The Democratic sweep of this year’s midterm elections is complete. Republican incumbent George Allen has conceded Virginia’s Senate race to challenger James Webb, giving Democrats control of both houses of Congress. Allen gave his concession speech on Thursday.
Sen. George Allen (R-VA): “The Bible teaches us that there is a time and a place for everything. And today I have called and congratulated Jim Webb and his team for his victory. They had the prevailing winds.”
The election fallout continues to hit the Republican Party. On Thursday, Republican officials announced Republican National Committee Chair Ken Mehlman will step down at the end of the year.
Mehlman’s departure comes one day after Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. The New York Times reports the Bush administration has been considering Rumsfeld’s removal since the summer but postponed action in part to avoid emboldening critics before the midterm election.
At the White House, President Bush met with Democratic House leader Nancy Pelosi Thursday in their first meeting since the election. In an earlier sit-down with his Cabinet, the president laid out his top goals for Congress.
President Bush: “The first order of business is for Congress to complete the work on the federal spending bills for this year with strong fiscal discipline and without diminishing our capacity to fight the war on terror. The other important priority in the war on terror is for the Congress to pass the Terrorist Surveillance Act. We also need to pass the bipartisan energy legislation that’s now before Congress.”
The president also called on Congress to approve U.N. Ambassador John Bolton, but new developments indicate he will run into difficulty. On Thursday, Republican Senator Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island said he would continue to oppose Bolton’s nomination. Chafee leaves Congress in January after losing his bid for re-election. Chafee said, “The American people have spoken out against the president’s agenda on a number of fronts, and presumably one of those is on foreign policy. … I’m not going to endorse something the American people have spoke out against.” Without Chafee’s vote, Republicans will likely fall short of moving Bolton’s nomination out of committee to the full Senate.
Meanwhile, Democratic House leader Nancy Pelosi spoke after meeting with President Bush.
Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA): “It is very exciting to be the first woman speaker of the House, God willing if my colleagues support that in another few days. And again, as speaker, I understand my responsibility: speaker of the House, of all the House, not just the Democrats, and a responsibility to work with the administration to make progress. We made history, and we need to make progress. And I am looking forward to working with the president to do just that.”
Pelosi’s meeting with the president comes as Democrats are already preparing their list of committee chairs. Democratic Party officials said Thursday Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut will chair the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs. Lieberman won as an independent after losing the Democratic primary to Ned Lamont.
In Iraq, the number of U.S. troops killed this month has reached 23. The military announced today the deaths of three U.S. servicemembers.
Meanwhile, Iraq’s health minister, Ali al-Shemari, said insurgents have been responsible for the deaths of around 150,000 Iraqis since the U.S.-led invasion. He did not say how he obtained the figure.
Shemari also said the violence could be controlled if the U.S. Army left Iraqi cities and handed full control to Iraq. Shemari said, “The Army of America didn’t do its job. … They tie the hands of my government. They should hand us the power. We are a sovereign country.”
In the Gaza Strip, tens of thousands of people crowded a cemetery in Beit Hanoun Thursday for the burial of 16 family members and two others killed in an Israeli attack on their homes. Seven of the dead Athamna family members were children, including an 18-month-old girl. Six other victims were women. Another 19 family members were wounded, including four children who lost limbs. At the U.N. Thursday, Palestinian observer Riyad Mansour said Israel had committed “state terrorism.”
Palestinian U.N. observer Riyad Mansour: “This is terrorism. This is state terrorism. These are war crimes for which the perpetrators must be held accountable under international law. What we have seen today and in recent days and months, the blood of Palestinian civilians flowing in the streets, the demolition of their homes and their constant humiliation, suffering and collective punishment, is exactly what the Palestinian people have been subjected to under nearly 39 years of Israeli belligerence.”
Hours after the funerals, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said the attack was the result of a “technical failure” with military radar. Olmert said Israel regretted the killings but refused to rule out further shelling of the Gaza Strip. The government’s actions are coming under growing criticism inside Israel. An editorial in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz says, “No excuse can justify this atrocity. When artillery batteries aim their shells near a residential neighbourhood, such a disaster is inevitable.”
The United Nations is warning millions of people are at risk without major initiative from leading nations on the world’s water crisis.
Kevin Watkins of the U.N. Development Programme: “There are over 1 billion people in the world who do not have access to clean water. These are people who start their day walking to rivers to collect water, sending young girls to collect water and so on. There are over 2.6 billion people in the world who do not have access to sanitation. These twin deficits, I think, do speak to a global crisis.”
The U.N. is calling on industrialized countries to raise annual aid to poorer countries by at least $4 billion.
In Mexico, leaders of the massive protests in the state of Oaxaca are seeking refuge in the Catholic Church amid increased threats to their lives. On Wednesday, unidentified assailants accosted several protesters on the streets. The protesters are in the sixth month of a struggle to unseat unpopular local Governor Ulises Ruiz.
Flavio Sosa, leader of the Popular People’s Assembly of Oaxaca: “The local hierarchy has a commitment to the people of Oaxaca. We hope that this commitment transforms itself into humanitarian support, because we are not asking for either economic or financial support, just humanitarian support.”
In other news from Mexico, Mexico City has approved a measure to legalize same-sex civil unions. The legislation allows several rights but stops short of granting gay couples the right of full marriage or child adoption.
In Sri Lanka, a renewal of violence is leading to fears the country could see its worst fighting in four years. Earlier today, a leading Tamil politician was assassinated near his home in Colombo. Nadaraja Raviraj was a member of Parliament with the Tamil National Alliance. His death comes two days after government forces killed at least 23 people and wounded dozens more in the shelling of a camp for displaced refugees.
Dr. M. Deveraj, director of Batticaloa Hospital: “All these are due to blast injuries. According to patients’ stories, they say they were in refugee camp, in a school, and some were at home. So, they say they were injured due to artillery blast. More than 15 patients are critically ill.”
An estimated 40,000 people have been displaced by fighting between the military and Tamil Tiger rebels over the past several days.
Back in the United States, the Bush administration has lifted a military training ban on 11 Latin American and Caribbean countries amid concerns over a string of recent victories by left-wing candidates in the hemisphere. The victories include Nicaragua, where Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega was elected president this week. USA Today reports the administration hopes the renewed training will help reverse the growing wave of opposition to U.S. policies. The ban was initially imposed four years ago on countries that refused to sign waivers granting immunity to the U.S. military before the International Criminal Court.
In other news, four activists connected to the Environmental Liberation Front and the Animal Liberation Front pleaded guilty Thursday to a series of arsons in the Pacific Northwest. Daniel McGowan, Joyanna Zacher, Nathan Block and Jonathan Paul reached a plea bargain with the government where they took responsibility for the crimes on the condition they would never have to snitch on anyone else involved in the movement. The four had been facing sentences as severe as life plus over 1,000 years in prison. Six other activists have already pleaded guilty and are cooperating with prosecutors. According to their attorneys, the four could still face over 20 years because the government considers the arsons a form of terrorism.
Lauren Regan of the Civil Liberties Defense Center in Eugene, Oregon: “We believe these acts of arson are no different from any run-of-the-mill arson crimes, the only difference being is that these defendants based their acts on the simple fact that the crimes were motivated by a desire to end animal suffering and to prevent continued environmental destruction. But for their strongly held principled beliefs, we probably wouldn’t be facing this terrorism enhancement, which can add up to 20 years to their sentences.”
After the court hearing on Thursday, federal prosecutors claimed the Northwest cells of the Environmental Liberation Front and the Animal Liberation Front have now been effectively dismantled.
In California, two Los Angeles police officers are under investigation after video surfaced showing them repeatedly beating a man as he lay on the ground. The man, William Cardenas, is held down and punched in the face as he yells, “I can’t breathe.” The footage was posted on the website YouTube.com.
Ed Bradley has died at the age of 65. The award-winning journalist was best known for his 26 years as a correspondent on “60 Minutes.” He joined the program after notable stints reporting from Vietnam and as CBS’s first black correspondent at the White House. Just last month, Bradley aired the first interview with the accused members of the Duke lacrosse team. Bradley also had the only televised interview with Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh. On Thursday, CBS News aired a tribute from chief national correspondent Byron Pitts.
Byron Pitts: “I knew Ed Bradley. We weren’t really friends. He was more like a father. And in this world, for people who look like me, father figures are a very big deal. I remember the first time I saw Ed on TV, in the water with those women and children. That story hit me the same way it probably hit a lot of African-American children in the 1970s: 'Wow, there's someone on TV who looks like me.’ And today there are thousands of journalists working hard because Ed Bradley showed us you can do this. Tonight and tomorrow night and for days thereafter, I will thank the good lord Ed Bradley lived, and that we all had a chance to learn from him. I promise, Ed, we did.”