A divided Wisconsin Supreme Court has reinstated Gov. Scott Walker’s union-busting law curbing collective bargaining. In a 4-to-3 ruling, the court overturned a lower court’s ruling that Republican legislators failed to provide sufficient public notice before passing the measure in March. The law sharply curbs nearly all collective bargaining rights of state employees. In its new decision, the court ruled the lower court judge, Dane County Circuit Judge Maryann Sumi, had overstepped her authority. Thousands of protesters returned to the State Capitol in Madison on Tuesday as the full legislature began debating Walker’s budget.
The CIA is reportedly building a secret air base at an undisclosed location in the Middle East to serve as a launching pad for armed drone strikes in Yemen. According to the Associated Press, the location of the base is unknown, but construction is expected to be complete before the end of the year. The CIA has been assisting the military in the drone attacks in Yemen since 2009, but is now preparing to assume full control. The news comes amidst escalating U.S. drone and intelligence operations in Yemen.
Rebel fighters in Libya have made advances in the country’s eastern and western regions amidst new NATO air strikes near the Tripoli compound of Col. Muammar Gaddafi. Gaddafi’s forces were forced to retreat from the western town of Kikla, while rebels in the east continue to fight for the strategic oil town of Brega. The Republican-controlled House, meanwhile, has passed a measure that would bar funding for the U.S. role in the attack on Libya. The funding ban was attached to a military appropriations bill that awaits a full vote. Critics have accused President Obama of violating the War Powers Act by failing to obtain congressional approval for the Libya operation after 60 days.
Pakistan’s top spy agency has reportedly arrested five informants who provided information to the CIA in the months leading up to the killing of Osama bin Laden. A Pakistani army major was reportedly among those detained. The status of the arrested informants remains unclear. CIA Director Leon Panetta reportedly raised the issue of the arrests during a visit to Pakistan last week.
Syria is widening its crackdown on anti-government protesters opposing President Bashar al-Assad. On Tuesday, Syrian tanks were deployed to two additional towns following ongoing operations in an area near Syria’s border with Turkey. More accounts of government attacks on civilians continue to emerge from the town of Jisr al-Shughour, where thousands of residents have fled.
Unidentified: “They forced us to leave our homes. They killed our people. They made us drink dirty water. They poisoned the milk for the children. They attacked Jisr, and we left our homes. Now I don’t know where my aunts and uncles are.’’
A new tally by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says the unrest has claimed the lives of nearly 1,300 civilians and 340 government troops since protests erupted in March.
The United Nations is warning unemployment in the Gaza Strip has reached an all-time high. Occupied by Israel in 1967, conditions in Gaza have sharply worsened since Israel imposed a blockade in 2007 and proceeded to launch a number of military attacks, notably the three-week assault beginning in December 2008. Real wages have fallen 34.5 percent since 2006, with Palestinian refugees suffering the worst declines. U.N. spokesperson Martin Nesirky said the Gaza unemployment rate is among the highest in the world.
Martin Nesirky: “The U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, UNRWA, says in a new report that broad unemployment in Gaza in the second half of 2010 reached an unprecedented 45.2 percent, one of the highest rates in the world.”
The Gaza figures were announced as the Israeli blockade of Gaza entered its fifth year.
Two U.S. soldiers have been killed during an operation in southern Iraq. The deaths come amidst ongoing speculation the United States will delay a deadline for a full withdrawal scheduled for the end of the year. Some 45,000 U.S. troops and thousands of contractors still remain in the country.
President Obama made a brief stop in Puerto Rico on Tuesday, making him the first sitting U.S. president to visit the island in a half century. Obama touted his backing of a process for Puerto Ricans to decide on the island’s political status.
President Obama: “We’ve addressed the question of political status. In March, a report from our Presidential Task Force on Puerto Rican Status provided a meaningful way forward on this question, so that the residents of the island can determine their own future. And when the people of Puerto Rico make a clear decision, my administration will stand by you.”
Obama concluded his visit with a fundraiser where he picked up an estimated $1 million in local donations for his presidential campaign. We’ll have more on Obama’s stop in Puerto Rico after headlines.
The Obama administration continues to lobby Congress for an increase to the debt limit ahead of an August 2 deadline, when the government is expected to reach its $14.3 trillion borrowing limit. White House officials say they intend to convince corporate executives to pressure House Republicans to approve an increase to the debt cap. On Tuesday, Federal Reserve Chair Ben Bernanke warned of dire consequences if Congress fails to act.
Federal Reserve Chair Ben Bernanke: “Failing to raise the debt ceiling in a timely way would be self-defeating, if the objective is to chart a course toward a better fiscal situation for our nation. The current level of the debt and near-term borrowing needs reflect spending and revenue choices that have already been approved by the current and previous Congress and administration of both political parties. Failing to raise the debt limit would require the federal government to delay or renege on payments for obligations already entered into. In particular, even a short suspension of payments on principal or interest on the Treasury’s debt obligations would cause severe disruptions in financial markets.”
Vice President Joe Biden continues to hold bipartisan meetings on Capitol Hill in a bid to reach a deal. Republicans have been pushing for steep spending cuts in return for raising the debt ceiling.
Former Utah governor Jon Huntsman has announced his intent to enter the Republican presidential race. Huntsman most recently served as the U.S. ambassador to China, stepping down earlier this year. On Tuesday, Huntsman confirmed his candidacy at a public event with former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.
Jon Huntsman: “I intend to announce that I will be a candidate for the presidency a week from today. My family looks shocked and surprised, because they are. I hadn’t told them yet.”
A former contractor with the private military firm Blackwater has been sentenced to three years in prison for the 2009 killing of an unarmed civilian in Afghanistan. The contractor, Christopher Drotleff, was convicted along with another former Blackwater operative for the death of Romal Mohammad Naiem in March. The two were previously acquitted for the deaths of two other civilians killed in the attack.
A federal judge has upheld the ruling striking down California’s ban on gay marriage. Supporters of the ban, known as Proposition Eight, had argued the initial judge in the case, Judge Vaughn Walker, was biased because of his 10-year relationship with another man. U.S. District Court Judge James Ware said there is no evidence Judge Walker intended to marry his longtime partner and had no obligation to disclose his relationship. Judge Ware said the case marked the first time he had seen a judge’s same-sex relationship lead to accusations of judicial bias.
New Yorkers are escalating protests against austerity measures contained in Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s latest budget. In a major protest Tuesday, thousands of New York City union members rallied at City Hall demanding an end to layoffs and cuts to social spending. Sam Coleman is a third grade teacher at a public school in Brooklyn.
Sam Coleman: “So, I’m here today to let the city council know, to let the mayor know, that these budget cuts and the layoffs that they’re proposing are totally unacceptable. I teach in a low-income neighborhood, mostly immigrants, and my school is going to lose funding. That’s going to eliminate after school programs, going to eliminate art programs, going to eliminate materials that we badly need, as well as teachers getting excessed or laid off. And my message to the mayor is very simple: you can find the money. There are many, many, many wealthy New Yorkers who do not pay enough taxes, and the revenue is there, the money is there. And our schools need the money, and you cannot balance this budget on the backs of our children or our parents or our teachers.”
More than 100 members of the group New Yorkers Against Budget Cuts have erected a tent camp next to City Hall and vowed to remain until Bloomberg reverses his proposals. Activists have dubbed the encampment “Bloombergville,” recalling “Hooverville,” the popular name for the shanty towns for the homeless during the Great Depression.
In Brazil, another activist for land rights in the Amazon region has been killed. Thirty-one-year-old Obede Loyla Sousa had been embroiled in disputes with illegal loggers. His killing is at least the fifth of a Brazilian land rights campaigner in the Amazon over the past month.