WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has been denied bail following his arrest in London on an international warrant to face sexual crime allegations in Sweden. Assange will remain in custody until at least December 14, when a British court will take up a Swedish request for extradition. Assange has not been charged with a crime but is wanted for questioning on allegations of unlawful sexual contact with two women. Assange has maintained his innocence and called the case a political witch-hunt that has intensified with WikiLeaks’ release of secret U.S. diplomatic cables. The refusal to grant him bail came as more pressure was brought on companies to sever their ties with WikiLeaks. International credit card companies MasterCard and Visa have now suspended the payment of donations to the website. Assange’s attorney, Mark Stephens, said he has yet to see any of the evidence against his client.
Mark Stephens: “We have heard the judge today say that he wishes to see the evidence himself. I think he was impressed by the fact that a number of people were prepared to stand up on behalf of Mr. Assange and proffer his innocence. In those circumstances, I think we will see another bail application, and they were but the tip of an iceberg. This is going to go viral. Many people will come forward to stand sureties for Mr. Assange. Many people believe Mr. Assange to be innocent, myself included. And many people believe that this prosecution is politically motivated.”
The New York Times is reporting the U.S. Department of Justice is considering ways to indict Julian Assange beyond the Espionage Act. Other possible offenses under consideration include conspiracy or trafficking in stolen property.
A new analysis shows that the wealthiest Americans will receive the most benefit from President Obama’s controversial fiscal deal with Republicans. This week, Obama agreed to extend the Bush-era tax cut for the wealthiest Americans and reduce the estate tax in return for a 13-month extension of jobless benefits and a handful of tax credits for low- and moderate-income Americans. According to the New York Times, at least a quarter of the tax savings under the deal will go to the wealthiest one percent of the population. The plan’s $900 billion cost will be added to the federal deficit, not made up through spending cuts or the closing of loopholes that have taxed capital gains and dividends at just 15 percent. By contrast, the only group that will see its taxes increase are the nation’s lowest-paid workers. Individuals who make less than $20,000 and families with earnings below $40,000 stand to see tax hikes because Obama agreed to eliminate his Making Work Pay credit, which provided up to $400 for individuals and $800 for families of low and moderate income. Speaking at the White House, Obama rejected Democratic criticism of the plan, saying he was forced to compromise.
President Obama: “I’ve said before that I felt that the middle-class tax cuts were being held hostage to the high-end tax cuts. I think it’s tempting not to negotiate with hostage takers, unless the hostage gets harmed. Then, people will question the wisdom of that strategy. In this case, the hostage was the American people, and I was not willing to see them get harmed.”
Vice President Joe Biden met with Democratic senators on Tuesday in an effort to win support for the deal. Independent Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont has indicated he will attempt a filibuster to block its passage. Assessing the plan, Anne Mathias, an analyst with the brokerage giant MF Global, said, “It’s going to look like the rich are getting richer again.”
A federal court has dismissed a lawsuit challenging the Obama administration’s authorization of the assassination of U.S. citizens accused of terrorism links abroad. The Center for Constitutional Rights and the American Civil Liberties Union had filed the case on behalf of the father of Yemen-based Muslim cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, who is said to be the first U.S. citizen added to a CIA list of targets for capture or killing. On Tuesday, Federal Judge John Bates tossed the case on jurisdictional grounds, ruling that Awlaki’s father did not have legal standing to bring a case concerning his son. But Bates said the case raises serious judicial questions, including: “How is it that judicial approval is required when the U.S. decides to target a U.S. citizen overseas for electronic surveillance, but [not] when the United States decides to target a U.S. citizen overseas for death?” In a statement, the ACLU said, “We continue to believe that the government’s power to use lethal force against American citizens should be subject to meaningful oversight by the courts.”
The Obama administration says it’s withdrawing an offer of sweeping incentives to Israel in return for a limited settlement freeze in the occupied West Bank. Israel was reportedly promised 20 advanced F-35 warplanes worth around $3 billion and a U.S. pledge to veto U.N. resolutions deemed hostile to Israeli policies. Israel would have been free to continue building settlements in occupied East Jerusalem and then throughout the West Bank after just 90 days. Israel reportedly rejected a similar offer in September out of a blanket refusal to stop any settlement expansion but revived negotiations last month. Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak says the latest talks were sidelined following the WikiLeaks release of diplomatic cables and the crisis on the Korean Peninsula. In Washington, State Department spokesperson P.J. Crowley gave few details on why the administration had dropped the plan.
P.J. Crowley: “We thought for a period of time that the moratorium, and then a resumption of the moratorium, might be the best mechanism to advance a meaningful and sustained dialogue between the parties. We’ve come to the conclusion that that is not the best basis to move forward. We will have further conversations on the substance with the parties and will continue to try to find ways to create the kind of confidence that will eventually, we hope, allow them to engage directly.”
Palestinians and critics of the Obama administration’s Mideast policy had widely denounced the incentives. This week, the linguist and political analyst Noam Chomsky wrote: “Washington’s pathetic capitulation to Israel while pleading for a meaningless three-month [settlement] freeze… should go down as one of the most humiliating moments in U.S. diplomatic history.”
Haiti’s controversial presidential election is headed to a runoff vote between government-backed candidate Jude Celestin and former first lady Mirlande Manigat. On Tuesday, Haitian election officials said Celestin had slightly edged Haitian musician Michel Martelly to advance to the second round. Supporters of Martelly rallied in the streets of Port-au-Prince in the latest protest against the vote. Twelve of the initial 18 candidates have called for the vote’s annulment.
A new study has backed speculation that Nepalese troops with U.N. security forces in Haiti were inadvertently responsible for the recent cholera outbreak that’s killed more than 2,000 people. French epidemiologist Renaud Piarroux says the most likely explanation for the outbreak is the contamination of Haiti’s Artobonite River located by the Nepalese troops’ base.
International negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program have concluded with an agreement to continue talks next month. European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton met with Iranian officials in Geneva on behalf of the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany. Ashton said the two sides will reconvene in Turkey.
Catherine Ashton: “We recognize Iran’s rights but insist that it fulfills its obligations. We are ready to address and to seek common ground also on other issues of mutual interest. We and Iran agreed to a continuation of these talks in late January in Istanbul, where we plan to discuss practical ideas and ways of cooperating towards a resolution of our core concerns about the nuclear issue.”
The Irish government has detailed what’s being called the harshest budget cuts on record to secure a bailout of Ireland’s banking sector from the European Union and International Monetary Fund. The over $8 billion in cuts over the next four years include deep reductions to child benefits and public sector pensions. Irish Finance Minister Brian Lenihan said the austerity measures were necessary to rescue Ireland’s banks.
Irish Finance Minister Brian Lenihan: “The answer is we need their support to break the vicious cycle that has threatened our national finances and our banking system since the second quarter of this year. Following the Greek crisis this spring, funding for the state and for our banks became increasingly expensive. The rising costs of dealing with the banks that became evident during the autumn and the growing concerns about the prospects for the global economy reinforced doubts among international investors about the sustainability of our finances and our capacity to repair the financial system unaided.”
The austerity measures are expected to receive enough backing in the Irish parliament. Gerry Adams of the Sinn Féin Party said his bloc would vote against the plan.
Gerry Adams: “Sinn Féin TDs (MPs) will be voting against this budget. It’s obscene that the government, in order to defund the digout from the IMF and the E.U., is going to visit savage cuts upon the most vulnerable people here.”
Tens of thousands of Irish citizens have taken part in demonstrations against the austerity measures. On Tuesday, a crowd of several hundred gathered outside the Irish parliament.
Protester: “Fight this government against the lowest paid. They are cutting only the lowest of the lowest paid. They are scum dogs. They are cheats. They are cheats. Brian Lenihan, the worst finance minister in the whole of Europe.”
Nigeria’s anti-corruption agency has filed charges against former U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney in a $180 million bribery investigation involving Halliburton, the company he headed before taking office. Cheney, Halliburton chief executive David Lesar and six others were indicted on 16 counts for the bribing of Nigerian officials to win a lucrative gas project during the time Cheney was CEO. Former Halliburton subsidiary KBR pleaded guilty in the United States last year to bribery charges in the case.
A group of seven Texas college students are on their 29th day of a hunger strike in support of the DREAM Act, a provision that would allow undocumented young people a chance at citizenship. Under the measure, immigrant youth could obtain permanent residency with a chance for citizenship, provided they attend college for at least two years or enlist in the military. The students have vowed to remain on a liquid-only diet until Congress approves the DREAM Act. The House and Senate could hold a vote as early as today. A recent Congressional Budget Office report found that the DREAM Act would knock $1.4 billion off the federal deficit over the next decade.
Elizabeth Edwards, the wife of former Democratic Senator John Edwards, has died after a six-year battle with cancer. Edwards was first diagnosed with breast cancer in the final weeks of the 2004 campaign as her husband ran as John Kerry’s vice-presidential nominee. After undergoing treatment, the cancer returned in 2007 and was deemed inoperable. Since then, Edwards was also forced to confront the public disclosure of her husband’s infidelity and fathering of a child with a campaign videographer. In a statement, President Obama called Elizabeth Edwards “a tenacious advocate for fixing our healthcare system and fighting poverty. Our country has benefited from the voice she gave to the cause of building a society that lifts up all those left behind.”
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