Headlines: Court Rules U.S. Can Hold Prisoners Without Charge; Gaza War Crimes Probe to Hold Public Hearings

Democracy Now Headlines: Court Rules U.S. Can Hold Prisoners Without Charge; Gaza War Crimes Probe to Hold Public Hearings

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.

60 Killed in Multiple Iraq Bombings

At least 60 people have been killed in several attacks around Iraq over the last day. Earlier today at least 12 Iraqi civilians were killed when a suicide bomber hit a U.S. convoy in Baghdad. Seven members of a U.S.-backed Sunni militia died when a suicide bomber attacked their base in Kirkuk. The attacks come one day after 41 people were killed and another 70 wounded in a car bomb attack on a Shiite neighborhood in Baghdad.

8 Afghan Civilians Killed in NATO Attack

In Afghanistan, at least eight civilians have been killed in a NATO bombing in the southern Helmand province. NATO says its forces were responding to nearby insurgent gunfire. The attack came after Afghan President Hamid Karzai renewed a demand for an end to U.S.-led air strikes following last month’s bombing deaths of an estimated 140 people. The Pentagon meanwhile is now reviving its attempt to downplay the toll, saying between 20 to 30 civilians were killed.

Report: Afghan Insurgents Demand Timetable for U.S. Withdrawal

Meanwhile the New York Times reports leaders of the Taliban and other groups are discussing a potential peace agreement through intermediaries. The militant groups are reportedly demanding a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops as a precondition for laying down their arms.

Senate Removes Gitmo Closure Funding

Senate Democrats have followed through with a pledge to block funding for the closure of the US military prison at Guantanamo Bay. On Wednesday, the Democratic-led Senate voted 90 to six to remove $80 million dollars from a war appropriations bill that would have gone towards closing Guantanamo Bay and investigating torture there. Lawmakers have called on Obama to submit details on his plans for closing Guantanamo. Democratic Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois was one of the six to vote against stripping the funds.

Sen. Dick Durbin: “What happened in Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo has sullied the reputation of the United States and has endangered alliances which we have counted on for decades. President Obama is trying to change that. By closing Guantanamo and responsibly allocating those detainees to safe and secure positions he is going to send a message to the world that it is a new day in terms of American foreign policy.”

Obama Considers “Preventative Detention” for Indefinite Jailings

The Obama administration meanwhile is reportedly considering a “preventive detention” system that would indefinitely jail terror suspects in the United States without bringing them to trial. The New York Times reports President Obama discussed the proposal at a meeting with human rights advocates at the White House. Two anonymous advocates told the Times that Obama indicated he favored applying the system to future cases, not prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay. Obama is set to deliver a speech later today outlining his plans on how to deal with closing Guantanamo.

Court Rules U.S. Can Hold Prisoners Without Charge

A federal judge has ruled the government can continue to indefinitely jail prisoners without charge. In a ruling this week, U.S. District Judge John Bates said anyone determined to have engaged in clashes with the U.S. military or its allies, or to have belonged to the Taliban or Al Qaeda can be held without trial. But Bates also rejected the Obama administration’s assertion it can jail anyone who “supports” those groups. The ruling came in a case challenging the jailing of several Guantanamo prisoners.

Pentagon Report Says 1 in 7 Freed Gitmo Prisoners Engage in Militancy

A newly-disclosed Pentagon report says that about one in seven of the 534 prisoners released from Guantanamo Bay have gone on to engage in militant activity. Opponents of due process rights are expected to use the report to advance their arguments in favor of the continued indefinite jailing of Guantanamo prisoners. But as with prior claims, the Pentagon report offers few details and prevents independent verification. Of the 74 prisoners said to have engaged in militancy after their release, only five can be independently verified to have actually engaged in or threatened to carry out militant acts. The report also fails to say how many of the former prisoners were believed to have gone on to militant activity as a result of their torture at Guantanamo. The most deadly act by a former Guantanamo prisoner was carried out by Kuwaiti national Abdallah al-Ajmi, who drove a bomb-laden truck into an Iraqi army base in March 2008, killing thirteen 13 people. Al-Ajmi’s attorney has said he was radicalized and left mentally unstable following his four years at Guantanamo.

Blackwater Contractors Flee Afghanistan to Avoid Charges

Two US contractors with the private military firm formerly known as Blackwater have reportedly fled Afghanistan to avoid prosecution for a fatal unprovoked shooting earlier this month. The two fleeing contractors and another two colleagues reportedly fired on a vehicle in Kabul after a night of drinking. One Afghan civilian was killed and another two wounded in the attack. The contractors say Blackwater supplied them with guns even though the Pentagon hadn’t granted them authorization. Defense attorney Daniel Callahan identified the two fleeing contractors as Steve McClain and Justin Cannon. Callahan says they fled their compound on Saturday and have now made it back to the United States.

Probe: U.S. Gave KBR $83M in Bonuses Despite Electrocutions

A Congressional probe has found the U.S. Army paid more than $83 million dollars in bonuses to the military contractor KBR despite its responsibility for the electrocution deaths of at least four troops in Iraq. On Wednesday, Senate Democratic Policy Committee chair Byron Dorgan accused the military of ‘stunning incompetence’ for rewarding KBR. In addition to the four electrocution deaths, hundreds of troops have received electrical shocks because of KBR’s electrical work in Iraq. The committee’s probe says more than half of the bonuses were awarded after the Pentagon first heeded warnings about the electrocutions. KBR is a former subsidiary of Halliburton, the company formerly run by Dick Cheney.

Gaza War Crimes Probe to Hold Public Hearings

A United Nations commission says its facing obstacles from the Israeli government ahead of its probe of alleged war crimes during Israel’s three-week assault on Gaza earlier this year. The commission is probing allegations of war crimes committed by both Israeli forces and Hamas fighters. But inquiry head Richard Goldstone says his team will likely have to enter Gaza through Egypt because Israel has refused to cooperate.

Richard Goldstone: “It would have been our wish to start there, to visit southern Israel, Sderot, to go into Gaza through the front door to go to the West Bank, which is also included in our mission. I made a number of approaches to the Israeli ambassador in Geneva even a direct approach to Prime Minister Netanyahu, but we’ve really received no official response.”

Goldstone says his team plans on holding public hearings for Gaza residents to share their testimony. More than fourteen hundred Palestinians were killed during the Israeli attack, most of them civilians. Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon said Israel will ignore the inquiry’s mission.

Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon: “We have shown the U.N. all the documents, all the data and I think we’ll put this issue behind us. And certainly, there should never be a moral equivalency drawn between terrorists and those who fight terrorism and any attempt to try to single out Israel and to investigate this preposterous suggestion of war crimes is just ridiculous and of course Israel will not cooperate with such an idea.”

U.S. Pledges $110M for Pakistani Refugees

In Pakistan, the UN is warning the exodus of Swat valley residents fleeing government-Taliban clashes could turn into the worst displacement crisis since the Rwandan genocide. Around 2 million people have fled their homes since fighting broke out three weeks ago. The Obama administration meanwhile has pledged $110 million dollars in humanitarian aid for the displaced refugees. Critics have called the pledge a PR move as the U.S. has put increasing pressure on the Pakistani government to engage in the fighting that has caused the displacements.

Bolivia, U.S. Hold First Talks Since Ambassador Row

In Bolivia, U.S. and Bolivian officials have held their first talks since last year’s expulsion of a U.S. ambassador on allegations of aiding the opposition to President Evo Morales. On Wednesday, Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Thomas Shannon met with Bolivia’s foreign minister in La Paz.

Bolivia to De-Classify Dictatorship Records

In other news from Bolivia, lawmakers have voted to declassify archives that could hold information on victims of Bolivian dictartorships from 1960 to 1980. A group of relatives of those disappeared under the dictatorships have been on a hunger strike seeking the documents’ release. Olga Flores Bedegal is one of three women on the fifteenth day of the hunger strike.

Olga Flores Bedegal: “Right now we think it’s a clear sign that the government intends to clear up this dark time in Bolivia’s history and answer our questions about where our relatives are. Once we see the results and it’s what we want we will lift the strike. If not, we are willing to die. What we are asking for, no less or no more, is that they follow the law, that they comply with the Inter-American convention against the disappearance of people.”

4 Arrested in Synagogue, Air Base Bombing Plot

Here in New York, four people have been arrested over an alleged plot to bomb two Jewish synagogues and a National Guard air base. The suspects were arrested after planting what they believed to be bombs outside a synagogue. New York police commissioner Ray Kelly said the bombs were actually fake and had been supplied by an FBI informant.

Ray Kelly: “In essence, four individuals were arrested for planting bombs in front of two synegogues in the area. The bombs had been made by the FBI technicians–they were totally inert, no one was ever at risk or danger of being injured this evening. This was a year-long investigation and Director Demeris can give you some information about that.”

Kelly says the suspects have been under investigation for over a year. All four are Muslim. One of the suspects is of Afghan descent and reportedly said he was motivated by anger over the U.S. invasion and occupation of Afghanistan.

Missouri Executes Dennis Skillicorn

In Missouri, the death row prisoner Dennis Skillicorn was executed Wednesday after a last failed attempt at clemency. Skillicorn was convicted for the 1994 murder of a commuter who had stopped to help him and two other men. But the court that tried him never got to hear that Skillicorn didn’t actually commit the murder and that the killer claimed Skillicorn didn’t know it was going to take place. I interviewed Amnesty International USA executive director Larry Cox about Dennis Skillicorn on Tuesday’s broadcast.

Larry Cox: “This illustrates one of the central truths about the death penalty, that the person you kill is often not the same person who committed the crime. He has become a model prisoner. He has reached out to the victims of crime, to restorative justice. He’s worked in a hospice. He has helped young offenders. And that’s the reason why you have this incredible assembly of people from the Corrections Department, you have Republicans, you have Democrats, you have people of faith, all speaking out, saying, “What purpose could possibly be served by killing this man, who has become, by all accounts, a very good man?”

Judges, Attorners Back Troy Davis Appeal

And a group of 27 former judges and prosecutors is asking the Supreme Court to grant an appeal by the Georgia death row prisoner Troy Anthony Davis. Davis, an African American, was convicted for the 1989 killing of a white police officer. Seven of the nine non-police witnesses have recanted their testimony since the trial. Three witnesses say another man later admitted to the killing. There is also no direct physical evidence tying Davis to the crime scene. In a filing to the Supreme Court, the group urged the Supreme Court to accept a final appeal from Davis’ attorneys to have the case sent back to a federal judge to hear from the witnesses who recanted their testimony. The signatories include former Deputy U.S. Attorney General Larry Thompson; two former state Supreme Court chief justices; and nine former U.S. attorneys, including former Georgia Congressmember Bob Barr and former FBI Director William Sessions.

Phyllis Bennis on the Possibility of “Peace in Palestine”

On Saturday, well-known author and activist Phyllis Bennis spoke in Dearborn, Michigan at an event sponsored by the Palestine Office. The event was a commemoration of the 61st anniversary of Al-Nakba and was titled “Finally, Peace in Palestine ‘Yes We Can!’ 61 Years Late.”

Bennis’ talk looks at the current situation in Palestine and the prospects for change:

Note: This video was submitted to us by Thomas Rico, you can check out his blog for more related video at ricothomasrico.blogspot.com.

Headlines: AIPAC Launches Campaign to Prevent Peace Talks; Maine Legalizes Same-Sex Marriage

Democracy Now Headlines: AIPAC Launches Campaign to Prevent Peace Talks; Maine Legalizes Same-Sex Marriage

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.

Estimates of Afghan Toll Rise in U.S. Bombing

Estimates of the dead from Monday’s U.S. bombing of the Afghan province of Farah are now reaching as high as two hundred. Images released from the area show villagers sorting through the rubble of the devastating attack. An unidentified village elder said he had lost dozens of relatives.

Villager: “We have discovered dead bodies of fifty two people. There might be still more bodies undiscovered. These martyred people were civilian residents of this area. All these fifty two martyred are either my nephews, nieces or my grandchildren.”

The Red Cross has confirmed “dozens” of civilians were killed, including many women and children. The attack could prove to be the deadliest U.S. bombing of Afghan civilians since the U.S. invasion of 2001. Meeting with Afghan President Hamid Karzai in Washington, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressed U.S. regret.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: “I wish to express, you know, my personal regrets and certainly the sympathy of our administration on the loss of civilian life in Afghanistan. We deeply regret it. We don’t know all of the circumstances or causes. And there will be a joint investigation by your government and ours. But any loss of life, any loss of innocent life is particularly painful.”

The U.S. military is suggesting it has evidence showing the victims were actually killed by Taliban grenades, but hasn’t offered any proof.

Obama Hosts Karzai, Zardari at White House

Karzai was in Washington along with Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari. The two leaders later met President Obama, who said they all face the same enemy in the Taliban.

President Obama: “The security of Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the United States are linked. In the weeks that have followed, that truth has only been reinforced. Al Qaeda and its allies have taken more lives in Pakistan and Afghanistan and have continued to challenge the democratically elected governments of the two presidents standing here today. Meanwhile, Al Qaeda plots against the American people and people around the world from their safe haven along the border.”

Zardari and Karzai’s visit to Washington comes as lawmakers take up an Obama administration request for $2.3 billion dollars in aid to Pakistan and more than $800 million dollars in military assistance for Afghanistan. In a split with Democratic leaders, House Appropriations Chair David Obey is proposing the U.S. condition the funding on the Afghan and Pakistani governments’ ability to meet several benchmarks.

At Least 12 Killed in Iraq Bombings

In Iraq, at least twelve people were killed Wednesday in two separate bombings in Baghdad. Most of the victims died in an attack on a crowded vegetable market, killing eleven people and wounding at least thirty-seven. A local grocer witnessed the bombing.

Witness: “The truck entered the market and people were slaughtered. What did porters, grocers and farmers do to deserve to be killed?”

Violence has recently increased around Baghdad, with last month being the deadliest in more than a year.

U.S. Military Drops Case Against Officer Who Refused Iraq Deployment

The U.S. military has dropped its attempt to retry to Ehren Watada, the first Army officer to refuse deployment to Iraq. On Wednesday, a federal appeals court granted a military request to withdraw an appeal of a lower-court ruling that said a second court-martial would have violated Watada’s right against double jeopardy. Watada’s first court-martial ended in a mistrial. Watada’s attorney says he intends to leave the military and attend law school.

AIPAC Launches Campaign to Prevent Peace Talks

The pro-Israeli government lobby group AIPAC has launched a new campaign to prevent the Obama administration from pressuring Israel to engage in peace talks. AIPAC is urging lawmakers to sign on to a Congressional measure that urges Obama not to dictate how Israel negotiates with Palestinian leaders. The administration says it supports a two-state solution, though it hasn’t called for a full Israeli withdrawal from the Occupied Territories where a Palestinian state would be created. Israel opposes the two-state solution and wants to retain Jewish-only settlements in the Occupied West Bank.

Israel Rejects UN Report

Meanwhile the Israeli government has rejected the findings of a UN report that found it deliberately and recklessly attacked UN facilities and personnel during its three-week assault on the Gaza Strip. Speaking at UN headquarters Wednesday, Israeli President Shimon Peres said Israel rejects the report’s every word.

Israeli President Shimon Peres: “We have the regard for the Secretary-General. We don’t accept one word of what the board writes. They didn’t have to write it. They were unfair. They were one-sided.”

Group: Israel Interrogating Gaza Patients

Meanwhile in Israel and the Occupied Territories, an Israeli medical human rights group says a growing number of Palestinian patients have been interrogated by Israeli agents before leaving the Gaza Strip for medical care. The Israeli chapter of Physicians for Human Rights says at least 438 patients were interrogated while trying to leave Gaza between January 2008 and March of this year.

Senate to Hold Torture Memo Hearing

Back in the United States, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse has announced plans to convene the first Congressional hearing on the torture of foreign prisoners since last month’s release of Bush administration memos authorizing the torture. As chair of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Administrative Oversight and the Courts, Whitehouse says he plans to call on witnesses including former FBI agent Ali Soufan and former State Department lawyer Philip Zelikow.

Post-9/11 Rules Impeded Swine Flu Response

U.S. health officials have confirmed they were delayed in responding to the swine flu outbreak because of Bush administration rules imposed after the 9/11 attacks. The Financial Times reports Mexican officials sent samples from infected patients in mid-April. But U.S. restrictions on imported biological materials meant the samples first had to be sent for analysis in Canada. American scientists had already analyzed several swine flu cases without realizing it was the same virus. There have now been two confirmed swine flu deaths in the U.S., both in Texas.

Probe: FBI Terror List Harms National Security

A Justice Department probe has found the FBI’s “terrorist watch list” has endangered national security by retaining some 24,000 names without justification while excluding many who have been investigated. In addition to risking national security, the probe fond the watch list has also caused lengthy delays at airports, along highways and other travel areas in the United States.

Maine Legalizes Same-Sex Marriage; New Hampshire to Follow

Maine has become the fifth state to legalize gay marriage. On Wednesday, Democratic governor John Baldacci signed a measure backing sex-same marriage following its approval in the Maine legislature. New Hampshire is expected to follow suit as early as today. New Hampshire lawmakers have sent Democratic Governor John Lynch a similar measure to sign into law.

Senate Passes Stripped-Down Mortgage Bill

The Senate has approved a foreclosure assistance bill providing limited help for struggling homeowners. The measure would protect mortgage service companies from lawsuits in return for taking part in federal loan modification programs. It would also give renters of foreclosed properties at least ninety-days eviction notice and spend some $2.6 billion dollars on curbing homelessness. Last week, the Senate dropped a key amendment that would have allowed bankruptcy judges to reduce mortgage payments for debt-strapped homeowners.

Study: Subprime Firms Spent $370M on Lobbying

Meanwhile a new study shows the top twenty-five companies responsible for subprime mortgages spent nearly $370 million dollars in lobbying over the past decade. According to the Center for Public Integrity, the companies originated an estimated $1 trillion dollars in subprime loans between 2005 and 2007. Most of them are now out of business.

Thousands Evacuated in California Wildfires

In California, wildfires have erupted around Santa Barbara County. More than 8,000 residents have been evacuated as firefighters try to contain the blaze.

Wal-Mart Reaches Settlement in Worker Trampling Death

The retail giant Wal-Mart has reached a settlement to avoid charges for the death of a worker crushed by a stampede of shoppers last December. Thirty-four-year-old Jdimytai Damour was killed after a crowd of 2,000 broke down store doors and ran him over shortly before the store’s opening. Wal Mart will pay nearly $2 million dollars and pledge to improve safety at its New York stores.

Poll: Majority Support Legalizing Marijuana

A new poll has found a majority of Americans support marijuana legalization. According to Zogby, fifty-two percent of Americans say it “makes sense to tax and regulate” marijuana.

Chair of N.Y. Fed Scrutinized for Shares in Goldman Sachs

And in financial news, each of the twelve regional Federal Reserve banks have been found to have directors who are either board members of banks or who own shares in bank holding companies. Consumer advocates say directors of Fed banks shouldn’t have any financial ties to the institutions they’re supposed to regulate. Scrutiny is focusing on Stephen Friedman, the chair of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. Earlier this week the Wall Street Journal revealed Friedman was given a waiver to hold shares in his former company Goldman Sachs even after it became a regulated bank-holding firm. Friedman was also found to have bought the shares in Goldman Sachs before he was granted the legal waiver. The shares are now estimated to be worth more than $2 million dollars.

Headlines: U.S. Soldiers Accused of Proselytizing in Afghanistan; Vice President Biden to Headline AIPAC Conference

Democracy Now Headlines: U.S. Soldiers Accused of Proselytizing in Afghanistan; Vice President Biden to Headline AIPAC Conference

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.

NYT: US Concerned over Safety of Pakistani Nukes

The New York Times reports senior US officials are increasingly concerned about new vulnerabilities for Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal, including the potential for militants to snatch a weapon in transport. Concerns have intensified in the last two weeks since the Taliban entered Buner, a district sixty miles from the capital, Islamabad. The US is currently spending $100 million a year on a secret program to help Pakistan build stronger physical protections around their nuclear weapons facilities, but the Times reports the US does not even know the location of all of Pakistan’s nuclear sites. Meanwhile, The Guardian reports Pakistan is continuing to expand its nuclear bomb-making facilities. Commercial satellite photos show two plutonium-producing reactors are nearing completion at Khushab, about 160 miles southwest of Islamabad. Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari is scheduled to visit President Obama in Washington on Wednesday.

Obama Seeks Sharp and Independent Mind to Replace Souter

Supreme Court Justice David Souter officially told President Barack Obama Friday that he plans to resign, giving Obama his first chance to make an appointment to the nation’s highest court. Obama said he will seek somebody with a sharp and independent mind.

President Obama: “I will seek somebody who is dedicated to the rule of law, who honors our constitutional traditions, who respects the integrity of the judicial process and the appropriate limits of the judicial role. I will seek somebody who shares my respect for constitutional values on which this nation was founded and who brings a thoughtful understanding of how to apply them in our time.”

The media has been busy speculating about Souter’s possible replacement. Names mentioned include Solicitor General Elena Kagan, Stanford professor Kathleen Sullivan, appellate judge Diane Wood, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, and New York Federal Appeals Court justice Sonia Sotomayor, who would be the first Hispanic Supreme Court justice.

Obama May Revive Bush Administration’s Military Commission System

The New York Times is reporting President Obama is moving toward reviving the Bush administration’s military commission system for prosecuting prisoners at Guantanamo. On the campaign trail, Obama criticized the military commissions system, saying, “by any measure, our system of trying detainees has been an enormous failure.” But Obama administration lawyers are now reportedly concerned that they would face significant obstacles to trying some Guantanamo prisoners in federal courts. The American Civil Liberties Union said continuing with the military commission system would be a retreat from Obama’s promise to return the country to the rule of law.

Sri Lankan Army Shells Hospital, 64 Killed

In Sri Lanka, at least sixty-four people died Saturday after the Sri Lankan army shelled a makeshift hospital inside a civilian safe zone. Sri Lanka has rejected calls for a ceasefire as it attempts to eliminate the Tamil Tigers. Tens of thousands of civilians remain trapped in the conflict zone. Another 200,000 civilians are living in displacement camps.

US Soldiers Accused of Proselytizing in Afghanistan

Al Jazeera has revealed US soldiers are being encouraged to spread the message of their Christian faith among Afghanistan’s predominantly Muslim population. Soldiers have been filmed with Bibles printed in Afghanistan’s main Pashto and Dari languages. In one recorded sermon, Lieutenant-Colonel Gary Hensley, the chief of the US military chaplains in Afghanistan, is seen telling soldiers that as followers of Jesus Christ, they all have a responsibility “to be witnesses for him.”

Lieutenant-Colonel Gary Hensley: “The special forces guys, they hunt men, basically. We do the same things as Christians: we hunt people for Jesus. We do. We hunt them down, get the hound of heaven after them, so we get them into kingdom. Right? That’s what we do. That’s our business.”

The Pentagon has not yet responded to Al Jazeera’s report. Regulations by the US military’s Central Command expressly forbid “proselytizing of any religion, faith or practice.”

NATO Troops Kill 12-Year-Old Afghan Girl

In other news from Afghanistan, NATO-led troops opened fire on a civilian car Sunday killing a twelve-year-old Afghan girl. The girl and her family were driving to a wedding. Two other members of her family were injured. Meanwhile, at least twenty-five people died in Afghanistan today in a series of bomb attacks.

Justice Dept. Drops AIPAC Espionage Case

The Justice Department has dropped espionage charges against two former employees of AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. The men, Steven Rosen and Keith Weissman, were charged with obtaining classified information and passing it to the Israeli government. The charges were dropped, even though a former Pentagon analyst, Lawrence Franklin, had already pleaded guilty to disclosing classified information to AIPAC. Franklin is currently serving more than twelve years in prison.

Vice President Biden to Headline AIPAC Conference

Despite the espionage charges, AIPAC remains one of the most well-connected lobbying groups on Capitol Hill. AIPAC’s annual conference began yesterday in Washington. Speakers at the event include Vice President Joe Biden, John Kerry, the chair of the Senator Foreign Relations Committee and most of the House and Senate leadership. California Congresswoman Jane Harman is also participating in AIPAC’s conference. Congressional Quarterly recently reported Harman was overheard on an NSA wiretap in 2005 telling a suspected Israeli agent she would lobby the Justice Department to reduce espionage charges against two AIPAC officials. In exchange for Harman’s help, the suspected Israeli agent reportedly pledged to help lobby Nancy Pelosi to appoint Harman chair of the House Intelligence Committee after the 2006 congressional elections.

Mexican Officials: Worse of Flu Epidemic May Be Over

Health officials in Mexico said Sunday the worst of the swine flu epidemic may be over. Many experts say the new H1N1 virus might be no more severe than the normal flu. The number of infections in Mexico has been decreasing since April 24. Here in the United States, cases of swine flu are now confirmed in more than half of US states. But officials said most cases were mild.

Nepalese Prime Minister Prachanda Resigns

Nepal’s Prime Minister Prachanda resigned earlier today after a crisis sparked by his sacking of the country’s army chief. Prachanda is the leader of the Maoist movement in Nepal. His resignation is seen as a possible blow to a 2006 peace pact that ended a decade-long civil war that pitted the army against the Maoists.

Jimmy Carter: Bush’s Latin American Policy Was a “Disaster”

Former President Jimmy Carter met with Bolivian President Evo Morales in La Paz Friday and praised Bolivia’s new constitution.

Jimmy Carter: “Into a democracy of freedom, more equality for previously deprived people is a very good trend. Now, of course, in a new constitution, there’s a guarantee of a certain level of indigenous participation, not quite as much as they wanted, but a very good step in the right direction.”

Jimmy Carter also expressed support for President Barack Obama’s recent moves to ease travel and financial restrictions on Cuban Americans.

Jimmy Carter: “The policies of President Bush in the last eight years was a disaster for Latin America, and he tightened up the restraints on any accommodations with the Cuban people in an unnecessary way. I don’t think there’s any doubt that Obama has made clear moves, that if his ideas are reciprocated by Raul Castro and Fidel Castro, they will have a new relationship with Cuba. I’ve always felt that the economic embargo should have been abolished.”

Martinelli Wins Election in Panama

In other news from Latin America, the right-wing supermarket chain owner Ricardo Martinelli has been elected president of Panama.

11 Arrested at Port of Tacoma Protest

In Tacoma, Washington, eleven antiwar protesters were arrested Saturday when they blocked a convoy of Stryker vehicles bound for the Port of Tacoma. The Port Militarization Resistance project said more protests are scheduled this week.

Seven Arrested for Protesting Military Recruiter’s Use of Video Games

Seven people were arrested at a mall in Philadelphia Saturday protesting the military’s use of video games for recruitment purposes. The demonstration targeted the Army Experience Center, a 14,000-square-foot facility at a Philadelphia mall, where teenagers as young as thirteen can play video games made by the Pentagon.

Fourth Grader Questions Rice on Torture

Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has been questioned again over her support of the Bush administration’s interrogation techniques and use of waterboarding–this time by a fourth grader. During an event at the Jewish Primary Day School in Washington, Misha Lerner asked Rice what she thought about the things President Obama’s administration was saying about the methods the Bush administration had used to get information from prisoners. Rice answered by repeatedly defending President Bush, saying he only authorized policies that were legal in order to protect the country. Misha’s mother, Inna Lerner, said the question her son had wanted to ask Rice was “If you would work for Obama’s administration, would you push for torture?” But Misha’s teachers wanted him to soften it and take out the word “torture.”

NYT Threatens to Close Boston Globe in 60 Days

In media news, the New York Times Company threatened last night to notify federal authorities of its plans to shut down the Boston Globe in sixty days if the unions representing workers at the Globe did not agree to a series of major financial and contract concessions. The Times issued the ultimatum at 10:00 p.m., but negotiations kept taking place past the midnight deadline.

World Press Freedom Day Marked

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon marked World Press Freedom Day Sunday by saying the number of attacks on journalists around the world remains “shockingly high.” At least eleven media workers have been killed so far this year, including the prominent Sri Lankan journalist Lasantha Wickrematunge.

Thousands March in May Day Protests

Immigrant rights activists and workers held rallies across the country Friday to mark May Day. In Los Angeles, six separate immigration marches took place. Juan Jose Gutierrez helped organize one of the marches.

Juan Jose Gutierrez: “There has never been better conditions than now. We need to send a strong message to our president: we supported him, and now we are waiting for him to keep his promise of an immigration reform this year.”

John Edwards Faces Federal Investigation

In political news, federal investigators have launched a probe of former presidential candidate John Edwards to determine if he misused any campaign money in an attempt to cover up an extramarital affair.

Filipino Poet Al Robles Dies

The Filipino poet and community activist Al Robles died in San Francisco on Saturday. In 1996 the poet Russell Leong said of Robles, “Perhaps no one has listened as closely to the voices of the Filipino American community during the last thirty years.”

Augusto Boal, Founder of the Theater of the Oppressed, Dies

And one of Latin America’s most famed dissident artists, Brazilian playwright Augusto Boal, has died at the age of seventy-eight. Boal was the developer of the Theater of the Oppressed. In 1971 the Brazilian military dictatorship imprisoned him for four months. After his release, he was forced into exile for fifteen years. Augusto Boal joined us in the firehouse studio in 2007.

Augusto Boal: “And I only have one dream. It’s to dream all my life. That’s my only dream. I would like to go on dreaming. And if I can dream of things, well, I dream of solidarity among men and women, black and white, solidarity among countries, and solidarity to create ethics. What we think sometimes, we don’t think that there is a difference between moral and ethics. Moral is mores. It’s customs. And it was moral in this country, my country–slavery. It was moral. It was moral to buy a human being. So I’m not moralist, because I know that in moral there are horrible things. But I am ethical. We need to create an ethos. In Greek, it means the tendency to some kind of perfection. And my kind of profession is solidarity, is dialogue, is democracy–real democracy, not one that we see? That’s my–I want to–not to accomplish, because to accomplish–not to accomplish, to go on. To go on. There is a poet, a Spanish poet, Antonio Machado, who says, ‘The path does not exist. The path you make by treading on it. By walking, you make the path.’ So we don’t know where the path leads, but we know the direction of the path that we want to take. That’s what I want, and not to accomplish, but to follow.”

Headlines: Government, UAW Might Become Major GM Shareholders; 2008 Was Deadliest Year For Palestinians Since 1948

Democracy Now Headlines: Government, UAW Might Become Major GM Shareholders; 2008 Was Deadliest Year For Palestinians Since 1948

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.

Government Might Become Majority GM Shareholder

General Motors has offered its final plan to reorganize in an effort to avoid bankruptcy. The car company has proposed slashing bond debt, cutting over 21,000 more U.S. jobs and emerging as a nationalized automaker under majority control by the U.S. government. The proposed restructuring would also shut down GM’s Pontiac operations. As part of the restructuring, GM is asking the Treasury Department for an additional eleven point six billion dollars in loans, in addition to the fifteen point four billion it has already received.

GM CEO Fritz Henderson: “I do think that General Motors will remain a global corporation without a doubt, but I think there’s no question in my mind also that the nature of those global relationships will change.”

Henderson said GM would probably declare bankruptcy if the bondholders reject the terms. By the time it is finished, G.M. expects to have only 38,000 union workers and 34 factories left in the United States, compared with nearly 400,000 workers in more than 150 plants at its peak employment in 1970.

Report: UAW To Own 55% of Chrysler Under Restructuring Deal

There are major developments in the proposed restructuring of Chrysler. The car company and labor leaders have agreed to a tentative deal where the United Auto Workers union’s retiree health-care fund would become the majority shareholder of Chrysler in exchange for cutting in half what the automaker owes the health care trust.

WHO Raises Pandemic Threat Level Over Swine Flu Fears

The World Health Organization has raised its pandemic threat level one notch as more cases of swine flu become known. In Mexico officials say 149 people have died from influenza but only 26 of the deaths have been confirmed to be swine flu. Nearly 2,000 people have been hospitalized with serious pneumonia. In the United States, the Centers For Disease Control has doubles it s number of confirmed U.S. cases to 48. Cases have also been confirmed in Canada, Spain, Britain and Israel but no deaths have been reported outside Mexico.

Flu expert Dr. John McCauley: “I think we are facing the danger of pandemic for the following reasons. One, this is a new virus that humans have not seen before. We have not come across a virus exactly like that. We have seen other H1N1s but not this particular variant. And so it’s a new virus to which humans appear to have no significant immunity. Secondly, it is spreading human to human. And so these are the hallmarks of a virus that could become a pandemic virus.”

CDC Dismisses EU Travel Advisory

Mexico has responded to the outbreak by shutting down all schools nationwide for more than a week and placing limits on public gatherings. The European Union has urged travelers to avoid the United States and Mexico “unless it is very urgent for them.” Richard Besser, acting director of the Centers for Disease Control, criticized the EU travel warning.

Richard Besser: “Based on the situation in the United States right now, I think it is quite premature to be putting travel restrictions on people coming to the United States. We have 20 cases of swine flu, we’re doing active surveillance. So far we’ve seen one hospitalization.”

Researchers believe the outbreak of swine flu may have occurred near a Mexican factory pork farm partly owned by Virginia-based Smithfield Foods, the largest producer of hogs in the United States. At the United Nations, Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon warned poor nations may be hit particularly hard by the flu outbreak.

Ban Ki-Moon: “The swine flu outbreak shows yet again that in our interconnected world no nation can deal with threats of such dimension on its own. Poor nations are especially vulnerable. They have been hit hard by other crisis this year-food, energy, the global economy, climate change. We must ensure that they are not also hit disproportionately hard by a potential health crisis.”

380 Same-Sex Couples Marry in Iowa

In Iowa, more than 380 same-sex couples applied for marriage licenses Monday following a state Supreme Court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage. Dozens of couples held weddings Monday after being granted waivers of Iowa’s three-day waiting period.

Jennifer Waldron: “I’m actually quite overwhelmed right now with emotion which actually really surprises me. but just to have the validation from the public that we are in a loving and committed relationship and that it’s important.”

91 Disability Rights Activists Arrested Outside White House

Over 100 people were arrested in Washington on Monday during a series of unrelated demonstrations. 91 disability rights activists were arrested after members of the group ADAPT chained their wheelchairs to the White House fence. The protest was held to raise awareness of the Community Choice Act, pending legislation that they said would allow disabled individuals to use their Medicaid payments for community-based services.

Five Members of Congress Arrested At Sudanese Embassy

Five members of Congress were arrested Monday outside the Sudanese embassy during a demonstration condemning Sudan’s decision to expel 16 aid agencies from Darfur.

The arrested included Democrats John Lewis of Georgia, Keith Ellison on Minnesota, Lynn Woolsey of California, Donna Edwards of Maryland and Jim McGovern of Massachusetts. They were charged with crossing a police line, a misdemeanor, and released.

Seven Greenpeace Activists Arrested

Also on Monday seven Greenpeace activists were arrested for scaling a construction crane and unfurling a banner with a picture of Earth and the message “Too big to fail.”

Blackwater Training Site in Illinois Picketed; 22 Arrested

In Mt. Carroll, Illinois, 22 people were arrested Monday at a protest outside a training site run by Xe, the company formerly known as Blackwater.

30,000 Pakistanis Flee Fighting in Northwest Region

In Pakistan as many as 30,000 people have fled Northwest Pakistan in recent days to escape fighting between the Taliban and Pakistani military. Al Jazeera reports civilians left their homes after the Pakistani military began their assault on Sunday against Taliban fighters in Lower Dir, near the Taliban-held Swat valley. The military action in Lower Dir comes weeks after the government allowed the Taliban to implement their interpretation of Islamic law in the neighboring Swat valley. Critics of Pakistan’s deal with fighters in Swat say that it has only emboldened the Taliban.

Sri Lanka Blocks UN Aid Mission

The Sri Lankan military has blocked a United Nations aid mission from entering the area where the Sri Lankan military continues to attack Tamil Tiger separatists. Some 50,000 civilians are believed to be trapped in the conflict zone. John Holmes, the UN humanitarian affairs chief, failed in his attempt to bring a halt to the fighting.

John Holmes: “I think our view is that the key point is when this conflict comes to an end, however it ends, I think it is much better if it ends without more civilian bloodshed, then there is a real need to address the political issues, to define solutions to the political problems which underlie all this, to react in a generous way to make sure that not only win the military victory but win the peace as well. Obviously that is the solution.”

Meanwhile Sweden’s foreign minister has been refused entry to Sri Lanka. Carl Bildt was due to visit Sri Lanka on a European mediating mission aimed at bringing about an immediate ceasefire between the Sri Lankan military and the LTTE. On Sunday the Sri Lankan government rejected a Tamil Tiger call for a unilateral ceasefire.

Obama Admin Seeks Reversal of Mountaintop Mining Rule

The Interior Department said Monday it will try to overturn a Bush administration rule that made it easier for coal mining companies to dump mountaintop debris into valley streams. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said he will ask the Justice Department to go to the courts to withdraw the Bush regulation and send it back to Interior to stop the policy.

Report: Israel Built 9,000 Homes in Occupied Territories Under Olmert

A new report has determined the Israeli government under Ehud Olmert built or issued bids for some 9,000 settlement homes for Israelis in the occupied West Bank and Jerusalem. The Israeli watchdog groups Peace Now and Ir Amim urged President Barack Obama to step in quickly and pressure Israel’s new prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, to halt further settlement expansion.

Group: 2008 Was Deadliest Year For Palestinians Since 1948

The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights says more than 1,000 Palestinians were killed in 2008 in the Gaza Strip and West Bank, making it the deadliest year since Israel was founded in 1948. A total 860 Palestinians were killed by Israeli troops in Gaza and the West Bank. Another 161 Palestinians were killed in factional fighting.

Detained Iranian-American Journalist Continues Hunger Strike

The Iranian-American journalist Roxana Saberi has entered her second week of a hunger strike protesting her imprisonment in Iran. She was sentenced earlier this month to eight years of imprisonment this month on charges of spying for Washington. Her father, Reza Saberi, said she plans to continue her hunger strike until she is released. Roxana turned 32 on Sunday.

Conde Naste Closes Portfolio Magazine

And in media news, Conde Nast has decided to close the two-year-old magazine Portfolio. Meanwhile newly released statistics show paid weekday newspaper circulation has fallen seven percent over the past six months.

Headlines: Report: CIA Prisoners Still Missing; Israeli Military Finds No Fault in Gaza Attack

Democracy Now Headlines: Report: CIA Prisoners Still Missing; Israeli Military Finds No Fault in Gaza Attack

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.

Rice, Ashcroft Approved Torture in July 2002

More details have been revealed on high-level Bush administration involvement in authorizing torture. According to a timeline in the newly declassified Senate Intelligence Committee report, then-National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, Attorney General John Ashcroft and other top White House officials approved torture methods, including waterboarding, as early as 2002. Attorney General Eric Holder has described waterboarding as illegal, while President Obama now says he won’t rule out prosecuting top Bush officials who approved illegal acts. Rice’s backing came in July 2002, when she gave a green light for the interrogation of suspected al-Qaeda operative Abu Zubaydah. One year later, the list of officials voicing approval grew to Vice President Dick Cheney, White House counsel Alberto Gonzales and National Security Council legal adviser John Bellinger.

Report: Obama Rejected Investigative Commission on Torture

The news comes as lawmakers have begun debating calls for an investigation into Bush-era officials for potential prosecution. On Wednesday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi backed an investigation and said witnesses shouldn’t receive immunity for testifying. Meanwhile, the Washington Post is reporting President Obama personally nixed a proposal to create a 9/11 Commission-style panel as an alternative to releasing the memos. Obama made the decision following weeks of administration debate. A White House official summarized Obama’s reponse as: “I banned all this. This chapter is over. What we don’t need now is to become a sort of feeding frenzy where we go back and re-litigate all this.”

Report: CIA Prisoners Still Missing

The Obama administration has claimed it’s closed Bush-era secret prisons. But the investigative website ProPublica is reporting more than three dozen CIA prisoners are still missing. Joanne Mariner of Human Rights Watch said, “The Obama administration needs to reveal the fate and whereabouts of every person who was held in CIA custody. If these men are now rotting in some Egyptian dungeon, the administration can’t pretend it’s closed the door on the CIA program.”

Judge Upholds Habeus Corpus for Gitmo Prisoner

A federal judge has rejected a government motion to dismiss or delay a challenge to the jailing of Guantanamo Bay prisoner Mohamed Jawad. Jawad was arrested in Afghanistan when he was sixteen or seventeen years old on allegations of wounding US soldiers with a grenade. He’s claimed he was drugged and threatened with death by Afghan interrogators unless he admitted to the charges. His case was one of five that led Guantanamo military prosecutor Darrel Vandeveld to resign last year. On Wednesday, US District Court Judge Ellen Huvelle rejected the government’s attempts to deny Jawad habeas corpus. Attorney Jonathan Hafetz of the American Civil Liberties Union said, “While the Justice Department chose to continue Bush administration policies that sought to evade scrutiny of Mr. Jawad’s unlawful detention, today’s order emphasizes the importance of independent judicial review for prisoners who have been held for years with no legal recourse.”

Obama: Days of US Inaction on Energy Crisis “Now Over”

President Obama visited Iowa Wednesday to mark International Earth Day. Speaking at a wind plant, Obama vowed to change US inaction on combating global warming.

President Obama: “If we’ve got problems with climate change and the temperature rising all around the world, that knows no boundaries. The decisions of any nation will affect every nation. So, next week I will be gathering leaders of major economies from all around the world to talk about how we can work together to address this energy crisis and this climate crisis. Truth is, the United States has been slow to participate in this kind of a process, working with other nations. But those days are over now.”

White House Withholds Endorsement on Bill Capping Emissions

Despite Obama’s comments, the White House is so far refusing to endorse the nation’s first-ever bill to limit emissions of greenhouse gases. As lawmakers opened hearings on Wednesday, top Obama environment officials said they are still studying the measure and have yet to make a decision. Energy industry lobbyists are vocally opposing the bill. It calls for reducing emissions to 20 percent below 2005 levels by 2020 and reducing them by 83 percent by 2050. On Wednesday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi set a new timeline for passing legislation, saying it would take more than a year. Her comments came one day after vowing to pass legislation this year.

UN Holds Climate Talks Ahead of Copenhagen Summit

As debate on the emissions bill began in Washington, the UN opened the year’s first ministerial-level meeting in talks toward reaching a new global climate deal at the Copenhagen summit later this year. The UN’s top climate official, Yvo de Boer, said US involvement in agreeing to emissions cuts is essential.

Yvo de Boer: “Trying to come to a long-term response on climate change without the United States makes no sense. In other words, US engagement is essential. And what is very encouraging is that President Obama is committed to this issue, is committed to taking action in the United States.”

IMF: Global Economy to Shrink 1.3%

The International Monetary Fund is forecasting the global economy will decline this year for the first time since the Second World War. On Wednesday, the IMF said the global economy would see a 1.3 percent decline in what it called “by far the deepest global recession since the Great Depression.” Speaking in Washington, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said the US bears significant responsibility for the global decline.

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner: “We bear in the United States a substantial responsibility, a substantial share of the responsibility for what has happened. But the factors that have made this crisis so acute and so difficult to contain lie in a broader set of global forces that built up in the years before the start of the present downturn. Never before has so much of the world been simultaneously hit by a confluence of economic and financial turmoil.”

Freddie Mac CFO Found Dead in Apparent Suicide

The chief financial officer of the troubled government-backed mortgage giant Freddie Mac has been found dead in an apparent suicide. Police say the body of forty-one-year-old David Kellermann was found hanging in his Virginia home. Kellermann was named Freddie Mac’s acting chief financial officer in September after sixteen years at the company. He came under scrutiny earlier this month after it was revealed he and other top Freddie Mac executives stood to receive some $210 million in bonuses over the next two years.

Red Cross: “Hundreds” Killed or Wounded in Sri Lanka Fighting

In Sri Lanka, the Red Cross is warning scores of civilians have been killed or wounded in the latest military attacks on the remaining Tamil Tiger stronghold. Tens of thousands remain trapped between the crossfire. In a statement, the Red Cross said it couldn’t precisely identify the number of civilian casualties but said they are in the “hundreds.”

Taliban Fighters Seize Control of Pakistani District

In Pakistan, Taliban militants have seized control of a new area just seventy miles from the capital Islamabad. The Buner district has a population of more than one million people.

Israeli Military Finds No Fault in Gaza Attack

The Israeli military says it’s concluded an investigation absolving its forces of committing any crimes during the three-week assault on the Gaza Strip beginning late last year. Israeli military deputy chief of staff General Dan Harel said Israel’s lone mistakes came down to intelligence and operational errors.

General Dan Harel: “We found out that the IDF operated under the international law and according to a very high standard of professionalism and moral standards. Saying that, we found out several mistakes-intelligence and operations mistakes we made, and we are dealing with them.”

Israel killed more than 1,300 Palestinians during the Gaza attack, most of them women and children. It bombed crowded civilian areas, ambulances, aid compounds, UN facilities, mosques and several schools. Hamas spokesperson Ayman Taha dismissed the Israeli investigation as a sham.

Ayman Taha: “This is a mockery of all the crimes that have been committed against our people. And the reason that the Israeli army cannot consider what has happened in the Gaza Strip as criminal is because the criminal himself cannot also be the judge. Therefore, these findings of Israeli army innocence are unreliable. The crimes that have been committed are crystal clear.”

The Israeli probe comes ahead of a UN investigation headed by former international prosecutor Richard Goldstone. Bill Van Esveld of Human Rights Watch called the IDF move a preliminary reaction to the UN’s anticipated findings.

Bill Van Esveld: “This appears to be a whitewash investigation that is happening just before the Goldstone investigation mandated by the United Nations. And it seems to prove the point that Human Rights Watch has been making all along, which is that there needs to be an independent and impartial United Nations investigation into these allegations of laws of war violations, because the IDF has not lived up to the job.”

Israel Demolishes Palestinian Home in East Jerusalem

In other news from Israel and the Occupied Territories, Israel has defied U.S. warnings and demolished another Palestinian home in East Jerusalem. The Obama administration’s few mild criticisms of Israel have centered around destroying homes on Palestinian land. The home belonged to the Hudidon family, which includes seven children.

Clinton Vows Continued U.S. Boycott of Palestinians

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has renewed U.S. vows to boycott the Palestinian government unless Hamas meets U.S.-Israeli demands. Clinton testified Wednesday before the House foreign affairs committee.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: “We will not deal with nor in any way fund a Palestinian government that includes Hamas unless and until Hamas has renounced violence, recognized Israel, and agreed to follow the previous obligations of the Palestinian Authority. And that is our policy and that is exactly what is guiding us, but we want to leave open the door that that can happen.”

The policy of opening the door to Hamas’ acceptance marks a slight rhetorical deviation from Bush administration policy, which unequivocally rejected any dealings with Hamas. But it continues the Bush policy of imposing conditions on Palestinians not imposed on Israel. Israel has long refused to renounce violence, recognize Palestine or agree to uphold prior agreements. In response to Clinton’s comments, Hamas spokesperson Osama Hamdan said: “Hillary Clinton must understand that there is a Palestinian democracy and there [were] Palestinian elections and someone won those elections.” Meanwhile, Clinton was also asked about former Vice-President Dick Cheney’s comments the Obama administration’s rollback of Bush torture policies is endangering the nation.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: “Well it won’t surprise you I don’t consider him a particularly reliable source.”

This week Cheney called for the release of documents that could prove what he called the “success” of the Bush administration’s torture methods in gaining new intelligence.

Internal Displacements Rise in Colombia

In Colombia, a new report says the number of internally displaced people continued to rise last year. Jorge Rojas of Colombia’s Human Rights and Displacement Council attributed most of the displacements to right-wing Colombian paramilitaries.

Jorge Rojas: “It is an unfortunate figure for us because it shows an increasing tendency. It shows that the number of displaced people in Colombian is still growing due to the armed conflict, human rights violations and infractions against the human rights. Last year, we registered the displacement of about 380,000 people. This shows a 24 percent increase compared to the year before.”

Colombia has the world’s second-largest internally displaced population after Sudan. Most of the refugees are indigenous, peasant workers or Afro-Colombians.

Morales Addresses UN in Earth Day Speech

Bolivian President Evo Morales addressed the UN General Assembly Wednesday. In a speech marking international Earth Day, Morales criticized former President George W. Bush for supporting a failed coup plot against him last year. He also addressed the controversy surrounding last week’s Bolivian police killing of three people in an alleged assassination plot against him. Morales also discussed the World Bank, which he said is no longer trying to impose privatization as a condition for loans.

Bolivian President Evo Morales: “Before it used to impose conditions on Bolivia in order for us to have access to loans. In the first year of my government, some World Bank representatives came to Bolivia and they tried to blackmail me, and I said, ‘OK, if it’s unconditional help, fine, but if it’s conditioned to privatization of basic services, privatization of natural resources, then no.'”

Morales went on to call for adding new text to the UN resolution establishing Earth Day, saying it should affirm the right of ecosystems, plants or animals to exist without threat of irresponsible human acts.

Venezuelan Opposition Leader Seeks Peru Asylum

A Venezuelan opposition leader is seeking asylum in Peru over what he calls political persecution at home. Manuel Rosales is in the Peruvian capital of Lima where government officials say they’re examining his asylum request. On Wednesday, a Venezuelan judge ordered Rosales’ arrest on corruption charges.

ANC Leads Returns in South African Elections

In South Africa, tens of millions of people voted Wednesday in national elections. The ruling African National Congress is leading initial returns. ANC leader Jacob Zuma is poised to become president, overcoming recent controversies that have included allegations of rape and corruption.

Reports: GM to Close U.S. Plants for 9 Weeks

And back in the United States, the auto giant General Motors is reportedly planning on closing most of its U.S. factories for up to nine weeks this summer. GM faces a June 1st deadline to qualify for additional government loans on top of the more than $13 billion dollars it’s already received.

Headlines: Obama Asks Cabinet to Cut $100M; Diplomats Walk Out on Ahmadinejad over Israel Comments

Democracy Now Headlines: Obama Asks Cabinet to Cut $100M; Diplomats Walk Out on Ahmadinejad over Israel Comments

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.

Tamils Ignore Military Deadline as Refugees Flee

In Sri Lanka, a government deadline for the surrender of Tamil Tiger rebels has passed with the Tamils refusing to lay down their arms. The deadline prompted some 49,000 civilians to flee the Tamils’ last remaining stronghold to avoid an expected intensified Sri Lankan military assault. Sri Lanka has been accused of indiscriminate bombings, while the Tamils have been accused of using the trapped civilians as human shields. An estimated 4,500 civilians have died in the fighting over the last three months. Aid groups have raised concerns of more civilian casualties, as up to 100,000 people remain trapped in the Tamil-controlled area.

Addressing CIA, Obama Treads Softly on Bush Torture Memos

President Obama visited the CIA’s Virginia headquarters Monday, following last week’s release of Bush administration memos authorizing torture techniques. Speaking before a raucous crowd, Obama refused to condemn the memo’s contents outright, calling them potential mistakes.

President Obama: “Don’t be discouraged by what’s happened the last few weeks. Don’t be discouraged that we have to acknowledge potentially we’ve made some mistakes. That’s how we learn. But the fact that we are willing to acknowledge them and then move forward, that is precisely why I am proud to be president of the United States, and that’s why you should be proud to be members of the CIA.”

The Obama administration has said it opposes any effort to prosecute CIA interrogators who engaged in torture, as well the Bush administration officials who authorized its use. On Monday, Senate Intelligence Committee chair Dianne Feinstein asked Obama to hold off on ruling out prosecutions until her panel finishes an investigation over the next six months.

Obama Asks Cabinet to Cut $100M

Obama meanwhile held a cabinet meeting at the White House, where he laid out a plan to cut a collective $100 million from all government agencies.

President Obama: “I’m asking for all of them to identify at least $100 million in additional cuts to their administrative budgets, separate and apart from the work that Peter Orszag and the rest of our team are doing to go line by line with the budget and identify programmatic cuts that need to be made. And in the next few weeks, we expect to cut at least 100 current programs in the federal budget.”

Diplomats Walk Out on Ahmadinejad over Israel Comments

In Geneva, diplomats from twenty-three European nations walked out of a UN conference on racism Monday after Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad delivered a speech calling Israel a “cruel and repressive racist regime.” Audience members applauded as the diplomats exited the room.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad: “After World War II, under the pretext of Jewish suffering and by taking advantage of the Holocaust, they used aggression and military force to turn an entire nation into refugees. And they transplanted people from Europe, the United States and other parts of the world into their land, establishing a thoroughly racist government in occupied Palestine.”

The US and several other nations are already boycotting the conference over concerns it will criticize the Israeli government. Prior to the walkout, two protesters dressed in clown suits were removed after yelling at Ahmadinejad, “You are a racist!” Hundreds also protested Ahmadinejad outside the conference, including the Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel.

Elie Wiesel: “His presence is a scandal. A man who is the number one Holocaust denier in the world, a man who publicly, repeatedly said that he was going to destroy the people of Israel, his place is not at the place where we discuss human rights. He violates human rights. He preaches hatred, and therefore he should be in jail, actually, in The Hague for incitement of genocide.”

The Israeli government and its supporters have accused Ahmadinejad of inciting genocide over a mistranslated 2005 speech. After the Geneva session, Ahmadinejad said Iran has been subject to repeated threats of violence from the Israeli government.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad: “We will be able to experience peace and brotherhood when we all develop a more tolerant vision and improve our capacity to listen to each other. Please pay attention to this last point. They threaten us with war. The Zionist regime threatens to take military actions against us, again and again. But we do not believe in war. We think the solution to global problems should be based on humanitarian solutions, democratic solutions, based on the free votes of all nations.”

Nobel Laureate to Defend Jailed Iranian American

In news from Iran, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi has joined the defense team of the imprisoned Iranian American journalist Roxana Saberi. A secret Iranian court sentenced Saberi to eight years in prison last week for allegedly spying for the United States. One of Iran’s leading dissidents, Ebadi will join Saberi’s legal team as it appeals the conviction. On Monday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton repeated US calls for Saberi’s immediate release.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: “We believe she should be freed immediately, that the charges against her are baseless, and that she has been subjected to a process that has been non-transparent, unpredictable, arbitrary. And we hope that actions will be taken as soon as possible by the authorities in Iran, including the judiciary, to bring about the speedy release of Ms. Saberi and her return home.”

3 Iraqis Killed, 8 US Soldiers Wounded in Baquba Bombing

In Iraq, at least three Iraqis were killed in a suicide attack on a meeting between US soldiers and local officials in the city of Baquba. At least eleven other Iraqis were also injured, along with eight US soldiers.

Harman Won’t Deny Speaking to Alleged Israeli Agent

Back in the United States, Democratic Congresswoman Jane Harman of California is coming under growing scrutiny over allegations she discussed trading political favors with an Israeli agent in 2005. CQ Magazine reported Harman was overheard on an NSA wiretap telling a suspected Israeli agent she would lobby the Justice Department to reduce espionage-related charges against two officials of AIPAC, the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee. In exchange for Harman’s help, the suspected Israeli agent reportedly pledged to help lobby Nancy Pelosi to appoint Harman chair of the House Intelligence Committee after the 2006 congressional elections. On Monday, Harman issued a statement denying lobbying the Justice Department about the two AIPAC officials, but she did not deny the allegations of her discussion with the suspected Israeli agent, nor did she address whether she tried to lobby the White House.

Obama Seeks $100B for IMF

President Obama has asked Congress to authorize a $100 billion grant to the International Monetary Fund. The funding boost would come as part of a $500 billion international commitment made at the G20 summit in London earlier this month.

Obama to Meet Credit Card Execs at White House

The White House has announced Obama will meet with credit card executives from the nation’s top fourteen banks later this week. The White House says Obama will lobby them to back new limits on lending abuses, including arbitrary interest rate hikes, premature late fees, and interest charges on debt paid on time.

IG: 20 Criminal Probes, 6 Audits Investigating Bailout Abuses

The Inspector General overseeing the government bailout of Wall Street has revealed he’s opened twenty criminal investigations and six audits into whether tax dollars are being misused. In a new report released today, Neil Barofsky says the investigations focus on allegations including securities fraud, tax, insider trading and public corruption.

Struggling Chrysler Turned Down Government Aid over Pay Caps

Meanwhile, Barofsky has also revealed the financial services wing of the auto giant Chrysler turned down government aid over new federal limits on executive pay. In his new report on the bailout, Barofsky says Chrysler Financial turned down $750 million earlier this year. Chrysler Financial’s parent company, Chrysler, has received $4.5 billion in government loans. Chrysler Financial collected $1.5 billion in federal loans when less stringent pay limits were in place.

Oakland Hires Private Security Firm to Patrol Neighborhoods

Oakland has become the latest American city to hire private armed guards to carry out police duties. Oakland’s city council recently voted to hire the company International Services to patrol troubled areas. Proponents say the move will save money for the cash-strapped city. Chicago’s city council recently proposed to grant private guards more responsibilities, including the authority to write traffic tickets.

Ex-Presidents Clinton, Bush to Appear in Joint Event

Former presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush have signed onto a joint appearance next month in Toronto, Canada. Clinton and Bush will appear together on stage in what organizers call a “moderated conversation.” Last month, Bush faced wide protests and calls for his arrest when he came to the Canadian city of Calgary for his first post-White House public speech.

Somali Pirate to Appear in US Court

The lone surviving Somali pirate involved in the kidnapping of an American cargo captain earlier this month has been brought to face trial in the United States. The pirate, nineteen-year-old Abduhl Wal-i-Musi, surrendered before US Navy snipers shot his three accomplices aboard their boat. Musi is expected to be arraigned in a New York courtroom later today.

French Energy Giant Spied on Anti-Nuke Activists

In France, the state-controlled energy operator has admitted to infiltrating and spying on anti-nuclear activists across Europe. Pierre Francois, a former top security official for EDF, says he began organizing the spying since 2002.

Arizona Duo Wins Pulitzer for Arpaio Coverage

And in media news, the Pulitzer Prize winners for journalism were handed out on Monday. The winners included Ryan Gabrielson and Paul Giblin of the East Valley Tribune in Mesa, Arizona. The duo won for their coverage of Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who’s been accused of practicing discriminatory enforcement of federal immigration laws. Last month, the Justice Department opened a civil rights probe into Arpaio’s immigration enforcement policies.

Headlines: Israel Rejects Vague U.S. Calls for Peace Talks; Gay Marriage Bill Introduced in New York

Democracy Now Headlines: Israel Rejects Vague U.S. Calls for Peace Talks; Gay Marriage Bill Introduced in New York

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.

Obama Releases Bush Torture Memos, Assures No Prosecutions for CIA Interrogators

The Obama administration has released four Bush administration memos that gave CIA interrogators the legal basis for torture at Guantanamo Bay and other foreign jails. The techniques described include waterboarding, holding prisoners in small dark boxes, bashing their heads against walls, subjecting them to insects, forced nudity, shackling and sleep deprivation. The memos also include extensive legal arguments as to why these tactics do not amount to torture under US and international law. In an accompanying statement, President Obama said CIA interrogators would not be prosecuted for following the memos’ guidelines. More on this story after headlines.

Gitmo Prisoner: “Life is Going to Hell”

Another Guantanamo Bay prisoner has come forward to back accounts of worsening torture since President Obama took office. In a letter to his attorney, Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif said: “I have seen death so many times. Everything is over, life is going to hell in my situation. America, what has happened to you?” A Yemeni national, Abdul Latif has been imprisoned since 2001.

Study: Iraqi Women and Children Account for Most Victims of U.S. Air Strikes

A new study says the vast majority of identifiable Iraqi victims of U.S.-led air strikes have been women and children. According to the group Iraq Body Count, Iraqi women and children amounted to eighty-five percent of victims of known gender or age. The study covered a sample of more than 60,000 deaths over a five-year period since the 2003 invasion.

16 Killed in Suicide Attack on Iraqi Base

In other Iraq news, at least 16 people were killed in a suicide bombing on an Iraqi military base in Anbar province. Another fifty were wounded.

In Mexico, Obama Resists Call to Re-impose Assault Weapons Ban

President Obama visited Mexico on Thursday for the first time since taking office. Appearing with Mexican President Felipe Calderon, Obama vowed U.S. cooperation in cracking down on drug cartels along the U.S.-Mexico border.

President Obama: “At a time when the Mexican government has so courageously taken on the drug cartels that have plagued both sides of the borders. It is absolutely critical that the United States joins as a full partner in dealing with this issue, both through initiatives like… but also on our side of the border in dealing with the flow of guns and cash south.”

Despite the talk of cooperation, Obama rejected Calderon’s key demand to push for re-imposing the Congressional assault weapons ban. Calderon says violence has significantly increased since the ban expired in 2004.

Mexicans Protest U.S. Immigration Raids, Deportations

As Obama arrived in Mexico City, hundreds of people rallied outside the U.S. Embassy to call for humane immigration reform in the United States. Leading the protest was Elvira Arellano, who was deported to Mexico in August 2007 following a year of refuge inside a Chicago church. Arellano called on Obama to impose a moratorium on immigration raids.

Elvira Arellano: “We are in solidarity with all those children who are living in fear of being deported together with their parents after raids. Raids continue to occur day after day at two, three or five in the morning. There are raids, deportations and we are asking President Obama to sign an executive order to stop raids and deportations.”

Cuba Renews Call for U.S. Talks

President Obama heads to the island of Trinidad today for the Summit of Americas. He’s expected to face calls to lift the U.S. embargo of Cuba. Appearing alongside visiting Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Haitian President Rene Preval summed up the stance of most summit participants in calling for a lifting of the blockade.

Haitian President Rene Preval: “We have a wish, which is that of the United Nations. And that is that the embargo against Cuba be lifted so they can take part in this important dialogue. Cuba is a friend of Haiti’s.”

Cuba is not invited to the Americas summit. Speaking in Venezuela Thursday, Cuban President Raoul Castro repeated his call for direct talks with the United States.

3 Killed in Alleged Morales Assassination Plot

In Bolivia, three foreign nationals were killed and two arrested in what the Bolivian government called a thwarted assassination plot on President Evo Morales. Bolivian officials said a shootout broke out after police tried to arrest the suspects at a hotel in the Santa Cruz.

Russia Announces Formal End to Chechnya Operations

Russia has announced a formal end to military operations in Chechnya. On Thursday, the Russian government said it would remove the last of security restrictions that have been in place since its military invaded Chechnya ten years ago. Russia will still maintain a force of some 20,000 troops and police officers.

Israel Rejects Vague U.S. Calls for Peace Talks

The Israeli government is rebuffing mild U.S. calls for peace talks with Palestinians towards reaching a two-state settlement. On Thursday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Palestinians must recognize Israel as a “Jewish state” as a pre-condition for future talks. Palestinians have called the demand a non-starter because it would mean not just acknowledging but legitimizing Israel’s takeover of their land and the expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who used to live there. Netanyahu announced the demand after meeting U.S. envoy George Mitchell. Mitchell said the U.S. will insist on pursuing a two-state solution.

George Mitchell: “It is in the United State’s national interest that there will be a comprehensive peace settlement in the Middle East, that should include settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with a two-state solution involving a Palestinian state living side by side alongside the Jewish state of Israel in peace, and hopefully stability and prosperity. We are going to do all we can for the rest of this visit and over the coming weeks and months to move towards that objective.”

Report: U.S. Will Impose Two-State Settlement

The Israeli newspaper Yedioth Achronoth is reporting meanwhile the Obama administration is prepared to force the Israeli government to accept a two-state peace deal. An unidentified Jewish leader quoted White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel as saying: “In the next four years there is going to be a permanent status arrangement between Israel and the Palestinians on the basis of two states for two peoples, and it doesn’t matter to us at all who is prime minister.” The Obama administration has yet to outline whether the two-state solution it favors would meet minimal Palestinian rights. Previous U.S.-backed proposals would have still left Israel in control of the large West Bank settlement blocs on Palestinian land.

Israel Rejects UN War Crimes Probe

The Israeli government has informed the UN it will refuse to cooperate with an investigation into whether it committed war crimes during its three-week assault on the Gaza Strip. Earlier this year the UN Human Rights Council named former international prosecutor Richard Goldstone to head the probe.

Israeli Air Strike Destroys Gaza Home

Meanwhile an Israeli air strike destroyed a home in the Gaza Strip on Thursday. It was the first Israeli air strike on Gaza in over a month.

Gazans, Journalists Mark 1-Year Anniversary of Israeli Killing of Cameraman, Youths

In other news from Gaza, journalists from around the world gathered in Gaza City to mark the one-year anniversary of the killing of Reuters camera operator Fadel Shana. The twenty-four-year-old Shana died on April 16, 2008 after an Israeli tank shelled his vehicle that was clearly marked “press.” Shana’s final piece of footage shows the tank firing a shell before his camera goes black. The attack also killed eight Palestinian youths aged between twelve and twenty years old. Reuters bureau chief Alastair Macdonald was among those to speak at Shana’s memorial.

Alastair Macdonald: “The grief and anguish that greeted the killing of Fadel last April the 16th at the age of just 24, was a mark not only of the affection in which he was held by his family and friends but of the reputation he enjoyed as an independent journalist determined through his work with Reuters to inform the wider world about life in a conflict here in the Gaza Strip.”

No member of the Israeli military has been prosecuted for the attack that killed Shana and the eight Palestinian youths.

Report: Somali Pirate to Be Tried in U.S.

CBS News is reporting the lone surviving Somali pirate involved in the kidnapping of an American cargo captain last week will be brought to New York to face charges in a U.S. court. The pirate, 19-year-old Abdulwali Muse, surrendered before U.S. Navy snipers shot his three accomplices aboard their boat.

Obama Announces New Transit Funding

Back in the United States, President Obama has announced a thirteen billion dollar plan to invest in a national mass-transit rail system. Obama unveiled the proposal shortly before leaving for Mexico.

President Obama: “There’s no reason why we can’t do this. This is America. There is no reason why the future of travel should lie somewhere else beyond our borders. Building a new system of high-speed rail in America will be faster, cheaper, and easier than building more freeways or adding to an already overburdened aviation system. And everybody stands to benefit.”

Eight billion dollars will come out of the federal stimulus package, while Obama says he will request another $5 billion over five years.

Court Rejects Troy Davis Appeal, Extends Stay of Execution

In Georgia, a federal appeals court has rejected an appeal seeking a new trial for the death row prisoner Troy Anthony Davis. Davis was convicted for the 1989 killing of a white police officer. Since the trial, seven of the nine non-police witnesses have recanted their testimony. There is no direct physical evidence tying Davis to the crime scene. And three witnesses claim another man later admitted to the killing. Despite rejecting Davis’ appeal Thursday, the court said it would extend Davis’ stay of execution pending a final appeal before the Supreme Court.

Paterson Introduces Gay Marriage Bill

In New York, Governor David Paterson has introduced legislation to legalize same-sex marriage. State Republicans defeated an identical bill in 2007, but today Democrats now also control New York’s state Senate.

Trial Begins for Anti-Transgendered Hate-Crime Murder

And in Colorado, a murder trial has opened that’s believed to be the first ever hate-crime case for the killing of a transgendered person. Allen Andrade is accused of murdering eighteen-year old Justin “Angie” Zapata after arranging a meeting online. The case has boosted calls for the inclusion of transgendered people in hate-crimes statutes on the state and federal level. Eleven states and the District of Columbia currently recognize transgendered people in hate crime laws.

Headlines: Massive US Arms Sale to Israel Disclosed; Mass Shootings Spur Call for Gun Control Laws

Democracy Now Headlines: Massive US Arms Sale to Israel Disclosed; Mass Shootings Spur Call for Gun Control Laws

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.

North Korea Tests Long-Range Rocket

The United Nations Security Council held an emergency meeting Sunday, hours after North Korea defied international warnings and test-fired a long-range rocket. The rocket flew over Japanese airspace before crashing into the Pacific Ocean. North Korea claimed the test was a success, but international experts disputed their claim. President Obama condemned the launch as “provocative.”

Obama Calls for Nuclear-Free World

Hours after the rocket launch, President Obama spoke in Prague and outlined a vision for ridding the world of nuclear weapons. Obama said he wanted an immediate end to nuclear tests, confirmed and vowed to hold a global summit on nuclear security.

President Obama: “As the only nuclear power to have used a nuclear weapon, the United States has a moral responsibility to act. We cannot succeed in this endeavor alone, but we can lead it, we can start it.”

Last week, President Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev agreed on fast-track negotiations to slash their nuclear stockpiles by about a third from the end of this year. The US and Russia have a total of 23,000 nuclear weapons. President Obama is not the first US president to call for the abolition of nuclear weapons. In the 1950s President Dwight Eisenhower said, “Controlled universal disarmament is the imperative of our time.” Even President Ronald Reagan once proposed the abolition of all nuclear weapons.

Czechs Protest US Missile Shield Base

While President Obama spoke in Prague, over 1,000 protesters gathered nearby to condemn US plans to build a missile shield system in the Czech Republic and Poland. Protesters included Jan Majicek of the No Bases Initiative.

Jan Majicek: “We are here to tell Barack Obama, who is now in Prague, that 70 percent of Czechs are against this plan and that we don’t want a foreign military base here in the Czech Republic.”

NATO Allies Refuse to Send More Combat Troops to Afghanistan

During the NATO summit in Strasbourg, European allies rejected President Obama’s request to send more combat troops to Afghanistan as part of the US escalation of the war. Instead, NATO nations will send 3,000 soldiers to assist in securing the national elections scheduled for August and 2,000 military trainers to help the Afghan army. Outside the NATO meeting, some 30,000 people took part in protests along the French-German border condemning the escalation of the war in Afghanistan. Police arrested 325 people. At least three buildings were set on fire, including a hotel and a border post.

Obama Ends Overseas Trip in Turkey

President Obama is in Turkey today making his first visit to a Muslim nation as president.

President Obama: “I have now spent a week traveling through Europe, and I’ve been asked, ‘Are you trying to make a statement by ending this week-long trip in Turkey?’ And the answer is yes, I am trying to make a statement. I’m trying to make a statement about the importance of Turkey, not just to the United States, but to the world.”

Mass Shootings Spur Call for New Gun Control Laws

Gun control advocates are urging lawmakers to rewrite the nation’s gun control laws after mass shootings in upstate New York, Pittsburgh and Washington state. In Binghamton, New York, a gunman attacked an immigration center on Friday, killing thirteen people before taking his own life. Most of the dead were immigrants who were taking classes at the immigration center. The gunman was a Vietnamese-born immigrant who recently lost his job.

Binghamton Police Chief Joseph Zikuski: “What we do know is Mr. Wong arrived at that residence wearing body armor, which would tell us that at one point in his thinking process he was going to take the police on or at least try to stop us from stopping him. He must have been a coward. We speculate when he heard the sirens that he decided to end his own life, so that’s what–he was heavily armed, had a lot of ammunition on him. And thank God, before more lives were lost, that he decided to do that.”

On Saturday in Pittsburgh, three police officers were shot dead as they responded to a domestic violence call. Meanwhile, in Washington state a thirty-four-year-old man shot dead his five children on Saturday before killing himself. The children were between the ages of seven and sixteen. There was also a series of high-profile mass shootings last month in North Carolina, California and Alabama that killed a total of twenty-three people. Paul Helmke, President of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, said, “The laws on the books aren’t getting the job done. Now is the time to take effective steps to prevent gun violence.” According to the Brady Campaign, about 30,000 people die every year in the United States from gun violence. That’s about eighty people a day.

One in Six Americans Now Unemployed or Underemployed

In economic news, the nation’s unemployment rate has reached 8.5 percent, the highest it’s been in twenty-five years. 663,000 jobs were lost last month. A total of 5.1 million jobs have been lost in the past fourteen months. The current unemployment rate would jump to 15.6 percent if it included laid-off workers who have given up looking for new jobs or have had to settle for part-time work. This means one in every six workers in America is now either unemployed or underemployed.

Wall Street Firms Gave Lawrence Summers Millions in 2008

Newly released documents show Lawrence Summers, one of President Obama’s top economic aides, received nearly $2.7 million in speaking fees last year from several of the financial companies that have received government bailouts, including JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, Lehman Brothers and Merrill Lynch. Goldman Sachs paid Summers $135,000 last April for a single speech. In addition, Summers earned over $5 million working one day a week at the D.E. Shaw hedge fund.

Thousands Protest on Wall Street

In New York, thousands marched on Wall Street Saturday on the forty-first anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King. Leslie Cagan of United for Peace and Justice helped organize the protest.

Leslie Cagan: “Decades of bloated military spending have undermined our economic security. Instead of pouring hundreds of billions of dollars year in and year out into war, into weapons of mass destruction, into militarism and military spending, that money should have been used and now must be used to reinvest in our communities. Our communities need schools, we need healthcare, we need a completely restructured infrastructure, we need money pouring into job creation, and we need to deal with the global crisis of the environment. So there’s much to do, above and beyond bailing out bankers and continuing to pour money into wars.”

Iowa Supreme Court Overturns Ban on Same-Sex Marriage

In a unanimous decision, the Iowa Supreme Court has overturned a ten-year-old ban on same-sex marriage, making Iowa the third state in the union to legalize same-sex marriage. The ruling takes effect April 24. Meanwhile, Swedish lawmakers voted last week to make Sweden become the fifth European country to allow same-sex marriages.

26 Killed in Iraqi Car Bombings

In Iraq, five car bombs exploded across Baghdad today, killing twenty-six people and wounding scores. The bombings come following a week of arrests in Baghdad by Iraq’s Shiite-led government of Sunni Arab fighters known as Awakening Councils.

Pakistan Taliban Unleashes Wave of Suicide Attacks

In Pakistan, a senior commander of the Pakistani Taliban is threatening to launch two suicide attacks per week if the Obama administration does not stop missile strikes on Pakistani territory. Over the weekend, at least thirty-eight people died in three suicide attacks. In the deadliest bombing, twenty-two people died in a blast at a Shiite mosque in the capital of Islamabad.

Report: 1 Million Pakistanis Displaced by US Drone Attacks

On Saturday, a suspected US drone attack killed thirteen people in North Waziristan. The Sunday Times of London reports as many as one million Pakistanis have fled their homes to escape the attacks by the unmanned US drones.

Protests Condemn Public Flogging of Pakistani Girl

Meanwhile, protests were held across Pakistan this weekend over a video that showed the public flogging of a seventeen-year-old girl in Pakistan’s Swat Valley. The video showed the girl being pinned down by three men and lashed thirty-four times. Under a deal with the Pakistani government, the Swat Valley is now ruled by Islamic law. The girl had been accused of being seen with a man who was not her husband.

Israeli Newspapers Remove Female Cabinet Ministers from Photo

In Israel, two ultra-Orthodox Jewish newspapers have digitally manipulated a photograph of Israel’s new cabinet, removing two female ministers. One newspaper changed the photo by replacing the two female cabinet members with men. Another newspaper blacked the women out. The ultra-Orthodox newspapers consider it immodest to print images of women. Limor Livnat is Israel’s new Minister of Culture & Sport. Sofa Landver is the country’s Minister of Immigrant Absorption.

Massive US Arms Sale to Israel Disclosed

Amnesty International has revealed that the United States has sent a massive new shipment of arms to Israel despite evidence that US weapons were misused against civilians in the Gaza attacks. Amnesty said a German cargo ship carrying about 14,000 tons of arms docked in late March at the Israeli port of Ashdod, about twenty-five miles north of Gaza. The ship left for Israel on December 20, a week before the start of Israel’s attacks on Gaza.

New York Times Threatens to Close Boston Globe

In media news, the New York Times Company is threatening to close the Boston Globe within thirty days unless the Globe’s unions agree to $20 million in cuts. The concessions would likely involve pay cuts and ending contributions by the company to employee pension plans. Last month, the New York Times Company laid off 100 employees and cut salaries for non-union workers by five percent.

Media Covers US War Dead’s Return After 18-Year Ban

The media was permitted on Sunday to cover the arrival of a US soldier’s coffin at the Pentagon’s main mortuary in Delaware for the first time in eighteen years. President Barack Obama has relaxed a Pentagon ban on media coverage of returning US war dead, giving grieving families the choice of whether to allow cameras at the solemn arrival ceremony. On Sunday, a flag-draped coffin bearing the remains of Staff Sgt. Phillip Myers arrived at Dover Air Force Base. The thirty-year-old soldier was killed in Afghanistan on Saturday.

Report: Obama to Lift Restrictions on Family Travel to Cuba

The Wall Street Journal reports the Obama administration is planning to abolish limits on family travel and cash remittances between the United States and Cuba. This would allow Cubans living in the United States to travel freely to the island, instead of once a year as at present. Obama, however, has rejected calls to lift the embargo. Meanwhile, a group of US lawmakers arrived in Havana Friday. This is Congresswoman Barbara Lee of California.

Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA): “We’re here to engage in discussions with regard to US-Cuba relations. Personally, I believe, many believe, that it’s time to talk to Cuba, and we want to find out what the dialog should entail, and we’ll communicate this very clearly to our government officials upon our return.”

Egyptian Police Arrest 25 Ahead of Nationwide Protests

And in Egypt, police arrested twenty-five people Sunday ahead of today’s nationwide protest against the policies of President Hosni Mubarak. Egyptian dissident Ayman Nour is the leader of the Ghad, or Tomorrow Party, a key organizer of today’s protests, which are being held on the first anniversary of an uprising in an industrial town north of Cairo that was brutally repressed by Egyptian security forces. Ayman Nour, who ran against Mubarak in presidential elections in 2005, was arrested soon after the elections and released this February after spending over three years in prison. He spoke to Democracy Now! producer Anjali Kamat last month about the demands his party would raise at the protests on this April 6th.

Ayman Nour: “We are giving the government one year to reform the constitution and to lift the barriers preventing widespread participation in politics and elections. If our demands are not met–and these are reformist, democratic demands–we will call for a general strike on April 6th of 2010. The future of the current Egyptian regime depends on its ability to understand that its role must come to an end, that it must provide a real opportunity for power to circulate among the Egyptians. It has to give the Egyptian people their right to choose their rulers and representatives without texts that restrict and frustrate these rights and freedoms to the extent that they don’t exist at all or become some kind of a mirage.”

Caterpillar Kills! Local Group Stages Protest to Kick Off Boycott/Divestiture Campaign

Caterpillar Kills

Folks from the Grand Rapids area activist group, Brunch & Revolution, kicked off the local Caterpillar/Motorola boycott and divestiture campaign with a protest in front of a local Caterpillar dealership along US 131 near 76th Street this morning. They held up two large banners, despite the cold morning chill. Hundreds of commuters on their way to work read the message, “Caterpillar Kills!” The second banner provided the web address of End the Occupation Coalition, the US-based group coordinating the national Divestment/Boycott Campaign.

The national campaign calls attention to the Israeli government’s apartheid practices as its Palestinian neighbors are denied food, medical care, the right to pursue livelihoods and the freedom to come and go for normal daily activities. This apartheid policy was savagely evident during Israeli military attacks in December and early January that left more than 1,400 Palestinians dead (for the most part regular folks, women and children) and thousands more injured, displaced and homeless. (14 Israelis died; of those 10 were military, four of which were friendly fire.)

Divestment Portfolios Available

Throughout this week, folks involved in the action will be contacting local churches, campus groups, progressive organizations and unions with “Divestment Portfolios,” informational packets with many pages of information on the campaign as well as a CD/PowerPoint presentation that explains Caterpillar’s role in its illegal Israeli occupation of Palestine. “Today is the kickoff to our local campaign for Divestment/Boycott of Israel,” says Mike, Brunch and Revolution spokesperson. “We are hoping to get as many groups to sign on to this campaign, so please help us get the word out.”

Why Caterpillar?

The Israeli military routinely uses Caterpillar bulldozers as part of its occupation strategy. Caterpillar Corporation assists the Israeli Defense Forces by supplying them with the D9 Bulldozer, critical to the illegal occupation of Palestinian territories. A multitude of reports indicate that homes are bulldozed without giving people time to get out of their homes.

“Caterpillar Corporation’s contribution makes possible the bulldozing of Palestinian homes, the uprooting of olive trees (a Palestinian economic mainstay) and militarization of the Gaza Strip and West Bank. This should be met with the utmost resistance by any nation or person who holds value in the Geneva Conventions and the tenants of international law,” Mike says.

For additional information, visit http://www.endtheoccupation.org/article.php?id=1869