The five largest U.S. banks have agreed to a reported $26 billion settlement to resolve claims over abusive practices that forced scores of people from their homes and helped bring about the nation’s financial meltdown. After months of talks with state and federal officials, the banks have reportedly agreed to help some one million homeowners reduce their mortgage debt or refinance their homes at lower rates. Another 750,000 people who have lost homes to foreclosure will receive $2,000. The deal would mark the largest civil action settlement for the housing industry, but would still only help a fraction of the struggling homeowners affected by the bank’s practices. New York and California have signed off on the deal after initially holding it up in protest of lenient treatment of the banks. The settlement will reportedly preserve a lawsuit filed by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman accusing banks of fraud and deceit in the use of an electronic mortgage registry. But the deal gives banks immunity from civil lawsuits for "robo-signing," a practice whereby homeowners were rapidly evicted without proper vetting.
At least four people have been killed in a U.S. drone strike in Pakistan’s North Waziristan region, the second in as many days. Pakistani officials say the victims included Badar Mansoor, a top militant leader with the Pakistani Taliban.
The regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad continues its assault on the flashpoint city of Homs for the sixth consecutive day. Residents say hundreds of people have been killed in a barrage of shellings and rocket attacks by Syrian forces. At the United Nations, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned the assault on Homs and said the Arab League is preparing to revive an observer mission to Syria.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon: "Yesterday I spoke with the Arab League secretary general, Nabil Elaraby, about how to end the killings and begin political negotiations. He informed me that he intends to send the Arab League observer mission back to Syria and asked for U.N. help. He further suggested that we consider a joint observer mission in Syria, including a joint special envoy. I feel that the appalling brutality we are witnessing in Homs, with heavy weapons firing into civilian neighborhoods, is a grim harbinger of worse to come. Such violence is unacceptable before humanity."
Activists in Bahrain are preparing to mark next week’s one-year anniversary of the start of their protests against the U.S.-backed Sunni monarchy. At a rally this week, the Bahraini activist Nabeel Rajab called on demonstrators to reoccupy the Pearl roundabout in the capital Manama.
Nabeel Rajab: "The right of expression, the right to hold gatherings—these are two rights the regime is trying to take away from us. I want to tell you that we should go to Manama, hold protests and, without permission, to stand up to this government and maintain that this is one of our rights. We will not back down on these rights, especially when it comes to protesting at the Pearl roundabout."
The Iraqi government says it will impose new curbs on private military firms to slow what it calls a "giant army" threatening national sovereignty. Iraqi Deputy Interior Minister Adnan al-Asadi said scores of unlicensed weapons have been recovered in raids of the companies’ offices.
Adnan al-Asadi: "What the Interior Ministry worries about is that there is a giant army of these companies on the streets with their weapons. It does not matter if these weapons are licensed. They pose a security risk that must be addressed in any way. "
The United States may be scaling back plans to build military bases in Japan and Guam due to financial and political pressure. In a deal announced Wednesday, the United States said it will hasten removal of 8,000 marines from the island of Okinawa, where plans for a new U.S. military base have faced staunch resistance. Congress has also questioned the cost of a plan to relocate those marines to Guam. Reuters is reporting the United States is seeking more access to ports and airfields in the Philippines in order to refuel and service its warships and planes.
House lawmakers are expected to pass a watered-down version of legislation today banning insider trading in Congress. House Republican leader Eric Cantor has stripped the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge Act, or STOCK Act, of a rule that would have required political intelligence consultants to register in the same way as lobbyists. Democratic Rep. Louise Slaughter of New York said the public needs to know more about these consultants who, she said, "glean information from members of Congress and staff and sell it to clients who make a lot of money off it."
Republican presidential hopefuls returned to the campaign trail on Wednesday, one day after Rick Santorum’s sudden resurgence with a three-state victory. Speaking in Texas, Santorum took aim at what he called progressive "intolerance" of evangelical Christians.
Rick Santorum: "This is the intolerance of the left, the intolerance of the secular ideology. It is a—it is a religion unto itself. It is just not a biblical-based religion. And it is—it is the most intolerant, just like we saw from the days of the atheists in the Soviet Union. It is completely intolerant of dissent, because they fear dissent. Why? Because the dissent comes from folks who use reason, common sense and divine revelation, and they want no part of any of those things."
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is seeking to revive his campaign after losing to Santorum in Colorado, Minnesota and Missouri. Speaking in Atlanta, Romney said both Santorum and Newt Gingrich had acted like Democrats while in political office.
Mitt Romney: "Republicans spent too much money, borrowed too much money, earmarked too much, and Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich have to be held accountable. This is one of the reasons the Tea Party grew up, of course, is that people were unhappy about incumbents, people who had spent their careers in Washington borrowing, spending and earmarking. And they said, 'Look, we want to—we want to throw the guys out that have been there too long and bring in some new faces.' And in this race, I’m the only guy that hasn’t spent time in Washington. And Senator Santorum and Speaker Gingrich, they are the very Republicans who acted like Democrats. And when Republicans act like Democrats, they lose."
Newt Gingrich is campaigning in Ohio, which is one of the states to vote as part of "Super Tuesday" next month. In a far-reaching comment, Gingrich invoked the possibility of a deadly Iranian nuclear attack on Ohio — to stress the importance of U.S. manufacturing.
Newt Gingrich: "You think about an Iranian nuclear weapon. You think about the dangers, to Cleveland or to Columbus or to Cincinnati or to New York. Remember what it felt like on 9/11 when 3,100 Americans were killed. Now imagine an attack where you add two zeros, and it’s 300,000 dead, maybe a half million wounded. This is a real danger. This is not science fiction. And that’s why I think it’s very important that we have the strongest-possible national security. And so, I wanted to come see how you manufacture, remind the news media and others that manufacturing in America can be the dominant system in the world."
Washington state is set to become the seventh state to legalize gay marriage following a vote in the State House. On Wednesday, Washington state lawmakers approved marriage equality legislation, a week after it was passed by the State Senate. Gov. Christine Gregoire is expected to sign the measure into law next week. The Washington vote came just a day after a U.S. appeals court ruled California’s ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional.
More than 200 people rallied in New York City on Wednesday to protest the police killing of 18-year-old Ramarley Graham. Graham was shot at close range in his parents’ apartment in the Bronx after being chased into the house by narcotics detectives. He was unarmed. Carlton Berkley, a retired NYPD detective, criticized Police Commissioner Ray Kelly for skipping a meeting with community members. Berkley says the community was further angered that Kelly did not attend the meeting and address community residents directly.
Carlton Berkley: "Hopefully, the next time, right, the Commissioner will show up. If he wants to, you know, extend his condolences to the family, he can do it face to face. But he also has to apologize to the community. Alright, one young man was killed, but there are thousands who have been mistreated, who have been abused and violated, by the same police officers that took Ramarley Graham’s life and by some of the officers that brutally beat Jateik Reed."
The civil rights activist Dr. Patricia Stephens Due has died at the age of 72. Stephens took part in one of the civil rights movement’s first-ever "jail ins" when she and four others were arrested for sitting at a Woolworth lunch counter in Tallahassee, Florida.