New figures show the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere has reached a record high. The World Meteorological Organization says emissions that cause global warming threaten to be 12 billion tons higher in 2020 than the level needed to avoid a temperature rise of more than two degrees Celsius. Unveiling the findings, WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud said the heating of the planet will bring more extreme weather.
Michel Jarraud: "If you look at the major greenhouse gases — in particular, CO2, methane and nitrous oxide — for all these major greenhouse gases, the concentrations are reaching once again record levels. We are worried not only about the impact on temperature, which is important, but also the impact on the water cycle: more droughts, more floods in other parts of the world. We are worried about the impact on a number of extreme weather events. We are worried about the impact on the sea level."
The White House continues to reject calls for delaying parts of the new healthcare law due to the troubled rollout. Appearing before the Senate Finance Committee, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said delay is off the table.
Kathleen Sebelius: "People’s lives depend of this. Too many hard-working people have been waiting for too long for the ability to obtain affordable health insurance. If we want to save families from going bankrupt, if we want to save the lives of more of our friends and neighbors by allowing them to detect medical issues early, if we want to keep prices down, delay is not an option."
Sebelius said figures set for release next week will show enrollment to be low, but the administration remains confident it can hit its target of signing up seven million Americans for insurance plans by March. Democratic Sen. Max Baucus, a co-author of the healthcare law, criticized the rollout’s troubles.
Sen. Max Baucus: "When we asked for updates on the marketplaces, the responses we got were totally unsatisfactory. We heard multiple times that everything was on track. We now know that was not the case. But that’s in the past. Now it’s time to move forward and figure out how to fix it."
Wednesday’s hearing came as a top official at the federal agency responsible for the federal healthcare website resigned. Tony Trenkle served as chief information officer at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Trenkle is taking a job in the private sector. It is unclear if his departure is linked to the website’s troubles.
Talks have resumed in Geneva today between Iran and six world powers, including the United States. It is the second round of negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program since President Hassan Rouhani took office in August. The Obama administration has reportedly floated a proposal that would partially lift U.S.-led sanctions for six months in return for Iran’s suspension of nuclear activity.
Secretary of State John Kerry continues a visit to Israel and the occupied West Bank in a bid to encourage U.S.-brokered peace talks. Kerry faced Palestinian complaints in Ramallah on Tuesday over Israel’s continued expansion of West Bank settlements. In a rare move for an Obama administration official, Kerry said the U.S. views Israel’s settlements as "illegitimate," going beyond the normal White House language of "not helpful." But Kerry stopped short of calling the settlements illegal.
Secretary of State John Kerry: "Let me emphasize at this point that the position of the United States of America on the settlements is that we consider now and have always considered the settlements to be illegitimate. And I want to make it extremely clear that at no time did the Palestinians in any way agree, as a matter of going back to the talks, that they somehow condone or accept the settlements. The Palestinians believe that the settlements are illegal. The United States has said that they believe the settlements are not helpful and they’re illegitimate."
Despite calling the settlements "illegitimate," Kerry refused to demand an end to their construction, saying Israeli expansion "would be much better off limited as much as possible."
A forensic study has concluded former Palestinian President Yasser Arafat may have been poisoned to death. Samples taken from Arafat’s body show he had 18 times the normal level of the radioactive material polonium. The team of Swiss scientists who examined Arafat’s remains says their findings "moderately support" poisoning as the cause of death. On Tuesday, Arafat’s widow called for an investigation at Arafat’s Ramallah headquarters, where he fell ill one month before dying in 2004. Speaking to Al Jazeera, forensic scientist David Barclay said he believes Arafat was poisoned.
David Barclay: "If I was a judge and jury, this is absolutely stone cold certain. This is beyond any doubt, in my opinion, that it was polonium that caused the death of Yasser Arafat."
According to Barclay, the polonium found in Arafat’s body must have come from a nuclear reactor. Israel has denied responsibility for Arafat’s death. Other experts have questioned the poisoning theory, saying Arafat showed symptoms inconsistent with radioactive exposure.
The Pakistani government has reportedly acknowledged errors in its recent downgrading of civilian casualties from U.S. drone strikes. Shortly after Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif returned from a U.S. visit last month, the Pakistani government reported a count of 67 civilian deaths since 2004. Just months earlier, Pakistan had estimated the toll at around 600. But according to the News of Pakistan, a Pakistani defense official has admitted the lower figure was "wrong and fabricated."
The magazine Foreign Policy reports the United States has quietly delayed plans to transfer control of the drone war from the CIA to the Pentagon. The shift was announced earlier this year amidst questions over the drone program’s secrecy and accountability. But officials now say it is unlikely to happen anytime soon.
The Netherlands has asked an international tribunal to order Russia to release the 30 people detained in a Greenpeace protest against Arctic drilling. The 28 environmentalists and two journalists have been jailed in Russia on charges of "hooliganism," facing up to seven years behind bars. On Wednesday, a Dutch government legal adviser made an appeal to the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea.
Liesbeth Lijnzaad: "We have given our view of the case, and it is now for the judges to decide. We have full confidence in the judges. We trust that they will give us a well-considered and well-reasoned decision in this case, which has a great amount of urgency. So that is what we’re looking forward to."
A multiple shooting in Detroit has left two people dead and eight others wounded. One of the injured victims is in critical condition. Detroit is currently facing its highest murder rate in decades.
Police in Detroit are investigating the shooting death of an African-American woman killed while seeking help for a late-night car crash. Nineteen-year-old Renisha McBride knocked on the door of a home in a predominantly white neighborhood to ask for assistance. The homeowner apparently thought she was an intruder and shot her dead. Family members say they believe McBride was racially profiled.
The U.S. Border Patrol has rejected calls to stop the use of deadly force against people throwing rocks. A government-backed task force recently urged the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency to ban agents from shooting at rock-throwers and assailants in vehicles. The recommendation came as part of a review sparked by the deadly shootings of 19 people by border agents since 2010. But speaking to the Associated Press, Border Patrol Chief Mike Fisher said the proposed changes would put agents in danger.
The military judge presiding over the tribunal of five 9/11 suspects has ordered the Obama administration to hand over a trove of documents on prison conditions at Guantánamo Bay. The judge, Col. James Pohl, will review correspondence between the U.S. government and the Red Cross, which has inspected the prison. He will then decide whether to turn it over to the defense. It is unclear if the material will become public. Both the Pentagon and the Red Cross had argued against the disclosure, which was sought by the prisoners’ attorneys. In a separate decision, Pohl also eased restrictions on mail communications between the prisoners and their lawyers.
The Los Angeles Times reports the Obama administration is holding talks with Yemeni officials on establishing a facility outside Sana’a to hold prisoners from Guantánamo Bay and Afghanistan. The talks could be one step toward closing Guantánamo, which President Obama has repeatedly vowed to do. More than half of prisoners currently at Guantánamo are from Yemen; many have been held for over a decade without charge or trial. Yemeni officials have reportedly drafted tentative plans for the facility, but a final deal could take months.
Former Guantánamo Bay prisoner David Hicks has filed a lawsuit seeking to overturn his 2007 conviction. Captured in Afghanistan, Hicks was held at Guantánamo for five years before reaching a plea deal to return to his native Australia. Hicks admitted to material support for terrorism and agreed to renounce his claim of suffering abuse in U.S. custody. He was the first Guantánamo prisoner convicted under the Military Commissions Act. This week, Hicks filed an appeal saying he had pleaded guilty under duress. In a statement, Hicks said: "I had no choice but to sign the plea deal or I would have died in Guantánamo."
A federal judge who ruled against the New York City Police Department’s controversial "stop-and-frisk" program is seeking reinstatement after being removed from the case. In August, U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin found stop-and-frisk unconstitutional, saying police had relied on a "policy of indirect racial profiling" that led officers to routinely stop blacks and Hispanics. Scheindlin appointed a federal court monitor to oversee a series of reforms. But a three-judge panel froze the reforms and removed Scheindlin last week, saying she violated judicial standards by speaking to the media. On Wednesday, Scheindlin filed an appeal, arguing the court never gave her a chance to respond before taking action against her.