US intelligence analysts have concluded Iran lacks sufficient material for a nuclear weapon and hasn’t yet decided if it wants to try to make one. Testifying on Capitol Hill Tuesday, Defense Intelligence Agency director Lt. Gen. Michael Maples was questioned by Republican Senator John McCain.
Sen. John McCain: “General Maples, Do you believe that it is Iran’s intention to develop nuclear weapons?”
Lt. Gen. Michael Maples: “I believe they are holding open that option, sir, but I don’t believe they have yet made that decision.”
The Senate has approved a $410 billion omnibus spending bill to fund the federal government for much of this year. The vote came after the Treasury Department assured supporters of the US embargo on Cuba that new provisions in the bill will mark almost no change from current policy. The spending bill was held up last week amidst opposition to several provisions loosening trade and travel restrictions with Cuba. But in a letter sent to lawmakers opposed to easing the embargo, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said the provisions will be narrowly enforced. As the Obama administration touted the continued restrictions, a group of South American defense ministers issued a call for ending the embargo. The twelve ministers were gathered at a meeting of the twelve-country Union of South American Nations, or UNASUR.
Uruguayan Defense Minister Jose Bayardi: “Right now Cuba does not represent any security problem for the US. And US policy with respect to Cuba is more determined by internal pressure, by lobby by North American Cubans. That’s the frank analysis of the situation.”
President Obama has proposed a new set of reforms to fix what he calls a crumbling education system. On Tuesday, Obama called for a longer school year and higher pay for top teachers.
President Obama: “The future belongs to the nation that best educates its citizens. And my fellow Americans, we have everything we need to be that nation. We have the best universities, the most renowned scholars. We have innovative principals and passionate teachers and gifted students, and we have parents whose only priority is their child’s education. We have a legacy of excellence and an unwavering belief that our children should climb higher than we did.”
Vice President Joe Biden was in Brussels Tuesday to make a new appeal for international backing of the US-led occupation of Afghanistan. Speaking at a NATO gathering, Biden defended the Obama administration’s escalation of the Afghan war.
Vice President Joe Biden: “I know the people of Europe, like the people of my country, are tired of war, and they are tired of this war. But many of our citizens, both here in Europe and at home, question why we need to send troops and treasure so far from our homes. But we know — we know that it was from the space that joins Afghanistan and Pakistan that the attacks of 9/11 occurred. We know that it was from the very same area that extremists planned virtually every major terrorist attack on Europe since 9/11 and the attack on Mumbai.”
The Obama administration has ordered an additional 17,000 US troops to Afghanistan and is hoping for more non-US forces, as well.
The Obama administration’s pick to become the nation’s top intelligence analyst has withdrawn his nomination after an intense lobbying campaign by backers of Israeli government policies. Former US Ambassador Charles “Chas” Freeman had come under Republican-led opposition over his comments criticizing Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land. Freeman has years of diplomatic experience, including stints as US ambassador to Saudi Arabia and assistant secretary of defense. Some Democrats joined in on the opposition to Freeman’s appointment. In a statement, Democratic Senator Charles Schumer took credit for Freeman’s withdrawal, saying, “I repeatedly urged the White House to reject him, and I am glad they did the right thing.” In a statement, Freeman blasted lobby groups, lawmakers and pundits who support Israeli government policies for forcing his withdrawal. Freeman wrote, “The tactics of the Israel Lobby plumb the depths of dishonor and indecency…The aim of this Lobby is control of the policy process through the exercise of a veto over the appointment of people who dispute the wisdom of its views, the substitution of political correctness for analysis, and the exclusion of any and all options for decision by Americans and our government other than those that it favors.” Freeman continued, “I regret that my willingness to serve the new administration has ended by casting doubt on its ability to consider, let alone decide what policies might best serve the interests of the United States rather than those of a Lobby intent on enforcing the will and interests of a foreign government.”
In Israel and the Occupied Territories, a Palestinian family that lost twenty-nine relatives in the Israeli attack on Gaza has filed a $200 million lawsuit against the Israeli government. The ordeal of the Samouni family drew international attention after it was revealed Israeli forces shelled their homes and then blocked medical aid. In addition to the twenty-nine dead, another forty-five relatives were injured, most of them children. Family member Naela Samouni described her family’s ordeal.
Naela Samouni: “My mother-in-law died, my sister-in-law and her daughter and two more people. The majority of my family died in the home that I am standing in
now. Of course, we’re going to file a lawsuit against them.”
The surviving members of the Samouni family now live in the rubble of their destroyed homes.
Meanwhile, an Israeli human rights group has filed a High Court challenge seeking to block Israeli digging in the occupied West Bank. The group, Yesh Din, claims Israeli mining in the West Bank amounts to a robbery of Palestinian resources. Yesh Din attorney Michael Sfard said Israel is violating international law.
Michael Sfard: “The natural resources that are digged out of the earth in the West Bank is transferred into Israel for the benefit of the Israeli construction market. This is, of course, an illegal enterprise. It violates the very basic principles of international law and laws of belligerent occupation. It is also immoral, because we’re literally swallowing chunks of the earth of the West Bank that belongs to the people of the West Bank and for their future development.”
According to Yesh Din, 75 percent of the resources mined by Israeli companies in the West Bank are being transferred to Israel. Some of the remaining gravel is being used to construct new Israeli settlements that further carve up Palestinian land.
In Haiti, former President Bill Clinton joined UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon Tuesday to promote an anti-poverty initiative being launched there. Clinton said he sees signs of hope in the poorest country in the western hemisphere.
Bill Clinton: “I have followed Haiti for more than three decades. This is the first time I have ever really believed that the country had a chance to slip the bonds of poverty and escape the heritage of oppressive government and misgovernment and abuse of people that have held people down too long.”
Clinton is sometimes described as a champion of Haitian democracy for restoring the overthrown elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide after the first US-backed coup. But Clinton was widely criticized for forcing Aristide to accept US-imposed neoliberal economic policies as a condition for his return to office.
Here in New York, hundreds of pro-Tibet demonstrators marched through the streets Tuesday to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the Tibetan uprising against China. The marchers passed by the UN and the Chinese consulate.
Protester: “Today is the fiftieth anniversary after we losing our country. So we are here to raise our voice to all the international people, especially to the Chinese, to say that Tibet was an independent and is an independent country still. So we are here together to tell the world the story about our Tibetan cause.”
A parallel demonstration was held near the Chinese embassy in Washington, D.C. The Dalai Lama marked his fifty years in exile on Tuesday by calling for “meaningful autonomy” for Tibet and accusing China of imposing a “hell on earth.”
An Afghan journalist once jailed by the US military has died in Afghanistan. Twenty-three-year-old Jawed “JoJo” Ahmad was shot and killed while reporting in Kandahar. Ahmad’s death comes less than six months after his release from US military imprisonment after nearly a year of being held without charge. He was working as a videographer for the Canadian television network CTV when US forces jailed him in October 2007. He later revealed US soldiers broke two of his ribs, deprived him of sleep and held him in a grave-like cell during his captivity. After his release, Ahmad said he wanted to tell his story and help other prisoners abused at the US-run Bagram prison where he was held. In a statement, law professor Barbara Olshansky of International Justice Networks said, “[Ahmad]’s death should compel all who have stood in the way of examining US policies in Afghanistan to make way for the investigation that has been needed for eight years. We are all responsible for the death of a brave young man who worked for the US and Canada in Afghanistan and paid the ultimate price for his heroism.”
The Obama administration has tapped author and activist Van Jones to become a special adviser for green jobs, enterprise and innovation. Jones is expected to start work next week. He is author of the bestselling The Green Collar Economy, which lays out a plan for a green economy he says could help solve the nation’s economic inequality while also addressing the long-term environmental threats to our survival as a planet. Jones is the founding president of Green for All and the founder of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights. That group challenges human rights abuses within the US criminal justice system.
The indicted financier Bernie Madoff appeared in a federal court Tuesday on allegations of operating one of the biggest frauds in Wall Street history. Madoff was arrested last year and accused of running an estimated $50 billion Ponzi scheme. Madoff’s lawyer says he will plead guilty to all criminal charges in court tomorrow. He faces a prison sentence of 150 years.
In Texas, caretakers at a state-run residential facility have been caught forcing disabled youths to fight each other. Cell phone video shows staffers provoking and then shoving the youths to ensure they start fighting. Corpus Christi Police Captain Tim Wilson called the fights some of the worst child abuse he’s seen in over thirty years.
In Alabama, a lone gunman killed at least nine people in a shooting spree Tuesday before taking his own life. Four of the victims were relatives of the gunman.
A new study says that one in fifty American children are homeless. The National Center on Family Homelessness says the number marks an increase over ten years ago and continues to grow.
In Washington, D.C., a bus tour of foreclosed homeowners made its final stop Tuesday after a cross-country trip. The “Recovery Express” picked up passengers who lost their homes in eight cities across the nation. Edith Adachi made the trip from Chicago.
Edith Adachi: “My home is gone. I’m never going to get that home back again. But there’s many of you who have homes and now in foreclosure, and there’s something we can do about them. And I’m here to represent all those people.”
The “Recovery Express” was organized by the group People Improving Communities through Organizing, or PICO. Organizers are calling for bankruptcy law reform that would grant troubled homeowners the right to appear before a bankruptcy court if banks won’t negotiate with them.
And the green architect Greg Franta has been found dead. His body was discovered inside his car in a ravine between Golden and Boulder, Colorado. He was reported missing on February 9. Greg was the chief architect at Rocky Mountain Institute and named Colorado architect of the year in 1998. He worked with the Clinton administration to make the White House more energy efficient. He had been spearheading the building of Democracy Now!’s new studio, which we are looking forward to being the first LEED-certified TV/radio/internet studio in New York City. In this video for the Rocky Mountain Institute, Franta spoke about the importance of green building.
Greg Franta: “When we think about high-performance buildings, it’s having a lower environmental impact, and it’s good for our economy. Creating a place for the building users, so it becomes sustainable in a variety of ways.”
Greg Franta was fifty-eight. His death is a tremendous loss for us all. Our condolences to his family and to the Rocky Mountain Institute, which we know will continue to pursue his dreams of building a more sustainable world.