Egyptian forces have deployed tanks outside the presidential palace in Cairo after violent clashes between pro- and anti-government demonstrators left six people dead and more than 400 injured. The violence marked a major escalation in the dispute over Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi’s effort to hold a referendum on a new constitution later this month, shortly after he asserted wide-ranging powers. Fighting has continued through today with Morsi supporters and opponents clashing in the streets of Cairo. On Wednesday, opposition leader Mohamed ElBaradei blamed Morsi’s government for the violence.
Mohamed ElBaradei: “We hold President Morsi and his government completely responsible for the violence that is happening in Egypt today. What is happening at the presidential palace at the moment, the violence, without protection of the country, is an announcement from the country and from the president that they do not uphold their responsibility to protect the country.”
In a bid to calm the unrest, Egyptian Vice President Mahmoud Mekki has floated the idea of adding amendments to the constitution in consultation with the opposition.
The death toll from the massive typhoon in the southern Philippines has now topped 477 people, with hundreds more missing. Typhoon Bopha is the most southerly typhoon ever recorded in the western Pacific and the strongest to hit the Philippines this year. Some 200,000 people have also been displaced after winds and flooding destroyed or heavily damaged their homes.
At least three people have been killed in a U.S. drone strike in Pakistan’s region of North Waziristan. The attack targeted a home with a pair of missiles earlier today. Pakistani intelligence says the victims were suspected militants.
The Syrian government is accusing Western leaders of trying to drum up support for foreign military intervention by invoking unfounded fears of chemical weapons. This week President Obama warned Syrian President Bashar al-Assad against the use of chemical weapons, vowing unspecified consequences. Speaking on Wednesday to NATO leaders in Brussels, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton followed suit.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: “Our concerns are that an increasingly desperate Assad regime might turn to chemical weapons or might lose control of them to one of the many groups that are now operating within Syria. And so, as part of the absolute unity that we all have on this issue, we have sent an unmistakable message that this would cross a red line and those responsible would be held to account.”
In response to the threats, Assad’s regime has insisted it will not use chemical weapons against its own people, calling assertions to the contrary a “pretext for intervention.”
Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner says the Obama administration is prepared to see the United States go over the looming “fiscal cliff” rather than cave to Republican demands for a continued tax break for the wealthiest Americans. Geithner made the statement in an interview with CNBC.
Steve Liesman: “I want to understand the administration’s position when it comes to raising taxes on the wealthy, those making more than $250,000. If Republicans do not agree to that, is the administration prepared to go over the fiscal cliff?”
Timothy Geithner: “Oh, absolutely. Again, we see there’s no prospect to an agreement that doesn’t involve those rates going up on the top 2 percent of the wealthiest Americans. Remember, it’s only 2 percent.”
Speaking, meanwhile, to the Business Roundtable group of corporate executives in Washington, President Obama said Republicans need to accept the reality that tax rates will rise for the wealthiest Americans.
President Obama: “We’ve seen some movement over the last several days among some Republicans. I think there’s a recognition that maybe they can accept some rate increases as long as it’s combined with serious entitlement reform and additional spending cuts. And if we can get the leadership on the Republican side to take that framework, to acknowledge that reality, then the numbers actually aren’t that far apart. Another way of putting this is, we can probably solve this in about a week; it’s not that tough.”
New details have been revealed on the retail giant Wal-Mart’s ties to the Bangladeshi garment factory where 120 workers died in a fire last month. The New York Times is reporting Wal-Mart played a key role in blocking the improvement of electrical and fire safety at Bangladeshi factories. Two officials who attended a 2011 meeting in Bangladesh say a Wal-Mart representative helped quash a proposal to improve safety investments, calling them “not financially feasible.” Documents found at the fire scene also show that five of the factory’s 14 production lines were devoted to making Wal-Mart apparel.
Meanwhile in the United States, Wal-Mart is drawing criticism for reportedly planning to deny health insurance to newly hired employees working less than 30 hours a week, shifting the burden for their care onto the federal government. An internal company policy obtained by the Huffington Post shows newly employed part-time workers will no longer receive benefits, while those hired in or after 2011 will also lose out if their hours dip below 30 hours a week. Labor experts say Wal-Mart is following other large employers in exploiting “Obamacare” to shift health costs onto taxpayers. In its response to the story, Wal-Mart refused to disclose how many workers will lose their coverage by saying it’s decided to no longer answer questions from the Huffington Post, which it accused of biased coverage. The new policy is slated to take effect next month.
The White House is planning to ask Congress for around $50 billion to aid states ravaged by Superstorm Sandy. Although a partisan battle could ensue over the request, it falls short of the combined $82 billion sought for rebuilding efforts in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.
A new federal study has found the drilling practice known as fracking can trigger earthquakes. The U.S. Geological Survey found that oil and gas operations caused the majority, if not all, earthquakes in certain areas of New Mexico and Colorado between 2001 and 2011. The report’s co-author, U.S. Geological Survey scientist Justin Rubinstein, called fracking “a societal risk [we] need to be considering.”
Washington state has put into effect two news laws today with major national significance. As of midnight today, possession of up to one ounce of marijuana is now legal in Washington following the approval of a state ballot initiative last month. In enacting the measure, Washington is the first U.S. state to decriminalize recreational marijuana use and the first to do so anywhere by popular vote. Meanwhile, same-sex marriage is also now legal in Washington as of midnight, after also having been approved by voters on Election Day one month ago.