barack obama

Headlines: Pakistan Faces Humanitarian Crisis; Obama Admin Wants To Bring Spy Training Program To Colleges

Democracy Now Headlines: Pakistan Faces Humanitarian Crisis; Obama Admin Wants To Bring Spy Training Program To Colleges

Headlines from DemocracyNow.org, a daily TV/radio news program, hosted by Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez, airing on over 650 stations, pioneering the largest community media collaboration in the US.

Iran’s Guardian Council Admits to Vote Irregularities

Iranian authorities have acknowledged some irregularities have been found in Iran’s presidential election results. The influential Guardian Council admitted the number of votes collected in 50 cities surpassed the number of people eligible to cast ballot in those areas. Authorities said the discrepancies could affect as many as three million votes. According to the official results of the disputed election, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad beat Mir Hossein Mousavi by about 11 million votes.

Mousavi Calls For More Street Protests

Meanwhile Mousavi and former Iranian president Mohammad Khatami have defied Iran”s Supreme Leader and urged protesters to continue street demonstrations calling for a new election. Iranian state media reports that between 10 and 19 people were killed during protests on Saturday. Iranian police fired tear gas and water cannons at the protesters. Iranian state radio reported 457 protesters were arrested. On Sunday Iranian police briefly detained five relatives of former Iranian president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a close ally of Mousavi Reporters Without Borders says Iran is now jailing 30 journalists and cyber-dissidents including Newsweek reporter Maziar Bahari who has been held since Sunday.

Iran’s Web Spying Aided By European Firms Siemens and Nokia

The Wall Street Journal reports European telecommunications companies have helped the Iranian government develop one of the world”s most sophisticated mechanisms for controlling and censoring the Internet. The monitoring capability was provided, at least in part, by a joint venture of the German-based Siemens AG and Nokia, the Finnish cellphone company. Using the technology, the Iranian government appears to be engaging in a practice often called deep packet inspection, which enables authorities to not only block communication but to monitor it to gather information about individuals, as well as alter it for disinformation purposes.

Israel To Allocate $250 Million For West Bank Settlements

In other news, Israeli army radio is reporting Israel plans to allocate 250 million dollars over the next two years for settlements in the occupied West Bank despite pressure to halt settlement activity from the Obama administration. Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman met with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon last week and rejected calls for a freeze on the settlements, which are considered illegal under international law.

Avigdor Liberman: “I think and I say again settlements are not an obstacle to achieve peace. We know that even before ’67, before we even established one settlement, the situation was the same.”

Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad Al-Malki challenged Lieberman’s claim.

Riyad Al-Malki: “With the continuation of the settlement activities, it will be impossible to create a viable, contiguous Palestinian state on the ’67 borders. Nobody shares with Israeli Foreign Minister (Avigdor) Lieberman this view that the construction of settlement activities in occupied Palestinian territories has no connection to the peace process or has no influence to the achieving a peace between the Palestinians and the Israelis.”

Shiite Mosque Attacked in Iraq, 73 Die

In Iraq, at least 73 people died Saturday when a suicide bomber struck a Shiite mosque near Kirkuk. It was the deadliest attack in Iraq in more than a year. Another 15 people died today in a series of bomb attacks in Baghdad.

Two U.S. Soldiers Die in Rocket Attack On Bagram Air Base

In Afghanistan two US troops were killed Sunday when Bagram Air Base came under a rocket attack. Six other people were injured.

U.S. Admits Afghan Air Strike Killed At least 26 Civilians

Meanwhile, an internal U.S. military investigation into a U.S. airstrike on May 4th has confirmed that U.S. forces killed at least 26 Afghan civilians and possibly as many as 86. The military released the internal report on Friday but withheld making public a video from the attack despite an earlier promise from Gen. David Petraeus, the commander of U.S. Central Command.

Kidnapped NYT Reporter Escapes From Taliban

In other news from Afghanistan, a New York Times reporter has escaped from the Taliban after being held hostage for seven months. David Rohde was abducted on Nov. 10 but his kidnapping had been kept a secret by the Times and other western media outlets.

Pakistan Faces Humanitarian Crisis

The United Nations has launched an urgent appeal for funds to help the UN respond to the massive humanitarian crisis facing Pakistan. Over 3 million Pakistanis have been displaced in recent weeks due to the Pakistani military”s offensive against the Taliban in the Swat Valley. Last week the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres, said the Pakistan displacement crisis is probably the world”s biggest since events in Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo in the 90s. Last month the UN appealed for about $540 million from the international community, but only about 35 percent of the funding has been received. The humanitarian crisis in Pakistan is expected to soon worsen as the Pakistani military prepares to expand its offensive against militants by attacking South Waziristan.

Report: One Billion People Go Hungry Every Day

World hunger is projected to reach a record high this year with more than a billion people going hungry every day. This is an increase of some 100 million people over the past year.

Obama Admin Wants To Bring Spy Training Program To Colleges

The Obama administration has proposed offering federal money to colleges and universities to help train students to become spies for the CIA and other intelligence agencies. The Washington Post reports the intelligence officer training program would function much like ROTC, the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps run by the military with the government subsidizing the cost of school in return for future service. However, unlike ROTC, the students’ participation in the spy training program would likely be kept secret.

ACLU Files Suit Over Communication Management Units

The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a lawsuit against the federal Bureau of Prisons challenging the legality of the government”s use of secretive prison units known as Communication Management Units or CMUs. The units are designed to severely restrict prisoner communication with family members, the media and the outside world. Most of the prisoners held in the CMUs have been Muslim men but the units have also held political activists including the environmental activist Daniel McGowan who is being held at a CMU in Marion, Illinois. Daniel McGowan’s attorney Lauren Regan appeared on Democracy Now in April.

Lauren Regan: “The inmates there do call Marion, Illinois, ‘Little Guantanamo.’ Part of the reason that they call it that is because it is a secret facility. They do feel as if they are being hidden, not only from society at large, but from other inmates in the federal system.”

Federal Authorities Approve Gun Sales to People On Terrorist Watch List

The National Rifle Association is opposing a proposed bill that would block gun sales to people on the government”s terrorist watch list. Democratic Senator Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey plans to introduce the bill today. A new government study found people on the government’s terrorist watch list have tried to buy guns nearly 1,000 times in the last five years. Federal authorities cleared the purchases 90 percent of the time because they had no legal way to stop them. Under current federal law, people named on the terrorist watch list can be barred from boarding an airplane or getting a visa, but they cannot be stopped from buying a gun.

Poll: 72% Of Americans back Creation of Public Healthcare Plan

A new poll by the New York Times and CBS News has found that 72 percent of Americans support the government creating a public healthcare plan, similar to Medicare, which would compete with private insurance plans. The poll also found the majority of Americans now believe the government would do a better job than private insurance companies in providing medical coverage.

Nestle Recalls Cookie Dough Products Due to E.Coli Scare

The food giant Nestle has recalled all Toll House refrigerated cookie dough products because of e.coli contamination. The Food and Drug Administration said there has been 66 reports of illness across 28 states since March from the contaminated cookie dough.

Bermuda Prime Minister Survives No-Confidence Vote

In Bermuda, Prime Minister Ewart Brown has survived a vote of no-confidence. Brown had been criticized for agreeing in secret with the Obama administration to accept former Guantanamo prisoners.

Obama Jokes About Plight of Uighurs

Bermuda and the Pacific island nation of Palau have both accepted a group of Uighur prisoners who had been held at Guantanamo for seven years even though U.S. officials admitted they were wrongly detained. The Uighers are Chinse Muslims who could not be returned to China out of fear that they would be imprisoned and tortured. Over the weekend President Obama joked about the plight of the Uighurs during the Radio TV Correspondent’s Dinner.

President Obama: “Nick At Nite has a new take on an old classic: ‘Leave It To Uighurs.’ [laughter] I thought was pretty good.”

Obama also joked about the refusal of other countries from accepting prisoners held at Guantanamo.

President Obama: “I have to say as I have travelled to all of these countries, I found firsthand how much people truly have in common with one another, because no matter where I went there is one thing that I heard over and over again from every world leader: no thanks, but have you considered Palau?”

Welsh Activist Denied Entry To U.S.

The Welsh folk singer and language activist Arfon Gwilym has been forced to cancel an appearance at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival in Washington after he was denied a visa by U.S. officials. Gwilym is a prominent campaigner for the preservation of the Welsh language. He was denied the visa because he has been arrested several times while campaigning for bilingual road signs in Wales and for a Welsh-language television channel.

Indian Musician Ali Akbar Khan, 87, Dies

And the master Indian musician Ali Akbar Khan has died at the age of 87. Khan played a pivotal role in introducing western audiences to Indian music.

Headlines: Holder Refuses to Say Bush’s Warrantless Wiretapping Program Was Illegal; Republican Racism and President Obama

Democracy Now Headlines: Holder Refuses to Say Bush's Warrantless Wiretapping Program Was Illegal; Republican Racism and President Obama

Headlines from DemocracyNow.org, a daily TV/radio news program, hosted by Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez, airing on over 650 stations, pioneering the largest community media collaboration in the US.

Supporters of Mousavi Hold Mourning Rally in Tehran

Supporters of Iran’s defeated presidential candidate Mir hossein Mousavi are staging a fifth day of protest today to honor persons killed during the mass demonstrations over the past week. Mousavi accuses President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of rigging last week’s election. Hundreds of opposition activists, journalists and intellectuals have been reportedly arrested in recent days, including former Iranian Foreign Minister Ebrahim Yazdi and Tehran’s former mayor Mohammad Tavassali. Earlier today Iran’s most senior legislative body, the Guardian Council, said it will meet the three defeated candidates from Friday’s presidential election to discuss their complaints about the poll.

Iran Accuses U.S. Of Meddling In Its Internal Affairs

The Iranian government is now accusing several foreign nations of interfering in it internal affairs. On Wednesday the Iranian Foreign Ministry summoned the Swiss ambassador, who represents U.S. interests in Tehran, to protest of what it called “meddling” by the United States because of statements by American officials on Iran’s elections.

U.S. State Dept Asks Twitter to Delay Shutdown Due to Iran Protests

The U.S. State Department has admitted it contacted the social networking service Twitter to urge it to delay a planned upgrade that would have cut daytime service to Iranians who are disputing their election. Meanwhile the video website YouTube has said it has relaxed its usual restrictions on violent videos to allow the images from Iran to reach the rest of the world.

Obama Extends Some Benefits To Same Sex Partners of Federal Workers

In Washington, President Obama has signed a memorandum to extend some benefits to the same-sex partners of federal employees, but the president did not offer survivor benefits or comprehensive healthcare, drawing sharp criticism from within the gay community.

President Obama: “I’m proud to issue a presidential memorandum that paves the way for long-overdue progress in our nation’s pursuit of equality. Many of our government’s hardworking and dedicated and patriotic public servants have long been denied basic rights that their colleagues enjoy for one simple reason; the people that they love are of the same sex.”

Obama made the policy change by issuing a memorandum not an executive order. This means the policy change will expire when Obama leaves office. Several prominent gay rights activists have criticized the president in recent days for failing to live up to campaign promises. Last week the administration filed a legal brief supporting the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act. On Wednesday, however, Obama said he would work to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act. Obama has also been criticized for not pushing for an end to the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.

Holder Refuses to Say Bush’s Warrantless Wiretapping Program Was Illegal

Attorney General Eric Holder testified on Capitol Hill Wednesday and refused to declare President Bush’s warrantless wiretapping program to be illegal. Holder was repeatedly questioned by Democratic Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin.

Sen. Russ Feingold: Now that you are the attorney general is there any doubt in your mind that the warrantless wiretapping program was illegal?

Eric Holder: Well I think that the warrantless wiretapping program as it existed at that point was certainly unwise in that it was put together without the approval of Congress…

Sen. Feingold: What I asked you Mr. Attorney General was not whether it was unwise but whether you consider it to have been illegal…

Holder: “The policy was an unwise one and that the concerns I expressed then have really been remedied by the fact that Congress has now authorized the program.

Sen. Feingold: But did you think it was illegal?

Holder: Well, I thought as a I said, it was inconsistent with the FISA statute and unwise as a matter of policy.

NSA Database Collects Millions Of Intercepted Emails

The New York Times has revealed that the National Security Agency is operating a secret surveillance database that contains millions of intercepted foreign and domestic e-mails. The NSA’s database – codenamed Pinwale – allows the NSA to search through millions of email messages including correspondence to and from Americans. The Times reports the NSA database even includes some intercepted personal correspondence of former President Bill Clinton.

Obama Proposes New Regulations Of Financial Industry

President Barack Obama laid out his vision for reshaping U.S. financial regulation on Wednesday, aiming to tighten oversight of large firms whose excessive risk-taking triggered the global economic crisis. The proposals have been described as the most sweeping overhaul of the nation’s financial rules since the 1930s.

President Obama: “I am proposing that the Federal Reserve be granted new authority and accountability-for regulating bank holding companies and other large firms that pose a risk to the entire economy in the event of failure. We will also raise the standards to which these kinds of firms are held. If you can pose a great risk, that means you have a great responsibility. We will require these firms to meet stronger capital and liquidity requirements so that they are more resilient and less likely to fail.”

As part of his proposal, President Obama called for the creation of an independent Consumer Financial Protection Agency. Obama also wants to give the Federal Reserve more power to monitor “systemic risk” to the economy posed by the largest financial firms. The Wall Street Journal reports, executive compensation and hedge funds would also face more scrutiny. Bank regulation would be streamlined somewhat. Financial firms would be required to hold more capital.

EPA Declares Public Health Emergency in Libby, Montana

The Environmental Protection Agency has declared a public health emergency in the town of Libby, Montana where hundreds of people have died from asbestos contamination. It is the first time such a declaration has been made by the EPA. For decades, W.R. Grace and Co. mined asbestos-contaminated vermiculite in Libby. Last month executives from W.R. Grace were acquitted on charges of knowingly allowing Libby residents to be exposed to cancer-causing asbestos. The EPA said it will funnel $6 million to provide medical care for people sickened by asbestos from the mine.

U.S. Drone Strike Kills Nine in Pakistan

U.S. forces have carried out another drone strike inside Pakistan killing nine suspected militants. The strike occurred in South Waziristan, the region where the Pakistani military is preparing to launch a major offensive.

Suicide Bombing Kills Somalia’s National Security Minister

Meanwhile in Somalia, the nation’s security minister has been killed in a suicide bombing at a hotel injust north of the capital, Mogadishu. The blast killed at least nine other people. On Wednesday the police chief of Mogadishu was killed in a separate attack.

GOP Aide in Tennessee Distributes Racist Image of Obama

In Tennessee, Republican state Senator Diane Black is refusing to fire a staffer who sent a racist image of President Obama. The staffer, Sherri Goforth, sent out an e-mail with images of all the presidents of the United States. Barack Obama was depicted in the bottom right hand corner only as a pair of bright white eyes on a black background.

GOP Operative in SC Compares First Lady To A Gorilla

Meanwhile in South Carolina, a prominent Republican activist has apologized after making a joke on his Facebook page that an escaped gorilla from a local zoo was an ancestor of First Lady Michelle Obama. Rusty DePass is the former Republican state elections director in South Carolina.

Headlines: House Passes $106 Billion War Spending Bill; Obama To Extend Federal Benefits To Gay Couples

Democracy Now Headlines: House Passes $106 Billion War Spending Bill; Obama To Extend Federal Benefits To Gay Couples

Headlines from DemocracyNow.org, a daily TV/radio news program, hosted by Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez, airing on over 650 stations, pioneering the largest community media collaboration in the US.

House Passes $106 Billion War Spending Bill

The Democratic-controlled House has narrowly passed a $106 billion spending bill to expand the war in Afghanistan and to continue funding the war in Iraq. 32 anti-war Democrats voted against the measure as did all but five Republicans. The Republicans opposed a part of the bill to increase funding for the International Monetary Fund. The final vote was 226 to 202. Congressman Dennis Kucinich voted against the war funding.

Rep. Dennis Kucinich: “We are destroying our nations moral and fiscal integrity with the War Supplemental. Instead of ending wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan now by appropriating only enough money to bring our troops home, Congress abdicates its Constitutional authority, defers to the President and asks for a report. That’s right. All we are asking for is a report about when the President will end the war.

Dennis Kucinich also criticized the increased funding for the International Monetary Fund.

Rep. Dennis Kucinich: “There is money too for the IMF, presumably to bail out European banks. Billions for the IMF so they can force low- and middle- income nations to cut jobs, wages, healthcare and retirement security, just like corporate America does to our constituents. And there is money to incentivize the purchase of more cars, but not necessarily from the US because the Buy American Mandate was not allowed. Another $106 billion and all we get is a lousy war. Pretty soon that is all that is going to be about the only thing made in America: war.”

UN: Record Of Number Internally Displaced Persons

The United Nations is reporting a record number of internally displaced persons received UN assistance in 2008. 14.4 million people were registered as living under UN care. Another 11.6 million internally displaced persons were left to fend for themselves or receive assistance from other agencies. The total number of internally displaced persons has increased even more since the end of 2008 due to fighting in Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Somalia.

As Protests Continue In Iran, Ebadi Calls For New Election

Anti-government protesters are filling the streets of Tehran again today calling for last week’s election results to be thrown out. Supporters of opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi accuse President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of rigging the election. On Tuesday backers of Mousavi and Ahmadinejad both held massive rallies Iranian Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi has called for a new election under the watch of international observers.

Obama: U.S. Should Not Meddle In Iranian Elections

In Washington President Obama resisted calls for the United States to take a direct stance on the situation in Iran.

President Obama: “It’s not productive, given the history of U.S.-Iranian relations, to be seen as meddling, the U.S. president meddling in Iranian elections.”

Former Republican presidential candidate John McCain criticized Obama’s handling of the crisis.

Sen. John McCain: “He should speak out that this is a corrupt, fraud, sham of an election. The Iranian people have been deprived of their rights. We support them in their struggle against a repressive, oppressive regime. And they should not be subjected to four more years of Ahmadinejad and the radical Muslim clerics.”

Iranian Government Cracks Down on Foreign Press & Websites

Meanwhile the Iranian government has revoked press credentials for foreign journalists and ordered journalists not to report from the streets. Much of the video footage from Iran is now coming from Iranian citizens who are posting video to YouTube and other sites.

Amateur video posted on the internet earlier today appears to show members of the Revolutionary Guard firing at a crowd of demonstrators from the roof of their building in Tehran on Monday. Iran’s Revolutionary Guard corps said today it will pursue legal action against websites that it claimed were inciting people to riot as well as the people who post material to the websites.

Obama To Extend Federal Benefits To Gay Couples

President Obama is expected to sign a presidential memorandum today to extend benefits to same-sex partners of federal employees but he will stop short of pledging full health insurance coverage. Obama is making the announcement at a time when he is facing growing anger among gay supporters over his administration’s recent decision to file a legal brief supporting the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act. During the presidential campaign Obama called for repealing the Defense of Marriage Act as well as the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.

Report: Anti-Gay Killings Jump 28 Percent in 2008

Meanwhile a new report from the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs has found that the number of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people killed in bias-motivated attacks increased by 28 percent last year. The group documented 29 killings in 2008, the highest number recorded since 1999.

Obama To Outline Major Financial Regulatory Changes

In economic news, President Obama is expected to propose today the creation of an independent and powerful Consumer Financial Product Safety Commission to regulate financial products such as mortgages and credit cards. The McClatchy Newspapers reports that as part of the proposal, the Federal Reserve and other bank regulators would lose their oversight over mortgages, credit cards and other financial products that are sold to consumers. At the same time Obama is proposing expanding the Feds role as the regulator of the nation’s largest banks such as J.P. Morgan Chase and Goldman Sachs to include other giant financial firms, such as the insurance companies AIG and MetLife.

Report: Unemployment Crisis To Continue Until 2014

Meanwhile a leading economic forecaster is projecting that much of the country will not return to peak employment until at least 2012 and many cities won’t return to recent peaks until 2014 or later. Six million jobs have been lost since the recession began 18 months ago.

Carter: Gaza Residents Are Treated “More Like Animals Than Human Beings”

Former president Jimmy Carter said Tuesday that Palestinians in Gaza were being treated “more like animals than human beings.” Carter made the comment after touring the Gaza Strip for the first time since the Israeli attack.

Jimmy Carter: “Tragically, the international community largely ignores the cries for help, while the citizens of Gaza are treated more like animals than like human beings.”

Jimmy Carter also called for an investigation into war crimes committed by Israel.

Jimmy Carter: “There is no explanation. The responsibility for this terrible human rights crime lies in Jerusalem, in Cairo, in Washington and in the capitals of Europe, throughout the international community. This abuse must cease. The crimes committed against you must be investigated. The walls must be brought down and the basic right of freedom must come to you.”

1979 State Dep’t Ruling: Israel Settlements “Inconsistent With International Law”

Meanwhile new attention is being paid to a State Department opinion issued during Jimmy Carter’s administration regarding Israeli settlements. In 1979 a State Department legal adviser issued an opinion that stated the establishment of Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian territories is “inconsistent with international law.” The opinion cited Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which states that an occupying power “shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.” The legal opinion has never been revoked or revised. On Tuesday Israel’s newly appointed ambassador to Washington Michael Oren claimed that Israel does not have the ability to halt all settlement building.

Michael Oren: “This is a country of law, and citizens of the state of Israel have rights under that law and if a person has purchased a house, if a person has taken out a contract for building a house, if a corporation is involved in a construction activity, the Israeli government does not have the right under Israeli law to stop them. If it tries to, they will appeal to the (Israeli) supreme court and, my guess is, the supreme court will view in favor of those appellants.”

The future of the Israeli settlements is expected to be discussed at today’s meeting in Washington between Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman. Lieberman lives in the West Bank settlement of Nokdim.

New Gov’t Report: Global Warming Is Unequivocal

A new report by the Obama administration says global warming is “unequivocal and primarily human-induced.” The Washington Post reports the study details how climate change will affect certain parts of the United States. In the Northeast, the heaviest rainstorms have become 67 percent heavier since 1958, as warmer weather evaporates more water vapor into the atmosphere to feed storm clouds. Around the Great Lakes, snowstorms could get heavier as ice recedes and exposes more open water. By 2100 parts of the South could experience 150 days a year with temperatures higher than 90 degrees.

Peruvian Prime Minister To Resign

Peruvian Prime Minister Yehude Simon has announced plans to resign following the bloody clashes between indigenous activists and the police. Simon has led negotiations with indigenous groups protesting decrees to foreign oil and gas development in the Amazon jungle. Meanwhile the Peruvian Foreign Ministry has announced that it has granted safe passage to indigenous leader Alberto Pizango to leave Peru for Nicaragua, which has granted him political asylum. On Tuesday Bolivian President Evo Morales accused Peruvian President Alan Garcia of committing genocide.

Evo Morales: “I’m convinced that what happened in Peru is genocide caused the free trade agreement. Privatization hands South America and Latin America’s Amazon forests over to multinationals. Now the free trade agreement is causing genocide not just in Latin America, but all over the world.”

In other news from Peru, protesters have blocked access to one of the country’s largest gold mines. Peru is the world’s sixth-largest gold producer.

Mogadishu Police Chief Killed

In Somalia the police chief of the capital Mogadishu has been killed in a day of heaving fighting between government forces and Islamic milittants. More than 250 people have been killed in Somalia over the past month.

Republican Senator John Ensign Admits To Affair

On Capitol Hill, Republican Senator John Ensign of Nevada has admitted he had an extramarital affair with a campaign staffer. Ensign was seen as a potential candidate for president in 2012. Ensign is a born-again Christian who was a member of the Promise Keepers, a male evangelical group that promotes marital fidelity. Ensign had once claimed he never met behind closed doors with women staff members and would not travel alone in a car with a woman who was not his wife. In 2007 Ensign urged Idaho Senator Larry Craig to resign after his arrest in a men’s bathroom for alleged lewd conduct.

Trial of Former Democratic Rep. William Jefferson Begins

The federal trial of former Democratic Congressman William Jefferson of Louisiana has begun. On Tuesday federal prosecutors told jurors Jefferson had squeezed hundreds of thousands of dollars in kickbacks from people who sought his help. Jefferson has been charged with 16 counts, including bribery, racketeering, obstruction of justice and money laundering. In 2005 the FBI raided Jefferson’s Capitol Hill home and found $90,000 wrapped in foil and stuffed in food containers in a freezer.

Pioneering Doctor Leo Orris, 93, Dies

Ad doctor Leo Orris has died at the age of 93. He was a pioneer in environmental medicine, and discovered the causative link between tobacco and cancer in 1958.

White House Pressures Anti-War Democrats to Support War Funding Bill

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Over the past few weeks–and really years–we’ve harped on the Democrats unwillingness to mount a serious challenge to the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. It’s critical that someone do that, because for all the talk of them being “Bush’s wars,” the simple fact is that they wouldn’t have been possible without the Democrats’ complicity. Most often, this has meant the Democrats’ willingness to come through with continued funding for the war.

Last week, we reported that the Democrats have drafted a “compromise” on the current war funding bill that they hope will get anti-war Democrats on board. Rather than add measures that would appeal to those anti-war legislators, the leadership has instead added unrelated measures such as cash incentives for consumers that purchase fuel efficient cars.

Over the weekend, it also came out that the White House is using Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel to pressure progressive legislators to support the bill. According to media reports, the administration is targeting freshman members of Congress–many who were elected in part on their anti-war platform–to pressure them to change their votes. The White House is allegedly threatening to pull support from those legislators come reelection time. Emanuel has also reportedly offered to cut deals with Republicans who are willing to support the legislation, saying that the Democrats will go easy on them in the 2010 elections. Obama has also reportedly entered the fray and is calling members of the House to secure their vote.

I think it’s pretty telling that the so-called “attack dog” Rahm Emanuel–who many liberals defended as being necessary to push legislation through Congress against obstructionist Republicans–is being used by the Obama administration to target progressive lawmakers. It says a lot about where they are at on foreign policy, although it really isn’t much of a surprise. He has been consistently in support of the wars since 2007, but most of his supporters ignored it and hoped that he would somehow change his mind once in office. Clearly, that didn’t–and obviously wouldn’t–work, but now we’re seeing the results of that mistake with the continued support for the war in Iraq and the escalation of the Afghanistan War.

Headlines: Obama Administration Urges Court to Toss Rendition Lawsuit; Top Minutemen Officials Arrested on Murder Charges

Democracy Now Headlines: Obama Administration Urges Court to Toss Rendition Lawsuit; Top Minutemen Officials Arrested on Murder Charges

Headlines from DemocracyNow.org, a daily TV/radio news program, hosted by Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez, airing on over 650 stations, pioneering the largest community media collaboration in the US.

Iran Supreme Leader Calls For Probe Into Disputed Election

Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has ordered an investigation into allegations of election fraud in Friday’s presidential vote. Khamenei made the announcement following three days of street protests by supporters of opposition leader Mir Hussein Moussavi, who has accused President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of stealing the election. Khamenei’s decision to call for a probe has shocked many in Iran. On Saturday Khamenei had urged the nation to unite behind Ahmadinejad and called the result a “divine assessment.” According to the official election results, Ahmadinejad was re-elected with 62 percent of the vote but Moussavi claims the vote was rigged. Moussavi was planning to hold a major rally in Tehran today but Iranian officials ordered a ban on protests. Opposition websites report that over a 100 prominent opposition members were detained and then released over the weekend. At a rally on Sunday Ahmadinejad spoke before tens of thousands of his supporters.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad: “In our beloved Iran, democracy is a fundamental principle. First of all, it’s the nation which determines everything. It’s the people who decide. It’s the nation’s will that governs. It’s the nation which selects the rulers in every decision making level of the political system”

UN Approves New North Korean Sanctions

Tensions on the Korean peninsula continue to mount. On Friday, the United Nations Security Council agreed to a new round of sanctions against North Korea. North Korea responded by vowing to step up its nuclear bomb-making program by producing more plutonium and uranium. North Korea also threatened war on any country that dared to stop its ships on the high seas under the new sanctions. South Korean President Lee Myung-bak is headed to Washington for summit talks Tuesday with President Barack Obama.

Netanyahu Backs Demilitarized Palestinian State

Palestinian officials have condemned a major policy speech by Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu saying it closed the door to permanent status negotiations. During the speech on Sunday Netanyahu said for the first time he could accept a two-state solution but only if the new Palestinian state had no army, no control of its airspace and borders, and would recognize Israel as a Jewish state.

Binyamin Netanyahu: “If we receive this guarantee for demilitarization and the security arrangements required by Israel, and if the Palestinians recognize Israel as the nation of the Jewish people, we will be prepared for a true peace agreement (and) to reach a solution of a demilitarized Palestinian state alongside the Jewish state.”

During the speech Netanyahu also said Jerusalem must remain the united capital of Israel and that israel would not concede to US demands for a complete halt to all settlement expansion in the West Bank.

Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat: “He is not with the two state solution, he is not going to stop settlements including natural growth so we have attempts to move a peace process which was moving like a turtle in the region, now Netanyahu tonight flipped it on it’s back. It’s really up to President Obama tonight, he has the choice. He can treat Israel like a country above the laws of men, apply double standards and this will be a costly road, or he can have the Israeli government oblige with it’s commitments eminating from the road map. The two state solution with ’67 borders and stopping settlement activities including natural growth. Tonight what Netanyahu told us-there will not be permanent status negotiations.”

Top Sunni Lawmaker Assassinated in Iraq

In Iraq, a top Sunni lawmaker was assassinated on Friday shortly after giving a sermon calling on authorities to investigate the widespread reports of torture in Iraqi prisons. Harith al-Obaidi is the third Iraqi lawmaker to be assassinated since parliament was elected in 2005.

Report: 30 Lawmakers Have Financial Holdings in Health Care Industry

The Washington Post has revealed almost 30 key lawmakers helping draft landmark health-care legislation have financial holdings in the industry, totaling nearly $11 million worth of personal investments. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has at least $50,000 invested in a health-care index. Republican Sen. Judd Gregg, a senior member of the health committee, has up to $560,000 worth of stock holdings in major health-care companies, including Bristol-Myers Squibb and Merck. The family of Democratic Congresswoman Jane Harman held at least $3.2 million in more than 20 health-care companies at the end of last year. On Tuesday the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee plans to hold a key hearing to discuss health care reform. On that 22-member panel, at least eight senators have financial interests in the health-care industry. The hearings will be led by Democratic Senator Christopher Dodd whose wife serves on the boards of four health-care companies. She received more than $200,000 in salary and stock from her service last year.

Obama Administration Urges Court to Toss Rendition Lawsuit

The Obama administration is asking a federal appeals court to reconsider its decision to allow a Boeing subsidiary to be sued over its roles in the CIA’s extraordinary rendition program. Like the Bush administration, the Obama administration is urging the court to throw out the case citing the State Secrets Act. The American Civil Liberties Union filed the suit against Jeppesen International Trip Planning on behalf of five former prisoners. Jeppesen is accused of arranging at least seventy flights since 2001 as part of the CIA’s extraordinary rendition program. Ben Wizner of the ACLU said: “This is a watershed moment. There’s no mistake any longer … the Obama administration has now fully embraced the Bush administration’s shameful effort to immunize torturers and their enablers from any legal consequences for their actions.”

Judge Rules Jose Padilla Can Sue John Yoo Over Torture

A federal judge in San Francisco has ruled Jose Padilla can sue former Bush administration lawyer John Yoo for coming up with the legal theories that justified his detention and torture. Padilla says he was repeatedly tortured while being held as an enemy combatant. Padilla, who is a U.S. citizen, was held for 43 months without charge in a Navy brig in South Carolina. U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White said QUOTE “Like any other government official, government lawyers are responsible for the foreseeable consequences of their conduct.”

CIA Fires Mitchell, Jessen & Associates

CIA Director Leon Panetta has revealed the agency has fired Mitchell, Jessen & Associates and other contractors connected to interrogations. Mitchell, Jessen & Associates was run by two former military psychologists who helped design the CIA’s torture program. Panetta made the disclosure in an interview with the New Yorker Magazine.

CIA Head Says Cheney Almost Wishing U.S. Be Attacked Again

In the same interview CIA Director Leon Panetta harshly criticized former Vice President Dick Cheney for questioning the Obama administration’s national security policies. Panetta said of Cheney “it’s almost as if he’s wishing that this country would be attacked again, in order to make his point. I think that’s dangerous politics.”

Peruvian President Alan Garcia Accused of Ethnic Genocide

Peruvian President Alan Garcia is warning that police may have to use a ‘heavier hand’ on indigenous protesters in the Amazon following the recent clashes that left over 60 people dead. Indigenous tribes fear losing control of natural resources after recent presidential decrees opened up investment on extending mining and oil drilling in the jungle. Indigenous activists in Peru are calling for investigations into the violence and the resignations of government officials, including Garcia. On Friday the actress Q’Orianka Kilcher spoke in Lima on behalf of the indigenous protesters.

Q’Orianka Kilcher: “And I hear that Garcia has publicly declared my brothers and sisters of the Amazon to be ‘not first-class citizens.’ I have to say, ‘Shame on you, Alan Garcia because we are all first-class citizens. We are all Peruvians. And I hear that you are criminalizing indigenous protesters by calling them terrorists and savages. Who gave orders to commit ethnic genocide?”

Obama Admin To Spend $350 Million On New National Educational Standards

In education news, the Obama administration has announced plans to spend up to $350 million to help develop national standards for reading and math. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said the government’s spending will go for the development of tests that would assess those new standards.

Top Minutemen Officials Arrested on Murder Charges

Two top officials of the anti-immigrant group Minutemen American Defense have been arrested on murder charges in Arizona. Shawna Forde, the group’s executive director, and Jason Bush, the group’s operations director were both charged with two counts of first-degree murder. A third person was also charged. Police say the three broke into a home and a killed a man and his 8-year-old daughter. The Minutemen American Defense organization has sent teams of armed vigilantes to the U.S.-Mexican and U.S.-Canada border in an attempt to stop undocumented workers. It is a separate organization from Jim Gilchrist’s Minuteman Project.

Domestic Workers Rally in New York

And here in New York, over 200 domestic workers and their supporters rallied outside City Hall Sunday to urge state lawmakers to pass a Domestic Workers Bill of Rights. Speakers included Nisha Varia of Human Rights Watch.

Nisha Varia: “It’s an issue of having equal legal protections. It’s about having domestic work recognized as work. And the same sort of issues about not being paid for your work, not having time off, and not being respected-we really need to see the government and employers respond to that.”

Obama’s Choice to Lead Afghanistan War Linked to Detainee Abuse

Over the past few weeks, news that the Obama administration had picked Lieutenant General Stanley McChrystal to was met by opposition from anti-war and liberal voices who have criticized McChrystal for his ties to both the abuse of detainees and targeted assassinations.

Last week, McChrystal appeared before the Senate Armed Services Committee. He was mainly subjected to softball questions that largely side-stepped the issue of detainee abuse and torture. Among those questioning McChrystal was Michigan Senator Carl Levin. Unfortunately, there was much more discussion about the death of former football player Pat Tillman than detainee abuse.

For those who want to learn a bit more about McChrystal and what his selection means for the continued war in Afghanistan, Democracy Now! put together an excellent segment with Marc Garlasco of Human Rights Watch and author Tom Engelhardt. The video is available below:

In addition, readers wanting to learn more about the war in Afghanistan would do well to read Engelhardt’s piece, “The Pressure of an Expanding War,” that looks at where the war in Afghanistan is headed.

Headlines: Obama Nominee Linked to Spying on Muslims, CIA Torture; Study: Medical Bills Account for Over 60% of Bankruptcies

Democracy Now Headlines: Obama Nominee Linked to Spying on Muslims, CIA Torture; Study: Medical Bills Account for Over 60% of Bankruptcies

Headlines from DemocracyNow.org, a daily TV/radio news program, hosted by Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez, airing on over 650 stations, pioneering the largest community media collaboration in the US.

At Least 40 Killed in Pakistan Mosque Bombing

At least forty people are reportedly dead following a bomb attack on a mosque near Pakistan’s Swat Valley. It’s the ninth bombing to hit Pakistan since government forces launched a US-backed attack on Taliban militants in April. US special envoy Richard Holbrooke is in Pakistan today for talks with Pakistani leaders on supporting the offensive. The meeting comes as the United Nations is warning it could be forced to reduce its Pakistan relief efforts unless it receives additional aid. Manuel Bessler of the UN Organization for Humanitarian Assistance cited dwindling supplies.

Manuel Bessler: “Some of the clusters are running short. And in this sense, we have to use all opportunities to bring to the attention of the international community the urgent need to fund this operation. When we are short in funding, short in resources, we will be forced to scale down our operation.”

Around 2.5 million people have been displaced by the fighting in Swat and other northwest areas.

Obama Plays Down Mideast Peace Hopes

President Obama is in Germany today on the third stop of his tour of Europe and the Middle East. One day after his speech in Cairo, Obama played down expectations of solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict under his administration.

President Obama: “The United States can be a partner in solving the problem, but ultimately the parties involved are going to have to make a decision that the prosperity and security of their people is best served by negotiations and compromise. And we can’t force them to make those difficult decisions. What we can do is to provide them a framework and a forum and the support for such an outcome to be achieved.”

The Obama administration has clashed with Israel over a US insistence that Israel end settlement expansion. But it’s refused to leverage massive US aid to Israel or push for the settlements’ complete dismantlement. Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said he hopes Obama will follow his Cairo speech with meaningful pressure on Israel.

Saeb Erekat: “President Obama’s speech laid the ground for the two-state solution. Now, I hope that in the next few months President Obama will lay a real plan with time lines, monitors and mechanisms to implement and translate the vision of two states from a vision to a realistic political track.”

Obama will pay tribute to victims of the Nazi Holocaust when he tours the Buchenwald concentration camp later today. He’ll then head to France to commemorate D-Day on Saturday.

North Korea Silent on Trial of US Journalists

In North Korea, state officials have remained silent on the trial of two detained US journalists. Euna Lee and Laura Ling were detained along the Chinese border in March. Both work for Al Gore’s Current TV. Their trial was supposed to open on Thursday, but there’s been no word on whether it’s begun.

UN Human Rights Commissioner Urges Probe of Afghan Civilian Deaths

The UN’s top human rights official is calling for an independent probe into the rising number of civilian deaths in Afghanistan. Speaking before the UN Human Rights Council Thursday, High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said attacks by both Taliban militants and US-led forces should be investigated.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay: “The government of Afghanistan and all states involved in this conflict should take all measures to protect civilians and to ensure the independent investigation of all civilian casualties, as well as justice and remedies for the victims.”

14 Killed in Somalia Clashes

In Somalia, at least fourteen people have been killed in clashes between government forces and rebel fighters in the capital Mogadishu. The ongoing fighting has caused a new wave of displacements, with around 70,000 people fleeing Mogadishu in the past month. Oxfam Somalia relief coordinator Hassan Nour said the humanitarian situation is dire.

Oxfam Somalia relief coordinator Hassan Nour: “You can imagine a situation where nearly half of the country’s entire population are in need of humanitarian aid, where borders are closed, where displacements is taking place, where droughts are actually frequent. One emergency after the other. This is no longer a normal situation. This is an extraordinary humanitarian situation.”

Seven thousand Somali refugees are now pouring into neighboring Kenya each month.

US Ordered to Release Secret Gitmo “Evidence”

A federal judge has ordered the Obama administration to release secret evidence it says justifies the continued imprisonment of over 100 Guantanamo Bay prisoners. US District Judge Thomas Hogan rejected the government’s blanket request to keep the documents sealed, saying it must seek court approval to keep specific information under wraps. The case was brought by prisoners’ attorneys and a coalition of media groups. Jonathan Hafetz of the American Civil Liberties Union hailed the ruling, saying, “For far too long, the government has succeeded in keeping information about Guantanamo secret and used secrecy to cover up illegal detention and abuse.”

Obama Nominee Linked to Spying on Muslims, CIA Torture

The Obama administration’s pick for a top Homeland Security position has ties to the FBI spying on Muslim Americans, as well as reported links to CIA torture. Philip Mudd has been nominated to become secretary of intelligence and analysis at Homeland Security. Under the Bush administration, Mudd helped spearhead an FBI program that sifted through customer data collected by San Francisco-area grocery stores in 2005 and 2006, hoping that sales records of Middle Eastern food would lead to Iranian secret agents. A congressional aide, meanwhile, told the Associated Press Mudd had direct knowledge of the torture of foreign prisoners while serving as deputy director of the CIA’s Office of Terrorism Analysis. Mudd’s confirmation hearing is expected next week.

Bankruptcy Filings Projected to Reach 1.5M

New figures show consumer and commercial bankruptcies are on pace to reach more than 1.5 million this year. The figure is the highest since Congress passed legislation making it harder to file for bankruptcy in 2005.

Study: Medical Bills Account for Over 60% of US Bankruptcies

A new study, meanwhile, says ballooning medical bills are now responsible for more than 60 percent of bankruptcies in the United States. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation says the percentage of bankruptcies linked to medical bills increased by 50 percent from 2001 to 2007, the last year for which data is available. More than 75 percent of bankrupt families had health insurance but were still crippled by medical debts.

Ex-Countrywide CEO Accused of Fraud, Insider Trading

The former chief executive and co-founder of the mortgage lender Countrywide Financial has been charged with civil fraud and illegal insider trading. On Thursday, federal regulators said Angelo Mozilo and two other Countrywide execs misled shareholders about the failings of their vast holdings in subprime loans. Countrywide played a major role in the subprime mortgage scandal, holding one of every six mortgage loans in the United States.

Tennessee Schools Remove Censorship of LGBT Websites

In Tennessee, school officials have rescinded a ban on websites containing information about lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues. The American Civil Liberties Union filed suit against two Tennessee school districts last month for installing software that prevented students from accessing LGBT websites.

Hundreds to Attend Tiller Funeral in Wichita

And in Kansas, hundreds of people are expected to attend Saturday’s funeral of the murdered abortion provider Dr. George Tiller. Tiller was killed last Sunday as he ushered during services at his Wichita church. On Thursday, the suspect in his killing, anti-abortion activist Scott Roeder, made a brief call to the Associated Press from his jail cell but refused to talk about the murder. Scott Roeder’s brother, David, has said Roeder has suffered from mental illness. Tiller’s funeral will be held at the College Hill United Methodist Church, whose members have previously supported Tiller’s abortion clinic. More than forty-five vigils have been held across the country to honor Tiller since his murder.

Superfund Lawyer with Ties to Major Polluters Nominated to Run DOJ Environmental Division

President Barack Obama has made a controversial pick to head the Department of Justice’s Environmental Division. Last week, President Obama nominated Ignacia S. Moreno to be Assistant Attorney General for the Environment and Natural Resources Division in the Department of Justice.

Ignacia has an extensive corporate background and is currently the corporate environmental counsel for General Electric. General Electric is the United States’ #1 Superfund polluter and just recently lost an eight-year case in which it attempted to show that parts of the Superfund law are unconstitutional.

Before joining General Electric, Moreno defended General Motors in another Superfund case while a lawyer at Spriggs and Hollingsworth. In the 1990s, Moreno worked for the Clinton administration and attempted to weaken the dolphin-safe tuna law.

This is all problematic because Moreno’s position would be to enforce federal environmental laws, including protections of such as the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, and the Superfund. It’s hard to see how she would be a good choice to hold companies accountable, especially when she specifically argued that one of the laws was potentially unconstitutional.

This is made all the more disappointing when you consider that it is coming on top of news that the Obama administration has ruled that 42 out of 48 mountaintop removal coal mining permits are “environmentally responsible”.

Headlines: Obama Criticized for Reviving Military Commissions; Obama Administration OKs New Mountaintop Removal Permits

Democracy Now Headlines: Obama Criticized for Reviving Military Commissions; Obama Administration OKs New Mountaintop Removal Permits

Headlines from DemocracyNow.org, a daily TV/radio news program, hosted by Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez, airing on over 650 stations, pioneering the largest community media collaboration in the US.

Tamil Tiger Leader Killed; Sri Lanka Claims Victory

Sri Lanka’s quarter-century long civil war is in its final throes, with the militant Tamil separatist group, the Tamil Tigers almost completely defeated. The leader of the Tamil Tigers, Velupillai Prabhakaran, was reportedly killed earlier today while trying to flee in an ambulance. Several other senior Tamil Tigers have also been found dead. On Sunday the Sri Lankan military claimed victory after the Tamil Tigers said it was “prepared to silence its guns” and admitted that the fighting had reached a “bitter end.” An estimated 8,000 civilians have been killed in Sri Lanka since January when the military intensified it attack on the separatist group. We’ll have more on Sri Lanka after headlines.

Rumsfeld Covered Briefing Papers in Biblical Texts

GQ Magazine has revealed former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld repeatedly placed Biblical quotes on President Bush’s top-secret briefings during the early days of the invasion of Iraq. One briefing paper showed an image of a U.S. soldier in Baghdad below the Biblical quote: “Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and your plans will succeed.” Another briefing paper included a photograph of a U.S. tank next to the quote “Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.” A third briefing paper showed U.S. tanks entering an Iraqi city alongside the quote “Open the gates that the righteous nation may enter, the nation that keeps faith.” Some Pentagon officials were concerned that, if Rumsfeld’s top secret briefings were ever leaked, they could be interpreted as a suggestion that the war was a battle against Islam. One Pentagon official warned the fallout “would be as bad as Abu Ghraib.”

Obama Criticized For Reviving Military Commissions

Human rights organizations are criticizing President Obama’s decision to revive the military tribunal system for Guantanamo Bay prisoners despite the administration’s pledge to grant prisoners expanded legal rights.

Stacy Sullivan of Human Rights Watch: “This has been tried before. The first round of military commissions were struck down by the Supreme Court. They were revived under slightly improved rules and once again they were still profoundly unfair. They allowed coerced evidence into the courtroom and they had terrible hearsay rules, the judges didn’t even know what the rules were. The proceedings were totally chaotic. This will be the third time that there is an effort to resurrect the military commissions and we have absolutely no faith that they are going to be any better, even if you do improve the rules slightly.”

On Friday President Obama unveiled new legal protections for prisoners in the renewed system. These include bans on hearsay evidence and evidence obtained through torture, as well as giving prisoners more leeway in selecting their military counsel.

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs defended the tribunal system.

Robert Gibbs: “The president, as I said, during the debate said that properly structured military commissions had a role to play. The changes that he is seeking, he believes, will ensure the protections that are necessary for these to be conducted in order to reach that certain justice, as well as live up to our values.”

Report: U.S. Special Forces Sent Into Pakistan

The Wall Street Journal reports the U.S. is sending Special Forces into Pakistan to train Pakistan’s Frontier Corps, a paramilitary force responsible for battling the Taliban and al Qaeda fighters. Twenty-five to fifty Special Forces personnel are deploying to two new training camps in Baluchistan, a Taliban stronghold on the Afghan-Pakistani border. A senior American military officer said he hoped Islamabad would gradually allow the U.S. to expand its training footprint inside Pakistan’s borders.

Report: 1,000 Suspected Taliban Killed in Pakistan

The Pakistani military is now claiming it has killed more than 1,000 suspected Taliban fighters along the Afghan border. Pakistan is considering widening its offensive to outside of the Swat Valley. Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari told the Sunday Times of London: “Swat is just the start. It’s a larger war to fight.” The military offensive in the Swat Valley has already displaced more than a million people.

29 Killed in U.S. Drone Strike in Pakistan

Meanwhile the U.S. has carried out another drone strike inside Pakistan, killing as many as 29 people Saturday in South Waziristan.

Brother of Afghan President Survives Attack

In Afghanistan, gunmen attacked the convoy of President Hamid Karzai’s brother earlier today. Ahmad Wali Karzai survived but the gunmen killed one of his bodyguards.

Blackwater Guards Shot Civilian Car In Afghanistan

Four U.S. contractors affiliated with the company formerly known as Blackwater fired on an approaching civilian vehicle in Kabul earlier this month, wounding at least two Afghan civilians. The contractors were off duty at the time and had been reportedly drinking.

Obama Addresses Abortion Debate At Notre Deame

During his commencement address at the University of Notre Dame, President Barack Obama called on both sides of the abortion debate to tone down their rhetoric and search for common ground.

President Obama: “The fact is that at some level, the views of the two camps are irreconcilable. Each side will continue to make its case to the public with passion and conviction. But surely we can do so without reducing those with differing views to caricature.”

About 40 people were arrested at Notre Dame Sunday protesting President Obama’s support of abortion rights.

Aung San Suu Kyi Put on Trial in Burma

Burmese pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi went on trial today on charges of breaking the conditions of her house arrest after a US man swam to her home. If convicted she faces a further five years in detention. Aung San Suu Kyi has spent most of the last 19 years in detention. We’ll have more on Burma later in the show.

Obama and Netanyahu to Meet in Washington

President Barack Obama is meeting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Washington today. Obama is expected to ask Netanyahu to freeze Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank while Netanyahu is expected to stress that “time is running out” for stopping Iran’s nuclear program. The meeting comes as reports emerge that Israel has begun constructing a new settlement in the northern West Bank for the first time in 26 years. Tenders have been issued for 20 housing units in the new Maskiot settlement and contractors have arrived on site to begin foundational work.

The group Israeli Peace Now movement called the move proof that “Netanyahu is not ready to commit to a two-state solution” and is striving to “prevent the creation of a Palestinian state.”

Four Kuwaiti Women Elected to Parliament

In Kuwait, a group of women have won election to the Kuwaiti parliament for the first time. The U.S.-educated economist Roula Dashti is one of four women who won seats.

Roula Dashti: “Change is coming to Kuwait; we want a culture of solutions to many issues we can cooperate in. We want a constructive debate and if it’s God’s will this period will be the period for building a nation”

Women in Kuwait gained the right to vote and to run for office in 2005.

Russian Police Break Up Gay Rights Parade

In Russia, riot police police broke up a peaceful gay rights parade in Moscow Saturday and detained 40 people. The march had been outlawed by Moscow authorities.

Obama Taps Republican Governor To Be China Envoy

President Obama has named Utah Governor Jon Huntsman to be the next U.S. ambassador to China. Huntsman is a Republican who had been mentioned as a potential Republican presidential candidate in 2012. Huntsman, who speaks Mandarin, served as deputy U.S. trade representative in the administration of President George Bush from 2001-2004. He also served as co-chair of Senator John McCain’s presidential campaign.

Jon Huntsman: “You have my commitment that we will take the U.S.-China relationship to new heights- focused on not just that which divides us but more importantly, that which unites us knowing that this will be critical for lasting peace and prosperity for citizens on both sides of the Pacific. I’m reminded of my favorite Chinese aphorism, it goes something like this: ‘Together we work, together we progress.’ This more than anything else I think captures the spirit of our journey going forward.”

General Electric Begins Dredging Hudson River

General Electric has begun dredging for PCBs in the Hudson River, 25 years after the contamination was deemed a federal Superfund site. GE discharged as much as 1.3 million pounds of PCBs into the Hudson before PCBs were banned in 1977. The contaminated sediment will be transported by train to a hazardous waste site in Andrews Texas near the New Mexico border. The Sierra Club in Texas has opposed the plan. Neil Carman said: “All they’re doing is relocating toxic waste, They’re moving a problem from one location to another [and] creating problems for future generations to solve.”

While GE is paying to clean up the river, the company is still challenging the constitutionality of the Superfund law in federal court.

Obama Taps GE Attorney To Be Nation’s Top Environmental Litigator

Meanwhile President Obama has tapped a top attorney at General Electric to be the nation’s top environmental litigator. If confirmed Ignacia Moreno would lead the Justice Department’s efforts to enforce environmental laws and defend federal regulations in lawsuits. Her selection has concerned many environmental groups. Frank O’Donnell of Clean Air Watch said: “It seems as if she has spent maybe more time defending polluters than prosecuting them.”

Obama Administration OKs New Mountaintop Removal Permits

In other environmental news, the Obama administration has given the green light for 42 more mountaintop removal permits dealing a victory for the coal industry. Mountaintop mining involves blowing off the tops of mountains to get at the coal underneath.

FBI Spied on Iowa Protesters Before Republican Convention

The Des Moines Register has revealed an FBI informant and an undercover Minnesota sheriff’s deputy spied on political activists in Iowa City last year before the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minn. Confidential FBI documents obtained by paper provide in-depth descriptions of more than a dozen Iowa political activists. This includes personal information such as names, height, weight, place of employment, cell phone numbers and e-mail addresses. Some of the surveillance occurred when the activists met last year at the Iowa City Public Library.

Peruvian Indigenous Groups Fight Plans to Develop Natural Resources

And the Peruvian government has sent troops into the Amazon to squash protests by Peruvian indigenous groups who oppose plans develop the region’s natural resources. On Friday the Interethnic Association for the Development of the Peruvian Jungle called for an insurgency against new laws that open up natural resource sectors like gas, lumber and oil to private investors.

Indigenous leader Alberto Pizango: “The national committee for the struggle appointed by all of you has decided by expressed mandate to prepare itself to declare our (indigenous) communities as an insurgency against the government of Mr. Alan Garcia Perez… Insurgency means disobeying the government because of the mistreatment. They abuse us. They are killing our communities.”

Headlines: Healthcare Reform Discussed; Obama to Revive Military Commissions

Democracy Now Headlines: Healthcare Reform Discussed; Obama to Revive Military Commissions

Headlines from DemocracyNow.org, a daily TV/radio news program, hosted by Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez, airing on over 650 stations, pioneering the largest community media collaboration in the US.

Health Industry Says Obama Overstated Pledge to Cut Costs

Health care industry leaders are now claiming President Obama substantially overstated their pledge this week to reduce costs. On Monday, President Obama stood by a group of executives and lobbyists from hospitals, insurance companies and drug manufacturers at the White House and said they’d agreed to cut health care costs by 1.5% per year, or $2 trillion over the next decade. But on Thursday, the companies said they never agreed to specific yearly cuts, but only vague, voluntary goals. According to the New York Times, the director of the White House Office of Health Reform, Nancy-Ann DeParle, initially said Obama had “misspoke” in announcing the pledge. But one hour later she reversed herself and said Obama accurately summarized the industry groups’ commitment. The meeting was held as part of industry efforts to stave off a single-payer universal health care system. It’s widely acknowledged a single-payer system would put insurance companies out of business because they wouldn’t be able to compete with its cheaper costs.

Obama Questioned on Single-Payer

At a town hall-style event in Rio Rancho, New Mexico Thursday, local resident Linda Allison asked President Obama why the White House and the Democratic-led Congress have ruled out single-payer.

Linda Allison: “My question is, so many people go bankrupt using their credit cards to pay for health care. Why have they taken single-payer off the plate? (Applause.) And why is Senator Baucus on the Finance Committee discussing health care when he has received so much money from the pharmaceutical companies? Isn’t it a conflict of interest?”

President Obama: “If I were starting a system from scratch, then I think that the idea of moving towards a single-payer system could very well make sense. That’s the kind of system that you have in most industrialized countries around the world. The only problem is that we’re not starting from scratch. We have historically a tradition of employer-based health care. And although there are a lot of people who are not satisfied with their health care, the truth is, is that the vast majority of people currently get health care from their employers and you’ve got this system that’s already in place. We don’t want a huge disruption as we go into health care reform where suddenly we’re trying to completely reinvent one-sixth of the economy.”

Obama did not address the second part of Linda Allison’s question about Democratic Senator Max Baucus, who has excluded single-payer advocates from Senate Finance Committee hearings. Allison says she was partly inspired to ask the question after viewing Democracy Now!’s coverage on Wednesday of single-payer advocates who disrupted Baucus’ hearing.

House Dems Propose Government-Run Health Plan

In other health care news, House Democrats have drafted a proposal that would require all Americans to buy health insurance and provide government subsidies for premiums to families with household incomes of up to $88,000 dollars. Employers would be forced to offer health coverage to employees or help fund it through a payroll tax. The proposal also calls for the creation of a new government insurance plan to compete with private companies. The proposed government plan would be run by the Department of Health and Human Services.

House Passes $97B War Funding Bill

The House has approved a nearly $97 billion dollar spending bill funding the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan. The measure includes $1 billion dollars in military and economic assistance to Pakistan. Lawmakers stripped a provision that would have granted $80 million dollars towards the closure the US prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The final vote was 368 to 60, with a bloc of 51 anti-war Democrats voting in opposition. The Senate Appropriations Committee meanwhile has approved a $93 billion dollar version of the bill that includes the Guantanamo funding but bars the transfer of any prisoners to U.S. soil.

Obama to Revive Military Comissions

President Obama is expected to announce today plans to revive the military tribunal system for a small number of Guantanamo Bay prisoners. Obama shut down the military trials shortly after taking office as part of his repudiation of Bush administration policies in the so-called war on terror. According to the Associated Press, Obama will unveil new legal protections for prisoners in the renewed system. These include bans on hearsay evidence and evidence obtained through torture, as well as giving prisoners more leeway in selecting their military counsel. As a Senator, Obama supported an earlier proposal for establishing the military commissions but later opposed the final version approved by Congress. Human rights groups are criticizing Obama’s reversal. Jonathan Hafetz of the American Civil Liberties Union said: “There’s no detainee at Guantanamo who cannot be tried and shouldn’t be tried in the regular federal courts system… This is perpetuating the Bush administration’s misguided detention policy.”

Pelosi Accuses CIA of Misleading Congress on Torture

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is accusing the CIA of deliberately misleading Congress about the torture of foreign prisoners. Pelosi made the charge Thursday in acknowledging she first learnt of the waterboarding of CIA prisoners in 2003. Republicans have pointed to Pelosi’s involvement in torture briefings to deflect scrutiny of Bush administration officials. This week the CIA released documents showing Pelosi was briefed on CIA waterboarding in September 2002. But Pelosi insisted she was told waterboarding wasn’t being used then and said secrecy rules forced her to remain silent when she learnt more details several months later.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi: “The CIA briefed me only once on enhanced interrogation techniques in September 2002, in my capacity as ranking member of the intelligence committee. I was informed then that the Department of Justice opinions had concluded that the use of Enhanced Interrogation Techniques were legal. The only mention of waterboarding at that briefing was that it was not being employed.”

Pelosi has called on the CIA to release detailed records of her 2002 briefing. The CIA meanwhile has denied a request from former Vice President Dick Cheney to release full records of prisoner interrogations to prove Bush administration torture tactics yielded valuable intelligence. Critics have dismissed Cheney’s call as political posturing because of the likelihood the CIA would reject his request.

Insurance Firms to Receive Billions in Taxpayer Aid

The Treasury Department has confirmed six major insurance companies are poised to receive billions of dollars in new taxpayer aid. The Treasury has given preliminary approval for granting assistance to Hartford Financial Services Group, Prudential Financial, Lincoln National, Allstate, Ameriprise and Principal Financial Group. Hartford says it could receive up to $3.4 billion.

Foreclosure Notices Hit Record in April

New figures show a record number of homes faced foreclosure last month. According to RealtyTrac, 342,000 homes received foreclosure notices in April, a one percent increase from March. Nearly 64,000 homes were repossessed, bringing the total number to more than 1.3 million since August 2007.

Chrysler, GM to Close Dealerships Nationwide

The auto giant Chrysler has announced plans to close nearly 800 dealerships across the country, or one quarter of its retail chain. General Motors is expected to follow suit today with the announcement of 1,000 dealerships it plans to fold. Taken together, the announcements could affect an estimated 89,000 workers.

Palestinians Mark 61st Anniversary of Al-Nakba

In Israel and the Occupied Territories, Palestinians marked the 61st anniversary of Al-Nahba Thursday, the expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians during the founding of the state of Israel in 1948. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said Palestinians maintain their national aspirations despite more than six decades of dispossession and occupation.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas: “We are clinging to our national beliefs, to establish our own independent state, with Jerusalem as its capital, and the right of return for refugees in the framework of a just and agreed solution, based on U.N. resolution 194.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meanwhile is set to meet with President Obama at the White House on Monday.

Suu Kyi Faces Trial, Loss of Home

In Burma, the pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi is set to go on trial Monday for an uninvited visit by a US citizen who swam across a lake to reach her home. The Burmese junta says John Yettaw spent two days in Suu Kyi’s home before he was captured as he made his way out. Suu Kyi’s attorneys say Yettaw ignored her pleas to leave and spent a night sleeping on a ground floor. On Thursday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton condemned the charges.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: “We oppose the regime’s efforts to use this incident as a pretext to place further unjustified restrictions on her. Therefore we call on the Burmese authorities to release her immediately and unconditionally along with her doctor and the more than 2100 political prisoners.”

The trial appears to come as part of an effort by the junta to force Suu Kyi to give up her home. She has spent 13 of the last 19 years under house arrest.

Houston Spiritual Leader Freed on Bail

Back in the United States, the Houston-based spiritual leader Sheikh Zoubir Bouchikhi has been released on bond after four months in a private immigration jail. Imam Zoubir has lived in the U.S. for the past eleven years. He was jailed in December after U.S. immigration rescinded his green card approval and rejected his application for permanent residency status as a religious minister. Immigration officials arrested him at his home and led him away in handcuffs in front of his wife and four children. I interviewed Imam Zoubir last month after he called in from the private jail.

Sheikh Zoubir Bouchikhi: “I strongly believe that I am targeted because of my political views, especially I was against the war in Iraq, against bombing innocent civilians in Lebanon in 2006, and for my clear stance that I am pro-democracy and values that this country was founded on. And they don’t want for somebody who is free-minded and outspoken.”

Imam Zoubir’s release follows a grassroots campaign to pressure immigration officials to set him free. He is out on a $20,000 dollar bond.

N.H. Governor to Sign Gay Marriage Bill

And in New Hampshire, Governor John Lynch has vowed to sign a bill legalizing gay marriage. State lawmakers passed the measure earlier this month. Lynch says he’ll endorse it after legislators make changes to protect churches from lawsuits if they decline to officiate over gay marriages.