President Bush is expected to unveil a budget today that includes military spending of more than $515 billion. The New York Times reports that if approved, military spending will reach its highest level since World War II. The figure does not include supplemental funding for nuclear weapons or the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which has already topped $600 billion. The Pentagon budget proposal marks a seven-percent increase over last year and the eleventh consecutive year its gone up. It comes just days after the Bush administration announced plans to seek deep cuts to Medicare and a freeze on new Medicaid spending. Overall, the White House is trying to slash $208 billion from federal health programs over the next five years. The Bush administration has increased military spending by 30 percent since taking office.
The US military says it accidentally killed nine Iraqi civilians Saturday in Baghdad. Three others were wounded in the attack. The victims came under fire from US helicopters. The strike would be the worst known case of apparent mistaken identity since US forces killed twenty-five members of an anti-al-Qaeda Sunni group in November.
The latest attack comes as negotiations begin on a long-term bilateral agreement between Iraq and the US. Ahead of the talks, US Ambassador Ryan Crocker said he expects to see US troops in Iraq well into 2009.
In election news, candidates are in their last full day of campaigning before tomorrow’s Super Tuesday vote. Polls show Senator Barack Obama has narrowed Senator Hillary Clinton’s national lead to just four percent. Obama is trailing Clinton by six points or less in Missouri, New Jersey and Arizona. And he’s now ahead of Clinton in Georgia. On Sunday, Obama addressed a rally of more than 20,000 people in Wilmington, Delaware.
Sen. Barack Obama: “If you believe we have to keep the dream alive for those who still hunger for justice and still thirst for opportunity, then I promise you this: we will not just win Delaware, we will not just win on Tuesday, we will not just win this nomination, we will not just win the general election, but you and I together, we will change this country, and we will transform the world. Thank you, Delaware. I love you.”
Polls show Clinton and Obama in a dead heat in delegate-rich California. On Sunday, talk show host Oprah Winfrey and musician Stevie Wonder rallied for Obama in Los Angeles.
Oprah Winfrey: “I would never vote for anyone based on gender or race. I’m voting for Barack Obama not because he’s black, I’m voting for Barack Obama because he’s brilliant. He’s brilliant. He is brilliant.”
Stevie Wonder: “I see a time where we will have a united people of the United States, and that is why I support Barack Obama.”
Former President Bill Clinton was also in Los Angeles on Sunday. Clinton visited African American churches to dampen criticism of his racially charged comments during the campaign. Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, was in Missouri, where she addressed supporters in St. Louis.
Sen. Hillary Clinton: “You know, we got two big contests coming up. We have the Super Bowl tonight, we have Super Tuesday. I want the New York team to win both. That’s where I am focused.”
On the Republican side, Senator John McCain is enjoying a wide national lead over former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney. McCain visited Northeastern states on Sunday, including Connecticut.
Sen. John McCain:”I know our best days are ahead of us. I want Americans to serve. I know we can serve. I know this nation’s greatest days are ahead of us, and I think I’m qualified to lead, and I humbly ask for your vote next Tuesday. And thank you, and God bless you.”
Meanwhile, campaigning in Illinois, Romney criticized Barack Obama.
Mitt Romney: “I know that there’s a certain senator from this state who says he’d bring change to America, and I’m convinced he would change America, but just not in the sense you want. You saw the sign the other day. He was speaking, a huge sign behind him that said 'Change.' Just one word: 'change.' And someone remarked to me when they saw the sign and said, you know, that’s what we’d be left with if he were president, in our pockets. That’s not what America needs. That’s not the course we’re going to follow.”
The Republican contest is seen as a two-person race, with Mike Huckabee a distant third and Rudolph Giuliani departing last week. Giuliani had the worst dollar-for-delegate record in US. history. The former New York mayor spent more than $50 million on his campaign and received just one single delegate. At that rate, Giuliani would have needed to spend $60 billion to win the Republican nomination.
In Israel and the Occupied Territories, at least three people were killed and five wounded in a suicide bombing today in the Israeli town of Dimona. It was the first suicide attack in Israel in more than a year. Dimona is home to Israel’s nuclear reactor. It’s not clear if the reactor was targeted.
Meanwhile, Egyptian and Hamas forces have sealed the border with the Gaza Strip after more than two weeks of free passage. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians have crossed into Egypt for supplies denied under Israel’s tightening blockade of Gaza.
In Colombia, the rebel group FARC has announced it plans to release three more political hostages held for more than six years. The group says it will turn the hostages over to Venezuela, as it did with two others last month.
In Chad, thousands of people are fleeing the capital N’Djamena after two days of fighting between government and rebel forces. Both sides say they’ve withdrawn from the city, but fighting is reportedly continuing nearby. Chad has accused the Sudanese government of backing the rebels to delay the deployment of a European Union force for Darfurian refugees there.
The Bush administration has agreed to a key demand in its push for a European missile shield. This weekend, the White House said it backs Poland’s call for increased US military aid in return for its cooperation on hosting the site. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice spoke after meeting Polish officials in Washington.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice: “There is no way that a few interceptors in Poland and radars in the Czech Republic can degrade the thousands of nuclear warheads that the Russians have, and there is no intent to do so. Indeed, we are having discussions with the Russians that President Putin and President Bush have wanted to go ahead about how we can cooperate in missile defense, because the Russians face some of the same threats. How can we talk about joint threat assessment? How can we talk about a system that would take advantage of the full geography so that we could have a way to counter these twenty-first century threats?”
The administration calls the shield a defense measure against a potential attack from Iran, but it’s widely seen as a first-strike weapon. The US wants to install at least ten missiles in Poland along with a radar site in the Czech Republic. Public opinion polls continue to show majority opposition to the missile shield in both countries.
And finally, the life-long pacifist Ralph Digia has died at the age of ninety-three. Digia was imprisoned as a conscientious objector during World War II along with the peace activist and later Chicago Seven defendant Dave Dellinger. He went on to spend fifty-two years as a staffer at the War Resisters League.