Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Democracy Now: Peter Stone, Judd Legum, Ben Nighthorse Campbell, Brian Ross; Matthew Rothschild, Freedom Winter '06 ...

NSA Stepped Up Domestic Surveillance After 9/11
Newly declassified documents suggest the National Security Agency stepped up domestic surveillance efforts in the weeks after 9/11, even before it received a formal directive from President Bush. On Tuesday, House minority leader Nancy Pelosi released an exchange of letters showing both the House and Senate Intelligence Committees were briefed in October 2001 about the agency’s attempts to loosen restrictions on domestic eavesdropping. However, domestic wire-taps do not appear to have occurred until President Bush ordered the secret domestic spy program in 2002.
Zapatistas Launch National Six-Month Tour in Mexico
In Mexico, the Zapatista rebel army has launched a six-month tour of poor and indigenous communities across the country. The Zapatistas have dubbed the tour “The Other Campaign”, a reference to the run-up to the country’s presidential elections in July.
The group says it will not take part in the elections, but is using the tour to help promote a shift away from armed conflict and towards the formation of a nationwide leftist political movement. Zapatista leader Marcos also announced he was dropping “Subcomandante” from his name in favor of “Delegate Zero”, saying he no longer wanted to take on a military title.
  • Zapatista leader Marcos, formerly Subcommande, in Palanque Tuesday: "The governments that we have, aside from lying to us and robbing from us, taking what little we have, they put high prices on what we buy. And the things we produce as farmers or as workers they pay a pittance."
HRW Calls on US To Deduct Settlement, Wall Costs From Aid to Israel
In other news, the prominent American organization Human Rights Watch has called on the Bush administration to cut back foreign aid to Israel. In a letter to President Bush, Human Rights asked President Bush to deduct from Israel’s foreign aid assistance the amount it spends on expansion of settlements and the separation wall in the West Bank. Israel is the largest annual recipient of US foreign aid, with direct assistance and loans exceeding $5 billion dollars in 2005. Human Rights Watch officials said their request marks the first time a major human-rights group has asked for an actual cut in direct aid to Israel.
Top Republican Lobbyist Pleads Guilty To Fraud, Bribery
In Washington Tuesday, the prominent Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff pleaded guilty to three felony counts. He admitted to defrauding at least four Native Americans tribes of tens of millions of dollars, bribing government officials and evading taxes. _ Abramoff has reportedly agreed to testify against several members of Congress who received favors or donations from him or his clients. _ The Wall Street Journal reports his testimony could implicate as many as 60 lawmakers.
The above four items are from today's Democracy Now! Headlines and were selected by Micah, Lori, Sam and LiangDemocracy Now! ("always informing you," as Marcia says):
Headlines for January 4, 2006

-12 of 13 West Virginia Coal Miners Found Dead
- Top Republican Lobbyist Pleads Guilty To Fraud, Bribery
- Bush Pushes Patriot Act Renewal Justice Dept. Seeks Dismissal of Gitmo Cases
- NSA Stepped Up Domestic Surveillance After 9/11
- Zapatistas Launch National Six-Month Tour in Mexico
- Hundreds Feared Dead Following Landslide in Indonesia
- Suicide Bomber Kills 30 At Shiite Funeral in Iraq
The Biggest Congressional Scandal in Over a Century? GOP Lobbyist Jack Abramoff Pleads Guilty to Three Felony Counts

Lobbyist Jack Abramoff admitted to defrauding at least four Native American tribes of tens of millions of dollars, bribing government officials and evading taxes. Abramoff has reportedly agreed to testify against several members of Congress who received favors or donations from him or his clients. Washington analysts say the corruption scandal could take down as many as twelve lawmakers. We speak with Peter Stone, a staff reporter for the National Journal, about the details of the case.
Congress on Edge As Abramoff Agrees to Testify About Widespread Corruption on Capitol Hill

We take a closer look at who benefited from their ties to Jack Abramoff inside Congress. The Wall Street Journal is reporting Abramoff says he has information that could implicate 60 lawmakers. One Republican lawmaker -- Congressman Robert Ney of Ohio -- has already been subpoenaed. We speak with researcher Judd Legum about the lawmakers involved.
Native American Tribes Attempt to Recover After Being Defrauded of Tens of Millions by Abramoff

Former U.S. Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell, who served as chair of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee that investigated the scandal, and Tigua tribal governor Arturo Senclair, of one of the Indian tribes defrauded by Abramoff, discuss the Native American tribes embroiled in the Abramoff scandal. They hired Abramoff to represent them in Washington regarding casino and gambling issues. As their lobbyist, Abramoff instructed the tribes to make political donations to certain politicians and recommended they hire former aide of Tom DeLay, Michael Scanlon, as their publicist.
Forced Abortions & Sweatshops: A Look at Jack Abramoff's Ties to the South Pacific Island of Saipan & How Tom DeLay Became An Advocate for Sweatshop Factory Owners

We speak with ABC News' Brian Ross who exposed in 1998 the horrific labor conditions in the U.S. territory of Saipan. At the time, Jack Abramoff was Saipan's hired gun on K Street and Tom DeLay was one of the island's chief advocates on Capitol Hill. DeLay backed the sweatshop owners even though it was exposed that the factory was forcing women to have abortions and treated workers like indentured servants.
We have four highlights for this entry, covering a range of topics.  We'll start with Joan's highlight of Chalib's new role in Iraq via Matthew Rothschild's "IMF Occupies Iraq, Riots Follow" (This Just In, The Progressive):
Bad enough that the U.S. military is occupying Iraq.
Now the IMF is occupying the country.
In December, the International Monetary Fund, in exchange for giving a loan of $685 million to the Iraqi government, insisted that the Iraqis lift subsidies on the price of oil and open the economy to more private investment.
As the IMF said in a press release of December 23, the Iraqi government must be committed to "controlling the wage and pensions bill, reducing subsidies on petroleum products, and expanding the participation of the private sector in the domestic market for petroleum products."
The impact of the IMF extortion was swift and brutal.
"Since the Dec. 15 parliamentary election, fuel prices have increased five-fold, mostly because the outgoing government of Prime Minister Ibrahim Jafari has cut subsidies as part of a debt-forgiveness deal it signed with the International Monetary Fund," the Los Angeles Times reported on December 28.
"The move has shocked Iraqis long accustomed to hefty subsidies of gasoline, kerosene, cooking gas, and other fuels."
Iraqis are getting a nasty taste of the IMF's medicine. "Over the summer, gas was selling for about five cents a gallon," the LA Times noted. "Now it's about 65 cents, and at the end of the price increases, gasoline will cost about the same in Iraq as it does in other countries in the Persian Gulf, about $1 per gallon. The prices of kerosene, diesel, and cooking gas have seen similar or steeper increases." The price of public transportation has also gone up significantly.
Chalabi?  Now he's the oil minister.  We'll note Iraq at the end of the entry but we'll move to Keesha's highlight and she says she's not sure what to make of it but thinks the King Center should stay independent.  From Errin Haines' "MLK siblings split on selling King Center" (Associated Press via The Chicago Defender):
Two children of Martin Luther King Jr. said Friday they will fight any sale of the Martin Luther King Center for Nonviolent Social Change to the National Park Service, pitting them against their two younger siblings.
Bernice King said she and Martin Luther King III believe the sale - which the center's board voted to pursue earlier this month -- would compromise the center's independent voice.
"Our father challenged our nation. He challenged the use of violence. If the King Center is sold to the government, our nation will lose that important legacy of challenge, equality and independence," she said outside the center.
Do you know about Winter '06?  Brenda does and wanted to share "Students from 35 States Come to Washington, DC to Stop Alito" (Feminist Wire Daily):
WASHINGTON, DC -- Today the Feminist Majority Foundation, with the National Organization for Women and the National Congress of Black Women, announced Freedom Winter '06, part of a joint national campaign to block the confirmation of Samuel Alito because of the serious threat he poses to the future of women's rights and civil rights.
"Make no mistake about it: Alito is no Sandra Day O'Connor," said Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority Foundation (FMF). "As the pioneering woman on the Supreme Court, Justice O'Conner voted to preserve many of the most significant legal protections for women. She has been the fifth vote to preserve affirmative action and the right to abortion. The appointment of a reactionary judge like Samuel Alito to O'Connor's seat will shift the balance of the Court to the detriment of women's rights and civil rights. It could reverse decades of progress for women."
In the spirit of Freedom Summer 1964, when thousands of students from across the country traveled to Mississippi and other Southern states to register and mobilize African American voters in unprecedented numbers, Freedom Winter '06 is mobilizing students to save women's rights and civil rights.
"Freedom Winter '06 will spread the word to people across the country who care about women's rights and civil rights, especially young people, that if Alito is confirmed, we could lose fundamental women's rights and civil rights protections," said Crystal Lander, FMF Campus Program Director. "If Alito is confirmed, women could face a future without access to legal abortion, and a future without important workplace discrimination protection."
Lastly, back to Iraq via Laith Al-Saud's "Iraqi Intellectuals and the Occupation" (CounterPunch):
The following interview is part of our continuing effort to provide a voice for Iraqis in regards to the American occupation. Dr. Saad Jawad is a prominent political scientist at Baghdad University. Baghdad University, once one of the finest academic institutions in the Arab world, has suffered tremendously under the US occupation, not to mention the twelve year long sanctions that preceded it. Dr. Jawad and I discussed the continued assassination of Iraqi intellectuals, a phenomenon largely ignored by the western media. Over one thousand Iraqi academics, intellectuals and scientists have been assassinated since the American invasion-most of them opposed to the occupation.
Laith al-Saud: As a political scientist what is your assessment of the economic future of Iraq, particularly in relation to the supposed rebuilding undertaken by the Americans.
Dr. Saad Jawad: The Iraqi economy has suffered heavily under the occupation or more correct under the American domination. Most of the money allocated for reconstruction, as is now well known, has either been looted or spent on the security of the American forces and personnel. American writers now speak about the squandering of (looting) more the 25 billion dollars from the Iraqi economy. Such a situation will never help in building a new strong economy, or at least salvage the weak Iraqi economy. The amount of destruction incurred by the American invasion added to that made by the war, invasion and the long sanctions (12 years).

LA: Similarly what is your assessment of the possibilities of civil war in Iraq? It is often said that if America withdraws Iraq will plunge into civil war, what is your analysis?
SJ: The possibility of civil war does exist but it is very much a remote one. Judging by how Iraqis have reacted to attempts to ignite such a war currently and the old social history of inter-marriage and fraternity I strongly believe the possibility is very remote. As I said, we have wide spread evidence that outside forces are attempting to instigate a civil war here and Iraqis are conscious of that and have made a determined effort not to respond to it. The Iraqi reaction to these different attempts to trigger a civil war substantiates my argument.
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