WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is facing an international warrant for his arrest. Earlier today, Sweden’s highest court refused permission for Assange to appeal an arrest order issued over charges of alleged rape, sexual molestation and unlawful coercion. Assange has denied the allegations and said he is the target of a smear campaign. Assange could now be arrested on the sexual assault charges in any of the 188 countries that are part of Interpol. The Independent of London is reporting British police believe he is inside Britain and are awaiting orders to place him under arrest.
WikiLeaks’ website meanwhile was temporarily shut down on Wednesday after the online giant Amazon dropped it from its servers. Independent Senator Joe Lieberman, chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, said Amazon had acceded to his demand to stop hosting WikiLeaks. In a post to its Twitter account, WikiLeaks said, “If Amazon are so uncomfortable with the first amendment, they should get out of the business of selling books.” In Washington, U.S. State Department spokesperson P.J. Crowley criticized Assange for calling on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to resign over her orders for U.S. diplomats to spy on foreign officials.
P.J. Crowley: “Mr. Assange can say what he wants from wherever he is, speaking from an undisclosed location through Skype, as I believe it. There’s a metaphor there, in that he is calling for the secretary to step down at a time where he is trying to evade an active warrant by Interpol. The Secretary of State, by contrast, is in Kazakhstan engaged directly with global leaders working to solve the world’s challenges. And there’s a sharp contrast in the current activity of the two individuals.”
The Obama administration has reversed a decision to open the Atlantic and Gulf coasts to offshore oil and gas drilling, but maintained its stance to allow drilling in Alaska. President Obama initially unveiled the plan in March, just weeks before the BP oil spill that became the largest in U.S. history. On Wednesday, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said the drilling would not be allowed anywhere along the East Coast and the eastern Gulf of Mexico as part of the next five-year energy plan. But Salazar said Arctic drilling will proceed, including the oil giant Shell’s project off the coast of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. In a statement, the Center for Biological Diversity said, “There is no excuse for continuing to consider drilling in polar bear critical habitat off the coast of Alaska. If the risk of an oil spill is too great for Florida, it is also certainly too great for Alaska.”
Government regulators are reportedly in talks with several major banks to resolve probes into the sale of mortgage-backed securities that helped cause the financial crisis. According to the Wall Street Journal, the Securities and Exchange Commission is in the early stages of reaching settlements with banks that pushed toxic loans and other financial instruments.
The Federal Reserve has released documents disclosing the corporate recipients of U.S. government aid during the financial crisis. According to Bloomberg News, the Fed handed out $3.3 trillion in bailout loans. The companies extended beyond the financial sector to include firms like Caterpillar, General Electric, Harley Davidson, McDonald’s, Verizon and Toyota. The Huffington Post reports two foreign banks, Deutsche Bank and Credit Suisse, were the largest recipient of the Fed’s purchase of mortgage-backed securities.
The Federal Communications Commission is being accused of abandoning “net neutrality” rules that would ensure a free and open internet. On Wednesday, FCC chair Julius Genachowski unveiled proposals that would allow internet service providers to charge higher fees for faster access to online content.
Julius Genachowski: “Reasonable network management is an important part of the proposal, recognizing that what is reasonable will take account of the network technology and architecture involved. Our work has also demonstrated the importance of business innovation to promote network investment and efficient use, including measures to match price to cost such as usage-based pricing.”
Major firms like Verizon and Google have pushed for a two-tiered system that would allow them to charge fees. In a statement, the media reform group Free Press said, “It is deeply disappointing that a Chairman who has placed wireless at the center of his entire broadband agenda would seek to adopt rules that give [telecoms] a free hand to engage in economic discrimination.”
Senate Republicans are threatening to filibuster every bill until Democrats agree to extend the Bush-era tax cuts to all income groups. The Obama administration and many Democrats want to retain the lower rates only for individuals with an annual income of $200,000 or less and married couples earning no more than $250,000 a year. The Republican threat jeopardizes a number of pending measures, including an extension of unemployment benefits and the repeal of the military’s ban on gay and lesbian servicemembers known as the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. It also came just one day after President Obama met with top Republican leaders at the White House. On Wednesday, Obama suggested the two sides would reach a compromise.
President Obama: “There’s going to be some lingering politics that have to work themselves out, in all the caucuses, Democrat and Republican, but at the end of the day I think that people of goodwill can come together and recognize that given where the economy is at right now, given the struggles that a lot of families are still going through right now, that we’re going to be able to solve this problem. And I think we got off to a good start yesterday.”
The White House panel on reducing the deficit meanwhile has released its final report calling for widespread cuts to Social Security and Medicare. Panel co-chairs Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson want to raise the retirement age for Social Security to 69 by 2075, decrease the cost of living benefits for Social Security recipients, impose new limits on the Medicare health insurance program, and end several middle-class tax breaks while reducing income taxes for corporations. The panel will hold a vote on Friday on whether to send the recommendations to Congress. Labor unions and progressive economists have blasted the plan. In a statement, Richard Trumka of the AFL-CIO said, “With this report the Deficit Commission once again tells working Americans to 'Drop Dead.' No proposal on fiscal issues is serious that leaves the Bush tax cuts for the rich in place while raising taxes on the middle class and slashing Social Security and Medicare.”
A U.S. Army medic has been sentenced to nine months in prison after pleading guilty to shooting at unarmed Afghan civilians. Staff Sergeant Robert Stevens is the first to be court-martialed of 12 U.S. soldiers accused of belonging to a secret “kill team” in Afghanistan. The soldiers are accused of attacking Afghan civilians at random and collecting their fingers as trophies. On Wednesday, Stevens admitted to opening fire on two Afghan farmers for no reason. He received a lenient sentence in return for agreeing to testify against other accused soldiers.
Egypt’s largest opposition group has withdrawn from a second round of elections after accusing the ruling party of manipulating results to ensure a sweeping victory. The Muslim Brotherhood said it would not take part in Sunday’s runoff vote in protest of alleged intimidation and ballot stuffing by supporters of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in the first round.
New figures released for World AIDS Day on Wednesday show over 33 million people had HIV in 2009. Speaking in Brazil, UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibé called on world leaders to meet commitments on increasing access to treatment.
Michel Sidibé: “This day is a particular day, like we all are here. It is for me a day to honor 33 million people living with HIV/AIDS. It is a day to remember that 25 million people died from this disease, and it is a day to recommit ourselves. Like these young people said, we have 10 million people waiting for treatment. Those people’s life is hanging in the balance. They don’t know when they will have access to treatment. They don’t know if they will be with us tomorrow.”
Environmental groups attending the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Cancún, Mexico, are criticizing Japan for opposing an extension of the Kyoto Protocol beyond 2012. On Wednesday, Japan confirmed that it wants Kyoto to expire, citing the lack of participation by the U.S. and China. Yuri Onodera of Friends of the Earth Japan criticized the Japanese stance.
Yuri Onodera: “I think that Japan also has to recognize its responsibility, both historical and as well as today’s responsibility, as one of the per capita highest polluter in the world. This is not negotiating tactics, but this is a highest-level decision by the prime minister himself, so this is a very hardline position taken by our government.”
Republican leaders have announced plans to disband the House panel on combating global warming when they take control of the chamber next month. A spokesperson for Republican House speaker-designate John Boehner called the Select Committee on Global Warming “a clear example…of waste and duplication” in Congress.
A former New Orleans police officer has been sentenced to eight years in prison for his role in the Danziger Bridge incident, during which officers shot six citizens, killing two, days after Hurricane Katrina. Michael Hunter was sentenced Wednesday after pleading guilty to helping cover up the killings. Four other former New Orleans police officers have pleaded guilty to similar offenses.
Illinois lawmakers have approved a measure that would recognize civil unions and extend legal rights to same-sex couples. Illinois would become one of only a small number of states granting same-sex couples legal rights similar to those of heterosexual married couples. Illinois Governor Pat Quinn is expected to sign the measure into law.