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President Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin held their first formal meeting in two years last night in New York. During the 90-minute meeting, the presidents agreed that their armed forces should hold talks to avoid coming into conflict in Syria, where fighting has killed over 200,000 people and displaced millions. In recent weeks Russia has reached a new intelligence-sharing agreement with Iraq, Iran and Syria in the fight against ISIL and built up forces inside Syria to support President Bashar al-Assad. The United States, meanwhile, has called for the ouster of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. We’ll have more on the meeting with professor and author Vijay Prashad after headlines.
President Obama and Cuban President Raúl Castro are slated to meet today for their first formal meeting since the United States and Cuba began to restore diplomatic relations this summer. This comes after Castro addressed the U.N. General Assembly Monday, calling for an end to the U.S. embargo and a return of Guantánamo Bay.
President Raúl Castro: “After 56 years of heroic and selfless resistance by the Cuban people, diplomatic relations were re-established between Cuba and the United States of America. Now, a long and complex process begins toward the normalization of relations, that will only be achieved with the end of the economic, commercial and financial blockade; the return to Cuba of the territory illegally occupied by the Guantánamo Naval Base; the cessation of radio and TV broadcasts, and of subversion and destabilization programs against the island; and when our people are compensated for the human and economic damages they still endure.”
President Obama has announced countries across the world have pledged to contribute more than 40,000 new troops to the U.N. peacekeeping forces. It is unclear whether additional U.S. troops will be included. The announcement comes as the peacekeeping forces have faced a growing number of allegations of sexual abuse. In the Central African Republic, U.N. forces have been accused of multiple incidents of rape and of trading sex with young boys for food and money at a displaced persons’ camp outside the capital Bangui.
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has announced his long-awaited tax plan. The plan departs with his pledges over recent weeks that he would increase taxes for “hedge fund guys.” Instead, the proposal slashes taxes for the rich, eliminates the estate tax, and lowers the corporate tax rate from the current level of 35 percent to no more than 15 percent. The United States already has one of the lowest corporate tax levels among industrialized countries. He announced the plan in front of the Trump Tower skyscraper in Manhattan on Monday.
Donald Trump: “No business of any size, from a Fortune 500 company to a mom-and-pop shop to a freelancer living from gig to gig, will pay more than 15 percent of their business income in taxes.”
Trump’s plan would also reduce taxes for the middle class, while individuals earning less than $25,000 a year would not have to pay income taxes at all, instead simply receiving a one-page form to send the IRS that says, “I win.” When asked during the press conference what he pays in taxes, Trump declined to answer, saying only, “I fight like hell to pay as little as possible.”
In more news from the campaign trail, Republican presidential candidate and former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina has endorsed the use of waterboarding in order to “get information that was necessary.” A 2014 Senate report said waterboarding is tantamount to torture and that it has produced little useful intelligence. In her interview with Yahoo News, Fiorina attempted to discredit the report, calling it “disingenuous” and saying that it “undermined the morale of a whole lot of people who dedicated their lives to keeping the country safe.”
Meanwhile, a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll says 40 percent of Americans have a positive impression of Vice President Joe Biden, meaning Biden would be the most popular presidential candidate if he chooses to enter the 2016 race. CNN says Biden has an open invitation to participate in the first Democratic presidential debate on October 13.
New data shows European cars may be emitting as much as 40 percent more carbon dioxide than previously thought, suggesting Volkswagen’s cheating scandal is part of an industry-wide problem. Greg Archer, program director of the group Transport & Environment, which works closely with the European Commission, announced the report’s findings Monday.
Greg Archer: “And what we found is that there is a really big, growing gap between the official test results and the real-world performance that people are actually getting. And on average that gap is now 40 percent. But for some manufacturers the gap is a great deal bigger. For example, we know that, on average, Mercedes cars now are achieving a gap of 48 percent.”
This report comes as German prosecutors have launched a criminal investigation against former Volkswagen CEO Martin Winterkorn following revelations Volkswagen had illegally installed devices in 11 million cars worldwide to cheat emissions tests. A New York Times analysis estimates the extra pollution may have caused more than 100 deaths in the United States alone.
NASA has announced water flows intermittently on the surface of Mars. NASA scientist John Grunsfeld said Monday the discovery raises new questions about whether the Red Planet currently sustains life.
John Grunsfeld: “Today’s announcement of a really fascinating result about current water on Mars is one of the reasons why I feel it’s even more imperative that we send astrobiologists and planetary scientists to Mars to explore the question of 'Is there current life on Mars?'”
In news from Yemen, U.S.-backed, Saudi-led airstrikes have killed at least 130 civilians after mistakenly bombing a wedding party Monday. The attack appears to be one of the deadliest in the year-old conflict. It occurred near the southern port city of Mokha, where U.S.-backed, Saudi-led airstrikes killed more than 120 people in late July in an attack that Human Rights Watch said may amount to war crimes.
In Afghanistan, Taliban forces have seized control of a major Afghan city for the first time since 2001 after taking over the northern city of Kunduz. This comes amid a deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan, with the U.N. reporting civilian casualties are at “record-high levels” this year. Late Monday, Afghan General Murad Ali Murad pledged to retake the city through a counter-attack, which begins this morning.
Gen. Murad Ali Murad: “We have had an emergency security meeting tonight. Right now we are controlling the situation in Kunduz province, and we have already prepared ourselves to change the current situation in Kunduz city. You will see a change in the situation in Kunduz city by tomorrow.”
Officials in the Central African Republic say at least 500 people have escaped from prison. This comes amid fighting that has killed at least 42 people in the capital of Bangui. The fighting began after a Muslim man was killed and his body left near a mosque. Pope Francis is slated to visit the Central African Republic in late November as part of his upcoming trip to Africa.
In Peru, at least three people have died after police opened fire on local residents during a protest at the construction site of a new copper mine. The proposed Las Bambas mine is a multibillion-dollar Chinese-owned project that has faced intense resistance from local residents. Officials say ambulances couldn’t reach the local clinic following the attack because police also shot at a vehicle carrying doctors. At least six people have been killed in Peru in anti-mining protests this year alone.
Back in the United States, an Oklahoma court has rejected a request for a new hearing in the case of death row prisoner Richard Glossip, who is slated to be executed Wednesday. In 1997, Glossip was working as a manager at the Best Budget Inn in Oklahoma City when his boss, Barry Van Treese, was murdered. A maintenance worker, Justin Sneed, admitted he beat Van Treese to death with a baseball bat, but claimed Glossip offered him money and job opportunities for the killing. The case rested almost solely on Sneed’s claims. No physical evidence ever tied Glossip to the crime. In recent months, two men who served time in jail with Sneed have come forward saying Sneed framed Glossip to avoid the death penalty himself. On Monday, the court ruled this evidence “merely builds upon evidence previously presented to the court” and rejected a stay of execution.
Meanwhile, state officials in Georgia have granted a clemency hearing for death row prisoner Kelly Gissendaner ahead of her scheduled execution tonight. She was sentenced to death in 1998 for recruiting her boyfriend to kill her husband, Douglas. She is the only woman on death row in Georgia. The clemency hearing comes only hours after a federal judge declined to temporarily halt her execution amid concerns about the cocktail of drugs the state plans to use in her execution.
In San Francisco, hundreds of activists flooded the streets of the financial district Monday morning to protest “climate profiteering.” At least 15 people were arrested, and traffic was disrupted for more than an hour. Monday’s action comes one year after thousands of people held a sit-in on Wall Street to draw attention to the connection between capitalism and climate change.
Brown University has rescinded Bill Cosby’s honorary degree, amid accusations by more than 50 women that Bill Cosby drugged and raped them in cases that go back decades. Fordham University and Marquette University also rescinded honorary degrees from Bill Cosby last week.
And best-selling writer Ta-Nehisi Coates has been selected as one of this year’s 24 winners of the MacArthur genius grants. Coates is the author of the new book, “Between the World and Me,” which has been called “required reading” by Toni Morrison. On July 22, we spent the hour with Ta-Nehisi Coates.
Ta-Nehisi Coates: “What I wanted to do with this book is to give the reader some sense of what it meant to live under a system of plunder as an individual, to express that, to take it out of the realm of numbers and to take it directly into, you know, individual people. How does it feel every day in your life to live under such a system? How do you cope with that? How is it warping? How is it perverse? What sort of effects does it ultimately have on you? And how do you, you know, as much as possible, make your peace with it?”
That was best-selling author Ta-Nehisi Coates, one of this year’s winners of the MacArthur genius grants. Other winners include Lin-Manuel Miranda, the writer and star of the hit Broadway musical “Hamilton”; Gary Cohen, an environmental health activist; and Juan Salgado, a Chicago-based immigrant rights organizer.
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