President Obama took his State of the Union call for tackling income inequality on the road Wednesday with a speech at an assembly plant in Iowa. Obama repeated his proposal for the so-called Buffett tax to ensure millionaires pay at least 30 percent.
President Obama: “If we do that and we make some smart cuts in other areas, we can get this deficit and debt under control and still be making the investments we need to grow the economy. Now, a lot of—now, I hear folks running around calling this class warfare. This is not class warfare. Let me tell you something: asking a billionaire to pay at least as much as his secretary, that’s just common sense.”
On the Republican side, the wealthiest candidate in the race, Mitt Romney, criticized President Obama’s State of the Union address while campaigning in Florida.
Mitt Romney: “He said last night how well things are going. If you really think that things are going well in this country, that we’re on the right track and that his policies are working, you ought to vote for him. But I think, on that basis, if we ask the American people if they think things are going well or not so well, and he wants to get the votes of those who think it’s going well, he’s not going to be president very long.”
Both Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich are trying to court Florida’s Latino voters ahead of next week’s primary. Romney has launched ads highlighting Gingrich’s remarks in a 2007 speech in which he called Spanish a “language of the ghetto.” Gingrich, meanwhile, has been forced to pull a Romney attack ad that compared the former Massachusetts governor to Fidel Castro after Hispanic leaders signed a letter of protest. For his part, Castro published an editorial in Cuba on Wednesday calling the Republican race “the greatest competition of idiocy and ignorance that has ever been.” Also Wednesday, Gingrich criticized Romney’s comments that undocumented immigrants will choose to self-deport when faced with strict immigration laws.
Newt Gingrich: “You have to live in a world of Swiss bank accounts and Cayman Island accounts and automatic, you know, $20 million-a-year income with no work to have some fantasy this far from reality. Remember that I talk very specifically about people who have been here a long time, who are grandmothers and grandfathers, who have been paying their bills. They’ve been working. They’re part of the community.”
At the same campaign event, Gingrich was asked about his own history of extramarital affairs in light of his effort to impeach Bill Clinton over the Monica Lewinsky scandal.
Newt Gingrich: “The fact is, I’ve been through two divorces. I have been deposed both times, under oath. Both times, I told the truth in the deposition, because I know that it is—and I’m not a lawyer. So, I know it’s a felony. Bill Clinton, who is a lawyer—I mean, he’s a Yale graduate, law school graduate—he knew he was lying under oath. He knew it was perjury. He knew it was a felony. And in fact, he lost his license to practice law in Arkansas as part of the deal.”
The Federal Reserve says it will keep short-term interest rates near zero until late 2014, signaling that a full economic recovery may take years. The near-zero interest policy, designed to encourage borrowing, began in 2008. The Fed says the economy had expanded “moderately” in recent weeks, but cited continuing problems with job scarcity and the housing sector.
U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner has announced he does not expect to stay on should President Obama get re-elected. In an interview with Bloomberg Television, Geithner said he thinks Obama will seek to replace him as Treasury Secretary if he wins a second term. Geithner’s tenure has come under wide criticism following his key role in backing policies that led to the nation’s financial crisis during his previous stint heading the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
The United States could be expanding its military presence in the Philippines as part of the Obama administration’s avowed intent to focus on the Asia-Pacific. According to the Washington Post, the White House and the Philippine government are resuming talks in Washington today after beginning preliminary negotiations last spring. The talks come two decades after the United States was forced to leave its military base at the Philippines’ Subic Bay.
Hundreds of thousands rallied across Egypt on Wednesday to mark the first anniversary of the start of the revolution that ended Hosni Mubarak’s three-decade rule and to call for an immediate transfer to civilian government. Some have called the protests the largest of the Egyptian revolution to date. In Cairo’s Tahrir Square, demonstrators denounced Egypt’s military rulers.
Protester: “I am here so we can achieve the revolution’s demands and not to celebrate the revolution, because since January 25th, not one of the revolution’s demands have been met. So we came to tell the military that the revolution continues, and please return to our borders and protect our country from the outside. You have no business in the country’s internal affairs.”
The interim Libyan government is being accused of widespread torture in the aftermath of the ouster of former leader Muammar Gaddafi. The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, said investigators had uncovered scores of cases of abuse in Libyan prisons.
Navi Pillay: “The ICRC (International Committee of the Red Cross) visited over 8,500 detainees in approximately 60 places of detention between March and December 2011. The majority of detainees are accused of being Gaddafi loyalists and include a large number of sub-Saharan African nationals. The lack of oversight by the central authorities creates an environment conducive to torture and ill treatment. My staff have received alarming reports that this is happening in places of detention that they have visited.”
The annual gathering of some of the world’s most powerful political and corporate figures is underway as Switzerland hosts the World Economic Forum in Davos. Scores of protesters have made the trip to protest corporate greed. On Wednesday, Greenpeace International Executive Director Kumi Naidoo took part in a protest in Davos.
Kumi Naidoo: “All of our democracies and all have been captured, to a large extent, in many, many countries, by corporate power, that, in fact—should corporations have a voice about public life? Yes. Should they have the level and depth of voice that they have now? Absolutely not. And we need to put a leash—that’s the message of this campaign—on corporations for them to be more accountable, for them to be better global citizens.”
Dozens of Occupy protesters have also set up an igloo encampment in the sub-zero temperatures near the summit.
Ed Sutton: “They come together each year to make these decisions with enormous consequences for the entire world, and they don’t feel it’s necessary to consult with the vast majority of people who inhabit the world. There’s seven billion people on the planet that don’t have any kind of a say in what they’re doing. And we just find that it’s a personification of the fact that free market capitalism and democracy don’t really fit together. And that’s just the fundamental thrust of the Occupy movement in general.”
Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords bid farewell to her House colleagues on Wednesday following her announcement to step down as she continues to recover from injuries sustained in the Tucson shooting rampage one year ago. In an tearful ceremony, Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a close friend of Giffords, read Giffords’ resignation letter.
Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz: “I have given all of myself to being able to walk back onto the House floor this year to represent Arizona’s 8th Congressional District. However, today I know that now is not the time. I have more work to do on my recovery before I can again serve in elected office.”
Indiana’s Republican-controlled statehouse has approved a measure that would prohibit private sector workplaces from requiring workers to pay dues or other fees to join a union. The so-called “right to work” bill was passed over the opposition of Democratic lawmakers who had boycotted the State Assembly in a bid to deny Republicans quorum. Once enacted, Indiana will be the 23rd state to adopt a “right to work” law. Opponents call the measure an attack on organized labor that will result in lower wages and diminished collective bargaining rights.
A former employee is accusing the oil giant BP of firing him for refusing to alter data about the cleanup of the 2010 Gulf Coast oil spill. In a lawsuit filed in Louisiana, August Walter says he was subjected to “a malicious campaign” after voicing concerns that BP was defying the cleanup requirement mandated by government officials. Walter says a BP executive informed him of “people watching him” to ensure he would not interfere with BP’s plans. According to Walter, BP officials hid data from the U.S. Coast Guard to avoid having to clean up certain areas. Walter was fired from BP last month. He is seeking compensation under the Louisiana Environmental Whistleblower Statute.
The publisher of the small newspaper the Atlanta Jewish Times has resigned after writing that Israel should consider assassinating President Obama. In a recent column, Andrew Adler wrote that Israel should potentially “take out a president deemed unfriendly to Israel.” The Secret Service says it is investigating.
New York City Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly has apologized for his appearance in a documentary that says Muslim leaders and organizations in the United States are part of a plot for global jihad. An NYPD spokesperson had told reporters that he believed the footage of Kelly had come from another source, not from an interview with filmmakers. But on Wednesday, Kelly admitted he was interviewed for the movie, which is called “The Third Jihad.” The NYPD has also claimed the film was screened only to a small number of officers, but it was revealed this week it was in fact screened to more than 1,400. Groups including the New York chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations and the Muslim American Civil Liberties Coalition are now calling for Kelly’s resignation. In related news, Commissioner Kelly’s son, Greg Kelly, a local television anchor, is being investigated by the Manhattan district attorney after he was accused of raping a woman last October in Lower Manhattan.