CHEAP LOANS Getty Images
The European Central Bank pumped €490 billion, or $640 billion, into the continent’s troubled banks, hoping to free up credit tightened by the euro zone’s debt crisis. Statistics from the ECB showed that 523 lenders signed up for the three-year loans, which come at only 1 percent interest and are the ECB’s largest infusion of cash since the common currency was created in 1999. The ECB’s willingness to make this money available showed its commitment to making sure banks pay off their loans, which is considered essential for European recovery to start in 2012. But while markets were briefly cheered on the news, stocks fell Wednesday as many worried the banks wouldn’t use the money to buy bad debts and ease the debt crunch.
OH WELL Ivan Sekretarev / AP Photo
Protests can’t stop the Kremlin. Despite demonstrations alleging vote fraud, Russia’s new Parliament held its first session Wednesday. Outside, however, an angry mob tried to hang a banner to stop the Pro-Kremlin and anti-Kremlin politicians from convening. Riot police arrested 26. The opposition has taken a step back as the government seems to be unresponsive to protester demands. The Kremlin has asked demonstrators to make a legal case against the elections, and the government says that dozens of cases are currently under scrutiny. Next up for protesters: another massive rally planned for Saturday.
STANDOFF Evan Vucci
President Obama is turning up the pressure on John Boehner to pass the Senate’s two-month extension of the payroll-tax cut. Obama called the House speaker to tell him the compromise bill was “the only option” to ensure taxes don’t go up in 10 days. Boehner, however, told Obama to call Senate Democrats and appoint negotiators to a conference committee on a full-year extension. White House spokesman Jay Carney, said Boehner’s sudden insistence on a year extension “doesn’t ring true” and that he should “do the right thing and pass the bipartisan compromise."
NORTH KOREA Reuters / Landov
Kim Jong-un may not enjoy absolute power, after all: A source tells Reuters that he will share power with his uncle, Jang Song-thaek, and military leaders. Kim will still head the ruling committee as well as the military, but it is nevertheless the first time since 1948 that the country is not ruled by a single, authoritarian ruler. Reuters says Kim Jong-il made the arrangement before his death. Kim Jong-un’s uncle with whom he will share power, Jang Song-thaek, is married to Kim Jong-il’s sister, Kim Kyong-hu, a woman characterized by her rivals as a “mean drunk." Kim reportedly made his first military order on Wednesday, according to a South Korean source, ruling that "all military units halt field exercises and training and return to their bases."
Brutal Reuters / Landov
It looks like Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is attempting a last-minute offensive before Arab League observers visit the country. Activists report a “massacre” of at least 160 protesters, defecting soldiers, and civilians. “The corpses of those killed were left in the streets and the mosques, and we are not allowed to bury any of them," said an activist in Idlib. The Obama administration issued a statement saying it was “deeply disturbed” by the massacre, which, if verified, would be one of the worst in Syria’s bloody nine months of unrest. Meanwhile, thousands gathered in Damascus and Idlib Wednesday for funerals for antigovernment protesters, chanting "Down with the Arab nation" and "To heaven we are going, martyrs in millions, death and not humiliation."
TESTY Elise Amendola / AP Photo
A few months back, Ron Paul’s supporters complained he wasn’t getting enough media coverage. My, how things have changed! The GOP presidential candidate stormed out of a CNN interview, saying he was sick of being “pestered” by reporters about racist newsletters that were sent in his name during the 1990s. When CNN’s Gloria Borger asked Paul if he ever read the newsletters, he snapped back, “Why don’t you go back and look at what I said yesterday on CNN and what I’ve said for 20 something years… I didn’t write them, I disavow them.” The usually even-tempered Congressman grew more irritated as Borger further pressed the issue, saying there were reports he made “almost a million dollars” off the newsletters in 1993. The two went back and forth before Paul took off his mic and walked off the stage. Borger later explained, “He thinks it’s been asked and answered…it’s clearly a question he’d rather not be asked.”
DISCRIMINATION AP Photo
Bank of America has agreed to pay $335 million to settle allegations that Countrywide Financial, a mortgage giant that the bank now owns, discriminated against African-American and Hispanic home buyers during the housing boom. The Justice Department had alleged that Countrywide charged higher fees and rates to minority buyers than to white applicants with equal incomes and credit scores. Bank of America spokesman Dan Frahm stressed that the lending bias occurred before the bank bought Countrywide. “We are committed to fair and equal treatment of all our customers,” he said in a statement. An independent monitor will be appointed to contact potential Countrywide victims and distribute the $335 million proceeds among them.
SEVERANCE Getty Images
For those who think there’s no money in media, mull this one over: Janet Robinson, who is stepping down as chief executive of The New York Times Co., will be paid more than $15 million upon stepping down on Dec. 31, sources tell Reuters. Robinson will get $4.5 million for consulting and $10.9 million in pension benefits that she accrued throughout her 28 years at the paper. A regulatory filing said the Times previously ruled that Robinson, 61, wouldn’t be eligible for full pension benefits until she was 63, having been with the company for 30 years. But sources said they adapted the rules to her departure agreement. Meanwhile, the company’s flagship newspaper has been hit with buyouts and the parent company is selling 16 regional newspapers to Halifax Media Holdings. A number of staffers took buyouts, including well-known writers, and apparently there have been grumbles from the newsroom about Robinson’s large severance.
IMMIGRATION Rainier Ehrhardt / AP Photo
Them fightin’ words, Mitt. In a radio interview Wednesday, the GOP candidate Mitt Romney said “yes” when asked if Onyango Obama should be deported—though he didn’t recognize the name at first. Saying that U.S. immigration laws should be used, Romney held firm on his immigration stance after the host explained who “Uncle Omar” was. Obama’s uncle was arrested a few months ago on drunk-driving charges in Massachusetts and was initially held without bail because he allegedly failed to follow through on an order to return to Kenya 20 years ago.
THE MOVES Ben Stansall / Getty Images
Fact: Prince William has “swag.” While the Duke and Kate Middleton were touring a home for young people who used to be homeless, he asked an 18-year-old girl whether his wedding suit was “dapper.” She approved and told him that his “swag was on point.” To this, William brushed his shoulders off, prompting her to do the same. Later during the evening, the Prince and the girl dusted their shoulders off again, this time during a musical performance. The dance was dubbed “the swag dance.” Interestingly, the girl said that Prince William had spoken to her about fatherhood, saying that one day his children will come there so she can discipline them.
Next Act David Karp / AP Photo
After a year in which Anne Sinclair stood by her scandal-soaked husband—the disgraced former International Monetary Fund director Dominique Strauss-Kahn—things are finally looking up for the French news celebrity.
Yes, the heiress-turned-star television journalist-turned-loyal wife to a powerful man of dubious character was humiliated, dragged through the mud and persuaded to spend a chunk of her fortune on DSK’s legal defense, but she appears to be set to get her career back. She soon may become France’s Arianna Huffington.
Sinclair effectively announced by email this month that she will become the head of the French version of the Huffington Post. Neither the HuffPo nor the main investors in the French version have formally announced who will lead the new venture. But Sinclair recently sent an email to dozens of French blogueurs in which she explained, “I will be the editorial director of this now information organ.”
In the email, portions of which were excerpted by the respected French news website Rue89.com, Sinclair sought contributions for the website, whose editorial team will be “made up of young journalists” and a “circle of experts in the broadest sense of the term.” She also notes that contributors will not be paid, “but we will give them the greatest visibility possible, thanks, I hope, to the force de frappe of the Huffington Post.” The site will go live, she wrote, in January 2012.
The relaunching of the journalistic career of Sinclair—who was akin to a more politically inclined Barbara Walters—is a de facto acknowledgement that her husband is not expecting any sort of a political resurrection. When Strauss-Kahn became France’s minister of finance in 1997, Sinclair essentially put her career on hold to avoid ethical quandaries. Initially, she shifted away from domestic political coverage, but then departed her network altogether a few years later. She briefly returned to political journalism, in the U.S., to cover the 2008 presidential election, after her husband left French politics and moved to Washington to helm the International Monetary Fund.
After the year she’s had, it is easy to understand why Sinclair might want to return to a busy work schedule. Last winter, surveys suggested that she was the odds-on favorite to become France’s next first lady. (Dozens of polls showed her husband leading the unpopular incumbent President Nicolas Sarkozy by historic margins, and Strauss-Kahn hadn’t even made a formal announcement that he was running.) By the spring, Sinclair was the humiliated and cuckolded partner of an allegedly violent sex criminal. Rather than abandon her husband, Sinclair, who is the heiress to a vast fortune that her grandfather earned in the art world, funded her husband’s big-dollar legal defense.
Would Sinclair decide to cover the ongoing civil case brought by the Sofitel Hotel maid in a New York courtroom?
After the New York prosecutor’s office folded its case against Strauss-Kahn, Sinclair’s faith in his innocence endured a second criminal allegation in France (related to an alleged assault dating back nearly a decade). More recently, a sex-related epilogue arose when investigators of the “Carlton Affair,” interviewed Strauss-Kahn about evidence linking him to an extensive pimping-and-prostitution ring in a luxury hotel in the northeastern French city of Lille.
It remains unclear whether the content of the French HuffPo will be identical to that of the U.S. version, but its editorial judgment and relative neutrality seem likely to be challenged by the scandals still swirling around Strauss-Kahn. Would Sinclair decide to cover the ongoing civil case brought by the Sofitel Hotel maid in a New York courtroom? What about forthcoming revelations from the investigation at the Carlton in Lille?
Interestingly, Sinclair remains stunningly untarnished in France over her devout stand-by-her-man stance. It may seem surreal from a U.S. perspective, but she recently was selected “Woman of the Year 2011” by a survey conducted for the website Terrafemina (which essentially means “Women’s World”).
Twenty-five percent of individuals polled by the respected CSA polling institute cited Sinclair, with many pointing to her courage under fire. She eked out a victory over more feminist-friendly role models. Christine Lagarde, who was France’s minister of finance until she was chosen to replace Strauss-Kahn as head of the International Monetary Fund, scored 24 percent and Martine Aubry, the bullish head of the Socialist Party, 23 percent. (Interestingly, French woman ranked Sinclair highest, while French men preferred Lagarde.)
But some French journalists were deeply disappointed in Sinclair’s response to her husband’s behavior. One female editor told The Daily Beast, not for attribution, that Sinclair should have acted as her own woman even if she was going to stay byher husband’s side in New York. “During the trial, she could have been classy and said, ‘I’m still a journalist.’ She could have done great things on the historic presidential election there,” the editor lamented. “But I suppose she had other fish to fry.”
WARRIOR John Stillwell / AFP / Getty Images
Look how responsible party-boy Prince Harry is growing up to be: speaking at a military awards gala in London on Monday, Harry told attendees he "couldn't wait" for his next tour in Afghanistan. He spent the second half of this year completing his Apache helicopter training in the U.S. and said he is "looking forward to putting it into practice." Harry served his first tour in Afghanistan in 2007-08 but was pulled out after 10 weeks when foreign media reported his presence there.
Conservatives criticized President Obama for a 60 Minutes interview released Tuesday in which the president touted his achievements in his first few years in office. “I would put our legislative and foreign-policy accomplishments in our first two years against any president—with the possible exceptions of Johnson, FDR, and Lincoln—just in terms of what we’ve gotten done in modern history,” Obama said in the “Overtime” segment. Obama went on to say “but, you know, but when it comes to the economy, we’ve got a lot of work to do.” Conservative bloggers jumped over the remarks and 60 Minutes, with Newsbusters writing “60 Minutes broadcast edits out laughable Obama claim as 4th best president.” Although Obama never directly called himself the “fourth-best president,” that comment was widely repeated—despite that Johnson and FDR are hardly considered favorites among conservatives.
STRIKE BACK Scott Olson / Getty Images
Mitt Romney criticized Vice President Joe Biden’s comments in last week’s Newsweek, calling it “one of the most strange comments ever to be uttered by the lips of a vice president.” Biden said, “Look, the Taliban per se is not our enemy … there is not a single statement that the president has ever made in any of our policy assertions that the Taliban is our enemy.” While the White House has stood behind Biden’s comments and said they were “only regrettable when taken out of context,” conservatives have attacked the vice president. Romney, a guest on Fox & Friends, said he did not believe the vice president misspoke but rather “that’s exactly what he thinks” and insisted the U.S. is “fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan … to suggest that they are not our enemy is absolutely extraordinary and that kind of communication confuses our friends in Afghanistan and our friends around the world.”
CYBERATTACK Justin Guariglia, National Geographic / AP Photo
Something that’s definitely bad for business: Chinese hackers. A group of Chinese hackers attacked the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the country’s largest pro-business lobby, in 2009 and 2010, according to The Wall Street Journal. The hackers apparently gained access to everything stored on the lobby’s systems, including information about its 3 million members. They honed in on the work of four Chamber employees who worked on Asia policy and stole six weeks of their emails. It is possible that the hackers had access to the Chamber’s network for more than a year when the breach was discovered and shut down in May 2010. Since then, the Chamber has overhauled its security system.
Enjoy the first fresh views of Middle Earth since the final Lord of the Rings film: The trailer for Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit, An Unexpected Journey has been released. The two-and-a-half minute preview begins with Ian McKellan as Gandolf, introducing a young Bilbo Baggins (played by Martin Freeman) to a squadron of dwarves. The trailer also ends by teasing Bilbo’s encounter with Gollum.
REAL ESTATE Corbis
The most expensive apartment in Manhattan history has sold to a 22-year-old woman. Ekaterina Rybolovleva, the daughter of Russian billionaire Dmitriy Rybolovlev, has paid $88 million for former Citigroup Chairman Sandy Weill’s 6,744-square-foot, 10-room condo. Rybolovleva is a student at an undisclosed U.S. university and plans to stay at the condo when visiting New York.
THIRD PARTIES Phelan M. Ebenhack, Pool / Getty Images
Former New Mexico governor Gary Johnson has dropped out of the Republican primary for president and will run as a Libertarian instead. The move comes after Johnson failed to catch on with Republican voters, appearing in only one debate with the major candidates. Even Johnson admitted last month, “There’s not much hope.” While he has not formally announced his intentions, the Libertarian Party chairman remarked to Politico that Johnson’s move is “the worst kept secret.” Johnson plans to announce his switch in Santa Fe on Dec. 28.
ALLEGATIONS Mike Groll / AP Photo
Philadelphia Daily News sports columnist Bill Conlin has been accused of molesting four children—one of which is his niece—in the 1970s. The Philadelphia Inquirer broke the story, reporting that the parents of the alleged victims were all aware of the abuse, but did nothing at the time. Now, seeing the charges against Penn State’s Jerry Sandusky, they’ve decided to come forward. There can no longer be legal action against the 77-year-old writer, because of the laws at the time of the incidents. Hours before the story came out, Conlin retired from his position. Interestingly, Conlin wrote a column about Sandusky in November, commenting on people’s inability to “do the right thing.” He has denied all charges through his lawyer.
2012 Matthew Putney / ABC
Newt Gingrich lashed out Monday at what he called a “negative smear campaign” by Mitt Romney. “Understand, these are his people running his ads, doing his dirty work while he pretends to be above it,” Gingrich said in Iowa. “I don’t object to being outspent. I object to lies. I object to negative smear campaigns.” Gingrich was reacting to remarks by Romney that he could not stop the negative Super PAC ads because of campaign laws. Gingrich has vowed to remain positive and disown the Super PAC started by his former aide, Rick Tyler, is it goes negative.
SCANDAL Jae C. Hong / AP Photo
A former columnist for the Daily Mirror alleged Wednesday that CNN’s Piers Morgan, editor of the Daily Mirror for nine years, that the top editors at the tabloid knew and approved of the widespread practice of phone hacking. “I think [phone hacking] was seen as a slightly underhand thing to do but not illegal,” said James Hipwell, who was fired from the Mirror in 2000 and later jailed for illegal share dealings linked to his columns. Morgan testified Tuesday that he did not know about the phone hacking going on under his watch, either at the Mirror or at the News of the World, the tabloid closed earlier this year due to its history of phone hacking. Morgan admitted to listening to a voicemail by Sir Paul McCartney’s ex-wife Heather Mills but refused to name his source in getting that voicemail. Meanwhile on Wednesday, Scotland Yard arrested a 52-year-old woman believed to be a royal protection officer over payments made to journalists.
BIOTERRORISM Sushanta Das / AP Photo
This is a new twist on the peer review process. The U.S. government has asked the journals Science and Nature not to publish crucial details of biomedical experiments that created an extremely transmissible form of bird flu. The National Science Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity does not want terrorists to get hold of “experimental details and mutation data that would enable the replication of the experiment.” Essentially, the papers show the way the virus can evolve into a form which is easily spread through coughing and sneezing. Coincidentally, Hong Kong has begun slaughtering thousands of birds after a chicken tested positive for the H5N1 virus.
ON THE HILL Jacquelyn Martin / AP Photo
President Obama is still in Washington but Republicans in the House have begun heading home after they rejected the Senate’s bipartisan compromise to extend the payroll-tax cut Tuesday. Their Senate counterparts, meanwhile, are fuming. “It is harming the Republican Party,” Senator John McCain said on CNN. An anonymous senior Senate aide is harsher in a quote to Politico: “This is a colossal fumble by the House Republicans. Their inability to recognize a win is costing our party our long-held advantage on the key issue of tax relief. It’s time for Boehner and [House Majority Leader Eric] Cantor to look these rookies in the eye and explain how the game is won or lost.”
BUSINESS Scott Olson / Getty Images
Americans have a new second-favorite way of pigging out: Wendy’s is set to overtake Burger King to become the second-largest U.S. fast-food chain in sales. It’s the first shuffle in the industry-leading trio since Wendy’s founding in 1969. Wendy’s gains—the chain is projected to have $8.42 billion in sales this year—have come without opening new restaurants. The company operates 5,800 restaurants, versus Burger King’s 7,200. It has a long way to go though before it catches McDonald’s: The industry leader has more restaurants than Wendy’s and Burger King combined, and nearly four times either of their sales.
WIKILEAKS Patrick Semansky / AP Photo
The pretrial hearing for Pfc. Bradley Manning is wrapping up, and his attorneys have called only two witnesses to testify. The prosecution, for comparison, has called 20. The two defense witnesses were former comrades of Manning and testified to his erratic behavior, including an incident in which he punched his team leader in her face and then moved toward an assault rifle leaning against a wall before being restrained. Prosecutors made 22 charges against Manning, including aiding the enemy, but they say they will not recommend the death penalty.
SPLITSVILLE Frazer Harrison / Getty Images
Things are over between Debra Messing and her husband of 10 years—sort of. The Will & Grace star’s rep confirmed to E! News that she and husband Daniel Zelman “privately separated earlier this year,” but a source told Us Weekly that the two are still living together in a “very amicable” arrangement for their 7-year-old son. Messing and Zelman met in the 1990s on their first day of graduate school. “We were just classmates,” Messing told Redbook in an interview roughly four years ago. Apparently things had already started to go downhill. “I’m not one to give out marriage advice,” she said. “Daniel and I are very different—he’s levelheaded, whereas I’m more the fiery, emotional one.”
IOWA Charlie Riedel / AP Photo
This does not bode well for future endorsers. Newt Gingrich was heckled Wednesday by Occupy Des Moines protesters—and eventually chased down the stairwell. Gingrich was in Des Moines to receive the endorsement of Iowa House Speaker Kraig Paulson, one of the state’s top Republican leaders. The nine protesters yelled “Put people first” while Gingrich spoke. The candidate responded that he had encountered protesters at the University of Iowa recently and “that same one 10th of 1 percent—all noise, no thought—tried to drown out the conversation, so I appreciate you putting that in perspective.” After Gingrich finished speaking, the protesters chased him and his wife, Callista, down the stairs of the capitol. Meanwhile, in a cheeky attack on the former House Speaker, the super PAC American Bridge has bought NewtGingrich.com and programmed it to redirect to other websites, including Tiffany's, Craigslist, and Freddie Mac's site.
AFGHANISTAN U.S. Army / AP Photo
Eight American soldiers in Afghanistan have been charged with counts relating to the apparent suicide of one of their comrades. 19-year-old Pvt. Danny Chen, the child of immigrants, died in Kandahar in early October, reportedly after being physically and mentally abused by his fellow troops. Now, eight of his comrades have been charged on counts including dereliction of duty, negligent homicide, and reckless endangerment. The U.S. military, which unsealed the charges today, declined to give more details on Chen’s death or to clarify whether they believe it was indeed a suicide. In the meantime, the soldiers in question have been transferred and relieved of their duties.