The Guardian of London reports the Obama administration and European allies are preparing to plant a high-profile figure in the heart of the Afghan government in a direct challenge to Hamid Karzai, the president of Afghanistan. The US is considering creating a new chief executive or prime ministerial position in an attempt to bypass Karzai, who has has fallen out of favor in Washington. In a further dilution of Karzai’s power, the US is proposing to divert money from the Kabul government to the provinces. Last week, Karzai accused an unnamed foreign government of trying to weaken the central government in Kabul. Karzai said, "That is not their job. Afghanistan will never be a puppet state."
On Sunday, President Barack Obama appeared on 60 Minutes and discussed the situation in Afghanistan.
President Obama: "But we can’t lose sight of what our central mission is: the same mission that we had when we went in after 9/11. And that is, these folks can project violence against United States citizens, and that is something that we cannot tolerate. But what we can’t do is think that just a military approach in Afghanistan is going to be able to solve our problems. So what we’re looking for is a comprehensive strategy. And there’s got to be an exit strategy. There’s got to be a sense that this is not perpetual drift."
Last month, President Obama ordered 17,000 more US troops to fight in Afghanistan. Meanwhile, US Special Forces are being accused of killing five Afghan civilians inside the home of a local mayor. The US disputes the report and says the dead were all militants.
During the same interview on 60 Minutes, President Obama was asked about former Vice President Dick Cheney’s comment that the new administration’s counterterrorism policies were making the US more vulnerable to attack.
President Obama: “I think he is — that attitude, that philosophy, has done incredible damage to our image and position in the world. I mean, the fact of the matter is, after all these years, how many convictions actually came out of Guantanamo? How many — how many terrorists have actually been brought to justice under the philosophy that is being promoted by Vice President Cheney? It hasn’t made us safer. What it has been is a great advertisement for anti-American sentiment, which means that there is constant effective recruitment of Arab fighters and Muslim fighters against US interests all around the world.”
Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner is preparing to unveil a plan today to purchase as much as $1 trillion in troubled mortgages and other assets from banks. The government is reaching out to hedge funds, private equity firms and sovereign wealth funds to help buy the toxic assets. The Obama administration has described the plan as a public-private partnership, but most of the actual money will be put up by the government. The New York Times reports the government will offer low-interest loans to coax investors to form partnerships with the government to buy toxic assets from banks. If the assets go up in value, the hedge funds stand to benefit greatly, but if the assets fall, taxpayers bear most of the risk. We’ll have more on the plan after headlines.
Obama administration officials are expressing concern over moves by Congress to heavily tax Wall Street bonuses. Last week, the House voted to levy a 90 percent tax on bonuses paid since January 1 by companies that owe the government at least $5 billion in bailout loans. Jared Bernstein, Vice President Joe Biden’s top economic adviser, said the House bill is a “dangerous way to go."
In other economic news, World Bank President Robert Zoellick warned the entire globe will feel the effects of the economic meltdown this year.
Robert Zoellick: "Well, I think 2009 is going to be a very dangerous year. And just to give you some reference points, the IMF came out with a new global forecast recently, close to decline of about one percent of growth. We at the Bank will be coming out with ours soon, and it will probably be in the range of one to two percent. But to put that number in a context, you haven’t seen a figure like that globally since World War II, which really means since the Great Depression."
The World Bank also warned over the weekend that a wave of social and political unrest could sweep through the world’s poorest countries if G20 leaders fail to come to their aid. A new report from the Overseas Development Institute said the collapse of the global economy would cost 90 million lives, lead to an increase to nearly a billion in the number of people going hungry, and cost developing countries $750 billion in lost growth.
Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said on Saturday President Barack Obama’s offer of better ties was just a "slogan," but pledged Tehran would respond to any real policy shift by Washington. Khamenei’s comment came one day after President Obama released a videotaped appeal to the people of Iran.
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei: "They (Americans) give the slogan of change, but in practice no change is seen. We haven’t seen any change. Even their literature has not changed. Since the first moment the new United States president officially took office and delivered speech, he insulted Iran and the Islamic Republic of Iran’s government."
Physicians for Human Rights has accused Israeli soldiers of failing to give medical teams special protection during the attack on Gaza. Sixteen Palestinian medical personnel were killed by Israeli fire; another twenty-five were wounded. Israel attacked thirty-four medical facilities, including eight hospitals.
Documents have also been found that suggest Israeli troops were given orders to shoot at rescue teams during the war. One document found in a Palestinian home taken over by the Israeli military reads, “Rules of Engagement: Open fire also upon rescue.” The note was handwritten in Hebrew.
The McClatchy News Service reports rabbis affiliated with the Israeli army urged troops heading into Gaza to reclaim what they said was God-given land and to '’get rid of the gentiles.'’ This according to the testimony of a soldier who fought in Gaza. The soldier said the message from the rabbis effectively turned the twenty-two-day Israeli attack into a religious war.
A prominent right-wing Israeli activist has publicly called for the assassination of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Nadia Matar of the group Women in Green made the call last week during a speech in New York organized by Americans for a Safe Israel.
Nadia Matar: “And don’t you understand that in order to bring peace to Europe, one has to first destroy the Nazi beast? Today we must destroy all the terrorist organizations. We must kill all the terrorist leaders, starting with Mahmoud Abbas and all others.”
Nadia Matar was speaking at the Safra Synagogue in New York. The synagogue’s rabbi, Elie Abadie, condemned Matar’s remarks, saying he was “horrified at such hateful statements."
The Canadian government has barred British antiwar lawmaker George Galloway entry into the country on the grounds that he is a threat to national security. Galloway was scheduled to start a four-city speaking tour next week. Galloway has been a vocal critic of the US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as the Israeli government. Canadian officials accused Galloway of giving financial support to Hamas and offering sympathy to the Taliban.
The private military firm formerly known as Blackwater is facing another lawsuit over its work in Iraq. The family of a slain Iraqi security guard sued the company last week, saying a Blackwater contractor shot the man without provocation on Christmas Eve of 2006. At the time of the shooting, the Iraqi guard was on duty protecting Iraqi Vice President Adel Abdul Mahdi. According to the lawsuit, Blackwater promised to compensate the widow of the Iraqi guard in a series of payments but stopped after an initial payment of $20,000.
In labor news, executives from Costco, Starbucks and Whole Foods have launched a campaign to block the passage of the Employee Free Choice Act, which would make it easier for workers to form unions. The three retail giants have proposed a so-called compromise bill that strips the key portions of the legislation. The companies want to preserve the current law that allows employers to force workers to hold a secret ballot election before recognizing a union. Under the Employee Free Choice Act, workers would be able form a union if a majority of them signed a card or a petition.
In Puerto Rico, a federal jury has found former Puerto Rican Governor Anibal Acevedo Vila not guilty on nine counts of conspiracy, false statements and wire fraud, among other crimes.
Vermont has moved a step closer to legalizing same-sex marriage. On Friday, the state’s Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously approved a bill extending marriage to same-sex couples in Vermont. The full Vermont Senate is expected to vote on the bill today.
In New York, the city has agreed to pay out $1.5 million to the families of two young men shot dead by New York police detectives fourteen years ago in the Bronx. The families of Hilton Vega and Anthony Rosario had sued the city, claiming police used excessive force in the shooting. The detectives in the case were both former bodyguards for Rudolph Giuliani during his 1993 mayoral campaign.
In Oakland, police are investigating how a routine traffic stop turned into one of the bloodiest days for police officers in California history. Police say a twenty-six-year-old man, Lovelle Mixon, shot dead four Oakland police officers over the span of several hours before he was fatally shot. Police said Mixon was already wanted on a warrant. He had been despondent over his inability to find a job and afraid of being arrested again.
And protests were held in Washington, San Francisco, Los Angeles and other cities on Saturday to mark the sixth anniversary of the US invasion of Iraq.