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Obama Replaces Bush Missile System with Naval Deployment

The Obama administration has unveiled its plan to replace the Bush administration’s so-called "missile-defense" system in Eastern Europe. On Thursday, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the US would deploy missile interceptors aboard naval ships instead of at bases in Poland and the Czech Republic.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates: "We have now the opportunity to deploy new sensors and interceptors in northern and southern Europe that, near term, can provide missile defense coverage against more immediate threats from Iran or others."

The move marks one of the Obama administration’s sharpest reversals of a major Bush administration foreign policy to date. The Bush White House claimed the missile system was intended to thwart a potential Iranian attack. But critics widely denounced it as a first-strike weapon for hitting Iran or other targets. In announcing its new plan, the Obama administration rejected calls to abandon proposals for a so-called "missile-defense" system outright. Gates said the US could also still use the Eastern European sites at a later date.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates: "Those who say we are scrapping missile defense in Europe are either misinformed or misrepresenting the reality of what we are doing. The security of Europe has been a vital national interest of the United States for my entire career. The circumstances, borders and threats may have changed, but that commitment continues."

Gates went on to say the US hopes the plan will curb Israeli moves to attack Iranian nuclear sites — for now. Gates said, "We hope it will reassure them that perhaps there’s a little more time here." Meanwhile, the vice-chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General James Cartwright, said the new missile system would entail a larger naval deployment.

General James Cartwright: "Three ships at any given time, in and around the Mediterranean and the North Sea, etc., to protect areas of interest, and then we would surge additional ships. And part of what’s in the budget is to get us a sufficient number of ships to allow us to have a global deployment of this capability on a constant basis with a surge capacity to any one theater at a time."

Peace activists in the Czech Republic welcomed the news but said their work would continue.

Anti-missile activist Jan Majicek: "More than 70 percent of Czechs were against this plan, which was happening against their will. For us activists, it doesn’t mean we finished our work, because already now there is information about possible new American bases. We will analyze the situation and think about our further steps."

US Downplays UN Inquiry on Gaza Assault

The Obama administration is criticizing a United Nations fact-finding mission that found Israel committed war crimes and possibly crimes against humanity in deliberately targeting Palestinian civilians during the attack on Gaza earlier this year. More than 1,400 Palestinians, over half of them civilians, were killed in the US-backed Israeli assault. The report also cited Palestinian militants for committing war crimes in firing rockets at Israeli towns. The report advises the UN Security Council to call on both Israel and Palestinian authorities to probe the allegations or face investigations by the International Criminal Court. On Thursday, the US ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice, said the White House has "serious concerns" about the report’s focus on Israel.

UN Ambassador Susan Rice: "The United States is reviewing very carefully what is a very lengthy document. We have long expressed our very serious concern with the mandate that was given by the Human Rights Council prior to our joining the council, which we viewed as unbalanced, one-sided, and basically unacceptable. We have very serious concerns about many of the recommendations in the report."

Gaza Water Supply Nears Collapse

Meanwhile, in Gaza, the International Committee of the Red Cross is warning Palestinians could lose access to a safe water supply at any moment. The warning follows a UN report showing Gaza’s underground water system is on the verge of collapse. The system is Gaza’s only source of drinking water. Just five to ten percent of the aquifer is currently fit for human consumption.

Paraguay Rejects US Military Deal

Paraguay has rejected an extension of a military cooperation deal with the United States. On Thursday, Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo said his government would stop conducting a series of military exercises with US troops. Lugo cited recent hemispheric opposition to an agreement extending the US military presence inside Colombia.

Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo: "There would be about 500 US military and other personnel in the country, and that would not go unnoticed. It’s neither prudent nor convenient at this time and could raise concerns among the other members of Mercosur and UNASUR."

House Votes to Remove all Funding for ACORN

Back in the United States, the House has voted to strip the anti-poverty group ACORN of all federal funding. ACORN has long been a target of right-wing scorn for its work helping poor people fight foreclosures, fix tax problems, and register to vote. ACORN’s critics were recently given a boost after the group’s workers were caught on camera appearing to offer advice to a pimp and prostitute. The House measure passed by a 345-to-75 vote. It goes further than this week’s Senate vote, which targeted ACORN’s federal housing and community grant funding.

Mass. House OKs Bill for Interim Kennedy Successor

In Massachusetts, the State House has approved a measure that would let Governor Deval Patrick appoint an interim successor to the Senate seat left vacant by the death of Edward Kennedy. The successor would fill the seat until Massachusetts holds a special election in January.

Justice Dept. Probes Ex-Interior Secretary for Shell Leases

The Justice Department has launched a probe of former Interior Secretary Gale Norton over her ties to the oil giant Royal Dutch Shell. Investigators are looking into whether Norton unlawfully granted Shell leases of public land around the same time she was considering working for the company. Norton stepped down in March 2006 and joined Shell as its general counsel nine months later.

Insurance Firm Ordered to Pay $10M for Stripping Coverage of HIV-Positive Man

In South Carolina, the insurance company Fortis has been ordered to pay $10 million in damages for rescinding the health coverage of a man who had tested positive for HIV. Jerome Mitchell obtained coverage from Fortis in 2001, when he was seventeen years old. But Fortis dropped Mitchell after he found out he was HIV-positive the following year. The company accused Mitchell of misrepresenting his medical history. In a ruling upholding a trial court judgment, the South Carolina Supreme Court said Fortis’s actions were "reprehensible" and "demonstrated an indifference to Mitchell’s life and a reckless disregard to his health and safety."

Unite Here Rejoins AFL-CIO

In labor news, the hotel and restaurant employees union Unite Here has announced it’s rejoining the AFL-CIO. The move comes four years after Unite Here broke off from the AFL-CIO to help form the rival coalition Change to Win.

Audit: Border Fence to Cost $6.5B

A new government audit claims the program to radically increase electronic surveillance along the US border with Mexico is years behind schedule and has run billions of dollars over initial projections. The Government Accountability Office says the network of cameras, radars and fences won’t be completed until 2016, instead of the initial plan for later this year. Auditors also say the border system will cost an additional $6.5 billion in maintenance costs, with no mechanisms to gauge its actual impact.

Families Urge Iran to Free Jailed Americans

The families of three Americans arrested in Iran last month are renewing their call for their loved ones’ release ahead of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s visit to the United States next week. The three are believed to have mistakenly crossed over into Iran while hiking in Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region. The detained Americans have been identified as Shane Bauer, Sarah Shourd and Joshua Fattal. Bauer is a freelance journalist who has written for The Nation magazine and the Pacific News Service. On Thursday, Bauer’s mother, Cindy Hickey, spoke of the impact of his imprisonment.

Cindy Hickey: "Well, just on a day-to-day basis, it’s been very up and down for us, very emotional. Part of my — I have three children. Part of my family is not with me. It’s left a huge hole in my heart. And while we’re waiting for his return, we’re also having to continue our jobs and our life, and it’s been very hard to do that."

Ahmadinejad will be in New York next week to attend the UN General Assembly.

Judge OKs G20 Tent Protest

A federal judge has ordered authorities to allow a tent city protest during the G20 summit in Pittsburgh next week. The peace group CODEPINK plans to use a downtown park for the tent protest over the course of three days.

Publisher, Journalist W. Horace Carter Dies at 88

And the pioneering newspaper publisher and journalist W. Horace Carter has died at the age of eighty-eight. Carter founded the North Carolina-based Tabor City Tribune and won a Pulitzer Prize for his reporting on and commentary denouncing the Ku Klux Klan.

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