President Bush called on Wednesday for a massive expansion of U.S. presence in space. He called for the establishment of a permanent base on the moon and for astronauts to travel to Mars and beyond. He said the ambitious project would eventually establish “a human presence across our solar system.” The Washington Post estimated the project will cost at least $170 billion over the next 16 years. The Pentagon and private companies will also collaborate with NASA on the venture.
Fiscal conservatives who have previous expansions of the space program are expected to back the plan because it will expand U.S. military supremacy in space. The Pentagon has been discussing a military base as far back as 1959 when it proposed to put 150 rockets on the moon.
The Global Resource Action Center for the Environment warned on Wednesday that the Bush initiative “will create a new arms race to the heavens.” Among the private companies that will benefit from the space program may include Halliburton and Shell Oil. According to a 2001 article in Petroleum News, NASA has been working with Halliburton, Shell, Baker-Hughes and the Los Alamos National Laboratory in identifying drilling technologies on Mars.
The Washington Post is also reporting that the roots of the space proposal was based largely in Bush’s 2004 re-election bid. The paper reports the idea came up when presidential advisors were searching “for a bold goal that would help unify the nation before Bush’s reelection race and portray him as visionary.”
In Basra, tens of thousands of Iraqis demonstrated today calling for direct elections to form a new government in Iraq. The protest was in support of top Shia cleric Ayatollah Sistani who has clashed with the United States over how to proceed with forming an interim government because he supports direct elections.
Human Rights Watch accused the United States on Wednesday of committing war crimes in Iraq by demolishing homes of suspected members of the Iraqi resistance and by arresting the relatives of wanted Iraqis. The military is denying the charges. But a week ago the Washington Post reported that in Samarra, U.S. forces blew up the house of a man, Talab Saleh, they accused of orchestrating attacks against U.S. troops. The U.S. also arrested the man’s wife and brother and said they would remain jailed until his surrender. The military has also been holding for six weeks the wife and daughter of Saddam Hussein’s former top lieutenant Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri. They were both arrested without charges.
The Pentagon’s top doctor said on Wednesday The Army’s suicide rate in Iraq is about a third higher than past rates for troops during peacetime. The Pentagon is now saying at least 21 U.S. troops have committed suicide Iraq in the past 10 months. In addition between 300 and 400 troops have been evacuated from iraq for mental health problems.
No Traces of Chemical Weapons in Found Shells in Iraq
In Iraq news, the Danish Army announced on Wednesday initial tests showed there were no traces of chemical weapons in the stockpile of mortar shells that were discovered last week. Danish soldiers had discovered 36 mortar shells that had been buried for over 10 years. Initially reports indicated the shells contained blister gas.
The Belgian High Court on Wednesday threw out a war crimes complaint filed by 19 Iraqi civilians against retired U.S. Gen. Tommy Franks. Franks was the commander of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. The court ruled Belgium no longer has jurisdiction in the case. Belgium used to have a far reaching law that allowed Belgian courts to hear war crimes cases regardless of where the crimes allegedly occurred or the nationalities of those involved. But under U.S. pressure, Belgium amended the law last summer.
FBI director Robert Mueller said he expects the government to try suspects connected to the attacks on Sept. 11, including alleged mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed, by military tribunal rather than in criminal courts. This according to a report in the Washington Post.
On the campaign front, Carol Moseley Braun is expected to drop out of the presidential race and endorse Democratic front-runner Howard Dean. Braun, who was the first African-American woman senator, had been polling near the bottom of the nine main Democratic candidates. She was only the woman running for the party’s nomination. Dean welcomed the endorsement. He said “She’s a principled person. We just hit it off. I like her a lot. It’s going to be a big help to us.” Her aborted run for president is expected to help Braun rehabilitate her image. She lost her Senate seat after only one term in part due to allegations of improper campaign spending and a controversy over a secret visit she made to Africa where she meet with Nigerian dictator Sani Abacha.
In other campaign news, filmmaker Michael Moore last night officially endorsed Gen. Wesley Clark for president.
Meanwhile Dean on Wednesday accused Clark of being a closet Republican. He said, “I think General Clark is a good guy, but I truly believe he’s a Republican.” Clark has admitted that he once voted for both Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan.
In Iowa, some polls are now showing that Senator John Kerry may have taken a slim lead over Howard Dean and Dick Gephardt. All three candidates are polling around 22 percent.
In business news J.P. Morgan has announced plans to buy Bank One for $58 billion in a merger that would create the world’s second largest bank behind Citigroup. The New York Times reports the merger will result in the elimination of 10,000 jobs.
The Portland, Oregon tv station KOIN is reporting that since June nearly 80 percent of Vice President Dick Cheney public appearances have been at political fundraisers. According to the station’s calculations Cheney has made 80 appearances outside the White House, 59 of them were at fundraisers.