In Venezuela, international election observers have confirmed that President Hugo Chávez fairly won the national referendum on Sunday despite accusations from the opposition that the elections results were a “gigantic fraud.” Cesar Gavira, the head of the Organization of American States said election monitors had not found “any element of fraud.”
In Baghdad, a mortar attack earlier today in the heart of the city’s business district killed at least seven people including two children. Another 49 people were injured.
In Najaf hundreds of unarmed Shiites from across Iraq are arriving in the holy city of Najaf to act as human shields for cleric Moqtada al Sadr. The Independent of London reports 2,000 Shiites have pledged to die if needed to help stop the US from attacking the Imam Ali Shrine, one of the holiest sites in the Muslim world.
Meanwhile a delegation of 60 members of the Iraqi National Conference have been forced to postpone a scheduled trip to Najaf because the mission could not get a military escort for the dangerous journey from Baghdad to Najaf. The delegation was hoping to meet with Sadr to persuade him disarm his Mehdi Army and turn it into a political party.
The Independent of London is reporting the U.S.-backed Najaf police have begun enforcing their ban on non-embedded journalists in the city. One journalist from Al-Arabiya was arrested yesterday. Police also fired shots at a hotel where most journalists stay. A police lieutenant told journalists at the hotel “We are going to open fire on this hotel. We are going to smash it up. I will kill you all. You did this all to yourselves.”
An American journalist has been kidnapped in Nasiriyah while he was working on a documentary about threatened archaeological sites in war zones. The journalist was identified as Micah Garen, the founder of Four Corners Media.
Israel has announced it has launched a psychological war against thousands of Palestinian prisoners who are on the third day of a hunger strike to protest jail conditions. Prison officers have set up barbecues near the cells of the detained Palestinians. Guards have been told to eat in front of the hunger strikers. And guards have confiscated salt from the cells of hunger strikers who intended to use it to stop themselves from becoming dehydrated. Israel’s Internal Security Minister said last week “They can strike for a day, a month, even starve to death, as far as I am concerned.”
In education news, the New York Times is reporting that a new federal study has concluded that children attending charter schools score lower on standardized tests than students at regular public schools. According to the Times, the Bush administration buried the federal study and the Education Department released the study without any public announcement. The result is a major setback for the Bush administration which has strongly backed charter schools. The Times reports Charters are expected to grow exponentially under the new federal education law, No Child Left Behind.
The U.S. Census Bureau is coming under criticism for preparing reports for the Department of Homeland Security that documented the location and country of origin of Arab Americans living in the United States based on zip code. Forty civic, faith-based and civil liberties groups have issued a joint statement expressing concern that the reports undermine trust in the Census Bureau and unfairly target Arab Americans. The groups cite similar information gathering in the 1940s that led to the internment of Japanese Americans. The Census Bureau has said the information was used only to determine at which US airports signage in Arabic was necessary—officials have not said whether similar information about any other minority populations was obtained.
In San Francisco today a decorated combat veteran is expected to file a petition challenging a so-called stop loss order that requires reservists to remain in the military beyond the term of enlistment. This marks the first legal challenge to Army’s current “stop loss” program.
Meanwhile in Texas the military has called up for a duty a most unlikely candidate for duty: Master Sgt. Luis Jaime Trevino of McAllen Texas. He is a 57 years old Vietnam vet. He is afflicted with skin cancer, partially deaf and suffers from high blood pressure. Trevino said of the call for duty “I was very shocked.” If he does not report for duty on Sept. 15 he will face jail time.
Trevino was called up because he remains on the Army’s Individual Ready Reserve. The IRR has been widely criticized as a backdoor draft because it forces veterans who have already served their time to be called for duty if needed. Trevino is a refueling specialist — an expert in petroleum, oils and lubricants. Trevino said “If I have to go, I’ll go. That’s my job. I’m not a coward. The only concern I have is my skin cancer and my age. I’m pushing 58. I’m an old dingbat.”
In New York, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, yesterday suggested that the First Amendment rights of free speech and free assembly are “privileges” that could be lost if abused. This according to a report in Newsday. Bloomberg said “People who avail themselves of the opportunity to express themselves … they will not abuse that privilege. Because if we start to abuse our privileges, then we lose them, and nobody wants that.”
Organizers from the group Not In Our Name rallied at City Hall to call on Bloomberg to allow for a massive anti-war rally to take place in Central Park on Aug. 29.
And the beer company Miller and Rolling Stone magazine are coming under criticism for a new promotion celebrating the 50th Anniversary of Rock N Roll. The brewery and magazine have collaborated in producing eight commemorative beer cans featuring the photos of rock legends. Artists chosen include Elvis Presley, Blondie, Alice Cooper, Bon Jovi, Def Leppard and Willie Nelson.
The artists share one thing in common: they are all white. Robert Thompson, a professor of pop culture at Syracuse University, criticized the selection since African-American artists largely invented rock n roll. He told the Associated Press, “It would be like doing a set of cans of six great Impressionist painters and not including any French people on it.”