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President Obama has unveiled a record $3.8 trillion budget that boosts money for war while cutting domestic spending.
President Obama: "I’ve proposed a freeze in government spending for three years. This won’t apply to the benefits folks get through Social Security, Medicaid or Medicare, and and it won’t apply to our national security, including benefits for veterans. But it will apply to all other discretionary government programs."
Under Obama’s proposal, the Pentagon budget would grow over three percent in addition to separate funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan for a total of over $741 billion. The new budget contains no major weapons cancellations as opposed to last year’s gutting of the F-22 fighter jet. Obama is also seeking a $7 billion increase in nuclear spending despite a pledge to cut the US arsenal and seek a nuclear weapons-free world. The Labor Department would see a 32 percent cut, most from declining unemployment benefits and stimulus spending.
In Haiti, the US military resumed medical evacuations of critically injured Haitian earthquake victims Monday after a five-day suspension over a cost dispute. The flights were halted last week after Florida state officials and the federal government argued over who would shoulder the costs. Some observers had cited Florida Governor Charlie Crist’s bid for the Republican Senate nomination as a factor in his stance. But on Monday, Crist denied neglecting Haitian victims.
Gov. Charlie Crist: "Florida never said that we wanted to stop taking Haitians. All we said was that we would appreciate help in being able to continue to help our friends from the island. And that’s exactly what has happened and has occurred today."
In Pakistan, five jailed US citizens say they’ve been tortured since their arrest on terror charges nearly two months ago. The five young men are accused of seeking to join militant groups to fight US troops in Afghanistan. They were arrested after their families reported them missing in northern Virginia. Earlier today, one of the five handed a note to reporters at a Pakistani court room. The note read, "Since our arrest, the US FBI and Pakistani police have tortured us. They are trying to set us up… Help us." One defense lawyer said one of the prisoners had been given electric shocks and was told to keep silent about the abuse. The US embassy in Pakistan has denied the allegations.
In other news from Pakistan, the US is being accused of killing dozens of civilians in a record twelve drone attacks last month. The Pakistani newspaper The News is reporting the US botched ten of the attacks, killing 123 civilians and just three al-Qaeda leaders — a ratio of forty-one to one.
In Israel and the Occupied Territories, the Israeli military has taken what it calls "disciplinary" action against two soldiers for firing on the United Nations compound during last year’s attack on the Gaza Strip. The United Nations compound burned to the ground in the attack after Israel shelled it with white phosphorus. In its report, the Israeli military defended the white phosphorus shelling, saying the soldiers are only at fault for also firing artillery shells. It’s unclear what penalties, if any, the two soldiers face. The unspecified move is the first acknowledgment by Israel of the dozens of war crimes and international law violations during the three-week assault. But Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon said Israel continues to reject the war crimes allegations documented in the inquiry led by Justice Richard Goldstone.
Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon: "Israel does not need any admonition from the international community. We keep our high standards on morality, and the fact that we took disciplinary actions against very high and senior officers is just the proof. The Goldstone report still is a sham and very biased, very unprofessional, and it shouldn’t be at all discussed."
Last week Israel issued a report disputing the Goldstone report as part of a campaign to prevent its adoption at the United Nations. Yael Stein of the Israeli human rights group
B’Tselem said the Israeli military is covering up its actions.
Yael Stein: "This morning it was revealed that two high-ranking officers were disciplined for firing white phosphorus at the UNRWA compound. This case shows the whitewash of the report that Israel submitted. The report itself does not specify the circumstances in which those officers were acted, and therefore just the revelations today just show how extreme the case is. We think that this case shows that the military system cannot investigate itself."
The Guardian of London, meanwhile, says it’s found evidence undermining Israeli denials of targeting a flour mill in northern Gaza. Israel rejected allegations of nearly destroying the al-Badr plant in its report last week. But UN mine experts say the remains of an Israeli aircraft bomb were found in the ruins of the plant after the Gaza assault.
The news website Politico is reporting the CIA is allowing active-duty operatives to work for private companies on the side. The previously undisclosed "moonlighting" has granted wealthy private entities such as financial firms and hedge funds access to top-level intelligence officials. It’s said to be viewed internally as a means to prevent agency defections to the private sector. A CIA spokesperson said "moonlighting" operatives are required to submit detailed information on their outside employment. But few details have been revealed, including how long the policy has been in place and how many operatives have taken part.
In news from Asia, the Obama administration has announced plans for a new $6 billion arms deal with Taiwan. The proposed package includes Black Hawk helicopters, Patriot anti-missile missiles, and two refurbished Osprey-class mine-hunting ships. The move has angered China, which has threatened sanctions on any US firm who sells weapons to Taiwan.
In Michigan, explosive details have emerged from the long-awaited release of the autopsy report for a Detroit-area Muslim imam slain by the FBI in October. The imam, Luqman Ameen Abdullah, headed a Sunni Muslim group called the Ummah. He was shot dead during an FBI raid shortly after being indicted on charges of conspiracy to commit federal crimes. Local Muslim leaders have questioned if authorities are trying to cover up facts surrounding his death. The autopsy report was finally released Monday after a lengthy delay. It shows Abdullah died from twenty-one gunshot wounds and was found with his wrists handcuffed behind his back. House Judiciary Chair John Conyers is expected to join a coalition of civil rights and Muslim groups today to call for a Justice Department probe.
In West Virginia, the mining giant Massey Energy has won a court order barring nonviolent protests at its mountaintop removal sites. A federal judge granted Massey’s request for a temporary restraining order against five activists who took part in an eight-day tree-sitting action that blocked mining operations on Coal River Mountain. The action ended on Friday. Massey is also seeking $75,000 in damages. The ruling blocks further protests from "trespassing or otherwise congregating" in mining areas as well as "interfering, obstructing, blocking, impeding or tampering with" mining operations.
In Tennessee, a nuclear waste processing company has settled a lawsuit accusing it of exposing African American workers to higher radiation levels than white colleagues. The company is ironically called RACE, which stands for Radiological Assistance, Consulting and Engineering. The US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission brought the suit against RACE. In addition to the excessive radiation exposure, the lawsuit says the company’s white managers assigned African American workers to work near radioactive waste while cordoning off white workers in a separate area. The managers also allegedly manipulated dosimeters that measure radiation exposure to hide their actions. One African American worker was suspended and then fired after complaining his superior had used the N-word and other racist slurs. Twenty-three African American employees will receive a combined $650,000 under the settlement.
And lawyers for the Canadian torture and rendition victim Maher Arar are asking the Supreme Court to overturn a lower court ruling blocking him from suing the US government. In 2002, Arar was seized by US officials at Kennedy Airport in New York and rendered to Syria, where he was tortured, interrogated and detained in a tiny underground cell for nearly a year. Last year a federal appeals court ruled allowing the lawsuit to proceed would "offend the separation of powers and inhibit (US) foreign policy." In a statement released by the Center for Constitutional Rights, Arar says he is seeking reversal of rulings "which essentially gave the government the green light to continue the abuse of its executive powers in matters related to National Security."
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