New York City’s transit strike has entered its second day. 33,000 transit workers are off the job, shutting down the country’s largest public transportation system for the first time in 25 years. More than 7 million commuters have been left to find alternative ways to get around the city. Late Tuesday, a State Supreme Court Judge leveled a $1 million dollar a day fine on the Transport Workers Union, charging that it was in violation of the Taylor law, which prohibits strikes by public employees. The union says it will appeal the fine.
Meanwhile, the New York Times is reporting new details of the last-minute negotiations that broke down early Tuesday morning: Minutes before Monday night’s 12:01 am strike deadline, the authority put forward a demand that new transit workers contribute 6 percent toward their pensions, up from the current 2 percent. The Times says that demand would have saved the city less than $20 million dollars over the next three years — a sum less than what the New York Police Department will spend on extra overtime during the first two days of the strike.
This news on the Bush administration’s domestic espionage program: the Washington Post is reporting a judge has resigned from the country’s top spy court in protest of the secret program in which the National Security Agency has eavesdropped on Americans without court-approved warrants. U.S. District Judge James Robertson, one of 11 members of the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, submitted his resignation Monday. The court is regarded as the only authority to authorize wire-taps for domestic espionage.
President Bush has argued eavesdropping without court-approved warrants is legal under authority granted by Congress shortly after 9/11. But in April of last year President Bush told reporters wire-taps were only conducted with court approval.
The White House is now claiming Bush was referring only to actions taken under the Patriot Act.
Meanwhile, the New York Times is reporting the espionage program monitored communications that were entirely domestic — despite recent assurances from top administration officials that one end of the intercepted communications came from abroad. Government officials told the Times the intercepts were “accidental.”
Earlier this week, former NSA director Gen. Michael V. Hayden, currently the second-ranking intelligence official in the country, told reporters: “I can assure you, by the physics of the intercept, by how we actually conduct our activities, that one end of these communications are always outside the United States.”
Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales made the same claim: “People are running around saying that the United States is somehow spying on American citizens calling their neighbors. [Its] very, very important to understand that one party to the communication has to be outside the United States.”
In Iraq, Sunni and other political groups are demanding a new vote following last week’s national election that they say was marred with fraud. Preliminary results show the Shiite coalition the United Iraqi Alliance swept voting in 10 of Iraq’s 18 provinces with 58 percent of the vote, while the main Sunni coalition, the Iraqi Consensus Front, earned 19 percent. As expected, the Kurdistan Islamic Union captured the three dominant Kurdish areas to the north. A party headed by US-backed former Iraqi prime minister Iyad Allawi was fourth-place, with fourteen percent. Officials say the results will not be certified until a review of over the over 1,000 electoral complaints received so far.
Meanwhile, the trial of former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein resumed today after a two-week break. During his last appearence, Saddam Hussein had vowed he would not return to the trial, citing alleged mistreatment. Saddam Hussein and seven others are on trial for a massacre in a Shiite village in 1982, the first of several pending war crimes charges.
Israel has announced it will bar all Palestinians in Jerusalem from voting in upcoming Palestinian legislative elections next month. According to the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz, the ban is being imposed because of the participation of the Palestinian group Hamas.
The Palestinian Authority has rebuffed Israeli and US demands it ban the party from January’s vote. Palestinian Information Minister Nabil Shaath said: “If the Israelis insist on not allowing us to conduct the elections in Jerusalem, then there will be no elections at all.”
In Pennsylvania, a federal judge has banned the school board of the town of Dover from teaching so-called “intelligent design” as an alternative to evolutionary theory. Dover drew national headlines last year when it introduced the theory — the belief creation and evolution of life can be attributed to a higher, supernatural creator — into high school science curriculums.
On Capitol Hill, Vice President Dick Cheney has cut short a trip abroad to be present in case a tie-breaking vote is needed on two contentious bills before the Senate today. A budget bill approved by the House Monday would cut federal funding for child support and student loans, as well as impose new fees on Medicaid recipients and new work restrictions on state welfare.
The cuts would trim $40 billion dollars; that total is nearly matched by $36 billion dollars that would have been saved had the Senate kept a provision to cut a government program that provides financial incentives to lure managed care companies into Medicare. That provision was removed from the bill under pressure from the White House.
The Los Angeles Times notes the $40 billion dollars in budget cuts is also dwarfed by the $70 billion dollar cost of a Republican proposal expected to be voted on next year that would extend previous tax cuts enacted in 2001 and 2003. Five Senate Republicans have reportedly joined Democrats in opposing the budget measure. Their combined votes would lead to a 50-50 tie. As president of the Senate, Cheney would break any deadlock.
Meanwhile, the Senate is gearing for another showdown over a provision to allow oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. In a highly controversial move, Republican Senator Todd Stevens of Alaska successfully added the measure to the 2006 military defense budget bill after it was rejected from the budget reconciliation bill.
In Indonesia, a pilot has been sentence to 14-years in prison for the murder of human rights activist Munir Thalib. During a flight to Singapore in September 2004, off-duty pilot Pollycarpus Priyanto gave up his first-class seat to Munir, then poisoned a glass of orange juice that was served to him. Munir, a prominent critic of the Indonesian government and military, was on his way to Holland to begin a Master’s degree. He died on board his connecting flight to Amsterdam. During the trial, prosecutors ignored the findings of an independent investigatation that pointed to the involvement of State Intelligence Agency. After the trial, Munir’s wife criticized the court for ignoring the issue of government involvement, saying QUOTE: “They have to find the mastermind. Pollycarpus played only a small part in this conspiracy,” she said.
And one week after his execution, a funeral service was held for Stanley “Tookie” Williams Tuesday. A standing-room only crowd of over 1500 people packed the Bethel A.M.E. Church in Los Angeles while hundreds more filled the streets outside. A co-founder of one of the country’s most notorious street gangs, the Crips, Williams spent 24 years on death row after being convicted of four murders. During this period he became a Nobel Peace Prize nominee, children’s author and a vocal advocate against gang violence. He maintained his innocence up until his death. The service lasted over four hours. Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan gave the eulogy.
Rap artist Snoop Dogg read a poem he wrote for Tookie Williams.