The nation’s official unemployment rate has risen to 9.2 percent after the economy created just 18,000 jobs in June. One economic analyst described the June jobs report as "horrific." Meanwhile, the official unemployment rate for African Americans remains considerably higher—at 16.2 percent. Last week, the Congressional Black Caucus publicly criticized the Obama White House for not doing enough to combat the jobs crisis among African Americans. In the city of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the unemployment rate for black men is now 34 percent.
President Obama met with congressional leaders Sunday evening but failed to break a partisan stalemate over how to raise the federal borrowing limit. Democratic and Republican lawmakers are divided on how far the parties should go in cutting the deficit over the next decade or whether tax cuts and entitlement reductions should be a part of any deal. Last week, news reports indicated President Obama is now backing significant cuts to Medicare spending and retirement benefits under Social Security in return for Republican support. Independent Bernie Sanders of Vermont warned this weekend that such cuts to Social Security could put some 245,000 people into poverty. U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner appeared on Meet the Press on Sunday.
U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner: "If Congress doesn’t act by the 2nd, they will put our—they will downgrade our credit—first time in history—and if that happens, you’re going to see catastrophic damage across the American economy and across the global economy. It’s not something we can really—failure is not an option."
The White House has announced plans to hold back $800 million in military aid to Pakistan. McClatchy Newspapers reports the cutback appears to be direct response to recent moves by Pakistan, which expelled U.S. military trainers from the country, limited the ability of U.S. diplomats to get visas, and restricted CIA operations allowed on its territory. The announcement also comes just days after unnamed Obama administration officials accused the Pakistani spy agency, the ISI, of ordering the recent killing of Pakistani journalist Syed Saleem Shahzad in an effort to silence him. On Saturday, a spokesperson for the Pakistani military described the recent reports in the Times as a "direct attack" on the Pakistani state.
Tens of thousands of South Sudanese celebrated on Saturday as South Sudan became the world’s newest independent state. South Sudan won its independence from Sudan in a January referendum—the climax of a 2005 peace deal that ended decades of fighting with the north. While North Sudan was the first nation to recognize the new state, many issues remain unresolved between the two nations, including disputes over borders and oil payments. Salva Kiir is South Sudan’s first president. He is the former military commander of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement.
Salva Kiir, president of South Sudan: "A happy day like this should not dwell on the bad memories, but it is important to recognize that for many generations this land has seen untold suffering and death. We have been bombed, maimed, enslaved and treated worse than an refugee in our country. But we have to forgive, although we will not forget."
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon traveled to South Sudan for the country’s independence ceremony.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon: "The challenges are enormous. The security is still unstable. There is a huge lack of infrastructure. There is huge socioeconomic problems and rule of law. You have to have for all these things established as soon as possible. The United Nations will mobilize all resources possible. Agencies are committed and stand ready to work with the new Sudanese government leaders and people."
U.S. military officials are increasingly raising alarm about Iran’s role in Iraq. During a visit to Iraq, the nation’s new defense secretary, Leon Panetta, said Sunday that weapons supplied by Iran had become a “tremendous concern” for the United States. Panetta said, "This is not something we’re going to walk away from. It’s something we’re going to take on head on." Panetta is in Iraq to discuss the possibility of keeping U.S. troops in Iraq beyond the scheduled pullout at the end of this year.
In Iraq, CNN reports at least seven anti-government protesters were arrested and beaten by Iraqi security forces as hundreds of angry demonstrators gathered Friday in central Baghdad. Since early February, tens of thousands of protesters have participated in demonstrations every Friday across Iraq, inspired by popular uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia.
Syrian forces killed at least two people and injured 20 in Homs earlier today during the heaviest raids on the city since troops deployed there two months ago to crush dissent against President Bashar al-Assad. The armor and tank-backed assaults on Homs came just a day after the authorities held what it described as a "national dialogue" meeting in Damascus. Opposition groups boycotted the meeting, saying they would not participate without an end to the crackdown. Tayeb Tazini is a spokesperson for the Syrian opposition.
Tayeb Tazini: "The first condition for a country in Syria’s current position should be to declare a ban on the use of weapons on any Syrians. But even until this point, bullets are being fired in Homs, Hama and others. I hoped this would have come to a stop by now. It should not be allowed for any of the parties involved to continue the use of weapons. We want to build a new Syria.”
The U.S. Department of State has summoned Syria’s ambassador to the United States following reports of individuals being videotaped at peaceful U.S. protests. According to a White House spokesperson, personnel under Syrian Ambassador Imad Moustapha have reportedly targeted protesters in the United States with both video and photographic surveillance. In addition, the United States has also informed the Syrian ambassador it is investigating reports suggesting authorities in Damascus have targeted U.S.-based protesters’ families in Syria.
The Obama administration sent counterterrorism chief, John Brennan, to Saudi Arabia to meet with embattled Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh over the weekend. Brennan is presumed to have urged Saleh not to return to power, suggesting aid to the Middle East’s poorest nation will resume only if he steps down. Brennan reportedly urged Saleh to sign a pledge drafted by the Gulf Cooperation Council that would see the Yemeni president relinquishing control of Yemen in exchange for immunity. Saleh has been receiving treatment in Saudi Arabia for serious injuries he sustained in a rocket attack on his compound weeks ago and has yet to return to Yemen. The United States has long supported Saleh’s authoritarian rule over the past 33 years.
Israel has begun deporting activists attempting to enter the occupied West Bank as part of a so-called "flytilla" operation. Thirty-six people were deported from Israel’s Ben Gurion International Airport to Frankfurt, Germany, Sunday. Another group is expected to be deported on a Geneva-bound flight today. The "flytilla" term is a nod to the humanitarian flotilla that attempted to enter the occupied Gaza Strip by sea last week. Lufthansa airlines previously refused to fly a group of pro-Palestinian activists to Tel Aviv because their names appeared on a "black list" provided by Israeli authorities, but a second group managed to arrive in the country on a direct flight from Frankfurt.
The British government is beginning to pressure medial mogul Rupert Murdoch to drop his bid to take over the BSkyB satellite network. Murdoch’s News Corporation is embroiled in a major scandal after new evidence emerged that his reporters hacked the voice-mails of thousands of people, from child murder victims to politicians to the families of British soldiers killed in war. The newspaper at the center of the scandal—News of the World—ceased publication on Sunday. Founded in 1843, the paper was said to be the largest circulation English-language newspaper in the world.
The architect behind Arizona’s controversial anti-immigrant law now faces a recall from his position as state senate president. The group, Citizens for a Better Arizona, collected and delivered well over the necessary amount of signatures needed to force a recall of Republican State Senator Russell Pearce last week. According to law, Pearce must now resign from office within five business days or face a recall election. State officials say such an election would likely be set for November or March. The anti-immigration law, SB 1070, has gained national attention for, among other things, requiring police check the immigration status of anyone they might suspect is in the country illegally—one of many provisions in the bill that was blocked by federal courts.
Argentine singer-songwriter Facundo Cabral died Saturday after a car he was traveling in was ambushed by gunmen in Guatemala. He was one of Latin America’s most admired folk singers and a man the United Nations once designated as a “worldwide messenger of peace." Cabral’s death sent shock waves throughout Latin America and the international community. Hundreds gathered in Guatemala City to commemorate the celebrated singer’s death over the weekend. Guatemalan President Álvaro Colom declared three days of national mourning in honor of the musician’s passing. The eighth child of a poor Argentine family, Cabral’s songs were known for mixing themes of social justice and spirituality. He fled his native Argentina to Mexico in 1976 after a military junta seized control of the country and remained in exile until the fall of the dictatorship in 1982. According to President Colom, Cabral’s killers were “professional hit men,” who used three cars to surround and attack the vehicle the famous singer rode in. Cabral’s road manager and a Nicaraguan concert promoter and nightclub owner were also critically wounded in the attack. Authorities have suggested the Nicaraguan, a man by the name of Henry Fariña Fonseca, was the target of the violence, but Nobel Prize winner Rigoberta Menchú, a friend of Cabral, believes the ambush may have been related to Cabral’s beliefs.
Rigoberta Menchú, Nobel Peace Prize winner and friend: "Facundo Cabral is a teacher. I always loved his songs in the '70s. He said he was never from here or he was never from there [Cabral song lyrics], and today we dedicate this song to him because he loved Guatemala a lot. He has been here many times in our county. He was very considerate, and I remember he had marvelous phrases in his music. But finally, today, we are repudiating a terrible crime in Guatemala, a terrible crime in our country, a crime that is creating horror and fear. And I can't stop thinking that he was killed for his ideals, because there is no reason as to why he needed to be killed here in Guatemala.”
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