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The Congressional Budget Office has renewed warnings the U.S. economy will fall into recession if scheduled spending cuts and tax hikes take effect in January. According to the CBO, the so-called “fiscal cliff” of expiring tax cuts coupled with the need to cut $1.2 trillion in spending under last year’s debt deal will force the downturn. The CBO has previously warned the U.S. economy faces a contraction of 1.3 percent, but it is now revised that prediction to a higher number of 2.9 percent, a dip it says is “similar in magnitude to the recession of the early 1990s.”
President Obama hit the campaign trail in Nevada on Wednesday with a focus on his and Republican rival Mitt Romney’s competing plans on education. Speaking at a high school in Las Vegas, Obama said Romney would gut the U.S. school system to help fund tax cuts for the wealthy.
President Obama: “The plan Governor Romney has put forward would cut America’s investment in education by nearly 20 percent. And here’s the thing. He’s not making these cuts because he wants to create jobs or pay down the deficit. He’s doing it to pay for a new $5 trillion tax cut that’s weighted towards the wealthiest Americans.”
Mitt Romney campaigned in Iowa on Wednesday, where he urged supporters to recruit swing voters who helped elect President Obama in 2008.
Mitt Romney: “I want you to each find one person who voted for Barack Obama last time and convince them that we should take a different course. Remind them how disappointing it’s been over these last three-and-a-half, four years. Find them. Talk to them. Get them to the polls.”
Republican vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan continues to face questions over his ties to Missouri Rep. Todd Akin. Republicans have urged Akin to drop his Senate bid following his claim that women’s bodies can prevent pregnancies in cases of what he called “legitimate rape.” The Akin controversy has spilled over into the presidential campaign, in part because Ryan and Akin co-sponsored the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act last year, which attempted to redefine rape by introducing the term “forcible rape.” Speaking aboard a flight out of North Carolina, Ryan sought to distance himself from Akin.
Paul Ryan: “You know, he should have dropped out of the race, but he’s not. He’s going to run his campaign. We’re going to run ours.”
The struggle over voting rights is continuing to rage in Ohio. Last week, Secretary of State Jon Husted announced all counties would follow uniform hours for early voting after criticism the state’s uneven hours benefited white Republicans while disenfranchising people of color. Advocates had continued to push for early voting hours to be extended to the weekends. But a few days ago, Husted suspended two local election officials who voted to extend early voting to weekends in one county. Tension increased this week when the chairman of the Republican Party in another Ohio county was accused of making a racist statement. Doug Preisse, a top adviser to Republican Gov. John Kasich, was quoted in a local paper saying: “I guess I really actually feel we shouldn’t contort the voting process to accommodate the urban — read African American — voter turnout machine.”
Syria’s capital of Damascus is seeing some its heaviest fighting between Syrian government forces and rebels so far this month. At least 40 people were killed Wednesday in government shelling and raids in the city’s southern districts. The violence coincided with the departure from Syria of the last international monitors with the expired U.N. mission. Also Wednesday, U.N. humanitarian chief Valerie Amos launched a new appeal for international aid to help displaced Syrians.
Valerie Amos: “I’m also extremely concerned that all parties to the conflict are failing to comply with international humanitarian law, which sets out clear rules on the protection of civilians. This conflict has taken on a particularly brutal and violent character. We have all seen distressing images on our television screens, and it is ordinary women, men and children who are caught in the midst of it.”
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has rebuffed calls from the United States and Israel to boycott an upcoming international conference in Iran. On Wednesday, a U.N. spokesperson confirmed Ban will attend next week’s gathering of non-aligned developing nations in Tehran.
Martin Nesirky: “The secretary-general looks forward to the summit as an opportunity to work with the participating heads of state and government, including the host country, towards solutions on issues that are central to the global agenda, including follow-up to the Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development, disarmament, conflict prevention, and support for countries in transition. The secretary-general also takes seriously his responsibility and that of the United Nations to pursue diplomatic engagement with all of its member states.”
Clashes have erupted between protesters and government forces in Bahrain at the funeral of a young demonstrator. The victim, 16-year-old Hussam al-Haddad, was killed on Friday in what activists called a brutal attack by the Bahraini police. Violence erupted at Haddad’s funeral, with police firing tear gas and arresting at least eight people. Bahrain is a key U.S. government ally, hosting the Navy’s Fifth Fleet.
Anonymous government officials are claiming the Obama administration has yet to decide on whether to bring criminal charges and attempt to extradite WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. Speaking to Reuters, several unnamed officials said the likelihood of a case against Assange in the United States “is probably receding rather than growing.” Assange was granted asylum by Ecuador last week to avoid extradition to face questioning on sex crimes charges in Sweden. Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa has said Assange would agree to go to Sweden if it could guarantee he will not be sent on to a third country. On Wednesday, Correa rejected calls from U.S. opponents of Assange and WikiLeaks to punish Ecuador for granting him asylum.
Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa: “The United States, in speeches, say they have nothing to do with the Assange case, but now senators threaten to 'sanction,' in quotation marks, Ecuador for granting asylum to Assange, removing tariff preferences. Keep your tariff preferences. And if you want a contribution from Ecuador for a course on ethics and training in human rights, use these resources.”
The island of Hispaniola, home to Haiti and the Dominican Republic, is bracing for a potential hurricane with the approaching Tropical Storm Isaac. The storm is gathering strength as it barrels toward the two neighboring island countries. There are fears Isaac will trigger massive flooding and landslides in Haiti as in storms of years past. In the United States, officials in Florida have raised the possibility that Isaac may force the delay or cancellation of the Republican convention in Tampa next week.
Federal health officials are reporting the United States is facing one of its worst-ever outbreaks of the West Nile virus. The Centers for Disease Control says 1,118 cases and 41 deaths have been reported across the country, a major jump even from just a week ago. Texas is bearing the brunt of the outbreak, accounting for more than half of this year’s cases.
California Gov. Jerry Brown has declared a state of emergency in three northern counties where a wildfire is raging out of control. The Ponderosa fire has already engulfed an area spanning 24,000 acres, forcing 3,000 people to flee their homes.
A New York Times investigation has revealed how an energy company with close ties to President Obama may have received special access to the administration and possibly exerted influence on environmental regulations. Records show executives from Exelon met unusually frequently with top members of the Obama administration during crucial moments in the development of environmental regulations. Those regulations ended up being drafted in a way that hurt Exelon’s competition, while softening the regulatory blow for the company and its allies. At one point, just days after a meeting with Exelon last year, a White House official instructed an environmental regulator to rewrite major portions of a rule governing water intake at power plants. The company has also received large amounts of government financial aid, including becoming one of just six electric utilities nationwide to receive a maximum stimulus grant of $200 million.
Dozens of people rallied in Los Angeles on Wednesday outside the home of an African-American college student whose beating by police was caught on video. Twenty-year-old Ronald Weekley was allegedly skateboarding on the wrong side of the street on Saturday when he was detained. Video from bystanders on the scene shows police officers punching Weekley as they hold him on the ground. He was left with a broken nose and cheekbone. Addressing Wednesday’s protest, Weekley said he hopes to ultimately forgive those who hurt him.
Ronald Weekley: “I’m not walking away from what happened to me with hatred in my heart. I’m walking away with love and forgiveness in my heart. And I’m making a better situation after what happened.”
Weekley says the police beating left him with a broken nose and cheekbone. He also faces charges of obstructing an officer. The Los Angeles Police Department says it is investigating for potential misconduct.