Protests are being held across the country today as part of a national day of action marking the two-month anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Here in New York, organizers have been distributing posters reading “Shut Down Wall Street! Occupy the Subways! Take the Square!” The massive day of action comes just two days after New York police raided the Occupy Wall Street at Liberty Square and tore down the encampment. On Wednesday, the Indian author and activist Arundhati Roy addressed Occupy Wall Street protesters at the Judson Memorial Church in Washington Square Park.
Arundhati Roy: “The Occupy movement has joined thousands of other resistance movements all over the world in which the poorest of people are standing up and stopping the richest corporations in their tracks. Few of us dreamed that we would see you, the people of the United States, on our side, trying to do this in the heart of empire.”
In San Francisco, 95 protesters were arrested on Wednesday after occupying a Bank of America branch in the financial district. The demonstrators pitched a tent inside the branch before they were detained. The action came as part of an Occupy march through downtown San Francisco to denounce tuition hikes and budget cuts at University of California schools.
The Obama administration has unveiled plans for a permanent military presence in Australia. Starting next summer, the U.S. will deploy 250 marines for six-month tours, eventually reaching a force of 2,500 troops. Speaking before the Australian parliament, President Obama said the U.S. military presence in the Pacific is “here to stay.”
President Obama: “So here’s what this region must know. As we end today’s wars, I have directed my national security team to make our presence and mission in the Asia Pacific a top priority. As a result, reductions in U.S. defense spending will not—I repeat, will not—come at the expense of the Asia Pacific. My guidance is clear, because we plan and budget for the future. We will allocate the resources necessary to maintain our strong military presence in this region. The United States is a Pacific power, and we are here to stay.”
From Australia, Obama flew to the Indonesian island of Bali to meet with foreign leaders and unveil some $25 billion in trade deals at a summit of East Asian countries.
The Obama administration is being accused of weakening an international convention banning cluster bombs at a key international meeting in Geneva. Member states of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons have gathered to finalize a legally binding protocol. The U.S. has played a key role in the talks despite refusing to join the convention, reportedly pushing a proposal that would allow the use of all cluster munitions made after 1980. Steve Goose of the Cluster Munitions Coalition slammed the U.S. stance.
Steve Goose: “We have governments here, this week and next week, negotiating a new international treaty on cluster munitions, with much lower standards. This has never happened before in international humanitarian law, where you have a treaty that has been agreed by the majority of the world’s nations with very high standards, and then states get together and try and negotiate an alternative treaty with very low standards. We find this outrageous.”
The Pentagon has confirmed it’s received massive new bunker-busting bombs capable of destroying underground sites, including Iran’s nuclear facilities. The 30,000-pound bombs are six times the size of the Air Force’s current arsenal of bunker busters.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai has renewed calls for the U.S. to end night raids on Afghan homes. Karzai said a halt to the raids would be a precondition for any new military deal with his government.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai: “We want a strategic partnership but with specific conditions: our national integrity, no night raids, no house searches. They must not have their own prisons on our soil. This is our country. The prisons here must be under the control of our Ministry of Interior and Justice. If they want military partnership, we are ready to give them. That is in our national interest. Their military establishment will put in money and training of our soldiers. We are ready to sign the agreement, if they accept these conditions.”
Syrian troops have made a number of arrests in the restive province of Hama following an attack by army defectors on a military site near Damascus. Eight Syrian troops were reportedly killed in the assault, one of the boldest so far to target the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Meanwhile, the Arab League has affirmed its decision to suspend Syria over the crackdown and has given Assad three days to end the violence or face economic sanctions.
In Kuwait, dozens of protesters forced their way into parliament on Wednesday in a rare protest against government corruption. Kuwait’s ruling Al Sabah family has faced growing scrutiny over allegations officials have transferred state funds to overseas bank accounts.
Republican presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich has refused to confirm how much he was paid while working as a consultant to the mortgage giant Freddie Mac. It was revealed this week Gingrich received up to $1.8 million in consulting fees from Freddie Mac over an eight-year span beginning in 1999. Freddie Mac played a key role in the nation’s financial meltdown and was taken over by the federal government in 2008. The disclosure has drawn scrutiny in part because of Gingrich’s previous criticism of other politicians who have taken money from Freddie Mac. In 2008, Gingrich called on President Obama to return all donations from the company, and just last month, he called for the jailing of Congress Member Barney Frank, citing his ties to Freddie Mac. Gingrich made the comment in a televised debate.
Newt Gingrich: “The fix was put in by the federal government. And if you want to put people in jail—I want to second what (Minnesota Rep.) Michele (Bachmann) said—you ought to start with (Massachusetts Rep.) Barney Frank and (former Connecticut Sen.) Chris Dodd. And let’s look at the politicians who created the environment, the politicians who profited from the environment, and the politicians who put this country in trouble.”
Charlie Rose, moderator: “Clearly, you’re not saying they should go to jail?”
Gingrich: “Well, in Chris Dodd’s case, go back and look at the Countryside deals. In Barney Frank’s case, go back and look at the lobbyists he was close to at Freddie Mac.”
On Wednesday, Gingrich tried to cite his work for Freddie Mac as a boost for his White House bid, saying, “It reminds people that I know a great deal about Washington.”
In other campaign news, the 2.1 million-strong Services Employees International Union has given an early endorsement to President Obama’s re-election bid. In a video statement, SEIU president Mary Kay Henry offered backing to Obama by invoking the Occupy Wall Street movement.
Mary Kay Henry: “And we agree, all across SEIU, that we need to stand for a 99 percent agenda and re-elect our president, Barack Obama, and that those two steps are on the same path that we’ve been taking in building a new movement for social and economic justice in our country, so that we can make the 2012 election about the agenda for the 99 percent.”
And a 21-year-old man has been arrested on suspicion of firing shots near the White House last week. The suspect, Oscar Ramiro Ortega-Hernandez, had been wanted for questioning after a bullet hit a White House window on Friday.