The Obama administration has reportedly decided in principle to allow Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh to enter the United States, even though his forces have killed hundreds of anti-government protesters over the past year. According to the New York Times, Saleh could arrive in New York as soon as this week for medical treatment for problems stemming from a near-fatal bomb blast in June at his presidential complex. A longtime U.S. ally, Saleh has led Yemen since 1978, but recently agreed to relinquish office by February. The news comes just days after Yemeni security forces opened fire on protesters in the Yemeni capital of Sana’a Saturday, killing at least nine protesters. Protesters condemned President Saleh.
Areej Al-Khawlani, protester: “What has forced us to take to the streets in this protest is the negligence of the politicians. They have turned our revolution into a crisis. They don’t want to recognize our revolution. We haven’t come out because we want to share the power with the regime. We want the whole regime to be completely overthrown.”
Arab League observers have reportedly arrived in the Syrian city of Homs just one day after government forces descended on the area, allegedly killing dozens of people. Residents claim at least 34 people were killed in Homs on Monday, while several neighborhoods were left without food, water or electricity. Fifty observers arrived to Syria on Monday. They will reportedly tour the country in teams of 10 in an effort to assess of conditions on the ground. Their identities have largely been kept secret. Some activists worry the teams will not be able to make an objective judgment of the situation due to the Assad regime’s close monitoring of the coalition. The teams will be using government transportation to tour the restive nation and are barred from visiting sensitive government locations. The United Nations estimates the Syrian government has killed more than 5,000 people since it began its crackdown on opposition protests in March.
The U.S. Department of Justice has blocked South Carolina’s new law requiring voters to show photo IDs at the polls from taking effect, saying it violated the Voting Rights Act. The Justice Department said data submitted by South Carolina showed that minority voters were about 20 percent more likely to lack acceptable photo ID required at polling places. Backers of South Carolina’s new voter ID law says it is needed to prevent voter fraud, but the state did not submit any evidence to the Justice Department showing that voter fraud was a problem. In related news, a 93-year-old Tennessee woman who worked as maid at the State Capitol for 30 years says she has been told she can’t vote in the upcoming election because of Tennessee’s new voter ID regulations. Thelma Mitchell has a state ID she used when she cleaned the offices of Tennessee lawmakers, but she has been barred from voting because she cannot produce a birth certificate.
Five of the major Republican presidential candidates will be campaigning in Iowa today, one week ahead of the state’s January 3 caucuses. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has been dealt a setback by failing to secure enough signatures to make the ballot in his home state of Virginia. Only two Republicans, Mitt Romney and Ron Paul, will be on the Virginia ballot. On Monday, Texas Governor Rick Perry issued a new ad attacking four of his opponents for having served in Congress. Photos of Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul, Rick Santorum and Michele Bachmann all appear in the ad.
Rick Perry ad: “If Washington’s the problem, why trust a congressman to fix it? Among them, they’ve spent 63 years in Congress, leaving us with debt, earmarks and bailouts. Congressmen get $174,000 a year, and you get the bill. We need a solution.”
Governor Rick Perry: “That’s the reason I’ve called for a part-time Congress. Cut their pay in half. Cut their time in Washington in half. Cut their staff in half. Send them home. Let them get a job like everybody else back home has. I’m Rick Perry, and I approve this message.”
In presidential campaign news, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney has publicly criticized President Obama for failing to keep ground troops inside Iraq.
Mitt Romney: “When the announcement was made that a status of forces agreement had not been reached and that we were going to pull out all of our troops, I made the point that that put the successes and victories there at risk. And I hope that that risk is not realized. I hope that we’re able to see stability there. But the President’s failure to secure an agreement and maintain 10,000 to 30,000 troops in Iraq has to be one of his signature failures.”
In campaign news, CNN has obtained the files from Newt Gingrich’s first divorce in 1980. For years, Gingrich has claimed his wife wanted the divorce, but the records show otherwise. One document reads, “Defendant shows that she has adequate and ample grounds for divorce, but that she does not desire one at this time.”
A new investigation by the Washington Post has revealed the financial gap between Americans and their representatives in Congress has widened considerably over the past 25 years. Between 1984 and 2009, the median net worth of a member of the House more than doubled from $280,000 to $725,000 in inflation-adjusted 2009 dollars. Over the same period, the wealth of an American family has declined slightly, with the comparable median figure sliding to just more than $20,000. A key reason for the shift is the soaring cost of political campaigns. According to the Federal Election Commission, since 1976, the average amount spent by winning House candidates quadrupled in inflation-adjusted dollars, to $1.4 million.
In news from Washington, President Obama signed a two-month extension of the payroll tax cut on Friday after House Republicans backed down on their opposition to the bipartisan Senate measure. Obama called on Congress to extend the tax break for a full year.
President Barack Obama: “And when Congress returns, I urge them to keep working, without drama, without delay, to reach an agreement that extends this tax cut, as well as unemployment insurance, through all of 2012. Last week, I said that this should be a formality, and that’s still the case. So let’s make sure that we extend this tax break and unemployment insurance for a full year for families, but also for our economy. It’s the right thing to do because more money spent by more Americans means more businesses hiring more workers. And that’s a boost for everybody, and it’s a boost that we very much need right now.”
The tax break bill signed by President Obama also contains language pertaining to the Keystone XL tar sands oil pipeline. The bill requires the Obama administration to make a decision on granting TransCanada a permit on the pipeline by late February. Republicans added the provision to the bill after the Obama administration said it would delay making a decision on the project until after the 2012 election.
The Afghan government has agreed to allow the Taliban to open an office in Qatar in a move that could lead to peace talks between the two sides. The United States has reportedly already held about a half a dozen meetings in Germany and Doha with representatives of Taliban leader, Mullah Omar. The Afghan peace commission has said negotiations with the Taliban could only begin after they stopped violence against civilians, cut ties to al-Qaeda, and accepted the Afghan constitution.
Egyptian authorities have released the prominent blogger and activist Alaa Abd El Fattah after nearly two months in detention, although prosecutors say they are still investigating his case. A vocal critic of military rule, Fattah was accused of inciting violence against the military. Fattah is the nephew of the bestselling Egyptian writer, Ahdaf Soueif.
In Russia, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has rejected calls for a review of disputed parliamentary election results. The contested elections have led to the largest protests Russia has seen in decades, with tens of thousands of demonstrators taking to the streets in Moscow and St. Petersburg. On Saturday, more than 100,000 protesters gathered in the capital. Opposition leader Garry Kasparov claims the controversial elections have galvanized opposition to the Russian political establishment.
Garry Kasparov, Russian opposition leader: “This is the first time that people have felt that they are the strong. It seems to me that this is a psychological change. There’s not the feeling anymore that there are a few of us and many of them. Now we have many. I believe that these people who come out, they are active, successful people. They need to use the internet not only for preparing these types of events and to organize themselves, but also to propose an alternative to the people in power, that power which is corrupt and incapable of solving the country’s problems.”
Putin, meanwhile, has said there can be no talk of review and criticized the massive protest movement for lacking a unified goal. Meanwhile, former Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev has called on Putin to quit politics.
Former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev: “Nobody sacked me (in 1991). I announced the termination of my presidency, but I explained why I did it. So he should do the same. I would go this way. It would be the best, because then anything positive that he did would be protected.”
In news from Nigeria, at least 27 people were killed on Sunday when a series of bombs exploded at churches filled with parishioners celebrating Christmas. The Islamist militant group Boko Haram claimed responsibility for the bombings.
Evidence is emerging the oil spill off the coast of Nigeria may be significantly larger than reported. Royal Dutch Shell has publicly said less than 40,000 barrels, or 1.7 million gallons, have leaked. But satellite images from the environmental group SkyTruth show as much as 2.4 million gallons of oil have spilled.
Pakistan remains in a state of political turmoil as rumors continue to float that the Pakistani army may try to bring down President Asif Ali Zardari’s government. The controversy stems from the publication of a secret unsigned memo sent by Pakistan to the United States earlier this year seeking help to rein in the Pakistani military after U.S. forces assassinated al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in Pakistan. The memo was allegedly sent by Pakistan’s former ambassador to the United States, Husain Haqqani, who has since resigned. Meanwhile on Sunday, more than 100,000 Pakistanis gathered in Karachi for a massive rally organized by Imran Khan, the former cricket player who is now being viewed as a possible leader of Pakistan. Khan said he could end militancy and corruption in 90 days if elected prime minister.
Imran Khan, cricketer-turned-politician: “We need a government that changes the system and ends corruption, so we need the PTI to come to power. The first thing we need to do is end corruption.”
A preliminary report on the nuclear disaster at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power facility has determined a lack of preparation and poor communication at top levels after disaster struck were among the failures that turned the nuclear accident into the worst atomic crisis in 25 years. The panel found Tokyo Electric Power, as well as state regulators, failed to sufficiently anticipate a massive tsunami. The panel also said poor communication between the government’s crisis management center and top officials delayed the use of a system that predicts the spread of radioactivity. This prevented more accurate evacuation orders. The government said last week it may take another seven years before the inside of the reactors can be checked due to high levels of radiation.
A Israeli woman is being compared to U.S. civil rights activist Rosa Parks after refusing to bow to ultra-Orthodox Jewish customs and relinquish her seat on a public bus to a man. Tanya Rosenblit took a Jerusalem-bound bus from her native Ashdod recently when an ultra-Orthodox Jewish man demanded she move to the back of the bus. In ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities, mingling between sexes is forbidden, and women are relegated to the back of buses when men are present. Rosenblit refused the order, which led to an argument. The bus driver then pulled the bus over, and the police were called, but Rosenblit maintained her position. The bus carried on to its final destination. The act of defiance has sparked a national discussion in Israel on the issue of gender segregation. On Monday, the disagreement turned violent when ultra-Orthodox Jews in the Israeli town of Beit Shemesh clashed with police. Hundreds of men in the ultra-Orthodox community took part in the unrest. Members of local news crews were reportedly hurt in the clashes, and at least six Beit Shemesh residents were arrested. An estimated 10,000 people are expected to turn out in the community today to protest the exclusion of women, as well as violence against girls and women by Haredi extremists.
Members of the hacking group Anonymous have claimed credit for hacking into the website of the global intelligence company Stratfor and then making donations to charities using credit card information found unsecured on the Stratfor website. The hacking group also released the information on 4,000 credit cards owned by subscribers of Stratfor’s products. Stratfor’s website is still not functioning. A banner read, “Site is currently undergoing maintenance. Please check back soon.” The action may have been tied to last week’s pretrial hearing for accused Army whistleblower Bradley Manning. One online post regarding the hacking of Stratfor said, “While the rich and powerful are enjoying themselves with all their bourgeois gifts and lavish meals, our comrade Bradley Manning is not having that great of a time in federal custody.” The post went on to say, “Instead of being heralded as a fighter for free information and government transparency, he is criminalized, marginalized, and incarcerated, threatened with life imprisonment.”
The longtime talk radio host Lynn Samuels has died at the age of 69. She began her radio career at Pacifica station WBAI in New York City and later became a prominent liberal voice on WABC.