More than 1,200 people have died in northwest Pakistan in the region’s worst flooding in decades. 27,000 people are still trapped by rising waters, and about a million people have been displaced. The Edhi Foundation, a private relief organization, says the death toll could top 3,000 in the coming days. In Swat, floods have destroyed over 14,000 homes and twenty-two schools. Rescue efforts have been hampered in part because the flood destroyed dozens of bridges. Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari is facing intense criticism for his government’s slow response to the crisis and his decision not to cancel a planned trip to Europe.
Joint Chiefs of Staff chair Admiral Mike Mullen acknowledged Sunday that the US military has developed a plan to attack Iran and its nuclear facilities, although he said such a strike is an undesirable option.
Mike Mullen: "The military options have been on the table and remain on the table, and certainly, in that regard, it’s one of the options that the President has. Again, I hope we don’t get to that, but it’s an important option, and it’s one that’s well understood."
The Iraqi government is reporting 535 people were killed in the country last month, making it Iraq’s deadliest month since May 2008. The Iraqi government said the dead included 396 civilians, eighty-nine police officers and fifty soldiers. The US military disputed the numbers, claiming that just over 200 people were killed last month.
There have been a number of developments in the US government’s investigation into the whistleblowing website WikiLeaks and the recent leaking of over 90,000 secret military reports about Afghanistan. On Thursday, authorities at Newark Liberty International Airport detained and questioned a twenty-seven-year-old WikiLeaks volunteer named Jacob Appelbaum. He was questioned for three hours and had his laptop computer and three cellphones seized. Appelbaum is a US citizen who was arriving in Newark after an international flight.
Meanwhile, investigators in the Army’s criminal division have reportedly questioned two students in Boston about their ties to WikiLeaks and Private First Class Bradley Manning, a leading suspect in the leak. Adrian Lamo, the hacker who turned Manning in, says two students at MIT have admitted to him that they assisted Manning in downloading and distributing the leaked documents.
A global treaty banning cluster bombs went into force on Sunday. The Convention on Cluster Munitions prohibits the use, production, stockpiling and transfer of the weapon, which is blamed for maiming and killing tens of thousands of civilians. The United States has shunned the treaty even though it is the world’s largest producer of cluster munitions with a stockpile of 800 million submunitions. Steve Goose of Human Rights Watch say he hopes support for the convention will help to stigmatize the use of the weapons even in countries who have not yet signed it.
Steve Goose: "We’re convinced that this convention will have a big impact, even on those states that have not yet joined. There are some big powers out there who’ve not yet joined up to the convention — the US, Russia and Israel — states that have used the weapon extensively in the past. We think that they are going to feel the power of this new convention. We think that the convention is stigmatizing the weapon all around the world and that states will be reluctant to ever use it again."
An Israeli air strike on Gaza City killed a Hamas commander on Friday and wounded eleven others. Israel launched the attack on Friday after a rocket was fired from Gaza into the Israeli city of Ashkelon.
Former Federal Reserve chair Alan Greenspan has come out in favor of letting the Bush administration tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans expire. Appearing on Meet the Press, Greenspan said the tax revenue is needed to reduce the federal budget deficit.
Alan Greenspan: "I’m very much in favor of tax cuts, but not with borrowed money. And the problem that we’ve gotten into in recent years is spending programs with borrowed money, tax cuts with borrowed money. And, at the end of the day, that proves disastrous. And my view is I don’t think we can play subtle policy here."
The United Arab Emirates has announced plans to ban BlackBerry messaging, email and internet services because BlackBerry uses a highly encrypted data system that makes it more difficult for governments to monitor communications. Saudi Arabia may also institute a similar ban.
New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo has announced plans to investigate whether life insurance companies, including Prudential and MetLife, are defrauding the families of dead American soldiers and Marines out of their full death benefits. A recent investigation by Bloomberg News revealed Prudential earns interest of more than five-and-a-half percent on veterans’ life insurance policies and pays beneficiaries only one percent.
Congressional sources have revealed that Democratic Congresswoman Maxine Waters of California will face an ethics trial later this year likely related to allegations that she sought to help OneUnited Bank receive federal bailout funds at a time when her husband owned stock in the bank and served on its board. OneUnited Bank is one of the nation’s largest minority-owned banks. Democratic Congressman Charles Rangel is also facing an upcoming trial for thirteen alleged violations of House ethics rules. Both Waters and Rangel are longtime members of the Congressional Black Caucus. The caucus has long complained that the House ethics process disproportionately targets African Americans in the chamber. The Los Angeles Times reports that since its 2009 inception, the Office of Congressional Ethics has investigated at least eight members of the black caucus.
An Argentinean actor and his agent have became the first gay couple to marry in Buenos Aires after an historic vote made Argentina the first country in South America to allow same-sex marriages. Actor Ernesto Larrese and his agent Alejandro Vannelli have been together for thirty-four years, but jumped at the chance of making their union official.
Ernesto Larrese: "The sick are the homophobes, not the homosexuals. The sick are the people with claustrophobia, not the elevators. The sick are the people with xenophobia, not the foreigners. Why would an airplane be at fault for someone’s fear of heights? Why would we homosexuals be at fault for the people who suffer from this illness called homophobia. There’s a wonderful and simple way of curing these phobias and fears: with an antidote called love."
The Committee to Protect Journalists has condemned the murder of a journalist in West Papua. The body of Ardiansyah Matra’is was found in a river days after he was one of four journalists to receive death threats. The killing comes just weeks after thousands of Papuans took to the streets demanding a referendum on West Papuan independence from Indonesia and an internationally mediated dialogue with Jakarta.
Here in New York, the controversy over plans to build a mosque and Islamic community center two blocks from Ground Zero is intensifying after the Anti-Defamation League came out against the project. In a statement, Abe Foxman, the head of the ADL, said, "Building an Islamic Center in the shadow of the World Trade Center will cause some victims more pain."
The mothers of three American hikers who are being detained in Iran held a protest in Manhattan on Friday to mark the one-year anniversary of the imprisonment of their children.
Nora Shourd, mother of Sarah Shourd: "The place where we are here today, if people are not aware, is the Iranian mission, which is the closest we can get to speaking to someone in the Iranian government directly, and that’s why we’re here today. It’s been very frustrating for us all along to not be able to talk to someone who’s directly responsible for holding our kids. You know, this is as close as we can get, but we’re knocking on the door symbolically here, too."
The FBI has revealed it began tracking the late historian Howard Zinn in 1949, well before he became a national figure in the civil rights and antiwar movement. On Friday, the FBI released a 243-page file on Zinn, who died in January at age eighty-seven.
The Puerto Rican nationalist Lolita Lebron has died at the age of ninety. On March 1, 1954, Lebron and three other Puerto Rican nationalists entered the US Capitol with automatic pistols and opened fire from an upstairs spectators’ gallery onto the crowded floor of the House. They fired nearly thirty shots. No one died in the attack, but five congressmen were wounded. During the attack, Lebron shouted, "Viva Puerto Rico libre!" Shortly after her arrest, Lebron defended her actions at the US Capitol.
Journalist: "Did you shoot to kill or to wound?"
Lolita Lebron: "Not to kill."
Journalist: "What was the purpose of this shooting?"
Lebron: "The purpose of the shooting was...a cry of freedom for my country."
Journalist: "Miss, can you tell us whose idea this was?"
Lebron: "It’s my idea and our idea. The four of us’ idea."
Journalist: "Are you sorry you shot these five congressmen?"
Lebron: "I am not sorry."
Journalist: "What did you say, miss?"
Lebron: "I’m not sorry, because [it was] an act of freedom for my country."
After her release from jail, Lolita Lebron continued to protest US control of Puerto Rico. In 2001, at the age of eighty-one, she was arrested protesting the US military’s bombing range at Vieques.