President Obama will open deficit reduction talks on Friday with a call for a $1.6 trillion tax hike on corporations and the wealthiest Americans over the next 10 years. The figure is double the total offered by House Republicans during last year’s debt talks. On Tuesday, Democrats signaled they would reject Republican calls to preserve the Bush tax cuts for top earners in exchange for removing deductions. It is unclear if Obama will revive his previous willingness to raise the retirement age to 67 and cap benefit hikes under Social Security. Obama and House Speaker John Boehner are due to begin negotiations Friday 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. Speaking in Washington, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner stressed the urgency of reaching a deal.
Timothy Geithner: “I know the cliff is unattractive. It would cause a lot of damage to the American economy. That damage is eminently avoidable, not that complicated to solve. But be careful about those who call, who argue for and urge for, ’let’s just extend, while we debate, while we negotiate.’ That will leave all the uncertainty you don’t like on the table, but it will leave a different source of uncertainty, which is: What’s going to give people the incentive to come back and do something tough?”
Millions of workers in Europe have joined a general strike today protesting the wave of spending cuts and tax hikes that has swept the continent in the name of austerity. Spanish and Portuguese workers are coordinating their strike with work stoppages also planned in Greece, Italy, France and Belgium.
Closing arguments have ended in the pretrial hearing to determine whether U.S. Staff Sergeant Robert Bales will face a court-martial for allegedly slaughtering 16 Afghan civilians, including nine children, in March. Military prosecutors are seeking the death penalty while defense attorneys have argued that alcohol abuse, drug use and post-traumatic stress disorder all may have played a key role in fueling Bales’ actions. The presiding officer says he will issue a recommendation on whether to proceed to court-martial by the end of the week.
Deadly fighting in Syria reportedly left at least 63 people dead across the country on Tuesday, including 41 in the capital Damascus. Syrian tanks continued to shell the Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmouk, which has seen heavy violence this month. Meanwhile, France has become the first Western country to recognize Syria’s newly brokered opposition coalition as the sole representative of the Syrian people. The coalition was formed over the weekend at a summit in Doha.
At least 24 people have been killed and more than 100 wounded in a series of bombings across Iraq. Multiple explosions were reported in at least four different areas, including Baghdad and Kirkuk.
Israel and Palestinian leaders in Gaza have agreed to a tacit truce following days violence in the Gaza Strip. At least seven Palestinians, including four civilians, have been killed in Israeli attacks on Gaza since Saturday. Eight Israeli civilians have also been wounded by Palestinian rockets. The temporary ceasefire was brokered by the Egyptian government, but both sides say they are prepared to resume attacks if it fails.
The United Nations General Assembly has voted overwhelmingly to condemn the U.S. embargo against Cuba for the 21st year in a row. The final vote was 188-to-3, with only Israel and the Pacific island state of Palau joining the United States. U.S. envoy Ronald Godard urged fellow General Assembly delegates to reject the measure.
Ronald Godard: “This resolution only serves to distract from the real problems facing the Cuban people, and therefore my delegation will oppose it. We encourage this body to support the desires of the Cuban people to determine their own future freely. By doing so, it would truly advance the principles of the United Nations Charter and the purposes for which the United Nations was created.”
Speaking for the Cuban government, Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez called on President Obama to break from decades of U.S. isolation of Cuba.
Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla: “President Obama has an opportunity to start a new policy toward Cuba different from the one implemented by his 10 predecessors for more than half a century. It will surely be a difficult task, and maybe he would face serious obstacles, but the president of the United States still has the constitutional powers that would enable him to listen to public opinion and generate the necessary dynamics by means of executive decisions even without the approval of Congress.”
Addressing the assembly on behalf of Latin American and Caribbean states, Chilean envoy Octavio Guilisasti said overwhelming U.N. opposition to the embargo reflects the consensus of virtually the entire world.
Octavio Guilisasti: “We emphasize the inconsistency that exists between the application of the unilateral measures which has no backing in international law and the latter spirit and principles and purposes of the Charter of the United Nations. We urge the United States of America to make the necessary adjustments to its international behavior in this regard, aligning its legislation with the Charter of the United Nations, the resolutions of the United Nations and the views of the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean and, in general, of all the regions of the world.”
The United Nations is warning that Haiti’s upcoming March harvest may already have been destroyed by the flooding of Hurricane Sandy. Sandy left Haiti overrun with devastating floods, causing widespread damage and adding thousands of people to the massive numbers already displaced by previous floods and the devastating earthquake of January 2010. On Tuesday, U.N. relief official Johan Peleman said, in addition to potentially destroying March’s harvest, the new flooding has led to a spike in waterborne disease.
Johan Peleman: “The March harvest may already be lost. This is why we urgently are asking for money for people to go back to the fields to start working those irrigation canals that have — that need to be drained. Now that half the country has been flooded, and water has in some areas — and we’re now 10 days away from Sandy — some areas are still completely inundated with water, and sanitation systems broken or needing drainage, we obviously fear a new breakout of waterborne diseases, including spikes in cholera. Between the 28th of October and the 8th of November, we had 4,000 new cases, which is almost double the average that we’ve seen for the remainder of the year.”
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has launched a commission to probe the role of state utilities during major storms, including Superstorm Sandy and last year’s Hurricane Irene. The 10-member panel will investigate how the utilities have prepared for the storms and how they have responded when widespread damage ensued. Speaking at the partial reopening of the Battery Tunnel, Cuomo said the commission’s findings could lead to a major regulatory overhaul.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo: “Whatever their recommendations are, I want to get back with the Legislature in the beginning of next year, incorporate them and come up with a better system. Many of these systems were failing, to begin with.”
One of the utilities most highly criticized for its storm response was the Long Island Power Authority, or LIPA. On Tuesday, LIPA’s acting CEO, Michael Hervey, resigned, effective at the end of the year. Although power has been restored to hundreds of thousands of people, more than 130,000 remain in the dark two weeks after Sandy hit.
Four men who say they were tortured in U.S. prisons have filed a complaint to the United Nations over Canada’s failure to investigate and indict former President George W. Bush during a speaking appearance there last year. The four had unsuccessfully sought to prosecute Bush when he appeared at a Vancouver conference in October of 2011. The Canadian Centre for International Justice and the New York City-based based Center for Constitutional Rights say it is the first time torture allegations against a high-level U.S. official have been filed with the U.N. Committee Against Torture.
New data from the Internet search firm Google shows online government surveillance is increasing with the U.S. government far surpassing the rest of the world in requests for information about users. More than a third of the nearly 21,000 requests for user data Google received in the first half of 2012 came from the United States. In total, during those six months, the United States submitted nearly 8,000 requests that applied to more than 16,000 users or accounts. Google complied at least partly with 90 percent of those requests. Both requests for user information and requests by countries to remove online content have increased since 2009 when Google began its reports. In a blog post about the report Tuesday, Google wrote: “This is the sixth time we’ve released this data, and one trend has become clear: Government surveillance is on the rise.”