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This week, Democracy Now! is celebrating our 22nd birthday. Since our first show in February 1996, our daily news hour has brought you fearless journalism and hard-hitting news you can trust--all without ads or corporate underwriting. How is this possible? Only with your support. In fact, if everyone reading this gave just $4, it would cover our operating expenses for the whole year. Right now, a generous donor will TRIPLE every donation, meaning your gift today will go three times as far. Pretty amazing, right? Please do your part. Take a moment to give right now for our 22nd birthday.
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In West Virginia, twenty-five coal miners have died after a huge explosion at a Massey Energy mine in Raleigh County. It was the worst mining disaster in the United States in more than a quarter-century. US Mine Safety and Health Administration spokesperson Kevin Stricklin said four miners are still missing.
Kevin Stricklin: “What we have is, at approximately 3:00 this afternoon, as a crew was exiting a mine, the mine in a mantrip, there appears to have been an explosion. And there was a sudden gust of air. And persons who were underground, that weren’t affected as much by it, went back into the mine and found nine miners that were in that mantrip. Unfortunately, very sadly, seven of the nine miners are now deceased, and the other two are injured.”
By early this morning, the death toll had reached twenty-five. The Charleston Gazette reports mine safety experts said initial reports are that the explosion involved methane that built up inside a sealed area of the mine or that leaked through mine seals. The Gazette reports such a scenario would be a repeat of the 2006 Sago and Darby disasters in West Virginia and Kentucky, which claimed seventeen lives. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports the Massey-owned mine was cited for 458 safety violations last year, and federal inspectors fined Massey more than $382,000 for repeated serious violations involving its ventilation plan and equipment. On Monday, the wives and relatives of many of the miners gathered at the Massey site.
Wife of Miner: “They told me there had been an explosion. And I said, 'Where?' And they said, 'Performance.' And he just went to that mine. He just transferred to that mine a while back, not long.”
Under a new national strategy for nuclear weapons, the Obama administration is maintaining the right to use nuclear weapons first and to use them to attack any nation accused of violating the main treaty to halt nuclear proliferation, including Iran and North Korea. Anti-nuclear activists and some Democratic lawmakers were hoping Obama would issue a blanket statement that the country would never again be the first to use nuclear weapons. The new policy, known as the Nuclear Posture Review, narrows potential US nuclear targets, and the New York Times reports that for the first time the United States is explicitly committing not to use nuclear weapons against nonnuclear states that are in compliance with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. As part of the policy, the US is not removing any nuclear weapon from alert.
A watchdog website called WikiLeaks released a classified US military video Monday showing a US helicopter gunship indiscriminately firing on Iraqi civilians. The 2007 attack killed twelve people, including two employees of the Reuters news agency, photographer Namir Noor-Eldeen and driver Saeed Chmagh. We’ll have more on this story after headlines.
In Baghdad, another twenty-eight people have died in a series of coordinated bombings that destroyed seven buildings. More than ninety Iraqis have died in the capital over the past five days.
In Afghanistan, NATO forces have been accused of killing four civilians in an air strike overnight in southern Helmand province. The raid reportedly killed two women, a child and an elderly man, along with suspected insurgents. The incident comes only two days after NATO acknowledged it had killed five Afghan civilians, including three women, during a night raid on a home in the southeast of the country in February. We’ll have more on Afghanistan later in the show.
Human Rights Watch has accused US-backed Pakistani troops of carrying out more than 200 extrajudicial killings in the past eight months of suspected Taliban sympathizers. Most of the killings have occurred in the Swat Valley. Tom Malinowski of Human Rights Watch said, “People are taken away, and sometimes they turn up a few days or weeks later having been tortured. Sometimes they disappear. Sometimes their body is dumped with a bullet in the head.” The US has given more than $15 billion in aid to Pakistan since the September 11 attacks.
In Haiti, some schools opened on Monday for the first time since the January 12 earthquake. But many schools remain closed due to a lack of repairs or equipment. Local union representatives criticized the education ministry for what they said was poor preparation to reopen the schools.
Josue Merilien, UNNOH Teachers’ Union Coordinator: “It was a lot of high-minded rhetoric for the government to announce that the schools were opening without making any of the necessary preparations to receive the students.”
The earthquake destroyed or damaged more than 4,000 schools, as well as the education ministry itself. Haiti estimates at least 38,000 students and more than 1,300 teachers and other education personnel died in the earthquake.
The Transportation Department has announced it is fining Toyota $16.4 million for failing to notify US regulators about potential problems with unintended acceleration. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said, “We now have proof that Toyota failed to live up to its legal obligations. Worse yet, they knowingly hid a dangerous defect for months from US officials and did not take action to protect millions of drivers and their families.” In the last six months, Toyota has recalled more than eight million vehicles worldwide, about six million of them in the United States. The $16.4 million fine is just a fraction of the $200 billion Toyota reported in revenue last year.
In healthcare news, 2009 turned out to be a very good year for the CEO of the private health insurance company WellPoint. Angela Braly’s compensation package soared by 51 percent last year. She earned $13.1 million, up from $8.7 million in 2008. At least three other WellPoint executives received compensation increases of as much as 75 percent.
A Texas man has been arrested after threatening to use deadly force to stop an abortion at the Southwestern Women’s Surgery Center in Dallas. Erlyndon Joseph Lo was charged with one count of using interstate commerce to communicate a threat to injure and one count of threatening force to intimidate and interfere with clients and employees of a reproductive health service.
Temperature records are being broken across the United States this week as the Northeast and Midwest have experienced summer-like weather. In Caribou, Maine, the temperature soared to 82 degrees on Saturday, shattering the old record for the date by 24 degrees. In New York City, temperatures this week are about 20 degrees above normal.
At the University of California at Berkeley, students, faculty and workers held a demonstration Monday to show support for students who are facing possible suspension for taking part in protest actions against tuition hikes, layoffs and cuts at the school. The Office of Student Conduct has sent letters to over 100 student protesters offering them a seven-month suspension, rather than entering into a formal student conduct hearing where they could face more severe disciplinary measures. Students accused the administration of trying to silence dissent on campus. Dozens of students are also facing criminal charges for briefly taking over a freeway in Oakland on the March 4th Day of Action to Defend Public Education. Authorities are also pressing charges against at least two independent journalists who were covering the protests. Brandon Jourdan is being charged with five misdemeanors, including rioting. David Martinez faces four infractions. Jourdan and Martinez were working on a piece for Democracy Now! at the time of their arrests.