In election news, all eyes are on New Hampshire today, one day ahead of the state’s primary. Several new polls suggest Senator Barack Obama has received a major boost in New Hampshire following his victory in the Iowa caucus.
On Saturday, four of the Democratic candidates were invited to take part in a debate hosted by ABC News. Senator Barack Obama repeated his assertion that he would authorize the U.S. military to carry out unilateral attacks inside Pakistan without the support of the Pakistani government if there was actionable intelligence against al-Qaeda.
Sen. Barack Obama: "And that’s the flaw of the Bush doctrine. It wasn’t that he went after those who attacked America, but he went after those who didn’t. And as a consequence, we have been bogged down, paid extraordinary price in blood and treasure, and we have fanned the anti-American sentiment. "
One of the most heated moments of the debate came when Senator John Edwards teamed up with Senator Barack Obama and accused Senator Hillary Clinton of representing the status quo.
Sen. John Edwards: "But both of us are powerful voices for change. And I might add we finished first and second in the Iowa Caucus, I think in part as a result of that. Now what I would say is this: anytime you speak out powerfully for change, the forces of status quo attack. That’s exactly what happens."
Senator Hillary Clinton responded.
Sen. Hillary Clinton: "I want to make change, but I’ve already made change. I will continue to make change. I’m not just running on a promise of change. I’m running on thirty-five years of change. I’m running on having taken on the drug companies and the health insurance companies, taking on the oil companies. So, you know, I think it is clear that what we need is somebody who can deliver change. And we don’t need to be raising the false hopes of our country about what can be delivered. The best way to know what change I will produce is to look at the changes that I’ve already made. "
Democratic candidate Dennis Kucinich filed a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission over his exclusion from the debate. Kucinich pointed out that ABC’s parent company Walt Disney had contributed to the campaigns of the four candidates invited. Former Senator Mike Gravel was also excluded from the debate.
GOP Pulls Sponsorship of Debate to Protest Exclusion of Ron Paul
Meanwhile, the Republican Party pulled its sponsorship of Sunday night’s debate on Fox News because the network had excluded Texas Congressman Ron Paul. Former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani was invited to the debate even though he lost to Paul in Iowa.
In other campaign news, Republican Senator John McCain admitted he would be fine if the United States military stayed in Iraq for a hundred years. McCain said, "We’ve been in Japan for sixty years. We’ve been in South Korea fifty years or so… As long as Americans are not being injured or harmed or wounded or killed, that’s fine with me."
In the Democratic race, Senator Barack Obama has picked up the endorsement of Bill Bradley, the former presidential hopeful and senator. Bradley said, "His movement for change could create a new era of American politics — truly a new American story. "
In third party news, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has arrived in Norman, Oklahoma for a bipartisan conference to discuss ways to end partisan polarization in Washington. The organizers of the conference have suggested they would consider urging Bloomberg to mount an independent presidential campaign if the major party nominees do not formally embrace bipartisanship to address the nation’s problems.
In other news, the New York Times reports President Bush’s senior national security advisers are debating whether to expand the authority of the CIA and the military to conduct far more aggressive covert operations in the tribal areas of Pakistan. Pakistan’s military rejected the idea of covert U.S. actions inside Pakistan. A military spokesperson said, "It is not up to the US administration, it is Pakistan’s government who is responsible for this country. "
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has vowed to escalate Israeli attacks in Gaza where at least fourteen Palestinians have died since Thursday. Olmert defended Israel’s actions saying they were needed to stop rocket attacks. Israel has also sharply reduced fuel supplies to the only electric plant in Gaza. Power is now being cut off eight hours a day inside the territory. Israel is coming under increasing criticism from Palestinian leaders and the Arab League. Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa says Israel’s recent actions in Gaza and the West Bank jeopardize the talks that began in Annapolis.
Amr Moussa: "Secondly, the League Council considers that the continuation of the settlement policy and the continuation of the siege and the closing of the crossings, and the military attacks on civilian homes in Gaza and the West Bank, undermines the chances of the follow-on negotiations that have emerged from the Annapolis track."
President Bush is scheduled to visit Israel on Wednesday as part of a regional tour that will cover seven nations.
In Kenya, at least 486 people have now died in violence following Kenya’s disputed presidential election. Some 250,000 people have been displaced from their homes. Opposition leader Raila Odinga has refused an offer by President Kibaki to form a government of national unity.
Raila Odinga: "So I think it is an insult to the intelligence of the people of this country that somebody who knows clearly that he did not win the elections is inviting people to a government of national unity."
But a spokesperson for the opposition said Odinga is willing to discuss a coalition government with genuine power sharing.
In economic news, more signs are emerging indicating the country might be heading toward a recession. The reported unemployment rate hit five percent in December. It was the biggest jump in unemployment since a month after the September 11 attacks. The price of oil briefly topped $100 a barrel for the first time ever last week. On Wall Street, the Dow Jones Industrial Average suffered its worst start to a new year since 1904. The NASDAQ Composite Index dropped over five percent last week, its worst start to a new year ever. And the Times of London reports the living standards in Britain are set to rise above those in the United States for the first time since the nineteenth century. Ethan Harris, the chief economist at Lehman Brothers, predicted 2008 would be a difficult year for the U.S. economy.
Ethan Harris: "We are going into a very uncertain period for the economy with lots of downside risks. The fact that the stock market started the year on a down note is a reminder that there are significant risks out there, so that’s the message. It’s just confirming what we knew, which is it’s going to be a difficult year. The stock market could be up in the year if the economy can skirt recession, but it’s going to be a choppy ride this year. "
President Bush has attempted to put a positive spin about the recent economic news.
President Bush: "While there is some uncertainty, the report is that our financial markets are strong and solid. And I want to thank you for being diligent. This economy of ours is on a solid foundation. But we can’t take economic growth for granted. And there are signs that cause us to be ever more diligent in making sure good policies come out of Washington."
Former presidential candidate George McGovern has publicly called for the impeachment of President Bush and Vice President Cheney. In an article in the Washington Post, Senator McGovern writes, “The case for impeaching Bush and Cheney is far stronger than was the case against Nixon and Vice President Spiro Agnew after the 1972 election.” McGovern ran against Nixon in 1972 but lost. McGovern accused Bush of repeatedly violating the Constitution and lying to the American public. He wrote, "Their conduct and their barbaric policies have reduced our beloved country to a historic low in the eyes of people around the world.”
In news from Washington, former Republican Senator Trent Lott has confirmed he is planning to establish a new lobbying firm with former Democratic Senator John Breaux. Lott abruptly resigned his Senate seat last month. By quitting in December, Lott managed to avoid new ethics rules that require senators wait two years, instead of one, before becoming paid Capitol Hill lobbyists. It is unclear if Lott may have broken ethics rules by negotiating terms of the lobbying firm while he was still in the Senate. The Hill newspaper has revealed that in October, Lott’s son purchased the website domain name breauxlott.com.
And finally, the New York Times reports the International Committee of the Red Cross has determined the United States has held dozens of prisoners incommunicado for weeks or even months at the Bagram military base in Afghanistan. The Red Cross said the prisoners were kept from its inspectors and sometimes subjected to cruel treatment in violation of the Geneva Conventions. The U.S. is now holding 630 prisoners at Bagram, more than twice the number being held at Guantanamo.