USA Today is reporting the country has about 500,000 fewer poll workers than needed for next week’s elections. The federal Election Assistance Commission has estimated that 2 million poll workers are needed to run a smooth national election but the country is not near meeting that goal. For poll workers this election may be like no other. Record number of new voters have registered. Many areas are using touch-screen voting machines for the first time. And the major parties have announced plans to send thousands of monitors to polling places with the explicit purpose of challenging the eligibility of voters. In Ohio, Republicans are paying 3,600 monitors to do this in particularly in Democratic, urban neighborhoods.
Meanwhile the BBC and investigative reporter Greg Palast reported last night that it had obtained a secret document within the Republican party in Florida that contained nearly 1,900 names and addresses of voters in Jacksonville from areas that are predominantly black and Democratic. An elections supervisor in Tallahassee told the BBC, "The only possible reason why they would keep such a thing is to challenge voters on election day."
And protests have already begun over the election. In Ohio on Monday civil rights leader and Georgia Congressman John Lewis led a march of over 1,000 people to the office of Ohio Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell. Lewis said, "We will not and we cannot forget about what happened in Florida, and we’re not going to let it happen here in Ohio." Concerns have been raised for months over how fair Blackwell Republican, will be on Election Day. Similar concerns have been raised about the Secretary of State in Florida, Glenda Hood. She was appointed by President Bush’s brother Jeb last year and in 2000 she served as an elector for the Bush/Cheney ticket. The New York Times recently editorialized that she "cannot be trusted to run an impartial election."
In other campaign news, a veteran observer of the U.S. space program who has worked with the Bush administration has publicly said Bush is considering withdrawing from an international treaty that bans nuclear weapons in space. Journalist Frank Sietzen, who recently represented the Bush camp in a policy debate, told a gathering in Washington, "the administration is reviewing whether or not we want to be signatory" to the 1967 United Nations Treaty on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space. Sietzen’s comments were first reported by the National Journal’s Government Executive. A State Department official who spoke on condition of anonymity said the government no longer agrees with the treaty’s provisions against placing weapons of mass destruction in orbit and using celestial bodies such as the moon and Mars for non-peaceful purposes.
Israel’s parliament on Tuesday voted to back Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s plan to close all 21 Jewish settlements in Gaza and evacuate the 8,100 residents living there. But the vote split Sharon’s own Likud Party and most of Sharon’s traditional allies in ultranationalist and religious parties voted against the measure. Four of Sharon’s ministers, including Binyamin Netanyahu, have threatened to resign if the government does not put the Gaza decision up for a national referendum. Thousands of settlers traveled to Jerusalem to protest the vote. According to the Washington Post, Ultra-Orthodox rabbis have called on soldiers to disobey orders to evacuate settlements while political leaders have warned that such evacuations could take Israel to the brink of civil war.
In news from Iraq, the country’s unelected Prime Minister Iyad Allawi suggested yesterday that the U.S. was negligent for failing to protect to the 49 Iraqi army recruits who were massacred on Saturday. Allawi said this shows, "gross negligence on the side of some of the multinational forces." Meanwhile the former director of national security policy for the Coalition Provisional Authority has told the Washington Post that the U.S. doesn’t have enough troops in Iraq to protect the new Iraqi recruits training for the military. He said, "There are so many being trained now, U.S. forces can’t watch them all now... You don’t have force levels to protect indigenous forces." His comments came on the same day that an Iraqi resistance group announced on its website that it had taken 11 Iraqi National Guard Soldiers hostage. Meanwhile a Japanese man has been taken hostage and threatened with beheading if the Japanese do not pull their troops from Iraq.
In other Iraq news, the country’s Interior Minister Falah Naqib yesterday estimated that 560 Iraqis were killed in the 92 suicide bombing attacks that took place between June and September of this year. The bombings injured another 1200 Iraqis.
A spokesperson for the unit that first reached the Al Qaqaa military base in Iraq told the Associated Press yesterday that the unit was never given orders by the Pentagon to search for nearly 400 tons of highly explosive materials that were stored there. On Monday the New York Times revealed that the explosives went missing sometime after the U.S. invasion and some experts believe the explosives are now being used in attacks carried out by the Iraqi resistance. Missing are 380 tons of the highly explosive material RDX and HMX. The material is so explosive that one pound of RDX was enough to blow up Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie Scotland in 1988 killing 270 people. The White House continues to downplay the story. On Tuesday White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card accused Kerry of "dwelling on the past" by talking about the missing explosives. He described the story as "yesterday’s news."
A court martial hearing in Britain has revealed that the Pentagon sent the British army secret plans for war in Iraq five months before the invasion was launched. According to evidence presented at the court martial, the US passed the information along because it wanted the British Army to begin the special training for the invasion in December 2002.
And the Treasury Department has barred a group of dancers from the New York City Ballet from traveling to Cuba this week to participate in the International Festival of Ballet.