KWAME HOLMAN: A car bomb exploded outside a compound used by a U.S. construction company in Kabul, Afghanistan, today. The firm builds facilities for the U.S. military. Two Afghan workers were killed and more than a dozen others were wounded. The Taliban claimed responsibility.
And in the east, villagers held funerals for nine young girls who died in an explosion in Nangarhar province. Police said they may have triggered a land mine left over from the time of the Soviet invasion. Meanwhile, in Northwest Pakistan, a car bomb in a crowded market killed 17 people and wounded more than 40. The blast left a scene of scorched wreckage.
In Syria, the vice president now is warning that neither side will win the battle for control of the country. Farouk al-Sharaa is a longtime ally of President Bashar al-Assad’s family. In an interview, he called for a national unity government with broad powers.
Meanwhile, the violence raged on. Rebel fighters claimed they captured an army infantry college near the northern city of Aleppo.
President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner met today, amid signs of possible movement in the fiscal cliff negotiations. It was widely reported Boehner gave ground on Friday and offered to raise tax rates for people earning more than $1 million a year. The president wants the threshold to be $250,000 a year.
White House spokesman Jay Carney declined to address Boehner’s offer directly, but he did say this:
JAY CARNEY, White House: The only plan that we have seen that achieves the size and the balance that’s required for sustainable — for long-term deficit reduction and putting our economy on a sustainable fiscal path is the president’s.
KWAME HOLMAN: Also today, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid warned members may have to return to work the day after Christmas in order finish legislation to avoid the New Year’s deadline triggering across-the-board tax hikes and spending cuts.
Wall Street started the week on a high note. Stocks were buoyed by hopes of progress in the Washington deficit talks. The Dow Jones industrial average gained 100 points to close at 13,235. The Nasdaq rose 39 points to close at 3,010.
Traders also paused for a minute of silence this morning to remember the school shooting victims in Connecticut.
The U.S. Senate lost its longest-serving member today. Democrat Daniel Inouye of Ohio died of respiratory complications at Walter Reed Medical Center in Washington. Inouye was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for Bravery in World War II and was elected to the Senate in 1962. He gained national attention on the Senate Watergate committee and became president pro tem of the Senate, the third in line to succeed the president. Daniel Inouye was 88 years old.
Republican Congressman Tim Scott of South Carolina will become the first black senator from the South since Reconstruction. Gov. Nikki Haley announced the appointment of the first-term lawmaker today. He will fill the seat of Republican Sen. Jim DeMint, who’s resigning to lead the Heritage Foundation, a conservative Washington think tank. Scott will serve two years, and says he plans then to face election in his own right in 2014 for a full six-year term.
Voters in Japan have chosen a new prime minister, Shinzo Abe. He led the Liberal Democratic Party back to power on Sunday in a landslide victory. Abe has pledged to ease monetary policy to pull Japan out of its fourth recession since 2000. He also vowed to take a firm stance on territorial disputes with China. Abe served as prime minister once before, but he quit in 2007, citing ill health.
Opponents of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi are sounding the call for nationwide protests again tomorrow against a constitution drafted by Islamists. The opposition was bolstered after Saturday’s first round of voting on the document. Only about a third of eligible voters turned out, as 57 percent approved the draft, a much lower level of support than predicted. The second round of voting is Saturday.
Those are some of the day’s major stories.