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Defense Secretary Robert Gates is playing down President Obama’s vow to begin withdrawing troops in July 2011. Speaking before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Gates said that there are "no deadlines in terms of when our troops will all be out." Gates also said a US withdrawal would probably take two to three years whenever it begins. Meanwhile, the top US commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, appeared before Afghan lawmakers in Kabul.
Gen. Stanley McChrystal: "I think we now have clarity on our mission that we never had before. I believe we have clarity on our partnership better than we’ve ever had before. I believe we have capabilities, not just the additional forces, but also the improved partnership, the improved way in which we conduct operations, our improved understanding. I believe we have a commitment that is more clear."
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has rejected a proposal to create a "war surtax" to fund the escalation of the Afghan occupation. The tax had been proposed by House Appropriations chair David Obey, who opposes the escalation.
The New York Times is reporting the Obama administration has approved an expansion of US drone attacks inside Pakistan. The move coincided with Obama’s announcement of more troops to Afghanistan earlier this week. The White House is said to be in talks with Pakistani officials on launching the drone attacks inside the Baluchistan region for the first time.
The global climate change summit in Copenhagen begins on Sunday. In advance of the meeting, one of the world’s top climate scientists is claiming he hopes the talks result in failure. In an interview with The Guardian, NASA climatologist James Hansen said any agreement to come out of the talks will be inadequate in averting climate catastrophe. Hansen says negotiations should instead be started from scratch. Hansen has called for more substantial emissions cuts than those on the table, as well as a carbon tax on major polluters. Earlier this week, Hansen addressed demonstrators at a climate action in New York.
James Hansen: "As long as fossil fuels are the cheapest energy, they’re going to continue to be used and their use will increase. So we have to put a price on carbon. And the money that is collected from this price must be returned to the public 100 percent, either as a monthly dividend or a payroll tax deduction or a combination of those. If we do those things, the problem becomes solvable. If we don’t, it is the biggest inter-generational injustice in the history of the world. We’ll be leaving our children and grandchildren with a situation out of their control. So we’ve got to begin to influence the polices that are being talked about. And what is being talked about in Washington now and in Copenhagen now is totally inadequate. It’s greenwash. It’s cap and trade with offsets, which will be just like the Kyoto Protocol. It will do nothing to reduce global emissions."
India, meanwhile, has unveiled a proposal to cut emissions relative to the size of its economic growth. On Thursday, India said it would reduce its carbon intensity 20 to 25 percent by 2020. The Indian government says the pledge won’t be legally binding or subject to international monitoring.
In Somalia, at least twenty-three people were killed Thursday in a suicide bombing in the capital Mogadishu. The dead included three government ministers. Another forty people were wounded.
The nation’s largest cable television company Comcast has struck a deal to buy a majority stake in the television and movie giant NBC Universal from General Electric. If approved, the merger would give Comcast control of the NBC network, the Spanish-language Telemundo, cable channels including MSNBC, dozens of local television stations and the Universal film studio. Media democracy advocates have widely criticized the merger.
Jeff Chester, head of the Center for Digital Democracy: "This is a real political litmus test for the Obama administration. Frankly, they should just have their FCC and their Department of Justice, or FTC, say no to this deal. There’s nothing in the Comcast-NBCU mega-deal that will benefit the public interest, consumers or competitors. The Obama administration has a chance now to put its foot down and say 'no more media consolidation in the United States.'"
On Capitol Hill, the Senate began voting on the first major amendments to a healthcare reform measure Thursday. Republicans lost an attempt to undo $500 billion in Medicare cuts that Democrats say are essential to expanding health insurance. The Senate also approved an amendment that would ensure women younger than fifty can receive coverage for undergoing mammograms.
The House, meanwhile, has voted to make the estate tax permanent. The vote would keep the estate tax at its current rate of 45 percent on inheritances above $3.5 million. Progressives had called for restoring the tax to its higher rate of 55 percent from before President George W. Bush took office.
Here in New York, a state appeals court has rejected a government attempt to invoke eminent domain to seize property in Manhattan for a proposed expansion project by Columbia University. In a three-to-two ruling, the court criticized what it called the government’s "idiocy" in declaring the neighborhood in question "blighted" to justify the takeover.
In California, a judge has lifted a seal on court documents allegedly detailing how the FBI recruited an informant to spy on several mosques. The alleged spy, Craig Monteilh, is seeking $10 million in damages from the FBI, which he says never fully paid him for his work.
In Texas, a forty-four-year-old man was executed Thursday despite arguments he was too mentally impaired to be put to death. Test scores have shown the prisoner, Bobby Woods, had an IQ at or below seventy, the cutoff point for mental retardation. Woods was killed by lethal injection less than an hour after the Supreme Court refused to halt his execution.
And the music legend Stevie Wonder has been named a United Nations "messenger of peace." Wonder, who is blind, will focus on people with disabilities.
Stevie Wonder: "It is truly an honor, beyond any that I have ever imagined would happen in a lifetime, to be able to be pinned and given the opportunity to spread the message of 'love is truly in need of love today.'"