In Beirut, up to one million anti-Syrian demonstrators gathered Monday in what may have been the largest protest in Lebanon’s history. Over one-fourth of the country was in attendance. Robert Fisk of the London Independent described the rally as a “insurrection by the people against the lies and corruption of government as well as the foreign control they have lived under for so many decades.” The protesters called for a complete withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon and the resignation of Lebanese president Emile Lahoud. They also called for an independent investigation into the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri who died one month ago. Last week the pro-Syrian group Hezbollah organized a rally of about 500,000.
In California, a state Superior Court judge ruled Monday the state cannot bar marriages between same-sex partners. Judge Richard Kramer wrote in his decision “No rational basis exists for limiting marriage in this state to opposite-sex partners.” He likened the ban to laws requiring racial segregation in schools. The ruling strikes down California’s laws that limit marriage to a man and a woman but it does not mean that same sex couples can immediately get married in the state. According to the Los Angeles Times, the decision will be stayed to allow an appeal, which opponents of gay marriage say they plan to file. The ruling grew out of San Francisco’s decision last year to defy state law by granting marriage licenses to same sex couples. During a four-week period, 4,000 same sex marriage couples got married. But the California Supreme Court forced the city to stop granting the licenses and then the marriages were voided. In response a series of lawsuits were filed. The judge, Richard Kramer, was appointed by former Republican governor Pete Wilson.
In news from Washington, the White House is defending its practice of distributing government-funded video news releases to TV stations with the hopes that the stations will air the segments as real news. On Sunday the New York Times featured an extensive front-page investigation detailing the extent that pre-packaged news releases–produced by the federal government–are being used by television stations all across the country. The Times reported that at least 20 federal agencies–including the Defense Department and the Census Bureau–have distributed hundreds of television news segments in the past four years. Many were then broadcast on local stations without crediting the government as the source of the information. On Monday White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan claimed that the videos are appropriate as long as they are a factual. Last month the General Accounting Office however ruled that the videos violate laws that ban covert propaganda. But the Bush administration is ordering all agencies to disregard the GAO’s directive.
In related news, Judicial Watch has sued the Pentagon for hiring the public relations firm the Rendon Group to develop an internet site aimed at school children. The website — called Empower Peace — was designed to look like it was part of a grassroots peace movement. The website featured interactive web broadcasts between New York and Jordan, as well as Boston and Bahrain, and interaction with school age children of Islamic countries.
The Wall Street Journal is reporting the Bush administration is preparing to announce a major shift in relations with Pakistan and India. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice is visiting both countries this week and is expected to suggest that the United States is now willing to sell F-16 fighter jets to both countries. According to the Journal the high-profile sales would be a final step toward tacit acceptance of both countries’ possession of nuclear weapons. It also could draw charges of a double standard from European countries. The U.S. has been criticizing the European Union’s plan to lift its arms embargo on China.
In other news from Pakistan, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has announced his forces have lost the trail of Osama Bin Laden. Musharraf said forces had their best chance of capturing Bin Laden last year.
In news from Africa, the United Nations is now estimating 180,000 people have died in the Darfur region over the past 18 months. Until now the UN had been putting the death toll at about 70,000. Another 2 million people have been displaced.
In Nepal, police arrested 500 people Monday during nationwide protests. The protests were organized by Nepal’s five main parties as part of their campaign against the Nepali king who seized complete control of the country last month.
In news on Venezuela, the Financial Times is reporting the Bush administration is developing a policy to “contain” Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. A Pentagon official told the newspaper “Chavez is a problem because he is clearly using his oil money and influence to introduce his conflictive style into the politics of other countries.”
In news from Capitol Hill, last week the Senate approved overhauling the nation’s bankruptcy laws by a 74-25 vote. 19 Democrats joined with their Republican counterparts in approving the bill which is expected to benefit the banking and credit card industries. 25 Democrats voted against the bill. The Center For Responsive Politics analyzed the vote and found that the credit card and loan industries had given nearly three times as much in campaign donations to the Democrats who backed the legislation than those who voted against it. Democrats backing the overhaul of the nation’s bankruptcy bills pulled in an average of $31,000 in donations over the past two years. The Democrats opposing the legislation took in about $11,000 each.
A military audit has found that defense contractor Halliburton may have overcharged the U.S. government more than $100 million under a no-bid oil contract in Iraq. The audit was completed in October but was only released Monday after being obtained by Democratic Congressman Henry Waxman
And in political news, the former president of the NAACP, Kwesi Mfume has announced plans to run for Senate in 2006 from Maryland. Democratic Senator Paul Sarbanes announced last week he was vacating his seat. Before joining the NAACP, Mfume spent a decade in the U.S. House of Representatives, including a stint as head of the Congressional Black Caucus.
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