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California’s state Supreme Court has agreed to decide the legality of Proposition 8, the ballot measure that repealed the right of gay and lesbian couples to marry in California. The passage of Prop 8 has sparked nationwide protests by gay rights activists. Multiple lawsuits have been filed over the past two weeks. The Los Angeles Times reports gay rights advocates argue that the measure was a constitutional revision, instead of a more limited amendment. A revision of California’s constitution can be placed before the voters only by a two-thirds vote of the legislature or a constitutional convention. Proposition 8 reached the ballot after a signature drive. A hearing on the lawsuits is expected to be held as early as March. The court has refused to allow any more same sex weddings until a ruling has been made.
In economic news, the Dow Jones index fell over five percent Wednesday, ending the day below 8,000, its lowest level since March 2003. The market is now down 43 percent since it hit a high point in October 2007. USA Today estimates nearly $10 trillion in wealth has been wiped out over the past year. Wall Street stocks fell Wednesday after reports showed the biggest monthly drop in the consumer price index in sixty-one years. Meanwhile, the Commerce Department reported that construction of new homes plunged last month to the lowest level in the forty-nine years that the government has kept records.
In Iraq news, the White House said the Iraqi cabinet’s approval of the status of forces agreement means the US can celebrate victory in Iraq. The agreement mandates that all US troops leave Iraq in three years. White House Press Secretary Dana Perino made the comment after being asked why this agreement is not the timetable that the President fought so hard against.
Dana Perino: “We believe that the conditions are such now that we are able to celebrate the victory that we’ve had so far and establish both a strategic framework agreement, which is a much broader document and talks about all sorts of cooperation that we’ll have with Iraq from here on out, from trade and healthcare and exchanges on science, and a real strong bilateral agreement that you would hope we would have with any of our allies.”
One of Britain’s most prominent judges, Lord Bingham, has accused Britain and the United States of acting like a "world vigilante." He said the attack on Iraq was a serious violation of international law. Lord Bingham also said the legal advice given to Tony Blair by the attorney general prior to the Iraq war was fundamentally "flawed.” Bingham’s comments came in his first speech since retiring.
President-elect Barack Obama has reportedly picked Former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle to become secretary of Health and Human Services. As secretary, Daschle is expected to play a major role in working with Congress on Obama’s campaign promise to expand healthcare coverage for Americans. Since losing a bid for re-election four years ago, Daschle has served as a board member of the Mayo Clinic and a highly paid adviser to healthcare clients at the law and lobbying firm Alston & Bird. The lobbying firm has declined to disclose which healthcare industry clients Daschle had advised. The firm represents dozens of companies, including pharmaceutical companies, healthcare providers and trade groups for nurses and nursing homes. Earlier this year Dashchle published a book titled Critical: What We Can Do About the Health-Care Crisis.
Gov. Janet Napolitano of Arizona is reportedly set to be offered the position of Homeland Security secretary. She is a two-term governor, as well as a former US attorney and state attorney general for Arizona. She was the first governor to call for National Guard troops to secure the US-Mexico border.
President-elect Obama is also expected to tap billionaire Penny Pritzker to serve as Commerce secretary. Pritzker is a longtime friend of Obama’s and served as his national finance chair. Pritzker was involved in running and overseeing the Illinois-based Superior Bank, which collapsed in 2001. The bank has been described as being at the forefront of turning subprime loans into securities, the risky practice at the heart of the financial crisis.
In Minnesota, the Senate race between incumbent Norm Coleman and Al Franken has tightened. After the first day of a statewide recount, Coleman’s lead has shrunk to just 174 votes.
McClatchy Newspapers reports the Justice Department has agreed to pay for a private lawyer to defend former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales against allegations that he encouraged officials to inject partisan politics into the department’s hiring and firing practices.
In other news from Washington, Congresswoman Barbara Lee has been named chair of the Congressional Black Caucus. Lee was the only member of Congress to vote against the authorization of the use of force after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.
The Somali pirates who hijacked a Saudi oil supertanker are demanding $25 million for the ship’s return. Mohammed Said said, "The Saudis have ten days to comply, otherwise we will take action that could be disastrous." The supertanker was loaded to capacity with two million barrels of oil when it was seized along with twenty-five crew members. On Wednesday, Somalia’s prime minister Nur Hassan Hussein said Somalia does not have the ability to stop the piracy off its coast and needs more help from the international community.
Nur Hassan Hussein: "These piracy problems are not limited only within Somalia, but it is affecting the whole region. It is affecting, globally, the world, and we see that the Transitional Federal Government doesn’t have enough capacity to combat and eradicate this piracy, which is becoming a concern, a common concern for all the world."
Executives from the Associated Press, Reuters, New York Times, BBC, CNN and other news organizations have signed a letter criticizing the Israeli government’s decision to ban journalists from entering Gaza. In a letter to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, the executives wrote, "We are gravely concerned about the prolonged and unprecedented denial of access to the Gaza Strip for the international media.” Israel has virtually sealed off the Gaza Strip and cut off aid and fuel shipments. A spokesperson for Israel’s Defense Ministry said Israel was displeased with international media coverage, which he said inflated Palestinian suffering and did not make clear that Israel’s measures were in response to Palestinian violence.
The giant poultry company Aviagen has suspended a supervisor after an animal rights group released a video showing turkeys being abused at the company’s West Virginia farms. The video released by the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals shows workers stomping on the heads of turkeys, twisting their necks and slamming them into metal cages. The video was recorded by an undercover investigator. Earlier this week, PETA filed a criminal complaint against Aviagen alleging animal cruelty. Aviagen describes itself as “the world’s leading poultry-breeding company” and supplies most of the turkey breeding stock in the United States. A supervisor at the farm was secretly recorded admitting that every worker gets agitated sometimes and kills turkeys.
In media news, PC Magazine has announced it is ceasing publication of the magazine after twenty-seven years but will continue online. Many other publications have made moves recently to the web. The Christian Science Monitor is planning to cease printing its weekday paper in favor of its website. US News and World Report is switching to a monthly magazine with an increased focus on the web.
And this year’s National Book Awards have been announced. Annette Gordon-Reed won the nonfiction award for The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family, a biography of three generations of a slave family owned by Thomas Jefferson. Peter Matthiessen won the fiction award for Shadow Country.