The United Nations has begun investigating reports of widespread voting irregularities in Afghanistan’s presidential election on Saturday. All ballot counting has been stopped until the UN panel completes its investigation. On Saturday all 15 presidential candidates running against the U.S.-appointed incumbent Hamid Karzai announced they were boycotting the election citing voting security problems. Most of the candidates have called for a new election. Since then US and British diplomats have pressured the opposition candidates to accept the voting results. At least one leading opponent of Karzai has agreed to accept the findings of the UN investigation. Karzai, who is expected to win the election, dismissed the concerns of his opponents. He told reporters, “Who is more important, these 15 candidates, or the millions of people who turned out today to vote?”
The United Nations is warning that equipment and materials that could be used to make nuclear arms vanished in Iraq following the U.S. invasion. Mohamed ElBaradei of the International Atomic Energy Agency said yesterday that satellite images show entire buildings have been dismantled without any record being made. According to the BBC, Iraq’s US-backed leaders have not reported to the UN on the state of nuclear plants despite a duty to do so. In addition ElBaradei said the US has not allowed UN weapons inspectors to move freely in Iraq forcing it to rely on satellite images to monitor the country.
Meanwhile the CIA’s new Iraq weapon inspectors report has found that the chances of US forces being attack with biological or chemical weapons has grown since the occupation of Iraq began. The report found that Saddam Hussein had no weapons of mass destruction but the inspectors concluded that members of the Iraqi resistance are now trying to acquire toxic nerve gases, blister agents and germ weapons.
In other Iraq news British hostage Ken Bigley has been killed. Bigley was kidnapped last month alongside two U.S. contractors. His plight has captured the attention of Britain and the world. Twice he made public pleas to British Prime Minister Tony Blair to save his life. On Friday a video of Bigley’s beheading was broadcast. Bigley’s brother, Paul, blamed Tony Blair in part for his death. He said, “Please, please stop the war and prevent any other lives being lost. It is illegal. It has to stop. Mr. Blair has blood on his hands.”
In other Iraq news, the Bush administration has admitted the timing of the presidential elections is dictating its military policy on the ground in Iraq. The military had already announced plans to attack up to 30 Iraqi cities to pacify them ahead of the Iraqi elections scheduled for January. But now the Los Angeles Times is reporting the Bush administration is delaying its plan until after the November election. One official said, “We’re not on hold right now. We’re just not as aggressive.”
On Saturday Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld made a surprise visit to the Al Asad Air base in Iraq to meet U.S. troops. He met with 1500 (fifteen hundred) Marines for a question and answer session, but military commanders warned the soldiers there was one question they couldn’t ask. Sgt. Major Dennis Reed instructed troops, “Don’t ask when you’re going home. We’ll tell you when you’re going home.” In Iraq, Rumsfeld met with the unelected Iraqi prime minister Ayad Allawi, U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte and the George Casey, the top U.S. commander in Iraq. While Rumsfeld was visiting Iraq, two car bombs exploded in Baghdad killing 11 people.
Congress has approved doubling the number of US troops in Colombia to 800. The decision was included in this year’s 5,000 page Pentagon authorization bill which was approved on Saturday. The bill also permits the Bush administration to increase the number of U.S. citizens working for private contractors in Columbia by one-third.
The nation’s largest local television chain, the Sinclair Broadcasting Group, has ordered its 62 tv stations to pre-empt its regular prime-time programming to air a controversial documentary criticizing Senator John Kerry’s record in Vietnam. The chain has network affiliates in many key swing states including Florida, Ohio, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. Yesterday 18 Democratic Senators urged the Federal Communications Commission to investigate Sinclair’s decision to air what they view as an unpaid 90-minute attack ad against Kerry. The film, ” Stolen Honor: Wounds That Never Heal” is produced by Carlton Sherwood, a former Washington Times reporter who used to work for Department of Homeland Security director Tom Ridge while he was governor of Pennsylvania. This marks the second time this year Sinclair made headlines for its programming decisions. In April, the network refused to run an episode of Nightline when the anchor Ted Koppel read the names of every U.S. soldier killed in Iraq.
The Senate yesterday approved a $137 billion corporate tax cut marking the biggest restructuring of the corporate tax code in two decades. One of the biggest winners is the tobacco industry which will receive a $10 billion buyout. Senator John McCain described the bill as a “disgrace” and a “complete sellout to the tobacco companies.” Originally Congress planned to give the tobacco industry $10 billion in exchange for allowing the Food and Drug Agency to increase regulation of their products. But legislators removed the FDA provision while preserving the tax break. The Center for American Progress has detailed some of the special interests who will benefit from the tax cut. Corporations like Eli Lilly and Hewlett Packard will save nearly $28 billion on profits earned abroad; NASCAR track owners will save $101 million. Importers of Chinese ceiling fans stand to save $44 million. Cruise ship operators will see a $28 million savings. Fishing tackle box manufacturers will save $11 million with the biggest savings going to a company located in House Speaker Dennis Hastert’s district. And bow and arrow manufacturers will receive a $9 million tax break. And the 633-page bill includes hundreds of other business tax breaks.
The Senate vote comes three days after the Labor Department reported fewer than 100,000 new jobs were created last month — a sign the economy remains sluggish. The nation’s job performance under President Bush is the worst since Herbert Hoover served in the White House 70 years ago during the Great Depression. An estimated 1.6 million private sector jobs have been lost since Bush took office.
On Saturday, police in Denver arrested 230 people after they blocked the city’s Columbus Day parade for over an hour. The protest was sponsored by the Colorado chapter of the American Indian Movement and other Native American groups. Protest organizers charged Columbus Day is a celebration of genocide against the indigenous peoples of the Americas, and it elevates the theft of our homelands, and the murder of Native people, to national holiday status.
And actor Christopher Reeve has died at the age 52. Best known for staring as movie hero Superman, Reeve nearly died in 1995 in a horse riding accident. He was paralyzed from the neck down, lost feeling throughout his body and couldn’t talk. He could breathe only with help from a machine. But he slowly recovered over the years. He regained his voice. He began to breather unaided for hours at a time. And he regained feeling in parts of his body. Over the years Reeve became a leading activist for stem cell research. He helped establish the Creative Coalition. The head of the group said “Chris was a true champion for those who suffered, not just from spinal cord injuries, but also those afflicted with ALS, Parkinson’s, Huntington’s and Alzheimer’s Diseases and for those family members who had to watch their loved ones struggle. When the cures for these illnesses are found, it will be Christopher Reeve to whom we owe thanks.”