The Obama administration is expected to unveil proposals today to boost government authority over the financial system. In addition to previously announced powers to seize troubled non-banking firms, the administration’s plan would reportedly expand federal regulation for the first time to cover financial derivatives trading, large hedge funds and insurers such as AIG. Regulators would also impose uniform standards to limit the range of functions of major financial firms, including banks.
On Capitol Hill, lawmakers continue negotiations on the final version of President Obama’s budget plan. On Wednesday, the House Budget Committee voted to back the measure after trimming tens of billions of dollars from the original proposal. The Senate Budget Committee is expected to vote on its version later today.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has admitted US drug policy has not only been a failure but has in fact fueled Mexico’s drug war. Speaking to reporters at the outset of her trip to Mexico, Clinton said, "Clearly what we’ve been doing has not worked…I feel very strongly we have a co-responsibility. Our insatiable demand for illegal drugs fuels the drug trade. Our inability to prevent weapons from being illegally smuggled across the border to arm these criminals causes the deaths of police, of soldiers and civilians." Clinton’s comments are being called the most far-reaching by a senior US official in accepting responsibility for the rampant drug trade.
In Pakistan, at least eleven people have been killed in two separate US drone attacks. Pakistani officials said the dead were foreign militants. Hundreds of people have died in US missile strikes inside Pakistan. The Wall Street Journal reports US and Pakistani officials are finalizing a new list of targets along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. The cooperation comes despite US accusations that Pakistan’s top intelligence agency is directly supporting Taliban fighters and other militants inside Afghanistan. According to the New York Times, US officials are now accusing elements of Pakistani intelligence of directly funding and supplying Taliban commanders.
The US and Israel are being accused of killing up to thirty-nine people in a bombing attack in Sudan this past January. According to reports, US or Israeli forces allegedly attacked a convoy of seventeen trucks suspected of carrying weapons intended for smuggling into the Gaza Strip. A Sudanese government minister confirmed the strike, saying a "major power" carried it out.
In Israel and the Occupied Territories, Human Rights Watch has accused Israel of unlawfully attacking densely populated civilian areas with white phosphorus during its three-week attack on Gaza. In a new report, Human Rights Watch says the white phosphorus killed at least twelve Palestinian civilians and destroyed millions of dollars worth of property. Bill Van Esveld of Human Rights Watch says the phosphorus use likely amounts to a war crime.
Bill Van Esveld: "It looks like that evidence is consistent with war crimes being committed. A war crime is when there is either intent or recklessness with regard to targeting civilians or civilian institutions. What we’ve got here is a lot of different civilian institutions being burned down, a lot of different civilians being injured, and it continued to happen for no apparent justification. That’s why we’re concerned."
In other news from Israel, the incoming Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to become what he called a "partner for peace" with the Palestinians.
Benjamin Netanyahu: "I think that the Palestinians should understand that they have in our government a partner for peace, for security and for rapid economic development of the Palestinian economy. Peace — it’s not the last goal; it’s a common and enduring goal for all Israelis and all Israeli governments, mine included. This means that I will negotiate with the Palestinian Authority for peace."
Despite vowing to work for peace, Netanyahu’s speech failed to even mention the creation of a Palestinian state. Netanyahu has consistently rejected Palestinian statehood and backed the ongoing expansion of Jewish-only Israeli settlements on the occupied West Bank.
In Peru, a summit of indigenous groups is gathering to discuss the environmental threats to their communities. Indigenous leader Norma Mayo says energy extraction is endangering areas across the southern hemisphere.
Norma Mayo: "Those guilty of global warming are the developed nations who came to our countries to take oil and minerals and leave our forests contaminated. This has hurt our children and our families. They are poor, and malnutrition is rising."
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is calling on G20 leaders to establish a $1 trillion stimulus package for poorer countries threatened by the global financial meltdown. Ban told the Financial Times he’ll make a formal request at the G20 summit in London next week. Ban meanwhile helped mark an international day of observance for victims of the slave trade at the UN.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon: "Africa has yet to recover from the ravages of the slave trade or the subsequent era of colonization. And here in the new world and in Europe and elsewhere, people of African descendants still struggle daily against entrenched prejudice that keeps them disproportionately in poverty. Despite the official abolition of slavery, racism still pollutes our world."
Here in New York, Governor David Paterson and state lawmakers have reached a deal on further undoing the draconian Rockefeller drug laws. The agreement would repeal an unknown number of mandatory minimum prison sentences for low-level drug crimes and grant judges discretion to order treatment rather than prison time. The measure also calls for a $50 million expansion to drug courts and treatment programs. It’s unclear, however, how many prisoners would be able to apply to have their sentences commuted. Paterson was once arrested for protesting the Rockefeller drug laws. But according to reports, he’s seeking to limit the number of prisoners eligible to apply for commutation.
In Vermont, Governor Jim Douglas says he’ll veto a same-sex marriage bill if one crosses his desk. Vermont’s state senate voted to legalize same-sex marriage on Monday, and a House vote is expected soon. It’s unclear if supporters will have the required majority to override a veto. If the bill becomes law, Vermont will become the first state to legalize same-sex marriage without being forced by the courts to do so.
Democratic Senator Benjamin Cardin of Maryland has introduced a measure aimed at rescuing the struggling newspaper industry. The Newspaper Revitalization Act would let newspaper companies become educational non-profits and operate similar to public broadcasters. Audiences would be eligible to give tax-deductible donations, while advertising and subscription revenue would become tax exempt. Cardin said, "The business model for newspapers, based on circulation and advertising revenue, is broken, and that is a real tragedy for communities across the nation and for our democracy."
The computer giant IBM has announced plans to lay off 5,000 US workers. The number amounts to around four percent of IBM’s workforce.
And the African American scholar and author John Hope Franklin has died. Franklin pioneered the field of African American studies. His book From Slavery to Freedom is considered a definitive work on the African American experience. Franklin recently spoke about the significance of President Obama’s ascent to the White House.
John Hope Franklin: "It’s amazing. It’s remarkable. And it’s an indication of the willingness as well as the ability of this country to turn a significant corner toward full political equality. I didn’t think it would happen in my lifetime. My mother and I used to have a game we’d play, 'our public.' She would say, 'If anybody asks you what you want to be when you grow up, tell them you want to be the first Negro president of the United States.' And just the words were so far-fetched, so incredible, that we used to really have fun just saying it. I’m hesitant to talk about the obstacles. They exist. And anyone who’s lived in the United States ten minutes knows that they exist. The question is, does he have the capacity and the resources to overcome them. And I believe he does."