The death toll from Hurricane Irene has jumped to at least 40 people as towns in Vermont, New York and New Jersey continue to battle epic floods. Millions remain without power. Irene dumped up to 11 inches of rain on Vermont and more than 13 in parts of New York.
On the campaign trail, Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann is coming under criticism for saying Hurricane Irene should be viewed as a message from God. She made the comment on Sunday at a campaign event in Florida.
Michele Bachmann, Republican presidential candidate: “And I don’t know how much God has to do to get the attention of the politicians. We’ve had an earthquake. We’ve had a hurricane. He said, 'Are you going to start listening to me here?' Listen to the American people, because the American people are roaring right now, because they know what needs to be done. They know the government is on a morbid obesity diet. It’s got to rein in the spending. This is not a difficult problem to solve.”
On Monday, Bachmann attempted to back away from her comment. A campaign spokesperson said Bachmann made the comment in jest. The Christian televangelist Pat Robertson made a similar remark last week on his television program.
Pat Robertson, Christian televangelist: “It seems to me the Washington Monument is a symbol of America’s power. It has been the symbol of our great nation. We look at that monument, and we say, 'This is one nation under God.' Now there’s a crack in it. There’s a crack in it, and it’s closed up. Is that a sign from the Lord? Is that something that has significance, or is it just a result of an earthquake? You judge, but I just want to bring that to your attention. But it seems to me symbolic.”
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has sent a special inspection team to the North Anna nuclear power plant in Virginia after last week’s earthquake. The 5.8-magnitude quake is now believed to have shaken the nuclear plant more than it was designed to withstand. No significant damage has been identified so far, but the plant’s two reactors remain shut down.
In Maryland, the Calvert Cliffs nuclear power plant was shut down over the weekend after Hurricane Irene ripped a piece of aluminum siding from the plant and slammed the metal piece into an electrical transformer.
The rebels in Libya have accused neighboring Algeria of an act of aggression for admitting the fleeing wife of Muammar Gaddafi and three of his children, but the whereabouts of Col. Gaddafi himself remains a mystery. Algeria’s foreign ministry said Gaddafi’s wife Safia, his daughter Aisha, and his sons Hannibal and Mohammed entered Algeria on Monday morning. Meanwhile, for the third time this month rebels are claiming they have killed Gaddafi’s son Khamis, but once again no proof of his death has been made public. In other news from Libya, Physicians for Human Rights has issued a new report accusing Gaddafi forces of targeting civilians with rape, torture and summary executions.
African Union chief Jean Ping has accused Libya’s rebels of treating black Africans as mercenaries for Muammar Gaddafi. Ping spoke to journalists in Ethiopia.
Jean Ping, Chairman of the African Union Commission: “The TNC seems to confuse black people with mercenaries: all blacks are mercenaries. If you do that, which means one-third of the population of Libya, which is black, is also mercenaries. They are killing people, normal workers, you know, mistreating them, invading some embassies like the embassy of Kenya, some embassies in Tripoli.”
In other Libya news, the Wall Street Journal is reporting the Libyan convicted of bombing Pan Am Flight 103 over Scotland in 1988 has maintained his innocence, even in private correspondence with Libya officials. The newspaper has obtained a letter written by Abdel Baset al-Megrahi to Libya’s intelligence chief. In the letter, Megrahi wrote, “I am an innocent man.” The Journal obtained the letter after gaining access to the former intelligence chief’s office. Megrahi served eight-and-a-half years in prison in Britain but was released in August 2009 because of his failing health. He is now in a coma in Libya. The letter is likely to spark new questions about Megrahi’s involvement in the bombing that killed 243 passengers and 16 crew members. On Monday, Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond says Scotland does not plan to seek his extradition.
Alex Salmond, Scottish First Minister: “He’s under Scottish jurisdiction. We have not, and never have, had any intention of calling for his extradition. And it’s been made clear by the Libyan Transitional Council, who are the new duly constituted legal authority in Libya, that even if there had been, they would have no intention of agreeing to it.”
August has become the deadliest month for U.S. troops in the nearly 10-year-old war in Afghanistan. So far, 66 U.S. troops have died this month, eclipsing the 65 killed in July 2010. In addition, the NATO coalition suffered the loss of two British, four French, one New Zealander, one Australian, one Polish and four other troops whose nationalities have not yet been disclosed.
An investigation by the Associated Press has revealed the Afghan government intentionally helped scuttle preliminary peace talks between the United States and the Taliban. According to the report, the Afghan government leaked details of clandestine meetings between Washington officials and a personal emissary of Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar. Once details of the talks emerged, the talks imploded, and the Taliban intermediary went into hiding. The AP reports the talks were deliberately revealed by someone within Hamid Karzai’s presidential palace out of fear that any agreement Washington brokered would undermine Karzai’s authority.
The Pentagon’s use of no-bid contracts has tripled since the United States was attacked on 9/11, in spite of promises to reform the controversial practice. According to a new investigative report from the Center for Public Integrity, no-bid spending has ballooned from $50 billion in 2003 to $140 billion in 2011. One instance cited in the report details how the Department of Defense awarded $50 million in sole-sourced contracts to an Arizona company in order to develop a lightning-shooting device that could detonate improvised explosives from the front of a vehicle. The Marines eventually canceled the contract. It was later revealed a separate company has developed the same technology for $1.5 million. So far this year, the Pentagon has allowed competition on just 55 percent of its war contracts, the lowest rate since 9/11. In addition to the Center for Public Integrity’s findings, the independent Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan is preparing to release a report showing that one in every six contracting and grant dollars spent in Iraq and Afghanistan has been wasted, totaling some $30 billion lost.
The Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz reports the Israeli military is planning to give tear gas and stun grenades to Jewish settlers in the occupied West Bank ahead of the expected United Nations vote on Palestinian statehood this fall. The move comes as part of Israel’s preparations to deal with possible confrontations with Palestinians after the vote. The Israeli army is also drafting guidelines on when it would be appropriate to shoot live ammunition at the feet of Palestinian protesters.
Under pressure to spur job growth, President Obama announced on Monday he had chosen Princeton University labor economist Alan Krueger to become the top White House economist and that he will offer a jobs plan next week. Krueger, an expert on unemployment, would succeed Austan Goolsbee as chair of the White House Council of Economic Advisers.
President Barack Obama: “Alan brings a wealth of experience to the job. He’s one of the nation’s leading economists. For more than two decades, he has studied and developed economic policy both inside and outside of government. In the first two years of this administration, as we were dealing with the effects of a complex and fast-moving financial crisis, a crisis that threatened a second Great Depression, Alan’s counsel as chief economist at the Treasury Department proved invaluable.”
A new report finds more than half of Muslim Americans feel U.S. anti-terror polices have placed them under intensified surveillance or monitoring, while many have experienced increased name calling, threats and harassment by airport security, police officers and others. Despite the complaints, most American Muslims report being satisfied with the way things are going in the United States and rate their communities highly as places to live, according to data gathered by the Pew Research Center.
A federal judge in Alabama has temporarily blocked Alabama’s controversial immigration law, after the measure was challenged by the Obama administration. Under the new law, contracts held by undocumented immigrants would become null, police would be required to arrest anyone they suspect of being in the country without legal status, and public schools would be required to determine the immigration status of enrolled students. The law would also make it a crime to knowingly harbor or transport an undocumented immigrant. In an editorial published Monday, the New York Times described Alabama’s measure as “the country’s cruelest, most unforgiving immigration law.”
A commission has found U.S. medical experimentation conducted in Guatemala during the 1940s resulted in the deaths of 83 people. The testing focused on sexually transmitted diseases and involved U.S. medical officials intentionally infecting Guatemalan sex workers, prisoners, soldiers and mental patients — without their permission — in order to study the effects of Penicillin. President Obama put together the commission to investigate the program when it was unearthed late last year. On Tuesday, the commission concluded nearly 5,500 people were subjected to diagnostic testing in Guatemala, and more than 1,300 were exposed to venereal diseases by contact or inoculations. Guatemalan President Álvaro Colom has described the experiments as a “crime against humanity” and ordered his own investigation. The Guatemala program was discovered by Wellesley College Professor Susan Reverby while she was researching the infamous Tuskegee experiments. Professor Reverby spoke to Democracy Now! last year and discussed how much U.S. officials knew about the practices the program’s architect, John Cutler, was engaged in.
Professor Susan Reverby, Wellesley College: “It’s too easy to say, 'OK, this was a period when there wasn't research norms or any of the kind of regulations we’ve had in place since the mid-'70s.' But Cutler’s bosses at the Public Health Service knew this was sort of really on the edge. And the quote that I found that just really knocked me off the chair was one from the surgeon general himself, who said — and this is secondhand, but it was in a letter to Cutler where one of his colleagues said, 'The surgeon general says, “Well, we couldn't do this in the United States.”’ And that’s just a stunning, absolutely stunning, acknowledgment of what was going on.”
One of the nation’s leading climate scientists, James Hansen, was arrested Monday along with 60 others at a protest outside the White House against the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. Hansen is the head of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies. Hansen called on President Obama to reject the pipeline, which would stretch from Canada to Texas. Since last week, 522 people have been arrested in Washington protesting the pipeline.