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President Obama has unveiled his $4 trillion budget proposal for next year, asking Congress to raise taxes for the wealthy and corporations to help fund education and fix crumbling infrastructure. The plan includes tax cuts for some poor and middle-class families. It also seeks to recoup losses from corporations that stash an estimated $2 trillion overseas by taxing such earnings at 14 percent, still less than half of the 35 percent rate for profits made in the United States. The budget takes aim at the high cost of prescription drugs, proposes a new agency to regulate food safety, and seeks $1 billion to curb immigration from Central America. It also calls for a 4.5 percent increase in military spending, including a $534 billion base budget for the Pentagon, plus $51 billion to fund U.S. involvement in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. Speaking at the Department of Homeland Security, Obama said across-the-board cuts known as sequestration would hurt the military.
President Obama: “Just last week, top military officials told Congress that if Congress does nothing to stop sequestration, there could be serious consequences for our national security, at a time when our military is stretched on a whole range of issues. That’s why I want to work with Congress to replace mindless austerity with smart investments that strengthen America. And we can do so in a way that is fiscally responsible.”
The United States and coalition forces have continued their bombardment of Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria. On Monday, U.S. Central Command reported 27 airstrikes in the past 24 hours, including nine near Kobani, Syria, and 17 across Iraq. Meanwhile, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said airstrikes by the Syrian government targeting rebel-held areas killed more than 40 people.
A U.S. drone strike has reportedly killed four people traveling in a car in southeastern Yemen. Unnamed local sources identified the victims as al-Qaeda suspects. It was the third such attack to hit Yemen in a week, including last Monday’s strike, which killed a 12-year-old boy. Meanwhile, the latest tally from the Bureau of Investigative Journalism shows U.S. drone strikes have killed nearly 2,500 people since President Obama took office, including more than 300 civilians. Obama has overseen nearly nine times as many strikes in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia as his predecessor, President George W. Bush.
Greece’s new prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, and his finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis, are each meeting with their Italian counterparts today as they continue to bring their anti-austerity message across Europe. Speaking in London Monday, Varoufakis sought to calm fears over the Syriza party’s plans to renegotiate Greece’s international bailout.
Yanis Varoufakis: “My message to our German friends, and indeed to all Europeans, is that no hand will be overplayed, because we’re not entering this in a confrontational manner. This is what journalists love to portray the situation as, as a kind of Wild West showdown. This is not it. What we have here is different European governments with a common objective, and that is to find — to strike a mutually beneficial deal, one that minimizes the cost of this crisis for the average European, not for the Greeks, not for the Germans, but thinking from a European perspective.”
In an interview with the Financial Times, Varoufakis appeared to back down on Syriza’s call for a debt write-off, suggesting Greece could swap its debts for bonds linked to economic growth. Varoufakis later issued a clarification, saying, “If we need to use euphemisms and financial engineering tools … we will. The bottom line, however, is the same.”
A Greek government minister has vowed the new government will use its veto to block a massive free trade deal between the United States and European Union. Critics of the pact, known as TTIP, or the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, say it would sacrifice environmental and safety regulations for the benefit of corporations. Greek minister Georgios Katrougkalos told the news network EurActiv a Syriza-led parliament would veto the deal in what he called a “gift to all European people.”
Syriza’s victory in Greece has renewed anti-austerity sentiment across Europe. Over the weekend, up to 100,000 people gathered in the Spanish capital Madrid for a rally led by the leftist party Podemos, or “We Can.” Podemos has surged in Spanish opinion polls with a vow to undo austerity.
In related news, Croatia has canceled the debts of its poorest residents. Under a new government plan, an estimated 60,000 low-income residents will see their debts absorbed by creditors, including local banks, major telecommunications providers and city governments. The move comes after more than 300,000 Croatian citizens saw their bank accounts blocked last summer due to debt.
The anti-Islam Pegida movement has held its first-ever march in Austria. But the roughly 250 Pegida supporters who gathered in Vienna were heavily outnumbered by thousands of counterdemonstrators. In the German city of Frankfurt, meanwhile, about 1,200 Pegida critics confronted a rally of 85 supporters and threw eggs at Pegida organizer Heidi Mund.
U.S. oil workers have launched their largest strike in 35 years amid demands for safer conditions, higher pay and better healthcare. Nearly 4,000 members of the United Steelworkers Union walked off the job Sunday at nine sites which supply about 10 percent of the country’s refining capacity. One refinery in California has shut down, while managers have taken over operations at several other sites. The strike comes after union negotiators rejected an offer from Shell, which is leading contract talks on behalf of major firms including ExxonMobil, BP and Chevron. United Steelworkers says the oil industry is “the richest in the world” and can afford to address issues including unsafe staffing levels and dangerous conditions which lead to fires, explosions and leaks.
In New York City, employees of a top legal nonprofit providing services to the poor have gone on strike. Dozens of attorneys and other employees of MFY Legal Services have walked off the job to demand fair pay, family leave and manageable workloads amidst high turnover and an increasing number of cases. Employees say managers have taken illegal steps against the union, including eavesdropping at a meeting.
Freed Al Jazeera journalist Peter Greste has spoken out after 400 days in Egyptian prison. Greste and two of his Al Jazeera colleagues, Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed, were jailed for spreading false news on behalf of the Muslim Brotherhood, which the government considers a terrorist group. They were arrested as part of a crackdown on Al Jazeera after a coup against Muslim Brotherhood President Mohamed Morsi in 2013. Speaking in Cyprus, where he was flown following his release, Greste described the lead-up to his release.
Peter Greste: “And I went for a run, and the prison warden called me over and told me that, you know, 'Time to pack your stuff.' I said, 'What do you mean?' He said ’You’re going.’ I said, 'Well, where? To another prison?' He said, 'No, no, no. The embassy is coming. They'll be here in an hour. Get your stuff and go.’ And I can’t tell you that real mix of emotions that was boiling inside — as I said to you a moment ago, a sense of relief and excitement, but also real, real stress at having to say goodbye to my colleagues and friends and people who have really become family inside that prison.”
Canada’s foreign minister, meanwhile, has said the release of Canadian-Egyptian journalist Mohamed Fahmy is “imminent” after Fahmy agreed to renounce his Egyptian citizenship. Fahmy could be released within hours. A new Egyptian law allows imprisoned foreigners to be deported. Peter Greste is Australian. The fate of the third Al Jazeera journalist, Baher Mohamed, remains unclear, as he is an Egyptian citizen.
The parents of 43 Mexican students missing since September have taken their struggle for answers to the United Nations. The parents traveled to Geneva, where the U.N. Committee on Enforced Disappearances is considering Mexico’s record. Speaking to reporters as he wore a T-shirt showing his missing son, Bernabé Abraján de la Cruz called for international help to uncover the students’ fate.
Bernabé Abraján de la Cruz: “We’ve decided to come here, to this committee, to get some support and to really obtain justice, given the fact that our government is not able to do anything. So we came here, so that human rights, at the international level, will force the government to let us, the 43 families’ parents, know the truth and find our children, our beloved ones, and end this torture.”
The United States has expanded sanctions against Venezuelan officials and their family members. The United States refused to name the officials who will now be banned from receiving visas due to alleged involvement in human rights violations and corruption. Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro criticized the restrictions.
Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro: “We will not allow an empire that has kept us and all of Latin America and the Caribbean in its sights, an empire that has hated and has schemed against the Bolívar document for 200 years to attempt to create the right to punish Bolívar’s homeland, to threaten Bolívar’s homeland.”
More than 4,000 people have submitted claims for compensation over a deadly ignition-switch defect General Motors took over a decade to address. Kenneth Feinberg, who is overseeing the compensation fund for victims, said many of the claims have been deemed ineligible due to a lack of documents. Feinberg, who also oversaw compensation to victims of 9/11 and the BP oil spill, said 120 claims have so far been approved.
Kenneth Feinberg: “So far, we have found 51 deaths and 69 physical injury claims eligible to be paid. Those are the statistics so far. Not one eligible claimant, not one, has yet refused the money and decided to litigate. So I think we’re doing something right.”
In a victory for the open Internet, the chair of the Federal Communications Commission is set to propose regulating Internet service as a public utility. FCC Chair Tom Wheeler is expected to submit a proposal to fellow commissioners this week that would deem Internet access a telecommunications service under Title II of the Communications Act, a step long demanded by advocates of net neutrality, the principle of a free and open Internet. In a statement, the group Free Press called the move “one of the most important victories for the public interest in [the FCC’s] history.”
The family of a teenage girl shot dead by Denver police last week have demanded a federal investigation into the killing. Police say Jessie Hernández, who was 17 years old, drove a stolen car toward an officer. The shooting marked at least the fourth time in seven months Denver police have fired at a moving vehicle, despite a policy urging officers to try to move out of the way, instead of shooting. In a statement, Hernández’s parents said: “We are dismayed that the [Denver Police Department] has already defended the actions of the officers and blamed our daughter for her own death, even while admitting they have very little information. In recent months, police killings have torn apart communities across this nation, and this unjustified shooting of our daughter is only the latest sign of an issue that requires federal oversight.”
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