The United Nations says the number of people suffering from the massive floods in Pakistan has now exceeded 13 million — more than the combined total of people affected by the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, the 2005 Kashmir earthquake and the 2010 Haiti earthquake combined, though the death toll in Pakistan is far lower. The UN says just under 300,000 homes have been destroyed or damaged — almost the same as those destroyed in Haiti. At least 1,600 people have died in Pakistan, and two million have been left homeless. The Islamic Relief charity says the floods have destroyed the entire infrastructure of parts of Pakistan.
Michael O’Brien, International Committee of the Red Cross in Pakistan: “I would say that, early on, the scope of this disaster might have been a little underestimated. It’s really quite catastrophic in its proportions, and it’s going to have a long-term impact. But in terms of the international community, I think they’re probably aware of the problem now. The issue is no country would have coped easily with the extent of the damage that’s been caused here. It’s just enormous.”
In technology news, Google and Verizon have issued a proposal that could radically restructure the internet by essentially creating a two-tiered internet system. At first glance, the Google and Verizon proposal appears to promote the idea of net neutrality, that users should have equal access to all types of information online. But the Google and Verizon proposal includes a massive loophole that would exempt from net neutrality protections all internet access over cellphone and wireless networks and any future new subscription services that broadband providers could offer. Jason Rosenbaum is with the Progressive Change Campaign Committee.
Jason Rosenbaum: “The Google and Verizon deal announced today is the first step towards corporate control over the internet. They propose creating two tiers of internet service: a public version of the internet that everybody will be able to use without fear of discrimination and then a private version that the big corporations will control absolutely. And that’s the version that they are likely going to put all of their investment in. So when it comes down to it, people in America will have a choice: they’ll be able to use the corporate-controlled internet, where they’ll get their information from corporate sources very quickly, or they’ll be able to use the, quote-unquote, 'public internet,' and that’s going to be relegated to the slow lane.”
Craig Aaron of the group Free Press says the Google plan could permanently shift who controls the internet.
Craig Aaron: “The beauty of the internet is that you’re able to get online, go wherever you want, do whatever you want, download whatever you want. And if you’re a content creator, then you have the opportunity to have the reach of a television station or a radio station or a cable channel. All you have to have is that good idea or something interesting to say. But if you change the way the internet works, if you reserve that fast lane just for a few select companies, that opportunity goes away.”
Jason Rosenbaum of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee says he also has concerns about the impact of the Google-Verizon proposal on free speech online.
Jason Rosenbaum: “We’ve already seen how corporate control over networks can lead to political discrimination. So, there was a text message sent out by NARAL Pro-Choice that was blocked by wireless carriers, because the wireless carriers disagreed with the message. When you have internet activities or various online activities running on a corporate-controlled network, you’re opening the door to these kinds of censorship. It’s very much a free speech issue, very much a civil rights issue.”
In military news, Defense Secretary Robert Gates has outlined a plan to reduce slightly the Pentagon’s record half-trillion-dollar annual budget. Gates is proposing to reduce spending on private contractors, to close the Joint Forces Command in Norfolk, Virginia, and eliminate fifty generals and admirals and 150 top civilian posts over two years. The closure of the Joint Forces Command would result in thousands of job losses. Gates did not say how much money the budget cuts will save, but it will be only a small fraction of the Pentagon’s overall budget, which has doubled since 2001. Even with the proposed cuts, the Pentagon’s budget is expected to rise again next year by just under two percent to $549 billion — not including the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The United Nations is reporting civilian casualties have risen by 31 percent in the first half of 2010, a much sharper rise than the recent estimate by an independent Afghan human rights body. The UN report blamed the Taliban and other militant groups for three-quarters of the killings. The number of children killed or injured over the past six months has jumped by 55 percent. Staffan de Mistura of the United Nations said, “Afghan children and women are increasingly bearing the brunt of the conflict.” Meanwhile, the UN said the US and NATO killed 223 civilians in the first six months, a lower tally than in the first six months of last year.
The International Assistance Mission has released the names of its medical aid workers who were killed in Afghanistan last week in an ambush. The attack against the Christian charity has been described as “the worst crime targeting the humanitarian community that has ever taken place in Afghanistan.” The dead included optometrist Dr. Tom Little, sixty-one, of Delmar, New York; thirty-two-year-old Cheryl Beckett of Owensville, Ohio; Dan Terry, sixty-three, of Janesville, Wisconsin; forty-year-old Glen Lapp of Lancaster, Pennsylvania; twenty-five-year-old freelance videographer Brian Carderelli of Harrisonburg, Virginia; and the fifty-one-year-old dentist Thomas Grams of Durango, Colorado. The dead also included two Afghans named Mahram Ali and Jawed, Daniela Beyer of Germany, and Dr. Karen Woo of Britain. The International Assistance Mission has worked in Afghanistan since 1966. Up until last week, the group had lost just four international staff members.
In other Afghan news, General David Petraeus is preparing to launch a public relations campaign to build up support for the war effort. He is scheduled to do a series of high-profile interviews in the coming weeks, beginning with Meet the Press on Sunday.
In news from Guantánamo, a US military judge has ruled that Canadian prisoner Omar Khadr’s confessions to interrogators can be used as evidence against him in his trial, even though Khadr’s lawyers say the statements were illegally obtained through torture and cruelty. Khadr’s attorney Dennis Edney criticized the judge’s decision.
Dennis Edney: “Well, my reaction is that Judge Parrish should go back to school and learn some of the basic principles of law. I guess what he says is it’s OK for a young fifteen-year-old boy who was picked up off the battlefield in an environment that’s hostile, and it’s OK to threaten him with rape and sexual abuse.”
Omar Khadr’s trial on charges including murder and terrorism conspiracy is due to start today. Khadr is a twenty-three-year-old Canadian citizen who has already spent a third of his life in the Guantánamo prison camp. His trial will be the first war crimes tribunal anywhere since World War II to prosecute someone for acts allegedly committed as a juvenile. He was captured in Afghanistan at the age of fifteen.
In an attempt to combat the increasing violence resulting from drug trafficking, former Mexican President Vicente Fox has come out in favor of legalizing drugs in both Mexico and the United States. Fox described legalization as a “strategy to strike and break the economic structure that allows the mafias to generate huge profits in their business.” Fox went on to say, “What is happening is that this huge market of the United States in drug consumption, the largest in the world, is generating the weapons that are sold to Mexican cartels, and is generating the money that is laundered in the United States and brought to Mexico.” It is estimated that 28,000 people have been killed in the drug war in Mexico since 2006.
In news from the Gulf of Mexico, an increasing number of oiled wildlife are being discovered despite recent assertions by BP that just a quarter of the leaked oil remains in the Gulf. The Times-Picayune reports that almost double the daily average of oiled birds are now being collected, while more oiled turtles have been discovered in the last ten days than during the spill’s first three months. Meanwhile, local news sources in the Gulf are reporting recent discoveries by fishermen of crabs with black gills. One fisherman stated, “I have never seen anything like this. There is oil on the bottom out there. The crab is a bottom feeder.” Scientists are also reporting never-before-seen mixtures of dispersant and crude oil inside tiny blue crab collected in Gulf waters.
In Lebanon, the investigation into the 2005 killing of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik al-Hariri has taken a new turn. On Monday, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah claimed Israel was behind the killing, showing intercepted Israeli surveillance footage from an unmanned aerial vehicle of Hariri’s travel routes. Israeli officials dismissed Nasrallah’s claims. Many analysts have predicted the international tribunal investigating the 2005 assassination will hold Hezbollah culpable.
Israel has threatened to pull out of a UN inquiry into the deadly raid on a Turkish flotilla heading for Gaza, if the UN tries to question soldiers who took part in the operation. An aide to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, “Israel will not cooperate with or take part in any panel that seeks to interrogate Israeli soldiers.”
At the war crimes trial of former Liberian president Charles Taylor, actress Mia Farrow told a court hearing Monday that she had heard supermodel Naomi Campbell say she had been given a “huge diamond” by Taylor when he was Liberia’s president. Prosecutors are hoping Farrow’s claim will help establish that Taylor was involved in the trade of so-called blood diamonds illegally mined from Sierra Leone. Last week, Campbell appeared before the court in The Hague and admitted she had received diamonds after a 1997 charity dinner in South Africa, but did not know if they were from Taylor. On Monday, Farrow contradicted Campbell and described meeting with Campbell the morning after she received the diamonds.
Mia Farrow: “From Miss Campbell, Miss Campbell entered the room. My children and I were already eating breakfast. And as I recall it, she was quite excited and said, in effect, 'Oh, my god! In the middle of the night last night,' or 'last night, I was awakened by knocking at the door, and it was men sent by Charles Taylor. And he sent me,' as I recall, 'a huge diamond.'”
And in news from Capitol Hill, the House Ethics Committee issued a report Monday accusing Democratic Congresswoman Maxine Waters of California of three ethics violations. The Los Angeles Times reports she is accused of violating three rules: one that requires its members to “behave at all times in a manner that shall reflect creditably on the House,” a second that prohibits lawmakers from using their influence for personal benefit, and a third forbidding the dispensing of favors.