More evidence has emerged that the U.S. drone war effort has been expanded into the African nation of Somalia. The Washington Post reports a U.S. drone attacked senior members of the Islamist militant group al-Shabab last week. The United States is now carrying out drone strikes in at least six countries: Afghanistan, Pakistan, Libya, Iraq, Yemen and Somalia. Since taking office, President Obama has greatly ramped up the U.S. use of armed drones.
In Pakistan, the backlash against the U.S. drone war continues to intensify. Pakistan’s defense minister told journalists on Wednesday that Pakistan has told the U.S. to stop using the Shamsi air base in the southwest of the country to launch drone strikes.
Greece’s parliament is expected to pass a second austerity bill today to enable the country to avert bankruptcy by securing a $17 billion loan from the European Union and International Monetary Fund. Lawmakers passed the initial austerity legislation on Wednesday following a plea from Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou.
Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou: "We must avoid at all costs the collapse of the country. We must always be able to have the possibility to discuss the present and the future, to be able to correct our mistakes along the way, as needed, to be able to move forward on initiatives when needed. Many people are protesting outside, some because they really are suffering an injustice, they really are suffering, others because are losing perks that they had become used to. They are protesting, and that is their democratic right. But the crucial thing is that no one, not any family, not any of us, lives through the consequences of a collapse."
Massive anti-government protests continue in Greece. On Wednesday, street fighting was seen in parts of Athens between police officers and protesters on the second day of a 48-hour general strike.
In Britain, hundreds of thousands of public sector workers have launched a one-day national strike to protest sweeping cuts in government spending and changes to the country’s pension system. Mark Serwotka is general secretary of the Public and Commercial Services Union.
Mark Serwotka, General Secretary of PCS Union: "We’ll see everything from thousands of schools closed to queues at airports, driving tests canceled, prisoners detained in police cells, court sittings shut, and anyone trying to access the benefit or tax credit system will probably find their telephone calls are not answered. So we think there will be severe disruption. And we hope, when the government sees the strength of feeling of their own staff, they will start meaningfully negotiating with us."
President Obama pressured Republicans Wednesday to increase the nation’s debt ceiling, which caps how much the United States can borrow. The Standard and Poor’s rating agency recently said it would immediately cut the United States’ top-notch credit rating if it missed a $30 billion debt payment on August 4. President Obama addressed the issue at his first formal news conference in more than three months.
President Barack Obama: "I want everybody to understand that this is a jobs issue, this is not an abstraction. If the United States government, for the first time, cannot pay its bills, if it defaults, then the consequences for the U.S. economy will be significant and unpredictable, and that is not a good thing."
At Wednesday’s news conference, President Obama defended his handling of the U.S. and NATO military operations in Libya.
President Barack Obama: "We’ve protected thousands of people in Libya. We have not seen a single U.S. casualty. There’s no risks of additional escalation. This operation is limited in time and in scope. So I said to the American people, here’s our narrow mission. We have carried out that narrow mission in exemplary fashion. And throughout this process, we consulted with Congress."
President Obama rejected criticism by some in Congress that the U.S. military effort in Libya was illegal because he did not have congressional approval.
President Barack Obama: "I think that such consultation is entirely appropriate. But do I think that our actions in any way violate the War Powers Resolution? The answer is no."
In news on Libya, the French military has confirmed reports they have secretly supplied arms to Libyan rebel groups fighting Col. Muammar Gaddafi’s forces. Earlier this month, France parachuted assault rifles and other weapons into a mountainous area about 50 miles southwest of Tripoli. Meanwhile, the head of the African Union has warned that France’s actions could contribute to the "destabilization" of African states.
Three U.S. soldiers were killed in action in southern Iraq on Wednesday. So far this month, 15 U.S. soldiers have died in Iraq, 14 of them in combat. This marks the highest number of U.S. combat fatalities in a single month in three years, despite the Obama administration claim that the U.S. combat mission had ended in Iraq.
A new report is estimating the true cost of the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will end up being approximately $4 trillion — far more than the Bush or Obama administrations have acknowledged. The report also estimates between 224,000 and 258,000 people have died directly from warfare, including 125,000 civilians in Iraq. Brown University Professor Catherine Lutz is the co-director of the "Costs of War" report.
Catherine Lutz, co-director of report and professor at Brown University: "Three of the key things that we’ve found were that the numbers of people who have died in this war are much higher than the American public realizes. There have been many, many deaths in the military and civilian sectors that haven’t been adequately counted or recognized, and so we’ve tried to put that all together. The second thing that we found was that the financial costs are also much higher than people recognize, because people have been focusing overly much on simply the Pentagon special allocations for the wars, and they haven’t been looking at things like interest payment on the debt that was incurred in order to raise that money. They haven’t been looking at future obligated costs to veterans for their healthcare, and a number of other very important parts of the budget that have to be counted in order to say what this war cost."
The Los Alamos National laboratory in New Mexico, the top nuclear lab in the United States, remains shut down due to a massive wildfire. Officials say about an acre of lab property burned on Monday. A plane equipped with radiation monitors is now flying over the lab to test the air quality.
A top U.S. government climate scientist said this past spring had some of the most extreme weather the country has seen in the past century with epic floods, massive wildfires, drought and deadly tornadoes. Deke Arndt, the chief of climate monitoring for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said the extreme weather is in line with what is forecast for the future as a consequence of global warming. Arndt said, "In general, but not everywhere, it is expected that the wetter places will get wetter and the drier places will tend to see more prolonged dry periods."
In climate news, the aid group Save the Children is reporting the massive drought in Somalia has resulted in a mass influx of climate refugees fleeing for Kenya. The group estimates 800 Somali children cross into Kenya every day to escape the drought. The United Nations estimates the drought has impacted 10 million people in Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia and Uganda. Mark Bowden is the United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator for Somalia.
Mark Bowden, United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator for Somalia: "My final message is that we need to take action now if we’re to avert a far larger scale of crisis. There are worrying reports from international agencies working in south Somalia that levels of malnutrition are increasing, possibly some rates of adult malnutrition, which I think is a very critical indicator of the levels of distress that are being faced in the area. Unless we are able to take action now, I think that we are likely to see not just more migration, but a level of deaths in Somalia that takes us back almost 20 years and certainly has been unparalleled in the recent decade."
A U.S. judge has sentenced three men from Newburgh, New York, to 25 years in prison for allegedly plotting to bomb a synagogue and a Jewish community center in the Bronx. The men were arrested in an FBI sting operation, along with one other man. Defense attorneys argued the men were entrapped by government agents and not predisposed to commit a terrorist crime. Government prosecutors had sought life sentences for three men, but U.S. District Judge Colleen McMahon sentenced them to 25 years. Judge McMahon acknowledged from the bench that the men were not terrorists as alleged by the government and that no crime would have occurred if not for the role of the FBI informant. She told the men, "You were not religious or political martyrs. You were thugs for hire." Last year, Alicia McWilliams-McCollum, the aunt of one of the defendants, spoke with Democracy Now! about the case.
Alicia McWilliams-McCollum: "This is entrapment. You’re going to send an informant into an impoverished community, the most impoverished county, to do your trickery. You ain’t stumbled upon a cell. Nobody ain’t tell you that someone was plotting to do anything. You created a crime!"
A federal appeals court in Ohio has ruled in favor of the Obama administration’s healthcare program, agreeing the government can require a minimum amount of insurance for Americans. The decision marked the first federal appeals court ruling on the hotly debated healthcare plan and the first time a Republican federal court appointee has ruled in favor of the law.
Government regulators have revealed officials at the West Virginia coal mine owned by Massey Energy, where 29 men died last year, kept separate sets of safety records—one for inspectors and one detailing the actual conditions on the site. According to interviews conducted by the Mine Safety and Health Administration, 266 people reported that managers of the Upper Big Branch mine pressured workers not to record hazards and kept two separate sets of books to avoid inspector scrutiny and to keep coal production running smoothly.
Thousands converged in Columbus, Ohio, Wednesday to deliver signatures aimed at repealing the state’s new collective bargaining law. Nearly 1.3 million signatures were delivered to Ohio’s secretary of state — far more than the 230,000 required to get the referendum on Ohio’s November ballot. If added, the referendum would invalidate Senate Bill 5, which bans public employee strikes and restricts collective bargaining rights for more than 350,000 teachers, police officers, state employees and others. The bill also eliminates the rights of unions to bargain on healthcare, sick time or pension benefits.
In California, the Bay Area transit agency has agreed to pay $1.3 million to settle a federal civil rights lawsuit brought by the family of Oscar Grant, who was shot dead on a train platform on New Year’s Day 2009.