Over a million Cubans have been evacuated as Hurricane Ike pounds the island for a second day. At least four people died in Cuba on Monday, but the toll is expected to rise as the storm is projected to hit the capital Havana today. Cuba is still recovering from Hurricane Gustav, which tore across the western part of the island last week, damaging more than 100,000 homes.
Haiti has been devastated from flooding caused by Hurricanes Gustav and Hanna. At least 600 people have died over the past month. An estimated one million Haitians have been left homeless. Much of the city of Gonaives remains under water. The city’s population of 300,000 has been stranded for days without food or drinking water. Throughout Haiti, bridges, roads, clinics and homes have been washed away.
President Bush is expected to announce plans today to withdraw 8,000 combat and support troops out of Iraq by February, while sending an additional 4,500 troops to Afghanistan. Bush is expected to praise significant progress in Iraq, while acknowledging that “huge challenges in Afghanistan remain.” There are currently about 146,000 US troops in Iraq, as well as an estimated 190,000 private contractors.
Investigative journalist Bob Woodward has revealed details about how US forces have carried out targeted assassinations in Iraq as part of the so-called surge. In an interview with 60 Minutes, Woodward said, “This is very sensitive and very top secret, but there are secret operational capabilities that have been developed by the military to locate, target and kill leaders of al-Qaeda in Iraq, insurgent leaders, renegade militia leaders.” Woodward writes about the secret program in his new book The War Within. Woodward reports this secret assassination program has played a key role in the decreasing level of violence in Iraq.
In other Iraq news, the Financial Times reports Royal Dutch Shell is set to become the first Western oil company to sign a deal with the Iraqi government since the US-led invasion of 2003. Shell has agreed to a plan to capture and use natural gas in the Basra region. The contract could be worth up to $4 billion.
In Pakistan, the death toll from Monday’s US drone attack has reached twenty-three, including eight children. US drones fired five missiles at a large compound belonging to one of Pakistan’s most prominent Taliban leaders. The attack was the third American missile strike on North and South Waziristan since last week. The target of the attack, Jalaluddin Haqqani, was not at the compound. Haqqani was a CIA asset during the 1980s. The US gave him tens of thousands of dollars for his work in fighting the Soviet army in Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, the investigative journalist Gareth Porter reports the Bush administration ignored warnings from the National Intelligence Council about launching commando raids inside Pakistan. The intelligence panel said such ground raids could help further destabilize the Pakistani military and government.
In election news, the McCain campaign issued a new ad Monday proclaiming John McCain and Sarah Palin to be political mavericks.
John McCain Ad: “The original mavericks. He fights pork-barrel spending. She stopped the Bridge to Nowhere. He took on the drug industry. She took on Big Oil. He battled Republicans and reformed Washington. She battled Republicans and reformed Alaska. They’ll make history. They’ll change Washington. McCain-Palin. Real change.”
The Obama campaign followed suit with a response ad.
Barack Obama Ad: “They call themselves mavericks. Whoa. Truth is, they’re anything but. John McCain is hardly a maverick, when seven of his top campaign advisers are Washington lobbyists. He’s no maverick when he votes with Bush 90 percent of the time. And Sarah Palin’s no maverick, either. She was for the Bridge to Nowhere before she was against it. Politicians lying about their records? You don’t call that maverick. You call it more of the same.”
While the McCain campaign continues to claim Sarah Palin opposed Alaska’s notorious Bridge to Nowhere, more evidence has emerged proving that she once supported the project. On Sunday night, C-SPAN re-aired a 2006 gubernatorial debate in Alaska, when Palin was asked whether she supported a $24 million federal earmark to build a gravel access road to the nonexistent bridge.
Sarah Palin: “I wouldn’t [cancel the project]. I’m not going to stand in the way of progress that our congressional delegation — in the position of strength that they have right now — they’re making those efforts for the state of Alaska to build up our infrastructure. I would not get in the way of progress.”
Meanwhile, the Washington Post reports that Governor Palin has billed Alaskan taxpayers for 312 nights spent in her own home during her first nineteen months in office. Palin has charged “per diem” allowance intended to cover meals and incidental expenses while traveling on state business. The governor also has charged the state for travel expenses to take her children on official out-of-town missions. And her husband, Todd, has billed the state for expenses and a daily allowance for trips he makes on official business for his wife. Palin, who earns $125,000 a year, claimed and received nearly $17,000 as her allowance. The governor’s daughters and husband charged the state over $43,000 to travel, and many of the trips were between their house in Wasilla and Juneau, the capital city 600 miles away. A gubernatorial spokeswoman said Monday that Palin’s expenses are not unusual.
Tension between Russia and the United States continues to mount on a number of fronts. On Monday, President Bush pulled a civilian nuclear accord with Russia that would have allowed Moscow to establish a lucrative business as the center for the import and storage of spent nuclear fuel from American-supplied reactors around the world. State Department spokesperson Sean McCormack announced the decision.
Sean McCormack: “The President intends to notify Congress that he has today rescinded his prior determination regarding the US-Russia agreement for peaceful nuclear cooperation, the so-called one-two-three agreement. As a result, there is no basis for further consideration of the agreement under the Atomic Energy Act at this time.”
Russia has announced plans to deploy ships and warplanes to the Caribbean for joint military exercises with Venezuela later this year. The deployment is expected to be the largest Russian naval maneuvers in the Caribbean, and perhaps the Western Hemisphere, since the Cold War.
In media news, MSNBC has announced Keith Olbermann and Chris Matthews will no longer anchor any of the network’s live political coverage for the rest of the presidential campaign season. NBC News’ White House correspondent David Gregory will become the primary host of the network’s coverage of the upcoming debates and on election night. In May, White House Counselor Ed Gillespie sent a letter to NBC News accusing Matthews and Olbermann of being “blatantly partisan.” The McCain campaign and several right-wing groups have also complained that Matthews and Olberrmann are too liberal. It’s not the first time MSNBC, which is owned by General Electric, has shifted its programming because of political pressure. In 2003, prior to the invasion of Iraq, the network canceled its highest-rated program hosted by Phil Donahue. A leaked internal NBC study indicated Donahue was fired because of his antiwar views. The study found that Donahue “seems to delight in presenting guests who are anti-war, anti-Bush and skeptical of the administration’s motives.”
Another associate of jailed Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff has been arrested. Former congressional aide Kevin Ring pleaded not guilty on Monday to a ten-count federal indictment. He is accused of conspiring with Abramoff to win assistance from congressional and executive branch officials by giving them things of value and helping them skirt requirements to report those gifts.
The New York Civil Liberties Union has sued the New York Police Department over plans to use over 100 license plate readers and 3,000 surveillance cameras to track and photograph automobiles entering Manhattan. The civil liberties group says the police department moved forward with its surveillance plan without explaining how the department will use and store images and data captured by the video cameras.
A new study has revealed that police in Houston, Texas have used Taser stun guns far more on African Americans than any other group. Between December 2004 and June 2007, the police used tasers 1,400 times. Nearly 67 percent were used on blacks, even though only about 25 percent of Houston’s population is black.
And in Berkeley, California, the San Francisco Chronicle reports the standoff between UC Berkeley and four tree-sitters intensified Monday as work crews prepared to remove the protesters from a stripped-down redwood. Protesters have been living in trees in the grove since late 2006 in an effort to prevent forty-two oaks, redwoods and other trees from being cut down to make room for a $124 million sports training center. Over the weekend, crews cut down forty trees near the redwood where the tree-sitters remain.