A new analysis shows inflation has led to a greater increase in prices of staples needed for basic daily life than it has on luxury goods. According to the Washington Post, prices for basics, including groceries, gasoline and healthcare, have risen more than nine percent over two years ago. By contrast, prices for luxuries, including restaurant meals, alcoholic beverages, new cars, furniture and clothing, have risen just 2.4 percent. Meanwhile, increases in earnings for non-managerial workers were just over half the increase in staple costs, at five percent. The rise in staple prices is attributed to increasing demand for oil, but also ethanol, which drives up food prices by making food crops more scarce.
On the campaign trail, New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson has announced he’s endorsing Senator Barack Obama. Both Obama and Senator Hillary Clinton have actively courted Richardson since he dropped out of the Democratic presidential race in January. Richardson is to appear alongside Obama today at a rally in Portland, Oregon.
Meanwhile, two State Department officials have been fired and another disciplined for inappropriately accessing Obama’s passport file. The Bureau of Consular Affairs says the officials acted out of “curiosity” rather than political motivation. But Obama’s campaign is calling for an investigation.
On Thursday, both candidates continued to focus on the five-year mark of the Iraq war. Clinton addressed supporters in Indiana.
Sen. Hillary Clinton: “This is the week of the fifth year of the Iraq war. And we’re about to go into the sixth year, and I believe passionately that we should begin to bring our troops home, and I’ve outlined the policies that I would follow as president to do that. We have to do it carefully and responsibly. It is very difficult to withdraw troops. You can’t just wake up in the morning and say, ’Let’s start bringing them home.’ It has to be planned for.”
Obama, meanwhile, was in South Carolina, where he linked the nation’s economic woes to the Iraq war.
Sen. Barack Obama: “We also have to understand that the more than $10 billion we’re spending each month in Iraq is money we could be investing here at home. Just think, just think about what battles we could be fighting instead of fighting this misguided war. Instead of fighting this war, we could be fighting the terrorists who attacked us on 9/11 and who are plotting against us in Afghanistan, in Pakistan.”
On the Republican side, Senator John McCain was in London Thursday on his way back from a Middle East tour. McCain said the Iraq war would be a key issue in the upcoming presidential election.
Sen. John McCain: “We are now succeeding in Iraq, and Americans, at least, I believe, are in significant numbers agreeing that the present strategy of the surge is succeeding, and they want us to succeed. And that will be, frankly, a very big issue in this campaign.”
In Iraq, at least two Iraqi families say they’ve turned down a compensation offer from the private military firm Blackwater for killing their loved ones. Seventeen Iraqi civilians died when Blackwater guards opened fire in Baghdad’s Nisoor Square on September 16th. The father of a slain nine-year-old boy told ABC News he’s rejected a $20,000 offer for his son’s murder. The man says he plans to take Blackwater to court. Another Iraqi who lost his wife and son says he has also turned down an identical offer. Adel Jabur Shamma, who was bedridden for six months, says he accepted a $10,000 payment because he had no other choice. No charges have yet to be filed in the Blackwater case amidst ongoing legal uncertainty over whether anyone involved can even be brought to trial.
The Pentagon has announced a probe of whether more than a dozen fatal electrocutions of US soldiers in Iraq can be linked to faulty construction at US military bases. Vice President Dick Cheney’s former firm KBR could find itself at the center of the investigation. KBR builds and maintains bases and housing for US troops. Investigators say the company may have improperly grounded electrical wires, which could have caused the deaths. Earlier this month, KBR came under scrutiny after it was revealed the company supplied unmonitored and unsafe water that led dozens of US soldiers to fall sick.
Meanwhile, the US military death toll in Iraq continues to approach the four 4,000 mark with 3,992 US troops killed. In Washington, Iraq war veteran Phil Aliff said the military is being demoralized by repeated tours.
Phil Aliff: "I think it’s incredibly demoralizing to be asked to go back to Iraq for your third, fourth, fifth deployment and have to watch more friends die, more casualties being mounted up on a war that we were given false pretenses to go in the first place. And so, I think that to honor the memory of those that have died in Iraq and to honor our soldiers that are still over there, I think we have to bring our brothers and sisters home immediately."
The Dalai Lama has announced he’s prepared to travel to China to negotiate an end to a wave of Tibetan protests against Chinese rule. The Tibetan spiritual leader spoke Thursday from his base in northern India.
The Dalai Lama: "Chinese leaders and particularly with Hu Jintao only happy, meet. So then, as I mentioned earlier, go to Peking, meet leader, and, of course, that will be big news, isn’t it?"
The protests erupted last week when Buddhist monks took to the streets of Lhasa to mark the anniversary of the 1959 uprising against China. Human rights groups say dozens of people have been killed and hundreds arrested. The Dalai Lama also said he believes Chinese society has been corrupted by turning its back on welfare government.
The Dalai Lama: "During Mao’s time, there was belief, there was ideology. This is selfless ideology, serving working-class people, serving dedicate needy people, right? That spirit, selfless spirit, now gone. Everybody think money, money, money, money. So corruption, immense corruption."
In Italy, a judge has ordered the resumption of the trial of twenty-six Americans and five Italians accused of kidnapping a Muslim cleric from the streets of Milan. Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr, known as Abu Omar, was taken to US bases in Italy and Germany before being sent to Egypt. There, he says he was tortured during a four-year imprisonment. All twenty-six Americans are being tried in absentia. The case marks the first criminal trial over the CIA’s extraordinary rendition program. The trial was suspended last June, pending a state secrecy ruling that has yet to be handed down.
Back in the United States, a former radical turned fugitive has been released from prison after a seven-year term. Sara Jane Olson, formerly known as Kathleen Soliah, was a member of the Symbionese Liberation Army, the group best known for kidnapping the newspaper heiress Patty Hearst. Olson was arrested in 1999 after living underground for twenty-five years. She pleaded guilty to taking part in two attempts to bomb the Los Angeles Police Department in 1975, but later proclaimed her innocence.
The spouses of five missionaries killed by members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) are suing fruit giant Chiquita Brands International for its role in financing the rebel group in the 1990s. The victims were working along the Panama-Colombia border for a Florida missionary group. Last year, Chiquita admitted to paying millions of dollars to a right-wing Colombian paramilitary group on the US terrorist watch list and agreed to pay $25 million in fines.
And here in New York, a US immigration agent has been arrested after he was caught demanding sexual acts from a Colombian woman in return for granting her a green card. The agent, Isaac Baichu, has handled more than 8,000 immigrant applications during his career. The woman recorded Baichu making his demands, which included performing oral sex on the spot so he could know that she was “serious.” The case is among several known instances of sexual blackmail in the immigration process in recent years. Analysts say the actual number of cases could be far higher. Baichu faces seven years in prison.