10 things you need to know today: July 3, 2014

A pat down at LAX in February. 

A pat down at LAX in February. (David McNew/Getty Images)

The Week

Homeland Security tightens screening for U.S.-bound flights, the season’s first hurricane heads toward the Carolinas, and more

1. Security tightened for U.S.-bound flights over bomb fears
The Homeland Security Department said Wednesday that it was increasing security screening at overseas airports with non-stop flights to the U.S. due to reports that terrorists had developed a new way to smuggle explosives onto planes. Intelligence agencies have not uncovered a specific plot, but they recently learned that a bomb maker working for Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in Yemen had developed a technique for evading metal detectors and body scanners. [Los Angeles Times]


2. Evacuation ordered for part of North Carolina coast as Arthur gains strength
Tropical Storm Arthur reached hurricane strength early Thursday, with winds of 75 mph as it churned north toward the Carolinas. Arthur, the first named storm of the 2014 Atlantic season, was 190 miles south-southeast of Cape Fear, North Carolina, at 4:50 a.m. on Thursday. Hurricane warnings have been issued for parts of the North Carolina coast. Local authorities have ordered a mandatory evacuation on the Outer Banks’ Hatteras Island and a voluntary evacuation on Ocracoke Island. [NBC NewsFox News]


3. Colorado woman, 19, charged with trying to help ISIS suspect in Syria
A Colorado teen, Shannon Maureen Conley, was arrested in April for allegedly plotting to help al Qaeda terrorists overseas, according to court documents that were unsealed Wednesday. Conley, 19, was arrested while boarding a flight to Turkey. Authorities believe she was trying to reach Syria to find a Tunisian man she met online. Conley hoped to marry the man, who said he was fighting for Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). She had asked her parents for their blessing. They refused, and notified the FBI. [New York Daily News]


4. Colorado asks for a moratorium on gay marriage lawsuits
The Colorado attorney general’s office asked a federal court Wednesday for an injunction to suspend same-sex marriage lawsuits in the state until the U.S. Supreme Court rules on whether gay-marriage bans are constitutional. A federal appeals court in Denver ruled last week that Utah could not stop same-sex couples from getting married, but stayed the ruling pending review by the Supreme Court. Since then six Denver couples have sued to overturn a Colorado constitutional amendment defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman. [Reuters]


5. Sarkozy criticizes French prosecutors over his detention in corruption case
Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy slammed anticorruption investigators on Wednesday after he was hauled in for questioning about possible attempts to tamper with an investigation into the financing of his 2007 election campaign. Prosecutors say Sarkozy, through a lawyer, tried to get information from a judge about an inquiry into whether he received up to $68 million in illegal contributions from Libya’s Moammar Gadhafi. Sarkozy called his detention politically motivated and “grotesque.” [The New York Times]


6. Fire threatens California wine country homes
A wildfire has damaged two homes and forced the evacuation of 200 others in Napa County in Northern California. Authorities said however that the blaze, which grew to cover six square miles on Wednesday, posed no threat to Napa Valley wineries, as it was heading away from them. More than 1,000 firefighters are working to contain the fire, although forecasters expect Thursday to bring more of the hot, dry conditions that helped the fire expand a day earlier. [The Associated Press]


7. Tensions rise in Israel after killings of teenagers
Palestinian protesters and Israeli police clashed on Wednesday following the abduction and murder of an Arab teenager, Mohammad Abu Khieder in apparent retaliation for the killings of three kidnapped Israeli teens. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called for restraint as the case was investigated. Palestinians blamed Jewish settlers for the Palestinian teen’s death. Israel’s air force launched air strikes on Gaza early Thursday in response to mortar fire by suspected Palestinian militants. [The Washington PostBBC News]


8. Target asks people not to bring guns into its stores
Target announced Wednesday that it “respectfully” requests that customers not bring guns into its stores. “This is a request and not a prohibition,” said Molly Snyder of Target’s public relations department. The decision came after a month of pressure from Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. Target didn’t say what it would do if someone didn’t comply. Fourteen states let people with permits openly carry guns. Thirty allow open carry without permits. [Los Angeles Times]


9. Japan eases sanctions against North Korea
Japan is lifting some economic sanctions against North Korea because Pyongyang has promised to resume investigations into the abduction of Japanese nationals in the 1970s and 1980s, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced Thursday. North Korea acknowledged in 2002 that it snatched 13 Japanese citizens to teach its spies about Japanese language and culture. The sanctions being lifted include a ban preventing North Korean officials from entering Japan. South Korea said the change shouldn’t damage efforts to pressure Pyonyang over its nuclear and missile programs. [The Asahi ShimbunVoice of America]


10. Consumer Reports fuels the fast food wars
Consumer Reports released its annual fast-food survey, and industry leaders McDonald’s, KFC, and Taco Bell got panned in taste tests by more than 30,000 Consumer Reports subscribers. The chains each scored the worst for their signature fare — McDonald’s had the worst burger ranking; KFC scored worst for chicken; and Taco Bell scored the worst rating for burritos. Habit Burger Grill, In-n-Out, and Five Guys Burgers scored highest for burgers with ratings of 8.1, 8.0 and 7.9 respectively. McDonald’s scored 5.8. [The Washington Post]

One Thing GOPer Tom Tancredo Knows about the Negro – They Shouldn’t Be President


Tom Tancredo


Tom Tancredo, Republican member of the House of Representatives from 1999-2009 and now a candidate for Governor of Colorado, told a Republican group – the Jefferson County Republican Men’s Club – that President Barack Obama,whom he has previously called a “street hustler,” was the “dictator-in-chief,” that he has “methodically shredded the Constitution,” and that he is “the most dangerous thing – he’s more dangerous than any other threat we face as a nation.”

I think I hear a “Whites Only” America in there, do you?

We have a guy in the White House that I believe, and have seen it on many occasions, is the most dangerous thing — he’s more dangerous than any other threat we face as a nation,” Tancredo said. “Barack Obama, I believe, is dedicated to destroying the America that I love.

Except, one would assume, the Supreme Court. I mean, they’re the ones flushing the U.S. Constitution and First Amendment down the toilet an turning our democracy into an oligarchy. But somehow, President Obama, who has actually upheld the Constitution, is the threat. Well, that’s true in a way. He is definitely a threat to traitors like Tancredo.

The Colorado Statesman reports Tancredo as having said that “Barack Obama, I believe, is dedicated to destroying the America that I love.”

Except the America Tancredo loves isn’t an America that actually exists, or was even ever intended to exist. In fact, the one Tancredo and other Republicans want is specifically BANNED by the U.S. Constitution.

“He should have been impeached many times,” Tancredo says, without ever explaining why, beyond Tancredo’s obvious racism. See what I mean:

(From The Colorado Statesman)
Tancredo said that members of the House of Representatives ought to introduce Bills of Impeachment, even if it wasn’t probable that the Senate would convict the president, because, he said, it’s important to list the complaints against Obama. Tancredo ticked off several potential charges, including the so-called Fast and Furious scandal, the White House’s reaction to an attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, and Obama’s use of executive orders to enact policy. He called it “dangerous” to avoid initiating impeachment because that might give the next president “carte blanche” to run wild.

Fast and Furious is no scandal. The Benghazi scandal is a scandal only in how the Republicans reacted to what is a decades-old history of attacks on US Consulates…


And in fact, embassy attacks have decreased dramatically under Obama:


…and ALL presidents are allowed to issue executive orders, not only Republican presidents. As Media Matters pointed out in February, in response to Fox News’ hysteria over Obama’s executive orders that,

Obama has issued fewer executive orders per year on average than any president in the last 117 years. In his first 5 years in office, Obama has issued 168 executive orders. To put that in context, at this same point in his presidency, Reagan had issued 256. George W. Bush had issued 197.


Obvious, you ask? Tancredo loves himself some Cliven Bundy. Yessir he does.

From The Colorado Statesman:

The standoff in Nevada between the Bureau of Land Management and cattle rancher Cliven Bundy — the feds charge he owes years of unpaid grazing fees — is “a flashpoint” in the debate over state sovereignty, Tancredo said.

Racism? What racism? This is a Tenth Amendment issue and Cliven Bundy is some modern day white’s only gen-u-ine patriot hero! Just like Tancredo’s other hero, Ted Nugent!

But the fly in the buttermilk is that the country he claims to love has NO state sovereignty beyond the Tenth Amendment’s “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” The U.S. Constitution trumps state constitutions and federal law trumps state law when they come into conflict. Tancredo might want to familiarize himself with the Fourteenth Amendment. You know, the Amendment that resulted from the last time yokels like Tancredo raised arms against the legitimate government of this country.

To say Tancredo wants to take a rather broad interpretation of that sentence is to understate the case.

American States are not the independent nations they were in Tancredo’s ideal world of the pre-U.S. Constitution Articles of Confederation.

We are going to have to establish the whole idea of state’s rights, of the 10th Amendment, The fight is going to have to start somewhere. Let it be here, I firmly believe, because I am willing to do it. Not only willing, I am looking forward to it.

Tancredo assured the manly men’s sewing circle that should the feds try to bully some poor racist Negro-expert welfare-queen rancher in Colorado while he’s governor, “We will have one hell of a battle about that and I will use every single lever at my disposal to stop that.”

Tancredo isn’t running for governor. He is running for banana Republican strongman of Colorado. He isn’t promising to uphold the Constitution but to violate it at every opportunity. The Constitution is not just the Tenth Amendment, or just the Second and the Tenth. The Constitution is much more than that, and it is not an excuse for bad behavior. It certainly does not justify armed rebellion against the legally established federal government.

Friday Blog Roundup – 9-20-2013

John McCain takes on Putin

Late Night: Is the Pope Catholic?

Why do Republicans hate children?

Ted Cruz unmasks his own confidence game

13 Wounded as Gunmen Open Fire in Chicago Park

Obama hits the road as House Republicans vote in budget battle

Fox Panelists Agree: Successful Anti-Poverty Programs Are Useless

2014 election campaign is underway in battle for control of Congress

Putin: Gays face no discrimination in Russia, are depopulating Europe

Chris Hayes: ‘I cannot find one Republican who has anything constructive to say’

Colorado lawmaker mocks poverty hearing with ‘silent protest’ by bringing fried chicken

Colorado state Rep. Lori Saine (KDVR)

In case you’re wondering why I’m posting this…suffice it to say, for all who claim racism is dead, read carefully:

The Raw Story

Colorado state Rep. Lori Saine (R) reportedly brought fried chicken to a hearing on poverty as a protest after a fellow lawmaker was criticized last month for blaming the diet of African-Americans and Hispanics for racial disparities in the poverty rate.

At the legislature’s Economic Opportunity Poverty Reduction Task Force last month, Sen. Vicki Marble (R) had pointed to “barbecue” and “chicken” as part of the problem behind higher poverty rates for minorities.

Rep. Rhonda Fields (D) almost immediately fired back that she was not going to “engage in a dialogue where I’m in the company where you are using the stereotype references about African Americans and chicken and food and all kinds of things.”

“So I will ask that you suspend your perceptions and judgments about African Americans, about poverty — what we’re trying to do is come up with solutions and it’s not about chicken,” Fields said.

After over two weeks and a Labor Day holiday, the controversy had mostly died down — until Saine showed up at Wednesday’s hearing with a box of Popeye’s fried chicken.

KDVR’s Justin Joseph reported that one person in the room heard Saine say that she had brought the chicken in “silent protest” of the way Marble had been treated after her remarks last month.

But when Joseph tried to confront the lawmaker, he received more giggles than explanations.

“I’m having chicken for dinner,” she said. “Would you like a [press conference] at my house?”

Saine also she had “no idea” what the KDVR reporter was talking about when he referred to the controversy regarding Marble linking poverty to chicken.

Following the hearing, Fields told the station that she was not surprised.

“It’s just the same people showing their true character,” she said.

Watch video from KDVR, broadcast Sept. 4, 2013 here and here.

Ouch! Sarah Silverman’s Tweet For WI Governor Scott Walker

Liberals Unite

The infamous Scott Walker recently signed a mandatory bill to force any woman wanting to get an abortion in Wisconsin to undergo a medically unnecessary and invasive vaginal ultrasound so she can have an “informed decision.” Here’s comedian and actor Sarah Silverman’s response, which was retweeted by some Democratic state politicians, causing the Republicans to cry, “rape threat to Scott Walker!” Oh, the delicious irony.

So tell us in the comments — was this over the top?


In Colorado, Blacks Make Up 4 Percent Of The Population And 100 Percent Of Death Row

The reality is this:  The stats in the title of this article are not surprising to the African American community because:

–  54% of African Americans graduate from high school, compared to more than three quarters of white
and Asian students.

–  Nationally, African American male students in grades K-12 were nearly 2½ times as likely to be suspended from school in 2000 as white students.

–  In 2007, nearly 6.2 million young people were high school dropouts. Every student who does not complete high school costs our society an estimated $260,000 in lost earnings, taxes, and productivity.

–  On average, African American twelfth-grade students read at the same level as white eighth-grade students.

–  The twelfth-grade reading scores of African American males were significantly lower than those for men and women across every other racial and ethnic group.

–  Only 14% of African American eighth graders score at or above the proficient level. These results reveal that millions of young people cannot understand or evaluate text, provide relevant details, or support inferences about the written documents they read.

–  The majority of the 2.3 million people incarcerated in U.S. prisons and jails are people of color, people with mental health issues and drug addiction, people with low levels of educational attainment, and people with a history of unemployment or underemployment.


Think Progress

In March, Colorado came close to becoming the 19th state to abolish the death penalty, but the bill failed after Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) voiced opposition and suggested a possible veto. A few months later, Colorado’s death penalty is still firmly in place, and the state is poised to complete what would be only the second execution in 45 years (the last was in 1997). Few dispute that Nathan Dunlap committed a horrific crime and murdered several people at a Chuck E. Cheese. But judges, university professors, and other prominent state leaders are urging Gov. Hickenlooper to commute Dunlap’s sentence, both because crucial errors that defined his trial may have led him to get a harsher sentence than others, and because killing anyone under the perverted state system would be a miscarriage of justice. According to letters filed with Hickenlooper’s office:

  • All three people on death row are black men. In a state that is only 4.3% African American, Colorado’s death row is 100% African American.
  • All three men on death are from the same one county, out of Colorado’s 64.
  • All three men committed their crime when they were under the age of 21.
  • Two law professors who studied Colorado’s application of the death penalty concluded it was unconstitutional, after finding that prosecutors pursue the death penalty in less than one percent of the cases where it is an option, and that the state failed to set “clear statutory standards for distinguishing between the few who are executed and the many who commit murder.”

“It appears that race, geography and youth largely determines who gets the death penalty in Colorado,” wrote a group of NAACP leaders in a letter urging Gov. Hickenlooper to grant clemency. They note that not a single black juror served on the panel that sentenced Dunlap to death.

In addition to the injustices that define the Colorado system, a group of former Colorado judges also point out that Dunlap’s bipolar disorder and psychotic tendencies were not even mentioned at trial. In fact, according to their letter, Dunlap’s lawyer told the jury that there was no explanation for his violence.

The judges add that “no clear evidence exists that the death penalty deters violent crime. What it does in our current system, as in this case, is to drain our judicial system of millions of dollars as mandatory appeals drag on for decades.” Studies have shown that the death penalty does not lower the homicide rate. In fact, the murder rate is lower in states without the death penalty. Hickenlooper says he continues to wrestle with the death penalty, and whether to commute Dunlap’s sentence.

Conservative Group Photoshops Out Minorities In Mailer Opposing Pro-Voting Legislation


Think Progress

A conservative group connected to Colorado’s Secretary of State has been sending political mailers — including a picture of a darker-skinned woman whose face was digitally removed and replaced with a white woman’s face — in an attempt to oppose a landmark voting bill that may soon become law.

Colorado is currently considering a major piece of legislation to improve the state’s voting laws by implementing Election Day Registration, automatically sending mail ballots to every voter, and creating a real-time voter database to detect and prevent fraud. It passed the House last week and will now be taken up by the Democratic-controlled Senate.

Secretary of State Scott Gessler, a frequent speaker at True The Vote events who uses his perch to warn about the supposed threat of voter fraud, is leading opposition to the bill, which is supported by a number of Republican County Clerks and the Colorado County Clerks Association.

Now, a dark money group named the “Citizens for Free and Fair Elections”, which lists its address as that of Gessler’s former firm, the Hackstaff Law Group, is sending out photoshopped mailers in an attempt to pressure the election clerks into switching their position.

Here is the mailer:

The mailer’s background was taken from the following Getty Images photo:

Except for two key differences. The original photo included a darker-skinned woman in a white hoodie sweatshirt, but the altered version in the mailer took out her face and replaced it with the exact same face of the white woman standing alongside. In addition, a dark-skinned man standing behind her in the photo was removed from the mailer entirely.

ColoradoPols, the first site to catch the photoshop job, shows the two side-by-side:

Gessler, in a statement released Sunday evening, denied involvement in the matter.

In Just Three Months, States Proposed An Astonishing 694 Provisions About Reproduction

Think about that for a second.  A majority of male politicians across the country have proposed over 690 provisions about reproduction.  It’s amazing and horrifying all at once…

Think Progress

In the first quarter of 2013, states have proposed 694 provisions related to a woman’s body, how she gets pregnant, or how she chooses to end that pregnancy.

A new report released on Thursday by the Guttmacher Institute takes a comprehensive look at how the War on Women has continued past the election cycle and into 2013. It shows that the new legislatures across the country are still very much dedicated to restricting sex education, availability of medication, and abortion access for women. Indeed, 47 percent of the 694 provisions were directly related to abortion:

During the first three months of 2013, legislators in 14 states introduced provisions seeking to ban abortion prior to viability. These bans fall into three categories: measures that would prohibit all abortions, those that would ban abortions after a specified point during the first trimester of pregnancy and those that would block abortions at 20 weeks after fertilization (the equivalent of 22 weeks after the woman’s last menstrual period, the conventional method physicians use to measure pregnancy). All of these proposals are in direct violation of U.S. Supreme Court decisions.

Legislators in 10 states have introduced proposals that would ban all, or nearly all, abortions. In eight states (AL, IA, MS, ND, OK, SC, VA and WA), legislators have proposed defining “personhood” as beginning at conception; if adopted, these measures would ban most, if not all, abortions.

Seven states are edging closer to achieving full approval for laws that would reduce or essentially eliminate abortion access.

Enforcing unconstitutional abortion laws isn’t just a threat to women’s rights — it’s also costly to the states caught up in legal battles. Last year, Kansas spent $628,000 defending its unconstitutional abortion restrictions. North Dakota is in the middle of spending $400,000 to defend its ban, and Arkansas is set to do the same.

But if the number of proposed abortion restrictions is discouraging, the upside of the Guttmacher report is that states are moving toward the prevention of unintended pregnancy through sex education: It finds that two states — Montana and North Dakota — are pushing for more restrictive, less informative sex education laws, but that both Colorado and Hawaii are pushing for more comprehensive, inclusive, and scientific sex education for students. Colorado’s would even prohibit abstinence-only instruction, which has been proven to be more harmful than effective. ThinkProgress’s own survey of state legislation has found a total of five states that, like Colorado, are pushing for better sex ed. These findings track with popular opinion that increasingly recognizes the value of sex education.

Are white supremacists killing Texas prosecutors?

Kaufman County Sheriff David Byrnes speaks at a news conference on March 30, after the McLellands were found dead in their home.

Interesting hypothesis…

The Week

Dallas-area District Attorney Mike McLelland and his wife were shot dead, two months after McLelland’s deputy was also killed

On Jan. 31, gunmen shot and killed Mark Hasse, an assistant district attorney in Texas’ largely rural Kaufman County, in broad daylight as he was walking from his car to the Dallas-area courthouse. District Attorney Mike McLelland quickly vowed to pull the “scum” who shot his deputy “out of whatever hole you’re in” and prosecute them “to the fullest extent of the law.” Hasse’s murder was still unsolved on Saturday, when police found the bodies of McLelland and his wife, Cynthia, in their home, also shot dead.

Hasse had begun carrying a gun to work and varying his routine because he feared for his life, friends say. And after Hasse’s death, McLelland started carrying a gun, too. “The people in my line of work are going to have to get better at it, because they’re going to need it more in the future,” he told The Associated Press less that two weeks ago. “I’m ahead of everybody else because, basically, I’m a soldier,” he added, referring to his 23 years in the Army. Police officialssay Cynthia McLelland was found near the front door of their house, and her husband was found near the back, still in his pajamas.

Kaufman County Sheriff David Byrnes said Sunday that there was no evidence that the Hasse and McLelland murders were related, but “the killings of two prosecutors in a county of 106,000 people in less than eight weeks appeared to many officials to be more than a coincidence,”notes The New York Times. Law enforcement sources, speaking off the record, say the the sheriff’s office, the FBI, the Texas Rangers, and other agencies working on the cases assume there’s a strong connection. Local officials are making that case openly, and security is being beefed up for employees of the D.A.’s office.

The lead suspect in the killings is a white supremacist prison gang called the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas. McLelland had said he believed the gang could have been responsible for Hasse’s murder, noting that the group has a lot of members in the area and that his office has “put some real dents in the Aryan Brotherhood around here in the past year.” A look at what authorities have so far gleaned about the Aryan Brotherhood’s alleged involvement:

First, McLelland wasn’t exaggerating about the “dents.” In July 2012, his office won a life sentence for an Aryan Brotherhood enforcer over a shoot-out with a wayward member in Terrell, Texas. The bigger hit to the gang, though, was an indictment unsealed in November against 34 alleged Aryan Brotherhood members, including four bosses. The multi-agency task force responsible for the indictment was based in Houston, but the Kaufman County D.A.’s office was among those credited for the “devastating blow.”

In December, the Texas Department of Public Safety issued a statewide warning that the Aryan Brotherhood might be “planning retaliation against law enforcement officials” who participated in the Houston case, adding that “high-ranking members” were “involved in issuing orders to inflict ‘mass casualties or death’ to law enforcement officials who were involved in cases where Aryan Brotherhood of Texas are facing life sentences or the death penalty.” Hasse was not personally involved in the case, but he was gunned down on the same day two of the 34 Aryan Brotherhood members pleaded guilty to federal racketeering charges in Dallas.

The FBI and Kaufman County officials are also looking for a connection to the March 19 shooting of Colorado prisons director Tom Clements. Clements, like the McLellands, was shot inside his home. The suspect, Evan S. Ebel, was killed in nearby Decatur, Texas, on March 21 in a high-speed chase and shoot-out in which he used the same weapon used to kill Clements. Ebel was a member of the Colorado white supremacist prison gang 211 Crew.

The case against the Aryan Brotherhood is mostly circumstantial so far — at least as far as we know. And some outsiders point to other possible culprits. Oliver “Buck” Revell, the former head of the FBI’s Dallas office, suggests that methamphetamine traffickers could be responsible. “It’s been known for quite some time that Kaufman County has a huge problem in the drug area, and methamphetamine in particular,” he tells The Dallas Morning News. “This bears the marks of an organized criminal enterprise, and I think the bottom of it is going to be methamphetamine.”

“It could be local meth lab people down there in Kaufman County, it could be Mexican cartel, it could be the Aryan Brotherhood,” adds former Dallas chief public defender Brad Lollar, who hired McLelland to work in his office in 2006. “Or it could just be someone with a personal grudge” tied to one of the mentally ill defendants he represented in Dallas. These theories aren’t entirely mutually exclusive, since both the Aryan Brotherhood and Mexican cartels are involved in the meth trade.

If McLelland was killed by the Aryan Brotherhood, though, at least this time the assailants left some clues: The house was reportedly littered with shells from a .233 caliber rifle. The gunmen in the Hasse shooting left no casings behind. There may also be surveillance video from McLelland’s house. But some attorneys worry about a “chilling effect” such high-profile killings will have on the law enforcement profession.

Glenn McGovern at the Santa Clara County, Calif., D.A.’s office says that attacks on prosecutors, judges, and senior law officials have jumped sharply in the past three years, even if they’re still rare. McLelland himself couldn’t understand Hasse’s murder, calling it “such an anomaly.”

This doesn’t happen. The bad guys, they don’t hate the prosecutors. They know that we’re doing our job just like they are. It’s so completely out of the ordinary and so strange that people are having a hard time getting their head around it because this is not business as usual. [Mike McLelland, via The Dallas Morning News]

10 things you need to know today: November 7, 2012

The Week

President Obama won re-election on Tuesday, sweeping the crucial swing states of Colorado, Iowa, Ohio, New Hampshire, Virginia, and Wisconsin to defeat Mitt Romney. Obama also holds a narrow lead in Florida, although officials there haven’t declared awinner. Romney delayed conceding for a tense 90 minutes after the major TV networks called the race, with his aides ready to fly to close states to contest the results. When Obama’s victory became undeniable, Romney went on stage in Boston and wished him well. “This is a time of great challenges for America,” Romney said, “and I pray that the president will be successful in guiding our nation.” Obama overcame brutal economic headwinds, asking Americans to give him four more years to complete the recovery from the Great Recession he inherited. “We know in our hearts that for the United States of America, the best is yet to come,” Obama told supporters early Wednesday. [New York Times]

Democrats maintained a surprisingly strong hold on the Senate. The Dems dashed GOP dreams of retaking the majority with a string of key wins: Democrat Chris Murphy body-slammed Linda McMahon in Connecticut, Democrat Tim Kaine beat George Allen in Virginia, and progressive hero Elizabeth Warren thumped Scott Brown in Massachusetts. Democrats in Indiana and Missouri also defeated two Republican candidates who recently gained infamy after making unpopular statements about rape: Joe Donnelly defeated Richard Mourdock in Indiana, and Claire McCaskill held on to her seat in Missouri, claiming victory over Todd Akin. Republicans, however, held onto a strong majority in the House, preserving their 2010 mid-term gains and bolstering their push for spending cuts. The split leaves no clear sign of how Congress will avoid the so-called fiscal cliff of automatic tax hikes and spending cuts that hits at year’s end if lawmakers can’t reach a debt-reduction deal. [New York Daily News]

Maine and Maryland on Tuesday became the first states to approve same-sex marriage in statewide votes. The controversial issue had put to the test at the ballot box 32 times before, and got rejected every time. Public opinion has been shifting in favor of gay marriage since 2008, when California amended its constitution, which had reserved marriage for heterosexual couples only. In 2010, a poll found that a majority of Americans supported same-sex marriage for the first, time, and President Obama added his support in May. “When the history books are written, 2012 will be remembered as the year when LGBT Americans won decisively at the ballot box,” said Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign. [Los Angeles Times]

Officials evacuated hundreds of people from nursing homes in New York City’s storm-ravaged coastal Rockaways section ahead of a nor’easter expected to hit on Wednesday. The storm isn’t expected to pack anything like the punch of Hurricane Sandy, the superstorm that hammered New York and New Jersey last week. The nursing homes and other severely damaged buildings are already running on emergency generators, and emergency workers already have their hands full, so city and state officials don’t want to take any chances. They’re also closing parks and beaches, and stopping outside construction work as the region braces for high winds, rain, and sleet. [Associated Press]

Voters in Washington state and Colorado have approved ballot measures legalizing recreational marijuana. A similar initiative lost in Oregon. The votes made Washington and Colorado the first states to authorize pot salesto non-medicinal users, regulating it like alcohol. “The significance of these events cannot be understated,” says Erik Altieri, a spokesman for the marijuana advocacy group NORML. The vote put Colorado to the left of the Netherlands on marijuana policy. “It’s unprecedented,” said Jonathan Caulkins, a Carnegie Mellon University professor. [Los Angeles Times]

Syrian rebels fired mortars at President Bashar al-Assad’s Damascus palace on Wednesday, but missed, hitting a residential neighborhood occupied by members of Assad’s minority Alawite sect. The government, calling the shelling a “terrorist attack,” said three people were killed and seven injured. British Prime Minister David Cameron, urging President Obama to join him in stepping up efforts to oust Assad, suggested Tuesday that the embattled leader could be allowed safe passage out of the country if that’s what it takes to end the nation’s civil war. [Reuters]

A boat carrying about 110 Bangladeshis and Rohingya Muslims sank in rough seas on the way from Myanmar to Malaysia, the second such disaster in 10 days. Bangladeshis and Rohingya Muslims face persecution in predominantly Buddhist Myanmar, and frequently flee in overloaded boats seeking work. “We were heading to Malaysia for jobs but the boat suddenly went upside down and sank,” survivor Jamir Hossain said. “I floated for several hours before a fishing boat picked me up.” [Reuters]

Voters had to wait in long lines in several big swing states, including Florida and Virginia, and in storm-ravaged parts of New York and New Jersey. Both parties urged people to stick it out, fearing their supporters would give up and go home without casting a ballot. Watchdog groups said they received complaints from people who claimed they were turned away because they lacked identification cards in Pennsylvania, a state where ID isn’t required. “I want to thank every American who participated in this election, whether you voted for the very first time or waited in line for a very long time,” President Obama said in his victory speech. “By the way, we have to fix that.” [Reuters]

American Suzuki Motor says it will stop selling new automobiles in the U.S., and focus on motorcycles, ATVs, and outboard engines for boats. The U.S. subsidiary of the Japanese automaker filed for bankruptcy protection this week, after failing to bounce back from the recession. Suzuki’s North American sales have plummeted from a peak of 107,000 in 2008, hitting 30,000 in the fiscal year that ended in March. “They have low-margin, low-priced cars with small volume,” one analyst said. “That’s far from the ideal combination.” [Los Angeles Times]

NHL team owners and players plan to return to the bargaining table at a secret New York location on Wednesday, after reportedly making progress in seven hours of talks the day before. A 52-day lockout has already forced the cancellation of 327 regular-season professional hockey games. The main sticking point is how to split the league’s record revenue, which was more than $3 billion last season. [Associated Press]