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President Obama has unveiled a $275 billion program to address the national housing crisis. Speaking in Phoenix, Arizona, Obama said the Homeowner Affordability and Stability Plan could help as many as nine million homeowners avoid foreclosure and reduce mortgage payments.
President Obama: "This plan will not save every home. But it will give millions of families resigned to financial ruin a chance to rebuild. It will prevent the worst consequences of this crisis from wreaking even greater havoc on the economy. And by bringing down the foreclosure rate, it will help to shore up housing prices for everyone."
$75 billion would be allotted to help up to four million struggling homeowners by creating incentives for lenders to renegotiate the terms of subprime loans. The plan also promises to help an additional five million households struggling to pay off their mortgages by lifting restrictions on refinancing and by pledging an additional $200 billion dollars for the mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
A federal appeals court has blocked the release of seventeen Uyghur prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. The group was previously ordered to be resettled with other Uyghur families in the United States. But a three-judge panel ruled District Judge Ricardo Urbina had erred in ordering their release into the US. The US government has admitted the men have been unlawfully detained but won’t send them back to China where they face persecution. Emi MacLean of the Center for Constitutional Rights said, "The new administration must act quickly to remedy the failings of the old. If President Obama is committed to closing Guantánamo, he must allow these stranded Uyghurs into the United States."
In Kyrgyzstan, lawmakers have voted to close a key US air base used for the occupation of Afghanistan. Earlier today, the Kyrgyz parliament voted 78-to-1 in favor of shuttering the Manas Air Base. The base is a transit point for 15,000 troops and 500 tons of cargo each month. But it’s become widely unpopular amidst opposition to US foreign policy and controversy over US refusal to pay a higher fee. The US has also refused to revoke the immunity of a US soldier who fatally shot a Kyrgyz truck driver in late 2006. The move comes one day after President Obama ordered an additional 17,000 troops to Afghanistan. The head of NATO forces in Afghanistan, General David McKiernan, praised the decision.
General David McKiernan: "I am very delighted with the President’s decision yesterday to send additional US forces to reinforce our efforts in Afghanistan. I will use most of those forces in the southern part of Afghanistan, an area where we do not have sufficient security presence."
In Iraq, the trial of the Iraqi journalist who threw his shoes at former President George W. Bush has been delayed until next month. Muntadhar al-Zaidi will stand trial in March on charges of assaulting a foreign leader. He faces fifteen years in prison. Zaidi’s attorney and family have alleged abusive treatment since his imprisonment. On Wednesday, Zaidi was applauded as he entered the courtroom.
The Israeli government has formalized its stance to condition any easing of the blockade of the entire Gaza Strip on the release a single captured Israeli soldier. On Wednesday, Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit said Israel would only consider lifting the humanitarian siege of Gaza if Hamas secures Corporal Gilad Shalit’s release.
Israeli Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit: "The security cabinet decided unanimously that Gilad Shalit will be the first demand of Israel before any arrangement with the Egyptian or with Hamas. We would like to see Gilad back home. Three years have been past, and we think that we cannot come to any arrangement with the Hamas or with the Egyptian without solving the problem of Gilad Shalit. We want him back home."
Shalit was seized in June 2006 from an Israeli military post used to stage attacks on Gaza. Israel has previously negotiated several prisoner exchanges. Some 10,000 Palestinians are currently jailed in Israeli prisons. Hamas spokesperson Fawzi Barhoum called the Israeli position a non-starter and said Hamas remains open to a prisoner swap.
Fawzi Barhoum: "We will not accept linking the file of Shalit with the file of the ceasefire. If the Zionist occupier wanted a ceasefire with a breaking of the siege, the opening of the crossings and stopping of the aggression, then we are ready for that. If they wanted something other than that, then we are open to all possibilities. We don’t oppose releasing Gilad Shalit, but only with the necessity of the responsiveness of the Zionist occupation to comply with our conditions and demands to release our prisoners and the prisoners of the Palestinian people, in accordance with the list and the general theme that the Zionist occupier already knows."
In Egypt, the leading opposition politician Ayman Nour has been freed after more than three years in jail. Nour was jailed shortly after he challenged President Hosni Mubarak in national elections. The release was unexpected, as he still had nearly two years left in his sentence.
Ayman Nour: "I say now that I’ve been released without any agreement, without any bargaining, without any deal. This was not offered, and if it had been, we wouldn’t have accepted. I’m out of prison to practice my rights as an Egyptian citizen."
Former Federal Reserve Chair Alan Greenspan has endorsed the nationalization of struggling US banks. In an interview with the Financial Times, Greenspan said, "It may be necessary to temporarily nationalize some banks in order to facilitate a swift and orderly restructuring. I understand that once in a hundred years this is what you do." Greenspan’s embrace of neoliberal policies during his Fed tenure has been criticized for helping to cause today’s financial crisis.
Attorney General Eric Holder is calling for a national dialogue on race. In a speech marking Black History Month, Holder called the US a "nation of cowards" for not discussing the history of US racism more openly. Holder is the nation’s first African American attorney general.
In Florida, the tobacco giant Philip Morris has been ordered to pay $8 million in damages to the widow of a smoker who died of lung cancer. Elaine Hess’s husband, Stuart Hess, died in 1997 at the age of fifty-five. Philip Morris faces some 8,000 similar lawsuits in Florida alone. The company says it plans to appeal.
In Miami, federal prosecutors have launched their third attempt to convict six men accused of plotting to destroy FBI buildings and Chicago’s Sears Tower. The two previous trials ended in a deadlocked jury.
In other news from Miami, activists have called a protest for Saturday over US government plans to deport some 30,000 Haitians. Earlier this year, the Bush administration rejected a Haitian request to delay the deportations until Haiti recovers from a string of deadly summer storms.
Here in New York, several dozen student activists have barricaded themselves inside a cafeteria at New York University. The group Take Back NYU has submitted several demands, including the establishment of a socially responsible committee, a full disclosure of the school’s annual budget and support for Palestinian students in the Gaza Strip.
Student: "The first two orders of the socially responsible finance committee will be an in-depth investigation of all investments in war and genocide profiteers, as well as companies profiting from the occupation of Palestine."
The family of nineteenth century Apache Indian warrior Geronimo has filed a lawsuit seeking to recover his remains. The suit names the US government, Yale University and the Yale student society, the Skull and Bones. According to legend, Skull and Bones members, including former President Bush’s grandfather, Prescott Bush, dug up Geronimo’s remains from his burial plot in Fort Sill, Oklahoma.
The Swiss banking giant UBS has agreed to release the names of wealthy American account holders believed to be using offshore accounts to avoid paying taxes. The agreement came as part of a $780 million fraud settlement with the IRS. Prosecutors say UBS helped wealthy American clients hide at least $1.5 billion in taxes from 2002 to 2007.
And the Sudanese novelist Al-Tayeb Saleh has died at the age of eighty. He was considered one of the Arab world’s top novelists, with books including the 1966 classic The Season of Migration to the North.