Israeli officials are blaming Iran after Israeli diplomats were targeted in nearly simultaneous bombings in India and the former Soviet state of Georgia. Four people were injured in India, including the wife of the Israeli embassy’s defense attaché. The bomb in Georgia was disarmed after it was discovered on a vehicle parked at the Israeli embassy. Iran denied responsibility for Monday’s bombings, saying the Israeli accusations were part of a “psychological war” against it. Meanwhile, authorities in Thailand say an Iranian man carrying explosives blew off his own legs and wounded four other people in two blasts earlier today in Bangkok.
Iran has accused Israel of being behind the recent assassinations of five Iranian nuclear scientists inside Iran. Last week, NBC reported that the Israeli secret service has provided money, training and weapons to an Iranian dissident group that is thought to be responsible for the killings of the scientists. An Iranian official said Mossad, the Israeli secret service, trained the group on the use of motorcycles to attach small magnetic bombs to cars, as well as building a replica of an Iranian scientist’s home for the group to use in training. The Iranian group, called the People’s Mujahedin of Iran, may also have been involved in a November explosion near Tehran that destroyed a missile facility and killed more than a dozen researchers.
Syrian government forces have reportedly attacked opponents of President Bashar al-Assad on several fronts, sending residents fleeing from one town near the capital and bombarding the city of Homs for an 11th day running. Citizens of Homs are facing a humanitarian crisis. Food and fuel are scarce and most shops shut due to relentless shelling and rocket fire. At the United Nations, Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said Assad has been emboldened by what she described as the Security Council’s failure to agree on collective action.
Navi Pillay: “I am particularly appalled by the ongoing onslaught on Homs. Since 3rd February, in further escalation of its assault, the government has used tanks, mortars, rockets and artillery to pummel the city of Homs. According to credible accounts, the Syrian army has shelled densely populated neighborhoods of Homs in what appears to be an indiscriminate attack on civilian areas.”
Security forces in Bahrain have fired tear gas today in an attempt to prevent demonstrators from gathering in the Pearl Roundabout to mark the first anniversary of the start of pro-democracy protests.
The hacking group “Anonymous” claims to have shut down the websites of the Bahraini government as well as the U.S.-based tear gas manufacturer, Combined Systems, which has sold tear gas to the Bahraini and Egyptian governments. Bahrain is a close U.S. ally and the home of the Navy’s Fifth Fleet.
President Obama called on Monday for aggressive spending to boost growth and for higher taxes on the rich. While outlining his $3.8 trillion budget, Obama said he wants wealthier Americans to bear more of the burden of slashing a federal deficit.
President Obama: “We don’t need to be providing additional tax cuts for folks who are doing really, really, really well. Do we want to keep these tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, or do we want to keep investing in everything else—education, clean energy, a strong military, care for our veterans? We can’t do both. We can’t afford it. Some people go around, they say, 'Well, the President is engaging in class warfare.' That’s not class warfare, that’s common sense.”
Republican Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama criticized Obama’s budget plan.
Sen. Jeff Sessions: “Under the pronouncements that we’re hearing from the White House, this budget reduces our deficit by $4 trillion. That is absolutely untrue. It doesn’t reduce the deficit at all, virtually.”
In campaign news, Rick Santorum has overtaken Mitt Romney in a pair of national polls for the first time. Meanwhile, The National Review, a prominent conservative publication, has called for Newt Gingrich to quit the race and endorse Santorum.
The New Jersey State Senate voted in favor of a same-sex marriage bill on Monday. The bill is expected to reach the New Jersey State Assembly on Thursday, but Gov. Chris Christie has vowed to veto it. Meanwhile, Washington became the seventh state to legalize same-sex marriage after Gov. Chris Gregoire signed a measure into law Monday. Opponents there have filed a referendum challenging the law. If opponents collect the more than 120,000 signatures required before June 6, the law would be put on hold pending a November vote.
Senate Republicans are trying again to revive the proposed Keystone XL tar sands oil pipeline. On Monday, Senate Republicans introduced an amendment to a federal transportation bill that would speed the construction and operation of the controversial pipeline. In response, more than 600,000 people signed an online petition in a matter of hours on Monday opposing the pipeline.
Republican leaders in the House are facing criticism for their version of a transportation bill. The House bill would allow oil and gas drilling in U.S. coastal waters and eliminate a decades-long agreement guaranteeing mass transit a one-fifth share of fuel taxes and other fees. In an interview with Politico earlier this month, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood called the House measure “the worst transportation bill” he had seen in decades, while the New York Times editorial board called the bill “uniquely terrible.”
IPhone and computer manufacturer Apple has announced officials from the Fair Labor Association have begun monitoring its suppliers’ factories in China following a string of reports about labor abuses. The labor rights inspectors began their investigation Monday in the Chinese city of Shenzhen, home of a massive Foxconn factory. The Fair Labor Association has been criticized by some labor activists for its close ties to corporate America. The Association is funded by 34 companies, including Nike and Liz Claiborne.
China’s Vice President Xi Jinping is scheduled to meet with President Obama in Washington today. His visit comes at a time when the Obama administration is stepping up military ties to several of China’s neighbors, including the Philippines and Vietnam. On Monday, members of Students for a Free Tibet rallied in Washington.
Tenzin Dorjee: “I want to send a message to President Obama that he should put the strongest pressure he can on Xi Jinping and seize this opportunity to urge the Chinese leadership to stop the atrocities in Tibet right now.”
Meanwhile, another Tibetan Buddhist monk in China has set himself on fire to protest China’s rule over Tibet. At least 20 Tibetans have set fire to themselves over the past year.
A study has found most New York medical centers are violating rules meant to help patients who cannot afford healthcare. The state’s Indigent Care Pool, which is funded partly by a surcharge on hospital bills, distributes more than $1 billion each year to help patients without insurance pay for medical care. But a study by the Community Service Society found two-thirds of hospitals whose aid applications were studied either violate the law, fail to comply with state guidance, or create additional barriers to assistance — despite receiving a combined total of more than $463 million for the program in 2010. Some hospitals did not even provide financial aid applications. The New York Times detailed the story of one uninsured patient who was sued by the hospital after she amassed $88,000 in hospital bills. That hospital had received more than $50 million that year to help care for uninsured patients.
Secret New York City police documents have revealed a confidential police informant spied on Reverend Al Sharpton’s National Action Network as the group was meeting to discuss protests against the police killing of Sean Bell. The informant attended a meeting held by the group in 2008 after three detectives were acquitted of killing of Bell, who died on the morning of his wedding in 2006 after police fired 50 shots. A police document shows the informant gave police a description of protest plans and the names of people involved.
A pair of Occupy Wall Street protesters have sued New York Police Deputy Inspector Anthony Bologna for pepper-spraying them in the face during a protest in September in Manhattan. The lawsuit states, “Anthony Bologna maced the plaintiffs as they were exercising their constitutionally protected rights, including freedom of speech and freedom of assembly.” The two protesters, Chelsea Elliott and Jeanne Mansfield, were captured on videotape being pepper-sprayed while surrounded by police netting.
Three Occupy protesters were arrested in Tacoma, Washington, Monday night as they disrupted a campaign rally by Rick Santorum. The Republican presidential candidate responded by describing Occupy protesters as a “radical element” that represents “true intolerance.”
In environmental news, 16 Greenpeace activists were arrested Monday for protesting at a coal plant in Asheville, North Carolina. The protesters latched themselves to equipment and even scaled a 400-foot smokestack.