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U.S. Senate leaders reached a tentative last-minute deal to avert the “fiscal cliff” of automatic tax increases and spending cuts scheduled for January 1, though not in time for the agreement to be approved by members of the House of Representatives, who were set to vote as soon as Tuesday afternoon. The deal permanently increases capital-gains, dividend, and income tax rates on individuals making more than $400,000 per year and couples making more than $450,000; begins phasing out certain tax deductions on incomes above $250,000; and provides for an additional two months to negotiate $110 billion in cuts to military and domestic spending programs. Senate Democrats had briefly withdrawn from the talks after Republicans proposed to recalculate inflation in such a way as to lower benefit payments from entitlement programs, prompting Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) to ask Vice President Joe Biden to help restart the negotiations. “I need a dance partner,” said McConnell. Congressional aides played the Beatles’ “Come Together” for House Republicans, Starbucks urged baristas to write “Come Together” on coffee cups at its Washington, D.C. franchises, Obama signed an executive order increasing the pay of members of Congress, the Constitutional Council of France struck down a 75 percent tax on incomes over €1 million a year that had been scheduled to take effect on January 1, North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un called for an end to confrontation between his country and South Korea, and a newly released interview revealed Yoko Ono to have blamed the breakup of the Beatles on Paul McCartney’s predominance in the band. Police in India charged six men with murder hours after the death of a 23-year-old woman who had been gang-raped and thrown from a moving bus. “This is the story of every Indian woman,” said a protester. Another Indian gang-rape victim committed suicide after police pressured her to drop her accusations and marry one of her attackers.  In New York City, a woman killed an Indian immigrant by shoving him over the edge of a subway platform. “I pushed a Muslim off the tracks,” she told police, “because I hate Hindus.”
Russia put whistleblower Sergei Magnitsky, who died while in police custody in 2009, on trial for fraud. “Magnitsky’s case has been moved to January,” announced the district court on the first day of hearings, “due to the absence of lawyers for the defense.” Russian president Vladimir Putin signed a law, passed in retaliation for a new U.S. human rights law named after Magnitsky, that prohibits Americans from adopting Russian children. Two Los Angeles residents turned in rocket launchers as a part of a no-questions-asked gun-buyback program; 200 Utah teachers took a concealed-carry firearms course in response to the recent elementary-school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut; and scientists were studying the DNA of Adam Lanza, the Newtown shooter, in search of a gene that made him evil. A man set fire to his home on Christmas Eve in Webster, New York, then shot at the responding firefighters, killing two, before shooting himself in the head. A neighbor whose home burned down as the fires spread vowed to rebuild. “I really want to live on the bay,” she said. “He’s gone now, right?” The German magazine Der Spiegel accidentally published on its website an obituary for “colorless” former U.S. president George H. W. Bush, whose condition was in fact improving after he was admitted to intensive care with a fever, and H. Norman Schwarzkopf, the army general who led U.S. forces in the first Gulf War, died at 78. In Syria, a general tasked with preventing military defections defected.
Mexican marines killed four men who were trying to steal the dead body of a Zeta drug-cartel leader known as the Pokémon. Children sledding in Wyoming discovered the frozen dead body of a homeless man who was unknowingly the potential heir to a $19 million fortune. China passed a law allowing parents to sue their adult children for not visiting them frequently enough, and a Filipino bishop announced his opposition to a reproductive-health bill aimed at curbing overpopulation, arguing that a larger population could better care for the country’s elderly. A norovirus outbreak caused hundreds of passengers on an exclusive Caribbean Christmas cruise to be stricken with diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting. In England, two elves were arrested for assault, and a garden-center Santa was fired for telling children he wasn’t real. The baby Jesus was stolen from a live nativity scene outside a funeral home in Mount Healthy, Ohio, and a woman in Damascus, Oregon, told reporters about a letter, written by a worker in a Chinese forced-labor camp, that she’d found in a box of decorations from Kmart’s “Totally Ghoul” holiday line. “If you occasionally buy this product,” wrote the laborer, “please kindly resend this letter to the World Human Right Organization.”
More from Jacob Z. Gross:
Weekly Review — July 29, 2014, 8:00 am
The quixotic quest for a Gaza ceasefire; West African doctors face mortal peril; and Russian gecko porn, restored
Weekly Review — June 17, 2014, 8:00 am
ISIS launches a major offensive in Iraq, the 2014 World Cup begins, and Florida keeps on being Florida
Weekly Review — April 29, 2014, 8:00 am
The U.S. Supreme Court and L.A. Clippers owner Donald Sterling remark on race and opportunity, the FCC prepares to end net neutrality, and white supremacists propagandize children’s Easter eggs
On a Friday evening in January, a thousand people at the annual California Native Plant Society conference in San Jose settled down to a banquet and a keynote speech delivered by an environmental historian named Jared Farmer. His chosen topic was the eucalyptus tree and its role in California’s ecology and history. The address did not go well. Eucalyptus is not a native plant but a Victorian import from Australia. In the eyes of those gathered at the San Jose DoubleTree, it qualified as “invasive,” “exotic,” “alien” — all dirty words to this crowd, who were therefore convinced that the tree was dangerously combustible, unfriendly to birds, and excessively greedy in competing for water with honest native species.
In his speech, Farmer dutifully highlighted these ugly attributes, but also quoted a few more positive remarks made by others over the years. This was a reckless move. A reference to the tree as “indigenously Californian” elicited an abusive roar, as did an observation that without the aromatic import, the state would be like a “home without its mother.” Thereafter, the mild-mannered speaker was continually interrupted by boos, groans, and exasperated gasps. Only when he mentioned the longhorn beetle, a species imported (illegally) from Australia during the 1990s with the specific aim of killing the eucalyptus, did he earn a resounding cheer.
Percentage of Britons who cannot name the city that provides the setting for the musical Chicago:
An Australian entrepreneur was selling oysters raised in tanks laced with Viagra.
A tourism company in Australia announced a service that will allow users to take the “world’s biggest selfies,” and a Texas man accidentally killed himself while trying to pose for a selfie with a handgun.
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“Shelby is waiting for something. He himself does not know what it is. When it comes he will either go back into the world from which he came, or sink out of sight in the morass of alcoholism or despair that has engulfed other vagrants.”