In Iraq, the US military has admitted to killing four family members and wounding another Monday in the Adwar village north of Baghdad. A couple and their nineteen-year-old son were instantly killed in the attack. The couple’s two young daughters were injured. One of them later died in the hospital of her wounds, leaving her sister as the only survivor. A cousin who witnessed the killings said US soldiers immediately opened fire after breaking into the home. The attack came two days after the US admitted to killing thirteen Iraqi civilians in an airstrike south of Baghdad. The dead included two women and an infant child. Another two children were wounded. Today marks the fifth anniversary of then-Secretary of State Colin Powell’s speech before the UN Security Council making the case for attacking Iraq.
Here in the United States, Super Tuesday has arrived. Twenty-four states are up for grabs in what could be the decisive day in the race for the Republican and Democratic presidential nomination. Polls show Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama in a dead heat in several states. Both Democratic candidates spent the day campaigning in the Northeast. Clinton addressed supporters in Massachusetts.
Sen. Hillary Clinton: "We’re supposed to plant the trees that all of you will seek shade under. We’re supposed to make sure that this country remains great and good. And there is no guarantee. There is no guarantee written in some book somewhere that America will remain the greatest nation in the world. It is up to us, each and every one of us, to make the decisions that will guarantee that comes true."
Obama, meanwhile, spoke in New Jersey, where he’s narrowed Clinton’s lead to a dead heat.
Sen. Barack Obama: "If you want to keep the dream alive for those who still hunger for justice and still thirst for opportunity, then I promise you this: we will not just win here in New Jersey, we will win all across this nation on Tuesday, we will win the nomination, we will win the general election, and you and I together, we will change this country, and we will change the world."
Both the Clinton and Obama campaigns say they expect the race to extend into the primary contests in March and April. On the Republican side, Senator John McCain is leading national polls, but Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney is ahead in delegate-rich California.
In other campaign news, new figures show the nuclear industry is shifting its donations to Democrats. The Los Angeles Times reports Democratic candidates received $830,000 from nuclear companies last year, compared to just under $300,000 for Republicans. Barack Obama was the highest recipient of nuclear money, followed by Hillary Clinton. Neither candidate has opposed lobbying efforts to expand reliance on nuclear power.
Meanwhile, a new study of the type of healthcare plans offered by the Clinton and Obama campaigns argues Clinton’s plan would cover more uninsured Americans. The healthcare economist Jonathan Gruber at MIT says a Clinton-type plan would cover 45 million uninsured at a cost of $124 billion. Obama’s plan would cost less, at $102 billion, but would only cover 23 million people. The plans differ on requiring Americans to buy insurance; the Clinton plan would make it mandatory, while the Obama plan would only require the purchase of insurance for children. Neither plan offers the single-payer system favored by a majority of Americans, according to public opinion polls.
National Journal, meanwhile, has named Obama the most liberal senator of 2007. Obama got the number-one ranking based on an analysis of ninety-nine key Senate votes. Hillary Clinton was ranked at number sixteen after placing thirty-second in 2006. Overall, the two candidates differed on just ten of the 267 measures they both voted on.
President Bush unveiled his $3.1 trillion proposal on Monday. The plan calls for major cuts to health spending while leaving a $400 billion deficit. The budget would extend Bush’s tax cuts beyond their expiration date for 2011 at a cost of $635 billion.
President Bush: "In order for this economy to grow, it’s important to make the tax relief permanent, and that’s what this budget reflects. It’s a budget that boosts monies for education and health and housing. It helps deal with the issue of making the tax code more fair for individuals who want to buy health insurance in the individual market.”
The budget proposes spending cuts or freezes for most government agencies. The Homeland Security and Pentagon budgets would be among the few seeing increases, with the military getting a seven percent boost. Including the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, US military spending would reach at least $690 billion. The White House budget plan estimates the wars will cost $70 billion this year, a figure widely seen as far too low. Bush’s plan would meanwhile cut billions from healthcare.
President Bush: “This budget is one that keeps spending under control. Discretionary spending is held to less than one percent. It elements 151 wasteful or bloated programs, saving the taxpayers $18 billion. It also takes a hard look at entitlement growth over the next five years and provides specific recommendations to save $208 billion over those five years.”
The $208 billion cited by the President would come from deep cuts to Medicare and a freeze on new Medicaid spending. Among the other programs on the President’s chopping block: food assistance for poor children, grants for career and technical education, community development and revitalizing public housing.
In Colombia, hundreds of thousands of people took part in a nationwide protest Monday against the rebel group FARC. The group is currently holding at least 800 hostages seized during its conflict with the Colombian government. Recently freed hostage Consuelo Gonzalez de Perdomo was among the demonstrators.
Consuelo Gonzales de Perdomo: "I am happy that the Colombian people have understood that they play an important role in this situation that this country is going through in trying to attain liberty, that this motivation has to continue and it has to be permanent."
Protests were also held across Latin America and in cities worldwide, including New York, Washington, Madrid and Sydney. Two hostages were released last month, with another three expected this week. FARC says it will again hand over the hostages to Venezuela. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has called on the international community to revoke its labeling of the FARC as a terrorist group and open negotiations on a peace deal.
In Kenya, the Red Cross says the death toll from over a month of post-election violence has passed 1,000. Thousands more have been wounded and 300,000 displaced in clashes since President Mwai Kibaki beat opposition leader Raila Odinga in a widely disputed vote. Former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan is in Kenya to help broker a deal.
Kofi Annan: "When these things begin, it’s extremely difficult to bring it under control, but under control it must — it must be brought under control. The government and the opposition and their representatives are here discussing the future of this country, discussing how we resolve these issues peacefully, and they’ve come up with measures that will help us to get where we want to be."
Talks resumed Monday, after a UN-appointed mediator withdrew from the mediation. He was accused of business ties to Odinga.
A new report from New Yorker correspondent Seymour Hersh says there is no evidence that the Syrian facility bombed by Israel last September was involved in nuclear weapons. Israel says it launched the attack based on intelligence of nuclear activity. But citing American, Israeli and Syrian sources, Hersh says Israel did not know what it was targeting. Hersh says Israel’s main objective was to send a message to Iran.
The annual report from the Committee to Protect Journalists says at least sixty-five journalists were killed around the world last year, the most since 1994. Robert Mahoney of the Committee to Protect Journalists says most of the killings were deliberate murders.
Robert Mahoney: "It’s one of the most dangerous years to be a journalist in well over a decade. We have documented sixty-five journalists’ deaths. We have another twenty-three that we’re still investigating. That’s the highest since the wars in Rwanda and Algeria. And 75 percent of those journalists who were killed were deliberately murdered; they were targeted. They weren’t caught in crossfire in a war. So it shows that being a journalist is an extremely dangerous profession these days."
Thirty-two journalists were killed in Iraq, matching the Iraq total from 2006.
A civilian panel created to oversee government protection of personal privacy is now vacant after the terms of its remaining board members expired last month. The Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board had already been under scrutiny after one member resigned last year amid accusations of White House censorship. The Bush administration has not submitted any new nominations.
In California, an anti-military recruiting effort in the city of Berkeley is turning into a Senate battle over federal earmarks. Republican Senator Jim DeMint says he will introduce a measure to cut $2.3 million in federal spending for Berkeley from a Senate appropriations bill. DeMint says he’s responding to a series of resolutions from the Berkeley City Council in support of protests against the local Marine recruiting center.
And the New York Times has revealed new information on the first Guantanamo Bay prisoner believed to have died of natural causes. Abdul Razzaq Hekmati died in December following a bout with cancer. US forces arrested him in Afghanistan, where he was well known as a resistance fighter against the Soviet occupation of the 1980s. He was accused of being a Taliban commander and held for nearly five years at Guantanamo until his death. During his interrogation, Hekmati made several mentions of high-ranking Afghan officials who could have vouched for his innocence. These include Afghanistan’s minister of energy and a high-ranking general who Hekmati freed in a daring jail break from the Taliban’s top prison in 1999. But US officials made little to no effort to contact them. The two men now say they made personal appeals to Afghan President Hamid Karzai and US ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, with no result.