President Obama has issued orders to escalate the war in Afghanistan by sending between thirty and thirty-five thousand additional troops. Obama will outline his war plans tonight in a prime-time address, but he has already notified military leaders of his decision. On top of previous reinforcements sent earlier this year, the troop buildup will nearly triple the US military presence in Afghanistan that President Obama inherited when he took office. Despite Obama’s plan to escalate the war, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs claimed the President has a plan to wind down the US involvement in Afghanistan.
Robert Gibbs: “I think the President will reiterate tomorrow what I’ve said a number of times, which is that this is not an open-ended — this is not an open-ended commitment; that we are there to partner with the Afghans, to train the Afghan national security forces, the army and the police, so that they can provide security for their country and wage a battle against an unpopular insurgency in that country.”
President Obama spent Monday phoning foreign counterparts about his decision to send more troops. Britain and Australia have already pledged to support the expanded war. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said Monday an additional 500 British troops will be sent to Afghanistan.
Gordon Brown: “So, Mr. Speaker, with the three conditions now met, I can confirm that we will move to a new force level of 9,500. The extra troops will deploy in early December to thicken the UK troop presence in central Helmand, and from late January they will make the transition to the partnering role we envisage for them.”
Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd vowed that Australia will boost its efforts to train the Afghan police force.
Kevin Rudd: “Australia takes its alliance with the United States very seriously. That’s why we have been with America for a long time in Afghanistan and will be with America for the long haul.”
Protests are being planned for tonight outside West Point, the site of President Obama’s speech. On Monday, representatives of thirty-four antiwar groups delivered an open letter to President Obama strongly opposing his decision to escalate the war. Meanwhile, in Afghanistan, many residents have expressed opposition to Obama’s war plans.
Obidullah Khan, resident of Kandahar: “If they increase troops numbers, they will bombard more houses of innocent people. They will kill more innocent Muslims. They will search more houses. And this is going to be a bad disaster for the country.”
Iraqi officials are reporting incidences of cancer, deformed babies and other health problems have risen sharply since the US-led invasion in 2003. Many suspect the causes are contamination from weapons used in years of war and unchecked pollution. In the city of Fallujah, a spike in the number of births of stillborn, deformed and paralyzed babies has alarmed doctors. Fallujah was the target of two massive assaults by the US military. In the city of Basra, Doctor Jawad al-Ali said, “We have seen new kinds of cancer that were not recorded in Iraq before war in 2003, types of fibrous (soft tissue) cancer and bone cancer. These refer clearly to radiation as a cause.”
In media news, the nation’s largest cable television company Comcast appears one step closer to buying the television and movie giant NBC Universal from General Electric. Such a deal would give Comcast control of the NBC network, the Spanish-language Telemundo, cable channels including MSNBC, dozens of local television stations and the Universal film studio. Josh Silver of the media reform group Free Press said, “If Washington allows this deal to go through, Comcast will have unprecedented control of marquee content and three major distribution platforms: Internet, broadcast and cable. We’ve never seen this kind of consolidated control.”
Climate Justice actions were held across the nation and Canada Monday, one week ahead of the start of the climate talks in Copenhagen. In San Francisco, twenty-three people were arrested for blocking the entrances to Bank of America. In Chicago, twelve people were arrested during a protest against carbon trading at the Chicago Climate Exchange. In Whitby, Ontario, seven people were arrested for a sit-in at the office of Canada’s Finance Minister. Four people were arrested in Greenville, South Carolina, after activists locked themselves to a 1.5-million-pound generator destined for a coal plant run by Duke Energy. And in New York, a protest was held outside the offices of the Natural Resource Defense Council. Protest organizers targeted the environmental group because of its support of a cap-and-trade system. NASA scientist James Hansen took part in the New York protest.
James Hansen: “The effect that humans are going to have on future climate and the future for our children and grandchildren is analogous to the situation that Lincoln faced with slavery or that Churchill faced with Nazism: it’s not a thing where you can compromise. You have to take the actions that are needed to solve the problem, and that means we’re going to have to phase out coal use, unless the CO2 is captured and sequestered, but that — there is no such thing as clean coal at this time, and there probably never will be.”
In news from Capitol Hill, debate has begun in the Senate on the Democrats’ plan to overhaul the nation’s healthcare system. On Monday, the Congressional Budget Office issued a report saying the Senate bill would significantly reduce costs for many people who buy health insurance on their own but that premiums will not substantially change for the vast numbers of Americans who receive coverage from large employers. The CBO report contradicts assertions by the insurance industry that the average family’s coverage would rise by thousands of dollars if the proposal became law. The CBO did conclude that health premiums would go up for a portion of the population: the 14 million Americans who buy their own coverage and earn too much to get proposed subsidies.
The Supreme Court has upheld the Obama administration’s efforts to withhold the release of photographs of prisoners being tortured and abused by US forces. On Monday the Supreme Court vacated a lower court ruling that would have required the government to release the photographs to the American Civil Liberties Union. According to a government brief, some of the photos show “soldiers pointing pistols or rifles at the heads of hooded and handcuffed detainees,” a soldier who appears to be striking a detainee with the butt of a rifle, and a soldier holding a broom “as if sticking its end” into a prisoner’s rectum.
Iran has detained five British men after their yacht sailed into Iranian waters last week. The men were sailing from Bahrain to Dubai when stopped.
In other Iran news, US Ambassador Susan Rice said Monday that Iran’s plan to expand its nuclear program in defiance of United Nations demands makes it “more likely” that further sanctions will be sought in the Security Council.
Susan Rice: “And while we have been and will remain in close consultation with our P5+1 partners on the way forward, we have said that this is a dual-track effort. There has been an engagement track, which we have been very actively engaged in, but there is also a pressure track. And as Iran makes choices that seem to indicate that it is not at this stage ready and willing to take up the offers on the engagement track, then we will put greater emphasis on the pressure track. Time is short, and we are serious about implementing to the fullest extent that dual-track policy.”
World AIDS Day is being marked today. On Monday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced the US will host the 2012 International AIDS Conference, marking the first time the event has been on US soil in two decades. In October, the White House lifted a twenty-year-old ban that prevented people infected with HIV from entering the country.
A coalition of global AIDS and Africa solidarity organizations have released a report card on Obama’s first year in office. They gave him a D-plus. Asia Russell of Health GAP said, “We are disappointed to report that on his first World AIDS Day in office, President Obama has not made good on his promises to increase funding for effective, life-saving programs to fight AIDS around the world.”
A recent report by the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS and the World Health Organization found that about 33 million people are infected with HIV. New HIV infections have been reduced by 17 percent over the past eight years. Michel Sidibe is the executive director of UN AIDS.
Michel Sidibe: “In term of death, which is very important, worldwide we are seeing a drops of numbers of new deaths, which is critical. During the last five years only, with the fact that we have been able, with the support of different programs, to scale up treatment programs, which has been increased by tenfold during the last five years, we are seeing a decrease in mortality by 18 percent.”
Michel Sidibe said while the decline in mortality was partly due to HIV prevention programs, more is needed to be done by governments to stop the discrimination of those groups at higher risk of HIV infection, including gay men.
Michel Sidibe: “We are seeing a lamentable trend of criminalization of those group of people. Today you have more than eighty countries with homophobic laws, which are just considering that having a different sexual orientation is criminal, and those countries are just arresting those people. So they are hiding themselves. They are fueling epidemic, because they are discriminated, because they are stigmatized, and because they cannot have access to services.”
In New York, peace activists marched across the Brooklyn Bridge Monday as part of the World March for Peace and Nonviolence. The World March began sixty days ago in New Zealand on October 2.
Dennis Redmond, US Coordinator of the march: “The march is making five proposals, and the five have to be looked at together. You can’t look at nuclear disarmament without also talking about withdrawal of troops. You can’t talk about the ending of war without talking about racial violence, sexual violence, psychological, economic violence. So what we’re trying to say is there’s a culture of violence, and that’s what we really have to transform.”
And we end today’s headlines with an excerpt from Keith Olbermann’s show Countdown last night on MSNBC.
Keith Olbermann: “But first, time for Countdown's top three best persons in the world. Dateline: Surrey, British Columbia. Number three: best paranoid freedom of speech suppression. Border guards at the Peace Arch on the US-Canada line. Last week they stopped Democracy Now! host Amy Goodman, had weapon-carrying agents search her car, held her passport for a time. They were afraid she was going to say something dangerous in Canada…seriously. I mean, in theory you could stop somebody who was going to advocate violence or the like. But their fear, as Ms. Goodman recounted it, was that she was going to speak out against the upcoming Winter Olympics in Vancouver. Seriously. When she said, no, that wasn't what she was going to talk about in Canada, she said they asked her again six times. You guys may want to rethink your priorities, and if you’re that desperate to prevent criticism of some Olympic Games, you shouldn’t detain a noted commentator and write her scripts for her.”