The G20 summit ended in London Thursday with a pledge to overhaul financial regulation and spend more than $1 trillion on loans to struggling economies. In a nine-page declaration, G20 leaders outlined a series of voluntary steps, including regulating hedge funds, cracking down on tax havens, and increasing international lending. Funding for the International Monetary Fund was quadrupled with a $1 trillion commitment.
Despite touting the financial pledges as aid for developing economies, the new money could actually be funneled back into the donor economies. The Washington Post reports a $250 billion G20 line of credit to increase liquidity will mostly go to the US, Europe and Japan. The US alone could draw upon as much as $42.5 billion.
In France, clashes erupted at a protest Thursday ahead of today’s opening of NATO’s sixtieth anniversary summit. Police used tear gas and rubber bullets against hundreds of protesters in the city of Strasbourg, where the meeting is taking place. Some protesters pelted officers with bottles and rocks. Thousands of police officers are on hand as protests continue over the two-day summit.
Ahead of the meeting, a group of aid organizations has issued an appeal to NATO leaders warning that an increased military occupation of Afghanistan will lead to a rise in civilian deaths. In a new report, eleven groups, including Oxfam and ActionAid, say, "Too many military operations by foreign troops involve excessive force, loss of life and damage to property."
Here in the United States, a federal judge has ruled three prisoners at a US military jail in Afghanistan can challenge their detentions in US courts. The three were seized in foreign countries and brought to Afghanistan, where they’ve been confined at the Bagram Air Force Base for at least six years. There are about 650 prisoners at Bagram, but it appears the ruling would only grant habeas corpus to those seized abroad. The decision marked a loss for the Obama administration, which has mirrored the Bush administration in seeking to deny the prisoners habeas corpus rights. Ramzi Kassem, an attorney for one of the prisoners with the International Justice Network, said, "This is a great day for American justice…A US federal judge ruled that our government cannot simply kidnap people and hold them beyond the law."
In Illinois, a federal grand jury has charged former governor Rod Blagojevich in connection with the alleged corruption that forced his removal from office. On Thursday, Blagojevich was charged with racketeering, extortion and fraud. His brother and four other associates were also charged. Blagojevich was impeached in January following his indictment on bribery and wire fraud charges. The allegations against him include trying to sell President Obama’s vacant Senate seat to the highest bidder.
On Capitol Hill, lawmakers have approved President Obama’s $3.5 trillion budget plan. The vote was split along party lines, save for twenty Democrats who joined Republican Congress members in voting against. Senate Democrats say they expect to pass their version of the bill later today.
The House, meanwhile, has voted grant to regulators new authority to oversee the tobacco industry. The measure would allow the Food and Drug Administration to reject new tobacco products, bar additives, and restrict advertising. The measure is likely to face a Republican filibuster in the Senate.
The former head of the bailed-out insurance giant AIG testified on Capitol Hill Thursday. Maurice Greenberg defended his role in steering AIG and blamed his successors after he left the company in 2005.
Maurice Greenberg: "AIG’s business model did not fail. Its management did. AIG’s business model has a long track record of success over many decades. AIG can recover from its immediate crisis, continue to be an employer of tens of thousands of hardworking Americans, and repay the assistance it has received from the American taxpayer, but only if both the government and AIG’s management change their approach in dealing with its future."
Greenberg has come under wide criticism for running AIG when it helped create many of the complex financial instruments that caused the current economic collapse.
In Denver, a jury has found the University of Colorado wrongfully dismissed Professor Ward Churchill two years ago. Churchill sued the school after he was fired from a tenured position on charges of research misconduct. But Churchill maintains that the allegations were a pretext to remove him for his political beliefs. In 2005, he described the September 11 attacks as a response to a long history of US abuses and called those who were killed on 9/11 as "little Eichmanns." On Thursday, the jury said Churchill had been fired in large part for his views. But it only granted him one dollar damages, along with ordering the University of Colorado to pay his attorney fees. Churchill’s lawyers say they will ask the judge to reinstate him at his old job.
In New York, a pair of social justice groups are teaming up for a two-day protest that begins today. The Bail Out the People Movement and United for Peace and Justice plan to march on Wall Street to protest the financial bailout and the ongoing US occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. Tomorrow’s event is being held on the anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s assassination on April 4th, 1968 in Memphis, where he had traveled to lead a march of striking sanitation workers. It’s also the anniversary of Dr. King’s "Beyond Vietnam" speech, delivered at New York’s Riverside Church one year earlier.
New figures show a record 32.2 million, or one in ten, Americans are receiving food stamps. The government’s figure for January marked the third record food stamp enrollment in five months.
In Sudan, the Obama administration’s new special envoy made his first visit on Thursday since his appointment last month. Retired Air Force General Scott Gration pledged to seek cooperation with Sudanese officials in addressing the humanitarian crisis in Darfur.
Retired Air Force General Scott Gration: "The United States and Sudan want to be partners, and so we’re looking for opportunities for us to build a stronger bilateral relationship. And I come here with my hands open, and it will be up to the Sudanese government to determine how they want to continue with that relationship. Hopefully, it will be with hands of friendship, hands of cooperation."
And in East Timor, investigators are believed to have found the first bodies of protesters gunned down by US-backed Indonesian forces in the Dili massacre of 1991. On November 12th, 1991, Indonesian troops opened fire on a crowd of several thousand unarmed Timorese civilians gathered at the Santa Cruz cemetery. At least 271 people were killed, but no bodies were ever found. The Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine says it’s dug up sixteen bodies from unmarked graves at Hera, near Dili.