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Egypt’s pro-democracy uprising is surging with the addition of striking workers nationwide. Thousands of Egyptian workers walked off the job Wednesday demanding better wages and benefits. Strikes were reported in Cairo, Alexandria, Luxor and the Suez Canal. Some 3,000 lawyers and 1,000 doctors marched in separate groups today before joining the protests in Cairo’s Tahrir Square. Hundreds of people remain camped out in front of the Egyptian parliament after bringing the protests there for the first time this week. Four people have been killed and many more wounded in a crackdown on a protest in the western province of New Valley. It was the first sizable pro-democracy demonstration reported in the area since the uprising began.
The Guardian of London reports the Egyptian military has secretly detained hundreds and possibly thousands of prisoners in the Mubarak regime’s crackdown on the pro-democracy uprising in Egypt. Prisoners interviewed by the Guardian reported being subjected to beatings and electric shocks.
The pro-democracy movement was buoyed this week with the release of one of the most high-profile detained protesters, Google executive Wael Ghonim, after 12 days behind bars. Ghonim helped run a Facebook page used to organize the initial protests. Speaking to CNN, Ghonim said the regime’s crackdown has closed the door on negotiations.
Wael Ghonim: “This is no longer the time to negotiate, unfortunately. We went on the street on [the] 25th, and we wanted to negotiate. We wanted to talk to our government. We were knocking [on] the door. They decided to negotiate with us at night with rubber bullets, with police sticks, with water hoses, with tear gas — thanks — and with arresting about 500 people of us. Thanks. You know, we got the message. Now, when we escalated this and it became really big, they started listening to us.”
Leaked emails show three private intelligence firms developed a plan to attack WikiLeaks and its supporters following reports WikiLeaks had obtained embarrassing internal documents on Bank of America. According to the Tech Herald, the companies Palantir Technologies, HBGary Federal and Berico Technologies hatched a plan to target Salon.com columnist Glenn Greenwald, a vocal supporter of WikiLeaks. The plan also called for a public smear campaign against WikiLeaks, cyber-attacks on its websites, and efforts to spark divisions among its volunteers. There is no direct evidence Bank of America knew of the proposal, but it was developed at the request of a law firm that met with Bank of America in December.
At least 27 people have been killed and more than 40 injured in a suicide attack on a military training school in Pakistan. It was the second attack against the Punjab Regime Center in 18 months.
In Israel and the Occupied Territories, the Israeli military has destroyed a Palestinian medicine factory in the Gaza Strip. The factory was among three Gaza targets attacked by U.S.-made Israeli war planes on Wednesday. The strike left the factory in flames and also wounded eight Palestinian civilians.
Federal Reserve Chair Ben Bernanke is predicting U.S. unemployment will remain high for many years to come. Bernanke made the comment in testimony before the House Budget Committee.
Ben Bernanke: “Following the loss of about eight-and-three-quarter million jobs from 2008 through 2009, private-sector employment expanded by a little more than one million in 2010. However, this gain was barely sufficient to accommodate the inflow of recent graduates and other new entrants to the labor force, and therefore not enough to significantly erode the wide margin of slack that remains in the labor market. Although the growth rate of economic activity appears likely to pick up this year, the unemployment rate probably will remain elevated for some time.”
The Obama administration is preparing to unveil its 2012 budget request next week. Days ahead of the request, Republicans have unveiled their spending plan calling for $74 billion in cuts to Obama’s request from last year. The cuts include a 10 percent reduction to a food program for pregnant women and their children, the firing of 4,500 police officers, slashing funding the federal high-speed rail initiative, and gutting the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency by 17 percent. Speaking in Washington, D.C., Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said the administration is focused on spurring business growth.
Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner: “The job of government is to create the conditions for businesses to expand and to thrive. And what we need to do in Washington is make sure we’re creating a better environment for businesses to act with a little more confidence about the future.”
Among the programs reportedly targeted in Obama’s 2012 budget is a fund subsidizing energy costs for low-income Americans. According to the National Journal, Obama intends to cut the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program by about $3 billion. The cuts would come during one of the coldest winters in recent years.
An Associated Press investigation has found a number of CIA operatives responsible for some of the agency’s most controversial incidents have received little to no punishment — and in some cases, promotions. The incidents include cases where the actions of officers resulted in wrongful imprisonment and even death. An agency analyst who helped implement the kidnapping and rendition of German citizen Khalid El-Masri now holds a senior position at the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center. Two agents involved in the November 2002 death of Afghan prisoner Gul Rahman have advanced to top CIA positions in the Middle East. Others reprimanded for their role in mock executions at a Polish secret prison and the death of an Iraqi prisoner have returned to work with the CIA as private contractors. The CIA’s disciplinary system is said to take years to reach decisions and is viewed internally as prone to favoritism and manipulation.
A Guantánamo Bay prisoner who once served as Osama bin Laden’s cook and bodyguard has had his sentenced cut to two years in prison, from an initial 14. Ibrahim al-Qosi was sentenced in August but had his term reduced under an unspecified plea deal.
U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano is warning the terrorist threat to the United States may be at its most serious level since the 9/11 attacks. Speaking before the House Committee on Homeland Security, Napolitano cited the recruiting of U.S. citizens and others in Western countries to carry out attacks.
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano: “The threat today may be at its most heightened state since the attacks nearly 10 years ago. In addition to the core al-Qaeda group, which still represents a threat to the United States despite its diminished capabilities, we now face threats from a number of al-Qaeda associates that share its violent extremist ideology.”
Democratic Senator Jim Webb of Virginia has announced he will not seek re-election in 2012. Webb is the third Democratic-affiliated senator to announce retirement this year following Independent Senator Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut and Democratic Senator Kent Conrad of North Dakota.
Republican Rep. Christopher Lee of New York has resigned following the disclosure he attempted to arrange an extramarital affair online. The news website Gawker obtained emails Lee sent to an unidentified woman through the website Craigslist. One message included a picture of Lee posing shirtless. In its exposé of Lee, Gawker writes that his “support for ’Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ and vote to reject federal abortion funding suggests a certain comfort with publicly scrutinizing others’ sex lives.”
A group of 74 lawmakers has signed a letter urging Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas to recuse himself from cases involving the federal healthcare law because of his family’s financial ties to groups seeking its repeal. Thomas’s wife Virginia Thomas has started the lobbying firm Liberty Consulting in an effort to become the “ambassador to the Tea Party movement.” Justice Thomas has also been accused of failing to report his wife’s income of more than $600,000 from the right-wing groups Heritage Foundation and Liberty Central.
Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords has spoken for the first time since being seriously wounded in the Tucson shooting rampage last month. Doctors say Giffords was recently able to request toast for breakfast, a significant milestone in her recovery from a major brain injury.
In media news, former MSNBC anchor Keith Olbermann is moving to the Al Gore-owned network, Current TV. Olbermann will host a new nightly news program and oversee Current’s news division. Olbermann left MSNBC last month after eight years just after its parent company, NBC Universal, was taken over by the media giant Comcast.