In Iraq, a civilian helicopter has crashed killing nine people on board. The helicopter went down north of Baghdad earlier today.
On Wednesday the country was shaken by the discovery of dozens of corpses in two separate sites. More than 50 bodies were pulled out of the Tigris River. Iraq’s new president Jalai Talabani suggested the bodies the bodies may have been the victims of a mass kidnapping that was reported south of Baghdad over the weekend. Talabani’s comment came just days after other Iraqi officials said the report of kidnapping was a hoax. Meanwhile 19 Iraqis were found shot dead in the town of Haditha, north of Baghdad. The men appear to have been lined up against a wall and shot. There are conflicting reports as to whether the dead Iraqis were members of the Iraqi National Guard or civilians.
Iraq’s outgoing prime minister Iyad Allawi escaped an assassination attempt. A suicide car bomber attacked his convoy near his home. Several guards and officers were reportedly killed in the blast.
And it’s been one of the deadliest weeks of the war for journalists in Iraq. The International Federation of Journalists is reporting that five Iraqi journalists have been killed over the past week. Two television journalists working with the Al-Hurriya tv station died last Thursday in a suicide bombing. On the next day, two TV journalists from Kirkuk TV and Kurdistan Satellite TV were killed. In addition, a journalist working with the paper -Sabar was beheaded in Baghdad. According to the International Federal of Journalists, Some 75 journalists and media staff have been killed since the US invasion in March 2003. The group has called on the new Iraqi government to make protection of media staff a top priority.
On Capitol Hill, Republican Senator Lincoln Chafee said that Republicans on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will soon meet to decide whether they should recommend President Bush withdraw John Bolton’s nomination to become ambassador to the United Nations. Bolton’s nomination was dealt a major setback Tuesday when the Republican-led committee postponed a vote in order to allow three more weeks of investigations into allegations that Bolton regularly abused his power. On Wednesday the White House defended Bolton and accused Democrats of manufacturing “trumped up” allegations to discredit him. The Associated Press is reporting that committee Democrats now want to interview former deputy CIA director John McLaughlin and two other high-ranking intelligence officials about possible efforts by Bolton to transfer a Latin America intelligence analyst who had disagreed with him. Meanwhile the Washington Post has reported that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has ordered her senior staff not to release any information that could hurt Bolton’s nomination. The State Department denies such an order was given.
President Bush’s signature education reform act — the No Child Left Behind Act — is being challenged in court. On Wednesday the nation’s largest teachers union, the National Education Association, and school districts in Texas, Michigan and Vermont filed a lawsuit that charges the federal government is illegally forcing schools to comply with parts of the Act not paid for by the government. In addition the lawsuit argues that the federal government has shortchanged schools at least $27 billion. Meanwhile the Republican-led legislature in Utah voted Tuesday to make state education standards a priority over federal ones imposed by the No Child Left Behind Act.
In Ecuador, weeks of mass street protests have forced out the country’s president Lucio Gutierrez. On Wednesday the Ecuadorian Congress removed Gutierrez from office and named his vice president — Alfredo Palacio — head of state. Gutierrez attempted to flee the country by helicopter but protesters took over the airport preventing his private jet from departing. Instead Gutierrez took refuge in Brazil’s embassy in Quito and was granted asylum. Gutierrez was elected in 2003 on a largely leftist platform but he has been widely accused of abandoning his campaign promises. Instead of instituting social and economic reforms, he ended up supporting austerity policies drawn up by the International Monetary Fund.
In Mexico, prosecutors have filed charges against populist leader Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador in a move that could bar him from running in next year’s presidential election. Lopez Obrador is the mayor of Mexico City and had appeared poised to win next year’s election running on a platform in part against the policies of sitting president Vincente Fox. Under the Mexican constitution, Fox cannot seek re-election. While charges were filed, no arrest warrant was issued. Prosecutors allege the mayor ignored a court order several years ago in an obscure land case involving the building of a hospital road. Under Mexican law, Lopez Obrador would likely be barred from running if he is still facing criminal charges at the time of the election.
Back in this country, The House of Representatives is prepared to pass a $8 billion energy bill. The legislation will do little to rein in rising gas prices but it is expected to save oil companies billions of dollars by shielding them from costly lawsuits. The legislation has a provision that would immediately protect oil companies from lawsuits over the water-polluting gasoline additive MTBE. Major MTBE producers include Exxon Mobil and ConocoPhillips. California alone has more than 15,000 sites contaminated with MTBE. One of the main backers of the liability waiver is House Majority Leader Tom Delay of Texas. The Energy Bill would also allow oil drilling in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The San Francisco Chronicle reports the bill is being widely opposed by top state there — including top members of Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Cabinet. They are worried the bill will make it tougher for the state to block offshore oil drilling or the placement of liquefied natural gas terminals.
Meanwhile President Bush has signed the largest overhaul of the nation’s bankruptcy laws in over a quarter century. The legislation has been sought for years by the credit card and banking industries because it will make it harder for individuals to wipe out their debts.
Also in Washington, independent Vermont Senator Jim Jeffords has announced he will not seek re-election next year. Jeffords defected from the Republican Party in 2001. During a news conference the 71-year-old Senator cited unspecified health concerns, as well as the health of his wife who is undergoing chemotherapy for cancer. Speculation has already begun that Congressman Bernie Sanders, also an independent, will seek Jeffords seat. Sanders has been Vermont’s lone Congressman since 1991. Vermont’s governor Jim Douglas is seen as a likely Republican candidate.
In an update on a story we have been tracking–the case of federal whistleblower Sibel Edmonds took a surprise turn on Wednesday. Edmonds is the former FBI translator who was fired after complaining about security breaches within the agency. She is now suing the FBI over her dismissal. On Wednesday, the U.S. Court of Appeals ordered that today’s oral arguments in the case be conducted in secret with the media and public barred from the court room. The court gave no reason why it made the extraordinary decision. The American Civil Liberties Union and a dozen news organizations have sued to have the proceedings open to the public. Arthur Spitzer of the ACLU described the court’s decision as “unprecedented and outrageous.”
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee has reportedly fired two employees at the center of an FBI spy investigation. The men — Steve Rosen and Keith Weissman–have been accused of passing on classified information to Israel regarding US policy toward Iran. Until now AIPAC has strongly defended the two men. Last year the FBI twice raided the AIPAC offices as part of the investigation.
And a series of student protests are being staged on college campuses across the country this week. At the University of California Santa Cruz activists have set up a Tent City to protest fee hikes, shrinking financial aid, crowded classrooms and low pay for campus workers. Earlier in the week students accused police dressed in riot gear of brutally breaking up a protest at Tent City. 19 people were arrested.
at the University of Massachusetts–Amherst, graduate student employees have announced they are walking out of classes today to demand a fair contract.
Graduate student employees at Columbia and Yale have entered the forth day of a weeklong strike in an effort to unionize the two Ivy League graduate groups. On Wednesday AFL CIO President John Sweeney led a protest of hundreds at the Columbia campus in support of the striking graduate students. The job action is believed to be the first coordinated strike in the history of the Ivy League.