Headlines: Key Democrats Waver on Employee Free Choice Act; Supreme Court Limits Voting Rights Act

Democracy Now Headlines: Key Democrats Waver on Employee Free Choice Act; Supreme Court Limits Voting Rights 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.

Obama Lifts Stem Cell Research Ban

President Barack Obama has overturned a ban on federal funding for stem cell research, reversing the policy of his predecessor George W. Bush.

President Obama: “When it comes to stem cell research, rather than furthering discovery, our government has forced what I believe is a false choice between sound science and moral values. In this case, I believe the two are not inconsistent. As a person of faith, I believe we are called to care for each other and work to ease human suffering. I believe we have been given the capacity and will to pursue this research, and the humanity and conscience to do so responsibly.”

Religious conservatives have generally opposed embryonic stem cell research, because it involves destruction of embryos, which they view as human life. On Monday, President Obama said the research will not be used for cloning humans.

President Obama: “I can also promise that we will never undertake this research lightly. We will support it only when it is both scientifically worthy and responsibly conducted. We will develop strict guidelines, which we will rigorously enforce, because we cannot ever tolerate misuse or abuse. And we will ensure that our government never opens the door to the use of cloning for human reproduction. It is dangerous, profoundly wrong, and has no place in our society or any society.”

Supreme Court Limits the Reach of Voting Rights Act

In a 5-4 ruling, the Supreme Court has refused to expand the protections for minorities under the federal voting rights law, a decision that may affect the redrawing of legislative boundaries after the 2010 Census. The court’s conservative majority ruled only electoral districts with majority of blacks or other minorities are to be protected by a provision of the Voting Rights Act. Civil rights groups said the ruling could result in more districts with minorities constituting less than half the population, diluting their voting strength.

35,000 Jobs to Be Lost After Pharmaceutical Mergers

In business news, the pharmaceutical giant Merck has announced plans to buy one of its chief rivals, Schering-Plough Corporation for $41 billion. The move comes just weeks after Pfizer said it would buy Wyeth. The two mergers in the pharmaceutical industry are expected to result in 35,000 job losses. Questions have been raised over the link between the mergers and the taxpayer bailouts of the banking industry. Dr. John Abramson of Harvard Medical School said the mergers are only happening now because the drug companies can get the money from the banks thanks to the Treasury Department’s Troubled Asset Relief Program. Abramson said, “The TARP money is supposed to be loosening up credit and keeping Americans employed. They shouldn’t be using bailout money to get rid of people.”

Obama Administration to Review Bush Signing Statements

In other news from the White House, the Obama administration has called into question the legitimacy of all signing statements issued by President Bush. The New York Times reports Obama has ordered executive officials to consult with Attorney General Eric Holder before relying on any of them to bypass a statute. However, President Obama has refused to rule out using signing statements himself.

At Least 25 Die in Iraq Bombing

In Iraq, at least twenty-five people died today when a suicide bomber attacked a group of tribal leaders as they left the mayor’s office in the town of Abu Ghraib. Police officers, soldiers and journalists were said to among the dead.

Dalai Lama: China Has Turned Tibet into “Hell on Earth”

The Dalai Lama marked his fiftieth year in exile earlier today by demanding “meaningful autonomy” for his Tibetan homeland, where Chinese authorities have tightened security to stifle protests against their rule. The Dalai Lama slammed China for bringing “untold suffering and destruction” to Tibet and turning the region at times into a “hell on earth.” His words came on the fiftieth anniversary of a failed uprising against Chinese troops, which led to his exile.

Pro-Tibetan Protesters Rally Outside White House

Protests are being held today around the world to commemorate fifty years of Tibetan resistance to Chinese rule. On Monday, pro-Tibet activists gathered outside the White House.

Tsering Palden, president of the Tibetan Youth Congress in New York and New Jersey: “Today fifty years ago, the Tibetans in Tibet have voluntarily rose up against the Chinese occupation. So that resistance still continues, and we wanted to keep this force of resistance alive and be the voice of those Tibetans inside Tibet, because they don’t have any voice outside, because they closed Tibet from the outside world. No foreigners are allowed. No journalists are allowed. The whole of Tibet has been militarized. It has become virtually–Tibet is under virtually martial law.”

Yangchen Lhamo of Students for a Free Tibet also spoke.

Yangchen Lhamo: “We’re here really with tens of thousands of Tibetans and supporters around the world today to mark this anniversary by taking these fifty years of resistance, the spirit of the fifty years of resistance, to the streets of our cities and our towns and to urge–here in our nation’s capital, to urge the US government to increase the pressure on China to meet with the Dalai Lama and engage in meaningful negotiations and also just to immediately withdraw all of the troops that have been deployed in Tibet.”

China & US Trade Accusations Over US Navy Spy Ship

China and the United States are trading accusations after five Chinese ships approached a US Navy surveillance vessel off the southern Chinese island of Hainan. China accused the US of violating international and Chinese laws by conducting illegal surveying. Pentagon officials said the ship was in international waters. The US accused the Chinese of harassing the spy vessel.

Key Senate Democrats Waver on Employee Free Choice Act

The Wall Street Journal reports key Senate Democrats are wavering in their support of the Employee Free Choice Act, dealing a potential blow to organized labor. The bill would stop employers from demanding secret-ballot elections and require them to recognize unions if a majority of workers consented. The bill has been fiercely opposed by the Chamber of Commerce and other business groups. At least six senators who have previously supported the proposal now say they are opposed or not sure. Senators on the fence include Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Republican Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, and both of the Democratic senators from Arkansas, Mark Pryor and Blanche Lincoln.

Ford and UAW Agree on New Compensation Plan

In other labor news, Ford and the United Auto Workers have reached a deal where the union has agreed to cuts in their compensation package, including a freezing of wages and restructuring retirement benefits. In exchange, Ford made commitments to the UAW to seek sacrifices from its executives, salaried employees and bondholders. The new deal is expected to save Ford millions of dollars.

British Aid Convoy Arrives in Gaza

A British convoy carrying aid for Palestinians arrived in Gaza Monday. The convoy left London last month and traveled through at least seven countries in Europe and North Africa. Members of the “Viva Palestina” convoy included British parliamentarian George Galloway.

George Galloway: “We have brought with us many vehicles, much equipment, much medicine–everything we could carry. And we will hand it to Ismail Haniyeh, the elected prime minister of Palestine.”

Top US Cyber Security Chief Resigns

The top cyber security chief at the Department of Homeland Security has resigned and has accused the National Security Agency and the military of trying to take control of the government’s cyber security efforts. Up until last week, Rod Beckstrom served as head of the National Cyber Security Center. Beckstrom opposed efforts by the NSA to move the National Cyber Security Center to its base at Fort Meade in Maryland.

McClatchy Newspapers to Eliminate 1,600 Jobs

In media news, the McClatchy newspaper chain has announced plans to eliminate 1,600 jobs, or 15 percent of its workforce. Newspapers affected by the layoffs include the Sacramento Bee, the Kansas City Star, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and the Fresno Bee. Meanwhile, the New York Times has announced it has sold twenty-one floors in its fifty-two-story headquarters in Times Square in an effort to raise $225 million. Under the terms of the deal, the paper will lease back the floors for the next fifteen years.

Bolivia Expels Senior US Diplomat

The Bolivian government has ordered a senior US diplomat to leave the country after President Evo Morales accused him of participating in a “conspiracy” against his government. Morales said Francisco Martinez was in contact with opposition groups involved in anti-government unrest. Martinez was the second secretary of the US embassy in La Paz.

Lawmakers Urge US to Take Neutral Role in El Salvador Election

Thirty members of the US House of Representatives have sent President Obama a letter calling for US neutrality in Saturday’s presidential election in El Salvador. Polls indicate the leftist FMLN party will beat the right-wing ARENA party, which has ruled for the past two decades. Historically, the ARENA party has had close ties to Washington. Five years ago, the Bush administration was accused of threatening to cut off aid to El Salvador if voters supported the FMLN.

Police Officer Shot Dead in Northern Ireland

In Northern Ireland, tension is rising after another member of the security forces has been shot dead. A police officer was killed last night in County Armagh after he responded to a call for help. This marked the first murder of a police officer in Northern Ireland since 1998. The shooting came two days after a pair of British troops were shot dead outside a British military base in Northern Ireland. The dissident republican group, the Real IRA, claimed responsibility. On Monday, Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams condemned the killings.

Gerry Adams: “Just make it clear, on the one hand, that the people who carried out this attack don’t have any support within the broad republican family or the broad republican constituency and that Sinn Feinn will go toe-to-toe and ensure that there is no ambiguity around the unworthiness of this action and the fact that this action should not have taken place.”

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown visited Northern Ireland on Monday and said the peace process cannot be shaken.

Gordon Brown: “What I’ve seen this morning is the unity of the people of Northern Ireland and the unity of the political parties, that they stand united behind the peace and political process that they’ve been building for many, many years, that they are going to continue to work together, and they want to send out a message to the world, as I do, that the political process will not and never be shaken. In fact, the political process is now unshakable.”

Ward Churchill Trial Opens in Denver

Opening statements begin today in Denver, Colorado in Professor Ward Churchill’s trial against the University of Colorado at Boulder. Churchill sued the school after he was fired in 2007 on charges of research misconduct. But Churchill maintains that the allegations were a pretext to remove him for his unpopular political views. 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.”

Mass Transit Use at 50-Year High

And more people rode the nation’s public buses, subways and commuter trains last year than in any year since 1956. This according to a new report by the American Public Transportation Association. The trade group estimates Americans took nearly 10.7 billion rides on public transportation in 2008.

Headlines: Unemployment Rate Jumps to 8.1%; 31.8 Million Americans on Food Stamps

Democracy Now Headlines: Unemployment Rate Jumps to 8.1%; 31.8 Million Americans 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.

Report: World Faces First Global Recession Since WWII

The World Bank warned Sunday the world is falling into the first global recession since World War II as the economic crisis engulfs once-booming developing nations, confronting them with massive financial shortfalls that could turn back the clock on poverty reduction by years. The Washington Post reports the bank also cautioned that the cost of helping poorer nations in crisis would exceed the current financial resources of multilateral lenders. The World Bank is predicting that the global economy will shrink this year for the first time since the 1940s. The economic crisis is projected to push around 46 million people into poverty this year.

US Unemployment Rate Jumps to 8.1 Percent

In other economic news, the nation’s unemployment rate has jumped to 8.1 percent, the highest since 1983. Employers cut 651,000 jobs in February. 4.4 million jobs have been lost over the past fourteen months. In a speech in Columbus, Ohio, on Friday, President Obama called the number of lost jobs “astounding.”

President Obama: “I don’t need to tell the people of this state what statistics like this mean, because so many of you have been watching jobs disappear long before this recession hit. And I don’t need to tell this graduating class what it’s like to know that your job might be next, because up until a few weeks ago, that is precisely the future that this class faced–a future that millions of Americans still face right now. Well, that is not a future I accept for the United States of America.”

Record 31.8 Million Americans Now on Food Stamps

The number of Americans receiving food stamps reached a record 31.8 million in February, an increase of 700,000 people since January. Food stamp enrollment increased last month in forty-seven states. Demand has also hit record levels at community food banks.

Vicki Escarra, CEO of Feeding America: “Our donors have stepped up very generously, but the reality is we’ve not seen a crisis like this since the Great Depression. And so, we are in the middle of truly a crisis for average Americans.”

Obama Admits US Isn’t Winning War in Afghanistan; Considers Talks with Taliban

In an interview with the New York Times, President Obama admitted the US is not winning the war in Afghanistan. His comment came weeks after he ordered 17,000 more troops to fight as part of an escalation of the seven-year-old war. Obama also revealed that the US is considering reaching out to moderate elements of the Taliban, much as it did with Sunni militias in Iraq.

Obama to Overturn Stem Cell Research Ban

In other news from Washington, President Obama is expected to sign an executive order today overturning the ban on federal funding of embryonic stem cell research.

US Military Chief Backs Counterinsurgency for Mexico

A top Pentagon official said Friday the US military is ready to help Mexico in its deadly war against drug cartels with some of the same counterinsurgency tactics used against militant networks in Iraq and Afghanistan. Navy Admiral Mike Mullen, chair of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, made the comment after meeting with high-ranking Mexican officials in Mexico City. Mullen said he emphasized the Pentagon’s readiness to provide new intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance help, such as unmanned drones to spy on armed drug gangs, especially along the US border. Last week, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the US military will increase its support of Mexico.

Robert Gates: “I think we are beginning to be in a position to help the Mexicans more than we have in the past. Some of the old biases against cooperation with our–between our militaries and so on, I think, are being set aside.”

David Gregory: “You mean providing military support?”

Robert Gates: “Providing them with–with training, with resources, with reconnaissance and surveillance kinds of capabilities, but just cooperation, including in intelligence.”

Mexican Drug Cartels Rely on US Weapons Purchases

More than 1,000 people have been killed in Mexico in drug-related violence this year. 6,000 people died last year. Much of the violence has been fueled by the ability of drug cartels to purchase AK-47s assault rifles and other arms in the United States. According to law enforcement officials, 90 percent of the guns picked up in Mexico from criminal activity are purchased in the United States. In Phoenix, Arizona, a gun store owner goes on trial today on charges that he sold more than 700 weapons to straw buyers, knowing that the firearms were bought on behalf of Mexican drug syndicates.

US to Pull 12,000 Troops from Iraq

In Iraq, the military has announced 12,000 troops will be leaving over the next six months. There are currently about 135,000 US troops in Iraq. On Sunday, twenty-eight people died in Baghdad when a suicide bomber on a motorcycle blew himself up near the city’s main police academy. Fifty-seven people were injured.

US and Britain Reach Out to Middle East Adversaries

In other news from the Middle East, two senior US diplomats met with the Syrian Foreign Minister in Damascus this weekend. The talks marked the first high-level visit by ranking US diplomats to Syria in four years. Meanwhile, the British government announced it has agreed to begin talks with Hezbollah in Lebanon. Britain’s Foreign Office said the government would authorize “carefully selected” contacts with the political wing of Hezbollah.

Wife of Zimbabwean PM Tsvangirai Killed in Car Crash

In news from Africa, a funeral for the wife of Zimbabwean Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai is set to take place on Wednesday. Susan Tsvangirai died on Saturday in a car crash that also injured the prime minister. The accident occurred less than a month after Tsvangirai was sworn in as prime minister as part of a power-sharing agreement with his longtime rival, Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe. Officials from Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change say they have seen nothing to suggest foul play; however, they want to carry out their own investigation of the car crash.

Kenyan Human Rights Activist Assassinated

In other news from Africa, a prominent Kenyan human rights activist and one of his colleagues have been shot dead in Nairobi. Oscar Kamau Kingara was the founder of the respected Oscar Foundation Free Legal Aid Clinic. Last year, the organization published a report accusing the police of torturing or killing more than 8,000 Kenyans. Cyprian Nyamwamu, of the Kenya Human Rights Consortium, said, “The human rights community in Kenya holds the government fully and wholly responsible for the assassinations.”

Sudan Threatens to Kick Out More Foreign Aid Groups

The Sudanese government is threatening to kick out more foreign aid groups and expel diplomats and peacekeepers days after the International Criminal Court ordered the arrest of Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir for committing war crimes. Sudan has already expelled thirteen of the largest aid groups operating in Darfur. Ann Veneman of UNICEF condemned the Sudanese government.

Ann Veneman: “There are millions of people in Darfur who are dependent upon humanitarian assistance for food, for healthcare, for vaccinations, for education. And the real concern is, is how to fill a gap when so many of the organizations, probably amounting to a couple of thousand or more people, have had their licenses revoked.”

Sudan’s ambassador to the United Nations Abdelmahmood Abdelhaleem accused the aid groups of trying to destabilize Sudan.

Abdelmahmood Abdelhaleem: “You should not question the wisdom of our government in doing so. It did not do that haphazardly. We have been working with these organizations for a long time, and we have warned them. We have alerted them not to continue in this path of destabilization, but they chose to continue that. Not only that, they are doing activities and policies incompatible with their humanitarian mandate. They are messing up everything, as far as stability and security of the respective states in Darfur are concerned.”

EU: Israel Is “Actively Pursuing the Illegal Annexation” of East Jerusalem

The Guardian newspaper reports a confidential European Union report accuses the Israeli government of using settlement expansion, house demolitions, discriminatory housing policies and the West Bank separation wall as a way of “actively pursuing the illegal annexation” of East Jerusalem. The document says Israel has accelerated its plans for East Jerusalem and is undermining the Palestinian Authority’s credibility and weakening support for peace talks.

Hamas and Fatah to Hold Talks in Egypt

In other news from the region, Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad has submitted his resignation, paving the way for the possible formation of a Palestinian unity government with Hamas. Representatives of Fatah and Hamas are heading to Cairo today to begin talks aiming at reconciliation and the formation of a unity government.

Ex-Israeli Minister Faces Rape Charges

The Israeli Justice Ministry has announced Israeli President Moshe Katsav will be charged with raping a woman and other sex crimes committed while he was tourism minister in the 1990s. A group of women have accused him of crimes including rape, sexual assault and sexual harassment.

N. Korea Condemns US-South Korean Military Exercise

Tension on the Korean peninsula is intensifying as more than 50,000 US and South Korean troops begin a twelve-day military exercise. North Korea has responded by putting its armed forces on full combat readiness. The exercise comes as the North Korean military prepares to test-fire a new long-range missile. Earlier today, the North Korean army said the drills were a “military provocation” that would only occur “on the eve of a war.”

UK Probe Urged over British Role in US Rendition Case

In Britain, opposition lawmakers are calling for a judicial inquiry into allegations that British intelligence agents participated in the “extraordinary rendition” and torture of Binyam Mohamed, who was released from Guantanamo Bay last month. In an interview with a British newspaper, Mohamed said the British government actively cooperated with US officials in his rendition and torture despite its repeated denials.

Supreme Court Dismisses al-Marri Case

The Supreme Court has dismissed Ali al-Marri’s challenge to his indefinite military imprisonment, a week after President Barack Obama ordered him moved into the US justice system to face newly filed criminal charges. Al-Marri is a US resident who was held in isolation at a naval brig in South Carolina for more than five years. He has never stood trial or been convicted of any crime.

Obama Administration Defends John Yoo in Suit Filed by Jose Padilla

Meanwhile, the Obama administration argued in court on Friday that another man held as an enemy combatant, Jose Padilla, has no right to sue former Justice Department attorney John Yoo for writing legal memos that allegedly led to his detention and torture. The San Francisco Chronicle reports Justice Department attorney Mary Mason argued that courts should not interfere in executive decision-making, especially in wartime. Yoo wrote a series of memos on interrogation, detention and presidential powers as an attorney in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel. In one memo, Yoo wrote that rough treatment of captives amounted to torture only if it caused the same level of pain as “organ failure, impairment of bodily function or even death.” It also said the president may have the power to authorize torture of enemy combatants. Attorneys for Padilla said Yoo knowingly breached constitutional standards in his memos to provide legal cover for those policies.

Two British Troops Killed in North Ireland Attack

And in Ireland, a dissident Irish republican group called the Real IRA has claimed responsibility for an attack that killed two British soldiers at an army base in Northern Ireland. Four others were wounded, including two men who were delivering pizzas. It was the first deadly attack on British troops in Northern Ireland since 1997. The killings were condemned by both republican and loyalist leaders in Ireland. Martin McGuinness of Sinn Fein said, “I was a member of the IRA, but that war is over now. The people responsible for last night’s incident are clearly signaling that they want to resume or restart that war. Well, I deny their right to do that.”

Headlines: Court Challenge to California Gay Marriage Ban; GM Warns of Likely Collapse Without Govt. Aid

Democracy Now Headlines: Court Challenge to California Gay Marriage Ban; GM Warns of Likely Collapse Without Govt. Aid

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.

Shunning Single-Payer, Obama Hosts Health Care Summit

President Obama hosted a White House summit Thursday on reforming health care. Participants included doctors, health insurance companies, lawmakers and patients. Obama vowed to make passing health care reform a priority this year. Attendees included several lawmakers and lobbyists who successfully defeated former President Bill Clinton’s attempts to partially reform health care in the 1990s. The summit has raised controversy over the administration’s apparent attempt to initially exclude any voices for single-payer health care.

U.S. Invites Iran to Afghan Conference

The Obama administration has announced its first formal public overture to Iran. Speaking at a NATO summit in Brussels, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the U.S. will invite Iran to a meeting on Afghanistan set for later this month.

NATO Resumes Russia Ties

NATO meanwhile has also announced plans to resume formal contact with Russia for the first time since Russia’s conflict with Georgia last summer. Clinton said U.S. disagreements with Russia endure.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: “NATO today agreed to restart the NATO-Russia Council as a mechanism for dialogue on issues both where we both disagree, such as in Georgia, as the Secretary General noted, and a platform for cooperation that is our interest,like transit into Afghanistan or non-proliferation.”

Clinton also appeared to voice support for continuing the Bush administration’s missile defense system in Eastern Europe.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: “We happen to believe in the United States that those threats are more likely to come from regimes and terrorist networks than from nation states in the immediate vicinity. Therefore we want to help Europe prepare and that’s why what Poland and the Czech Republic have done sets the stage for what will be strategic decisions going forward.”

House OKs Mortgage Assistance Bill

The House has approved a measure that would allow bankruptcy judges to modify the terms of troubled home mortgages. Judges would have discretion to modify interest rates, reduce the principal, and extend the terms of a mortgage. According to the Mortgage Bankers Association, more than eleven percent of home mortgages are now in some form distress. The bill now goes to the Senate where it faces a tougher path to approval. The measure is a key part of the Obama administration’s $75 billion dollar foreclosure prevention plan officially launched this week. The White House estimates the plan will assist up to one in nine homeowners. The program offers financial incentives to mortgage-servicing companies that let troubled homeowners modify their terms. And it calls for the government-backed mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to refinance loans for those who don’t owe more than 105% of their home’s value. According to Moody’s Econony dot com, an estimated 13.6 million borrowers owed more than their home’s worth at the end of last year.

Senate Delays Omnibus Vote

Meanwhile the Senate has delayed a vote on a $410 billion dollar appropriations bill. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid says he’s one vote short of closing debate and sending the bill for President Obama’s signature. The bill has come under opposition from Senators opposed to what they call unnecessary earmarks and a provision easing U.S. travel restrictions to Cuba.

GM Warns of Collapse Without Further Gov. Aid

The auto giant General Motors is warning it could go under within the next month unless it’s given another taxpayer-funded rescue. The warning came after one of GM’s auditors raised major doubts about the company’s prospects for survival. GM is seeking another $15 billion dollars in government loans on top of the $15 billion it’s already received.

California Supreme Court Hears Challenge to Gay Marriage Ban

In California, the state Supreme Court heard arguments Thursday in a case seeking the reversal of a voter approved gay marriage ban. Proposition 8 amended California’s constitution to limit marriage to a man and a woman, overturning an earlier Court declaring the right of gays and lesbians to marry. During a three hour hearing, gay marriage advocates questioned the constitutionality of the amendment.

Attorney: “Petitioners position is that Proposition 8 took away the fundamental right to marry from same sex couples.”

Judge: “The right to marry or the right to get married?”

Attorney: “Took away the fundamental right to marry which includes the choice, the constitutionally protected choice, of whether and whom to marry and the ability to continue in that relationship.”

The former Whitewater special prosecutor Kenneth Starr represented backers of the gay marriage ban. During one exchange, Starr asserted that voters have the authority to overturn constitutional rights, including free speech. We’ll have more on the Prop 8 hearing later in the broadcast.

Senate Panel to Probe Treatment of CIA Prisoners

The Senate Intelligence committee has agreed to establish a review of the CIA’s treatment of prisoners in the so-called war on terror. The probe will focus on the imprisonment and interrogation of one hundred prisoners in overseas jails. Most of the panel’s work will be held in secret, and it’s not expect to recommend filing any criminal charges.

U.S. Mulls Joining International Criminal Court

The Obama administration says it’s launched a review of its policy toward Sudan in light of this week’s International Criminal Court arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir. White House officials say the review will include re-considering the Bush administration’s rejection of joining the international court.

Bashir Warrant Spurs Calls for Bush Prosecution

Talk of potential U.S. admission to the Hague-based tribunal comes as the Bashir warrant is fueling talk of a similar action against former President George W. Bush. David Crane, a former prosecutor in the special tribunal that indicted Liberian President Charles Taylor, says the same principles that led to Bashir’s indicment could be used against Bush on the issue of torture. Others have called for prosecuting Bush for the illegal invasion of Iraq that led to some one million deaths.

Army: Up to 18 Soldier Suicides in February

In military news, the Army says soldier suicides continue to follow a record trend. Up to 18 soldiers took their lives last month. That’s down from the twenty-four soldiers who took their lives in January, but still in line with the most number of suicides since record keeping began. As many as 143 soldiers reportedly took their own lives last year.

U.S. Officer Accused of Stealing Iraq, Afghan Aid

A US military officer has been charged with stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars intended for relief and reconstruction projects in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Pentagon says Michael Dung Nguyen stole more than $690,000 dollars while stationed in Iraq between April 2007 up until last month.

Gupta Withdraws Candidacy for U.S. Surgeon General

And the CNN medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta has withdrawn his candidacy to become the next U.S. surgeon general. Gupta’s nomination had been rumored for the past two months. Gupta says he made the decision based on wanting to spend more time with his family. His potential candidacy had come under increasing opposition from groups opposed to his reporting that panned government-run health care.

Headlines: Sudan Rejects ICC Arrest Warrant; Private Sector Lost 697,000 Jobs Last Month

Democracy Now Headlines: Sudan Rejects ICC Arrest Warrant; Private Sector Lost 697,000 Jobs Last Month

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 Holds Health Care Summit, Agrees to Invite Single-Payer Backer Conyers

President Obama is convening a White House summit today on reforming the nation’s health care system. The Obama administration has asked some 120 lawmakers, insurers and doctors to attend. Obama finally gave a last minute invite to the House’s leading advocate for single-payer universal health care, Democratic Congressmember John Conyers of Michigan. Obama had reportedly refused to invite Conyers but relented after public outcry. Conyers is expected to be the lone single-payer advocate in attendance.

U.S. to Overhaul Government Contract Procurements

On Wednesday, President Obama announced a plan to overhaul contracting policies in all government departments. Singling out military contracts in Iraq, Obama said the new rule changes would save taxpayers $40 billion dollars a year.

President Obama: “And this wasteful spending has many sources. It comes from investments in unproven technologies. It comes from a lack of oversight. It comes from influence-peddling and indefensible no-bid contracts that have cost American taxpayers billions of dollars.”

Geithner: Admin Could Scrap Repeal of Tax Deductions for Wealthy

Obama meanwhile is facing opposition from members of his own party on a plan to reduce tax deductions for wealthy Americans. The plan would save around $318 billion dollars over 10 years. Under questioning from Senate Finance Committee chair Max Baucus Wednesday, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said the Obama administration would consider dropping the proposal.

Sudan Rejects ICC Arrest Warrant for Bashir

The International Criminal Court has issued a warrant for the arrest of Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Sudan’s Darfur region. Bashir is the first sitting head of state to be charged with war crimes.

Chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo: “The government of Sudan is obliged by international law to execute the warrant of arrest on its territory. We are not calling for someone else to do it. If the government of Sudan does not execute the warrant of arrest, the UN security council will need to ensure compliance.”

Sudan has dismissed the warrant as a Western ploy. At the UN, Sudanese Ambassador Abdelmahmood Abdelhaleem said his government rejects the International Criminal Court’s jurisdiction.

Sudanese Ambassador Abdelmahmood Abdelhaleem: “We condemn strongly this verdict, and for us ICC doesn’t exist. We are not bound by its decisions, and we are in no way going to cooperate with it.”

Abdelhaleem meanwhile said the mass killings in Darfur are largely the result of a local conflict over scarce resources.

Sudanese Ambassador Abdelmahmood Abdelhaleem: “Regarding our conflict, we have a conflict. We recognize the existence of the conflict, but it has been blown out of proportion. It is a conflict–traditional conflict–over meager resources, water, land, like many thousands of conflicts in the various corners of the world, so we are not an exception. It has been blown out of proportion to serve the agenda and interest of certain countries.”

Western human rights groups praised the arrest warrant for Bashir. Richard Dicker of Human Rights Watch said Bashir is guilty of war crimes.

Richard Dicker: “Certainly, it’s a momentous day for the International Criminal Court and more broadly the cause of justice and ending impunity for the most serious crimes under law: the mass murder of civilians, the use of rape as a weapon of intimidation or war. the forcible displacement of whole populations on the basis of their ethnicity. So this is a significant momentous day, and I would say the decision of the judges of the ICC that we heard this morning is really of seismic proportions.”

The Sudanese government has meanwhile carried through on warnings that an arrest warrant would further imperil Sudanese refugees. Within hours of the warrant’s announcement, Sudan expelled at least ten groups that provided aid to more than a million displaced people in western Darfur. The groups–including Oxfam, Doctors Without Borders, and CARE International–account for 60 percent of humanitarian assistance in Darfur.

Clinton: Israeli House Demolitions “Unhelpful”

In Israel and the Occupied Territories, visiting Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has made some mild criticism of Israeli occupation policies in the West Bank and Gaza. Meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Clinton called Israeli demolitions of Palestinian homes “unhelpful.” She also called for a partial lifting of the Israeli blockade of Gaza.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: “It is clearly a matter of deep concern to those who are directly affected, but the ramifications go far beyond the individuals and the families that had received the notices you referenced. So yes, this will be taken up with the Israeli government. We have obviously expressed concerns about the border crossings. We want humanitarian aid to get into Gaza in sufficient amounts to be able to alleviate the suffering of the people in Gaza.”

3 Palestinians Killed in Israeli Attack

Earlier today at least three Palestinians were killed in an Israeli attack on the Gaza Strip. Israel says it targeted militants who fired at occupying Israeli troops across the Gaza border.

10 Killed in Iraq Bombing

In Iraq, at least ten people have been killed and more than forty wounded in a bombing near the city of Hilla. The attack targeted a busy cattle market.

UN General Assembly President Calls for Iraq Human Rights Probe

UN General Assembly President Miguel D’Escoto Brockmann is calling for an independent probe into human rights violations as a result of the U.S. invasion of Iraq. On Tuesday, D’Escoto appeared before the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

UN General Assembly President Miguel D’Escoto Brockmann: “Independent experts estimate that over one million Iraqis have lost their lives as a direct result of the illegal invasion of their country. The various UN human rights monitors have prepared report after report documenting the unending litany of violations from crimes of war, rights of children and women, social rights, collective punishment and treatment of prisoners of war and illegal detention of civilians. These must be addressed to bring an end to the scandalous present impunity.”

3 Canadian Troops Killed in Afghanistan

In Afghanistan, three Canadian troops have been killed in a roadside bombing near Kandahar. The attack came as three civilian contractors for a U.S. company were injured in a car bombing at Bagram, the main U.S. air base in Afghanistan.

Afghan Election Commission Rebuffs Karzai on Vote Date

In other Afghan news, an independent election commission has rejected President Hamid Karzai’s attempt to move up national elections to April. The commission has set August 20th as election day. Opposition leaders have accused Karzai of trying to rush the vote to help secure his re-election.

Murtha: 600,000 Troops Needed in Afghanistan

Meanwhile Democratic Congressmember John Murtha of Pennsylvania is predicting it will take some 600,000 troops to defeat Afghan insurgents. Murtha is the influential chair of the House Armed Services Committee. The 600,000 figure is more than seven times the peak number of NATO troops expected in Afghanistan this summer. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is in Brussels today for talks on the Afghan occupation with NATO allies.

Miers, Rove to Testify in Attorney Probe

Former Bush administration aides Harriet Miers and Karl Rove have agreed to testify on the firing of nine U.S. attorneys three years ago. The agreement ends a long-running dispute over the reach of executive power to shield administration officials from testifying. Attorneys for former President George W. Bush, the House of Representatives and the Obama administration brokered the deal. Rove and Miers will provide depositions and sworn public testimony. But they won’t be asked about their discussions with President Bush or other Bush administration officials. Despite the conditions, House Judiciary Committee Chair John Conyers declared victory, saying: “We have finally broken through the Bush administration’s claims of absolute immunity. This is a victory for the separation of powers and congressional oversight.”

Chavez Seizes U.S. Subsidary in Rice Dispute

In Venezuela, President Hugo Chavez has seized a local subsidiary of the American food giant Cargill in a dispute over the market cost of rice. Chavez says Cargill and other companies are evading price controls and selling rice at inflated costs. Chavez is also threatening to nationalize Venezuela’s largest private company, Polar, in the rice dispute.

U.S. Private Sector Shed 697,000 Jobs in Feb.

New figures show the U.S. private sector lost 697,000 jobs last month. The services sector was the hardest hit, shedding 359,000 workers.

Study: Illegal Firings Linked to Union Votes

A new study has found an increased rate of illegal firings when workplaces vote on joining unions. The Center for Economic and Policy Research says more than one-fourth of union-representation elections held this decade have been marred with an illegal firing of a pro-union worker. Pro-union workers were fired in 26 percent of union election campaigns, up from 16 percent in the last half of the 1990s. Labor unions are currently seeking passage of the Employee Free Choice Act, which would make it easier for workers to join unions. President Obama said this week he supports the measure.

Merrill Lynch Execs Subpoenaed in Bonuses Probe

Here in New York, state attorney general Andrew Cuomo has subpoenaed several top Merrill Lynch executives who were each paid more than $10 million in cash and stock last year. Overall, Merrill Lynch handed out over $3 billion in bonuses just before the company sold to Bank of America in a government-backed deal. The bonuses were handed out despite a $27.6 billion dollar company loss on the year. Cuomo is investigating whether the payments violated securities laws.

New York Assembly Scales Back Rockefeller Drug Laws

In other New York news, the state assembly has approved a measure to partially reform the draconian Rockefeller drug laws and give judges more discretion in sentencing. The bill would allow judges to send drug offenders to substance-abuse treatment instead of prison. Prisoners jailed for nonviolent drug offenses would also be eligible to have their sentences reduced or commuted. Critics fear that because it’s only a partial reform most prisoners won’t see any reprieve. Wednesday’s vote was approved by a margin of 96 to 46. The bill now goes to the New York state Senate.

California Supreme Court Takes Up Gay Marriage Ban

And in California, the state Supreme Court will take up a case today seeking to overturn the voter-approved gay marriage ban. Gay marriage advocates want the court to declare Proposition Eight unconstitutional. The proceedings will be broadcast on giant television screens around San Francisco. Thousands of protesters marched around San Francisco on Wednesday ahead of today’s hearing.

Headlines: U.S. to Open Talks with Syria; Clinton Silent on Israeli Settlements, Gaza Blockade

Democracy Now Headlines: U.S. to Open Talks with Syria; Clinton Silent on Israeli Settlements, Gaza Blockade

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.

US to Open Preliminary Talks with Syria

The Obama administration is sending two emissaries to Syria this weekend for preliminary talks with the Syrian government. The meeting would mark the highest-level US contact with Syria since the US withdrew its ambassador four years ago. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton made the announcement on a visit to Israel.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton: “We are going to be sending two officials to Syria. There are a number of issues that we have between Syria and the United States, as well as the larger regional concerns that Syria obviously poses.”

Clinton Silent on Israeli Settlements, Gaza Blockade

Clinton was in Jerusalem meeting Israeli leaders. Appearing with Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, Clinton said the US will work toward a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians.

State Hillary Rodham Clinton: “Eventually, the inevitability of working toward a two-state solution seems inescapable. That doesn’t mean that we don’t respect the opinions of others who see it differently, but from my perspective and from the perspective of the Obama administration, time is of the essence on a number of issues, not only on the Iranian threat, and we happen to believe that moving toward the two-state solution step by step is in Israel’s best interest.”

Clinton did not voice any criticism of the ongoing Israeli settlement activity in the occupied West Bank. She also refused to publicly urge Israel to stop its blockade of Gaza and allow desperately needed humanitarian aid. Clinton also singled out Hamas rocket fire as the single biggest obstacle to peace–not the Israeli attacks that killed over 1,300 Palestinians in Gaza earlier this year. Hamas spokesperson Mushir al-Masri said the Obama administration is continuing the Bush administration approach.

Mushir al-Masri: “It is clear that there is nothing new when it comes to the policies of the new administration in this region. Repeating the Quartet’s conditions is something that has proven to have failed. It’s useless. What is wanted is for America to stop its biased policies towards the enemy and to correct their political discourse when it comes to dealing with this region.”

Clinton is in the West Bank today meeting with US-backed Fatah leaders in the Palestinian Authority.

Obama Downplays Report of Missile Program Offer

President Obama is downplaying a report he offered to back off deploying a new missile system in Eastern Europe if Russia would help stop Iran from developing long-range weapons or nuclear warheads. The New York Times reported Tuesday the offer was relayed in a secret letter hand-delivered to President Dmitri Medvedev by top administration officials three weeks ago. President Obama responded at the White House.

President Obama: “What we had was a very lengthy letter talking about a whole range of issues, from nuclear proliferation to how are we going to deal with a set of common security concerns along the Afghan border and terrorism. And what I said in the letter is the same thing that I’ve said publicly, which is that the missile defense that we have talked about deploying is directed towards not Russia, but Iran.”

ICC to Issue Bashir Arrest Warrant

The International Criminal Court is expected to announce today a warrant for the arrest of Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Sudan’s Darfur region. Bashir would become the first sitting head of state to be charged with war crimes. Chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo spoke to reporters on Tuesday.

Luis Moreno-Ocampo: “We have strong evidence against Mr. Bashir, proving how he–more than thirty different witnesses who will present how he managed to control everything. And we have strong evidence of his intention. But the judges will decide. So, yes, I never present a case without strong evidence.”

Sudan has said the charges are politically motivated and has vowed to never surrender Bashir for prosecution.

Countrywide Execs Form New Firm to Profit Off Mortgages, Bank Failures

Here in the United States, a group of executives widely blamed for playing a key role in causing the economic crisis now stand to make hundreds of millions of dollars from the failed mortgages they once handed out. The New York Times reports twelve former executives at Countrywide Financial have established a new company to buy up delinquent home mortgages that the government has inherited from shuttered banks. The new company, PennyMac, has bought up around $800 million in loans so far, often at rock-bottom prices. It makes its money if it can get homeowners to resume payments under more favorable terms. Countrywide became synonymous with predatory and risky loans to borrowers who either couldn’t afford them or were misled on their interest rate. PennyMac says it hopes to increase its portfolio to as much as $15 billion in the next eighteen months. It’s led by Stanford Kurland, Countrywide’s former president.

Merrill Lynch Paid $10M Bonuses to Top Execs

Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal has revealed new details on the high bonus payments to top employees at the bailed-out firm Merrill Lynch. Despite posting a net loss of $27.6 billion, eleven top executives were paid more than $10 million in cash and stock. Taken together, the ten highest-paid employees were paid $8 million more in 2008 than in 2007. Another 149 employees received at least $3 million. Overall, Merrill Lynch paid out over $3 billion in bonuses just before the company was sold to Bank of America in a government-backed deal.

Senate to Consider Bush Admin Abuses Probe

The Justice Department says it plans to release more secret Bush administration Justice Department memos used to boost executive power in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. The memos released thus far authorized President Bush to deploy the military to carry out raids inside the US and to spy on Americans without a warrant or probable cause. The memos also backed violating constitutional press and free speech rights, all under the so-called “war on terror.” The news of further memo disclosures comes as Senate Democrats are set to hold a hearing today on Judiciary Committee Chair Patrick Leahy’s proposal to establish a “truth commission” on Bush administration abuses of power in the so-called “war on terror.” Leahy wants the commission to focus on government spying, torture, rendition and the manipulation of intelligence in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq.

Obama Restores Endangered Species Act Protections

The Obama administration has reversed a Bush administration rule gutting the Endangered Species Act. A new presidential memorandum restores a longstanding provision that requires an independent scientific review of any federal project that could affect a protected species. The rule change is expected to delay at least two pending projects: a Bureau of Land Management plan for overseeing Oregon’s forests and the White Pine coal-fired power plant in Nevada.

Obama Backs Employee Free Choice Act

President Obama has voiced support for a measure that would ease barriers for workers to join unions. On Tuesday, Obama gave a videotaped address to a gathering of AFL-CIO leaders in Miami. Obama vowed passage of the Employee Free Choice Act, which would stop employers from demanding secret-ballot elections and require them to recognize unions if a majority of workers consented. The Senate is expected to take up the measure in the coming weeks.

Gay, Lesbian Couples Sue for Marriage Benefits

In Massachusetts, a group of same-sex couples and gay widowers has filed a lawsuit seeking the same federal programs and benefits granted to straight married couples. The case marks the first major legal challenge to a federal law denying gay and lesbian couples access to more than 1,000 federal programs and legal protections.

Obama Picks Net Neutrality Backer for FCC Helm

And President Obama has announced his pick to head the Federal Communications Commission. Obama has tapped attorney Julius Genachowski, his top tech adviser during the presidential campaign. Genachowski worked in the FCC during the Clinton administration and at Barry Diller’s company IAC/InterActive. According to the Wall Street Journal, Genachowski authored Obama’s detailed campaign plan supporting open internet or “net neutrality” protections, media ownership rules that encourage more diversity, and expansion of affordable broadband access across the country. Net neutrality advocates have welcomed Genachowski’s nomination.

Headlines: 7.3 Million in the U.S. Corrections System; Climate Activists Block Gates to Coal Plant

Democracy Now Headlines: $30 Billion More for AIG Bailout; GDP Shrinks 6.2%

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.

Sri Lankan Cricket Team Attacked in Pakistan

In Pakistan, eight people have died after masked gunmen attacked a bus carrying the Sri Lankan cricket team on its way to play in the Pakistani city of Lahore. The dead included six Pakistani police officers and two bystanders. Six Sri Lankan cricket players and a coach were wounded. TV footage showed heavily armed men with backpacks firing at the convoy. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack. Players say cricketers have never been attacked before in Pakistan, where cricket is the national sport.

Dow Drops Below 7,000 for First Time in 11 Years

The Dow Jones Industrial Average has dropped below 7,000 for the first time in eleven years. The market has now lost almost one quarter of its value this year and more than half since its high in October 2007. The sell-off came as insurance giant AIG announced it had lost a record $62 billion in the last three months of 2008.

CIA Admits It Destroyed 92 Videotapes of Interrogations

The CIA has acknowledged it destroyed ninety-two videotapes documenting harsh interrogations of prisoners held by the CIA. The number of destroyed tapes is far more than has previously been acknowledged. ACLU attorney Amrit Singh accused the agency of engaging in a “systematic attempt to hide evidence of its illegal interrogations.”

Justice Dept OKed Military Carrying Out Domestic Raids After 9/11

Meanwhile, the Obama administration has released a series of Bush administration Justice Department memos written after the September 11 attacks. One memo, co-written by John Yoo, authorized President Bush to deploy the military to carry out raids inside the United States and to spy on Americans without a warrant or probable cause. Yoo wrote, “the Fourth Amendment does not apply to domestic military operations designed to deter and prevent foreign terrorist attacks.” Yoo’s memo also claimed other parts of the Constitution could be disregarded. He wrote, “First Amendment speech and press rights may also be subordinated to the overriding need to wage war successfully.”

Climate Activists Block Gates to D.C. Coal Plant

In Washington, D.C., more than 2,000 activists blocked the gates of a coal-fired power plant on Capitol Hill Monday in what was described as the largest display of civil disobedience on the climate crisis in US history. Police made no arrests. Days before the protest, congressional leaders said they want the Capitol Power Plant to drop coal and convert to natural gas. Protesters at the plant on Monday included NASA scientist James Hansen, the writer Wendell Berry and over 1,000 students who had attended the Power Shift conference on climate change.

Obama Nominates Sebelius to Head HHS

President Obama has nominated Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius to run the Department of Health and Human Services. She is expected to spearhead Obama’s drive to overhaul the US healthcare system.

Group: Israel May Built 73,000 New Settlement Homes

The Israeli group Peace Now says Israeli authorities are considering plans for 73,000 new housing units in Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank. The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reports that if all of the units are built, it would mean a 100 percent increase in the total number of Israeli settlers in the West Bank.

Hagit Ofran of Peace Now: “We believe that if such plans are going to be implemented, this could really prevent a two-state solution and actually any solution to our conflict. And this is why we call the new government not to approve any new construction anywhere in the West Bank whatsoever.”

Donors Pledge $5.2 Billion at Gaza Reconstruction Conference

International donors pledged $5.2 billion Monday at a conference to rebuild the devastated Gaza Strip, but not all of the money will go to Gaza. The Obama administration offered up $900 million, but only $300 million is directed for humanitarian relief for the people of Gaza. The rest of the money will go to the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank. Hamas spokesperson Mushir al-Masri criticized the international community for not directing more of the money to rebuild Gaza.

Mushir al-Masri: “We would like to stress that the rebuilding of Gaza should not be politicized, and this cause needs to be placed in its correct context–the welfare and humanitarian one. What happened in this conference was directing the rebuilding funds to the wrong people. But we would like to stress that what is most important is opening the crossings and ending the siege that has been placed on the Gaza Strip.”

UN Commissioner Urges US to Attend Racism Conference

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navanethem Pillay, has criticized the United States, Canada and Israel for threatening to boycott next month’s World Conference Against Racism conference in Geneva.

Navanethem Pillay: “Narrow, parochial interests and reflexive partisanship must be cast aside in the interest of a greater common good. Let me underscore that a failure to do so may reverberate negatively on the full spectrum of human rights work and mechanisms for years to come. We need to prevent the acrimony of the past from encumbering the fight against intolerance, which is–and I’m sure we all agree–both of urgent concern and in the best interest of everyone.”

The Obama administration said the US won’t attend unless the conference’s final document drops all references to Israel and reparations for slavery.

Obama Sends Secret Letter to Russia About Missile Defense & Iran

The New York Times reports President Obama sent a secret letter to Russia’s president last month suggesting that he would back off deploying a new missile defense system in Eastern Europe if Moscow would help stop Iran from developing long-range weapons or nuclear warheads. The letter to President Dmitri Medvedev was hand-delivered in Moscow by top administration officials three weeks ago.

Canadian PM: Insurgency Can’t Be Defeated in Afghanistan

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has predicted the United States and NATO forces will never be able to defeat the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan. Harper made the comment in an interview on CNN with Fareed Zakaria.

Stephen Harper: “We’re not going to win this war just by staying. We’re not going to–in fact, my own judgment, Fareed, is, quite frankly, we are not going to ever defeat the insurgency. Afghanistan has probably had–my reading of Afghanistan, the history–has probably had an insurgency forever, of some kind. What has to happen in Afghanistan is we have to have an Afghan government that is capable of managing that insurgency and improving its own governance.”

Canada currently has about 2,700 troops in Afghanistan.

Red Cross: Afghan Surge Will Cause Spike in Civilian Casualties

Meanwhile, the International Committee of the Red Cross has warned that Afghan civilians will likely bear the brunt of an escalation in the Afghan war this year. The Red Cross said civilian casualties are significantly higher than a year ago. The United Nations estimates over 2,100 civilians died in 2008, a 40 percent jump over 2007.

Mexico to Send 7,000 Troops to Border City

Mexico has announced it will send a total of 7,000 soldiers and federal police officers into the border city of Ciudad Juarez, where 1,600 people died last year in drug-related violence. Ciudad Juarez is located across the US border from El Paso, Texas. The city’s police chief resigned almost two weeks ago, after several of his officers were shot to death and anonymous signs appeared warning that an officer would be killed every forty-eight hours unless he stepped down. On Sunday, during an interview on Meet the Press, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the US military will increase its support of Mexico.

Robert Gates: “I think we are beginning to be in a position to help the Mexicans more than we have in the past. Some of the old biases against cooperation with our–between our militaries and so on I think are being set aside.”

David Gregory: “You mean providing military support?”

Robert Gates: “Providing them with–with training, with resources, with reconnaissance and surveillance kinds of capabilities, but just cooperation, including in intelligence.”

Castro Reshuffles Cuban Cabinet

Cuban President Raul Castro has reshuffled his cabinet by replacing eight ministers, many of whom were closely linked to his older brother Fidel Castro. The most prominent official to lose his post was Foreign Minister Perez Roque, Fidel Castro’s former personal secretary. The Cuban government said the moves were needed to make Cuba’s government more compact and functional.

Study: 7.3 Million Americans Now in Prison, on Parole or Probation

Here in this country, a new study has found the number of people in prison, on parole or probation has reached a record 7.3 million. One in every thirty-one adults is now in the US corrections system. Twenty-five years ago, the rate was one in seventy-seven. The Pew Center on the States found that corrections spending is outpacing government spending on education, transportation and public assistance. The National Association of State Budget Officers estimates that states spent a record $52 billion on corrections last year–that’s one in every fifteen general fund dollars.

Supreme Court Rejects Appeals in Agent Orange Cases

The Supreme Court has rejected appeals in three separate cases by American and Vietnamese victims of Agent Orange who were trying to sue Monsanto, Dow Chemical and other companies that made the toxic chemical defoliant used in the Vietnam War. Agent Orange has been linked to cancer, diabetes and birth defects among Vietnamese soldiers and civilians and American veterans.

UN Urges Intensified Actions to Combat Sexual Violence

Senior UN officials have called for “intensified worldwide actions” to fight the scourge of violence against women and girls. The call came as the Commission on the Status of Women opened its annual session.

Rachel Mayanja, UN Special Adviser on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women: “Violence against women, one of the most extreme manifestations of pervasive violations of women’s human rights, continues unabated, and intensified worldwide efforts are needed to end it. Its consequences and costs are far-reaching, long-lasting and devastating, not only for its victims, but also to societies.”

Florida Man Shoots Dead Two Chilean Students

In Florida, two students from Chile were killed last week when a gunman opened fire on a townhouse where they were staying. Police are investigating the shooting as a likely hate crime. Three other Chilean students were injured in the shooting. A sixty-year-old man named Dannie Baker has been charged with the killings. Baker was known for his anti-immigrant views. The Southern Poverty Law Center recently reported hate crimes against Latinos jumped by 40 percent between 2003 and 2007.

Oscar Grant’s Family Sues BART for $50 Million

In California, the family members of Oscar Grant have filed a $50 million lawsuit against the Bay Area Rapid Transit agency. Grant was the unarmed African American man who was shot dead by a BART police officer on a train platform in Oakland on New Year’s Day.

Steele and Limbaugh Spar Over Republican Leadership

And Republican National Committee Chair Michael Steele has apologized to right-wing radio host Rush Limbaugh after the two engaged in a public fight over the leadership of the Republican Party. Limbaugh countered, saying Steele was off to a shaky start as RNC chair and claimed that Steele was not actually the head of the Republican Party after Steele said on CNN:

“Rush Limbaugh is an entertainer. Rush Limbaugh’s whole thing is entertainment. Yes, it is incendiary. Yes, it is ugly.” After Steele came under criticism for his comment, he apologized, saying, “My intent was not to go after Rush. I have enormous respect for Rush Limbaugh. I was maybe a little bit inarticulate…There was no attempt on my part to diminish his voice or his leadership.”

Headlines: $30 Billion More for AIG Bailout; GDP Shrinks 6.2%

Democracy Now Headlines: $30 Billion More for AIG Bailout; GDP Shrinks 6.2%

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: U.S. Combat Forces Out of Iraq By 2010

President Barack Obama announced Friday plans to pull U.S. combat forces out of Iraq by August 2010. Obama broke the news at Camp Lejeune, a Marine Corps base in North Carolina.

President Barack Obama: “As a candidate for President, I made clear my support for a timeline of 16 months to carry out this drawdown, while pledging to consult closely with our military commanders upon taking office to ensure that we preserve the gains we’ve made and protect our troops. Those consultations are now complete, and I have chosen a timeline that will remove our combat brigades over the next 18 months.”

U.S. Plans To Keep Up To 50,000 Troops in Iraq Until 2011

Under President Obama’s plan, up to 50,000 U.S. troops would remain in Iraq through 2011.

President Barack Obama: “As I have long said, we will retain a transitional force to carry out three distinct functions: training, equipping, and advising Iraqi Security Forces as long as they remain non-sectarian; conducting targeted counter-terrorism missions; and protecting our ongoing civilian and military efforts within Iraq. Initially, this force will likely be made up of 35-50,000 U.S. troops.”

President Obama’s decision to keep 50,000 troops in Iraq has angered many critics of the war. Iraq Veterans Against the War described Obama’s proposal as a “plan for almost three more years of an unjustified military occupation.” During an interview on MSNBC, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi spoke out against part of Obama’s plan.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi: “And I don’t know what the justification is for 50,000–a presence of 50,000 troops in Iraq. I do think that there’s a need for some, and I don’t know that all of them have to be in country. I would think a third of that, maybe 20,000, a little more than a third, 15,000 or 20,000.”

President Obama’s speech on Iraq left several major questions unanswered. He did not address whether the U.S. will keep permanent military bases in Iraq and he made no promise to withdraw the over 100,000 private U.S. military contractors and mercenaries stationed in Iraq.

U.S. To Give Another $30 Billion Bailout to AIG

The Obama administration has agreed to give the insurance giant AIG an additional $30 billion as part of a revamped government bailout. This comes on top of the $150 billion in taxpayer money already doled out to the firm. The New York Times reports federal officials felt they had no choice but to prop up A.I.G., because its business and trading activities are so intricately woven through the world’s banking system. AIG is expected to report today a record $62 billion loss, the biggest quarterly loss in corporate history. The $30 billion bailout of AIG comes three days after the firm sued the U.S. government over a disputed $300 million tax bill.

GDP Shrinks 6.2 Percent; Housing Prices Plummet 10 Percent

In other economic news, more signs have emerged that the financial crisis is worsening. The Commerce Department has announced gross domestic product shrank at a 6.2 percent annual pace from October through December, the most since 1982. The Census Bureau is reporting that the median price of new homes fell by a staggering 10 percent between December and January. The FDIC says 250 banks are now on the agency’s list of banks that could fail. 16 banks have already failed this year compared with 25 in all of 2008. In California, the unemployment rate has topped 10 percent for the first time in a quarter century.

Karzai Attempts to Move Up Afghan Election

In Afghanistan, President Hamid Karzai is coming under intense criticism from opponents for trying to move the Afghan presidential election to next month, four months earlier than an election date set by the country’s Independent Election Commission. Karzai’s move is seen as attempt to gurantee his re-election. One presidential candidate, former Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani, said “A very dangerous first step has been taken that, if it’s not checked, could lead us to the very unfortunate situation of Kenya or Zimbabwe. This is a very perilous position that we have to avoid.” UN officials said it would be impossible to even have paper ballots in time for an election for next month.

Ex-U.S. Official Predicts U.S. Will Be In Afghanistan Until 2025

Meanwhile the former top U.S. commander in Afghanistan has projected that U.S. troops will remain in Afghanistan for another 16 years. Retired Lieutenant General David Barno told a Senate panel last week that it will take until 2025 for the U.S. to fully hand over control to Afghan institutions.

CIA Strike in Pakistan Kills Eight

The CIA is continuing to carry out missile strikes in Pakistan. At least eight people died on Sunday when an unmanned drone attacked a compound in northwest Pakistan near the border with Afghanistan. U.S. officials said the target was a Taliban sanctuary.

U.S. Pledges $900 Million in Palestinian Aid

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has arrived in Egypt in her first trip to the Middle East since taking office. Clinton is attending an international conference in Sharm El-Sheikh to raise money for the Gaza Strip. The U.S. plans to pledge $300 million in humanitarian relief for the people of Gaza in addition to $600 million for the Palestinian Authority. The additional money not aimed at Gaza comprises $200 million in budget support to pay wages–much of which was previously announced–and $400 million to support reform and development in the West Bank. Secretary of State Clinton praised the leadership of Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank.

The Washington Post reports the U.S. aid package underscores how little the Obama administration’s policy toward the Palestinian issue has thus far differed from the Bush administration’s approach.

Aid Groups Calls For Israel To Lift Gaza Blockade

International aid groups are calling on Israel to lift the blockade of Gaza because they say it is preventing the Palestinians from rebuilding the Gaza Strip. Israel has banned the importation of cement, steel rods and other material necessary for construction. Over the past month Israel has also arbitrarily refused entry to items like chickpeas, macaroni, wheat flour, notebooks for students, freezer appliances, generators and water pumps, and cooking gas.

Israel Considers Vastly Expanding West Bank Settlement

The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reports an Israeli government agency is quietly promoting plans to vastly expand a settlement in the occupied West Bank that currently houses just 12 Israeli families. The Israeli Civil Administration has proposed the initial construction of 550 apartments in the settlement of Gva’ot located near Alon Shvut, followed by the construction of another 4,450 units at a later stage. Another 2,000 apartments are planned for a neighboring settlement.

Obama Administration to Boycott UN Racism Conference

The Obama administration has announced that the United States will boycott the World Conference Against Racism in Geneva next month unless its final document drops all references to Israel and reparations for slavery. Israel and Canada have already announced plans to boycott the UN conference. In 2001 Bush administration diplomats walked out of the conference in Durban South Africa after delegates proposed a resolution likening Zionism to racism. AIPAC, the American Public Affairs Committee, praised President Obama’s decision. The group said: “The event, which has again proven to be a celebration of racism and vile anti-Semitic activity, is further evidence of the U.N.’s inability to demonstrate any semblance of fairness or objectivity on these issues when it comes to the Jewish State.”

Mullen: Iran Has Enough Uranium To Build Atomic Bomb

The chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen declared Sunday that the U.S. now believes Iran has amassed enough uranium that with further purification could be used to build an atomic bomb. Mullen’s statement on CNN went further than previous, official judgments of the Iranian nuclear threat. But in a separate interview Defense Secretary Robert Gates downplayed the immediate threat posed by Iran. During an interview on Meet the Press Gates said: “They are not close to a stockpile; they are not close to a weapon at this point. So there is some time.”

U.S. Journalist Jailed In Iran

In other news on Iran, the Iranian government has admitted it has been holding an American journalist in jail since late January. Thirty-one year old Roxana Saberi is a freelance reporter for the BBC, National Public Radio and Fox News. Iran accused her of gathering news illegally.

President of Guinea-Bissau Assassinated

In news from Africa, the president of the West African nation of Guinea-Bissau has been assassinated in the presidential palace by a group of renegade soldiers. The killing of Joao Bernardo Vieira came one day after the nation’s armed forces chief of staff was shot dead. The two men were considered staunch political rivals.

Thousands Protest Anniversary of U.S.-Backed Coup in Haiti

In Haiti, several thousand people staged a protest Saturday to mark the fifth anniversary of the U.S.-backed coup that led to the ouster of Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. The protest came days after the Haitian government barred members of Aristide’s Lavalas party from running in the upcoming Senate elections.

Jacques Mathelier: “We are here so the rights of the majority of the population will be respected. The people cannot eat, they only have battery acid to live on. Also, there can be no election without the participation of the Lavalas party. And five years after the kidnapping of president Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the people’s dream is to ask for his return.”

Court Rejects Obama Bid To Stop Wiretapping Suit

A Federal Appeals Court in San Francisco has rejected an argument by the Obama administration that the court should stop a lawsuit challenging the government’s warrantless wiretapping program because a trial would potentially threaten national security. The ruling came in a case involving a defunct Islamic charity. Government lawyers signaled they would continue fighting to keep the information secret, setting up a new showdown between the courts and the White House over national security.

Thousands March to Protest Sherif Arpaio

Thousands of people marched in Phoenix Arizona on Saturday to condemn raids on immigrant communities by Maricopa County Sherif Joe Arpaio. The sheriff recently came under criticism for parading a group of chained undocumented prisoners through the streets of Phoenix before transferring them to the infamous Tent City jail.

Seattle Sheriff Deputy Beat 15-Year-Old Girl

In Seattle, a sheriff’s deputy has pleaded not guilty to fourth-degree assault after he was caught on videotape assaulting a 15-year-old girl in a jail cell. Video of the beating was released by prosecutors on Friday. In the video, a deputy kicks the girl, pushing her back toward the wall. The deputy then strongly backs the girl against the wall and slams her to the floor by grabbing her hair. A second deputy enters the holding cell, while the first deputy holds the girl face down to the floor. The first deputy appears to hit the girl with his hands. The girl is then lifted up and led out of the cell while the first deputy holds her hair. The King County sheriff’s deputy Paul Schene was investigated previously for shooting two people-killing one-in the line of duty.

Maine Town Bans Poland Springs From Extracting Municipal Water

Residents of the town of Shapleigh, Maine have banned Poland Springs and other private companies from extracting and bottling water from the town’s aquifers. Poland Springs is owned by Nestle, the world’s largest food and beverage company. The company currently draws water from nine sites in Maine and wanted to expand into Shapleigh.

Erik Prince Resigns as Blackwater CEO

In other business news, Erik Prince, the founder of Blackwater, has announced his resignation as the company’s CEO. Prince founded the private military firm in 1997. The move comes weeks after the company changed its name to Z – spelled Xe – in an attempt to rebrand the firm.

Rev. Billy to Challenge Mike Bloomberg for NYC Mayor

And here in New York, Rev. Billy of the Church of Stop Shopping has announced plans to challenge Mike Bloomberg in the city’s upcoming mayoral race. The 58-year-old performance artist and activist will run on the Green Party ticket.

Headlines: Obama Budget Revealed; U.S. to Charge “Enemy Combatant”

Democracy Now Headlines: Obama Budget Revealed; U.S. to Charge 'Enemy Combatant'

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.

$3.55T Obama Budget Repeals Bush Tax Cuts for Wealthy

President Obama has unveiled a $3.55 trillion spending budget for the coming fiscal year. On Thursday, Obama said the plan includes tax relief for lower-income Americans while repealing Bush administration tax cuts for the wealthy.

President Obama: “No part of my budget will be free from scrutiny or untouched by reform. We will end no-bid contracts that have wasted billions in Iraq and end tax breaks for corporations that ship jobs overseas. And we’ll save billions of dollars by rolling back tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans while giving a middle-class tax cut to 95 percent of hardworking families.”

Large businesses and wealthy Americans would see tax increases worth nearly $2 trillion over the next ten years. The estate tax would also be preserved, overriding the Bush administration measure for its repeal. The extra revenues would help pay for a $634 billion reserve fund that Obama says will be used toward universal healthcare.

President Obama: “With this budget, we are making a historic commitment to comprehensive healthcare reform. It’s a step that will not only make families healthier and companies more competitive, but over the long term it will also help us bring down our deficit.”

Budget to Include War Spending

The plan estimates the US deficit will grow to a record $1.75 trillion. In another change, war funding will now be included in fiscal budgets instead of as a supplemental. Obama said the previous exclusion of war costs from budget plans has led to “dishonest accounting.” Obama is seeking $130 billion for the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan in 2010. He says the number will drop once the US withdraws combat troops from Iraq by 2011. Overall, Obama is seeking a four percent increase in military spending, from $513 billion to $534 billion. Other budget items include some $250 billion in additional funding for bailing out the nation’s banks and an end to agricultural subsidies for farmers making more than $500,000. In the budget document, President Obama blames Bush administration policies and reckless Wall Street behavior for the economic crisis. Obama says, “We arrived at this point as a result of an era of profound irresponsibility that engulfed both private and public institutions, from some of our largest companies’ executive suites to the seats of power in Washington, D.C.”

50,000 U.S. Troops to Remain in Iraq Under Withdrawal Plan

President Obama is reportedly set to announce an order to withdraw most U.S. troops from Iraq by September of 2010. The Washington Post reports Obama will announce today a plan that would leave 35,000 to 50,000 troops in Iraq until the end of 2011. The deadline is three months longer than what Obama promised on the campaign trail. The remaining U.S. troops won’t be classified as ‘combat’ but they’ll retain free reign to carry out attacks.

Iraq Loosens Restrictions on Foreign Oil Companies

The Iraqi government is granting international oil corporations an increased stake in developing Iraqi oil. Winning bidders in future projects will be granted a seventy-five percent stake rather than the current limit of 49 percent. Iraq has also lowered the minimum production target for companies to get paid for their work.

Pentagon Lifts Media Ban on Soldiers’ Remains

The Pentagon has announced it’s easing a media ban on the coffins of soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. Defense Secretary Robert Gates says the soldiers’ family members will now be able to decide whether the coffins can be photographed.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates: “If the family of one of the fallen says that they do not want media coverage of the return of the dignified transfer process, then that will be the decision. There will be no media coverage. If they say that’s OK with them, then it will be available.”

Gates made the decision after President Barack Obama ordered a review of the media ban earlier this month.

Obama to Charge Lone “Enemy Combatant” in U.S.

The Obama administration is reportedly preparing to bring charges against the only so-called “enemy combatant” jailed in the United States. Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri has been held in isolation at a naval brig in South Carolina for more than five years. He has never stood trial or been convicted of any crime. A Supreme Court hearing challenging his indefinite jailing is currently set for April, forcing the administration to decide whether to continue Bush administration policy or allow al-Marri to defend himself in a U.S. court. Al-Marri will reportedly be charged with providing material support to members of al-Qaeda. His attorney, Jonathan Hafetz said: “If true, the decision to charge al-Marri is an important step in restoring the rule of law and is what should have happened seven years ago when he was first arrested.” Hafetz continued: “It is vital the Supreme Court [still] hear the case… [to make] clear once and for all that indefinite military detention of persons arrested in the U.S. is illegal and that this never happens again.”

Senate Panel to Review CIA Treatment of Foreign Prisoners

The Senate intelligence committee is preparing to launch a review of the CIA’s treatment of foreign prisoners in the so-called war on terror. Congressional officials say lawmakers will use classified material and public testimony to document the use of torture practices including waterboarding. The probe is being billed as a “study”, and won’t make recommendations on whether to prosecute Bush administration officials.

U.K. Admits Sending 2 Prisoners to U.S.

The British government has retracted previous denials of involvement in the U.S. program of kidnapping and transferring suspects to foreign jails. On Thursday, British Defense Minister John Hutton said Britain has previously handed the U.S. two prisoners captured in Iraq. The prisoners were then sent to Afghanistan where they remain after more than four years.

Palestinian Unity Talks Continue in Egypt

In Egypt, unity talks continue between the leading Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas. The two groups are meeting along with ten other Palestinian factions on resolving a power split between the West Bank and Gaza for the past eighteen months. The factions have agreed on establishing five committees to resolve ongoing differences.

Hamas leader Abu Marzouq: “Thank you for coming everyone. This is a historic day, a day the Palestinians have been looking forward to for a year and a half, the day the Palestinians move towards union and the real beginning of Palestinian unity.”

The talks are continuing ahead of an international donors conference for Gaza on Monday. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is set to attend as part of her first Middle East tour since taking the State Department helm.

Ex-CIA Exec Director Gets 3-Year Jail Term in Bribe Case

Back in the United States, the CIA’s former executive director has been sentenced to more than three years in prison on wire fraud charges related to accepting bribes. Kyle “Dusty” Foggo was the third-highest-ranking official at the CIA until his resignation in 2006. Federal prosecutors say he took $70,000 worth of gifts in exchange for doling out lucrative CIA contracts. Foggo originally faced twenty-eight charges, but prosecutors agreed to drop twenty-seven of them in exchange for the guilty plea on wire fraud.

Progressive Coalition to Challenge Incumbent Dems

A coalition of unions, bloggers and activists has announced a campaign to challenge Democratic incumbents who shun progressive policies. The group Accountability Now says it plans on raising money to fund challenges to centrist and right-wing Democrats in the primaries.

Senate Backs D.C. Voting Rights

The District of Columbia has moved a step closer to getting a vote in the House of Representatives. On Thursday the Senate voted 61 to 37 to pass the DC House Voting Rights Act. The bill will expand the size of the House by two seats – giving Washington DC a single seat and Utah a fourth. The House is also expected to pass the measure and President Obama has said he will sign it into law. The Senate approved the bill only after Republicans added an amendment to throw out Washington’s gun control laws including its ban on semi-automatic weapons. More on this story later in the broadcast.

GM Posts $9.6B 4th Quarter Loss

The auto giant General Motors has posted another major quarterly loss amidst warnings it’s nearing insolvency. On Thursday, GM said it lost $9.6 billion in the fourth quarter, bringing its 2008 loss to $30.9 billion. The announcement came as GM chair Rick Wagoner met with White House officials to seek further government aid.

Paterson Seeks Delay of Solitary Confinement Ban for Mentally-Ill

Here in New York, a coalition of mental health, legal and prison rights advocates are opposing a move by Governor David Paterson to delay implementation of a bill that would bar holding seriously mentally ill prisoners in solitary confinement. Under the bill, mentally-ill prisoners would be transferred to secure treatment facilities rather than kept in twenty-four-hour solitude. Advocates for mentally-disabled prisoners have argued that solitary confinement is inhumane and has driven some to suicide and declining mental health. The measure is supposed to take effect in 2011. But Governor Paterson’s new budget calls for delaying its implementation until 2014.

Rocky Mountain News Ends Publication

And in media news, the Denver-based Rocky Mountain News is publishing its last paper today. On Thursday, parent company E.W. Scripps announced the newspaper’s closure after saying it’s failed to find a buyer. The closure comes just two months before the Rocky Mountain News would have marked its 150th anniversary.

Headlines: Obama Promises Healthcare Reform; Labor Secretary Confirmed

Democracy Now Headlines: Obama Continues Bush Policy on Afghanistan Detainees; US Working with Pakistan's Military

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 Vows Economic Recovery, Healthcare Reform

President Obama addressed a joint session of Congress last night to push his response to the economic crisis, promise healthcare reform and vow an end to the Iraq war. In a fifty-two-minute speech, Obama touched on the banking crisis but revealed few details of how he plans to steer banks like Citigroup and Bank of America from collapse.

President Obama: “This plan will require significant resources from the federal government and, yes, probably more than we’ve already set aside. But while the cost of action will be great, I can assure you that the cost of inaction will be far greater, for it could result in an economy that sputters along for not months or years, but perhaps a decade.”

Obama called on Congress to invest in areas like energy, healthcare and education, while stressing the need to reduce the federal deficit. Without offering details, Obama also urged what his administration has called its top fiscal priority: healthcare reform.

President Obama: “I suffer no illusions that this will be an easy process. Once again, it will be hard. But I also know that nearly a century after Teddy Roosevelt first called for reform, the cost of our healthcare has weighed down our economy and our conscience long enough. So let there be no doubt: healthcare reform cannot wait, it must not wait, and it will not wait another year.”

Study: 4 Million Americans Lost Healthcare Under Recession

While speaking of achieving universal healthcare, the Obama administration has refused to endorse the single-payer approach favored by most Americans but opposed by the insurance industry. Obama’s pledge for healthcare reform comes as a new study warns as many as 14,000 people could be losing their health coverage every day. The Center for American Progress says an estimated four million Americans have lost their health insurance since the recession began.

Obama to Announce 19-Month Timeline for Withdrawal of Iraq Combat Troops

Meanwhile, on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Obama said he will soon announce a plan to end the war in Iraq.

President Obama: “I am now carefully reviewing our policies in both wars, and I will soon announce a way forward in Iraq that leaves Iraq to its people and responsibly ends this war.”

Administration officials say Obama is preparing to order US combat troops to withdraw from Iraq by August 2010. The nineteen-month deadline would be three months longer than what Obama proposed on the campaign trail. As many as 50,000 US troops would still remain in Iraq under Obama’s plan. A “senior military officer” told the Los Angeles Times, “When President Obama said we were going to get out within 16 months, some people heard, ‘get out’, and everyone’s gone. But that is not going to happen.”

5 US Troops Killed in Iraq and Afghanistan

In Iraq, an American soldier was killed Tuesday after coming under fire from Iraqi policemen. Another three US soldiers were wounded. It was the third deadly attack on US forces in two weeks in the provinces of Nineveh and Diyala. Meanwhile, four US troops have been killed in a roadside bombing in southern Afghanistan. It was the deadliest attack on US troops in Afghanistan this year.

15 Killed, 60 Wounded in Somalia Clashes

In Somalia, at least fifteen people were killed and more than sixty wounded Tuesday in escalating clashes between Islamist fighters and African Union troops. A Mogadishu resident lost his wife and child in the violence.

Mogadishu resident: “They were hit by a mortar that killed them. My other three children were wounded and taken to hospital. The dead woman is my wife, who was recovering after giving birth.”

More than 16,000 civilians have been killed and one million displaced since US-backed Ethiopian troops invaded Somalia to oust Islamist leaders two years ago. The ongoing unrest has prompted calls for changes to US policy in the region. In a letter last week, Democratic Senator Russ Feingold urged President Obama to make what he called “a public, unequivocal statement” announcing a “clear break” from Bush administration policy in Somalia.

5 Ex-Gitmo Prisoners Released in France

In France, five former Guantanamo Bay prisoners have been released after a court ruled they were illegally interrogated. The prisoners had been jailed since the U.S. returned them to France in 2004 and 2005. All say they were tortured at Guantanamo. On Tuesday, the court ruled their interrogation by French security agents was illegal because conditions at Guantanamo Bay violate international conventions.

Defense lawyer Paul Albert Iweins: “It is an excellent decision which recognizes the law. We have asked the court to consider the procedure as illegal and they did, so it is a very good thing for the law in this country. We could not accept that the interrogators would question people imprisoned in a foreign territory, in conditions contrary to international conventions.”

The five prisoners say they plan to seek compensation from the U.S. for their Guantanamo ordeal. The ruling came one day after the Guantanamo prisoner Binyam Mohamed returned to Britain after his release by the U.S.

Palestinians Appeal for Global Opposition to Israeli Settlements

In Israel and the Occupied Territories, Palestinian leaders in the occupied West Bank are appealing for international pressure to halt ever-expanding Israeli settlements. On Tuesday, the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority led foreign diplomats on a tour of Palestinian areas carved up by settlement activity. Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad said the settlements are destroying what slim chances remain for a peaceful two-state solution.

Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad: “This is a project entitled ‘E1’ which, if seen through, will destroy the possibility of establishing a Palestinian state in the occupied Palestinian territory. It will separate the northern West Bank from southern West Bank, and will completely isolate Jerusalem from the West Bank.”

The Obama administration has yet to voice any public opposition to the expanding Israeli settlements.

Bernanke Predicts Recession to Wane in 2010

Back in the United States, Federal Reserve chair Ben Bernanke is predicting the U.S. could come out of recession by 2010. Bernanke spoke Tuesday before the Senate Banking Committee.

Federal Reserve Chair Ben Bernanke: “If actions taken by the administration, the Congress, and the Federal Reserve are successful in restoring some measure of financial stability-and only if that is the case, in my view-there is a reasonable prospect that the current recession will end in 2009 and that 2010 will be a year of recovery.”

Murdoch Offers Limited Apology for Post Cartoon

News Corp. chair Rupert Murdoch has offered a limited apology for a New York Post cartoon that critics say depicts President Obama as a chimpanzee. The cartoon shows a white police officer shooting dead a chimpanzee in the street. His partner, another white officer, says: “They’ll have to find someone else to write the next stimulus bill.” African-American leaders have called for a boycott of the New York Post and the firing of cartoonist Sean Delonas and editor-in-chief Col Allan. In a statement, Murchoch said: “Today I want to personally apologize to any reader who felt offended, and even insulted… It was not meant to be racist, but unfortunately, it was interpreted by many as such… I promise you that we will seek to be more attuned to the sensitivities of our community.”

San Francisco Chronicle Faces Threat of Sale, Closure

In other media news, the owner of the San Francisco Chronicle is warning it will sell or close the newspaper if it can’t drastically cut costs. The Hearst Corporation says the Chronicle will need to carry out significant layoffs to stay afloat. The Chronicle is the largest newspaper in Northern California. Hearst says it lost $50 million dollars last year.

California Legislator Proposes Marijuana Legalization

In California, a state legislator has introduced a bill to legalize the sale of marijuana. Assemblyman Tom Ammiano says the measure would generate over one billion dollars amidst California’s budget woes.

Supreme Court Limits Indigenous Land Trusts

The Supreme Court has dealt a setback to indigenous land claims in the U.S. On Tuesday, the court limited the government’s authority to hold land in trust for Native American tribes. Several states have sought the ruling to be able to impose greater control over development on indigenous lands.

Appeals Court Orders EPA to Revisit Bush Rules

A federal appeals court has ordered the Environmental Protection Agency to reconsider the Bush administration’s loosening of regulations over several pollutants known as fine particulates. On Tuesday, U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit called the Bush rules “contrary to law and unsupported by adequately reasoned decision-making.” The pollutants have been linked to lung cancer and asthma. In 2006, the Bush administration lowered the standard for long-term exposure over the recommendations of agency scientists. New York state Attorney General Andrew Cumo says imposing higher standards could prevent hundreds of premature deaths in New York City every year.

Senate Approves Solis for Labor

And the Senate has approved Hilda Solis’ nomination as Labor Secretary by a vote of 80 to 17. The confirmation vote had been delayed amidst Republican opposition to Solis’ support for labor unions. As a Congressmember, she was a key backer of the Employee Free Choice Act, which would remove barriers to unionizing workers.

Headlines: Freed Guantanamo Prisoner Allges Torture; Obama Continues Bush Email Policy

Democracy Now Headlines: Obama Continues Bush Policy on Afghanistan Detainees; US Working with Pakistan's Military

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.

Freed Gitmo Prisoner Alleges Torture in US Captivity

A newly released prisoner from Guantanamo Bay has accused US officials of torturing him and beating him dozens of times at a secret CIA prison and later at Guantanamo. The Ethiopian-born Binyam Mohamed returned to Britain on Monday after becoming the first Guantanamo prisoner freed under President Obama. In a statement read by his attorney, Clive Stafford Smith, Mohamed called for his captors and jailers to be held accountable.

Clive Stafford Smith: “For myself, the very worst moment came when I realized in Morocco that the people who were torturing me were receiving questions and materials from British intelligence. I had met with British intelligence in Pakistan. I had been open with them. Yet the very people who I had hoped would come to my rescue, I later realized, had allied themselves with my abusers. I am not asking for vengeance, only that the truth should be made known so that nobody in the future should have to endure what I have endured.”

Mohamed was arrested in Pakistan in 2002 and taken to Morocco and Afghanistan before going on to spend more than four years at Guantanamo Bay.

White House-Backed Inquiry: Gitmo Conforms with Geneva Conventions

The torture allegations came as a White House-backed Pentagon investigation said conditions at Guantanamo have met the standards of the Geneva Conventions. Lead investigator Admiral Patrick Walsh.

Adm. Patrick Walsh: “Common Article 3 of the Geneva convention prohibits the following acts: violence to life and person; taking of hostages; outrages of personal dignity, in particular, humiliating and degrading treatment; passing of sentences without judgment pronounced by a regularly constituted court. Any substantiated evidence of prohibited acts discovered in the course of the review would have warranted a finding of noncompliance with Common Article 3. We found no such evidence.”

Walsh touted himself as an impartial investigator even though he’s a high-ranking Navy official. Human rights groups and attorneys for the prisoners immediately dismissed the report as a sham.

Admin Paves Way to Nationalizing Banks

The Obama administration has taken further steps toward the possible nationalization of troubled banks. On Monday, the White House changed the terms of government bailouts to allow financial firms to repay loans with common stock instead of cash. That would increase the government’s chances of taking controlling ownership. The government has already invested nearly $200 billion in over 400 banks, including $45 billion in Citigroup.

Obama Unveils Deficit Pledge

The talk of a larger government role in the financial system comes as President Obama continues to tout his pledge to cut the federal deficit in half by the end of his first term despite the fiscal stimulus package. Obama spoke Monday at a White House economic summit.

President Obama: “The pay-go approach is based on a very simple concept: you don’t spend what you don’t have. So if we want to spend, we’ll need to find somewhere else to cut. This is the rule that families across this country follow every single day, and there’s no reason why their government shouldn’t do the same.”

Ex-Wash. Gov. Rumored for Commerce Post

In cabinet news, President Obama has reportedly settled on former Washington Governor Gary Locke to become Commerce secretary. Locke would be Obama’s third Commerce nominee after Governor Bill Richardson of New Mexico and Senator Judd Gregg of New Hampshire. A formal announcement could come this week.

Obama Mirrors Bush in Opposing Release of White House Emails

The Obama administration has again sided with former President George W. Bush on a case involving government secrecy. The White House has already continued Bush stance’s on seeking dismissal of a lawsuit by former CIA detainees and to prevent a federal court from reviewing the Bush administration’s warrantless spying program. Now it’s refusing to reverse the government position on opposing a suit seeking access to millions of missing White House emails over Bush’s two terms in office. The groups Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington and the National Security Archive want the emails publicly released.

US to Spend $900M on Gaza Aid

In Israel and the Occupied Territories, the Obama administration has announced plans to send some $900 million in aid to the Gaza Strip. The physical damage to Gaza from the recent US-backed Israeli attack is estimated to be at least double that, at more than $2 billion. The $900 million would go to aid and non-governmental organizations in line with Obama’s continuation of the Bush administration’s isolation of the democratically elected Hamas government. Some of the money would also go to Palestinian leaders in the occupied West Bank. Israel is the largest recipient of American foreign aid and military assistance, with the US giving at least $3 billion annually.

Israeli Negotiator Dismissed After Criticizing Stance on Truce, Prisoner Exchange

Meanwhile, outgoing Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has dismissed his top negotiator on Gaza for criticizing the Israeli stance on reopening Gaza’s borders. Last week, the Israeli government formalized its refusal to even discuss easing the humanitarian blockade of Gaza without the release of the captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. Shalit was seized in 2006 in a raid on an Israeli army post used for attacks on Gaza. In an interview last week, the fired negotiator, Amos Gilad, said he opposed conditioning any truce deal on Shalit’s release. Hamas has said it would free Shalit, but only in the context of a prisoner exchange. Israel has previously negotiated several prisoner exchanges. Some 10,000 Palestinians are currently jailed in Israeli prisons.

Ross Named to Advisory Post on Iran

The State Department has made official its appointment of Dennis Ross as special adviser on developing strategy toward Iran. During his previous stint as US envoy to the Middle East, Ross was widely criticized for backing Israeli settlement expansion and refusing to address Palestinian grievances.

3 US Troops, Interpreter Killed in Iraq

In Iraq, three US troops and their interpreter were killed Monday in Diyala province. They were reportedly struck by a roadside bomb.

Senate Report Faults Cuban Embargo

A new report from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee urges major changes to US policy toward Cuba. After reviewing the US embargo and restrictions on travel there, the report concludes “we must recognize the ineffectiveness of our current policy and deal with the Cuban regime in a way that enhances U.S. interests.”

Artists, Educators Call for Lifting Cuba Restrictions

The report comes on the heels of a new campaign from hundreds of artists and educators to urge President Obama to maintain his campaign pledge to ease travel restrictions to Cuba. In a statement, the group says “U.S. policies towards Cuba…have prevented us from engaging in critical communication and collaboration with our Cuban counterparts…preventing cultural interchange between two societies that share a historic relationship lasting over two centuries.” Signatories include Carlos Santana, Herbie Hancock, Danny Glover and Harry Belafonte.

Study: Western Demand Boosts Chinese CO2 Emissions

A new study has found Western countries continue to play a major role in China’s status as the leading emitter of greenhouse gases. The Oslo-based Centre for International Climate and Environmental Research says half of China’s recent increase in carbon dioxide pollution is caused by producing goods for other countries. Nearly one-third of Chinese emissions result from manufacturing products for export. Nine percent of the total resulted from goods for the US, compared to six percent for all of Europe.

Justice Ginsburg Returns to Supreme Court Bench

And back in the United States, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg returned to the Supreme Court bench Monday, less than three weeks after undergoing surgery for pancreatic cancer. The cancer has been diagnosed as early stage.

Admin: Healthcare Reform Top Fiscal Priority

The Obama administration, meanwhile, says it intends to make healthcare reform its top fiscal priority this year. No details were announced on specific proposals. The pledge comes as a new government report says healthcare costs will rise to average more than $8,000 per American this year. That amounts to a per-person increase of $365 from 2008. The Department of Health and Human Services warns the Medicare hospital trust fund continues to lose money and could become insolvent within seven years. Bureaucratic costs as a result of the insurance-based private healthcare systems continue to account for a significant percentage of healthcare spending. Meanwhile, the number of uninsured has also grown. A new report from the Kaiser Family Foundation says 48 million Americans don’t have healthcare coverage.