The United Nations Security Council held an emergency meeting Sunday, hours after North Korea defied international warnings and test-fired a long-range rocket. The rocket flew over Japanese airspace before crashing into the Pacific Ocean. North Korea claimed the test was a success, but international experts disputed their claim. President Obama condemned the launch as "provocative.”
Hours after the rocket launch, President Obama spoke in Prague and outlined a vision for ridding the world of nuclear weapons. Obama said he wanted an immediate end to nuclear tests, confirmed and vowed to hold a global summit on nuclear security.
President Obama: “As the only nuclear power to have used a nuclear weapon, the United States has a moral responsibility to act. We cannot succeed in this endeavor alone, but we can lead it, we can start it."
Last week, President Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev agreed on fast-track negotiations to slash their nuclear stockpiles by about a third from the end of this year. The US and Russia have a total of 23,000 nuclear weapons. President Obama is not the first US president to call for the abolition of nuclear weapons. In the 1950s President Dwight Eisenhower said, "Controlled universal disarmament is the imperative of our time.” Even President Ronald Reagan once proposed the abolition of all nuclear weapons.
While President Obama spoke in Prague, over 1,000 protesters gathered nearby to condemn US plans to build a missile shield system in the Czech Republic and Poland. Protesters included Jan Majicek of the No Bases Initiative.
Jan Majicek: "We are here to tell Barack Obama, who is now in Prague, that 70 percent of Czechs are against this plan and that we don’t want a foreign military base here in the Czech Republic."
During the NATO summit in Strasbourg, European allies rejected President Obama’s request to send more combat troops to Afghanistan as part of the US escalation of the war. Instead, NATO nations will send 3,000 soldiers to assist in securing the national elections scheduled for August and 2,000 military trainers to help the Afghan army. Outside the NATO meeting, some 30,000 people took part in protests along the French-German border condemning the escalation of the war in Afghanistan. Police arrested 325 people. At least three buildings were set on fire, including a hotel and a border post.
President Obama is in Turkey today making his first visit to a Muslim nation as president.
President Obama: "I have now spent a week traveling through Europe, and I’ve been asked, 'Are you trying to make a statement by ending this week-long trip in Turkey?' And the answer is yes, I am trying to make a statement. I’m trying to make a statement about the importance of Turkey, not just to the United States, but to the world."
Gun control advocates are urging lawmakers to rewrite the nation’s gun control laws after mass shootings in upstate New York, Pittsburgh and Washington state. In Binghamton, New York, a gunman attacked an immigration center on Friday, killing thirteen people before taking his own life. Most of the dead were immigrants who were taking classes at the immigration center. The gunman was a Vietnamese-born immigrant who recently lost his job.
Binghamton Police Chief Joseph Zikuski: "What we do know is Mr. Wong arrived at that residence wearing body armor, which would tell us that at one point in his thinking process he was going to take the police on or at least try to stop us from stopping him. He must have been a coward. We speculate when he heard the sirens that he decided to end his own life, so that’s what — he was heavily armed, had a lot of ammunition on him. And thank God, before more lives were lost, that he decided to do that."
On Saturday in Pittsburgh, three police officers were shot dead as they responded to a domestic violence call. Meanwhile, in Washington state a thirty-four-year-old man shot dead his five children on Saturday before killing himself. The children were between the ages of seven and sixteen. There was also a series of high-profile mass shootings last month in North Carolina, California and Alabama that killed a total of twenty-three people. Paul Helmke, President of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, said, “The laws on the books aren’t getting the job done. Now is the time to take effective steps to prevent gun violence.” According to the Brady Campaign, about 30,000 people die every year in the United States from gun violence. That’s about eighty people a day.
In economic news, the nation’s unemployment rate has reached 8.5 percent, the highest it’s been in twenty-five years. 663,000 jobs were lost last month. A total of 5.1 million jobs have been lost in the past fourteen months. The current unemployment rate would jump to 15.6 percent if it included laid-off workers who have given up looking for new jobs or have had to settle for part-time work. This means one in every six workers in America is now either unemployed or underemployed.
Newly released documents show Lawrence Summers, one of President Obama’s top economic aides, received nearly $2.7 million in speaking fees last year from several of the financial companies that have received government bailouts, including JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, Lehman Brothers and Merrill Lynch. Goldman Sachs paid Summers $135,000 last April for a single speech. In addition, Summers earned over $5 million working one day a week at the D.E. Shaw hedge fund.
In New York, thousands marched on Wall Street Saturday on the forty-first anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King. Leslie Cagan of United for Peace and Justice helped organize the protest.
Leslie Cagan: "Decades of bloated military spending have undermined our economic security. Instead of pouring hundreds of billions of dollars year in and year out into war, into weapons of mass destruction, into militarism and military spending, that money should have been used and now must be used to reinvest in our communities. Our communities need schools, we need healthcare, we need a completely restructured infrastructure, we need money pouring into job creation, and we need to deal with the global crisis of the environment. So there’s much to do, above and beyond bailing out bankers and continuing to pour money into wars."
In a unanimous decision, the Iowa Supreme Court has overturned a ten-year-old ban on same-sex marriage, making Iowa the third state in the union to legalize same-sex marriage. The ruling takes effect April 24. Meanwhile, Swedish lawmakers voted last week to make Sweden become the fifth European country to allow same-sex marriages.
In Iraq, five car bombs exploded across Baghdad today, killing twenty-six people and wounding scores. The bombings come following a week of arrests in Baghdad by Iraq’s Shiite-led government of Sunni Arab fighters known as Awakening Councils.
In Pakistan, a senior commander of the Pakistani Taliban is threatening to launch two suicide attacks per week if the Obama administration does not stop missile strikes on Pakistani territory. Over the weekend, at least thirty-eight people died in three suicide attacks. In the deadliest bombing, twenty-two people died in a blast at a Shiite mosque in the capital of Islamabad.
On Saturday, a suspected US drone attack killed thirteen people in North Waziristan. The Sunday Times of London reports as many as one million Pakistanis have fled their homes to escape the attacks by the unmanned US drones.
Meanwhile, protests were held across Pakistan this weekend over a video that showed the public flogging of a seventeen-year-old girl in Pakistan’s Swat Valley. The video showed the girl being pinned down by three men and lashed thirty-four times. Under a deal with the Pakistani government, the Swat Valley is now ruled by Islamic law. The girl had been accused of being seen with a man who was not her husband.
In Israel, two ultra-Orthodox Jewish newspapers have digitally manipulated a photograph of Israel’s new cabinet, removing two female ministers. One newspaper changed the photo by replacing the two female cabinet members with men. Another newspaper blacked the women out. The ultra-Orthodox newspapers consider it immodest to print images of women. Limor Livnat is Israel’s new Minister of Culture & Sport. Sofa Landver is the country’s Minister of Immigrant Absorption.
Amnesty International has revealed that the United States has sent a massive new shipment of arms to Israel despite evidence that US weapons were misused against civilians in the Gaza attacks. Amnesty said a German cargo ship carrying about 14,000 tons of arms docked in late March at the Israeli port of Ashdod, about twenty-five miles north of Gaza. The ship left for Israel on December 20, a week before the start of Israel’s attacks on Gaza.
In media news, the New York Times Company is threatening to close the Boston Globe within thirty days unless the Globe’s unions agree to $20 million in cuts. The concessions would likely involve pay cuts and ending contributions by the company to employee pension plans. Last month, the New York Times Company laid off 100 employees and cut salaries for non-union workers by five percent.
The media was permitted on Sunday to cover the arrival of a US soldier’s coffin at the Pentagon’s main mortuary in Delaware for the first time in eighteen years. President Barack Obama has relaxed a Pentagon ban on media coverage of returning US war dead, giving grieving families the choice of whether to allow cameras at the solemn arrival ceremony. On Sunday, a flag-draped coffin bearing the remains of Staff Sgt. Phillip Myers arrived at Dover Air Force Base. The thirty-year-old soldier was killed in Afghanistan on Saturday.
The Wall Street Journal reports the Obama administration is planning to abolish limits on family travel and cash remittances between the United States and Cuba. This would allow Cubans living in the United States to travel freely to the island, instead of once a year as at present. Obama, however, has rejected calls to lift the embargo. Meanwhile, a group of US lawmakers arrived in Havana Friday. This is Congresswoman Barbara Lee of California.
Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA): "We’re here to engage in discussions with regard to US-Cuba relations. Personally, I believe, many believe, that it’s time to talk to Cuba, and we want to find out what the dialog should entail, and we’ll communicate this very clearly to our government officials upon our return."
And in Egypt, police arrested twenty-five people Sunday ahead of today’s nationwide protest against the policies of President Hosni Mubarak. Egyptian dissident Ayman Nour is the leader of the Ghad, or Tomorrow Party, a key organizer of today’s protests, which are being held on the first anniversary of an uprising in an industrial town north of Cairo that was brutally repressed by Egyptian security forces. Ayman Nour, who ran against Mubarak in presidential elections in 2005, was arrested soon after the elections and released this February after spending over three years in prison. He spoke to Democracy Now! producer Anjali Kamat last month about the demands his party would raise at the protests on this April 6th.
Ayman Nour: “We are giving the government one year to reform the constitution and to lift the barriers preventing widespread participation in politics and elections. If our demands are not met — and these are reformist, democratic demands — we will call for a general strike on April 6th of 2010. The future of the current Egyptian regime depends on its ability to understand that its role must come to an end, that it must provide a real opportunity for power to circulate among the Egyptians. It has to give the Egyptian people their right to choose their rulers and representatives without texts that restrict and frustrate these rights and freedoms to the extent that they don’t exist at all or become some kind of a mirage.”