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News Wrap: Obama Condemns Economic Inequality, Calls for Reforms

December 6, 2011 at 12:00 AM EDT
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HARI SREENIVASAN: President Obama condemned economic inequality today, and declared that it is a make-or-break moment for the American middle class.

He spoke in Osawatomie, Kansas, where Theodore Roosevelt delivered his new nationalism speech in 1910, calling for progressive reforms. In his speech today, the president painted Republicans as obstacles to progress.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: They want to go back to the same policies that stacked the deck against middle-class Americans for way too many years. And their philosophy is simple: We are better off when everybody is left to fend for themselves and play by their own rules. I am here to say they are wrong.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Back in Washington, Republicans charged the speech was a ploy to divert attention from the struggling economy.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said the president bears the blame for the impasse on jobs legislation.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL REP.-KY. Minority Leader: I don’t think working Americans should have to suffer anymore than they already are for the president’s failure to turn this jobs crisis around. Unfortunately, the majority leader has yet to introduce legislation that can actually pass the Senate or the House.

 HARI SREENIVASAN: Another confrontation looms later this week, when Senate Democrats offer a new version of the payroll tax cut extension.

Bank of America has agreed to pay $315 million to investors who said they were misled about securities based on risky mortgages. The investments were sold by Merrill Lynch before it collapsed in 2008 and was bought by Bank of America. In today’s settlement, Bank of America admitted no wrongdoing. The agreement now goes to a federal judge who struck down a similar settlement last week involving Citigroup.

Also today, Citigroup announced it is cutting 4,500 jobs over the next few quarters. It’s part of the bank’s efforts to rein in costs.

And, on Wall Street, stocks searched for direction as investors kept watch on efforts to resolve Europe’s debt crisis. The Dow Jones industrial average gained 52 points to close at 12150. The Nasdaq fell six points to close at 2649.

A major financial settlement was announced today in a deadly coal mine accident in West Virginia last year. It was the largest such agreement ever reached.

The settlement means families of the men killed in the Upper Big Branch Mine disaster will finally see some financial relief. The mine’s new owner, Alpha Natural Resources, will pay a record $210 million. That includes $46.5 million to families of the victims and those injured in the blast. There’s also $128 million for mine safety improvements and $35 million in fines for federal mine safety violations.

The Upper Big Branch was owned by Massey Energy at the time of the disaster in April of 2010. An explosion 1,000 feet inside the mine killed 29 men. It turned out Massey Energy had been cited for more than 1,300 federal safety violations over five years.

An inquiry launched by West Virginia’s then Governor Joe Manchin found a pattern of negligence, including bad ventilation, coal dust buildup, and malfunctioning equipment. And, today, the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration issued its final report.

The agency issued 12 citations for violations of federal law that contributed directly to the mine explosion. It designated nine of the violations as flagrant. Those included illegally giving advance notice to miners when inspectors were coming and failing to conduct proper safety examinations.

Massey Energy was acquired by Alpha Natural Resources in June of this year. Under the settlement, the new owner will not be charged with any crimes, but individual employees who were there when the disaster occurred can be prosecuted. And victims’ families retain the rights to file civil lawsuits.

There was also news in the legal fight over last year’s Gulf oil spill. In a federal court filing, BP accused Halliburton of destroying evidence that could prove it shared responsibility for the spill.

The oil company said Halliburton employees destroyed test results showing the contractor used a faulty cement mixture to plug the Macondo oil well. The well exploded, killing 11 workers and causing the worst manmade environmental disaster in U.S. history.

The head of the Federal Aviation Administration resigned today after being charged with drunken driving. Randy Babbitt was arrested over the weekend in Northern Virginia driving on the wrong side of the road. He was a longtime airline pilot and a recognized expert in aviation and labor relations. He became head of the FAA in 2009.

At least 50 people were killed in Syria in the last 24 hours in violence between rival Muslim factions. Activists said it happened in the city of Homs overnight, after a spate of kidnappings earlier on Monday. Amateur video showed victims lying injured in the streets before being taken away for treatment. The violence pitted members of President Bashar Assad’s minority Alawite Shiites against the majority Sunnis.

Also today, Assad received public support from Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah in neighboring Lebanon.

HASSAN NASRALLAH, Hezbollah Leader (through translator): We support the reforms in Syria, and we stand with the regime against the resistance movement. There are some people who do not want reform, security and stability in Syria, and neither civil peace nor dialogue. There are people who want to destroy Syria to make up for their defeat in Iraq. And Syria is a partner in defeating the Americans in Iraq.

HARI SREENIVASAN: The Syrian government has come under growing pressure from new sanctions imposed by the U.S., the European Union and the Arab League.

And, in Egypt, the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood sought today to reassure Egyptians and the world that his group would not try to Islamicize the government. Instead, he insisted the Brotherhood remains committed to democracy. His group and a separate, hard-line Islamist faction dominated the first round of Egypt’s parliamentary elections.

Those are some of the day’s major stories.