In Afghanistan, the US has admitted to killing thirty-seven civilians and wounding dozens more in a military attack last week. The victims were bombed as they attended a wedding party outside the city of Kandahar. The Pentagon says the US bombed the area after coming under fire from nearby militants. It was the Pentagon’s quickest admission of a mass killing of Afghan civilians to date. It took nearly two months before the US admitted killing up to ninety civilians in a similar attack in August.
The Pentagon’s admission has come as the Bush administration has announced plans to go ahead with a major expansion to a key military base used as a staging ground for its air strikes around Afghanistan. The US plans to spend $100 million to add more space to Kandahar airfield.
In Iraq, at least twenty-eight people were killed today in a triple bombing on a crowded Baghdad market. Another sixty-eight people were wounded. Meanwhile, in Baquba, a female suicide bomber has killed six people in an attack near a US-allied militia checkpoint. Iraq has suffered some of its worst violence in months this past week. At least twelve people were killed in separate bombings this weekend, capping a week of daily attacks. On Sunday, at least ten people were killed when a female suicide bomber detonated explosives in a Fallujah hospital.
In other Iraq news, United Press International is reporting the Iraqi government has drafted a deal with that would give the oil giant Royal Dutch Shell the biggest foreign role in Iraqi petroleum in four decades. The twenty-five-year agreement would let Shell capture gas wasted during the extraction of oil in Basra.
The Washington Post has revealed the recent $700 billion taxpayer bailout of Wall Street contains a possibly illegal provision that stands to give American banks a massive windfall. As part of the bailout, lawmakers changed tax code Section 382, which limits the kinds of tax shelters companies can use during corporate mergers. It was created to stop companies who avoid paying taxes by acquiring shell companies valued by the losses on their stocks. The companies would then write off the losses and avoid paying taxes on their own profits. Taxpayers stand to lose some $140 billion from the move. Experts say the Treasury had no legal authority to eliminate the tax measure. Republicans have been trying to overhaul or eliminate it since its introduction in 1986. Congressional aides admitted lawmakers agreed to keep the change hidden to avoid public outrage. Staffers with Senate Finance Committee chair, Max Baucus, a Democrat, reportedly asked that an administration briefing on the tax code change be kept secret. One congressional aide said, “We’re all nervous about saying that this was illegal because of our fears about the marketplace. To the extent we want to try to publicly stop this, we’re going to be gumming up some important deals.”
News of the deliberate bank windfall measure comes as a new round of social welfare cuts are likely in the state where most of these firms are based. On Sunday, New York Governor David Paterson said he will seek billions of dollars in cuts to Medicaid and education funding. Paterson cited a rise in the state deficit worsened by the financial crisis on Wall Street.
In other bailout news, Treasury officials are finalizing a new rescue package for the troubled insurance giant American International Group. The government has already loaned AIG $143 billion. The plan would restructure the loan to give AIG more time to pay it back at a lower rate.
Aides to President-elect Barack Obama have begun to outline his top priorities upon taking office. On Sunday, incoming chief of staff Rahm Emanuel said Obama would push ahead with a middle-class tax cut and a tax increase for higher-income Americans. Obama has pledged to undo the Bush administration tax cut for Americans making more than $250,000 a year. Emanuel also said Obama would move to expand healthcare access, but didn’t give details. Meanwhile, Obama’s transition team says it’s reviewing hundreds of actions taken by President Bush using executive authority. The Obama camp says it might overturn a wide variety of executive orders, including limits on stem cell research, abortion funding and the expansion of oil and gas drilling.
Obama heads to the White House today for a meeting with President Bush. It’s expected to be his only White House visit before he takes office in January. On Friday, Obama held his first news conference as President-elect.
President-elect Obama: “I do not underestimate the enormity of the task that lies ahead. We have taken some major action to date, and we will need further action during this transition and subsequent months. Some of the choices that we make are going to be difficult. And I have said before and I will repeat again, it is not going to be quick, and it is not going to be easy for us to dig ourselves out of the hole that we are in. But America is a strong and resilient country. And I know we will succeed.”
During Obama’s remarks to reporters Friday, he also addressed Iran’s nuclear activities.
President-elect Obama: “Iran’s development of a nuclear weapon, I believe, is unacceptable, and we have to mount an international effort to prevent that from happening. Iran’s support of terrorist organizations, I think, is something that has to cease.”
Obama immediately came under criticism from the head of Iran’s parliament, Ali Larijani.
Ali Larijani: “The expectation of the international scene is that the change should have strategic bases, not just daily remarks about Iran’s nuclear issue that we have seen Mr. Obama say recently. It is a step in the wrong direction. If they [the US government] want their conditions to change in the region, they should send the right signals to show that they have a correct understanding of the region’s public voices and the general hatred that existed in the region towards the US.”
Obama differed from opponents on the campaign trail after vowing to hold talks with Iran without preconditions.
Meanwhile, the Associated Press is reporting Obama advisers are crafting a plan that would put Guantanamo Bay prisoners on trial in US courts. Under the proposal, some prisoners would be freed, while others would be sent to the US for trial in criminal courts. A third group of prisoners would go in front of a new court system designed to handle so-called “national security” cases.
Obama has also announced he won’t commit to continuing the Bush administration’s controversial missile shield in eastern Europe. A spokesperson clarified Obama’s stance after Polish President Lech Kaczynski said Obama had told him the program would continue under the new administration. The program has been widely derided as bellicose, expensive and useless to its stated goals of protecting national security. Poland would host ten ballistic missiles along with a radar site in the Czech Republic. The Bush administration says the missile system would protect Europe from Iranian missiles, but it’s widely seen as a first-strike weapon.
Newly disclosed accounts from international monitors have cast further doubt on Georgia’s motives for launching a US-backed armed conflict with Russia earlier this year. Georgia attacked two breakaway provinces after claiming its forces had come under Russian fire. But according to the New York Times, monitors with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said there was scant proof Russia attacked when Georgia claimed. Monitors stationed near the Georgian areas reported hearing no rounds fired from the Russian side. Instead, monitors recorded an intense Georgian attack on the separatist capital of Tskhinvali. At least forty-eight rounds were fired on a civilian area in the first hour of the Georgian attack. Russian forces stationed there also came under fire.
In Chile, artists from around the world gathered in the capital Santiago for a weekend concert honoring the late former President Salvador Allende. Allende was overthrown in a 1973 US-backed military coup. His daughter, Isabel Allende, said her father has become a universal symbol for democratic socialism.
Isabel Allende: “We see in Salvador Allende a universal symbol. He was the first democrat who, in Chile, tried to take a path of socialism within the framework of democracy, pluralism and freedom.”
Amnesty International is calling on the incoming Obama administration to lift the US embargo on Cuba and renounce the use of torture. Amnesty International Secretary General Irene Khan spoke Friday in Chile.
Irene Khan: “We feel that Obama should restore the moral leadership of the US by taking a number of very concrete measures related largely to the actions of the Bush administration and the way in which the Bush administration undermined fundamental human rights principles. Obama should close Guantanamo. Obama should make a public statement confirming the prohibition of — against torture and ill treatment. And most importantly, Obama should ensure that there is an independent investigation and inquiry into all that has gone on under the name of the war on terror to abuse and undermine human rights.”
China has announced a new $586 billion economic stimulus package, the largest in its history. The Chinese government says it will use the money to relax credit restrictions, expand social welfare services and start new infrastructure programs.
In Haiti, rescue efforts have ended at a school that collapsed on Saturday, killing ninety-three people inside, most of them children. Another 150 were injured by the force of the falling cement and steel. The school is set to be demolished.
In environmental news, a new round of studies shows the recent rise in global temperatures marks the most dramatic climate change since the onset of human civilization 5,000 years ago. Researchers at Cornell University studied fresh water levels from glacial melting, oceanic circulation and range migration in the Arctic and North Atlantic. The study found what it calls a “major ecosystem reorganization” or “regime shift” unprecedented in human history.
Back in the United States, the national unemployment rate has reached a fourteen-year high. New figures from the Labor Department show the jobless rate hit 6.5 percent last month, as the economy shed 240,000 jobs. More than 1.2 million jobs have been lost so far this year.
In California, protests continue against last week’s passage of a ban on gay marriage. Proposition 8 would amend the state constitution to recognize marriage only between a man and a woman. On Friday, thousands of people marched in San Francisco.
Protester: “I think it is the right of all gay Americans to be able to marry, and I feel that because our rights were taken away, I have no choice but to come out with our community and stand with everyone.”
Three lawsuits have been filed to challenge Prop 8’s constitutionality. The California Supreme Court struck down an earlier statewide same-sex marriage ban in May.
The American Civil Liberties Union is criticizing a federal court ruling upholding the ejection of three Denver residents from a speech by President Bush in 2005. The “Denver Three,” as they’ve come to be known, were removed before Bush took the stage. They weren’t being disruptive. White House staffers forced them out after noticing they had parked in a car with a bumper sticker reading “no blood for oil.” Bush was in Denver as part of a national tour promoting his now widely discredited plan to privatize Social Security. The ACLU had sued the White House for infringing on the residents’ constitutional rights. But in a new ruling, US District Court Judge Wiley Daniel said the “Denver Three” had no guaranteed right to be present.
The Secret Service has disclosed Republican attacks led to a spike in death threats against Barack Obama during the final weeks of the presidential campaign. According to Newsweek magazine, threats on Obama’s life peaked after then-Republican vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin accused him of “palling around with terrorists.” Palin was referring to Obama’s tenuous ties to William Ayers, who once hosted a gathering for Obama during his first run for office.
And the South African singer Miriam Makeba has died at the age of seventy-six. She was as a leading symbol in the struggle against apartheid. She died just after a concert in Italy.