President Obama has admitted that US troops could remain in Afghanistan in significant numbers long after July 2011, the drawdown date Obama set just six months ago.
President Obama: "We did not say that, starting July 2011, suddenly there would be no troops from the United States or allied countries in Afghanistan. We didn’t say we’d be switching off the lights and closing the door behind us. What we said is we’d begin a transition phase in which the Afghan government is taking on more and more responsibility."
President Obama made the comment while defending his decision to fire Afghan war commander Gen. Stanley McChrystal and replace him with Gen. David Petraeus, the architect of the so-called surge in Iraq. Despite the personnel change, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Thursday the US Afghan war strategy is still on track.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates: "No one, be they adversaries or friends or especially our troops, should misinterpret these personnel changes as a slackening of this government’s commitment to the mission in Afghanistan. We remain committed to that mission and to the comprehensive civil military strategy ordered by the President to achieve our goals there."
Congressional negotiators finalized a landmark bill early today to overhaul financial regulations. The New York Times reports members of the Senate-House conference committee approved proposals to restrict trading by banks for their own benefit. In addition, banks and their parent companies will be required to segregate much of their derivatives activities into a separately capitalized subsidiary.
Senate Republicans have blocked another effort to extend unemployment benefits to millions of jobless workers. Emergency jobless benefits, which provide up to ninety-nine weeks of income support, expired June 2. More than 1.2 million people have already had their checks cut off, but that total is expected soon to rise to two million people.
In other news from Capitol Hill, House Democrats have passed a major campaign finance reform bill that would require corporations as well as unions and advocacy groups to disclose their names in campaign ads. The measure would also ban election spending by companies with more than 20 percent foreign ownership and recipients of US bank bailouts. The bill was written in response to the recent Supreme Court ruling that allowed corporations and unions to spend unlimited amounts on political ads. While the House bill was designed to rein in special interests, the National Rifle Association, Sierra Club and some other lobbying organizations have been exempted from the new rules.
Homeland Security chief Janet Napolitano has confirmed plans for the United States to deploy unmanned Predator drones to patrol the US-Mexico border in Texas. The United States currently has four drones patrolling the border with Mexico in Arizona and one in the northern border with Canada in the state of North Dakota. Napolitano made the announcement during a speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Janet Napolitano: "I’m also proud to announce today that the Federal Aviation Administration has approved the use of CBP unmanned aircraft system flights along the Texas border and in the Gulf region...These types of flights aren’t useful everywhere, but in some places they’re part of the right mix of infrastructure, manpower and technology that improves border security."
Homeland Security chief Janet Napolitano also unveiled new plans to increase government surveillance along the border by developing a system to begin photographing the license plates of every vehicle.
Janet Napolitano: "We’re partnering with the Office of National Drug Control Policy to implement Project Roadrunner, an automated license-plate recognition system. Project Roadrunner was conceived to target both north- and southbound drug trafficking and associated illegal activity along the Southwest border."
A federal judge has rejected the latest attempt by the Obama administration to continue its six-month ban on deepwater oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. The White House imposed the ban last month as the BP oil spill spiraled into what many have called the worst environmental disaster in US history. On Thursday, US District Judge Martin Feldman refused to stay his June 22 order lifting the moratorium. A Reagan appointee, Feldman has extensive stock holdings in energy companies, including Transocean, which owned the Deepwater Horizon oil rig where the explosion occurred, and Halliburton, which also performed work at the site. Feldman also owns stock in two of BP’s largest shareholders, BlackRock and JPMorgan Chase.
The Supreme Court has ruled in favor of former Enron CEO Jeffrey Skilling in a decision that will make it harder for prosecutors to file charges in corruption cases. The Court threw out a law that makes it a crime to “deprive another of the intangible right of honest services." The ruling could affect the sentence of Enron’s Jeffrey Skilling and newspaper executive Conrad Black.
In Australia, Julia Gillard has become the nation’s first female prime minister.
Julia Gillard: "I, Julia Eileen Gillard, do solemnly and sincerely affirm and declare that I will well and serve the Commonwealth of Australia, her land and her people, in the office of prime minister."
Julia Gillard rose to power after the Labor Party dumped Prime Minister Kevin Rudd ahead of the expected elections in October.
International talks to reduce whale hunting have broken down after Japan rejected a proposal to gradually stop killing whales off the coast of Antarctica. Without a new agreement, Japan, Norway and Iceland will be able to continue to hunt for whales through loopholes in current agreements.
Christopher Coke, a reputed gang leader from Jamaica, arrived in New York last night to face drug-running charges. Coke surrendered on Tuesday, nearly one month after at least seventy-six people died when Jamaican forces launched an assault on a poor neighborhood loyal to Coke.
And in Detroit, Mayor Dave Bing has announced plans to close seventy-seven city parks next week after the city council cut $9.2 million in funds to maintain the parks. The Detroit Free Press reports the parking lots will be barricaded, trash bins will be removed, the grass will not be cut, equipment will not be maintained. No events will be permitted in the parks.