In Somalia, at least 70 people have been killed in the capital of Mogadishu after a large truck bomb exploded near a government compound earlier today. The compound housed eight ministries and the Somali cabinet. The militant group al-Shabab claimed responsibility for the attack. It is the largest attack since al-Shabab withdrew its forces from Mogadishu in August.
In New York City, the ongoing protest against corporate greed and economic inequality known as “Occupy Wall Street” is entering its 19th day with increasing union support. On Monday, the SEIU 1199 healthcare workers union issued a statement of support for the demonstration promising to help feed protesters and send nurses to train those providing first aid. The healthcare workers union joins the Transport Workers Union members in New York City in supporting the growing movement. On Monday, attorneys for the TWU attempted to obtain a temporary federal restraining order to prevent the police from commandeering buses operated by its members to ferry protesters who had been arrested. Over the weekend, the NYPD used at least three city buses to transport some of of the more than 700 protesters arrested attempting to cross the Brooklyn Bridge. Tony Murphy is an activist with the Bail Out the People Movement.
Tony Murphy, Bail Out the People Movement: “We’re here to say that the NYPD and Mayor Bloomberg has to keep their hands off Occupy Wall Street, stop harassing them, stop with the mass arrests. Liberty Plaza, which is the center of Occupy Wall Street, is a stone’s throw away from Goldman Sachs. If they want to arrest somebody, they should go down to Wall Street, down to the Stock Exchange, and arrest the people who are busy clearing out elderly people from their homes, hurting people’s pensions. These are the people who are really hurting people and should be arrested.”
The unions and protesters are gearing up for a large march on Wednesday that will be bolstered by walkouts at major universities in New York City, including City University of New York and New York University.
Similar occupation demonstrations are springing up in cities around the country, from Austin, Texas; Knoxville, Tennessee; Chicago, Illinois; Denver, Colorado; some two dozen other locations in Florida and California, and more. Protests have also been organized internationally in Canada, Australia, Japan, Mexico and others. In Boston, as many as 1,000 demonstrators gathered in Dewey Square last Friday, where they have been permitted to set up tents, many planning to stay indefinitely.
In an interview with ABC News, President Obama said Monday he was “absolutely” the underdog in next year’s presidential election due to the state of the economy. During the interview, Obama was asked how he would convince Americans that they are better off than they were four years ago.
President Barack Obama: “I don’t think they’re better off than they were four years ago. They’re not better off than they were before Lehman’s collapse, before the financial crisis, before this extraordinary recession that we’re going through. I think that what we’ve seen is that we’ve been able to make steady progress to stabilize the economy, but the unemployment rate is still way too high.”
A government report has revealed mortgage giant Fannie Mae was aware of allegations of improper foreclosure practices by law firms it relied on as early as 2003 but did not act to stop them. The report criticizes the Federal Housing Finance Agency for failing to scrutinize Fannie Mae’s support of dubious foreclosure activities until 2010. The report marks the second in just two weeks criticizing the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) and the companies it oversees. The report outlines the implementation of “robo-signing” by law firms working under Fannie Mae, which led some lenders to suspend foreclosures last fall.
As the Obama administration prepares to decide the fate of the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline to bring crude from Canada’s oil sands to refineries in Texas, newly released emails reveal a cozy relationship between the company’s lobbyist and the U.S State Department. The emails, obtained by Friends of the Earth, show the chief lobbyist for TransCanada, Paul Elliott, set up multiple meetings and had influence on officials at the State Department. Elliott has close ties to the State Department and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Before taking a job at TransCanada, he served as Clinton’s deputy campaign manager in 2008. Friends of the Earth said the documents are “deeply disturbing” and indicate a “pro-pipeline bias and complicity at the State Department.”
The Obama administration gave its backing Monday for increased oil drilling in the Arctic Ocean off the coast of Alaska. The U.S. Department of the Interior announced it is upholding 500 oil-drilling leases in the Chukchi Sea issued by the Bush administration in 2008. The move is seen as a major victory for oil companies and a setback for environmental groups and Alaska Native organizations.
School districts across Alabama are reporting a large number of Latino students have stopped attending classes since a federal judge upheld Alabama’s new far-reaching immigration law that requires schools to ascertain the immigration status of children. Nearly 2,000 Latino students were absent on Friday—about five percent of the entire Latino population of the state school system. In the single town of Albertville, 123 students have withdrawn from school. Immigrant rights advocates report many pregnant women are now afraid to go to the hospital, and victims of crimes are afraid to call the police. It is not known how many entire families have fled the state over the past week.
A bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers have confirmed they are blocking almost $200 million in aid to the Palestinian Authority. Republican Congresswoman Kay Granger of Texas said she placed her hold in August, “until the issue of statehood is resolved” at the United Nations. The Palestinian Authority said USAID has already suspended some West Bank development projects due to the frozen funds. Now in jeopardy is an $85 million, five-year plan to improve Palestinian health services. The Palestinian Authority is heavily reliant on foreign aid and was already in serious financial straits before the aid was cut off. The Obama administration appears to be at odds with Congress on the issue. On Monday, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said this is no time to withhold the funds. Panetta made the comment on his first trip to Israel since becoming Pentagon chief. He said that Israel was becoming increasingly isolated in the Middle East, but maintained that the United States would do “everything” to support Israel.
Leon Panetta, U.S. Secretary of Defense: “I look forward to the ability to discuss some of the difficult challenges that face not only Israel, but the United States, as well. The most important thing I bring with me is the continuing commitment to the security of Israel. We have been strong allies. We have been strong partners. We have always made a commitment to do everything we can to support the security of Israel, and as the Secretary of Defense, I intend to continue that commitment.”
A new report by Amnesty International has found Syrian protesters in Europe and the Americas have been systematically monitored and harassed by embassy officials and others believed to be acting on behalf of the Syrian regime. The report documents the stories of 30 expatriate Syrian activists living in eight countries—Canada, Chile, France, Germany, Spain, Sweden, Britain and the United States. In some cases, relatives of the activists still living in Syria were later detained and tortured.
A group of civil rights lawyers have asked a judge in Manhattan to force the New York City Police Department to turn over records detailing a secret police program to monitor Muslim neighborhoods. The Associated Press recently exposed a secret police surveillance unit known as the “Demographics Unit” that used plainclothes officers to infiltrate mosques and to gather information on where Muslims eat, work, pray and shop. New York City police also maintained a list of 28 countries that were labeled as “ancestries of interest.” American Black Muslim was also listed.
In election news, Texas Gov. Rick Perry is facing increasing criticism after a report revealed that his family’s secluded West Texas hunting camp was once called “Niggerhead.” News reports indicate Perry also has a record of supporting the display of symbols of the Confederacy on state buildings. Eleven years ago, he opposed efforts by the NAACP to remove the Confederate battle flag from statehouses and other government buildings across the South. At the time, Perry said Texans “should never forget our history.” In March 2000, Perry wrote a letter to the Sons of Confederate Veterans saying, “I want you to know that I oppose efforts to remove Confederate monuments, plaques and memorials from public property.”
In campaign news, many Mexican officials are criticizing Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s recent comment suggesting that the United States should send troops into Mexico to fight drug cartels. Maria De Los Angeles Moreno is a Mexican senator.
Maria De Los Angeles Moreno, Mexican senator: “I don’t think sending troops would solve the problem. It would be an aggression and a violation of national sovereignty, and Mexicans would be deeply upset. I don’t see anyone sensible saying that would be the way to solve problems in Mexico.”
On Monday, President Obama sent trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Panama to Congress, despite deep concerns from labor unions. Democratic Congressman Mike Michaud of Maine criticized Obama’s support for the trade deals. Michaud said, “Does he want to create jobs at home with the American Jobs Act, or does he want to offshore them to places like South Korea?” Labor groups say Colombia has the world’s worst record when it comes to violence against union leaders and activists.
In Texas, some 1,000 people were briefly evacuated Monday when a chemical plant south of Dallas erupted in flames and burned out of control for several hours. The fire occurred at a plant owned by the Magnablend corporation. Chemicals on site included hydrochloric acid, nitric acid and phosphoric acid.