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President Obama has been awarded the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize. In a statement earlier today, the Oslo-based Nobel Committee cited Obama for "extraordinary efforts in international diplomacy and co-operation between peoples." Obama is the third US president to win the Nobel while in office. The award comes despite Obama’s continuation of the Iraq war and escalation of the US occupation of Afghanistan.
US officials have confirmed reports General Stanley McChrystal’s Afghan war assessment contains a previously undisclosed option that would call for over 60,000 additional troops. Earlier accounts had placed the maximum request at 40,000 troops. The White House is currently reviewing the assessment.
In Pakistan, at least forty-one people were killed earlier today in a bombing in the northwestern city of Peshawar. Over 100 were wounded.
In Honduras, talks are expected to continue today and through the weekend between representatives of the coup regime and the ousted President Manuel Zelaya. The negotiations resumed this week with the backing of a visiting delegation from the Organization of American States. Zelaya negotiator Juan Barahona said the coup regime continues to reject the basic demand of Zelaya’s return to office.
Juan Barahona: "The talks are at zero. We haven’t progressed since starting. The first point we are dealing with is the restitution of President Zelaya, and they reject this. If there is no progress made on this matter, what is the point of continuing with the following issues?"
The OAS delegation left Honduras on Thursday after claiming both sides had reached agreement on one quarter of the outstanding issues. In a statement, the OAS renewed its call for Zelaya’s return and urged the coup regime to lift a ban on two opposition media outlets. The OAS also called for an end to the siege of the Brazilian embassy, where Zelaya and a group of supporters have taken refuge since Zelaya’s dramatic return last month.
On Capitol Hill, the House has passed a defense authorization act that modifies the military commissions system at Guantanamo Bay. The measure includes new restrictions on hearsay and coerced testimony, while increasing prisoners’ access to evidence and witnesses. It also includes a provision that would require the recording of all interrogations. The American Civil Liberties Union welcomed the new changes but said the legislation still falls short of adhering to the Constitution and Geneva Conventions. ACLU Senior Legislative Counsel Christopher Anders said, "As long as we are using anything but our time-tested federal court system, the military commissions will remain a second class system of justice."
The House also voted Thursday to expand the definition of hate crimes to cover those targeted because of their sexual orientation. The measure would grant new protections to lesbian, gay and transgender people under federal law. The Matthew Shepard Act is named for the gay Wyoming university student who was brutally beaten, tied to a fence and left to die in 1998.
The Senate Judiciary Committee, meanwhile, has approved a measure that would leave the controversial surveillance powers of the USA PATRIOT Act mostly intact. Thursday’s vote came after panel members rejected amendments to curb the use of National Security Letters and allow the expiration of the unused "lone wolf" provision that targets individuals with no alleged links to terrorist groups. In a statement, the American Civil Liberties Union criticized the vote but welcomed approval of two amendments: one ordering the government to discard illegally obtained information and another forcing law enforcement agencies to notify suspects targeted by "sneak and peak" searches within seven days instead of the current rule of thirty.
In other news from Washington, the House Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, and the Internet has approved a measure that would allow for hundreds of new low-power FM radio stations nationwide. Media reform advocates have praised the measure.
Newly disclosed records show Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner has held frequent talks with top executives from the banks Goldman Sachs, Citigroup and JPMorgan Chase. The Associated Press reports Geithner had at least eighty contacts with the firms’ top executives during the first seven months of his tenure. Geithner has been criticized for his Wall Street ties and his role in the bailout as the former head of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
An independent review has concluded that plans to allow gas drilling inside New York’s main watershed could lead to the contamination of water supplies. In a preliminary report obtained by the investigative website ProPublica, an environmental engineering firm hired by New York City says the threat of contamination "cannot be eliminated." The assessment comes one week after state regulators proposed to allow gas drilling inside the Marcellus Shale, which supplies drinking water to some 15 million people, including nine million New Yorkers.
Meanwhile, in Utah the Interior Department has frozen a majority of oil and gas drilling permits sold off in the Bush administration’s last weeks. In a new review, government regulators say the sales were made in a "headlong rush" on land "not appropriate for development." The move freezes or blocks the sale of the three-quarters of the initial seventy-seven land parcels. Many are located near national parks and other protected wilderness. The move could bolster the defense of a college student who initially disrupted the land auction by posing as a bidder. The student, Tim DeChristopher, is currently facing ten years in prison on charges of interfering with a public auction.
In Chicago, seven people were arrested Thursday at a demonstration outside the offices of the insurance giant CIGNA. Dozens of people took part in the rally, which comes as part of a series of protests organized outside the offices of major insurance companies nationwide. The action was organized by the group Mobilization for Health Care for All. Similar protests are expected to continue next week in several major cities.
Protester: "It is their responsibility to make money for their shareholders, not to give us care."
Protester #2: "Care is being delayed. People are dying because of that every day. Seven people here today have been willing to be arrested. Let’s let them know we’re with them. We love you guys."
The New York Philharmonic orchestra has postponed a visit to Cuba after the US government refused to grant travel permission to the trip’s financial backers. The Philharmonic was scheduled to perform in Havana later this month in what would have been the most high-profile US cultural event in Cuba since the 1959 Cuban Revolution. Critics say the move could signify the US government looks more favorably on North Korea than it does on Cuba. The Philharmonic and its patrons were allowed to travel to North Korea for a performance there last year.
The US meanwhile is coming under criticism for blocking the visa application of a leading Colombian activist to come to the United States. The group Human Rights First has been planning on honoring Gabriel Gonzalez with its 2009 award at a New York ceremony later this month. But the US has held up Gonzalez’s visa based on charges he faces in Colombia. Gonzalez is coordinator of the Political Prisoners Solidarity Committee in Colombia, where he promotes the rights of prisoners jailed in Colombia’s internal conflict. The US is blocking Gonzalez’s entry even though the State Department has joined the UN in questioning the charges he faces in Colombia as politically motivated and baseless.
And peace activists in Rochester, New York are accusing local police of a brutal crackdown on a peaceful march against the Afghan war. The activists say they were attacked as they marched through downtown Rochester on Wednesday. The protest was held as part of a nationwide day of action organized by the group Students for a Democratic Society. The activists say police deliberately targeted an African American protester as well as a videographer filming the march. One police officer reportedly announced he had arrested a protester for cursing. At least twelve people were arrested.