Here in New York, the city’s subway and bus system remains shut down as 33,000 transit workers have entered the third day of a strike. On Wednesday a state judge threatened to jail union leader Roger Toussaint and two union officials for organizing the citywide strike. Judge Theodore Jones ordered the three union officials to appear in court today to face charges of criminal contempt. Under the state’s Taylor Law, public employees are barred from staging labor strikes. New York Governor George Pataki, who oversees the Metropolitan Transportation Authority vowed there would be no negotiations before the strike ended.
This news from Capital Hill — In its final session of the year, the Senate defeated a contentious measure to open up Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling. The provision had been added to a military defense bill after being removed from a budget reconciliation bill earlier this year. Republican Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska has waged a 25-year campaign in favor of the oil drilling. Wearing his favorite Incredibe Hulk tie, which he is known for wearing on the days of major votes, Senator Stevens said: “This has been the saddest day of my life.”
Environmental groups had a different reaction.
After the ANWR amendment was removed, the Senate unanimously passed a $450 billion dollar defense budget bill. The Senate also approved a ban on torture of detainees in US custody — a proposal the White House opposed until last week. But in a concession to the Bush administration, the Senate okayed an amendment that removes the right of Guantanamo detainees to appeal their detention in US courts.
Meanwhile, in a vote the Los Angeles Times calls “a major setback for the White House”, the Senate thwarted a Congressional agreement that would have extended most of the Patriot Act indefinitely. The Senate gave it a 6-month extension instead. The legislation passed despite intensive lobbying from President Bush and other top Republicans, who warned the expiration of the Patriot Act would endanger the country.
And in another vote, Senate Republicans managed to pass a fiercely contested $40 billion dollar-budget cutting bill with the tie-breaking vote of Vice President Dick Cheney. The New York Times notes cuts to student aid account for nearly one-third of the budget bill’s savings. Students will be forced to pay higher interest rates, banks will receive lower subsidies for student loans, and eligibility for college aid will be narrowed down. David Ward, president of the American Council on Education, said: “This is the biggest cut in the history of the federal student loan program.”
The budget bill also grants states new authority to impose fees and scale back benefits for millions of low-income Medicaid recipients. In addition, the bill imposes stricter work requirements for welfare recipients, and penalizes states for not reducing the number of families on welfare rolls.
This news on the case of Pentagon detainee Jose Padilla — in a strong rebuke to the Bush administration, a federal appeals court has refused to approve Padilla’s transfer to a civilian court — and suggested the Bush administration only made the request to thwart his Supreme Court appeal. Padilla was charged only last month after being held for three years by the Pentagon. His indictment did not mention the two most serious charges cited at the time of his 2002 arrest — that he planned to detonate a “dirty bomb” and launch on attack on the US.
On Wednesday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit said prosecutors could not transfer Padilla to Miami, where he faces the new charges. In its ruling, the court suggested the Justice Department’s effort to transfer Padilla gave: “an appearance that the government may be attempting to avoid consideration of our decision by the Supreme Court.” The administration charged Padilla just days before it was expected to file papers in his Supreme Court appeal. The administration then argued the Supreme Court review was no longer necessary, as his case would be moved to a civilian court.
The judges warned the government’s actions have left “the impression that Padilla may have been held for these years, even if justifiably, by mistake.” As a result, the court said the government’s action may hurt its “credibility before the courts.”
Legal experts called the decision significant in that the Four Circuit is perceived as one of the nation’s most conservative courts, a reputation that has made it a favorite for White House terrorism cases. In September, the same court granted the Bush administration sweeping authority to detain Padilla indefinitely without trial.
In other news, the Washington Post is reporting the presiding judge of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court has arranged a briefing for fellow judges to address the revelation President Bush authorized domestic-spying without court warrants only they can approve. The news comes as one of the court’s 10 presiding judges, James Robertson, submitted his resignation in protest Monday.
After a two-week break, the trial of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein resumed Wednesday. Hussein complained U.S. prison guards had abused him, saying: “I have been hit by the Americans and tortured. Yes, I’ve been beaten on every place of my body and the signs are all over my body.”
The trial also heard graphic testimony from Iraqis tortured under Saddam Hussein’s regime. In a statement to the court, Hussein said he thought those responsible should be punished. The trial continues today.
In New York, Republican Jeanine Pirro has dropped her campaign to challenge Democratic Senator Hillary Clinton in next year’s Senatorial race. Pirro faced growing pressure from within her own party to abandon the race. Pirro said she intends to run for state Attorney General.
The New York Times says it has obtained videotapes that show the New York Police Department conducting surveillance by planting undercover officers at anti-war protests, bike rallies, and even a street vigil for a dead cyclist. The officers held protest signs, held flowers with mourners, rode their bicycles — and videotaped the people present.
In one case, the faked arrest of an undercover officer at a demonstration outside the Republican National Convention led to a serious confrontation between riot police and bystanders that led to the arrest of two people. The bystanders had shouted “Let him go!” The Times says the tapes show at least 10 undercover operatives taking part in seven public gatherings since the Republican Convention in August 2004.
In New Orleans, two police officers that took part in the videotaped beating of a 64-year old African-America man have been fired. On October 11th, Robert Davis was walking in the city’s French Quarter when police accosted him. Three officers hit Davis at least four times in the head, dragged him to the ground, and kneed him in the back. Davis was left bleeding from the head. A crew from the Associated Press caught the incident on tape. Two unnamed FBI agents were also involved in the incident, but their status has not been disclosed.
And in Bolivia, nearly complete voting results indicate Evo Morales has won the country’s presidential elections. With 93 percent of votes tallied, Morales leads with over 54%. His opponent, former president Jorge Quiroga, has 28%. Morales will assume the presidency with more popular support than any Bolivian president in decades. He will also become the country’s first indigenous head of state. Morales has vowed to increase state controls over Bolivia’s key gas resources and to protect coca plantations — proposals strongly opposed by the Bush administration.