President-elect Barack Obama has reportedly asked Eric Holder to become his attorney general. If confirmed, Holder would become the first African American to lead the Justice Department. Holder served as deputy attorney general in the Clinton administration and as US attorney for the District of Columbia. He served as an adviser to Obama’s campaign on legal issues and served on his vice-presidential selection team. Newsweek reports Eric Holder still has to undergo a formal “vetting” review by the Obama transition team before the selection is final and is publicly announced. Since leaving public office, Holder has worked as a partner at the D.C. law firm of Covington & Burling. His clients have included the fruit giant Chiquita. Last week on Democracy Now!, journalist Mario Murillo criticized Holder’s ties to Chiquita.
Mario Murillo: “There’s been talk about a close ally and friend of Obama as a potential Attorney General for the United States, Eric Holder, who is currently defending Chiquita Brands International in its defense against dozens of plaintiffs here in Colombia, working families who were targeted by paramilitaries who were funded to the tune of $1.7 million over the last several years. It’s a major scandal. And if this guy becomes the Attorney General under an Obama administration, then it’s going to be really hard to find justice in this case coming from the United States.”
In a speech to the American Constitution Society in June, Eric Holder said the next president must “move immediately to reclaim America’s standing in the world as a nation that cherishes and protects individual freedom and basic human rights.” Holder is an opponent of the death penalty but has called for stiffer penalties for some drug offensives. In 2005, he was part of the legal team that developed strategies for securing reauthorization of the PATRIOT Act.
Democrats have picked up another seat in the Senate, as Alaskan Republican Ted Stevens lost his bid for re-election. Democrat Mark Begich declared victory Tuesday after his lead increased to 3,700 votes. Stevens was the longest-serving Republican in the history of the US Senate. He was convicted last month on federal ethics charges. Begich is the first Democrat to represent Alaska in the Senate since Mike Gravel nearly thirty years ago. Begich’s win gives Democrats control of fifty-eight Senate seats, two short of a filibuster-proof majority.
The outcome of Senate races in Minnesota and Georgia are still to be decided. In Minnesota, a recount begins today in the race between Republican incumbent Norm Coleman and Al Franken. Coleman is currently winning by just 215 votes out of more than 2.9 million votes cast.
Senate Democrats sought to bolster their majority on Tuesday by voting to allow independent Joe Lieberman to stay in the Democratic caucus and remain chair of the Homeland Security Committee, despite his decision to campaign for John McCain and other Republicans, including Norm Coleman in Minnesota. Lieberman will also remain head of the Armed Services subcommittee but he will surrender his position on the Environment and Public Works Committee.
US auto executives warned Congress on Tuesday that their industry was teetering on the brink of collapse as they pleaded for lawmakers to bail out the industry with $25 billion in government-backed loans. The CEO of Chrysler, Robert Nardelli, blamed the company’s financial woes in part on healthcare and pension costs.
Robert Nardelli: “At the same time, Chrysler has billions of dollars in cash payment obligation to pay wages, pay suppliers, to pay healthcare, pensions, all in the range of about four to five billion dollars a month. Therefore, without an immediate bridge financing support, Chrysler’s liquidity could fall below the level necessary to sustain operations.”
Lawmakers repeatedly criticized the auto executives. Democratic Senator Christopher Dodd accused the CEOs of seeking treatment for wounds that are largely self-inflicted. Lawmakers and the Bush administration have sparred over the best way to extend help to the automakers.
In Pakistan, at least six alleged militants have been killed in a US missile strike in the Bannu district. The strike marked the first time the US has hit an area of Pakistan outside the tribal regions of North and South Waziristan. The missiles were apparently fired from unmanned planes launched in Afghanistan. The US has killed over 100 people in a series of strikes in Pakistan in recent months.
The Washington Post reports the Environmental Protection Agency is finalizing new air-quality rules that would make it easier to build coal-fired power plants, oil refineries and other major polluters near national parks and wilderness areas. The EPA’s push to weaken the Clean Air protections has sparked fierce resistance from senior agency officials. Half of the EPA’s ten regional administrators formally dissented from the decision, and four others criticized the move in writing.
UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is warning that half the world’s population could face a shortage of clean water by 2080 because of climate change. The availability of drinking water is being reduced as global warming is disrupting water flow patterns and increasing the severity of floods, droughts and storms. The World Health Organization has estimated that 1.1 billion people did not have sufficient access to clean water at the beginning of the decade.
On Tuesday, President-elect Barack Obama pledged to engage vigorously in international climate change talks after he takes office. Obama recorded a video message that was shown to the Governors Global Climate Summit.
President-Elect Barack Obama: “My presidency will mark a new chapter in America’s leadership on climate change that will strengthen our security and create millions of new jobs in the process. That will start with a federal cap-and-trade system. We’ll establish strong annual targets that set us on a course to reduce emissions to their 1990 levels by 2020 and reduce them an additional 80 percent by 2050. Further, we’ll invest $15 billion each year to catalyze private sector efforts to build a clean energy future.”
The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a suit alleging that the Bush administration has asked other countries to detain US citizens on their behalf. McClatchy Newspapers reports the suit centers around the case of Naji Hamdan, a US citizen who has been held for nearly three months in the United Arab Emirates without charges, access to a lawyer or contact with his family. In 2006, Hamdan moved to the UAE from the United States after being the target of intense FBI scrutiny. In August, Hamdan was questioned at the US embassy in Abu Dhabi by two FBI agents. He was detained by UAE officials several weeks later.
And a grand jury in Texas has indicted Vice President Dick Cheney and former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales on state charges related to the alleged abuse of prisoners in private prisons in Texas. The indictment has not been seen by a judge, who could dismiss it. The indictment cites Cheney’s investment in Vanguard Group, which owns an interest in private prisons in South Texas. Gonzales is accused of using his position while in office to stop an investigation in 2006 into abuses at one of the privately run prisons.