Activists across the globe rallied on Saturday to call on world leaders to take strong measures at the upcoming climate talks in Copenhagen. In an international day of action, people in 181 nations organized more than 5,200 events. The main organizing group 350.org called Saturday the most widespread day of political action in the planet’s history. The events centered on the number 350. Scientists say 350 parts per million is the safe upper limit for carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. We are currently at 387 parts per million. Around the shore of the Dead Sea, Israeli activists made a giant 3, Palestinians a huge 5, and Jordanians a 0. In the Maldives, protesters took part in an underwater protest to raise awareness of how rising sea levels might affect the island nation. In Ethiopia, some 15,000 people gathered in a massive rally on Friday calling for a strong international climate change treaty. Gopal Dayaneni of the Movement Generation spoke on Saturday at a rally in San Francisco
Gopal Dayaneni: "The story of the solution to our problems begins with the communities on the ground, on the front lines of the root causes of this problem: the communities in Richmond who are fighting Chevron, the communities in Appalachia who are fighting coal, the communities in Alberta who are fighting tar sands, indigenous peoples all over this planet fighting to protect their forests and their livelihoods, fisherfolk all over this planet fighting industrial trolling. Those communities on the front lines of this struggle are the source of our solutions."
Greenpeace field organizer Lauren Thorpe also spoke in San Francisco.
Lauren Thorpe: "We are going to have more hurricanes, more forest fires, and if we don’t do anything, the sea levels will actually rise. So this movement today is calling for those solutions to global warming that will prevent that from happening. And it’s a doable thing, but we have to act now, and we have to act fast. And we need the solutions that are at the actual scale of the problem, so we need strong, bold leadership from our president."
The Independent of London reports a vital safeguard to protect the world’s rainforests from being cut down has been dropped from a global deforestation treaty due to be signed at the climate summit in Copenhagen in December. Under proposals due to be ratified at the summit, countries which cut down rainforests and convert them to plantations of trees, such as oil palms, would still be able to classify the result as a forest and could receive millions of dollars meant for preserving them. Environmentalists say plantations are in no way a substitute for the lost natural forest in terms of wildlife, water production or, crucially, as a store of the carbon dioxide which is emitted into the atmosphere when forests are destroyed. The oil palm industry is a major driver of deforestation because palm oil is used to make biofuels.
In Baghdad, the death toll from Sunday’s synchronized suicide car bombings has risen to 155. More than 500 people were injured. It was the deadliest bombing in Iraq in two years. The blasts targeted the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Public Works and the Baghdad provincial government. Dozens of civil servants were among the dead. We’ll have more on Iraq after headlines.
In Afghanistan, fourteen Americans died in a pair of helicopter crashes earlier today. In western Afghanistan, seven US troopers and three US civilians working for the government died when their helicopter went down. In the south of the country, two US helicopters collided, killing four US troops and wounding two others.
The Washington Post is reporting the Pentagon’s top military officer recently oversaw a secret war game to evaluate ways to expand the war in Afghanistan. The exercise, led by Adm. Mike Mullen, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, examined the likely outcome of inserting 44,000 more troops into Afghanistan to conduct a full-scale counterinsurgency effort. It also examined adding 10,000 to 15,000 more soldiers and Marines as part of an approach that the military has dubbed "counterterrorism plus."
In other news from Afghanistan, US troops shot and killed four Afghan civilians driving in a car on Saturday in Kandahar. The dead included two children and a woman. A NATO spokesperson said US forces fired on the car because it failed to stop when repeatedly signaled to do so.
In Pakistan, a US drone killed at least sixteen people on Saturday. The strike reportedly targeted an underground hideout used by the Taliban. The US was attempting to assassinate the region’s top Taliban chief, but the target left the location before the attack. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of Pakistani civilians continue to flee the fighting between the Pakistani armed forces and militants in South Waziristan.
In healthcare news, Sen. Charles Schumer of New York said Senate Democrats are close to garnering enough votes to pass a healthcare bill that includes a government-run health insurance option. Sen. Charles Schumer appeared on Meet the Press on Sunday.
Sen. Charles Schumer: "I think we’re very close to getting the sixty votes we need to move forward, and my guess is that the public option level playing field with the state opt-out will be in the bill. But Leader Reid will make that decision after he talks to everybody several times."
Senator Schumer’s comments came a day after the Huffington Post reported President Obama is actively discouraging Senate Democrats in their effort to include a public insurance option with a state opt-out clause as part of healthcare reform. In its place, Obama has indicated a preference for an alternative policy, favored by the insurance industry, which would see a public plan "triggered" into effect in the future by a failure of the industry to meet certain benchmarks.
It appears that the Democratic leadership in the Senate has decided not to include a provision in its healthcare bill that would require businesses to provide health insurance to workers. But under the proposed legislation, large firms may be penalized if any of their workers need government subsidies to buy coverage on their own.
President Obama has declared swine flu a national emergency. The emergency declaration allows the Secretary of Health and Human Services to waive federal rules for hospitals, permitting them to set up alternate treatment sites for H1N1 patients, such as schools, community centers or even tents. Demand for the H1N1 vaccine continues to outstrip supply. Nationwide, only 11 million doses have been distributed, not the 120 million federal health officials had expected to have by now.
The New York Times is reporting New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has spent more of his own money in pursuit of public office than any other individual in US history. Newly released campaign records show Bloomberg has spent $85 million so far on his latest re-election campaign and is on pace to spend as much as $140 million before the election on November 3. That means Bloomberg, in his three bids for mayor, will have easily burned through more than $250 million. In the current race, Bloomberg has spent at least fourteen times more than his Democratic rival, William Thompson.
A longtime friend of Bernard Madoff’s was found dead on Sunday after apparently drowning at his home in Florida. The sixty-seven-year-old Jeffry Picower has been accused of making more than $7 billion from the investment schemes of Madoff. His death will likely make it more difficult for jilted investors to recoup their money in court.
Another prominent human rights defender has been killed in Russia. Maksharip Aushev had led mass protests against alleged abuses by the government’s security forces in the region of Ingushetia. He was driving on Saturday when a passing vehicle sprayed his car with more than sixty bullets. Tatyana Lokshina, deputy director of Human Rights Watch, condemned the killing. She said, "Sadly, the new killing...clearly shows an atmosphere of impunity in the North Caucasus. Civil activities, human rights and opposition activities have virtually become a form of suicide."
In Uruguay, a former left-wing rebel is a step closer to winning the presidency. In the first round of voting, Jose Mujica won just under the 50 percent needed for an outright victory. He will now face former president Luis Lacalle in a runoff.
In Nigeria, the largest militant group in the Niger Delta has declared an indefinite ceasefire. The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, or MEND, said it made its decision after the government expressed its readiness to engage in serious and meaningful dialog toward achieving a lasting peace in the Niger Delta.
The New York Times is reporting prosecutors in Illinois have subpoenaed the grades, grading criteria, class syllabi, expense reports and email messages of journalism students at Northwestern University. The request targets students who are part of the Medill Innocence Project that has helped lead to the release of eleven prisoners who were wrongfully convicted. Prosecutors are focusing on the students who conducted a three-year investigation into Anthony McKinney, who was convicted of fatally shooting a security guard in 1978. A judge is now reviewing McKinney’s case. As part of its review, lawyers in the Cook County state attorney’s office say that in their quest for justice in the old case, they need every pertinent piece of information about the students’ three-year investigation. But Northwestern is challenging the request, saying it is ridiculously overreaching, irrelevant to McKinney’s case, in violation of the state’s protections for journalists and a breach of federal privacy statutes.
And Clarence Kailin has died at the age of ninety-five. He was one of the last survivors of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, a group of American volunteers who fought against fascism in the Spanish Civil War in the late 1930s. Kailin fought in defense of Spain’s democratically elected government against a military coup led by Gen. Francisco Franco, backed by Adolf Hitler and Italian dictator Benito Mussolini.
Clarence Kailin: "We were fighting against fascism. And we were political enough to understand that, so it wasn’t for an adventure, and it wasn’t for money. It was fighting against Italy and Italian fascism and German Nazism, is what it was about. And we felt that if we lost the war, that World War II was pretty much inevitable, which is what happened. And it happened because Britain and France and the United States refused to give us any help at all. And so, we fought bare-handed at times."