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HeadlinesFebruary 18, 2008

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Surveillance Law Expires as House Dems Defy Bush

Feb 18, 2008

House Democrats have followed through on a vow to let a surveillance law expire, refusing to authorize a new bill before a Saturday deadline. President Bush had been pushing the House to mirror a Senate vote making last year’s revisions to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act permanent. The changes expanded government authority to eavesdrop on the international telephone calls and email messages of U.S. citizens without warrants. House Democrats say their objection centers around a provision granting immunity for telecommunication companies that helped the government spy. In his weekly radio address, President Bush took aim at Democratic opposition.

President Bush: “By failing to act, Congress has created a question about whether private sector companies who assist in our efforts to defend you from the terrorists could be sued for doing the right thing. Now, these companies will be increasingly reluctant to provide this vital cooperation, because of their uncertainty about the law and fear of being sued by class-action trial lawyers.”

Bush went on to repeat his accusation that Democrats are endangering American lives, saying, “Because Congress failed to act, it will be harder for our government to keep you safe from terrorist attack.” Democrats have accused Bush of fear mongering, because there will be little practical effect on government spying. The National Security Agency will retain the same surveillance powers it held before the revisions were approved last August. Officials will only have to seek a court warrant if they want to spy on a previously unknown target.

U.S. Issues Record Beef Recall

Feb 18, 2008

The Department of Agriculture has issued the largest beef recall in U.S. history — more than 143 million pounds of raw and frozen beef from the California-based Hallmark/Westland Meat Packing Company. Officials say some of the meat was distributed and likely consumed at several schools through a federal meal program. Health officials say there is a “remote” possibility of “serious health concerns.”

100 Killed in Worst Afghan Suicide Bombing Since U.S. Invasion

Feb 18, 2008

In Afghanistan, more than one hundred people were killed and another hundred were wounded Sunday in a suicide bombing at a crowded dog-fighting event. It was the worst single bombing attack since the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. Afghan officials blamed the Taliban for the attack, but the Taliban denies responsibility.

Kosovo Declares Independence from Serbia

Feb 18, 2008

Kosovo has declared independence from Serbia in the latest chapter of the decades-long breakup of the former Yugoslavia. Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Thaci spoke before the Kosovar parliament Sunday after lawmakers unanimously approved the independence decree.

Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Thaci: “All the men and women who have made huge sacrifices for a better future for Kosovo — firstly, we, the leaders of our nation, elected in a democratic way. Through this declaration, we declare Kosovo an independent and democratic nation.”

Serbia has vowed not to recognize Kosovo as an independent state. The Serbian government says the declaration violates a 1999 UN resolution that puts Kosovo under a UN-NATO mandate and affirms Serbia’s territorial integrity. Serbia is backed by Russia, which has called a closed-door emergency session of the UN Security Council. But it will likely face opposition from the United States. At the UN, Deputy U.S. representative Alejandro Wolff said the U.S. supports Kosovo’s independence.

Deputy U.S. representative Alejandro Wolff: “We are pleased by the commitments made to the respect for religious and ethnic communities of Kosovo. We’re very much pleased that the declaration also reflects a position of the United States that’s longstanding; that is, we’re for an implementation of the (UN Special Envoy Martti) Ahtisaari plan.”

The Kosovo issue has split the European Union. Britain and France say they support the declaration, while several countries, including Spain, Greece and Romania, are opposed.

Sunni Militia Ends Cooperation with U.S. over Civilian Deaths

Feb 18, 2008

In Iraq, a U.S.-allied militia staged a massive walkout from its guard posts this weekend in protest of U.S. attacks that have killed twelve civilians this month. Members of the group, known as Sons of Iraq, are paid ten dollars a day and issued military vests to fight alongside U.S. forces. But nearly two thousand members abandoned their positions Saturday following a U.S. attack on a town south of Baghdad the day before. Militia members say U.S. forces deliberately opened fire after landing in a helicopter. The group says they will no longer work with the U.S. military.

Long Delay on Vehicles Led to Deaths, Injuries of Hundreds of Marines

Feb 18, 2008

An internal military study has concluded hundreds of U.S. Marines have been killed or injured because top officials refused an urgent request for bomb-resistant vehicles in 2005. The study accuses Marine Corps officials of “gross mismanagement” that delayed deliveries of the trucks for more than two years. The trucks, known as MRAP, for mine-resistant, ambush-protected, were seen as too expensive by officials hoping to fund other long-term military projects. They were finally shipped to Iraq after Defense Secretary Robert Gates declared them a top priority last year.

Pakistan Holds Parliamentary Vote

Feb 18, 2008

Pakistan is holding a parliamentary election today amidst ongoing violence and allegations of fraud. The vote was initially scheduled for last month but delayed after the assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto. Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party is expected to win a majority of parliamentary seats. But opposition members are voicing fears of electoral fraud by supporters of Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf. Violence has continued in the run-up to the elections — forty-six people were killed and at least one injured Saturday in a bombing of an election rally in the North West Frontier Province.

Olmert Israel Can “Attack Everyone”

Feb 18, 2008

In Israel and the Occupied Territories, more than ninety Palestinians were seized and brought back into Israel Sunday in an Israeli raid. One Palestinian civilian and three Hamas militants were killed, and twenty people were wounded before Israeli forces withdrew. The raids came as Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert announced Israel has the right to “attack everyone” if Palestinians fire rockets.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert: “We have completely a free hand to respond, to reach out and to attack everyone which is having any kind of responsibility on behalf of Hamas in the southern part of our country.”

Olmert went on to say he doesn’t expect to reach a peace deal with the Palestinian Authority this year, only a set of “basic principles.” He said Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has agreed to delay talks on the status of Jerusalem until the very last stages, but Palestinian officials are denying the claim. Israel has announced two major settlement expansion projects in Arab East Jerusalem since the U.S.-brokered Annapolis summit last November. Olmert’s comments came as Hamas spokesperson Sami Abu Zuhri said Hamas remains open to talks on a ceasefire with Israel.

Sami Abu Zuhri: “Hamas has confirmed that it has no objection to studying the matter if the Israeli occupation commits to stopping all forms of aggression against our Palestinian people and lifts the siege that is imposed on our

UN Humanitarian Chief: End to Gaza Blockade

Feb 18, 2008

Meanwhile, the UN’s top humanitarian official has renewed calls for an end to the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip. Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes spoke after touring Gaza on Friday.

UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, John Holmes: “All this makes for a grim human and humanitarian situation here in Gaza, which means that people are not able to live with the basic dignity to which they are entitled. So what is essentially needed is an opening of the crossings, a lot more goods coming in, humanitarian goods, but other goods as well, so that people can start to live more normal and more dignified lives.”

Chavez: Venezuela Won’t Cut Oil Exports Unless U.S. Attacks

Feb 18, 2008

In Venezuela, President Hugo Chavez has announced he has no plans to cut oil exports to the United States. Chavez threatened to halt shipments earlier this month over a dispute with the oil giant ExxonMobil. Exxon won court rulings freezing the Venezuelan state oil company’s foreign assets and bank accounts as part of an attempt to recoup an investment in a nationalized Venezuelan oil project. But Venezuela says Exxon is trying to recover more than ten times what its investment was actually worth. On Sunday, Chavez clarified his statement, saying he would cut shipments only if the U.S. attacked Venezuela or once again supported a military coup.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez: “I repeat to the world, we have no plans to stop sending oil to the United States. We don’t have that in our plans. It is not part of our plan. I have only said, if the imperialists attack Venezuela and meddle with us or try to harm us, as they have harmed us before, we will. We would have to make a decision not to send a single drop of our oil to the United States.”

Scientists: Govt. Suppressing Report on Toxicity in Great Lakes Region

Feb 18, 2008

Back in the United States, scientists involved in a government report on public health risks from industrial contamination throughout the Great Lakes region say their study is being suppressed. The report says health indicators and the levels of toxic releases in the Great Lakes should raise questions about medical effects. Lead author Chris De Rosa, a former top official at the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, says he was demoted because of his report’s findings. De Rosa says he also believes he’s being punished for raising public concern about levels of formaldehyde gas in trailers housing hundreds of thousands of Hurricane Katrina evacuees. The Federal Emergency Management Agency was found to have routinely suppressed internal warnings showing the gas levels threatened the evacuees’ health and safety.

CIA Shuts Down 10 Fake Companies Intended for Spying

Feb 18, 2008

The Los Angeles Times is reporting the CIA has shut down all but two of a dozen fake companies it established to station spies overseas. The so-called “black stations” cost hundreds of millions of dollars but were said to be ineffective.

FBI Mistakenly Accessed Email Accounts Based on Single Warrant

Feb 18, 2008

And the New York Times has revealed an episode in which the FBI inadvertently gained access to hundreds of email accounts rather than the lone email address it was authorized to spy on. The 2006 incident occurred after an unnamed internet provider mistakenly turned over hundreds of other email addresses from the same domain as the account the FBI intended to monitor. An intelligence official says records of the unauthorized accounts were destroyed, but that inadvertent spying remains “common.”

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