President Obama escalated his public campaign against Republican economic policies on Tuesday with a speech in Kansas. Obama vowed tougher enforcement of Wall Street and pushed his proposal for a payroll tax cut offset by a surtax on millionaires.
President Barack Obama: “This is a make-or-break moment for the middle class, and for all those who are fighting to get into the middle class, because what’s at sake is whether this will be a country where working people can earn enough to raise a family, build a modest savings, own a home, secure their retirement.”
In what was widely described as a preview of his re-election campaign, Obama positioned himself as the defender of working-class Americans versus Republicans who favor the wealthy.
President Obama: “There are some who seem to be suffering from a kind of collective amnesia. After all that’s happened, after the worst economic crisis, the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, they want to return to the same practices that got us into this mess. In fact, they want to go back to the same policies that stacked the deck against middle-class Americans for way too many years. And their philosophy is simple: we are better off when everybody is left to fend for themselves and play by their own rules. I am here to say they are wrong.”
The Occupy Wall Street movement has launched a new effort to reclaim foreclosed homes from bailed-out banks. On Tuesday, activists staged a national day of action dubbed “Occupy Our Homes,” partnering with displaced families to return to homes lost to foreclosure. In New York City, hundreds of people toured a Brooklyn neighborhood beset with vacant homes.
Senia Barragan, Occupy Wall Street Organizer: “This particular neighborhood is really, as one of the speakers said, ground zero of the foreclosure crisis perhaps in New York City. The foreclosure and underwater rates in this particular community is three times higher than any region of Brooklyn and five times higher than New York state. And so, really we’re bringing the Occupy movement to ground zero.”
Later in the day, the activists helped a homeless family reclaim a vacant home seized by Bank of America. The home had been unoccupied for three years.
Alfredo Carrasquillo: “We took matters into our own hands and claimed back property that was taken away from the community. I love the fact that the community is out here to support us and that all these people came out to support us. I love the fact that we’re embraced with open arms, and I look forward to the future and creating a home here with my family.”
In Washington, D.C., scores of demonstrators took part in a series of protests and sit-ins at lawmakers’ offices on Capitol Hill. The actions were held as part of the week-long “Take Back the Capitol” protest targeting corporate influence in Washington.
Grace Bowman: “Before, when I’ve looked for jobs, I always, you know, was able to find one, and this time it’s far more difficult. After the economic crisis and the bailouts of 2008, it’s a completely different economy than it used to be for working people at all levels of education and income.”
Olivia English: “This is the first time people have really been serious to come and talk to their own people. And I think that’s one reason why money has kind of slipped in their pocket, is because lobbyists are taking over the hallways, and people are forgetting that their voice is just as strong.”
In Occupy Wall Street news, the Occupy encampment in New Orleans was dismantled in a police operation on Tuesday. Protesters, however, have returned after winning a court order barring their displacement. Meanwhile in Connecticut, police have cleared the Occupy encampment in Hartford. One protester was arrested.
The mining giant Alpha Natural Resources has agreed to pay a $209 million settlement for the West Virginia mine explosion that killed 29 workers last year. Each of the 29 workers’ families will receive $1.5 million, while Alpha will pay a record fine of $10.8 million. Alpha assumed responsibility for liability after purchasing the mine’s owner, Massey Energy, earlier this year. The company will be released from civil liability and criminal penalties in return for the payment. But the deal does not rule out the prosecution of Massey officials, including former CEO Don Blankenship. Prosecutors say an investigation of Massey executives is ongoing.
At least 19 civilians have been killed in a roadside bombing in southern Afghanistan. The death toll from two days of violence now stands at 78, including 55 killed in an attack on Shia worshipers in the Afghan capital of Kabul.
The U.S. ambassador to Syria has returned to Damascus six weeks after he was pulled out over safety concerns. In Washington, State Department spokesperson Mark Toner said the ambassador, Robert Ford, will continue to oversee the U.S. response to the Syrian crackdown on opposition protesters.
Mark Toner: “We felt that there was a sense of urgency to get him back on the ground. You know, we’ve long said that was feel he is fulfilling a very essential role, along with, I might add, ambassadors from other countries like Germany and the U.K. and France, as witnesses to what’s going on there, as interlocutors with the Syrian opposition, and as a steady and persistent voice of outrage against the Syrian government.”
Activists campaigning against rampant violence and corruption in Mexico’s drug war gathered in Mexico City on Tuesday to demand greater government protection in the wake of a series of targeted attacks. Women’s rights activist Norma Andrade became at least the second activist to be attacked this month after being shot fives times on Friday. At the offices of a human rights group, Andrade’s colleagues said the Mexican government is failing to protect them.
Mario Patrón: “The attacks on defenders (of human rights) and journalists represents the quality of democracy we are living in Mexico. When defenders (of human rights) and journalists have no (safe) conditions or a condition of vulnerability to do their work, then society is going through extreme insecurity.”
Josefina Mena: “We are not saying that it was the government that fired the five shots into Norma Andrade. What we are saying is that the government is not protecting us. Proceedings have commenced in the Inter-American Court of Human Rights to make this very clear.”
In Honduras, an outspoken radio journalist has been shot to death in the capital of Tegucigalpa. The journalist, Luz Marina Paz, was killed along with a companion as they drove in a vehicle on Tuesday. Marina Paz is at least the 17th journalist to be slain in Honduras in nearly two years. She was reportedly targeted for recent news coverage of drug corruption in Honduras.
President Obama has issued a new directive ordering all agencies engaged in work abroad to bolster the protection of gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgender individuals. The White House says the move will elevate the treatment of LGBT persons as a factor in considering whether foreign governments are worthy of U.S. aid.