Senate votes 99-0 to confirm Petraeus
WASHINGTON, June 30 (UPI) -- The U.S. Senate Wednesday confirmed the nomination of Gen. David Petraeus to head up operations in Afghanistan.
Petraeus succeeds Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who was fired after an interview with Rolling Stone magazine in which he and his aides were quoted making disparaging remarks about President Barack Obama and other administration officials.
"I am extremely grateful to the Senate for acting so quickly to confirm General Petraeus to lead our military effort in Afghanistan," Obama said following the unanimous vote. "General Petraeus is a pivotal part of our effort to succeed in Afghanistan -- and in our broader effort to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al-Qaida -- and he has my full confidence."
In two days of confirmation hearings earlier this week, Petraeus said he backs plans to pull U.S. troops out of Afghanistan beginning in July 2011 but that it is in the U.S. interest to make sure the Afghan government can survive and guarantee the security of its citizens.
Obama rips Republicans at town hall
RACINE, Wis., June 30 (UPI) -- U.S. President Barack Obama Wednesday had sharp words for Republicans, accusing them of "using their power" to hurt the common man.
In remarks prepared for delivery to a town hall meeting in Racine, Wis., Obama accused Republicans of blocking an extension of unemployment benefits for the sake of politics.
Obama said his administration has been working to pull the country out of recession and called on Congress -- especially Republicans -- to approve an extension of unemployment benefits.
"Unfortunately, a minority of Senators from the other party has a different idea. As we speak, they're using their power to stop this relief from going to the American people. In fact, they won't even let these measures come up for a vote," Obama said.
Obama said he knows Republicans have economic theories that differ from his approach but "we've already tried these ideas. We tried them for a good part of the last decade. And we know where they led us."
Obama said he knows people are worried.
"That's why even though there's plenty of challenges on our plate, none is more important than reversing the damage of the great recession and getting folks back to work," Obama said.
Obama also cited the Gulf of Mexico oil disaster as the result of lax Republican regulatory policies and blamed tax breaks for the super-rich for sluggish job growth and the erosion of the middle class.
Obama said the nation is now at a crossroads and we have to recognize there are some things that can be accomplished only by government, not individuals or corporations.
"This debate we're having in Washington isn't about big government or small government. It's about responsible government. It's about accountable government. It's about a government that stands on the side of the American people -- a government that breaks down barriers to opportunity and prosperity. That's the kind of government we need."
Obama also called on Congress to pass financial reform and chastized Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, for his comments Tuesday against the legislation.
"I was stunned to hear the leader of the Republicans in the House say that financial reform was like using a nuclear weapon to target an ant. … He compared the financial crisis to an ant, the same financial crisis that led to the loss of nearly 8 million jobs. The same crisis that cost people their homes and their lives savings.
"Well if the Republican leader is that out of touch with the struggles facing the American people, he should come here to Racine and ask people if they think the financial crisis was an ant."
When he arrived in Racine, Obama made a detour to a pastry shop where he sampled the local specialty, the Kringle, and bought three danish.
Kagan: All court members act in good faith
WASHINGTON, June 30 (UPI) -- U.S. Solicitor General Elena Kagan, President Obama's Supreme Court nominee, said Wednesday people need to trust that the court is "entirely non-political."
"Every judge has to do what he or she thinks the law requires. But on the other hand, there's no question that the court is served best and our country is served best when people trust the court as an entirely non-political body," Kagan said during questioning by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I.
Kagan, in her third straight day of Senate hearings, also heralded the advantages of "narrow decisions" that form "consensus" over "broad, far-reaching decisions" that create division on the court, refuting Whitehouse's assertion that today's court is motivated by politics.
"I'm sure that everybody up there is acting in good faith," Kagan said.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., asked Kagan to share her thoughts on free speech and the First Amendment.
"Even as we understand the absolute necessity … for protection of speakers from libel suits, from defamation suits, we should also appreciate that people who did nothing to ask for trouble … can be greatly harmed when something goes around the Internet, and everybody believes something false about a person. … That's a real harm, and the legal system should not pretend that it's not," Kagan said.
Kagan's nomination is expected to meet minimal resistance from the GOP, with Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, Wednesday calling her "soon-to-be Justice Kagan," the Los Angeles Times reported.
Democrats hope to push Kagan's nomination out of committee next week, with a full Senate vote in late July.
Israeli soldier suspected of spying
HAIFA, Israel, June 30 (UPI) -- An Israeli soldier accused of spying for Hezbollah appeared before a military court in Haifa Wednesday, authorities say.
The soldier, a resident of northern Israel, is suspected of taking part in a gang that smuggled drugs from Lebanon and transferred information on Israeli security to a Hezbollah-linked figure, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reports.
Military police arrested the suspect several weeks ago following a joint investigation with Galilee police.
A senior military police official said the suspect was aware of the fact that the information he was passing along would be used by Hezbollah to harm Israeli security.
Five additional suspects have been arrested in the case.
The soldier and the others will remain in custody.
Queen Elizabeth given flowers in Canada
OTTAWA, June 30 (UPI) -- Queen Elizabeth II was feted with bouquets of flowers and in return was to plant a tree during her visit to Ottawa Wednesday.
The 84-year-old British monarch and her husband Prince Philip were greeted by thousands of cheering people who lined the streets along the route of their tour through the Canadian capital, many of whom offered her flowers, the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. reported. The first bouquet, of coral-colored roses, was presented to Elizabeth by 12-year-old Madison Trudeau when the queen and prince disembarked from their plane at the Ottawa airport.
The royal couple went to the Canadian Museum of Nature, where they were given a private tour, listened to a children's choir perform and unveiled a plaque dedicating The Queen's Lantern, an addition to the museum replacing its original tower.
The royals also stopped at the National Arts Centre, where the queen unveiled a sculpture of jazz pianist Oscar Peterson.
Elizabeth and Philip planted a tree in a garden outside Government House in Halifax Wednesday morning, and were to plant another one at Rideau Hall in Ottawa and meet with Prime Minister Stephen Harper later in the day, as well as attend an invitation-only garden party.
The queen is on her 22nd visit to Canada since assuming the British throne 58 years ago. The royal couple will also visit Winnipeg, Waterloo, Ontario, and Toronto before their tour ends July 6.