President Obama is holding the first of a series of meetings at the White House today on averting the so-called fiscal cliff of expiring tax cuts and automatic spending reductions set to take effect at the end of the year. Under the terms of last year’s debt deal, Obama and Senate Democrats must agree on a deficit reduction package with House Republicans or face automatic cuts that will likely contract the economy. Labor groups, including the heads of the AFL-CIO and SEIU, will sit down with Obama today, followed by corporate CEOs on Wednesday. The president has vowed to resist Republican calls for extending tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans, but has signaled he may compromise on reducing so-called entitlements such as Medicare and Social Security. Speaking on MSNBC, independent Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont said the 2012 elections signaled a rejection of the Republican agenda.
Sen. Bernie Sanders: “The middle class of this country and working people — and that’s what this election was about — say, 'Yeah, we’ve got to do deficit reduction, but don't cut Social Security, don’t cut Medicare, don’t cut Medicaid.’ There are ways to move toward a balanced budget which are fair. I think Mr. Boehner has got to understand they lost, and let the wishes of the majority of the people in this country prevail.”
The scandal that brought down CIA director David Petraeus is now ensnaring General John Allen, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan. The Pentagon says the FBI has uncovered thousands of “potentially inappropriate” emails between Allen and Jill Kelley, the woman who complained of harassment from Petraeus’ lover, Paula Broadwell. Kelley’s complaint to the FBI led to the discovery of Broadwell and Petraeus’ relationship, prompting Petraeus’ resignation on Friday. Allen succeeded Petraeus in Afghanistan last year. The Pentagon says Allen will remain the U.S. commander in Afghanistan for now, but that plans to nominate him to become NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander are on hold pending the outcome of an investigation. On Monday night, FBI agents continued their probe by searching Broadwell’s North Carolina home.
As the Obama administration faces turmoil with two top military leaders, reports are continuing to emerge of the potential makeup of its second-term cabinet. According to the Washington Post, Massachusetts senator and former presidential candidate John Kerry has emerged as a potential candidate to become the next secretary of defense. A decorated veteran of the Vietnam War, Kerry became known in the 1970s when he returned from Vietnam to call for a U.S. withdrawal. The current U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, is rumored to be the top candidate to replace Hillary Clinton as secretary of state. Rice was asked about her future plans on Monday.
Susan Rice: “I love my job here at the United Nations — I always have, I always will, especially today — and I look forward to continuing to serve for as long as President Obama would like me to.”
The Obama administration has announced it will likely decide in the coming weeks on the role of U.S. troops in Afghanistan after a scheduled withdrawal in 2014. On Monday, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said although the majority of U.S. forces will return home, an unspecified number could stay behind to continue military operations.
New government data shows the year-to-date period from January to October was the warmest ever recorded for the contiguous United States. According to the National Climatic Data Center, the national temperature was 3.4 degrees Fahrenheit higher than the 20th century average and more than one degree higher than the previous record for the first 10 months of the year. October’s cooler temperatures ended a streak of 16 consecutive warmer-than-average months, but this year is still on pace to become the warmest ever recorded. The latest report follows a number of global warming benchmarks, including the warmest consecutive 12-month period, which ended in July.
The United States is poised to become the biggest oil producer in the world within the next decade. The Paris-based International Energy Agency says the United States will surpass Saudi Arabia’s oil production by around 2020 with the aid of controversial extraction techniques such as “fracking” and horizontal drilling. Much of the oil in question is tightly concealed in rock formations that may be blasted with chemical-laden fluid and drilled into horizontally as part of the extraction process. Critics have raised concerns about how such forms of drilling will impact human health and the environment. President Obama, however, renewed his commitment to “freeing ourselves from foreign oil” in his re-election victory speech last week. Energy Department data shows U.S. imports of crude have fallen 11 percent this year, and the country is on track to produce the most oil since 1991.
The Syrian military continues to launch attacks on the border town of Ras al-Ain, sending hundreds of civilians fleeing to neighboring Turkey. The new bombings come days after more than 11,000 Syrian civilians were forced out during strikes last week, one of the largest refugee flights of the Syrian conflict to date. Speaking in Geneva, the head of disaster and crisis management at the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies warned Turkey needs major aid to handle the growing number of Syrian refugees.
Simon Eccleshall: “We’ve seen a doubling of the camp population since July 2012. And I think, as you’ve seen over the last few days, there’s been an increase in the number of Syrians moving into Turkey. They now recognize that the situation is becoming prolonged. The initial thoughts that the population might be displaced for a shorter amount of time are now being reassessed. And the government of Turkey, along with its partners, are planning for the contingency of a longer-term assistance program.”
Israel has launched new attacks on the Gaza Strip following Palestinian calls for a ceasefire to end days of violence. Israel struck an uninhabited area of Gaza three times overnight, hours after Palestinian groups announced they would halt rocket fire on southern Israel if the Israeli military ceased the bombing. Israeli officials have threatened to escalate military actions in Gaza, raising fears of the worst violence since Israel invaded Gaza four years ago next month. On Monday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel is free to use military force on Gaza.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: “For the rights of our people to defend themselves, we’ll take whatever action is necessary to put a stop to this. This is not merely our right, it’s also our duty.”
Amidst fears of violence escalating in Gaza, the Israeli group Peace Now is warning of a major Israeli settlement expansion in the West Bank. According to Peace Now, the settlement of Itamar will be expanded fivefold to 675 homes. The news comes one week after Israel announced the construction of more than 1,200 new settler homes in East Jerusalem. As Israel continues to build settlements, the United States is intensifying efforts to stop a Palestinian effort for “non-member state” recognition at the United Nations. The White House says President Obama called Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Sunday in a bid to convince Abbas to delay the move.
The United States has been elected to a new term on the U.N. Human Rights Council, winning another three years. The Obama administration has played an active role at the council after the Bush administration refused to take part. On Monday, U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice said the United States is determined to reform the council, saying it is too biased against Israel.
Susan Rice: “The United States is clearly of the view that the Human Rights Council has its flaws, and I’ve just enumerated a couple of them, including its excessive focus on Israel. But it is also a body that is increasingly proving its value, and we’ve been proud to contribute to some of what we think are the finer moments of the Human Rights Council: its approach to Syria, its approach to Sudan, its approach to the situation in Libya with the Commission of Inquiry.”
The U.N. Human Rights Council vote comes just as the United Nations General Assembly is set to approve its annual measure calling for an end to the U.S. embargo on Cuba.
An offshoot of Occupy Wall Street is holding a telethon this week for its campaign to purchase the debt of struggling U.S. households. According to its website, the group RollingJubilee.org has already raised more than $100,000 toward its effort to buy up consumer debt at random, often for pennies on the dollar, and then cancel it so that borrowers do not have to repay. A sold-out benefit concert is scheduled for Thursday in New York City.
Arizona Democrat Kyrsten Sinema has become the first openly bisexual person elected to the U.S. Congress. Recent ballot counts show the former state senator has defeated Republican competitor Vernon Parker in a new Phoenix-area congressional district. Sinema’s election comes in a year that also saw five openly gay Democrats elected to the House, while Wisconsin Rep. Tammy Baldwin became the first openly gay person elected to the Senate. Other firsts this year include the election of the first Hindu Congress member, Hawaii’s Tulsi Gabbard, who, along with Tammy Duckworth of Illinois, is also one of the first female combat veterans elected to Congress.