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Wall Street Headed for Record Profits in 2009

New government figures show Wall Street is on pace to have its most profitable year to date. On Tuesday, the New York Comptroller Office said Wall Street profits are set to exceed the record set three years ago, before the onset of the nation’s financial meltdown. The four largest firms — Goldman Sachs, Merrill Lynch, Morgan Stanley and JPMorgan Chase — took in $22.5 billion in profits through September. The top six banks set aside $112 billion for salaries and bonuses over the same period. In a statement, New York Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli said, "The national economy is slowly improving, but Wall Street has recovered much faster than anyone had envisioned."

US, China Could Back Emissions Targets

The US and China say they may propose targets for emissions cuts at next month’s climate summit in Copenhagen. On Tuesday, President Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao issued a joint declaration saying "an agreed outcome at Copenhagen should...include emission reduction targets of developed countries." The Obama administration has already announced it will only reach an interim political agreement in Copenhagen while postponing a binding treaty until next year. Obama wraps up his visit to China today. The New York Times reports the White House has declined proposals for brief meetings with Chinese political activists and lawyers during Obama’s trip.

Senate Delays Climate Bill Vote Until 2010

The Senate, meanwhile, has followed Obama’s deferral of a climate treaty with a delay of its own. On Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said climate legislation will now be put off until the spring. The news comes as dozens of environment ministers have wrapped up a preparatory meeting in Copenhagen ahead of next month’s summit. Danish Climate and Energy Minister Connie Hedegaard said the world is awaiting concrete action from the US on climate change.

Danish Climate and Energy Minister Connie Hedegaard: "We all know the difficulties with the American Senate, but I also hope that our American friends feel that there is worldwide expectations that they will deliver in Copenhagen. And I must say that I also interpret what President Obama said today and also what he said in conjunction with the APEC meeting, that they know that they have to deliver also figures in Copenhagen."

Outside the climate talks, dozens of protesters rallied outside the meeting to protest the plans to delay a legally binding agreement. The activists staged a "die-in," lying immobile on the ground to symbolize those who would lose their lives because of global warming.

Protester: "These ministers are now working on a mandate of delay rather than a mandate of possibility, and we need to change this. Climate change is causing over 300,000 people’s lives to be lost every year."

African Union Calls for Global Warming Reparations

Meanwhile, in Ethiopia a meeting of African Union leaders has renewed calls for Western reparations to address the effects of global warming. Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi said climate change will continue to have devastating consequences on Africa.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi: "The African Union, in its two previous summits, made a historic decision to engage actively in climate change negotiations and to do so on the basis of a common position and one negotiating team. This was an unprecedented and historic decision. Africa has contributed virtually nothing to global warming, but it is placed to lose most by climate change. Africa is going to be hit hardest, and it’s going to be hit first."

NATO Head: "Substantially More Forces" Headed to Afghanistan

NATO’s Secretary General says a major troop increase in Afghanistan is on the way. Anders Fogh Rasmussen made the pledge Tuesday at a NATO assembly in Scotland.

Anders Fogh Rasmussen: "In a few weeks, I expect we will decide in NATO on the approach and troop levels needed to take our mission forward. I’m confident it will be a counterinsurgency approach with substantially more troops and will place the Afghan population at the core of ISAF’s collective effort."

US Military Suicides at Record Level

A top US military officer has confirmed Army suicides will reach a new record annual high. General Peter Chiarelli, the US Army Vice Chief of Staff, said Tuesday the number of soldiers to take their own lives in 2009 has already matched last year’s record of 140. The figure does not include an additional seventy-one soldiers who killed themselves this year after leaving active duty.

Gen. Peter Chiarelli: "We are almost certainly going to end the year higher than last year. Obviously we would prefer not to have another suicide this year or in the years that follow. But we know that will not be the case. This is horrible, and I do not want to downplay the significance of these numbers in any way."

Israel to Build 900 New Homes in E. Jerusalem Settlement

In Israel and the Occupied Territories, the Israeli government has announced a new round of settlement expansion on occupied Palestinian land. Israel says it will build 900 new homes in the East Jerusalem settlement of Gilo. White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs criticized the plan, saying, "We are dismayed." But the move comes just two weeks after the Obama administration tacitly approved settlement expansion by hailing an Israeli pledge to slow down construction, not halt it completely. Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki called for meaningful international pressure on Israel.

Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki: "The international community should really understand that these measures, these actions taken by Israel, are intended to prevent the Palestinian state from happening, and they want really to maintain the occupation as long as possible. One should really react to this, and it’s not enough for the international community to keep saying that settlement activities are illegal. I think, you know, it’s time for the international community to intervene and to stop such settlement activities from taking place, because, you know, they are making a solution impossible."

In a statement, the Israeli government dismissed opposition to the new construction, which it called "a routine process."

In Landmark Ceremony, El Salvador Honors Slain Jesuit Priests

In El Salvador, six Jesuit priests are being honored twenty years after their murders by the US-backed Salvadoran military. On Monday, the priests were bestowed the nation’s highest civilian award, marking the first time the Salvadoran government has honored the priests since their deaths. In a ceremony attended by the priests’ families, Salvadorian President Mauricio Funes said his country is "[pulling] back a heavy veil of darkness and lies to let in the light of justice and truth." El Salvador’s defense minister also announced the military is ready to ask for forgiveness and open its archives to a long-sought investigation. The Jesuits had been outspoken advocates for the poor and critics of human rights abuses committed by the ARENA government. They were killed on November 16, 1989, when a military unit entered the Central American University campus and shot them to death. The priests’ housekeeper and her daughter were also killed in the attack. The current head of the university, Priest Jose Maria Tojeira, welcomed the posthumous recognition.

Priest Jose Maria Tojeira: "Many people from all parties — of course, ARENA, as well — said the priests were great men who helped to end war before, because their martyrdom pushed to accelerate peace talks. But never in twenty years has there been an official word of recognition for these people’s dignity. This is the first time, and I think it’s a very important symbol that should be opened to all victims from El Salvador."

The order to kill the priests is widely believed to have come from senior ARENA party and military leaders, but no high-ranking official has ever been charged.

Honduran Congress Delays Vote on Zelaya’s Return

In Honduras, lawmakers have again delayed a decision on restoring the ousted President Manuel Zelaya. Honduran congressional leader Jose Saavedra says the assembly won’t vote on Zelaya’s return until after this month’s scheduled presidential elections. Zelaya has warned he won’t return to office after the elections, saying doing so would legitimize the June coup that overthrew him.

5 Sentenced to Death in Iran Protests Trial

In Iran, state media is reporting five people have received death sentences for taking part in the protests against the disputed national elections earlier this year. More than one hundred opposition activists have gone on trial for their alleged role in the unrest. At least three others have also been sentenced to death.

In Shift, Senate Preserves Funding for Gitmo Transfers

Back in the United States, the Senate has rejected an amendment that would bar funding for jailing Guantanamo Bay prisoners in US prisons. The vote marks a shift from May, when the Senate overwhelmingly rejected funding for closing Guantanamo and moving prisoners to US soil. Administration officials are preparing to visit an Illinois prison this week as a potential site for Guantanamo prisoners. Illinois Governor Pat Quinn is supporting the plan, which would move less than 100 prisoners to the jail.

Public Campaign Forces Apparel Giant to Rehire Unionized Workers

Anti-sweatshop activists have won a major victory in a campaign to save a Honduran factory that had been closed after its workers voted to unionize. United Students Against Sweatshops says the sportswear giant Russell Athletic has agreed to rehire some 1,200 Honduran workers that were dismissed last January. The move follows a nationwide campaign that pressured investors and forced dozens of collegiate athletics departments to sever or restrict their licensing deals with Russell.

UIUC Grad Students End Strike

And in Illinois, graduate teaching assistants at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have voted to end a two-day strike. The graduate teachers’ union says school administrators agreed to meet on the union’s four key demands, including protections for tuition waivers, health benefits and job security.


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