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Senators: Abortion, Executive Power To Factor in Alito Hearings

Confirmation hearings began for Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito Monday. During their opening statements, the 18 Senators on the Judiciary Committee repeatedly said Alito"s views on abortion and executive power will play a central role in their questioning which will begin today.

Sharon Shows Improvement But Remains in Critical Condition

In Israel, doctors say Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is showing signs of improvement but remains in critical condition. Sharon was hospitalized last Wednesday after suffering a massive stroke and brain hemorrhage. Meanwhile, the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz is reporting Sharon’s stroke could have been avoided had doctors detected he was suffering from a brain condition that could have worsened his risk for a stroke in combination with blood thinners he was taking.

US Reporter Kidnapped, Iraqi Interpreter Killed in Iraq

In Iraq, an American journalist with the Christian Science Monitor has been kidnapped in an incident that left her Iraqi interpreter dead. Jill Carroll was seized Saturday outside the offices of a prominent Sunni politician in Baghdad. Caroll’s interpreter, Allan Enwiyah, was shot dead. He was 32 years old. The Christian Science Monitor is pleading for Carroll’s safe return. Reporters Without Borders reports she is the 31st media worker to be kidnapped in Iraq since the start of the war in March 2003.

Award-Winning Iraqi Journalist Arrested by US Troops

In other Iraq news, US troops have raided and arrested award-winning Iraqi journalist Ali Fadhil. Soldiers reportedly entered his home and fired bullets into the bedroom where he and his wife and children were sleeping. Fadhil was hooded and questioned for several hours. He says US troops gave him $1500 dollars for damage to his home and then dropped him off alone in a dangerous Baghdad neighborhood. In November, Fadhil won the Foreign Press Association award for young journalist of the year. He’s currently at work on a documentary about the US and British governments’ misuse of Iraqi funds.

Fadhil says US troops have not returned several videotapes they took from him. The director of the documentary, Callum Macrae, said: "The timing and nature of this raid is extremely disturbing. It is only a few days since we first approached the US authorities and told them Ali was doing this investigation, and asked them then to grant him an interview about our findings."

Suicide Bombing Kills 28 Iraqi Police Officers

This update on Monday’s major suicide bombing on a Baghdad government complex — the death toll in the blast is now 28 people, all of them Iraqi police officers. Another 25 were injured. They were attending a celebration for Iraq’s annual National Police Day. Top officials, including US ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad and Iraq’s Defense and Interior ministers, were watching the event just 200 yards away.

Study: Iraq War Cost Could Reach $2 Trillion

In other Iraq news, a new study from two top economists says the cost of the war could reach $2 trillion dollars. The study, conducted by former World Bank chief economist Joseph Stiglitz and Harvard lecturer Linda Bilmes, factors in a number of economic costs the authors say are a direct consequence of the war. These costs include about 20 percent of the $25 dollar a barrel gain in oil prices since the war began, at a cost to the United States of about $25 billion dollars.

The study also factors in the health care costs of over 16,000 wounded US soldiers, about 20 percent of whom suffer serious brain or spinal injuries. The authors also assume US soldiers will remain in Iraq until 2010 with significant declines each year. Writing of the dollar figures they estimated, Stiglitz and Bilmes write: "Even taking a conservative approach, we have been surprised at how large they are. We can state, with some degree of confidence, that they exceed a trillion dollars."

Bremer Criticizes Pentagon, Governing Council in New Memoirs

Meanwhile, Paul Bremer, the former head of the US occupation authority in Iraq, has revealed senior military officials rejected his plea for over half a million troops following the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. In a new book, Bremer says he sent a memo to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld agreeing with a Rand Corporation study that said 500,000 troops would be needed to quell the growing Iraqi insurgency. Bremer says the Pentagon rejected his request, and then set him up to be blamed for his controversial decision to disband Iraq’s military. Bremer also criticizes the initial US-appointed Iraq Governing Council, writing: "They couldn’t organize a parade, let alone run a country."

Belafonte in Venezuela: Bush “Greatest Tyrant, Terrorist in The World”

In Venezuela, American singer and civil rights activist Harry Belafonte appeared on President Hugo Chavez’s weekly television program, where he commented on President Bush.

  • Harry Belafonte: "And no matter what the greatest tyrant in the world, the greatest terrorist in the world, George W. Bush sayswe’re here to tell you that not hundreds, not thousands, but millions of the American people, millions support your revolution, support your ideas and are expressing our solidarity with you."

Brits Who Disclosed Al Jazeera Memo Back in Court

In Britain, two people are back in court today over charges they illegally leaked a memo that reportedly details a conversation between President Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair over the possible bombing of the television network Al Jazeera. David Keogh was charged with passing the memo to Leo O’Connor, who worked as an aide to former British MP Tony Clarke. The two are being charged under the Official Secrets Act, which outlaws disclosing classified government information.

Meanwhile the Guardian of London is reporting Clarke and another MP, Peter Kilfoyle, have admitted they defied the government and passed on key contents of the Al Jazeera memo. The two, both members of the governing Labour Party, said they obtained the memo in October 2004 and passed it on to an American contact.

Delay/Abramoff-Linked Lobby Firm To Close Following Indictments

This news from Washington — the Washington Post is reporting the Alexander Strategy Group — one of the country’s top lobbying firms — will close at the end of the month over ties to two indicted Republicans, the lobbyist Jack Abramoff and former House majority leader Tom Delay. The company’s president, Edwin Buckham, a former aide to Delay, said the recent investigations and indictments of both men have given the company fatal publicity.

The firm employed Delay’s wife, Christine Delay, for four years and also worked closely with Abramoff. The company lobbied for close to 70 companies and groups, including Microsoft and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America. It ranked 21st on the National Journal’s 2005 lobbying list, pulling in $8 million dollars in revenue.

Abramoff Kin Gave $8,000 to Bush Re-Election

Meanwhile, the Center for Responsive Politics is reporting family members of Jack Abramoff and his wife gave over $8,000 dollars to President Bush’s re-election campaign. In all, Abramoff’s family members have given $17,000 dollars to Republicans since 1996.

Poll: 58% See Abramoff Scandal As Part of Wider Corruption

And a new Washington Post/ABC News Poll shows 58% of US citizens believe Abramoff’s criminal case is evidence of widespread corruption in Washington rather than a limited individual case. Over 70% of Americans also say they don’t see much difference in the levels of ethics and honesty between Republicans and Democrats.

Report: Mines Paid Less Than 30% of Safety Penalties

In others news — on the heels of last week’s West Virginia blast that killed 12 miners, USA Today is reporting this country’s coals mines have been required to pay less than 30% of over $9 million dollars in safety violation penalties in the last seven years. According to government figures, nearly $5 million dollars of the fines levied by the Mine Safety and Health Administration have been reduced or held up on appeal.

Ground Zero Police Veteran Dies of Illnesses

A New York City Police officer has died in what his union calls the first police death linked to hazardous material from the rubble of the World Trade Center. Retired detective James Zadroga, who worked more than 450 hours at Ground Zero following 9/11, died Thursday from brain and respiratory complications. He was 34 years old. Zadroga, who was forced to pay his own medical bills, died owing $50,000 dollars for medical care. In a letter written before his death Zadroga wrote QUOTE: "No one cares at the job. They tell me I’m fine, go back to work. But, truthfully, I haven’t felt this bad in my life ... And what thanks do I get now that I’m sick?" His funeral will be held today.

Zapatista Leader Comandante Ramona Dies in Mexico

And Comandante Ramona, a leader of Mexico’s Zapatista rebel movement and an advocate for women’s rights, has died after a long struggle with a kidney disease. Like most Zapatista leaders, Ramona never revealed her age or given name. Zapatista leader Marcos, formerly Subcomandante, said quote: "The world has lost one of those women it requires. Mexico has lost one of the combative women it needs and we, we have lost a piece of our heart."

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