U.S. Justice Department Probes S&P on Improper Ratings of Mortgage Securities

The U.S. Department of Justice is investigating whether the credit rating agency Standard & Poor’s improperly rated dozens of mortgage securities leading up to the nation’s financial crisis. According to the New York Times, the probe is focusing on occasions where Standard & Poor’s managers overruled lower-level analysts who wanted to assign lower ratings to mortgage bonds. The investigation was launched before Standard & Poor’s decision to downgrade the U.S. credit rating earlier this month. It is unclear if the Justice Department is also investigating the other two major ratings agencies, Moody’s and Fitch.

Whistleblower: SEC Destroyed Thousands of Documents Linked to Wall Street Probes

News of the probe comes as the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission is being accused of destroying thousands of documents related to potential violations by the nation’s largest banks and hedge funds. On Wednesday, Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa said an agency whistleblower has sent him a letter detailing the unlawful destruction of records detailing more than 9,000 information investigations. The documents included cases linked to the financial crisis such as Goldman Sachs, AIG, and the Bernard Madoff Ponzi scheme. The whistleblower, Darcy Flynn, has worked as a lawyer at the Securities and Exchange Commission for 13 years. In a statement, Grassley said, "It doesn’t make sense that an agency responsible for investigations would want to get rid of potential evidence."

Obama Concludes Midwest Bus Tour, Prepares Jobs Speech

President Obama has wrapped up a three-day Midwest bus tour aimed at appealing to voters angered over his handling of the slumping economy. Speaking in Illinois, Obama said he would present a deficit-reduction plan that would include unspecified means to raise government revenues.

President Obama: "We’re going to have spending cuts, and we’re going to have revenue. We’ll have more spending cuts than we have revenue, but we’re going to have to take a balanced approach, and everything is going to be on the table. It doesn’t require radical surgery for us to fix it. It just requires us all to take an approach that says we’re a family and all of us are going to share a little bit in the burden. And those of us who are most fortunate, we can do a little bit more."

Obama is expected to lay out a new deficit-reduction and stimulus plan in a speech after Labor Day. The White House says Obama will propose new spending on infrastructure projects, tax cuts for companies that hire workers, and even a larger amount of deficit cuts than the $1.5 trillion to be proposed by the new special congressional "super committee." A Gallup poll released on Wednesday shows just 26 percent of Americans approve of Obama’s handling of the economy.

Rick Perry Rejects Obama Criticism, Doubts Global Warming

On the Republican side, Texas Governor and presidential hopeful Rick Perry has responded to criticism of some his fiery comments at the outset of his less than week-old campaign. Among a series of controversial statements, Perry has suggested Federal Reserve Chair Ben Bernanke is treasonous and would potentially face physical harm were he to visit Perry’s home state of Texas. Perry chided President Obama for cautioning him on his rhetoric.

Gov. Rick Perry: "The President said I needed to watch what I say. I just want to respond back, if I may. Mr. President, actions speak louder than words. And my actions as governor are helping create jobs in the country. The President’s actions are killing jobs in this country. It’s time to get America working again."

Later in the day, Perry made another widely publicized statement when he declared global warming to be a hoax. Perry spoke at a news conference in New Hampshire.

Gov. Rick Perry: "The issue of global warming has been politicized. I think that there are a substantial number of scientists who have manipulated data so that they will have dollars rolling into their projects. And I think we’re seeing it almost weekly or even daily, scientists who are coming forward and questioning the original idea that man-made global warming is what is causing the climate to change. And I don’t think, from my perspective, that I want America to be engaged in spending that much money on still a scientific theory that has not been proven and, from my perspective, is more and more being put into question."

Syrian Forces Widen Crackdown on Opposition

Forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad have significantly intensified their crackdown on the nation’s opposition movement, conducting widespread arrests in Damascus and cities around the country. Witnesses say at least 10 protesters were killed and dozens were injured in the flashpoint city of Homs. Syrian forces also opened fire in the cities of Aleppo and Hama. State media reported the military has ended a four-day assault on the coastal city of Latakia, but residents say government forces continue to open fire in the city’s neighborhoods. The U.N. human rights chief, Navi Pillay, is expected to recommend the U.N. Security Council refer Syria’s crackdown to the International Criminal Court.

Rebels Press Fight to Win Control of Tripoli

Libyan rebels are clashing with Col. Muammar Gaddafi’s forces in an attempt to gain control of strategic oil refineries and further isolate the capital city of Tripoli. On Wednesday, the rebels launched an assault on a refinery in the city of Zawiyah, forcing hundreds of refugees to flee. A similar effort in the city of Brega has reportedly left 18 rebel fighters dead and 33 others wounded. Residents say electricity has been cut in the capital Tripoli, where the Gaddafi regime is struggling to retain control. East of the city, rebels are now claiming to have discovered a mass grave containing 150 civilian bodies.

Rebels Reopen Libyan Embassy in U.S.

In Washington, D.C., the Libyan embassy to the United States has been reopened on behalf of the rebels’ Transitional National Council. The United States closed the embassy and expelled its staffers after the conflict in Libya erupted earlier this year. Ali Aujali, who quit his post as ambassador under Muammar Gaddafi in February, presided over the reopening.

Ali Aujali: "For the first time in 42 years, this embassy represents a free Libya. I would like to acknowledge the members of the Libyan-American communities, some of whom are here today, for patiently supporting the cause of freedom in Libya. This new embassy, under the control of the Transitional National Council, is committed to serving the Libyans and for advancing their call for freedom and democracy in Libya."

5 Killed, 22 Wounded in Iraq Violence

In Iraq, at least five people were killed and 22 wounded in separate attacks on Wednesday. The violence comes just two days after Iraq suffered its deadliest day of the year, with at least 89 people killed in a series of incidents nationwide.

U.S. Admits to Iraq Air Strikes; Sadr Vows "War" over Extended Occupation

In other Iraq news, the U.S. military has only now disclosed it carried out two air strikes on Iraqi territory in June. The Pentagon says the targets were militants who had operated against U.S. troops. The admission comes as the leading Iraqi Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr has issued a warning over the prospect of a longer U.S. occupation of Iraq. In a brief statement, Sadr said there would be "war" if U.S. forces remain beyond the year-end withdrawal deadline. The Iraqi government recently began considering a proposal to formally accept an extended occupation.

Thousands Protest Jailing of Anti-Graft Leader in India

Thousands of people are protesting in India over the jailing of veteran anti-graft activist Anna Hazare. Hazare was detained earlier this week in an effort to prevent an indefinite hunger strike and mass demonstration in a New Delhi city park. Hazare and his supporters are seeking to create an independent anti-corruption agency, with sweeping powers to indict government officials. Earlier today, Indian officials announced they’ve reached a deal to release Hazare on Friday so he may begin his fast. Supporters outside the prison praised Hazare’s campaign.

Protester: "The way he has come up, you feel that there’s another Gandhi who’s just come in India. I believe he’s only seventh or eighth class pass or something. It doesn’t make a difference. But he appears to be such an honest person. And the way the country is moving, the way they’re supporting, it appears that we’ve got the right man — to support him."

Protester: "These people [the politicians and bureaucrats] are swindling thousand and lakhs of crores [millions and billions]. They are swindling and filling their coffers. I don’t want this."

Deadly Attacks Hit Southern Israel

In breaking news out of the Middle East, at least five people have been killed and a number of others have been wounded in simultaneous attacks on vehicles in southern Israel. The exact number of deaths is unknown, nor is it clear if the assaults were related. In the first attack, a passenger bus carrying both civilians and Israeli soldiers was fired on as it traveled to the port city of Eilat. At least 10 passengers were reportedly wounded. The attackers were pursued by helicopters and Israeli forces who reportedly exchanged fire with the gunmen. Moments later, an Israeli military vehicle was struck by a roadside bomb, injuring an unknown amount of people. In the third reported incident, an anti-tank missile was fired at a passenger car, critically injuring at least five people. The Associated Press has reported a fourth potential attack, but details have not been confirmed.

Israel Refuses to Apologize to Turkey for Flotilla Killings

The Israeli government has announced it will refuse to apologize to Turkey for the deadly flotilla raid that killed nine people, including a U.S. citizen, last year. Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said the decision was long overdue.

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman: "It’s clear that it’s a pity we didn’t make this decision earlier. The fact that it took so long shows a bit of insecurity. Sending a message of weakness would be the most dangerous thing for Israel today."

ATF Firearms Wound Up at U.S. Crime Scenes; Supervisors Promoted

The U.S. Department of Justice has acknowledged to Congress firearms linked to a controversial Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) gun sting operation targeting Mexican drug cartels have turned up at the scenes of at least 11 violent crimes in the United States. The crimes reportedly took place in several Arizona cities, including Phoenix, where the so-called Operation Fast and Furious program was managed, as well as in El Paso, where some 42 weapons from the operation were seized at two crime scenes. Weapons also turned up at the scene of a U.S. border agent’s slaying in southern Arizona last year. Under the once-secret program, U.S. agents encouraged U.S. gun shops to sell thousands of guns to middlemen for Mexican drug cartels in an attempt to gain access to senior-level figures within Mexico’s criminal organizations. The news comes as the ATF is drawing criticism for a new decision to promote three senior officials involved in designing and supervising the program to management positions in the agency’s office in Washington, D.C.

Verizon Threatens Benefits of Striking Workers

The telecom giant Verizon has threatened to suspend benefits to 45,000 workers if they do not return to work at the end of the month. Verizon says workers in unions that initiated the massive strike will lose basic health insurance, as well as dental, vision and prescription-drug benefits, if they do not comply. Verizon stopped funding the workers’ pensions earlier this month when their previous contract expired. The strike was called after Verizon sought to cut health and pension benefits and obtain more leeway to fire workers. Union representatives have described the new threat as a scare tactic. Bob Master is a spokesperson for Communications Workers of America.

Bob Master: "You know this is typical in a lengthy strike. We’re prepared for it. We have procedures in place to ensure that all of our members’ healthcare needs will be taken care of, and if Verizon thinks it’s going to intimidate anybody, it just really isn’t going to work."

Protesters Oppose Verizon-NYC Education Deal

Hundreds of education advocates rallied in New York City on Wednesday to oppose a $120 million contract between Verizon and New York City Public Schools. Patrick Sullivan is a member of the Panel for Education Policy who voted against the contract.

Patrick Sullivan: "I think we have concerns about Verizon’s conduct under the previous contract and as special commission of investigations pointed out we still have funds that need to be returned to the department from Verizon
The second reason is that I’m not sure that Verizon — given the strike conditions can actually fulfill its its services a lot of what we have in the school system is the older landlines we have copper … I don’t know that the people they are bringing in on a temporary basis can maintain these lines."


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