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Syrian troops continue to bombard areas of the city of Aleppo in the sixth day of clashes with rebel forces. The regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has faced new accusations of indiscriminate attacks as it seeks to reclaim rebel strongholds. Syrian activists say nationwide violence killed 108 people on Wednesday, more than half of them civilians. The head of United Nations peacekeeping, Hervé Ladsous, said international monitors are struggling to carry out their mission before it expires next month.
Hervé Ladsous: “As you know, about half the military observers have been, for the time being, sent back to their country. So the mission operates on a reduced basis, reduced in numbers, reduced in team sites in the province, and does what it can, but of course taking into account the security situation, which in many places is extremely delicate.”
A government forecast says the worst U.S. drought in about a half century will drive up the cost of food next year. In a new projection, the Department of Agriculture says food prices will climb 3 to 4 percent, with the price of beef increasing up to 5 percent. The scorching drought in the Midwest has ravaged fields and driven up the price of soybeans, wheat and corn, with domino effects on the cost of meat and other products. Economists fear the drought could impact global food prices since the United States is a major agricultural exporter. The Department of Agriculture, meanwhile, has added 76 counties in six states — including Wisconsin, Michigan and Kansas — to a list of natural-disaster areas due to damage caused by drought and heat. Nearly 1,400 counties have been designated as disaster areas in the 2012 crop year — more than 1,200 of them due to drought. The U.S. Drought Monitor last week found nearly 64 percent of the contiguous United States is in moderate to exceptional drought.
Police in Colorado have revealed Aurora shooting suspect James Holmes detailed his planned massacre more than a week before the attack occurred. An unopened package sent by Holmes and recovered at a University of Colorado mailroom contained illustrations and notes about killing a large number of people. The package was sent to a psychiatrist but never opened.
Speaking on Wednesday in Louisiana, President Obama said he plans to tackle U.S. gun violence in the shooting’s aftermath
President Obama: “A lot of gun owners would agree that AK-47s belong in the hands of soldiers, not in the hands of criminals, that they belong on the battlefield of war, not on the streets of our cities. I believe the majority of gun owners would agree that we should do everything possible to prevent criminals and fugitives from purchasing weapons, and we should check someone’s criminal record before they can check out a gun seller, that a mentally unbalanced individual should not be able to get his hands on a gun so easily. These steps shouldn’t be controversial; they should be common sense.”
President Obama’s comments on gun violence come as he faces pressure to back a robust global arms treaty before a Friday deadline. All 193 members of the U.N. General Assembly are scrambling to complete the first-ever global agreement regulating the arms trade. The United States is by far the world’s largest producer, importer and exporter of armaments. The Obama administration has demanded a number of exemptions from the new proposals, citing so-called “national security interests.” Brian Wood, the head of Arms Control at Amnesty International, said President Obama holds the key to determining whether the treaty will be effective.
Brian Wood: “It’s still hanging in the balance. The decision is in the White House with President Obama as to whether he will agree a 'golden rule' in the treaty that will mandate governments to stop the transfer of arms if it’s known or there’s a substantial risk the arms are going to be used for war crimes or crimes against humanity, acts of genocide, or serious violations of human rights.”
The fallout from fatal police shootings of two Latino men continues in Anaheim, California, with at least 24 people arrested in a mass protest that stretched late into Tuesday night. Several people were injured in major clashes between protesters and police as hundreds of people marched through downtown Anaheim, some reportedly smashing windows and setting fires. On Wednesday, the mother of police victim Manuel Diaz called for the violence to end, saying she did not want it to be her son’s legacy.
U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner appeared before Congress on Wednesday to answer questions surrounding his initial response to the rigging of the international interest rate, Libor. The banking giant Barclays was fined $453 million last month for manipulating Libor, which provides the basis for rates on trillions of dollars in transactions across the globe. Recent documents and testimony have fueled accusations Geithner failed to adequately share his knowledge of Barclays’ actions with federal regulators when he headed the New York Federal Reserve four years ago. In his testimony, Geithner insisted he acted responsibly.
Timothy Geithner: “I felt that we did the important and fully appropriate thing, which is to bring the attention not just to the people in Washington that matter but to the British of the — not just the reports and the concerns that were broadly available in the market, in the public domain, but also of the range of problems in the way this rate was designed that created that vulnerability. And so, we gave — we brought those concerns to their attention, and we felt, and I still believe this, that it was really going to be on them to take responsibility for fixing this.”
Geithner has come under criticism because federal regulators received little cooperation from the New York Fed in building their case against Barclays, despite the Fed’s knowledge of Barclays’ actions. Testifying before a British inquiry last week, Bank of England governor Mervyn King said: “At no stage did [Geithner] or anyone else at the New York Fed raise any concerns with the Bank that they had seen any wrongdoing.”
The Coalition of Immokalee Workers held rallies nationwide on Wednesday to urge the fast food chain Chipotle to enter into an agreement ensuring humane working conditions for farmworkers harvesting tomatoes sold inside its restaurants. The Immokalee Workers’ campaign has already won “Fair Food Agreements” from chains including Subway, McDonald’s and Burger King. The protests come one day after thousands of workers rallied in New York City to call for an increase to the U.S. minimum wage, which has remained at $7.25 for the past three years.
The Washington Post is reporting the online phone platform Skype has increased its cooperation with law enforcement to give police access to online chats and other user data, including credit card numbers and addresses. Skype has had a reputation as a highly secure platform used around the world by activists seeking to avoid government repression. Its reputation for security stemmed from its strong encryption technology and other features. But authorities had pushed for changes, saying Skype’s security allowed criminals to communicate secretly. Skype’s security changes have been hailed by law enforcement but strongly criticized by anti-surveillance activists.
One of five self-described anarchists accused of seeking to blow up a Cleveland-area bridge has pleaded guilty and agreed to testify against the four others. The five were detained in April after allegedly planting and detonating what they thought were active bombs. It turned out the bombs were fakes supplied by FBI informants. On Wednesday, Anthony Hayne agreed to a plea deal that would see him receive a maximum sentence of 15 years in return for his testimony.
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