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Congressional Democrats say they’ve begun to put together a new $100 billion economic stimulus plan. The package is said to include middle class tax cuts, funding for government jobs, extending unemployment benefits, and increased aid for food stamps and state healthcare programs for the poor. Another package under discussion includes a permanent tax cut for lower-income Americans. Meanwhile, the Washington Post reports the Treasury Department is finalizing a plan that would increase taxpayer ownership in a number of companies outside the banking sector. Some $250 billion has already been allocated to buy into troubled financial firms. Other proposals that would come out of the overall $700 billion Wall Street bailout include a $40 billion measure to assist a limited number of struggling homeowners.
Meanwhile, the International Monetary Fund is predicting so-called “developed” countries will see their economies decline for the first time since the Second World War. IMF economist Jorg Decressin predicts the economic contraction will be the worst since the early 1990s.
Jorg Decressin: “This is the first time in a post-war period that output in the advanced economies will contract. Now, what you have to bear in mind is that — over a year, on a full-year basis. What you have to bear in mind, though, is that in the course of the last forty years potential growth of advanced economies has been slowly diminishing, and the reason is, for example, slow population growth, but there are also other reasons. Now, if you measure the slowdown in growth, relative to potential, then what we are expecting to happen is not worse than, for example, what happened in '82, but it's going to be worse than what happened in the early ’90s.”
New government figures set for release today are expected to show the US economy lost 200,000 jobs last month. Michael Ettlinger of the Center for American Progress says the US faces daunting economic challenges.
Michael Ettlinger: “The next Treasury Secretary faces quite a challenge. We have financial markets bouncing all over the place. We have the need for stimulus to restore confidence among businesses and consumers. We will, undoubtedly, be down by more than a million jobs by the end of the year. And then we face long-term growth challenges that have existed for years.”
President-elect Obama is set to meet with President Bush at the White House on Monday. Officials say their discussion will focus on the economy and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Obama is scheduled to give his first post-election news conference later today.
Obama continues to put together his incoming administration. Robert Gibbs, a senior aide who served as his Senate communications director, has been named White House press secretary. Chief political strategist David Axelrod has been named a senior White House adviser. Meanwhile, Democratic Congress member Rahm Emanuel has formally accepted the offer to become Obama’s White House Chief of Staff. Earlier in the day, Emanuel spoke to reporters about his future.
Rep. Rahm Emanuel: “My parents are alive to see their middle son have a choice in his career between being a congressman with one chance, one opportunity down the road, of maybe rising in the leadership, and being the Chief of Staff to a historic presidency at a historic time. I’m very fortunate that my parents are alive to see that, whatever choice I make.”
Emanuel is thought to be on the hawkish end of the Democratic Party. He voted for the 2002 resolution authorizing the Iraq war and has vocally backed Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza and its 2006 attack on Lebanon. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Emanuel was the top recipient of donations from “hedge funds, private equity firms and the larger securities/investment industry” in the 2008 election cycle.
Meanwhile, Obama has increased his Electoral College victory after being declared the winner in North Carolina. Obama won the state by more than 13,000 votes. North Carolina’s fifteen electoral college votes pushes Obama’s total to 364 versus Senator John McCain’s 162. McCain is leading in preliminary results from Missouri, the only state yet to be called. North Carolina is among nine states that voted for Obama after going for President Bush in 2004.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has written Obama a congratulatory letter following his election win. It’s the first time since the 1979 Iranian revolution that an Iranian leader has congratulated the winner of an American presidential election. Obama has pledged to meet with Iranian leaders without preconditions. In his letter, Ahmadinejad suggests Iran would be open to talks with the United States in accordance with previous overtures that the Bush administration ignored. Ahmadinejad also writes that he hopes “the unjust actions of the past 60 years will give way to a policy encouraging full rights for all nations, especially the oppressed nations of Palestine, Iraq and Afghanistan.”
The Iraqi government has given the US a deadline for the end of this month to reach an agreement that would keep US troops in Iraq. Talks have stalled after the Iraqi cabinet submitted a revised list of demands. Iraq is seeking a fixed timetable for the withdrawal of US troops instead of a flexible goal sought by the White House. Iraq wants to inspect incoming US military shipments and obtain a US pledge not to use Iraq as a staging ground for attacking other Middle East nations. The Iraqis are also insisting on greater legal authority over US troops accused of crimes inside Iraq. In an interview with the Washington Post, Iraqi government spokesperson Ali al-Dabbagh said, “Iraqis would like to know and see a fixed date.” He went on to say Iraq wants to avoid a new UN mandate for US troops at all costs, because UN backing “gives them a free hand in everything.”
In other world news, at least ten people were reportedly killed in a US missile strike earlier today in northwest Pakistan. The attack targeted a town in the Afghan border region of North Waziristan.
The White House has acknowledged it won’t meet its stated goal of reaching an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement before President Bush leaves office. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice spoke at the start of a Middle East visit.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice: “I am not going to try to judge what the parties will want to do during this process and as it unfolds. As I understand it, they are going to, before the Quartet, and I’m sure throughout the next several months, affirm that the Annapolis process and the framework that it establishes is indeed the basis on which they believe they can come to a resolution of their conflict, regardless of timetable, regardless of anyone’s timetable.”
Rice went on to cite Israel’s internal political upheaval as a major factor behind the failure to reach a deal. But critics have long dismissed the possibility of a peace agreement amidst continued US support for Israeli settlement expansion in the West Bank and its siege of the Gaza Strip.
In the Democratic Republic of Congo, clashes have resumed between government-backed forces and rebel fighters near an eastern Congo refugee camp. The fighting assures the collapse of a tenuous ceasefire declared last week. In the town of Kiwanji, residents accused Congolese Tutsi rebels of killing residents in door-to-door attacks.
Displaced resident: “(To have peace) one of the armies should give in, but these two armies don’t give up. They all want to control the village. So we, the villagers, suffer. We, the refugees, won’t go back to the village if there isn’t another army to stop them.”
Some 250,000 people have been displaced in eastern Congo since August.
A new congressional report says US-backed drug eradication efforts in Colombia have failed to meet stated goals of cutting drug production in half. According to the General Accounting Office, Colombian coca cultivation increased by 15 percent from 2000 to 2006. Colombia is the largest recipient of US aid in the Western hemisphere, receiving billions of dollars in military assistance under a program launched by former President Bill Clinton.
Meanwhile, Bolivian President Evo Morales has ordered the US Drug Enforcement Administration to leave Bolivia within three months. On Thursday, Morales accused DEA agents of violating Bolivian sovereignty and in fact encouraging the drug trade. Bolivian officials say the DEA has been complicit in bribing officers, covering up murders and destroying Bolivian infrastructure over the past two decades. Morales says he will present evidence backing his claims to President-elect Obama. The move follows President Bush’s recent decision to suspend Bolivian trade benefits over what he calls Morales’s failure to cooperate in the so-called war on drugs.
Back in the United States, peace activists are planning what could be one of the last rallies for impeaching President Bush and Vice President Cheney while they’re in office. On Monday, the National Campaign for Nonviolent Resistance will hold a protest in front of the Justice Department in Washington, D.C.
Here in New York, a black Muslim teenager appears to have suffered a post-election hate crime from whites angered at Obama’s victory. Seventeen-year-old Ali Kamara of Staten Island says he was walking home when four white men started attacking him. Kamara says the assailants yelled “Obama” as they kicked and beat him with a baseball bat. The NYPD is investigating the attack as a hate crime.
And federal prosecutors have announced former New York governor Eliot Spitzer won’t be charged with any crime over his patronage of a prostitution ring. Spitzer resigned earlier this year after his ties to prostitutes became publicly known. He had been under investigation for potentially using public money or campaign funds to pay for his encounters.