The United Auto Workers have reached a tentative deal with General Motors that would end the first national strike against an automaker in three decades. Seventy-three thousand workers walked off the job on Monday. The United Auto Workers said it called the strike after GM refused to accept the union’s demand to protect workers’ jobs and benefits. Under the agreement, the union would run a healthcare program for retirees that General Motors would fund. No other details were released.
In Burma, hundreds of monks and activists have been arrested in a crackdown on popular protests against military rule. The military junta has imposed a curfew and banned public gatherings following more than a week of demonstrations that drew tens of thousands into the streets. Earlier today, police fired tear gas as some 10,000 people defied the order with a march through the city of Rangoon. International pressure on the Burma regime is increasing. On Tuesday, President Bush said the U.S. would tighten economic sanctions.
President Bush: “Americans are outraged by the situation in Burma, where a military junta has imposed a 19-year reign of fear. The United States will tighten economic sanctions on the leaders of the regime and their financial backers. We will impose an expanded visa ban on those responsible for the most egregious violations of human rights.”
The State Department is being accused of blocking a key congressional probe into the private military firm Blackwater USA. On Tuesday, House Oversight Chair Henry Waxman said the State Department had told Blackwater not to turn over documents without prior approval. Blackwater is under scrutiny after its forces killed at least 11 civilians last week in Baghdad. It’s also under investigation for alleged weapons smuggling into Iraq. The State Department called Waxman’s complaint a “misunderstanding.”
Meanwhile, the Iraqi Interior Ministry has drafted legislation that would revoke the immunity of private military firms operating in Iraq.
Interior Ministry spokesperson Abdul Karim Khalaf: “The Ministry of Interior has submitted legislation to the State Shura Council, and it will be passed to the Parliament. This legislation will cover everything to do with these companies. The companies will come under the grip of Iraqi law and will be monitored by the Ministry of Interior and will work under its supervision. They will be strictly punished for anything on the street, as we will put certain guidelines to the work of these companies.”
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has called the Blackwater case “a serious challenge to the sovereignty of Iraq.” White House aides say Maliki briefly discussed Blackwater in a meeting with President Bush at the U.N. on Tuesday.
The Bush administration has withdrawn its nomination of John Rizzo to become the top lawyer at the CIA. The move comes after Democrats raised concerns over Rizzo’s stance on the torture of prisoners. Rizzo told a Senate hearing in June he supported the infamous 2002 Justice Department memo that said torture would not occur unless a prisoner experiences pain serious enough to cause organ failure or death.
On Capitol Hill, the House has defied a veto threat from President Bush to pass a measure that would expand health insurance to millions of low-income children. The State Child Health Insurance Program, known as S-CHIP, expires later this month. Lawmakers have proposed to spend $35 billion to cover an additional four million children. The money would come mostly through a tax increase on cigarettes. The House measure passed 265 to 159, short of the votes needed to override a presidential veto. The Senate is expected to take up the S-CHIP measure later this week.
In other news from Washington, members of the Congressional Black Caucus met with the parents of Mychal Bell, the African-American teen jailed in the Jena Six case. Bell remains in prison despite a court’s ruling he was illegally tried as an adult. House Judiciary Chair John Conyers says he will press for Bell’s release.
A gathering of world leaders for the opening of the General Assembly continues at the United Nations. On Tuesday, Cuba’s delegation walked out of the General Assembly after President Bush called Fidel Castro a “cruel dictator” during his speech. In a statement, the Cuban government said: “Bush is responsible for the murder of over 600,000 civilians in Iraq. … He is a criminal and has no moral authority or credibility to judge any other country. … Cuba condemns and rejects every letter of his infamous tirade.”
As Bush spoke, hundreds of people rallied outside against the Iraq War. A coalition of New York City grandmothers held a mock funeral procession for those who have died in Iraq since the U.S. invasion.
Frances Goldin: “I wouldn’t miss a demonstration. I think we’ve got to end the war. I think we have to get out of Iraq. I think we have to get rid of the idiot president who doesn’t represent me but is still in power.”
Meanwhile, hundreds also turned out for a rally against Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Mohammad Souri: “He’s just part of the system. The whole entire system is a regime of terror, death. I mean, that’s pretty obvious by now to the rest of the world. And we are opposing not only Ahmadinejad but the rest of the regime, all the mullahs, Khomeini and the rest.”
Inside the General Assembly, several Latin American leaders gave speeches focusing on climate change, poverty and human rights. Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega criticized the U.S. role in Latin American and the world.
Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega: “And then we had the immigrants from Europe who came over here to mix with those people and to become, in turn, owners of what didn’t belong to them. They robbed the original people of their rights and their cultures, and they imposed their culture and the interests of the colonizers, and that is what gave rise to what we see today. What we call the most exemplary democracy in the world is really tyranny. It is the most impressive and largest dictatorship that has ever existed: the empire of North America.”
And the Palestinian leader and physician Haidar Abdel-Shafi has died at the age of 88. Shafi led several Palestinian delegations to peace talks, including the 1991 Madrid Conference and subsequent sessions in Washington. He left the negotiation process in protest of the Israeli government’s refusal to halt settlement construction in the Occupied Territories. Shafi was also a founder of the Palestine Red Crescent Society in Gaza. Democracy Now! spoke to him in the midst of an Israeli attack on Gaza in May of 2004.
Dr. Haidar Abdel-Shafi: “Our declared position that we accepted a state and the borders in 1967, it is, I think — it proves that we are conciliatory. We want peace. We don’t want this confrontation that entails suffering on both sides. I think our position is very realistic. And I don’t see why Israel comes up and makes — I know that, I mean, Israel is acting on the basis of the inition and Zionist claims that were voiced in the first Zionist conference. But it is time to realize that what was said in the first Zionist congress is not workable. It entails the sacrifice of a whole population, Palestinians. And it’s time that everybody sobers up and sees the end of this, a terrible conflict that’s going on.”