At least a dozen people have died and some 200 have been injured in a series of major storms and tornadoes through the Midwest and South. The town of Harrisburg, Illinois, was one of the hardest hit, with six people dead and about 100 wounded.
North Korea has announced plans to suspend uranium enrichment and halt testing of nuclear and long-range missiles in exchange for U.S. food aid. Under the agreement, North Korea would also allow the return of international nuclear inspectors. The deal could also pave the way for nuclear disarmament talks under the country’s new leader, Kim Jong-un. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called the move “a modest first step.”
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: “The United States, I will be quick to add, still has profound concerns. But on the occasion of Kim Jong-il’s death, I said that it is our hope that the new leadership will choose to guide their nation onto the path of peace by living up to its obligations. Today’s announcement represents a modest first step in the right direction. We, of course, will be watching closely and judging North Korea’s new leaders by their actions.”
The U.S.-led NATO coalition is coming under continued attacks inside Afghanistan in the aftermath of last week’s Koran burning by U.S. troops. Earlier today, two NATO soldiers were shot dead by Afghan shooters, including one believed to be an Afghan soldier. If confirmed, it would be the latest in a number of attacks on NATO servicemembers from within the Afghan military ranks.
The U.N. Human Rights Council has voted to condemn Syria for potential crimes against humanity in the crackdown on rebel fighters and opposition protesters. Thirty-seven states voted to back the measure, with three opposed, including Russia and China. The vote came as the new United Nations-Arab League envoy on Syria, former Secretary-General Kofi Annan, said he plans to visit Syria in the coming days to meet directly with Assad.
Kofi Annan: “We haven’t been in touch for a couple of years, and so I will not presume anything. We will make the démarches, and time will tell. But I would plead with him that he should engage, not only with me but with the process that we are launching today.”
Egypt has lifted a travel ban on 43 NGO workers, including 16 U.S. citizens, accused of illegally using foreign funds to stir up opposition to the Egyptian military government. The issue has strained relations with the United States, which has threatened to withhold billions in aid. On Wednesday, Egypt said the workers are free to leave, provided they post bail of $330,000 each. Despite the lifting of the travel ban, none of the charges have been dropped.
Thousands of people marched in the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince on Wednesday to mark the eighth anniversary of the U.S.-backed coup that overthrew President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. On Feb. 29, 2004, Aristide was forced to flee Haiti in what he called a kidnapping by the U.S. government. He was forced into exile in the Central African Republic and ultimately South Africa. He finally returned to Haiti last year after a seven-year absence.
The media giant News Corp. has announced James Murdoch, the son of Rupert Murdoch, will step down as executive chair of subsidiary News International. James Murdoch headed News International during the phone-hacking scandal that’s engulfed his family’s media empire. He will continue as deputy CEO of News Corp. but will no longer oversee the company’s newspapers. Instead, Murdoch will move to the United States to oversee News Corp.’s international television holdings. Critics have speculated the younger Murdoch could be making the move to avoid scrutiny over the hacking and possibly even prosecution. British Labour Party leader Ed Miliband said the hacking scandal highlights the need to limit media consolidation.
Ed Miliband: “I certainly think it’s right that James Murdoch has gone, but we’ve
got to ask why this culture of corruption was able to develop at News International. And the reason was that News International thought it was too big to be challenged, including by politicians. That’s why we need new rules in place at the end of all this process, so that one organization can’t control that much of the newspaper and television market.”
The Israeli military has raided two Palestinian television stations in the occupied West Bank. Employees of Watan TV and another station affiliated with Al-Quds University say Israeli troops seized broadcast equipment and computers in overnight raids. Israel says the stations were interfering with air traffic control frequencies, but Palestinians say Israel is committing blatant censorship.
The whistleblowing website WikiLeaks has revealed the Department of Homeland Security began monitoring the Occupy Wall Street movement soon after its inception last fall. An internal DHS report from October describes Occupy Wall Street as “a significant challenge for law enforcement.” The report also contains information apparently gleaned from Occupy-related Twitter feeds and progressive websites including the Daily Kos. It was released as part of the five million leaked emails obtained from the servers of the private intelligence firm Stratfor. In other Occupy news, at least 10 people were arrested on Wednesday in a march on the New York headquarters of the pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, as well as branches of Citibank and Bank of America. It was the second consecutive day of protests for Occupy Wall Street activists seeking to re-energize the movement heading into spring.
A federal judge has barred Arizona from enforcing a provision of its infamous anti-immigrant law preventing motorists from blocking traffic as they pick up day laborers looking for work. On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton issued a preliminary injunction against the provision based on what she called the “likely” success of it being ultimately overturned.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has harshly criticized the New York City Police Department for spying on Muslim neighborhoods inside his state and hiding it from local officials. The Associated Press has revealed NYPD agents photographed every mosque in Newark and eavesdropped inside Muslim businesses as part of a wider anti-Muslim spying program across the Northeast. Christie, a Republican, said he does not know if the spying was born “out of arrogance, or out of paranoia, or out of both.”
The Democrat-controlled U.S. Senate is expected to defeat a symbolic Republican-backed measure today that would exempt Catholic institutions from a White House mandate requiring birth control coverage. The right-wing talk show host Rush Limbaugh made headlines on Wednesday after calling a student reproductive rights activist “a slut” for campaigning in favor of contraception coverage for women. Limbaugh made the comment during a rant on his radio broadcast.
Rush Limbaugh: “What does it say about the college co-ed Susan Fluke [sic] who goes before a congressional committee and essentially says that she must be paid to have sex? What does that make her? It makes her a slut, right? Makes her a prostitute. She wants to be paid to have sex. She’s having so much sex, she can’t afford the contraception. She wants you and me and the taxpayers to pay her to have sex.”
The student, Sandra Fluke, is a third-year law student and a member of the group Georgetown Law Students for Reproductive Justice. She was barred from testimony at an all-male panel on contraception on Capitol Hill last month. The day after her testimony was blocked, Fluke appeared on Democracy Now!
Sandra Fluke: “I strongly believe that our government has to legislate for reality, not ideology. So, if we don’t provide contraception coverage and healthcare, that’s not going to stop anyone from having sex, whether they should or should not be. And we really have to take care of women’s healthcare and not worry about policing their moral choices.”
Montana’s chief federal judge has admitted he forwarded a racist email which suggested President Obama was the product of a sexual encounter between his mother and a dog. In an accompanying note to his friends, U.S. District Judge Richard Cebull called the joke “touching” and said, “Hope it touches your heart like it did mine.” Trying to explain his reasons for sending the email, Cebull said, “I didn’t send it as racist, although that’s what it is. I sent it out because it’s anti-Obama.”
Five activists have been sentenced for their role in a protest against U.S. drone attacks in Pakistan and Afghanistan at a New York military base last year. The activists were arrested at the New York Air National Guard base at Hancock Field near Syracuse, New York. They draped themselves in white clothes splattered with blood-red pigment and then staged a “die-in” at the main entrance to the base. The group calls themselves the Hancock 38 Drone Resisters. Thirty-three of the activists were sentenced in December. On Wednesday, the remaining five were sentenced to fines and a one-year conditional discharge.