At least seven civilians have been killed in a new US bombing in northwestern Afghanistan. The attack comes just one day after reports emerged of massive casualties in another US attack to the south. Today’s killings came after US forces reportedly came under fire in Baghis province. Meanwhile, estimates of the death toll from the earlier US attack in Kandahar are ranging from thirty to ninety civilians. The victims were bombed while attending a wedding in the village of Shah Wali Kot. One resident said thirty-seven people were killed.
Afghan resident: "In this air strike, thirty-seven people have died and thirty-five more wounded, most of them women and children."
The Pentagon has admitted causing civilian casualties. It says US forces attacked after coming under fire from nearby Taliban militants. At a news conference, Afghan President Hamid Karzai welcomed President-elect Barack Obama’s election with an appeal to reduce the ongoing US attacks on Afghan civilians.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai: "As we speak today, we again had civilian causalities. Yesterday, in Shah Wali Kot of Kandahar, we had civilian casualties caused by an air strike. A few days ago, we had civilian causalities in Helmand. And a few days before that, there were civilian causalities in Wardak province. The civilian casualties must be ended in Afghanistan. My first demand from the newly elected president of America when he takes office is to end the civilian causalities in Afghanistan and take the war to the safe havens and training camps of terrorism."
Obama has pledged to escalate the US occupation of Afghanistan. Last month, at least twenty-five people were killed in a NATO air strike on the town of Lashkar Gah. That attack came less than two months after another US strike killed up to ninety Afghan civilians, sixty of them children.
Here in the United States, President-elect Obama stayed mostly out of public view Wednesday, one day after his historic election. In his first major staffing move, Obama has offered Democratic Congress member Rahm Emanuel of Chicago the position of White House Chief of Staff. Emanuel served as an aide under the Clinton administration and has been a key Democratic Party leader in Congress. On foreign policy, Emanuel is thought to represent the right wing of the Democratic Party. He has vocally backed Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza and its 2006 attack on Lebanon. Obama’s transition team has begun to prepare for taking office. The group is headed by John Podesta, President Clinton’s former chief of staff and the president of the Center for American Progress.
Meanwhile, names are already surfacing for the Treasury Secretary position. Candidates for the post include New York Federal Reserve president Timothy Geithner and Lawrence Summers, who headed the Treasury under President Bill Clinton. Summers resigned as president of Harvard University two years ago amidst uproar over his suggestion that women have less innate scientific ability than men. In 1991, while working as chief economist for the World Bank, Summers wrote an infamous memo that advocated exporting the pollution of industrialized countries to the third world, which he called “underpolluted.”
Nine congressional races remain undecided with vote counting still underway. In Oregon, Democratic candidate Jeff Merkley is expected to win a close race against the incumbent Republican Senator Gordon Smith. Merkley held a 4,000-vote lead late Wednesday night. Thousands of uncounted votes are expected to favor Merkley, as most come from Democratic strongholds. The Oregonian newspaper has already declared him the winner. Final results are expected later today.
In Minnesota, state officials have ordered a recount in the Senate race between Republican incumbent Norm Coleman and Democratic challenger Al Franken. Coleman leads Franken by less than 500 votes with nearly three million cast. Coleman has declared victory, but Franken says he will await the recount. In Georgia, Republican Senator Saxby Chambliss will face a runoff against Democratic challenger Jim Martin after failing to gain 50 percent of the vote. In Alaska, Republican Senator Ted Stevens appears headed to re-election. Stevens holds a thin lead over former Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich, a Democrat. Stevens was convicted last week on seven counts of corruption. With Merkley’s expected win in Oregon, Democrats will have picked up six Senate seats but will remain three short of a filibuster-proof majority. Meanwhile, in the House, close races in Washington state, Maryland, Virginia and Ohio all could be headed to recounts.
On the state level, New York Democrats made huge gains on Election Day, winning thirty-two of sixty-two open seats in the State Senate. With an existing majority in the State House, the victory leaves Democrats in control of the state legislature and the governor’s office for the first time since the New Deal.
Meanwhile, New Hampshire has become the first state with a majority of women in a legislative chamber. With Tuesday’s vote, thirteen of twenty-four members of the New Hampshire State Senate are women.
In California, three lawsuits have been filed to challenge the passage of a controversial ballot measure banning gay marriage. Proposition 8 would amend the state constitution to only recognize marriage between a man and a woman. The lawsuits allege the vote is illegal because it marks a constitutional revision of the guarantee of equal protection. The state legislature must first approve a constitutional revision before one can go to voters. The California Supreme Court struck down a statewide same-sex marriage ban in May.
Obama’s sweeping victory was widely seen as a repudiation of the Bush administration’s policies, particularly on the economy. But at the White House, President Bush tried to put a positive spin on the vote, congratulating Obama and vowing a smooth transition.
President Bush: “They chose a president whose journey represents a triumph of the American story: a testament to hard work, optimism and faith in the enduring promise of our nation. Many of our citizens thought they would never live to see that day. This moment is especially uplifting for a generation of Americans who witnessed the struggle for civil rights with their own eyes and four decades later see a dream fulfilled.”
Meanwhile, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice made a surprise appearance at the daily State Department media briefing. Rice said she was proud of the vote as an African American.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice: "I’m getting ready to leave for the Middle East, but I did not want this morning to pass without taking note of the extraordinary election last night. This was an exercise in American democracy of which Americans across the political spectrum are justifiably proud…And I just want to close on a personal note. As an African American, I’m especially proud, because this is a country that’s been through a long journey, in terms of overcoming wounds and making race not the factor in our lives. That work is not done, but yesterday was obviously an extraordinary step forward.”
Obama’s victory continues to be celebrated worldwide. In Kenya, the birthplace of Obama’s father, a national holiday has been declared today in honor of Obama’s win.
In economic news, congressional Democrats are reportedly considering doubling to $50 billion the amount of taxpayer aid to struggling US auto makers. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is set to meet today with heads of the Detroit Big Three car companies and the United Auto Workers Union.
In Iraq, at least six people have been killed and more than twenty wounded in several bombings around Baghdad. At least thirty Iraqis have died and eighty wounded in daily bombings since Monday.
In the Democratic Republic of Congo, thousands of civilians have fled a town seized by rebel forces in ongoing battles with pro-government militias. The rebels took Kiwanja after a second day of fighting that continues despite a recently brokered ceasefire. Some 250,000 people have been displaced in eastern Congo since August.
And Russia has issued a new warning apparently aimed at the incoming Obama administration. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev says Russia will deploy short-range missiles near Poland if the US proceeds with its controversial missile defense program in eastern Europe. Poland would host ten ballistic missiles along with a radar site in the Czech Republic. The Bush administration says the missile system would protect Europe from Iranian missiles, but it’s widely seen as a first-strike weapon.