President Bush has signed a directive that gives the White House much greater control over the rules and policy statements that the government develops to protect public health, safety, the environment, civil rights and privacy. The New York Times is reporting each agency must now have a regulatory policy office run by a political appointee to supervise the development of rules and to make sure the agencies carry out the president’s priorities. Consumer, labor and environmental groups denounced the directive, saying it gave too much control to the White House and would hinder agencies’ efforts to protect the public. Democratic Congressman Henry Waxman of California said the executive order allows the political staff at the White House to dictate decisions on health and safety issues, even if the government’s own impartial experts disagree.
Today on Capitol Hill, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee is holding its first hearing on the political interference in the work of government scientists regarding climate change. Last year, NASA’s top climate scientist, James Hansen, accused the Bush administration of trying to stop him from speaking out about the links between greenhouse gases and global warming.
Human Rights Watch is urging the United States to stop selling cluster bombs to Israel following the widespread use of U.S.-made cluster munitions during the war in Lebanon last year. On Monday, State Department spokesperson Sean McCormack acknowledged that Israel likely violated U.S. arms export agreements when it dropped cluster bombs among villages in Lebanon.
Marc Garlasco of Human Rights Watch: “As a comparison, in the war in Iraq in 2003, the United States over three weeks dropped two million cluster submunitions. Israel, in the war in Lebanon, dropped four million in three days. It dwarfs any use of cluster bombs prior. You can take Iraq, Afghanistan and Kosovo and put them together, and you’re not going to come close to what happened in southern Lebanon.”
Meanwhile, the Israeli military has announced it has signed a major new contract with the U.S. military contractor Boeing. Israel plans to spend $100 million to buy a new weapons system that converts conventional bombs into satellite-guided, precision weapons.
In Iraq, at least 36 Shiite pilgrims have died today in a series of bombings and ambushes aimed to disrupt Ashura, the holiest period of the year for Shiites. Another five Shiite worshipers were killed on Monday when a rocket-propelled grenade hit a mosque south of Kirkuk.
A U.S. medical charity is estimating more than half a million people have fled their homes in Baghdad in the last year and that a million more could be forced out in coming months. The International Medical Corps said the pace of people displaced has been rising at a dramatic rate.
In Washington, the Brookings Institution is warning the civil war in Iraq could spread throughout the region and disrupt oil production in the Persian Gulf.
Kenneth Pollack, Brookings analyst: “Unfortunately, we are already in Iraq seeing the manifestations of that. There are already domestic disturbances in many of the neighboring states around Iraq. What’s more, all of Iraq’s neighbors are now deeply involved, supporting different proxy groups inside of Iraq, which is the typical first step before large-scale intervention before turning a civil war into a regional war.”
Kenneth Pollack co-wrote the group’s new report titled “Things Fall Apart.”
A former Pentagon contractor has been sentenced to nine years in prison and to pay $3.6 million for his role in a bribery and fraud scheme involving contracts to reconstruct Iraq. The contractor, Robert Stein, served as a regional comptroller and funding officer for the Coalition Provisional Authority. Stein admits he accepted more than $1 million in cash, sports cars, a motorcycle, jewelry and computers. In addition, he helped steal more than $2 million that had been designated for the reconstruction of Iraq. The Army recently announced it has initiated 50 criminal investigations into the misconduct of private contractors in the war in Iraq.
The oil giant Shell has signed a deal with the Iranian government to develop a major gas field in the Persian Gulf. Iran has the second largest reserves of natural gas worldwide, after Russia. The U.S. State Department said it would likely investigate whether sanctions should be imposed on Shell.
John Bolton, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, is openly advocating for regime change in Iran. In an interview with the French newspaper Le Monde, Bolton said negotiations with Iran have failed and that in the long term “the only real solution is regime change.”
Former White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer testified on Monday in the perjury and obstruction trial of Scooter Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney’s former chief of staff. Fleischer said Libby divulged Valerie Plame’s identity to him on July 7, 2003, three days earlier than Libby has told investigators he first learned of the undercover CIA officer. Newsweek’s Michael Isikoff described Fleischer’s testimony as the most significant in the case to date. Fleischer is the fifth witness to contradict Libby’s version of events. The former New York Times reporter Judith Miller is scheduled to testify today. Cathie Martin finished up her testimony on Monday. She was Dick Cheney’s former top press assistant. She is married to Kevin Martin, the chair of the Federal Communications Commission.
Israel has carried out its first bombing raid on the Gaza Strip in two months. The bombing came one day after a Palestinian suicide bomber killed three people in the Red Sea resort of Eilat.
Tzipi Livni, Israeli foreign minister : “Unfortunately, in the Palestinian Authority, instead of a fight against terrorism, we see a government which is controlled by a terrorist organization. Israel shows restraint in order to give the Palestinians the opportunity to fight terrorism and to stop these terror attacks on Israel.”
The Palestinian government defended the suicide attack.
Fawzi Barhoum, Hamas official: “All of this type of violent and terrorist against our Palestinian people let the resistance make this type of operation, resistance operation, in order to make support to our Palestinian people.”
In other news from the region, officials from the Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah have agreed to a ceasefire to stop the deadly infighting that has killed over 30 Palestinians in recent days.
In New Orleans, a protester interrupted a Senate committee hearing Monday dealing with the reconstruction of the Gulf Coast region. The protester was holding a sign that read: “Probe the White House.” At the hearing, New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin testified that he doesn’t feel the country has the will to really fix New Orleans in light of how much money is being spent on the war in Iraq. Nagin said, “I think it’s more class than anything, but there’s racial issues associated with it also.” On Monday, President Bush defended his decision not to mention New Orleans or Hurricane Katrina during the State of the Union.
The city of Miami is making plans to hold an official party at the Orange Bowl to be held following the death of Cuban leader Fidel Castro. A city committee has begun holding planning meetings to discuss logistics for the event.
Protests were held in Washington and New Delhi, India, on Monday against the pharmaceutical giant Novartis. The company is seeking to overturn an Indian law regarding drug patents. Demonstrators say that if Norvatis wins the lawsuit, it will threaten India’s ability to manufacture low-cost generic drugs that are distributed throughout the Global South to treat AIDS and other diseases. Monique Wanjala spoke in New Delhi.
Monique Wanjala: “I have been living with HIV for the last, this is 13 years now, and I have been on treatment on ARVs since 2004, and this is because access has been made easier. And we are saying that if Novartis go through with this case, what does it mean to us as people living with HIV? It means that our lives are at stake.”
In Washington, activists from the Global AIDS Alliance tried to deliver a mini coffin to the downtown office of Novartis.
Fifteen human rights activists were sentenced on Monday for taking part in a protest last November against the Army’s School of the Americas, now called the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation. Most of the activists were sentenced to two or three months in federal prison. One activist received a six-month sentence. Over 200 people have served time in prison over the past decade for engaging in nonviolent resistance against the Army training center that has been linked to many human rights abuses throughout Latin America.
And in Washington, nine antiwar protesters were arrested on Monday when they gathered in a House office building on Capitol Hill. They were arrested while reading off the names of Americans and Iraqis killed in the war.