Labor protests are continuing across the United States from Idaho to Indiana as Republican lawmakers advance legislation aimed at crushing public employee unions. In Ohio, thousands rallied in Columbus to oppose a bill that would end collective bargaining rights for state employees. The measure is even more far-reaching than a similar bill in Wisconsin because it also would affect police officers and firefighters. A vote could come as early as today.
In Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker has unveiled a budget slashing aid to schools and local districts, cutting an estimated 12,000 jobs. Critics say the plan would devastate Wisconsin’s public education system, with predictions of schools being forced to cram up to 60 students into one classroom. Democratic State Rep. Tamara Grigsby said the measure would cause “an annihilation of education in this state.” As Walker spoke, protesters could be heard outside the chamber chanting for him to be recalled from office. Most demonstrators remain barred from entering the Capitol building.
Forces loyal to Libyan leader Col. Muammar Gaddafi have launched new assaults to regain control of several towns that have been captured in a popular uprising over the past two weeks. Attacks have been reported today in Brega and the nearby city of Ajdabiya. At a hospital in the rebel-held town of Benghazi, a doctor said up to 250 people have been killed in fighting so far.
Doctor: “About 220 to 250 died. We say that from 220 to 250 because about 30 to 35 [bodies] are without names. And it’s taken from the records of the hospital. We are doctors, we just say the truth. We are responsible for every word we’re talking about.”
Two U.S. warships have moved through the Suez Canal into the Mediterranean Sea toward Libya under orders from U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. In Washington, D.C., U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the United States has not ruled out a military intervention.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: “And we are taking no options off the table, so long as the Libyan government continues to turn its guns on its own people. The entire region is changing, and a strong and strategic American response is essential. In the years ahead, Libya could become a peaceful democracy, or it could face protracted civil war, or it could descend into chaos. The stakes are high.”
The Venezuelan government has voiced criticism of Libya’s expulsion but did not vote to block it. Venezuelan envoy Jorge Valero accused the United States of seeking a pretext for military intervention.
Jorge Valero: “Venezuela calls for the rejection of war-mongering mobilization of the U.S. Air Force and Navy in the Mediterranean Sea. Those who promote the use of military force against Libya do not seek to defend human rights but rather, as always, to establish a protectorate and pillage the most important sources of oil and energy in the Middle Eastern region.”
The United Nations General Assembly has voted to suspend Libya from the U.N. Human Rights Council. The unanimous vote marked the first time any nation has been suspended from the Council since its formation in 2006. The U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Susan Rice, praised the move.
Ambassador Susan Rice: “This is the first time that either the Human Rights Council or its predecessor, the Human Rights Commission, have suspended any member state for gross violations of human rights. And we think this is an important step forward in enhancing the credibility of the Human Rights Council, whose credibility on these issues has often quite legitimately been called into question.”
Tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets in Yemen on Tuesday to demand the removal of President Ali Abdullah Saleh. Opposition leaders described the demonstrations as the largest of Saleh’s three decades in office. In a defiant speech, Saleh blamed the United States and Israel for the unrest, saying they were intentionally seeking to destabilize Yemen. At least 24 people have been killed in protests over the past two weeks.
Anti-government protests have erupted in Iran for the third time in two weeks. On Tuesday, tens of thousands gathered in the streets of Tehran and other cities in what organizers called the largest and most violent protests this year. Riot police and undercover militias reportedly used tear gas, batons and bullets against the crowds. The rallies followed the arrests last week of two key Iranian opposition leaders.
A Pakistani cabinet member has been assassinated in the capital of Islamabad. Minorities Minister Shahbaz Bhatti was ambushed by gunmen while driving to work earlier today. Bhatti had been a vocal critic of blasphemy laws that impose the death penalty for insulting Islam.
The U.S. House of Representatives has avoided a government shutdown with the passage of short-term legislation cutting $4 billion in federal spending. The measure creates a two-week window for lawmakers and the White House to negotiate a follow-up bill which will set spending levels for the remainder of the fiscal year.
The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled corporations have no right to “personal privacy” when it comes to government documents released under the Freedom of Information Act. The unanimous decision bears on the telecom giant AT&T’s effort to prevent the release of government documents in a case with the Federal Communications Commission dating back to 2004. AT&T had argued it should be exempted from the Freedom of Information Act request because corporations are defined as “persons” under U.S. law.
A new study says 19 struggling U.S. states stand to lose as much as $5.3 billion in tax collections over the next few years as a result of President Obama’s recent tax deal with Republicans. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the unintended losses would come from a provision allowing businesses to deduct the full value of new equipment costs.
Newly disclosed figures show wastewater produced from the natural gas drilling practice of hydrofracking has contained radioactivity and other contaminants at levels far exceeding federal limits. According to the New York Times, internal government documents show at least 15 wells produced wastewater with more than 1,000 times the amount of radioactive elements considered acceptable. The wastewater is sometimes brought to sewage plants ill-equipped to properly treat it and then disposed into rivers supplying drinking water. At least 12 sewage plants in three states discharged partly treated wastewater and waste into rivers and streams. The documents also show government regulators and industry officials knew of the problems with the wastewater disposal and treatment but took no action. On Tuesday, protesters rallied following a New York City Council hearing on plans to open the parts of New York state watershed to drilling. This is Joe Levine of the group N.Y. H20.
Joe Levine: “They know it’s contaminating, and they’re doing it anyway. The 18,000 wells is a projection. There could likely be very many more than 18,000 wells. They haven’t been approved. They would be allowed to proceed if these regulations are completed and put out. So once they complete these regulations, gas drilling will be able to commence in the Delaware River Basin.”