National Call-In Day to Demand an Exit Plan for Afghanistan

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Fresh off the disappointing passage of more money for the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the anti-war group United for Peace and Justice has declared today a national call-in day to Congress to demand an “exit plan” from Afghanistan.

The group writes:

This week, the House passed the war-funding Supplemental bill, providing $79.9 billion to continue the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. With this vote, the House has effectively ratified the escalation of U.S. troops in Afghanistan. It has done this without any indication of an ‘exit plan’ from the Obama administration.

Tackling this problem is Congressman Jim McGovern’s bill HR 2404, which would require the Secretary of Defense to submit a report to Congress outlining an ‘exit plan’ for U.S. military personnel in Afghanistan no later than December 31, 2009. Congressman McGovern’s bill is gaining support and now has 87 co-sponsors. And we’re urging your support now, too.

Today is National Call-In Day to Congress on the McGovern bill and UFPJ urges you to contact your members of Congress to sign-on as a co-sponsor, if they have not already done so. Once you make your calls, please report them back to us here:

http://www.unitedforpeace.org/form.php?modin=163

The Congressional Switchboard number is 202-224-3121.

United for Peace and Justice goes on to assert that while they were disappointed by the passage of the funding bill, peace activists made it extremely difficult for the White House to get the bill passed.

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“Read the Bill” Legislation Introduced in Congress

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Back in February, MediaMouse.org reported on a campaign called “Read the Bill” that was calling for the passage of legislation that would require Congress to post bills online for 72 hours before voting on them. The legislation would allow time for members of Congress, the media (including bloggers and citizen journalists), and the public to review pending legislation. All too often, legislators vote on bills without ever taking the time to read them. This is especially true of more complex bills such as trade agreements and the economic stimulus bill passed earlier this year.

The Read the Bill coalition–which is endorsed by a number of different organizations–announced this week that legislation has been introduced in Congress that would require bills to be posted online 72 hours prior to them being voted on. The bill–H.R. 554–is co-sponsored by Reps. Baird (D-WA) and Culberson (R-TX).

The coalition cites a few examples of why this bill is needed:

  • Most citizens would have supported amending the economic stimulus bill to remove the provision allowing AIG executives to receive retroactive bonuses – if only they had known.
  • The average person probably would have preferred to let the judicial system work rather than have Congress give immunity from lawsuits to telecommunications companies that participated in a controversial wiretapping scheme.
  • Workers hoping to retire on their 401(k) investments might have liked to have some serious analysis of whether credit default swaps ought to be regulated. We know how that worked out.
  • And, just about everyone benefits from mandating time to check for questionable and wasteful spending of taxpayer dollars.

The Read the Bill coalition has setup an online system for contacting your legislators to ask them to both support and co-sponsor the bill in order to improve its chances of passing. Additionally, it is circulating a petition and is hoping to get 15,000 signatures before Congress’s August recess–you should add yours today.

Employee Free Choice Act Still Alive

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After a lot of hope following the election of President Barack Obama, the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA)–a measure aimed at making it easier for workers to form unions–seemed destined for failure in March. A key Republican Senator–Arlen Specter–withdrew his support for the bill and a group of CEOs offered an alternative proposal that would effectively neuter the bill by removing a key provision–“card check”–that allows workers to form a union once a simple majority of workers support it.

However, there are recent indications that the fight for the Employee Free Choice Act is back on track. According to an article in Roll Call, months of negotiations in the Senate (http://www.theittlist.com/site/ittlist/ind/5456/) are starting to pay off with some sort of deal apparently being near. Senator Tom Harkin says that the bill may be ready by next month. The newspaper further reports that Specter is now looking for a way to support the legislation in order to fend off a Democratic challenger in the next election.

While negotiations are taking place in the Senate, unions are also increasing their efforts in support of the legislation. The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) has launched an ad campaign targeting five Senators whose votes are considered key in the passage of the Employee Free Choice Act. The ads assert that the vote for the EFCA is a choice between supporting working people and the greedy CEOs that were responsible for the current economic crisis.

Hopefully grassroots pressure from labor and social justice groups can keep the Employee Free Choice Act intact, but with how recent “compromise” efforts seem to be going on things like war funding and global warming legislation, I’m not terribly optimistic.

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.

Legislators Drafting Health Care Legislation have Financial Ties to the Industry

Last week, we highlighted an article in USA Today that explained how lobbyists are skirting federal campaign finance regulations by giving money to “honor” lawmakers. At the time, we wrote that it is an example of how corrupt the legislative process has become.

Now, there is another noteworthy example. Late last week, The Washington Post reported that most of the legislators drafting health care reform legislation have substantial investments in the sector:

Almost 30 key lawmakers helping draft landmark health-care legislation have financial holdings in the industry, totaling nearly $11 million worth of personal investments in a sector that could be dramatically reshaped by this summer’s debate.

The list of members who have personal investments in the corporations that will be affected by the legislation — which President Obama has called this year’s highest domestic priority — includes Congress’s most powerful leaders and a bipartisan collection of lawmakers in key committee posts. Their total health-care holdings could be worth $27 million, because congressional financial disclosure forms released yesterday require reporting of only broad ranges of holdings rather than precise values of assets.

Rules for disclosing this information are limited and there are no rules that prevent members from having a financial interest in industries that they regulate.

Given that so many members of Congress profit from the health care industry, it’s no surprise that a single-payer health care system–which would create a government-sponsored insurance system–is largely off the table. a

Headlines: New Mountaintop Removal Mining Rules Criticized as Ineffective; Contradicting Obama, Sen. Baucus Rules Out “Public” Health Care

Democracy Now Headlines: New Mountaintop Removal Rules Criticized as Ineffective; Contradicting Obama, Sen. Baucus Rules Out 'Public' Health Care

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.

Admin Rules Out U.S. Re-settlement for Gitmo Prisoners

The Obama administration says its scrapping plans to let foreign prisoners cleared for release from Guantanamo Bay live in the United States. The White House had already announced its opposition to admitting a group of seventeen Chinese Uyghur prisoners even though they were no longer designated ‘enemy combatants’ and ordered immediately freed. Administration officials cited Congressional opposition to the Uyghurs’ release in arguing they stood no chance in convincing lawmakers to accept other freed prisoners.

6 Gitmo Prisoners Freed

The news comes as four of the Uyghur prisoners have been released to Bermuda, where they will live as foreign guest workers. The U.S. is still in talks to send the remaining thirteen to the Pacific archipelago of Palau. Two other Guantanamo prisoners were also released Thursday and sent to their home countries of Iraq and Chad. The Chadian, Mohammed El Gharani, was the youngest Guantanamo Bay prisoner on record, having been arrested in Pakistan at the age of fourteen.

Dems Resolve Gitmo, Photo Differences in War Funding Bill

Congressional Democrats meanwhile have reached an agreement on a war funding bill that would authorize the transfer of Guantanamo prisoners to stand trial in the United States. The measure does not include language allowing indefinite detention as President Obama has inititally proposed. The White House also dropped a request for a provision imposing a Congressional ban on the release of photos showing the abuse of prisoners at U.S. jails in Iraq and Afghanistan. President Obama said he will continue to seek the photos’ censorship through an appeal to the Supreme Court.

Anti-War Lawmakers Urge Rejection of War Funding

The war funding bill includes more than $90 billion dollars for the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan and is expected be voted on next week. In a letter to other House members who have previously opposed war funding, Congressmembers Lynn Woolsey of California and Dennis Kucinich of Ohio urged them to retain “steadfast opposition” to the new bill. Speaking on the House floor, Kucinich said the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan is based on “aggression and lies.”

Rep. Dennis Kucinich: “A new administration and the same old war, with an expansion of the war in Afghanistan. We cannot afford these wars. We cannot afford these wars spiritually. They are wars of aggression and they are based on lies. We cannot afford these wars financially. They add trillions to our national debt and destroy our domestic agenda. We cannot afford the human cost of these wars, the loss of lives of our beloved troops and the deaths of innocent civilians in Iraq , Afghanistan , and Pakistan.”

Senate Backs Sweeping Tobacco Regulation

The Senate has approved a measure that would strengthen government regulation over the tobacco industry. On Thursday, Senators voted 79 to 17 to give the Food and Drug Administration new authority in overseeing the manufacture and marketing of tobacco. The FDA would be able to ban the most harmful of the thousands of chemicals used in cigarettes and reduce the amount of nicotine. Tobacco companies would also be forced to disclose the ingredients in their products. The House passed a similar measure last month. A longtime cigarette smoker himself, President Obama has vowed to sign the legislation into law.

Contradicting Obama, Sen. Baucus Rules Out “Public” Health Care

President Obama was in Green Bay, Wisconsin Thursday to promote his push for health care reform. Speaking at a town-hall style event, Obama rejected criticism of his calls for creating a government-run public insurance program that would compete with private insurers.

President Obama: “To those who criticize our efforts, I ask them, ‘What’s the alternative?’ What else do we say to all the families who spend more on health care than on housing or on food? What do we tell those businesses that are choosing between closing their doors and letting their workers go?”

Obama’s comments were aimed at critics who have opposed any type of public health plan. Private insurers have opposed a government-run program out of fear they’d be unable to compete with its cheaper costs. Obama did not however address his progressive critics who advocate the creation of a single-payer system that would eliminate for-profit insurance companies entirely. As Obama promoted his version of a public insurance program, a key Senate Democrat said he would oppose any form of public health care. Max Baucus, the Senate Finance Committee chair leading Congressional efforts on health care reform, said he would propose a plan based on creating member-based insurance cooperatives not run by the government. Bacus explicitly ruled out using the word “public”, saying: “It’s not going to be public, we won’t call it public, but it will be tough enough to keep insurance companies’ feet to the fire.”

Von Brunn Charged With Murder in Holocaust Museum Shooting

The white supremacist James von Brunn has been charged with murder for Wednesday’s shooting death of a security guard at the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC. The security guard, Stephen Johns, was thirty-nine years old. On Thursday, Johns’ mother, Jacqueline Carter, spoke of her son’s life.

Jacqueline Carter: “He’s just a beautiful person. He liked his job and he worked a lot. It would be just like him to try and protect people from harm.”

Von Brunn remains in critical condition from wounds sustained when other security guards returned fire. Meanwhile Thursday, the FBI acknowledged it had been “aware” of Von Brunn’s hateful writings about religious and ethnic minorities but that it never launched a criminal probe.

WHO Declares Swine Flu Pandemic

The World Health Organization has declared the outbreak of the swine flu a global pandemic. On Thursday, the WHO raised its pandemic alert level to six, its highest level. Health officials say the alert level means the swine flu has spread to two world regions and doesn’t signify a likely increase in deaths or serious cases.

General: Afghan Violence Worse Since 2001

The top U.S. military commander in the Middle East says violence in Afghanistan has reached its highest level since the U.S.-led invasion of 2001. General David Petraeus said the attacks hit a more than seven-year high last week. Addressing the public outrage in Afghanistan over scores of deadly U.S. attacks, Petraeus said*: “This is the graveyard of empires. . . . It is a place that has never taken kindly to would-be conquerors.”

Iran Holds Presidential Elections

In Iran, a record turnout is expected today for a presidential election between incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and three opposition candidates. Ahmadinejad is facing a stiff challenge from Mir Hossein Mousavi, an architect and artist who served as Prime Minister of Iran between 1981 and 1989.

Carter: Hamas Key to Future Peace Deal

Former President Jimmy Carter is renewing criticism of the U.S.-led boycott of the elected Hamas government in the Gaza Strip. Speaking on a visit to Syria, Carter said the U.S. and Israel should drop their refusal to deal with a Palestinian unity government that includes Hamas. Carter also called for a prisoner exchange that would see the return of the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in Gaza for some of the more than 10,000 Palestinians in Israeli jails.

Jimmy Carter: “I don’t believe there is any possibility to have peace between Palestinians and Israel unless Hamas is involved directly in harmony with Fatah. My hope is that we could see some agreement between Hamas and Israel with the release of Shalit and an equivalent, the release of prisoners that Israel is holding, Palestinians.”

Aid Groups to Return to Darfur

In Sudan, the Sudanese government has authorized several aid groups to return to Darfur. Sudan expelled the groups in March after the International Criminal Court charged President Omar Hassan al-Bashir with committing war crimes in Darfur. UN Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes said the groups have been readmitted on the condition they change their names and logos. Holmes also said the aid groups will return to humanitarian crisis that worsened during their absence.

UN Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes: “However effective the efforts of the government, United Nations, the remaining NGOs have been in preventing a further immediate crisis, they have not yet replaced and can not easily or rapidly replace the capacity and skills lost. Current levels of assistance in some areas remain well below the necessary standards to which we subscribe, and as we enter the hunger gap and rainy season, the needs and gaps will only be further exacerbated.”

Thousands of Peruvians Rally Against Indigenous Crackdown

In Peru, thousands of people took part in nationwide demonstrations Thursday to support an indigenous protest against oil and natural gas exploration in the Amazon rainforest. Police used tear gas on a crowd of at least 20,000 protesters near the national Congress in Lima. Tensions have flared after last week’s police killings of an estimated 30 civilians at an indigenous roadblock. On a visit to Cuba, Bolivian President Evo Morales voiced support for the indigenous protests.

Bolivian President Evo Morales: “It’s not possible that the most oppressed people in Latin America’s history be humiliated like we have seen in recent days in some regions. We hope these problems are a lesson in understanding the demands, the demands of defending life, the environment, the planet earth and humanity, as Fidel said.”

The unrest in Peru has ties to U.S. trade policy. The land laws that sparked the uprising were passed under “fast track” authority granted to Peruvian President Alan Garcia’s government to implement the US-Peru Free Trade Agreement.

Activists Protest Schumer for Backing Peru Trade Deal

On Thursday, three activists were released from jail following their arrest for blockading the New York offices of Democratic Senator Charles Schumer. The activists say they confronted Schumer for his refusal to address human rights concerns in voting for the U.S.-Peru trade deal in 2007.

New Mountaintop Removal Rules Criticized as Ineffective

Environmental groups and Appalachian activists are criticizing new Obama administration rules on mountaintop removal as too lax on the coal industry. On Thursday, the White House unveiled new regulations governing mountaintop removal, the controversial coal mining practice that has caused extensive environmental damage in the Appalachian region. The changes include ending fast-track approval for new mining permits, imposing more extensive environmental reviews, and asserting federal authority over state-level regulators. But critics say the rules offer few specifics and will have little effect if any. Joan Mulhern of Earthjustice said: “The administration is proposing… to essentially [rearrange] the bureaucratic deck chairs on the disastrous ship that is mountaintop removal. They announced… no substantive policies to actually stop the destruction [it’s] caused.’

Interior Report Criticizes Bush Sale of Utah Land

A new Department of Interior report has faulted the Bush administration for its rush to sell off oil and gas exploitation rights on vast swaths of federal land in Utah last year. The report says the Bush administration did not follow longstanding procedures in trying to sell off 22 parcels of land. The sale was later cancelled by Obama administration Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. The report’s findings could bolster the defense of a college student who disrupted the auction by posing as a bidder. The student, Tim DeChristopher, is currently facing ten years in prison on charges of interfering with a public auction.

Iraq War Vet Commits Suicide

In California, a 24-year old Iraq war veteran has committed suicide. Former Army Specialist Trevor Hogue was found dead in his childhood home last week. He had hung himself to death. His mother says he was left seriously emotionally scarred after witnessing a bombing attack on other members of his unit.

Owner of Medical Marijuana Dispensary Sentenced to 1-Year Term

An owner of a California dispensary for medical marijuana has been sentenced to one year in prison. The owner, Charles Lynch, was given the jail term despite the Obama administration’s vow not to prosecute medical dispensers who comply with state law. But federal judge George Wu said the new federal policy would not affect his ruling.

Survey: 2.8M Homes Unprepared for Switch to Digital TV

And analog television signals will shut off tonight as the U.S. completes the transition to digital TV. The survey group Nielson says around 2.8 million homes remain unprepared for the switch. Most of the unprepared households fall in the low-income, elderly and rural demographics.

Headlines: House Panel Holds Hearing on Single Payer Health Care; Utah Man Dies After Tasering

Democracy Now Headlines: House Panel Holds Hearing on Single Payer Healthcare; Utah Man Dies After Tasering

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.

White Supremacist Kills Guard in Holocaust Memorial Shooting

A white supremacist with a long history of anti-Semitic activity is in custody today after opening fire at the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC, killing a security guard and wounding another. The gunman, eighty-eight-year-old James W. von Brunn, was critically injured after other guards returned fire. The slain security guard, Stephen Johns, was thirty-nine years old. Washington, DC Mayor Adrian Fenty said police believe von Brunn acted alone.

Washington, DC Mayor Adrian Fenty: “In these days and times, you never know when someone is going to grab a gun and use it in an inappropriate way, as was done today. But we want to thank the heroism of the security guards, the Metropolitan Police Department, for being on hand very early to make an arrest. We believe we have someone who was a lone gunman, but we’re going to spend the night investigating any and all other leads.”

The attack marks at least the third recent shooting involving a gunman with ties to the white nationalist movement.

Following Senate Approval, Torture-Linked General Given “Carte Blanche” for Afghan Command

The Senate has confirmed the nomination of General Stanley McChrystal to head the occupation of Afghanistan. McChrystal’s promotion was approved Wednesday despite controversy over the abuse of prisoners by forces under his authority at the Joint Special Operations Command. McChrystal oversaw a secretive program to hunt down and assassinate suspected terrorists around the globe. The New York Times reports McChrystal has been given “carte blanche” in choosing his subordinates, including many Special Operations veterans that could be linked to prisoner abuse. Senior military officers say McChrystal is putting together a corps of 400 officers and soldiers who will rotate between the United States and Afghanistan for at least three years.

House Panel Holds Hearing on Single Payer

On Capitol Hill, a House subcommittee held a hearing Wednesday to consider single-payer healthcare. It was the first time a congressional panel had taken up single payer in the ongoing debate over healthcare reform. House Judiciary Chair John Conyers criticized Democratic leaders for declaring single payer “off the table.”

Rep. John Conyers: “There is some notion that universal single-payer healthcare is off the table. Well, that raises a very important question. If you take the most popular healthcare reform measure and take it off the table, heaven knows what it is, I guess, you think you’re left with. This is the most popular form, and it would be very unlike the party in the majority now to determine that the most popular system would not even be examined. I am asking for a hearing in every committee, every committee, and if they will let us into the Senate, as well.”

Conyers is the sponsor of House Resolution 676, which would grant universal healthcare to all Americans by making the government the lone provider of medical coverage.

AMA Opposes Public Health Insurance Plan

In other healthcare news, the nation’s largest physician organization has announced it will oppose Democratic plans for a new government-sponsored insurance program that would compete with private insurers. In a statement, the American Medical Association said healthcare should be provided solely through “private markets.” The announcement comes just days before President Obama is set to travel to Chicago to address the AMA on Monday. The AMA represents around 250,000 doctors across the United States. Its position comes despite recent polls showing as many as 60 percent of doctors support the creation of a national public insurance plan.

Tiller Colleague Vows to Continue Performing Late-Term Abortions in Kansas

A doctor who worked in the clinic of the slain abortion provider Dr. George Tiller has announced he intends to continue performing late-term abortions in Kansas. Dr. LeRoy Carhart was one of a team of physicians to work with Tiller before his murder last month. Speaking to the Associated Press, Carhart declined to say whether the abortions would continue at Tiller’s clinic or whether he’d open a new site. His announcement comes one day after Tiller’s family announced the clinic’s permanent closure. It had been one of the only in the country to perform abortions in the third trimester.

Admin to Unveil New Rules on Mountaintop Coal Mining

The Obama administration is set to announce today new regulations of mountaintop removal, the controversial coal mining practice that has caused extensive environmental damage in the Appalachian region. The changes include ending fast-track approval for new mining permits and imposing a more extensive environmental review. Interviewed by the Washington Post, the chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, Nancy Sutley, said the administration hasn’t ruled out seeking a complete ban on mountaintop removal, with discussions still in the early stages.

New “Compensation Czar” to Oversee Exec Pay

The Obama administration has appointed a Washington, DC attorney to become the so-called “compensation czar” overseeing the salaries of top executives at bailed-out financial firms. Kenneth Feinberg will have authority to set the compensation for executives at seven taxpayer-rescued companies, including Citibank, Bank of America and General Motors. The White House, however, has dropped an initial pledge to cap executives at $500,000.

Peruvian Congress Suspends Land Laws

In Peru, lawmakers have temporarily suspended two land-use laws that led to an indigenous uprising and dozens of deaths in the ensuing police crackdown. Indigenous groups have opposed the laws that would allow an unprecedented wave of logging, oil drilling, mining and agriculture in the Amazon rainforest. On Wednesday, the Peruvian congress voted to suspend the laws, but for an unspecified time. Indigenous leader Efrain Pizango Wasy said the protests will continue until the laws are fully repealed.

Efrain Pizango Wasy: “Our reaction is not to suspend the strike, but to continue until the end. As you have heard, this measure is suspended for only ninety days. This is not convenient for us, the indigenous population. We will gather more and continue fighting until the end.”

President Alan Garcia’s government passed the land laws under “fast track” authority he had received to facilitate implementation of the US-Peru Free Trade Agreement.

Security Council Members Agree on North Korea Sanctions

UN Security Council members have agreed on a new round of sanctions in response to North Korea’s recent nuclear test and missile launches. The new measures include asking countries to inspect North Korean vessels carrying suspicious cargo and requiring them to deny the vessels fuel. The US ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice, praised the agreement.

UN Ambassador Susan Rice: “We tabled a draft resolution to be considered by all colleagues on the Security Council, which we think provides a very strong, very credible, very appropriate response to the provocative nuclear test that North Korea launched and its subsequent activities.”

The UN Security Council is expected to approve the sanctions in a vote on Friday.

UN Withdraws Staff from Peshawar Following Deadly Bombing

In Pakistan, the United Nations has withdrawn most of its staff from the northwestern city of Peshawar following the killing of two officials in a massive truck bombing of a luxury hotel. The pullout is heightening concerns over the plight of the more than two million people who have fled their homes in the US-backed offensive on Taliban militants in neighboring Swat Valley. On Wednesday, the US envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan, Richard Holbrooke, praised the offensive in Washington.

US Envoy Richard Holbrooke: “What I saw in Pakistan on this trip was the slow emergence of a consensus behind the government’s actions. Everywhere, there was a dramatic change in attitudes from my previous trips, because of the outrages of the Taliban and their supporters.”

Blackwater Sued for 2007 Killing of Iraqi Civilian

The private military firm formerly known as Blackwater is facing a new lawsuit over the August 2007 killing of an Iraqi civilian in Hilla. The case was filed on behalf of the surviving relatives of seventy-five-year-old Husain Salih Rabea. At the time, Rabea’s relatives said he had pulled over to the side of the road to let a Blackwater convoy pass. The last vehicle in the convoy allegedly opened fire when Rabea pulled back onto the road. The suit also alleges Blackwater employees are guarding employees of the International Republican Institute in Iraq despite an Iraqi government ban.

Oregon National Guard Members Sue KBR for Toxic Exposure

In Oregon, five current and former Army National Guard soldiers have filed a lawsuit accusing the war contractor KBR of knowingly exposing them to a cancer-causing chemical in Iraq. A group of sixteen Indiana National Guard soldiers filed a similar suit last year. The soldiers were providing security for KBR during repairs of a water treatment plant in southern Iraq shortly after the US invasion. The National Guard members claim the site was contaminated for six months by hexavalent chromium, “one of the most potent carcinogens” on record. They allege KBR knew the plant was contaminated but concealed the danger. Attorneys for the soldiers say they expect several West Virginia National Guard members to file a similar suit.

Audit Faults at Least $13 Billion in War Contractor Spending

The lawsuits follow the release of a new federal report detailing waste and abuse by war contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Commission on Wartime Contracting says auditors have questioned more than $13 billion in spending. The report also says over 240,000 contractors are employed in Iraq and Afghanistan, around 80 percent of them foreign nationals.

Witnesses: 2 Afghans Killed, Dozens Wounded in US Grenade Attack

In Afghanistan, President Hamid Karzai has ordered a probe into an alleged US attack that killed two people and wounded more than fifty others in Kunar Province. Afghan witnesses have accused a US soldier of throwing a grenade at a crowd that had gathered to watch US troops working to free a large military vehicle that had become stuck on a road. Local doctors say the injured included several children, some in critical condition.

State Dept. Analyst, Wife Denied Bail in Cuba Spy Case

A former State Department analyst and his wife have been denied bail following their arrest on allegations of being longtime spies for the Cuban government. Walter Kendall Myers and his wife Gwendolyn appeared in a Washington, DC courtroom on Wednesday after pleading not guilty to charges of conspiracy, being agents of a foreign government, and wire fraud.

Study: Firms, Governments Funded over 22,000 Pentagon Trips

A newly released database shows Pentagon employees took more than 22,000 trips paid for by foreign countries, private corporations and other sources between 1998 and 2007. The Center for Public Integrity says the visits cost more than $26 million and often involved interests paying for officials who could make decisions benefiting those picking up the tab. The biggest travel funder was the medical industry, which footed the bill for more 8,700 trips worth over $10 million.

Utah Man Dies in Police Tasering

In Utah, a thirty-two-year-old man has been killed in a tasering by police. Brian Layton Cardall was confronted after running away from his vehicle near a highway road. He had recently struggled with mental health issues, and his wife had called police. When Cardall was found, a police officer used his taser weapon, causing Cardall to lose consciousness. He was pronounced dead after being taken to a hospital. In a statement, Cardall’s family remembered him as “a wonderful son, brother, father, and husband who loved being with people. He was full of personality and wanted to make a difference in this world.”

Texas Police Defend Tasering of 72-Year-Old Woman

Cardall’s death comes as video has emerged of a Texas police officer tasering a seventy-two-year-old woman after pulling over her vehicle. Kathryn Winkfein said she was stopped for going fifteen miles over the speed limit in a construction zone. Texas police have insisted the officer’s actions were justified.

Lobbyists Exploit Provision Allowing them to “Honor” Lawmakers

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USA Today–certainly not well-regarded as a source for hard-hitting journalism–has a surprisingly good piece that looks at how lobbyists are able skirt campaign finance regulations by contributing funds to “honor” lawmakers. The paper writes:

Despite a ban on gifts to lawmakers and limits on campaign contributions, lobbyists and groups that employ them can spend unlimited money to honor members of Congress or donate to non-profits connected to them or their relatives. The public – until now – had little insight into the scope of this largely hidden world of special-interest influence.

For the first time, those contributions are being tracked due to ethics rules adopted in 2007. What USA Today found in their comprehensive review wasn’t pretty: lobbyists and their corporate backers are using the loophole to influence lawmakers.

Two specific examples from the article:

Last year, the telecommunication industry gave more than $72,000 to non-profits and charities in honor of Rockefeller, who advocated legislation to provide legal immunity to phone companies that participated in the government’s anti-terrorism eavesdropping program. The largest donation came from AT&T. At the time, Rockefeller chaired the Senate Intelligence Committee and helped broker a deal on the bill, which passed last year.

Rep. Joe Barton of Texas, the top Republican on the House energy committee, asked an energy company to donate to a foundation that bears his name. His daughter-in-law, Amy Barton, is the unpaid director.

Utility giant Exelon gave $25,000 to the non-profit last June and $50,000 in 2006, according to federal records and interviews with company officials.

Barton wrote to Exelon CEO John Rowe, seeking the money, says David Brown, Exelon’s top lobbyist. The company is one of the nation’s largest producers of nuclear energy. Barton has long advocated on the industry’s behalf, pushing for the opening of a nuclear-waste repository at Yucca Mountain, outside Las Vegas.

Only 41 Votes Needed to Defeat Supplemental War Funding Bill — Will the Democrats Step Up?

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Last month, the U.S. House of Representatives approved additional funding for the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The bill contained no restrictions on continued military operations in Afghanistan and was generally quite disappointing–although not unsurprising–given that it came out of a House controlled by supposedly anti-war Democrats.

Now, after going to the Senate, the supplemental funding request is back before the U.S. House of Representatives. The bill includes many of the same provisions, but also adds two new ones–money for the IMF and a measure that allows the government the ability to block the release of torture photos even if required by the Freedom of Information Act. Republicans are threatening to vote against the bill as a block over the inclusion of the IMF funds, which means that only 41 Democrats would be needed to defeat the bill and send a message that the occupations need to end. Restricting funding is a great way to do this and it is a logical way of pursuing an end to the war, especially given that all other legislative attempts have failed.

While this might seem unlikely, it’s more of a possibility than it has been in previous years given that 51 Democrats opposed the bill when it came up last month.

The liberal blog FireDogLake.com has a tool for calling Democratic Representatives who opposed the supplemental when it last came up. Hopefully with continued pressure from this effort and anti-war groups, the supplemental will be defeated.