In Burma, at least 15,000 people are feared dead following a devastating cyclone. Another 30,000 people are still missing. Aid agencies estimate as many as one million people may be without shelter. The storm hit Burma on Friday night. For over ten hours, winds traveling up to 150 miles per hour struck Burma’s largest city, Rangoon. More than twenty inches of rain were dumped on the city. Satellite images from NASA show virtually the entire coastal plain of Burma under water. It was the largest cyclone to hit Asia since 1991, when 143,000 people died in Bangladesh. On Monday, Burma’s military junta said it would allow some foreign aid groups to enter the country. Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Stephen Smith offered assistance.
Stephen Smith: “Whilst we have very grave difficulties with the regime in Burma, we have over the period been continuing to render modest humanitarian assistance directly to the people of Burma. So we stand ready, willing and able to assist in conjunction with the United Nations and the relevant agencies.”
In Washington, First Lady Laura Bush announced the US government would send $250,000 in emergency aid. Meanwhile, President Bush is expected to sign legislation today awarding the Congressional Gold Medal to Burma’s jailed pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi. On Saturday, Burma is scheduled to hold a controversial referendum to rewrite the nation’s constitution. Exiled opposition activist Soe Aung of the National Council of Union of Burma urged the military junta to postpone the referendum.
Soe Aung: “We are calling the international community to press the military regime to immediately defer the referendum in order to address the devastation left by this Cyclone Nargis. After these survivors’ main needs are met, and the regime can proceed with the rescheduled referendum, and this time under free and fair conditions and including the presence of the international monitors.”
Burma’s military regime initially said it would proceed with the referendum, but now officials say the vote will be postponed in forty-seven towns hardest hit by the cyclone.
In the United States, voters head to the polls today in North Carolina and Indiana for two closely contested primary races between Senators Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. At a campaign rally in Greenville, North Carolina, Senator Clinton said she is best suited to win in November.
Sen. Clinton: “I believe that I would be the best president and the stronger candidate against Senator McCain, and ultimately this is about getting to 270 electoral votes. If the Democratic Party had the same rules as the Republican Party, I would already be the nominee.”
Despite a series of recent setbacks, Senator Obama said he still expects to win the nomination.
Sen. Obama: “Obviously, we’re focusing right now on Indiana and North Carolina. I don’t like to get too far ahead of myself. That’s why I think we’ve done well, is we campaigned state by state. But I’m confident that I will win this nomination, and I am confident that when I square off with John McCain that we’re going to have a serious debate about where this country needs to go.”
The New York Times is coming under criticism for publishing an article based solely on unnamed sources suggesting that the Lebanese group Hezbollah is training Iraqi militants inside Iran. The article by Michael Gordon was published on Monday, one day after Iraqi government spokesperson Ali al-Dabbagh said Iraq has no hard evidence of Iranian support of insurgents in Iraq. John Stauber of PR Watch said Gordon’s article is “reminiscent of the horrendous errors of judgment and bad journalism committed by Michael Gordon, Judith Miller and others at the New York Times who turned the paper into a conduit for phony stories that sold the war in Iraq.” Retired Air Force Colonel Sam Gardiner said he feels the article in Monday’s Times is “part of a strategic communications plan.”
Hours after the Times article was published, former UN Ambassador John Bolton appeared on Fox News and called for US strikes against Iran. He was interviewed by Jaime Colby of Fox News.
John Bolton: “I think this is a case where the use of military force against a training camp to show the Iranians we’re simply not going to tolerate this is really the most prudent thing to do. And then the ball would be in Iran’s court to draw the appropriate lesson to stop harming our troops.”
Jaime Colby: “Ambassador John Bolton, a good message to end on. Thank you very much.”
Meanwhile, Iran has reportedly suspended talks with the United States to discuss Iraqi security. According to the New York Times, Iran called off the talks to protest the ongoing US offensive against Shiite Iraqis in Baghdad.
The US government’s top psychiatric researcher estimates the number of suicides among veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan may exceed the combat death toll of the wars because of inadequate mental healthcare. Thomas Insel, director of the National Institute of Mental Health in Bethesda, Maryland, said community mental health centers have failed in providing adequate care to veterans. A recent study by the RAND Corporation determined that 20 percent of returning US soldiers have post-traumatic stress disorder or depression, and only half of them receive treatment. The House Veterans Affairs Committee is holding a hearing this morning on the issue of veteran suicides. Steve Rathbun from the University of Georgia will be testifying. According to his research, as many as 120 veterans are committing suicide every week.
A top adviser to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has urged the United States and other nations to overhaul its system for sending food aid to countries in need. Professor Jeffrey Sachs said countries should be given resources to help grow their own food.
Jeffrey Sachs: “If you help them to grow more food rather than shipping food aid, you’ll produce an escape from poverty. If you ship food aid, you’ll meet one-fifth of the food needs, people will suffer, it will be very expensive, and you’ll do nothing to help them get out of poverty”
Jeffrey Sachs also said the United States and Europe should cut back on production of biofuels.
Jeffrey Sachs: “The second thing I believe we need is to cut back significantly on our biofuels programs, which were understandable at a time of much lower food prices and larger food stocks but do not make sense now in a global food scarcity condition. In the United States, as much as one-third of the maize crop this year will go to the gas tank, and this is a huge blow to the world food supply.”
An Iraqi man has sued two US military contractors, claiming he was repeatedly tortured while being held at the Abu Ghraib prison. In the lawsuit, Emad al-Janabi says employees of CACI International and L-3 Communications punched him, slammed him into walls, hung him from a bed frame and kept him naked and handcuffed in his cell.
Georgia is set to execute William Earl Lynd tonight. He will become the first US prisoner to be put to death since the Supreme Court ended a de facto seven-month moratorium on capital punishment. Anti-death penalty campaigners have planned protests outside the prison and in five cities across the state. Since the Supreme Court ruling three weeks ago, states have scheduled at least fourteen more executions to take place over the next six months.
Meanwhile, in North Carolina, an innocent man has been released after spending fourteen years on death row. Levon “Bo” Jones is the fifth death row prisoner to be exonerated in the United States in the past eleven months.
A new book on Mumia Abu-Jamal asserts the former Black Panther and journalist did not kill Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner. In his book The Framing of Mumia Abu-Jamal, J. Patrick O’Connor concludes the actual killer was Kenneth Freeman, a business partner of Mumia’s brother. Freeman died in 1985.
In other prison news, a coalition of groups in California are filing a lawsuit today to stop the state from borrowing $12 billion to build 53,000 new prison beds. The expansion is considered the largest prison construction in US history. California has opened twenty-three new prisons in the past twenty-three years. Leading the opposition to the prison funding is the group Californians United for a Responsible Budget.
And Mildred Loving has died at the age of sixty-eight. She and her husband made national headlines four decades ago when they successfully challenged Virginia’s ban on interracial marriage. In 1967, the Supreme Court heard their case and struck down laws banning racially mixed marriages in at least seventeen states.