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The UN is calling for a 50 percent increase in food production over the next two decades to meet rising global demand. The call came at a gathering of world leaders in Rome on the world food crisis. A major divide could come down to the issue of biofuels. Biofuels like ethanol raise food prices by diverting crops to produce fuel rather than food. Major biofuel producers, including the United States and Brazil, are rejecting calls to limit biofuel production. On Monday, the US delegation said biofuels will account for only two or three percent of an estimated 40 percent rise in food prices this year. But groups including the UN and International Monetary Fund have warned biofuels have driven up food prices anywhere between 15 to more than 30 percent. Farida Chapman of the aid group Oxfam said biofuel proponents are ignoring overwhelming evidence.
Farida Chapman: “The meaning is that there is a clear link between biofuels and the poverty of almost 300 million people around the world, according to our estimates. Today these people are being threatened by the use of biofuels, and we are advocating for stopping the biofuels production and for providing immediate assistance to these people.”
Meanwhile, the Bush administration has announced it won’t hold any talks with representatives from Venezuela, Zimbabwe and Iran at the summit. US Agricultural Secretary Ed Schafer said the countries are welcome at the meeting but would not be recognized.
U.S. Agricultural Secretary Ed Schafer: “First of all, if their presence here overshadows the work of this esteemed body, I guess that will be up to the people in this room, including you. So, you know, that will make the difference here, what the news is. So we ask that you keep the focus on the work that’s being done by the body. Nobody from the US delegation will be meeting with the countries you mentioned, and we’re glad they’re here. We appreciate the opportunity for dialogue, but it is our position that we will not meet with them.”
On the campaign trail, Senator Barack Obama is inching toward victory as voters in South Dakota and Montana go to the polls today in the last primaries of the Democratic presidential race. Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton has publicly vowed to continue her campaign, but aides have hinted she’ll drop out of the race later this week. On Monday, Senator Clinton’s husband, former President Bill Clinton, also suggested her concession is imminent.
Bill Clinton: “This may be the last day I’m ever involved in a campaign of this kind. I thought I was out of politics, ’til Hillary decided to run. But it has been one of greatest honors of my life to be able to go around and campaign for her for president.”
On Capitol Hill, the Senate has opened debate on a climate change bill supporters say would reduce fossil fuel dependence and cut emissions of carbon dioxide. The bipartisan measure aims to combat global warming by using a cap-and-trade system popularly known as carbon trading. This involves setting greenhouse gas emissions limits and allowances for each industry and then creating a system to trade the allowances. The White House opposes the measure as part of its objection to environmental regulation. But environmentalists, meanwhile, have warned it may not go far enough. Critics say carbon trading allows big polluters to delay the reduction of their emissions.
In other environmental news, NASA’s inspector general has concluded the agency’s public affairs office has routinely tried to manage and distort scientific findings on climate change. The probe came out of the revelations of Dr. James Hansen, the head of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies. In September 2006, Hansen revealed the Bush administration had been trying to silence his warnings about the urgent need to address climate change. The NASA inspector general’s report concludes public affairs officials controlled climate change findings in a manner “that reduced, marginalized, or mischaracterized climate change science made available to the general public.” It continues, “[N]ews releases in the areas of climate change suffered from inaccuracy, factual insufficiency, and scientific dilution.”
Vice President Dick Cheney has tried to explain his controversial comments dismissing public opposition to the Iraq war. In an interview on the fifth anniversary of the US invasion earlier this year, ABC News correspondent Martha Raddatz pointed out two-thirds of Americans believe the war isn’t worth fighting. Cheney immediately responded, “So?” On Monday, Cheney was asked about his reply at the National Press Club.
Moderator: “Do you wish you had answered that question differently? And does it matter if the public disagrees sharply with the wisdom of the war?”
Vice President Dick Cheney: “No, when I said, ‘So?’ the point was, ‘What’s the question, Martha?’ Martha had made the statement; she didn’t ask a question.”
The International Atomic Energy Agency has announced plans to send a team of inspectors to Syria later this month. The move comes as the Bush administration is under criticism for delaying its sharing of the intelligence it says could prove Syria is pursuing a secret weapons program. The US backed an Israeli air strike on Syria in September but only handed over intelligence to UN atomic inspectors last month. On Monday, IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei criticized the US for the time gap. US Ambassador Gregory Schulte said the US had stalled because it didn’t want to stoke further conflict in the Middle East. Earlier this year, New Yorker correspondent Seymour Hersh reported Israel did not know what it was targeting and was mainly hoping to send a message to Iran. ElBaradei also criticized Iran on Monday, saying it had withheld information on its nuclear plans. US Ambassador Schulte said Iran should face further sanctions.
US Ambassador Gregory Schulte: “In many ways, the choice is up to Iran. Are they ready to stay isolated? Are they ready to subject themselves to further sanction and isolation from the world economic system and financial system? Or are they ready to take that offer that’s on the table? We hope they make that decision to take the offer.”
Iran has offered talks with the US on its nuclear program and Middle East peace. But the Bush administration has preconditioned any negotiations on Iran’s abandonment of its nuclear activities.
In Bolivia, President Evo Morales is vowing to push ahead with a nationalization effort despite autonomy efforts from oil-rich regions. On Sunday, voters in the provinces of Beni and Pando approved autonomy referendums, following Bolivia’s wealthiest region, Santa Cruz, last month. On Monday, Morales announced the state takeover of an oil pipeline company and vowed to reject efforts to divide Bolivia.
Bolivian President Evo Morales: “It’s our obligation to continue recovering (the energy industry) and in this way fulfill the wishes of the Bolivian people, with this clear request from the Bolivian people — above all, the request of the social movements that permanently demonstrated during the neoliberal governments. That process of recuperation will continue with this government.”
Back in the United States, Democratic Senator Ted Kennedy is recovering at a North Carolina hospital after undergoing what doctors called a successful brain surgery. Kennedy was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor last month. Kennedy plans to return to Massachusetts next week to begin chemotherapy and radiation treatment.
Meanwhile, Democratic Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia has been hospitalized for the third time in as many months. A spokesperson says Byrd is suffering from a fever and was admitted on his doctor’s orders. At ninety, Byrd is the longest-serving senator in US history.
And a correction to a headline from Friday’s broadcast. In an interview last week, former White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan said President Bush personally told him he authorized the leak of the National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq, not the leak of former CIA operative Valerie Plame’s identity.