President Obama vowed Monday to overhaul tax policies that he said reward companies for shifting US jobs overseas and that allow wealthy people to evade taxes using offshore accounts. Obama said the White House plan would save taxpayers $210 billion over the next decade.
President Obama: “And that’s why today, I’m announcing a set of proposals to crack down on illegal overseas tax evasion, close loopholes, and make it more profitable for companies to create jobs here in the United States. For years, we’ve talked about ending tax breaks for companies that ship jobs overseas and giving tax breaks to companies that create jobs here in America.”
On Capitol Hill, House Democrats have rejected a request from President Obama for $80 million to close the US prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. House Democrats removed the funding request from a $94 billion emergency spending bill to cover the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. House Appropriations Chair David Obey said the funding wasn’t included because Obama has not yet outlined a concrete plan to close Guantanamo.
In news from Pakistan, The Guardian reports the Taliban has seized control of Mingora, a main town in the Swat Valley, signaling the death knell for a fragile peace deal with the provincial government. Pakistani authorities are urging civilians to leave the region in a sign that a military attack on the Taliban in the Swat Valley may be imminent. For the last two weeks, Pakistani troops have been battling Taliban fighters in Buner and Lower Dir, two districts bordering Swat.
In Washington, Senator John Kerry, chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has introduced legislation for tripling US civilian aid to Pakistan to $7.5 billion over the next five years.
On Monday, Admiral Mike Mullen, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, officially designated the war in Afghanistan as the military’s main effort, while acknowledging the fighting isn’t over in Iraq. Mullen said, “The main effort in our strategic focus from a military perspective must now shift to Afghanistan.” But President Obama’s plan to escalate the war in Afghanistan is continuing to come under criticism from within parts of his own party. In an interview with the American News Project, former senator and presidential candidate George McGovern said he is worried Afghanistan will become President Obama’s Vietnam.
Sen. George McGovern: “I have a very deep concern about President Obama putting in another 21,000 troops into Afghanistan and with the promise of more to come. I think if we continue to send troops in there, it could be the Vietnam of this present administration.”
In other news from Afghanistan, human rights organizations are expressing alarm over Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s decision to pick former warlord Mohammad Qasim Fahim to be his running mate. Brad Adams of Human Rights Watch said, “To see Fahim back in the heart of government would be a terrible step backwards for Afghanistan. He is one of the most notorious warlords in the country, with the blood of many Afghans on his hands from the civil war.” Fahim is still believed to be involved in many illegal activities, including running armed militias, as well as giving cover to criminal gangs and drug traffickers.
The US military is denying it has allowed soldiers to try to convert Afghans to Christianity, following a report on Al Jazeera that showed pictures of soldiers with Bibles translated into Pashto and Dari. The military claimed the Bibles were never distributed to Afghans. Al Jazeera also aired footage of Lieutenant-Colonel Gary Hensley, the chief of the US military chaplains in Afghanistan, calling on soldiers to hunt people for Jesus.
Lieutenant-Colonel Gary Hensley: “The Special Forces guys, they hunt men, basically. We do the same things as Christians: we hunt people for Jesus. We do. We hunt them down, get the hound of heaven after them, so we get them into kingdom. Right? That’s what we do. That’s our business.”
The Pentagon criticized Al Jazeera’s report. Military spokesperson Colonel Greg Julian said, “Most of this is taken out of context…This is irresponsible and inappropriate journalism.”
The Justice Department is investigating whether to prosecute two white Pennsylvania teenagers on civil rights statutes for their role in the fatal beating of Luis Ramirez, a Mexican immigrant in the town of Shenandoah. On Friday, an all-white jury exonerated the two teenagers of the most serious charges in connection with the fatal beating. The Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund condemned the jury’s finding. Witnesses said six teenagers brutally beat Luis Ramirez last year while yelling racial slurs. When a friend of Ramirez tried to stop the beating, one of the teenagers said, “Tell your Mexican friends to get out of town, or you’ll be laying next to him.”
In news from Capitol Hill, Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama has been named the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, replacing Arlen Specter, who switched to the Democratic Party last week. Sessions will play a key role in the upcoming confirmation hearings for President Obama’s eventual nominee for the Supreme Court. Sessions is a staunch conservative who once described the NAACP and American Civil Liberties Union as “un-American” and “Communist-inspired” because they “forced civil rights down the throats of people.”
The Wall Street Journal reports the Obama administration is expected to direct about ten of the nineteen banks undergoing government stress tests to boost their capital. The exact number of banks affected remains under discussion. It could include Wells Fargo, Bank of America, Citigroup and several regional banks.
The Supreme Court has ruled undocumented workers using false papers cannot be charged with aggravated identity theft unless they knew their fake IDs belonged to a real person. The Bush administration frequently charged undocumented immigrants with felony identity theft, which carries a two-year sentence. Prosecutors had used the threat of a felony to persuade undocumented workers to plead guilty to lesser charges of document fraud.
A Louisiana state board has been sued for failing to investigate possible professional and ethical violations committed by Larry James, who served as the chief psychologist at Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib. The lawsuit alleges that James, a retired Army colonel, helped design and implement the Bush administration’s harsh interrogation programs. Larry James is a licensed psychologist in Louisiana. He is now the dean of Wright State University’s School of Professional Psychology in Dayton, Ohio. The lawsuit against the Louisiana State Board of Examiners of Psychologists was filed by an Ohio-based psychologist named Trudy Bond.
Meanwhile, questions are being raised about no-bid Pentagon contracts given to a nephew of Democrat John Murtha, the chair of the House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee. The Washington Post reports Robert Murtha received $4 million in Pentagon contracts last year, all without competitive bidding.
The Center for American Progress is estimating 2.4 million workers have lost the health coverage their jobs provided since the start of the recession. More than 320,000 Americans lost their employer-provided health insurance in March alone, which amounts to over 10,000 workers a day.
Members of the peace group CODEPINK disrupted Israeli President Shimon Peres’s speech Monday at the annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee policy conference in Washington. Members of the group raised banners “Want Peace? End the Occupation,” “What About Gaza?” and “No Money for War Crimes.”
In media news, the New York Times Company has postponed its threat to start the process of closing the Boston Globe after wringing major concessions from all but one of the Globe’s labor unions.
And the prominent Cuban musician Silvio Rodriguez has criticized the Obama administration after the State Department blocked his entry into the United States to perform at Sunday’s ninetieth birthday celebration for Pete Seeger. Rodriguez said, “As a worker for Cuban culture, I still feel as blockaded and discriminated against as I do by other administrations…and I truly hope that changes someday.”