Workers have ended their six-day occupation of a shuttered Chicago factory after winning a settlement from their now former employers. The Republic Windows and Door factory closed last week after Bank of America cut off the company’s line of credit. The factory owners gave workers just three days’ notice of the plant’s closure. Many of the plant’s 250 union workers have been occupying the plant since Friday. Under the brokered deal, workers will each receive around two months’ worth of salary and healthcare benefits, as well as all accrued vacation pay. Most of the financing will come from Bank of America. The company relented after coming under heavy criticism for its role in blocking the employees’ pay despite receiving $25 billion in the taxpayer-funded Wall Street bailout.
In other news from Illinois, law enforcement officials have identified Congress member Jesse Jackson, Jr. as the unidentified “Senate Candidate Five” mentioned in the corruption-related indictment of Governor Rod Blagojevich. The indictment quotes Blagojevich describing an offer from a representative of Candidate Five offering half a million dollars in exchange for a selection to fill President-elect Obama’s vacant Senate seat. On Wednesday, Congress member Jackson denied authorizing anyone to make an offer on his behalf.
Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr.: "I reject and denounce pay-to-play politics and have no involvement whatsoever in any wrongdoing. I did not initiate or authorize anyone at any time to promise anything to Governor Blagojevich on my behalf. I never sent a message or an emissary to the Governor to make an offer, to plead my case or to propose a deal about a US Senate seat, period."
Blagojevich, meanwhile, is defying growing calls for his resignation. On Wednesday, President-elect Obama, as well as all fifty Democratic senators in Congress, urged Blagojevich to step down. But Blagojevich returned to work and says he will continue to carry out his duties as governor. In addition to trying to sell Obama’s Senate seat, he is also accused of trying to blackmail the Chicago Tribune into firing editorial writers that had criticized him and withholding state funds from a children’s hospital until its chief executive made a $50,000 donation.
On Capitol Hill, the House has approved a White House-backed deal for a bailout of the auto industry. The plan would authorize $15 billion in emergency loans to car companies as early as next week. In return, the companies would face a spring deadline to cut costs, restructure debt and renegotiate workers’ benefits. President Bush would also appoint a “car czar” to oversee the process. The auto bailout now goes before the Senate, where it’s expected to face Republican opposition.
The British military is reportedly set to withdraw all its troops from Iraq. Citing military sources, several British newspapers say the pullout will begin in March. US forces would take over British positions in Basra. Britain currently has more than 4,000 troops in Iraq and plans to leave 400 behind to train the Iraqi military.
Ceremonies were held around the world Wednesday to mark the sixtieth annual International Human Rights Day, held on the anniversary of the adoption of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights. In Chile, President Michelle Bachelet honored victims of the US-backed military dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet.
Chilean President Michelle Bachelet: "Never again, the empire of cruelty and abuse of people. Never again, the persecution for ideological or political reasons. Never again,
criminals in the government and the complicity of other. Today we reaffirm our commitment to the defense of human rights at all times and everywhere."
Bachelet was speaking at a ceremony breaking ground on a new museum to remember victims of Pinochet’s regime.
Meanwhile, in Argentina, a team of forensic anthropologists say they’ve found more than 10,000 bone fragments at a police station used to torture prisoners during the so-called “Dirty War.” The Pozo de Arana prison was one of 300 used to interrogate Argentine prisoners. Lead anthropologist Luis Fondebrider said the bone fragments showed evidence the victims had been burned.
Luis Fondebrider: "It’s been twenty-five years that we’ve been coming for findings in cemeteries throughout the country in different circumstances, but it’s the first time that work is being done in an extensive form in a clandestine detention center and producing this type of finding. But we didn’t just find mass graves, but also bodies that had been burned within the graves."
Up to 30,000 Argentines were killed under the 1976 to 1983 dictatorship.
In Sweden, former Finnish president Martti Ahtisaari was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize Wednesday for a long career of peace mediation work. In his acceptance speech, Ahtisaari urged the US to focus on resolving the Middle East conflict and said the international community should reject excuses that peace is out of reach.
Martti Ahtisaari: "I do hope that the new president of the United States, who will be sworn in next month, will give high priority to the Middle East conflict during his first year in the office. The European Union, Russian Federation and the UN must also be seriously committed so that a solution can be found to the crisis stretching from Israel and Palestine to Iraq and Iran. If we want to achieve lasting results, we must look at the whole region."
Ahtisaari’s diplomatic achievements include helping secure an accord between Indonesia and Aceh rebels in 2005. In 1990, he played a key role in securing Namibia’s independence from South Africa. Until March 2007, he mediated Serb-Albanian talks on Kosovo as the UN’s special envoy.
Back in the United States, President-elect Obama has reportedly settled on his choices for top environmental and energy posts. Democratic sources say Obama will select Nobel-winning physicist Steven Chu to be the next Energy Secretary. Carol Browner, the Environmental Protection Agency chief under President Clinton, will be nominated to serve as a newly created White House “energy czar.” The appointments will be made official next week.
Obama, meanwhile, has announced he plans to deliver a major speech in a Muslim capital soon after his inauguration. Obama says he also plans to take the oath of office using his middle name Hussein. In an interview with the Chicago Tribune, Obama says he sees the moves as part of an effort “to reboot” the US image around the world, particularly in Muslim countries.
And the Bush administration has abruptly dropped a longtime effort to weaken two environmental laws governing air pollution. The proposals would have made it easier to build coal-fired plants near national parks and changed the rules on when power plants install anti-pollution equipment. Critics are speculating EPA officials abandoned the rule changes after concluding the incoming Obama White House would likely reverse them.