The Washington Post has revealed the Environmental Protection Agency weakened a key section of its new smog rules after a last minute intervention by President Bush. The rules deal with the level of protection given to wildlife, parks and other open areas from smog. The EPA’s initially proposed limits were already less restrictive than government scientists had recommended. But according to newly disclosed documents, President Bush ordered the EPA to increase its allowed smog limits even further. The intervention was so last-minute that it forced the EPA to delay its announcement of the new rules by five hours. To accommodate the weakened regulations, government lawyers rushed to change public welfare guidelines set by previous submissions to the Supreme Court. The National Resources Defense Council calls the White House intervention “unprecedented and unlawful.”
In New York, incoming Governor David Paterson gave his first news conference Thursday since the resignation of Eliot Spitzer. Spitzer stepped down following the disclosure he was a client of a prostitution ring. At the State House in Albany, Paterson said he is ready to take office.
New York Lt. Gov. David Paterson: “I did not get to this position in the way that most people have, in the way that most people would want. But I made a commitment when I gave my word to Governor Spitzer in January of 2006, when I left as the Democratic Senate leader to be his running mate, that I would be prepared if in event I had to assume authority. I am prepared, and on Monday at 1:00 p.m., I will have the oath of office administered to me in the assembly chamber.”
Paterson will become New York’s first African American governor and the first blind governor in the nation’s history. Later in his news conference, Paterson was jokingly asked if he had visited with prostitutes. He replied, “Only the lobbyists.”
In Pakistan, the US military is being accused of killing several civilians in a cross-border attack from Afghanistan. The US says it was acting on an “imminent threat” and notified Pakistani officials only after the strike. Witnesses say at least six people were killed — all members of the same family.
In Iraq, funeral services were held today for one of Iraq’s leading Catholic clerics one day after his body was found. Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho was kidnapped two weeks ago in the latest attack on Iraq’s small Christian community. Three of his aides were also killed.
A former prisoner in the so-called “war on terror” has come forward to recount his ordeal in US custody. Khaled al-Maqtari says he was held in isolation for nearly three years at an unknown site. A Yemeni citizen, Maqtari was arrested in Iraq in 2004 and first sent to Abu Ghraib. There, Maqtari says, he was subjected to beatings, sleep deprivation, suspension upside-down in painful positions, intimidation by dogs and induced hypothermia. After nine days, Maqtari was flown to a secret CIA jail in Afghanistan, where he says he was subjected to further torture for another three months. In April 2004, Maqtari says he was transferred again to another secret site, possibly in Eastern Europe, where he was held for nearly three years in isolation until his release.
In Israel and the Occupied Territories, thousands of people from several different Palestinian factions rallied in Bethlehem Thursday in a rare show of unity against an Israeli strike that killed four members of Islamic Jihad. Palestinians in the Gaza Strip are bracing for further Israeli attacks after the collapse of a five-day tacit truce. Palestinian militants and Israeli troops have traded fire since the Bethlehem attack. Hamas had called for a temporary ceasefire, but Israel says it’s entitled to carry out further strikes. On Thursday, Israeli government spokesperson Aryeh Mekel dismissed talks with Palestinian militants.
Aryeh Mekel: “Israel is not talking to Hamas and Jihad. Israel will not talk to Hamas and Jihad. These are terrorist organizations, and with them we will fight, we will continue to fight, as part of our war on terror and on terrorists.”
Meanwhile, speaking in Senegal at a conference of Muslim states, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said Israel is practicing “ethnic cleansing” in Jerusalem.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas: “Our people in [Jerusalem] are facing an ethnic cleansing campaign through a set of Israeli decisions, such as imposing heavy taxes, banning construction and closing Palestinian institutions, in addition to separating the city from the West Bank by the racist separation wall.”
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon was also at the conference, where he issued a rare condemnation of the ongoing Israeli attacks. Moon said, “Israel’s disproportionate and excessive use of force has killed and injured many civilians, including children. I condemn these actions and call on Israel to cease such attacks.” Moon also condemned Palestinian rocket fire and shootings on Israel.
In Brazil, hundreds of students gathered in front of the foreign ministry in the capital, Brasilia, Thursday to protest a visit by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Rice was in Brazil before heading to Chile. Student leader Felipe Vieira said he rejects the Bush administration’s unilateralism.
Felipe Vieira: “We’re against the war, against any involvement of a country in another. The United States is not the world’s police.”
At a news conference, Rice refused to comment on reports the Bush administration is considering adding Venezuela to a list of nations supporting terrorism. But she said the US is concerned about “terrorism” in Latin America.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice: “We do have to be concerned about terrorism. We have to be concerned about the safety and well-being of countries in the region, that they should not be subject to terrorist activities or terrorist attacks that are either within their borders or beyond their borders. And this is a perfect opportunity.”
And in Arkansas, police are blaming an oversight for leaving a jailed undocumented immigrant without food, water or a toilet for four days. Adriana Torres-Flores spent ninety-six hours in an eight-by-nine-foot cell beginning last Thursday. A mother of three, Torres-Flores had been arrested for selling pirated CDs. She was forgotten in a holding cell after she pleaded not guilty. She slept on the floor, using her shoe for a pillow and having nothing to drink but her own urine. Washington County Sheriff Tim Helder said the episode would lead to changes at the jail.
Washington County Sheriff Tim Helder: “We’ve got to put in some stop-gap measures to make sure that, OK, if a guy forgets, what’s going to remind him that somebody’s in there? You know, do we monitor with a camera? Do we put a light out in the hallway that indicates there’s occupancy? It’s sad to say, but it takes an incident sometimes to alert you to shortcomings in what you’re doing. And, obviously, this has opened our eyes, and we’re committed to fixing it.”