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President Obama is reportedly preparing to unveil a new jobs package early next month. Citing a senior administration official, the Associated Press reports Obama will propose “tax cuts, jobs-boosting infrastructure ideas and steps that would specifically help the long-term unemployed.” Obama has faced criticism for his focus on reducing the U.S. deficit amidst high unemployment. On Tuesday, Obama unveiled a new initiative for rural areas during a trip through Iowa.
President Obama: “Today, I am announcing that we’re ramping up our efforts to get capital to small businesses in rural areas. We’re doubling the commitment we’ve already made through key small business lending programs. We’re going to make it easier for people in rural areas looking for work to find out about companies that are hiring. We’re going to do more to speed the development of next-generation biofuels, and we’re going to promote renewable energy and conservation.”
Obama was in Iowa as part of a three-day bus tour through the Midwest. On the Republican side, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, took aim at Obama during a campaign stop in New Hampshire.
Mitt Romney: “Two days of a bus tour are not going to make up for two-and-a-half years of failure to get the American people back to work. I know that he looks at this as kind of a celebratory bus tour. But there’s no question in anyone’s mind but he would not be doing that bus tour if his first two-and-a-half years had been successful. This, for him, is an effort to try and convince the American people he ought to be reelected. And his record speaks a heck of a lot louder than these bus tires do.”
Two Democratic state senators in Wisconsin have retained their seats in the last of a series of recall elections. Democratic incumbents Bob Wirch of Pleasant Prairie and Jim Holperin of Conover were among the 14 state senators who fled Wisconsin in February to delay passage of Gov. Scott Walker’s anti-union law. The Wisconsin recalls were seen as a referendum on the law with both supporters and opponents facing the loss of their seats. Although Republicans retained control of the Senate, their majority after the recalls has shrunk from 19 to 14, down a one-vote advantage of 17 to 16. After Tuesday’s results were declared, Democratic incumbent Bob Wirch spoke at a gathering with supporters.
Bob Wirch: “All these wonderful people, grassroots Paul Wellstone politics, and I love it. And I love it. All these wonderful people. And you try and help them. I fight for the underdog. You keep it real simple. I think we sent a message to this governor, quite frankly. We didn’t win—we didn’t win control in the Senate, but we sent a strong message.”
Reporter: “What’s that message?”
Bob Wirch: “Moderation is good, compromise is good, and working-class people are not second-class citizens.”
Protests have been held in a number of U.S. cities over the Obama administration’s expansion of the controversial immigration enforcement program known as Secure Communities. On Tuesday, several dozen Latino activists delivered a petition to President Obama’s campaign headquarters in Chicago. In other protests, some 200 activists walked out of hearing in Los Angeles called by a task force advising the enforcement program. Demonstrations were also held at Democratic Party offices in Miami, Atlanta, Houston and Charlotte, North Carolina. Secure Communities requires local police to forward fingerprints of every person they arrest to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. In recent months, the governors of Illinois, Massachusetts and New York have pulled out of the program. But earlier this month, federal officials announced the program is not voluntary and that local governments cannot withdraw.
The Syrian government is claiming it has begun withdrawing forces from two besieged cities, but residents say military operations against opposition protesters remain underway. An estimated 36 people have died in the five-day assault on Latakia. Thousands of Palestinian refugees have fled the city after their camp came under heavy shelling. Meanwhile, demonstrations have been reported in at least three other Syrian towns, despite the ongoing threat of government attacks. At a public event in Washington, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the United States is pushing for additional sanctions on Syria.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: “It is a growing international chorus of condemnation. The United States has been instrumental in orchestrating that, and we are pushing for stronger sanctions that we hope will be joined by other countries that have far bigger stakes economically than we do.”
Libyan rebels are claiming to have a made a number of gains in advancing on Libyan leader Col. Muammar Gaddafi’s stronghold in the capital Tripoli. The rebels have reportedly seized most of the city of Zawiyah from the west, while also controlling access to Tripoli from the south. In Brussels, a NATO spokesperson said the conflict in Libya is reaching a turning point.
Col. Roland Lavoie: “These last few days, we have witnessed significant advances of anti-Gaddafi forces on several fronts: in the northwest, where Gaddafi forces have lost considerable grounds, and also in the regions of Misurata and Brega. Anti-Gaddafi forces are now assuming control of the key approaches to Tripoli. These advances are the most significant anti-Gaddafi territorial gain we have seen in months.”
The Libyan rebels’ National Transitional Council is denying reports of talks with Gaddafi regime officials in neighboring Tunis. Speaking in Washington, U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said Gaddafi’s days are numbered.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta: “Gaddafi’s forces are weakened, and this latest defection is another example of how weak they’ve gotten. So I think, you know, considering how difficult the situation has been, the fact is the combination of NATO sources there, the combination of what the opposition is doing, the sanctions, the international pressure, the work of the Arab League, all of that has been very helpful in moving this in the right direction. And I think the sense is that Gaddafi’s days are numbered.”
Aid workers continue to report high numbers of deaths in the famine gripping the Horn of Africa. At one camp in Ethiopia, a spokesperson for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees said 10 children are dying each day.
Adrian Edwards: “An assessment of mortality in one of four refugee camps at the Dollo Ado complex in Ethiopia has found that death rates have reached alarming levels. Since the Kobe refugee camp opened in June, an average of 10 children under the age of five have been dying each day. An outbreak of suspected measles, combined with high rates of acute malnutrition, is thought to be the major cause of death.”
New revelations have raised further questions about whether Rupert Murdoch, his son James Murdoch, and other top officials at their media empire have lied about their knowledge of phone hacking at the News of the World. On Tuesday, British lawmakers released a letter from former News of the World correspondent Clive Goodman claiming senior executives openly discussed the phone hacking until then-editor Andy Coulson directly ordered them to stop. Coulson, who went on to become the spokesperson for British Prime Minister David Cameron, has publicly denied having any knowledge of the hacking. British lawmaker Tom Watson detailed the letter’s revelations.
Tom Watson: “Within the letter, he makes the allegation that phone hacking was openly discussed at editorial meetings of News of the World, until explicitly stopped by Andy Coulson. And he also says that he was told he would be able to keep his job after the criminal trial was over, if he didn’t implicate others in wrongdoing in his mitigation of the court case. And he said that the editor and the lawyer for the paper gave him that assurance. So they’re very damning allegations indeed.”
Former News of the World correspondent Clive Goodman’s letter also implicates Rupert Murdoch’s longtime friend and aide, Les Hinton, who stepped down as chair of Dow Jones and as publisher of the Wall Street Journal last month. Hinton was sent a copy of the letter four years ago, but never passed it on to police. He also helped steer the effort by top Murdoch officials to absolve then-editor Andy Coulson of responsibility and paint Goodman as the only journalist involved in the phone hacking. Rupert Murdoch and James Murdoch have denied knowing about the phone hacking. On Tuesday, a former News International executive added further detail to his previous assertion that he personally told James Murdoch about an email extensively detailing the hacking in 2008. The executive, Tom Crone, says the younger Murdoch approved a settlement to a British soccer executive based solely on the email Murdoch now says he was not aware of. John Whittingdale, the British lawmaker chairing the parliamentary inquiry into the hacking, said James Murdoch will likely be called in for another round of testimony.
John Whittingdale: “We will also be seeking further information from a number of other individuals, both of the legal firms employed by News International and former and current employees of News International. And in due course, when we have all of the information that we’ve requested, we may well wish to put further questions to James Murdoch.”
The World Bank has unveiled a report warning food costs are approaching levels that sparked massive unrest across the globe three years ago. José Cuesta, a senior economist at World Bank’s Poverty Reduction and Equity Group, unveiled the new findings.
José Cuesta: “Global prices of food remain very high, very close to 2008 peak levels, and basically one-third above of the prices that they were one year ago. They will find more difficult to access and to buy food. They will find more difficult to diversify their diets. And the cost of living for everyone, for all consumers, of course, especially the poor, will worsen. The cost of living will increase, and that will worsen their ability to buy the diversified foods.”
The head of the International Monetary Fund has warned that reliance on spending cuts will hurt global economic recovery. In an opinion piece published in the Financial Times on Tuesday, IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde said spending cuts were not the appropriate means to forestall another recession, writing: “We know that slamming on the brakes too quickly will hurt the recovery and worsen job prospects.”
A journalist for the news network Al Jazeera has appeared in an Israeli court one week after his arrest while crossing the border between Jordan and the occupied West Bank. Israel has charged Samer Allawi with being a member of Hamas and has extended his detention by at least seven more days. Allawi currently serves as Al Jazeera Arabic’s bureau chief in the Afghan capital, Kabul. Allawi’s attorney says his client has been interrogated about his work and management of the Kabul bureau, his personal financial information, and his relationships with colleagues, friends and relatives. Allawi reportedly told his lawyer he would be charged with transferring money and orders from Afghanistan to the West Bank if he refused to act as an informant.
The Honduran government has dispatched 1,000 troops to the disputed Aguán River Valley region after clashes between peasants and powerful landowners left 11 people dead earlier this week. The killings are the latest in the dispute between peasants demanding recognition of their land rights and palm oil plantation owners who have hired private security forces to carry out targeted attacks. At least 34 impoverished farm workers have died in the last two years, although human rights organizations fear the actual toll is far higher.
Four tobacco companies have filed a lawsuit seeking to block the U.S. government from forcing them to display new warning labels on cigarette packs. The labels use images including dead bodies and diseased lungs to warn of the dangers of smoking. In the suit, the companies say including the labels would violate their free speech rights and force them to “engage in anti-smoking advocacy” on the government’s behalf. The labels would mark the first change to U.S. cigarette warnings in 25 years.