At least five people have been killed in a U.S. drone strike in Pakistan earlier today. The strike hit a home in the North Waziristan tribal area. It was at least the seventh U.S. drone strike in less than two weeks.
The drone attack in Pakistan comes as CIA nominee John Brennan continues to come under scrutiny for his role in the Obama administration’s drone warfare overseas. New evidence has emerged casting doubts on Brennan’s claims that he was unaware of concerns over civilian casualties prior to a major June 2011 speech defending the strikes. In his remarks at the time, Brennan had said there was not “a single collateral death” in the previous year of drone attacks. Brennan later qualified his remarks by saying he had no information to the contrary at the time. But the Bureau of Investigative Journalism has revealed that the U.S. ambassador at the time, Cameron Munter, conveyed Pakistani concerns directly to the “highest levels” of the Obama White House. The concerns centered around a March 2011 strike that killed 42 Pakistanis, most of them civilians.
Vice President Joe Biden met with gun control advocates at the White House on Wednesday as part of his task force on tackling gun violence in the United States. In a welcome message to his guests, Biden vowed President Obama would take meaningful action, through executive order if need be.
Vice President Joe Biden: “We’re here today to deal with a problem that requires our immediate action, urgent action, and the president and I are determined to take action. This is not an exercise in photo opportunities or just getting to ask you all what your opinions are. We’re reaching out to all — all parties on whatever side of this debate you fall, but the president is going to act. There are executive orders, executive action that can be taken. We haven’t decided what that is yet, but we’re compiling it all with help of the attorney general and all the rest of the Cabinet members, as well as legislative action we believe is required.”
Biden is set to meet today with representatives of the National Rifle Association, as well gun retailers including Wal-Mart.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has unveiled what he has billed as the toughest gun control legislation in the country in the aftermath of last month’s Newtown massacre in neighboring Connecticut. In an impassioned State of the State address on Wednesday, Cuomo called for tightening the state ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, as well as new measures to restrict gun sales to those with mental health issues and criminal records.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo: “And I say to you, forget the extremists! It’s simple: No one hunts with an assault rifle! No one needs 10 bullets to kill a deer! And too many innocent people have died already! End the madness now! Pass safe, reasonable gun control in the state of New York! Make this state safer! Save lives! Set an example for the rest of the nation! Let them look at New York and say, 'This is what you can do! And this is what you should do!' This is New York, the progressive capital; you show them how we lead!”
The gun control measure is expected to be approved in the next week, with state Republicans saying they will not stand in its way.
Outside of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s speech, an estimated crowd of more than 1,000 people gathered for a protest urging him to reject the drilling process known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. Cuomo faces a major decision next month when a state moratorium on fracking is set to expire. The demonstrators included legendary folk singer and upstate New Yorker Pete Seeger, who led the crowd in a rendition of the folk classic, “This Land is Your Land.”
Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis has announced her resignation ahead of President Obama’s second term beginning later this month. Solis is the first Latina to lead a federal agency and was known for her public support of unions, pushing measures including the Employee Free Choice Act, which would have removed barriers to unionizing workers. In a statement, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka praised her tenure, saying: “[Solis] brought urgently needed change to the Department of Labor, putting the U.S. government firmly on the side of working families.”
President Obama is reportedly set to nominate his chief of staff, Jack Lew, to replace Timothy Geithner at the Treasury Department for Obama’s second term. Lew would mirror Geithner in heading Treasury after a stint on Wall Street, working at the financial giant Citicorp between 2006 and 2010.
The U.N.-Arab League envoy to Syria has issued his strongest words to date against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Speaking to BBC News, Lakhdar Brahimi appeared to endorse Assad’s departure from government as part of any political solution in Syria.
Lakhdar Brahimi: “What people are saying is that the family ruling for 40 years is a little bit too long. So the change has to be — has to be real. And I think that President Assad could take the lead in responding to this aspiration of his people rather than resisting it.”
Afghan President Hamid Karzai is in Washington for talks with President Obama on U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan after the withdrawal deadline of 2014. Obama administration officials have recently floated troop numbers ranging from zero to 20,000 after combat operations formally come to an end. Karzai kicked off his visit on Wednesday by meeting a group of senators.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai: “The trip has just begun, and I’ll be meeting over two days with members of the Senate and the administration. I hope we get back to Afghanistan what the Afghans expect of me to take back to them.”
In India, the identity of the woman who died after being gang-raped and mutilated with a metal bar on a moving bus in New Delhi has been publicly revealed. Jyoti Singh Pandey was 23 years old when she succumbed to her injuries after nearly two weeks in the hospital last month. The five suspects in her rape and murder briefly appeared in court today for a second time. A member of their defense team, Manohar Lal Sharma, is drawing ire after also saying he has never heard of a “respected lady” being raped in India. In an interview with Bloomberg News, Sharma said, “Until today, I have not seen a single incident or example of rape with a respected lady.” Sharma blamed the attack on the victim and her male companion, who was also injured, saying the man was “wholly responsible,” because the unmarried pair should not have been out on the streets at night. At a recent public event in India, the U.S. playwright and activist Eve Ensler appeared with the Indian activist Aruna Roy to discuss the response to the case.
Eve Ensler: “If the good men who are not doing the raping, if the good fathers who are teaching different things, do not rise up and speak to the other men and train the other men and educate the other men and work with the other men, we will never end violence against women and girls. So it’s been very moving to be traveling across India and meeting such gorgeous, loving, tender men who are with us in this struggle.”
Aruna Roy: “The death penalty or castration is not going to cure society of this violence. We have to look at the roots of this violence: inequality, injustice, inequity and a very bad system of governance, where the systems you’ve put in place to implement the law are exploiting it for their own purpose. So what we really need is to look at the total picture.”
The military trial of accused Army whisleblower Bradley Manning has been postponed until June to weigh a prosecution request to use classified information as evidence against him. On Wednesday, prosecutors said they will introduce evidence that shows Osama bin Laden sought out and received some of the U.S. government cables that Manning is accused of having released to WikiLeaks. Prosecutors also say they will present transcripts of an online chat between Manning and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. On Wednesday, Manning’s attorneys renewed their offer for him to plead guilty to passing on the documents to WikiLeaks if the government drops charges of espionage and aiding the enemy. Manning’s offer would subject him to a sentence of up to 20 years instead of the life term he faces behind bars.
One of the largest pension funds in the country has announced it is divesting from all its holdings in firearms following last month’s shooting massacre in Newtown, Connecticut. The California State Teachers’ Retirement System voted unanimously Wednesday to unload its roughly $12 million investments in three gun companies, including Freedom Group, the manufacturer of the Bushmaster semi-automatic rifle that was used in the killing of 20 young children and seven adults in the Newtown rampage. Pension funds in a number of other states are considering following suit.
The website Gawker is sparking controversy for posting the names of every licensed gun owner in New York City. The list was obtained through a Freedom of Information Law request from the New York City Police Department. It is 446 pages long and appears to include the names of Fox News chief Roger Ailes and Fox host Sean Hannity, as well as radio host Don Imus and business magnate Donald Trump. The Gawker story also notes that the names of 1.2 million New Yorkers licensed to own guns — and many of their addresses — have been available online for over two years. Gawker’s move comes after the New York paper The Journal News faced a massive backlash for publishing the names and addresses of gun owners in New York’s Westchester and Rockland counties and posting maps of their locations online. The newspaper had to hire armed guards to monitor its offices after a torrent of threatening emails and phone calls.
In France, the co-founder of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, and two other Kurdish women activists have been shot dead in Paris. Sakine Cansiz and the two others were found dead at a Kurdish information center. The PKK’s leaders have recently begun talks with the Turkish government in a bid to resolve a longstanding conflict.