The Wall Street Journal reports US spy agencies are considering rewriting a 2007 intelligence report that asserted Iran halted its efforts to build nuclear weapons in 2003. The 2007 National Intelligence Estimate reflected the combined judgment of all sixteen American intelligence bodies. The report found with "high confidence" that Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003. Since then, German, French and British intelligence agencies have all disputed the conclusions of the 2007 NIE. The Journal reports the White House could use a new report to galvanize wider international support for sanctions against Iran, which maintains its nuclear program is for civilian purposes.
In Pakistan, at least twelve people have died in a suicide car bombing in Peshawar. The bombing occurred near a pair of checkpoints, one run by the Pakistani army and one run reportedly by the CIA. More than 150 people have been killed in Pakistan in a series of militant attacks over the past eleven days. Meanwhile, President Obama has signed a bill to send $7.5 billion to Pakistan over the next five years. The aid package has been criticized inside Pakistan because the bill ties some funds to fighting militants and is seen by critics as violating sovereignty.
Afghan officials say the country will likely hold a runoff election after an investigation of allegedly fraudulent ballots reduced President Hamid Karzai’s portion of the vote to about 47 percent. Preliminary results by Afghanistan’s Independent Election Commission had given Karzai over 54 percent of the vote. A runoff would pit Karzai against his closest challenger, Abdullah Abdullah.
The US military announced today that four US service members have been killed in a bombing in southern Afghanistan.
In Washington, the House of Representatives has voted to allow the government to bring Guantanamo prisoners to US soil in order to face trial in US courts. The measure was included as an amendment to the homeland security appropriations bill. Another amendment in the bill would allow the Pentagon to exempt photos of prisoner abuse from the Freedom of Information Act. The amendment was added by independent Senator Joseph Lieberman.
President Obama visited New Orleans Thursday on his first trip to the city as president. He pledged to help make New Orleans stronger than it was before Hurricane Katrina.
President Obama: "Even with all the action we’ve taken, all the progress we’ve made, we know how much work is left to be done. Whether you’re driving through New Orleans, Biloxi or the southwestern part of Louisiana, it’s clear how far we have to go before we can call this recovery a real success."
The Obama administration has been criticized for not prioritizing the rebuilding of the Gulf Coast. Four years after Katrina, New Orleans still has more than 60,000 abandoned properties. The city has no public hospital to treat the poor. And tens of thousands of residents remain displaced. A recent survey of fifty leading on-the-ground community leaders gave Obama merely a "D+" for his Gulf Coast efforts so far. The survey was conducted by the Institute for Southern Studies. On Thursday, Obama spent less than four hours in New Orleans before flying to San Francisco for a Democratic National Committee fundraiser.
Dozens of people were arrested Thursday during nationwide sit-ins in front of the offices of health insurance companies. In New York, fourteen people were arrested during a sit-in at the offices of UnitedHealth Group. In Los Angeles, twelve people were arrested outside the offices of Blue Cross. Arrests also occurred in Portland, Oregon and Palm Beach, Florida. The actions were organized by Mobilization for Health Care for All. Protester Sarah Durand spoke in New York.
Sarah Durand: "I’m here because I feel we need some counterweight to all the lobbyist monies coming from the insurance companies and other healthcare industries. This is a civil rights issue of our era, and as we saw before, civil disobedience was necessary in the past to achieve goals."
In other healthcare news, the watchdog group Media Matters has revealed one of CNN’s regular on-air commentators is on the payroll of America’s Health Insurance Plans, an industry lobbying group opposed to the current healthcare reform efforts. Until yesterday, CNN had never acknowledged Alex Castellanos’s affiliation. Media Matters revealed that Castellanos’s consulting firm, National Media, recently placed over $1 million of TV advertising for America’s Health Insurance Plans. Castellanos’s company has also done work for the Federation of American Hospitals, the pharmaceutical industry group PhRMA, and the HCA Sunrise Hospital.
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has called on Israeli and Palestinian leaders to launch investigations of alleged war crimes in Gaza to help rebuild trust and support peace. Navi Pillay said she backed the findings in the Goldstone report that accused Israel of war crimes and deliberately targeting civilians in Gaza.
Navi Pillay: "Let me take this opportunity to reiterate my support for the recommendations of the fact-finding mission, including its call for urgent action to counter impunity. I encourage the Council and the broader international community to give full consideration to the fact-finding mission’s report. I also wish to underscore the necessity for all parties to carry out impartial, independent, prompt and effective investigations into reported violations of human rights and humanitarian law in compliance with international standards."
The UN Human Rights Council will soon vote on whether to forward the Goldstone report to the UN Security Council.
In Syria, one of the nation’s best-known dissidents has been arrested. The seventy-eight-year-old human rights attorney Haitham Maleh was taken to a security headquarters in Damascus Wednesday and has not been heard from since. Maleh spent seven years in jail in the 1980s. Maleh had been defending a fellow lawyer who was arrested in July after he called for the release of political prisoners and documented their plight.
Relatives of three Americans detained in Iran traveled to the Iranian mission at the United Nations on Thursday to deliver a petition appealing to Iran for the release of their loved ones. The three Americans are believed to have mistakenly crossed over into Iran while hiking in Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region in August. The detained Americans have been identified as Shane Bauer, Sarah Shourd and Joshua Fattal. Bauer’s mother, Cindy Hickey, spoke outside the United Nations.
Cindy Hickey: "It feels like a piece of my soul is missing right now, very much. I feel — even though I feel connected to him, it’s not the connection that I’m accustomed to. Even though he hasn’t lived in my home, I just feel like there’s a missing piece. And I, too, very much worry about, you know, what they’re going through psychologically and just their daily needs."
In Puerto Rico, public sector workers staged a general strike Thursday to protest the government’s plans to lay off 17,000 workers. Puerto Rico’s unemployment rate exceeds 15 percent. Some analysts expect the layoffs to propel that rate to at least 17 percent.
The House Financial Services Committee voted Thursday to introduce some new rules in regulating the $450 trillion derivatives market. Supporters of the measure say the vote is a key step for the Obama administration’s plan to overhaul Washington’s oversight of the financial system. But many financial experts say the new rules don’t go far enough, in part because it exempts many derivative deals from transparency requirements. Former bank regulator William Black discussed the proposal on Democracy Now! yesterday.
William Black: “The reform efforts on derivatives, for example, are a scandal. They exempt virtually all of the problem derivatives, and they’re designed to exempt it. And that’s the bill that’s introduced, and of course it’s likely to get worse with additional lobbying from the special interests.”
Supporters of expanding low power FM radio stations won a victory Thursday when the House Energy and Commerce Committee passed the Local Community Radio Act. The bill aims to repeal restrictions that drastically limit channels available to low power FM stations.
A Louisiana couple is considering filing a federal discrimination complaint after a justice of the peace in Louisiana refused to marry them because they are an interracial couple. Keith Bardwell, the justice of the peace in Tangipahoa Parish, said, "I’m not a racist. I just don’t believe in mixing the races that way.” Bardwell said he asks everyone who calls about marriage if they are a mixed-race couple. If they are, he refuses to marry them. The American Civil Liberties Union has called on the Louisiana Judiciary Committee to severely sanction Bardwell.
Administrators at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo are coming under fire for refusing to allow the bestselling food expert Michael Pollan to give a lecture on campus about sustainable food policies. Pollan was scheduled to give a one-hour lecture last night. But the format of the event was changed after a top executive at Harris Ranch Beef Company threatened to withdraw a pledged $500,000 donation for a new meat processing facility on the campus. After Harris Ranch Beef issued the threat, the public university invited a professor with close ties to the meat industry to appear along with Pollan. Michael Pollan has been a longtime critic of agribusiness and meat production. He recently appeared on Democracy Now! and discussed pigs in factory farms.
Michael Pollan: “They administer antibiotics to these animals on a regular basis, because they could not survive without them. And the waste goes down directly below the animals into this giant cesspool that’s flushed, two or three times a day, out. And, I mean, they’re just — you know, they’re incubators for disease. The sows remain in crates their whole lives, so they can be conveniently inseminated, and they have their babies right there in their crates. You know, to go to one of these places is to stop eating industrial pork, basically. I mean, if we could see into this industrial meat production, it would change the way most of us eat.”
And today is World Food Day. The theme for this year is how to ensure food security in times of crisis. A new report says the world has made little progress in reducing hunger since 1990, pointing to twenty-nine countries with alarming levels of malnutrition, mainly in Africa, where high-risk hunger remains extremely pronounced.
Suresh Babu of the International Food Policy and Research Institute: "When we talk about alarming and extremely serious condition in terms of hunger and look at the countries in the red, they are Democratic Republic of Congo, you have Burundi, you have Eritrea, Sierra Leone, Chad and Ethiopia."