The Washington Post reports the U.S. has deployed armed Predator drones to hunt for al-Qaeda operatives in Yemen for the first time in years. The drones are being operated by the Joint Special Operations Command and being flown from a nearby country, possibly Djibouti or Qatar. The drones are part a major U.S. buildup in Yemen that includes the arrival of new CIA teams, up to 100 Special Operations force trainers, and the deployment of sophisticated surveillance and electronic eavesdropping systems operated by spy services including the National Security Agency. A Pentagon official told the Washington Post that plans are being made to nearly double military aid to Yemen next year to $250 million.
In Pakistan, a pair of U.S. drone strikes has killed 14 people. The missiles hit a vehicle and a suspected militant compound in northwestern Pakistan. The U.S. has carried out at least 88 drone strikes this year in Pakistan, up from 52 last year. The drone strike occurred as President Obama was making his first visit to neighboring India. We’ll have more on his trip after headlines. At the United Nations on Friday, State Department Legal Adviser Harold Koh defended the legality of using unmanned drones.
Harold Koh: “A number have expressed concern about the legality of our uses of force in Afghanistan and elsewhere. With respect to use of force and targeting light detentions, the United States is committed to ensuring that all of our actions fully comply with the rule of law. It is the considered view of this administration that U.S. targeting practices, including lethal operations conducted with the use of unmanned aerial vehicles, comply with all applicable law, including international humanitarian law.”
The Burmese military junta is claiming victory in the nation’s first elections in 20 years. Pro-democracy groups tied to the imprisoned Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi boycotted the polls. International election monitors and journalists were barred from observing the vote. In the Thai border town of Mae Sot, Burmese migrant workers tore up their voting documents in protest.
Kyaw Kyaw, Burmese migrant worker: “Everyone sees this election as a fraud. The military has swapped their uniforms for politician clothes and changed the name of their unit to the name of political parties, but they are still holding the power. When people select them, they will be the same. So, it is useless to vote in this election.”
Speaking in Australia, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton criticized the election process in Burma.
Hillary Clinton: “We look at Burma today holding flawed elections that once again expose the abuses of the military junta, and it’s heartbreaking, because the people of Burma deserve so much better. And Australia and the United States will continue to work together to establish an international commission of inquiry to hold those leaders in Burma accountable for human rights violations, continuing persecution of ethnic minorities.”
In news from Peru, the American activist Lori Berenson is expected to be released on parole today after serving nearly 15 years in prison. Berenson was convicted in 1996 by hooded Peruvian military judges of collaborating with the leftist rebel group MRTA. Berenson was briefly released earlier this year but was reincarcerated in August on a technicality. Berenson cannot leave Peru until her 20-year sentence ends — unless Peru’s president commutes it. [More on Berenson case in “DN archives”: http://www.democracynow.org/tags/lori_berenson]
The nation’s official unemployment rate remains at 9.6 percent even though the private sector added 159,000 jobs in October. The Economic Policy Institute reports if the rate of job growth were to continue at October’s rate, it would take 20 years for the economy to return to prerecession unemployment rates. There were a total of 26.6 million workers who were either unemployed or underemployed last month.
In political news, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has announced she will run for minority leader despite the Democratic Party’s defeat on Election Day. Pelosi’s decision has sparked a battle over who will be her second in command. The current majority leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland and majority whip Jim Clyburn of South Carolina are both vying to become minority whip, the second highest ranking spot after minority leader.
Republican lawmakers are threatening to cut off money needed to implement part of President Obama’s healthcare plan after acknowledging that they lack the votes to repeal the legislation. House Republican whip, Congressman Eric Cantor of Virginia said, “If all of Obamacare cannot be immediately repealed, then it is my intention to begin repealing it piece by piece.” The New York Times reports Republican lawmakers plan to use spending bills to block various provisions which they object to and limit access to government-subsidized private health plans that include coverage of abortion. In addition, Republicans want to limit money and personnel available to the Internal Revenue Service, so the agency could not aggressively enforce provisions that require people to obtain health insurance and employers to help pay for it. On Sunday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Republicans will also try to repeal the bill outright.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell: “People who supported us — political independents — want it repealed and replaced with something else. I think we owe it to them to try.”
Defense Secretary Robert Gates is urging members of Congress to repeal the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy before Republicans take control of the House in January. But deep divisions remain inside the armed forces on the policy change. Over the weekend, the new commander of the Marine Corps, General James Amos, told reporters now is not the time to repeal the ban.
MSNBC has announced TV host Keith Olbermann will return to the airwaves on Tuesday. Olbermann was indefinitely suspended three days ago after it was revealed that he had donated money to three Democratic candidates in violation of MSNBC’s policy.
While Keith Olbermann’s donations became front-page news, little attention has been paid to the massive amount of political spending by MSNBC’s parent company General Electric, one of the nation’s largest military contractors. Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting reports GE made over $2 million in political contributions in the 2010 election cycle. The top recipient was Republican Senate candidate Rob Portman from Ohio. The company has also spent $32 million on lobbying this year and contributed over $1 million to campaign against a California ballot initiative aimed at eliminating tax loopholes for major corporations.
In news from the Gulf of Mexico, federal scientists have found damage to deep sea coral and other marine life on the ocean floor several miles from the blown-out BP well. Scientists say the find is a strong indication that damage from the spill could be significantly greater than officials had previously acknowledged. Penn State biologist Charles Fisher said, “What we have at this point is the smoking gun. There is an abundance of circumstantial data that suggests that what happened is related to the recent oil spill.” Coral is essential to the Gulf because it provides a habitat for fish and other organisms such as snails and crabs, making any large-scale death of coral a problem for many species. It might need years, or even decades, to grow back.
The Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Plant was shut down Sunday night after the discovery of a leak of radioactive water. The plant’s owner Entergy said engineers identified a leak of approximately 60 drops-per-minute from a pipe in the feedwater system piping. The company said the leak was confined to the plant and that there was no threat to public health, safety or the plant’s employees.
In other nuclear news, thousands of protesters in France and Germany have attempted to block a train carrying nuclear waste. Some protesters chained themselves to the train tracks while others drove trucks on to the tracks. Hundreds of protesters have been detained. Anti-nuke sentiment is on the rise in Germany following the government’s announcement in September to extend the life of the nation’s 17 nuclear power plants by 12 years. They were due to be decommissioned in 2020.
Haiti’s President René Préval is warning that flooding caused by Hurricane Tomas could increase the spread of a deadly cholera epidemic. The outbreak has already killed 500 Haitians and sickened more than 7,000. Hurricane Tomas skirted Haiti on Friday, flooding some coastal towns, forcing thousands from their homes and soaking camps for displaced people in the capital Port-au-Prince with rain.
In news from Africa, the United Nations has revealed more than 650 women and girls have been raped during mass expulsions from Angola to the Democratic Republic of Congo in the past two months. Victims said they were locked up and tortured for several weeks while they were raped repeatedly by security forces.
In Western Sahara, Moroccan security forces have raided a camp where thousands of Sahrawis have been staging a massive protest against the Moroccan occupation. The Moroccan forces used water cannons, tear gas, batons and fired rubber bullets to break up for the protest camp. Dozens of protesters were wounded in the raid. The raid ends what had been described as the biggest protest in Western Sahara since Spain withdrew from the territory 35 years ago. Meanwhile, negotiators from the Moroccan government and pro-independence leaders from Western Sahara are scheduled to meet near New York this week for talks mediated by the United Nations.
In Oakland, California police arrested 152 people Friday night after hundreds took to the streets to protest what they viewed as the lenient sentencing of the BART police officer who shot dead Oscar Grant two years ago on a train platform. The officer, Johannes Mehserle, was sentenced to two years in prison, the shortest sentence he could have received. In July a jury in Los Angeles convicted Mehserle of involuntary manslaughter, but acquitted him on the more serious charges of second-degree murder and voluntary manslaughter.
And family and friends of the late Clarence Kailin have brought his ashes to Spain, where he fought against fascism in the Spanish Civil War in the late 1930s. Kailin died last year at the age of 95 in Madison, Wisconsin. He was one of the last survivors of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, a group of American volunteers who fought in defense of Spain’s democratically elected government against a military coup led by Gen. Francisco Franco, backed by Adolf Hitler and Italian dictator Benito Mussolini. (From the DN archives: 'Fighting Fascism: The Americans–Women and Men–Who Fought In the Spanish Civil War')