In a move expected to heighten tension in the Middle East, the Obama administration is quietly expanding its land- and sea-based missile shield system in the Persian Gulf region. The US is dispatching Patriot defensive missiles to Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Kuwait. In addition, the US is keeping two ships in the Gulf capable of shooting down missiles. The Obama White House says the move is aimed at deterring an attack by Iran. In addition, Washington is helping Saudi Arabia to create a 30,000-strong force to protect oil installations and other infrastructure.
President Obama is unveiling a record $3.8 trillion budget for 2011 today. The budget would boost war spending while trimming domestic expenditures. Obama is seeking a $44 billion increase in the military’s budget. If approved, this will bring the Pentagon’s budget to $708 billion. The Obama administration is also asking Congress to increase spending on the US nuclear arsenal by more than $5 billion over the next five years. Obama is seeking the extra money despite a pledge to cut the US arsenal and seek a nuclear weapons-free world. The Obama administration argues that the boost in spending is needed to ensure that US warheads remain secure and work as designed as the arsenal shrinks and ages.
Obama’s budget also proposes a tripling of federal loan guarantees to help private companies build new nuclear power plants. The administration is asking Congress to approve $54 billion in loan guarantees up from about $18 billion. Last week President Obama promoted nuclear energy in his State of the Union address.
President Obama: “But to create more of these clean energy jobs, we need more production, more efficiency, more incentives. And that means building a new generation of safe, clean nuclear power plants in this country.”
A jury in Wichita, Kansas has convicted Scott Roeder of first-degree murder for killing Dr. George Tiller, the abortion provider, last year. The jury delivered the verdict after just thirty-seven minutes. Roeder admitted he walked into the church and shot Dr. Tiller point-blank in the forehead. Roeder said his actions were justified to prevent Dr. Tiller from carrying out more abortions. Women’s rights advocates have called on the Obama administration to continue an investigation to determine if anybody else aided and abetted Roeder in the murder. Roeder will be sentenced in March.
The government watchdog overseeing the $700 billion bailout program says the government’s response to the financial meltdown has made it more likely the United States will face a deeper crisis in the future. Neil Barofsky, the special inspector general for the Trouble Asset Relief Program, said the problems that led to the last crisis have not yet been addressed, and in some cases have grown worse. In a new report, Barofsky writes, “Even if TARP saved our financial system from driving off a cliff back in 2008, absent meaningful reform, we are still driving on the same winding mountain road, but this time in a faster car.” Barofsky also warned the government’s growing role in the housing market has increased the risk of another housing bubble.
The White House said Sunday the US would resume medical evacuations of critically injured Haitian earthquake victims after suspending the flights for five days. The US military ended the evacuation flights on Wednesday because Florida officials complained that their hospitals were overwhelmed and that they needed a plan for reimbursement for the care they were providing. Medical officials said the suspension of flights had been catastrophic for patients. Dr. Barth Green of Project Medishare for Haiti said, “People are dying in Haiti because they can’t get out.”
In the Haitian town of Gressier, residents blocked roads and seized trucks on Friday to protest the lack of aid. Residents said that trucks with humanitarian assistance have driven through the town on the road to Léogâne, but have not stopped to distribute any in Gressier. Meanwhile, in the town of Carrefour, residents continue to suffer due to lack of aid. Many residents, including fifty-six-year-old Simone Charles, now live in a makeshift tents.
Simone Charles: “Today marks the sixteenth day that I have been here with the children. I am dying of hunger. I used to walk, but now I can’t because I am so weak. I can’t even drink a little bit of water.”
Haitian authorities have arrested ten Baptist missionaries from the United States after they were caught attempting to smuggle thirty-three Haitian children out of Haiti. Haiti’s Prime Minister Max Bellerive accused the missionaries of “illegal trafficking of children.” Child welfare groups expressed outrage over the group’s attempt, saying some of the children had parents who survived the January 12 earthquake. The missionaries say they were only trying to rescue abandoned and traumatized children. The children have been taken to an orphanage in Haiti run by the international aid group SOS Children’s Villages, headed by George Willard.
George Willard: “The situation for children in Haiti at the moment is really dramatic. There are thousands of unaccompanied children. We, SOS Children’s Villages and other NGOs, have to take care of them. We have to give them a safe place, safe and secure place, because outside they are really vulnerable and they are living in danger. So we have to bring them in and then slowly checking if their relatives or family is still capable.”
A top operative from Hamas has been killed in Dubai. Mahmoud Mabhouh was found dead in his room in a hotel on January 20. Hamas officials accused Israel of assassinating Mabhouh and of “moving the battlefield abroad.” His death occurred three days after an Israeli cabinet minister visited Abu Dhabi. Israel had accused Mabhouh of being involved in the kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers and for delivering arms from Iran to Hamas.
Israel’s Justice Ministry has announced no soldiers will be indicted for shooting an American activist last March in the West Bank. The activist, Tristan Anderson, was critically injured when Israeli soldiers fired a high-velocity tear gas canister directly at his head in March. Anderson was taking part in a weekly nonviolent protest against Israel’s separation wall in the West Bank village of Ni’lin.
In other news from the region, the Israeli army has disciplined two high-ranking officers for approving the use of white phosphorus shells during Israel’s assault on Gaza last year. The Israeli paper Haaretz reported that a military inquiry concluded that a division commander and a brigade commander endangered human life by firing the highly incendiary weapon toward a compound run by a UN aid agency.
Former British prime minister Tony Blair defended the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq on Friday. Blair testified during Britain’s inquiry into the Iraq war.
Tony Blair: “My view is if we had left Saddam there and he’d carried on, as we said, with the intent to develop these weapons and the know-how and the concealment program and the sanctions had gone, I have little doubt myself, but it’s a judgment and other people may take a different judgment, that today we would be facing a situation where Iraq was competing with Iran, competing both on nuclear weapons capability and competing, more important perhaps than anything else, competing as well as the nuclear issue, in respect of support of terrorist groups.”
In Iraq, at least forty-one people have been killed by a female suicide bomber in northeast Baghdad. The woman blew herself up among a group of Shiite pilgrims making the journey to Karbala.
State-run TV in Pakistan has reported Hakimullah Mehsud, the leader of the Pakistani Taliban, has died from wounds sustained in a US drone strike two weeks ago. The US has accused Mehsud of being behind the suicide attack on a CIA base in Afghanistan. The previous head of the Pakistani Taliban, Baitullah Mehsud, was killed in a drone attack last August.
The Obama administration said on Friday it will restart aid to Honduras after toppled President Manuel Zelaya flew into exile and the country swore in a new leader. The United States had cut off more than $30 million in non-humanitarian aid to Honduras following the June 28 coup that ousted Zelaya.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations is calling for independent investigation into the death of a Muslim cleric who was shot dead by federal agents during a raid in Dearborn, Michigan in October. An autopsy reports shows the cleric, Luqman Ameen Abdullah, was shot twenty-one times and then handcuffed. The FBI wanted Abdullah on charges of weapons violations and conspiracy to sell stolen goods.
And the nation’s Education Secretary, Arne Duncan, said in an interview that Hurricane Katrina was “the best thing” to happen to the education system in New Orleans. Duncan told the program Washington Watch, “That education system was a disaster, and it took Hurricane Katrina to wake up the community to say that 'we have to do better.'”