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Protests are spreading in the Middle East over a U.S.-made film considered blasphemous to Islam. Earlier today, hundreds of Yemeni demonstrators stormed the U.S. embassy in Sana’a, smashing windows and burning cars before breaking through the compound’s main gate. Protests have also occurred in Egypt, Iraq, Iran, Tunisia and Bangladesh, as well as the occupied Gaza Strip. In Cairo, at least 13 demonstrators were injured today outside the U.S. embassy. Police reportedly used tear gas to disperse the protesters after they threw stones and Molotov cocktails. The protests follow Tuesday night’s storming of the U.S. consulate in the Libyan city of Benghazi that left U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three staffers dead. On Wednesday, President Obama vowed to bring to justice those responsible for the killings, which he said would not break the ties between the United States and Libya.
President Obama: “We reject all efforts to denigrate the religious beliefs of others. But there is absolutely no justification to this type of senseless violence. None. The world must stand together to unequivocally reject these brutal acts. Already, many Libyans have joined us in doing so, and this attack will not break the bonds between the United States and Libya.”
The Obama administration has dispatched an elite group of marines to the Libyan capital of Tripoli and sent U.S. warships toward the Libyan coast in a bid to ramp up security of U.S. personnel.
The response to the deadly attack in Libya has entered the presidential campaign after Republican nominee Mitt Romney used the tragedy to attack President Obama. Hours before the protests erupted in Cairo and Benghazi, the U.S. embassy in Cairo issued a statement attempting to defuse anger over the anti-Muslim film in question, saying, “The Embassy … condemns the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims — as we condemn efforts to offend believers of all religions.” That was before the Libya attack had taken place. But in a statement released Tuesday night, Romney’s campaign took aim at Obama and made it appear the embassy’s comments had followed the attacks. Romney’s campaign said: “It’s disgraceful that the Obama administration’s first response was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks.” Asked about his comments the following day, Romney stood firm.
Mitt Romney: “I also believe the administration was wrong to stand by a statement sympathizing with those who had breached our embassy in Egypt, instead of condemning their actions. It’s never too early for the United States government to condemn attacks on Americans and to defend our values. Simply put, having an embassy, which has been breached and has protesters on its grounds, having violated the sovereignty of the United States, having that embassy reiterate a statement effectively apologizing for the right of free speech is not the right course for an administration.”
In response to Romney, President Obama told CBS News that his Republican challenger is prone to making rash comments.
President Obama: “There’s a broader lesson to be learned here. And I — you know, Governor Romney seems to have a tendency to shoot first and aim later. And as president, one of the things I’ve learned is you can’t do that, that, you know, it’s important for you to make sure that the statements that you make are backed up by the facts, and that you’ve thought through the ramifications before you make them.”
Steve Kroft: “Do you think it was irresponsible?”
President Obama: “I’ll let the American people judge that.”
New government data shows economic inequality continued to widen in the United States last year. The Census Bureau reports the richest Americans increased their share of total wealth by 4.9 percent, while the median income reached its lowest level since 1995. Some 46.2 million Americans were classified as living in poverty. The census also shows that the number of uninsured in the United States dropped for the first time in the three years, with 1.3 million people obtaining insurance.
A federal judge has affirmed an earlier ruling blocking a controversial statute that gave the government power to indefinitely detain anyone it considered a terrorism suspect anywhere in the world without charge or trial. Judge Katherine Forrest issued a preliminary injunction against the provision in the National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA, earlier this year. On Wednesday, Judge Forrest made her ruling permanent, declaring that the NDAA cannot be used to hold people in indefinite military detention on suspicion of having “substantially supported” al-Qaeda or its allies. The decision marked a major victory for the group of journalists, scholars and political activists who had brought the case, arguing the provision was so broad it could easily infringe on freedom of speech.
On Capitol Hill, the Republican-controlled House has voted to extend a statute allowing warrantless government surveillance. With the FISA Amendments Act set to expire at the end of 2012, the House voted Wednesday to extend it for five years. Democratic Rep. Jerrold Nadler of New York criticized the measure.
Rep. Jerrold Nadler: “While it is certainly appropriate for our government to gather foreign intelligence, and while some degree of secrecy is obviously necessary, it is also vital in a free society that we limit government, protect the constitutional rights of Americans here and abroad, and limit warrantless spying to genuine foreign intelligence. Unfortunately, we have seen repeatedly how even the very minimal restraints Congress put on FISA have been violated. We should address those abuses. Congress has an obligation to exert more control over spy agencies than simply to give them a blank check for another five years.”
Public school teachers in Chicago are continuing their historic strike for a fourth day. On Wednesday, thousands of teachers and supporters rallied outside three local schools. Amidst the protests, union leaders and school officials appear to be making some progress toward an agreement that would end the strike. Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis emerged from negotiations late Wednesday night saying she was “very happy” with the status of talks over the key issue of teacher evaluations. Other issues on the table include a recall process for teachers laid off due to school closings, consolidations and turnarounds. Meanwhile, teachers in the nearby area of Lake Forest launched a strike of their own Wednesday after failing to reach a deal over salaries and benefits. Also Wednesday, Tom Balanoff of SEIU Local 1 announced that Chicago janitors would stage a one-day solidarity strike with the Chicago teachers.
Tom Balanoff: “Many of our members have reached out and said they would like to honor the picket lines. We have a 48-hour notice in our contracts. Today we sent the 48-hour notice to our contractors, saying on Friday there very well may be Local 1 members, janitors, who will stand outside and support the teachers instead of go to work.”
In Florida, voters purged from the rolls after they were mistakenly labeled as non-citizens will have their voting rights restored in time for the November election. Earlier this year, Florida officials under Republican Gov. Rick Scott created a list of supposed non-citizens who would be barred from voting unless they proved their citizenship within 30 days. At least two counties removed voters because they did not respond to certified letters and newspaper ads. On Wednesday, Florida announced that it had used a federal immigration database to identify 207 voters who are not citizens, compared to the initial claim of 2,600. The state has also reached an agreement with voting rights groups that had challenged the purge, saying it unfairly targeted Latinos. Under the settlement, Florida officials agreed to inform the more than 2,000 eligible voters mistakenly placed on the purge list that they are in fact eligible to vote.
President Obama has reportedly held a one-hour telephone conversation with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a bid to defuse tensions surrounding their differences over a military strike on Iran. Earlier this week, Netanyahu said the United States has no “moral right” to tell Israel not to launch an attack and demanded that Obama impose “red lines.” In Washington, State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland refused to directly respond to Netanyahu’s comments.
Victoria Nuland: “I’m not going to comment today on Prime Minister Netanyahu’s statements. But as we said yesterday, we are in continuous consultation with the government of Israel, with our allies there, on what we are seeing in Iran, on the path forward, and we will continue to do so. But we don’t think it’s particularly useful to have those conversations in public. It doesn’t help the process, and it doesn’t help the integrity of the diplomacy.”
More than 300 people have died in a pair of factory fires in Pakistan after workers were trapped inside and unable to escape. The deadliest of the fires occurred in Karachi, where around 250 died at a garment factory. The factory lacked emergency exits and basic safety equipment including alarms and sprinklers. It was one of the deadliest industrial accidents in Pakistan’s history.