President Obama and members of the Senate are back in Washington today after a short break with just days before the onset of the so-called fiscal cliff. Obama and Republican leaders remain at a crossroads on reaching a budget deal before the combination of spending cuts and tax hikes kick in with the new year. On Wednesday, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner told Congress the United States will reach its federal borrowing limit on New Year’s Eve, threatening the same default that was narrowly avoided last year. In a letter to lawmakers, Geithner vowed to take “extraordinary measures” to avoid a new default but said any remedies would only be short-term.
The United Staes has acknowledged for the first time it carried out a September drone strike that killed 11 people in Yemen. The victims were packed into a truck on a desert road in the town of Radda when they were struck by a missile. The dead included three children. The Washington Post reports the Yemeni government tried to hide U.S. responsibility for the attack by taking credit for carrying it out. The Yemeni government also initially claimed that only militants were killed in the strike, but were forced to withdraw that claim after mourners tried to bring the dead bodies to the gates of the presidential residence. According to the Washington Post, the attack has devastated the community in Radda and militants in surrounding areas have gained more recruits for their fight against the U.S.-backed Yemeni government since it occurred. Diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks in 2010 show the United States and Yemen have repeatedly covered up the use of U.S. warplanes to bomb Yemen. According to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, covert U.S. operations have killed up to 171 civilians, including 35 children, in Yemen over the past decade.
A top Syrian general responsible for preventing military defections has himself defected to Syria’s opposition. Major General Abdul al-Shallal, the head of Syria’s military police, crossed into neighboring Turkey in a daring break with the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. In a statement to the news network Al Arabiya, Shallal accused the Syrian military of turning on the people of Syria.
Maj. Gen. Abdul al-Shallal: “I am Major General Abdul Aziz Jassem al-Shallal, chief of the military police in Syria. I declare my defection from the regime’s army because of its deviation of its fundamental mission to protect the nation and its transformation into gangs of killing and destruction.”
Shallal’s departure marks a key setback for the Assad regime, as he was tasked with preventing defectors and with overseeing the imprisonment of civilian dissidents.
Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi has made a renewed call for national dialogue following the enactment of Egypt’s new constitution. In his first national address since signing the constitution into law, Morsi called for unity in the aftermath of the country’s divisive referendum.
Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi: “Because of this result, in order to build the nation we must all come together, which is why dialogue has become a necessity we cannot do without. We all seek within this framework a dialogue on national unity over issues we face in the future.”
Morsi spoke after Egypt’s Upper House of Parliament held its first session following the constitution’s passage. Egyptian opposition leaders have vowed to continue their protests against Morsi, calling the constitution process unfair and too skewed toward Islamist rules. At a news conference, a National Salvation Front spokesperson called for a new demonstration on January 25th, the second anniversary of the Egyptian revolution.
Hussein Abdel Ghani: “The Front reiterates its rejection of the current formation of the Upper House of Parliament, and the politics of distributing bribes, and the spoils of battle, and the insincere dialogue that has now been taking place for some time at the presidency, and which is a dialogue through submission that lacks the minimum amount of seriousness. In this regard, the Front calls upon the people in their revolutionary spirit, to protest in force against the legitimacy of this constitution on the second anniversary of the great 25th of January revolution in the revolution’s capital of Tahrir Square.”
The United States has reached a tentative $1.2 billion deal with South Korea for the sale of four advanced surveillance drones to monitor North Korea. Critics have voiced fears the sale will heighten military tensions in the Korean Peninsula.
New data shows the Obama administration deported more than 400,000 undocumented people in the 2012 fiscal year, the largest number ever in U.S. history. Obama’s first term saw a record 1.5 million people deported, according U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The recent jump comes despite policy shifts purportedly aimed at reducing deportations of people without criminal convictions. About half of deportees in the past fiscal year were convicted of crimes that included drug offenses and driving under the influence. In an apparent shift on Friday, the administration announced undocumented people arrested for minor offenses will no longer be targeted for deportation. The latest data follows news the Obama administration carried out more than 200,000 deportations of parents with U.S. citizen children over a period of about two years.
The Supreme Court has refused to block a requirement in the new federal healthcare law that requires some employers to offer insurance coverage for contraception. On Wednesday, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor rejected a request by Oklahoma City billionaire David Green for an injunction against the rule as they challenge it in court. Two companies controlled by Green say abiding by the contraception requirement would violate their religious beliefs. The mandate takes effect on January 1.
Los Angeles held an annual gun exchange program earlier than planned on Wednesday after moving it up in reaction to the Newtown massacre. The program is generally held in May, but Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said he decided to hold it in December in part due to a lack of federal oversight of weapons nationwide.
Antonio Villaraigosa: “For eight years, the Senate has stopped the confirmation of the head of the ATF (Alcohol, Tobacco and Fire Arms), the organization that is duty bound to enforce these laws. The NRA said last week that we should have more enforcement of our gun laws, and yet they made every effort to block enforcement, every effort to have these gaping loopholes in the laws that make it almost impossible to do that.”
Gun owners were offered gift cards worth up to $200 at a local grocery chain in exchange for their weapons. Long lines of people and cars were seen in what local officials called a massive turnout. Two gun owners taking advantage of the exchange said they were moved to act by the tragedy in Connecticut.
Unidentified gun owner 1: “Part of it, but not really. You know, I always thought they should have something like this anyway, regardless of what happens. It’s too bad we wait ’til something like that happens, you know, to decide to get rid of the the pistols and the guns and the rifles.”
Unidentified gun owner 2: “It’s important because too many people get killed with guns — small guns, rifles, handguns, any kind of gun. So, I’m here to help, to get rid of the guns I have.”
A New York newspaper is drawing controversy for publishing a list of the names and addresses of every single registered gun permit holder in its readership area. Westchester County’s The Journal News ran the feature in the aftermath of the Newtown school massacre, calling it a public service to inform the public of who may own guns in their communities. The map is filled with thousands of dots that can be clicked to display a permit holder’s name and address. Its publication has set off a debate on privacy and public safety in a country where guns are rampant and legal.
An NBC News anchor is under investigation in Washington, D.C., after displaying an ammunition magazine on the weekly show “Meet the Press.” NBC News host David Gregory held up the 30-bullet gun cartridge as he interviewed NRA head Wayne LaPierre.
David Gregory: “So here is a magazine for ammunition that carries 30 bullets. Now, isn’t it possible that if we got rid of these,” [he then sets it down and picks up a smaller one] “if we replaced them and said, 'Well, you could only have a magazine that carries five bullets or 10 bullets,' isn’t it just possible that we could reduce the carnage in a situation like Newtown?”
Wayne LaPierre: “I don’t believe that’s going to make one difference.”
D.C. police say Gregory and NBC may have violated local laws barring possession of a “large capacity ammunition-feeding device.”
Hawaii Lieutenant Gov. Brian Schatz has been tapped to fill the Senate seat left vacant by the death of longtime Democratic Sen. Daniel Inouye earlier this month. Schatz will serve until the midterm election in 2014. His appointment marks a rejection of Inouye’s reported choice for who would replace him, Hawaii Rep. Colleen Hanabusa.
Russia’s upper chamber of parliament has unanimously approved a ban on U.S. citizens adopting Russian children. The bill is now before President Vladmir Putin, who has indicated he will sign it. The ban is seen as a retaliatory move after President Obama signed a law denying U.S. visas and bank accounts to Russian officials linked to the death of imprisoned whistleblower Sergei Magnitsky.
Dakota Native Americans held a ceremony in Minnesota on Wednesday to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the largest mass execution in U.S. history. Thirty-eight Dakota men were hanged simultaneously on December 26, 1862, in front of thousands of onlookers. They were condemned to death for crimes allegedly committed during a brief, but bloody war with white settlers and soldiers. The executions were allowed by then-President Abraham Lincoln, despite sparse evidence. The conflict came amidst broken U.S. treaties and desperate conditions that left some Dakota starving. After the war, nearly 2,000 Dakota noncombatants were marched to a prison camp where as many as 300 died. Some Dakota marked Wednesday’s anniversary with an annual 300-mile horseback ride ending with the unveiling of a public memorial in Mankato, Minnesota, the site of the executions.