Government figures have confirmed July was the hottest month for the United States on record. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says last month saw a nationwide average of 77.6 degrees — 3 degrees above the 20th century average. The previous record dated back to the Dust Bowl era in 1936. The scorching weather in July helped bring on a devastating drought and contributed to the hottest 12-month period on record. The news comes just days after a new study by leading NASA climatologist James Hansen reported the recent spate of extreme weather seen in the United States and around the world cannot be attributed to anything but human-caused global warming.
Hundreds of people gathered in New York City and Washington, D.C., on Wednesday night to hold vigils honoring the victims of the Sikh temple shooting in Wisconsin. Six people were killed when white supremacist Wade Michael Page opened fire at the Oak Creek Sikh temple on Sunday morning. Members of the Sikh community led prayers in front of the White House and in New York’s Union Square.
Supreet Kaur: “The message we want to convey today is one of solidarity, of one that says we, as a country, will not be divided. As Americans, we’ll continue to stand together to persevere and move forward and really use this moment of tragedy to take action to make our country a better place for all religious faiths.”
Sona Raj: “Obviously, things are very divided. I definitely know that our Congress isn’t showing the leadership that we need. I definitely know that our presidential candidates aren’t showing us leadership we need. I’ve been pretty disheartened by their response, and I think if we’re to overcome fear, our leaders need — need — to participate in this dialogue in a much more constructive way.”
Wisconsin police confirmed on Wednesday that Page died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound during a firefight with police after his killing spree inside the temple.
President Obama campaigned in the key battleground state of Colorado on Wednesday with a speech highlighting his record on women’s rights. Obama said Republicans want to roll back women’s healthcare choices to the 1950s.
President Obama: “When it comes to a woman’s right to make her own healthcare choices, they want to take us back to the policies more suited to the 1950s than the 21st century. And, Colorado, you’ve got to make sure it does not happen. The decisions that affect a woman’s health, they’re not up to politicians. They’re not up to insurance companies. They’re up to you.”
Obama was introduced at the event by Sandra Fluke, the recent graduate of Georgetown University law student who came under right-wing attack earlier this year after she spoke out for insurance coverage of contraception.
Republican candidate Mitt Romney continues to face scrutiny over his record at the private equity firm Bain Capital. The latest controversy to surround Bain concerns how Romney helped found the company with investments from Central American elites linked to death squads in El Salvador. After initially struggling to find investors, Romney traveled to Miami in 1983 to win pledges of $9 million, 40 percent of Bain’s start-up money. Some investors had extensive ties to the death squads responsible for the vast majority of the tens of thousands of deaths in El Salvador during the 1980s. The investors include the Salaverria family, whom the former U.S. ambassador to El Salvador, Robert White, has previously accused of directly funding the Salvadoran paramilitaries. In his memoir, former Bain executive Harry Strachan writes that Romney pushed aside his own misgivings about the investors to accept their backing. Strachan writes: “These Latin American friends have loyally rolled over investments in succeeding funds, actively participated in Bain Capital’s May investor meetings, and are still today one of the largest investor groups in Bain Capital.”
Syrian government forces continue to bombard areas of the besieged city of Aleppo in a fierce battle against rebel fighters. Several neighborhoods have reportedly been reduced to rubble as the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad wages a massive ground assault to retake the city. On Wednesday, Amnesty International released satellite imagery showing extensive bombings around Aleppo.
Sanjeev Bery: “Amnesty International has released new satellite imagery with regards to the violence in Aleppo that shows hundreds of craters where artillery and mortars may have been used, in all likelihood by the Syrian government’s armed forces. This suggests that there are widespread attacks happening within the community of Aleppo and the surrounding areas. And Amnesty International USA is calling on both the opposition forces and the Syrian government to respect the rights of civilians and to cease any attacks that may endanger civilian lives.”
Civilian deaths in Afghanistan have declined for the first time in five years. The deputy chief of the U.N. mission in Afghanistan, Nicholas Haysom, unveiled the new figures on Wednesday.
Nicholas Haysom: “Civilian deaths and injuries declined by 15 percent in the first six months of 2012. Despite this reduction in civilian causalities overall, conflict in Afghanistan continues to inflict a disproportionate and unacceptable toll on Afghan women, children and men.”
Around a third of those killed or wounded from January through June were women or children. The U.S.-led NATO occupation force and the Afghan military accounted for around 14 percent of the deaths. Most NATO victims died in air strikes.
The United States has entered into its first ever clean-up operation of Vietnamese areas contaminated by the toxic chemical defoliant Agent Orange during the Vietnam War. The United States sprayed nearly 20 million gallons of Agent Orange on a quarter of the former South Vietnam and border areas of Cambodia and Laos between 1962 and 1971. Agent Orange has been linked to cancer, diabetes and birth defects among millions of Vietnamese, as well as U.S. veterans. Earlier today, the U.S. ambassador to Vietnam, David Shear, kicked off a project to clean up the chemical at a major airport.
David Shear: “This process uses high temperatures to break down the dioxin in the contaminated soil and make it safe, by Vietnamese and U.S. standards, for the many men, women and children who live and work in this area. The dioxin in the ground here is a legacy of the painful past we share, but the project we undertake here today, hand in hand with the Vietnamese, is, as Secretary [Hillary] Clinton said, a sign of the hopeful future we are building together.”
Japan is marking the 67th anniversary today of the U.S. atomic bombing of the city of Nagasaki. Some 70,000 people were killed instantly and another 10,000 died in the aftermath of the attack on August 9, 1945, which flattened the city. It happened three days after U.S. planes dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima, killing an estimated 140,000 people.
Environmental groups are hailing a move by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission to suspend final decisions on licenses for power plants until it can finish a court-ordered reassessment of risks associated with storing nuclear waste. The five-member commission took action after the U.S. Court of Appeals rejected the agency’s rules for permanent storage of nuclear waste in June, saying the regulations failed to adequately evaluate risks. The decision allows the NRC to continue reviewing license applications. Some two dozen environmental groups had pushed the commission to halt license and renewals, citing the dangers of nuclear waste.
The New York Times is reporting a number of companies have increased the production of dangerous chemicals in order to profit from the carbon credits earned by reducing the pollution they cause. Since 2005, manufacturers of gases used in air conditioning and refrigeration have sharply boosted their production of a waste gas just to obtain the large number of credits they get for ultimately destroying it. The credits have then been sold to other polluters, yielding earnings of tens of millions of dollars a year. The United States and European Union have taken recent steps to thwart the scheme, but critics say it has become so pervasive it could be difficult to slow down.
The embattled breast cancer charity Susan G. Komen for the Cure has announced a change in leadership months after it sparked a controversy by cutting funds for cancer screenings and education from Planned Parenthood. According to an announcement Wednesday, Komen’s founder, Nancy Brinker, will leave her job as chief executive, and the charity’s president, Liz Thompson, will resign. Brinker will move to a new management role within the charity, while Thompson will leave altogether next month. Brinker, who founded Komen in honor of her sister who died from breast cancer, is a major Republican donor. Komen was forced to reverse its decision cutting funds to Planned Parenthood this winter after a massive outcry.
The pharmaceutical giant Pfizer has agreed to a $60.2 million fine to settle allegations of making illegal payments to win contracts abroad. In a complaint filed by U.S. regulators, Pfizer was accused of paying bribes to foreign officials in more than a half-dozen countries to obtain business and increase prescriptions of its products. The alleged misconduct dates back to 2001.
Results are in from four state primaries held on Tuesday, some in districts newly redrawn ahead of the 2012 congressional elections. Elections in Michigan, Missouri and Washington were generally seen as positive for Democrats, as Democratically preferred candidates from both parties took key victories. In Kansas, right-wing candidates for state senate made major gains in the Republican primaries, ousting at least seven incumbent senators and paving the way for the state senate to shift further to the right. In Missouri’s primary, tea party conservative Todd Akin beat out the wealthy businessman John Brunner in a bid for the seat now held by Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill. Outside groups, including Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS, have poured as much as $15 million into the state to challenge McCaskill ahead of what’s expected to be one of the most closely watched Senate races of 2012. Meanwhile, in Michigan, longtime Democratic Rep. John Conyers staved off a challenge in a redrawn district, clearing the way for his 25th term.
In Russia, the trial has concluded for three members of a feminist punk band imprisoned for staging a church protest against Russian leader Vladimir Putin. In February, five members of the group Pussy Riot rushed before the altar in one of Russia’s main Orthodox cathedrals wearing dresses, tights and brightly colored balaclavas. They danced, genuflected and prayed to the Virgin Mary to expel Putin, who is now serving a third stint as Russia’s president. The three, all in their twenties, have been in jail for five months and could face up to seven years behind bars. A verdict is expected next week. Performing a concert in Russia this week, the U.S. pop singer Madonna voiced her support for the jailed band.
Madonna: “I know there are many sides to every story, and I have—and I mean no disrespect to the church or the government, but I think that these three girls—Masha, Katja, Nadia—yes, I think that they have done something courageous. I think they have paid the price for this act, and I pray for their freedom.”
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