A pair of US missile strikes over the past three days have killed sixty-one people in Pakistan. On Saturday, a remote-controlled US drone bombed three compounds in South Waziristan, killing thirty. Earlier today, another US drone struck the Kumman tribal region, killing thirty-one people. The US has now struck Pakistan at least three times since President Obama took office.
The attacks come days after Senator Dianne Feinstein, the chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, became the first US politician to publicly state that the US is using a Pakistani base to carry out the strikes. During a congressional hearing, Feinstein said, “As I understand it, these are flown out of a Pakistani base.” Until now, the Pakistani government has attempted to distance itself from the US air strikes.
The Pakistani government and Taliban militants appear close to reaching a ceasefire in the Malakand region of northern Pakistan. Under the deal, the government said it would allow the region to be ruled under Islamic or sharia law. The deal was announced on the same day Pakistani President Asif Zardari said the Taliban was trying to take over the state of Pakistan.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez won a referendum vote on Sunday to remove term limits, paving the way for him to run again in 2013. Electoral authorities said 54 percent of voters approved the constitutional amendment to remove term limits for all politicians. Chavez held a victory celebration in Caracas last night.
Hugo Chavez: “The Venezuelan people today radiate their light and democratic, revolutionary virtues to the entire world. Let the world see this light and the people of Simon Bolivar.”
The British and French governments are being accused of covering up a recent collision between two nuclear-armed submarines in the Atlantic Ocean. The accident occurred on February 3rd or 4th but wasn’t publicly known until today. The British sub, the HMS Vanguard, was armed with sixteen nuclear ballistic missiles. The French sub was carrying a similar load. It is unknown whether the collision caused a radioactive leak. Kate Hudson of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament said, “This is a nuclear nightmare of the highest order. The collision of two submarines, both with nuclear reactors and nuclear weapons on board, could have released vast amounts of radiation and scattered scores of nuclear warheads across the seabed.”
In economic news, the UN’s International Labor Organization is estimating the global economic crisis could result in a staggering 50 million workers to lose their jobs. The UN agency’s chief Juan Somavia said, “I sense a huge popular frustration brewing.” Somavia said the current economic squeeze is “provoking tensions, political uncertainties and even possible security risks.” Last week, Dennis Blair, the nation’s new Director of Intelligence, warned that the current global economic crisis has become a greater security concern to the United States than terrorism.
Workers have staged large protests in countries across the globe. On Friday, as many as 700,000 workers took to the streets of Rome to protest Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s economic policies.
Here in this country, Congress has passed the $787 billion economic stimulus bill. On Saturday, President Obama hailed the bill’s passage as a major milestone.
President Obama: “This historic step won’t be the end of what we do to turn our economy around, but rather the beginning. The problems that led us into this crisis are deep and widespread, and our response must be equal to the task.”
President Obama is expected to sign the bill on Tuesday in a special trip to Denver.
While President Obama praised Congress for approving the stimulus package, White House officials said Sunday Obama wants to revise the part of the stimulus package dealing with executive compensation. Congress capped executive salaries and bonuses at all institutions receiving federal bailout money, but the White House wants executive pay to be limited only at banks that received what it has described as “exceptional assistance” from the government. In other economic news, President Obama has dropped plans to name a single “car czar” who would oversee the restructuring of General Motors and Chrysler.
Republican lawmakers in Illinois are calling for Sen. Roland Burris to resign after he acknowledged that he had conversations with allies of former Gov. Rod Blagojevich before Blagojevich named him to fill Barack Obama’s Senate seat. In one instance, Burris said Blagojevich’s brother had asked him for campaign donations. When questioned under oath last month, Burris failed to tell state lawmakers about these conversations. Some lawmakers are accusing Burris of committing perjury. Blagojevich was impeached and removed from office last month after he was accused of trying to sell Obama’s seat.
A federal appeals court in Richmond, Virginia has overturned a decision that restricted the controversial coal mining practice known as mountaintop removal. Friday’s decision reverses a 2007 ruling that the US Army Corp of Engineers had violated the Clean Water Act in issuing permits for four coal mines. Friday’s ruling is seen as a major victory for the coal industry. Environmentalists say Appalachia could now face up to ninety new mountaintop removal coal mining operations, which would destroy huge swaths of the Appalachian Mountains. A coalition of environmental groups including Earthjustice, Sierra Club and Coal River Mountain Watch are now urging President Obama to ban mountaintop coal removal.
In news from the Middle East, Israel is reportedly considering releasing imprisoned Palestinian leader Marwan Barghouthi, who has has been held since 2002. Israeli officials believe his release would likely bolster President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah faction before any prisoner swap with Hamas. Barghouthi is seen as a possible successor to Abbas to head Fatah. This comes as outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert attempts to negotiate a last-minute deal with Hamas under which Israel would release 1,000 or more Palestinian prisoners in exchange for captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. Olmert said that the release of Shalit is the top priority in any deal with Hamas.
Ehud Olmert: “This is the priority of Israel. First, Gilad Shalit. Second, the end of smuggling of arms across the Egyptian border through Philadelphi line [Gaza-Egypt border] into Gaza. And third, complete total ceasefire and ending hostile activity by the Hamas from Gaza.”
A senior adviser to Barack Obama said the President will soon issue an executive order lifting an eight-year ban on embryonic stem cell research imposed by President George Bush. Obama adviser David Axelrod discussed the issue during an interview on Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace.
Chris Wallace: “When are you going to issue an executive order on stem cell research?”
David Axelrod: “That — we’ll be doing something on that soon, I think.”
Chris Wallace: “An executive order lifting the ban on federal funding.”
David Axelrod: “The President is considering that right now.”
In 2001, President Bush limited federal funding for stem cell research only to human embryonic stem cell lines that already existed. Scientists believe embryonic stem cell research could eventually produce cures for a variety of diseases, including Parkinson’s disease, diabetes, heart disease and spinal cord injuries.
The New York Times reports the US military will begin recruiting immigrants offering a chance to become citizens in as little as six months. The program will focus on immigrants with special skills who are in the United States on temporary visas. This marks the first time since the Vietnam War that the armed forces would be open to temporary immigrants.
The private military contractor firm Blackwater Worldwide has decided to change its name in attempt to rebrand the company’s image. Blackwater will now operate under the name Xe, pronounced like the letter “z.” Blackwater’s decision comes less than a month after the Iraqi government announced it will refuse to renew Blackwater’s operating license. In 2007, Blackwater guards killed seventeen Iraqi civilians in an unprovoked massacre in Baghdad’s Nisoor Square.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has arrived in Japan on her first trip abroad as President Barack Obama’s chief diplomat. She also plans to stop in Indonesia, South Korea and China.
And a delegation of US civil rights leaders has arrived in India to retrace the steps of Martin Luther King, Jr., who came to India fifty years ago to study Mahatma Gandhi. Members of the delegation include Congressman John Lewis, Andrew Young and Martin Luther King III.
Martin Luther King III: “As the son of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Coretta Scott King, to have had this wonderful opportunity to pay tribute to one of the greatest human beings that ever walked on our planet, the great Mahatma Gandhi… Fifty years ago, my father and mother came to this country and spent about thirty days here. And on this occasion, we will only be able to spend about two weeks, but it is a special honor.”