On Capitol Hill, Senate Republicans have managed to block the Senate from voting on a nonbinding resolution opposing President Bush’s escalation of the war in Iraq. The resolution would have marked the first effort by Congress in four years to confront President Bush over the war. This is Democratic senator and presidential candidate Joseph Biden:
Sen. Joseph Biden: “If the president does not listen to the majority of Congress and the majority of the American people, we will look at other ways to turn the surge around. Even if we succeed in that effort, we still need to turn our overall Iraq policy around. We need a strategy that can produce a political settlement in Iraq. That’s the only way to stop Shiites and Sunnis from killing each other and to allow our troops to leave Iraq without trading a dictator for chaos.”
Independent Senator Joseph Lieberman joined with Republicans in filibustering the measure. Republicans Susan Collins of Maine and Norm Coleman of Minnesota switched sides and voted with the Democrats. Both Collins and Coleman are up for re-election in 2008.
An Iranian diplomat has been kidnapped in Baghdad. An Iranian government spokesperson said the diplomat, Jalal Sharafi, was seized by gunmen linked to the Iraqi Defense Ministry. Iran condemned the kidnapping and said it held the United States responsible for his life. Iraqi officials earlier said the gunmen were wearing uniforms of the Iraqi 36th Commando Battalion, a special Iraqi unit under U.S. direction. The diplomat was seized on Sunday night outside of the Baghdad branch of an Iranian state-owned bank. Last month, U.S. forces arrested five Iranians during a predawn raid on the Iranian Consulate in Erbil in northern Iraq. President Bush recently authorized U.S. troops in Iraq to kill or capture Iranian agents deemed to be a threat.
At least 74 people died in Iraq on Monday. This comes as Iraqi troops are setting up new checkpoints in Baghdad as part of a campaign to pacify the city following a week that saw over 1,000 people die. On Monday, President Bush said he sees good signs coming out of Iraq.
President Bush: “I appreciate the fact that the Iraqi government is anxious to get security inside the — the capital of their country. It’s a good sign. It’s a good sign that there’s a sense of concern and anxiety. It means that the government understands they have a responsibility to protect their people. And — and we want to help them.”
The British newspaper The Sun has obtained video purportedly showing a U.S. pilot mistakenly bombing a British tank convoy in the early days of the war. A 25-year-old British soldier named Matty Hull died in the bombing. The video was purportedly taken from the cockpit of the U.S. jet. The Bush administration classified the video as secret in an attempt to prevent its broadcast or from it ever being used in court. Meanwhile, the British death toll in Iraq has reached 100. A British soldier died on Monday in a roadside bombing in Basra.
In other Iraq news, CNN has revealed that a man once sentenced to death in Kuwait for the 1983 bombings of the U.S. and French embassies now sits in Iraq’s Parliament. The man, Jamal Jafaar Mohammed, is a member of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s ruling coalition. U.S. military officials are accusing him of being an Iranian agent and a supporter of Shiite death squads.
In Washington, President Bush sent his $2.9 trillion budget proposal to Congress on Monday. If approved, the budget will bring defense spending to levels not seen since the Reagan administration. Bush is seeking over $700 billion for the Pentagon as well as for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Sen. Kent Conrad (D-ND), the chair of the Senate Budget Committee: “The president’s proposals, if adopted as presented, would take us right over the cliff into a chasm of debt. The president, over the long term, his proposals would put us awash in red ink.”
The military funding request is greater than the annual gross domestic product of all but 14 countries.
President Bush: “Our priority is to protect the American people. And our priority is to make sure our troops have what it takes to do their jobs. And we also have got priorities of national parks and education and healthcare. But we approve it, and I strongly believe Congress needs to listen to a budget which says no tax increase, and a budget, because of fiscal discipline, that can be balanced in five years.”
President Bush’s budget also calls for about $80 billion in cuts from Medicare and Medicaid programs over the next five years. Other programs facing budget cuts include Head Start, the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program and funding for housing for low-income seniors. Critics also say the president’s funding request for the Children’s Health Insurance Program falls far short of what is needed to keep covering the six million children now in the program. Meanwhile, President Bush has asked for a 12 percent increase in foreign aid. Israel is slated to remain the biggest recipient of U.S. aid with $2.4 billion budgeted for next year. President Bush’s budget also calls for more money to expand government propaganda broadcasts into North Korea, Iran and Cuba.
On Capitol Hill, the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform is holding four days of hearings this week to examine waste, fraud and abuse within the government. Today, former Ambassador Paul Bremer will be questioned about the reconstruction of Iraq and mistakes he made as head of the Coalition Provisional Authority. On Wednesday, the House panel will examine the Pentagon’s reliance on private military contractors.
The United Nations has decided to close all of its schools in Gaza because of ongoing violence between the Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah. About 200,000 children attend schools run by the United Nations Works and Relief Agency for Palestine Refugees.
The BBC is reporting Saudi authorities are remaining tight-lipped about the identities of 10 men arrested on Friday on suspicion of funding insurgents outside the country. A defense lawyer says the men are reformists with no links to terrorism. In the past, the 10 signed petitions condemning violence and calling for political reform.
In Oaxaca, Mexico, tens of thousands of protesters and teachers marched over the weekend to show support for the ongoing popular resistance against the local government. Marchers called for Governor Ulises Ruiz to resign and for the release of all political prisoners including Flavio Sosa, a leader of APPO, the Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca.
Martin Orozco, a teacher in Oaxaca: “We want to ask the federal government why it has not fulfilled the accords signed by Mr. Abascal. They continue to repress and jail our colleagues. They have also raided some schools in different states.”
On Capitol Hill, 10 peace activists were arrested on Monday after occupying the offices of Senator John McCain of Arizona. The activists tried to meet with one of McCain’s aides but were denied. The activists sang the names of 75 servicemembers from Arizona who have died in Iraq. The action was part of the newly launched Occupation Project. Activists plan to occupy the offices of lawmakers who refuse to pledge to vote against additional war funding.
The court-martial of First Lieutenant Ehren Watada is continuing today in Washington state. Watada is the first commissioned officer in the country to publicly refuse deployment to Iraq. On Monday, the judge, Lt. Col. John Head, reinforced an earlier ruling that Watada could not base his defense on his contention that the Iraq War is illegal.
In political news, former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani has taken the next step to running for the Republican nomination for president. On Monday, he filed a “statement of candidacy” with the Federal Election Commission.
Democratic candidate Dennis Kucinich has reintroduced a bill in the House to establish a Department of Peace and Nonviolence.
In France, the farmer and activist Jose Bove has announced plans to run in the country’s upcoming presidential election.
Jose Bove: “I have decided to accept that my name be added to the election ballot as part of a united battle against the right and to give new hope as an alternative left.”
Jose Bove has been a leading critic of genetically modified crops and corporate globalization.
In education news, Emory University in Georgia has announced that the Dalai Lama will be become a distinguished professor at the school. Over the weekend, the Tibetan spiritual leader spoke at a three-day international symposium on Buddhism in India.
Dalai Lama: “Buddhist faith must come from analytical meditation, analyze using our intelligence maximum way, throughout that way. Faith should not just be blind faith, faith without reason.”