An Egyptian ferry carrying more than 1400 people has sunk in the Red Sea. The ship disappeared shortly after leaving Saudi Arabia last night. Most of the passengers are Egyptians working in Saudi Arabia. There was no indication of what may have brought down the ship. As Democracy Now ended its broadcast, dozens of bodies had reportedly been recovered, while at least 30 people had been rescued.
Protests have erupted from Muslims across the world as several European newspapers continue to re-print cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad — his turban a bomb. The drawings set off an international row when they were first published in a Danish newspaper in September. Under Islam, images of Mohammad are considered blasphemous. This week, newspapers in France, Britain, Spain, Bulgaria, and Norway re-printed the cartoons, citing the defense of freedom of expression. In Indonesia, a crowd of up to 300 people rushed the building hosting the Danish embassy in Jakarta. According to the news agency Reuters, the protesters smashed lamps, threw chairs, lobbed rotten eggs and tomatoes and tore up a Danish flag. In Gaza, militant groups threatened to attack the embassies of countries that published the images unless they closed down and apologized.
On Capitol Hill, House Republicans have elected Ohio Congressmember John Boehner to replace Tom DeLay as House Majority Leader. In a surprise victory, Boehner beat out Delay’s protégé Congressman Roy Blunt for the leadership position. Although he ran as a reform candidate, Boehner has a history of questionable ties to lobbyists. In June 1995, Boehner walked around the floor of the House and personally handed out $500 checks from tobacco lobbyists to at least six of his colleagues. Two years ago he accepted donations, parties and trips from the student loan company Sallie Mae, at a time the company was lobbying the House Education and the Workforce Committee, which he chaired. Just last month Boehner refused to return donations he received from Native American tribes represented by disgraced Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Boehner may also face criticism for his membership in an exclusive Maryland golf club that bars women from joining. Three years ago Boehener joined Burning Tree Club. He paid a $75,000 initiation fee and still pays $500 in monthly dues. In 2002, the Washington Post reported women are banned from stepping foot in the club except during the annual spring cocktail party and for holiday shopping in the pro shop.
In other news, a newly disclosed pre-war memo shows President Bush considered painting a US spyplane in the colors of the UN and flying it into Iraqi territory to provoke Saddam Hussein into war. The idea was discussed at a meeting held with British Prime Minister Tony Blair at the White House on January 31st 2003 — well over a month before the US and Britain invaded Iraq. The memo also adds further credence to accusations the President was set on war regardless of UN authorization and weapons inspections. According to the memo, Bush said "the US would put its full weight behind efforts to get another resolution and would: 'twist arms' and 'even threaten'." The memo continues: "But he had to say that if ultimately we failed, military action would follow anyway.’’ The memo says Tony Blair agreed, but argued that "a second Security Council resolution would provide an insurance policy against the unexpected, and international cover, including with the Arabs." The memo was first revealed in the book "Lawless World", written by leading British human rights lawyer Philippe Sands.
Meanwhile, investigative journalist Murray Wass is reporting Vice President Dick Cheney and his then-Chief of Staff Lewis "Scooter" Libby were informed in June 2003 that the CIA did not believe Saddam Hussein had attempted to purchase uranium from Niger. Despite receiving the CIA’s assessment, Cheney and Libby proceeded with a public campaign to discredit Joe Wilson — the former US ambassador who had first investigated and dismissed the Niger allegation. The campaign to discredit Wilson led to the outing of his wife, CIA operative Valerie Plame.
In related news, Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, who is investigating the outing of Plame’s identity, has revealed that several White House e-mails from around the time Plame was exposed have been erased. In a letter to Lewis Libby’s lawyers, Fitzgerald wrote: "We have learned that not all email of the Office of Vice President and the Executive Office of President for certain time periods in 2003 was preserved through the normal archiving process on the White House computer system."
In other news, the Associated Press is reporting President Bush will ask Congress for a $439 billion defense budget next week — a near 5 percent increase over this year. The total does not include the $120 billion dollars the Bush administration says it will spend on the ongoing military occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, the Senate passed a $70 billion dollar tax cut bill Thursday. The measure comes one day after the House sent President Bush a budget bill that slashes billions of dollars from health, welfare and education funding.
In Massachusetts, a teenager attacked three men at a gay bar in the town of New Bedford. One victim is in critical condition after sustaining a gunshot wound. The assailant attacked the men after verifying with the bartender that the place was a gay bar. Police have identified the suspect as 18-year old Jason Robida. Police are calling the attack a hate crime.
In other news, the New York Police Department is again being sued for videotaping demonstrators — but this time, by fellow police officers. According to the New York Times, officers with the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, a police union, are suing the city for videotaping them at rallies they held during labor negotiations with the city. The rallies were held in the summer of 2004. During that same summer, the NYPD conducted videotaping and undercover espionage at several anti-war protests and bike rallies.
At the United Nations, the US has voted against granting two European gay rights groups UN observer status. The US was joined by nine other countries, including Iran and Sudan, in voting against the Brussells and Denmark-based groups. National Gay and Lesbian Task Force director Matt Foreman said: "Apparently Iran, which President Bush has deemed part of the 'Axis of Evil', is a suitable partner when it comes to discriminating against gay people."
In other news, a federal judge blasted former Environmental Protection Agency chief Christine Todd Whitman Thursday for assuring Manhattan residents it was safe to return to their neighborhoods despite toxic air pollution shortly after the 9/11 attacks. U.S. District Judge Deborah Batts wrote: "No reasonable person would have thought that telling thousands of people that it was safe to return to lower Manhattan, while knowing that such return could pose long-term health risks and other dire consequences, was conduct sanctioned by our laws." Judge Batts made the comments in a ruling allowing a class-action lawsuit against current and former EPA officials to proceed.
As Chavez was announcing the expulsion, two top US cabinet members were criticizing him in Washington. At a press luncheon, US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said: "You’ve got Chavez in Venezuela with a lot of oil money. He’s a person who was elected legally just as Adolf Hitler was elected legally." On Capitol Hill, US National Intelligence Director John Negroponte warned against Chavez’s reelection, and said the Venezuelan leader is "seeking closer economic, military and diplomatic ties with Iran and North Korea."
And at the same press event where Rumsfeld spoke, an anti-war activist interrupted his speech.
Hurwitz is a member of the group World Can’t Wait. The group is convening a protest in Washington Saturday calling on the Bush administration to step down. Thousands of people are expected to attend.