Toll from Bangladesh Factory Collapse Hits 200; Workers Stage Protests
Thousands of workers have walked off the job in Bangladesh today as the death toll from a collapsed garment building continues to mount. Around 200 people have been found dead in the rubble after an eight-story building housing garment factories collapsed near the capital Dhaka. More than 1,000 people were injured. An unknown number of workers are still trapped in the wreckage. Most of the dead were young female workers. Cracks had been found in the building, but employees say the factory owners forced them to work anyway. The Bangladeshi government has declared a national day of mourning. Angry workers have blocked key highways today, marched on several factories, and rallied outside the headquarters of Bangladesh’s main manufacturers group in Dhaka.
Late Boston Marathon Suspect Was on Terrorism Watch List
More details have emerged on how U.S. intelligence agencies handled warnings about one of the Boston Marathon bombing suspects well before the attacks. The National Counterterrorism Center added Tamerlan Tsarnaev to the government’s main terrorism watch list more than a year ago at the CIA’s request. The move came after the Russian government relayed concerns about Tsarnaev to the CIA, as it had also done with the FBI. The FBI had interviewed him but had found no evidence of wrongdoing. On Wednesday, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney defended the FBI’s claim it did everything it could with the information it had at the time.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney: "You know, all of these — all of these issues are obviously under investigation. What we do know is that the FBI took action in response to that notification, investigated the elder brother, and investigated thoroughly, and came to the conclusion that there was no derogatory information, no indication of terrorist activity or associations, either foreign or domestic, at that time."
News that Tamerlan Tsarnaev was on the intelligence radar is spurring calls for federal agencies to re-examine their priorities, particularly a focus on sting operations that critics say constitute entrapment. In an editorial, The Washington Post writes: "The FBI has devoted considerable resources to sting operations against people it judges to be terror suspects, sometimes on what look like dubious grounds. ... [I]t’s not clear that a sometimes far-fetched plot would have gone forward without the encouragement and help of FBI informants."
Hundreds of Low-Wage Workers Strike in Chicago
Hundreds of low-wage workers walked off the job in Chicago on Wednesday to call for an increased hourly wage and the right to form a union without intimidation. Beginning at dawn with a rally at Chicago’s Union Station, the strike hit retail and fast food giants including McDonald’s, Subway, Dunkin’ Donuts, Macy’s, Victoria’s Secret and Sears. Calling for a wage hike to $15 an hour, the workers moved through Chicago’s shopping district with a chant of "We can’t survive on $8.25." Lorraine Chavez of the Workers Organizing Committee of Chicago said low-wage workers are being overburdened with substandard pay.
Lorraine Chavez: "Many workers have two or three jobs, and they are still qualified for poverty-level assistance like food stamps and rental assistance. So they’re working full-time, and they’re simply unable to even pay for the bare necessities of life."
More than 400 workers took part in a similar one-day strike in New York City earlier this month.
Chicago Students Protest Closings, Standardized Tests
Chicago was also the site Wednesday of a student walkout against standardized testing. Organizers say more than 300 students at more than 25 Chicago public schools boycotted the second day of a state-wide standardized exam. The student boycotters met up for a rally outside a school district meeting where they also urged officials to stop the planned closure of 54 Chicago schools.
Hagel Rejects Israeli Claims on Syrian Chemical Weapons
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has publicly rebuffed the Israeli government’s claim that the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has used chemical weapons against rebel fighters. Israel has sought to prove chemical weapons use by Syria in order to trigger the red line for intervention floated by President Obama. But speaking during a visit to Egypt, Hagel said no conclusive evidence has emerged.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel: "Well, I don’t think there’s any danger. Suspicions are one thing; evidence is another. I think we have to be very careful here before we make any conclusions, draw any conclusions, based on real intelligence. And that’s not at all questioning other nations’ intelligence, but the United States relies on its own intelligence, and must."
U.N. Torture Investigator Says Bahrain Blocking Entry
The U.S.-backed monarchy in Bahrain is again blocking a visit by a top United Nations official seeking to assess conditions on the ground. Juan Méndez, the U.N.'s special rapporteur on torture, says the Bahraini regime has effectively canceled his planned trip to the country next month. The move comes a little over a year after the regime also blocked a visit by Méndez and Amnesty International. The move comes amidst a continued crackdown on opposition protesters, with demonstrations repressed and scores of dissidents held behind bars. In a statement, Méndez said the regime's latest postponement "could be perceived as if there is something to hide." Bahrain is a key U.S. government ally, hosting the Navy’s Fifth Fleet.
EPA Challenges State Dept. Assessment of Keystone XL's Environmental Impact
The Environmental Protection Agency has issued a surprising public challenge to a State Department impact study that effectively endorsed the Keystone XL pipeline. Released last month, the long-awaited assessment concluded the Keystone XL does not threaten the global climate and would lead to fewer emissions than critics have alleged. The State Department’s review marked a major boost to the Keystone XL pipeline’s chances as President Obama mulls whether to approve or reject it. But in an unprecedented letter, the EPA said the State Department had used "insufficient information" to reach its conclusion. The EPA letter singles out the review’s conclusion that building the pipeline will not adversely affect climate change nor impact whether tar sands oil is extracted. The letter was submitted as part of the project’s public comment period, which ended on Monday, Earth Day. Environmentalists say the comment period yielded more than one million submissions opposing the pipeline’s construction.
Lawmakers Skip Hearing on Long-Term Unemployment
A number of lawmakers came under criticism Wednesday when they failed to show up for a congressional hearing on long-term unemployment. Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota was the only lawmaker present when the Joint Economic Committee session began. She was later joined by three others, all of them Democrats, leaving a total of 16 committee members absent.
Federal Judge Orders Pentagon to Disclose Trainees at Controversial Military School
A federal judge has ordered the Pentagon to disclose the names of those who teach and learn at a controversial military training school in Georgia. Formerly known as the School of the Americas, the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation has been used to train Latin American soldiers and police forces, including scores linked to abuses. In a ruling this week, District Judge Phyllis Hamilton of California said the military must provide names for the past eight years of the school’s operations. Judge Hamilton rejected the government’s argument that such a disclosure would violate privacy by saying the "public interest" carries more weight. In a statement, the group School of Americas Watch, whose members brought the case, called the decision "a victory for transparency and human rights, and against government secrecy."
2 Children Among 5 Killed in Illinois Shooting
A shooting incident has killed five people in the small Illinois town of Manchester. A police spokesperson said two of the victims were small children.
Illinois State Lt. Col. Todd Kilby: "The victims’ ages range from a small infant to adults, or through to the adult age, with two of the victims being male children, an adult male and two adult females. There is also a female child in critical condition at an area hospital."
It was the second time a shooting killed five people this week, following an earlier incident outside of Seattle on Monday.
Steubenville High School Coach Given 2-Year Extension
The coach of the pair of Ohio high school football players convicted last month of raping a 16-year-old girl has had his contract renewed for two more years. The two players were convicted of sexually assaulting the victim, who witnesses testified was too drunk to move or speak. The case sparked a national controversy following the emergence of images and social media postings from the night of the assault, including one picture of the defendants holding the victim over a basement floor. Steubenville football coach Reno Saccoccia was given a contract extension despite allegations he helped cover up the allegations and failed to report the case to authorities. He is among those who could come under further scrutiny when a grand jury convenes later this month.
Prison Guards Indicted for Aiding Baltimore Gang
Twenty-five people, including 13 prison guards, have been indicted for assisting a prison gang in Baltimore. The defendants are accused of helping smuggle drugs and goods into several Baltimore facilities to help the "Black Guerilla Family" and its alleged ringleader, Tavon White. Prosecutors said four prison guards became pregnant by White, one of them twice.
Baltimore State’s Attorney Gregg Bernstein: "This case is insidious. This case is extremely serious."
U.S. Attorney Rod Rosenstein: "[White] corrupted a number of correctional officers by developing personal relationships with them, by developing sexual relationships with them and by paying them in order to facilitate gang activity behind bars."
Explosion Wounds 3 on Alabama River Barges
In Alabama, three people were critically wounded after two fuel barges exploded on the Mobile River. Area residents said the blasts shook their homes. A massive fire continued to burn overnight with flames shooting into the air as it was deemed unsafe for firefighters to approach. The barges were reportedly carrying volatile natural gasoline.
Rhode Island Poised to Legalize Same-Sex Marriage
The Rhode Island state Senate has approved a measure that would legalize marriage for same-sex couples. The state House is expected to pass the measure as soon as next week. Rhode Island would become the 10th state to legalize marriage equality.