The World Bank warned Sunday the world is falling into the first global recession since World War II as the economic crisis engulfs once-booming developing nations, confronting them with massive financial shortfalls that could turn back the clock on poverty reduction by years. The Washington Post reports the bank also cautioned that the cost of helping poorer nations in crisis would exceed the current financial resources of multilateral lenders. The World Bank is predicting that the global economy will shrink this year for the first time since the 1940s. The economic crisis is projected to push around 46 million people into poverty this year.
In other economic news, the nation’s unemployment rate has jumped to 8.1 percent, the highest since 1983. Employers cut 651,000 jobs in February. 4.4 million jobs have been lost over the past fourteen months. In a speech in Columbus, Ohio, on Friday, President Obama called the number of lost jobs “astounding.”
President Obama: “I don’t need to tell the people of this state what statistics like this mean, because so many of you have been watching jobs disappear long before this recession hit. And I don’t need to tell this graduating class what it’s like to know that your job might be next, because up until a few weeks ago, that is precisely the future that this class faced — a future that millions of Americans still face right now. Well, that is not a future I accept for the United States of America.”
The number of Americans receiving food stamps reached a record 31.8 million in February, an increase of 700,000 people since January. Food stamp enrollment increased last month in forty-seven states. Demand has also hit record levels at community food banks.
Vicki Escarra, CEO of Feeding America: “Our donors have stepped up very generously, but the reality is we’ve not seen a crisis like this since the Great Depression. And so, we are in the middle of truly a crisis for average Americans.”
In an interview with the New York Times, President Obama admitted the US is not winning the war in Afghanistan. His comment came weeks after he ordered 17,000 more troops to fight as part of an escalation of the seven-year-old war. Obama also revealed that the US is considering reaching out to moderate elements of the Taliban, much as it did with Sunni militias in Iraq.
In other news from Washington, President Obama is expected to sign an executive order today overturning the ban on federal funding of embryonic stem cell research.
A top Pentagon official said Friday the US military is ready to help Mexico in its deadly war against drug cartels with some of the same counterinsurgency tactics used against militant networks in Iraq and Afghanistan. Navy Admiral Mike Mullen, chair of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, made the comment after meeting with high-ranking Mexican officials in Mexico City. Mullen said he emphasized the Pentagon’s readiness to provide new intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance help, such as unmanned drones to spy on armed drug gangs, especially along the US border. Last week, 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.”
More than 1,000 people have been killed in Mexico in drug-related violence this year. 6,000 people died last year. Much of the violence has been fueled by the ability of drug cartels to purchase AK-47s assault rifles and other arms in the United States. According to law enforcement officials, 90 percent of the guns picked up in Mexico from criminal activity are purchased in the United States. In Phoenix, Arizona, a gun store owner goes on trial today on charges that he sold more than 700 weapons to straw buyers, knowing that the firearms were bought on behalf of Mexican drug syndicates.
In Iraq, the military has announced 12,000 troops will be leaving over the next six months. There are currently about 135,000 US troops in Iraq. On Sunday, twenty-eight people died in Baghdad when a suicide bomber on a motorcycle blew himself up near the city’s main police academy. Fifty-seven people were injured.
In other news from the Middle East, two senior US diplomats met with the Syrian Foreign Minister in Damascus this weekend. The talks marked the first high-level visit by ranking US diplomats to Syria in four years. Meanwhile, the British government announced it has agreed to begin talks with Hezbollah in Lebanon. Britain’s Foreign Office said the government would authorize “carefully selected” contacts with the political wing of Hezbollah.
In news from Africa, a funeral for the wife of Zimbabwean Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai is set to take place on Wednesday. Susan Tsvangirai died on Saturday in a car crash that also injured the prime minister. The accident occurred less than a month after Tsvangirai was sworn in as prime minister as part of a power-sharing agreement with his longtime rival, Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe. Officials from Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change say they have seen nothing to suggest foul play; however, they want to carry out their own investigation of the car crash.
In other news from Africa, a prominent Kenyan human rights activist and one of his colleagues have been shot dead in Nairobi. Oscar Kamau Kingara was the founder of the respected Oscar Foundation Free Legal Aid Clinic. Last year, the organization published a report accusing the police of torturing or killing more than 8,000 Kenyans. Cyprian Nyamwamu, of the Kenya Human Rights Consortium, said, “The human rights community in Kenya holds the government fully and wholly responsible for the assassinations.”
The Sudanese government is threatening to kick out more foreign aid groups and expel diplomats and peacekeepers days after the International Criminal Court ordered the arrest of Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir for committing war crimes. Sudan has already expelled thirteen of the largest aid groups operating in Darfur. Ann Veneman of UNICEF condemned the Sudanese government.
Ann Veneman: “There are millions of people in Darfur who are dependent upon humanitarian assistance for food, for healthcare, for vaccinations, for education. And the real concern is, is how to fill a gap when so many of the organizations, probably amounting to a couple of thousand or more people, have had their licenses revoked.”
Sudan’s ambassador to the United Nations Abdelmahmood Abdelhaleem accused the aid groups of trying to destabilize Sudan.
Abdelmahmood Abdelhaleem: “You should not question the wisdom of our government in doing so. It did not do that haphazardly. We have been working with these organizations for a long time, and we have warned them. We have alerted them not to continue in this path of destabilization, but they chose to continue that. Not only that, they are doing activities and policies incompatible with their humanitarian mandate. They are messing up everything, as far as stability and security of the respective states in Darfur are concerned.”
The Guardian newspaper reports a confidential European Union report accuses the Israeli government of using settlement expansion, house demolitions, discriminatory housing policies and the West Bank separation wall as a way of “actively pursuing the illegal annexation” of East Jerusalem. The document says Israel has accelerated its plans for East Jerusalem and is undermining the Palestinian Authority’s credibility and weakening support for peace talks.
In other news from the region, Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad has submitted his resignation, paving the way for the possible formation of a Palestinian unity government with Hamas. Representatives of Fatah and Hamas are heading to Cairo today to begin talks aiming at reconciliation and the formation of a unity government.
The Israeli Justice Ministry has announced Israeli President Moshe Katsav will be charged with raping a woman and other sex crimes committed while he was tourism minister in the 1990s. A group of women have accused him of crimes including rape, sexual assault and sexual harassment.
Tension on the Korean peninsula is intensifying as more than 50,000 US and South Korean troops begin a twelve-day military exercise. North Korea has responded by putting its armed forces on full combat readiness. The exercise comes as the North Korean military prepares to test-fire a new long-range missile. Earlier today, the North Korean army said the drills were a “military provocation” that would only occur “on the eve of a war.”
In Britain, opposition lawmakers are calling for a judicial inquiry into allegations that British intelligence agents participated in the “extraordinary rendition” and torture of Binyam Mohamed, who was released from Guantanamo Bay last month. In an interview with a British newspaper, Mohamed said the British government actively cooperated with US officials in his rendition and torture despite its repeated denials.
The Supreme Court has dismissed Ali al-Marri’s challenge to his indefinite military imprisonment, a week after President Barack Obama ordered him moved into the US justice system to face newly filed criminal charges. Al-Marri is a US resident who was held in isolation at a naval brig in South Carolina for more than five years. He has never stood trial or been convicted of any crime.
Meanwhile, the Obama administration argued in court on Friday that another man held as an enemy combatant, Jose Padilla, has no right to sue former Justice Department attorney John Yoo for writing legal memos that allegedly led to his detention and torture. The San Francisco Chronicle reports Justice Department attorney Mary Mason argued that courts should not interfere in executive decision-making, especially in wartime. Yoo wrote a series of memos on interrogation, detention and presidential powers as an attorney in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel. In one memo, Yoo wrote that rough treatment of captives amounted to torture only if it caused the same level of pain as “organ failure, impairment of bodily function or even death.” It also said the president may have the power to authorize torture of enemy combatants. Attorneys for Padilla said Yoo knowingly breached constitutional standards in his memos to provide legal cover for those policies.
And in Ireland, a dissident Irish republican group called the Real IRA has claimed responsibility for an attack that killed two British soldiers at an army base in Northern Ireland. Four others were wounded, including two men who were delivering pizzas. It was the first deadly attack on British troops in Northern Ireland since 1997. The killings were condemned by both republican and loyalist leaders in Ireland. Martin McGuinness of Sinn Fein said, “I was a member of the IRA, but that war is over now. The people responsible for last night’s incident are clearly signaling that they want to resume or restart that war. Well, I deny their right to do that.”