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President Obama unveiled a new plan Monday to help U.S. homeowners who owe more than their properties are worth. Speaking in Las Vegas, Obama said the change would make it easier for many homeowners to refinance their loans.
President Obama: “Number one, the barrier will be lifted that prohibits responsible homeowners from refinancing if their home values have fallen so low that what they owe on their mortgage is 25 percent higher than the current value of their home. And this is critically important for a place like Las Vegas, where home values have fallen by more than 50 percent over the past five years… Second, there are going to be lower closing costs, and certain refinancing fees will be eliminated, fees that can sometimes cancel out the benefits of refinancing altogether, so people don’t bother to refinance because they’ve got all these fees that they have to pay. Well, we’re going to try to knock away some of those fees.”
Analysts predict the change will help about one million homeowners—just a fraction of the country’s 11 million underwater borrowers. The Huffington Post reports one of the program’s new terms will benefit private-sector Wall Street banks, potentially at the expense of taxpayers.
Protesters at Occupy Maine in Portland were attacked on Sunday morning when a chemical bomb was thrown into the encampment. Police said the homemade bomb, made up of chemicals poured into a plastic Gatorade container, could have caused serious injury.
In Texas, 23 activists with Occupy Dallas were arrested Monday for blocking the entrance to a Chase bank while other activists attempted to close their Chase accounts.
In Albany, New York, protesters are continuing to camp across the street from the New York State Capitol. On Sunday, local police refused to remove the protesters from the park in defiance of Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the city’s mayor. One police official said, “These people were not causing trouble. The bottom line is the police know policing, not the governor and not the mayor.”
In Illinois, members of Occupy Chicago and a group of nurses protested outside City Hall and the offices of Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Monday, one day after Chicago police arrested 130, including many nurses, at Occupy Chicago in Grant Park.
Oakland police are threatening to raid Occupy Oakland. A tweet by the protest group posted just before we went to air reported that police in riot gear had surrounded the encampment and began firing flash grenades and rubber bullets into the camp. [UPDATE: Oakland police stormed the Oakland Occupy protest encampment outside City Hall just before 5 a.m. PDT. Police lobbed flash grenades and reportedly fired tear gas. Initial reports say at least 70 people have arrested and the police tore apart the protest camp.]
The bodies of ex-Libyan leader Col. Muammar Gaddafi, his son Mo’tassim, and a top aide were reportedly buried in secret this morning in the desert. Meanwhile, calls are growing for the Libyan government to mount an investigation into Gaddafi’s death. A new video posted on the website Global Post appears to show one of Gaddafi’s captors attempting to sodomize him with a knife shortly before he was killed.
Fred Abrahams, special adviser for Human Rights Watch: “I mean, I think an investigation into Gaddafi’s death is critical for two reasons. OK, the first is that if you don’t do it, it sends a message that Libyans can take justice into their own hands. And it’s not just about Gaddafi, but about all the people who collaborated and have blood on their hands from 42 years, and you don’t want to send the message that even the local neighborhood spy can be treated in this way. And the second reason is about reining in the militias. You’ve got hundreds of armed groups and local militias around Libya now, and if you don’t begin to investigate this case, it sends a message that they can operate with impunity. And that is extremely dangerous. The armed conflict in Libya is now done, and the time for using the gun is over. It’s time to start creating civilian control and authority and building it with the law.”
Human Rights Watch is also calling on Libya’s new government to secure the nation’s weapons facilities. The group said it recently discovered two unguarded sites near Sirte that contained surface-to-air missiles, tank and mortar rounds, large numbers of munitions, and thousands of guided and unguided aerial weapons.
A moderate Islamist party is expected to be the winner of Tunisia’s first free election. The Ennahda party said its own unofficial tally showed it had won Sunday’s vote, the first since the Arab Spring popular uprisings, which began in Tunisia and spread through the region. Party officials said they were prepared to form an alliance with two secularist parties.
In Turkey, the death toll from Sunday’s earthquake has reached 366. Tens of thousands of people have been left homeless. Rescue workers are still digging into collapsed buildings in a battle against time to find survivors.
Turkish tanks and armored vehicles have reportedly crossed into northern Iraq as Turkey expands its offensive against the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK. The move comes a week after multiple attacks by Kurdish forces left 26 Turkish soldiers dead and 22 others wounded.
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange said Monday his website has temporarily stopped publishing new documents and may soon be forced to shut down due to funding problems. Assange accused MasterCard, Visa, PayPal, Bank of America and others of blocking donations to WikiLeaks for nearly a year.
Julian Assange: “Since the 7th of December, 2010, an arbitrary and unlawful financial blockade imposed by the Bank of America, Visa, MasterCard, PayPal and Western Union has destroyed 95 percent of our revenue… In order to ensure our future survival, WikiLeaks is now forced to temporarily suspend all publishing operations in order to direct all our resources into fighting the blockade and raising funds.”
Assange criticized the financial service companies for targeting WikiLeaks, even though the company has never been charged with a crime.
Julian Assange: “As a result, WikiLeaks has been running on cash reserves for the last 11 months. The blockade has cost the organization tens of millions of dollars in lost donations at a time of unprecedented costs resulting from publishing alliances in over 50 countries with over 90 media and human rights organizations. Our scarce resources now must focus entirely on fighting this unlawful financial blockade.”
In news from Africa, a pair of bombings hit the Kenyan capital of Nairobi on Monday. Twelve people were injured when a grenade was thrown into a bar in the downtown area. Hours later, an explosion at a bus station killed one person and injured eight others. The attacks come a week after Kenyan troops invaded southern Somalia.
The New York Times reports U.S. law enforcement agencies have secretly built up networks of Mexican informants that have allowed them to secretly infiltrate some of that country’s most powerful criminal organizations. Typically, Mexico is kept in the dark about the United States’ actions inside Mexico with its most secret informants. The U.S. informants have reportedly helped Mexican authorities capture or kill about two dozen high-ranking and mid-level drug traffickers. In addition, the informants have sometimes given American counter-narcotics agents access to the top leaders of the cartels they are trying to dismantle.
Republican Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman has called the state legislature into special session next week to address growing concerns over the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. Opposition to the pipeline has been growing in Nebraska in part because TransCanada wants to run pipeline through the sensitive Sand Hills region over the Ogallala Aquifer.
The Obama administration is expected to make a decision on the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline this year. Meanwhile, environmentalists are criticizing Obama for hiring a former TransCanada pipeline lobbyist as a senior adviser to his 2012 re-election campaign. Broderick Johnson lobbied Congress when he was an employee of the firm Bryan Cave.
Johnson is also the husband of National Public Radio’s Michele Norris. Norris announced on Monday she will step down from her hosting duties as host of “All Things Considered” while her husband works for the campaign.
Syracuse has become the third New York city to ban the natural gas drilling process known as hydraulic fracking. Albany and Buffalo have already banned fracking.
A federal judge has blocked a new Florida law requiring recipients of welfare benefits to pass a drug test. Judge Mary Scriven ruled that the law may violate the Constitution’s protections against unreasonable searches and seizures.
In political news, Republican presidential hopeful Gov. Rick Perry is schedule to unveil his proposal today to reform the tax code by giving taxpayers an option to pay taxes under the current code or pay a 20 percent flat tax. Under a flat tax model, poor- and middle-income people will pay a larger share of their income than they do at present. Meanwhile, Perry has openly questioned whether President Obama was born in the United States. When asked by Parade magazine whether he believes Obama’s birth certificate is real, Perry said, “I don’t have any idea.” In an interview today on CNBC, Perry was asked why he brought up the birther issue. Perry said, “It’s a good issue to keep alive. It’s fun to poke at him.”