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.”

Biden: Expect More US Casualties in Afghanistan

Joe Biden Says Afghanistan Casualties Will Continue To Rise

On Sunday, Vice President Joe Biden appeared on the CBS news program, Face the Nation. Biden was asked about several domestic and foreign policy initiatives that the Obama administration is pursuing.

Biden Discusses Afghanistan Policy

During the foreign policy discussion, Biden was asked if there would be more US military casualties in Afghanistan because of the new administration’s commitment to increase US troop levels by 30,000. Biden said:

“I hate to say it, but yes I think there will be. There will be an up-tick, because as the Commander in Afghanistan said, ‘Joe we will get this done, but we will be engaging the enemy much more.'”

Biden’s admission was discussed in a Los Angeles Times article that appeared in the Grand Rapids Press on Sunday titled, “Expect US casualties to rise in Afghanistan, Biden says.” The Press version of the article omitted about half of the original content but did mention there was “an outcry from Afghanistan over a U.S. operation that the United States said killed 15 militants but Afghan officials said had claimed the lives of 16 civilians, including two women and three children.” Reuters news service reported that thousands of Afghanis gathered on Sunday to protest “against President Hamid Karzai and the United States on Sunday over reports of fresh civilian deaths caused by U.S.-led troops during a raid against Taliban militants.”

Continuing the Bush Policy in Afghanistan and Pakistan?

Omitted from much of the US news coverage on Monday were other parts of the Biden interview on Face the Nation about Afghanistan and Pakistan. When asked about a US drone attack inside Pakistan last week and whether or not the new administration will continue the Bush policy of allowing he US military and CIA to go into Pakistan to fight Al Qaeda terrorists, Biden said:

“I can’t speak to any particular attack. I can’t speak to any particular action. It is not appropriate for me to do that. But I can say that the President said during his campaign and during the debates that if there are actionable targets that he would not hesitate to use action to deal with that. But here is the good news, and I have been to Pakistan many times, there is a great deal more cooperation going on between the Pakistan military. We are working with the Pakistanis to help training up their counterinsurgency capabilities and we are getting new agreements with them on how to deal with these cross border movements, so we are making progress.”

Biden doesn’t really answer the question as to whether or not the new administration will continue what the Bush policy began but it seems for now to be a continuation with last week’s attack inside Pakistan killing up to 20 civilians.

Local Coverage of the Vice Presidential Debate

The local media’s coverage of the Biden-Palin contained very little information about what the candidates said during the debate. Despite giving the debate prominent attention, the coverage focused on style over substance.

Last Thursday’s nationally televised debate between vice presidential candidates Joe Biden (Democrat) and Sarah Palin (Republican) received a significant amount of coverage on the major Grand Rapids news outlets. All three local TV stations made it their lead story and the Grand Rapids Press put the debate on the front page. As has been the trend, the coverage tended to focus more on style than substance.

WZZM 13 ran an ABC story that was 90 seconds long and edited in such a way as to provide sound bites of both candidates. The reporter began by saying that the debate was filled with “drama” and throughout the story said that candidates landed a few “punches.” The only issues that were mentioned were energy policy, the financial crisis, and the US war in Iraq, but the candidate comments were quite limited. Here is what both were quoted as saying on WZZM 13 about Iraq:

Biden: “John McCain has been dead wrong on the fundamental issues relating to the conduct of the war…”

Palin: “Your plan is a white flag of surrender in Iraq.”

The WXMI coverage was considerably better since they provided more time for candidate comments. Here is what the candidates said on the channel 17 run story:

Palin: “We can not afford to lose against Al Qaeda and the Shia extremists who are still there, still fighting us. But we are getting closer and closer to victory and it would be a travesty if we quit now in Iraq.”

Biden: “With all due respect to your plan, Barack Obama has offered a clear plan. Shift responsibilities to the Iraqis, over the next sixteen months draw down our combat troops, ironically the same plan that Maliki, the Prime Minister of Iraq, and George Bush are now negotiating……The fundamental difference is that we will end this war. For John McCain, there is no end in sight.”

Palin: “Your plan is a white flag of surrender and that is not what are troops need to hear today for sure and it’s not what our nation needs to be able to count on.”

WOOD TV 8’s coverage was similar that that of the other two stations with comments from both candidates on taxes and Iraq. However, none of the stations provided any analysis of the candidate comments, nor any verification of the claims made by either Biden or Palin.

The Los Angeles Times story that ran in the Grand Rapids Press didn’t do much better in terms of providing readers with much of what the candidates said during the debate. The article spent the first several paragraphs framing the debate as a contest and discussing whether or not candidates could “hold their own.” Here is an example of one of those paragraphs:

“So how surprising was it really that neither candidate devolved into a Jerry Springer screaming fit or fell into a state of catatonia? In fact, both were in rare form, giving what might have been their best campaign performances yet.”

The only issues that were mentioned in the entire story were the economy, Iraq. and Israel. However, in each case the issue was only mentioned–the only excerpted comment on an issue was from Palin who said, “I’m happy to know we both love Israel.” The Press did run a short Associated Press story that accompanied the main article that provided four candidate comments and four “fact checks” of those comments. The article did not provide a source for the analysis, but you can find a lengthy critique on the claims made by the vice presidential candidates on the non-partisan site Factcheck.org.

The Press ran a third story, one that was longer than the fact check piece, about reactions from viewers after the debate. Most of the comments focused on the “performance” of the candidates and no issues were mentioned. In fact, the article does not even give an indication of where or how these comments were solicited, since there is no mention of how the reporter talked to those cited.

WZZM 13 and WOOD TV 8 also sought reactions from viewers after the debate. WZZM13 went to the locations that both political parties held screenings of the debate, with comments from both sides believing their candidate “won” or “did well.” WOOD TV 8 had a small group of “undecided voters” watch the debate at their station and then aired the comments of four of the viewers. However, one has to wonder what the value is for the public to have news agencies get feedback from debate viewers, when they offer no substantive analysis of the debates in their coverage or ask relevant questions to those who took the time to watch the debate.

Obama Picks Senator Biden to be his VP

On Saturday, Democratic Party presidential candidate announced that Senator Joe Biden was his choice as vice president. However, much of the media–and many Democrats–failed to look deeply at Joe Biden’s record.

On Saturday, it was announced that Democratic Pary presidential candidate Barack Obama chose Senator Joe Biden to be his vice president. The Grand Rapids Press headline for Sunday, August 24 states, “Obama goes with status Joe.” The Associated Press article supports its position that Biden is the status quo choice by saying, “The Biden selection is the next logistical step in an Obama campaign that has become more negative – a strategic decision that may be necessary but threatens it run counter to his image.”

The rest of the AP story adds to this notion that Biden was chosen to off set the liberal position of Obama, even though these claims are never substantiated. The only sources in the story are Democrats who comment on why Biden was a good choice. However, there is no hard information on Biden’s background or his three decades in Washington. The Press did run a separate story titled, “Biden words can inspire, draw ire,” but the article is just a series of quotes from Biden without the context necessary to evaluate them. If readers were hoping to find information on the voting record or public positions that Biden has taken over the years, the Grand Rapids Press had very little to offer.

Biden is the Senate Foreign Relation Committee chair and voted in 2002 to give President Bush full support for the US invasion of Iraq. Biden has been critical of how Bush has handled Iraq and claims that Iraq was a mistake, yet he has voted for nearly every bill that provides funding for the US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Biden has also been a consistent supporter of the state of Israel, which is reflected in how much money the Israel lobby has provided to him over the years. One positive foreign policy position that Biden has taken during the Bush administration is calling for the closing of the prisoner camps in Guantanamo. However, Biden has also supported the Bush administration’s larger anti-Islam policies when he responded to a Bush speech in 2005 by saying:

“Today, in his speech to the National Endowment for Democracy, President Bush gave a vivid and, I believe, compelling description of the threat to America and to freedom from radical Islamic fundamentalism. He made, in my view, a powerful case for what is at stake for every American. Simply put, the radical fundamentalists seek to kill our citizens in great numbers, to disrupt our economy, and to reshape the international order. They would take the world backwards, replacing freedom with fear and hope with hatred. If they were to acquire a nuclear weapon, the threat they would pose to America would be literally existential. The President said it well. The President is right that we cannot and will not retreat. We will defend ourselves and defeat the enemies of freedom and progress.”

Several Democrats have already expressed their support for Biden stating that her has “been a friend to labor.” However, Biden’s voting record on trade issues–important to much of organized labor–has been a mixed one. He did vote against the Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) in 2005 and the trade agreement with Chile in 2003. However, Biden voted for NAFTA in 1992, voted for the Andean trade agreement in 2002 and voted for permanent trade relations with China in 2000.

Lastly, the Center for Responsive Politics has released an initial analysis of Biden’s financial support while in the Senate. His largest financial backers have been lawyers, the real estate sector and retirees. He has also received significant funding from some financial sectors, particularly the credit card giant MBNA Corp.

These are a few initial items that Mediamouse.org feels are important to include in any discussion on Biden’s selction. In the weeks leading up to the election, we’ll continue to provide more on Biden’s background and voting record.