Tensions are high on the Korean Peninsula as South Korea prepares to hold live-fire military drills despite North Korea's warnings of retaliation. Will other countries persuade South Korea to abandon the drills, and what will North Korea do if the exercises happen? Here's a look at this and some of the other stories we plan to follow this week:
Will North Korea clash with South Korea over drills?
South Korea says it expects to conduct live-fire military exercises in the Yellow Sea on Monday, and North Korea says it will launch a military strike if the drills happen. The South says there is nothing unusual about the drills, which have been executed before. But the plans come almost a month after North Korea shelled South Korea's Yeonpyeong Island, killing two military personnel and two civilians in the first direct artillery assault on South Korea since the Korean War ended in 1953. The North claims it attacked because shells from South Korean military exercises that month landed in its waters, and tensions have been particularly high since. Russia and China have asked South Korea to reconsider its planned drills, but the South has said the drills will go on, weather permitting. Meanwhile, many residents of Yeonpyeong have been leaving the island, afraid of North Korea's potential response.
Will Senate approve START?
With a tax-cut extension signed and a "don't ask, don't tell" repeal passed, Democrats in the U.S. Senate this week will focus on trying to approve a nuclear arms treaty with Russia before the lame-duck session of Congress breaks up. The treaty would resume mutual inspections of U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals, while limiting both nations to 1,550 warheads and 700 launchers each.
It requires 67 senators to approve the treaty. Although the 58 members of the Democratic appear to be behind it, and Democrats say they should be able to get enough Republicans to vote for it, it's not clear whether Republicans will allow it to come to a vote this year. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said Sunday that members of his party need more time to consider the START accord. And some Republicans have grumbled that the treaty could affect the United States' ability to develop its missile defense capabilities - something Democrats deny. The Senate is expected to go into a closed session on Monday to discuss classified information related to the treaty, two leadership aides, one from each party, told CNN.
Democrats are pushing for things they favor, such as START, this month because Republicans will control the House and will have a stronger minority in the Senate in January.
Senate expects to avoid government shutdown for now
Congress has another pressing need to attend to this week: Allowing the government to spend money so it can keep running. A previous spending authorization measure keeps government running through Tuesday, and Congress will need to pass another. The Senate this week will consider a proposal to fund the government until March under an agreement worked out by its Republican and Democratic leaders, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Sunday. Congress had worked on a spending bill for the entire 2011 fiscal year, but that apparently will be left to the new Congress, meaning Republicans - who will gain control of the House - should have greater control of spending decisions.
"Don't ask, don't tell" repeal to be signed
U.S. President Barack Obama this week is expected to sign the repeal of military's prohibition of openly gay people serving within its ranks. The House and the Senate voted last week to end the "don't ask, don't tell" policy. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has said that current policy will remain in effect while military chiefs are consulted, and a Pentagon official said the process of making changes will take months. Still, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-New York, said over the weekend that she believed no man or woman would be outed or kicked out of the military in the meantime.
2010 Census results to be released
The U.S. Census Bureau will unveil the results of 2010 Census on Tuesday. Among the many implications: We’ll find out how many states will gain congressional seats and which one will lose them. The findings will kick off a battle next year between Democrats and Republicans over congressional redistricting, and the results could have a big effect for the next fight for control of Congress in 2012.
Weather woes expected to continue in California, Europe
Much of the U.S. West Coast is expected to see strong storms for the next few days, and flooding and mudslides are possible in parts of California. Heavy rain already was causing flash flooding in a number of California locales Sunday, and flooding in the San Joaquin valley, which includes Fresno and Sacramento, is a firm possibility, CNN Meteorologist Reynolds Wolf said. Mudslides are possible in areas near Los Angeles affected by this year's wildfires, where there is no vegetation to hold the soil in place, Wolf said. Also, a winter storm warning is in effect through Monday afternoon for California's Sierra Nevada mountains, from Yosemite to Kings Canyon, with 5 to 10 feet of snowfall likely at elevations above 7,000 feet, according to the National Weather Service.
In the United Kingdom, heavy snow is again expected on Monday, adding to the conditions that caused many flights to be canceled over the weekend. On Saturday, snow, ice and fog left airports from Northern Ireland to Bulgaria with heavy delays or shut them entirely.
How much did U.S. economy grow?
U.S. financial markets will be closed Friday for Christmas Eve, but investors will have plenty to consider before the break, including the final reading on the United States’ third-quarter gross domestic product. The number is expected to improve slightly, showing the U.S. economy grew 2.6% from July to September. But Federal Reserve chief Ben Bernanke recently said that level of growth isn’t enough to lower the unemployment rate. Also, investors this week will see readings on new and existing home sales for November. The housing market is still one of the weakest parts of the U.S. economy - in October, existing home sales fell by more than 2% from the month previous, and new home sales fell by 8%.
Iraq finally prepared to present partial government
More than nine months after elections, Iraq appears ready this week to announce a partial government. Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki is expected to present some cabinet choices for a parliamentary vote on Monday, four days before his constitutional deadline to form a government runs out. After the March parliamentary elections, no group could cobble together a 163-seat coalition to form a government, but a power-sharing deal was forged last month between the major blocs, and former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi indicated Sunday that he will take part in the new cabinet, effectively ending the stalemate.
Lunar eclipse on Tuesday morning
People in the continental United States are about to have their last chance to see a lunar eclipse until April 2014, though they'll have to stay up late or wake up early to see it. Tuesday's eclipse is expected to last about three and a half hours, starting as a partial eclipse about 1:33 a.m. ET and finishing at 5:01 a.m. ET, according to NASA. The start of the total eclipse is expected about 2:41 a.m. The eclipse will fall on the same date as the 2010 winter solstice.
"For eclipse watchers, this means that the moon will appear very high in the night sky, as the solstice marks the time when Earth's axial tilt is farthest away from the sun," NASA said.
Let Eatocracy help you prepare for Christmas
Christmas is just days away. This week, visit our Eatocracy blog to get you chilled out and cheery as the holiday approaches. Eatocracy will offer recipes, mantras (it's just a meal ... it's just a meal) and tips for making merry.