NEWS: Learning Tolerance With Putin & Talking Weed With Obama

We’re three weeks into the year, and good on you for sticking with that resolution to stay on top of the news! Here are the stories you need to impress those around the office who seem to doubt your strength of will. Seriously, forget the haters. Beyonce wouldn’t let those dummies bully her—you shouldn’t either. We believe in you, buddy.

Tens of thousands gather in Kiev. Demonstrations continue in the Ukrainian capital after the government bans public protest. For more on the unrest in Ukraine, check here.

BBC presenter Komla Dumor passes away. The sudden death of 41-year-old Dumor following a heart attack took his colleagues by surprise Saturday. Dumor began his career as a journalist in his home country of Ghana before joining the BBC in 2007.

Syrian opposition agree to peace talks. Talks will take place in Geneva starting Wednesday between the government of Bashar al-Assad and the Syrian National Coalition, an opposition group in exile. Other groups, however, have rejected negotiations with the Assad government, calling into question the on-the-ground impact of the talks.

Chill, you guys. Putin has gay friends. Russian President Vladimir Putin went on defense Sunday over Russia’s anti-gay legislation, which has received massive international pushback. He assured the world that he knows gay people and is personally not prejudiced, a statement which will surely go far as LGBT citizens continue to face violence and discrimination in Russia.

Iran’s Supreme Leader pardons/commutes 878 prison sentences. The pardons and reduced sentences were announced to commemorate the birth of the Prophet Muhammad, and comes after the release of about 1,300 political prisoners last fall. Whether the latest released were being held on political charges is not known.

Egyptian voters approve new constitution. More than 38 percent of registered voters turned out to vote for the referendum on the constitution. The vote was overwhelmingly successful, with 98.1% of voters approving the draft document, giving Egypt a constitution for the first time since the July overthrow of President Mohammed Morsi. Many in Egypt see the new constitution as essential to restoring stability, although controversy over low voter turnout and crackdowns on activists and opposition political parties has marred the government’s international image.

CAR interim president is first female to serve. Catherine Samba-Panza was named by the National Assembly amidst widespread violence and deterioration of state authority. She is the first woman to serve as president of the country, and beat out seven other candidates.

Human Rights Watch annual report released. This year’s report places emphasis on U.S. surveillance, the Syrian crisis, and what the organization calls “abusive majoritarianism”: “governments who voice commitment to democracy but in reality use the real or perceived preferences of the majority to limit dissent and suppress minorities.”

Obama proposes reforms to NSA phone data collection. On Friday, the President delivered a speech outlining intended reforms to the way the NSA collects surveillance data. Among his proposals were the end of phone data storage by the NSA (instead a private third party will house this data), a requirement that all phone taps must be ordered by a court (effectively, requiring a warrant), reducing the degrees of separation a citizen must be from a suspect to also be tapped (from three to two), and an end to monitoring allies like the German Prime Minister. The President has ordered a further report on data collection and surveillance courts before the NSA program comes up for reauthorization on March 28.

Chris Christie, will you ever learn? Last week’s news was Fort Lee traffic jams. This week’s news is the New Jersey’s governor’s withholding of Hurricane Sandy relief funds from Hoboken. Christie was sworn into his second term as governor on Tuesday.

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Obama speaks up about marijuana legalization. Finally, the leadership we have been waiting for. As popular support for marijuana legalization spreads, the president voiced his opinion that weed is no more dangerous than alcohol. He has clearly not considered the implications of the munchies on the First Lady’s anti-obesity initiatives.

Congress versus Putin. A handful of Senators have begun advocating for sanctions against Russia due to human rights violations, which include LGBT discrimination and the arrest of activists. The gesture may have been more meaningful if it came from a Congress able to function on any basic level.

Right to sex reassignment surgery in prison upheld. A federal court ruled that a transgender inmate was entitled to the surgery while serving their sentence. The inmate in question, Michelle Kosilek, is serving a life sentence in Massachusetts. Transgender rights in prison came into the public eye when Chelsea Manning made public her transgender identity following trial.

Obama and the Pope are going to hang out without you. They will be meeting for the first time in March, during the president’s trip to European. The two are expected to talk about new and exciting ways to destroy the capitalist fabric of America.

We are living in the end of times. JJ Abrams has a “Star Wars: Episode VII” script. It’s written and you can’t stop it from happening.

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