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HeadlinesAugust 31, 2011

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Evacuations, Airlifts Continue in Irene’s Aftermath

Aug 31, 2011

Airlifts and emergency workers continue to reach hundreds of residents stranded in flooded areas in the wake of Hurricane Irene. In Vermont, the National Guard delivered supplies to 13 towns cut off by floodwater and damaged roads since Sunday. Most of the towns remain without electricity and potable water. Meanwhile, thousands of people were evacuated in New Jersey and Connecticut on Tuesday as flood waters continued to rise. North Carolina says the storm destroyed at least 1,100 homes and caused more than $71 million in damage to its seven hardest-hit counties.

Insurers Could Avoid Bulk of Irene Costs

Aug 31, 2011

Overall, experts say Hurricane Irene will prove to be one of the costliest disasters in U.S. history, with damages of up to $10 billion. There are growing concerns most effected residents will be left to cover the bill, as standard insurance plans generally cover damage caused by wind, but not by flooding. A review by the Kinetic Analysis Corporation says insurers may end up covering less than 40 percent of the costs because of a lack of flood insurance and a sharp increase in deductibles in coastal areas.

Study: 25 CEOs Earned More than Companies Paid in Taxes; Wage Gap Increases

Aug 31, 2011

A new study says 25 of the nation’s top 100 corporate executives earned more money last year than the amount their companies paid in taxes. According to the Institute for Policy Studies, the 25 companies averaged overall profits of $1.9 billion. They include Verizon, Bank of New York Mellon, General Electric, Boeing and eBay. Eighteen of the companies were found to be operating subsidiaries in countries identified as tax havens. The study also found the salary gap between corporate executives and workers has exploded in recent years, rising from a ratio of 263-to-1 in 2009 to 325-to-1 last year. The findings come just weeks after Congress approved the bipartisan debt deal that excluded any tax hikes on the nation’s wealthiest individuals and corporations.

Obama Defends Economy Handling, Cites MLK on “Economic Justice”

Aug 31, 2011

President Obama is attempting to drum up support for his re-election campaign amidst a slumping economy. In an appearance on the Tom Joyner radio program on Tuesday, Obama said the severity of the financial crisis had limited his administration’s ability to respond.

President Obama: “Look, there are no magic bullets, because what we went through was the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, and typically after financial recession, financial crises like this, it takes a long time for the patient to heal. This is a situation where the economy essentially had a heart attack, and the patient lived, and the patient is getting better, but it’s getting better very slowly. So, we don’t have magic bullets, but what we do have, I think, is the capacity to do some things right now that would make a big difference.”

Earlier in the interview, President Obama also commented on the unveiling of the new memorial to Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., on the National Mall. Obama cited King’s work beyond civil rights to also seek “economic justice.”

President Obama: “When Dr. King gave the 'I Have a Dream' speech, that was a march for jobs and justice, not just justice. And in the last part of his life, when he went down to Memphis, that was all about sanitation workers saying, 'I am a man,' and looking for economic justice and dealing with poverty. And so, it’s not enough for us to just remember the sanitized versions of what Dr. King stood for; he made a real call for us to dig deep and be thinking about our fellow citizens and people around the world who are in desperate need and figuring out how we can help them.”

ATF Director Demoted over Fast and Furious Gun Sting

Aug 31, 2011

The head of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has been demoted in a shake-up over the controversial anti-gun trafficking program known as “Fast and Furious.” Kenneth Melson, acting director of the ATF, will become a senior adviser on forensic science at the Justice Department’s headquarters in Washington. In addition to Melson’s reassignment, Phoenix-based U.S. attorney Dennis Burke has stepped down from the Justice Department. Both men were closely involved in the gun sting that saw U.S. agents encouraging the sale of thousands of guns to middlemen for Mexican drug cartels in an attempt to gain access to senior-level figures within Mexico’s criminal organizations. The weapons were eventually linked to numerous crime scenes in the United States and Mexico, including the slaying of a U.S. Border Patrol agent.

Libyan Rebels Give Gaddafi Fighters Saturday Deadline

Aug 31, 2011

Libyan rebels have given Col. Muammar Gaddafi’s forces a deadline of Saturday to lay down their weapons or face intensified military action. The rebels’ National Transitional Council has issued the ultimatum to loyalists holed up in Gaddafi’s hometown of Sirte. Rebel forces have surrounded the city in preparation for an assault. A top rebel leader, meanwhile, is claiming that Saadi Gaddafi, Muammar Gaddafi’s third son, is prepared to surrender. On Tuesday, a number of Gaddafi family members, including his second wife, were granted refuge in Algeria. A rebel commander, meanwhile, is claiming at least 50,000 Libyans have died in the nation’s conflict this year. Colonel Hisham Buhagiar said he had seen evidence of mass graves.

Col. Hisham Buhagiar: “They say, people say, about 50,000.”

Reporter: “Fifty thousand?”

Col. Buhagiar: “Yeah.”

Reporter: “Is it possible?”

Col. Buhagiar: “Yes, from both sides. From both sides, yes. I saw, in a picture, a graveyard in Misurata with numbers, that has 7,000 people who died, 7,000 graves. I think Misurata and Zlitan took the most toll. Maybe I would say around 15,000 to 17,000 in that area.”

Amnesty: Black Libyans, Sub-Saharan Africans at Risk in Libya

Aug 31, 2011

Amnesty International is warning black Libyans and sub-Saharan Africans are at high risk of abuse from rebel forces seeking to target Gaddafi loyalists. At a camp for migrants near Tripoli, two African nationals said they fear for their lives.

Nigerian national: “If you enter to the streets, the Libya people will hold you, then will say you are fighting for Gaddafi. And I’m not a fighter. That is why I keep myself here with my wife. No money to feed. Please, I need your help.”

Ghanaian national: “Some people are saying that it’s the blacks who used to cooperate with the Libyan soldiers to shoot them or whatever, but we were not among. We of Ghana and Nigeria were not among. We don’t know nothing about that. Yeah, that’s why we’re running for our life.”

Syrian Forces Kill Protesters in Daraa

Aug 31, 2011

In Syria, forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad have opened fire on thousands of pro-democracy protesters throughout the southern province of Daraa, killing at least seven people including a 13-year-old boy. Violence was also reported in the central city of Homs and in the capital of Damascus following prayers marking the end of the holy month of Ramadan. The violence comes just one day after pro-Assad forces killed at least eight people and wounded dozens in nationwide raids. Meanwhile, the U.S. Treasury Department has issued new sanctions against Syria’s foreign minister and two other top officials.

More Arrests in Keystone XL Pipeline Protest Outside White House

Aug 31, 2011

Civil disobedience actions continue outside the White House against the proposed Keystone XL pipeline that would carry oil from Canada’s tar sands to Gulf Coast refineries. A number of protesters were arrested on Tuesday, including the actor Daryl Hannah and Greenpeace USA Executive Director Phil Radford. Among the others to be arrested this week is Elijah Zarlin, who worked as a senior writer for President Obama’s election campaign in 2008. Overall, the group Tar Sands Action says 595 people have been arrested since the protests began earlier this month. The protesters are urging President Obama to veto the pipeline. On Tuesday, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said he and President Obama have not discussed the issue.

Exxon, Russia Reach Deal for Arctic Oil

Aug 31, 2011

The oil giant Exxon Mobil has reached a deal to tap the Arctic in exchange for training Russia’s state-owned oil company Rosneft on the controversial drilling practice known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. The deal centers around a $3.2 billion exploration program for the Kara Sea on the Arctic Ocean and the Black Sea and an option for Rosneft to invest in Exxon drilling projects in the Gulf of Mexico and oil fields in Texas. Under the deal, Exxon will use its $41 billion purchase of the Fort Worth-based drilling company XTO Energy to share expertise on fracking technology to draw natural gas out of shale rock. Fracking has come under wide criticism for contaminating water supplies.

Kansas Ordered to Resume Planned Parenthood Funding

Aug 31, 2011

A federal judge has ordered Kansas to resume payments to the local chapter of the group Planned Parenthood on the same terms as before it stripped the group of funding. Kansas had sought to pay Planned Parenthood monthly instead of quarterly and only for services provided. Planned Parenthood had warned the move would have harmed services and cut off access for low-income patients.

Judge Blocks Texas Law Requiring Pregnant Women to View Sonogram Before Abortion

Aug 31, 2011

In Texas, a federal judge has blocked key provisions of a law that would require women seeking an abortion to view a sonogram and listen to the heartbeat of their fetus. In the ruling, U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks said, “The act compels physicians to advance an ideological agenda with which they may not agree, regardless of any medical necessity, and irrespective of whether the pregnant women wish to listen.” Judge Sparks also blocked provisions that would have called for canceling a doctor’s license or imposing a criminal penalty on physicians for failure to abide by the law.

Bolivian Commanders Convicted for 2003 Massacre

Aug 31, 2011

In Bolivia, five former military commanders have been convicted for a 2003 massacre that left at least 64 civilians dead and more than 400 wounded. The victims were killed as the military cracked down on protests that sparked an uprising against then-Bolivian President Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada. De Lozada has been indicted in the case but has not been tried, because he is living safely in exile in the United States.

WikiLeaks Site Hacked as Names Reportedly Disclosed

Aug 31, 2011

The whistleblower website WikiLeaks came under attack late Tuesday after reportedly releasing thousands of secret diplomatic cables containing the names of confidential sources and agents. The group tweeted: “ is presently under attack,” after the organization’s website crashed. An hour later the site and the cables posted there were inaccessible. Last week, the German newspaper Der Freitag reported potentially dangerous cables released by WikiLeaks have been floating around the internet for months because of a rift between WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and his former trusted lieutenant, Daniel Domscheit-Berg. The documents allegedly include the names of suspected agents in Israel, Jordan, Iran and Afghanistan.

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