U.S. House OKs Fiscal Cliff Deal, Global Markets Surge



WASHINGTON – The House of Representatives has approved a Senate bill to avoid the American and global economy facing the dreaded consequences of the so-called "fiscal cliff" of automatic tax hikes and spending cuts across the United States.

Hailed as a victory for President Barack Obama, the vote on the compromise measure came just after 11 PM Tuesday, avoiding income tax increases for more than 99% of households, reports Bloomberg. Stock markets around the world Wednesday surged on the news of the deal in Washington.

The 257-167 vote largely fell along partisan lines, reports CNN, but enough Republicans fell in line behind House Speaker John Bohener to push the bill forward. Of the favorable votes, 172 were Democrats and 85 were Republicans. Sixteeen Democrats voted against the bill, with 151 Republicans "No" votes, including Majority Leader Eric Cantor.

After the Senate bill passed after midnight on Jan. 1, Bohener ordered a vote on the bill, which President Obama said he’d sign into law.

"Thanks to the votes of Democrats and Republicans in Congress I will sign a law that raises taxes on the wealthiest 2% of Americans while preventing a middle-class tax hike that could have sent the economy back into recession and obviously had a severe impact on families all across America," Obama said.

According to the deal, the tax rate for individuals making more than $400,000 and couples making more than $450,000 will rise from the current 35% to the Clinton-era rate of 39.6%, reports CNN. Itemized deductions would be capped for individuals making $250,000 and for married couples making $300,000.

New battles in the Senate are expected to occur this year. In two months, the delayed $110 billion in spending cuts will again kick in. At the same time, the U.S. will face the need to increase its borrowing limit, a change that can only be made by Congress. While the Republicans want to use the debt ceiling to extract spending cuts, President Obama has warned he would not negotiate, explains The Wall Street Journal.

After news of the deal spread, Asian stocks climbed and the yen fell. The MSCI Asia Pacific excluding Japan Index climbed 1.7 percent at 12:22 p.m. in Hong Kong. The yen tumbled 1.1 percent to 115.73 per euro and the Dollar Index, which tracks six peers, fell 0.4 percent, reports Bloomberg.

London's FTSE, Frankfurt's DAX and Paris' CAC 40 opened between 1.4-1.9 percent higher, reports Reuters.

This deal comes after weeks of bitter negotiations between Democrats and Republicans over budget management and tax increases.

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Dutch Cities Have Been Secretly Probing Mosques Since 2013

Revelations of a nationally funded clandestine operation within 10 municipalities in the Netherlands to keep tabs on mosques and Muslim organizations after a rise in radicalization eight years ago.

The Nasser mosque in Veenendaal, one of the mosques reportedly surveilled

Meike Eijsberg

At least ten Dutch towns and cities have secretly used a private agency to probe mosques and other local religious organizations, Amsterdam-based daily het NRC reports in an exclusive investigation.

The clandestine operation — funded by NCTV, the National Security Services, the Netherlands' leading counter-terrorism agency — was prompted by the social unrest and uncertainty following multiple terror attacks in 2013, and a rise in Islamic radicalization.

The NCTV, which advises and financially supports municipalities in countering radicalization, put the municipalities in touch with Nuance by Training and Advice (Nuance door Trainingen en Advies, NTA), a private research agency based in Deventer, Netherlands. Among the institutions targeted by the investigations, which came at a cost of circa 500,000 euros, were the Al Mouahidin mosque in the central Dutch town of Ede, and the Nasser mosque east of the city of Utrecht, according to NRC.

Photo of people standing on prayer mats inside a Dutch mosque

Praying inside a Dutch mosque.


Broken trust in Islamic community

Unlike public officials, the private agency can enter the mosques to clandestinely research the situation. In this case, the agents observed activity, talk to visitors, administrators, and religious leaders, and investigated what they do and say on social media.

All findings then wound up in a secret report which includes personal details about what the administrators and teachers studied, who their relatives are, with whom they argued, and how often they had contact with authorities in foreign countries, like Morocco.

Leaders of the Muslim organizations that were secretly probed say they feel betrayed.

It is unclear whether the practice is legal, which is why several members of the Dutch Parliament are now demanding clarification from the outgoing Minister of Justice and Security, Ferd Grapperhaus, who is said to be involved.

"The ease with which the government violates (fundamental) rights when it comes to Islam or Muslims is shocking," Stephan van Baarle, member of the leftist party DENK, told De Volkskrant, another Dutch newspaper.

Leaders of the Muslim organizations that were secretly probed say they feel betrayed. Hassan Saidi, director of one of the mosques investigated, said that the relationship with the local municipality had been good. "This puts a huge dent in the trust I'd had in the municipality," he told the Dutch public broadcaster NOS.

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