Afghan officials have declared Hamid Karzai the winner of the country’s disputed presidential poll after canceling a planned runoff election. The announcement came after Karzai’s main challenger, Abdullah Abdullah, dropped out of the race on the grounds that the vote would not be free or fair. Abdullah had accused the Karzai government of refusing to make changes to the electoral commission that he said was needed to prevent another round of electoral fraud. On Saturday, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Abdullah’s decision to withdraw from the election would not affect Karzai’s legitimacy.
Hillary Clinton: “With respect to Afghanistan and Dr. Abdullah’s decision, I think that it is his decision to make. Whatever went into that determination is obviously his choice. But I do not think it affects the legitimacy. There have been other situations, in our own country as well as around the world, where, in a runoff election, one of the parties decides, for whatever reason, that they’re not going to go on.”
In Pakistan, a suicide bomber killed thirty people near Pakistan’s capital earlier today. The attack occurred in the city of Rawalpindi outside a bank where people were lined up to cash their paychecks. Meanwhile, the United Nations has announced it is stopping long-term development work in northwestern Pakistan because of security concerns.
In one of the largest bankruptcies in US corporate history, CIT Group has filed for Chapter 11 protection. CIT’s bankruptcy is a potential blow to the thousands of small and mid-sized businesses that rely on the company for loans to keep their operations afloat. The US government is likely to lose the $2.3 billion it sunk into CIT last year to prop up the ailing company.
Palestinian leaders are accusing the Obama administration of destroying any chance of peace talks after Secretary of State Hillary Clinton backed Israel’s refusal to halt expanding illegal Jewish settlements in the West Bank. Up until this weekend, the Obama administration had been demanding that Israel halt all settlement building before negotiations could resume, but Clinton announced a reversal of that policy on Saturday during a one-day visit to the Middle East.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: “What the Prime Minister is saying is historically accurate. There has never been a precondition. It’s always been an issue within the negotiations. What the Prime Minister has offered, in specifics of a restraint on the policy of settlements, which he has just described — no new starts, for example — is unprecedented, in the context of prior to negotiations.”
Israel is refusing to halt construction of about 3,000 houses currently being built in the West Bank or any construction in occupied East Jerusalem. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu criticized the Palestinian leadership for calling for a freeze on illegal settlements.
Benjamin Netanyahu: “The simple fact is this: We are willing to engage in peace talks immediately without preconditions. The other fact is that, unfortunately, the other side is not. It is asking and piling on preconditions that it never put on in the sixteen years that we’ve had the peace process, since the annunciation of the Oslo accords. There have not been these preconditions. It’s a change of Palestinian policy, and I hope they change back to the right thing, which is to get into the negotiating tent. We’re eager and sincere in our desire to reach an agreement to end this conflict.”
Earlier today, Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa said Arab states are deeply disappointed that the US-Israeli talks last week failed to produce greater pressure for a freeze on West Bank settlement building.
In other news from the region, Israeli police announced on Sunday they were holding an American-born Jewish settler who they said had confessed to killing two Palestinians and bombing the home of an Israeli professor. Jack Teitel reportedly admitted to trying to assassinate Professor Zeev Sternhell, an outspoken Israeli critic of Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank. Sternhell was wounded by a pipe bomb at his Jerusalem home last year.
In healthcare news, a new report by the Congressional Budget Office has determined that an overwhelming majority of Americans will remain in private health insurance plans even if Congress passes a healthcare reform bill with a government-run health insurance program. The CBO estimates six million people would sign up for a public option in 2019, when the House bill is fully phased in. That represents about two percent of the population under age sixty-five.
In other news from Capitol Hill, Senate Republicans on the Environment and Public Works Committee have announced plans to boycott this week’s work session on a climate change bill, in a move aimed at thwarting Democratic efforts to advance the legislation quickly. Under committee rules, at least two Republicans are needed for Chair Barbara Boxer to hold the work sessions that would give senators an opportunity to amend the legislation and then vote to approve it in the panel. Republicans on the committee include Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma, who has described global warming as the “greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people.”
In political news, there was a surprising development in the closely watched congressional race in the 23rd district of New York. Up until this weekend it was a three-way race between candidates from the Democratic, Republican and Conservative parties. But on Saturday, the Republican Dierdre Scozzafava dropped out and threw her support behind the Democrat Bill Owens. The Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman had repeatedly accused Scozzafava of being too moderate, in part because of her support for abortion rights, same-sex marriage and union rights. Several prominent national Republicans, including Sarah Palin and Fred Thompson, chose to endorse Hoffman over the Republican’s own candidate. On Sunday, White House adviser David Axelrod said the developments in New York send a clear message to Republican moderates that there’s no room in the party for them anymore.
In Honduras, lawmakers are expected to meet Tuesday to consider a US-brokered agreement that could return deposed President Manuel Zelaya to power. On Saturday, Zelaya said he hopes he will be back in office by Thursday.
In other news from Latin America, the Obama administration and Colombia have signed an agreement to expand the US presence in Colombia. The text of the agreement has not been made public yet. But officials say the deal will give the US access to seven Colombian bases for the next decade. In addition, 800 US troops and 600 US civilian contractors will be permitted on Colombian soil and will enjoy diplomatic immunity. Brazil, Bolivia, Ecuador and Venezuela have all recently expressed concern about the deal.
The Obama administration has invoked the controversial “state secrets” privilege in a legal case challenging the government’s warrantless wiretapping program. The Justice Department is arguing that national security would be at risk if the case proceeded. In a statement, Attorney General Eric Holder said, “there is no way for this case to move forward without jeopardizing ongoing intelligence activities that we rely upon to protect the safety of the American people.”
Newly released FBI data reveals that as many as 1,600 names are suggested daily to be added to the FBI’s terrorist watch list. The list is said to contain more than 400,000 unique names and over one million entries. Fewer than five percent of the people on the list are US citizens or legal permanent residents.
The Toronto Star has published a series of classified photographs that raise new questions about whether the United States is holding an innocent Canadian citizen at Guantanamo. Omar Khadr is accused of throwing a grenade that fatally wounded a US soldier in Afghanistan in 2002. At the time of the incident, Khadr was fifteen years old. But the just-published photographs appear to tell a different story. Khadr’s attorneys say the photographs show that the boy was buried face down under rubble, blinded by shrapnel and crippled, at the time the Pentagon alleges he threw the grenade.
The Obama administration has released a partial log of White House visitors from the first six months of President Obama’s term in office. Labor leader Andy Stern of the Service Employees International Union topped the list, making twenty-two trips to the White House. Other frequent visitors included former Clinton White House Chief of Staff John Podesta, former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, National Organization for Women President Kim Gandy, and NARAL Pro-Choice America President Nancy Keenan.
A Vermont slaughterhouse has been temporarily shut down after an undercover investigation by the Humane Society of the United States exposed workers mistreating veal calves. The Humane Society obtained disturbing video that showed veal calves being “kicked, slapped and repeatedly shocked with electric prods and subjected to other mistreatment.” On Friday, the US Agriculture Department and the Vermont state agriculture agency pulled operating licenses for the plant, Bushway Packing of Grand Isle, Vermont.
And Wal-Mart and the Kroger supermarket chain have severed ties with one of the country’s major blueberry growers after an ABC News investigation found children working in its fields. At Adkin Blue Ribbon Packing Company in South Haven, Michigan, a five-year-old child was found working alongside his seven- and eight-year-old brothers. As part of the ABC News investigation, four fellows from the Carnegie Corporation spent weeks in fruit and vegetable fields in Michigan, New Jersey and North Carolina. Congratulations to Democracy Now!’s Kieran Krug-Meadows, a Carnegie fellow, who worked on that report for ABC.