Citigroup and federal officials are in talks that could result in the US government substantially expanding its ownership of one of the world’s largest financial institutions. The Wall Street Journal reports the government could wind up holding as much as 40 percent of Citigroup’s common stock. The potential move at Citigroup would give the government its biggest ownership of a financial services company since the September bailout of insurer AIG, which left taxpayers with an 80 percent stake. Last week, Citigroup’s share price fell below $2 to an eighteen-year low.
In other economic news, President Barack Obama has pledged to cut the federal deficit in half by the end of his first term, despite the fiscal stimulus package. During his weekly radio address, Obama said the nation can’t generate sustained growth without getting the nation’s deficit under control.
President Obama: “No single piece of this broad economic recovery can, by itself, meet the demands that have been placed on us. We can’t help people find work or pay their bills unless we unlock credit for families and businesses. We can’t solve our housing crisis unless we help people find work so that they can make payments on their homes. We can’t produce shared prosperity without firm rules of the road. And we can’t generate sustained growth without getting our deficits under control. In short, we cannot successfully address any of our problems without addressing them all. And that is exactly what the strategy we are pursuing is designed to do.”
The Obama administration has embraced another key argument of former President Bush’s counterterrorism policy. In a court filing on Friday, the Justice Department told a federal judge that prisoners held at the US Air Force base at Bagram in Afghanistan have no legal rights to challenge their imprisonment. Human rights groups say they are becoming increasingly concerned that the use of extra-judicial methods in Afghanistan could be extended under the new US administration. Bagram Air Base is about to undergo a $60 million expansion to provide enough space to house five times as many prisoners as remain at Guantanamo.
Attorney General Eric Holder is heading to Guantanamo today for the first time since he took office. Holder told reporters he wants to talk to officials there about detention and interrogation techniques. This comes as the Pentagon is claiming in a new report that the prison complies with the Geneva Conventions, a position disputed by many human rights groups.
Meanwhile, Binyam Mohamed has been released from Guantanamo after seven years in US custody. Mohamed is expected to arrive in Britain today. The Ethiopian-born Mohamed says he was repeatedly tortured while being held at a secret CIA prison and at Guantanamo. His military lawyer, Lieutenant Colonel Yvonne Bradley said that what Mohamed endured at Guantánamo “makes waterboarding look like child’s play.”
The New York Times reports more than seventy US military advisers and technical specialists are secretly working in Pakistan to help its armed forces battle al-Qaeda and the Taliban. The Americans are mostly Army Special Forces soldiers who are training Pakistani army and paramilitary troops, providing them with intelligence and advising on combat tactics. The CIA is also providing intelligence to a new Pakistani commando unit that has been used to kill and capture wanted militants. This comes as Pakistan has announced new plans to arm villagers in the North West Frontier province to fight against Taliban and al-Qaeda militants. Meanwhile, the New York Times reports the Obama administration has expanded the covert war run by the CIA inside Pakistan. Last week, a CIA drone targeted Baitullah Mehsud for the first time. Mehsud was identified last year as the man who had orchestrated the assassination of former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto.
The Wall Street Journal reports the Environmental Protection Agency will soon determine that carbon dioxide emissions represent a danger to the public and propose new rules to regulate emissions of the greenhouse gas from a range of industries. Carol Browner, special adviser to the President on climate change and energy, told the paper that the EPA is looking at a 2007 Supreme Court ruling that requires the agency to determine whether carbon dioxide endangers public health or welfare.
Amnesty International is urging the UN Security Council to impose an immediate arms embargo on Israel, Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups. Amnesty said it’s found evidence that Israel and Hamas had committed war crimes and used weapons supplied from overseas to carry out attacks on civilians during Israel’s three-week attack on Gaza. Meanwhile, Kevin Cahill, a top humanitarian official at the UN, says he is shocked by the current conditions inside Gaza following the Israeli attack.
Kevin Cahill: “One of the more horrific sites that I have seen. That’s in a career that has allowed me to work in sixty-five countries, often in war zones. This is about as dramatic as you can get.”
In Somalia, eleven peacekeeping troops from Burundi died on Sunday in a suicide bomb attack in Mogadishu. The Al-Shabab group claimed responsibility for the attack on the African Union base. It was the deadliest attack against African Union troops since their deployment two years ago.
Meanwhile, in Egypt, a French woman died on Sunday when an attacker threw a grenade into a famed bazaar in medieval Cairo. Seventeen people were injured in the blast.
In Sri Lanka, the Tamil Tiger rebels have reportedly told the United Nations they are ready to comply with international calls for a ceasefire with government forces. But the Tamil Tigers said they would only down their weapons after negotiations are held with the government. A spokesperson for the Tigers said a ceasefire was needed to end the miseries of the Tamil people. The Tamil Tigers say the recent offensive by the Sri Lankan government has killed more than 2,000 civilians and injured more than 5,000. On Friday, members of the organization Tamils Against Genocide held a rally outside the White House.
Rajeev Sreetharan: “The American government has to recognize that this is no longer a Sri Lankan issue. This is a US issue. US citizen Gothabhaya Rajapakse, in the position of defense secretary of Sri Lanka, is committing genocide unapologetically. So the US needs to change its foreign policy towards this issue, because if it is against genocide, it cannot allow genocide to be perpetrated by its own citizens.”
Amnesty International and Students for a Free Tibet are criticizing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for stating that human rights concerns should not hinder cooperation with China. During her trip to Asia last week, Clinton said, “But our pressing on those issues can’t interfere on the global economic crisis, the global climate change crisis and the security crisis.” Amnesty International said it was “shocked and extremely disappointed” by Clinton’s remarks.
In media news, two more newspaper chains, Philadelphia Newspapers and the Journal Register Company, have filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Philadelphia Newspapers publishes the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Philadelphia Daily News. The Journal Register publishes twenty daily newspapers including the New Haven Register in Connecticut.
In other media news, protests are continuing outside the New York Post over the publication of a cartoon that critics say depicts President Obama as a chimpanzee. On Friday, filmmaker Spike Lee called for a boycott of the newspaper and urged athletes and entertainers to shun the paper’s writers. NAACP president Benjamin Todd Jealous has called for the ouster of cartoonist Sean Delonas and editor-in-chief Col Allan.
Lloyd Riddick: “I was in the Air Force six-and-a-half years. I’m seventy-four years old. I’ve been through hell for this country, including when they stationed me in Biloxi, Mississippi. And that was in 1954. And you could go into a store and look at a pair of pants and hold them up against you, but you couldn’t try them on, because a white man had to try that pair of pants. I know racism. You could hold a hat up over your head, but if it touched your head, you had to buy it. I know racism.”
A student occupation at New York University has ended, and the school has suspended eighteen students. The group Take Back NYU had submitted demands including the establishment of a socially responsible investment committee, a union for graduate student teachers, a tuition freeze, a full disclosure of the school’s annual budget, and support for Palestinian students in the Gaza Strip.
Longtime American Indian Movement activist Robert Robideau has died at the age of sixty-one. In 1976, he and Darrell Butler were acquitted in the deaths of two FBI agents at the Pine Ridge reservation on grounds of self-defense. The third defendant, Leonard Peltier, was sentenced to two consecutive life sentences in a separate trial. Peltier has been in prison for the past thirty-three years.
And the film Slumdog Millionaire was the big winner at last night’s Academy Awards, taking home eight Oscars, including best picture. Kate Winslet won best actress for The Reader, and Sean Penn won best actor for his role as gay rights pioneer Harvey Milk in the film titled Milk. This is part of Sean Penn’s acceptance speech.
Sean Penn: “For those who saw the signs of hatred as our cars drove in tonight, I think that it is a good time for those who voted for the ban against gay marriage to sit and reflect and anticipate their great shame and the shame in their grandchildren’s eyes if they continue that way of support. We’ve got to have equal rights for everyone.”