Thousands of protesters in Oakland, California, shut down the nation’s fifth-largest port on Wednesday as part of a general strike called by the Occupy Oakland movement. It was the first general strike called in the city since 1946. While the city remained open despite the strike, many businesses shut down. Nearly 20 percent of the city’s teachers did not report to work. While the strike was largely peaceful, tension escalated overnight. Police arrested at least three dozen people and repeatedly fired tear gas and other projectiles to break up late night protests.
Hundreds of protesters stood in the rain in Seattle outside a hotel where JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon was invited to speak Wednesday. Police used pepper spray to clear a side entrance to the building in order to allow patrons to leave. Six demonstrators were arrested attempting to block the entrance to a Chase bank. The police claim at least 10 officers were physically assaulted while putting the arrested protesters in a paddy wagon, forcing them to again use pepper spray on the crowd.
Police in Tulsa, Oklahoma, pepper-sprayed Occupy protesters when they refused to vacate a local park. A total of nine demonstrators were arrested.
In Philadelphia, 10 people were arrested during a sit-in at the Comcast Center. The demonstrators had marched with hundreds of others from the Occupy Philly encampment in solidarity with Oakland protesters. The demonstrators denounced Comcast for failing to pay taxes in a city with severe poverty issues.
In New York City, dozens of U.S. military veterans marched to Zuccotti Park on Wednesday in support of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Standing in front of the New York Stock Exchange, the veterans read a statement underscoring the oath they took to defend the Constitution and declaring themselves supporters of the Occupy movement. A number of the veterans expressed that they were motivated by Scott Olsen, the U.S. Marine veteran who was critically injured protesting in Oakland last Tuesday after police fired tear gas canisters into the crowd. Iraq War veteran Eli Wright described the conditions servicemembers face when they return to the states.
Eli Wright, Iraq War veteran: “Veterans are coming home and finding that we don’t have access to proper medical care, we don’t have access to jobs. We’re having a difficult time getting the educational benefits that we were promised and that we served for. So, you know, I’m worried about how I’m going to feed my daughter and how I’m going to put her through college. So I’m basically here with everybody else, marching for economic justice for all of us.”
In economic news, new census data shows nearly one in 15 Americans—more than 20 million people—are now so poor they live at least 50 percent below the official poverty level. The figure is the highest ever recorded. Forty states and the District of Columbia have had increases in the poorest of the poor since 2007. The District of Columbia ranked highest, followed by Mississippi and New Mexico.
A new survey shows members of the college class of 2010 who took out student loans owed an average of just over $25,000 upon graduation, a five percent increase from the year before. The actual level of student debt is even higher because the survey did not include students at for-profit colleges where students often borrow more money to attend.
A new study by Citizens for Tax Justice reveals the largest publicly traded companies in the United States are paying on average just 18 percent of their profits in federal income taxes — that is little more than half the official corporate rate of 35 percent. The study examined the tax records of 280 companies over the past three years. Seventy-eight of the companies paid no federal income tax in at least one of the last three years. Wells Fargo received the most in tax subsidies. The bank received nearly $18 billion in tax breaks from the U.S. Treasury in the last three years.
Federal Reserve Chair Ben Bernanke predicted economic growth will be “frustratingly slow” in the near future in part because of the European debt crisis.
Ben Bernanke, Federal Reserve chairman: “In short, while we still expect that economic activity and labor market conditions will improve gradually over time, the pace of progress is likely to be frustratingly slow. Moreover, there are significant downside risks to the economic outlook. Most notably, concerns about European fiscal and banking issues have contributed to strains in global financial markets, which have likely had adverse effects on confidence and growth.”
World leaders are gathering in Cannes, France, for the opening of the Group of 20 summit. On the top of the agenda is Greece and the European debt crisis. Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou is coming under intense criticism from European leaders for deciding to let the Greek people decide if they want to accept the conditions of an $179 billion European Union bailout. Papandreou has announced the referendum will take place in early December, but it now looks like his government is in danger of collapsing before then. Earlier today, Greek Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos publicly came out against the referendum, saying it could jeopardize Greek membership in the euro.
President Obama has said for the first time he will make the final decision on whether to approve TransCanada’s controversial Keystone XL tar sands oil pipeline from Alberta, Canada, to refineries in Texas. Up until now, Obama said the final decision rested with the State Department. Obama made the comment in an interview with a local TV station in Nebraska, where there has been fierce opposition to the pipeline.
President Barack Obama: “The State Department is in charge of analyzing this, because this is a pipeline coming in from Canada. They’ll be giving me a report over the next several months. And, you know, my general attitude is, what is best for the American people? What’s best for our economy, both short term and long term? But also, what’s best for the health of the American people? Because we don’t want, for example, aquifers that are adversely affected. Folks in Nebraska obviously would be directly impacted. And so, you know, we want to make sure that we’re taking the long view on these issues.”
On Sunday, environmentalists led by Tar Sands Action are planning a major protest in Washington, D.C., against the proposed pipeline. Organizers say they hope to have thousands of people encircle the White House.
A group of pro-Palestinian activists have launched another attempt to break the Israel naval blockade of Gaza. On Wednesday, two ships—one Canadian, one Irish—quietly left Turkey bound for Gaza. Known as the Freedom Waves to Gaza flotilla, the ships are hoping to reach Gaza by Friday, but Israel has threatened to stop the ships. Earlier this year, Greece blocked the departure of several ships from another flotilla heading to the region. In 2010, Israeli forces killed nine activists, including a U.S. citizen, on the “Mavi Marmara,” which was part of the first such international flotilla.
On Wednesday, the Syrian government publicly agreed to a complete halt to violence against civilians and to a withdrawal from cities like Homs. The announcement was made in Cairo at a meeting of Arab foreign ministers. Despite the deal, there are reports from the city of Homs that Syrian troops killed at least three people today. At least 11 people were killed at a roadblock northwest of Homs on Wednesday.
In news from Libya, International Criminal Court prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo said his office is leading efforts to bring Saif al-Islam to justice, as well as the former Libyan leader’s spy chief. Ocampo says efforts are underway to secure the surrender of Saif al-Islam, the son of the late Col. Muammar Gaddafi. Meanwhile, Ocampo vowed to probe possible war crimes committed by NATO and NATO-backed forces during the seven-month fight that led to the fall of Gaddafi.
Luis Moreno-Ocampo, International Criminal Court prosecutor: “We are also receiving information that a group of mercenaries may be endeavoring to facilitate Saif al-Islam’s escape from Libya. We are calling upon the state to do all it can to disrupt any such operation. It is up to Saif al-Islam Gaddafi and Abdullah al-Senussi to decide if they will surrender themselves, remain in hiding, or try to escape to another country. It is up to the U.N. Security Council and state to ensure that they face justice for the crimes for which they are charged.”
A U.S. jury has found former Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout guilty on charges he agreed to sell arms to people he thought were Colombian rebels intent on attacking American soldiers. U.S. authorities say Bout, who was nicknamed “The Merchant of Death,” was also involved in trafficking arms to dictators and conflict zones in Africa, South America and the Middle East.
The Associated Press reports a third woman has come forward to say she was sexually harassed by Republican presidential hopeful Herman Cain in the 1990s when he headed the National Restaurant Association. The woman spoke to the AP only on a condition of anonymity, saying she feared losing her current job. The allegations are similar to accusations of unwanted behavior that led to separate settlements in the late 1990s.