Newly re-elected Afghan President Hamid Karzai has vowed to form an inclusive government and has promised to work harder to root out corruption. Karzai’s comments came a day after poll officials scrapped a run-off vote that had been planned for this weekend after Karzai’s challenger Abdullah Abdullah dropped out of the race. Karzai today also called on the Taliban to stop fighting against the Afghan government and to "embrace their land.” The Taliban said in a statement it would continue its fight and called Karzai "a puppet.” On Monday, President Obama called Karzai to congratulate him.
President Obama: "About an hour ago, I spoke with President Karzai, and I congratulated him on his election for his second term as president of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. Although the process was messy, I’m pleased to say that the final outcome was determined in accordance with Afghan law."
An investigation by the McClatchy Newspapers has found that banking giant Goldman Sachs made secret bets on an imminent housing crash while selling off billions in soon-to-be worthless securities. In 2006 and 2007, the bank reportedly peddled more than $40 billion in securities backed by at least 200,000 risky home mortgages, but never told the buyers it was secretly betting that a sharp drop in US housing prices would send the value of those securities plummeting. Goldman’s sales and its clandestine wagers enabled the nation’s premier investment bank to pass most of its potential losses to others before a flood of mortgage defaults staggered the US and global economies. Only later did investors discover that what Goldman had promoted as triple-A rated investments were closer to junk. By doing so, Goldman Sachs may have violated securities laws. Several pension funds, including Mississippi’s Public Employees’ Retirement System, have filed suits alleging that Goldman and other Wall Street firms negligently made "false and misleading’’ representations of the bonds’ true risks.
A new study has concluded that nearly half of all US children and 90 percent of black youngsters will be on food stamps at some point during childhood. Researchers say the fallout from the current recession could push those numbers even higher. The lead author of the study, Mark Rank, said, "This is a real danger sign that we as a society need to do a lot more to protect children." Children on food stamps are at risk for malnutrition and other ills linked with poverty. In 2008, over 28 million Americans received food stamps in an average month. About half of the recipients were under the age of sixteen.
A federal court of appeals has ruled against allowing a Syrian-born Canadian to sue US authorities over his mistaken arrest for alleged terrorism links. In 2002, Maher Arar was seized by US officials at Kennedy Airport in New York and rendered to Syria, where he was tortured, interrogated and detained in a tiny underground cell for nearly a year. In a 7-to-4 ruling, the court said that allowing the lawsuit to proceed would "offend the separation of powers and inhibit (US) foreign policy." We’ll have more on the case after headlines.
The website Politico is reporting the House Ethics Committee is refusing to comment about why the committee is only investigating African American lawmakers for possible ethics violations. The committee is currently investigating seven African American lawmakers — more than 15 percent of the total in the House. Not a single white lawmaker is currently the subject of a full-scale Ethics Committee probe. Last week the committee considered three referrals from the recently formed Office of Congressional Ethics. The committee dismissed a case against Missouri Republican Sam Graves, who is white, but agreed to open full-blown investigations of California Democratic Reps. Maxine Waters and Laura Richardson, both of whom are black. A document leaked to the Washington Post last week showed that nearly three dozen lawmakers have come under scrutiny this year by either the House Ethics Committee or the Office of Congressional Ethics. While the list contained a substantial number of white lawmakers, the Ethics Committee has not yet launched formal investigative subcommittees with respect to any of them.
A group of senior US diplomats are in Burma today for talks with the Burmese military junta. It is the highest-level US visit to Burma in more than a decade. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell and his deputy Scot Marciel are meeting with the Burmese prime minister today. They are also expected to meet with opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who is under house arrest.
In other Asian news, Sri Lanka has asked the United States to stop its scheduled questioning of its chief of defense over possible human rights violations and war crimes committed by Sri Lanka during its war against the Tamil Tigers. Army commander General Sarath Fonseka is currently in the United States visiting his daughters.
Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama: “Firstly, whatever information General Fonseka may have acquired in the exercise of his official duties is privileged by nature. Therefore, it cannot legally be shared with third parties without the prior approval and consent of the Sri Lankan authorities. The matter under reference has serious implications for the security and welfare of the people of Sri Lanka, and the government of Sri Lanka will, under no circumstances, authorize such an illegal act."
Sri Lanka is facing increasing pressure over its human rights record. Last month, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights suggested an external inquiry in Sri Lanka similar to Gaza on war crimes.
In Honduras, lawmakers have yet to decide when Congress will vote to reinstate ousted President Manuel Zelaya as part of a US-brokered deal. Leaders in Honduras’s Congress say they will meet today to discuss Zelaya’s reinstatement, but congressional president Jose Alfredo Saavedra said he would not be rushed despite calls from diplomats not to delay the vote. Meanwhile, opponents of the coup took to the streets again yesterday calling for Zelaya’s reinstatement.
Honduran Protester: "Nation, restitution or death. And if you need to kill seven million people, kill us. We don’t care about our life. What we want is democracy."
The Guardian of London reports the United Nations and the European Union are piling pressure on the United States to set more ambitious targets and timetables to cut greenhouse emissions in order to reach a deal at Copenhagen. With just five days of formal negotiations left before the start of the crucial UN climate talks in Copenhagen next month, key figures in the negotiations are showing clear signs of impatience at the US position. Swedish environment minister Andreas Carlgren said, “We expect American leadership. President Obama has created great expectations around the world. Now we urge [the US] to contribute in the way that we have.”
In other climate news, a new report has found that the snow and ice capping Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s tallest peak, is shrinking rapidly and could vanish altogether in twenty years. Eighty-five percent of the ice cover that was present in 1912 has already melted. Meanwhile, the nation of Nepal has announced it will soon hold a cabinet meeting on Mount Everest to highlight how global warming is causing glaciers to melt in the Himalayas.
UN nuclear watchdog chief Mohamed ElBaradei is urging Iran to respond quickly to his nuclear fuel proposal while warning the world against using force.
Mohamed ElBaradei: "I therefore urge Iran to be as forthcoming as possible in responding soon to my recent proposal based on the initiative of the United States, Russia and France, which aimed to engage Iran in a series of measures that could build confidence and trust and open the way for comprehensive and substantive dialog between Iran and the international community. The issue at stake remains that of mutual guarantees among the parties."
The remarks came as Mohamed ElBaradei delivered his final annual report as International Atomic Energy Agency director. His term ends at the end of this month. During his farewell speech, ElBaradei also criticized the United States for using a "false pretext" to invade Iraq.
Mohamed ElBaradei: "I will always lament the fact that a tragic war was launched in Iraq, which has cost the lives of possibly hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians. This was done on the basis of false pretext, without the authorization from the Security Council and despite the Agency and the United Nation monitoring, verification and inspection commission having found no evidence that Iraq had revived its nuclear weapon program or programs involving other weapons of mass destruction. It gives me no consolation that the Agency’s finding was subsequently vindicated."
The federal government has agreed to pay $1.2 million to settle the cases of five Muslim immigrants who were rounded up and jailed after the September 11 attacks. The men were held for months in the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn as “persons of interest” to terror investigators.
A Republican congresswoman said on the House floor Monday that Americans have more to fear from the Democrats’ healthcare reform plans than from terrorists.
Republican Virginia Foxx of North Carolina said she agrees with people in her district that say they are frightened about what’s going on in Washington.
Rep. Virginia Foxx: "And I believe that the greatest fear that we all should have to our freedom comes from this room — this very room — and what may happen later this week in terms of a tax increase bill masquerading as a healthcare bill. I believe we have more to fear from the potential of that bill passing than we do from any terrorist right now in any country."
A spokesperson from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee responded to Foxx’s statement by saying, “It is outrageous that a representative of our nation that was hit by terrorists would have the gall to claim that Americans reducing their healthcare costs is a greater threat.”
Republican Senator David Vitter of Louisiana has been caught on tape being confronted at a town hall meeting by a woman who identified herself as a rape victim. The woman questioned Vitter about why he voted against an amendment that would withhold defense contracts from companies like Halliburton if they restrict their employees from taking workplace sexual assault, battery and discrimination cases to court.
Woman: "How can you support a company that tells a rape victim that she does not have the right to defend herself?"
Sen. Vitter: "Ma’am, the language in question did not say that in any way, shape or form. The President was" —
Woman: "But it’s unconstitutional to have — it’s unconstitutional to have a clause that says a woman does not have the right to defend themselves."
Sen. Vitter: "Do you realize — do you realize President Obama was against that amendment, and his administration was against that amendment?"
Woman: "But I’m not asking Obama; I’m asking you."
Sen. Vitter: "Do you think he — do you think he’s in favor of rape? No."
Woman: "I am asking you, Senator."
Man: "What about the woman with cancer, Senator?"
Woman: "What if it was your daughter that was raped? Would you tell her to be quiet and take it?"
Man: "What about the woman with cancer, Senator?"
The questioning ended when Senator David Vitter walked away from the woman and left the town hall meeting with his aides.
In media news, the owners of the East Valley Tribune in Mesa, Arizona have announced the paper will shut down at the end of the year. The paper won a Pulitzer Prize earlier this year for its coverage of Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who’s been accused of practicing discriminatory enforcement of federal immigration laws.
And today is Election Day in parts of the country. Voters in Virginia and New Jersey will choose governors. New York City residents will decide whether to elect Mike Bloomberg to a third term. And in Upstate New York, a special election is being held in the 23rd congressional district.