Wildfires continue to rage in Southern California. More than 500,000 people in San Diego County have been ordered to evacuate. Over 900 homes have already been destroyed. The fires extend from the Mexican border to Santa Barbara. The most devastating fires were in San Diego County. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has declared a state of emergency.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger: “And we have to do everything we can to help these people to get back on their feet as quickly as possible. And I think that’s why we all are here today, so that we can work together and really provide as much help as possible. But first, we have to, you know, just pray that the wind slows down, because the wind is our number one enemy right now and the dry weather. So we hope that these conditions, weather conditions, change as quickly as possible.”
At least one person has died in the fires. Another 37 people have been reported injured, including 17 firefighters. At least 5,000 people have been evacuated to the football stadium where the San Diego Chargers play. One of the evacuees, Darlene Morgan, said the fires had spread throughout her neighborhood.
Darlene Morgan: “It’s scary as heck. We have no idea what’s going on. I mean, everywhere you look, the fires are burning, and everything’s just happening really fast. So they get in your neighborhoods, and then they come through and tell you that you need to leave. So you just sit around and worry about what’s going on in your neighborhood with your family and friends.”
Many experts have linked the growing intensity of wildfires to drought and global warming.
While much of Southern California is ablaze, more than eight inches of rain fell in New Orleans on Monday, flooding parts of the city. Mayor Ray Nagin shut City Hall early, and schools across the city closed. More rain is in the forecast for today.
Tension remains high on the Turkish-Iraqi border following the killing of 17 Turkish troops by Kurdish militants over the weekend. Turkey has been threatening to invade northern Iraq for days, and on Monday Turkish troops shelled 11 towns across the Iraq border. The Guardian newspaper reports dozens of Turkish military vehicles loaded with soldiers and heavy weapons are heading toward the Iraq border. Kurdish fighters with the PKK have offered a ceasefire if Turkey abandons plans to launch cross-border raids, but Turkey has refused to negotiate with the PKK, which it considers to be a terrorist organization. Sunday’s attack on the Turkish troops came just days after the Turkish parliament gave the green light for the country’s forces to invade Iraq. In Baghdad, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani urged Turkey to show restraint.
Jalal Talabani: “America is trying to delay the attack, and the PKK has taken a wise move and said that they will announce a ceasefire this evening. They will also withdraw their units from the conflict area with the Turkish army, and God willing, peace and stability will prevail in the region.”
Talabani also demanded that the PKK disarm and commit itself to peaceful politics, or else get out of Iraq. In Washington, White House spokesperson Tony Fratto said the Kurdish militants must stop its attacks inside Turkey.
Tony Fratto: “I think we are all unified — the Turks, the United States, the Iraqi government — in asking the PKK — not asking the PKK, but addressing the situation with the PKK, to stop these attacks on the Turkish people and the Turkish army. It’s a unified position. We want to see swift action, and we want these attacks to stop.”
Earlier today, Turkey and Iraq agreed to work together to deal with the Kurdish PKK rebels in northern Iraq.
President Bush has officially asked Congress to approve an additional $196 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Bush’s request increased the amount of the proposed spending by $46 billion over the $150 billion already requested this year. If Congress approves the spending, it would bring the total war appropriations since the Sept. 11 attacks to more than $800 billion. The Washington Post reports that at the current rate, war appropriations could reach $1 trillion by the time President Bush leaves office — a total that by some measures would exceed the cost of the Korean and Vietnam wars combined.
President Bush also asked Congress to approve a $1.4 billion aid package over the next three years to fight the so-called drug war in Mexico. The requested aid marks a tenfold increase in the annual drug assistance now provided to Mexico.
While President Bush is seeking nearly $200 billion to fight wars overseas, not enough money is available at home for a program to help low-income households pay their heating bills. Reuters reports about 30 million low-income American households will be left in the cold because of a lack of funding for the government’s Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program. The program only has enough funding to cover 16 percent of the 38 million poor households eligible for the program. Despite higher energy costs, the Bush administration has proposed cutting the program’s budget.
The Bush administration suffered a major setback after a jury in Dallas failed to convict former officials from what was once the country’s largest Islamic charity, the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development. On Monday, the jury revealed that it had failed to convict the five defendants of any of the 200 combined counts against them. U.S. District Judge Joe Fish declared a mistrial after three jurors said the verdict did not represent their views. In 2001, President Bush ordered the Holy Land Foundation closed and seized the charity’s assets, claiming that the organization had ties to the Palestinian group Hamas. Georgetown law professor David Cole described the developments as a huge defeat for the government. Cole said: “They spent almost 15 years investigating this group, seized all their records and had extensive wiretapping, and yet could not obtain a single conviction on charges of supporting a terrorist organization.” The Bush administration said it plans to retry the case.
In news from Lebanon, a high-ranking leader of Hezbollah has warned the United States not to set up any military bases inside Lebanon. Hezbollah said it would consider such a move a hostile act. The Lebanese newspaper Al Safir recently reported the U.S. wants to expand its ties to the Lebanese military by building a string of U.S. military bases. Days after the report was published, Eric Edelman, the U.S. undersecretary of defense for policy, appeared on Lebanese TV and admitted the U.S. wants to develop what he called a strategic partnership with the Lebanese army. The U.S. has increased its military assistance to Lebanon to $270 million, more than five times the amount provided a year ago.
Meanwhile, a dispute continues over a U.S. military base in Ecuador. Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa has refused to renew Washington’s lease on the Manta air base. In an interview with Reuters, Correa said he would renew the lease on one condition: the United States allow Ecuador to build a military base in Miami. Correa said: “If there’s no problem having foreign soldiers on a country’s soil, surely they’ll let us have an Ecuadorean base in the United States.” It is estimated that United States has over 700 military bases in foreign countries.
In other military news, nine South African soldiers died on Friday when a robotic anti-aircraft cannon malfunctioned. A South African military spokesperson said the computerized gun apparently jammed and then opened fire uncontrollably, spraying hundreds of high-explosive cannon shells. Fourteen soldiers were also injured.
In Washington, about 60 climate change activists were arrested Monday during a series of No War, No Warming actions to protest both the war in Iraq and the Bush administration’s handling of global warming. Several of the arrests occurred on Capitol Hill after activists blocked the doors to the Cannon House Office Building.
In campaign news, former Senator Mike Gravel is protesting a decision by NBC News to bar him from next Tuesday’s debate at Drexel University in Philadelphia. NBC said it made the decision in part because Gravel hadn’t raised over $1 million. Gravel said, “The fact that NBC is owned by General Electric, one of the world’s leading military contractors, is frightening and certainly smacks of censorship directed at the most outspoken critic of the influence that the military-industrial complex holds over this great nation.”
In political news, Republican Senator Mel Martinez of Florida has resigned as chair of the Republican National Committee. The Cuban-born Martinez is the Republican’s highest-ranking Latino official. His resignation came shortly after he had expressed frustration over the tenor of the immigration debate within his party. Robert de Posada, president of the Republican-leaning Latino Coalition, told the Los Angeles Times that Martinez’s departure is especially disheartening because it follows the resignation of another high-profile Latino in the GOP: former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. De Posada said: “The message that it sends is Latinos are not welcome. The radical conservative base has a temporary victory right now.”
The New York Times is reporting a pair of new reports have delivered sharply critical judgments about the State Department’s performance in overseeing work done by private companies in Iraq and Afghanistan. A State Department review of its own security practices in Iraq assails the department for poor coordination, communication, oversight and accountability involving armed security companies like Blackwater USA and DynCorp. At the same time, a government audit expected to be released today says that records documenting the work of DynCorp are in such disarray that the department cannot say “specifically what it received” for most of the $1.2 billion it has paid the company since 2004 to train the police officers in Iraq. Meanwhile, Blackwater is also being accused of tax evasion. Congressman Henry Waxman said Blackwater USA violated tax laws and may have defrauded the government of millions of dollars by designating many of its employees as independent contractors instead of company personnel. Under U.S. law, companies must pay Social Security and other federal taxes on their employees, but not for independent contractors.