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The nation’s unemployment rate fell slightly last month, but largely because so many people dropped out of the hunt for work, ceasing to be considered unemployed by the government. The official unemployment rate fell from 9.5 to 9.4 percent, but economists project the real unemployment rate to be 16.3 percent. On Friday, President Obama spoke to reporters after the release of the jobs figures.
President Obama: "This morning, we received additional signs that the worst may be behind us. Though we lost 247,000 jobs in July, that was nearly 200,000 fewer jobs lost than in June, and far fewer than the nearly 700,000 jobs a month that we were losing at the beginning of the year. Today we’re pointed in the right direction. We’re losing jobs at less than half the rate we were when I took office. We’ve pulled the financial system back from the brink, and a rising market is restoring value to those 401(k)s that are the foundation of a secure retirement.”
The Los Angeles Times reports Attorney General Eric Holder is poised to appoint a criminal prosecutor to investigate alleged CIA abuses committed during the interrogation of prisoners. A senior Justice Department official said that Holder envisioned an inquiry that would be narrow in scope, focusing on whether people went beyond the techniques that were authorized in Bush administration memos.
The New York Times has revealed President Bush’s Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson frequently spoke to the CEO of his former company, Goldman Sachs, as the federal government was deciding whether to bail out the failed insurance giant AIG. According to a copy of his calendar, Paulson spoke with Lloyd Blankfein, Goldman’s chief executive, two dozens times during the week of the AIG bailout last September. On September 17, Paulson and Blankfein spoke five times. The government eventually agreed to lend $85 billion to AIG, which used the money to pay off Goldman Sachs and other big banks that were financially threatened by AIG’s potential collapse. Paulson served as Goldman Sachs’s CEO prior to becoming Treasury Secretary.
In other banking news, the Financial Times reports US banks stand to collect a record $38 billion in fees for customer overdrafts this year. The bulk of the fees will be paid by the most financially stretched consumers. At Bank of America, a customer overdrawn by as little as $6 could trigger a $35 penalty. If the customer does not realize they have a negative balance and continues spending, they could incur that fee as many as ten times in a single day, for a total of $350.
The Nation magazine reports the Obama administration has extended a contract with the company formerly known as Blackwater for more than $20 million for “security services” in Iraq. Since President Barack Obama took office in January, the State Department has contracted with Blackwater for more than $174 million in “security services” alone in Iraq and Afghanistan and tens of millions more in “aviation services.” The latest contract was extended just days before two former Blackwater employees alleged in sworn statements filed in federal court that the company’s owner, Erik Prince, views himself as a Christian crusader tasked with eliminating Muslims and the Islamic faith from the globe.
Sonia Sotomayor has been sworn in as as the 111th Supreme Court Justice, becoming the first Hispanic justice and only the third woman to sit on the high court. Chief Justice John Roberts administered the oath. Sotomayor took the oath of office twice, first at a private ceremony and then at this brief televised event attended by her friends and family.
Sonia Sotomayor: "I, Sonia Sotomayor, do solemnly swear that I will administer justice without respect to persons and do equal right to the poor and to the rich, and that I will faithfully and impartially discharge and perform all the duties incumbent upon me as Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States under the Constitution and laws of the United States, so help me God."
In news from Afghanistan, fifty major Afghan drug traffickers with ties to the Taliban have been placed on a Pentagon target list to be captured or assassinated. The move marks a dramatic change to the US counternarcotics strategy in Afghanistan.
The top commander in Afghanistan has told the Wall Street Journal the Taliban have gained the upper hand in Afghanistan. As part of a new strategy, Gen. Stanley McChrystal said the US will increase the number of troops in heavily populated areas like the southern city of Kandahar. McChrystal warned that US casualties will remain high for months to come.
In Pakistan, US and Pakistani officials say they believe Baitullah Mehsud has died in a US drone strike. Mehsud was the head of the Pakistan Taliban and had been blamed for numerous attacks inside Pakistan, including the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.
In Iraq, at least forty people have died and another 200 were injured in a series of bomb blasts earlier today. In the deadliest incident, two truck bombs exploded in a Shia village near the northern city of Mosul, killing at least twenty-three people and injuring around 130. Thirty-five houses were leveled in the blasts.
Iraqi authorities have arrested a British contractor accused of murdering two colleagues in the Green Zone in Baghdad. The suspected gunman, Daniel Fitzsimons, could be the first Westerner to face an Iraqi trial on murder charges since a security pact lifted the immunity that had been enjoyed by foreign contractors for most of the war.
Honduras’s de facto rulers said Sunday they had resolved a disagreement with the Organization of American States over a visit to the Central American country to discuss its political crisis. The government running Honduras since a coup in June had told OAS chief Jose Miguel Insulza to stay away because of his support for ousted President Manuel Zelaya. But it later reversed course and said Insulza could come on a mission with Latin American foreign ministers in the coming weeks. The Washington-based OAS suspended Honduras over the coup, the first suspension of a member state since Cuba in 1962.
Nearly one million people have been evacuated from China’s eastern coastal provinces as a typhoon struck the mainland, toppling houses and flooding villages. The storm dumped more than eighty inches of rain on parts of Taiwan, triggering the island’s worst flooding in fifty years.
Israeli warplanes bombed a tunnel under the Gaza Strip border with Egypt earlier today, the first such attack in almost two months. There were no immediate reports of casualties from the pre-dawn raid. The Israeli military said the raid was launched in response to Sunday’s mortar and rocket attacks from Gaza against Israel.
President Obama is in Mexico for a two-day summit with Mexican President Felipe Calderon and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Several Mexican, US and Canadian groups are holding an alternate summit to discuss the "15 years of NAFTA’s economic failures.” NAFTA has been criticized for putting small Mexican farmers out of business and spurring waves of immigration to the US, as well as causing American jobs to move overseas.
Dolores Rojas of Oxfam: "It’s time for President Obama to fulfill the promises he made to his electorate. He promised, while campaigning and as president, to renegotiate NAFTA. At this first summit, he ought to start keeping his promise. Mexican President Felipe Calderon should fulfill the commitment signed by his predecessor in the National Rural Agreement to renegotiate said treaty. Canadian Prime Minister Harper should also address the demands of the parliamentary committee and of a growing number of citizens and organizations in his country who share that sentiment."
And the folk musician and archivist Mike Seeger has died at the age of seventy-five. He was the founder of the band the New Lost City Ramblers. He was the half-brother of folk legend Pete Seeger.
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