U.S. and NATO officials are vowing to stay the course in Afghanistan after Taliban militants shot down a U.S. military helicopter west of Kabul Saturday, killing 38 people including 30 U.S. troops. For U.S. forces, it was the bloodiest single incident of the 10-year-old Afghanistan war. Twenty-two of the dead were members of the elite Navy SEALs, including many who were members of SEAL Team 6, the unit that conducted the Osama bin Laden raid. U.S. officials said the helicopter carrying the Navy SEALs were on a mission to target a high-level Taliban commander. But Afghan officials say the Taliban may have lured U.S. forces to the scene by tipping them off that a Taliban meeting was taking place. Brigadier General Carsten Jacobsen is a NATO spokesperson.
Brigadier General Carsten Jacobsen, NATO Senior Spokesman: “The incident, as tragic as it was in its magnitude, will have no influence on the conduct of operations. It was a tragic day. It was a tragic loss. We suffer wounded and death every day. The campaign is going to continue. We will continue to relentlessly pursue the enemy in the fight that we are taking to them.”
Meanwhile, four other NATO soldiers were killed in separate militant attacks on Sunday.
In a move that has shaken the world’s finance markets, the credit rating agency Standard & Poor’s has downgraded the United States’ AAA credit rating for the first time. In its report, S&P explicitly blamed the political process in Washington and the refusal by Republicans to raise taxes. S&P writes, “We have changed our assumption on this because the majority of Republicans in Congress continue to resist any measure that would raise revenues, a position we believe Congress reinforced by passing the act.” U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner criticized S&P’s decision.
U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner: “I think the S&P has shown really terrible judgment, and they’ve handled themselves very poorly. And they’ve shown a stunning lack of knowledge about basic U.S. fiscal budget math. And I think they drew exactly the wrong conclusion.”
Democratic Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts appeared on Meet the Press Sunday. Kerry blamed the Tea Party for the credit downgrade.
Massachusetts Senator John Kerry: “I believe this is, without question, the Tea Party downgrade. This is the Tea Party downgrade because a minority of people in the House of Representatives countered even the will of many Republicans in the United States Senate, who were prepared to do a bigger deal, to do $4.7 trillion, $4 trillion, have a mix of reductions and reforms, in Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, but also recognize that we needed to do some revenue.”
Some experts say the credit downgrade could result in higher interest rates for home mortgages, credit cards, car loans and other loans to consumers and businesses.
Some 45,000 unionized workers at Verizon have entered their second day on strike. The strike was called after negotiations broke down between Verizon and two unions representing the workers, Communications Workers of America and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. Verizon was attempting to cut health and pension benefits for workers and make it easier for the company to fire workers. Verizon, the nation’s second-largest U.S. phone carrier, earned $6.9 billion in net income for the first six months of the year. It is the first strike at Verizon in 11 years.
Saudi Arabia has recalled its ambassador to Syria as the Syrian regime continues to escalate its violent crackdown on protesters. In a statement, Saudi King Abdullah demanded an end to the “killing machine and bloodshed.” There are reports that the Syrian army is shelling the eastern city of Deir ez-Zor for a second day. Syrian activists say at least 100 anti-government protesters were killed on Sunday.
British police arrested more than 100 people last night in London following a second night of unrest in some of the city’s poorest neighborhoods. Riots first broke out on Saturday night in the north London section of Tottenham following a vigil for a 29-year-old man shot dead by police as they tried to arrest him. Local residents said the rioting was sparked in part by anger over high unemployment in the neighborhood and cuts in public services.
The New York Times has revealed the United States has increased its involvement in Mexico’s bloody drug war. In recent weeks, CIA operatives and former military personnel have been posted at a Mexican military base in the northern region of the country. Manned by Drug Enforcement Administration agents, CIA officials and retired military personnel members, the intelligence outpost is modeled after compounds operated by the United States in Iraq and Afghanistan. For the first time, U.S. operatives are reportedly working alongside Mexican authorities in collecting information about drug cartels and planning operations. Officials from both countries are also considering embedding private security contractors in a specially vetted Mexican counter-narcotics police unit. In addition to efforts at intelligence collaboration, the United States has also begun flying unmanned drones over Mexican soil in recent months.
The Israeli Knesset is planning to hold an emergency meeting to address the nation’s growing protest movement. The legislative body is expected to convene Wednesday or early next week. Sharply rising prices of housing, fuel and food have prompted widespread demonstrations throughout Israel in recent weeks. On Saturday, as many as 300,000 people marched in Tel Aviv.
Galia Golan, protester: “Once, we had the smallest gaps between rich and poor. We had the smallest gap in the world. Today we are number one for the largest gaps between rich and poor. And I think what we’re seeing here tonight, what we’ve been seeing for the past few weeks, is that people have simply had enough.”
Despite the outpouring of discontent, the Israeli government announced earlier today it had approved an increase in electricity prices.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry led 30,000 people in prayer at a controversial rally in Houston this weekend titled “The Response: A Call to Prayer for a Nation in Crisis.” The seven-hour gathering was designed by Perry and sponsored in part by the American Family Association, which opposes same-sex marriage and has condemned Muslims. The event, which drew 30,000 participants, was also backed by the International House of Prayer, whose evangelical founder argues Oprah Winfrey is a Satanic religious leader. Though billed as an apolitical day of prayer for a nation in crisis, the response was filled with calls for an end to abortion and gave Perry the opportunity to appeal to Christian conservatives. Perry is widely expected to soon announce his candidacy for U.S. president. Critics denounced the gathering for blurring the lines between church and state.
The Response was dwarfed in comparison to Houston’s first-ever, citywide back-to-school event held just seven miles away on Sunday. An estimated 100,000 people showed up to receive free backpacks, school supplies, uniforms, haircut vouchers, immunizations and fresh produce. The demand for the much-needed supplies was so great officials were forced to shut the event down at 10:00 a.m. and turn people away.
Immigrant rights groups are criticizing the Obama administration for unilaterally pushing ahead with its Secure Communities program, a controversial federal immigration enforcement policy that requires local police to forward fingerprints of every person they arrest to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. In recent months, the governors of Illinois, Massachusetts and New York announced they had pulled out of the program. But now officials from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) are saying the program is not voluntary and that local governments cannot opt out of it. On Friday, ICE sent a letter to local and state governors terminating all existing agreements with jurisdictions over the program. ICE said the agreements were no longer “required to activate or operate Secure Communities.”
Tibet’s government-in-exile has sworn in Harvard University academic Lobsang Sangay as its new prime minister. Making his inaugural speech, Sangay vowed to fight what he called Chinese colonialism and sought to dismiss suggestions that the eventual death of the 76-year-old Dalai Lama would mark the end of Tibet’s resistance movement. Critics have argued Sangay’s lack of experience in Tibet and administration will present serious challenges to his new role as leader.
One of the soldiers convicted of abusing Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib was released on Saturday after serving more than six years in a Kansas military prison barracks. Charles Graner was released after serving more than 6.5 years of a 10-year sentence. Graner was photographed at Abu Ghraib giving a “thumbs up” sign behind naked Iraqis piled into a pyramid and grinning over a corpse.
Japan commemorated the 66th anniversary of the U.S. bombing of Hiroshima Saturday in a ceremony that focused on both the 1945 attack and the nation’s ongoing nuclear crisis. Japan continues to suffer from the worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl following the meltdown of the Fukushima Daiichi power plant, caused by a massive mid-March tsunami. Prime Minister Naoto Kan honored the dead from the World War II bombing, then said he deeply regretted believing the so-called “security myth,” which suggested Japan could be safely powered by the same atomic forces that instantly killed 70,000 Japanese people over six decades ago. The acute effects of the Hiroshima bombing would eventually kill an estimated 166,000 people. In the wake of the most recent crisis, polls show 70 percent of the Japanese public wants nuclear energy phased out. Tomorrow marks the 66th anniversary of the U.S. bombing of Nagasaki, which followed the attack on Hiroshima and left at least 75,000 people dead.
Former Republican Senator Mark Hatfield of Oregon has died at the age of 89. Hatfield was a longtime critic of the nation’s excessive military spending. In 1970, he joined Democratic Senator George McGovern in sponsoring an amendment to bring U.S. troops home from Vietnam; he later spearheaded an effort with Sen. Edward M. Kennedy to freeze the nuclear arms race; and, in 1990, was one of only two Republican senators to vote against going to war in the Persian Gulf.