New government figures show the economy shrunk from July through September. Gross domestic product dropped 0.3% in the worst contraction since 2001. Consumer spending also fell for the first time in seventeen years.
Exxon Mobil has posted another record-breaking quarterly profit. The oil giant earned $14.8 billion in the third quarter, the most ever by a US corporation. That’s nearly 15 percent higher than the previous record Exxon set in the second quarter. Meanwhile, Europe’s biggest oil company, Royal Dutch Shell, also reported high third quarter earnings, rising 74 percent to $10.9 billion.
The Bush administration is making a final push for deregulation in its remaining months in office. The White House is seeking to do away with government safeguards protecting consumers and the environment. Some of the provisions the White House wants to ease or undo include standards on drinking water, emissions of global warming-causing pollutants, commercial fishing and mountaintop coal removal. The Washington Post says the move amounts to “the most controversial deregulatory steps of the Bush era.”
On the campaign trail, Senators Barack Obama and John McCain enter the final weekend of their race focusing on battleground states. On Thursday, McCain addressed supporters in Defiance, Ohio at the start of a two-day bus tour across the state.
Sen. John McCain: "America is worth fighting for. Nothing is inevitable here. We never give up. We never quit. We never hide from history. We make history. Now let’s go win this election and get our country moving again."
After Ohio, McCain will spend the weekend in Virginia, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire and Missouri. Obama, meanwhile, was in Sarasota, Florida, where he addressed a rally of over 13,000 people.
Sen. Barack Obama: "I can take one more week of John McCain’s attacks, but this country can’t take four more years of the same failed policies. In five days, we can come together as one nation and one people and choose a better history. That’s what’s at stake. That’s what we’re fighting for."
Obama spoke one day after appearing on Comedy Central’s The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. During the interview, Stewart made light of the so-called Bradley effect, the instance of white voters not selecting an African American candidate after saying they would support him in polls.
Jon Stewart: "Are you concerned, in some respects, you know —- and I don’t even know how to bring this up. Obviously, your mother is from Kansas. She’s a white woman. Your father, African. Are you concerned that you may go into the voting booth and -—"
Sen. Obama: "I won’t know what to do."
Stewart: "Your white half will all of a sudden decide, 'I can't do this.’"
Sen. Obama: "Yeah. Yeah, it’s a problem."
Stewart: "What is it?"
Sen. Obama: "I said it’s a problem. I’ve been going through therapy to make sure that I vote properly on the 4th."
Meanwhile, a new analysis shows that despite McCain’s attempt to link Obama to high taxes, most Americans would likely pay less taxes under Obama’s plan. The Tax Policy Center says Obama would generally cut more taxes than McCain for Americans making less than $100,000 a year. Americans making more than $250,000 would pay less taxes under McCain, but that only accounts for less than three percent of the population.
Republicans in Minnesota are being accused of racism after running attack ads that apparently darken the skin of an Indian American Democrat running for Congress. The Democrat, Ashwin Madia, is a former Marine and Iraq war veteran. Attack ads funded by the National Republican Congressional Committee appear to show him with a darkened complexion. Madia is challenging Republican Erik Paulsen in Minnesota’s third congressional district.
In other election news, the campaign office of the peace mom Cindy Sheehan was vandalized in San Francisco early on Thursday. All of the front windows of Sheehan’s office were shattered in what appears to be a targeted act. Sheehan is running against House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
In voting news, voter rights activists have won another major victory, this time in Colorado. State officials have agreed to reinstate tens of thousands of people whose names had been removed from the rolls. Colorado Secretary of State Mike Coffman said he had removed up to 30,000 voters because they appeared twice on the rolls or had moved out of state. But in a lawsuit against Coffman, the civil rights group the Advancement Project accused of him of an illegal purge. Under a settlement, the removed voters will be able to cast provisional ballots that will be counted unless officials can prove their ineligibility.
In Britain, senior CIA officers could face prosecution in the case of a Guantanamo Bay prisoner who says he was tortured in US custody. The British Attorney General is considering whether to bring charges against Americans involved in the rendition and alleged torture of British resident Binyam Mohamed. Mohamed claims his confession to terrorism charges was given only after he had his penis sliced by a blade. The Bush administration has refused to release key documents to Mohamed’s lawyers, and said efforts to obtain them would cause “serious and lasting damage” to US-British relations and jeopardize British “national security.” Last week, British judges warned they might intervene to compel the White House to hand over the documents.
In India, at least seventy-seven people have been killed in a wave of bombings in the northeastern state of Assam. Another 300 were wounded in the thirteen coordinated blasts.
A new government audit has found at least $6 billion in US taxpayer money has gone to private military and security companies operating in Iraq. The Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction says that’s about 12 percent of the $50 billion in Iraq reconstruction money that has mostly flowed to American corporations. A recent internal report found the US has contracted at least 310 private security companies in Iraq. The most notorious of the companies, Blackwater Worldwide, has yet to face any charges for the September 2007 massacre of seventeen Iraqis in Baghdad’s Nisoor Square.
The Iraq war resister James Burmeister has been freed after serving over four months in prison. Burmeister had been sentenced to six months after pleading guilty to going AWOL. The twenty-three-year-old soldier served as an Army scout in Iraq but fled to Canada in May 2007 while on leave. After leaving Iraq, Burmeister revealed that US troops in Iraq were planting equipment, such as AK-47s, to lure Iraqis to spots where American snipers could shoot them. The practice was known as “bait and kill.”
The Bush administration is preparing to suspend longtime trade benefits to Bolivia. The move was announced last month, but the White House has had to wait until the end of a legally required public comment period that ends today. The administration says Bolivian President Evo Morales has failed to cooperate in the so-called war on drugs. The US has been accused of hypocrisy following UN figures that show cocaine production in Bolivia rising five percent last year compared to a 27 percent jump in Colombia. Colombia is the largest recipient of US aid in the Western hemisphere. On Thursday, Morales spoke at a meeting of Latin American leaders on the economic crisis.
Bolivian President Evo Morales: "It’s not about saving capitalism. Capitalism will never resolve the problems of humanity. Capitalism not only generates a financial crisis, capitalism brings on energetic crisis, capitalism brings ecological crisis."
In the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Red Cross is warning intense fighting between government and rebel forces is causing a “humanitarian catastrophe.” Tens of thousands of people have abandoned the restive eastern city of Goma amidst an advance by armed rebels led by Laurent Nkunda. Overall, some 200,000 have been displaced since August, and the number is said to be growing by the hour.
Back in the United States, an unarmed African American has been shot dead by a police officer in the yard of his Los Angeles home. Twenty-year-old Julian Alexander was killed as he stood outside with a broomstick after hearing a strange noise in his yard. A police officer who had been chasing suspected burglars through the neighborhood shot him twice without warning. Alexander had recently married. His wife is due to give birth to their first child in December.
And federal immigration agents have arrested the former CEO of meatpacking company Agriprocessors, the target of the largest immigration raid in history. Nearly 400 workers were detained when agents raided the plant in Postville, Iowa last May. The executive, Sholom Rubashkin, faces charges of harboring undocumented immigrants.
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