President Obama is meeting with top House Republicans today in their first sit-down since the partial government shutdown began more than a week ago. On Wednesday, Republicans signaled a potential willingness to back down in their campaign to defund or delay “Obamacare.” Republican Congressmember and House Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan floated a plan that would raise the nation’s borrowing limit over the short term, in return for broader talks on reducing the deficit. Republicans are seeking major cuts to spending on social programs as part of any deficit reduction deal.
A private charity has agreed to make payments to the families of U.S. soldiers killed during the government shutdown. The Pentagon announced this week that the shutdown prevents it from providing the $100,000 “death gratuity” that helps cover grieving relatives’ immediate expenses until longer-term benefits kick in. Under a new agreement, Fisher House Foundation will make the payments until the Pentagon can reimburse it when the shutdown ends. Democrat Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois said 17 families have been denied payments so far.
Sen. Dick Durbin: “Families who in the last few days had that awful knock on the door where they were told that their son had died in service to this country in the United States military — five of them over the weekend, I understand, 17 during the course of this government shutdown. And sadly, the support which we always give to these families is not there. It’s not there.”
The United Nations’ top chemical weapons inspector says he expects the current disarmament mission in Syria to reach its target deadline of mid-2014. Ahmet Üzümcü of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons says inspectors plan to visit over 20 sites in the coming weeks.
Ahmet Üzümcü: “There are over 20 sites that need to be visited in the coming days and weeks, and so far they are making an inventory of what they found, and today also they are visiting another site near Damascus, so it’s too early in fact to make an assessment of, you know, evaluation of their findings. Therefore, if we can assure some cooperation by all parties, and if some temporary ceasefires in fact could be established in order to permit our experts to work in a permissive environment, I think the targets could be reached.”
Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zeidan has been freed from captivity after being seized earlier today. A group of armed assailants snatched Zeidan from the Tripoli hotel where he resides before letting him go. The abduction appeared to be in response to the U.S. operation over the weekend that seized top al-Qaeda suspect Abu Anas al-Liby from the streets of Tripoli. Zeidan was reportedly released after a group of armed protesters fired on the building where he was being held.
The Obama administration has confirmed plans to scale back aid to Egypt’s military government three months after the ouster of President Mohamed Morsi. On Wednesday, the State Department said the United States will withhold hundreds of millions of dollars in military assistance until “credible progress” is made toward “an inclusive, democratically elected civilian government.” The withheld equipment reportedly includes Abrams tanks, F-16 aircraft, Apache helicopters and Harpoon missiles, but military training will continue. The White House has avoided the automatic suspension of military aid to Egypt by refusing to deem Morsi’s ouster a coup.
A group of Haitians and their advocates have filed a lawsuit against the United Nations for the cholera outbreak in Haiti that has killed more than 8,000 people and sickened more than 600,000. The disease strain has been traced to U.N. peacekeepers from Nepal who deployed after Haiti’s 2010 earthquake. The United Nations rejected a formal petition for compensation to the victims earlier this year. The lawsuit seeks damages from the United Nations and class-action status on behalf of thousands of victims and their families.
A new study is warning that global temperatures could increase to a point of no return by the middle of the century. Based on climate modeling, researchers at the University of Hawaii say that if greenhouse gas emissions are not reined in, average worldwide temperatures around 2047 will be warmer than at any point between 1860 and 2005. The changes could be so extreme that the coldest year in the future could still be warmer than the hottest year in the past.
The head of Greenpeace International has offered to exchange his own freedom for the release of 28 environmentalists and two journalists facing piracy charges in Russia. The “Arctic 30” were detained in a Greenpeace direct action against Russia’s first Arctic offshore oil rig last month. In an open letter to Russian President Vladimir Putin, Greenpeace Executive Director Kumi Naidoo offered to live in Russia as a guarantor for the activists’ release on bail.
Kumi Naidoo: “Given that our activists have been denied bail yet again today, I’ve written to President Putin seeking an urgent meeting with him and offering to come to Russia and offering myself as a guarantor in exchange for the release on bail of the activists and to stay in Russia for as long as the trial takes. I recognize that there is a risk in this, given that I had participated in exactly the same action last year; however, given the urgency that the United Nations has just called on us to act on climate change and the fact that we’re running out of time, this is a risk that we are prepared to take.”
Russia now says it plans to bring new charges against the detained activists after claiming to have found illegal drugs and potential military equipment on board the seized Greenpeace ship.
President Obama has formally unveiled Janet Yellen as the next chair of the Federal Reserve. Yellen currently serves as the Fed’s vice-chair under current head Ben Bernanke, whose term ends in January. On Wednesday, Obama praised Yellen’s track record while Yellen vowed to assist those hardest hit by the economic recession.
President Obama: “You know, Janet is renowned for her good judgment. She sounded the alarm early about the housing bubble, about excesses in the financial sector, and about the risks of a major recession. She doesn’t have a crystal ball, but what she does have is a keen understanding about how markets and the economy work, not just in theory, but also in the real world.”
Janet Yellen: “I think we all agree, Mr. President, that more needs to be done to strengthen the recovery, particularly for those hardest hit by the Great Recession. We have made progress. The economy is stronger, and the financial system sounder.”
Yellen will be the first woman to serve as Federal Reserve chair. Although she has been described as a progressive nominee, Yellen previously supported the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act that separated commercial and investment banking. She also backed the 1993 North American Free Trade Agreement, which critics say has undermined worker and environmental rights.
In White House news, Heather Zichal, President Obama’s chief climate adviser, has resigned. Zichal oversaw Obama’s major climate change initiative unveiled in June. But her tenure was marked by speculation she was not given enough authority to tackle global warming initiatives.
California Gov. Jerry Brown has signed into law a measure expanding access to abortions by allowing more health practitioners to provide them. Under the law, nurse practitioners, nurse-midwives and physician assistants will be able to perform the common surgical procedure known as aspiration during the early stages of pregnancy. Four other states allow nurse practitioners to provide such abortions. The law’s authors say it will help bring abortion to remote areas that lack providers.
Relatives of a slain African-American man in Georgia are accusing police of shooting him dead without cause in his own home. Police were apparently summoned to the home of Jack Lamar Roberson by accident after his fiancée called 911 to seek emergency medical help. Roberson was diabetic and had apparently been acting erratically. When police showed up instead of an ambulance, officers say Roberson was armed with two knifes. But his fiancée, Alicia Herron, tearfully denied the police account.
Alicia Herron: “He didn’t have nothing in his hands at any time or period at all before they came, any time while they was here, or anything. They just came in and shot him. He didn’t say nothing. The police didn’t say nothing, anything. It was like a silent movie. You couldn’t hear anything. And all you heard was the gun shots go off, and I seen them going into his body, and he just fell down.”
An undercover New York City police officer arrested in the infamous motorcycle-gang incident on the West Side Highway has been found to have previously spied on Occupy Wall Street. Detective Wojciech Braszczok was detained after taking part in an attack on a motorist in an SUV that was caught on video. Occupy activists say Braszczok was previously arrested as an undercover officer posing as a demonstrator in Grand Central Station. Braszczok is with the NYPD’s Intelligence Division.