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Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney faced an icy reception on Wednesday as he addressed the annual convention of the NAACP. Romney drew boos from the crowd when he vowed to repeal President Obama’s healthcare law and billed himself as the better candidate for the African-American community.
Mitt Romney: "If our goal is jobs, we have to stop spending over a trillion dollars more than we take in every year. And so — and so, to do that, I’m going to eliminate every non-essential expensive program I can find. That includes Obamacare. And I’m going to work to reform and save ... (Audience boos) I submit to you this: if you want a president who will make things better in the African-American community, you are looking at him. (Audience boos) You take a look."
Romney later drew controversy when he discussed his NAACP appearance at a fundraising event last night in Montana. Romney reportedly told the crowd: "If they want more stuff from government, tell them to go vote for the other guy — more free stuff. But don’t forget, nothing is really free."
As Mitt Romney continued to vow an end to so-called "Obamacare," the Republican-controlled House passed a measure to repeal the law. Democrats say the measure has no chance of passing the Senate. Speaking on the House floor, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and Democratic Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi traded barbs over the law.
Rep. Eric Cantor: "We are trying to end the era of Washington-controlled healthcare. We believe, as do most of the American people, that it’s patient-centered care is our goal. That’s where we need to start. We start along the path towards that goal by repealing Obamacare."
Rep. Nancy Pelosi: "American people want us to create jobs. That’s what we should be using this time on the floor for, not on this useless bill to nowhere — bill to nowhere, that does serious damage to the health and economic well-being of America’s families."
Wednesday’s House vote marked the 33rd time the House has voted to repeal all or part of Obama’s healthcare law.
The regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has suffered the first known defection from its diplomatic ranks. In a statement to the news network Al Jazeera, Syria’s ambassador to Iraq, Nawaf al-Fares, announced his resignation and his new allegiance to Syria’s rebels.
Nawaf al-Fares: "I’m announcing my resignation as Syria’s ambassador to Iraq. I’m also announcing my withdrawal from the Ba’ath Party, and I call on all party members to do the same, because the regime has used it as a tool to oppress the people and their aspirations to freedom and dignity. I’m announcing, from this moment on, that I’m siding with the revolution in Syria. It’s my natural place in these difficult circumstances which Syria is going through."
The defection of Syria’s ambassador to Iraq, Nawaf al-Fares, comes as President Bashar al-Assad faces the threat of new international sanctions at the United Nations. On Thursday, the United States and three Security Council allies submitted a new proposal that would give Assad a 10-day deadline to implement an international ceasefire plan or face new sanctions. The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, said the sanctions would shore up the work of international monitors inside Syria.
Susan Rice: "The fact is that UNSMIS, regrettably, is not at present able to do the job that this council mandated it to do, because of the regime’s persistent refusal to take the basic steps to halt the violence. Without this council taking concrete measures to increase the pressure for the Annan and Geneva plans to be implemented by the government, it’s not plausible to assume that UNSMIS will be any more able to fulfill its mandate in the future than it is now."
In response to the proposal suggested by the United States and three Security Council allies, Syria’s ambassador to the United Nations, Bashar Jaafari, said the threat of new sanctions could derail the international ceasefire plan.
Bashar Jaafari: "We are fully committed towards the success of Mr. Kofi Annan’s plan. But at the same time, we are fully warning everybody that the other efforts deployed by here and there, by this country or that country, to derail the six-points plan of Mr. Kofi Annan from its initial track, would be extremely dangerous."
Thousands of people marched in Spain’s capital of Madrid on Wednesday after the government unveiled a new round of spending cuts and tax hikes to obtain a rescue of the country’s banks. Speaking to lawmakers, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said the $80 billion austerity measures were demanded by the European Union as a condition for an emergency bailout of Spain’s banks.
Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy: "With the inevitable fiscal adjustment, we must take on the structural reforms our economy needs to recover its competitiveness and flexibility to generate growth and jobs. The package I present in this chamber is balanced, which combines spending cuts with the initiatives for earnings, following the recommendations of the European Council."
After Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s speech, an estimated 70 people were injured after clashes broke out between police and protesters in the streets of Madrid. The crowd included a large turnout of coal miners, who say an end to government subsidies will kill their industry. One protester said Spanish workers are being forced to bear the brunt of Spain’s fiscal crisis.
Julio Novillo: "We, the workers, have to sacrifice ourselves for others — for the bankers, for those who don’t pay their taxes. There is no equitable distribution of suffering over this crisis. The same people always pay: the public workers and non-public workers."
A Guantánamo Bay prisoner who once served as Osama bin Laden’s cook and bodyguard has been released after 10 years behind bars. Ibrahim al-Qosi was initially sentenced to 14 years in 2010 but later had his term reduced under an unspecified plea deal. He was never accused of any acts of violence. Qosi has returned to his native Sudan, where he has been reunited with his wife and two children.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has visited Laos, becoming the first U.S. official in her position to do so in nearly 60 years. During her brief stay, Clinton met with a young victim who lost his forearms and eyesight after an unexploded bomb dropped by the United States during the Vietnam War went off beneath him. The victim urged Clinton to do more to clean up the millions of unexploded bomblets that remain in Laos and that have killed some 20,000 people and injured many more over the past 40 years. The United States has never apologized to Laos for its nine-year bombing campaign, which dropped more than two million tons of bombs between 1964 and 1973. The bombing of Laos was one of the most intense of any country in history, surpassing the combined bombing of Japan and Germany during the Second World War.
The Obama administration has granted permission for U.S. companies to invest in Burma, the latest and most significant in a series of moves to ease sanctions following apparent reforms and the election of Burmese pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi to parliament. The move would open up Burma’s oil-and-gas sector to U.S. companies, despite a call by Suu Kyi for foreign companies to boycott the state-run oil company until it becomes more open and accountable. Human rights groups have slammed the decision, saying the United States appears to have caved to industry pressure.
Activists opposed to the controversial gas drilling process known as "fracking" are hailing an unprecedented direct action that brought a drilling operation in Pennsylvania to a temporary halt. Dozens of activists with the group Earth First! blockaded an access road leading to a well in Pennsylvania’s Moshannon State Forest, stopping operations in an area targeted for heavy drilling. Two activists known as "tree sitters" hung from trees with anchor ropes strung across the access road. Drilling was reportedly suspended for 12 hours at the site before authorities dispersed the protest. Activists say it is the first time protesters have shut down a hydrofracking drill operation in the United States. Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, involves blasting a mix of sand, water and chemicals into shale rock to extract gas. Opponents say the process imperils drinking water supplies, threatens public health and damages the environment. The protest action comes weeks after activists and residents at the Riverdale Mobile Home Park in Jersey Shore, Pennsylvania, staged a protest encampment against a company that had bought the park and evicted residents to make way for a fracking-related operation.
A federal judge has continued to block an effort by the state of Mississippi to close its last remaining abortion clinic. The Jackson Women’s Health Organization faced closure under a new state law that would have forced all physicians who perform abortions to be OB-GYNs with the power to admit patients to local hospitals. The Jackson clinic does employ OB-GYNs, but only one has been able to obtain the necessary hospital privileges. The law would have forced women to drive hundreds of miles out of state in order to obtain an abortion. On Wednesday, Judge Daniel Jordan of Federal District Court extended his ruling from earlier this month blocking the law from taking effect.
At least one protester was injured in clashes with police at New York City’s Zuccotti Park Wednesday during a rally celebrating the 100th birthday of the late, legendary singer-songwriter, Woody Guthrie. Hundreds of Occupy Wall Street protesters gathered at the park Wednesday afternoon, and police reportedly began shoving people onto the sidewalk. The protesters had marched for six days from the Liberty Bell in Pennsylvania. During the rally, protesters sang Guthrie’s legendary folk ballad, "This Land Is Your Land."