WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has been arrested in Britain on an international warrant to face sexual crime allegations in Sweden. Assange is appearing in court today after surrendering to British police and he is expected to be extradited to Sweden. The case reportedly centers on accusations from two women who say Assange did not use a condom during consensual sex. Assange and WikiLeaks have denounced the case as a political witch-hunt that has intensified with the group’s release of secret U.S. diplomatic cables. On Monday, a Swiss bank said it had closed Assange’s account after he allegedly supplied false information. WikiLeaks’ PayPal account was also shut down this week, and its website has been thrown offline by cyber-attacks and U.S. government pressure.
At the U.S. Justice Department, Attorney General Eric Holder said investigators continue to probe the WikiLeaks case. U.S. officials have said Assange could be charged under the Espionage Act and suggested that laws could be amended to overcome legal obstacles to a prosecution.
Attorney General Eric Holder: “National security of the United States has been put at risk. The lives of people who work for the American people has been put at risk. The American people themselves have been put at risk by these actions that are, I believe, arrogant, misguided and ultimately not helpful in any way. We are doing everything that we can. We have a very serious, active, ongoing investigation that is criminal in nature. I authorized just last week a number of things to be done so that we can hopefully get to the bottom of this and hold people accountable, as they should be.”
WikiLeaks has released less than 1 percent of the more than 250,000 classified diplomatic cables in its possession. The latest cables include revelations of a U.S. plan to defend parts of eastern Europe in the event of a Russian attack. The plan calls for using NATO forces to defend Poland, as well as the Baltic states Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.
A secret cable from the U.S. embassy in Pakistan released by WikiLeaks shows former Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif believed the U.S. government had enough sway to appoint the head of the Pakistani army. In Iraq, newly disclosed cables show that Iraqi officials view Saudi Arabia as a greater threat than Iran.
In Afghanistan, the cables also show the United States is actively opposing an eventual peace agreement that could bring top Taliban leaders into the Afghan government. The United States has publicly claimed it backs reconciliation talks with the Taliban. But one cable cites Richard Holbrooke, U.S. Special Envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, as saying, “There will be no power-sharing with elements of the Taliban.” News of the U.S. stance comes just as a new poll of Afghan public opinion shows that although the Taliban remains unpopular, 73 percent of Afghans would support a negotiated settlement.
The Obama administration and congressional Republicans have reached an agreement that would the extend the Bush-era tax cut for the wealthiest Americans. President Obama had campaigned on a pledge to extend the tax cuts only for Americans making less than $200,000, and the House passed a measure along those lines last week. But Senate Republicans had vowed to block all other congressional action unless the tax cut was also extended for multi-millionaires and billionaires after its expiration at the end of the month. In return, President Obama won a 13-month extension of jobless benefits for the unemployed and a reduction in payroll taxes to help spur hiring. Unveiling the deal at the White House, Obama said he was forced to reach a compromise.
President Obama: “So, as sympathetic as I am to those who prefer a fight over compromise, as much as the political wisdom may dictate fighting over solving problems, it would be the wrong thing to do. The American people didn’t send us here to wage symbolic battles or win symbolic victories. They would much rather have the comfort of knowing that when they open their first paycheck on January of 2011, it won’t be smaller than it was before, all because Washington decided they preferred to have a fight and failed to act.”
In addition to extending the tax cut for the wealthy, President Obama also acceded to Republican demands for major exemptions to the estate tax. Individuals inheriting up to $5 million and couples inhering up to $10 million would be exempt from taxes, and taxes would only be applied to 35 percent of an estate’s worth. The cuts to the estate tax would be even greater than in President Bush’s last year in office.
Despite striking an agreement with Republicans, it’s unclear if Obama will have enough backing from congressional Democrats. Speaking on MSNBC, Independent Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont suggested he would filibuster the Obama-Republican deal.
Sen. Bernie Sanders: “The issue is the insult, the outrage that they want tax breaks for billionaires but they can’t in their heart come up with extending unemployment compensation so that millions of families in this country will have a modicum of security. That’s an outrage. I believe, politically, we can rally the American people around that cause. For a Democratic president, Democratic House, Democratic Senate to be following the Bush economic philosophy of tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires is absolutely wrong public policy, absolutely wrong politically. And I gotta tell you, I will do whatever I can to see that 60 votes are not acquired to pass this piece of legislation.”
In Pakistan, at least 50 people have been killed in a pair of suicide bombings on a government compound in the northwestern Mohmand region. The attack reportedly came during a meeting of local officials and tribesmen on boosting anti-Taliban militias.
The Afghan government has abandoned a decree to shut down private military firms by the end of the year. Afghan President Hamid Karzai ordered the firms’ closure in August but has since backed down under U.S. pressure. The Obama administration had warned the security ban would jeopardize aid and development projects in Afghanistan.
The United States, Japan and South Korea are threatening to abandon nuclear talks with North Korea following the attack that killed four people, including two civilians, on a South Korean island last month. In a meeting with the foreign ministers of Japan and South Korea, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the United States is determined to confront North Korea’s “belligerency.”
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: “This is a landmark trilateral meeting between three strong partners. This meeting takes place at a time of grave concern in Northeast Asia amid the provocative attacks from North Korea. We are committed to our partners, and we are committed to the preservation of peace and stability in Northeast Asia and on the Korean Peninsula.”
The Palestinian effort for statehood has received a boost with recognition from three South American countries. Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay have each declared their recognition of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip based on the 1967 borders. Argentine Foreign Minister Héctor Timerman announced his government’s stance on Monday.
Héctor Timerman: “The president of the nation, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, sent a letter to the president of the National Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, saying that the Argentine government recognizes Palestine as a free and independent state in the borders as they were in 1967 and according to what the parties determined during the negotiation process.”
Israel has harshly condemned the moves as an affront to the so-called “peace process.” With U.S. support, Israel has insisted on maintaining control of large Jewish-only settlement blocs that carve up the West Bank. Aid groups meanwhile continue to denounce the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip and ongoing restrictions in the West Bank. Kate Allen of Amnesty International said Palestinians are being “systematically” deprived of water.
Kate Allen: “There is a systematic and deliberate means of stopping water getting to Palestinian families, and that is having a dramatic effect upon the way in which people are able to live their lives. Water is an absolute basic necessity. It’s a human right. It is shocking to see that the Israeli government is behaving in this way.”
A California appeals court has begun hearing arguments in a case challenging the state’s voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage. A three-judge panel is presiding over the case after a lower court struck down the ban in August.
The Supreme Court has agreed to hear the retail giant Walmart’s challenge to a class action lawsuit alleging gender discrimination against female employees. Hundreds of thousands of female Walmart employees have sought to sue Walmart as a single class over allegations they received lower pay and less promotions than male co-workers. The case could mark the largest class action employment discrimination suit in U.S. history.
And an MSNBC pundit and editor with the right-wing magazine National Review is under criticism for saying the parents of children enrolled in school lunch programs are criminally negligent. Kate O’Beirne made the comments during a Republican panel discussion last week.
Kate O’Beirne: “The federal school lunch program, and now breakfast program, and I guess in Washington, D.C., dinner program, are pretty close to being sacred cows. Broad bipartisan support. And if we’re going to ask more of ourselves, my question is, what poor excuse for a parent can’t rustle up a bowl of cereal and a banana? I just don’t get why millions of schoolchildren qualify for school breakfasts, unless we have a major widespread problem with child neglect. You know, I mean, if that many parents are incapable of pulling together a bowl of cereal and a banana, then we have problems that are way bigger than — that problem can’t be solved with a school breakfast, because we have parents who are just criminally — criminally negligent with respect to raising children.”