It is now estimated that some 2.5 million people are in the process of fleeing their homes in the Gulf coast region of the United States, as Hurricane Rita careens toward the country. Already, rains and heavy winds are being felt in Louisiana and parts of Texas. The storm is scheduled to hit sometime Saturday. Yesterday, the storm weakened slightly, from Category 5 to Category 4 status, but meteorologists warned it could pick back up before hitting the US. The freeways out of Houston remain jam packed with vehicles full of people attempting to leave the city and the Texas National Guard is dispatching tanker trucks to help motorists who have run out of gas. Meanwhile, there are fears in New Orleans that the city’s fragile levees could break from the impact of Rita.
In a major address delivered at the Pentagon on Thursday, President Bush said clearly that US forces would not withdraw from Iraq “on my watch, saying that would give terrorists the chance to “claim an historic victory over the United States”. Bush also attacked the growing chorus of people in the US and across the world calling for the US to pull out of Iraq:
“Their position is wrong. Withdrawing our troops would make the world more dangerous and make America less safe. To leave Iraq now would be to repeat the costly mistakes of the past that led to the attacks of September the 11th, 2001”.
Bush’s speech comes just days ahead of what is expected to be one of the largest anti-war demonstrations in US history, planned for this Saturday. And as he spoke a new CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll was released showing that 55 percent of Americans believe the US should speed up withdrawal plans, while only 21 percent say the United States definitely would win the war in Iraq, while more than a third of people say they considered the war unwinnable. In his address, Bush also publicly acknowledged that more than 1,900 US soldiers had been killed in Iraq and he said that some 18,000 US troops serving in Afghanistan had not yet finished their mission.
The Senate Judiciary Committee voted Thursday to approve John Roberts’ nomination as the next Supreme Court chief justice, a move virtually assuring his confirmation by the Senate next week. The official tally was 13-5, with the committee’s 10 majority Republicans lined up solidly behind the conservative judge’s nomination to the full Senate weeks in advance. The five Democrats that voted against Roberts were: Dianne Feinstein of California, Joe Biden of Delaware, Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts, Charles Schumer of New York and Dick Durbin of Illinois. Both Russ Feingold and Patrick Leahy voted in favor of Roberts stunning many in the pro-choice and civil liberties movements.
A spokesperson for Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist said Thursday that the Securities and Exchange Commission had contacted Frist’s office about the sale in June of his shares in HCA, the giant hospital company founded by his family. The SEC contacted Frist after The Tennessean newspaper raised questions this week about the profitable timing of the sale. There has been much speculation about whether Frist engaged in insider trading.
The Greyhound bus company, the nation’s largest intercity bus company, has threatened to fire employees who sell bus tickets to undocumented immigrants. The company’s so-called “Transportation of Illegal Aliens” policy warns Greyhound’s customer service employees to beware of people in large groups, moving in single file and traveling with little or no luggage. It says other telltale signs include people “trying to hide or stay out of plain view” or large groups led by a “guide” who holds everyone’s tickets. Greyhound also says immigrant smugglers give themselves away by calling bus stations to ask if immigration authorities are present, and by loitering, repeatedly buying large numbers of tickets for other people and using phrases like, “These guys just crossed the line,” “my cargo,” and “I’ve got to move my people.” The policy warns that failure to comply could result in the employee’s firing and possibly arrest. The policy was largely unknown outside the company until La Opinion, a Spanish-language newspaper in Los Angeles, reported on it earlier this month.
Iraqi officials in Basra say they are cutting off relations with the occupation forces until the British military and government apologize and provide compensation for the British attack on an Iraqi prison. This comes amid popular anti-British demonstrations in the city with many calling for the British to leave Basra. Mohammed Al-Ubadi, the head of the Basra Governing Council said that a meeting was held Thursday between the 41 members of the Basra Governing Council and British government representatives. Ubadi said the decision to sever relations was made after that meeting. Iraqi officials say five Iraqi civilians were killed and 44 wounded as a result of fighting that happened because of the British raid.
In Ohio, a 1998 state law that requires parental consent for girls under 18 to get an abortion was put on hold again Thursday, hours before it was to go into effect for the first time. The American Civil Liberties Union had sued on behalf of a Cincinnati clinic after the law was approved, effectively keeping it on hold for years while the case was in the courts.
In a speech at American University on Monday, former U.S. president Jimmy Carter told an audience he was certain Al Gore won the 2000 presidential election. The website RAWSTORY.com posted audio of the remarks. There is “no doubt in my mind that Gore won the election,” said Carter, saying the 2000 election process “failed abysmally.”
The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a federal lawsuit in Atlanta on behalf of two vegan protesters who say they were subjected to imprisonment, arrest and harassment by Homeland Security officials. The lawsuit stems from a Dec. 2003 incident, when vegans Caitlin Childs and Christopher Freeman were protesting on public property outside a Honey Baked Ham store in Georgia’s DeKalb County. After the protest, the two say they were being watched and photographed by a man in an unmarked car. They approached the car and wrote down the make, model, color and license plate number on a piece of paper. They then noticed the unmarked car was following them. According to the ACLU suit, the car contained both a uniformed police officer and an undercover detective, later identified as Homeland Security Detective D.A. Gorman. The two pulled in behind Childs and Freeman and ordered them to exit their car. Gorman then demanded that she turn over the piece of paper on which she had copied his license tag number. Childs refused to hand the paper over, and was handcuffed. She also says she was searched a male officer, despite her request to be searched only by a female officer.
And finally, Coretta Scott King has returned home after spending more than a month in the hospital after suffering a stroke and a mild heart attack. The stroke initially left the 78-year-old-widow of slain civil rights leader Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. unable to speak or move her right side, but her doctors say she has made some recovery over the past five weeks.