Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich has been arrested on multiple corruption charges, including allegations he tried to sell off President-elect Obama’s vacated Senate seat. The charges came out of a five-year investigation and months of wiretapped phone calls. Blagojevich is also accused of trying to blackmail the Chicago Tribune into firing editorial writers that had criticized him and withholding state funds from a children’s hospital until its chief executive made a $50,000 donation. Blagojevich’s chief of staff, John Harris, was also indicted. Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald announced the charges.
Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald: “This is a sad day for government. It’s a very sad day for Illinois government. Governor Blagojevich has taken us to a truly new low. Governor Blagojevich has been arrested in the middle of what we can only describe as a political corruption crime spree. We acted to stop that crime spree.”
Fitzgerald says there’s no evidence President-elect Obama had any contact with Blagojevich’s office or knowledge of his scheme. Obama said he is saddened for the state of Illinois.
President-elect Obama: “Like the rest of people of Illinois, I am saddened and sobered by the news that came out of the US attorney’s office today. But as this is an ongoing investigation involving the governor, I don’t think it will be appropriate for me to comment on the issue at this time.”
On Capitol Hill, the White House and congressional Democrats say they’ve reached an “agreement in concept” on a bailout for the auto industry. The plan would authorize $15 billion in emergency loans to car companies as early as next week. In return, the companies would face a spring deadline to cut costs, restructure debt and renegotiate workers’ benefits. President Bush would also appoint a so-called “car czar” to oversee the process. A House vote is expected later today.
A top UN human rights official says Israel’s policies towards Palestinians amount to a “crime against humanity” and should be stopped by international action. Human Rights rapporteur Richard Falk made the comments in a report to the UN Human Rights Council. Falk urged the UN to invoke “the agreed norm of a responsibility to protect a civilian population being collectively punished.” He also called for an International Criminal Court investigation of Israeli military and civilian officials for potential prosecution. Meanwhile, limited numbers of food supplies have begun reaching the Gaza Strip after Israel partially lifted an ongoing blockade. A boat carrying activists with the “Free Gaza” movement docked on Gaza’s shores Tuesday in their fourth successful defiance of the Israeli siege. Journalist and activist Ewa Jasiewicz was among those aboard.
Ewa Jasiewicz: “I am delighted to be here, because I have been banned from Palestine by the Israeli authorities. I’m a journalist as well, and I think it’s really important that journalists write about the situation in Gaza in an independent way, that they are here on the ground with the people, not in fancy hotels, but in the camps, and working with the people. And this is what I’m going to do with Free Gaza.”
In Afghanistan, at least six Afghan police officers have been killed in an errant US bombing. The Pentagon says US forces mistakenly fired on the officers, thinking they were Taliban fighters. Another thirteen people were wounded in the attack.
The United Nations is warning rising food prices are pushing more people into hunger worldwide. A new report from the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization says another 40 million people became “food insecure” this year, bringing the total to just under one billion. On Tuesday, UN Food chief Jacques Diouf said his agency’s appeal for $30 billion in emergency food aid pales before other spending priorities.
UN Food chief Jacques Diouf: “So $30 billion is nothing compared to the subsidies and support to agriculture in OECD countries. It is nothing compared to the arms. But it is nothing compared to the billions of dollars that are being spent in all developed countries to face the financial crisis. Therefore, the question is, what is the priority? Is it 923 million people who do not have the most basic of the human rights, the right to exist, which requires that they eat. We eat three times a day.”
Diouf went on to urge President-elect Obama to convene a global food summit aimed at surpassing current hunger reduction goals.
Diouf: “And that is the reason why, in my message of congratulation to President Barack Obama, I suggested that he takes a lead in the convening of a summit to eradicate hunger from the face of the earth. I think even the objective of cutting by half the number of hungry people by the year 2015 is morally unacceptable. It is morally unacceptable.”
The Democratic chair of the House Intelligence Committee is urging President-elect Obama to retain the Bush administration’s top intelligence officials and some of its most controversial interrogation tactics after taking office. Congress member Silvestre Reyes of Texas says he wants Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell and CIA Director Michael Hayden to stay on for at least six months after Obama’s inauguration. On the campaign trail, Obama was critical of the Bush administration’s authorization of torture on prisoners in the so-called war on terror and vowed changes at the nation’s intelligence agencies.
The Pentagon’s Inspector General has concluded military planners under then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld ignored warnings that could have prevented a large number of US military deaths from roadside bombs in Iraq. Acting Inspector General Gordon Heddell says the military knew for years the bombs would threaten US troops but chose not to seek out safer vehicles. Explosive devices are the top cause of US troop deaths and injuries in Iraq, with more than 25,000 reported incidents.
In bailout news, the taxpayer-rescued insurance giant AIG has admitted it continues to offer multi-million-dollar payouts to senior employees. According to Bloomberg News, AIG has offered payments of up to $4 million in what it calls a “retention” program for top managerial workers. But Democratic Congress member Elijah Cummings says the so-called retention payments could be a way of paying out bonuses. AIG’s taxpayer bill stands at over $152 billion.
And here in New York, three police officers have been charged for the alleged assault and sodomizing of a twenty-four-year-old man at a Brooklyn subway station in October. The alleged victim, Michael Mineo, says the officers brutally assaulted him by throwing him to the ground. Mineo said an object, possibly the antenna of a police radio, penetrated his rectum. He was hospitalized for five days. The alleged incident mirrors the case of Abner Louima, a Haitian immigrant attacked with a broomstick in a Brooklyn police station in 1997. One officer has been charged with aggravated sexual abuse, while the other two have been charged with hindering prosecution and official misconduct.