The Syrian capital of Damascus is seeing some of its heaviest fighting to date since the uprising against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad erupted over a year ago. Heavy weaponry including tanks and mortar fire has reportedly been used in areas to the city’s south. The intensified clashes have prompted the International Committee of the Red Cross to join the United Nations in describing the conflict in Syria as a "civil war." The Red Cross had previously kept its assessment to a handful of flashpoint areas but now says the violence is nationwide. The U.N. observer mission has confirmed heavy weaponry was used last week in the village of Tremseh, where pro-Assad forces were accused of massacring more than 100 civilians. U.N. spokesperson Sausan Ghosheh announced the observers’ findings earlier today.
Sausan Ghosheh: "In this attack, there was use of heavy weapons on population centers. Our observers confirmed the use of direct and indirect weapons, including artillery, mortar shells and small arms. And the accounts of 27 that we interviewed, the consistent account all indicated that the attack started at five o’clock in the morning via shelling, and then ground forces went in."
The Assad regime has denied carrying out a massacre in Tremseh, claiming it killed anti-government rebels.
The U.N.-Arab League peace envoy Kofi Annan is headed to Moscow for talks on a new Security Council response to the ongoing violence in Syria. Speaking during a visit to Lebanon, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State William Burns called for new pressure on the Assad regime.
William Burns: "We need to act now through a new United Nations Security Council resolution in New York, which carries consequences for the Syrian regime’s continuing and increasingly violent noncompliance with its obligations. It is long past time to begin a democratic transition to a post-Assad Syria, to a future that reflects the legitimate aspirations of the brave and determined Syrian people."
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has wrapped up her first visit to Egypt since the election of Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi last month. Over the weekend, Clinton held separate talks with Morsi and the head of Egypt’s Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, Hussein Tantawi. Clinton said she was in Egypt to support the country’s democratic transition.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: "Democracy is hard. We have been at this for more than 236 years, and it requires dialogue and compromise and real politics. So we are encouraged, and we want to be helpful, but we know that it is not for the United States to decide, it is for the Egyptian people to decide."
Clinton faced a number of protests during her visit, with memories still fresh of her public support for ousted Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak when the uprising broke out last year. Clinton’s motorcade was pelted with projectiles as it headed to the city of Alexandria on Saturday. In Cairo, former Guantánamo Bay prisoner Sami Abdul Aziz took part in a protest against Clinton, calling for compensation to victims of U.S. torture.
Sami Abdul Aziz: "The Americans have imprisoned me at Guantánamo for four years. They completely tortured me and destroyed me. The military court deemed me innocent of their accusations, and I have rights to ask after four years of torture."
President Obama brought his re-election effort to the battleground state of Virginia over the weekend with a series of events. During his public remarks, Obama continued to focus on Romney’s record at the helm of the private equity firm Bain Capital.
President Obama: "Now, Mr. Romney’s got a different idea. You know, he invested in companies that have been called pioneers of outsourcing. I don’t want to pioneer in outsourcing. I want some insourcing. I want to bring companies back."
Romney has faced new scrutiny following last week’s revelation he remained Bain’s top executive three years longer than he has previously disclosed. Romney had maintained he left Bain in 1999 to run the Winter Olympics in Utah, but financial disclosures showed he remained in control of Bain and earned a salary through 2002. The three-year period in question saw Bain shuttering a number of U.S. companies, leading to layoffs and the outsourcing of U.S. jobs. On Sunday, senior Romney adviser Ed Gillespie said Romney had "retroactively" retired from Bain in 2002 but had effectively stepped down three years earlier. Gillespie also defended Romney’s record on outsourcing U.S. jobs.
Ed Gillespie: "What he believes is that American companies and private shareholders and CEOs should be free in our economy to make decisions. What we need to do as a policy is to make policies that make those decisions easier to say, ’I’m going to invest here in the United States, I’m not going to move my jobs overseas.’ The Obama policies are forcing jobs overseas."
In Baltimore, the Green Party wrapped up its convention with the nomination of its presidential candidate, the physician and activist Jill Stein, and her running mate, the anti-poverty activist Cheri Honkala. Stein called her ticket a viable third-party challenge to corporate-beholden Republicans and Democrats.
Dr. Jill Stein: "I strongly agree that grassroots democracy grows from the local community up, but at the same time, we have a state of emergency, I think, at the national level. And to silence the only hope of an opposition voice in this election, when so much is at stake, I think would be just a terrible loss for the American people. There’s no reason why Americans should have to walk into the voting booth in November and have only, effectively, two Wall Street-sponsored choices."
A number of major banks are facing at least two criminal probes in the United States over a major interest-rate fixing scandal that has already led to fines against the banking giant Barclays. Last month, Barclays was fined $453 million by U.S. and British authorities for manipulating the London Interbank Offered Rate, or Libor, which provides the basis for rates on trillions of dollars in transactions across the globe. The manipulation meant millions of borrowers paid the wrong amount on their loans. The Justice Department has now confirmed its criminal division is putting together cases against several large firms and their staffers for taking part in the rate fixing. Meanwhile, the attorneys general of New York and Connecticut have announced they have been conducting a probe of the rate manipulation for the past six months. All told, a slew of civil and criminal cases could cost the financial sector tens of billions of dollars.
The Midwest continues to endure its worst drought in over a decade amid a spate of extreme weather nationwide. Government statistics show about 63 percent of U.S. land is suffering moderate to extreme drought. Corn producers in the Midwest are struggling to keep their crops from dying in a season that initially had been expected to yield a record harvest. The Department of Agriculture has deemed more than 1,000 counties in 26 states to be natural disaster areas, the highest such declaration ever. Farm Service Agency head Philip Ayers warned of widespread devastation to crops in the Midwest.
Philip Ayers: "We’re approaching 1998 standards for a drought. This is the main area of the United States where all the crops are grown: Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, Nebraska. You know, we grow most of the corn and soy beans in the United States, and this is right where the drought is centered this time. We’re all — in Missouri, at least, we’re all D2 to D3, and we’re approaching D3 in the D2 areas. So it’s very serious."
The New York Times has revealed the U.S. Food and Drug Administration conducted an extensive spying campaign against its own scientists. The spying began after the scientists warned the FDA had faultily approved medical imaging devices that endangered patients with high levels of radiation. The spying operation led the agency to monitor the scientists’ computers at work and at home, copying emails and thumb drives and even monitoring individual messages line by line as they were being composed in real time. In a statement, the National Whistleblowers Center said: "The conduct by FDA managers, designed to undermine a group of doctors and scientists who reported significant health and safety violations, is deplorable. ... We hope that the revelations ... will mark a turning point in the battle to stop the retaliatory surveillance of whistleblowers who risk their careers to report misconduct."
The Justice Department has dropped its effort to halt Florida’s controversial voter purge through the use of a law enforcement database. The federal government had tried to stop Florida from using the database to challenge the right to vote of residents suspected of being non-U.S. citizens, but a Florida judge upheld the purge earlier this month. Under a deal with government officials, Florida will only be able to challenge voters who carry a number or identifier commonly assigned to foreign workers in the United States. The agreement will prevent Florida from obtaining info based solely on the name or birth date of a suspected non-citizen.
The New York judge and former political activist Gustin Reichbach has died at the age of 65 after a lengthy bout with cancer. Reichbach was a leading figure in Students for a Democratic Society at Columbia University in the 1960s, before going on to become a New York State Supreme Court judge in Brooklyn. Reichbach helped lead the notorious 1968 Columbia student strike. Appearing on Democracy Now! to discuss the strike’s 40th anniversary, Reichbach reflected on the historic protest.
Gustin Reichbach: "There was some transcendent issues involved. We came together — Tom talked about the powerlessness that people felt, the powerlessness about being able to stop the war, the powerlessness in confronting an institution that had an incredibly paternalistic and controlling aspect to it. So, part of this coming together — and it’s really a spontaneous coming together — was because we thought in some small way that we could be agents or wanted to be agents in the course of history, and we shared this electric moment where collectively all our hearts were touched by a certain passion and fire."
In May, Reichbach wrote a New York Times op-ed acknowledging he used medical marijuana to help him cope with the painful effects of his cancer treatment.