Early this morning President Bush signed emergency legislation to allow a federal judge to intervene in the case of Terri Schiavo. Schiavo is the severely brain-damaged woman in Florida who has become the focus of an intense national debate on euthanesia. On Friday, doctors — at the direction of a state court — disconnected the feeding tube to Schiavo. She has been in a vegetative state for 15 years. The move was supported by Schiavo’s husband but not her parents. With the backing of Schiavo’s parents, Republican lawmakers approved legislation to allow a federal judge to consider reversing the decision of the state court. Following the passage of the bill, the parents of Terri Schiavo asked a judge this morning to order the reinsertion of the brain-damaged woman’s feeding tube. Their attorney filed a request for an emergency injunction to keep their daughter fed. In a rare Sunday session, members of Congress were called back from their Easter recess to tackle the case and President Bush interrupted his vacation in Texas.
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist defended the extraordinary measures. “Now is the time for us to act. Terri deserves it,” Frist said. “I remain committed as leader to pass legislation to give Terri Schiavo one last chance at life. ” Republicans and Democrats debated the issue for hours late into the night. House Democrats questioned Congress’s right to intervene in a family matter and the constitutionality of the bill. ” The United States Congress is on the verge of telling states and courts that their decisions and rules do not matter,” said Congressman Jim Davis (D-FL). “The United States Supreme Court and the Florida Supreme Court have agreed that the rulings in the Terri Schiavo case were fair. Today’s Congress should be following the law, not trampling on the Constitution.”
Republicans have insisted the extraordinary moves were not taken for political reasons. But ABC News has obtained an internal memo that suggested otherwise. The memo — which was circulated among Senate Republicans — described the Schiavo case as a “great political issue” that will excite the “pro-life base.” In addition the memo said such a vote could help the Republicans in their fight against Democratic Senate Bill Nelson of Florida who is up for re-election next year.
Anti-war protests were held in over 800 cities and towns across the country on Saturday to mark the second anniversary of the Iraq invasion. In Fayatteville, North Carolina more than 4,000 gathered outside the military base at Fort Bragg. It was the largest protest at the base since the Vietnam War. In New York members of the War Resisters League staged acts of civil disobedience outside military recruiting stations. 36 people were arrested. Overseas the largest protests came in London where between 45,000 and 100,000 people took to the streets.
Meanwhile in Iraq, at least 45 people died in violence over the weekend including one U.S. soldier. In Baquba, gunmen attacked a police station killing at least four police officers and wounding two. In Baghdad coalition troops killed 24 Iraqi fighters who tried to attack a U.S. military convoy. In Kirkuk, a roadside bomb killed one U.S. soldier and wounded three others.
To mark the anniversary of the invasion, both President Bush and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld defended the war. “The victory of freedom in Iraq is strengthening a new ally in the war on terror, and inspiring democratic reformers from Beirut to Tehran,” said Bush in his weekly radio address. Defense Secretary Rumseld appeared on Fox News Sunday. He blamed the Iraqi resistance in part on Turkey. “Well, given the level of the insurgency today, two years later, clearly if we had been able to get the 4th Infantry Division in from the north through Turkey, more of the Iraqi Saddam Hussein Baathist regime would have been captured or killed,” said Rumsfeld. “The insurgency today would be less.”
The Pentagon has made the use of preemptive strikes part of the country’s official national defense strategy. On Friday the Defense Department issued new versions of its National Military Strategy and National Defense Strategy reports. According to the Los Angeles Times, the new strategy documents mark a clear shift in military planning since the Cold War. During the Cold War the military aimed to contain Eastern Europe. Now the military’s official policy calls for preemptively attacking nations and even terrorist organizations within friendly nations. The new doctrine also appears to move the nation further from reliance on such international coalitions and bodies as NATO and the International Court of Justice. The document reads “Our strength as a nation-state will continue to be challenged by those who employ a strategy of the weak using international [forums], judicial processes and terrorism.” Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith explained that some nations could try to criminalize U.S. foreign policy by challenging it in international courts.
Workers at the World Bank have begun quietly criticizing the nomination of Paul Wolfowitz as the bank’s next president. President Bush nominated his deputy defense secretary to head the bank last week. The Guardian of London reports the staff association has met with bank executives to voice concerns over Wolfowitz. The business newspaper Financial Times has also come out criticizing the selection of Wolfowitz. A recent editorial read QUOTE “The world would view a bank directed by Mr. Wolfowitz as no more than an instrument of U.S. power and U.S. priorities.” Wolfowitz has begun a campaign to improve his image. He recently called the rock star Bono who some had suggested should head the World Bank. He has been granting interviews to the European press and he plans to meet soon with European officials.
In the Middle East, Palestinian officials have accused Israel of threatening the peace process by vastly expanding the size of its largest settlement in the West Bank. The BBC reports the Israeli government has confirmed 3,500 new homes are planned for the Maale Adumim settlement east of Jerusalem. In addition, two other large settlements are expected to be expanded. Under the peace plan known as the roadmap, Israel had pledged to freeze the growth of settlements on land occupied since 1967. The international community considers all settlements in Gaza and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, as illegal under international law.
Wal-Mart has agreed to pay the government a record $11 million settlement for illegally using low-paid undocumented workers to clean its stores. A five-year investigation determined that undocumented workers were used to clean nearly 1,000 stores. Wal-Mart did not admit to any wrongdoing — the store claimed it was unaware that outside contractors were employing illegal immigrants. Union organizers criticized the Justice Department for deciding not to bring criminal charges against Wal-Mart. The size of the $11 million settlement was also criticized. Last year the store had $285 billion in sales. Wal-Mart continues to face a federal class-action lawsuit in New Jersey. The suit claims that Wal-Mart denied overtime wages to some 10,000 undocumented immigrant janitors. The suit also accuses store managers of locking workers inside the store during their overnight shifts.
Mexican President Vicente Fox is calling on the United States to reign in vigilante groups who try to protect the border between Mexico and Arizona. One citizen-run group called the Minuteman Project plans to launch its own border patrol on April 1. The group claims to have recruited about 1000 volunteers including 30 pilots with aircraft. Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission recently cited the Minuteman Project as a sign that anti-immigrant extremism is rising in the United States. Fox said “We totally reject the idea of these migrant-hunting groups.” Meanwhile protests were held Friday outside the California home of James Gilchrist who is spearheading the Minuteman Project. He has likened the effort to a Neighborhood Watch for the U.S. border.
The Catholic Church is launching a major new campaign to end the death penalty here in the United States. Later today, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, the Archbishop of Washington, will formally announce the start of the Catholic Campaign to End the Use of the Death Penalty. The campaign comes 25 years after American Bishops issued their first major statement against capitol punishment. Since 1976, 956 people have been executed in the United States. Meanwhile 119 death row inmates have been exonerated.
And at Georgetown University over 20 students have entered their seventh day of a hunger strike. They are calling on the university to raise the minimum wage for campus employees to a living wage of about $15 an hour. Currently some subcontractors are earning less than $9 an hour. One hunger striker was briefly hospitalized on Saturday. Four years ago students at Harvard University successfully secured a living wage for all campus workers after staging a 19-day sit-in inside the president’s office.