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HeadlinesDecember 21, 2015

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Sanders, Clinton Spar over U.S. Military Role at Debate

Dec 21, 2015

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders and former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley faced off Saturday in the third Democratic presidential debate. The candidates met just one day after the Sanders campaign sued the Democratic National Committee for blocking access to key voter data files. The DNC took action after a Sanders campaign staffer improperly viewed Clinton’s voter files, taking advantage of a glitch in the system. The Sanders campaign fired the staffer involved, and the DNC has restored access to the files. Sanders apologized for the breach during Saturday’s debate, which focused largely on foreign policy. Clinton and Sanders sparred over the role of the U.S. military.

Sen. Bernie Sanders: “The United States must lead, but the United States is not the policeman of the world. The United States must not be involved in perpetual warfare in the Middle East. The United States at the same time cannot successfully fight Assad and ISIS. ISIS now is the major priority.”

Hillary Clinton: “If the United States does not lead, there is not another leader, there is a vacuum. And we have to lead, if we’re going to be successful.”

DNC Accused of Burying Debates During Low-Viewership Times

Dec 21, 2015

Both the O’Malley and Sanders campaigns have accused the DNC of trying to help Clinton by limiting the number of debates and scheduling them during low-viewership times like Saturday nights. According to Nielsen, just 6.7 million people tuned in to ABC on Saturday—a fraction of the 18 million who watched Tuesday’s Republican debate on CNN. We’ll have more on the Democratic debate after headlines.

U.N. Security Council Backs Plans for Peace Process in Syria

Dec 21, 2015

The United Nations Security Council has for the first time endorsed plans for a peace process and ceasefire in Syria. The resolution calls for new elections within 18 months after the beginning of political talks—although it’s unclear when the talks will begin. It does not specify if Syrian President Bashar al-Assad will be able to run. Secretary of State John Kerry praised the resolution.

Secretary of State John Kerry: “Under the resolution approved today, the purpose of those negotiations between the responsible opposition and the government is to facilitate a transition within Syria to a credible, inclusive, nonsectarian governance within six months. The process would lead to the drafting of a new constitution and arrangements for internationally supervised election within 18 months.”

The news comes as rescue workers say airstrikes believed to have been carried out by Russia in the rebel-held Syrian city of Idlib have killed scores of people.

Trump Defends Putin After Russian Leader Calls Him “Talented”

Dec 21, 2015

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has taken a stand for Russian President Vladmir Putin, after Putin called Trump a “very colorful, talented person.” Trump responded by saying it is “a great honor to be so nicely complimented.” In a series of interviews over the weekend, Trump disputed reports of the Kremlin’s involvement in the killing of journalists, saying, “Our country does plenty of killing also.”

Hundreds Rally in NYC to Denounce Corporate Media as Megaphone for Trump

Dec 21, 2015

Meanwhile, hundreds of people rallied outside Trump Tower in Manhattan Sunday to protest Trump’s proposals to ban all Muslim immigrants and deport millions of undocumented people. The “Dump Trump” protest also took aim at major cable networks that have given Trump far more airtime than other candidates. Maha Hilal of the National Coalition to Protect Civil Freedoms said the corporate media has served as a megaphone for Trump’s campaign.

Maha Hilal: “Why can Donald Trump have a universal platform to say these things about Muslims? We need to stop that. So, again, we’re not here because we’re trying to make a moral claim to Donald Trump or anyone in the Democratic or Republican Party. We’re here because we need to mobilize. We’re here because they’re only going to listen to us if we come out in numbers. They’re not going to listen to us if they said it hurt our feelings. They’re not going to listen to us because it’s not OK to be racist. They’re going to listen to us when we come out in these streets and march and demand our rights.”

Obama Signs $1.8 Trillion Spending Bill That Lifts Ban on U.S. Oil Exports

Dec 21, 2015

President Obama has signed a $1.8 trillion spending and tax cut package after Congress passed the deal in a rare moment of bipartisan unity. The measure expands military spending and provides a billion-dollar tax loophole sought by the hotel, restaurant and gambling industry. It also lifts the 40-year ban on exporting U.S.-produced crude oil, a move Oil Change International called “a disaster for the climate.” Democratic leaders said lifting the ban was crucial for winning Republican support. Obama praised Congress for passing the bill.

President Obama: “And today they passed a bipartisan budget deal. I’m not wild about everything in it. I’m sure that’s true for everybody. But it is a budget that, as I insisted, invests in our military and our middle class without ideological provisions that would have weakened Wall Street reform or rules on big polluters.”

Spending Bill Features Spying Expansion, Visa Restrictions

Dec 21, 2015

Privacy advocates have objected to the spending bill’s quiet inclusion of the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act, or CISA, a measure they say will expand mass surveillance under the guise of cybersecurity. Among other provisions are new restrictions on the Visa Waiver Program, which could force Europeans and others deemed to be nationals of Iran, Iraq, Syria or Sudan –- or people who have visited those countries since 2011 — to obtain a visa before entering the United States. Since the move is likely to trigger reciprocal restrictions from other countries, including in Europe, critics warn Iranian Americans could now be treated as “second-class citizens” when traveling abroad.

Israel Bombs Damascus Neighborhood, Killing Hezbollah Commander and Civilians

Dec 21, 2015

The Israeli military has fired artillery into southern Lebanon in what it said was retaliation for rocket fire from the Lebanese side. The exchange comes after Israel assassinated a top commander with the Lebanese group Hezbollah in Syria. Samir Kuntar was freed in 2008 after spending nearly 30 years in an Israeli prison for his role in the killings of three Israelis in a 1979 attack. Kuntar died Saturday when Israel bombed a residential building in a crowded neighborhood of Damascus. The attack reportedly destroyed the five-story building and killed an unknown number of civilians. Residents reported seeing the bodies of women and children in the rubble.

U.S.-Led Airstrike Kills 10 Iraqi Soldiers in “Friendly Fire” Incident

Dec 21, 2015

In Iraq, an airstrike by the U.S.-led coalition has killed 10 Iraqi soldiers in the latest incident of so-called friendly fire. U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter acknowledged a U.S. aircraft carried out the strike Friday, but said it resulted from mistakes on both sides. Carter said he had spoken to Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi.

Secretary of Defense Ash Carter: “I explained to him our regret, and he and I agreed that this was an event that we both regretted and that there would be an investigation of it, but that these kinds of things happen when you’re fighting side by side, as we are.”

Taliban Claims Key District in Southern Afghanistan

Dec 21, 2015

In news from Afghanistan, a key district in the southern province of Helmand has reportedly fallen to the Taliban. Taliban militants overran the Sangin district after two days of fighting which reportedly killed more than 90 Afghan soldiers. Helmand’s deputy governor had pleaded for help from Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on social media Sunday, saying, “Helmand stands on the brink.”

China: 91 Missing After Construction Waste Landslide

Dec 21, 2015

In China, at least 91 people are missing after a massive landslide in the southern city of Shenzhen. A massive man-made pile of construction waste plowed into an industrial park, burying 33 buildings.

Air Pollution Shutters Schools in Tehran, Factories in Beijing

Dec 21, 2015

In Iran, authorities have shuttered all schools and kindergartens in the capital Tehran for two days due to dangerous levels of air pollution. The move comes as authorities in Beijing, China, ordered thousands of factories to suspend or curb production amid a “red alert” over smog.

Podemos Party Hails “End of Two-Party System” After National Elections

Dec 21, 2015

In Spain, rising support for the anti-austerity Podemos party has dealt a major blow to the ruling People’s Party in national elections. Sunday’s elections resulted in a deeply divided Parliament, leaving the future of right-wing Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy in doubt. Rajoy’s People’s Party won 123 seats, the Socialist party won 90 seats, and the Podemos party won 69 seats. Podemos grew out of the indignados protest movement. Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias celebrated the election results.

Pablo Iglesias: “So today is an historical day for Spain. We are very happy for the fact that in Spain the two-party system is ended, and we are happy because we are starting a new political era in our country. Our defense of the social justice and our fight against corruption are going to be the political lines of our group in the Spanish Congress. Spain is not going to be the same anymore. We are very happy, and now the agenda is the constitutional reform in our country.”

FIFA President Sepp Blatter Banned from Soccer for 8 Years

Dec 21, 2015

In the latest on the scandal surrounding soccer’s international governing body, FIFA President Sepp Blatter has been barred from soccer for eight years for ethics violations. The probe by FIFA’s independent ethics committee surrounded a payment of $2 million to Michel Platini, president of the group that oversees soccer in Europe. Platini was also banned from soccer for eight years.

Virginia County Closes School amid Protests over Arabic Calligraphy Homework

Dec 21, 2015

Officials in Nashua, New Hampshire, have shut down all public schools for the day after receiving a “detailed threat of violence.” This comes after schools in Augusta County, Virginia, closed Friday amid outrage over a homework assignment on Arabic calligraphy. The assignment asked students to copy an Islamic statement of faith, known as the shahada, in order to gain “an idea of the artistic complexity of calligraphy.” But angry parents accused the teacher, Cheryl LaPorte, of trying to convert their children to Islam. After a torrent of phone calls, emails and social media postings, officials closed schools, citing the “tone and content” of the messages.

Obama Commutes Sentences of 95 Prisoners

Dec 21, 2015

President Obama has commuted the sentences of 95 federal prisoners—most of them nonviolent drug offenders serving lengthy sentences, including 40 sentenced to life terms. Obama also pardoned two prisoners convicted of counterfeiting and bank fraud. The move more than doubles the total number of commutations Obama has granted since taking office.

Video Shows Los Angeles Sheriff’s Deputies Shooting Man in the Back

Dec 21, 2015

Newly released cellphone footage appears to show Los Angeles sheriff’s deputies shooting a man in the back as he lies pinned to the ground. Last May, deputies stopped Noel Aguilar for riding his bike with headphones. Authorities initially claimed Aguilar shot one of the deputies as they were handcuffing him, but officials later revealed the shot came from the other deputy’s gun. Video just released by OC Weekly shows Aguilar, pinned to the ground, asking one of the deputies why he has his gun out. The deputy fires a shot into Aguilar’s stomach, then the second deputy fires three shots at Aguilar. An attorney for Aguilar’s family said the shooting “seems like it’s murder.”

FBI Releases Pete Seeger’s 1,800-Page FBI File

Dec 21, 2015

And the FBI has released its extensive file on the late legendary folk singer and activist Pete Seeger. The file, obtained by Mother Jones through a Freedom of Information Act request, shows the FBI began spying on Seeger when he was an Army private in 1943 because he wrote a letter protesting a proposal to deport all Japanese-American citizens at the end of World War II. The government continued to spy on Seeger through the early 1970s. Military intelligence agents visited his grade school and high school, investigated his father and his wife, Toshi, who was Japanese-American, and interviewed fellow folk singer Woody Guthrie. Seeger died last year at the age of 94. His FBI file runs to nearly 1,800 pages—with about 90 pages still withheld by the U.S. government.

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