The death toll from frigid temperatures across the United States has reached nine. The polar vortex set record lows in a number of cities on Tuesday as freezing temperatures overwhelmed homeless shelters and continued to disrupt travel by land and air. The cold will begin easing for large parts of the country today. Cities like New York will see an extreme jump by the weekend, from a record low of 4 degrees Fahrenheit on Tuesday to a projected high of 55 degrees on Saturday.
The Senate has advanced a measure that would extend the jobless benefits of 1.3 million Americans for three months. The Emergency Unemployment Compensation program expired late last month after Congress failed to renew it. On Tuesday, the Senate agreed to begin debate on the temporary extension, setting up a likely vote later this week. At the White House, President Obama blasted claims from some Republicans that jobless benefits discourage recipients from seeking employment.
President Obama: "I can’t name a time where I met an American who would rather have an unemployment check than the pride of having a job. The long-term unemployed are not lazy. They’re not lacking in motivation. They’re coping with the aftermath of the worst economic crisis in generations."
The measure would face a hostile reception in the House, where Republicans have insisted on an equal amount in cuts to avoid increasing the federal debt. House Speaker John Boehner has also floated a proposal to tie the jobless benefits to approval of energy projects, including the Keystone XL oil pipeline.
The financial giant JPMorgan Chase will pay $2.6 billion to settle allegations it failed to disclose suspicions of fraud in what turned out to be a massive Ponzi scheme by Bernie Madoff. Senior executives at JPMorgan Chase had serious doubts about Madoff’s investment business at least 18 months before it collapsed. Despite repeated suspicions, the bank never alerted authorities and allowed Madoff to move billions of investors’ cash in and out of his Chase bank accounts right up until the day of his arrest in December 2008. New York District Attorney Preet Bharara unveiled the settlement.
Preet Bharara: "The BSA is a law that requires financial institutions — as institutions — to establish and maintain effective anti-money-laundering compliance programs and to know their customers. It is not a tip; it is not a suggestion. It is a legal requirement, enforceable through criminal sanction. Today’s charges have been filed because, in this regard, JPMorgan, as an institution, failed — and failed miserably. One reason, among others, that Madoff was able to get away with his crime for so long was that JPMorgan had an inadequate and ineffective anti-money-laundering program."
Of the $2.6 billion fine, $1.7 billion will go to Madoff’s victims, who lost an estimated $18 billion. With the Madoff penalty, JPMorgan has now paid some $20 billion to resolve government probes over the past 12 months. It is the latest settlement to come out of a series of deferred prosecution agreements that have allowed major corporations to escape criminal charges. In a statement, the watchdog group Public Citizen criticized the Justice Department, saying: "This marks the latest example of a predilection toward settling through the use of deferred prosecution agreements, instead of issuing indictments. It also underscores the continuing, and perhaps growing, problem of 'too big to jail.'"
Nearly 100 people were killed in Iraq on Tuesday amidst clashes between government forces and al-Qaeda-linked militants for control of two major cities. At least 25 fighters were killed when Iraqi warplanes bombed Ramadi, which is partially under control of a group called the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL. Iraqi forces have also surrounded Fallujah in preparation for a potential assault to retake the city. Thousands of Fallujah residents have fled to avoid being trapped in the crossfire.
The United Nations has begun moving Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile out of the country as part of the disarmament program agreed to last year. U.N. spokesperson Farhan Haq announced the latest step.
Farhan Haq: "An initial quantity of priority chemical materials was moved from two sites to the port of Latakia in Syria for verification and was then loaded onto a Danish cargo ship today. The vessel has been accompanied by naval escorts provided by Denmark and Norway, as well as the Syrian Arab Republic. This movement initiates the process of transfer of chemical materials from Syria to locations outside its territory for destruction."
The weapons will eventually be transferred to a U.S. ship and destroyed in international waters.
In other news from Syria, the head of the Nusra Front is calling for a ceasefire in clashes with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. More than 270 people have been killed in nearly a week of fighting between the two al-Qaeda-linked groups in northern Syria. In an audio recording, Nusra Front leader Abu Mohammed al-Golani proposed the formation of an Islamic legal council to resolve disputes and return to a united stance against President Bashar al-Assad. But in a response hours later, the head of ISIL vowed to crush Nusra fighters as well as members of the Syrian National Coalition, the internationally backed opposition group in Syria. The clashes mark the worst infighting between opponents of Assad since the Syrian conflict began nearly three years ago.
The trial of former Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi has been delayed today in Cairo. Morsi was due to appear on incitement charges surrounding the deaths of protesters killed in a rally against his government in December 2012. But the military regime says it is postponing Morsi’s appearance until next month due to bad weather. The Muslim Brotherhood had called for a pro-Marsi rally today to mark his return to court. State forces have killed hundreds of Morsi supporters since his overthrow in July.
The United States is boosting its military presence in South Korea. The Pentagon will deploy an additional 800 soldiers and around 40 tanks and armored vehicles beginning next month. The move comes as part of the Obama administration’s pledge to rebalance U.S. foreign policy toward the Pacific. At a meeting with South Korea’s foreign minister in Washington, Secretary of State John Kerry renewed a vow to confront nuclear proliferation in North Korea.
Secretary of State John Kerry: "We call on North Korea to denuclearize. We will not accept North Korea as a nuclear state nor as a nuclear-armed state, and nor will the international community abide by that. I assured Foreign Minister Yun that we remain fully committed to the defense of the Republic of Korea, including through extended deterrence and putting the full range of U.S. military capabilities in place."
A teenage victim of an alleged rape in Maryville, Missouri, has tried to take her own life. In 2012, Daisy Coleman, then 14 years old, claimed she was given alcohol and raped during a gathering of high-school athletes while another teen filmed the incident on his phone. Despite reported evidence and interviews supporting the case, prosecutors dropped charges against Coleman’s accused rapist. Coleman’s family says she tried to commit suicide this weekend by overdosing on pills after being bullied online. Coleman was rushed to a hospital where she remains in recovery. It was her third suicide attempt since the alleged rape.
Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca has announced his retirement one month after the arrests of 18 current and former deputies for the alleged abuse of prisoners and other offenses in local jails. Baca has served for nearly 50 years and had planned to seek re-election in June. But he now says he will step down at the end of the month. The charges followed a multi-year investigation into the systemic abuse of prisoners in Los Angeles County jails.
A forthcoming memoir from former Defense Secretary Robert Gates says President Obama did not believe in his own strategy for the war in Afghanistan. Obama ordered a surge of 30,000 troops in 2009, but Gates says the president had major doubts. Describing his thoughts at a 2011 meeting, Gates writes: "The president doesn’t trust his commander, can’t stand [Afghan President Hamid] Karzai, doesn’t believe in his own strategy, and doesn’t consider the war to be his. For him, it’s all about getting out." Gates was appointed under President George W. Bush, but stayed on during President Obama’s first term.
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