President Obama is set to meet with congressional leaders at the White House just three days before a year-end deadline to avoid the so-called fiscal cliff. Some $600 billion in automatic spending cuts and tax increases will take effect if no agreement is reached. Obama and congressional Republicans remain at an impasse over the Republican refusal to allow tax hikes even for the wealthiest Americans. On Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid accused House Speaker John Boehner of holding up a deal.
Sen. Harry Reid: "The American people, I don’t think, understand the House of Representatives is operating without the House of Representatives. It’s being operated with a dictatorship of the speaker not allowing the vast majority of the House of Representatives to get what they want."
Adding to the sense of urgency surrounding the talks, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner warned this week the United States will not be able to pay its creditors after Monday unless the debt ceiling is raised.
Environmental Protection Agency head Lisa Jackson has announced her resignation ahead of President Obama’s second term. Jackson departs after a four-year tenure that saw advances in the regulation of environmentally harmful practices such as mountaintop removal and the emissions of harmful chemicals from industrial plants. But it was also marked by a number of key disappointments on environmental issues owing to Republican opposition and a lack of White House support. President Obama rejected Jackson’s proposal for tougher regulations on smog pollution last year, even though Jackson submitted a proposal she viewed as a major compromise. She has recently tried to impose restrictions on carbon emissions from new power plants, drawing a concerted Republican and corporate pushback. After ignoring global warming during the 2012 campaign, Obama has recently vowed to address it during his second term. In a statement, the Natural Resources Defense Council called Jackson an unrivaled "champion of our health and our environment," adding: "Her successor will inherit an unfinished agenda that begins with the issuance of new health protections against carbon pollution from existing power plants — the largest remaining driver of climate change that needs to be controlled."
Thousands of dockworkers along the U.S. East Coast and Gulf Coast are threatening to go on strike this weekend in a dispute over pay. The potential strike by the International Longshoremen’s Association would affect nearly half of the country’s ocean-bound shipping traffic at 14 ports and mark the first by the group in decades. President Obama is facing calls from corporate groups to use emergency powers to prevent the strike, a move that would anger his union supporters.
Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder has signed into law a measure allowing Michigan areas to declare bankruptcy or fall under the control of an unelected emergency manager enabled to fire public officials and nullify union contracts. Dubbed by critics Michigan’s "local dictators" law, state Republicans approved it this month after voters repealed a similar initiative on Election Day. Despite reimposing a measure that was rejected by popular vote, Gov. Snyder said, "This legislation demonstrates that we clearly heard, recognized and respected the will of the voters." It was among a number of controversial bills recently advanced by state Republicans in Michigan before their majority declines with the new legislative session next month.
The Chicago Teachers Union has filed a lawsuit accusing the city of discriminating against African-American teachers and staff through its effort to reform or shut down local schools. The federal suit says more than half of the tenured teachers who lost their jobs in the most recent wave of school closings were African American, despite African Americans comprising just 30 percent of tenured teachers overall and 35 percent in the under-performing schools that wind up being closed. The teachers’ union is seeking an injunction to stop Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel from closing any more schools.
The National Rifle Association has confirmed plans to continue its campaign against a proposed U.N. treaty that would regulate the global arms trade. The General Assembly voted to reopen negotiations this week after the Obama administration helped stonewall talks in July. Speaking to Reuters, an NRA spokesperson said the massacre in Newtown won’t change the group’s opposition to the treaty, saying: "We’re as opposed to it today as we were when it first appeared." The NRA says it will mount a campaign against the Obama administration should it bring the treaty up for Senate ratification.
The NRA’s vow marks its second major policy announcement in the past week after responding to the Newtown massacre with a call for armed guards in all U.S. schools. On Thursday, some 200 teachers in Utah attended a seminar sponsored by the pro-gun Utah Shooting Sports Council for free training on the handling of firearms.
New figures show publicly known U.S. drone strikes declined in Pakistan this year while drastically increasing in Yemen. According to the New America Foundation, confirmed drone attacks fell to 46 from 72 in Pakistan, while rising to 53 from 18 in Yemen. The United States has just recently admitted responsibility for a September attack in Yemen that killed 11 civilians, including three children.
Rebels in the Central African Republic appear to be on the verge of seizing control of the capital of Bangui after taking at least 10 other towns. Central African Republic President François Bozizé has urged foreign intervention from the United States and France to help him push back the rebel advance. The United States says it has evacuated its embassy in Bangui as a precautionary safety measure.
In India, a 17-year-old girl who was gang-raped has committed suicide after being pressured by police to drop the case and marry one of her attackers. The girl’s death comes amidst growing national outrage over a spate of gang rapes ignored by India’s police, including one on a public bus in Delhi. On Thursday, protests against rape in India continued nationwide.
Protester: "It is completely sad on the part of the government actually, since they are doing nothing about the innumerable rape incidents which are happening around us. And the crass comments that are being passed, especially by family members from respected MLAs (legislators), and they themselves being representatives of political parties, is unacceptable, and we’re completely infuriated."
According to India’s national crime registry, one woman is raped every 20 minutes in India.
Russian President Vladmir Putin has signed into law a ban on U.S. citizens adopting Russian children. The ban is seen as a retaliatory move after President Obama signed a law denying U.S. visas and bank accounts to Russian officials linked to the death of imprisoned whistleblower Sergei Magnitsky. It will take effect on January 1st and likely add a new strain to U.S.-Russian ties.
Retired U.S. General Norman Schwarzkopf has died at the age of 78. Known as "Stormin’ Norman," Schwarzkopf headed the first Gulf War in 1991, which killed up to 205,000 Iraqis during the invasion and its aftermath and decimated Iraqi infrastructure. In one of the war’s most notorious incidents, Schwarzkopf ordered U.S. forces to fire on retreating and disarmed Iraqi forces along Iraq’s Highway 80, causing hundreds of casualties and prompting the name "Highway of Death." News of Schwarzkopf’s death comes as former President George H.W. Bush, who ordered the first Gulf War, is in a Houston hospital in intensive care after suffering bronchitis.