The Afghan government says at least thirty-three civilians have died in a NATO air strike in the southern Afghan province of Uruzgan. The Afghanistan Council of Ministers strongly condemned the air strike, saying it was “unjustifiable.” The dead included four women and one child. The incident was not part of Operation Moshtarak, the major offensive to combat the Taliban near the town of Marjah. Over the past ten days, another nineteen Afghan civilians have been killed in Marjah. Gen. David Petraeus, who oversees the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, said that Marjah was the opening salvo in a campaign to turn back the Taliban.
Gen. David Petraeus: “This is just the initial operation of what will be a twelve- to eighteen-month campaign, as General McChrystal and his team have mapped it out.”
The Dutch government collapsed on Saturday when the country’s two largest political parties failed to agree on whether to withdraw Dutch troops from Afghanistan this year as planned. The fall of the government all but guarantees that the 2,000 Dutch troops will be brought home this year. The development is seen as a major blow to the US-led NATO alliance against the Taliban. Canada has already said it will withdraw its 2,800 soldiers by the end of 2011.
In Germany, over a thousand antiwar protesters rallied in Berlin on Saturday to demonstrate against Germany’s involvement in Afghanistan. Germany is planning to beef up its presence in Afghanistan, where its 4,300 troops make up the third-largest contingent after the United States and Britain. Many protesters said they did not understand why Germany was in Afghanistan in the first place.
German protester: “It’s almost too late, but we hope to convey the message that not one soldier has to be sent to Afghanistan. That’s why we are protesting here. The German people have paid enough taxes, and there are more and more taxes being squeezed out of us just to finance the American wars. We have in Germany a constitution that is still valid, that states that from German ground we will not instigate a war, but only defend ourselves. The Afghans never attacked us. So what are our soldiers doing in Afghanistan?”
In news from Iraq, a prominent Sunni Arab Party has announced plans to boycott Iraq’s March 7 parliamentary election. The Iraqi Front for National Dialogue called for the boycott after two of its most prominent leaders were disqualified from the election because of supposed ties to Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party. Overall, more than 145 Sunni candidates have been barred from running for office as part of what has been described as an Iranian-instigated purge led by Ahmed Chalabi. Chalabi now heads Iraq’s Accountability and Justice Commission.
The Sunday Times of London reports Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu authorized in early January the assassination of Hamas commander Mahmoud al-Mabhouh. Mabhouh was found dead last month in a Dubai hotel room. According to the paper, Netanyahu personally gave Mossad chief Meir Dagan the green light for the Dubai operation. The paper also reported that the Mossad hit squad trained for the Dubai mission by secretly rehearsing in a Tel Aviv hotel. Israel has neither confirmed nor denied its involvement in al-Mabhouh’s death.
In business news, a newly disclosed internal memo shows a Toyota executive boasted last July that the company saved $100 million by convincing US regulators to end a 2007 investigation of sudden acceleration complaints by issuing a limited recall of floor mats in some vehicles. The document cites millions of dollars in other savings by delaying safety regulations, avoiding defect investigations and slowing down other industry requirements. Since then, Toyota has recalled over eight million vehicles. Toyota’s President Akio Toyoda is scheduled to testify before on Capitol Hill Wednesday.
Meanwhile, the Washington Post reports Toyota has hired crisis management experts from two lobbying firms, Quinn Gillespie & Associates and Glover Park Group. The teams join a force of thirty-two Toyota lobbyists already working Capitol Hill on behalf of Toyota. The Post reports more than 40 percent of the 125 members of Congress serving on the three committees investigating Toyota have received campaign donations over the past ten years from various entities connected to Toyota. Senator John D. Rockefeller, the chair of the Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, was honored at a dinner gala and awards ceremony in 2008 financed with $45,000 in lobbying funds from Toyota Motor North America. On March 3, Rockefeller’s committee will hold an investigative hearing on Toyota.
The House Committee on Energy and Commerce has launched an investigation into potential environmental impacts from the natural gas drilling practice known as hydraulic fracturing. This according to report from ProPublica. Last week, Congressman Henry Waxman revealed two of the largest companies involved in natural gas drilling have acknowledged pumping hundreds of thousands of gallons of diesel-based fluids into the ground.
A suburban Philadelphia school district has admitted it secretly switched on laptop computer cameras inside students’ homes, but officials say the cameras were only remotely activated to find missing or stolen laptops. The Lower Merion School District issued Apple laptops with webcams to all 2,300 students at its two high schools, but students were never informed the school had the ability to remotely activate the laptop cameras to watch them at home. The policy came to light after a student named Blake Robbins and his family filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the school system. Blake Robbins’ family said the school activated his webcam when he was eating Mike & Ike candy at home and mistook the sweets for drugs.
Attorney Mark Haltzman: “They’re trying to allege that when Blake was holding two Mike & Ikes in his hand, which he apparently loves and eats religiously, that those were pills, and somehow he’s involved in selling drugs.”
A new study is being released this week examining how various foreign armies have moved to accept openly gay service members. Britain, Canada, Australia and South Africa all allow gay men and lesbians to openly serve. The study by the Palm Center found that the move has not undermined morale or caused large resignations. The study is being released as the Obama administration is beginning to take steps toward repealing the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy. While the Pentagon says it needs to take a year to implement the new policy, the Palm Center study concludes that a speedy implementation of the change is not disruptive.
In political news, the Conservative Political Action Conference has wrapped up its annual conference in Washington. Texas Congressman Ron Paul won CPAC’s 2012 presidential straw poll receiving 31 percent of the votes, easily beating out Mitt Romney and Sarah Palin.
Human rights activists interrupted a performance by the Israeli Ballet in Burlington, Vermont on Friday. During the performance, demonstrators held up a sign reading “No tutu is begin enough to cover up war crimes.” A coalition of pro-Palestinian groups have called for a boycott of the Israeli ballet and other Israeli cultural and academic institutions. Protesters also rallied over the weekend outside performances of the Israeli Ballet in Worcester, Massachusetts and Brooklyn, New York. A video of the Burlington protest was posted on YouTube by the filmmaker Sam Mayfield, but YouTube removed the video, claiming it was in “violation of the YouTube Community Guidelines.”
The NAACP has elected Roslyn Brock to chair the organization’s board of directors succeeding Julian Bond. At forty-four years old, Brock is the NAACP’s youngest board chair. Brock’s election is seen as another move by the NAACP to reach out to younger members. In 2008, thirty-five-year-old Benjamin Jealous became the NAACP’s youngest CEO.
Former Secretary of State Alexander Haig has died at the age of eighty-five. The longtime Republican served as White House chief of staff during the Watergate scandal and secretary of state during the Reagan administration. After the attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan in 1981, Haig declared he was in control of the country.
Alexander Haig: “Constitutionally, gentlemen, you have the president, the vice president and the secretary of state, in that order. And should the president decide he wants to transfer the helm to the vice president, he will do so. As of now, I am in control here in the White House, pending return of the vice president and in close touch with him. If something came up, I would check with him, of course.”
And Sunday marked the forty-fifth anniversary of the assassination of Malcolm X. He was shot before delivering an address at the Audubon Ballroom in New York.