A U.S. drone attack has killed eight people in the Pakistani region of North Waziristan. Pakistani officials say the dead are suspected militants, including an al-Qaeda operative. Three people were injured. The attack follows another strike in Pakistan that killed up to 18 people on Sunday.
Speaking to Reuters, the former commander of U.S. troops in Afghanistan, retired General Stanley McChrystal, became one of the highest-ranking former military officials to publicly question the drone attacks, saying: "The resentment created by American use of unmanned strikes ... is much greater than the average American appreciates. They are hated on a visceral level, even by people who’ve never seen one or seen the effects of one."
A former adviser to Obama on security issues has forcefully come out against drone warfare, saying it is encouraging arms proliferation worldwide while causing unknown civilian casualties. Writing in this month’s issue of International Affairs, La Salle University’s Michael Boyle, an adviser on the Obama campaign’s counterterrorism expert group in 2007 and 2008, writes: "[Obama] has been just as ruthless and indifferent to the rule of law as his predecessor. ... The consequences can be seen in the targeting of mosques or funeral processions that kill non-combatants and tear at the social fabric of the regions where they occur. No one really knows the number of deaths caused by drones in these distant, sometimes ungoverned, lands."
President Obama has formally unveiled his second-term nominations for two key Cabinet posts: former Republican Senator Chuck Hagel for defense secretary and counterterrorism adviser John Brennan to helm the CIA. Hagel and Brennan appeared with Obama on Monday at the White House.
Chuck Hagel: "I’m also grateful for an opportunity to help continue to strengthen our country and strengthen our country’s alliances, and advance global freedom, decency and humanity as we help build a better world for all mankind. I will always do my best. I will do my best for our country, for those I represent at the Pentagon and for all our citizens."
John Brennan: "If confirmed as director, I will make it my mission to ensure that the CIA has the tools it needs to keep our nation safe, and that its work always reflects the liberties, the freedoms and the values that we hold so dear."
Hagel has faced criticism from right-wing foes over his positions on Israel and dealing with Iran, as well as from progressive critics for making denigrating comments in 1998 about gays in government, for which he only recently apologized. Some Democrats have joined Republicans in opposing Hagel over his refusal to back unconditional support for Israeli government policies. On Monday, the ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Eliot Engel of New York, said he believes Hagel has an "endemic hostility towards Israel." Brennan, meanwhile, was a rumored pick for the job when Obama was first elected in 2008 but was forced to withdraw from consideration amid protests over his role at the CIA under the Bush administration. Brennan has publicly supported the CIA’s policies of so-called enhanced interrogation techniques and extraordinary rendition, and was a key proponent of drone strikes in Obama’s first term. As his nomination was announced, the activist group CODEPINK gathered outside the White House in protest. In a nod to the potential opposition he faces with Hagel’s nomination, President Obama urged lawmakers to give his choices a speedy confirmation.
President Obama: "I hope that the Senate will act on these confirmations promptly. And when it comes to national security, we don’t like to leave a lot of gaps between the time that one set of leaders transitions out and another transitions in, so we need to get moving quickly on this."
The financial giant Bank of America has agreed to pay more than $11 billion to the government-backed mortgage finance company Fannie Mae for flooding it with toxic mortgages during the financial crisis. The Justice Department says Bank of America executed a scheme that would blindly hand out mortgages without proper checks and then turn around and sell the toxic loans to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. While Bank of America reaped a windfall, Fannie and Freddie were stuck with huge losses and foreclosed properties.
In another major settlement, Bank of America and nine other major lenders have agreed to pay $8.5 billion to settle claims of wrongfully foreclosing on millions of American homeowners. The settlement covers a number of foreclosure abuses including flawed paperwork, robo-signing, and wrongly modified loans. The settlement will end an independent review of all foreclosures, meaning the banks could be avoiding billions of dollars in further penalties. Diane Thompson, a lawyer with the National Consumer Law Center, criticized the deal, telling the Associated Press: "[The settlement] caps [banks’] liability at a total number that’s less than they thought they were going to pay going in."
Opposition activists in Bahrain are vowing to continue protests despite a court’s decision to uphold the prison terms of 13 top dissidents. The activists were sentenced by a military court in 2011, eight of them to life behind bars, after leading massive protests against Bahrain’s Sunni monarchy. Their terms were upheld by Bahrain’s top court on Monday, ending their legal options. Sheikh Ali Salman of the Bahraini opposition party Al Wefaq said protests will continue undeterred.
Sheikh Ali Salman: "Demonstrations will continue following this type of ruling in the courts. And this kind of ruling will further build the strength for the people who are seeking democracy. We hope that a political solution emerges that gives priority to democracy, human rights and freedom, that will benefit everyone in Bahrain."
Bahrain is a key U.S. government ally, hosting the Navy’s Fifth Fleet.
Protests were held nationwide Monday at the offices of the oil company TransCanada in opposition to the Keystone XL tar sands oil pipeline. At least 50 activists with the group Tar Sands Blockade gathered at TransCanada’s U.S. headquarters in Houston, leading to two arrests. Similar actions were also held at TransCanada offices in Massachusetts, Michigan and Wisconsin, with another rally planned for today in New York.
The protests came as a coalition of more than 70 environmental groups released an open letter urging President Obama to meaningfully confront climate change in his second term. The letter urges Obama to begin by rejecting the Keystone XL, saying: "The Keystone XL tar sands pipeline is not in our national interest because it would unlock vast amounts of additional carbon that we can’t afford to burn, extend our dangerous addiction to fossil fuels, endanger health and safety, and put critical water resources at risk."
Speculation that Obama will approve the pipeline has grown in recent weeks following the sudden resignation of U.S. Environmental Protection Agency head Lisa Jackson. A source reportedly close to Jackson told the New York Post she did not want to be at the EPA when the pipeline is given the green light, saying: "She will not be the EPA head when Obama supports [Keystone XL] getting built."
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