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President Obama has unveiled a goal to cut the U.S. budget deficit by $4 trillion over the next 12 years. In a televised address, Obama countered Republican budget plans with what he said was a more balanced approach reliant in part on the rolling-back of Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans.
President Obama: “In December, I agreed to extend the tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans because it was the only way I could prevent a tax hike on middle-class Americans. But we cannot afford $1 trillion worth of tax cuts for every millionaire and billionaire in our society. We can’t afford it. And I refuse to renew them again.”
Republicans quickly declared a tax increase for the rich as a nonstarter.
House Speaker John Boehner: “I think the President heard us loud and clear. If we’re going to resolve our differences and do something meaningful, raising taxes will not be part of that.”
More than two dozen members of Congress are joining a nationwide fast to protest budget cuts targeting the poor and the hungry, both domestically and abroad. The group includes 14 congresswomen who say cuts to poverty-focused international relief programs will directly impact women and girls worldwide.
Libyan rebels are reporting heavy casualties in an attack by pro-Gaddafi forces in the city of Misurata. At least 23 people were reportedly killed when rockets were fired at a residential area earlier today. The rebels are warning of a “massacre” unless the NATO-led force steps up its attacks on Gaddafi’s fighters around the city.
The Pentagon has acknowledged that the United States continues to play a major role in the attack on the Libyan government. U.S. forces have flown 35 percent of all air missions in Libya over the last 10 days, including bombing runs, surveillance and refueling operations. NATO assumed formal control of the bombing campaign earlier this month.
In Pakistan, at least six people were killed Wednesday in a U.S. drone strike against alleged Taliban militants. The attack came just two days after the Pakistani government requested that the CIA limit the drone attacks and also provide a complete list of CIA employees and contractors in Pakistan. The strikes are the first since a mid-March bombing that reportedly killed scores of civilians. Speaking before parliament, Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Gilani condemned the attacks.
Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Gilani: “We are persuading them that these drone attacks are creating problems for us. You convince them (the Americans), and we are also telling them that it is making our work difficult. I want to assure you that this diplomatic channel is putting pressure on them (the Americans), and they will be compelled to end this (drone attacks).”
Federal regulators have reached agreements with the nation’s largest mortgage providers to address fraudulent practices in loans and foreclosures. The deals call for compensating borrowers who suffered financial harm, but no details have been worked out. Companies would also be forced to provide a single point of contact for borrowers and would not be able to foreclose on those whose loans are modified. But no concrete financial penalties would be immediately imposed, and no companies would be forced to reduce borrowers’ mortgage debt. Government officials say the deal would not undermine a separate attempt by the attorneys general from all 50 states to reach a financial settlement from lenders for submitting fraudulent documents to force thousands of people out of their homes. In a statement, Democratic Rep. Maxine Waters of California called the deals “disappointing—but not surprising—given the history of our nation’s banking regulators.”
A U.S. Senate panel has released a new report on the causes of the nation’s financial crisis. The report singles out a number of agencies and companies, including Deutsche Bank, the former Washington Mutual Bank, the U.S. Office of Thrift Supervision and the credit rating agencies Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s. The firm Goldman Sachs also comes under intense criticism for misleading clients and Congress about its marketing of mortgage-backed securities while privately betting on their failure. Panel chair Senator Carl Levin said Goldman had clearly engaged in “abusive practices.”
Sen. Carl Levin: “Why would Goldman deny what is so obvious, that they were engaged in a huge short in the year 2007? Why would they deny it? Because they gained at the expense of their clients, and they used abusive practices to do it.”
Levin says he has referred his findings to the U.S. Department of Justice and federal regulators for potential criminal investigation.
Thousands of people rallied at the Michigan State Capitol in Lansing on Wednesday to protest Republican proposals to roll back labor rights and cut government services. Organizers put attendance at more than 10,000. Herb Sanders of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees urged the crowd to begin recall campaigns against Gov. Rick Snyder and other top Republicans.
Herb Sanders: “We will recall the scoundrels one by one. If their agenda is keeping money in the pocket of fat-cat corporate CEOs, as opposed to keeping working Americans employed in fair wages with decent healthcare and decent schools in our neighborhoods, they’ve got to go.”
In Wisconsin, teachers who participated in a walkout against Gov. Scott Walker’s anti-union bill have been punished. Classes were canceled on February 18 after teachers called in sick to join protests in Madison. Some of the teachers have received suspensions of up to 15 days.
In Syria, some 2,000 women, children and students blocked a major coastal road on Wednesday to demand the release of hundreds of men rounded up in government crackdowns. Around 100 people were released in an attempt to appease the protest. Meanwhile, an estimated 500 people rallied in two prominent Syrian universities. Protesters are demanding government reforms and an end to the country’s decades-old emergency laws.
In Yemen, six people were killed Wednesday when government forces clashed with troops loyal to the opposition. Hundreds of thousands of people, meanwhile, took to the streets in the ongoing protests against President Ali Abdullah Saleh.
The Palestinian Authority is claiming momentum toward its effort to declare an independent Palestinian state following a number of international endorsements. In recent reports, the United Nations and International Monetary Fund say the Palestinian Authority is ready to run an independent state. The U.N. report concludes that the main obstacle, however, remains “the persistence of [the Israeli] occupation and the [conflict’s] unresolved issues.” At an international meeting in Brussels, Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad said Palestinian statehood has been given a “birth certificate.”
Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad: “What I myself called at the meeting a 'birth,' what amounts to effectively a birth certificate for the reality of Palestinian statehood. We feel it very important for the political process to take advantage of what today’s meeting has concluded: the fact that we Palestinians have crossed the threshold of readiness for statehood.”
In Uruguay, senators have voted to annul a law granting amnesty for crimes committed under the country’s 1973-1985 dictatorship. Macarena Gelman, the daughter of a dictatorship victim, praised the vote.
Macarena Gelman: “This is only the beginning, because once there is justice, you can act freely, and we are just now able to start down that path.”
The measure now goes to Urugay’s lower house, which approved a similar bill last year.