President Bush is returning to Washington after making surprise trips to Iraq and Afghanistan. In Baghdad, a press conference with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki was interrupted when an Iraqi journalist threw his shoes at President Bush. The shoes almost hit Bush in the head. The journalist, Muntadhar al-Zaidi, screamed in Arabic, “This is a farewell kiss, you dog. This is from the widows, the orphans and those who were killed in Iraq.” Al-Zaidi works as a reporter for the Cairo-based satellite channel Al-Baghdadiya TV. Security guards removed him from the room while reportedly kicking and beating him. He is still being held by Iraqi officials. Al-Baghdadiya TV has called for al-Zaidi’s release.
Al-Baghdadiya News Anchor: “Al-Baghdadiya TV channel calls on the Iraqi authorities to immediately release its employee, Muntadhar al-Zaidi, in accordance with the democratic freedom of expression that the new regime, the US authorities and the Iraqi government have promised. Any actions taken against Muntadhar will make us recall the time of the dictator era when violence, random arrests, mass graves, and ignoring of general freedoms existed. Baghdadiya channel calls for international, Iraqi and Arab media institutions to support Muntadhar al-Zaidi and call for his release.”
At a demonstration in Sadr City earlier today, protesters called for the release of Muntadhar al-Zaidi, while throwing shoes at passing US military vehicles. Uday al-Zaidi praised his brother Muntadhar for throwing his shoes at President Bush.
Uday al-Zaidi: “Millions of Iraqis, or rather millions of the people of the world, wish to do what Muntadhar has done or do something similar. Thank God he had the guts to do it and avenge the Iraqi people and the country from those who plunder it and have killed its people.”
General Motors has announced plans to idle twenty of its North American factories during the first three months of 2009. GM made the announcement on Friday, one day after Senate Republicans blocked a vote to approve $14 billion in loans for GM, Chrysler and Ford. President Bush said his administration is now considering tapping the bank bailout funds to keep GM and Chrysler out of bankruptcy. Ron Gettelfinger, president of the United Autoworkers, blamed Senate Republicans on the collapse of the auto loan package.
Ron Gettelfinger: “We could not accept the effort by the Senate GOP caucus to single out workers and retirees for different treatment and to make them shoulder the entire burden of any restructuring.”
A leaked internal memo indicates Republicans viewed defeating the loans as a “first shot against organized labor.” The memo stated, “This is the Democrats’ first opportunity to pay off organized labor after the election. This is a precursor to card check and other items. Republicans should stand firm and take their first shot against organized labor, instead of taking their first blow from it.”
In other economic news, the New York Times reports states are running out of money to pay unemployment benefits. Thirty states are at risk of having their unemployment funds become insolvent over the next few months. Funds in two states, Indiana and Michigan, have already dried up, forcing the states to borrow money from the federal government.
The Washington Post reports recent efforts by Congress to limit executive pay may fail because of a major loophole in the law. When Congress approved the $700 billion financial bailout, lawmakers included a mechanism for reviewing executive compensation and penalizing firms that break the rules. But at the last minute, the Bush administration insisted on a one-sentence change to the provision. The change stipulated that the penalty would apply only to firms that received bailout funds by selling troubled assets to the government in an auction. At the time, the Treasury Department had said it planned to use auctions, but since then it has reversed course. The change has effectively repealed the only enforcement mechanism in the law dealing with lavish pay for top executives. Republican Sen. Charles Grassley said, “The flimsy executive-compensation restrictions in the original bill are now all but gone.”
A US lawmaker has revealed the CIA helped shoot down fifteen small civilian aircraft in Peru between 1995 and 2001 as part of a secret counter-narcotics program. The planes were shot down by the Peruvian air force based on intelligence provided by the CIA. Most of the planes were shot down without warning. The program was reportedly stopped in 2001 after a plane carrying an American missionary and her infant daughter was shot down.
Portugal has offered to take in prisoners from Guantanamo Bay in a move that could make it easier for President-elect Barack Obama to close the military base. State Department legal adviser John Bellinger described Portugal’s offer as “extraordinarily significant.” Bellinger said, “It is the first time that any country except Albania has privately or publicly stated that they are prepared to resettle Guantanamo detainees who are not their own nationals.” Portugal is urging other European nations to take in prisoners, as well.
The twelve-day international climate conference in Poland has ended after nations failed to set ambitious new goals to cut greenhouse gas emissions. WWF Director Kim Carstensen criticized many industrialized nations of blocking progress at the summit.
Kim Carstensen: “We’ve seen a lack of leadership among the developed countries, lack of leadership from the US, because they can’t lead at the moment because they’re waiting for a new president. We’ve seen a lack of leadership from the European Union, who are not leading at the moment, because they’re completely inward-focused, completely looking at themselves and the EU package that they agreed today.”
At the end of the climate talks, wealthier nations were also accused of failing to provide enough money to help poorer countries cope with droughts, floods and rising seas. Former US Vice President Al Gore urged climate delegates to approve a new climate treaty next year.
Al Gore: “To those who are fearful that it is too difficult to conclude this process with a new treaty by the deadline that has been established for one year from now in Copenhagen, I say it can be done, it must be done. Let’s finish this process at Copenhagen. Don’t take the pressure off. Let’s make sure that we succeed.”
The New York Times has obtained an internal governmental report detailing the failure of US reconstruction efforts in Iraq. The report highlights Defense Secretary Donald Rumseld’s failure to grasp the costs of the reconstruction. In 2003, Rumsfeld was presented with several rebuilding plans. When he was told it would cost billions of dollars, Rumsfeld said, “My friend, if you think we’re going to spend a billion dollars of our money over there, you are sadly mistaken.” Since then, over $117 billion has been spent on reconstruction efforts. But the report found that the rebuilding has not done much more than restore what was destroyed during the invasion and the looting that followed. The report also quotes former Secretary of State Colin Powell, saying that in the months after the 2003 invasion, the Pentagon “kept inventing numbers of Iraqi security forces.” Powell said the number would sometimes jump 20,000 in a week.
A former Justice Department official has admitted that he tipped off the New York Times about the government’s top-secret domestic spy program. In an interview with Newsweek, Thomas Tamm said he personally called the New York Times from a subway pay phone in 2004 to tell them about the program. At the time, Tamm was working as an attorney in the Justice Department’s Office of Intelligence Policy and Review, a secretive unit that oversees surveillance of terrorist and espionage targets. The decision to become a whistleblower has permanently altered Thomas Tamm’s life. Federal agents raided his home last year, and FBI agents have questioned his family and friends. He no longer works for the government. He suffers from depression and is $30,000 in debt. Tamm still faces possible arrest. Despite his current situation, Tamm said he has few regrets. In his first interview, Tamm told Newsweek, “I thought this was something the other branches of the government — and the public — ought to know about. So they could decide: do they want this massive spying program to be taking place?”
In labor news, workers at the Smithfield Food hog plant in North Carolina have voted to unionize the plant after a sixteen-year campaign by the United Food and Commercial Workers Union. Management at Smithfield had fiercely fought the unionization of the plant, the world’s largest pork processing facility, with nearly 5,000 workers.
In news from Africa, the world’s largest gold mining company, Barrick Gold, has temporarily closed a mine in Tanzania after thousands of protesters raided the site and destroyed $15 million worth of equipment. One local villager was killed in the confrontation at the mine.
In Alaska, Governor Sarah Palin’s home church in Wasilla has been badly damaged in an arson fire. Officials say the Wasilla Bible Church was set on fire Friday night while people were inside. The fire caused about $1 million in damage.
Former President Jimmy Carter visited Syria on Saturday. He called on Palestinian factions to combine their political forces to negotiate more effectively with Israel.
Jimmy Carter: “We are deeply interested in seeing complete peace come to this region and to see peace come between Israel and the Palestinians and the Palestinian rights honored. And I don’t see any possibility for this to be done unless Hamas and Fatah will come together and form a unity government or combine their resources, in political terms, to negotiate from a position of strength with the Israelis.”
In New York, an Ecuadorean immigrant who was brutally beaten with a bottle and baseball bat by men shouting anti-gay and anti-Hispanic slurs has died. Jose Sucuzhanay was thirty-one years old.