SAINT PAUL, Minnesota, September 2, 2008 (ENS) - The 2008 Republican National Convention opened Monday at Saint Paul's Xcel Energy Center without speeches from President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and other prominent speakers who had been scheduled to appear but were busy with activities related to Hurricane Gustav.
Weaker than forecast, the center of Hurricane Gustav made landfall Monday morning as a Category 2 storm near the small town of Cocodrie on the Louisiana coast 72 miles southwest of New Orleans. Forecasters had warned that the Gustav might blow in as a disastrous Category 4 storm.
The National Hurricane Center has now been downgraded Gustav to a Tropical Storm that is expected to become a Tropical Depression today. But the Republicans did not want to be caught flat-footed in the face of disaster as the Bush administration was during Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
First Lady Laura Bush and Cindy McCain spoke to the delegates about the storm. "Our first priority for today and in the coming days is to ensure the safety and well-being of those living in the gulf coast region. And to all of those living in the gulf states, please know that our thoughts and prayers are with you," said the First Lady.
The Republican National Committee, RNC, used Monday to launch the first day of its Hurricane Gustav Relief Effort Monday by forming a center where volunteers can send 80,000 "comfort packages," a text message alert system, and an effort to encourage Americans to donate to charities identified by the five Gulf Coast governors - all Republicans. The governors sent taped messages to the convention.
Cindy McCain told delegates about the website set up by the McCain campaign, www.causegreater.com, where information about these charitable organizations is available.
"We are deeply concerned about the safety and welfare of the residents of the Gulf states region. Senator [John] McCain has asked us to put country first and shift our focus to assisting the Gulf State citizens, and we have coordinated a relief effort that answers his call to service. We are doing what Americans do best: helping our fellow citizens in need," said Rick Davis, campaign manager for McCain 2008.
Republican National Committee Chairman Mike Duncan said, "The safety and well-being of the people of the Gulf states remains our top concern. Over the past 24 hours, we have moved quickly to mobilize people and resources to assist the Gulf states' residents - both those who are in the region and our delegates in Saint Paul - in any way we can."
The 2008 Republican National Convention has joined with Target, FedEx, and the Red Cross to send 80,000 "comfort packages" to the Gulf Coast region containing toothpaste, toothbrushes, deodorant, soap, and packaged foods. The donated materials will arrive in Saint Paul on Wednesday at 8 am, volunteers will assemble the packages at the Minneapolis Convention Center, and FedEx will ship the packages to receiving locations.
Because their plans for the convention have been disrupted by the hurricane, the RNC has launched a text message alert system to inform delegates and alternates of program changes as soon as it becomes available.
"All parties understand that the schedule for the convention will be dictated by the conditions on the ground in the Gulf States and are, therefore, subject to change," organizers said in a statement.
Outside the convention hall, some 10,000 Iraq war, human rights and environmental protesters staged a march through Minneapolis-St. Paul, rallied at the Minnesota State Capitol and then took their demonstration to the convention center.
Meredith Aby, a member of the Coalition to March on the RNC and Stop the War, said, “The anti-war movement has always had a demand of money for human needs not for war, and Hurricane Katrina was one of the reasons for that demand."
"Hurricane Gustav affects the Republican Party because they don't want to be seen as ignoring another crisis as they did when they left people to die on freeway overpasses," Aby said. "The demonstration will be voicing opposition to the war's prioritization above human needs such as building levees, the economy, and healthcare."
The protest was mainly peaceful, but Minnesota National Guard and police in St. Paul arrested 284 people. A few anarchist / anti-authoritarian protesters broke windows at Macy's and a downtown bank building. Others blocked roads. Dozens of people were pepper-sprayed and tear-gassed.
Late Monday, authorities said 130 of the 284 people arrested may face felony charges.
Among the signs and masks, and the giant Earth carried in the march was an unusual piece of art. Nora Ligorano and Marshall Reese made an ice sculpture of the word “Democracy” and presented it at the State Capitol, where it melted in the sun, dramatizing their message, "Democracy Melting."
Turning to RNC business, on Monday, convention delegates passed the party platform with what the RNC called "the most aggressive and innovative energy policy in Republican Party history."
"We must aggressively increase our nation's energy supply, in an environmentally responsible way, and do so through a comprehensive strategy that meets both short and long term needs," the platform states.
The platform supports nuclear power, calling it "the Earth's clean future." It deals with concerns over disposal of nuclear waste and radioactive releases by labeling them "fear mongering."
"Unwarranted fear mongering with no relationship to current technologies and safeguards has prevented us from starting construction of a single nuclear power plant in 31 years," the platform says.
The Republican platform endorses drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, although the Republican presumptive presidential nominee, John McCain has said that he does not support drilling in the refuge.
"We oppose any efforts that would permanently block access to the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge," the Republican platform states.
"We support accelerated exploration, drilling and development in America, from new oilfields off the nation's coasts to onshore fields such as those in Montana, North Dakota, and Alaska," the platform states. "The Green River Basin in Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming offers recoverable shale oil that is ready for development, and most of it is on federal lands."
"To deliver that energy to American consumers, we will expand our refining capacity. Because of environmental extremism and regulatory blockades in Washington, not a single new refinery has been built in this country in 30 years," it states.
The Republican platform says solar, wind, geothermal and hydro power "must enter the mainstream." It supports "clean coal" and also conservation, but "not by changing our lifestyles."
"We must continue to develop alternative fuels, such as biofuels, especially cellulosic ethanol, and hasten their technological advances to next-generation production," according to the Republican platform.
The platform would retool the American auto industry. "Given that fully 97 percent of our current transportation vehicles rely on oil, we will aggressively support technological advances to reduce our petroleum dependence. For example, lightweight composites could halve the weight and double the gas mileage of cars and trucks, and together with flex-fuel and electric vehicles, could usher in a renaissance in the American auto industry," it states.
"In the long run," the platform says, "American production should move to zero-emission sources, and our nation's fossil fuel resources are the bridge to that emissions-free future."
Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2008. All rights reserved.