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News Wrap: Occupy Protesters Block Busy Portland Port

December 12, 2011 at 12:00 AM EDT
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HARI SREENIVASAN: Wall Street was down sharply today amid a new surge of doubts about a European debt deal reached last Friday. Two major ratings services, Fitch and Moody’s, warned the agreement would do little good in the short term. The Dow Jones industrial average lost nearly 163 points to close at 12,021. The Nasdaq fell 34 points to close at 2,612.

Occupy Wall Street protesters tried to blockade some of the West Coast’s busiest ports today. Hundreds of people gathered before dawn at the Port of Portland, Ore. They blocked trucks from entering two terminals. Picketing also forced operations to halt at two terminals in Oakland, Calif. Shipping firms and union officials sent home 150 workers.

The protesters said they were standing up for the workers. But Oakland Mayor Jean Quan said interfering with port operations has the opposite effect.

JEAN QUAN, mayor of Oakland, Calif.: It is one of the places where blue-collar workers in particular in this city can get well-paying jobs. Thousands of people work at the Port of Oakland. Thousands more in agriculture and warehouse and other logistics throughout the Bay Area depend on the Port of Oakland. So we’re working hard today to keep the port operations going with minimum disruption.

HARI SREENIVASAN: There were also protests at the Port of Long Beach in Southern California and at Longview, Wash., and Vancouver, Canada.

After a weekend of mass protests, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin got some competition today in the country’s presidential race. Mikhail Prokhorov announced he will run against Putin next March. Prokhorov’s wealth is estimated at $18 billion, and he owns the NBA’s New Jersey Nets. He pledged to advocate for Russia’s burgeoning middle class.

MIKHAIL PROKHOROV, Russian presidential candidate (through translator): Society is waking up. And no matter if we want it or not, those authorities who fail to establish a dialogue with society, I think they will soon have to go. A serious change is happening in the world, and a new sort of person is emerging from the development of the Internet, communications between government. And society is getting closer.

HARI SREENIVASAN: The announcement followed Saturday’s protests targeting Putin and alleged vote fraud during parliamentary elections. Thousands of people gathered in Moscow and other cities across Russia.

Across Syria, businesses closed their doors and parents kept their children home from school as part of a general strike. It was meant to press for an end to the crackdown on protests. Amateur video showed the strike was being widely observed, especially in centers of the protest movement, such as the suburbs of Damascus and the city of Homs. Also today, the U.N. human rights chief reported the death toll in Syria now exceeds 5,000.

The U.S. Congress battled again today over extending the payroll tax cut for another year. So far, Democrats and Republicans have blocked each other’s plans for how to pay for an extension.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid again criticized Republicans for claiming a surtax on the wealthy would hurt job creation.

SEN. HARRY REID, D-Nev., majority leader: Billionaire job creators are like unicorns. They’re impossible to find and don’t exist. That’s because only a tiny fraction of people making more than a million dollars, probably less than 1 percent, are actually small business owners. And only a tiny fraction of that tiny fraction is traditional — is a traditional job creator.

HARI SREENIVASAN: House Republicans entered the fray on Friday. Their bill would tie the payroll tax cut extension to approval of the hotly debated Keystone oil pipeline from Canada. Democrats oppose linking the two issues, but Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell pushed the initiative today.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, R-Ky., minority leader: The president says he wants the two parties to compromise. This is it. There is no reason this legislation shouldn’t have the president’s enthusiastic support. The only reason, the only reason for Democrats to oppose this job-creating bill would be to gain some political advantage at a time when every one of them says job creation is a top priority.

HARI SREENIVASAN: The Obama administration has delayed a decision on the pipeline project until 2013.

The U.S. Supreme Court agreed today to hear arguments on a tough new immigration law in Arizona. The state statute requires that police check someone’s immigration status if they stop the individual for something else, but suspect that they are in the country illegally. Lower federal courts have blocked that and other provisions of the law.

Those are some of the day’s major stories.