President Bush has arrived in Saudi Arabia in his first trip to the kingdom as president. This comes as the Bush administration is seeking congressional approval to sell 900 sophisticated satellite-guided missiles to Saudi Arabia as part of a $20 billion arms sale to Persian Gulf allies.
Ahead of President Bush’s visit, Saudi Arabia detained several prominent dissidents, including Fouad Ahmed al-Farhan, who runs a popular pro-reform blog. Al-Farhan has been jailed without charge since December 10. On Wednesday, President Bush plans to meet with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak who has also been criticized for jailing dissidents and bloggers.
One online journalist, Abdel Karim Suleiman, is serving a four-year prison sentence for allegedly insulting Islam and Mubarak. The Committee to Protect Journalists has called on Bush to urge King Abdullah and President Mubarak to release the jailed journalists and bloggers. Meanwhile in Cairo, several hundred opposition activists demonstrated on Monday against Bush’s scheduled visit.
Police confined the protesters to the steps of the Journalists Syndicate in Cairo.
Opposition MP Mustafa Bakri criticized Mubarak for inviting President Bush.
Mustafa Bakri: “This visit has a specific agenda. First of all, it’s against the resistance, and it’s meant to rally the Arab leaders against Iran and to continue the interference in the foreign policies of Arab states. Therefore we reject this visit, and I have requested in Parliament that Bush be kicked out and not be received. And we have to demonstrate and clearly express our opinions against Bush and his government.”
Israeli forces have killed at least seventeen Palestinians in a series of ground and air raids on Gaza. Another forty-five Palestinians were injured. Killed in one of the raids was Husam Zahar, the twenty-four-year-old son of Mahmoud Zahar, one of the founders of Hamas. In 2004, Zahar’s eldest son was killed in a failed Israeli attempt to assassinate him. Meanwhile, a Palestinian sniper killed an Ecuadorian worker on an Israeli farm near the Gaza Strip. The Israeli attack on Gaza came just hours after Israel and the Palestinians opened what has been described as their most ambitious peace negotiations in seven years. Saeb Erekat, an aide to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, said the two sides need to make 2008 the year of peace.
Saeb Erekat: “I believe now it’s time for decisions by leaders, more than negotiations. I believe the parameters are defined. I believe it’s doable, and I believe, if you look at the road map, it’s specifying the objectives of the peace process to end the Israeli occupation that began at 1967. We know it’s going to be a two-state solution, and I hope that leaders on both sides will deliver the decisions required to make the year 2008 a year of peace.”
But Hamas officials have rejected the talks with Israel.
Sami Abu Zuhri, Hamas: “We consider that such meetings provide coverage for the occupation in order for them to continue with their crimes against the Palestinian people.”
Iraq’s defense minister has said foreign troops will likely need to stay in Iraq to help defend its borders for at least another ten years. During a visit to the United States, Abdul Qadir said, “Regarding protection from any external threats, our calculation appears that we are not going to be able to answer to any external threats until 2018 to 2020.”
Meanwhile, the U.S. military is preparing to send another 3,200 Marines to Afghanistan. This will bring the total number of U.S. forces in Afghanistan to about 30,000 – the highest level since the U.S. invasion over six years ago.
On Monday, seven people died in Kabul after militants attacked the city’s most luxurious hotel. Killed in the attack was a Norwegian journalist named Carsten Thomassen.
In campaign news, voters head to the polls today in Michigan. In recent days, Republicans Mitt Romney and John McCain have fought over how to help protect the auto industry in Michigan, which has the highest unemployment rate in the country. Romney, who was born in Michigan, criticized efforts by McCain and other Washington politicians to make cars more fuel efficient.
Romney described stricter fuel standards as an unfunded mandate from Washington that will cripple the auto industry. Romney said, “Let’s take those burdens off and let our companies compete.” According to the New York Times, Romney has said little on the campaign trail about the potential dangers of climate change and almost nothing about curbing greenhouse emissions. McCain has called for capping gas emissions linked to global warming and higher fuel economy standards.
In other campaign news, a Nevada judge has ordered MSNBC to include Congressman Dennis Kucinich in tonight’s Democratic debate. Kucinich sued MSNBC after it disinvited him just two days after it announced that he had met the criteria to take part in the debate. The judge said he would issue an injunction stopping the debate if Kucinich is excluded. MSNBC has announced plans to file an appeal in the case.
In business news, Citigroup is expected to announce a new wave of layoffs as the bank continues to lose billions of dollars in the subprime mortgage crisis. Citigroup could layoff as many as 30,000 employees. The bank plans to announce a writedown of $24 billion. Citigroup is not the only corporation preparing for mass layoffs. The telecom firm Sprint-Nextel has revealed it plans to lay off several thousand employees on top of the 5,000 laid off last year. And the music company EMI says it plans to let go up to 2,000 workers, about a third of its workforce.
The House Oversight Committee has begun probing the lucrative severance and compensation packages awarded to CEOs involved in the subprime mortgage crisis. Angelo Mozilo, the co-founder of the mortgage giant Countrywide, is one of several CEOs who has been invited to testify before the committee in February. Last week, Bank Of America announced it was purchasing Countrywide, which holds one in six home loans in the U.S.
The Los Angeles Times reports Mozilo stands to make upward of $115 million after the sale goes through, even though Countrywide was at the center of the subprime mortgage scandal.
Former Federal Reserve Chair Alan Greenspan has become an adviser to a New York hedge fund that has made billions of dollars on the subprime mortgage crisis. The firm, Paulson & Company, made an estimated $15 billon by making aggressive bets against subprime home loans. The Wall Street Journal reports the head of the fund John Paulson made an estimated three or four billion dollars last year – it is believed to be the largest one-year payday in Wall Street history.
In news from Kenya, the McClatchy newspapers reports an exit poll carried out on behalf of a U.S. government-backed foundation indicated that Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki suffered a resounding defeat in last month’s disputed election. The poll by the Washington-based International Republican Institute further undermines Kibaki’s claims of a narrow re-election victory. The poll showed opposition leader Raila Odinga won by roughly eight percent. Meanwhile Human Rights Watch has accused Kenyan police of using live ammunition to break up protests. In the city of Kisuma, the group said it received credible reports that police shot dead dozens of people demonstrating against the election results. More than 600 people have died in post-election violence.
The British government is planning to begin implanting machine readable microchips under the skin of thousands of convicts to help enforce home curfews. The Independent of London reports radio frequency identification or RFID tags would be surgically inserted into the former prisoners. The spychips would contain scannable personal information about individuals, including their identities, address and criminal record. The government is also investigating how it could use satellite and radio-wave technology to monitor the released prisoners.
In media news, the Federal Communications Commission has approved a nearly $20 billion deal to sell Clear Channel Communications, the nation’s largest radio broadcaster, to a group of private investors. One of the investors buying Clear Channel is Bain Capital Partners, the Boston-based private-equity firm founded in 1984 by Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.
Australia’s Federal Court has ordered Japan to stop hunting and killing whales anywhere around its coastline or off Australian Antarctic territory. Meanwhile, Greenpeace activists have been chasing Japanese whaling ships in an attempt to disrupt the whaling hunt. On Sunday, Greenpeace said it had driven a Japanese whaling fleet out of the Southern Ocean hunting grounds after a twenty-four-hour high speed chase over hundreds of miles through fog and increasingly rough seas. When the Greenpeace ship approached the whaling fleet, Greenpeace activist Karli Thomas addressed the whale hunters.
Karli Thomas: “Our vessel and crew are here in the Southern Ocean to condemn your hunt, which includes endangered species, and to insist that you return to port immediately. We represent millions of people around the world who want to see an end to whaling in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary. We join with the majority of people in Japan who do not support whaling on the high seas.”