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You turn to Democracy Now! for ad-free news you can trust. Maybe you come for our daily headlines. Maybe you come for in-depth stories that expose government and corporate abuses of power. This week Democracy Now! is celebrating our 23rd birthday. For over two decades, we've produced our daily news hour without ads, government funding or corporate underwriting. How is this possible? Only with your support. Right now, in honor of Democracy Now!'s birthday, every donation we receive will be doubled by a generous supporter. This means if you give $30 today, Democracy Now! will get $60 to support our daily news hour. Please do your part. It takes just a couple of minutes to make sure that Democracy Now! is there for you and everybody else. Thank you! -Amy Goodman
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Grassroots media activists won a major victory Thursday when the Bush administration announced it would not seek to overturn a court ruling that has blocked the Federal Communications Commission from implementing sweepings regulations that would allow for greater media consolidation. The FCC, led by outgoing chairman Michael Powell, had approved new regulations in 2003 that would have allowed giant media corporations to own as many as three television stations, eight radio stations and a cable operator, as well as a newspaper in a single city. The FCC’s attempt to allow for greater media consolidation resulted in a massive grassroots organizing effort. The FCC received more than 750,000 comments on the issue — 99 percent of the comments opposed allowing for greater media consolidation. Most of the country’s major media corporations had lobbied the FCC to approve the changes. The companies included Viacom (which owns CBS), NBC, News Corporation which owns Fox, the Tribune Company, Gannett and The New York Times Company. In 2003 the Prometheus Radio Project of Philadelphia filed a lawsuit to block the implementation of the FCC rule changes. In June 2004 a federal appeals court ruled in favor of Prometheus.
In news on Iraq, Ted Kennedy has become the first U.S. Senator to call for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. He said the US military presence has become part of the problem, not the solution to what he described as “”George Bush’s Vietnam.” “Error is no excuse for perpetuation,” Kennedy said. “Mindless determination does not make a better outcome likely. Setting a firm strategy for withdrawal may not guarantee success, but not doing so will almost certainly guarantee failure.”
Meanwhile President Bush has told the New York Times that he would withdraw U.S. forces from Iraq if the new government that is elected on Sunday asked him to do so. This marks the first time he has made such a pledge.
In Iraq, the country has gone into state of lockdown two days ahead of the national elections. The borders are being closed. A dusk-to-dawn curfew is being put in placed. Roads are being closed down. But violence continues to mount. A candidate running on Prime Minister Iyad Allawi’s slate was assassinated. Earlier today a car bombing in Baghdad killed four. At least 11 people died Thursday in violence across the country.
Meanwhile the Washington Post reports there is only one accredited foreign election observer in the entire. And the observer is not expected to leave the heavily-fortified Green Zone controlled by the U.S. military.
In the latest news on Iran, the Israeli Defence Minister Sthaul Mofaz has charged that Iran’s nuclear program will reach the so-called point of no return within the next 12 months. Mofaz said “None of the western countries can live with Iran having a nuclear capability.” His comments come a week after Vice President Dick Cheney warned Israel may attack Iran.
The Republican Party has launched an unusual new fundraising drive in order to finance efforts to get President Bush’s message past what they describe as “the liberal media filter.” On Wednesday Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman sent a fund-raising email that read “The president has great goals for our country: a growing economy, strong homeland and national defense, tort and Social Security reform and affordable health care. But we need your help to get the president’s message past the liberal media filter and directly to the American people.”
Also on Wednesday President Bush vowed his administration would stop hiring columnists to promote administration policies. Over the past month it has been revealed that the Bush administration secretly paid off two prominent pundits, Maggie Gallagher and Armstrong Williams.
On Capitol Hill, Senators Frank Lautenberg and Ted Kennedy have announced plans to introduce a bill next week called The Stop Government Propaganda Act. The Act reads “Funds appropriated to an Executive branch agency may not be used for publicity or propaganda purposes within the United States unless authorized by law.”
A new report by the House Committee on Government Reform has found that the Bush administration spent $88 million last year on government-funded public relations contracts. That is more than double what was spent four years ago.
Meanwhile the press watchdog group Media Matters is criticizing Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer and Weekly Standard editor William Kristol for failing to disclose the fact that they advised the president in writing his inauguration speech. Krauthammer appeared on Fox News praising Bush’s address calling it a “revolutionary speech.” Krauthammer admits he attended a meeting at the White House on Jan. 10 but claims he didn’t sense that the meeting was part of Bush’s speech preparation. However his own paper, the Washington Post, reported on Jan. 22 that he was consulted on the speech.
The Multinational Monitor has published its list of the 10 worst corporations of 2004. The list includes two pharmaceutical giants GlaxoSmithKline and Merck, as well as well known corporation including Wal-Mart, Coca-Cola, Hardee’s and Dow Chemical. Other companies include Abbott Laboratories, AIG, McWane and Riggs Bank.
On Thursday Riggs Bank agreed to pay a $16 million fine after it admitted that it helped former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet hide millions of dollars. Pinochet oversaw the killing of over 3,000 Chileans following 1973 when he seized power in a U.S.-backed coup. U.S. Attorney Kenneth Wainstein announced the settlement Thursday. He said, “Despite this notoriety, Riggs officials willingly conducted business with Pinochet and allowed him over time to deposit over 10 million dollars into Riggs. An amount far in excess of Pinochet’s stated wealth. Riggs did not simply stand by and allow 10 million dollars to flow in and out of the Pinochet accounts. Rather, Riggs officials affirmatively helped Pinochet conduct numerous highly suspicious transactions, many of which were carried out at a time that he was under house arrest in Chile.” Riggs Bank has close connections to the Bush administration. President Bush’s uncle Jonathan Bush, became CEO of the bank’s investment arm in 2000.
In other business news, the Wall Street Journal reports Kellogg, Kraft Foods and General Mills have created a new lobbying group to defend the right to advertise to children. The new lobbying group is called the Alliance for American Advertising.
Meanwhile Procter and Gamble has reportedly reached an agreement to buy the Gillette Company for $55 billion. Together the companies will become the world’s largest consumer products conglomerate.
In other merger news, phone company SBC Communications is in talks to buy AT&T for $16 billion in a move that would great consolidate the phone industry.
The Los Angeles Times is reporting the FBI is significantly expanding its intelligence-gathering activities inside the United States. In December the FBI launched discussions with top CIA officials to rewrite two-decade-old ground rules covering how the agencies conduct domestic intelligence efforts. The FBI appears to be taking power from the CIA by stepping up its efforts to collect and report intelligence inside the U.S. on foreign figures and governments. Some congressional sources contend that the FBI move rests on ambiguous legal authority. In 2003 President Bush issued an order that allowed the bureau to begin collecting foreign intelligence in the U.S. under certain conditions.