The Obama administration says it’s moving forward with a new round of sanctions against Iran. At a White House news conference, President Obama criticized Iran for shunning a fuel-swap proposal and said international support is growing for sanctions.
President Obama: “We are confident right now that the international community is unified around Iran’s misbehavior in this area. How China operates at the Security Council as we pursue sanctions is something that we’re going to have to see. One thing I’m pleased about is to see how forward leaning the Russians have been on this issue.”
Iran says the US and other world leaders are at fault for the stalled fuel-swap proposal. The Washington Post, meanwhile, reports the Obama administration is preparing a new offer that would assist Iran in buying medical isotopes on the international market instead of operating a reactor.
In Haiti, the official death toll from last month’s earthquake has been revised to over 230,000. The Haitian government made the announcement with the warning that more bodies remain uncounted. The revised death toll puts the Haitian earthquake on par with the 2004 Asian tsunami. On Tuesday, Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive said his government still has no way to house more than one million people left homeless by the quake.
Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive: “We are still in a very difficult situation. One month after that, we still have one million of people on the streets. We still don’t have a clear vision of certain problem, how we are going to relocate all those people.”
As the death toll was revised, dozens of Haitian women held a protest Tuesday calling for speedier aid. Marching in the capital Port-au-Prince, the women carried signs reading “We need food” and “We need tents.”
In other Haiti news, the Miami Herald reports at least two politically connected US firms have begun jockeying for lucrative reconstruction contracts. The firms, Florida-based AshBritt and DRC Group of Alabama, have already held separate meetings with Haitian President René Préval. AshBritt has attracted controversy for a $900 million government contract after Hurricane Katrina. Critics say AshBritt was favored over local contractors in part through its donations to influential political lobbyists.
In Iraq, the US military has freed an imprisoned Iraqi journalist after almost a year and a half behind bars. Ibrahim Jassam Mohammed was seized when US and Iraqi forces raided his home in September 2008. Soldiers took his computer hard drive and cameras and led him away handcuffed and blindfolded. The US held Jassam without charge despite an Iraqi court order for his release. He is one of several Iraqi journalists jailed at length by the US without ever facing charges. Following his release earlier today, Jassam said, “How can I describe my feelings? This is like being born again.”
In Afghanistan, the NATO occupation force is warning Afghan civilians ahead of one of the largest military offensives of the eight-year war. US-led NATO forces and the Afghan military are expected to target the Taliban-controlled town of Marjah in the coming days. In a news briefing, NATO civilian representative Mark Sedwill said Afghan villagers should stay inside and “keep their heads down.”
India has put a halt to plans to allow genetically modified eggplant from the agri-giant Monsanto to be sold on the Indian market. On Tuesday, the Indian government reversed a decision to allow Monsanto to sell its eggplant crop, known as Bt Brinjal. It would have been India’s first genetically modified food crop and the world’s first commercially cultivated genetically modified vegetable.
On Capitol Hill, two Democratic senators have joined with Republicans to block the nomination of a union lawyer to serve on the National Labor Relations Board. The lawyer, Craig Becker, has worked for the AFL-CIO and the Service Employees International Union. By a 52-to-33 vote, Democrats fell short of the sixty needed to overcome a Republican filibuster. Democratic Senators Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas voted with Republicans. Both had come under intense lobbying to oppose Becker from the US Chamber of Commerce and other corporate lobbyists.
In Texas, dozens of prisoners have gone on a hunger strike at a Los Fresnos immigration jail in protest of inhumane conditions. It’s at least the third hunger strike at the Port Isabel Detention Center in less than a year. On Tuesday, independent journalist Renee Feltz spoke to immigrant-rights activist Anayanse Garza of the Southwest Workers’ Union. Garza recounted an interaction with Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Acting Director of the Office of Detention Policy and Planning, Phyllis Coven. Garza was attending a meeting with Coven when she received a phone call from one of the hunger-striking prisoners.
Anayanse Garza: “At that point, I told her, ’There’s a hunger striker on the phone right now. He’s on hunger strike at the Port Isabel Detention Center.’ I put it on speaker-phone, and I took it to her. And I put it in front of her, and I told him, you know, 'Tell her. Tell her what's happening, because you have Phyllis Coven right now in front of you. She’s listening to what you’re saying.’ At that point, she picked up the phone, and she was going to close it, and I told her, 'Please don't hang up on him. He has to pay for that phone call. Please don’t hang up on him.’ And then, at that point, both Michael [unclear] and Phyllis Coven got up, and they left, and they turned their back on the community.”
And another US activist has been blocked from entering Canada to cover the Vancouver Winter Olympics. John Weston Osburn of Salt Lake City says he was detained, searched, and denied entry after trying to cross over into Canada.
John Weston Osburn: “I was kind of expecting to get — I was expecting to get kind of shook down, but I wasn’t expecting the type of just — the animosity and just the humiliation. Even though it was only two hours, it was a really unsettling experience, because they made me well aware that I had no rights and that there was no one there to protect me.”
Osburn’s ordeal comes days after Canadian border officials blocked Chicago radio journalist Martin Macias from entering the country because he was planning to spend a week documenting anti-Olympic protests.