The Gulf Coast region is preparing for another major hurricane making its way across the Gulf of Mexico. Earlier today Hurricane Rita strengthened into a Category 4 storm. If Rita stays on course, the storm will likely hit Texas by the end of the week and possibly dump large amounts of rain on New Orleans. This is already forcing thousands of Hurricane Katrina evacuees staying in Texas to evacuate from their temporary homes. Rita is the fifth major hurricane of the 2005 season.
In Washington, President Bush has tapped his own homeland security adviser Frances Townsend to lead the probe. The White House is still rejecting calls for an independent investigation into what went wrong.
The Mirror newspaper of Britain is reporting that the U.S. government plans to incinerate 400,000 rations of food shipped from Britain to feed starving Hurricane Katrina survivors. According to the paper, the Food and Drug Agency has determined that the NATO ration packs are unfit for human consumption even though they are eaten by British troops in Iraq. Thousands of gallons of pear juice donated by Israeli relief agencies have already been destroyed. Food from Spain and Italy has also been judged unfit for human consumption.
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children is estimating 2,600 children in the Gulf Coast region are missing or still separated from their parents. Dozens of children in Louisiana are already being put in foster care because their parents have not been located.
In news from Iraq–the British government is defending its decision earlier this week to attack and partially destroy an Iraqi jail in Basra in order to help free two British commandos. British defense secretary, John Reid, said the army had been “absolutely right” to break into the jail. But an adviser to Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari disagreed saying “It is a very unfortunate development that the British forces should try to release their forces the way it happened.”
Meanwhile in Afghanistan, President Hamid Karzai is publicly challenging the U.S. military’s role in the country. On Tuesday he asked the U.S to stop staging air strikes and to halt searching people’s homes without government authorization. Karzai said “I don’t think there is a big need for military activity in Afghanistan anymore.”
This comes as the U.S. is investing over one billion dollars in major upgrades at military bases in Afghanistan and the region. The New York Times reports the U.S. is spending over $100 million at the Bagram Air Base near Kabul to build permanent electrical, water and sewer systems. In addition the U.S. is replacing the air base’s runway and building a hospital and housing for 1,000 service members. In Iraq, the military is also spending over $100 million to upgrade its airfield near Balad, north of Baghdad. And in Qatar, the U.S. is building a 100,000-square-foot fortified state-of-the-art regional air operations center.
On Capitol Hill, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid announced Monday that he would vote against the confirmation of John Roberts to be Chief Justice of the United States. Over the weekend, the New York Times editorial page also came out against Roberts. The paper said too little is known about a man that could help shape the court for the next several decades.
In Binghamton New York, the trial has begun for the Saint Patrick’s Four–the four anti-war activists facing federal conspiracy charges for spilling their own blood inside a military recruiting station to protest the Iraq war. One of the defendants, Daniel Burns, said in court on Tuesday, ” We wanted to make visible the truth of war. We were called by our faith, the law and our moral beliefs to peacefully protest the war.” The four protesters face up to six years in prison and $275,000 in fines.
In military news–the Army has opened up a new pool of potential military recruits: high school drop-outs. Under a plan announced Tuesday, the Army can begin enlisting recruits without a high school diploma if they agree to take the GED test. The military is offering to pay for the recruits to attend a GED test preparation class and to cover the cost of taking the GED exam. This policy change comes as the Army, National Guard and Army Reserve are all on pace to fall short of its annual recruiting goals.
The FBI is recruiting agents for a new anti-obscenity squad. According to job postings for the position, Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez now believes that fighting pornography is one of the Justice Department’s ” top priorities.”