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In Iraq, more than seventy people died Tuesday in one of the deadliest days in weeks. In Baquba, a bomb exploded inside a bus killing forty people and injuring seventy. Many of the dead were reportedly women and children. Another thirteen people died in Ramadi when a suicide bomber struck a kebab restaurant where local police officers were eating.
Meanwhile, a US air strike killed four Iraqis in Basra. And in northern Iraq, Turkish warplanes have carried out another raid targeting Kurdish areas.
A new report from Refugees International says the Iraqi government has failed to respond to the needs of an estimated 2.7 million internal refugees and in turn militia groups have moved in to fill the void. Refugees International says the largest humanitarian organization in Iraq is now the Sadr movement affiliated with Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, a fierce critic of the US occupation. Sadr has set up a program modeled on Hezbollah’s work in Lebanon to offer shelter, food and non-food items to hundreds of thousands of Shiites in Iraq.
In economic news, home foreclosure filings surged 57 percent in the twelve-month period ending in March, and bank repossessions soared 129 percent from a year ago. The real estate data firm RealtyTrac is predicting the number of foreclosures will continue to rise in coming months. One in nearly every 500 US households living in a single-family dwelling received a foreclosure filing last month. The hardest hit states have been Nevada, California and Florida.
The New York Times reports a new Senate bill meant to help American homeowners in danger of foreclosure will actually provide billions of dollars in tax breaks to automakers, airline companies, alternative energy producers and other industries. Consumer groups and labor leaders say the tax breaks amount to government handouts to big business. One lobbyist said that the companies that had sought the tax breaks included Ford, General Motors, American Airlines, Northwest Airlines and Goodyear Tire and Rubber.
Meanwhile, a new Washington Post-ABC News poll has found 70 percent of the country disapproves of the way President Bush has handled the nation’s economy.
Government researchers are warning that a controversial chemical used in baby bottles and other hard plastic containers could be harming the development of children’s brains and reproductive organs. The National Toxicology Program said there was "some concern" that fetuses, babies and children were in danger because bisphenol A, or BPA, harmed animals at low levels. BPA is one of the most widely used synthetic chemicals in industry today. The Los Angeles Times reports that some scientists suspect that exposure early in life to BPA disrupts hormones and alters genes, programming a fetus or child for breast or prostate cancer, premature female puberty, attention deficit disorders and other reproductive or neurological disorders. A number of states, including California and New Jersey, are considering bans on BPA.
Pope Benedict XVI arrived in Washington Tuesday for his first visit to the United States as Pope. On his flight to the US, he vowed to reporters that pedophiles will be kicked out of the priesthood.
Pope Benedict XVI: "We are deeply ashamed, and we will do all that’s possible so that this cannot happen in future. I think we have to act on three levels. The first is level of justice — a political level. We have now also norms to react in a just way. I would not speak in this moment about homosexuality, but pedophilia is another thing, and we will absolutely exclude pedophiles from the sacred ministry."
In environmental news, researchers are predicting global sea levels could rise by as much as five feet by the end of this century because of melting glaciers, disappearing ice sheets and warming water. This could displace tens of millions of people. The findings were presented this week at the European Geosciences Union conference.
Meanwhile, in Washington, President Bush is scheduled to give a speech this afternoon on climate change. According to the Washington Post, Bush will endorse an "intermediate goal" for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but he will not put forward any specific legislation or proposal on how the goal should be met. Bush is also expected to reiterate his longstanding opposition to mandatory emissions regulations.
Federal investigators have obtained the phone records of a New York Times reporter who helped uncover the government’s secret domestic surveillance program. The Times reports that former government officials have recently been called before a federal grand jury and confronted with phone records documenting calls with the reporter James Risen. The Justice Department is trying to identify Risen’s sources for the book, State of War, and for articles he wrote for the Times about the nation’s spy agencies. It is unclear how the federal investigators obtained the phone records. The government may have subpoenaed the phone company to hand over Risen’s records.
Former President Jimmy Carter has said Syria and Hamas must be involved in any future peace deal in the Middle East. Carter made the statement during a stop in the West Bank.
Jimmy Carter: "I don’t think that it’s possible to have an ultimate peace agreement here without the involvement of Syria. The Golan Heights issue has to be resolved. Syria has to be friendly toward Israel, not an enemy. And I don’t think it’s possible without involving Hamas. I don’t care if Hamas represents ten percent of the Palestinian people or 42 percent or 44 percent. It doesn’t matter to me. But to have them completely excluded even from conversations or consultations, I think, is counterproductive."
On Tuesday, Jimmy Carter laid a wreath at the grave of Yasser Arafat and met with a leading figure in Hamas. Carter is hoping to meet with Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal soon in Damascus. Carter wanted to visit Gaza, but Israeli officials denied him entry. Carter’s trip was been widely criticized in Israel and Washington. Democratic Congressman Howard Berman, the new chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, accused Carter of undermining US policy. Hamas officials have welcomed Carter’s trip.
Ayman Taha, Hamas official: "The former American president, Mr. Carter, sent us an invitation for a meeting in Cairo. We in Hamas welcome this invitation, since we see it as a platform to reach the highest number possible of well-known persons and high-profile people in the world in order to inform them about what the Palestinian case is going through and the catastrophic situation the Palestinian people are being faced with."
Meanwhile, in Gaza, at least three Israeli soldiers and four Palestinians died in fighting earlier today.
In lobbying news, a group of prominent Jewish liberals have formed a new lobbying group and political action committee that they hope will be a counterpoint to AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. The new initiative will be called J Street. Part of its mission will be to push for an Arab-Israeli peace settlement. Democratic fundraiser Alan Solomont said, "We have heard the voices of neocons, and right-of-center Jewish leaders and Christian evangelicals, and the mainstream views of the American Jewish community have not been heard." The Washington Post reports J Street will be hard-pressed to match AIPAC’s influence in Washington. AIPAC has more than 100,000 members, eighteen offices around the country and an endowment of more than $100 million. The first year budget of J Street will be about $1.5 million.
And a new report from Amnesty International has determined at least 1,200 people were executed in the world last year. 88 percent of the executions took place in five countries: China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and the United States. Amnesty International’s Secretary-General Irene Khan said China remains the world’s top executioner.
Irene Khan: '’Well, we published today our annual death penalty statistics, and those statistics show that China is still the top executioner in the world, that Iran is one of the leading executioners. There are still too many executions, death penalty cases, in those countries. And last year we campaigned successfully to get the United Nations to call for a moratorium on the death penalty, and we would like to see the European Union to push that issue in its dialogue with China and Iran and countries like that.'’
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