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Dozens of people were killed Thursday when Syrian warplanes bombed the rebel-held town of Maaret al-Numan. Rescue workers interviewed at the scene reported a toll of at least 44 people, including 29 children. The bombs apparently destroyed two residential buildings and a mosque, where many of the victims had sought shelter. With Syria’s violence continuing to flare, the United Nations’s top human rights official, Navi Pillay, warned the current bloodshed could descend to the levels of Bosnia’s sectarian war.
Navi Pillay: “The memories of what happened in Bosnia and Herzegovina should be sufficiently fresh to warn us all of the danger of allowing Syria to descend into all-out sectarian conflict. Thousands and thousands of men, women and children have already been killed, injured, tortured, displaced. It should not take something as drastic as Srebrenica to shake the world into taking serious action to stop this kind of conflict. By remaining divided, the international community is enabling continuation of the suffering and helping create the circumstances for a wider regional conflict.”
The CIA is reportedly urging the White House to back a major expansion of armed drones used for attacks overseas. The Washington Post reports the CIA has asked for permission to expand its fleet by as many as 10 drones on top of the roughly 35 in its possession. The move would continue the agency’s shift from “intelligence” activities to operating as a full-on paramilitary wing of the U.S. government. If approved, the proposal would expand the CIA’s capability to wage drone attacks in Pakistan and Yemen, while also allowing it to shift focus to North Africa and other areas. Despite concerns of the CIA’s involvement in military operations, the Pentagon reportedly has yet to raise any formal objections.
President Obama hit the campaign trail in the Northeast on Thursday with a continued effort to drum up support among women voters. Speaking in New Hampshire, Obama touted his record on fair pay in the workplace and access to abortion services.
President Obama: “You know where I stand. Look, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, this was the first bill I signed into law, and I know you want the same thing for your daughters or sisters or moms or grandmas as I do. And this is not — as I said in the debate, this is not just a women’s issue; this is a family issue, this is an economic issue. I also believe women should make their own healthcare decisions.”
Obama and Mitt Romney were questioned about the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act in their debate Tuesday night. On Thursday, the Romney campaign attempted to walk back a statement from top Romney adviser Ed Gillespie that Romney had opposed the bill in 2009.
Former President Bill Clinton rallied Democrats in Ohio, playing the role of “warm-up act” to the famed musician Bruce Springsteen.
President Bill Clinton: “I had, I don’t know, 20-something jobs before I got elected president, but this is the first time in my life I ever got to be the warm-up act for Bruce Springsteen.”
Bruce Springsteen: “And I believe we are in the midst of those long days right now, and I’m here because I believe President Obama feels those days in his bones for all 100 percent of us.”
A New York federal appeals court has become the sixth nationwide to strike down the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which bars federal recognition of same-sex couples. On Thursday, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said DOMA, as it is known, violates the Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause. The case was brought by prominent lesbian activist Edith Windsor of New York, who was forced to pay more than $350,000 in estate taxes because her marriage was not recognized under federal law. Five other federal appeals courts have previously deemed the law unconstitutional. Despite also opposing the law, the Obama administration has continued enforcing it pending a final ruling that it has requested from the Supreme Court.
Texas is threatening to shut down a state health program for low-income women if the group Planned Parenthood continues to be involved. The Texas program offers cancer and health screenings as well as birth control services to some 130,000 low-income women, about 40 percent of whom are served through Planned Parenthood. But Texas has sought to ban Planned Parenthood from participating because they also provide abortions. A federal appeals court is currently reviewing Planned Parenthood’s challenge to the ban. On Thursday, Texas Health and Human Services Executive Commissioner Dr. Kyle Janek said: “If they prevail in that case, and the courts say, ‘You have to include Planned Parenthood,’ then, yes, (the program) goes away.” A recent George Washington University study has warned Texas will be unlikely to provide adequate care to the patients currently served by Planned Parenthood should the ban be upheld.
New Jersey has become the latest state to call for a constitutional amendment that would overturn Citizens United, the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision that paved the way for massive corporate spending to influence elections. The state Assembly approved the resolution on Thursday following a campaign by several activist groups, part of a wave of local efforts that has seen similar measures pass in eight other states.
The oil giant TransCanada has temporarily shut down its Keystone pipeline due to apparent “safety issues.” TransCanada told federal officials on Thursday it had halted the massive pipeline, which carries crude from the Alberta tar sands to Illinois and Oklahoma. The shutdown will last at least three days. The news comes as activists in Texas are nearly a month into a blockade against the construction of the new Keystone XL pipeline.
Both President Obama and Mitt Romney appeared together in New York Thursday night for the annual Al Smith memorial charity dinner. Outside the event, a group of protesters including physicians and medical students rallied to call for a single-payer health insurance program.
Dr. Elizabeth Rosenthal, Physicians for a National Health Program: “We are here because both President Obama and Governor Romney are threat — what they want to do is a threat to Medicare. Now, with Romney, it’s much more of a threat, because he wants to do a voucher program, which will really destroy Medicare as we know it. But President Obama also wants to raise the age of eligibility for Medicare, and we think that’s not right.”
Andy Simmons, Weill Cornell Medical College: “As a medical student, I’m afraid of practicing in the current system. It’s going to prevent me from practicing care in the way I want to, which is to help people with their needs and not be concerned about the endless paperwork of a multi-payer system.”
Boston police are being accused of routinely spying on local peace groups at their meetings and protests. The American Civil Liberties Union says police have filed regular reports to Boston’s Regional Intelligence Center detailing the activities of groups including Veterans for Peace, United for Justice with Peace and CODEPINK. One event at a church featuring the late historian Howard Zinn was filed under the category of “Criminal Act: Groups-Extremist.” Officers also monitored protesters’ out-of-state plans, including attendance at a rally in Washington, D.C. The police have also held on to the surveillance files for several years despite federal rules that call for them to be expunged if no criminal or terrorist activity is involved. In a statement, the ACLU of Massachusetts said: “Spying on church groups and peaceful, non-violent, political gatherings violates civil liberties, wastes scarce police resources and doesn’t keep us safe.”
The U.S. military has imposed a curfew on all U.S. forces in Japan following the arrest of two American troops for allegedly raping a Japanese woman on the island of Okinawa. The top U.S. commander in Japan, Lieutenant General Sam Angelella, announced the curfew earlier today.
Lt. Gen. Sam Angelella: “I want to personally apologize for the grief and trauma the victim has endured and the anger it has caused among the people in Okinawa. I am immediately issuing a curfew to all military personnel in Japan, both temporary and assigned. In addition, core value training, retraining for military and SOFA civilians will be conducted by subordinate commanders, and a review of the USFJ liberty policy will be executed over the coming days and weeks.”