In Washington, President Bush announced a series of measures Tuesday that he billed as an attempt to hold down record-high gas prices. The President said he would suspend refilling of the nation’s Strategic Oil Reserve in order to increase available supply. Bush also said he would wave environmental laws that require cleaner burning fuel. The President also called for an investigation of several oil companies for price fixing, and that a $2 billion oil company tax break should be repealed. According to the Washington Post, several Republicans privately said the President’s call for price-fixing investigations was “good politics” but would unlikely result in any significant changes. Furthermore, the President’s call for a repeal of the oil company tax break would not repeal the tax break but simply stretch it out from two to five years.
Meanwhile on Capitol Hill, Republican leaders have conceded they’ve agreed to undo Senate-approved measures that would have taxed oil companies an additional $5 billion dollars over the next five years.
In Iraq, Al Qaeda figure Abu Musab al-Zarqawi has released a new video denouncing the Iraqi government and warning of further attacks. The video is the first in which Zarquawi has willingly showed his face. On the tape, Zarquawi calls the Iraqi government an American “stooge” and a “poisoned dagger” in the heart of the Muslim world. Zarqawi also addressed President Bush, saying: “Your dreams will be defeated by our blood and by our bodies. What is coming is even worse.”
Meanwhile, the Iraqi government official overseeing the country’s oil ministry is warning corruption and smuggling have become the two biggest threats to Iraq’s economy. In an interview with the BBC, Oil Ministry Inspector General Ali al-Alaak said Iraq lost close to $4.2 billion worth of oil products last year.
In news from Washington, Republican officials have confirmed Fox News anchor Tony Snow has agreed to become the new White House Press Secretary. Snow will replace Scott McLellan, who resigned last week. President Bush is expected to make the announcement today. Although Snow will be tasked with defending the President, one of his first duties may be to answer for previous criticisms he’s made of his new boss. In an op-ed piece published in November, Snow said President Bush had “lost” his swagger and was “cowering under the bed” in the face of Democratic opposition. Snow went on to say: “The newly passive George Bush has become something of an embarrassment.”
In other news, the Bush administration is again being accused of interfering in Nicaragua’s national elections. Last week, State Department spokesperson Sean McCormack urged Nicaraguans to vote against presidential frontrunner Daniel Ortega, whom he called: “a former dictator.” Meanwhile, U.S. Ambassador Paul Trivelli convened a meeting of Nicaraguan politicians to form a coalition against Ortega’s candidacy. Ortega has been one of the leading figures of Nicaragua’s Sandinista movement. In the 1980s, the Sandinistas were the target of a decade-long economic and covert military warfare campaign after they overthrew the US-backed Somoza dictatorship. In previous elections, the US has funded Ortega’s opponents and accused his party of links to terrorism. Ortega was in Venezuela Tuesday where he spoke alongside Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez: “Today the winds of hope, winds of joy, winds of victory, blow through Latin America and the Caribbean towards the building of a truly democratic Latin America.” Nicaragua’s presidential elections are scheduled for November.
In Sri Lanka, clashes between government forces and Tamil Tiger rebels are fueling concerns the country is headed towards renewed civil war. In the latest violence, eight people were killed and 30 injured Tuesday when a suicide bomber attacked an army motorcade in Colombo. A top military official was among those wounded in the attack. The military responded by launching air and naval strikes against what it said were Tamil Tiger bases.
In other news, a group of leading medical experts has accused the World Bank of falsifying data to exaggerate the successes of malaria treatment programs. The experts made the claim in an article published on the website of the British medical journal The Lancet. According to the article, the World Bank falsified the data to cover up for its approval of treatments it knew were ineffective and its failure to live up to its funding commitments. According to the health experts, the World Bank failed to deliver as much as $400 million dollars in promised funding to African countries to combat malaria. The World Bank denied the charges.
Lawyers for detained Cuban exile Luis Posada Carriles have announced he has applied for US citizenship. Carilles is wanted in Cuba and Venezuela for his role in a 1976 bombing that killed 73 people aboard a Cuban airliner. He was arrested in Miami last May after entering the US two months earlier.
In other news, two US politicians have announced the Venezuelan government will expand its program to provide low-income Americans with discounted oil. According to the Boston Globe, Venezuela’s state-owned oil company, Citgo, has provided nearly 40 million gallons of discounted oil for 181,000 households and hundreds of homeless shelters in the US.
In Nevada, a Native tribe has launched a lawsuit aimed at preventing the US government from carrying out a large-scale bomb test in the Nevada desert. On June 2nd, the government plans to set off a 700-ton ammonium nitrate and fuel oil bomb. Members of the Winnemucca Indian Colony, say the blast could let loose radioactive material left over from previous nuclear tests. They warn the blast will create a 10,000-foot mushroom cloud that could threaten their well-being. Thomas Wasson, chair of the Winnemucca Indian Colony, which is part of the Western Shoshone nation, said: “After destroying our lands and causing untold death and human misery with their radiation, the U.S. government now wants to do the same thing again. They must be stopped, for the good of the Western Shoshone and all people.”
And finally an Illinois Congressmember is being accused of a major conflict of interest over a donation made by telecom giant AT&T. According to the Chicago Sun-Times, AT&T, formerly known as SBC Communications, gave $1 million dollars to a non-profit community development corporation chaired by Congressmember Bobby Rush. Rush, a Democrat, is a sponsor of a telecommunications bill that stands to greatly benefit the major telecom companies. According to The Center for Public Integrity, the bill’s co-sponsor, Republican Congressmember Joseph Barton of Texas, received over $458,000 from the communications industry between the years 1998 and 2004, which also paid for seven trips for him and members of his staff. Several watchdog groups are calling on Rush to abstain from voting on any bill that could benefit AT&T. Josh Silver, executive director of Free Press said: “Our nation’s telecommunications laws should benefit all of us, not just the companies that can afford to cut a million-dollar check.”