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Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Death Toll in Syria Climbs Above 60,000

The civil war in Syria has killed more than 60,000 people since March 2011, a study commissioned by the United Nations (U.N.) showed today. This is a sharp increase from the 45,000 initially estimated by the Syrian opposition. Three quarters of the victims are men, the report says, though the genders for another 16.4 percent are unknown. “The number of casualties is much higher than we expected, and is truly shocking,” said U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay. Her office warned that the number is an estimation based on seven data sources, and that the actual figure could be much higher as some of the killings may not have been documented. The news came after the Syrian government fired a missile at a gasoline station near Damascus that caused the death of dozens of people and created a crater one meter deep (3.3 feet). The attack comes after multiple bombings on bakeries where civilians waited for hours to receive food that claimed hundreds of lives in the last few days.

U.S. Congress Votes to Raise Taxes on Wealthiest 2%

After days of uncertainty, the U.S. Congress voted yesterday to approve a bill that averted the worst effects of the fiscal cliff by making most Bush-era tax cuts permanent. Negotiated by Senate Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Vice President Joe Biden, the deal increases the marginal tax rate for individuals who make above $400,000 a year and households that earn over $450,000, or two percent of Americans. High earners will also see their taxes on capital gains rise to 20 percent from 15 percent, and people with incomes over $250,000 ($300,000 for couples) will see their tax exemptions and deductions  phased out. All payroll tax cuts were allowed to expire, raising the rate to 6.2 percent from 4.2 percent for the first $113,700 of workers’ wages. The bill delays $110 billion in automatic spending cuts by two months, all but ensuring more acrimonious debate in the next few weeks. While the deal was more than conservatives could have dreamed only a few years ago, it is considered a political victory for President Barack Obama, forcing 85 House Republicans to break a pledge never to raise taxes. It also shed light on deep divisions within the GOP. Speaker of the House John Boehner voted in favor, while House Majority Leader Eric Cantor voted against it. Lawmakers attached to the vote a nine-month extension of the farm bill to prevent milk prices from rising dramatically.

Postponement of Sandy Aid Bill Vote Enrages Officials

Elected officials from states ravaged by Hurricane Sandy lashed out at House Republicans after they broke their promise to vote on an aid package last night. The U.S. Senate approved last week a $60.4 billion rescue package at the request of President Barack Obama, which officials from New York and New Jersey say they had been assured the House would vote on last night, the last day of the lame-duck session. Speaker of the House John Boehner scrapped the vote at the last minute. “They are so consumed with their internal politics, they’ve forgotten they have a job to do,” New Jersey Republican Governor Chris Christie said. “Everything is the subject of one-upmanship. It is why the American people hate Congress.” Christie added he repeatedly tried to get in touch with Boehner last night after the bill was pulled, to no avail. “I’m saying right now, anyone from New York or New Jersey who contributes one penny to Congressional Republicans is out of their minds,” New York Republican Congressman Peter King told CNN. “Because what they did last night was put a knife in the back of New Yorkers and New Jerseyans. It was an absolute disgrace.” Boehner managed to appease some of the animosity by promising a vote on $9 billion in flood insurance as soon as Friday.

Malala’s Father Receives Diplomatic Post in Birmingham

Ziaududdin Yousafzai, the father of the Pakistani teenager who was shot because she campaigned for girls’ right to education, will become the education attaché at Pakistan’s consulate in Birmingham where Malala is being treated for her injuries. Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari visited her on December 8 at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, and promised the family his government would cover all their living and medical expenses in the U.K. Yousafzai will hold the post for three years, with the possibility of being renewed for another two years. Almost 300,000 people signed a petition asking for Malala to receive the Nobel Peace Prize.

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