Each week, NBN Politics recaps the top five news stories from the past week and brings you a look at the week ahead. Welcome to the Fast Five.
French intervention in Mali
Following a military coup in March of last year, the West African nation of Mali has been plagued with serious instability, as Tuareg separatists and extreme Islamist groups have overrun government troops in the northern part of the country. The crisis has fed fears that northern Africa could turn into a haven for terrorist groups, especially al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. This past week, France initiated a military intervention at the request of the interim government. The controversial intervention has sparked a debate over Europe’s role in northern Africa. The situation has been further complicated by an offer from the Tuareg rebels to aid Mali’s government in ousting the Islamist groups.
Hostage crisis in Algeria
On Wednesday, armed gunmen seized control of the In Aménas natural gas facility, a joint international venture located along Algeria’s border with Libya. Over 750 workers and foreign nationals were taken hostage, with seven U.S. citizens among them. The Masked Brigade, a terrorist group led by former al-Qaeda commander Mokhtar Belmokhtar, claimed responsibility, calling their attack a retaliation for French intervention in Mali. Algerian government forces launched multiple assaults on the complex, finally ending the standoff on Sunday. 29 militants and at least 38 hostages were killed over the course of the crisis. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta has announced that the United States intends to track down Belmokhtar.
Obama announces gun control plans
Last Wednesday, President Obama laid out specific policies he intends to pursue to reduce gun violence. Many of the proposals are already attracting serious opposition from the gun lobby. The confirmation of a permanent director to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the reintroduction of the assault-weapons ban will likely lead to heated battles in the Senate. The recent shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School has caused the biggest swing in U.S. attitudes toward gun control in a decade, and the debate over whether stricter gun laws are necessary is likely to remain on the agenda for much of Obama’s second term.
TSA removes “naked” body scanners
The Transportation Security Administration announced Friday that the agency will be removing controversial Backscatter X-Ray machines from U.S. airports. The TSA began quietly removing the machines last year amid congressional fears that the full-body scanners, which create seemingly-nude images of passengers, constitute an invasion of privacy. Rapiscan, the firm that produces the scanners, was ordered to update the machines to output genericized “stick-figure” images, but failed to do so in time to meet the congressional mandate. Rapiscan will be absorbing the cost for removing the 174 remaining machines, and scanners that display warnings without an image of the passenger’s body will be used instead.
Internet activist Aaron Swartz found dead
Computer programmer Aaron Swartz, notable for his work on the RSS web feed format and his involvement in launching the popular website Reddit, was found dead in his New York City apartment on Jan. 11. His death was ruled a suicide. An internet activist with a keen interest in information freedom, Swartz had previously attempted to make U.S. court records publicly accessible. At the time of his death, Swartz was being prosecuted by the U.S government for downloading files from digital academic library JSTOR. In the days following his death, the prosecution has been the subject of criticism for the way it handled Swartz’s case.
NON-EXISTENT BONUS STORY
Heartwarming college football story totally false
In one of the most inspirational tales to come out of college sports this year, Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o persevered through the death of his grandmother and girlfriend to help turn the Fighting Irish into contenders for the national championship. ESPN and Sports Illustrated ran glowing profiles of the Heisman contender, lauding his strength and resilience. Then just last week, sports website Deadspin broke the story that the girlfriend never actually existed. The fact of her existence was an elaborate hoax by a currently unknown party that Te’o and Notre Dame knowingly perpetuated for at the very least several weeks. There is not enough space in this blurb to describe how ridiculous this is.
The week ahead: Obama, part deux
This week, President Obama begins his second term in office. Expect a lot of news stories about the legacy of Obama’s first term, the potential impact of his second term and the gridlock we should surely expect. In the next few weeks, we should see movement from the White House on issues ranging from Mali to gun control to immigration. Welcome to the Obama administration, round two.