At least 13 people have died and more than 550,000 have lost power in a massive snow and ice storm across the eastern United States. The National Weather Service calls the storm “an event of historical proportions.” Governors have declared states of emergencies from Louisiana to New Jersey.
President Obama has issued an executive order raising the minimum wage for federal contract workers. Hundreds of thousands will see a wage hike from $7.25 to $10.10 an hour. At the signing ceremony, Obama noted that if the minimum wage reflected actual gains in the economy, workers would be getting paid even more.
President Obama: “Not only is it good for the economy, it’s the right thing to do. There’s a simple moral principle at stake: If you take responsibility and you work as hard as these folks work, if you work full-time, you shouldn’t be living in poverty. Not in America. We believe that. A majority of lower-wage jobs are held by women. Many of them have children that they’re supporting. These are Americans who work full-time, often to support a family, and if the minimum wage had kept pace with our economic productivity, they’d already be getting paid well over $10 an hour.”
A recent study from the Center for Economic and Policy Research says that if the minimum wage were kept in line with productivity gains since 1968, it would now be more than double the $10.10 amount, at $21.72. In a shift, Obama also announced the new wage increase will no longer exclude workers with disabilities. Advocates were initially told the executive order would not apply to disabled workers employed through a special program that pays them sub-minimum wages. The decision prompted an outcry that apparently led the White House to reverse course. In his remarks on Wednesday, Obama said the principle of being paid a fair wage “applies to all of us.”
The Senate has approved a measure that would lift the debt ceiling until March 2015. The vote came after enough House Republicans joined with Democrats to back hiking the debt limit without conditions, undermining the longstanding Republican insistence on an offsetting amount of cuts to social spending. The Senate measure passed on a party line vote of 55 to 43.
The nation’s two largest cable providers have announced a merger. Comcast will buy Time Warner Cable at a cost of more than $45 billion in stock. The deal comes less than a year after Comcast completed its acquisition of NBCUniversal. The merger still faces approval by regulators and shareholders. Media reform advocates have expressed opposition, saying the deal would give Comcast unprecedented control over the media landscape. In a statement, the group Free Press said: “In an already uncompetitive market with high prices that keep going up and up, a merger of the two biggest cable companies should be unthinkable. This deal would be a disaster for consumers and must be stopped.”
The United Nations is warning of “ethnic-religious cleansing” in the Central African Republic after uncovering a mass grave. At least a dozen bodies were found at a camp run by Muslim rebels in the capital Bangui. More than a million people have been displaced in sectarian fighting that erupted last March.
Human rights activists are warning Syria has endured its deadliest violence to date in the three weeks since peace talks began between the Assad regime and the opposition. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says an average of 236 people have been killed every day since the U.N.-brokered negotiations opened in Geneva late last month. The toll includes a reported 50 people in Aleppo today. The Geneva talks face potential collapse with no movement between the two sides on the future role of President Bashar al-Assad.
The Afghan government has released a new group of prisoners from the former U.S. prison of Bagram, again over White House objections. The Obama administration has lobbied intensely against the prisoners’ release, accusing them of attacks on Afghan civilians and U.S. troops. But the Afghan government has said there was insufficient evidence to justify their continued imprisonment. Some 65 prisoners were freed earlier today, following a group of close to 40 last month.
In news from Afghanistan, two U.S. servicemembers were killed and four were wounded on Wednesday in an attack from men in Afghan army uniforms. It was the latest in a series of “insider attacks” on NATO troops by Afghan soldiers.
A Pakistani judge has ordered the country’s intelligence agencies to hand over a prominent activist who went missing last week. Karim Khan was seized from his home just days before he was due to travel to Europe to speak out about the impact of U.S. drone strikes. Some of Khan’s abductors were reportedly wearing police uniforms. Khan’s brother and son were both killed in a 2009 drone strike that destroyed his home. In addition to public activism, Khan has engaged in legal proceedings against the Pakistani government for their failure to investigate the killings of his loved ones. On Wednesday, the Lahore High Court ordered Pakistani forces to produce Khan from custody by a week from today. Click here to watch our segment about Khan from Wednesday’s broadcast.
The U.S. ambassador to Japan, Caroline Kennedy, visited the southern island of Okinawa Wednesday amidst local protests against the U.S. military presence. Kennedy met with Okinawa’s governor, Hirokazu Nakaima, who has agreed to relocate a U.S. base from a densely populated urban area to a more remote location. But a decades-long movement of Okinawa residents has opposed the base altogether and pushed for ousting U.S. forces off the island, citing environmental concerns and sexual assaults by U.S. soldiers. Since 1972, U.S. servicemembers have been accused of more than 5,800 crimes, including 26 murders and 128 rapes. At their meeting, Kennedy pledged cooperation while the governor urged the United States to address local concerns.
Amb. Caroline Kennedy: “Hopefully we can work together to keep the momentum moving forward for progress.”
Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima: “There have been many incidents, accidents and environmental problems associated with the bases, and I would call on Ambassador Kennedy to do everything in her power to help bring about a complete resolution to these issues and reduce the burden on Okinawa of U.S. military bases.”
Kennedy faced a protest from a crowd of several hundred. Critics have denounced her visit as an empty gesture as she won’t be meeting with the recently re-elected mayor of Nago, the town where the base is to be moved. The mayor, Susumu Inamine, campaigned on a pledge to block construction of the replacement site.
Republican Sen. Rand Paul has filed a class action lawsuit against the White House and the National Security Agency over the bulk collection of U.S. telephone records. Teaming with the right-wing libertarian group FreedomWorks, Paul said the NSA’s mass retention of phone data violates privacy rights while offering no intelligence gains.
Sen. Rand Paul: “The interesting thing is, is as we’ve looked at this both at the Intelligence Committee level and through investigations by the media, there’s no evidence that there’s been one terrorist caught or detained or prevented uniquely on this information. I’m not against the NSA. I’m not against spying. I’m not against looking at phone records. I just want you to go to a judge, have a person’s name and individualize the warrant. That’s what the Fourth Amendment says.”
Paul says his suit will seek to cover every American who’s used a phone in the last five years. He expects it to reach the U.S. Supreme Court.
A new study says at least 28 people have died in school shootings since the Newtown massacre 14 months ago. Moms Demand Action reports 44 school shootings since Newtown, an average of one every 10 days. There have been at least 13 school shootings in the first six weeks of 2014.
Former New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin has been found guilty on federal corruption and bribery charges. Prosecutors say Nagin received cash and gifts from city contractors, steered a Home Depot contract to his family business, and helped quash a “community benefits agreement” that would have required Home Depot to hire local residents at above-market rates. Nagin rose to national prominence during the botched response to Hurricane Katrina and the subsequent permanent displacement of thousands of residents. Nagin maintains his innocence and has vowed to appeal.
Jury deliberations have begun in the murder trial of a Florida man who shot dead a black teenager in a dispute over loud music. In November 2012, Michael David Dunn pulled up next to a car of teenagers to ask them to turn down their stereo. Following an argument, Dunn shot eight or nine times into the vehicle, even after the teens tried to drive away, fatally hitting 17-year-old Jordan Russell Davis. The young men never got out of their car, and no weapons were ever found inside. Dunn fled the scene with his fiancée instead of calling the police, went to a hotel and ordered pizza. He claims he saw a weapon, feared for his life, and acted in self-defense. But in testimony during the trial, Dunn’s fiancée said at the time Dunn never told her he saw a gun. In closing arguments, Assistant State Attorney John Guy urged jurors to convict.
John Guy: “If Jordan Davis had a gun, that defendant would have never left the scene. If Jordan Davis had a gun, he would have called the police. If he was truly acting in self-defense, he wouldn’t have been running from everybody. He wouldn’t have lied to the police. He wouldn’t have changed his story.”
The shooting has prompted comparisons to the death of Trayvon Martin. Dunn’s attorneys have invoked the Stand Your Ground law, and two of the prosecutors in the case also unsuccessfully tried Martin’s killer, George Zimmerman. As with the Zimmerman trial, prosecutors have ignored the issue of race during the proceedings. Damning letters written by Dunn during his pretrial imprisonment were never introduced to the jury. Dunn wrote family members that he thinks the justice system is biased in favor of African Americans. He writes: “This may sound a bit radical, but if more people would arm themselves and kill these [bleeping] idiots when they’re threatening you, eventually they may take the hint and change their behavior.”