The struggling auto giant Chrysler has announced plans to close all thirty of its North American plants for one month. The company says workers will be able to supplement lost income through state unemployment and supplemental unemployment benefits. While all 46,000 unionized workers won’t see a paycheck, Chrysler will continue to pay top management. Chrysler engineer Dan Klein said he hopes to return to work.
Dan Klein: “I’d rather go to work. I’ve been there seventeen years, like I said, and I believe I missed one day for having a stroke. And my father worked there for forty-three-and-a-half years and only missed five days.”
The Wall Street Journal reports Chrysler has also revived talks with General Motors about a possible merger. Meanwhile, the Ford auto company says it will shut down ten North American assembly plants for an extra week in January.
President-elect Barack Obama has announced more cabinet picks. On Wednesday, Obama officially nominated former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack to head the Agriculture Department and Colorado Senator Ken Salazar to serve as Secretary of the Interior. Obama is also reportedly planning on nominating Republican Congress member Ray LaHood of Illinois to become Transportation Secretary. LaHood would be the second Republican in Obama’s cabinet after Defense Secretary Robert Gates. More on Obama’s latest cabinet nominations after headlines.
Meanwhile, Obama is drawing criticism from gay and lesbian activists for his choice to deliver the invocation at next month’s inauguration. Obama has selected the Reverend Rick Warren, a leading evangelical opponent of abortion and same-sex marriage. Warren supported California’s recent gay marriage ban and has compared abortion to the Nazi Holocaust. He’s also backed the idea of assassinating US foes, including Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. In a letter to Obama, Joe Solmonese of the Human Rights Campaign said, “Your invitation to Reverend Rick Warren to deliver the invocation at your inauguration is a genuine blow to LGBT Americans.”
Top US military commanders have presented President-elect Obama with an Iraq withdrawal timetable that doesn’t match Obama’s campaign promise for a pullout within sixteen months. The plan, drafted by General David Petraeus and General Ray Odierno, would leave US combat troops in Iraq beyond Obama’s stated May 2010 deadline. Obama has said he intends to keep the sixteen-month pledge but would listen to his commanders’ advice. Whatever advice he takes, Obama’s plan would still leave tens of thousands of US troops behind in a so-called “support” role to the Iraqi army.
The State Department Inspector General is warning the private military firm Blackwater Worldwide could lose its authorization to operate in Iraq next year. In a new report, the inspector general says there’s a “real possibility” the Iraqi government will deny Blackwater a license and ban it from the country. Five Blackwater guards were indicted earlier this month for the September 2007 massacre of seventeen Iraqi civilians in Baghdad.
At least thirty-four Iraqi Interior Ministry officials have been arrested in a sweeping raid. The officials are accused of corruption and trying to rebuild Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party.
In other Iraq news, the Iraqi journalist who threw his shoes at President Bush will face charges of attacking a head of state. The journalist, Muntadhar al-Zaidi, failed to appear at his Wednesday court hearing. Zaidi’s brother says he was too badly injured from abuse by Iraqi jailers to make it to court. Iraqis continue to support al-Zaidi in street protests. In Fallujah, US troops reportedly opened fire above the heads of a group of students rallying for Zaidi’s release. The students pelted the US troops with shoes and rocks. One protester was treated for gunshot wounds. In Baghdad, a resident said Bush should be put on trial, not Zaidi.
Baghdad resident: “Bush must be brought to trial, not Muntadhar. Bush killed a million Iraqi civilians and displaced four million outside Iraq, as well as destroyed the country. Besides that, thousands of detainees are held in custody. He must be brought to trial, but not the persecuted man Muntadhar.”
The passions over Zaidi’s shoe-throwing action have spilled over into the Iraqi parliament. On Wednesday, Iraqi lawmakers held a raucous session over how to respond to Zaidi’s ongoing imprisonment. The session had been called to address the status of forces agreement with the US, but a group of lawmakers called for an emergency session on Zaidi’s case.
Meanwhile, in Washington, D.C., a group of antiwar activists held a shoe protest of their own on Wednesday. A group including CODEPINK members and antiwar veterans gathered in front of the White House. The demonstrators threw shoes at a man wearing a President Bush face mask and a jail uniform.
In Brazil, Latin American and Caribbean leaders wrapped up a summit Wednesday seeking greater regional integration.
Brazilian President Lula da Silva: “What we are discovering today is that among us there are other opportunities we had not discovered yet, which we had not discussed, because it was much easier to turn either to the United States or to the European Union.”
Leaders at the summit, meanwhile, appeared to reject a proposal from Bolivian President Evo Morales on protesting US policy towards Cuba. Morales said all Latin American countries should expel their US ambassadors until the US ends the Cuban embargo.
In Israel and the Occupied Territories, the United Nations says the Israeli blockade has again forced it to suspend food aid to the Gaza Strip. The UN says “irregular border access” has prevented it from delivering wheat supplies. Meanwhile, a Palestinian civilian was killed and two others injured in an Israeli air strike on Gaza Wednesday. Israel says it was responding to Palestinian rocket fire.
Meanwhile, today is the international day of solidarity with Israeli military objectors. More than twenty US war resisters have signed onto a letter of support for Israeli youths who refuse to serve in the military. The letter says, “The Global War on Terror, like the Israeli occupation, is propped up by racism and dehumanization and sets the stage for never-ending war and occupation. We are inspired by the brave refusal of our brothers and sisters in Israel to take part in these destructive policies, and we want to let them know… that they have our deepest respect and support.”
Back in the United States, the Illinois Supreme Court has rejected a move from the state Attorney General to have Governor Rod Blagojevich deemed unfit for office. State lawmakers are still considering whether to launch impeachment hearings. Speaking outside his Chicago home, Blagojevich told reporters he’s “dying” to tell his side of the story.
Gov. Rod Blagojevich: “I’m not going to answer any questions. I’m just going to be very brief, and I’m going to say that, you know, I can’t wait to begin to tell my side of the story and to address you guys and, most importantly, the people of Illinois. That’s who I’m dying to talk to. There’s a time and place for everything. That day will soon be here. And you might know more about that today, maybe no later than tomorrow.”
The parents of John Walker Lindh have asked President Bush to commute their son’s twenty-year sentence before he leaves office. Lindh is the American citizen captured in Afghanistan seven years ago. Bush has ignored previous commutation requests from Lindh and his family.
And here in New York, dozens of students at the New School launched a sit-in Wednesday night against the college’s embattled president, former Senator Bob Kerrey. The students are occupying a school dining hall and calling for more of a voice in how the New School is run. Kerrey received a no-confidence vote from New School faculty last week.