President Obama has kicked off a series of heavily promoted speeches about the economy and his plan to rejuvenate the American middle class. Speaking in Illinois, Obama said the nation’s economic recovery has been too skewed toward the top 1 percent.
President Obama: "Even though our businesses are creating new jobs and have broken record profits, nearly all the income gains of the past 10 years have continued to flow to the top 1 percent. The average CEO has gotten a raise of nearly 40 percent since 2009. The average American earns less than he or she did in 1999. ... It undermines the very essence of America — that idea that if you work hard, you can make it here. And that’s why reversing these trends has to be Washington’s highest priority."
Rallies were held across the country on Wednesday in a national day of action to increase the minimum wage. The #RaiseTheWage protests were held on the fourth anniversary of the last time the minimum wage was increased, to the current rate of $7.25 an hour. In cities from coast to coast, demonstrators rallied outside of major retailers and fast-food chains including Wal-Mart, Target, Dunkin’ Donuts and Papa John’s. In Washington, D.C., protesters broke into song in one of several stops at local McDonald’s.
Protester: "You low-wage workers, you deserve a living wage of at least $13 an hour. You think you can make it a little better? Right now, as we speak, all across America, people are standing up and stepping out and fighting for you."
A new poll released Wednesday by the National Employment Law Project Action Fund shows that 80 percent of Americans support raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour and adjusting it for costs of living. Seventy-five percent listed a minimum wage hike as a top congressional priority over the next year.
The Senate has approved a bipartisan measure to lower student loan rates for now, only to hike them in just a few years. The interest rate for Stafford loans climbed to 6.8 percent earlier this month after Congress failed to reach a deal to avoid the hike. Under the new Senate measure, students will pay a lower rate through 2015 but then see those rates jump as they become attached to financial markets. The bill passed by a margin of 81 to 18. Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren was among those to vote in opposition.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren: "My colleagues who support this proposal say that it will lower loans — interest rates on loans for this year and that’s all that matters. Now, that’s the same thing credit card companies said when they sold zero-interest credit cards, and it’s the same thing subprime mortgage lenders said when they sold teaser rate mortgages. In all these cases, the bill comes due. Nobody disputes the fact that within just a few years, according to our best estimates, students — all students will end up paying far higher interest rates on their loans than they do right now."
Earlier this year, Sen. Warren proposed a measure that would have lowered student loan interest rates to 0.75 percent — the same rate given to big banks on government loans.
The House has narrowly rejected a proposal to block the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of data on all phone calls placed in the United States. The amendment to the annual Pentagon funding bill would have kept NSA phone spying to specific targets instead of the mass dragnets currently in place. The measure brought together a broad group of Republicans and progressive Democrats for the first major showdown on government spying since Edward Snowden’s leaks were disclosed last month. The final vote was 217 to 205, closer than expected. On the eve of the vote, the Obama administration deployed a lobbying effort to reject the bill, sending NSA director Keith Alexander to meet with lawmakers. In a separate vote, the House also rejected a measure that would have blocked funding for perpetual war under the 2001 act authorizing the so-called war on terror.
The National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden remains at a Moscow airport despite initial reports he had been granted permission to leave. Snowden applied for temporary asylum in Russia last week after the Obama administration revoked his passport, leaving him unable to travel to Latin America, where he has received offers of asylum. Russian authorities have now granted Snowden provisional authorization to enter Russia while his bid is reviewed, a process that could take up to three months. But he is said to remain at the airport because the actual travel documents have not been delivered. In Washington, State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki confirmed that Secretary of State John Kerry telephoned Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Wednesday shortly after news broke of Snowden’s temporary asylum in Russia.
State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki: "He expressed our — reiterated our belief, which we’ve stated publicly and privately, that Mr. Snowden needs to be returned to the United States, where he will face a fair trial. As you all know, he’s been accused of three felony accounts [sic], he is not a human rights activist, he is somebody who’s been accused of leaking classified information, and that Russia still has the ability to do the right thing and facilitate his return."
At least 78 people are dead and more than 131 wounded after a train derailment in northern Spain. Rescuers struggled to pull bodies from overturned carriages and mangled debris. It was one of Europe’s deadliest train accidents in 25 years.
Thousands of supporters of ousted President Mohamed Morsi are rallying in Egypt today one day before a rival protest called for by the army’s top general. General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has asked supporters to demonstrate on Friday in support of a military crackdown on what he called "violence and potential terrorism." A Muslim Brotherhood spokesperson said Sisi is inventing a pretext for a crackdown on Islamist opponents.
Gehad El-Haddad: "The coalition asserts that the threats made by al-Sisi, leader of the military coup, is nothing short of a full call on civil war, and a warning that massacres, widespread massacres, will be held under a false cover of popular support. And we also assert that such terror-mongering calls will not scare or terrorize the Egyptian people."
More than 100 people have been killed in Egypt since Morsi was removed on July 3.
The Obama administration has announced it is delaying the planned delivery of four F-16 fighter jets to the Egyptian government. State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki confirmed the news.
State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki: "We do not believe that it would be in the best interest of the United States to immediately change all of our assistance to Egypt. We are reviewing our obligations under the law and are consulting with Congress about the way forward. Given the current situation in Egypt, we do not believe it is appropriate to move forward with the delivery of F-16s at this time."
The delay of the F-16s marks the Obama administration’s first direct action in response to Mohamed Morsi’s ouster earlier this month. The White House has so far refused to brand Morsi’s removal a coup, which would trigger an automatic suspension of military aid.
The Senate has held its first major hearing on efforts to close the Guantánamo Bay prison since President Obama’s first year in office. Wednesday’s hearing from the Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights came days after the Pentagon said dozens of prisoners will face parole-style reviews to determine whether they threaten the United States. Arguing for Guantánamo’s closure, the panel’s chair, Democratic Senator Dick Durbin, cited new Pentagon figures on the prison’s costs.
Sen. Dick Durbin: "Guantánamo Bay detention costs for fiscal year 2012 were $448 million, and for fiscal year 2013, estimated at $454 million. Do the math: 166 prisoners, $454 million. We are spending $2.7 million per year for each detainee held at Guantánamo Bay."
Attorneys for Guantánamo Bay prisoners have filed an emergency motion accusing prison authorities of violating religious rights during Ramadan. The military has reportedly blocked nightly communal prayers for prisoners refusing to end a lengthy hunger strike. Prisoners have been on hunger strike since February protesting their indefinite imprisonment. The new legal filing asks a federal court to grant an injunction ensuring that prisoners’ religious rights are protected. Around 46 hunger strikers are reportedly being force-fed with nasal tubes.
The judge overseeing Detroit’s bankruptcy effort has frozen all legal challenges while the city seeks protection from creditors. Detroit’s Chapter 9 bankruptcy filing has set off what could be a prolonged legal battle with thousands of current and former city employees whose pensions and medical benefits face major cuts. On Wednesday, Judge Steven Rhodes stayed all lawsuits against Detroit, its emergency manager and Gov. Rick Snyder of Michigan during the bankruptcy process. Outside the hearing, Detroit firefighter Darrell Freeman took part in a rally to save the pensions of public workers.
Darrell Freeman: "Everything Gov. Snyder and Kevyn Orr is doing is illegal and unconstitutional. We’re down here to stand up for our rights as city workers from the fire department. I’m a 29-year veteran. And it’s absurd that they’re trying to take our pensions away, and that was Governor Snyder’s plan from the beginning."
At least five same-sex couples have received marriage licenses in a Pennsylvania county defying the state’s ban on gay unions. Montgomery County’s register of wills, Bruce Hanes, says he decided to begin granting licenses to gay couples because he wants to be "on the right side of history and the law." A lesbian couple, Alicia Terrizzi and Loreen Bloodgood, got married right away in a ceremony attended by their two young sons.
Alicia Terrizzi: "We believe in it, not only for ourselves and the love that we have, but we think it’s really important to show our children that we are a family and we are just like their friends who have moms and dads. And it’s important for us to stand up for what we believe in, and we want to do that because we think that’s a great example to set for them."
Republican Gov. Robert McDonnell of Virginia has apologized for the first time over his controversial financial ties to a prominent donor. McDonnell and his family have received more than $140,000 from Star Scientific CEO Jonnie Williams. Federal investigators are looking into whether McDonnell accepted the money in exchange for promoting Star Scientific’s products. On Tuesday, McDonnell said he has repaid more than $120,000 to Williams, money he says was always intended as a loan. In a statement, McDonnell said he is "deeply sorry for the embarrassment" caused to his family and to Virginia citizens, but added that he "broke no laws."
New York mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner is refusing calls to abandon his campaign after admitting he sent more sexually charged Internet messages well after his resignation from Congress in 2011. Weiner stepped down after initially lying to the public about explicit phone and Internet contact with six women he met online. On Tuesday, Weiner appeared with his wife Huma Abedin after a gossip website published sexual messages he apparently sent to a young woman one year after he left Congress.
Anthony Weiner: "I accept the responsibility for having these conversations with these people who I never met, with exchanging inappropriate things in the context of our marriage, and that was a mistake, and I bear responsibility for that. That is behind me, and we’re trying to move forward. And we recognize it’s not going to be easy. We knew at the moment we got into this race that it wasn’t going to be easy, but I believe this is an important thing to be doing."
The newly surfaced messages show Weiner used the pseudonym "Carlos Danger" to communicate with the woman involved. The revelations have sparked new calls for him to bow out of the race because they show he continued sending the messages long after he previously said he sought help to change his ways.
Anthony Weiner entered the New York mayoral race in May. While his sexual exploits have dominated talk of his campaign, Weiner has received almost no attention for recent comments on the Israel-Palestine conflict. In a video posted by the website The Daily Beast, Weiner told a questioner he stands by his previously held view that Palestinian land in the West Bank is not under military occupation by Israel.
Questioner: "Sir, do you still believe the West Bank is not occupied?"
Anthony Weiner: "Yes, I do. I believe it’s — I believe that the status of that area is left to be decided by the people who are there."
Questioner: "So it’s not occupied by Israel?"
Anthony Weiner: "I’ve got to tell you something. You know, there are disagreements about what constitutes the West Bank. Nice to see you, my friend."
Israel has occupied the West Bank since 1967. Weiner was a strong supporter of the Israeli government while in Congress, once sponsoring a measure to bar the Palestinian delegation at the United Nations. At the time, he infamously stated the delegation "should start packing their little Palestinian terrorist bags."
San Diego Mayor Bob Filner is facing calls to resign amidst a series of accusations he sexually harassed women. Filner’s former secretary, Irene McCormack Jackson, filed suit against him earlier this week. At a news conference, Jackson said she both endured harassment from Filner and witnessed him harassing other women.
Irene McCormack Jackson: "I saw him place his hands where they did not belong on numerous women. I was placed in the 'Filner headlock' and moved around as a rag doll while he whispered sexual comments in my ear. Mayor Filner challenged me to give him one example of how his behavior towards me was improper. I pointed out that he had asked me to work without my underwear on. He had no comeback."
Another woman, political strategist Laura Fink, has also come forward with similar claims. Filner has acknowledged inappropriate sexual conduct toward a number of women, but has refused to step down. Two of his top aides have resigned since the scandal broke. The San Diego police have set up a hotline specifically to field complaints from Filner’s alleged victims. Before his election as San Diego mayor last year, Filner served 20 years as a Democratic member of Congress.