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Senate Approves $1.5 Trillion Tax Bill to Benefit the Wealthiest

Dec 20, 2017
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Congress is on the cusp of approving a massive rewrite of the U.S. tax code that will overwhelmingly benefit corporations and the wealthiest Americans, while ending a central pillar of President Obama’s signature healthcare law. Just past midnight, the Senate voted 51 to 48, along party lines, on a final version of the tax bill, as protests erupted in the gallery, with chants of “Kill the bill! Don’t kill us!” briefly interrupting proceedings. The Senate vote came despite overwhelming public opposition to the measure. An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found fewer than one-quarter of Americans think the tax plan is a good idea, while two-thirds of those surveyed say it’s designed mostly to help corporations and the wealthy. This is Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Sen. Mitch McConnell: “My view of this: If we can’t sell this to the American people, we ought to go into another line of work. I think this is an important accomplishment for the country that people will value and appreciate, but obviously it requires us continuing this discussion with the American people.”

All 48 members of the Senate’s Democratic caucus voted against the bill. During debate, Ohio Democrat Sherrod Brown opened the doors to the Senate chamber and pointed to lobbyists walking in and out of the offices of Republican leader Mitch McConnell, saying they were responsible for a bill that will enrich millionaires and corporations while taking away healthcare from ordinary Americans.

Sen. Sherrod Brown: “I want my colleagues to think about this picture, this stream of lobbyists in and out of Senator McConnell’s office, this stream of lobbyists from America’s largest, richest corporations, the drug companies, the tobacco companies, the insurance companies, the companies that tend to run this government. I want you to think of that. I want you to think of: Are you on the side of the workers, who are doing the heavy work, who can’t work 'til they're 70, or are you on the side of CEOs and politicians who do the bidding of these CEOs?”

Sherrod Brown’s comments drew a rebuke from an assistant to Senator Mitch McConnell, who said they “lacked decorum.”

House Approves Tax Bill, But Must Re-Vote Wednesday

Dec 20, 2017
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The Senate’s passage of the tax bill came hours after the House of Representatives voted 227-203 in favor of the measure, with zero Democrats and 227 Republicans voting yes, and 191 Democrats and 12 Republicans voting against it. However, parliamentary procedures will require the House to vote again today after small, technical changes were made to the legislation. This is Georgia Democratic congressmember, the civil rights leader John Lewis.

Rep John Lewis: “This is not fair, it is not just, and it is below the dignity and worth of this body. Mr. Speaker, I’ve said on many occasions that you cannot get blood from a turnip. You cannot justify robbing poor Peter to pay billionaire Paul. Mr. Speaker, when this bill comes due, the chickens will come home to roost. I urge all of my colleagues to be on the right side of history and vote against this act.”

An analysis by the Tax Policy Institute found that, by 2027, the tax bill would give the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans 83 percent of the tax cut. The bill would also end the federal health insurance mandate, endangering the Affordable Care Act, while opening up drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. President Trump has called a 1 p.m. news conference today where he’s expected to celebrate his first major legislative victory.

Yemen: Rebels Fire Missile at Saudi Palace as Civilian Deaths Mount

Dec 20, 2017
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In Yemen, the U.S.-backed, Saudi-led coalition said Tuesday it had shot down a missile fired by rebels and aimed at the heart of the Saudi kingdom. Video posted by Houthi militants showed the launch of the short-range ballistic missile, which the rebels said was aimed at the royal palace in Riyadh. Saudi officials immediately blamed Iran for supplying the missile—a charge denied by both Tehran and the Houthi rebels. The escalating tensions came as the U.N.’s top human rights official said U.S.-backed, Saudi-led coalition airstrikes have killed at least 136 civilians and noncombatants in the past two weeks alone, including seven airstrikes on a prison that killed 45 people and an assault on a farmhouse that killed 14 children and six adults.

Israeli Forces Arrest Palestinian Teenager Who Confronted Soldiers

Dec 20, 2017
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In the occupied Palestinian territories, human rights groups are warning that Israeli forces are increasingly arresting and detaining children—sometimes holding them without trial—as protests continue to rage over President Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. On Tuesday, Israeli soldiers and border police raided the home of prominent 16-year-old Palestinian activist Ahed Tamimi, a day after video showing her confronting Israeli soldiers went viral. After Ahed Tamimi’s arrest, the girl’s mother, Nariman Tamimi, was detained at an Israeli police station as she inquired about the status of her daughter. In another case, witnesses say 17-year-old Abdul-Khalik Burnat was arrested earlier this week when he went out for pizza with friends. Burnat’s father is Iyad Burnat, a leader of a nonviolent Palestinian resistance group whose work was highlighted in the Oscar-nominated documentary “Five Broken Cameras.”

U.N. Rights Chief Denounces Israeli Killing of Disabled Palestinian

Dec 20, 2017
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The arrests came as the U.N.'s top human rights official condemned the killing of 29-year-old Palestinian Ibrahim Abu Thuraya, who was shot in the head by an Israeli sniper last Friday during a protest in the Gaza Strip. Abu Thuraya was a double amputee who lost both legs and a kidney in 2008 during an Israeli airstrike and used a wheelchair. This is Rupert Colville, spokesperson for the U.N.'s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Rupert Colville: “As far as we can see, there is nothing whatsoever to suggest that Ibrahim Abu Thuraya was posing an imminent threat of death or serious injury when he was killed. In the words of the high commissioner, given his severe disability, which must have been clearly visible to those who shot him, his killing is incomprehensible, and it is a truly shocking and wanton act.”

China: 10 Accused Drug Dealers Publicly Sentenced to Death & Executed

Dec 20, 2017
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In news from China, human rights groups are sounding the alarm after authorities in the southern Guangdong province held a public trial for 12 accused drug dealers before sentencing 10 of them to be put to death immediately. Thousands of residents of the city of Lufeng looked on from a local sports stadium during Saturday’s spectacle, which saw prisoners paraded through the streets ahead of the executions. It was the third time that death sentences have been carried out publicly since June.

Burma: Two Reuters Journalists Arrested After Covering Rohingya Plight

Dec 20, 2017
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In Burma, authorities have arrested a pair of Reuters journalists, who could face up to 14 years in prison for allegedly violating Burma’s Official Secrets Act. Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo had been reporting on military-backed violence against minority Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine State before their arrest on December 12. Reuters’ editor-in-chief called the arrests a “blatant attack on press freedom,” and foreign ministers around the world—including U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson—have demanded their release.

Argentina: Protests Rage as Lawmakers Roll Back Pension Benefits

Dec 20, 2017
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In Argentina, lawmakers narrowly approved sweeping changes to the country’s pension system, voting 128-116 Tuesday as massive protests raged outside and unions called a 24-hour general strike. Under the new law, the formula used to calculate pension benefits will be tied to the inflation rate, a change economists say will result in smaller monthly stipends for retirees. The bill also raises the age of retirement—to 70 for men and to 63 for women. Ahead of the bill’s passage, thousands of protesters flooded the streets of Buenos Aires, banging pots and pans as they surrounded the capitol building. Police responded by firing rubber-coated steel bullets and volleys of tear gas at the crowds, injuring dozens and arresting some 60 demonstrators.

Rodolfo, retiree: “They’re robbing all of us. President Macri sticks his hand in our pockets. We could see this coming. Now those who voted for Macri and the traitors of Peronism should be held responsible, because they gave them the green light to approve this law.”

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Four Jailed DACA Recipients on Hunger Strike Face Possible Deportation

Dec 20, 2017
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Back in the United States, three DREAMers are expected to be released from jail after spending five days on a hunger strike, after they held a sit-in at the offices of Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer of New York and Republican Congressmember Carlos Curbelo of Florida. The activists were demanding the lawmakers commit to voting “no” on a spending bill this month unless it includes a version of the so-called clean DREAM Act without concessions on funding for the border wall or enhanced border security. Five others who were arrested remain in jail, and four of them face possible deportation.

Virginia: Political Balance Swings After Democrat Wins Recount by 1 Vote

Dec 20, 2017
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In Virginia, Republicans have lost control of the House of Delegates for the first time in 17 years, after a recount of November’s election showed Democrat Shelly Simonds won a House seat by a single vote. Results confirmed Tuesday showed Simonds received 11,608 votes to her Republican opponent’s 11,607 votes. Her victory in Virginia’s 94th District will leave Democrats and Republicans with an even 50-50 split next year when the House of Delegates begins its new term. There are several other recounts underway.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos Faces Protest at University of Baltimore Speech

Dec 20, 2017
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In Maryland, students and faculty at the University of Baltimore turned their backs in protest Tuesday as Education Secretary Betsy DeVos delivered a commencement address to graduates. The protest came after more than 3,200 people signed a petition opposing DeVos’s appearance on campus, saying her policies cause direct harm to students and counter the school’s mission to fight for social justice and equality.

Senators Call on Al Franken Not to Resign Amid Sexual Abuse Charges

Dec 20, 2017
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At least four senators are calling on Minnesota Democrat Al Franken to reconsider his decision to leave the Senate, after Franken announced earlier this month that he’d resign “in the coming weeks.” Franken’s decision followed allegations from at least seven women who say Franken groped them or forcibly tried to kiss them without their consent. Among those now calling for Franken to remain is Vermont Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy, who says now he regrets his call for Franken to step down.

Ohio Lawmakers Demand Inquiry into Prison Taser Abuses

Dec 20, 2017
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In Ohio, state lawmakers are demanding accountability for prison guards who were filmed repeatedly using Taser weapons to electrocute at least 80 prisoners at Ohio’s Franklin County jail. In videos filmed between 2008 and 2010 and obtained by Reuters, Sergeant Mychal Turner and his deputies are seen repeatedly tasering prisoners—including a mentally ill man who refused an order to stand, a shirtless man who refused to remove jewelry and a handcuffed prisoner who was shocked five times for refusing to sit on a bench. A warning to listeners and viewers: This footage is disturbing.

Prisoners: [screaming]

The videos prompted Ohio’s Franklin County to settle a lawsuit that accused guards of “sadistic” and unconstitutional Taser use beginning in 2008. But Reuters reports neither Turner nor any deputies were disciplined over the incidents—and that Turner has since been promoted to the rank of major and is now commander of the larger of the jail’s two main facilities. Among those demanding accountability is Ohio Democratic state Senator Charleta Tavares.

Sen. Charleta Tavares: “I think any time a stun gun is used inappropriate, particularly in the video, where it looks as though it is just used over and over, and it’s more like a prod that people would use on animals. That is criminal, in my opinion.”

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New York Gov. Cuomo Moves to Divest Pension Funds from Fossil Fuels

Dec 20, 2017
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And in a major victory for environmentalists fighting climate change, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said Tuesday he’ll work with the state comptroller to divest New York’s massive public pension fund from fossil fuel companies. The so-called de-carbonization roadmap seeks to phase out investments in companies that trade in coal, oil and gas, while investing in green technologies like solar and wind. New York’s Common Fund manages over $200 billion in retirement savings for more than a million New Yorkers. It currently holds shares of more than 50 oil and gas companies, with over a billion dollars invested in ExxonMobil alone.

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