The Senate has postponed a vote that could have permanently expanded the government’s ability to carry out domestic surveillance and give immunity to telecommunications companies that have assisted in the government’s illegal spying. After a daylong debate, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid pulled the bill. The opposition to the telecom immunity provision was led by Democratic senator and presidential candidate Christopher Dodd, who threatened to filibuster the bill.
Sen. Christopher Dodd: “This administration has equated corporations’ bottom lines with our nation’s security. Following that reasoning honestly to its end, and you come to the conclusion: the larger a corporation, the more lawless it can be. If we accept Mr. McConnell’s premises, we would conceive of a corporation so wealthy, so integral to our economy, that its riches place it outside the law altogether. And if the administration’s thinking even admits that possibility, we know instinctively how flawed it is, of course. The truth is exactly the opposite, Mr. President: the larger the corporation, the greater potential for abuse and the more carefully it must be watched.”
Dodd said the postponement of the vote was a victory for American civil liberties.
More than 300 Turkish ground troops entered northern Iraq early today less than forty-eight hours after Turkish warplanes bombed ten Iraqi villages. It is believed to be the first major Turkish deployment of troops in Iraq since the Turkish Cabinet backed a ground invasion last month. The Turkish army accuses rebels from the Kurdistan’s Workers’ Party of using bases inside Iraq to launch attacks on Turkey.
Meanwhile, Pentagon officials have revealed the US is providing the Turkish military with real-time intelligence on northern Iraq. The Washington Post reports US military personnel have set up a center for sharing intelligence in Ankara providing imagery and other immediate information gathered from US aircraft and unmanned drones flying over northern Iraq. One US military official said the United States is “essentially handing them their targets.”
Russia has begun delivering nuclear fuel to Iran to be used in Tehran’s nuclear power program. The United States has been trying to prevent Russia from delivering the enriched-uranium fuel rods for years. But on Monday President Bush said he supports Russia’s plan, if it leads to a suspension of Iran’s nuclear enrichment program.
President Bush: “Today Russia sent some enriched — or in the process of sending enriched uranium to Iran to help on their civilian nuclear reactor. If that’s the case, if the Russians are willing to do that, which I support, then the Iranians do not need to learn how to enrich.”
Iran said it had no intention of suspending its uranium enrichment program, despite the fuel shipment from Russia. Iran also confirmed plans to build a second nuclear power plant in southern Iran.
In campaign news, Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul has set a new fundraising record by raising $6 million in online contributions in a single day. More than 58,000 people donated money during a special fundraising drive on Sunday, the 234th anniversary of the Boston Tea Party.
In other news in the GOP race, independent Senator Joseph Lieberman has endorsed Republican Senator John McCain for president. Lieberman said McCain is “a leader who can break through the partisan gridlock.” Lieberman was a Democrat up until 2006 and was Al Gore’s running mate in 2000.
Meanwhile, the past writings and comments of Republican Mike Huckabee are coming under increasing scrutiny now that he has become the Republican frontrunner in Iowa. In 1998, Huckabee published a children’s book that equated environmentalism with pornography. The book was titled Kids Who Kill: Confronting Our Culture of Violence. Huckabee wrote, “Abortion, environmentalism, AIDS, pornography, drug abuse, and homosexual activism have fragmented and polarized our communities.” Huckabee also equated homosexuality to necrophilia. He wrote, “It is now difficult to keep track of the vast array of publicly endorsed and institutionally supported aberrations — from homosexuality and pedophilia to sadomasochism and necrophilia.”
New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine has signed a bill to abolish the state’s death penalty, making New Jersey the first state to ban the death penalty in more than forty years. In a speech from his office at the state capitol, Corzine declared an end to what he called “state-endorsed killing.”
Jon Corzine: “Today, December 17th, 2007, is a momentous day. It’s a day of progress for the state of New Jersey and for the millions of people across our nation and around the globe who reject the death penalty as a moral or practical response to the grievous, even heinous, crime of murder. Today, through my signature on this bill, New Jersey abolishes the death penalty as a policy of our state.”
Corzine said New Jersey could serve as a model for other states.
International donors have pledged $7.4 billion to the Palestinians during a one-day conference in France aimed to help stabilize the Palestinian economy. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said the financial support is needed to prevent a total catastrophe in the West Bank and Gaza. Monday’s meeting was rejected by Hamas. Hamas spokesperson Fawzi Barhoum said international aid should not be politicized.
Fawzi Barhoum: “We welcome political, monetary and media support to the Palestinian people, to all the Palestinian people, but we refuse for this monetary support to be politicized and money that comes with conditions or follows the American and Israeli agenda and to be tied with the progress of the Palestinian Authority on the ground, meaning to carry out security roles as part of the 'road map' which means the destruction of Hamas and the resistance.”
Meanwhile, thousands of mourners took to the streets of Gaza earlier today to bury their dead after Israeli air strikes killed twelve Palestinians, including a senior commander of the group Islamic Jihad. Israel claimed all of the Palestinians killed were militants.
In Cuba, Fidel Castro has suggested he might give up his formal leadership posts. This marks the first time Castro has spoken of his possible retirement. In a letter read on Cuban television, Castro said, “My elemental duty is not to hold on to positions and less to obstruct the path of younger people.” Sixteen months ago Castro handed over power temporarily to his brother Raul after undergoing stomach surgery for an undisclosed illness. Fidel Castro has not been seen in public since.
In other news from Latin America, former Uruguayan military dictator and army chief Gregorio Alvarez has been charged with crimes against humanity for crimes committed during military rule between 1973 and 1985.
And a couple in Long Island, New York have been convicted in a case of modern-day slavery. The couple faces up to forty years in prison for enslaving two undocumented immigrants from Indonesia. The women testified that their passports were confiscated and that for years they were subjected to beatings with brooms, scalding with hot water, and being forced to eat hot chili peppers, as well as carrying out household duties. One of the women was found by authorities in May wandering the streets dressed only in pants and a towel after escaping from the couple’s home in Muttontown, New York, where they ran a multimillion-dollar perfume business. She was treated at a local hospital for injuries to her ears, face, arms, neck, chest and back. She told authorities she had been tortured.