The Federal Reserve and the Treasury have announced plans to create essentially a government bank and to pump $800 billion into new lending programs in the latest attempt to revive the nation’s crippled financial system. The government has now assumed nearly $8 trillion in direct and indirect financial obligations over the past year. Under the latest plan, $600 billion will be spent to buy mortgage-related debt and securities and $200 billion to back financing for other forms of lending, including credit cards, auto purchases and loans for students and small business.
Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson: "It will take time to work through the difficulties in our market and our economy, and new challenges will continue to arise. I and my regulatory colleagues are committed to using all the tools at our disposal to preserve the strength of our financial institutions and stabilize our financial markets, to minimize the spillover into the rest of the economy."
The number of banks facing possible failure has jumped by almost 50 percent in the last quarter. 171 banks are now considered problem banks by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. So far this year, twenty-two banks have failed, including Washington Mutual, the biggest bank to go under in US history.
On Tuesday, President-elect Barack Obama nominated Congressional Budget Office chief Peter Orszag to be the director of the White House budget office. Obama instructed him to examine closely federal spending to cut out wasteful programs.
President-elect Barack Obama: "But if we are going to make the investments we need, we also have to be willing to shed the spending that we don’t need. In these challenging times, when we’re facing both rising deficits and a shrinking economy, budget reform is not an option; it’s a necessity. We can’t sustain a system that bleeds billions of taxpayer dollars on programs that have outlived their usefulness or exist solely because of the power of politicians, lobbyists or interest groups. We simply can’t afford it."
President-elect Obama has also reportedly decided to keep Robert Gates as Defense Secretary. Gates has led the Armed Forces for the past two years, overseeing the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Gates has proposed sending 20,000 more troops to Afghanistan. Gates will become the first Pentagon chief to be carried over from a president of a different party.
Obama’s top candidate for director of the Central Intelligence Agency has withdrawn from consideration amid protests. John Brennan served as one of former CIA director George Tenet’s closest aides and has publicly supported the CIA’s policies of so-called "enhanced interrogation techniques" and extraordinary rendition. Brennan’s possible nomination was opposed by many human rights activists, psychologists and bloggers. In a letter to Obama, Brennan said he did not want those concerns to be a “distraction” for the incoming administration. Former CIA analyst Melvin Goodman appeared on Democracy Now! on November 17 to criticize the possible selection of Brennan.
Melvin Goodman: “John Brennan has defended the warrantless eavesdropping. John Brennan has basically defended all of the violations that were committed at the CIA in the run-up to the war and in the postwar period. So the signal this sends to CIA employees who tried to get it right — and there were a few who tried to get it right — is the worst kind of signal. And if this is Obama’s judgment about a national security team, it’s very reminiscent of what Bill Clinton did in 1993, when he appointed people such as Jim Woolsey and Les Aspin and Warren Christopher and Tony Lake to the national security positions, and all of them had to be removed before the first term was over. So this is very disquieting, what we’re learning now.”
John Brennan will continue to work on Obama’s transition team and will likely play a role in choosing the next CIA chief.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai has called on the international community to set a timeline to end the war in Afghanistan. Karzai said, "This war has gone on for seven years. The Afghans don’t understand anymore how come a little force like the Taliban can continue to exist, can continue to flourish, can continue to launch attacks.” Karzai also accused the US and other foreign countries of creating a "parallel government" in parts of Afghanistan.
United Nations General Assembly President Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann has said the international community should consider using boycotts, divestments or sanctions to pressure Israel to improve its treatment of the Palestinians. The Nicaraguan diplomat compared the situation in Israel to South Africa two decades ago.
Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann: "Although different, what is being done against the Palestinian people seems to me like a version of the hideous policy of apartheid. That cannot, should not be allowed to continue."
Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann’s comments came during a special meeting in observance of the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also criticized Israel for its blockade of Gaza.
Ban Ki-moon: "I call for immediate measures to ease the near-blanket closure of Gaza, which leads to worrying deprivations of basic supplies and human dignity, and I unreservedly condemn the rocket fire. The way forward is for all the parties to respect the calm brokered by Egypt and to reach out to the civilian population of the Gaza Strip instead of wrongly punishing them."
The head of Thailand’s powerful army has called for new elections after thousands of anti-government protesters shut down Bangkok’s main airport, stranding thousands of travelers. Thai Army chief Anupong Paochinda urged the government today to dissolve parliament and called for new elections to end the political crisis.
Anupong Paochinda: "This is not a pressure that we are putting upon the government, but we are suggesting that the government should let the people have another chance to make a decision on the future of their country in a new election."
Protesters from the People’s Alliance for Democracy have intensified their efforts to topple the government in recent days. On Monday, demonstrators forced Thailand’s parliament to shut down. On Tuesday, the protesters took control of the airport, the eighteenth largest airport in the world.
Chaiwat Sinthuwong: "We don’t only stop the government from doing their illegitimate works. We are doing other things to put more pressure on the government and campaigning to get more consensus from Thai people that it is time for this government to leave."
A former Georgian diplomat has publicly testified that the United States gave Georgia the green light earlier this year to start a war against Russia in the breakaway region of Abkhazia. The diplomat, Erosi Kitsmarishvili, told a parliamentary hearing in Georgia that Georgian authorities were responsible for starting the conflict. For months, US and Georgian officials have blamed Russia for starting the hostilities.
A Florida judge has struck down a thirty-one-year-old state law that prevents gays and lesbians from adopting children. Judge Cindy Lederman wrote, "The best interests of children are not preserved by prohibiting homosexual adoption." The state of Florida had argued the ban should be kept intact, claiming that gay and lesbian households are more unstable. Florida is the only state that specifically bans all gays and lesbians from adopting children.
A federal judge has ordered the state of Louisiana to release Albert Woodfox, a former Black Panther who has spent more than three decades in solitary confinement. Woodfox is one of the Angola Three. In July, a judge overturned Woodfox’s conviction of killing a prison guard. On Tuesday, a federal judge ordered the sixty-one-year-old Woodfox released while he awaits a new trial. Woodfox’s attorneys say he will leave Angola once he finds a suitable place to live. Many supporters believe the Angola Three were framed for their political activism.
The Washington Post reports the number of Americans on food stamps is poised to exceed 30 million for the first time ever this month. Anti-hunger activists say the demand for food stamps has been fueled by rising unemployment and food prices. Food pantries and other charitable organizations are also reporting an increase in demand from those in need. In Washington, D.C., calls to the Capital Area Food Bank’s hunger hotline have jumped 250 percent.
The United American Indians of New England are planning to hold their thirty-ninth National Day of Mourning in Plymouth, Massachusetts on Thanksgiving Day. The protest is dedicated to Leonard Peltier, the jailed Native American activist.
And activists are planning to mark Buy Nothing Day on Friday. Here in New York, Reverend Billy and the Church of Stop Shopping is organizing a Dance Your Debt Away Party in Union Square. The magazine Adbusters is promoting an event called “Credit Card Cut-Up.” Volunteers are planning to head to shopping malls with a pair of scissors and a sign offering to cut up people’s credit cards.