January 2014 Current Events: U.S. News
Here are the key events in United States news for the month of January 2014.
Yellen Confirmed as Federal Reserve Chairman (Jan. 6): The United States Senate confirms American economist Janet Yellen as the 15th Chairman of the Federal Reserve. Yellen, the current vice-chairman, will be the first woman to hold the position. She takes office on February 1, 2014.
Same-Sex Marriages Blocked in Utah (Jan. 6): The United States Supreme Court blocks any further same-sex marriages while Utah officials appeal the decision made by Judge Shelby in December 2013. The block creates legal limbo for the 1,300 same-sex couples who have received marriage licenses since Judge Shelby's ruling. (Jan. 10): The Obama administration announces that the federal government will recognize the marriages of the 1,300 same-sex couples in Utah even though the state government has currently decided not to do so. In a video announcement on the Justice Department website, Attorney General Eric Holder says, "I am confirming today that, for purposes of federal law, these marriages will be recognized as lawful and considered eligible for all relevant federal benefits on the same terms as other same-sex marriages. These families should not be asked to endure uncertainty regarding their status as the litigation unfolds." With federal approval, same-sex couples will be able to receive spousal benefits, like health insurance for federal employees and filing joint federal income tax returns.
Gov. Christie Pulled into Bridge Scandal (Jan. 8): Emails and texts prove that Bridget Anne Kelly, a deputy chief of staff to Governor Chris Christie, ordered the two lanes closed on the George Washington Bridge near Fort Lee, New Jersey in September 2013. The emails and texts show that the order was to punish Fort Lee's mayor for not endorsing Christie in the re-election. The emails go on to show that Christie's staff was happy about the chaos and traffic that the lane closings caused. Christie denies knowledge of the emails and blames his staff. The emails prove that Christie's staff was directly involved, something that he repeatedly denied in the past weeks. After the emails and texts are released, Christie says in a statement, ""I am outraged and deeply saddened to learn that not only was I misled by a member of my staff, but this completely inappropriate and unsanctioned conduct was made without my knowledge. One thing is clear: This type of behavior is unacceptable, and I will not tolerate it because the people of New Jersey deserve better. This behavior is not representative of me or my administration in any way, and people will be held responsible for their actions."
Chemical Spill Causes Water Ban in West Virginia (Jan. 10): After a chemical spill at a plant, 300,000 residents in West Virginia are asked not to drink the tap water. Local health officials say that water should only be used for flushing toilets or putting out fires. The chemical spill is of Crude MCHM or 4-Methylcyclohexane Methanol, a coal industry chemical, and originated at Freedom Industries, a Charleston company that produces chemicals for cement, steel and mining industries. The chemical is not highly lethal. In a televised news conference, West Virginia American Water Company President Jeff McIntyre says, "We don't know that the water's not safe, but I can't say it is safe." Both Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and President Barack Obama issue a state of emergency for the nine counties affected by the spill.
Twitter Love Trial First of Its Kind (Jan. 16): For the first time ever, a trial based on alleged defamation via twitter begins in the United States. Attorney Rhonda Holmes is suing her former client, rock musician and actress Courtney Love over a tweet in which Love claimed that Holmes had been "bought off" in a case related to the estate of Kurt Cobain, Nirvana singer and Love's deceased husband. The case is being referred to as the Twibel trial and could have major legal implications for any Twitter user. If Love is found guilty, it means any Twitter user could be sued for defamation. The Los Angeles Superior Court has already rejected an argument by Love's lawyers that language on Twitter should be interpreted differently than if the same words are used in a more formal setting. This is the first trial of its kind, but the second time Love has been sued over her tweets. Three years ago, a fashion designer filed a lawsuit against Love over a series of insulting tweets. However, that case never went to trial because Love settled out of court for $430,000. (Jan. 24): The jury votes in favor of Courtney Love. After only three hours of deliberation, the jury rules that Love's 2010 tweet suggesting that her attorney had been "bought off" was not defamatory.
President Obama Announces NSA Reforms (Jan. 17): President Obama announces reforms to the country's surveillance program based on his advisory panel's recommendations. He says that while he believes the activities of the NSA were legal, he acknowledges that some compromised civil liberties. "Our system of government is built on the premise that our liberty cannot depend on the good intentions of those in power," Obama says. "It depends on the law to constrain those in power." The reforms he outlines include: requiring NSA analysts to get a court order to access phone data unless in cases of emergencies; an eventual end to the collection of massive amounts of metadata by the government; the NSA will stop eavesdropping on leaders of allied nations; officials can pursue a phone number linked to a terrorist association by two degrees rather than three; and Congress will appoint advocates to argue on the side of civil liberties before the FISA court. He does not implement the recommendation about national security letters.