The United Nations is estimating 100,000 people in southern Afghanistan have been forced from their homes since July due to heavy fighting between the Taliban and NATO forces. Earlier today, two suicide bombers blew themselves up in eastern Afghanistan. A police officer was killed and 16 people were injured. There have been 90 suicide attacks so far this year in Afghanistan killing around 170 civilians. There were only 30 such attacks in the first four years of the war. Saturday marks the fifth anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan. We’ll have more on Afghanistan in a few minutes.
In Iraq, the body of a Kurdish lawmaker was found yesterday after he and his driver were shot in the head. The lawmaker, Mohammad Redha Mohammad, is the first Iraqi Parliament member in the current government to be assassinated. Members of the Iraqi Parliament are permitted to hire up to 20 bodyguards but Mohammad had none with him when he was attacked.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice made a surprise visit to Iraq on Thursday. Her landing in Baghdad was delayed for nearly an hour because of a mortar attack near the airport. Rice maintained that Iraqis are making progress. However a leading Republican Senator who just returned from Iraq disagrees. John Warner — the chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee — said Iraq has taken steps backwards and that the United States should consider a change of course if the security situation doesn’t improve in the next two or three months. Earlier in the week, the Pentagon announced that the number of planted bombs had reached an all-time high in Iraq. Since Saturday, 24 U.S. soldiers have been killed.
Human Rights Watch has revealed that armed Shiite groups in Iraq have threatened to kill Palestinian refugees living in Baghdad if they do not leave Iraq within 72 hours. Virtually all Palestinians in Iraq are Sunni Muslim. Human Rights Watch said it has obtained flyers from a Shiite group that state there is no place for Palestinians in Iraq. Trucks with loudspeakers have been broadcasting similar messages in parts of Baghdad.
Here in this country, House Speaker Dennis Hastert refused to resign on Thursday over his handling of the Mark Foley scandal. Hastert’s office knew for months that Foley was sending inappropriate Internet messages to underage boys but the House Speaker allowed Foley to stay on as co-chair of the House Caucus on Missing and Exploited Children. During a press conference on Thursday, Hastert denied that he had done anything wrong.
The House ethics committee has announced it will investigate how Congress handled early warnings that Foley had inappropriate relationships with underage boys working on Capitol Hill.
In North Carolina, 17,000 people have been ordered to evacuate their homes after a large chemical plant fire sent a dangerous chlorine cloud across the town of Apex. At least 18 people have already been hospitalized. Flames from the plant shot 150 feet in the air and burned throughout the night. The plant handled toxic waste including pesticides and PCBs. The plant is owned by the Detroit-based company Environmental Quality. The company was forced to shut down a hazardous waste recycling and treatment plant near Detroit in 2005 after an explosion sparked a fire.
In news from Africa — the Sudanese government warned on Thursday that it will view the deployment of UN peacekeeping troops to Darfur as a hostile act and a prelude to an invasion. Sudan issued the warning in a letter to African and Arab nations. In response, the United States called for an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council.
Tribune Company In media news, the Chicago-based Tribune Company has fired Los Angeles Times publisher Jeffrey Johnson just weeks after he refused to eliminate as many as 100 newsroom positions at the paper. The Tribune company wanted the Los Angeles Times to slash its reporting staff in an effort to save money. Both Johnson and Times Editor Dean Baquet refused. The Tribune Company named David Hiller to be the new publisher. He served in the Reagan Justice Department alongside Chief Justice John Roberts and former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. The Times deputy sports editor William Rempel said the staff has no confidence in Tribune management to do what’s right for journalism or the newspaper. Calls have increased for local ownership of the Los Angeles Times. The Chicago-based Tribune company also owns 10 other papers including the Chicago Tribune, two dozen tv stations including KTLA in Los Angeles and the Chicago Cubs baseball team.
Meanwhile the advertising policies of the Los Angeles Times are also coming under scrutiny. Last week the group Free Press attempted to take out an advertisement in the paper to announce the FCC’s public hearings in Los Angeles on the new media ownership rules. The Los Angeles Times originally said the ad would cost $25,000 then bumped the price up to over $100,000 because they claimed it was an advocacy advertisement. Craig Aaron of Free Press says the paper then offered a lower rate but only on certain conditions.
Free Press decided not to take out the ad.
CBS’s 60 Minutes is reporting is has obtained the government’s secret no-fly list used to screen airline passengers for possible terrorist suspects. The list contains 44,000 entries, including common names like Gary Smith, John Williams and Robert Johnson that are shared by thousands of passengers. 60 Minutes interviewed 12 persons named Robert Johnson and all of them said they are detained almost every time they fly. The list also includes Bolivian President Evo Morales and Nabih Berri, the parliamentary speaker in Lebanon. 14 of the 19 Sept. 11 hijackers are still on the no-fly list.
In labor news, the Republican-controlled National Labor Relations Board has issued a new ruling that could block millions of workers from joining a union. The board broadened its definition of who can be considered a supervisor. Under federal law, employees defined as supervisors aren’t entitled to legal protections ensuring their right to join unions. AFL-CIO President John Sweeney said the board’s decision would immediately deny as many as 8 million workers their basic right to have a voice on the job.
A new study has criticized PBS’s flagship news program, The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, for having relying too much on white, male Republican sources. The study, conducted by the media watchdog group FAIR, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, found that NewsHour interviewed four times as many male sources as women. People of color made up only 15 percent of U.S. sources. Among partisan sources, Republicans outnumbered Democrats on the NewsHour by a two to one ratio. On the issue of Iraq, the show interviewed five times as many guests who advocated staying the course over withdrawing troops. According to FAIR, no peace activists were interviewed on Iraq during the study’s six-month period.
Today marks the 30th anniversary of the bombing of Cuban flight 455 which took the lives of all 73 people on board. It was the first and only mid-air bombing of a civilian airliner in the Western Hemisphere. Declassified U.S. documents implicate the anti-Castro Cuban exile and CIA operative Luis Posada Carriles in the bombing. Posada is currently in U.S. custody but the U.S. government has refused to extradite Posada to Cuba or Venezuela to face trial. He escaped from a Venezuelan prison in 1985 while awaiting a trial on appeal. Posada snuck into the United States 18 months ago after years of living in hiding in Latin America. He is being held in a Texas detention center. A federal judge recently ruled that Posada should be freed pending deportation but U.S. immigration officials said Thursday that Posada will remain in custody. Cuba has accused the Bush administration of having a double standard on prosecuting terrorists.
Activists from Greenpeace have created giant crop circles in corn fields in Spain, the Philippines and Mexico as part of a campaign to protect corn from being contaminated from genetically engineered varieties. Greenpeace is calling for a worldwide ban on the release of any transgenic crop or seed and for governments to stop the commercial and experimental growing of genetically engineered crops
Here in New York, student demonstrators at Columbia University disrupted a speech by Jim Gilchrist — founder of the anti-immigrant group the Minuteman Project. Over 20 students stormed the stage after Gilchrist came to the microphone. Two students unfurled a banner reading "No human being is illegal." Backers of Gilchrist also proceeded up to the stage setting off a brief brawl.
In an update in a story we’ve been following — the military has announced it will convene a court martial to try Suzanne Swift. She is the US soldier who was arrested and confined to base for going AWOL after her charges of sexual harassment and assault went un-addressed by the military. The military has charged her with being absent without leave and missing movement. Swift has refused to return to Iraq where she says she was sexually harassed by a commanding officer.
The World Association of Newspapers says 2006 has become the deadliest year for journalists and media workers on record. So far 75 journalists have died this year. 26 of the deaths occurred in Iraq.
And thousands of protesters rallied around the country on Thursday in demonstrations organized by the group World Can’t Wait. Over 200 protests were scheduled.
Democratic Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney also spoke at the rally in New York. McKinney recently lost her re-election bid.