News Wrap: Greece, Italy Show Signs of Political Progress
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HARI SREENIVASAN: There were signs of political progress today in Greece and Italy, after days of uncertainty that unsettled markets worldwide. Respected economists stood ready today to take charge of new governments in both countries.
NewsHour correspondent Kwame Holman narrates our report.
KWAME HOLMAN: Behind the darkened windows of this Mercedes, Lucas Papademos, a former European Central Bank vice president, arrived this morning at the Greek presidential palace in Athens. After four days of intense discussions among political parties, he was named prime minister of an interim unity government — his challenge: to win parliamentary approval of a new bailout for his country that includes additional spending cuts.
LUCAS PAPADEMOS, Greek prime minister (through translator): The road will not be easy, but I am convinced that the problems will be resolved. And they will be resolved faster and with less cost and more efficiently if there is unity, understanding and wisdom.
KWAME HOLMAN: And in beleaguered Italy, there was new urgency to adopt economic reforms as quickly as possible. That would pave the way for Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi to resign and lead to a new interim regime.
Just yesterday, interest rates on Italy’s 10-year bonds soared to higher than 7 percent, a level that triggered panic that Italy could never repay its debts. But, today, the country’s borrowing rates fell back toward levels considered manageable. It was widely reported the European Central Bank might be buying up Italy’s bonds to help stabilize markets.
And investors appeared further reassured by growing signs that Mario Monti will become prime minister after Berlusconi leaves office.
BJORN THOMASSEN, American University of Rome: I think Mario Monti is the person that the markets are waiting for. The former EU commissioner, he’s been dealing with competition policy. He’s internationally respected. He’s a very good economist.
KWAME HOLMAN: But on the streets of Rome today, some working Italians were highly skeptical that things will get much better, even with a change of government.
ROBERTO SCALENA, Italy (through translator): Everything they do is against us. It’s clear it can’t go on like this. After Berlusconi resigns, whoever leads the government will have to invent something to raise wages, provide us with enough work to help families that are at risk.
KWAME HOLMAN: Meanwhile, the Parliament in Portugal today began debating further austerity measures, including pay cuts and steep tax hikes.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Wall Street calmed today on the news from Europe. Stocks also rose on a report that first-time claims for jobless benefits fell last week, for the third time in four weeks. The Dow Jones industrial average gained nearly 113 points to close just under 11,894. The Nasdaq rose three points to close at 2,625.
The Democratic majority in the U.S. Senate blocked a Republican effort today to halt new regulations on air pollution. The rules were designed to stop power plant emissions from blowing downwind across state lines.
Kentucky Republican Rand Paul argued the curbs are too costly, and will force some plants to shut down.
SEN. RAND PAUL, R-Ky.: We have $2 trillion worth of regulations heaped on our economy, 14 million people out of work, 2 million new people out of work since this president came into power. We cannot allow this administration to continue with their job-killing regulations.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Democrats insisted that rolling back the pollution rules would have major health consequences.
Majority Whip Dick Durbin warned that without the regulations, the only jobs created would be in medical fields.
SEN. RICHARD DURBIN, D-Ill. majority whip: Sadly, the people who will go to work are those who work in emergency rooms, those who work to make nebulizers for those suffering from asthma, people who make oxygen tanks. I’m sorry to say this, but that is the reality.
HARI SREENIVASAN: The two parties were able to come together to approve a new tax credit for businesses that hire military veterans. It’s the first small piece of President Obama’s job creation agenda that’s likely to become law.
The bloodshed in Syria surged in the last 48 hours. Activists reported at least 25 people were killed today. That brought the death toll to nearly 50 in the last two days. In some of the attacks, security forces opened fire while conducting raids on homes in a manhunt for dissidents. Others died in clashes between soldiers and army defectors.
New violence has broken out along the border between Sudan and the new nation of South Sudan. Warplanes from the north bombed a refugee camp in the south today. There were conflicting reports of casualties, but it was the second such attack in two days. Tensions remain high between the two nations just four months after South Sudan gained its independence.
British lawmakers had another go today at James Murdoch over phone hacking by a Murdoch tabloid newspaper. Former top staffers in the Murdoch family’s empire have contradicted his previous statements.
We have a report from Tom Bradby of Independent Television News.
TOM BRADBY: James Murdoch was recalled today to be asked whether he lied to M.P.s. Had he in fact seen an e-mail that suggested phone hacking was widespread?
No, he said, no, no, no, and no.
TOM WATSON, Labor Party M.P.: Did you mislead this committee in your original testimony?
JAMES MURDOCH, News International: No, I didn’t. I believe their testimony was misleading and I dispute it. And I want to be very clear. No documents were shown to me at that meeting or given to me at that meeting or prior.
TOM BRADBY: In the Commons, Tom Watson has pursued this case with more vigor than most. He asked a lot of very detailed questions and ended with a flourish.
TOM WATSON: You’re familiar with the word mafia?
JAMES MURDOCH: Yes, Mr. Watson?
TOM WATSON: Mr. Murdoch, you must be the first mafia boss in history who didn’t know he was running a criminal enterprise.
JAMES MURDOCH: Mr. Watson, please.
TOM BRADBY: The general consensus here was that that question made Mr. Watson look a little ridiculous.
But other M.P.s made greater headway when they asked, well, Mr. Murdoch, if you didn’t know what was going on, why on earth didn’t you ask a few more pertinent questions?
PAUL FARRELLY, Labor Party M.P.: It’s remarkably incurious. Are you always so incurious with all the other businesses that you run in News Corp.?
JAMES MURDOCH: I had no reason to believe that and nor was I provided any reason to believe that anything further was afoot.
TOM BRADBY: There’s only one truth you can really grasp tonight, which is that many of the pillars of the Murdoch empire are now trying to tear each other to pieces.
HARI SREENIVASAN: To date, more than a dozen journalists at the Murdochs’ British subsidiary have been arrested. Several executives have resigned.
The strongest storm to hit Alaska in nearly 40 years pounded coastal communities overnight. High winds whipped snow and rain off the Bering Sea at speeds upwards of 85 miles an hour, what forecasters call a snowicane. The storm tore off roofs and caused flooding in Nominee and elsewhere.
Those are some of the day’s major stories.