News Wrap: Signing the farm bill, Obama praises bipartisan compromise
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JUDY WOODRUFF: January’s jobs report is raising new questions about the strength of the American economy. The Labor Department reported today that employers added 113,000 workers, fewer than expected. At the same time, the unemployment rate actually fell again, by a 10th of a point, so it’s now 6.6 percent. Paul Solman sorts out the numbers for us right after the news summary.
Wall Street apparently saw some bright spots in the employment data. The Dow Jones industrial average gained 165 points to close at 15,794. The Nasdaq rose more than 68 points to close above 4,125. For the week, both the Dow and the Nasdaq gained a fraction of a percent.
President Obama signed a new five-year farm bill into law today. It costs $956 billion, keeps most crop subsidies intact, but it cuts $800 million a year from food stamps, a reduction of about 1 percent. The signing ceremony took place at Michigan State University in East Lansing.
The president acknowledged not everyone’s happy with the outcome.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: It doesn’t include everything that I would like to see, and I know leaders on both sides of the aisle feel the same way. But it’s a good sign the Democrats and Republicans in Congress were able to come through with this bill, break the cycle of shortsighted, crisis-driven, partisan decision-making and actually get this stuff done.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Many Republicans had pushed for steeper cuts to both crop subsidies and food stamps.
The governor of Montana appointed his lieutenant governor, John Walsh, to the U.S. Senate today. Walsh will take the seat currently held by fellow Democrat Max Baucus, who’s resigning to become the ambassador to China. The new senator takes office on Tuesday. He’s already announced he will run for a full term this fall.
The National Security Agency’s sweep of Americans’ phone records is less extensive than first supposed. The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal reported today the NSA now collects less than 30 percent of all calling data. That’s down sharply since 2006, due to surging cell phone use. The reports say that the NSA will seek court approval to sweep up more cell phone records.
In Syria, the Assad regime began evacuating civilians from rebel-held portions of a besieged city. State TV said some 200 people were leaving Homs, as a three-day cease-fire begins. The opposition says 2,500 civilians are trapped there.
In Washington, the State Department said it’s hoping for the best, but taking the news with a grain of salt.
JEN PSAKI, State Department Spokesperson: We have seen the reports overnight, and it’s a very real possibility that, once the evacuations and humanitarian assistance deliveries are complete, the regime could bombard the old city of Homs, as there has been a trend in the past. We don’t know that’s going to happen. We hope that’s not going to happen, but we have those concerns.
JUDY WOODRUFF: The Syrian government also announced it will attend a second round of peace talks in Geneva next week. We will look more closely at both developments later in the program.
Israel has sharply accelerated its destruction of Palestinian properties. Twenty-five relief organizations said today demolitions in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem shot up nearly 50 percent in the last half of 2013. That’s compared to the same period the year before. It also coincides with the renewal of peace talks.
A mass exodus of Muslims began today in the Central African Republic. Thousands fled the capital city of Bangui in a convoy of some 500 cars and trucks. They left under the protection of troops from neighboring Chad, as majority Christians lined the roads to cheer their exit. The Christians blame Muslim rebels for atrocities after they overthrew the country’s president last year.
In Bosnia, violent anti-government protests are escalating. The trouble today was some of the worst since the Bosnian war in the 1990s.
We have a report narrated by Lindsey Hilsum of Independent Television News.
LINDSEY HILSUM: The local government building in Tuzla was the first to be set ablaze. The crowd has been protesting here for three days now, angry about unemployment, the closure of a local factory, and what they see as the failure of Bosnia’s politicians.
Some protesters tried to take over the building, but were forced out by the flames. They marched past the government building in Banja Luka, shouting, “Thieves, thieves,” blaming the government for listening to the International Monetary Fund and not the people.
ALEKSANDER ZOYA, protest leader (through translator): We’re borrowing money from international lenders, but our economy doesn’t function. It’s obvious to everyone in Bosnia and Herzegovina that large companies are being destroyed, that privatization was done disastrously, and that corruption and crime are widespread.
LINDSEY HILSUM: In Zenica, youths threw stones at government buildings, smashing the windows, and destroying the credibility of the protests in the eyes of many. Some protesters concealed their identity.
A mob of youths attacked the local government offices in Mostar. They brought out office furniture to destroy and later went onto the municipal library. It’s not clear if these attacks are orchestrated, but they’re certainly not peaceful protests.
In Sarajevo, they set the presidency ablaze. Some local administrations resigned today. General elections are due in November, but these Bosnians clearly have little faith in democracy to bring about change in a country that never achieved peace, just the absence of war.
JUDY WOODRUFF: The 2014 Winter Olympics officially opened this evening in Sochi, Russia. The event was filled with pageantry and the traditional parade of athletes.
There was one notable hitch, when an illuminated snowflake failed to unfurl into the last of the five Olympic rings. Meanwhile, Turkish officials announced that a man tried to force a Turkish airliner to fly to Sochi, claiming there was a bomb on board. The plane landed in Istanbul anyway, and the suspect was subdued.
Baseball star Alex Rodriguez is ending his legal fight to overturn a record-setting suspension for doping. His federal lawsuits against Major League Baseball, the commissioner and the players union were all withdrawn today. The New York Yankees third baseman went to court after an arbitrator ruled that he will have to sit out the entire 2014 season.
Archaeologists in Britain have found the earliest tracks of human ancestors outside Africa, literally. They announced today the discovery of footprints left in ancient mud between 800,000 and one million years ago. They were preserved in layers of silt and sand before the tide exposed them last year, at Happisburgh in Eastern England.
CHRISTOPHER STRINGER, Professor, Natural History Museum: These people were walking along the side of the river — it was actually the River Thames — probably foraging for food. And it’s a mixed group of people, adults and children.
And as well as the stone tools that we already had, this gives us a physical, direct connection with a group of people who were there really at the beginning of the occupation of Britain.
JUDY WOODRUFF: The creatures who left the footprints may be related to a species who died out about 800,000 years ago.
A NATO dog that disappeared in Afghanistan last December has reappeared in a video with Taliban fighters. The militants posted the video online today. They said they captured the dog during a battle. It shows the animal wearing a vest and being held on a leash by armed men. A Taliban spokesman said the dog is unhurt and being well-treated.