Headlines: Pakistan Faces Humanitarian Crisis; Obama Admin Wants To Bring Spy Training Program To Colleges

Democracy Now Headlines: Pakistan Faces Humanitarian Crisis; Obama Admin Wants To Bring Spy Training Program To Colleges

Headlines from DemocracyNow.org, a daily TV/radio news program, hosted by Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez, airing on over 650 stations, pioneering the largest community media collaboration in the US.

Iran’s Guardian Council Admits to Vote Irregularities

Iranian authorities have acknowledged some irregularities have been found in Iran’s presidential election results. The influential Guardian Council admitted the number of votes collected in 50 cities surpassed the number of people eligible to cast ballot in those areas. Authorities said the discrepancies could affect as many as three million votes. According to the official results of the disputed election, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad beat Mir Hossein Mousavi by about 11 million votes.

Mousavi Calls For More Street Protests

Meanwhile Mousavi and former Iranian president Mohammad Khatami have defied Iran”s Supreme Leader and urged protesters to continue street demonstrations calling for a new election. Iranian state media reports that between 10 and 19 people were killed during protests on Saturday. Iranian police fired tear gas and water cannons at the protesters. Iranian state radio reported 457 protesters were arrested. On Sunday Iranian police briefly detained five relatives of former Iranian president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a close ally of Mousavi Reporters Without Borders says Iran is now jailing 30 journalists and cyber-dissidents including Newsweek reporter Maziar Bahari who has been held since Sunday.

Iran’s Web Spying Aided By European Firms Siemens and Nokia

The Wall Street Journal reports European telecommunications companies have helped the Iranian government develop one of the world”s most sophisticated mechanisms for controlling and censoring the Internet. The monitoring capability was provided, at least in part, by a joint venture of the German-based Siemens AG and Nokia, the Finnish cellphone company. Using the technology, the Iranian government appears to be engaging in a practice often called deep packet inspection, which enables authorities to not only block communication but to monitor it to gather information about individuals, as well as alter it for disinformation purposes.

Israel To Allocate $250 Million For West Bank Settlements

In other news, Israeli army radio is reporting Israel plans to allocate 250 million dollars over the next two years for settlements in the occupied West Bank despite pressure to halt settlement activity from the Obama administration. Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman met with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon last week and rejected calls for a freeze on the settlements, which are considered illegal under international law.

Avigdor Liberman: “I think and I say again settlements are not an obstacle to achieve peace. We know that even before ’67, before we even established one settlement, the situation was the same.”

Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad Al-Malki challenged Lieberman’s claim.

Riyad Al-Malki: “With the continuation of the settlement activities, it will be impossible to create a viable, contiguous Palestinian state on the ’67 borders. Nobody shares with Israeli Foreign Minister (Avigdor) Lieberman this view that the construction of settlement activities in occupied Palestinian territories has no connection to the peace process or has no influence to the achieving a peace between the Palestinians and the Israelis.”

Shiite Mosque Attacked in Iraq, 73 Die

In Iraq, at least 73 people died Saturday when a suicide bomber struck a Shiite mosque near Kirkuk. It was the deadliest attack in Iraq in more than a year. Another 15 people died today in a series of bomb attacks in Baghdad.

Two U.S. Soldiers Die in Rocket Attack On Bagram Air Base

In Afghanistan two US troops were killed Sunday when Bagram Air Base came under a rocket attack. Six other people were injured.

U.S. Admits Afghan Air Strike Killed At least 26 Civilians

Meanwhile, an internal U.S. military investigation into a U.S. airstrike on May 4th has confirmed that U.S. forces killed at least 26 Afghan civilians and possibly as many as 86. The military released the internal report on Friday but withheld making public a video from the attack despite an earlier promise from Gen. David Petraeus, the commander of U.S. Central Command.

Kidnapped NYT Reporter Escapes From Taliban

In other news from Afghanistan, a New York Times reporter has escaped from the Taliban after being held hostage for seven months. David Rohde was abducted on Nov. 10 but his kidnapping had been kept a secret by the Times and other western media outlets.

Pakistan Faces Humanitarian Crisis

The United Nations has launched an urgent appeal for funds to help the UN respond to the massive humanitarian crisis facing Pakistan. Over 3 million Pakistanis have been displaced in recent weeks due to the Pakistani military”s offensive against the Taliban in the Swat Valley. Last week the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres, said the Pakistan displacement crisis is probably the world”s biggest since events in Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo in the 90s. Last month the UN appealed for about $540 million from the international community, but only about 35 percent of the funding has been received. The humanitarian crisis in Pakistan is expected to soon worsen as the Pakistani military prepares to expand its offensive against militants by attacking South Waziristan.

Report: One Billion People Go Hungry Every Day

World hunger is projected to reach a record high this year with more than a billion people going hungry every day. This is an increase of some 100 million people over the past year.

Obama Admin Wants To Bring Spy Training Program To Colleges

The Obama administration has proposed offering federal money to colleges and universities to help train students to become spies for the CIA and other intelligence agencies. The Washington Post reports the intelligence officer training program would function much like ROTC, the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps run by the military with the government subsidizing the cost of school in return for future service. However, unlike ROTC, the students’ participation in the spy training program would likely be kept secret.

ACLU Files Suit Over Communication Management Units

The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a lawsuit against the federal Bureau of Prisons challenging the legality of the government”s use of secretive prison units known as Communication Management Units or CMUs. The units are designed to severely restrict prisoner communication with family members, the media and the outside world. Most of the prisoners held in the CMUs have been Muslim men but the units have also held political activists including the environmental activist Daniel McGowan who is being held at a CMU in Marion, Illinois. Daniel McGowan’s attorney Lauren Regan appeared on Democracy Now in April.

Lauren Regan: “The inmates there do call Marion, Illinois, ‘Little Guantanamo.’ Part of the reason that they call it that is because it is a secret facility. They do feel as if they are being hidden, not only from society at large, but from other inmates in the federal system.”

Federal Authorities Approve Gun Sales to People On Terrorist Watch List

The National Rifle Association is opposing a proposed bill that would block gun sales to people on the government”s terrorist watch list. Democratic Senator Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey plans to introduce the bill today. A new government study found people on the government’s terrorist watch list have tried to buy guns nearly 1,000 times in the last five years. Federal authorities cleared the purchases 90 percent of the time because they had no legal way to stop them. Under current federal law, people named on the terrorist watch list can be barred from boarding an airplane or getting a visa, but they cannot be stopped from buying a gun.

Poll: 72% Of Americans back Creation of Public Healthcare Plan

A new poll by the New York Times and CBS News has found that 72 percent of Americans support the government creating a public healthcare plan, similar to Medicare, which would compete with private insurance plans. The poll also found the majority of Americans now believe the government would do a better job than private insurance companies in providing medical coverage.

Nestle Recalls Cookie Dough Products Due to E.Coli Scare

The food giant Nestle has recalled all Toll House refrigerated cookie dough products because of e.coli contamination. The Food and Drug Administration said there has been 66 reports of illness across 28 states since March from the contaminated cookie dough.

Bermuda Prime Minister Survives No-Confidence Vote

In Bermuda, Prime Minister Ewart Brown has survived a vote of no-confidence. Brown had been criticized for agreeing in secret with the Obama administration to accept former Guantanamo prisoners.

Obama Jokes About Plight of Uighurs

Bermuda and the Pacific island nation of Palau have both accepted a group of Uighur prisoners who had been held at Guantanamo for seven years even though U.S. officials admitted they were wrongly detained. The Uighers are Chinse Muslims who could not be returned to China out of fear that they would be imprisoned and tortured. Over the weekend President Obama joked about the plight of the Uighurs during the Radio TV Correspondent’s Dinner.

President Obama: “Nick At Nite has a new take on an old classic: ‘Leave It To Uighurs.’ [laughter] I thought was pretty good.”

Obama also joked about the refusal of other countries from accepting prisoners held at Guantanamo.

President Obama: “I have to say as I have travelled to all of these countries, I found firsthand how much people truly have in common with one another, because no matter where I went there is one thing that I heard over and over again from every world leader: no thanks, but have you considered Palau?”

Welsh Activist Denied Entry To U.S.

The Welsh folk singer and language activist Arfon Gwilym has been forced to cancel an appearance at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival in Washington after he was denied a visa by U.S. officials. Gwilym is a prominent campaigner for the preservation of the Welsh language. He was denied the visa because he has been arrested several times while campaigning for bilingual road signs in Wales and for a Welsh-language television channel.

Indian Musician Ali Akbar Khan, 87, Dies

And the master Indian musician Ali Akbar Khan has died at the age of 87. Khan played a pivotal role in introducing western audiences to Indian music.

Afghanistan and Pakistan: Myths and Facts

Peace Action

The national anti-war group Peace Action has released a new briefing paper titled “Afghanistan and Pakistan: Myths and Facts” that looks at some of the commonly cited arguments in support of the Afghanistan War.

Unfortunately, after seven years of war, we’re still at the stage where a lot of educational work is needed on Afghanistan before there will likely be a successful push to curtail the war and end the U.S. occupation (after all, we’re still in Iraq and there was much more significant opposition to that war), to that end, we are reprinting Peace Action’s factsheet below:

1. MYTH: Expanded US military activity furthers national security and upholds our national values.

FACT: Widening the war will be counterproductive both to our national security objectives and to our national values. As is already evident, it will de-stabilize the region, including Pakistan. Americans will also be increasingly causing the deaths of many women, children, elderly and other innocent civilians and disrupting the efforts of thousands of Afghan villagers to flee their villages in order to escape the spreading violence.

2. MYTH: Winning the war in Afghanistan requires a military victory for US forces.

FACT: Secretary of Defense Gates, Secretary of State Clinton, National Security Advisor Jones, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mullen, and even President Obama, himself, each have acknowledged that the internal conflict in Afghanistan cannot finally be won by military means. They have publicly agreed that it will have to be won, if it can, by dramatic improvements in the economy, the political system, government services, and the courts.

3. MYTH: The additional US troops will primarily be training the Pakistani Army and police, and are not being sent for combat operations.

FACT: Thousands of additional troops are being sent to Afghanistan, largely from the 82 Airborne Division, the premier regular combat unit of the Army. Such soldiers are not being sent as “trainers,” to lecture in classrooms. Instead, they will accompany Afghan soldiers on patrols and attempted ambushes to monitor and instruct their Afghan counterparts They will inevitably engage in combat alongside their “students” and suffer casualties — just as GI’s did while on “training missions” in Iraq and Vietnam. More Americans will die and, at the same time, their fighting role will alienate the Afghan people.

4. MYTH: The U.S. military will help defeat the Taliban and prevent them from providing a refuge and base to Al Qaeda.

FACT: US military activity in Afghanistan strengthens the Taliban. It inflames Afghans’ hostility to the U.S. and wins new supporters for the Taliban. Even now, Coalition forces are having difficulty distinguishing Afghan Taliban forces, from tribal militants against the national government and ordinary Afghans. That problem will only worsen as our military involvement expands.

5. MYTH: The U.S. military in Afghanistan is not targeting civilians. Any civilian deaths are purely accidental.

FACT: The killing of Afghan civilians is the inevitable and foreseeable result of American missile attacks, bombing, and night ground patrols. This euphemistically termed “collateral damage” not only take civilian lives, but inevitably turns the population against us.

6. MYTH: The Administration strategy is that US military commitment will be limited in size and duration.

FACT: As US soldiers suffer more casualties, there will be growing political pressure to avoid an “American defeat” by increasing our commitment. Now is the time to reverse direction in Afghanistan, before we become mired in another protracted guerilla war like Vietnam

7. MYTH: Defeating the Afghan Taliban will help stabilize the situation in Pakistan.

FACT: Afghan Taliban are not a significant factor in violent or political activity against the Pakistan Government. Indigenous radicals, including Pakistan Taliban, as well as deep discontent from a much broader spectrum of citizens, pose the threat to stability in Pakistan. As shown in a recent poll, a large majority of Pakistanis were angered by the US activity in the region and our perceived effort to control it. That rebounds against our efforts to help stabilize Pakistan, which is seen as our close ally.

Please pass this along to your friends, send it to your legislators, or put it up on telephone poles and in coffee shops–we need to do keep working to get the word out about the devastating reality of the U.S. occupation of Afghanistan.

687 Civilians Killed in U.S. Drone Attacks on Pakistan since 2006

U.S. Drones Killing Pakistani Civilians

Over the past year, the human cost of the air war in Afghanistan has received some attention with almost daily bombings and occasional reports of civilian casualties. In fact, air strikes have been a major cause of the increased civilian deaths in the war.

An article published over the weekend by the Pakistani newspaper The News reports that drone attacks conducted by the United States against targets in Pakistan have been responsible for significant civilian casualties:

“Of the 60 cross-border predator strikes carried out by the Afghanistan-based American drones in Pakistan between January 14, 2006 and April 8, 2009, only 10 were able to hit their actual targets, killing 14 wanted al-Qaeda leaders, besides perishing 687 innocent Pakistani civilians. The success percentage of the US predator strikes thus comes to not more than six per cent.”

The figures compiled by Pakistani authorities show that civilians are paying dearly for the U.S. attacks, while also raising questions about the efficacy of the attacks–both in terms of their success in killing “militants” and whether or not they are fueling anti-Americanism.

In recent months, attacks inside Pakistan have taken place with regularity as the U.S. intensifies its war against “militants” in Afghanistan and Pakistan. These attacks–conducted with the use of unmanned drones operated by the United States–have been increasing. News reports have indicated that they are displacing thousands of Pakistanis.

Despite criticism, the U.S. has indicated that it will likely increase its usage of drones and expand the list of targets that they are attacking.

Over the weekend, protestors were arrested at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada where the drones are controlled.

Headlines: Pakistan Wants to Control U.S. Drone Attacks; U.S. Considers Limiting Emissions Auctions

Democracy Now Headlines: Pakistan Wants to Control U.S. Drone Attacks; U.S. Considers Limiting Emissions Auctions

Headlines from DemocracyNow.org, a daily TV/radio news program, hosted by Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez, airing on over 650 stations, pioneering the largest community media collaboration in the US.

Iraqis Rally on 6th Anniversary of Fall of Baghdad

Tens of thousands of Iraqis rallied in Baghdad today to mark the sixth anniversary of the US overthrow of Saddam Hussein’s government. The crowd burned an effigy of former President George W. Bush as it hung from a pillar where Saddam’s statue once stood. The rally came one day after at least seven people were killed and twenty-three wounded in the second straight bombing in a Shiite district of Baghdad.

US to Join Iran in Global Talks

The Obama administration has announced it will now join international talks over Iran’s nuclear program. The move reverses a Bush administration policy supporting the negotiations between Iran and Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China but refusing to take part. Earlier in the day, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad renewed calls for talks with the US, but called on the Obama administration to be “honest.”

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad: “If a hand extended to the Iranian nation is truly extended with honesty, justice and respect, Iran welcomes it. But if, God forbid, it is a hand that is pretending to be honest, but in reality is dishonest, the response of the Iranian nation would be the same response that it gave to Mr. Bush.”

Jailed Iranian American Journalist Accused of Spying

In other Iran news, the Iranian government has charged a jailed Iranian American journalist with espionage. Thirty-one-year-old Roxana Saberi has been imprisoned in Iran since January. A freelance journalist, she has reported for the BBC, National Public Radio and Fox News. She was working in Iran despite an Iranian government ban on her reporting since 2006.

Report: Pakistan Rebuffs US on Attacks, Requests Control of Drones

The Pakistani government is reportedly showing new resistance to US military activities within its borders. The Pakistani newspaper Dawn reports Pakistani officials have rejected a US proposal for joint operations in tribal regions near the Pakistani border with Afghanistan. The message was reportedly delivered to regional envoy Richard Holbrooke and Joint Chiefs Chair Admiral Mike Mullen during their visit to Pakistan earlier this week. Pakistani officials also reportedly asked that the US hand over control of the deadly drone missions that have killed hundreds of people. On a visit to India Wednesday, Holbrooke addressed Indian concerns the US is favoring Pakistan.

US Special Envoy Richard Holbrooke: “We are working intensively with our friends in Pakistan to achieve a common goal. That is what we’re doing. We know it’s going to be difficult, but the national security interests of all the three countries are clearly at stake. The administration, which we represent, is committed to this. We’re going to do it, but it’s going to be difficult.”

Palestinian Villagers Wounded Following Settler Attack

In Israel and the Occupied Territories, at least twelve Palestinians were wounded after an attack by Israeli settlers on a West Bank village. The settlers smashed car windows and damaged homes before fleeing. Israeli soldiers then arrived at the scene and shot at demonstrating Palestinian residents. Nasri Sabarneh of the Beit Ummar council said one of the victims was seriously injured.

Nasri Sabarneh: “When the Israelis came, they started firing live bullets and tear gas. As a result, seven residents were injured, one of them was eighteen-year-old Thaer Nasir Adi, who was hit by live bullets in the neck and is now undergoing an operation at the Al Ahli hospital.”

Sinn Fein Leader Condemns Gaza Siege

Meanwhile, in the Gaza Strip, Gerry Adams of Ireland’s Sinn Fein visited areas damaged by the three-week Israeli attack earlier this year. Adams condemned the ongoing Israeli siege of Gaza.

Gerry Adams: “I witnessed what was happening here back in Ireland on the television screens, and I said then that what is happening here is totally and absolutely wrong, and it should cease. And nothing prepares you for the sight that’s all around us and that confirms my view that what happened here is wrong and it should stop.”

Adams went on to call on both Israelis and Palestinians to halt violence and begin negotiations.

US Captain Seized by Somali Pirates

At sea near the Horn of Africa, an American captain remains in captivity after his cargo ship was briefly seized by a group of Somali pirates. The pirates hijacked the ship but were later overtaken by the crew. The US Navy has sent a destroyer ship to the waters where the ship was seized.

Posada Accused of Lying on Bombing Role in New Indictment

Back in the United States, the former CIA operative Luis Posada Carriles has been indicted on charges of lying about his role in several 1997 bombings at tourist areas in Cuba. The new charges mark the first time the US government has acknowledged Posada’s role in carrying out attacks. A militant right-wing Cuban exile long supported by the US government, Posada is also wanted in Cuba and Venezuela for the 1976 bombing of a Cuban airliner that killed seventy-three people. The Bush administration harbored Posada and rejected calls for his extradition. The new indictment accuses Posada of “soliciting other individuals to carry out…bombings in Cuba.”

Obama to Address Immigration Overhaul

The Obama administration is planning to unveil new immigration proposals that will likely include a way for undocumented immigrants to receive legal status. The New York Times reports President Obama will speak publicly on immigration next month and convene working groups to craft legislation for as early as the fall.

US Considers Easing Emissions Auctions

President Obama is considering backing off a campaign pledge to auction off all emissions permits issued under a proposed cap-and-trade system to limit greenhouse gas. In an interview with the Washington Post, White House science adviser John Holdren said the administration might auction only some of the permits and give the rest away. Energy industry leaders have lobbied against the blanket auctions, calling them too costly.

Obama Establishes Office on Healthcare Reform

President Obama has formalized his establishment of an administration panel for reforming heathcare. In an executive order Wednesday, Obama established the White House Office of Health Reform. In the order, Obama said the US healthcare system suffers “serious and pervasive problems.” The Obama administration has come under criticism for its rejection of a single-payer universal healthcare system favored by a majority of Americans.

Maine Legislators Call for Single Payer

Meanwhile, in Maine, the state legislature has approved a measure calling for the establishment of single payer. The Maine Senate passed the non-binding resolution Wednesday, one day after its passage in the state House.

LA Hospital Admits to “Dumping” Homeless, Mentally Ill

In California, a Los Angeles area psychiatric hospital has admitted to abandoning more than 150 mentally disabled homeless patients in dangerous neighborhoods over a two-year period. College Hospital will pay a $1.6 million penalty under a settlement with city attorneys. So-called “hospital dumping” is believed to be a widespread practice in the United States.

Panel: Private Utilities Fail to Protect from Cyber Attacks

A new government-backed study has found the nation’s mostly privately run electric utilities have failed to properly safeguard their equipment from computer-based attacks. In a new report, the North American Electric Reliability Corporation says so-called cyber-attackers retain the potential to disrupt “multiple assets at once, and from a distance.” The warning came as the Wall Street Journal reported “cyberspies” have penetrated the US electrical grid and left potentially disruptive software programs behind. According to current and former national security officials, spies from China, Russia and other countries have infiltrated the electronic networks that control the nation’s utilities. Officials don’t see an immediate threat but warn the infiltrations could prove dangerous if the US ever goes to war.

NY Gov. to Propose Gay Marriage Bill

In New York, Governor David Paterson has announced plans to introduce legislation to legalize same-sex marriage. The announcement came one day after the Vermont legislature made US history as the first to legalize gay marriage.

Report: Obama Mulls Bonds for Toxic Securities

And in bailout news, the New York Times is reporting the Obama administration is considering a plan that would encourage Americans to directly invest in the troubled assets of taxpayer-rescued corporations. The proposal would essential create the equivalent of bonds to buy up the toxic securities such as bundled subprime loans. The plan is being promoted by financial industry lobbyists, including the money management giant BlackRock.

Headlines: U.S. Reportedly Planning to Increase use of Drones in Pakistan; Democrat Opposes Employee Free Choice Act

Democracy Now Headlines: U.S. Reportedly Planning to Increase use of Drones in Pakistan; Democrat Opposes Employee Free Choice Act

Headlines from DemocracyNow.org, a daily TV/radio news program, hosted by Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez, airing on over 650 stations, pioneering the largest community media collaboration in the US.

At Least 179 Killed in Italian Earthquake

Rescue workers in Italy continue to search for survivors from yesterday’s earthquake that killed at least 179 people. More than 1,500 people have been injured. Tens of thousands have been left homeless. The quake devastated the city of L’Aquila and surrounding towns. Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi declared a state of emergency in the region.

Silvio Berlusconi: “At this moment, we are most concerned about rescuing people who are still under the rubble. We are not using machines for this, because experience has shown us that it is important to dig by hand.”

Monday’s earthquake was the deadliest to hit Italy in nearly thirty years, but it did not come as a surprise to all. An Italian seismologist had predicted a large earthquake was on the way, but authorities forced him to remove his findings from the internet.

Red Cross: US Medical Personnel Involved in Torture of Prisoners

In its once-secret report, the International Committee of the Red Cross concluded US medical personnel were deeply involved in the CIA’s torture of prisoners held in overseas prisons. The Red Cross report said the actions of medical personnel “constituted a gross breach of medical ethics and, in some cases, amounted to participation in torture.” The Red Cross’s secret 2007 report was published in its entirety yesterday by the New York Review of Books. The Red Cross also called on the United States to “investigate all allegations of ill-treatment and take steps to punish the perpetrators, where appropriate, and to prevent such abuses from happening again.”

Report: Senate GOP Threatens to Block Nominees Over Torture Memo

Attorney and blogger Scott Horton is reporting that Senate Republicans are threatening to filibuster two top Justice Department nominees if the Obama administration releases secret Bush administration memos that authorized the torture of prisoners. The nominees are Dawn Johnson as chief of the Office of Legal Counsel in the Department of Justice and Yale Law School Dean Harold Koh as State Department legal counsel. Horton writes, “It now appears that Republicans are seeking an Obama commitment to safeguard the Bush administration’s darkest secrets in exchange for letting these nominations go forward.”

Obama: US Not at War with Islam

In a speech before the Turkish legislature, President Obama vowed Monday to improve US relations with the Muslim world.

President Obama: “I know there have been difficulties these last few years. I know that the trust that binds the United States and Turkey has been strained, and I know that strain is shared in many places where the Muslim faith is practiced. So let me say this as clearly as I can: The United States is not and will never be at war with Islam.”

President Obama went on to praise Islam’s contribution to civilization and said America’s relationship with it must extend beyond fighting terrorism. Turkey is the first predominantly Muslim nation Obama has visited as president.

US to Increase Use of Drones in Pakistan

The New York Times reports Obama administration officials are proposing to step up its use of drones to carry out strikes inside Pakistan and start bombing targets deeper inside the country.

Gates Calls for Pentagon to Spend More on Counterinsurgency

This comes as Defense Secretary Robert Gates is requesting a large increase in funding to build unmanned drones like the Predator. Gates wants to increase spending on unmanned drones by 127 percent over a year ago. On Monday, Gates proposed making sweeping changes to the military budget by halting several Cold War era projects, including the F-22 stealth fighter, while increasing spending on counterinsurgency and fighting guerrilla wars.

Robert Gates: “There’s broad agreement on the need for acquisition and contracting reform in the Department of Defense. There have been enough studies, enough hand-wringing, enough rhetoric. Now is the time for action.”

As part of his plan, Robert Gates proposed increasing the size of the Pentagon’s Special Forces by five percent. Gates also proposed reducing the Pentagon’s dependence on private contractors by hiring 30,000 new civil servants over the next five years to replace contractors. Overall, Gates wants Congress to spend $664 billion on the Pentagon, including the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. This is a $9 billion increase over the current budget.

122 Aid Workers Killed in 2008; Highest Total on Record

2008 was the most dangerous year on record for aid workers, this according to a new report by the Center on International Cooperation. One hundred twenty-two aid workers died last year while carrying out their work. Forty-five aid workers died in Somalia alone. Another thirty-three died in Afghanistan. The overall number of aid workers killed has soared nearly fourfold in the past decade.

Arkansas Democrat Opposes Employee Free Choice Act

In labor news, efforts to pass the Employee Free Choice Act have been dealt a major setback. Democratic Senator Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas said Monday she cannot support the bill. Lincoln represents Arkansas, the home of Wal-Mart, a leading opponent of the legislation that would make it easier for workers to form unions. Wal-Mart recently hired one of Lincoln’s former aides to lobby against the Employee Free Choice Act. Supporters of the bill need a filibuster-proof sixty votes.

Hedge Fund Faces Charges Connected to Madoff Ponzi Fraud

In economic news, New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo has brought civil fraud charges against a hedge fund manager, saying he secretly steered $2.4 billion in client money into Bernard Madoff’s Ponzi fraud. Ezra Merkin is a well-known investor and former chair of the GMAC finance company.

15th Anniversary of Rwandan Genocide Marked

In Rwanda, ceremonies are being held today to mark the fifteenth anniversary of the 1994 genocide in which more than one million people died. Twenty thousand Rwandans gathered today in Nyanza, where thousands of people were slaughtered during the 1994 massacre.

Tamil Protesters Stage Protest in London

In London, nearly a thousand Tamil protesters blocked Westminster Bridge next to the Parliament buildings early today to demand the Sri Lankan government halt an offensive against Tamil Tiger separatists. The Sri Lankan military claims it has killed 453 Tamil Tigers over the past four days. It is unknown how many civilians were killed.

British Police Accused of Hitting Man Who Died at G20 Protest

The Observer newspaper of London reports a British man who died during last week’s G20 protests was assaulted by riot police shortly before he suffered a heart attack. This according to witness statements received by the Independent Police Complaints Commission. At the time, the forty-seven-year-old Ian Tomlinson was walking home from work and not taking part in the protests. At least two eyewitnesses said Tomlinson was hit by police officers before he collapsed.

Motorola Boycott Organizers Claim Victory

Activists organizing a boycott of Motorola are claiming victory after Motorola sold a part of its company that sells bomb fuses, communication devices and surveillance equipment to the Israeli military. Last month, the New York Campaign for the Boycott of Israel launched a boycott of Motorola, accusing the company of supporting Israel’s military occupation. The boycott is still ongoing.

Antarctic Ice Bridge Collapses

In science news, an ice bridge which had held a vast Antarctic ice shelf in place for hundreds of years has shattered. Scientists said it may herald a wider collapse linked to global warming. Temperatures on the Antarctic Peninsula have risen by up to about 5.4 degrees Fahrenheit in the past fifty years, the fastest rate of warming in the Southern Hemisphere.

Vermont Governor Vetoes Same-Sex Marriage Bill

And in Vermont, Republican Governor Jim Douglas has vetoed legislation that would legalize same-sex marriage. The House and Senate are expected to try to override the governor’s veto today.

Report: Thousands Displaced in Pakistan by U.S. Drone Attacks

U.S. Drone Attacks Displacing Thousands in Pakistan

Over the weekend, The Sunday Times (UK) reported that thousands of people in Pakistan are being displaced due to attacks by unmanned drones operated by the U.S. military.

The attacks are conducted along the border regions of Afghanistan and Pakistan and are aimed at “extremists” which can include al-Qaida, Taliban, or internal dissidents within Pakistan. It’s a category without clear definition and the attacks have been frequently been responsible for civilian casualties.

Drone Attacks Causing Massive Displacement

The Sunday Times (UK)–following another attack that killed 13 people including women and children–reports that as many as one million people have fled their homes:

“As many as 1m people have fled their homes in the Tribal Areas to escape attacks by the unmanned spy planes as well as bombings by the Pakistani army. In Bajaur agency entire villages have been flattened by Pakistani troops under growing American pressure to act against Al-Qaeda militants, who have made the area their base.

Kacha Garhi is one of 11 tented camps across Pakistan’s frontier province once used by Afghan refugees and now inhabited by hundreds of thousands of Pakistanis made homeless in their own land.

So far 546,000 have registered as internally displaced people (IDPs) according to figures provided by Rabia Ali, spokesman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and Maqbool Shah Roghani, administrator for IDPs at the Commission for Afghan Refugees.”

The displacement could lead to a humanitarian crisis, as displaced peoples are unable to return to their homes as attacks continue. According to The Sunday Times (UK), conditions will likely worsen as the camps increase in size and the summer heat creeps in. Food and shelter are already running low.

Beyond the humanitarian situation, the attacks are generating anti-american sentiment that could lead to further instability within the country.

Drone Attacks Supported by the Obama Administration

The Obama administration supports the use of drone attacks and has continued their use following his inauguration earlier this year. Since taking office, the attacks have remained a regular occurrence and they are a critical part of his strategy for Afghanistan.

The administration maintains that the area is a haven for militants and that the attacks are necessary. However, it is engaging in a slight review of the program:

“The administration considers the program a success, and the program isn’t expected to be significantly curtailed. But officials familiar with the review say it could change the pace and size of the program, and make some technical refinements in an effort to hit targets faster. The review seeks to determine under what circumstances drones should be used, the officials say.”

What’s noteworthy about the review is aimed primarily at refining the program, not curtailing it. It’s not interested in exploring the human costs of the policy, examining questions pertaining to international law, or anything like that. Instead it is mainly focused at increasing the “effectiveness.”

Beyond that, various officials within the military establishment in the United States have called for the extension of the attacks into new regions.

Rethink Afghanistan: The Role of Pakistan

Director Robert Greenwald has released the second installment of his documentary on the Afghanistan War. Greenwald–who is part of an effort to oppose the escalation of the Afghanistan War–explores how the war relates to Pakistan:

Pakistan is in such a perilous state that Bruce Riedel, a foreign policy expert leading President Obama’s Afghanistan review, has called it “the most dangerous country in the world today.” Pakistan has nuclear weapons and a government disconnected from the poverty, malnutrition, and lack of healthcare afflicting its people. And though Pakistan remains a U.S. ally, tensions continue to rise as the U.S. considers broadening military strikes within Pakistan’s borders. Part two of Rethink Afghanistan focuses on how the Afghanistan crisis affects Pakistan and all of us.

Watch “Pakistan, the “Most Dangerous Country in the World”:

You can also watch Part 1 of the film, “Afghanistan + More Troops = Catastrophe.”

Headlines: Bailout Firms Plot to Shield Bonuses from Regulation; U.S. Considers Widening Attacks in Pakistan

Democracy Now Headlines: Bailout Firms Plot to Shield Bonuses from Regulation; U.S. Considers Widening Attacks in Pakistan

Headlines from DemocracyNow.org, a daily TV/radio news program, hosted by Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez, airing on over 650 stations, pioneering the largest community media collaboration in the US.

Congress to Propose Tax on AIG Bonuses

Lawmakers are vowing action following a massive public outcry around bonuses at the bailed-out insurance giant AIG. On Tuesday, Senate leaders said they would introduce a measure imposing a special surtax to recoup taxpayer money. House Financial Services Committee Chair Barney Frank said Congress should remember that the US government now owns 80 percent of AIG.

Rep. Barney Frank: “But I think we can look at it from the standpoint of us as the owner. We’re the owner of that company, in fact. Now, there are some covenants that have kept us from doing that. I think the time has come to exercise our ownership rights–we own most of the company–and then say, as owner, ‘No, I’m not paying you the bonus. You didn’t perform. You didn’t live up to this contract.’ Presumably, the bonuses had some merit stuff in it.”

The Treasury Department, meanwhile, said it would deduct the $165 million in AIG bonuses from the government’s next infusion of $30 billion in bailout funds.

Bailout Firms Plot to Shield Bonuses from Regulation

As the AIG controversy grows, other bailed-out firms are reportedly secretly discussing how to shield future bonuses from public scrutiny. The Wall Street Journal reports executives at Citigroup and Morgan Stanley are mulling ways to keep their bonuses without violating anticipated new government rules. The options include increasing base salaries for top employees. Citigroup has received $45 billion in taxpayer money, while Morgan Stanley has received $10 billion. Last week, Wells Fargo said it had increased the base salaries of its CEO and two other top executives. Wells Fargo has received $25 billion under the Wall Street bailout.

Obama Pushes for Budget Approval

President Obama continues to lobby for congressional approval of his $3.5 trillion budget. Speaking at the White House, Obama criticized Republican opponents.

President Obama: “‘Just say no’ is the right advice to give your teenagers about drugs; it is not an acceptable response to whatever economic policy is proposed by the other party. The American people sent us here to get things done. And in this moment of enormous challenge, they are watching and waiting for us to lead. Let’s show them that we’re equal to this task before us. Let’s pass a budget that puts this nation on the road to lasting prosperity.”

US Mulls Widening Pakistan Strikes

The Obama administration is reportedly considering widening US attacks inside Pakistan. According to the New York Times, the strikes would extend to the province of Baluchistan beyond the currently targeted tribal areas. Hundreds of people have been killed in the US attacks on Pakistani soil.

Obama to Appoint Darfur Envoy

President Obama is set to appoint a special envoy on the crisis in the Sudanese region of Darfur. The New York Times reports Obama will name Major General J. Scott Gration later today. The move comes as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton intensified criticism of Sudan on Tuesday at the State Department.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: “The real question is what kind of pressure can be brought to bear on President Bashir and the government in Khartoum to understand that they will be held responsible for every single death that occurs in those camps, because by their expulsion of the aid workers who came from all over the world to assist with the health and the sanitation and the security and the education of the refugees, they are putting those 1.4 million lives at risk.”

Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir expelled thirteen aid groups from Darfur after the International Criminal Court indicted him on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

D’Escoto Criticizes Bashir Indictment

Also on Tuesday, UN General Assembly President Miguel D’Escoto Brockmann criticized the indictment, saying it has tinges of racism and could undermine peace talks.

UN General Assembly President Miguel D’Escoto Brockmann: “It was unfortunate, unfortunate, and I think it does a disservice to the people’s perception of international justice. It helps to deepen a perception that international justice is racist, because this is the third time that you have something from the ICC [International Criminal Court], and for the third time it has to do with Africa.”

Talks Fail on Israel-Hamas Prisoner Exchange

In Israel and the Occupied Territories, talks on a prisoner exchange between the Israeli government and Hamas have broken down after Israel rejected a deal. Hamas is seeking the return of hundreds of prisoners in return for the captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. The talks reportedly collapsed around an Israeli demand that Palestinians detain or deport most of the prisoners once they’re released.

Tutu Campaigns for Gaza War Crimes Probe

The South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu is among a group of sixteen leading war crimes investigators and judges calling for a UN inquiry into war crimes committed during Israel’s attack on Gaza. The group has written a letter to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

Arbishop Desmond Tutu: “It isn’t that we want to sensationalize. It’s just that some very serious things have happened, and if we are hoping to have a world that is stable, a world that abides by the rule of law, then it has to apply to everybody.”

Other signatories joining Tutu include former Irish President Mary Robinson and Richard Goldstone, the former chief prosecutor for Yugoslavia and Rwanda.

US Keeps Blackwater in Iraq Despite Iraqi Ban

The State Department has quietly signed a deal that keeps the company formerly known as Blackwater in Iraq despite an Iraqi government ban. The Washington Times reports the US signed a new contract with Blackwater in February, just days after the Iraqi government said it wouldn’t renew Blackwater’s operating license. The $22 million contract extension runs through September of this year. In 2007, Blackwater guards killed seventeen Iraqi civilians in an unprovoked massacre in Baghdad’s Nisoor Square. The company recently changed its to name to Xe as part of a rebranding campaign.

Reversing Bush Stance, Obama to Endorse UN Gay Rights Statement

The Obama administration is set to endorse a UN gay rights declaration that the Bush administration refused to sign. Approved last December, the declaration calls for the decriminalization of homosexuality and guaranteeing equal rights for gays, lesbians and transgendered people. The US was the only Western country to oppose, joining Russia, China, the Vatican and several Arab states. The Associated Press reports the White House made the move after an emergency review of the US stance.

Hundreds Protest Bush in Calgary

In Canada, hundreds of protesters gathered in Calgary Tuesday outside President Bush’s first foreign trip since leaving office. Bush was speaking before an invite-only crowd at a private event. At least four people were arrested. Activists constructed a giant shoe cannon in a symbolic tribute to the Iraqi journalist who threw his shoes at Bush last year. Bush entered Canada without any apparent trouble after the Canadian government ignored a request from a group of Canadian lawyers for his arrest or deportation as a war criminal.

Dismissed Mayor Becomes Madagascar President

In Madagascar, an opposition leader has declared himself interim president after former president Marc Ravalomanana stepped down. The new president, Andry Rajoelina, says he will hold elections within two years. Rajoelina is a former disc jockey who was dismissed by Ravalomanana as the mayor of the capital last month.

Groups Call for End to Ban on Foreign Scholars

Back in the United States, a coalition of academic and civil liberties groups is calling on the Obama administration to reverse Bush administration policies of banning foreign scholars under anti-terror laws. In a letter released today, the coalition says the policy of “ideological exclusion… compromises the vitality of academic and political debate in the United States at a time when that debate is exceptionally important.” The call comes ahead of a federal appeals court hearing next week on the case of one of the most prominent Muslim intellectuals in Europe who was barred from a teaching job in the United States. The scholar, Tariq Ramadan, was offered a position at the University of Notre Dame in Ohio in 2004. The Bush administration initially barred his entry without explanation and then said it was because he once gave money to a French-based Palestinian charity. The charity is legal in France.

Military Sexual Assault Up 8%

And in military news, the Pentagon says reports of sexual assault in the armed forces rose eight percent last year. The reports were up 25 percent in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Headlines: Obama Continues Bush Policy on Afghanistan Detainees; US Working with Pakistan’s Military

Democracy Now Headlines: Obama Continues Bush Policy on Afghanistan Detainees; US Working with Pakistan's Military

Headlines from DemocracyNow.org, a daily TV/radio news program, hosted by Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez, airing on over 650 stations, pioneering the largest community media collaboration in the US.

Report: U.S. May Increase Stake in Citigroup

Citigroup and federal officials are in talks that could result in the U.S. government substantially expanding its ownership of one of the world’s largest financial institutions. The Wall Street Journal reports the government could wind up holding as much as 40 percent of Citigroup’s common stock. The potential move at Citigroup would give the government its biggest ownership of a financial-services company since the September bailout of insurer AIG, which left taxpayers with an 80% stake. Last week, Citigroup’s share price fell below $2 to an 18-year low.

Obama Pledges To Cut Budget Deficit in Half

In other economic news, President Barack Obama has pledged to cut the federal deficit in half by the end of his first term, despite the fiscal stimulus package. During his weekly radio address Obama said the nation can”t generate sustained growth without getting the nation”s deficit under control.

President Obama: “No single piece of this broad economic recovery can, by itself, meet the demands that have been placed on us. We can’t help people find work or pay their bills unless we unlock credit for families and businesses. We can’t solve our housing crisis unless we help people find work so that they can make payments on their homes. We can’t produce shared prosperity without firm rules of the road, and we can’t generate sustained growth without getting our deficits under control. In short, we cannot successfully address any of our problems without addressing them all. And that is exactly what the strategy we are pursuing is designed to do.”

Obama Backs Bush Policy on Bagram Detainees

The Obama administration has embraced another key argument of former President Bush”s counterterrorism policy. In a court filing on Friday, the Justice Department told a federal judge that prisoners held at the U.S. Air Force base at Bagram in Afghanistan have no legal rights to challenge their imprisonment. Human rights groups say they are becoming increasingly concerned that the use of extra-judicial methods in Afghanistan could be extended under the new U.S. administration. Bagram air base is about to undergo a $60 million expansion to provide enough space to house five times as many prisoners as remain at Guantanamo.

Attorney General Eric Holder To Visit Guantanamo

Attorney General Eric Holder is heading to Guantanamo today for the first time since he took office. Holder told reporters he wants to talk to officials there about detention and interrogation techniques. This comes as the Pentagon is claiming in a new report that the prison complies with the Geneva Conventions, a position disputed by many human rights groups.

Binyam Mohamed Released From Guantanamo

Meanwhile Binyam Mohamed has been released from Guantanamo after seven years in U.S. custody. Mohamed is expected to arrive in Britain today. The Somali citizen says he was repeatedly tortured while being held at a secret CIA prison and at Guantanamo. His military lawyer, Lieutenant Colonel Yvonne Bradley said that what Mohamed endured at Guantanamo “makes waterboarding look like child’s play.”

U.S. Military Secretly Working With Pakistani Troops

The New York Times reports more than 70 U.S. military advisers and technical specialists are secretly working in Pakistan to help its armed forces battle Al Qaeda and the Taliban. The Americans are mostly Army Special Forces soldiers who are training Pakistani Army and paramilitary troops, providing them with intelligence and advising on combat tactics. The CIA is also providing intelligence to a new Pakistani commando unit that has been used to kill and capture wanted militants. This comes as Pakistan has announced new plans to arms villager in the North West Frontier province to fight against Taliban and al-Qaida militants. Meanwhile the New York Times reports the Obama administration has expanded the covert war run by the CIA inside Pakistan. Last week a CIA drone targeted Baitullah Mehsud for the first time. Mehsud was identified last year as the man who had orchestrated the assassination of former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto.

EPA To Rule on Carbon-Dioxide Emissions

The Wall Street Journal reports the Environmental Protection Agency will soon determine that carbon-dioxide emissions represent a danger to the public and propose new rules to regulate emissions of the greenhouse gas from a range of industries. Carol Browner, special adviser to the president on climate change and energy, told the paper that the EPA is looking at a 2007 Supreme Court ruling that requires the agency to determine whether carbon dioxide endangers public health or welfare.

Amnesty Calls For Arms Embargo on Israel and Hamas

Amnesty International is urging the UN Security Council to impose an immediate arms embargo on Israel, Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups. Amnesty said its found evidence that Israel and Hamas had committed war crimes and used weapons supplied from overseas to carry out attacks on civilians during Israel’s three week attack on Gaza.

Meanwhile Kevin Cahill, a top humanitarian official at the UN, says he is shocked by the current conditions inside Gaza following the Israeli attack.

Kevin Cahill: “One of the more horrific sites that I have seen in a career that has allowed me to work in 65 countries, often war zones. This is about as dramatic as it can get”.

11 Burundi Troops Killed in Somali Suicide Blast

In Somalia, 11 peacekeeping troops from Burundi died on Sunday in a suicide bomb attack in Mogadishu. The al-Shabab group claimed responsibility for the attack on the African Union base. It was the deadliest attack against African Union troops since their deployment two years ago.

Grenade Attack in Cairo Kills One

Meanwhile in Egypt, a French woman died on Sunday when an attacker threw a grenade into a famed bazaar in medieval Cairo. 17 people were injured in the blast.

Tamil Tigers Ready For Ceasefire

In Sri Lanka, the Tamil Tiger rebels have reportedly told the United Nations they are ready to comply with international calls for a ceasefire with government forces. But the Tamil Tigers said they would only down their weapons after negotiations are held with the government. A spokesperson for the Tigers said a ceasefire was needed to end the miseries of the Tamil people. The Tamil Tigers say the recent offensive by the Sri Lankan government has killed more than 2,000 civilians and injured more than 5,000. On Friday members of the organization Tamils Against Genocide held a rally outside the White House.

Rajeev Sreetharan: “The American government has to recognize that this is longer a Sri Lankan issue. This is a U.S issue. U.S citizen Gothabhaye Rajapakshe in the position of defense secretary of Sri Lanka is committing genocide unapologetically. The U.S needs to change its policy towards this issue-if it is against genocide, it cannot allow genocide to perpetrated by its own citizens.”

Clinton Criticized For Comment on Human Rights in China

Amnesty International and Students For A Free Tibet are criticizing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for stating that human rights concerns should not hinder cooperation with China. During her trip to Asia last week Clinton said: “But our pressing on those issues can’t interfere on the global economic crisis, the global climate change crisis and the security crisis.” Amnesty International said it was “shocked and extremely disappointed” by Clinton’s remarks.

Owner of Philadelphia Inquirer Declares Bankruptcy

In media news, two more newspaper chains, Philadelphia Newspapers and the Journal Register Company, have filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Philadelphia Newspapers publishes the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Philadelphia Daily News. The Journal Register publishes 20 daily newspapers including The New Haven Register in Connecticut.

Spike Lee Calls For NY Post Boycott

In other media news, protests are continuing outside the New York Post over the publication of a cartoon that critics say depicts President Obama as a chimpanzee. On Friday filmmaker Spike Lee called for a boycott of the newspaper and urged athletes and entertainers to shun the paper”s writers. NAACP president Benjamin Todd Jealous has called for the ouster of cartoonist Sean Delonas and editor-in-chief Col Allan.

NYU Student Occupation Ends; 18 Students Arrested

A student occupation at New York University has ended and the school has suspended 18 students. The group Take Back NYU had submitted demands including the establishment of a socially responsible investment committee, a union for graduate student teachers, a tuition freeze, a full disclosure of the school’s annual budget, and support for Palestinian students in the Gaza Strip.

AIM Activist Robert Robideau, 61, Dies

Longtime American Indian Movement activist Robert Robideau has died at the age of 61. In 1976 he and Darrell Butler were acquitted in the deaths of two FBI agents at the Pine RIdge reservation on grounds of self defense. The third defendant, Leonard Peltier was sentenced to two consecutive life sentences in a separate trial. Peltier has been in prison for the past 33 years.

Sean Penn at Academy Awards: “We’ve Got To Have Equal Rights For Everyone.”

And the film Slumdog Millionaire was the big winner at last night”s Academy Awards taking home eight Oscars including best picture. Kate Winslet won best actress for “The Reader” and Sean Penn won best actor for his role as gay rights pioneer Harvey Milk in the film titled “Milk”. This is part of Sean Penn’s acceptance speech.

Sean Penn: “For those who saw the signs of hatred as our cars drove in tonight, I think that it is a good time for those who voted for the ban against gay marriage to sit and reflect and anticipate their great shame and the shame in their grandchildren’s eyes if they continue that way of support. We’ve got to have equal rights for everyone.”

Headlines: Carbon Emissions Higher than Projected; Pakistan Criticizes US Attacks

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Headlines from DemocracyNow.org, a daily TV/radio news program, hosted by Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez, airing on over 650 stations, pioneering the largest community media collaboration in the US.

Civilian Deaths in Afghanistan Soared in 2008

The United Nations has announced the number of civilians killed in Afghanistan last year jumped by nearly 40 percent as the violence in the country soared to its worst levels since 2001. There were over 2,100 reported civilian deaths. The UN said militants were to blame for 55 percent of the deaths, while US-led forces were responsible for nearly 40 percent. Meanwhile, 3,000 more US troops have arrived in Afghanistan, marking the first wave of an expected surge of US forces as part of President Obama’s plan to escalate the war in Afghanistan.

Holbrooke: India, Pakistan Face Serious Threat

Richard Holbrooke, Obama’s special envoy to South Asia, said Monday that India and Pakistan face one of the most serious security threats since the end of British rule sixty-two years ago as Islamist militants advance toward Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan. Holbrooke’s comment came after the Pakistani government announced it would allow Islamic or sharia law to be imposed in the Swat Valley region as part of a peace accord with the Taliban. The Swat Valley is located just 155 miles northwest of Islamabad. On Sunday, Pakistani President Ali Zardari admitted the Taliban was now present in huge amounts of Pakistan.

Pakistan Condemns US Drone Attacks

Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani condemned the recent US drone attacks that have killed sixty people in Pakistan over the past four days.

Yousaf Raza Gilani: “As far as drone attacks are concerned, my firm belief is that it is counterproductive and not in the interest of the country. Wherever there has been a drone attack in the past, we have condemned it, and I condemn this one today. As for their policy and when it will change, policies are changing all over the world. The people voted Obama in because they wanted a change, so I am sure he will review his policies.”

Obama to Sign $787 Billion Stimulus Bill in Denver

President Obama plans to sign the $787 billion economic stimulus bill today during a ceremony at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. The site was picked in part because its roof has 465 solar panels. Invitees to the ceremony include 250 clean-energy business leaders and community stakeholders.

Layoff Notices for 20,000 California Workers Sent Out

In other economic news, California plans to send notices to 20,000 state workers today that their jobs may be eliminated due to budget cuts. The announcement came a day after California lawmakers failed to pass a $40 billion budget that would have plugged the state’s deficit with a mix of tax hikes and spending cuts.

Kansas May Be Unable to Pay State Workers

In Kansas, the state has suspended income tax refunds and may not be able to pay employees on time, because the state doesn’t have enough money in its main bank account to pay its bills.

Clinton Says Don’t Blame Him for the Economic Crisis

Former President Bill Clinton said Monday he should not take any blame for the current financial crisis. Clinton’s comment came during an interview with Ann Curry on the Today Show.

Ann Curry: “You know, this week I’ve been reading this article in Time magazine that lists you as number thirteen as–on the list of who to blame for our current economic crisis in the United States. Should you be thirteen on the list, is what I’m asking.”

President Clinton: “Oh, no. Well, let me ask you this. And my question to them is, did any of them seriously believe if I had been president and my economic team had been in place the last eight years, that this would be happening today? And I think they know the answer to that’s wrong. No.”

Time magazine had criticized Clinton for repealing the Glass-Steagall Act, which for decades had separated commercial and investment banking, and for signing the Commodity Futures Modernization Act, which exempted from federal regulation all derivatives, including the now notorious credit-default swaps.

Senior Military Officers Probed for Corruption in Iraq

The New York Times reports federal authorities are now investigating senior US military officers on corruption charges connected to the $125 billion US-led reconstruction effort in Iraq. Last month, investigators subpoenaed the personal bank records of retired Army Colonel Anthony Bell, who was in charge of reconstruction contracting in Iraq in 2003 and 2004. In addition, investigators are examining the activities of Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Ronald Hirtle, who was a senior contracting officer in Baghdad in 2004. It is unclear how much reconstruction money went missing, but The Independent of London reports it could turn out to be the greatest fraud in US history, a bigger theft than Bernard Madoff’s $50 billion Ponzi scheme.

US Soldier Court-Martial Begins in Germany

In other Iraq news, a US soldier is being court-martialed today for his alleged involvement in killing four Iraqi prisoners who were bound, blindfolded, shot in the head and dumped in a Baghdad canal in 2007. Sgt. Michael Leahy faces life in prison if convicted on all charges.

Law Panel: US War on Terror Has Eroded Human Rights Worldwide

International law experts said Monday Washington’s so-called “war on terror” has eroded human rights worldwide, creating lingering cynicism that the United Nations must now combat. Mary Robinson, the former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, warned that harsh US detentions and interrogations gave a dangerous signal to other countries that could easily follow suit. Robinson said sweeping changes need to take place to ensure Washington abandons its “war paradigm.”

Mary Robinson: “I think it’s important to be aware that the Bush administration’s damage has been recognized by the subsequent administration, and that, in a way, plays to the lessons learned that we’ve talked about in relation to Northern Ireland, in relation to parts of South America in the past. We are not made more secure by the measures that have been taken, and I think that’s the real message that we will try to bring to the United States and to other countries.”

Newsweek: Report Will Blast Bush Lawyers on Torture Opinions

Newsweek reports an internal Justice Department report that has sharply criticized the conduct of senior Bush administration lawyers who approved waterboarding and other harsh interrogation tactics is causing anxiety among former Bush administration officials. The draft report reportedly focuses on John Yoo, Jay Bybee and Steven Bradbury.

Israel Seizes 425 Acres in West Bank for New Settlement Homes

Israel has seized 425 acres of Palestinian land in the occupied West Bank in order to build 2,500 new homes as part of a major expansion of the Efrat settlement. This settlement is particularly sensitive given that it would help complete a ring of hilltop settlements in Efrat that threaten to cut Arab East Jerusalem off from the West Bank and undermine prospects that East Jerusalem could serve as the capital of a Palestinian state.

British Lawmakers Accuse Israel of Committing War Crimes

Meanwhile, a team of British lawmakers arrived in Gaza on Monday to conduct a fact-finding visit following Israel’s twenty-two-day attack on Gaza.

British MP Edward Davey: “I think we need to get a clear message to the Israeli government, whoever it turns out to be: this sort of thing is just unacceptable. There has to be an international investigation into this, because it seems to me that war crimes have been committed.”

Trial of Khmer Rouge Leader Begins in Cambodia

In Cambodia, the first UN-backed trial of a former Khmer Rouge leader has begun. On trial is Kaing Guek Eav, better known as Duch. He headed a notorious prison camp and is accused of presiding over the murder and torture of at least 15,000 inmates. The trial comes thirty years after the fall of the Khmer Rouge. It marks the first time a leading figure of the Khmer Rouge has gone on trial.

UN Calls for “Global Green New Deal”

The United Nations is calling on rich nations to forge a “Global Green New Deal” that puts the environment, climate change and poverty reduction at the heart of efforts to reboot the world economy. At a meeting in Kenya, the United Nations Environment Program said Leaders from the Group of 20 nations should commit at least one percent of gross domestic product over the next two years to slashing carbon emissions.

Achim Steiner, executive director of the UNEP: “Our meeting this year takes place against the backdrop of the most serious economic recession in a generation, some would say perhaps even longer. The traditional response to economic recession when addressing environmental issues is that essentially economic recession is a detraction from attention to environmental imperatives to act.”

Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki also spoke at the UN meeting in Nairobi.

Mwai Kibaki: “Environmental degradation continues to undermine the prospects of fighting poverty and the realization of high economic growth and sustainable development, particularly in many developing countries.”

Scientists: Carbon Emissions Growing Faster than Projected

Climate researchers have found worldwide carbon emissions have grown sharply since 2000, despite growing concern of global warming. During the 1990s, carbon emissions grew by less than one percent per year. Since 2000, emissions have grown at a rate of 3.5 percent per year. No part of the world had a decline in emissions from 2000 to 2008. Climate scientist Christopher Field says the largest factor in this increase is the widespread adoption of coal as an energy source.

Two Arrested at Mountaintop Coal Removal Site in West Virginia

In related news, environmental activists here in this country are intensifying efforts to stop the construction of new coal power plants and to end the practice of mountaintop coal removal. In West Virginia, two members of the group Climate Ground Zero were arrested Monday for interfering with mountaintop removal at a site owned by Massey Energy. On March 2, a coalition of environmental groups are planning to stage a large demonstration at the Capitol Coal Plant in Washington, D.C., in what is expected to be the largest civil disobedience on climate change in US history.

400 Stations to Shut Off Analog Signals Tonight

And at midnight tonight, more than 400 television stations across the country plan to shut off their analog signals and begin airing only digital programming, despite a vote in Congress to delay the transition from analog to digital broadcasts until June. The major broadcast networks, including ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC/Telemundo, have agreed that the stations they own and operate would continue to broadcast in analog until June but that affiliate stations could choose when to switch. An estimated 6.5 million households are unprepared for the “digital transition.” Elderly, Latino and low-income households are believed to be most affected.