In Pakistan, eight people have died after masked gunmen attacked a bus carrying the Sri Lankan cricket team on its way to play in the Pakistani city of Lahore. The dead included six Pakistani police officers and two bystanders. Six Sri Lankan cricket players and a coach were wounded. TV footage showed heavily armed men with backpacks firing at the convoy. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack. Players say cricketers have never been attacked before in Pakistan, where cricket is the national sport.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average has dropped below 7,000 for the first time in eleven years. The market has now lost almost one quarter of its value this year and more than half since its high in October 2007. The sell-off came as insurance giant AIG announced it had lost a record $62 billion in the last three months of 2008.
The CIA has acknowledged it destroyed ninety-two videotapes documenting harsh interrogations of prisoners held by the CIA. The number of destroyed tapes is far more than has previously been acknowledged. ACLU attorney Amrit Singh accused the agency of engaging in a “systematic attempt to hide evidence of its illegal interrogations.”
Meanwhile, the Obama administration has released a series of Bush administration Justice Department memos written after the September 11 attacks. One memo, co-written by John Yoo, authorized President Bush to deploy the military to carry out raids inside the United States and to spy on Americans without a warrant or probable cause. Yoo wrote, “the Fourth Amendment does not apply to domestic military operations designed to deter and prevent foreign terrorist attacks.” Yoo’s memo also claimed other parts of the Constitution could be disregarded. He wrote, “First Amendment speech and press rights may also be subordinated to the overriding need to wage war successfully.”
In Washington, D.C., more than 2,000 activists blocked the gates of a coal-fired power plant on Capitol Hill Monday in what was described as the largest display of civil disobedience on the climate crisis in US history. Police made no arrests. Days before the protest, congressional leaders said they want the Capitol Power Plant to drop coal and convert to natural gas. Protesters at the plant on Monday included NASA scientist James Hansen, the writer Wendell Berry and over 1,000 students who had attended the Power Shift conference on climate change.
President Obama has nominated Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius to run the Department of Health and Human Services. She is expected to spearhead Obama’s drive to overhaul the US healthcare system.
The Israeli group Peace Now says Israeli authorities are considering plans for 73,000 new housing units in Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank. The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reports that if all of the units are built, it would mean a 100 percent increase in the total number of Israeli settlers in the West Bank.
Hagit Ofran of Peace Now: “We believe that if such plans are going to be implemented, this could really prevent a two-state solution and actually any solution to our conflict. And this is why we call the new government not to approve any new construction anywhere in the West Bank whatsoever.”
International donors pledged $5.2 billion Monday at a conference to rebuild the devastated Gaza Strip, but not all of the money will go to Gaza. The Obama administration offered up $900 million, but only $300 million is directed for humanitarian relief for the people of Gaza. The rest of the money will go to the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank. Hamas spokesperson Mushir al-Masri criticized the international community for not directing more of the money to rebuild Gaza.
Mushir al-Masri: “We would like to stress that the rebuilding of Gaza should not be politicized, and this cause needs to be placed in its correct context — the welfare and humanitarian one. What happened in this conference was directing the rebuilding funds to the wrong people. But we would like to stress that what is most important is opening the crossings and ending the siege that has been placed on the Gaza Strip.”
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navanethem Pillay, has criticized the United States, Canada and Israel for threatening to boycott next month’s World Conference Against Racism conference in Geneva.
Navanethem Pillay: “Narrow, parochial interests and reflexive partisanship must be cast aside in the interest of a greater common good. Let me underscore that a failure to do so may reverberate negatively on the full spectrum of human rights work and mechanisms for years to come. We need to prevent the acrimony of the past from encumbering the fight against intolerance, which is — and I’m sure we all agree — both of urgent concern and in the best interest of everyone.”
The Obama administration said the US won’t attend unless the conference’s final document drops all references to Israel and reparations for slavery.
The New York Times reports President Obama sent a secret letter to Russia’s president last month suggesting that he would back off deploying a new missile defense system in Eastern Europe if Moscow would help stop Iran from developing long-range weapons or nuclear warheads. The letter to President Dmitri Medvedev was hand-delivered in Moscow by top administration officials three weeks ago.
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has predicted the United States and NATO forces will never be able to defeat the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan. Harper made the comment in an interview on CNN with Fareed Zakaria.
Stephen Harper: “We’re not going to win this war just by staying. We’re not going to — in fact, my own judgment, Fareed, is, quite frankly, we are not going to ever defeat the insurgency. Afghanistan has probably had — my reading of Afghanistan, the history — has probably had an insurgency forever, of some kind. What has to happen in Afghanistan is we have to have an Afghan government that is capable of managing that insurgency and improving its own governance.”
Canada currently has about 2,700 troops in Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, the International Committee of the Red Cross has warned that Afghan civilians will likely bear the brunt of an escalation in the Afghan war this year. The Red Cross said civilian casualties are significantly higher than a year ago. The United Nations estimates over 2,100 civilians died in 2008, a 40 percent jump over 2007.
Mexico has announced it will send a total of 7,000 soldiers and federal police officers into the border city of Ciudad Juarez, where 1,600 people died last year in drug-related violence. Ciudad Juarez is located across the US border from El Paso, Texas. The city’s police chief resigned almost two weeks ago, after several of his officers were shot to death and anonymous signs appeared warning that an officer would be killed every forty-eight hours unless he stepped down. On Sunday, during an interview on Meet the Press, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the US military will increase its support of Mexico.
Robert Gates: “I think we are beginning to be in a position to help the Mexicans more than we have in the past. Some of the old biases against cooperation with our — between our militaries and so on I think are being set aside.”
David Gregory: “You mean providing military support?”
Robert Gates: “Providing them with — with training, with resources, with reconnaissance and surveillance kinds of capabilities, but just cooperation, including in intelligence.”
Cuban President Raul Castro has reshuffled his cabinet by replacing eight ministers, many of whom were closely linked to his older brother Fidel Castro. The most prominent official to lose his post was Foreign Minister Perez Roque, Fidel Castro’s former personal secretary. The Cuban government said the moves were needed to make Cuba’s government more compact and functional.
Here in this country, a new study has found the number of people in prison, on parole or probation has reached a record 7.3 million. One in every thirty-one adults is now in the US corrections system. Twenty-five years ago, the rate was one in seventy-seven. The Pew Center on the States found that corrections spending is outpacing government spending on education, transportation and public assistance. The National Association of State Budget Officers estimates that states spent a record $52 billion on corrections last year — that’s one in every fifteen general fund dollars.
The Supreme Court has rejected appeals in three separate cases by American and Vietnamese victims of Agent Orange who were trying to sue Monsanto, Dow Chemical and other companies that made the toxic chemical defoliant used in the Vietnam War. Agent Orange has been linked to cancer, diabetes and birth defects among Vietnamese soldiers and civilians and American veterans.
Senior UN officials have called for “intensified worldwide actions” to fight the scourge of violence against women and girls. The call came as the Commission on the Status of Women opened its annual session.
Rachel Mayanja, UN Special Adviser on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women: “Violence against women, one of the most extreme manifestations of pervasive violations of women’s human rights, continues unabated, and intensified worldwide efforts are needed to end it. Its consequences and costs are far-reaching, long-lasting and devastating, not only for its victims, but also to societies.”
In Florida, two students from Chile were killed last week when a gunman opened fire on a townhouse where they were staying. Police are investigating the shooting as a likely hate crime. Three other Chilean students were injured in the shooting. A sixty-year-old man named Dannie Baker has been charged with the killings. Baker was known for his anti-immigrant views. The Southern Poverty Law Center recently reported hate crimes against Latinos jumped by 40 percent between 2003 and 2007.
In California, the family members of Oscar Grant have filed a $50 million lawsuit against the Bay Area Rapid Transit agency. Grant was the unarmed African American man who was shot dead by a BART police officer on a train platform in Oakland on New Year’s Day.
And Republican National Committee Chair Michael Steele has apologized to right-wing radio host Rush Limbaugh after the two engaged in a public fight over the leadership of the Republican Party. Limbaugh countered, saying Steele was off to a shaky start as RNC chair and claimed that Steele was not actually the head of the Republican Party after Steele said on CNN, “Rush Limbaugh is an entertainer. Rush Limbaugh’s whole thing is entertainment. Yes, it is incendiary. Yes, it is ugly.” After Steele came under criticism for his comment, he apologized, saying, “My intent was not to go after Rush. I have enormous respect for Rush Limbaugh. I was maybe a little bit inarticulate…There was no attempt on my part to diminish his voice or his leadership.”