Democratic congressional leaders say they’ll introduce emergency legislation next week to include the struggling auto industry in the $700 billion Wall Street bailout. The Democratic plan would give car companies up to $50 billion in taxpayer money. It would either come as a stand-alone measure or as part of a broader package alongside new money for healthcare, food stamps and public infrastructure. President-elect Barack Obama raised the issue with President Bush at their Monday White House meeting. Bush reportedly suggested he would only back an auto industry bailout if Democrats support the stalled “free trade” deal with Colombia. The Colombia trade deal has been help up in part over human rights concerns. On Tuesday, shares in the auto giant General Motors fell an additional 13 percent to its lowest level since 1943. More on this story after headlines.
The incoming Obama administration continues to take shape. The Washington Post reports the nation’s top two intelligence officials expect to be dismissed within months of Obama’s inauguration. Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell and CIA Director Michael Hayden are linked to several controversial Bush administration policies, including the use of torture on prisoners and warrantless spying. As a Senator, Obama voted against Hayden’s nomination to protest his role in the warrantless spying program while heading the National Security Agency.
Meanwhile, the Obama transition team says it’s issued a set of regulations that will limit the role of lobbyists in the incoming administration. Under the new rules, lobbyists joining the transition won’t be allowed to work in the field in which they previously lobbied. And transition officials who go on to become lobbyists will not be allowed to lobby the Obama White House for at least one year.
Obama aides have also announced the President-elect plans to create a White House Office of Urban Policy. The office would coordinate federal aid to US cities.
In other news from Washington, President-elect Obama has endorsed keeping Independent Senator Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut in the Democratic caucus. Lieberman broke with his former party and openly campaigned for Republican nominee John McCain. Outraged Democrats have called for Lieberman to be stripped of his chairmanship of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.
In the Democratic Republic of Congo, the UN is warning more than 100,000 refugees are cut off from aid behind rebel lines. Some 250,000 people have been displaced in fighting between government forces and rebel militias in eastern Congo since August. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon appealed for an immediate ceasefire.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon: “But at least 100,000 refugees are cut off in areas north of the city, chiefly around Rutshuru and East Masisi. Because of the ongoing fighting, these people have received virtually no assistance. Their situation has grown increasingly desperate. I urgently call for an immediate ceasefire in these areas to allow humanitarian assistance to reach many thousands of displaced persons.”
Both sides have been accused of war crimes. On Tuesday, the UN said hundreds of Congolese soldiers committed rape and pillage in several villages as they pulled back from a rebel advance.
In Israel and the Occupied Territories, the UN humanitarian agency is warning it’s running out of food because of the latest Israeli fuel blockade of the Gaza Strip. The UN is responsible for feeding 750,000 Palestinians in Gaza. Israel says it’s imposed the latest blockade in response to Palestinian rocket fire, which came after an Israeli missile attack that killed six people last week. The UN says Israel has blocked several humanitarian shipments, including one to a school for blind children. UN spokesperson Christopher Gunness told Al Jazeera, “These blind children, as far as I am aware, are not firing rockets…Hundreds of thousands of ordinary people, including blind children who would have been assisted, are effectively being punished.” Meanwhile, outgoing Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has said a full-scale Israeli attack on Gaza is only a matter of time. Olmert made the comments Tuesday at an Israeli army base near Gaza.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert: “We’re in no hurry, but we know very well that the moment of confrontation will eventually come. The question is not whether there will be a confrontation, but when it will take place, under what circumstances, and who will control these circumstances, who will dictate them, and who will know to exploit the time from the beginning of the ceasefire until the moment of confrontation in the best possible way.”
Russia is reiterating a warning over the Bush administration’s missile system in Eastern Europe. Last week, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said Russia will deploy short-range missiles near Poland if the US proceeds with its controversial missile defense program. In the US, the statement was widely seen as a threat to the incoming Obama administration. But on Tuesday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov emphasized it would only apply if the US carries out its plan to place missiles near Russia.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov: “We declared through the words of our president: if the Third Positioning Region of the US anti-missile shield is created physically, one of the physical measures to neutralize the inevitably emerging threats to Russia’s security will be to deploy Iskander systems in the Kaliningrad region. But it is only in the situation if the Third Positioning Region is created physically.”
Under the plan, Poland would host ten ballistic missiles along with a radar site in the Czech Republic. A majority of public opinion opposes the missile deployment in both countries. The Bush administration says the missile system would protect Europe from Iranian missiles, but it’s widely seen as a first-strike weapon. President-elect Obama’s plans for the missile system are unclear; he’s only said he won’t commit to it before taking office.
Back in the United States, a group of antiwar veterans held a march here in New York Tuesday to mark Veterans Day. Hugh Bruce of Veterans for Peace was among those taking part.
Hugh Bruce: “We’ve gotten our message across that peace is patriotic. Opposing government policy doesn’t mean I don’t love my country any the less. It means that when we’re wrong we have to admit we’ve made a mistake and rectify it. Hopefully the new administration is going to take some steps towards doing that.”
The march came one day after fifteen members of the group Iraq Veterans Against the War and their supporters pleaded not guilty to disorderly conduct charges stemming from their arrests outside the final presidential debate at Hofstra University last month.
And executives at the government-rescued insurance giant AIG have been caught holding another secretive gathering at a luxury resort. Using hidden cameras, local ABC News reporters filmed AIG execs poolside at the Pointe Hilton Squaw Peak Resort in Phoenix, Arizona. AIG has admitted to asking the hotel to ensure there were no AIG signs and to instruct staff not to mention its presence. It’s at least the second known resort getaway for AIG brass since their government rescue. In September, company executives held a week-long, nearly half-a-million-dollar retreat at a luxury resort just days after receiving an initial $85 billion in taxpayer money. On Monday, the Bush administration said it would give AIG an additional $40 billion, bringing its taxpayer tab to $150 billion so far.