Nearly two million people have evacuated their homes in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Texas as Hurricane Gustav roars toward the Gulf Coast. It is one of the largest evacuations in US history. The storm has already killed nearly 100 people in the Caribbean. Gustav is expected to hit Louisiana, west of New Orleans, sometime this morning. The Category 3 storm has sustained winds of 115 miles per hour. Over the weekend, New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin issued a mandatory evacuation order.
Mayor Ray Nagin: “And I must tell you, this is the mother of all storms. This storm is so powerful, and growing more powerful every day, that I am not sure we have seen anything like it. The National Weather Service is saying it’s the worst possible storm that they can imagine, if that gives you some idea of what we’re dealing with.”
In New Orleans, officials are warning that communities on the west side of the Mississippi River are particularly vulnerable to a tidal surge. Nagin said the city would not operate any “shelters of last resort.” A twenty-four-hour curfew went into effect today. Nagin has threatened to send any suspected looters straight to the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola. Hurricane Gustav comes nearly three years to the day to Hurricane Katrina, that killed 1,800 people in Louisiana and Mississippi and caused more than $80 billion in damage.
Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama said he will tap his huge political network of donors and volunteers to help victims of Hurricane Gustav.
Sen. Barack Obama: “My hope is, is that we’ve all learned from the terrible lesson that we saw after Katrina and Rita. Having said that, even if some of those lessons have been learned, it’s still very unpredictable.”
On Sunday, the Republican Party announced plans to scale back its national convention, which begins today in St. Paul. The party’s presumptive nominee, John McCain, traveled to Mississippi.
Sen. John McCain: “So, of course, this is a time when we have to do away with our party politics and we have to act as Americans. We have to join with 300 million other Americans on behalf of our fellow citizens. It’s a time for action. So we’re going to suspend most of our activities tomorrow, except for those absolutely necessary.”
The Republicans have called off the bulk of today’s convention program, except for essential party business. Speeches by President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney have both been canceled. The convention will convene at 3:00 p.m. Central time and adjourn two-and-a-half hours later.
Hurricane Gustav has shifted the media’s attention almost completely from the Republican National Convention and John McCain’s surprise selection of Alaskan Governor Sarah Palin to be his running mate. The two appeared together during a rally Friday in Ohio.
Sarah Palin: “It was rightly noted in Denver this week that Hillary left 18 million cracks in the highest, hardest glass ceiling in America. But it turns out the women of America aren’t finished yet, and we can shatter that glass ceiling once and for all.”
The forty-four-year-old Palin has been governor of Alaska for less than two years. Prior to that, she served as mayor of Wasilla, a town of less than 10,000 people. The selection of Palin shocked much of the political establishment. Even members of her own party and family questioned her experience. The Republican president of Alaska’s state senate, Lyda Green, said she thought it was a joke when someone told her the news. Green said, “She’s not prepared to be governor. How can she be prepared to be vice president or president?” Palin’s mother-in-law said, “I’m not sure what she brings to the ticket other than she’s a woman and a conservative.” John McCain praised Palin’s background.
John McCain: “She is exactly who I need. She is exactly who this country needs to help me fight — to help me fight the same old Washington politics of me first and country second.”
Many political analysts say McCain is hoping to capture alienated Hillary Clinton supporters, while reaching out to the evangelical right. Palin is a prominent member of Feminists for Life and has described herself as “pro-life as any candidate can be.” Ralph Reed, the former head of the Christian Coalition, described McCain’s selection as extraordinary and as a “shot directly into the heart of the evangelical movement.” Palin is also an active member of the National Rifle Association.
On environmental issues, Palin supports drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, opposes the classification of polar bears as endangered species and believes global warming is not man-made. Palin is currently at the center of a controversy in Alaska known as Troopergate. Palin is accused of firing Alaska’s public safety commissioner after he refused to fire Palin’s former brother-in-law, who worked as a state trooper. McCain announced the selection of Palin on his seventy-second birthday. He is attempting to become the oldest American elected to a first term as president.
Here in St. Paul, Iraq war veterans and antiwar activists are planning to hold a large march today from the State Capitol building to the Xcel Center. It is expected to be the largest protest during the Republican National Convention. Over the past week, local police, with assistance from federal agencies, have raided at least five homes. Six activists tied to the group the RNC Welcoming Committee have been arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to riot and other charges, following what police described as preemptive raids. Minnesota Public Radio reports the raids were coordinated between the FBI, the county sheriff’s office and local police. According to the Star Tribune, the raids were specifically aided by informants planted in protest groups. During one raid on Saturday, police detained Democracy Now! producer Elizabeth Press and Eileen Clancy of I-Witness Video.
Eileen Clancy: “We were videotaping and photographing as we heard the police bust through an attic door, yell 'Police,' come down the stairs and enter the living room with a handgun drawn on us, pointed at us.”
Interviewer: “Did you tape that?”
Eileen Clancy: “Yes.”
Interviewer: “Is that recorded?”
Eileen Clancy: “Yeah. So they told us to keep our hands visible, put our hands on top of our heads, and to put down our cameras.”
On Saturday, National Lawyers Guild and Communities United Against Police Brutality filed an emergency motion seeking “injunctive relief” to prevent police from seizing video equipment and cellular phones used to document their conduct.
Gena Berglund, National Lawyers Guild: “The restraining order, if we get it, would potentially enjoin the Minneapolis police officers from confiscating video equipment and cameras from people who either document police — unconstitutional police activity or are journalists. And we don’t know if we’ll get it, but that is what we’re attempting to do.”
On Sunday, police also arrested nine people during a a veterans march in St. Paul. They were arrested on suspicion of trespassing after they climbed a security perimeter.
The New York Times is reporting President Bush is seeking Congress to explicitly acknowledge that the nation remains engaged in an armed conflict with al-Qaeda, the Taliban and associated organizations. The measure carries significant legal and public policy implications for Bush, and potentially his successor. It would allow them to claim the approval of Congress to use the tools of war, including detention, interrogation and surveillance, against the enemy. Some lawmakers are concerned that the administration’s effort to declare anew a war footing is an eleventh-hour maneuver to reestablish its broad interpretation of the president’s wartime powers, even in the face of challenges from the Supreme Court and Congress. It is uncertain whether Congress will take the administration up on its request.
The Pakistani government has declared a ceasefire with Taliban militants in the tribal regions of Pakistan during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which begins there on Wednesday. The deal was reached after legislators from the tribal areas agreed to support Benazir Bhutto’s husband Asif Ali Zardari for president. In exchange for their support, Zardari has agreed to end air strikes in the region. Critics of the ceasefire said it would give the Taliban an opportunity to regroup.
In other news, more than half-a-million people are stranded in villages across northern India twelve days after the Kosi River broke its bank. Over one million people have been left homeless. The BBC reports the floodwaters are spreading to new areas, and conditions in relief camps are overcrowded and unsanitary. Tens of thousands have also been displaced in neighboring Nepal. The disaster began on August 18, when a dam burst on the Saptakoshi River in Nepal.
The Georgian government broke off diplomatic relations with Russia on Friday, and Russia responded by doing the same. This marks the first time since the collapse of the Soviet Union that Russia has severed diplomatic ties with any of the former Soviet republics. Meanwhile, a leading Russian opposition journalist was shot and killed on Sunday while in police custody. The journalist, Magomed Yevloyev, was shot in the temple while being driven from the airport to a police station.
In Iraq, the US military is planning to hand over security control of Anbar province to local forces today. Anbar is the first predominantly Sunni Arab region to be transferred by the US military to Iraqi security control. The US plans to keep 28,000 soldiers in the province.
Foreign activists from the “Free Gaza” movement have returned to Cyprus after sailing to Gaza last week with humanitarian aid in defiance of the Israeli blockade. The activists said they plan to return to Gaza in a month. They were the first foreigners to go to Gaza by sea since Israel tightened travel restrictions more than a year ago. Seven Palestinians sailed back to Cyprus with the activists, including sixteen-year-old Sa’ad Mesleh, who lost a leg in an Israeli army attack three years ago.
Sa’ad Mesleh: “Gaza is full of injured people and needing desperate help, and I hope the international community will take a stand and take more steps like this and bring more injured people out of the Gaza Strip, because there is no treatment in the Gaza Strip.”
In business news, General Motors has announced it is recalling nearly one million vehicles because of a problem with a windshield wiper fluid system that could lead to a fire.
And today is Labor Day. A new report by UCLA’s Institute for Research on Labor and Employment has found that unionization levels in the United States has risen for the second year in a row. 12.6 percent of all US civilian workers are represented by a union. That is half a percentage point more than in 2007. Between 1979 and 2006, unionization levels had fallen every year. Ruth Milkman of the UCLA labor institute said, “This is good news for organized labor. It shows that despite an extremely hostile environment, unions can grow.”
The Wall Street Journal reports the Bush administration is weighing an executive order that would eliminate a union-preferred method of labor organizing at large government contractors. The executive order would require contractors to use secret-ballot elections, instead of card checks, for union organizing or risk losing government contracts. Labor leaders prefer a card-check system in which workers can form a union if a majority of them sign a union-authorization card.
And today is Labor Day. Here in St. Paul, SEIU, the Service Employees International Union, is staging an all day event just across the Mississippi River from the Republican National Convention. It is called the Take Back Labor Day Festival. Performers include Billy Bragg, Steve Earle and Tom Morello.