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"Fiscal Cliff" Looms as Obama Returns to White House

President Obama returned to the White House on Wednesday, hours after his convincing win over Republican challenger Mitt Romney in the 2012 election. Aides say Obama has immediately turned to the so-called "fiscal cliff" of $700 billion in expiring tax cuts and automatic spending reductions set to take effect at the end of the year. Under the terms of last year’s debt deal, Obama and Senate Democrats must agree on a deficit reduction package with House Republicans or face automatic cuts that will likely contract the economy. On Wednesday, both Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Speaker John Boehner pledged to negotiate in good faith.

Harry Reid: "The American people want us to work together. Republicans want us to work together. Democrats want us to work together. They want a balanced approach to everything, but especially this situation that we have dealing with this huge deficit and taxes that are part of that."

John Boehner: "There’s an alternative to going over the fiscal cliff, in whole or in part. It involves making real changes to the financial structure of entitlement programs and reforming our tax code to curb special interest loopholes and deductions. By working together and creating a fairer, simpler, cleaner tax code, we can give our country a stronger, healthier economy."

Winter Storm Blasts Areas Devastated by Sandy

A powerful winter storm has again blasted the northeastern United States, bringing wet snow and strong winds to areas already devastated by last week’s Superstorm Sandy. Tens of thousands of homes and businesses lost power along the East Coast from the Carolinas to New York on Wednesday, joining the more than half a million customers who still remain without power in Sandy’s wake. Concerns were raised the storm could threaten the relief effort in some of the hardest-hit areas. Meanwhile, the death toll from Superstorm Sandy in the United States and Canada has risen to 121 after the death of an elderly man who was found unresponsive at the bottom of a wet and dark stairwell in Rockaway, Queens. On Wednesday, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg warned Sandy may have weakened defenses against potential flooding.

Michael Bloomberg: "Because of today’s storm, coastal areas in our city face the risk of some flooding until 6 a.m. tomorrow morning, and the National Weather Service warns that there could be some major flooding in spots already eroded by Sandy. The difference here is that the barriers of sand or rock that were there before perhaps are not there. We haven’t and won’t order the kind of large-scale evacuation that we did in advance of Hurricane Sandy, but if you are experienced — experiencing significant flooding during Sandy, you should consider taking shelter with friends and family at a safer spot or using one of the city’s storm shelters."

Dozens Killed in Guatemalan Earthquake

At least 48 people have been killed in an earthquake off of Guatemala’s Pacific Coast. Most of the victims were killed in the northwestern state of San Marcos, which saw heavy damage.

New Round of Greek Austerity Sparks Massive Protests

Lawmakers in Greece have approved a new round of austerity cuts amidst massive protests. On Wednesday, the Greek parliament narrowly backed a $13.5 billion austerity package featuring tax hikes and pension cuts — Greece’s fourth austerity package in three years. More than 100,000 people took to the streets of Athens to oppose the measure, capping a three-day strike and staging Greece’s largest protest since August. The protest ended in clashes with police firing tear gas to disperse the crowd.

Turkey to Ask NATO for Missiles Along Syrian Border

Turkey has unveiled plans to ask that NATO deploy Patriot missiles along its border with Syria. The move would effectively create a no-fly zone over the Turkey-Syria border. The move comes as Syria is seeing some of its worst violence to date, with reports of dozens, if not hundreds, of deaths over the past week. At the United Nations, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman warned Syria is headed toward self-destruction.

Jeffrey Feltman: "The current path will lead Syria to its destruction. Clearly, there is a need to shift away from the military logic that’s prevailing at the moment. The solution must be arrived through a political process, and it has to be a Syrian-led process; it can’t be imposed. It must bring real change and a clean break from the past."

Bahrain Revokes Citizenship of 31 Opposition Activists

Bahrain has revoked the citizenship of 31 opposition activists for having allegedly "undermined state security." The list includes two former members of parliament with Bahrain’s main opposition party, the Shia al-Wefaq, and the son of a prominent opposition activist who is serving life behind bars. The move comes days after the U.S.-backed Bahraini monarchy banned all protests and gatherings following a wave of demonstrations. Bahrain is a key U.S. government ally, hosting the Navy’s Fifth Fleet.

3 Dead in California Workplace Shooting

Three people have been killed, including the shooter, at a meat processing plant in Fresno, California. Police say the gunman, Lawrence Jones, executed two co-workers and wounded two others before taking his own life.

U.S. Man Behind Anti-Islam Film Gets Year in Prison

The California man behind an anti-Islam video that sparked global protests has been sentenced to a year in prison. On Wednesday, Nakoula Basseley Nakoula was ordered to spend 12 months behind bars for violating the terms of his probation from a prior conviction. Following a 2010 check fraud conviction, Nakoula was forbidden from using computers or the Internet without permission from his probation officer. Under the alias of Sam Bacile, Nakoula produced "The Innocence of Muslims," which provoked outrage in Muslim countries after it was circulated online.

Hundreds Denounce Racism After Anti-Obama Protest at Ole Miss

Hundreds of people gathered at the University of Mississippi on Wednesday to denounce racism on campus one day after a heated protest against President Obama’s re-election. After the results were announced Tuesday night, a crowd of several hundred gathered in anger, with some attendees reportedly shouting racial slurs. At least two people were arrested.

Tally Shows Election Spending Topped $6 Billion

With the 2012 election in the books, the price tag for combined spending by federal candidates, their parties and outside groups like super PACs totals more than $6 billion. The election’s biggest private donor, casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson, saw none of his eight candidates — including Mitt Romney — win their elections, despite Adelson spending more than $53 million.

Obama Leads in Florida with Vote Count Still Underway

Although President Obama secured the Electoral College with a wide majority, his total may increase once final results are in from Florida. With counting still underway, Obama is leading Romney in Florida by more than 49,000 votes.

California Cancels Tuition Hike After Voters OK Tax Increase

California has officially canceled a planned college tuition hike following the passage of a tax increase in a statewide ballot. On Election Day, California voters approved Proposition 30, which imposes a $6 billion temporary tax hike in order to avoid massive cuts to spending on education. California’s sales tax will rise by a quarter cent for four years, while individuals making over $250,000 will pay higher rates over seven years. The measure passed with an overwhelming turnout from young voters, an outgrowth of the widespread protests against tuition hikes on California campuses last year. Instead of a tuition increase of 9 percent, the average tuition cost for full-time students will remain at the same rate as last year.

Marijuana Reform Advocates Prep for Federal Showdown After Ballot Victories

Advocates for marijuana reform are preparing for a showdown with the federal government following historic victories in Colorado and Washington. Voters in both states approved measures legalizing marijuana for recreational use, the first time ever that has been achieved by popular vote. The Justice Department is reviewing the ballot measures and is widely expected to challenge their implementation. On Wednesday, marijuana reform activists in Colorado and Washington said they hope to provide a model for the rest of the country.

Brian Vicente: "Colorado rejected the failed policy of marijuana prohibition and made a positive step forward towards regulating this product, taking it off the streets, putting it behind the counter and taxing it. We really feel that Colorado can be a model for the nation in how to sensibly regulate marijuana policy."

Alison Holcomb: "Today, the state of Washington looked at 75 years of a national marijuana prohibition and said it is time for a new approach."

Women Make Historic Gains in U.S. Senate

Tuesday’s election was a historic one for women, who, come January, will hold 20 out of 100 seats in the U.S. Senate, the largest number ever. Tuesday’s election saw five new women elected to the Senate. In addition to Democrats Elizabeth Warren in Massachusetts and Rep. Tammy Baldwin in Wisconsin, Democratic Rep. Mazie Hirono was elected in Hawaii, becoming the first Asian-American woman elected to the Senate, Hawaii’s first woman senator, the Senate’s first Buddhist and the first U.S. senator born in Japan — Fukushima, Japan. The other new women senators are Republican Nebraska state legislator Deb Fischer and former North Dakota Attorney General Heidi Heitkamp, a Democrat.

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