Headlines: U.S. Reportedly Planning to Increase use of Drones in Pakistan; Democrat Opposes Employee Free Choice Act

Democracy Now Headlines: U.S. Reportedly Planning to Increase use of Drones in Pakistan; Democrat Opposes Employee Free Choice Act

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

At Least 179 Killed in Italian Earthquake

Rescue workers in Italy continue to search for survivors from yesterday’s earthquake that killed at least 179 people. More than 1,500 people have been injured. Tens of thousands have been left homeless. The quake devastated the city of L’Aquila and surrounding towns. Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi declared a state of emergency in the region.

Silvio Berlusconi: “At this moment, we are most concerned about rescuing people who are still under the rubble. We are not using machines for this, because experience has shown us that it is important to dig by hand.”

Monday’s earthquake was the deadliest to hit Italy in nearly thirty years, but it did not come as a surprise to all. An Italian seismologist had predicted a large earthquake was on the way, but authorities forced him to remove his findings from the internet.

Red Cross: US Medical Personnel Involved in Torture of Prisoners

In its once-secret report, the International Committee of the Red Cross concluded US medical personnel were deeply involved in the CIA’s torture of prisoners held in overseas prisons. The Red Cross report said the actions of medical personnel “constituted a gross breach of medical ethics and, in some cases, amounted to participation in torture.” The Red Cross’s secret 2007 report was published in its entirety yesterday by the New York Review of Books. The Red Cross also called on the United States to “investigate all allegations of ill-treatment and take steps to punish the perpetrators, where appropriate, and to prevent such abuses from happening again.”

Report: Senate GOP Threatens to Block Nominees Over Torture Memo

Attorney and blogger Scott Horton is reporting that Senate Republicans are threatening to filibuster two top Justice Department nominees if the Obama administration releases secret Bush administration memos that authorized the torture of prisoners. The nominees are Dawn Johnson as chief of the Office of Legal Counsel in the Department of Justice and Yale Law School Dean Harold Koh as State Department legal counsel. Horton writes, “It now appears that Republicans are seeking an Obama commitment to safeguard the Bush administration’s darkest secrets in exchange for letting these nominations go forward.”

Obama: US Not at War with Islam

In a speech before the Turkish legislature, President Obama vowed Monday to improve US relations with the Muslim world.

President Obama: “I know there have been difficulties these last few years. I know that the trust that binds the United States and Turkey has been strained, and I know that strain is shared in many places where the Muslim faith is practiced. So let me say this as clearly as I can: The United States is not and will never be at war with Islam.”

President Obama went on to praise Islam’s contribution to civilization and said America’s relationship with it must extend beyond fighting terrorism. Turkey is the first predominantly Muslim nation Obama has visited as president.

US to Increase Use of Drones in Pakistan

The New York Times reports Obama administration officials are proposing to step up its use of drones to carry out strikes inside Pakistan and start bombing targets deeper inside the country.

Gates Calls for Pentagon to Spend More on Counterinsurgency

This comes as Defense Secretary Robert Gates is requesting a large increase in funding to build unmanned drones like the Predator. Gates wants to increase spending on unmanned drones by 127 percent over a year ago. On Monday, Gates proposed making sweeping changes to the military budget by halting several Cold War era projects, including the F-22 stealth fighter, while increasing spending on counterinsurgency and fighting guerrilla wars.

Robert Gates: “There’s broad agreement on the need for acquisition and contracting reform in the Department of Defense. There have been enough studies, enough hand-wringing, enough rhetoric. Now is the time for action.”

As part of his plan, Robert Gates proposed increasing the size of the Pentagon’s Special Forces by five percent. Gates also proposed reducing the Pentagon’s dependence on private contractors by hiring 30,000 new civil servants over the next five years to replace contractors. Overall, Gates wants Congress to spend $664 billion on the Pentagon, including the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. This is a $9 billion increase over the current budget.

122 Aid Workers Killed in 2008; Highest Total on Record

2008 was the most dangerous year on record for aid workers, this according to a new report by the Center on International Cooperation. One hundred twenty-two aid workers died last year while carrying out their work. Forty-five aid workers died in Somalia alone. Another thirty-three died in Afghanistan. The overall number of aid workers killed has soared nearly fourfold in the past decade.

Arkansas Democrat Opposes Employee Free Choice Act

In labor news, efforts to pass the Employee Free Choice Act have been dealt a major setback. Democratic Senator Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas said Monday she cannot support the bill. Lincoln represents Arkansas, the home of Wal-Mart, a leading opponent of the legislation that would make it easier for workers to form unions. Wal-Mart recently hired one of Lincoln’s former aides to lobby against the Employee Free Choice Act. Supporters of the bill need a filibuster-proof sixty votes.

Hedge Fund Faces Charges Connected to Madoff Ponzi Fraud

In economic news, New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo has brought civil fraud charges against a hedge fund manager, saying he secretly steered $2.4 billion in client money into Bernard Madoff’s Ponzi fraud. Ezra Merkin is a well-known investor and former chair of the GMAC finance company.

15th Anniversary of Rwandan Genocide Marked

In Rwanda, ceremonies are being held today to mark the fifteenth anniversary of the 1994 genocide in which more than one million people died. Twenty thousand Rwandans gathered today in Nyanza, where thousands of people were slaughtered during the 1994 massacre.

Tamil Protesters Stage Protest in London

In London, nearly a thousand Tamil protesters blocked Westminster Bridge next to the Parliament buildings early today to demand the Sri Lankan government halt an offensive against Tamil Tiger separatists. The Sri Lankan military claims it has killed 453 Tamil Tigers over the past four days. It is unknown how many civilians were killed.

British Police Accused of Hitting Man Who Died at G20 Protest

The Observer newspaper of London reports a British man who died during last week’s G20 protests was assaulted by riot police shortly before he suffered a heart attack. This according to witness statements received by the Independent Police Complaints Commission. At the time, the forty-seven-year-old Ian Tomlinson was walking home from work and not taking part in the protests. At least two eyewitnesses said Tomlinson was hit by police officers before he collapsed.

Motorola Boycott Organizers Claim Victory

Activists organizing a boycott of Motorola are claiming victory after Motorola sold a part of its company that sells bomb fuses, communication devices and surveillance equipment to the Israeli military. Last month, the New York Campaign for the Boycott of Israel launched a boycott of Motorola, accusing the company of supporting Israel’s military occupation. The boycott is still ongoing.

Antarctic Ice Bridge Collapses

In science news, an ice bridge which had held a vast Antarctic ice shelf in place for hundreds of years has shattered. Scientists said it may herald a wider collapse linked to global warming. Temperatures on the Antarctic Peninsula have risen by up to about 5.4 degrees Fahrenheit in the past fifty years, the fastest rate of warming in the Southern Hemisphere.

Vermont Governor Vetoes Same-Sex Marriage Bill

And in Vermont, Republican Governor Jim Douglas has vetoed legislation that would legalize same-sex marriage. The House and Senate are expected to try to override the governor’s veto today.

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.”

Headlines: Anti-War Protests on Wall Street this Weekend; 1 in 10 on Food Stamps

Democracy Now Headlines: Anti-War Protests on Wall Street this Weekend; 1 in 10 on Food Stamps

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.

G20 Leaders Pledge Voluntary Regulation, Loans

The G20 summit ended in London Thursday with a pledge to overhaul financial regulation and spend more than $1 trillion on loans to struggling economies. In a nine-page declaration, G20 leaders outlined a series of voluntary steps, including regulating hedge funds, cracking down on tax havens, and increasing international lending. Funding for the International Monetary Fund was quadrupled with a $1 trillion commitment.

Aid Money Could Favor Donors’ Economies

Despite touting the financial pledges as aid for developing economies, the new money could actually be funneled back into the donor economies. The Washington Post reports a $250 billion G20 line of credit to increase liquidity will mostly go to the US, Europe and Japan. The US alone could draw upon as much as $42.5 billion.

Clashes Break Out at NATO Protest

In France, clashes erupted at a protest Thursday ahead of today’s opening of NATO’s sixtieth anniversary summit. Police used tear gas and rubber bullets against hundreds of protesters in the city of Strasbourg, where the meeting is taking place. Some protesters pelted officers with bottles and rocks. Thousands of police officers are on hand as protests continue over the two-day summit.

Aid Groups Warn Against Afghan Military Escalation

Ahead of the meeting, a group of aid organizations has issued an appeal to NATO leaders warning that an increased military occupation of Afghanistan will lead to a rise in civilian deaths. In a new report, eleven groups, including Oxfam and ActionAid, say, “Too many military operations by foreign troops involve excessive force, loss of life and damage to property.”

3 Bagram Prisoners Granted Habeas Corpus

Here in the United States, a federal judge has ruled three prisoners at a US military jail in Afghanistan can challenge their detentions in US courts. The three were seized in foreign countries and brought to Afghanistan, where they’ve been confined at the Bagram Air Force Base for at least six years. There are about 650 prisoners at Bagram, but it appears the ruling would only grant habeas corpus to those seized abroad. The decision marked a loss for the Obama administration, which has mirrored the Bush administration in seeking to deny the prisoners habeas corpus rights. Ramzi Kassem, an attorney for one of the prisoners with the International Justice Network, said, “This is a great day for American justice…A US federal judge ruled that our government cannot simply kidnap people and hold them beyond the law.”

Blagojevich Charged in Corruption Scandal

In Illinois, a federal grand jury has charged former governor Rod Blagojevich in connection with the alleged corruption that forced his removal from office. On Thursday, Blagojevich was charged with racketeering, extortion and fraud. His brother and four other associates were also charged. Blagojevich was impeached in January following his indictment on bribery and wire fraud charges. The allegations against him include trying to sell President Obama’s vacant Senate seat to the highest bidder.

House OKs $3.5T Budget

On Capitol Hill, lawmakers have approved President Obama’s $3.5 trillion budget plan. The vote was split along party lines, save for twenty Democrats who joined Republican Congress members in voting against. Senate Democrats say they expect to pass their version of the bill later today.

House Measure Boosts Tobacco Regulation

The House, meanwhile, has voted grant to regulators new authority to oversee the tobacco industry. The measure would allow the Food and Drug Administration to reject new tobacco products, bar additives, and restrict advertising. The measure is likely to face a Republican filibuster in the Senate.

Ex-AIG Head Rejects Blame for Firm’s Collapse

The former head of the bailed-out insurance giant AIG testified on Capitol Hill Thursday. Maurice Greenberg defended his role in steering AIG and blamed his successors after he left the company in 2005.

Maurice Greenberg: “AIG’s business model did not fail. Its management did. AIG’s business model has a long track record of success over many decades. AIG can recover from its immediate crisis, continue to be an employer of tens of thousands of hardworking Americans, and repay the assistance it has received from the American taxpayer, but only if both the government and AIG’s management change their approach in dealing with its future.”

Greenberg has come under wide criticism for running AIG when it helped create many of the complex financial instruments that caused the current economic collapse.

Jury: Colorado Professor Fired for Political Beliefs

In Denver, a jury has found the University of Colorado wrongfully dismissed Professor Ward Churchill two years ago. Churchill sued the school after he was fired from a tenured position on charges of research misconduct. But Churchill maintains that the allegations were a pretext to remove him for his political beliefs. In 2005, he described the September 11 attacks as a response to a long history of US abuses and called those who were killed on 9/11 as “little Eichmanns.” On Thursday, the jury said Churchill had been fired in large part for his views. But it only granted him one dollar damages, along with ordering the University of Colorado to pay his attorney fees. Churchill’s lawyers say they will ask the judge to reinstate him at his old job.

Activists to Hold 2-Day Wall Street Protest

In New York, a pair of social justice groups are teaming up for a two-day protest that begins today. The Bail Out the People Movement and United for Peace and Justice plan to march on Wall Street to protest the financial bailout and the ongoing US occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. Tomorrow’s event is being held on the anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s assassination on April 4th, 1968 in Memphis, where he had traveled to lead a march of striking sanitation workers. It’s also the anniversary of Dr. King’s “Beyond Vietnam” speech, delivered at New York’s Riverside Church one year earlier.

Record 1 in 10 Americans Using Food Stamps

New figures show a record 32.2 million, or one in ten, Americans are receiving food stamps. The government’s figure for January marked the third record food stamp enrollment in five months.

Obama Envoy Visits Sudan

In Sudan, the Obama administration’s new special envoy made his first visit on Thursday since his appointment last month. Retired Air Force General Scott Gration pledged to seek cooperation with Sudanese officials in addressing the humanitarian crisis in Darfur.

Retired Air Force General Scott Gration: “The United States and Sudan want to be partners, and so we’re looking for opportunities for us to build a stronger bilateral relationship. And I come here with my hands open, and it will be up to the Sudanese government to determine how they want to continue with that relationship. Hopefully, it will be with hands of friendship, hands of cooperation.”

Uncovered Graves Could Hold Bodies of Dili Massacre Victims

And in East Timor, investigators are believed to have found the first bodies of protesters gunned down by US-backed Indonesian forces in the Dili massacre of 1991. On November 12th, 1991, Indonesian troops opened fire on a crowd of several thousand unarmed Timorese civilians gathered at the Santa Cruz cemetery. At least 271 people were killed, but no bodies were ever found. The Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine says it’s dug up sixteen bodies from unmarked graves at Hera, near Dili.

Headlines: Blackwater Sued; House OKs Weaker Exec Pay Cap

Democracy Now Headlines: Blackwater Sued; House OKs Weaker Exec Pay Cap

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.

Dozens Arrested at G20 Summit

The G20 summit has begun in London following a day of protest from thousands of people. On Wednesday, dozens were arrested at demonstrations throughout London’s financial district. A number of protesters broke into the Royal Bank of Scotland and wrote “thieves” on the bank’s walls. One man involved with the protests died after collapsing in the street.

Obama, Medvedev Launch US-Russia Talks

Meanwhile, on the sidelines of the summit, President Obama joined Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to announce a new round of talks on lowering nuclear arsenals.

President Obama: “I believe [what] we’ve begun today is a very constructive dialog that will allow us to work on issues of mutual interest, like the reduction of nuclear weapons and the strengthening of our nonproliferation treaties, our mutual interests in dealing with terrorism and extremism that threatens both countries, our mutual interests in economic stability and restoring growth around the world, our mutual interests in promoting peace and stability in areas like the Middle East.”

Obama is scheduled to visit Moscow for a summit in July.

Pentagon Seeks Additional 10,000 Troops for Afghanistan

US military commanders have asked the Obama administration for an additional 10,000 US troops in Afghanistan next year. The request comes on top of the additional 21,000 troops President Obama has authorized since taking office. General David Petraeus made the disclosure in testimony Wednesday before the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Gen. David Petraeus: “There will be nothing easy about the way ahead in Afghanistan or Pakistan or in many of the other tasks in the Central Command area. Much hard work lies before us, but it is clear that achieving the objectives of these missions is vital. And it is equally clear that these endeavors will require sustained, substantial commitment and unity of effort among all involved.”

If Obama approves the request this fall, the US occupation of Afghanistan would increase to some 70,000 troops.

Obama to Request $3B in Pakistan Aid

Meanwhile, the Obama administration also said Wednesday it’s preparing to ask Congress for $3 billion in military aid for the Pakistani government over the next five years.

13 Killed in Afghan Attack

In Afghanistan, at least thirteen people were killed and another fourteen wounded in an attack on a government office in Kandahar. A Taliban spokesperson claimed responsibility for the attack.

Pakistani Taliban Leader Threatens to Attack US in Response to Drone Strikes

Meanwhile, the leader of the Taliban’s Pakistan wing is threatening to attack areas in the United States in response to American drone attacks that have killed hundreds of people. Baitullah Mehsud made the threat as he took responsibility for an attack on a police academy in Lahore.

Nevada Activists Stage Vigil to Protest Pakistan Strikes

Meanwhile, here in this country, a group of Nevada peace activists has launched a daily vigil to protest US attacks in Pakistan. The group “Ground the Drones” is gathering daily outside the Creech Air Force Base in Indian Springs, Nevada.

Foreign Minister: Israel Not Bound to Annapolis Agreements

In Israel and the Occupied Territories, the new Israeli Foreign Minister says his government is not bound to respect US-brokered agreements reached since the Annapolis summit in late 2007. Avigdor Lieberman made the assertion in his inaugural Foreign Ministry address.

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman: “Annapolis, the government of Israel has never ratified, not the government of Israel and not the Knesset (parliament) of Israel. Annapolis was never ratified. So, whoever wants to have fun can continue to have fun. I have seen all the generous offers made by Ehud Olmert, but I have not seen any results.”

Lieberman also signaled a readiness to launch new attacks on Palestinian land, saying “those who wish for peace should prepare for war.” In the Occupied Territories, Palestinian cabinet member Samir Abdullah called on the Obama administration to pressure Israel to respect prior agreements.

Samir Abdullah: “We are awaiting difficult times with this government, and we hope that the international community and all parties which invested in the peace process and the United States, that initiated the Annapolis process and hosted it, should deal with Israel as it dealt with other countries which turned its back to the international legitimacy and to the will of the international community.”

The Obama administration has yet to respond publicly to Lieberman’s remarks.

Guatemalan Journalist Slain in Vehicle Shooting

In Guatemala, a television reporter has been killed and a camera operator seriously wounded in an apparent targeted shooting. Rolando Santis of Telecentro 13 was on his way to an interview when a group of assailants fired on his vehicle. The unnamed camera operator is in critical condition.

Blackwater Sued for Iraqi Security Guard Deaths

The private military company Blackwater is being sued for allegedly killing three security guards working for state-owned Iraqi media. A new lawsuit filed on behalf of surviving relatives says the guards were shot on February 7th, 2007 at a traffic circle in Baghdad. Some twenty Blackwater employees who witnessed the shooting allegedly refused to cooperate with Iraqi police and destroyed key evidence. The suit names Blackwater, which recently changed its name to Xe, along with several other companies controlled by Blackwater founder Erik Prince.

House OKs Weaker Exec Pay Caps

On Capitol Hill, the House has approved a weaker version of a bill to cap executive payments at bailed-out firms. The measure follows moves by Senate Democrats to quash last month’s much trumpeted House measure that would have imposed a 90 percent tax on bonuses. The new House measure limits the scope of bonuses that can be considered “excessive” and gives the Treasury greater leeway in oversight.

742,000 Private Sector Job Losses in March

In economic news, a new report says the US private sector lost more jobs last month than previously thought. The survey company ADP Employer Services says private firms cut 742,000 jobs in March, up from the previous estimate of 706,000.

Audit: Workplace Safety Program Failed to Protect Workers

A new internal audit has found a government program to improve worker safety has failed to do its job. Labor Department investigators say the Occupational Safety and Health Administration failed to collect data, carried out incomplete inspections and missed out on identifying hazardous workplaces because it misspelled company names or didn’t realize two subsidiaries had the same owner. The report also criticizes the Bush administration’s move to restrict the number of companies subject to special attention, saying better oversight might have improved workplaces where fifty-eight workers lost their lives.

Justice Dept. to Drop Stevens Charges

And the Obama administration has announced it will drop all charges against former Republican Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska. Stevens lost his seat in November just days after being convicted on federal ethics charges. But on Wednesday, Justice Department lawyers said they’ve uncovered new evidence of prosecutorial misconduct that called the case into question. Attorney General Eric Holder says he will not seek a new trial.

Headlines: British Troops Begin Iraq Withdrawal; Global Economy in Worst Recession Since 1930s

Democracy Now Headlines: British Troops Begin Iraq Withdrawal; Global Economy in Worst Recession Since 1930s

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.

Thousands to Protest as G20 Summit Begins

Tens of thousands of protesters are gathering in London around the meeting of world leaders at the G20 summit. Thousands of British police have been deployed since demonstrations began over the weekend. Several large protests are expected today. President Obama arrived in London on Tuesday and held talks with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown earlier today.

12 Killed in U.S. Strike on Pakistan

In Pakistan, at least twelve people have been killed in a suspected U.S. missile attack near the Afghan border. The strike comes one day after Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud claimed responsibility for killing at least twelve people in an attack on a police academy in Lahore. Mehsud called the bombing a response to the U.S. attacks. More than 340 people have been killed in U.S. strikes inside Pakistan since last August.

Netanyahu Sworn-In as Israeli PM

In Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been sworn in following his formal approval by the Israeli parliament. On Tuesday, Netanyahu vowed to seek peace with Palestinians, but effectively ruled out negotiating the borders of a future Palestinian state. Israel seeks to retain control of vast swaths of the occupied West Bank for Jewish-only settlements.

7 Killed as British Troops Begin Iraq Withdrawal

In Iraq, at least seven people were killed and 38 wounded in a suicide bombing in the city of Mosul. The attack came as British forces formally began their withdrawal from Iraq and handed formal control of Basra province to the United States. Most of Britain’s 4,100 troops are expected to withdraw by the end of May.

U.S., Iran Officials Hold Informal Exchange

At the Hague, a summit on Afghanistan has yielded the first contact between the Obama administration and the Iranian government. On Tuesday, the U.S. envoy on Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke, had a brief, unplanned meeting with Iran’s deputy foreign minister. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton confirmed the exchange.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: “It did not focus on anything substantive. It was cordial, it was unplanned and they agreed to stay in touch. Separately at my direction a letter was delivered to the Iranians focusing on three U.S. citizens currently unable to return to the United States from Iran. The fact that they came today, that they intervened today, is a promising sign that there will be future cooperation.”

Iranian leaders have called on the U.S. to apologize for previous actions including the 1953 overthrow of the democratically-elected Iranian government.

Clinton: Truce With Low-Level Taliban Possible

Also at the Hague conference, Clinton expressed willingness to reach a truce with low-level Taliban fighters, saying those who abandon the Taliban should be granted an “honorable form of reconciliation.”

Afghan Law Legalizes Rape Within Marriage

The Afghan government meanwhile is coming under international pressure to drop a law that effectively legalizes rape within marriage and further restricts women’s rights. According to the Guardian of London, the law bans women from refusing to have sex with their husbands and says they can only seek work, education or medical care with their husbands’ permission. Afghan President Hamid Karzai signed the measure into law last month.

Chavez: Indict Bush, Israeli Leaders

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is calling for the indictment of President Bush and Israeli leaders on charges of war crimes. Addressing the Arab League summit in Doha, Chavez criticized the International Criminal Court indictment of Sudanese president Omar Hassan al-Bashir in light of U.S.-Israeli actions.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez: “The genocide that was governed by the United States for eight years after Bush ordered the bombing of Iraq, where thousands and thousands of children were killed and entire families, innocent men and women. Why don’t they go after Bush? He truly committed genocide. Or the Israeli government which also commits genocide.”

Bashir is currently in Saudi Arabia in defiance of an international warrant for his arrest. In an interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, the former Jordanian Queen, Queen Noor, criticized Sudan’s actions in Darfur but said the U.S. is guilty of double standards in supporting Israeli attacks on the Gaza Strip.

Queen Noor: “Were there not so many cases where western pressure has been brought to bear on Arabs, but Israel, for example, disproportionate killing of civilians in Gaza during the recent and also in Lebanon in 2006 during the crisis there. If those cases had not taken place with relatively little western outcry, you’ll find a different attitude with what’s taken place in Sudan.”

Obama Ends U.S. Boycott of UN Human Rights Council

The Obama administration has reversed the Bush administration policy of boycotting the U.N. Human Rights Council. On Tuesday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced the U.S. will seek a seat on the council when three become available next month.

OECD: Global Economy in Worst Recession Since 1930s

A new report from the Organization for Economic Cooperation says the global economy is in a worse decline than previously thought. The OECD says world trade will drop thirteen percent this year. Chief Economist Klaus Schmidt-Hibbel called the current crisis the worst recession since the Great Depression.

Klaus Schmidt-Hibbel: “The world economy is in the midst of its deepest and most synchronized recession in our lifetimes, certainly since the 1930s, caused by a global financial crisis and deepened by a collapse of world trade.”

Ex-Khmer Rouge Official Apologizes for Atrocities

A top official in Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge regime has apologized for his role in the mass killings that killed some 1.7 million people. Kaing Guek Eav ran a prison where an estimated 17,000 people were tortured and murdered. On Tuesday, Eav told a war crimes tribunal he apologizes for his crimes and said he’s full of “shame and regret.”

U.S., Russia to Discuss Nuke Deal

The Obama administration is set to open talks today on a new arms control deal with Russia. The New York Times reports U.S. and Russian negotiators will propose reducing their stockpiles down to around 1,500 warheads apiece, down from the 2200 agreed to under President George W. Bush. U.S. officials say they will resist efforts to include the warheads that will be used if the Obama administration goes ahead with Bush’s so-called missile defense system in Eastern Europe. Rather than defending against missiles, the plan is widely seen as a first-strike weapon against Iran.

Report: Bailout Cost at $12.8T

A new estimate from Bloomberg news says the cost of the financial bailout through direct spending, loans, and aid guarantees has reached $12.8 trillion dollars. The figure amounts to more than $42,000 for every person in the U.S. and approaches the nation’s entire economic output last year.

Dems Introduce Emissions Cut Bill

On Capitol Hill, Democratic Congressmembers Henry Waxman of California and Edward Markey of Massachusetts have introduced a measure to reduce U.S. emissions of greenhouse gas. The measure exceeds President Obama’s proposals for emissions cuts, seeking a 20% reduction below 2005 levels by 2020, compared Obama’s fourteen percent. It would also impose stricter efficiency standards and require that the U.S. draw a quarter of its electricity from renewable sources by 2025.

Franken Wins Key Court Challenge

In Minnesota, the Democratic challenger Al Franken has won a key court victory in the ongoing legal wrangling over his 2008 Senate race against Republican incumbent Norm Coleman. On Tuesday, a three-judge panel ruled that only 400 absentee ballots are eligible for a review and recount. Coleman was seeking a far greater number to overcome Franken’s 225-vote lead. Coleman’s attorney says he’ll appeal to the state Supreme Court.

Supreme Court Rejects Philip Morris Appeal

The Supreme Court has rejected the tobacco giant Philip Morris’ challenge to a $150 million dollar judgment won by the widow of a long-time smoker. Mayola Williams of Oregon was awarded $80 million dollars in 1999. The sum has nearly doubled because of the interest accrued as Philip Morris, now known as Altria, challenged the ruling over the last decade.

Sun-Times Media Group Files for Bankruptcy

In media news, the parent company of the Chicago Sun-Times and fifty-eight other newspapers has filed for bankruptcy protection. The Sun-Times Media Group cited the current economic downturn and hundreds of millions in back taxes stemming from when it was controlled by the jailed media tycoon Conrad Black. The move makes Chicago the first U.S. city to have both major newspapers file for bankruptcy.

Report: Sharpton Received Donation After Backing Charter Schools

And here in New York, Democracy Now co-host Juan Gonzalez has revealed the Reverend Al Sharpton received a half-million dollar private donation last year at the same time as he launched a campaign to support charter schools. Writing in today’s New York Daily News, Gonzalez reports the money came from a private hedge fund managed by former New York City Schools Chancellor Harold Levy. Sharpton launched the charter school initiative with the current chancellor, Joel Klein. He received the money in-indirectly at the same time as he began paying some $1 million dollars in back taxes.

Headlines: Michigan Lawmakers Accuse Obama of Bailout Double Standard; Sunni Fighters in Baghdad Stage Brief Uprising

Democracy Now Headlines: Michigan Lawmakers Accuse Obama of Bailout Double Standard; Sunni Fighters in Baghdad Stage Brief Uprising

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: Plan for GM May Involve Bankruptcy

President Barack Obama has ordered General Motors and Chrysler to accelerate their restructuring efforts and brace for possible bankruptcy. Obama spoke Monday hours after the White House forced GM CEO Rick Wagoner to resign and ordered Chrysler to complete an alliance with the Italian automaker Fiat.

President Obama: “Now, what we’re asking for is difficult. It will require hard choices by companies. It will require unions and workers, who have already made extraordinarily painful concessions, to do more. It will require creditors to recognize that they can’t hold out for the prospect of endless government bailouts. It’ll have to–it will require efforts from a whole host of other stakeholders, including dealers and suppliers. Only then can we ask American taxpayers, who have already put up so much of their hard-earned money, to once more invest in a revitalized auto industry.”

Obama administration officials say they are weighing a fix for GM and Chrysler that would divide their “good” and “bad” assets and send the auto makers into bankruptcy. If GM declared bankruptcy, up to one million employees, dependents, retirees and their spouses could lose healthcare and retirement benefits. A bankruptcy judge recently allowed car part suppler Delphi to cancel healthcare and life insurance benefits for retirees, calling the moves “good business judgment.” During his address on Monday, President Obama said nothing about protecting the benefits of workers and retirees. GM’s shares plunged 25 percent Monday, and the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 3.3 percent. President Obama said there is no plan to nationalize General Motors.

President Obama: “Let me be clear: The United States government has no interest in running GM. We have no intention of running GM. What we are interested in is giving GM an opportunity to finally make those much needed changes that will let them emerge from this crisis a stronger and more competitive company.”

Obama Accused of Double Standard on Bailouts

Michigan lawmakers, including Democratic Senator Carl Levin and Republican Congressman Thaddeus McCotter, said there is a double standard in terms of treatment of the financial industry compared with the auto industry. The government has not yet required any banks to replace its top executives.

GM CEO to Receive $20 Million in Retirement Benefits

While GM’s CEO Rick Wagoner is being forced to resign, he still stands to make millions. ABC News reports that Wagoner will be eligible to collect $20 million in retirement benefits from GM.

US Seeks International Support for Surge in Afghanistan

Officials from more than seventy countries are meeting in the Netherlands to discuss the future of Afghanistan. All of Afghanistan’s neighbors, including Iran, are attending. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is expected to ask conference delegates for their countries’ support for Washington’s escalation of the war. President Obama has said he plans to send an extra 17,000 soldiers and 4,000 advisers to Afghanistan. The Red Cross has warned that the planned US surge is likely to mean more civilian casualties. The Red Cross urged the conference to “consider the plight of civilians as a matter of urgency.” On Monday, US special envoy Richard Holbrooke spoke about the importance of Iran’s role in the summit.

Richard Holbrooke: “The presence of Iran here is obvious. How can you talk about Afghanistan and exclude one of the countries that’s a bordering, neighboring state? This is absolutely clear. The creation of the current government in Afghanistan in the Bonn negotiations of 2002 involved Iran, and they played an important role. And when the Dutch government decided to invite them, it seemed to us to be the most logical thing in the world.”

Sayeed Jawed of the Agency Coordinating Body for Afghan Relief called on the international community to fight government corruption.

Sayeed Jawed: “Normally, you know, the security is coming if you have a good governance. So we would ask the international community to work for the good government, which provides situation for development and that will guarantee the security.”

Sunni Awakening Council in Baghdad Stages Brief Uprising

Iraqi and US soldiers have completely disarmed a group of Sunni fighters, following an uprising in Baghdad led by members of the Awakening Council, a group of former insurgents now on the US-Iraqi payroll. This marks the first time an Awakening Council has been forcibly disbanded in the capital. Iraqi security officials said eighty Sunni fighters have been detained.

Major General Abdulkarim Abdulrahman: “The military operation is almost complete. There are some wanted men, those who attacked the military forces, and they will be arrested. We are working now on returning civilian services back to the area. We have made a call to the people of al-Fadhil, urging them to open the shops and resume normal life.”

US Sergeant Convicted of Killing Iraqis

In other Iraq news, a US sergeant has been convicted of murder in the execution-style slaying of four bound and blindfolded Iraqi detainees in 2007.

Dozens of Israeli Jets and Drones Attacked Sudan in January

Time Magazine has uncovered more details of an Israeli military attack on Sudan in mid-January. Time reports dozens of Israeli fighter-bombers, backed by unmanned drones, bombed a 23-truck convoy in the Sudanese desert. Israeli sources told the magazine the convoy was allegedly transporting Iranian arms to Gaza.

Israeli Military Ends Probe of Army Misconduct in Gaza

The Israeli military has decided to end its internal investigation into reports that Israeli troops killed innocent Palestinians during the assault on Gaza. The probe was launched after IDF soldiers were quoted in Israeli newspapers saying that combat troops in Gaza fired at unarmed Palestinian civilians and vandalized property during the attack on Gaza. Military Advocate General Brig. Gen. Avichai Mendelblit said such claims were inaccurate and “based on hearsay.” Meanwhile, two Palestinians died earlier today in an Israeli air strike on Gaza.

US to Release Yemeni Doctor from Guantanamo

The Obama administration has announced plans to release a Yemeni doctor from Guantanamo just days before his habeas petition was scheduled to be heard in federal court. Dr. Ayman Batarfi is an orthopedic surgeon who was has been held since 2002. Batarfi said he was a humanitarian worker who found himself at the battle of Tora Bora while Osama bin Laden was in the area.

Detained US Journalists to be Tried in North Korea

In North Korea, two detained US journalists will reportedly be put on trial on charges of illegal entry and hostile acts. The two reporters, Euna Lee and Laura Ling, were detained along the Chinese border on March 17. The reporters work for Al Gore’s Current TV.

Boston College Bars Bill Ayers from Speaking on Campus

In education news, Boston College has barred University of Illinois professor Bill Ayers from speaking on campus. The former member of the Weather Underground was scheduled to give a speech last night, but it was canceled by school administrators citing safety concerns. The school also prevented Ayers from giving his talk by satellite. Ayers was scheduled to speak about urban schools and educational inequities. Boston College student Melissa Roberts said, “It’s an unconscionable violation of academic freedom on a college campus, which should be a place where all ideas are welcome, not just popular ones.”

Canadian Judge Upholds Ban on British MP George Galloway

Meanwhile, a Canadian judge has upheld Ottawa’s decision to ban British parliamentarian George Galloway from entering the country to conduct a speaking tour. Galloway has been a vocal critic of the US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as the Israeli government. Canadian officials accused Galloway of giving financial support to Hamas and offering sympathy to the Taliban. Canadian officials claim he is a threat to national security. Last night, Galloway spoke to an audience in Toronto via the internet.

EPA to Monitor Air Quality Outside 62 Schools

USA Today reports the Environmental Protection Agency is expected to announce plans today to monitor the air outside sixty-two schools in twenty-two states. The plan marks the most sweeping effort to determine whether toxic chemicals permeate the air schoolchildren breathe.

Gov’t-Run Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation Lost Billions in Risky Investments

In economic news, the Boston Globe is reporting the federal agency that insures the retirement funds of 44 million Americans has lost billions of dollars due to risky investment decisions. Last year, the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation departed from its conservative investment strategy and decided to put much of its $64 billion insurance fund into speculative investments such as stocks in emerging foreign markets, real estate and private equity funds. The decision was made just months before the start of the stock market collapse. Analysts are concerned that large portions of the trust fund might have been lost at a time when many private pension plans are suffering major losses. The guarantee fund would be the only way to cover the plans if their companies go into bankruptcy. The investment strategy was implemented by Charles Millard, a former managing director of Lehman Brothers.

Goldman Sachs Exec Donated To Obama Senate Campaign After He Left Senate

The Washington Times is reporting President Obama continued collecting money for his 2010 Senate re-election campaign even after he resigned his seat from Illinois. The money came from some of Obama’s top presidential fundraisers including Bruce Heyman, managing director at Goldman Sachs, which received a $10 billion bailout last year. According to campaign records, Obama received four contributions totaling nearly $5,000 after Dec. 26. The donations are legal, but the timing is considered unusual because Obama formally left the Senate on Nov. 16.

Prominent Lobbyist Closes PMA Group After Federal Raid

A prominent lobbyist with close ties to Democratic Congressman John Murtha is closing his firm, weeks after federal prosecutors raided his office and his home. Paul Magliocchetti’s firm, the PMA Group, is one of the 10 largest lobbying firms in Washington. The New York Times Magliocchetti helped pioneer the lucrative specialty of helping contractors lobby for military earmarks, pet spending items that members of the panel insert in annual spending bills. Magliocchetti is very close to Murtha, chair of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense. Since 1998 employees of PMA have contributed nearly $8 million to members on the House defense spending panel and $2.4 million to Murtha.

Anti-Nuke Activists Arrested in Vermont

In Vermont four activists were arrested on Monday during a speech by Gov. Jim Douglas. They were calling on Douglas to close the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant and replace its power with energy efficiency programs and renewable energy.

Cesar Chavez Day Marked in Eight States

And today is the birthday of the late labor leader Cesar Chavez. He was born on March 31, 1927. There is a growing movement to make his birthday a national holiday. Cesar Chavez Day is already a state holiday in eight U.S. states.

Headlines: White House Forces Out GM CEO; Thousands Protest G20 in London

Democracy Now Headlines: White House Forces Out GM CEO; Thousands Protest G20 in London

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.<

Spanish Court Launches Probe of Bush Administration Officials

A Spanish court has launched a criminal investigation into whether six Bush administration lawyers, including former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, violated international law by providing the legal framework to justify the Bush administration’s use of torture at Guantanamo. Spain’s law allows it to claim jurisdiction in the case because five Spanish citizens or residents who were prisoners at Guantanamo Bay say they were tortured there. The case was sent to the Spanish prosecutor’s office for review by Baltasar Garzon, the Spanish judge who ordered the arrest of former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet in 1998. The other former Bush administration officials facing investigation are former Justice Department officials John Yoo and Jay Bybee, Pentagon official Douglas Feith, Dick Cheney’s former chief of staff David Addington, and Pentagon lawyer William Haynes. Michael Ratner of the Center for Constitutional Rights praised the Spanish court’s decision and said arrest warrants might have already been issued.

Michael Ratner, author of The Trial of Donald Rumsfeld: “If you’re any of those six at this point, you don’t want to go to the twenty-five countries that make up the European Union, because you may be subject to immediate arrest. What will happen next is this investigation will most likely continue in a very vigorous form. It will look at those six, and it also has the possibility of going up the chain of command, not just to Rumsfeld, but all the way up to Cheney and Bush. So it’s a serious investigation. It’s one that the Obama administration has to take very seriously. And it means, for them, that the pressure is increasing really in this country to open its own criminal investigation.”

Waterboarding, Torture of Abu Zubaydah Produced False Leads

Meanwhile, former senior government officials have told the Washington Post that the CIA’s decision to waterboard and torture their first high-value captive, Abu Zubaydah, produced little intelligence. The officials said not a single significant plot was foiled as a result of Abu Zubaydah’s tortured confessions. Most of the useful information gained from him was obtained before waterboarding was introduced.

Dozens Killed in Pakistan as Militants Seize Police Academy

In Pakistan, gunmen seized a police training academy in Lahore and killed as many as forty police officers before Pakistani officials were able to retake the building after an eight-hour siege. As many as eighty officers were injured. The Pakistani newspaper Daw said militants attacked the police academy with machine guns and grenades. 850 young cadets were inside the building when the assault began.

President Obama Outlines Plan for Afghanistan and Pakistan

The attack came two days after President Obama defended his decision to send 21,000 more US troops to Afghanistan and to increase aid to Pakistan. Obama said his one goal is to wipe out al-Qaeda militants whom he said were plotting new attacks on the United States.

President Obama: “The world cannot afford the price that will come due if Afghanistan slides back into chaos or al-Qaeda operates unchecked. We have a shared responsibility to act, not because we seek to project power for its own sake, but because our own peace and security depends upon it. And what’s at stake at this time is not just our own security; it’s the very idea that free nations can come together on behalf of our common security.”

The New York Times reports the Obama administration was divided over what to do in Afghanistan. The commanders in the field wanted a larger surge of troops but Vice President Joseph Biden reportedly warned against getting into a political and military quagmire.

White House Forces Out GM CEO Wagoner

In business news, General Motors Chair and CEO Rick Wagoner has stepped down after he was asked to resign by the Obama administration as part of the government’s demand for GM and Chrysler to restructure before receiving more federal aid. President Obama is scheduled to unveil his full plan for the auto industry today. The McClatchy Newspapers reports Obama will reject requests for almost $22 billion in new taxpayer bailout money for GM and Chrysler, saying the car makers have failed to take steps to ensure their viability. The government sought the departure of the GM chief and said the company needed to be widely restructured if it had any hope of survival. The government is expected to provide the company with sixty days’ operating capital to give it time to undertake reforms. The government will also grant Chrysler thirty days’ operating funds, but said it must merge with the Italian car maker Fiat in order to remain viable. So far, GM and Chrysler have received $17.4 billion in government rescue money, a fraction of what the government has given to help revive the banking industry.

Unemployment Rate Over 10% in Seven States

New employment figures show Michigan still has the nation’s highest unemployment rate at 12 percent. In February, the unemployment rate jumped into double figures in Nevada, North Carolina and Oregon. The jobless rate is also above ten percent in California, South Carolina and Rhode Island.

35,000 Protest in London Ahead of G20 Summit

At least 35,000 protesters marched in London Saturday to kick off a series of demonstrations leading up to the G20 summit. Protest organizers said the turnout was three times larger than expected. Protest organizer Chris Knight with the group G20 Meltdown said the demonstrations will focus on the bankers who wrecked the economy.

Chris Knight: “The main message to them, really, is you are–you are financial fools. You are the architects of this catastrophe, with the exception of Barack Obama, of course, who has to make a choice which side he’s on still. But those fools, what makes them feel that they are the people qualified to sort out the mess? And if you ask me what do we want from them, I would say it’s quite a lot, actually. It’s–we want the earth. Give us back our planet. We want it; you’ve got it. We’re gonna take it, and you should be good-humored about it. You are incompetent idiots who have messed everything up, and you should step aside and let the people take over.”

The protest against the G20 is expected to be the largest anti-capitalist demonstration in London in years.

Terry Pierce, protester: “We say that unless the leaders of the world break from capitalism, unless there’s a change in the whole attitude towards climate change and towards poverty, towards the problem in the world, then there’s no chance resolving these problems. We need a socialist alternative.”

Large demonstrations are also expected this week in France and Germany during the NATO summit in the French city of Strasbourg.

Gates: US Has No Plans to Shoot Down N. Korean Missile Test

In news from Asia, North Korea says it will launch a communications satellite as early as Saturday, but Japan and other nations have accused North Korea of secretly testing an intercontinental ballistic missile. On Sunday, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the US has no plans to shoot down the missile.

Robert Gates: “I think if we had an aberrant missile, one that was headed for Hawaii, that looked like it was headed for Hawaii or something like that, we might consider it. But I don’t think we have any plans to do anything like that at this point.”

Vast Electronic Spy Network Unveiled; Targeted Dalai Lama

A team of Canadian researchers have uncovered a vast electronic spy network that infiltrated the offices of the Dalai Lama, the Asian Development Bank, the Associated Press and many foreign embassies. Researchers linked the spy operation to servers in China but cautioned that there is no direct evidence implicating the Chinese government. Intelligence analysts say many governments, including those of China, Russia and the United States, use sophisticated computer programs to covertly gather information. The spy network known as GhostNet infiltrated nearly 1,300 computers in 100 countries. Once a computer is infected, the spies gain the ability to turn on the camera and audio-recording functions of the computer, enabling monitors to see and hear what goes on in a room. The spy network also gained control of mail servers for the Dalai Lama’s offices, allowing the spies to intercept all correspondence.

Israeli Troops Shoot at West Bank Protesters

In the occupied West Bank, Israeli troops fired tear gas and rubber bullets on Friday at a crowd of Palestinians protesting the construction of the separation wall in the town of Bilin. Reuters video showed an Israeli soldier shooting a Palestinian demonstrator with a rubber-coated bullet at point-blank range, injuring his leg. Palestinian legislator Mustafa Barghouti attended the demonstration and said the new Israeli government will further damage the lives of the Palestinians.

Mustafa Barghouti: “The only thing that the new Israeli government is bringing is more settlement, more land confiscation, more discrimination, more apartheid and more building of this wall that is killing the lives of the Palestinians and destroying the option of peace based on two-state solution.”

Campaign to Boycott Motorola Launched in New York

The company Motorola is a target of a new boycott campaign organized by the group New York Campaign for the Boycott of Israel. Organizer Ryvka Bar Zohar accused Motorola of supporting Israel’s military occupation.

Ryvka Bar Zohar: “Motorola produces bomb fuses, communications devices, surveillance technology, that’s used directly by the Israeli military in its ongoing occupation of the Palestinian people.”

Eight Die in NC Nursing Home Shooting

In North Carolina, eight people died Sunday after a gunman opened fire at a nursing home in the town of Carthage. Seven elderly patients died as well as a nurse. The Raleigh News and Observer reported the gunman’s estranged wife was working at the nursing home at the time of the attack but was not listed as a victim.

Union Activist & Folklorist Archie Green, 91, Dies

And the union activist and folklorist Archie Green has died at the age of ninety-one. The New York Times said Green single-handedly persuaded Congress to create the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. For decades, he studied what he called laborlore: the work songs, slang, craft techniques and tales that helped to define the trade unions. Two years ago, he published The Big Red Songbook (Charles H. Kerr), a collection of lyrics to more than 250 songs written by the Industrial Workers of the World, best known as the Wobblies.

Headlines: 1 in 5 Workers Uninsured; Israel Behind Sudan Bombing

Democracy Now Headlines: 1 in 5 Workers Uninsured; Israel Behind Sudan Bombing

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

Admin Unveils Wall Street Regulatory Overhaul

The Obama administration has unveiled plans to radically boost government authority over the financial system. On Thursday, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner outlined proposals including expanding federal regulation for the first time to cover financial derivatives trading, large hedge funds and insurers such as AIG. Regulators would also impose uniform standards to limit the range of functions of major financial firms, including banks. Speaking before the House Financial Services Committee, Geithner said the changes were prompted by the failure of the economic system to regulate excess and greed.

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner: “Our system failed in basic fundamental ways. Compensation practices rewarded short-term profits over long-term return. Pervasive failures in consumer protection left many Americans with obligations they did not understand and could not sustain. The huge apparent returns to financial activity attracted fraud on a dramatic scale. Market discipline failed to constrain dangerous levels of risk-taking throughout the system.”

The new rules come on top of previously announced proposals for government authority to seize troubled non-banking financial firms. President Obama is expected to promote the plan in meetings with top Wall Street bankers later today.

AIG Questioned on Billions in Bank Payouts

The insurance giant AIG is facing new congressional and legal scrutiny over how it funneled tens of billions of dollars in taxpayer bailout money to banks facing huge losses that AIG had insured. In what some have called the “backdoor bailout,” AIG gave nearly $13 billion to Goldman Sachs and tens of billions more to other firms, including Bank of America, Merrill Lynch, JPMorgan Chase, Morgan Stanley and several foreign banks. On Thursday, twenty-six House Democrats signed a letter by Congress member Elijah Cummings asking the bailout program’s inspector general to investigate the payments. Meanwhile, New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo subpoenaed AIG for information related to the derivatives payments funneled to the banks.

Obama to Order Additional 4,000 Troops to Afghanistan

President Obama is expected to unveil today a major expansion of US military efforts in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Following a two-month review, Obama will reportedly order an additional 4,000 troops to Afghanistan on top of the 17,000 new combat troops authorized last month. The Washington Post reports Obama’s plan will require a 60 percent increase to the $2 billion in monthly US military costs in Afghanistan. Administration officials also say they’ll impose new “benchmarks” on their allies in the Afghan and Pakistani governments. The plan will also reportedly include reconciliation efforts aimed at low-level Taliban fighters while shunning top leaders. On Thursday, National Intelligence Director Dennis Blair estimated some two-thirds of pro-Taliban groups are motivated by basic concerns such as inadequate water supplies or access to education.

48 Killed in Suicide Attack on Pakistan Mosque

Meanwhile, in Pakistan, at least forty-eight people were killed and dozens more wounded in a suicide attack on a mosque earlier today. The bombing came in the town of Jamrud near Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan.

16 Die in Iraq Car Bombing Attack

In Iraq, sixteen people were killed and another forty-five wounded Thursday in a car bombing in northeast Baghdad. It was the fifth major bombing attack to hit Iraq this month.

US Says Israel Carried Out Sudan Bombing

US officials have confirmed that Israel was behind a deadly air strike that killed dozens of people in Sudan this past January. The US says Israel attacked a convoy of seventeen trucks suspected of carrying weapons intended for smuggling into the Gaza Strip. Estimates of the death toll range from thirty-nine to more than 100. In Israel, outgoing Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert declined to comment on the specific attack but said Israel can “operate near and far.”

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert: “We are taking action wherever we can strike terror infrastructure, in places that are nearby and not that close. We are hitting them, and in a way that strengthens deterrence and the image of deterrence.”

US officials say they believe the alleged weapons could have come from Iran but haven’t offered evidence. Meanwhile, in the Gaza Strip, senior Hamas official Osama al-Muzaini denied receiving outside weaponry.

Osama al-Muzaini: “Hamas does not receive weapons from any country or any other side. To have convoys driving weapons to Hamas is a false statement and comes under the mockery and censorship which Israel always tries to execute. We affirm that Hamas has their own means, which are far from the official and international means, to get weapons.”

Supporters of Palestinian rights have long criticized Israeli and US indignation at Palestinian efforts to arm themselves, when most of Israel’s military arsenal is funded and supplied by the United States.

Israel Minimizes Civilian Toll in Gaza Attack

The Israeli government has released an investigation downplaying the number of civilian deaths in its attack on the Gaza Strip. On Thursday, the Israeli military gave a death toll of 1,166 and said most of the dead were combatants. In Gaza, Khalil Abu Shammala of the Palestinian Center for Human Rights dismissed the Israeli claims.

Khalil Abu Shammala: “All of the international human rights organizations emphasized that Israel committed war crimes against the Palestinians. Israel will try to deceive the people, will try to deceive the international public opinion, in order to show that they did not kill this huge number of the civilians during the last aggression on the Gaza Strip.”

Palestinians say Israel killed more than 1,400 people, most of them civilians.

Estimate of Chronically Hungry Passes 1B

A top UN official says the global economic crisis has pushed the number of chronically hungry people past the one billion mark for the first time. Food and Agriculture Organization head Jacques Diouf disclosed the figure to the Financial Times. Last year the FAO estimated about 960 million people were chronically hungry worldwide.

Obama Questioned on Marijuana Legalization in Online Town Hall

President Obama fielded questions from internet users nationwide Thursday in the White House’s first-ever online town hall. Obama said he expects more job losses during the current recession.

President Obama: “We’re going to have to be patient and persistent about job creation, because I don’t think that we’ve lost all the jobs we’re going to lose in this recession. We’re still going to be in a difficult time for much of this year.”

The questions were selected following an online vote. The most popular question asked Obama to comment on whether he thinks legalizing marijuana could help boost the economy. Obama answered no, but didn’t rule out legalization outright. White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, however, later said Obama opposes legalization.

North Dakota Braces for Flooding as Red River Rises

In North Dakota, the town of Fargo is bracing for a potential major flood as the Red River continues to rise. The river currently stands at nearly forty feet, with predictions it could hit forty-three feet by Saturday. Hundreds of volunteers have turned out to help sandbag dikes around the city, which are now as high as forty-three feet. Evacuations have already taken place in nearby towns hit by flooding and frozen temperatures.

Pennsylvania Youth Sentences Overturned

In Pennsylvania, the state Supreme Court has overturned hundreds of juvenile convictions handed down by two corrupt judges who took bribes in return for placing the youths in privately owned jails. Judges Mark Ciavarella and Michael Conahan are said to have received $2.6 million for ensuring that juvenile suspects were sent to private prisons. Some of the young people were jailed over the objections of their probation officers. The judges pleaded guilty to fraud last month and face up to seven years in prison. On Thursday, the Pennsylvania court ruled Ciavarella violated the constitutional rights of youth suspects in his courtroom from 2003 to 2008.

Student Loan Defaults Rise

New figures show the economic downturn has led to an increase in defaults on student loans. The US Department of Education says the student loan default rate last year rose to 6.9 percent from 5.2 percent a year earlier. An estimated half-trillion dollars in federal student loan debt is now outstanding.

Sen. Sanders Introduces Single-Payer Healthcare Act

Independent Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont has introduced a measure to establish a single-payer healthcare system. The American Health Security Act of 2009 would establish a single government program to guarantee healthcare to all Americans, including the 46 million currently uninsured. Advocates say the proposal would save some $400 billion by eliminating the bureaucratic costs of the current privately run system. The measure is similar to bills introduced by Democratic Congress members Jim McDermott of Washington and John Conyers of Michigan in the House.

Study: Nearly 1 in 5 Workers Uninsured

In other healthcare news, a new study shows nearly one in five US workers are uninsured. The figure marks an increase over the mid-1990s, when fewer than one in seven workers were uninsured. That translates to around six million more uninsured workers over the last decade.

House Expands Wilderness Protection

The House has approved what’s being called the biggest expansion of wilderness protection in fifteen years. The bill would extend federal protection to two million acres across nine states and launch a river restoration program in western states. The Senate passed its version of the measure last week. With his expected signature, President Obama will make the bill the first major conservation effort of his presidency.

Sen. Webb Calls for Review of Criminal Justice System

Senator Jim Webb of Virginia is calling for a comprehensive review of the nation’s criminal justice system to reduce the growing prison population. Under the proposal, a blue-ribbon panel would conduct a more than year-long investigation and propose reforms on issues including law enforcement, court sentencing, reintegrating prisoners. The proposed commission would also tackle gang violence, drug policy, mental illness, and prison administration.

Canada Stays Deportation Order of US War Resister

And in Canada, a US war resister has been granted a last-minute stay of deportation. The Canadian Federal Court says Kimberly Rivera will be allowed to remain in Canada pending a review of her deportation order. Rivera fled the US in January 2007 along with her husband and two children to avoid returning to Iraq.

Headlines: Hillary Clinton Admits Drug War a Failure; Human Rights Watch Accuses Israel of War Crimes

Democracy Now Headlines: Hillary Clinton Admits Drug War a Failure; Human Rights Watch Accuses Israel of War Crimes

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

Admin to Unveil New Finance Regulations

The Obama administration is expected to unveil proposals today to boost government authority over the financial system. In addition to previously announced powers to seize troubled non-banking firms, the administration’s plan would reportedly expand federal regulation for the first time to cover financial derivatives trading, large hedge funds and insurers such as AIG. Regulators would also impose uniform standards to limit the range of functions of major financial firms, including banks.

Lawmakers Trim Obama Budget

On Capitol Hill, lawmakers continue negotiations on the final version of President Obama’s budget plan. On Wednesday, the House Budget Committee voted to back the measure after trimming tens of billions dollars from the original proposal. The Senate Budget Committee is expected to vote on its version later today.

Clinton Admits U.S. Drug War Failure

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has admitted U.S. drug policy has not only been a failure but has in fact fueled Mexico’s drug war. Speaking to reporters at the outset of her trip to Mexico, Clinton said: “Clearly what we’ve been doing has not worked… I feel very strongly we have a co-responsibility. Our insatiable demand for illegal drugs fuels the drug trade. Our inability to prevent weapons from being illegally smuggled across the border to arm these criminals causes the deaths of police, of soldiers and civilians.” Clinton’s comments are being called the most far-reaching by a senior U.S. official in accepting responsibility for the rampant drug trade.

11 Die in U.S. Strikes in Pakistan

In Pakistan, at least eleven people have been killed in two separate U.S. drone attacks. Pakistani officials said the dead were foreign militants. Hundreds of people have died in U.S. missile strikes inside Pakistan. The Wall Street Journal reports U.S. and Pakistani officials are finalizing a new list of targets along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. The cooperation comes despite U.S. accusations that Pakistan’s top intelligence agency is directly supporting Taliban fighters and other militants inside Afghanistan. According to the New York Times, U.S. officials are now accusing elements of Pakistani intelligence of directly funding and supplying Taliban commanders.

U.S., Israel Accused of Deadly Sudan Bombing

The U.S. and Israel are being accused of killing up to 39 people in a bombing attack in Sudan this past January. According to reports, U.S. or Israeli forces allegedly attacked a convoy of seventeen trucks suspected of carrying weapons intended for smuggling into the Gaza Strip. A Sudanese government minister confirmed the strike, saying a “major power” carried it out.

HRW Accuses Israel of War Crimes in Phosphorous Attacks

In Israel and the Occupied Territories, Human Rights Watch has accused Israel of unlawfully attacking densely populated civilian areas with white phosphorous during its three-week attack on Gaza. In a new report, Human Rights Watch says the white phosphorous killed at least twelve Palestinian civilians and destroyed millions of dollars worth of property. Bill Vanesveld of Human Rights Watch says the phosphorous use likely amounts to a war crime.

Bill Vanesveld: “It looks like that evidence is consistent with war-crimes being committed. A war-crime is when there is either intent or recklessness with regard to targeting civilians, or civilian institutions. What we’ve got here is a lot of different civilian institutions being burned down. A lot of different civilians being injured and it continued to happen for no apparent justification-that’s why we’re concerned.”

Vowing to Seek “Peace”, Netanyahu Omits Mention of Palestinian State

In other news from Israel, the incoming Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to become what he called a “partner for peace” with the Palestinians.

Benjamin Netanyahu: “I think that the Palestinians should understand that they have in our government a partner for peace, for security and for rapid economic development of the Palestinian economy. Peace: It’s not the last goal. It’s a common and enduring goal for all Israelis and all Israeli governments–mine included, this means that I will negotiate with the Palestinian Authority for peace.”

Despite vowing to work for peace, Netanyahu’s speech failed to even mention the creation of a Palestinian state. Netanyahu has consistently rejected Palestinian statehood and backed the ongoing expansion of Jewish-only Israeli settlements on the occupied West Bank.

Indigenous Groups Hold Global Warming Summit

In Peru, a summit of indigenous groups is gathering to discuss the environmental threats to their communities. Indigenous leader Norma Mayo says energy extraction is endangering areas across the southern hemisphere.

bq. Norma Mayo: “Those guilty of global warming are the developed nations who came to our countries to take oil and minerals and leave our forests contaminated. This has hurt our children, our families. They are poor and malnutrition is rising.”

Moon Calls for $1 Trillion Stimulus for Developing Nations

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon is calling on G20 leaders to establish a $1 trillion dollar stimulus package for poorer countries threatened by the global financial meltdown. Ban told the Financial Times he’ll make a formal request at the G20 summit in London next week. Ban meanwhile helped mark an international day of observance for victims of the slave trade at the UN.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon: “Africa has yet to recover from the ravages of the slave trade, or the subsequent era of colonization. Here in the new world and in Europe and elsewhere, people of African descendants still struggle daily against entrenched prejudice that keeps them disproportionately in poverty. Despite the official abolition of slavery, racism still pollutes our world.”

Paterson, Legislators Agree on Drug Law Repeal

Here in New York, Governor David Paterson and state lawmakers have reached a deal on further undoing the draconian Rockefeller drug laws. The agreement would repeal an unknown number of mandatory minimum prison sentences for low-level drug crimes and grant judges discretion to order treatment rather than prison time. The measure also calls for a $50 million dollar expansion to drug courts and treatment programs. It’s unclear however how many prisoners would be able apply to have their sentences commuted. Paterson was once arrested for protesting the Rockefeller drug laws. But according to reports, he’s seeking to limit the number of prisoners eligible to apply for commutation.

Vermont Governor Vows to Veto Same-Sex Marriage Bill

In Vermont, Governor Jim Douglas says he’ll veto a same-sex marriage bill if one crosses his desk. Vermont’s state senate voted to legalize same-sex marriage on Monday and a House vote is expected soon. It’s unclear if supporters will have the required majority to override a veto. If the bill becomes law, Vermont will become the first state to legalize same-sex marriage without being forced by the courts to do so.

Cardin Introduces Newspaper Rescue Bill

Democratic Senator Benjamin Cardin of Maryland has introduced a measure aimed at rescuing the struggling newspaper industry. The Newspaper Revitalization Act would let newspaper companies become educational non-profits and operate similar to public broadcasters. Audiences would be eligible to give tax-deductible donations, while advertising and subscription revenue would become tax exempt. Cardin said: “The business model for newspapers, based on circulation and advertising revenue, is broken, and that is a real tragedy for communities across the nation and for our democracy.”

IBM to Shed 5,000 Jobs

The computer giant IBM has announced plans to lay off 5,000 U.S. workers. The number amounts to around four percent of IBM’s workforce.

African-American Scholar John Hope Franklin Dies at 94

And the African-American scholar and author John Hope Franklin has died. Franklin pioneered the field of African-American studies. His book “From Slavery to Freedom” is considered a definitive work on the African-American experience. Franklin recently spoke about the significance of President Obama’s ascent to the White House.

John Hope Franklin: “It’s amazing. It’s remarkable. And it’s a vindication of the willingness as well as the ability of this country to turn a significant corner toward full political equality. I didn’t think it would happen in my lifetime. My mother and I used to have a game we played out in public. She would say if anyone asks you what you want to be when you grow up tell them you want to be the first negro president of the United States. Just the words were so far fetched, so incredible, that we used to have fun just saying it. I’m hesitant to talk about the obstacles. They exist. Anyone who’s lived in the United States ten minutes knows they exist. The question is does he have the capacity and the resources to overcome them. And I believe he does.”

Headlines: EPA Halts Mountaintop Removal Mining; Pentagon to Drop “War on Terror” Terminology

Democracy Now Headlines: EPA Halts Mountaintop Removal Mining; Pentagon to Drop 'War on Terror' Terminology

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

Admin Proposes New Authority to Seize Non-Bank Firms

The Obama administration is seeking Congressional approval for the authority to seize troubled non-banking firms. The proposal would grant regulators powers similar to those of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation over banks. The government could cancel contracts, including bonuses, as well as sell off company assets or debts. Speaking before the House financial services committee Tuesday, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and Federal Reserve chair Ben Bernanke said the proposed new authority could have prevented the government bailout of AIG had it been in place. The House Financial Services Committee is expected to vote on the proposal next week.

Obama Defends AIG Response, Pushes Budget

President Obama meanwhile appeared in the second White House news conference of his presidency. Obama was asked about his slow response to news of the AIG bonuses.

CNN Correspondent Ed Henry: “Why did you wait days to come out and express that outrage? It seems like the action is coming out of New York and the attorney general’s office. It took you days to come public with Secretary Geithner and say, “Look, we’re outraged.” Why did it take so long?”

President Obama: “It took us a couple of days because I like to know what I’m talking about before I speak.”

Obama meanwhile tempered his previous criticism of Wall Street, saying executives shouldn’t be “demonized.”

President Obama: “Bankers and executives on Wall Street need to realize that enriching themselves on the taxpayers’ dime is inexcusable, that the days of outsized rewards and reckless speculation that puts us all at risk have to be over. At the same time, the rest of us can’t afford to demonize every investor or entrepreneur who seeks to make a profit. That drive is what has always fueled our prosperity, and it is what will ultimately get these banks lending and our economy moving once more.”

Obama focused his appearance on touting his $3.6 trillion dollar budget as it heads towards a House and Senate vote. Democratic leaders say they’ve cut hundreds of millions of dollars in spending during committee talks. A vote could come as early as next week. Obama meanwhile offered his first comments on Russia and China’s proposal for a new global currency, saying he’s against the idea.

Bailed-out J.P. Morgan to Buy Luxury Jets

The bailed-out financial giant J.P. Morgan says it’s going ahead with with a $138 million dollar plan on two luxury jets and a deluxe aircraft hanger. The firm has received $25 billion dollars under the taxpayer-funded bailout.

EPA Halts Mountaintop Removal Projects

The Environmental Protection Agency has delayed hundreds of mountaintop coal-mining projects for a new review of their environmental impact. Mountaintop removal has been widely criticized for endangering waters and streams in the Appalachian Valley. The review effectively overrides last month’s federal appeals court ruling that backed the Army Corps of Engineers’ authority to oversee mountaintop removals. Environmentalists had previously won court judgments affirming that the Army Corps violated the Clean Water Act. In a related action, the EPA also announced it will block two projects that had won Army Corps approval. The EPA says the mountaintop removals would have endangered streams in West Virginia and Kentucky with thousands of feet of mining waste.

Probe: Labor Dept. Fails to Safeguard Worker Rights

A new Congressional probe says the government agency for enforcing labor laws has failed to protect workers. In a report set for release today, the Government Accountability Office says the Labor Department’s Wage and Hour Division hasn’t adequately enforced violations of minimum wage, overtime and other labor rights. The study says agency officials mishandled nine out of ten cases brought by undercover agents posing as workers. Some investigators dropped cases simply because the accused employers didn’t return their calls. Others waited months to respond to worker complaints and then said it would take another several months to act on them. The report says: “Labor has left thousands of actual victims of wage theft who sought federal government assistance with nowhere to turn. Unfortunately, far too often the result is unscrupulous employers’ taking advantage of our country’s low-wage workers.”

Specter Withdraws Support for Employee Free Choice Act

Republican Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania has dealt a blow to organized labor, announcing he won’t support the Employee Free Choice Act. The bill would stop employers from demanding secret-ballot elections and require them to recognize unions if a majority of workers consented. It’s been fiercely opposed by the Chamber of Commerce and other business groups who’ve launched a multi-million dollar lobbying and ad campaign to stop it. Specter had previously signaled support for the bill and its sponsors had been counting on his backing.

Health Insurers Offer to Drop Overcharging for Illness

The nation’s private health care industry has made a new concession in its effort to stave off proposals for a government-run health care program. On Tuesday, the two main health insurance trade groups said they would be willing to stop charging sick people higher fees if all Americans were required to buy insurance. The proposal doesn’t completely rule out continuing charging varying premiums, and would only allow apply to individual customers, not small businesses.

State Rep.: “What’s Medicaid?”

A veteran Republican state representative is coming under criticism for admitting he doesn’t know what Medicaid is. Speaking before a hearing of the Texas state Health and Human Services Committee, Gary Elkins said: “What’s Medicaid? I know I hear it … I really don’t know what it is.”

Obama Admin Backs Ban on Foreign Scholar

The Obama administration has apparently decided to continue the former President George W. Bush’s policy of banning foreign scholars under anti-terror laws. In a federal appeals court hearing Tuesday, a government lawyer argued in favor of maintaining a ban on a prominent Muslim intellectual barred from a teaching job in the United States. The scholar, Tariq Ramadan, was offered a position at the University of Notre Dame in Ohio in 2004. The Bush administration initially barred his entry without explanation and then said it was because he once gave money to a Palestinian charity. The American Civil Liberties Union is challenging the ban on Ramadan’s behalf.

Pentagon Memo: Drop “War on Terror”

The Washington Post is reporting the Obama administration appears to be dropping the phrase “the global war on terror.” In a memo sent to staffers this week, a Pentagon security official writes: “This administration prefers to avoid using the term “Long War’ or ‘Global War on Terror.’ Please use ‘Overseas Contingency Operation.'” An Obama administration official said there has been no official policy change and that the memo solely reflects the opinion of the author. But its directives conform to recent public testimony from senior officials.

Labor Joins Incoming Israeli Government

In Israel, the Labor party has overcome internal opposition to join incoming Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s far-right Likud government. Both the Labor and Likud parties agree on maintaining the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land but Likud has more forcefully rejected peace talks. Labor leader Ehud Barak had earlier pledged to stay in opposition if Labor won less than twenty seats in the Knesset, the Israeli parliament. Labor only won thirteen seats in last month’s election.

Clashes Follow Far-Right Israeli March in Arab Town

In other news from Israel, dozens of far-right Israeli activists marched in Israel’s largest Arab town on Tuesday, setting off a protest from residents that ended in clashes with Israeli police. Mohammed Baraka, an Arab member of the Israeli parliament, condemned the march.

Mohammed Baraka: “This attack on the citizens has no other explanation but that the police are used to hit and fire toward the Arabs wherever they are. On the other hand when an extremist group demonstrates against our existence, under the name of freedom, they give them the chance to walk in the streets, protected by 2,500 soldiers and policemen. But the people who came to defend their houses and their existence, are suppressed by the police in a very horrible way.”

South Africa Cancels Peace Conference Following Dalai Lama Ban

South Africa has cancelled a global peace conference following an uproar over its ban on the Tibetan spiritual leader Dalai Lama from attending. The South African government has been accusing of caving in to China, one of its largest trading partners. On Tuesday, Nelson Mandela’s grandson, Mandla, condemned the move.

Mandla Mandela: “It is a sad day for South Africa, it is a sad for Africa and we are a nation that is striving to be a leader in the African continent, to also be advanced as far as our peace initiatives we have in Burundi and Sudan. I am very saddened today to see that someone like the Dalai Lama who all our laureates hold highly, has been turned down on their visa application.”

UN Warns on Darfur Aid

The UN is warning of dire consequences for the millions of people who rely on foreign aid groups in Darfur. Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir expelled thirteen aid groups from Darfur after the International Criminal Court indicted him on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity. On Tuesday, Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes said the remaining aid groups are inadequate.

Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes: “While a significant effort is being made by the government, by the UN, by the NGOs which are left to plug some of the immediate gaps in these areas, these are at the same time band aid solutions, if I can put it that way, not long term solutions.”

10 Die in Afghan Bombing

And in Afghanistan, at least ten civilians have been killed and another six wounded in a roadside bombing. The attack targeted a road used by foreign soldiers in eastern Afghanistan.