Clashes between police and protesters in the Egyptian capital of Cairo have forced the closure of the U.S. embassy amidst ongoing upheaval against President Mohamed Morsi’s decree granting himself wide-ranging powers. At least three people have died and hundreds of thousands have taken to Tahrir Square since Morsi’s action last week. The fresh protests come as a special assembly is rushing to vote today on a draft of the country’s new constitution. The turmoil is expected to continue with the Muslim Brotherhood announcing they will hold a rally in support of Morsi on Saturday.
The United Nations General Assembly is expected to vote today in favor of tacitly recognizing Palestinian statehood by giving Palestine “non-member observer state” status. The Palestinian bid has drawn wide support from European countries including France and Spain, despite threats from the United States and Israel to punish the Palestinian government by withholding funds. Britain said Wednesday it would abstain from the vote barring certain assurances, including a vow by Palestinians not to extend International Criminal Court jurisdiction over the Occupied Territories. Israel had previously threatened to topple Palestinian leadership over the statehood bid, but on Thursday a spokesperson for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sought to downplay the vote’s significance.
Mark Regev: “The only way to Palestinian statehood is through peace talks, through reconciliation. By going to United Nations, the Palestinians can get a piece of paper, they can get a resolution, but nothing will change here on the ground. The only way to make a better future for Israelis and Palestinians is through peace talks. They promised that all outstanding issues would be resolved through peaceful negotiations. And by this one-sided act, we see this as — as breaking their commitments. So, of course, Israel reserves the right to respond if necessary.”
U.S. Deputy Secretary of State William Burns met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Wednesday ahead of today’s vote. After the meeting, Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said the United States remains opposed to its plea for recognition.
Saeb Erekat: “Their position did not change. They conveyed a message today that we shouldn’t go to the U.N., that we will not realize the Palestinian state through the U.N. President Abbas told them we differ. We have circulated the resolution. We are not here to confront you, the Americans, or to isolate Israel. We’re here to reinstate the two-state solution on 1967 lines, and this we will do, and we will vote upon it tomorrow afternoon.”
A new wave of bombings in Iraq has killed at least 44 people and wounded 155. The targets appear to have included both Shiite worshipers and security forces.
M23 rebels in the Democratic Republic of Congo say they have begun retreating from areas recently seized from government control after reaching a deal for withdrawal earlier this week. The rebels have promised to leave the key eastern city of Goma after first surrendering other areas. Rebel leader Sultani Makenga outlined the plan Wednesday.
Sultani Makenga: “Our forces that have started pulling out are in Masisi, and if you want, you can go see how they are withdrawing. And later, after they have gone, we will pull out our forces from Goma.”
The M23 rebels are widely believed to be backed by neighboring Rwanda, despite denials by the Rwandan government. On Wednesday, a Congolese government spokesperson remained skeptical the rebels would fulfill their pledge to withdraw.
Lambert Mende: “Even if this retreat has been announced for a few hours now, our government is waiting to see its effects, because elements of M23 and those who support them have got us used to decoy tactics and unkept promises. So it’s still too early to start on the debate about a re-evaluation of the 2009 deals.”
The Obama administration is reportedly considering broader intervention to help oust President Bashar al-Assad from power amidst a widening conflict between Assad and rebels opposed to his regime. The New York Times is reporting options being weighed by the United States include directly supplying arms to opposition fighters. The news comes as Syrian rebels have reportedly killed a member of the ruling Baath party Thursday by detonating a bomb near his house in Daraa. Hussain Rifai and three of his bodyguards are believed to have been killed.
The United States has banned oil giant BP from obtaining new federal contracts and leases, citing its “lack of business integrity” during the Deepwater Horizon disaster that killed 11 people and caused the biggest offshore oil spill in U.S. history. The action allows BP to keep its current government leases. Meanwhile, three BP officials were arraigned in federal court Wednesday on charges stemming from the disaster. Rig supervisors Robert Kaluza and Donald Vidrine are facing manslaughter charges for the deaths of workers after allegedly ignoring potentially obvious signs of trouble. A former BP executive, David Rainey, was charged with hiding information from Congress about the amount of oil gushing from the well. All three remain free on bond. Wednesday’s ban against BP came the same day the government auctioned off 20 million acres in offshore oil and gas leases in the Gulf of Mexico, nearly all of it for deepwater areas.
Two more Republican senators are adding their voices to the growing criticism against U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice, who is considered a top choice by President Obama for secretary of state. Senators Bob Corker of Tennessee and Susan Collins of Maine criticized Rice’s handling of the fatal attacks on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya, on Wednesday after meeting with her for more than an hour. Senator Collins also indicated she would prefer Massachusetts Senator John Kerry as a candidate for secretary of state, fueling speculation the Republicans want Kerry nominated so that his Senate seat would be left open. The vacancy could trigger a potential comeback for Senator Scott Brown, who was defeated by Democrat Elizabeth Warren.
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice is receiving criticism of a different kind after it was revealed she holds up to $600,000 worth of stock in the firm behind the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline. TransCanada is seeking federal permission to transport Canadian tar sands oil to the U.S. Gulf Coast. If confirmed as secretary of state, Rice could play a key role in determining the fate of the pipeline.
The psychiatrist who treated Bradley Manning while he was imprisoned at the Quantico Marine brig said Wednesday that commanders there consistently ignored his medical advice and continued to impose harsh restrictions on the accused whistleblower even though he posed no risk of suicide. Captain William Hoctor spoke as part of an ongoing pretrial hearing on the treatment of Manning, who is accused of giving a trove of documents to WikiLeaks. Manning’s psychiatrist said he had treated prisoners at Guantánamo but had never encountered military officials so unwilling to heed his medical advice. He testified: “I had been a senior medical officer for 24 years at the time, and I had never experienced anything like this. It was clear to me they had made up their mind on a certain cause of action, and my recommendations had no impact.” Manning’s lawyers argue the charges against him should be thrown out because of his pretrial treatment, which included being held in solitary confinement and periodically forced to strip naked.
Musician Stevie Wonder is reportedly poised to cancel his appearance at a concert to raise money for the Israeli Defense Forces following mounting pressure from an online campaign. The Jewish Telegraphic Agency says Wonder plans to take action after thousands of people signed a petition urging him not to support the Israeli military because of its treatment of Palestinians. According to the news agency, Stevie Wonder’s representatives plan to say the performance would be out of step with his role as a U.N. Messenger for Peace.
A new government report has found all 166 prisoners currently jailed in the U.S. prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, could be relocated to prisons inside the United States without posing a safety threat. The study from the Government Accountability Office noted the United States already holds hundreds of prisoners convicted of terrorism inside its borders. Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Dianne Feinstein said: “This report demonstrates that if the political will exists, we could finally close Guantánamo without imperiling our national security.”
Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner is meeting for talks with congressional leaders today over a possible deal to avert the so-called fiscal cliff. The White House has signaled it may be willing to accept cuts to Medicare and other social programs as part of an agreement with Republicans to avoid the looming tax cuts and spending increases set to kick in at the end of the year. On Wednesday, Obama appeared optimistic about a potential deal.
President Obama: “Our ultimate goal is an agreement that gets our long-term deficit under control in a way that is fair and balanced. I believe that both parties can agree on a framework that does that in the coming weeks. In fact, my hope is to get this done before Christmas.”
Obama is touting a plan that includes taxes on the wealthiest Americans, but Republican House Speaker John Boehner has continued to reject tax hikes for the wealthy.
John Boehner: “You are not going to grow the economy if you raise tax rates on the top — on the top two rates. It will hurt small businesses; it will hurt our economy. That’s why this is not the right approach. We’re willing to put revenue on the table, as long as we’re not raising rates.”
The first-ever national survey of domestic workers in the United States has revealed substandard working conditions faced by a largely female workforce that goes almost entirely unprotected by labor laws. According to a survey of more than 2,000 nannies, caregivers and house cleaners, nearly a quarter of U.S. domestic workers are paid less than the state minimum wage. The survey found particularly dire rates for live-in workers, who make a median hourly wage of $6.15. Domestic workers receive almost no benefits, with only 4 percent getting employer-provided insurance. Many also reported being forced to silently endure verbal and even physical abuse out of fear of being fired or reported to immigration authorities if they complained.
A strike by clerical workers at the Port of Los Angeles spread to several terminals Wednesday, disrupting operations at one of the nation’s biggest ports. Workers are striking against international corporations they say are outsourcing good-paying jobs.
In New York City fast food workers from McDonald’s, Taco Bell and other companies are striking today as part of a campaign seeking union recognition and a $15-an-hour wage.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie says it will take $37 billion for the state to recover after it was devastated by Superstorm Sandy nearly one month ago. Christie said Wednesday he plans to seek federal aid to cover the bulk of the cost. Earlier this week, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo requested $42 billion in federal aid.
Residents of Brooklyn’s largest public housing complex are criticizing the city’s response to the disaster. Public tenants in the neighborhood of Red Hook went for weeks without basic services like power and heat but are are still being asked to pay rent on time before receiving a credit in January. Earlier this week, residents protested in front of the New York City Housing Authority, or NYCHA, to issue a series of demands.
Reg Flowers of the Red Hook Initiative: The short-term demands are just like repairs in the buildings, making sure that the air quality and the water quality is safe for people living in housing, and just making those apartments inhabitable again. Some of the long-term demands are making sure that money that is coming down for recovery efforts, that a certain amount of that is going to be directed towards NYCHA, also getting people from housing and from the community at large involved in those meetings when decisions are being made about recovery money allocation. So, I feel like the long-term goal is getting — empowering the community.”