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Heavy rains are battering Haiti in what could be the worst storm to hit the island since the January earthquake. Forecasters say Tropical Storm Tomas has gained hurricane strength and will pass through western Haiti sometime today. There are fears the rains could trigger massive flooding, potentially spreading a cholera outbreak that has already killed more than 440 people. The Haitian government has ordered the voluntary evacuation of camps for earthquake survivors in low-lying areas, but many have nowhere to go. On Thursday, Bill Read of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said the storm could maintain hurricane strength before making landfall.
Bill Read: "The next 36 hours are the primary threat to the area there. We’re forecasting winds to tropical storm force, possibly reaching hurricane force if Tomas intensifies as it goes through there, but the predominant threat is the heavy rain."
As Haiti struggles to avert a new disaster, Haitians and U.S. public health experts are warning that U.N. troops may in fact be responsible for the deadly cholera outbreak. The strain of the disease matches strains found in Southeast Asia, and a Nepalese contingent is based near the infected Artibonite River. Experts say the strain is uncharacteristic of Haiti and the Caribbean but closely matches the Nepalese troops’ home region.
Democratic incumbent Patty Murray has held on to her Senate seat in Washington State. Murray claimed victory last night after Republican challenger Dino Rossi conceded the race. Her victory means Democrats will control 53 seats in the new Senate, a loss of six seats. Alaska’s Senate race remains undecided, with two Republicans, incumbent Lisa Murkowski and primary victor Joe Miller, in a tight race as votes are still being counted.
President Obama has invited top House and Senate leaders from both parties to discuss the remainder of the current congressional term. Obama spoke Thursday at a White House cabinet meeting.
President Obama: "I want everybody to know that I’ve already called Mitch McConnell, John Boehner, Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi to invite them to a meeting here at the White House in the first week of the lame duck, on November 18. This is going to be a meeting in which I want us to talk substantively about how we can move the American people’s agenda forward. It’s not just going to be a photo op."
The meeting will be held in two weeks. Obama meanwhile is heading to Asia today for a 10-day trek visit that includes stops in India, Indonesia, South Korea and Japan.
As President Obama adjusts to Democrats’ reduced legislative standing, new details have emerged on the privately funded effort to elect Republican candidates. NBC News reports the bulk of funding for the Karl Rove-founded group Crossroads GPS "came from a small circle of extremely wealthy Wall Street hedge fund and private equity moguls." Rove helped coordinate Crossroads’ spending on attack ads against vulnerable Democrats along with other right-wing groups. Both Crossroads and sister group American Crossroads spent $38 million on attack ads and mailings targeting Democratic candidates. According to NBC, Republican candidates won nine of the 12 Senate races and 14 of 22 House races where Rove’s groups spent money.
In Illinois, Governor Pat Quinn has been projected the winner in his bid for re-election. Republican challenger Bill Brady hasn’t conceded the race, but the Associated Press reports that Quinn’s 19,000-vote lead is insurmountable.
The banking giant JPMorgan Chase says it plans to resume foreclosures in the next few weeks. The firm suspended foreclosures in 40 states over a month ago following the disclosure that many had been fraudulently approved. A Chase employee testified earlier this year that she and her staffers had approved around 18,000 foreclosure affidavits and other documents without proper vetting on a monthly basis.
The war contractor Louis Berger has agreed to pay a multi-million-dollar settlement for over-billing the U.S. government in Afghanistan. The settlement could reach as much as $65 million. In return, the U.S. Justice Department has agreed to drop a probe into whether Louis Berger intentionally overcharged taxpayers. According to McClatchy Newspapers, the company will also remain eligible for new lucrative contracts in Afghanistan.
The founder of the online whistleblower organization WikiLeaks says he’s considering applying for political asylum in Switzerland in the wake of the U.S.-led crackdown on his organization. Julian Assange says Switzerland, as well Cuba and Iceland, are the only countries with whistleblower protection laws that could allow WikiLeaks to operate safely. Assange also renewed calls for the United States to investigate human rights abuses in Iraq and Afghanistan detailed in the hundreds of thousands of documents his group has released.
Julian Assange: "The result of this and some of our other publishing activities has led not to the United States conducting a full and frank investigation into the abuses revealed, as other countries are doing, but rather an aggressive investigation into this organization, public threats towards this organization, a demand for the destruction of that material."
In Western Sahara, thousands of Sahrawis are camping out near the city of Laayoune in a massive protest against Moroccan occupation. Tensions have flared after the Moroccan military shot dead a 14-year-old boy as he tried to join his family at the camp last month. Relatives say Moroccan soldiers secretly buried the boy, Al-Nagem Al-Qarhi, without letting them see his body.
And in California, San Francisco-area voters have elected the first transgender trial judge in the United States. The judge, Victoria Kolakowski, won the race for Superior Court judge in Alameda County.