The Senate has voted to re-authorize the Bush administration’s domestic surveillance program while granting immunity to major telecommunications companies that have taken part. The bill would make permanent an earlier measure expanding government authority to eavesdrop on the international telephone calls and email messages of U.S. citizens without warrants. The Senate passed the measure by a 68-29 vote. Seventeen Democrats joined with Republicans to vote against an amendment that would have removed the immunity provision from the bill. But final passage is not guaranteed — the House version passed last year excludes granting immunity to the telecom companies. Lawmakers will be forced to negotiate as President Bush has vowed not to sign another extension after a temporary law expires on Friday. In a statement, Democratic Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin appealed to the House, saying, “The Senate, with the help of too many Democrats, is yet again giving the administration sweeping new powers — and letting it off the hook for its illegal wiretapping program… Congress should stand up for the American people and the Constitution by opposing such a badly flawed bill.”
Senator Barack Obama has extended his winning streak over Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, sweeping the so-called Potomac primary in Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia. Obama has now won eight straight contests since the nationwide Super Tuesday vote last week. He holds a slight delegate lead going into next week’s primaries in Wisconsin and Hawaii. Two key contests in Texas and Ohio follow early next month. Obama celebrated Tuesday’s win with supporters in Wisconsin.
Sen. Barack Obama: "George Bush won’t be on the ballot this November. George Bush won’t be on the ballot, my cousin Dick Cheney won’t be on the ballot. But the Bush/Cheney war and the Bush/Cheney tax cuts for the wealthy, those will be on the ballot. When I am the nominee, I will offer a clear choice. John McCain won’t be able to say that I ever supported this war in Iraq, because I opposed it from the start."
Senator Clinton, meanwhile, was in Texas, a key state for her campaign.
Sen. Hillary Clinton: "I see an America where we finally have comprehensive immigration reform with a path to earned legalization. Of course we’re going to have secure borders. We’re going to work very hard on that, and, yes, we’re going to make sure employers don’t exploit undocumented workers. And we will do more to help communities like El Paso that need resources for health and education and law enforcement, and I want to work more with our neighbors and friends to the South to help those countries create more jobs for their own people so that everyone would have a chance at a better life.”
Clinton’s campaign announced another shake-up Tuesday with the resignation of deputy campaign manager Mike Henry. Henry follows Patti Solis Doyle, who stepped down as campaign manager two days before. On the Republican side, Senator John McCain added to his virtually insurmountable lead on Tuesday, defeating main challenger Mike Huckabee in all three states.
Sen. John McCain: "Now, my friends, comes the hard part and for America a much bigger decision. We don’t know yet for certain who will have the honor of being the Democratic Party’s nominee for president, but we know where either of their candidates will lead this country, and we dare not let them. We dare not let them."
Despite McCain’s wins, polls show he continues to face some opposition from self-described conservatives and evangelicals, losing their vote to Huckabee in Virginia.
This week’s capital charges against six 9/11 suspects are renewing fears the prisoners could be executed at Guantanamo Bay if found guilty. Pentagon regulations have long required death sentences to be carried out by lethal injection at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas. But two years ago, the military amended its rules to allow for “other locations.” Experts say a death sentence at Guantanamo would be difficult to challenge in U.S. court.
A Pentagon task force is warning the military is displaying what it calls “a precipitous decrease in attention” to the security and control of the U.S. nuclear arsenal. The Defense Science Board assessment follows an incident last August in which a B-52 bomber inadvertently carried nuclear warheads on a cross-country flight.
Russian President Vladimir Putin is threatening to aim nuclear missiles at Ukraine if the Ukrainian government joins NATO and takes part in the Bush administration’s European missile system. The U.S. says the missile system is needed to defend against a potential threat from Iran, but it’s widely seen as a first-strike weapon.
Meanwhile, at the UN, the U.S. has rejected a new call for a ban on weapons in space. A draft treaty submitted by Russia and China Tuesday calls for the prevention of weapons in space and the threat or use of force there. But the White House rejected the measure, saying the U.S. opposes any attempt “to prohibit or limit access to or use of space.”
In East Timor, prosecutors are set to issue arrest warrants for eighteen rebel soldiers accused in Monday’s attack on the country’s two top leaders. President Jose Ramos-Horta remains in serious but stable condition as he recovers in an Australian hospital. East Timor is in a state of emergency as Australian troops arrive to back up an international peacekeeping force. International commander James Baker said the attackers would be punished.
Commander James Baker: "The attacks on the Timor-Leste leadership on the 11th of February, 2008, cannot go unpunished, and any individuals found to be involved should be brought before the Timor-Leste justice system."
The Australian government has issued its first formal apology for its mistreatment of Aborigines. Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd delivered the apology before the Australian parliament earlier today. It had been the first item of business for Rudd’s new government. Former Prime Minister John Howard had long refused a public apology despite a study during his term showing as many as one in three aboriginal children were taken from their families between 1910 and 1970. Huge crowds gathered across Australia to watch the historic address. Around one hundred Aborigines attended the parliament session to hear the apology. Many were shown wiping away tears.
The Lebanese group Hezbollah is accusing Israel of killing its top military commander in a car bombing in the Syrian capital of Damascus. Imad Moughniyah was considered by some to be second-in-command to Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah. Israel is denying any involvement.
In Afghanistan, the Red Cross is warning of a growing humanitarian crisis fueled by an unknown number of people displaced from their homes. Aid officials say they have less access to Afghan’s internal refugees today than at any time in nearly three decades. The Red Cross says NATO’s emphasis on military action and development aid has overshadowed major humanitarian needs.
In Iraq, an Iraqi journalist has been found shot to death in Baghdad. Hisham Michwit Hamdan was a member of Iraq’s Young Journalists League. He was twenty-seven years old.
Meanwhile, officials with the movement of the Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr say they’ve reached a deal to free two kidnapped journalists with CBS News. The pair — a British citizen and an Iraqi — have been missing since Sunday.
A former contractor who says she was gang-raped by employees of Halliburton/KBR in Iraq says thirty-eight other women have come forward to privately recount their own stories of harassment and abuse. Jamie Leigh Jones says many of the women told her they cannot go public with their accusations due to clauses in their employment contracts. No charges have yet to be filed in Jones’s case after a nearly three-year probe. KBR is arguing for her case to be moved to private arbitration instead of a public courtroom.
In Israel and the Occupied Territories, Palestinians are voicing outrage over the latest Israeli plans to build more than one thousand new homes in Arab East Jerusalem. It’s the second time Israel has announced a major construction project in occupied territory since the U.S.-brokered Annapolis summit late last year. Palestinian adviser Saeb Erekat said Israel is undermining any remote chances at a peace deal.
Palestinian adviser Saeb Erekat: "We know it’s a Palestinian problem. We know that the coup must end, and we call upon all in Gaza to stop, and to go for a mutual cessation of hostilities between Israel and the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. We need total calm. This serves the Palestinian interest. And we believe that the military escalation, incursions, roadblocks, settlement activities is just adding to the complexities, enlarging the cycle of violence and counter-violence and will not lead to the road of peace or security for any."
On a visit to the U.S. Tuesday, Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad said Israel has “not done a thing materially on the ground” to help the Palestinian Authority.
In the Philippines, a fifty-soldier battalion including three U.S.-trained officers has been suspended over the killing of eight civilians earlier this month. Two children and a pregnant woman were among the dead. The Filipino army said it clashed with Islamic rebels, but local residents say it committed a massacre.
Back in the United States, the auto giant General Motors has announced plans to buy out 70 percent of its American workforce after posting a record $38 billion loss. GM says it will offer buyouts to 74,000 employees represented by United Auto Workers.
In California, the health insurance giant Blue Cross has announced it will stop sending letters asking doctors to help the company deny patients’ medical insurance. The move comes one day after the Los Angeles Times exposed Blue Cross’s practice of sending doctors copies of health insurance applications filled out by new patients. The doctors were then asked to report back if the applications omit any preexisting conditions, including pregnancies, that could be used to deny coverage. Blue Cross is California’s largest for-profit health insurer.
Entertainment industry writers are back on the job today after voting to end their nearly four-month strike. On Tuesday, Writers Guild of America members overwhelmingly approved a deal with industry groups that will eventually give writers a percentage of revenue for work posted online. The president of the Writers Guild of America, East, Michael Winship, said writers have won a significant victory.
Michael Winship: "What’s on the table with the contract are the gains that I think we’ve achieved in what’s a very, very historic agreement. And what those are are jurisdiction in the internet and new media, which will allow writers to go into the twenty-first century knowing that their work will be covered in those areas. It sets the foundation and groundwork for that that allows us to go on and also a real percentage of revenue in the sense that we will be receiving a percentage of distributors’ gross, which is very real money as opposed to what people refer to as creative or Hollywood accounting, where you’re never quite sure where the money is going or coming from."
The strike is said to have cost writers and production crews more than $700 million in lost wages.
And in Florida, four police officers have been suspended for tipping a quadriplegic man out of his wheelchair. Surveillance footage shows the officers threw Brian Sterner out of his wheelchair after he was brought to jail over a traffic violation. Sterner says the officers grew angry at him after he told them he could not obey their orders to stand up.