Probe: Justice Dept. Vetted Applicants for Political Beliefs

The Justice Department is being accused of a discriminatory ideological bias in the hiring of new lawyers over the last six years. In a new report, the Justice Department’s inspector general says top officials illegally rejected many qualified applications because they were deemed as “liberal.” The applications were part of a recruitment program tapping young law school graduates. The shift began under then-Attorney General John Ashcroft in 2002 and was said to accelerate under his successor, Alberto Gonzales. Emails show applications were vetted for “leftist commentary” or “buzz words” like environmental and social justice as grounds for rejections. Membership in groups such as the American Constitution Society, Greenpeace or the Poverty and Race Research Action Council were seen as drawbacks, while membership with the right-wing Federalist Society was seen positively. The inspector general’s preliminary findings are the first in an ongoing probe into the overall politicization of the Justice Department.

House Delays Medicare Payment Cuts

On Capitol Hill, the House has voted to delay a cut in payments to physicians who treat Medicare patients. The Bush administration’s plan to reduce payments by ten percent has stoked fears many doctors will opt out of treating Medicare patients altogether. The measure now goes to the Senate, where it’s expected to be closely fought.

Drug Lobby Spent Record $168M in 2007

New figures show another record year for drug industry lobbying on Capitol Hill. According to the Center for Public Integrity, pharmaceutical companies and their trade groups spent a record $168 million last year, up 32 percent from 2006. More than 90 percent of the spending came from forty companies and three trade groups. Overall, the pharmaceutical industry has spent $1 billion lobbying the US government over the last decade.

Immunity-Backing Dems Netted Higher Share of Telecom Donations

Meanwhile, a new analysis shows Democratic Congress members who changed their vote to support immunizing telecom companies in last week’s FISA bill have on average received thousands more from phone companies than those Democrats who have voted consistently against immunity. Ninety-four Democrats voted against immunity as recently as March but changed their votes to support it last week. According to MAPlight.org, these Democrats have received an average $8,000 in telecom contributions over the last three years. The 116 Democrats who remain opposed to immunity received on average nearly $5,000.

Mugabe Dismisses Calls to Delay Vote

In Zimbabwe, President Robert Mugabe is defying international pressure to cancel a run-off election marred by allegations of intimidation and the withdrawal of his opponent. Addressing a rally of supporters, Mugabe said he would proceed with Friday’s vote.

Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe: “Raising a lot of noise for nothing, absolutely nothing. We will proceed with our elections. The verdict is our verdict. Other people can say what they want, but the elections are ours. We are a sovereign state, and that is it."

Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai won the first round of elections in March but withdrew from the run-off, saying he could not ask people to die voting for him. Tsvangirai has sought refuge in the Dutch embassy in Harare out of what he says is concern for his life. On Tuesday, Tsvangirai said he was prepared to emerge from hiding but renewed his call for the election’s delay.

Morgan Tsvangirai: “The government can do what it wants. There will be no election, because I, as the contender, will not be part of that election. The people will not be part of that election, because it is ridiculous to go in an election of that kind. It’s a one-man competition and therefore self-delusionary to think that one can go in a one-man race."

Tsvangirai and his supporters say forces loyal to Mugabe have killed dozens and displaced thousands in a campaign of intimidation. Meanwhile, in the United States, Mugabe has come under criticism from the civil rights leader Reverend Jesse Jackson. Jackson and Mugabe have known each other for decades and worked together in the campaign against South African apartheid. Speaking on CNN, Jackson called Mugabe a “heresy to democracy.”

Rev. Jesse Jackson: "Well, he was a hero. Now, he’s kind of a heresy to democracy. That’s why the AU and others must step up their diplomatic initiatives, one, to get humanitarian relief back into Zimbabwe; two, to get a free press back in to talk to both leaders about some kind of reconciliation. The opposition withdrawal today is really a way of saying they cannot take the heat of violence. And so, the people there deserve an open, free and fair democracy. And we must somehow reconcile these two extremes. We cannot, as it were, leave Zimbabweans suffering in isolation."

Israel Closes Gaza Border, Launches Attacks

In Israel and the Occupied Territories, the Israeli government has re-imposed border restrictions on the Gaza Strip that were slightly eased under a ceasefire with Hamas. Israel says it reinstated the closures following rocket fire from militants with the group Islamic Jihad. The rockets came in apparent response to the killing of two Palestinian militants in the West Bank where the ceasefire does not apply. Speaking at a donor’s conference in Berlin, Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad called the Israeli attack a provocation.

Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad: “I am now departing from the written text to tell you that as early as the early morning hours of today, there was yet another incursion in the city of Nablus where two people actually were killed. This is an example, precise example, of the kind of activity that has to stop, and stop immediately and promptly, if in fact we are going to be able to succeed in the provision of security to our people."

Palestinian medical officials say Israel has launched attacks in the Gaza Strip despite the ceasefire. An eighty-year-old Palestinian farmer was reportedly shot twice shortly after the border restrictions were re-imposed. In Gaza, Hamas official Sami Abu Zuhri criticized Israeli actions but said Hamas would respect the truce.

Sami Abu Zuhri: “Hamas is keen to maintain the deal on calm and for that is interested in treating any problems that occur through dialogue. Hamas is following up what happened with the Islamic Jihad and other factions to ensure
maintaining the agreement over the calm."

US Defends Palestinian Boycott

Meanwhile, back in Berlin, the US is facing criticism for its refusal to support lifting the international boycott on the Palestinian government. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice defended the US stance.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice: “To my good friend Amr Moussa, I just want to make certain that we understand fully that no one would be happier to see a reconciliation of the Palestinian people than I would. I think it would be very good for the Palestinian people. But that reconciliation has to take place on a basis that at least observes the international agreements to which the Palestinians themselves have signed on, because you cannot have reconciliation for peace if there is not a partner that respects the right of the other partner to exist."

The US has been accused of hypocrisy because it refuses to demand Israel also respect international agreements or recognize Palestine’s right to exist.

7 Americans Die in Iraq Attacks

In Iraq, at least seven Americans have died in attacks over the last two days. Earlier today, three US troops and an interpreter were killed in a roadside bombing in Baghdad. The attack came one day after ten people, including four Americans, were killed in a bombing in Sadr City. At least twenty-five US servicemembers have died this month. Meanwhile, Tuesday, at least ninety Iraqis were injured when a bombing struck a café in Mosul.

White House Rejected EPA Ruling by Ignoring Email

In environmental news, the New York Times is reporting the White House refused to accept an Environmental Protection Agency ruling on pollutants by simply ignoring the email containing the ruling. The ruling called greenhouse gases pollutants that should be regulated and controlled. EPA officials say the White House informed them the email containing the ruling would not be opened. The document was the EPA’s official response to a Supreme Court ruling ordering it to determine whether greenhouse gases endanger the environment. The EPA is finally set to respond this week with a watered-down version that only considers the issues raised by following the ruling to issue a judgment.

5 Killed in Kentucky Plant Shooting

In Kentucky, a plastics plant employee killed four co-workers earlier today before taking his own life. Two others were injured in the shooting.

San Francisco Residents Seek “George W. Bush Sewage Plant”

And in San Francisco, residents are proposing an unusual memorial for President Bush once he leaves office. A group calling itself the Department of Damned-With-Faint-Praise is planning to ask voters to approve renaming a water treatment sewage plant the George W. Bush Sewage Plant. The proposal would go on the ballot this November.


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