President Obama has unveiled a $447 billion package of tax cuts and new government spending to help stimulate the economy and boost employment. The “American Jobs Act” calls for extending unemployment insurance at a cost of $49 billion, modernizing schools for $30 billion, and investing in transportation infrastructure projects for $50 billion. Tax relief accounts for the bulk of the proposal through cuts to payroll taxes. Speaking before a joint session of Congress, Obama urged lawmakers to pass the bill.
President Obama: “It will create more jobs for construction workers, more jobs for teachers, more jobs for veterans, and more jobs for long-term unemployed. It will provide—it will provide a tax break for companies who hire new workers, and it will cut payroll taxes in half for every working American and every small business. It will provide a jolt to an economy that has stalled and give companies confidence that if they invest and if they hire, there will be customers for their products and services.”
Before Obama spoke, Federal Reserve Chair Ben Bernanke delivered an address in advance of a Fed gathering later this month. Bernanke warned the U.S. economy continues to face stalled growth.
Federal Reserve Chair Ben Bernanke: “Other factors also may restrain growth in coming quarters. For example, state and local governments continue to tighten their belts by cutting spending and reducing payrolls in the face of ongoing budgetary pressures, and federal fiscal stimulus is being withdrawn. There is ample room for debate about the appropriate size and role of the government in the longer run, but in the absence of adequate demand from the private sector, a substantial fiscal consolidation in the shorter term could add to the headwinds facing economic growth and hiring.”
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security is warning of what it calls a credible, but unconfirmed, threat of a militant attack ahead of this weekend’s 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. Federal officials have reportedly launched a manhunt for two or three suspects. White House spokesperson Jay Carney said President Obama has met regularly with top aides on stepping up counterterrorism efforts.
Jay Carney: “This is part of a series of meetings that have happened over the past four months, some involving the President, others run by John Brennan, his Homeland Security adviser, counterterrorism adviser, all working up towards this anniversary to ensure that we’re doing everything we should be doing to safeguard the homeland.”
Heavy rains and flooding in the northeastern United States led to at least five new deaths on Thursday and the evacuation of some 130,000 people from their homes. The city of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, declared a state of emergency after being flooded with a foot of rain. High waters damaged homes and businesses from Maryland north to New England. In Pennsylvania, water levels rose as high as eight feet, carrying toxic materials from 10 washed-out sewage processing plants.
Tensions are high in the Libyan desert town of Bani Walid where armed supporters of Col. Muammar Gaddafi have fired rockets at surrounding opposition forces. The opposition’s National Transitional Council says residents have until Saturday to surrender before fighters are sent in. The international policing agency Interpol has issued its highest arrest alert for Gaddafi, his son Saif al-Islam, and his former intelligence chief, following a request from the International Criminal Court.
The Obama administration is reportedly considering staging U.S. troops in Kuwait following the scheduled military withdrawal from neighboring Iraq at the end of the year. According to the Associated Press, the proposal is among a number being considered ahead of the withdrawal deadline. The Obama administration has already said it favors a plan that would leave up to 5,000 troops in Iraq in addition to the tens of thousands of contractors and CIA personnel slated to remain.
In Iraq, a prominent Iraqi journalist was murdered in his home Thursday just after warning of threats on his life. Hadi al-Mahdi was known for using his popular radio show to criticize the Iraqi government. Mahdi had recently been publicizing a protest set for today. Mahdi recently claimed he was one of four journalists picked up by security forces and driven to the Iraqi army’s headquarters, where he was beaten, given electric shocks and threatened with rape, before being asked to sign a statement saying he had not been tortured.
The U.S. military has admitted to the fatal shooting of a BBC journalist in Afghanistan earlier this year. In a statement, the U.S.-led NATO occupation force apologized for the death of 25-year-old Ahmed Omed Khpulwak during a a firefight between NATO forces and militants. NATO says U.S. troops mistakenly thought Khpulwak was preparing to detonate a suicide vest when they shot him 11 times. NATO had previously refused to admit its role in the slaying. Khpulwak’s brother says his slain sibling would have likely been speaking English and showing his press card, as he had been trained to do around foreign military troops.
A British investigation has found an Iraqi citizen held by British forces in 2003 died as a result of “serious gratuitous violence.” The inquiry into the killing of Baha Mousa found the 26-year-old was subjected to torture and suffered 93 individual wounds over the course of his two-day imprisonment at a British military base in the southern Iraqi city of Basra. While the investigation implicated specific soldiers, it did not explore the possibility of systematic abuse in the British military. The head of the British army, General Peter Wall, apologized to Mousa’s family.
Gen. Peter Wall: “What happened to Baha Mousa and his fellow detainees in 2003 was, in the words of the inquiry, grave and shameful. The army has apologized unreservedly to Baha Mousa’s family and to the surviving victims of this shocking episode. And I would like to take this opportunity to repeat that apology today, in particular to Colonel Mousa, Baha Mousa’s father and to his family.”
The Obama administration has confirmed it will veto U.N. recognition of a Palestinian state if it is brought up for a Security Council vote. The White House has sought to block the statehood bid despite publicly claiming to support a Palestinian state. On Thursday, Palestinians officially kicked off the statehood campaign with a march in the West Bank town of Ramallah.
As the United States attempts to disrupt the Palestinian bid for statehood at the United Nations, the 120 countries in the Non-Aligned Movement have announced they will vote for Palestinian statehood when it comes up at the United Nations. Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohamed Amr announced the decision.
Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohamed Amr: “The majority of the Non-Aligned Movement members will endorse a resolution in the General Assembly, if it comes to that (the vote), upholding the right of the Palestinian people to have a full-fledged membership at the United Nations.”
Palestinians are seeking statehood recognition at the United Nations as Israel continues a massive expansion of settlements in the occupied West Bank. A new report from the Israeli group Peace Now! says settlement construction has doubled in comparison to building projects in Israel proper since the end of a partial freeze last year. Peace Now!’s Hagit Ofran said Israel has more than made up for the settlement construction it briefly put on hold.
Hagit Ofran: “Our report shows that there were almost 2,600 units started in settlements after the settlement freeze, which means that all of the freeze (achievements) was already erased. The number of construction in Israel is half of the number of construction in the settlements. And we believe that the government of Israel is working against the Israeli interest, which is not to build in settlements and to make peace with the Palestinians.”
On Capitol Hill, the congressional “super committee” tasked with proposing massive spending cuts to reduce the deficit held its opening meeting on Thursday. Committee co-chair and Democratic Senator Patty Murray vowed a bipartisan effort.
Sen. Patty Murray: “As we have gotten this process off the ground over the last few weeks, committee members have refrained from drawing lines in the sand or carving out areas that can’t be touched. And as we move forward, I hope we can continue to not allow ourselves to be boxed in or pigeonholed by special interest groups or partisans or media or pundits, and we are allowed the room to come to a balanced agreement.”
A federal appeals court has dismissed Virginia’s challenge to President Obama’s signature healthcare law. In a unanimous ruling, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit in Richmond found Virginia lacks standing to challenge the law. The ruling does not address the core issue of whether the law can require individuals to buy health insurance or pay a penalty starting in 2014, instead arguing the penalty amounts to a tax that cannot be challenge preemptively. The court also dismissed a suit brought forward by several individuals and Virginia’s Liberty University. The decisions boost the likelihood the law will go before the Supreme Court, perhaps as early as June of next year.
The U.S. Department of Justice is accusing Puerto Rico’s police force of long-standing and profound civil rights abuses, as well as other illegal activity. A new governmental report says Puerto Rican officers have systematically used unjustified force resulting in numerous deaths and the wounding of hundreds. The department is also accused of routinely conducting warrantless, illegal searches and seizures, as well as attacking nonviolent protesters and journalists in a manner violating First Amendment rights. The report further accuses Puerto Rican police officers of routine discrimination against people of Dominican descent and a failure to adequately police sexual assault and domestic violence cases, including those involving fellow officers.
The national weather service reports Texas has just concluded the hottest summer in U.S. history. With an average of 86.8 degrees from June through August, Texas beat Oklahoma’s record of 85.2 set in 1934. Oklahoma itself also topped its previous Dust Bowl record by this year averaging 86.5 degrees within the same period. The temperature in Texas in July this summer marked the hottest month ever, while Oklahoma had the highest average temperature during the month at 89.1 degrees. The heat has resulted in the worst drought in Texas since the 1950s and the single driest year since 1895. The conditions have caused an estimated $5.2 billion in crop losses, a figure that is expected to rise. The dry weather has also helped to fuel the wildfires in Texas that this week destroyed hundreds of homes southeast of Austin.