Voters in Alaska, Arizona, Florida, Oklahoma and Vermont head to the polls today to vote in state primaries. Republican Senators John McCain of Arizona and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska are both expected to survive challenges from tea party-endorsed candidates. Some of the day’s closest races may be in Florida, where the Democratic Senate primary pits Congressman Kendrick Meek against billionaire real estate investor Jeff Greene. In the Florida Republican gubernatorial primary, State Attorney General Bill McCollum is battling former healthcare executive Rick Scott, who has spent almost $39 million of his own money on the campaign.
A federal judge has blocked President Obama’s executive order restoring funding for embryonic stem cell research. US District Judge Royce Lamberth said the funding violates a 1996 law prohibiting federal money for any research that destroys or threatens human embryos. Obama’s order had overturned a move by his predecessor George W. Bush to further restrict stem cell funding. We’ll have more on the story later in the program.
Pakistani officials say more than one million people face starvation in the state of Balochistan due to the devastating floods. More than 5,000 villages in Balochistan have been washed away as well as over 120 miles of roads. Balochistan is located in Southwest Pakistan on the border of Iran and Afghanistan. On Monday, Jane Cocking, humanitarian director of Oxfam, urged people around the world to keep giving to help the people of Pakistan.
Jane Cocking: “What we have is a single long event, which has the scale of the tsunami, the destruction of Haiti and the complexity of the Middle East. And in twenty years in responding to humanitarian crises, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything quite like this.”
Nick Guttmann of Christian Aid also appealed to the world to help the survivors of the massive floods in Pakistan.
Nick Guttmann: “We are very, very desperate for donations to come in. Donations have picked up. We’re very pleased that donations in the last week, unusually for the DEC appeal, have picked up in the second week. And within Christian Aid as well, our donations have picked up, but we desperately need more. The scale is so huge that every penny that is raised will be able to be used now. But also, we have to think about the future and rebuilding people’s lives, so they can have a future to look forward to, as well.”
There are reports that relief agencies have been blocked from using a large Pakistani air base in Sindh province that has been tied to the secret US drone program. Last week Pakistan’s health secretary said the base is essentially now run by the United States military. In 2008, the Washington Post reported the US was secretly using the Shahbaz base to house Predator hunter-killer drones used to carry out strikes inside Pakistan. In an attempt to save the air base, flood waters were diverted from the area, but the diverted water has reportedly inundated hundreds of nearby homes and displaced as many as 800,000 people.
The US has carried out another drone strike inside Pakistan. On Monday, twenty people died when a US missile targeted a home in North Waziristan. The dead included four women and three children. Pakistani intelligence officials said the target of the strike was a militant compound.
In northern Afghanistan, NATO troops have been accused of killing eight Afghan civilians during an early morning raid. Local authorities say NATO troops injured twelve other people and took nine prisoners. Meanwhile, five NATO troops died Monday. The dead included two French soldiers, one Hungarian and one American. Four more NATO troops died on Sunday.
As debate continues over the construction of an Islamic cultural center in Lower Manhattan, the chief figure behind the program, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, is continuing on a State Department-sponsored trip in the Middle East. In a speech to Bahrain TV, Imam Feisal defended Islam as a peaceful religion and condemned terrorism.
Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf: “This principle, which defines terrorism, is strictly forbidden in Islam. It falls under the category of what Muslim jurists have called 'Herabah,' because 'Herabah' destroys the structures, the binding structures, of human society. Our faith is a religion not only of spirituality, of ethics and of morality, but also a religion of law and the rule of law.”
In Louisiana, authorities in St. Bernard Parish have found thousands of dead fish in the Mississippi River. St. Bernard Parish President Craig Taffaro said, “I’m talking about 5,000 to 15,000 dead fish. Different species were found dead including crabs, sting rays, eel, drum, speckled trout, red fish.” State officials said the fish might have died because of low levels of oxygen in the water. State officials have not yet linked the dead fish to the BP oil spill, but the Times-Picayune reported the fish were found floating on the surface of the water and collected in booms that had been deployed to contain oil that leaked from the BP spill.
In news from Africa, aid groups are reporting Rwandan and Congolese rebels gang-raped almost 200 women and five young boys during a four-day seizure of a town in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. The rapes occurred in early August after the rebels occupied the town of Luvungi. International and local health workers have treated 179 women, but the number raped could be much higher as some terrified civilians are still hiding.
In other news from Africa, at least fifteen people died earlier today when a suicide bomber and a gunman stormed a hotel in the Somali city of Mogadishu.
In the nation of Niger, aid agencies are warning of a “double disaster” as major flooding combines with the ongoing food crisis. Eight million people, half of Niger’s population, are facing hunger due to failed harvests. Now more than 100,000 people have been left homeless after heavy rains washed away their homes.
In the Philippines, eight tourists from Hong Kong were shot dead Monday by an ex-policeman who had hijacked a bus holding the tourists. Meanwhile, in southern Philippines, communist rebels from the New People’s Army killed five soldiers this morning during a pre-dawn raid on an army outpost. Since the late 1960s, the New People’s Army has been attempting to topple the US-backed government in Manila.
A new report from the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research has found that 8.4 million Californians lack health coverage — that’s nearly one in four Californians. The number of uninsured in California has jumped by two million since 2007.
For the first time, the United States has submitted a report to the UN Human Rights Council chronicling the country’s human rights record. In the twenty-nine-page report, the Obama administration admitted more needs to be done in many areas including racial justice, women’s rights, LGBT rights and discrimination against Muslims and Americans of South Asian and Arab descent. The American Civil Liberties Union praised the administration for submitting the report, but the ACLU said the report neglects to address other key areas where the US has failed to meet its human rights obligations, including felon disfranchisement, inhumane prison conditions, racial disparities in the death penalty system, and deaths and abuse in immigration detention.
A Canadian judge has dropped charges for nearly 100 people arrested during the recent protests against the G20 in Toronto due to lack of evidence. More than 1,100 were arrested during the summit in the largest mass arrest in Canada’s history. Seventeen activists still face conspiracy charges and have been placed under strict restrictions that prevent them from participating in any demonstrations or from communicating with each other.
And at Fort Hood in Texas, a group of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans joined peace activists on Monday to blockade six buses carrying soldiers deploying to Iraq.