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You turn to Democracy Now! for ad-free news you can trust. Maybe you come for our daily headlines, or for in-depth stories that expose government and corporate abuses of power. We produce our daily news hour at a fraction of the budget of a commercial news operation, all without ads, government funding or corporate underwriting? This is only possible with your support. Right now every donation to Democracy Now! will be doubled by a generous supporter. This means if you give $25 today, Democracy Now! will get $50 to support our daily news hour. Please do your part. It takes just a couple of minutes to make sure that Democracy Now! is there for you and everybody else in the coming year. Thanks so much. -Amy Goodman
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President Bush is dismissing opposition to a proposed agreement on keeping US troops in Iraq. Criticism has mounted from Iraqi and US lawmakers as details have emerged over the past week. The Bush administration is seeking to permanently keep more than fifty military bases in Iraq. It’s also insisting on continuing military campaigns without consultation with the Iraqi government and immunity for American soldiers and contractors. Speaking in Germany Wednesday, President Bush called criticism from Iraqi and US lawmakers “noise in their system and our system.” Bush said the terms have been misunderstood and that he’s confident a deal will be reached.
President Bush: “And one of the lessons of Iraq is, is that in order for, you know, a democracy development or in order for an economy to develop, there has to be a measure of security, which is now happening. So I think we’ll get the agreement done.”
Meanwhile, Republican presidential candidate John McCain is also dismissing criticism of plans for a long-term occupation of Iraq. Speaking on NBC’s Today Show Wednesday, McCain was asked when he thinks US troops will return from Iraq. McCain replied, “That’s not too important. What’s important is the casualties in Iraq. Americans are in South Korea, Americans are in Japan, American troops are in Germany. That’s all fine.”
Meanwhile in Iraq, the US military has launched a controversial program relying on Iraqi militias in a Shiite enclave in Baghdad. The Washington Post reports Shiite fighters armed and paid by the US have taken to the streets of Sadr City for the first time. The program is modeled after the Awakening movement, which has seen the US hand control of different areas to Sunni warlords in return for their turning against the Iraqi resistance.
Back in Germany, President Bush also addressed Iran, repeating his longstanding threat to use military force if Iran fails to abide by US demands on its nuclear activities.
President Bush: “I just told you that all options are on the table. And my first choice is to solve this diplomatically, and the best way to solve it diplomatically is to work with our partners. And that’s exactly what we’re doing. And the message to the Iranian government is very clear, that there is a better way forward than isolation, and that is for you to verifiably suspend your enrichment program.”
Iran has offered to negotiate on its nuclear program and a broader agreement, but the US insists Iran must suspend nuclear activities as a precondition. From Germany, President Bush went on to Italy, where he faces protests from tens of thousands of people. On Wednesday, demonstrators began a major rally in Rome protesting Bush’s visit.
Protester: “We want to show Bush, the Italian government and the entire world that Italians do not support the politics of Bush and the politics of war.”
Protester: “I came here to protest against Bush. I think he’s a traitor to the American people and has been since he was elected.”
Protests are continuing in Italy today.
Bush’s visit to Europe comes as a new congressional study shows the US government’s global standing is at a record low. The subcommittee on international organizations report says so-called “Anti-Americanism” is at record levels due to the US invasion and occupation of Iraq and the Bush administration’s support for authoritarian governments.
A major dispute has opened up between the US and Pakistan on a US air strike that killed eleven Pakistani soldiers stationed near the Afghan border. The attack came in an area where Taliban fighters were thought to be holding captured Afghan soldiers. Pakistan says the US bombed its forces while backing Afghanistan’s operation. On Wednesday, Pakistani Prime Minister Syed Yousaf Raza Gilani said the US is undermining Pakistan’s sovereignty.
Pakistani Prime Minister Syed Yousaf Raza Gilani: “We will take a stand for sovereignty, integrity and self-respect, and we will not allow our soil (to be attacked). We totally condemn it and will take up the matter through the foreign office.”
Pentagon spokesperson Geoff Morrell denied Pakistan’s charges, saying US forces acted in self-defense.
Pentagon spokesperson Geoff Morrell: “Every indication we have at this point is that the actions that were taken by US forces were legitimate in that they were in self-defense, after US forces operating on the border of Pakistan in Afghanistan territory came under attack from hostile forces, and in self-defense, they called in an air strike, which took out those forces that were attacking them.”
In Canada, the Canadian government has formally apologized for forcing hundreds of thousands of Native children into residential schools. For several decades, continuing well into the 1900s, Native children were seized from their homes and forced into church-run schools, where they faced abuse and disease. On Wednesday, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper read a lengthy apology before parliament.
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper: “You have been working on recovering from this experience for a long time, and in a very real sense we are now joining you on this journey. The government of Canada sincerely apologizes and asks the forgiveness of the aboriginal peoples of this country for failing them so profoundly.”
A formal truth and reconciliation commission on the schools began work this month.
On Capitol Hill, Democratic Congressmember Dennis Kucinich is vowing to continue his impeachment effort against President Bush despite attempts to bury it in committee. On Wednesday, Congress members voted to send Kucinich’s bill to the House Judiciary Committee, where it’s unlikely to be considered before Bush leaves office. Kucinich’s thirty-five articles of impeachment against President Bush accuse him of war crimes and deceiving the public in the run-up to the Iraq invasion. Kucinich also lists the imprisonment of foreign nationals and US citizens without charge in the so-called “war on terror”; Bush’s policies on global warming, voting rights, Medicare; and the response to Hurricane Katrina.
On the campaign trail, the head of Senator Barack Obama’s vice-presidential search committee has resigned following intense criticism of his business ties. James Johnson had drawn scrutiny for receiving apparently favorable mortgage terms from the Countrywide Financial Corporation, which has been linked to the subprime mortgage crisis. Johnson was also criticized for his role in awarding large compensation packages to corporate executives while sitting on company boards.
Extreme weather continues to claim lives here in the United States. On Wednesday, four people were killed and nearly fifty injured when a tornado tore through a Boy Scout campground in western Iowa. Tornadoes also hit Minnesota, Nebraska and Kansas, where at least two people were killed. The Kansas State University campus suffered extensive damage while the Kansas town of Chapman was nearly completely destroyed.
The tornadoes come on the heels of storms that have caused extensive flooding across the Midwest. The National Weather Service is predicting the worst flooding along the Mississippi River in Missouri and Illinois in fifteen years.
And a nationwide salmonella outbreak in tomatoes is highlighting what consumer advocates call gaping holes in the proposed congressional farm bill. Nearly 170 people in seventeen states have fallen ill from salmonella poising in the last two months. The Food and Drug Administration is warning against eating raw red plum, Roma or red tomatoes. Consumer advocates have criticized lawmakers and the Bush administration for removing several high-profile food safety proposals, including creating a new food safety commission and returning agricultural inspectors to the Agricultural Department instead of working under the Department for Homeland Security.