In campaign news, Senator Barack Obama has won decisive victories in Wisconsin and Hawaii, as he extended his streak to ten primary and caucus victories in a row. In Wisconsin, Obama beat Senator Hillary Clinton by a surprisingly large margin. Obama received 58 percent of the vote, Clinton 41 percent. In Hawaii, Obama won in a landslide, winning more than 75 percent of the vote. Barack Obama celebrated his victories with a campaign rally in Houston, Texas.
Sen. Barack Obama: “It is my central premise that the only way we will bring about real change in America is if we can bring new people into the process, if we can attract new people, if we can attract independents, if we can stop fighting with Republicans and try to bring some over to our side. I want to form a working majority for change. That’s how we win elections, that’s how we will govern. I want to reach out to everybody.”
Both Senator Hillary Clinton and Republican frontrunner John McCain took shots at Obama during their speeches last night.
Sen. Hillary Clinton: “It is about picking a president who relies not just on words, but on work, on hard work to get America back to work. That’s our goal.”
John McCain also appeared to target Obama during his victory speech.
Sen. John McCain: “I will fight every moment of every day of this campaign to make sure Americans are not deceived by eloquent but empty calls for change.”
John McCain won in Wisconsin and Hawaii, pushing him closer to officially wrapping up the Republican nomination.
The Democratic race is now focused largely on the March 4th contests in Texas and Ohio, which are seen as must-win races for the Clinton campaign.
The Supreme Court has refused to hear a lawsuit challenging the Bush administration’s domestic spying program. The American Civil Liberties Union had brought the case on behalf of prominent journalists, scholars, attorneys and non-profits who say that the unchecked surveillance program is disrupting their ability to communicate effectively with sources and clients. The Supreme Court declined, without comment, to hear the case. Jameel Jaffer of the ACLU said, “It shouldn’t be left to executive branch officials alone to determine what limits apply to their own surveillance activities and whether those limits are being honored.”
President Bush is in Ghana today on the fourth leg of his five-nation African trip. On Tuesday, Ghana’s President John Kufuor welcomed Bush as a friend, but he declared that Ghana would not host the U.S. military’s new African Command, known as AFRICOM. President Kufour said, “Our sovereignty is something we cherish.” On Thursday, Bush will visit Liberia, the only African nation that has offered to host AFRICOM.
In news from Iraq, a bomb blast in eastern Baghdad has killed fifteen Iraqi police officers. They died while they were trying to defuse rockets.
Meanwhile, the Associated Press reports Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr has threatened to lift a six-month ceasefire. The ceasefire was declared in August and is due to expire at this month’s end. The U.S. military says the ceasefire is a major factor in why violence declined in the second half of last year in Iraq.
In other news from Iraq, more than seventy companies have registered to compete for new oil contracts to help develop Iraq’s oil reserves. Companies include Royal Dutch Shell and BP.
In economic news, the Financial Times reports US banks have quietly borrowed nearly $50 billion from the Federal Reserve in recent months as part of a new effort by the Fed to loan money to banks at discounted rates. The move has sparked unease among some analysts about the banks’ growing reliance on indirect forms of government support.
Meanwhile, the price of oil has risen above $100 a barrel for only the second time in history. The latest price jump came a day after an explosion and fire at a Texas oil refinery that injured four workers. The explosion occurred at a plant owned largely by the Israeli energy company ALON Israel Oil.
The Bush administration is defying calls to lift its embargo on Cuba following the announcement of Fidel Castro’s resignation. On Tuesday, more than a hundred members of Congress urged the United States to review its policy of isolation toward Cuba. The letter stated, “Our policy leaves us without influence at this critical moment, and this serves neither the U.S. national interest nor average Cubans, the intended beneficiaries of our policy.” The U.S. has maintained an embargo on Cuba since 1960. President Bush addressed the Cuban situation during a stop in Rwanda.
President Bush: “The international community should work with the Cuban people to begin to build institutions that are necessary for democracy. And eventually this transition ought to lead to free and fair elections, and I mean free, and I mean fair, not these kind of staged elections that the Castro brothers try to foist off as being true democracy. And we’re going to help. The United States will help the people of Cuba realize the blessings of liberty.”
Meanwhile, leaders in South America paid tribute to Fidel Castro on Tuesday. This is Bolivian President Evo Morales.
Evo Morales: “Personally, I felt a lot deeply because I have enormous admiration for him. Fidel taught us solidarity. Fidel taught us how to work for life, for humanity and solidarity. I learned that.”
Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva described Castro as a legend.
Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva: “I think this is important for harmony in Latin America, because the process happened in a calmer way, with Fidel’s initiative, as it should have happened. The great myth continues. Fidel is the only living myth in the history of humanity, and I believe he built that with a lot of competence, character, will and also with a lot of conflict, a lot of controversy.”
The Department of Homeland Security is coming under criticism over where it’s building a new border wall between Texas and Mexico. According to the Texas Observer, the Bush administration is suing many poor landowners along the border in an effort to force them to give up property for the eighteen-foot steel and concrete wall. But at the same the time, the Department of Homeland Security is leaving large gaps in the wall to avoid building the wall on the property of wealthy residents. In the small town of Granjeno, the wall abruptly ends at the property of Dallas billionaire Ray L. Hunt, whose family runs Hunt Oil. Hunt is a close friend of President Bush and serves on the Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board.
The National Black Justice Coalition is reporting Connecticut State Representative Jason Bartlett has become the first and only openly gay or lesbian African American state legislator. Bartlett recently announced his sexual orientation in interviews with two newspapers.
And in media news, the winners of the George Polk Awards have been announced. Winners included Chauncey Bailey, the Oakland Post editor who was murdered last year while investigating a local bakery with criminal ties. Bailey was the first journalist since 1993 to become a victim of a targeted killing in the United States. Blogger Joshua Marshall won a Polk Award for legal reporting for covering the U.S. attorneys scandal on his website Talking Points Memo. And Democracy Now! correspondent Jeremy Scahill won the George Polk Book Award for his bestseller Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army.
A former defense contractor and prominent Republican fundraiser has been sentenced to twelve years in prison. Brent Wilkes was convicted of bribing former Republican Congressman Randy “Duke” Cunningham with money and prostitutes in exchange for $90 million in Pentagon contracts. Prosecutors had asked for Wilkes to receive up to twenty-five years in jail, but a federal judge sentenced him to less than half of that. Brent Wilkes raised more than $100,000 for President Bush’s election in 2004.