Arizona Governor Jan Brewer has vetoed the controversial SB 1062, the bill that would allow businesses to discriminate against and refuse to serve gay people. In a press conference Wednesday night, Brewer defended her record of protecting religious freedom, but said the bill was poorly worded and could have “unintended consequences.” Both of the state's U.S. senators, who are Republicans, spoke out against the bill. Earlier on Wednesday, the National Football League considered moving the Super Bowl from the state if SB 1062 was signed into law.
After nearly 60 years in office, Michigan Democrat John Dingell announced that he will retire at the end of this year. The congressman, who would be 88 at the start of another term, said, “I’m not going to be carried out feet first. I don’t want people to say I stayed too long.” Age is likely not the only motive to get out, though. Dingell has openly expressed his disappointment with Congress’s extreme political polarization. “I find serving in the House to be obnoxious,” he said. “It’s become very hard because of the acrimony and bitterness, both in Congress and in the streets.”
Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, the head of one of Mexico’s most powerful drug rings, the Sinaloa cartel, has been arrested in Mexico. Guzman was captured in a joint operation by Mexican marines and the Drug Enforcement Administration at a hotel in Mazatlán, a beach resort town. According to U.S. officials, the operation had been ongoing for four or five weeks. Guzman was wanted in the United States for multiple federal drug trafficking charges and was named a Public Enemy No. 1 last year by the Chicago Crime Commission.
On Wednesday, New York State agreed to limit solitary solitary confinement in prisons, sparing inmates under 18 and pregnant woman from isolation. The change came after a lawsuit against the Department of Corrections. The agreement also limits solitary confinement to a maximum of 30 days for those who are developmentally disabled. Currently, 3,800 state prisoners are confined in "extreme isolation" cells. The agreement in New York came just days before Sen. *** Durbin (D-Ill.) called for the end of the use of solitary for certain vulnerable individuals at a high-profile congressional hearing. The hearing featured testimony from activists, corrections officials, and former inmates, including Orange is the New Black author Piper Kerman, who stated: "Solitary confinement impedes access to important pre-natal and women's health care services. In fact, pregnant women in solitary confinement often receive no medical care. And yet, pregnant prisoners in America are still sent to the SHU [Special Housing Unit]."
The Congressional Budget Office said Tuesday that President Obama's proposed minimum wage hike would destroy some jobs but also take people out of poverty. Raising the federal minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $10.10 by 2016 would move 900,000 people above the poverty line, raise overall real income for all by $2 billion, but potentially destroy 500,000 jobs. The CBO stressed this is just a prediction. "As with any such estimates, however, the acutal losses could be smaller or larger."
In what is being called a major defeat for labor in the South, workers at a Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee, voted 712-626 Friday night against joining the United Auto Workers union. The loss, which came even though Volkswagen did not oppose the unionization effort, is expected to slow the UAW's plans to unionize other auto factories in southern states. The vote brought accusations of meddling by conservative politicians, including Gov. Bill Haslam and Sen. Bob Corker, who both made dramatic arguments against the union, claiming it would hurt Tennessee's business climate.
In the annual World Press Freedom Index, the United States was singled out for "one of the most significant declines" in press freedom last year, dropping to 46th place between Romania and Haiti on the 180-country index. The index, which is compiled by Paris-based Reporters Without Borders, argued that its pursuit of intelligence leaker Edward Snowden, conviction of WikiLeaks informer Bradley Manning, and seizure of phone records from the Associated Press led to the decline. Also noteworthy on the list was Syria, where roughly 130 members of the media have died since the conflict began in 2011.
Michael Sam, a defensive lineman for the University of Missouri who will almost certainly be entering the National Football League, came out as gay publicly in an interview with The New York Times and ESPN on Sunday. “I just want to own my truth,” he said. Sam could become the NFL's first openly gay player (unless a current one comes out first). The Southeastern Conference's Defensive Player of the Year is projected to go in the early rounds of the NFL draft in May. Already, several anonymous current and former NFL coaches and executives told Sports Illustrated the revelation will make his draft stock drop.
Vice President Joe Biden bashed LaGuardia airport in New York City during an Amtrak unveiling event in Philadelphia, saying visitors arrive and think, "I must be in some third world country." He compared the airport to Hong Kong's, which he called "a modern airport" that looks like it belongs in America. "No, I'm not joking!" Biden said. "Why did we lead the world economically for so long? We had the most modern infrastructure in the world." Mayor DeBlasio has refuted Biden's comments, yet there is new energy to the debate regarding American transportation infrastructure.
With a heavy focus on economic growth, education, and health care, President Obama delivered his State of the Union address on Tuesday night. He pointed to a number of people pulling themselves up by their bootstraps, and suggested he, too, will take matters into his own hands if Congress remains reluctant to act soon on climate change and job-creating bills. He announced he'd sign an executive order that will raise the minimum wage for federal contractors to $10.10 an hour. Obama also pledged to "reform our surveillance programs," and, with the help of Congress, finally close Guantanamo Bay. His full transcript is available here.
The National Guard was called in for the winter storm in the metro area of Atlanta that left people stranded in their homes, some trapped in their cars overnight and students forced to stay overnight in schools. Helicopters searched for stranded motorists while Humvees bring food, gas, water, or a ride home to others. Rush-hour traffic combined with a snowstorm led to gridlock and wrecks on highways. Former Atlanta Braves star Chipper Jones saved the day for his former teammate Freddie Freeman, by rescuing him on a four-wheeler. Much debate has occurred in recent days between Governor Nathan Deal and Mayor Kasim Reed regarding who bears responsibility.
On Thursday afternoon, an Italian court found Amanda Knox and her former boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito guilty of the murder of Knox's British roommate, Meredith Kercher, in 2007. She was sentenced to 28 years and 6 months, while Sollecito was given 25 years in jail. Knox did not attend the retrial, which was ordered by Italy's Supreme Court in March, and it's unlikely that the U.S. will extradite her to Italy. After an initial guilty verdict, Knox spent four years in prison in Italy, but the sentence was overturned in 2011 for "lack of evidence." The U.S. argues that Knox is protected by double jeopardy. The case has quite a sordid history.