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President Obama defended his one-year-old $787 billion stimulus package Wednesday, saying it has created or saved around two million jobs and helped prevent the United States from sliding into a depression.
President Obama: "One year later, it is largely thanks to the Recovery Act that a second depression is no longer a possibility. It’s one of the main reasons the economy has gone from shrinking by six percent to growing at about six percent. And this morning we learned that manufacturing production posted a strong gain. So far, the Recovery Act is responsible for the jobs of about two million Americans who would otherwise be unemployed."
Obama spoke on the first anniversary of the day he signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act into law.
In Afghanistan, a top United Nations official is criticizing the US-led NATO force for "the militarization of humanitarian aid." Speaking in Kabul, the deputy special representative of the secretary general, Robert Watkins, said UN agencies in Afghanistan won’t take part in the US-led reconstruction strategy for the town of Marjah, where NATO has launched a major offensive. The UN has opposed plans for the US military to oversee aid distribution in Afghan towns. Watkins said, "We are not part of that process, we do not want to be part of it. We will not be part of that military strategy." The US military says it’s now in control of Marjah and plans to install a new local government within weeks.
Meanwhile, in Somalia, the United Nations is also warning US-imposed aid restrictions are limiting humanitarian relief efforts. The US reduced funding for Somalia last year, citing concerns aid was being diverted to Islamist rebels. The move left the UN one-third short of its funding needs for Somalia in 2009. On Wednesday, the UN’s humanitarian official in Somalia, Mark Bowden, criticized what he called "the politicization of humanitarian issues" and said there’s no evidence the rebels are seizing aid.
In Haiti, the United Nations’ top humanitarian official has criticized his agency’s relief operations in the aftermath of last month’s earthquake. According to the Washington Post, Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes wrote an email to his deputies saying he was "disappointed" in the failure to set up enough shelters, latrines and other services for Haitians displaced by the earthquake. The email reportedly warns of political unrest and mass demonstrations unless relief efforts are improved.
Eight of the ten American missionaries jailed in Haiti have returned to the United States. On Wednesday, a Haitian judge cleared the missionaries of child kidnapping charges stemming from their arrest for trying to leave the country with a busload of children following last month’s earthquake. The judge cited testimony from the children’s parents that they had handed over their children voluntarily. Defense attorney Aviol Fleurant praised the decision.
Aviol Fleurant: "The judge has just decided to release eight of the ten American missionaries, because there is evidence they are all innocent. After hearing, questioning the parents of the kids, the ten parents that talked to the judge, that they gave the children voluntarily."
Two of the missionaries remain behind bars. They are under investigation for allegations around their efforts to seek out Haitian children for adoption before the quake struck.
Israel is under growing international pressure over the assassination of a top Hamas commander in Dubai last month. The commander, Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, was found dead in his hotel. The team of suspects included six holding fake British passports bearing the names of Israeli citizens and three holding Irish passports. At least seven of the names on the passports belong to Israeli residents whose identities had been stolen. On Wednesday, Israeli officials declined to confirm or deny involvement, citing a "policy of ambiguity." Both Britain and Ireland say they’ve summoned the Israeli ambassadors in London and Dublin for questioning. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown also said he would push for a government inquiry.
In Iraq, at least ten people have been killed in a bombing in the city of Ramadi. The attack struck a police checkpoint near government offices. Another fifteen people were wounded.
In other Iraq news, a top Iraqi official says he’s ordered government forces to seize heavy weaponry from foreign military contractors. The comments from Interior Minister Jawad Bolani come one week after he ordered the expulsion of all guards formerly employed by the private military firm Blackwater. Bolani says the Blackwater deadline will expire in the coming days.
The United Nations has announced an international ban on cluster bombs could be ratified later this year. On Wednesday, the UN said it had received the twenty-ninth and thirtieth signatories from Burkina Faso and Moldova. Clusters bombs are packed with bomblets that spread out over a large area and often don’t explode on first impact. They have been particularly lethal to children who pick them up off the ground, sometimes years down the line. The US, Russia and Israel have all refused to sign on to the ban.
The UN’s top climate change negotiator has announced plans to resign. Yvo de Boer says he will step down effective July 1st, five months before the next major international climate summit in Mexico City. De Boer helped oversee the negotiations that culminated in December’s Copenhagen climate summit, which failed to reach a binding agreement. De Boer says he plans to take a consulting position with the global accounting firm KPMG.
A new poll shows a vast majority of Americans oppose a recent Supreme Court ruling allowing corporations to spend unlimited amounts on political campaigns. The Washington Post-ABC News poll found 80 percent oppose the ruling, and 72 percent would support congressional legislation taking it on. The opposition was nearly even along partisan lines — 85 percent of Democrats, 76 percent of Republicans, and 81 percent of independents.
In Oregon, family members and their supporters are calling for a Justice Department probe into the fatal shooting of an unarmed African American by a Portland police officer last month. The victim, Aaron Campbell, had been distraught over the death of his brother earlier in the day from heart failure. Campbell’s girlfriend had called police to their home, concerned he was suicidal. After a standoff, Campbell emerged with his hands over his head. But a white police officer opened fire, later claiming he thought Campbell was reaching for a weapon. A Portland grand jury cleared the officer of wrongdoing last week. Standing with Campbell’s family, the Reverend Jesse Jackson called the shooting an "execution."
Rev. Jesse Jackson: "An unarmed man was shot by a high-powered rifle. Worse than pulling the trigger, they let him lay bleeding like a dog, while a dog sniffed his bleeding body, and handcuffed a shot man. That’s beneath the dignity of man. It’s beneath the dignity of Oregonians, of citizens of Portland."
In Virginia, Republican Governor Bob McDonnell has rescinded state protections for gay men and lesbians in the workplace. McDonnell recently issued an executive order excluding sexual orientation from the state’s non-discrimination policy, undoing the policy of his predecessor, Timothy Kaine.
In Maryland, two Johns Hopkins University students disrupted a lecture Wednesday by former Bush administration attorney John Yoo. Yoo helped author the notorious Justice Department memos justifying waterboarding and other forms of torture. Before Yoo began his talk, students stood at the front of the lecture hall holding a banner reading "Try Yoo for Torture." They refused to move, but agreed not to interrupt Yoo’s speech. Yoo then delivered the lecture with the students holding their banner throughout.
Protester: "We wanted to make it very clear that John Yoo is not accepted at Johns Hopkins University and that wherever he goes — not simply because of his views, but rather because of his material support for the administration of torture — that it is unacceptable, and we’re voicing that quite clearly."
And the American Civil Liberties Union is calling for United Nations intervention on behalf of a mentally ill prisoner in Montana. The prisoner, identified as "Robert Doe," was jailed in 2008 at the age of sixteen. He has spent nearly half that time in solitary confinement. The ACLU says he has been tasered, pepper-sprayed, stripped naked before other prisoners, and subjected to other degrading treatment. He has tried to commit suicide on at least two occasions. The ACLU has issued its appeal to Manfred Nowak, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.
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