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Syrian peace talks have been put on hold in Geneva as a Russian-backed offensive has intensified north of Aleppo. U.N. mediator Staffan de Mistura said he hoped talks would resume in three weeks.
Staffan de Mistura: “It is not the end, and it’s not the failure of the talks. Why? They came, and they stayed. Not only, but both sides insisted on the fact that they are interested in having the political process started.”
The peace talks are the first attempt in two years to negotiate an end to Syria’s war that has claimed the lives of nearly 300,000 people and displaced roughly half the country’s population.
New footage filmed from a drone shows shocking images from the Syrian city of Homs. Five years ago, a million people lived in the city. Today the city is devastated, a virtual ghost town. The footage was shot by a Russian television station.
The BBC is reporting a United Nations panel has ruled in favor of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who says he has been “arbitrarily detained” for the past three-and-a-half years because he cannot leave the Ecuadorean Embassy in London without being arrested by British authorities. Assange sought asylum in the embassy to avoid extradition to Sweden. Earlier this morning, Assange had said he will accept arrest by British police if the U.N. ruled against him.
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Senator Bernie Sanders sparred over who was a true progressive at a town hall event in New Hampshire last night.
Sen. Bernie Sanders: “I do not know any progressive who has a super PAC and takes $15 million from Wall Street. That’s just not progressive. As I mentioned earlier, the key foreign policy vote of modern American history was the war in Iraq. The progressive community was pretty united in saying, ’Don’t listen to Bush. Don’t go to war.’ Secretary Clinton voted to go to war.”
Later in the town hall event, Anderson Cooper of CNN asked Hillary Clinton about her ties to Goldman Sachs.
Anderson Cooper: “One of the things that Senator Sanders points to and a lot of your critics point to is you made three speeches for Goldman Sachs. You were paid $675,000 for three speeches. Was that a mistake? I mean, was that a bad error in judgment?”
Hillary Clinton: “Look. I made speeches to lots of groups. I told them what I thought. I answered questions.”
Anderson Cooper: “But did you have to be paid $675,000?”
Hillary Clinton: “Well, I don’t know. That’s what they offered, so.”
In related news, Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein has described Bernie Sanders’ candidacy as a “dangerous moment” during an interview with CNBC. Sanders recently attacked Goldman Sachs in a campaign ad. In 2008, Blankfein endorsed and donated money to Hillary Clinton’s campaign, but he has not endorsed her this time around. He said on Wednesday, “I don’t want to help or hurt anybody by giving them an endorsement.” Politico reports his wife Laura Blankfein has donated the $2,700 maximum to Clinton’s 2016 campaign.
In other campaign news, Donald Trump has accused Senator Ted Cruz of stealing the Iowa caucus by spreading rumors that Ben Carson had suspended his campaign just prior to the opening of the caucuses. Trump, who ended up placing second behind Cruz, demanded a redo of the vote.
Donald Trump: “Oh, that voter fraud! You know, these politicians are brutal. They’re brutal. They are brutal. They are a bunch of dishonest cookies, I want to tell you. That’s one of the reasons I’m doing this. It’s one of the reasons.”
On Wednesday, Ted Cruz defended the actions of his campaign team.
Sen. Ted Cruz: “Our political team passed on a CNN news story that CNN broke. The news story said that Ben Carson was not continuing from Iowa on to New Hampshire, he was not continuing to South Carolina, instead he was going home to Florida. That was a news story CNN had posted. And our political team passed it on to our supporters. It was breaking news that was relevant.”
CNN responded to Cruz’s comments by saying, “Senator Cruz’s claims about CNN are false. At no point did the network indicate Dr. Carson would suspend his campaign.”
President Obama visited the Islamic Society of Baltimore in Catonsville, Maryland, on Wednesday in his first trip to a mosque as president. He declared that attacks on Islam were an attack on all religions.
President Barack Obama: “If we’re serious about freedom of religion—and I’m speaking now to my fellow Christians who remain the majority in this country—we have to understand an attack on one faith is an attack on all our faiths.”
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump—who has a record of suggesting President Obama might be secretly a Muslim born overseas—later discussed Obama’s visit to a mosque on Fox News.
Donald Trump: “I think that we can go to lots of places right now. I don’t know if he’s—maybe he feels comfortable there. We have a lot of problems in this country, Greta. There are a lot of places he can go, and he chose a mosque.”
One of the world’s biggest multinational trade deals, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, has been signed by 12 member nations in New Zealand. It will now undergo a two-year ratification period in which at least six countries must approve the final text for the deal to be implemented.
A congressional hearing was held Wednesday to probe lead poisoning in the water supply of Flint, Michigan. Lawmakers sharply criticized both state officials as well as the Environmental Protection Agency. The crisis began began after an unelected emergency manager appointed by Republican Governor Rick Snyder switched the source of Flint’s drinking water to the corrosive Flint River. Committee Democrats criticized the Republican leadership for not inviting Snyder to testify. Flint resident LeeAnne Walters, who helped expose the lead poisoning, testified at the hearing.
LeeAnne Walters: “The citizens in Flint are relying on each of you, because we have no choice. We trust no one but Virginia Tech. There are people in Flint today still not being assisted during this crisis—illegal immigrants, disabled and shut-ins. Broken policy and procedures are smothering the outcry of an entire community suffering financially, physically, mentally and emotionally.”
In criminal justice news, a record 149 people in the United States were exonerated last year. On average, the exonerated prisoners had spent 14 years behind bars for crimes they did not commit. Some had spent more than three decades. The majority of the exonerations occurred in Texas and New York.
In news from Baltimore, DeRay Mckesson, one of the nation’s most high-profile Black Lives Matter activists, has announced he is running for mayor of Baltimore. He joins 12 candidates in the Democratic primary seeking to replace Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.