The Pentagon has disclosed plans to send more warships and aircraft into the Persian Gulf within striking distance of Iran. Military officials said the deployment is at least partly intended to show the Bush administration’s difficulties in Iraq have not deterred it from maintaining a military watch over the Iranian government.
Meanwhile in Washington, President Bush made his first public comments Wednesday since admitting he’s seeking to increase the size of the U.S. military.
President Bush: "I’m inclined to believe that we need an increase in the permanent size of both the U.S. Army and U.S. Marines. I’ve asked Secretary Gates to determine how such an increase could take place, and report back to me as quickly as possible."
Several military commanders have warned the U.S. is overstretched in Iraq and Afghanistan. President Bush also repeated his dismissal of calls to negotiate with Iran.
President Bush: "I read the other day that the foreign minister said, ’We’ll sit down with America when they leave Iraq.’ No. If they want to sit down with us, for the good of the Iranian people, they ought to suspend their program. We made that clear to them."
In Iraq, Baghdad reached another grim milestone Wednesday with the recovery of a record 76 bodies. It was the highest toll found in a 24-hour period since the war began. All of the victims were men between the ages of 20 and 50. At least 30 people were killed in other violence around Iraq. An Iraqi citizen spoke after a car bombing in Baghdad.
Unidentified Iraqi: "What does the government do? Someone has to tell me what are they doing. They are keen to hold on to their seats, while the people are dying. Why? I am a citizen, and I want nothing but safety. Where shall I go to get help? What does the government do?"
In other Iraq news, the U.S. military handed Iraqi forces control of the southern province of Najaf Wednesday. Najaf is the third province handed to the Iraqi military since the U.S.-led invasion. Iraq’s 15 other provinces remain under foreign control.
In Venezuela, President Hugo Chavez called for an apology Wednesday from U.S. Ambassador William Brownfield over Brownfield’s recent comments about Venezuela’s role in drug trafficking.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez: "What the ambassador has said here in Caracas shows a real lack of respect to the Venezuelan government and people. He said that the trafficking of cocaine, heroine, drugs through Venezuela has increased, and this is absolutely false."
Back in Iran, opponents of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad have won a majority of seats in local elections across Iran. Some observers are calling the results a sign voters want Ahmadinejad to focus more on internal Iranian affairs. Just last week, Iran drew international condemnation after convening a conference questioning the killing of millions of Jews in the Nazi Holocaust.
Back in the United States, a Republican congressmember is refusing to apologize over anti-Muslim comments earlier this month. In a letter to constituents, Congressmember Virgil Goode of Virginia wrote he fears an influx of Muslim immigration and warned of the possible election of more Muslim congressmembers like Minnesota Democrat Keith Ellison. On Wednesday, a spokesperson told CNN Goode stands by his comments and will not issue an apology.
In Michigan, a federal judge has granted universities a temporary reprieve to continue practicing affirmative action despite a voter-approved ban that was to take effect this Friday. The universities had argued banning affirmative action immediately would have complicated their admissions process for the next fall. The judge extended the deadline until July 1 of next year. As the delay was announced, civil rights groups including the NAACP and the ACLU announced they have filed suit to make the reprieve permanent.
In other news, the Social Security Administration and other federal agencies have been hit with a class-action suit for cutting the benefits of thousands of disabled immigrants. The suit says an estimated 6,000 physically handicapped people have been told they can’t receive Social Security benefits until they’re re-approved for U.S. citizenship. Another 46,000 are expected to lose their benefits while they await approval over the next six years. According to The Washington Post, the suit’s plaintiffs include a blind Ethiopian political refugee, an 80-year-old Albanian who suffers from prostate cancer and a 17-year-old Iranian who has a rare genetic disorder.
In media news, the Federal Communications Commission has agreed to change cable franchising laws so that local communities have less control over incoming pay-television providers. The vote was pushed for by the telecom giants Verizon and AT&T. The final was vote was three to two. Opponents are already planning a court challenge. Anthony Riddle of the Alliance for Community Media said: "The FCC, in the spirit of Christmas, has given the biggest gift of all to the giant telephone companies while the children of our cities and towns get a lump of coal in their torn stockings."
The National Archives has revealed new details in the criminal case against former National Security Adviser Sandy Berger. On Wednesday, the Archives inspector general said Berger removed classified documents and hid them under a construction trailer and then falsely claimed he had thrown them in the garbage. The disclosure comes more than a year after Berger pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge and gave up his security clearance for three years for removing classified material from a government archive.
And the FBI has released the last remaining documents in its secret file on the musician John Lennon. Lennon was monitored over his involvement in antiwar activities and his vocal opposition to President Richard Nixon. The U.S. government saw Lennon as such a serious threat that President Nixon attempted to have him deported. The release of the files comes more than 20 years after the author and history professor Jon Wiener requested them. Wiener says he was told at the time the files contain "national security" information and could cause "military retaliation against the United States." According to Wiener, the newly released documents contain well-known information on Lennon’s contacts with dissident leaders in Britain in the early 1970s. Wiener said, "I doubt that Tony Blair’s government will launch a military strike on the U.S. in retaliation for the release of these documents. Today, we can see that the national security claims that the FBI has been making for 25 years were absurd from the beginning." Wiener has posted the documents on the website LennonFBIFiles.com.