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President Obama has declared an end to the US combat mission in Iraq. In the second Oval Office address of his presidency, Obama said the recent withdrawal of the last US combat brigades from Iraq heralds the end of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
President Obama: "Operation Iraqi Freedom is over, and the Iraqi people now have lead responsibility for the security of their country. This was my pledge to the American people as a candidate for this office. Last February I announced a plan that would bring our combat brigades out of Iraq, while redoubling our efforts to strengthen Iraq’s Security Forces and support its government and people. That’s what we’ve done. We’ve removed nearly 100,000 US troops from Iraq. We’ve closed or transferred to the Iraqis hundreds of bases. And we have moved millions of pieces of equipment out of Iraq."
Vice President Joe Biden is in Iraq today to preside over a formal change-of-command ceremony to mark the start of what’s being called "Operation New Dawn." Despite the pronouncements, tens of thousands of US troops, special operations forces and private contractors remain in Iraq.
US-brokered talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority begin tomorrow Washington. Both sides agreed to sit down last month after the US successfully pressured Palestinian leaders to drop their precondition of an Israeli settlement freeze. As leaders headed to Washington, Palestinian militants killed four Israeli settlers in the occupied West Bank. The Palestinian group Hamas says it carried out the attack. Nabil Shaath of the Palestinian Authority condemned the shootings but said Israel bore responsibility for maintaining hundreds of thousands of settlers on occupied Palestinian land.
Nabil Shaath: "In the area of Hebron, the Israelis have complete security control, and we are not involved, even in matters relating to Palestinian civil police matters. The Israelis interfere in their occupation and control, and thus it would be very difficult for them to hold us responsible in a case like this. In any case, I believe that the settlements are always part of the security problem and not that they build settlements to solve the security issue. And it [settlements] always creates a set of additional security problems that we hope does not exist, and we hope there won’t be any civilian casualties from either side."
In response to the attack, Palestinian Authority security forces carried out what’s being called the largest mass arrests in the history of the West Bank, detaining an estimated 300 people accused of links to Hamas.
A new study shows the CEOs who fired the most workers during the economic recession have also taken home the highest pay. According to the Institute for Policy Studies, the CEOs of the fifty corporations responsible for the worst layoffs were paid an average $12 million — 42 percent more than the average for the Standard & Poor’s 500. The study covered the period from November 2008 to April of this year. For 72 percent of companies, layoffs were announced at the same time as earnings were increasing.
New figures meanwhile show the nation’s banks reduced lending last quarter while seeing their highest profit jump in three years. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation reported Tuesday that bank profits were up 21 percent to nearly $22 billion. But lending over the same period fell 1.3 percent, or about $96 billion. The exception was community banks or credit banks, which slightly increased lending during the same period.
Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska has conceded her primary race to tea party-backed opponent Joe Miller. With ballots still being counted a week after the vote, Murkowski had failed to overcome Miller’s lead. Murkowski is the third incumbent senator to lose a renomination bid ahead of the November mid-term elections.
Five teenagers have been arrested on charges of disrupting a religious service at a mosque in upstate New York. Police say the group shouted obscenities, set off a car alarm, and fired a shotgun over the course of two nights of harassment at the World Sufi Foundation mosque in Carlton. Mosque member Bilal Huzair witnessed the incident.
Bilal Huzair: "We heard two cars that were screaming and driving back and forth, yelling obscenities, you know, against the religion itself, calling us Muslim, you know, blank-blanks. If it was a hate crime, so be it. They need to be charged as a hate crime."
In Washington state, meanwhile, a Seattle resident has been charged with a hate crime for assaulting a turban-wearing clerk at a local 7-11 convenience store. Police say the suspect punched the clerk in the head and yelled, "You’re not even American! You’re al-Qaeda! Go back to your country!"
The attacks come amidst the ongoing hysteria around plans for an Islamic cultural center blocks from New York’s Ground Zero. A poll released Tuesday shows 71 percent of New Yorkers now think the Park51 project should be built somewhere else. Speaking in Dubai at the end of a State Department-sponsored Middle East tour, the imam for the proposed center, Feisal Abdul Rauf, criticized the campaign to delegitimize the project.
Feisal Abdul Rauf: "Well, it is led by a very small group, and they have succeeded in putting some confusion, arousing confusion and suspicion, in a broader base of people. And this is unfortunate. There are always more then one opinion on any question, but it’s unfortunate that those who have sought for other purposes, for other agendas, to politicize such a project and to make it a cause of division rather than healing."
In Georgia, a deal has been reached in an impasse over the provision of life-saving dialysis treatment to a group of undocumented immigrants. Last year, management at Atlanta’s Grady Memorial Hospital closed its outpatient dialysis clinic to cut costs. The move left sixty uninsured undocumented immigrants in danger of losing the care they need to stay alive. Thirteen patients accepted offers to be moved to their home country of Mexico and receive three months of paid treatment, but five of them have since died. Although details remain unclear, Grady officials say the new agreement will provide the remaining patients with the dialysis treatment they need. The treatment would mark an exception to the recent federal healthcare law, which maintains the federal ban on government-funded healthcare for undocumented immigrants.
The federal government has filed another lawsuit over the anti-immigrant crackdown in Arizona. The Justice Department says a group of Phoenix-area community colleges discriminated against non-US citizen job applicants by forcing them to submit more documentation than required by law. The case comes less than two months after the Justice Department sued Arizona over its controversial anti-immigrant law.
In other news from Arizona, human rights groups are warning this year could be the deadliest for migrants attempting to cross over from Mexico. Officials in Pima County say at least 170 bodies have been found this year, on pace to surpass the record 218 found in 2007. Kevin Riley of the group No More Deaths said migrant aid groups have been cut off from some of the most dangerous areas.
Kevin Riley: "It’s frustrating, because the deaths are going up, but we don’t know where people are moving. And then when we look at the map of where the deaths are in the desert, especially just in the Tucson sector, the majority are on land that we can’t go to."
July was the worst month so far with fifty-nine deaths, more than half from heat-related causes.
In other immigration news, a new study suggests a causal link between an influx of foreign workers and economic growth. According to the San Francisco Fed, states with high numbers of recent immigrant workers had higher productivity, more hiring, and better wages than states with few new foreign workers. Every one percent increase in immigration amounted to a 0.5% increase in workers’ income.
New York Governor David Paterson has signed into law a measure establishing a landmark set of working standards for housekeepers, nannies and other domestic workers. The bill requires overtime pay after a forty-hour workweek, at least one day off per week, and at least three days off with full pay per year.
Gov. David Paterson: "They are the structure and function of our society. They have been the skeleton and underpinning of our success. They are the wind beneath our wings. And we have totally disrespected them, until today."
The measure was approved earlier this year following a six-year campaign led by the group Domestic Workers United, an organization of nannies, housekeepers and elderly caregivers of color.
A Texas appeals court has ruled same-sex couples legally married in other states can’t get divorced in Texas. The ruling came in the case of a gay Dallas couple who had split up after getting married in Massachusetts in 2006. In issuing the decision, the appeals court also ruled that the Texas same-sex marriage ban is constitutional.
The environmental group Greenpeace has blocked an offshore drilling operation near Greenland. On Tuesday, four activists boarded and locked themselves to an oil rig owned by the company Cairn Energy. Speaking from the activists’ ship, Greenpeace campaigner Leila Deen criticized Cairn for drilling in the Arctic.
Leila Deen: "At 6:00 a.m. this morning, we launched three boats, evaded the Danish navy and the police that are surrounding the Stena Don drill rig, to occupy it with a bunch of climbers. Now we’re here because Cairn Energy is drilling in the Arctic. It’s an incredibly dangerous place to be drilling, and Cairn has no response for drilling here in the Arctic."
The activists say they have enough supplies to remain aboard the rig for several days. Greenpeace says it’s hoping to disrupt Cairn’s operations before a winter deadline to complete its Arctic drilling.