Police in San Francisco have arrested 70 people in an early morning raid on the two-month-old Occupy San Francisco protest encampment. Witnesses say police in riot gear arrived at approximately 1:30 in the morning and gave protesters a five-minute warning to vacate the area. They then tore down the approximately 140 tents, destroying the camp and throwing the protesters’ belongings into the back of a garbage truck.
In Boston, a judge has lifted a temporary restraining order that prevented the city from evicting protesters without court approval. City officials claim they have no immediate plans to clear the protesters, but Boston’s fire marshal has testified the encampment has numerous serious fire hazards and says he fears for the protesters’ safety.
More than 70 people were arrested when Occupy protesters blocked intersections and snarled traffic in the heart of the nation’s lobbying industry in Washington, D.C. Demonstrators formed human chains across streets and protested in front of a lobbying firm founded by a former chief of staff in the Clinton administration. Protesters have swarmed Capitol Hill this week in an action to demand jobs and a restructuring of the nation’s economic system.
Protester 1: “I think that they are demonstrating democracy in action. This is democracy.”
Protester 2: “I think they’re heroes. I think their rights are being squashed. Obviously, they’re in the middle of the road, given. But that being said, this is a true American protest. These people are heroes. They’re standing up for American rights. They’re standing up. They’re all types of people. We have veterans in there. We have all types of races, all types of religions.”
Philadelphia prosecutors have announced they will no longer seek the death penalty for the imprisoned journalist and former Black Panther Mumia Abu-Jamal. For decades, Abu-Jamal has argued racism by the trial judge and prosecutors led to his 1982 conviction of killing Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner. Two years ago, the Third U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with a lower judge who set aside Abu-Jamal’s death sentence after finding jurors were given confusing instructions that encouraged them to choose death rather than a life sentence. The U.S. Supreme Court then ordered the court to re-examine the decision. In April, that ruling was upheld, and prosecutors had to determine whether Abu-Jamal would get a new sentencing hearing in court before a new jury. On Wednesday, Philadelphia prosecutor Seth Williams said he opted for a life sentence rather than face more lengthy appeals.
The White House has overruled a Food and Drug Administration proposal to make emergency contraceptives available over the counter, including to young teenagers. The FDA had concluded it is safe to sell the Plan B One-Step pill without a prescription to women of all ages. But on Wednesday, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius publicly overruled the FDA, the first time ever that a health secretary has done so. The decision means young women below the age of 17 will still need a prescription in order to purchase Plan B. In a statement, the National Organization for Women called the decision “a stunning betrayal of women,” adding: “[We] call on the President to stop playing politics with the lives of women and girls. During the Bush years, women’s reproductive health was under constant attack. We don’t need more of the same from the Obama administration.”
President Obama has dismissed a Republican attempt to link passage of a Social Security payroll tax cut to support for the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline. Republican leaders have suggested they could back the tax cut in return for Obama’s immediate approval of Keystone, instead of delaying a decision until next year. At a news conference with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Obama rejected drawing a link between the tax cut and Keystone.
President Obama: “Any effort to try to tie Keystone to the payroll tax cut, I will reject. So everybody should be on notice. And the reason is because the payroll tax cut is something that House Republicans as well as Senate Republicans should want to do regardless of any other issues.”
European leaders are gathering in Brussels today for a key summit billed as a last-ditch effort to save the eurozone amidst a crippling debt crisis. France and Germany are pushing for treaty changes including tighter controls of European Union members’ sovereign debts. The White House has played a key role in the lead-up to the summit, with Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner leading a team of U.S. officials in Europe to meet with leaders throughout the week.
Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad has attempted to distance himself from the violence his forces have committed against the Syrian people in their uprising against his regime. In an interview with ABC News, Assad said he did not give his forces a command to “kill or be brutal.” Assad went on to add, “They are military forces [who] belong to the government. I don’t own them. I’m president… No government in the world kills its people, unless it is led by a crazy person.” The United Nations estimates Assad’s troops have been responsible for the deaths of more than 4,000 people and committed gross human rights abuses, including torture, targeting of journalists and the killing of children. In Washington, State Department spokesperson Mark Toner criticized Assad.
Mark Toner: “It either says that he’s completely lost any power that he had within Syria, that he’s simply a tool, or that he’s completely disconnected with reality. It’s hard for us to say, but, you know, what we insist is that he has lost all credibility in the eyes of his people and needs to step down.”
Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev has called on Russian authorities to annul the nation’s parliamentary votes and hold a new election. Speaking to the Interfax news agency, Gorbachev said, “More and more people are starting to believe that the election results are not fair… I believe that ignoring public opinion discredits the authorities and destabilizes the situation.” Unrest over the election has prompted thousands of people to gather in protest in Moscow and St. Petersburg over the last two days. Vladamir Putin’s United Russia party won less than 50 percent of the vote in the disputed election. International monitors and opposition groups have said the contest was marred with rigging that included ballot box stuffing and false voter rolls.
The Obama administration is facing calls from Republicans and supporters of the Israeli government to fire its ambassador to Belgium for comments linking anti-Semitism in Europe to the Israel-Palestine conflict. In a recent speech, Ambassador Howard Gutman drew a distinction between the older, endemic form of anti-Jewish bias versus the newer form springing from anger over Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.
Howard Gutman: “It’s a tension, and perhaps even a hatred, largely born of and reflecting the tension between Israel, the Palestinian territories, and neighboring Arab states in the Middle East, over the continuing Israeli-Palestinian problem. And it is far different than the first form. It’s far different than the anti-Semitism traditionally associated with the hating groups, those who would hate Jews and Muslims and gays.”
Republican presidential hopefuls Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich have called for Gutman’s ouster. Although the White House has distanced itself from Gutman’s remarks, it says it has no plans to let him go.
A 12-year-old girl who was shot by her mother along with her younger brother in a Texas welfare office has died. The girl, Ramie Grimmer, died on Wednesday, two days after being critically wounded in a standoff between her mother and police. The mother, Rachelle Grimmer, killed herself and shot her two children after being denied food stamps. Relatives say she was mentally unstable. Hours before her shooting, Ramie had updated her Facebook page to read: “may die 2day.” Her younger brother remains in critical condition.
The former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky was arrested for a second time on Wednesday after two new accusers came forward to allege he sexually abused them when they were children. Sandusky already faces more than 40 counts of child sexual abuse, involving eight victims.
Former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich has been sentenced to 14 years in federal prison for a corruption conviction that involved 17 different charges, including trying to sell or trade President Obama’s old U.S. Senate seat and attempting to shake down executives for campaign cash. Blagojevich was impeached in 2009 and found guilty earlier this year.
The telecom giant Verizon has fired 40 workers over their involvement in a 15-day strike earlier this year. Some 45,000 Verizon workers took part over cuts to wages and benefits. The fired employees have received letters saying they violated the company’s “code of conduct” while protesting during the strike, including committing acts of violence. The workers’ unions, the Communications Workers of America and International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, say they will challenge the dismissals in court.
An appeals court has upheld the conviction of five former top officials with the Holy Land Foundation, once the nation’s largest Muslim charity. The five were convicted on charges of supporting the Palestinian group Hamas, though they were never accused of supporting violence, instead for funding charities that aided needy Palestinians. The State Department had also funded the same groups. The government’s case relied on Israeli intelligence, as well as disputed documents and electronic surveillance gathered by the FBI over a span of 15 years. The first trial ended in a hung jury, but prosecutors obtained convictions in a retrial the following year. Defense attorneys say they expect to file a new appeal that will eventually reach the U.S. Supreme Court.
Correction to a headline from Wednesday’s broadcast: News reports had stated that Mexican women’s rights activist Norma Andrade had died after being shot five times last week. In fact, Andrade survived the shooting and has just been released from the hospital. She is now back with her family and under 24-hour protection. Democracy Now! regrets the error.