The death toll from the Iraqi government’s attack on Shiite militias in Basra and Baghdad has reached at least 460, according to Agence France-Presse. More than 1,100 people were injured. While calm has returned to the streets of Basra, analysts say the US-backed Iraqi crackdown has largely backfired. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki vowed to crush the militias in Basra, but militias linked to Muqtada al-Sadr still control most of the city. The fighting also exposed the weakness of Iraq’s army and the growing rift in Iraq’s Shiite majority.
In economic news, Switzerland’s largest bank UBS has announced it has lost billions of dollars because of the US subprime mortgage crisis. UBS announced it sees losses and writedowns of approximately $19 billion. This represents the largest fallout in Europe from the US economic crisis so far.
Meanwhile, in Washington, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson unveiled a sweeping new plan to overhaul how US financial markets are regulated.
Henry Paulson: “Some may view these recommendations as a response to the circumstances of the day. Yet, that is not how they are intended. This blueprint addresses complex, long-term issues that should not be decided in the midst of stressful situations and should not be implemented to add greater burden to a market already under strain. These long-term ideas require thoughtful discussion and will not be resolved this month or even this year.”
Paulson’s plan was quickly criticized by many economists, lobbyists and lawmakers, who predicted that most of the plan would be dead on arrival. The 218-page plan would drastically expand the authority of the Federal Reserve to oversee financial markets, while reducing the enforcement power of the Securities and Exchange Commission. Parts of the plan call for further deregulation. The New York Times reports Paulson recommends that investment advisers no longer be directly regulated by the SEC, but instead by an industry regulatory organization. The Consumer Federation of America issued a statement saying, “Rolling out this plan in the middle of the current crisis is like telling Hurricane Katrina victims stranded on their rooftops in New Orleans, ’Don’t worry, if you can hold for a few years, we’ve got a really great plan to restructure the federal emergency response system.’”
In other economic news, independent truckers plan to stage a fuel strike today to protest the soaring price of diesel, which now costs almost $4 a gallon, a fifty-cent increase in the past month. It is unclear how many truckers will pull their semis off the highway, but some truckers say they will strike for several days. In Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, scores of truckers took to the highways and streets around the State Capitol on Monday and blasted their horns in protest.
In medical news, a new survey shows nearly 60 percent of US doctors said they support a national healthcare plan such as a single-payer system. The survey of 2,000 doctors was published Monday in the Annals of Internal Medicine. Dr. Ronald Ackermann, the co-author of the study, said, “Across the board, more physicians feel that our fragmented and for-profit insurance system is obstructing good patient care, and a majority now support national insurance as the remedy.”
In media news, new questions are being raised over the relationship between the Pentagon and bloggers. Wired.com has uncovered a 2006 study written for the US Special Operations Command that suggests the military should clandestinely recruit or hire prominent bloggers. The report stated, “Hiring a block of bloggers to verbally attack a specific person or promote a specific message may be worth considering.” The report also suggested the Pentagon hack blogs that promote messages that are antithetical to US interests. The report went on to say, “Hacking the site and subtly changing the messages and data—merely a few words or phrases—may be sufficient to begin destroying the blogger’s credibility with the audience.”
Israel has announced plans to build 1,400 new homes in the occupied West Bank and in East Jerusalem. The plans were announced just hours after Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called on Israel to stop expanding settlements.
Condoleezza Rice: “We continue to state America’s position that settlement activity should stop, that its expansion should stop, that is indeed not consistent with 'road map' obligations.”
Palestinians charge that the ongoing construction is sabotaging peace efforts. The Israeli group Peace Now also criticized the settlement expansion.
Hagit Ofran: “Since the Annapolis summit, the government of Israel did not freeze any of the settlements. We see that the construction is going on in west of the fence, in east of the fence, as if nothing happened, and especially in East Jerusalem we saw an increase in the construction. The meaning of the ongoing construction, when we are going to a peace agreement, we are in a peace process, in negotiations, it’s devastating for the peace process.”
In Zimbabwe, tension is rising as the country awaits the release of official election results. The Guardian newspaper reports evidence is mounting that opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai defeated President Robert Mugabe, who has ruled Zimbabwe for twenty-eight years. An independent monitoring group says Tsvangirai got 49 percent of the vote, just short of the 50 percent needed to avoid a run-off. Officials with Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change have expressed fear that the election results will be rigged.
MDC Secretary General Tendai Biti: “Rumors are beginning to float. The atmosphere is ripe with conspiracies and counter-conspiracies, and what we are being told is that ZEC [Zimbabwe Electoral Commission] now are going to announce a Mugabe victory by 52 percent.”
Meanwhile, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown called on Zimbabwe to release the election results.
Gordon Brown: “I think there are two things that are important: is that the results come forward soon, and they’re not delayed, and secondly, that the election is seen to be fair and representative. And I think the whole eyes of the world will be upon Zimbabwe, wanting to be sure that everything is done fairly and everything is done in the right way.”
In Washington, nearly 100 workers from India marched to the White House Monday to protest the treatment of guest workers in the United States. The workers accused their former employer, Signal International, of treating them like slaves after they were brought to the United States to help rebuild the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina. The workers have filed a major class-action anti-racketeering suit against Signal and its US and Indian recruiters in federal court.
In another protest at the White House, hundreds of pro-Tibet activists gathered on Monday as part of the “Global Day of Action” for Tibet. Tserin Palden, president of the Tibetan Youth Congress of New York and New Jersey, called on the US government to boycott the opening ceremony of the Olympic games in Beijing in August.
Tserin Palden: “The US government can ask your Olympic team to at least boycott the opening ceremony. In that way, the athletes can — at least they get to play the game, they don’t miss the game, but still it gets some pressure on China, and it also gets that US is not happy with what China is doing in Tibet. And then, United States has always recognized Tibet as an occupied country, so I think they should keep on with that point, and they should pressure China for releasing Tibet back to the Tibetan people.”
On Monday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi also suggested President Bush should consider boycotting the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics.
In education news, colleges and universities may soon be forced to hand over more information about students to military recruiters. According to the Marine Corps Times, the military recently announced a new get-tough policy with schools that interfere with the work of military recruiters and ROTC programs. Under rules that will take effect this month, military officials said they want the exact same access to student directories that is provided to all other prospective employers. The new policy also no longer lets schools ban military recruiters from working on campuses. Federal funding can be cut off if colleges and universities do not give recruiters and ROTC programs campus access.
And Canada’s annual seal hunt has entered its fifth day. The government is allowing hunters to kill up to 275,000 young harp seals on the ice floes off Eastern Canada despite protests from animal rights activists and conservationists. Activists with the anti-sealing group Sea Shepherd are now patrolling the icy waters of Canada in an attempt to monitor and disrupt the seal hunt. On Sunday, Sea Shepherd activists said one of its ships was rammed twice by a Canadian coast guard icebreaker.