The Washington Post reports as many as 9,000 Marines are beginning final preparations to deploy to Afghanistan. The extra Marines will be sent to Afghanistan soon after President Obama outlines his new war strategy on Tuesday during a speech at the US Military Academy at West Point. Obama is expected to call for 30,000 to 35,000 new troops in a phased deployment over the next twelve to eighteen months. Meanwhile, US officials are pressing NATO for an additional 10,000 troops to augment the US troop surge.
In Honduras, a prominent supporter of the coup has won the nation’s presidential election. Porfirio Lobo, a rich landowner, received 55 percent of the vote. The election comes five months after the Honduran military ousted the democratically elected president Manuel Zelaya. The leaders of Brazil, Argentina, Venezuela and other Latin American countries say Sunday’s presidential election is invalid because it was backed by the coup leaders and could end any hope of Zelaya returning to power and completing his term, which is due to end in January. But the United States has vowed to recognize the results. No pro-Zelaya candidate ran Sunday due to a boycott of the elections called by Zelaya. Human rights groups reported widespread abuses by the Honduran military and police ahead of Sunday’s vote. In the city of San Pedro Sula, soldiers used water cannons and tear gas to break up a march by 500 unarmed protesters. On Saturday, fifty masked soldiers and police raided a collective of farmers and small-scale agricultural producers known as Red COMAL.
The Iranian government has announced plans to build ten new uranium enrichment facilities in defiance of the United Nations. The decision came just two days after the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency backed a resolution censuring Tehran over its construction of an enrichment plant in secret. On Friday, the outgoing head of the IAEA, Mohamed ElBaradei, said negotiations with Iran were at a dead end.
Mohamed ElBaradei: "The Agency has continued to verify the non-diversion of declared nuclear material in Iran. However, there has been no movement on remaining issues of concern, which need to be clarified for the Agency to verify the exclusively peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear program. It is now well over a year since the Agency was last able to engage Iran in discussions about these outstanding issues. We have effectively reached a dead end, unless Iran engages fully with us."
Swiss voters have overwhelmingly approved a referendum banning the construction of minarets on Muslim places of worship. The referendum was sponsored by two right-wing parties. Switzerland is home to some 400,000 Muslims and has just four minarets. A campaign poster in support of the ban depicted a woman in a burqa in front of a row of minarets shaped like missiles. Oxford University professor Tariq Ramadan, who is a Swiss citizen, said, "The Swiss majority are sending a clear message to their Muslim fellow citizens: we do not trust you and the best Muslim for us is the Muslim we cannot see." Amnesty International said the vote to ban minarets violated freedom of religion and would probably be overturned by the Swiss Supreme Court or the European Court of Human Rights.
The White House has announced President Obama will briefly attend the UN climate summit in Copenhagen next week, near the beginning of the two-week conference. Obama will stop in Copenhagen on Wednesday, December 9, while on his way to pick up his Nobel Prize in Oslo. Obama is expected to outline a plan for the United States to set a provisional greenhouse gas emissions target for 2020 in the range of 17 percent below 2005 levels. Meanwhile, China has pledged to reduce its "carbon intensity" by 2020, but it has not promised to make any cuts to its actual carbon emissions. China is vowing to reduce the measure of carbon dioxide emissions per unit of production by as much as 45 percent by 2020. Yvo de Boer, the UN’s top climate official, said the US, China and other nations must take action in Copenhagen.
Yvo de Boer: "In just eleven days, the eyes of the world will be trained on Copenhagen to witness what I believe will be a historic turning point in the fight against climate change. And there is no plan B for Copenhagen, only plan A. And plan A stands for action. Unseasonable storms in Asia and Latin America and protracted drought in Africa are already seriously harming people in the developing world. Success at Copenhagen will put the world on a safe, low-emissions growth path. It will open opportunities for clean growth, allowing developing countries to leapfrog the polluting technologies of the rich, industrialized world."
Yvo de Boer also said the United States and other wealthy nations have a key role to play at the Copenhagen talks.
Yvo de Boer: "Rich countries must put at least $10 billion a year on the table to kick-start immediate action up to 2012. And they must list what each country will provide and how funds will be raised to deliver very large, stable and predictable finance going into the future without constantly having to renegotiate those sums every few years. Particularly the more than 100 least developed countries are entirely dependent on finance to adapt and reduce their emissions."
In other climate news, Indonesian police arrested eighteen Greenpeace activists on Thursday at a demonstration against the deforestation on the Indonesian island of Sumatra. The protesters had chained themselves to cranes at a paper mill. Rampant deforestation has made Indonesia the world’s third-largest greenhouse gas emitter behind the United States and China.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has ordered a partial ten-month freeze on West Bank settlements. The Obama administration praised Netanyahu’s decision, but Palestinians leaders said it fell short of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s call for a full halt to settlement construction as a condition for reviving peace negotiations. Netanyahu’s plan has two major loopholes: construction will continue on 3,000 previously authorized settler homes, and the moratorium does not apply to occupied East Jerusalem. Meanwhile, a pro-settler group has petitioned Israel’s High Court to stop Israel from enforcing Netanyahu’s partial freeze on settlements.
In economic news, the international world of finance was dealt a shock last week when Dubai announced state-run Dubai World may delay debt payments of nearly $60 billion. Earlier today the Abu Dhabi stock index tumbled over seven percent. But global stocks are steadying after the United Arab Emirates central bank promised additional liquidity to local banks.
Britain’s former ambassador to Washington has said George W. Bush and Tony Blair appeared to have "converged" on regime change in Iraq after talks at Bush’s Texas ranch in April 2002 — nearly a year before the US-led invasion. Christopher Meyer made the comment while testifying before a British inquiry into the Iraq war. Meyer said that the "unforgiving nature" of the military timetable for an invasion of Iraq in 2003 did not give time for UN weapons inspectors led by Hans Blix to do their job in Iraq.
Christopher Meyer: "We found ourselves scrambling for the smoking gun, which was another way of saying, it’s not that Saddam now has to prove he’s innocent. We’ve now bloody well got to try and prove he’s guilty. And we’ve never — we, the Americans, British — have never really recovered from that, because, of course, there was no smoking gun."
A new report by the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee has determined the US military missed an opportunity to capture or kill Osama bin Laden in December 2001. The report determined that the al-Qaeda leader was unquestionably within reach of US troops in the mountains of Tora Bora in Afghanistan, but former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and the top US military commander, General Tommy Franks, rejected requests for a massive contingent of American troops to attack the area. The Senate report stated, "The decisions that opened the door for his escape to Pakistan allowed bin Laden to emerge as a potent symbolic figure who continues to attract a steady flow of money and inspire fanatics worldwide.”
In news from Latin America, a former guerrilla fighter has won the presidency in Uruguay. The leftist José Mujica beat former Uruguayan president Luis Lacalle by about ten percentage points.
The Iranian government has been accused of confiscating the Nobel Peace Prize medal awarded to human rights lawyer Shirin Ebadi. The government reportedly seized the medal from Ebadi’s safety deposit box in Tehran and froze her bank accounts three weeks ago, claiming she owed back taxes.
Geir Lundestad, director of the Norwegian Nobel Institute: "We’re shocked by the actions of the Iranian authorities. Shirin Ebadi has done nothing wrong, and we think that she is being punished in a very — in a totally illegal way. And not only is she being punished, but her husband, her friends and family members have also been punished. This is totally unacceptable."
More Americans are depending on food stamps and food banks, especially senior citizens. New government statistics show the number of seniors living alone who seek help from food pantries in the US increased by 81 percent between 2006 and 2008. And the demand continues to increase. Catholic Charities USA reported a 54 percent increase in requests for food and services from seniors nationwide during the third quarter compared to the same period last year.
Aine Duggan, Food Bank for New York City: “The fact of the matter is that staggering unemployment rates, poverty and food insecurity are increasing across the nation, and all of the economists are predicting that those staggering unemployment rates are going to last until 2012. So, it’s very difficult for those of us who are working on the front lines to understand what’s meant by recovery and recession ending, because it’s not ending any time soon for the people we serve."
In Washington state, four police officers were shot dead at a coffee shop near Tacoma on Sunday. Police are now searching for Maurice Clemmons, the suspected gunman. Police say he may have holed up at a Seattle house, wounded and possibly dead.