reuters, found evidence of extrajudicial killings and torture, and implicated top Iraqi officials who remain in positions of power.

Los Angeles Schools Reopen After Threat

Dec 16, 2015

Los Angeles schools have reopened today after the country’s second-largest school system was shuttered Tuesday following a violent threat. While New York City received a nearly identifical threat, authorities here declared it a hoax, while Los Angeles officials kept the district’s 640,000 students at home. The emailed threats mentioned guns, explosives and nerve gas, and were routed through a server in Germany. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti confirmed Tuesday the threats were not credible.

Mayor Eric Garcetti: “We can now announce the FBI has determined this is not a credible threat—something we couldn’t have announced earlier in the day. And I want to be very careful, because that does not mean that it’s conclusively one thing or another yet. Some have used words that I think are probably inappropriate, like 'hoax' and other things. Whether it’s criminal mischief, whether it’s somebody testing vulnerabilities of multiple cities, we still do not know enough to say definitively. What we do know is that it will be safe for our children to return to school tomorrow.”

Hundreds of Greeks Protest Latest Bailout Reforms

Dec 16, 2015

Greek lawmakers have approved a new reform measure demanded by international lenders in exchange for the next batch of bailout funds. Outside the Parliament, hundreds rallied against austerity measures and vowed to continue fighting the bailout terms accepted by Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras. Communist Party leader Dimitris Koutsoumpas was among those to protest.

Dimitris Koutsoumpas: “This bill of prior actions that is being fast-tracked in Parliament, but also the austerity measures that are coming soon, show us that there is only one road for the workers’ movement: a long, continuous battle to fight against this system, against these measures that are bad for the people.”

Jury Deadlocks in Trial of Officer for Freddie Gray Killing

Dec 16, 2015

In Baltimore, Maryland, the jury in the case of William Porter, the first of six officers to face trial over the death of Freddie Gray, has deadlocked. After deliberating for 10 hours, jurors told the judge Tuesday they had failed to reach a unanimous decision. They are set to continue deliberations today after the judge told them to keep going. Porter, one of three African-American officers charged in the case, is accused of failing to summon medical help when Freddie Gray requested it and failing to secure Gray’s seat belt. Porter faces up to 10 years in prison. Freddie Gray’s family attorney has said his spine was 80 percent severed at the neck when he died in police custody, sparking an uprising in Baltimore over police treatment of African Americans.

Israeli Forces Kill 2 Palestinians in Refugee Camp

Dec 16, 2015

Israeli forces have shot dead two Palestinians during a raid on the Qalandiya refugee camp in the occupied West Bank. Israeli authorities said the two young men attempted to ram vehicles into Israeli forces. Since the beginning of October, Israeli forces have killed about 120 Palestinians. Around 20 Israelis and one U.S. citizen have been killed over the same time period in Palestinian attacks.

House Reaches Deal on Spending Bill, Corporate Tax Breaks

Dec 16, 2015

House Speaker Paul Ryan has announced a deal on a $1.1 trillion spending bill and a package of massive tax breaks Democrats say will unfairly benefit corporations. The deal would lift the 40-year ban on crude oil exports from the United States, extend tax breaks for wind and solar energy and delay portions of Obama’s signature healthcare law. Privacy advocates have objected to the inclusion of a controversial cybersecurity measure they say will quietly expand mass surveillance by allowing corporations to share sensitive user data with law enforcement agencies. The House is expected to hold separate votes on the tax and spending portions of the deal by the end of the week.

Report: U.S. Executions Drop to Lowest Level Since 1991

Dec 16, 2015

A new report shows executions in the United States have dropped to their lowest level in nearly 25 years. Of the 28 executions carried out in 2015, 13 took place in Texas, six in Missouri and five in Georgia. The Death Penalty Information Center says a total of 49 new death sentences were imposed this year, the lowest number since the early 1970s when the Supreme Court blocked executions. The report comes amid declining public support for the death penalty, halts on executions in a number of states and a shortage of execution drugs following objections from European pharmaceutical companies.

Flint Mayor Declares State of Emergency over Lead in Water

Dec 16, 2015

The mayor of Flint, Michigan, has declared a state of emergency over lead in the city’s drinking water. Last year, the city switched its water source from the Detroit system to the Flint River. Despite switching back in October, Mayor Karen Weaver said lead levels remain higher than the federal threshold in many homes. A study released in September found the proportion of children under five with elevated lead levels in their blood nearly doubled following the switch. Weaver, who just became Flint’s first woman mayor, made the announcement Monday night.

SC Lawmaker Floats “Invasive” Viagra Bill to Protest Abortion Curbs

Dec 16, 2015

A South Carolina state lawmaker has pre-filed a bill restricting access to Viagra and other erectile dysfunction medications for men in order to make a point about increasing restrictions on women’s reproductive rights. The bill requires men seeking Viagra to undergo a 24-hour waiting period, submit a notarized affidavit from a sexual partner, be examined by a state-licensed sexual therapist and attend outpatient counseling sessions. South Carolina State Representative Mia McLeod said she made the bill as complex as possible—in order to prove a point about restrictions on abortion.

Rep. Mia McLeod: “I purposely tried to make it as invasive, as intrusive, as hypocritical and unnecessary as possible, to make the point.”

Similar attempts to restrict Viagra access in Ohio and other states have so far been unsuccessful.

U.N. Experts Disturbed by Treatment of Women in United States

Dec 16, 2015

And a group of United Nations experts has concluded the United States has failed to uphold gender equality. Following a visit to the United States, the three human rights experts from Poland, the United Kingdom and Costa Rica said they were “appalled by the over-incarceration of women, mostly for non-violent crimes.” They criticized the “deeply disturbing” condition of migrant women in detention centers, and said they were shocked by the lack of accommodation for pregnant women in the workplace. According to The Huffington Post, the women told reporters the most telling moment of the trip was their visit to an abortion clinic in Alabama, where they faced harassment from anti-choice protesters. “It was a kind of terrorism,” the delegate from Poland said.

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