Thousands of websites are limiting content or going completely dark today in a global protest against a pair of anti-piracy bills currently being debated in Congress. The 24-hour protest has been organized to call attention to the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and its companion bill, the Protect IP Act (PIPA), which would radically expand the enforcement of copyrights in a way critics say undermines a free and open internet. According to SOPAStrike.com, more than 10,000 websites are taking part, including the online encyclopedia Wikipedia and the search engine Google.
Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney has agreed to release his income tax returns following calls from rival candidates. During a campaign stop in South Carolina, Romney also revealed his tax rate is likely around 15 percent because most of his income is derived from investments.
Mitt Romney: "What’s the effective rate I’ve been paying? Well, it’s probably closer to the 15 percent rate than anything, because my last 10 years, I’ve—my income comes overwhelmingly from investments made in the past rather than ordinary income or rather than earned annual income. I got a little bit of income from my book, but I gave that all away. And then I get speaker’s fees from time to time, but not very much."
Romney’s 15 percent tax rate on investment income contrasts with the higher tax rates most Americans pay on their income from labor. According to the Congressional Research Service, investment income of the kind Romney earned was the single largest contributor to an increase in income inequality between 1996 and 2006. Romney’s assertion that his speaking fees amount to "not much" also could end up providing fodder to opponents who call him out of touch with most Americans. According to financial disclosure filings, Romney earned more than $360,000 in speaking fees over the 12-month period ending last year.
Hundreds of demonstrators rallied on Capitol Hill on Wednesday in what was billed as the first gathering of Occupy protesters from across the United States. "Occupy Congress" protesters gathered at the Capitol and in congressional office buildings to confront lawmakers as they returned from the holiday recess.
Demonstrator: "Go ahead, but we need to show these people that we are not taking their [expletive] anymore! So we’re about to leave right now. It’s out that way, and we’re going this way. Just follow us. We got this. Let’s do this."
Police say at least four people were arrested during Tuesday’s protests. The White House was briefly put on lockdown after an apparent smoke bomb was thrown over the fence.
President Obama’s jobs council has issued a new set of recommendations calling for more corporate-friendly policies. On Tuesday, the President’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness issued a report backing a reduction of the corporate tax rate, an expansion of domestic energy production and doing away with a number of regulations. In a visit to the council, President Obama praised its members’ work.
President Obama: "I’ve personally emphasized to the White House team and to the cabinet the importance of aggressively implementing the recommendations of this job council. I’ve been tracking implementation of your recommendations, and we’ve seen substantial progress across the board."
Opponents of Wisconsin Republican Gov. Scott Walker have submitted more than a million signatures seeking his recall in a statewide vote. The million-plus signatures amounts to nearly double the required number of 540,000 and is said to mark the largest recall effort in U.S. history. Walker is being challenged for pushing through a controversial law ending collective bargaining rights for most public workers. If the recall effort goes through, he would face a new election in late spring or early summer. Recall petitions were also submitted for Walker’s lieutenant governor, Rebecca Kleefisch, and four Republican state senators who helped pass the anti-union measure.
U.N. Security Council members continue to wrangle over a measure to condemn the ongoing Syrian government crackdown on opposition protesters. On Tuesday, Russia said it wants to ensure any proposed measure does not authorize military intervention. The United States, meanwhile, said the Russian draft falls short of properly taking the Syrian regime to task. Speaking at the White House after a meeting with Jordan King Abdullah, President Obama renewed his call for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down.
President Obama: "Unfortunately, we’re continuing to see unacceptable levels of violence inside that country, and so we will continue to consult very closely with Jordan to create the kind of international pressure and environment that encourages the current Syrian regime to step aside so that a more democratic process of transition can take place inside of Syria."
A Spanish judge who has targeted alleged war criminals worldwide has gone on trial in Spain on charges of overstepping his authority. Baltasar Garzón is known for taking on international human rights cases, with actions including ordering the arrest of former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet in 1998, indicting Osama bin Laden for the 9/11 attacks, and probing the abuse of U.S. prisoners at Guantánamo Bay. But he was suspended as a judge in May 2010 and is now facing three separate trials. On Tuesday, Garzón appeared in court to stand trial on one of the cases, brought by two businessmen accused of bribery who say they were illegally monitored.
An Iraq War veteran has been arrested in Santa Ana, California, on charges of killing four homeless men. Itzcoatl Ocampo is accused of stalking and killing the four victims over a 10-day period last month. Each of the four was stabbed dozens of times. Ocampo served in Iraq until 2008 and was honorably discharged from the Marine Corps in 2010. Friends and relatives say he returned from the war psychologically damaged and suffered from bouts of depression, trembling hands and occasional hallucinations.
Democrats have announced they will move outdoors on the final night of their national convention in September so President Obama can accept the nomination before a larger crowd. Obama will deliver his acceptance speech at Charlotte’s Bank of America Stadium.
Delaware Gov. Jack Markell has commuted the death sentence of a convicted killer to life in prison ahead of his scheduled execution. Robert Gattis had been scheduled to be killed by lethal injection on Friday. It is the first time in Delaware’s history a death row prisoner’s sentence has been commuted to a life term. In related news, 14 people were arrested on the steps of the Supreme Court on Tuesday in a protest marking the 35th anniversary of the resumption of the death penalty.