Around 100 nations have begun signing a new international treaty banning the use of cluster bombs. Human Rights Watch has described the ban as the most significant arms control and humanitarian treaty in a decade. The convention bans use, stockpiling and trading of the weapons. It also requires signatories to clear contaminated areas within ten years. A signing ceremony is being held today in the Norwegian capital of Oslo. Norway was the first country to sign the treaty, followed by Laos and Lebanon, two countries who have been most affected by cluster bombs. The United States, China, Russia, Israel, India and Pakistan have rejected the ban.
Thomas Nash of the Cluster Munition Coalition: “There are some countries in the world that don’t seem to like to sign international treaties. The US, Russia and China are three that come to mind, many treaties that they have not signed. They won’t be here in Oslo next week, and we regret that. Those countries, if they want to be part of the international community that is protecting civilians in armed conflict, they should sign this treaty in Oslo.”
Washington, Moscow and other non-signers say cluster bombs have legitimate military uses. But according to the group Handicap International, 98 percent of cluster bomb victims are civilians, and 27 percent are children.
General Motors, Chrysler and Ford submitted plans Tuesday formally requesting a $34 billion bailout from taxpayers, $9 billion more than what the companies requested just two weeks ago. General Motors warned that it could collapse by the end of the year if it doesn’t receive an immediate injection of $4 billion. GM says it also needs another $18 billion in 2009. Chrysler requested $7 billion, and Ford is seeking $9 billion. In exchange for the bailout, GM is promising to create what it called a “new General Motors.” The company pledged to close eleven North American factories, slash at least 20,000 jobs and possibly sell off or close down its Saturn and Saab brands. The Big Three revealed their bailout request on the same day that the auto industry reported November had been its worst sales month in twenty-six years.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice arrived in India today and called on India, Pakistan and others to act with “urgency and resolve” to bring the Mumbai attackers to justice. Last week, nearly 200 people died in coordinated attacks in the Indian city of Mumbai. While Rice is meeting with India’s prime minister and foreign minister, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, has arrived in Islamabad for talks with the Pakistani government and military.
The Washington Post reports President-elect Barack Obama is seriously considering making former ambassador Richard Holbrooke his envoy to South Asia. Such an appointment would put Holbrooke in charge of trying to resolve issues surrounding Pakistan, India and Afghanistan. During the 1970s, Holbrooke served as Assistant Secretary of State in charge of East Asia policy in the Carter administration. In this role, he oversaw the shipment of weapons to the Indonesian military as they illegally invaded East Timor, killing a third of Timor’s population. In the 1990s Holbrooke was seen as one of the key figures in the dismantling of Yugoslavia.
President-elect Barack Obama is expected to name New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson to head the Commerce Department at a news conference today in Chicago. A group of Chinese American activists have launched a campaign to oppose Richardson’s cabinet nomination because of his handling of the case of Wen Ho Lee, the US nuclear scientist of Chinese descent who was falsely accused by the Clinton administration of spying for the Chinese government. At the time, Richardson was serving as Energy Secretary under Bill Clinton. Albert Wang said, “This was the major Chinese American civil rights case in the last thirty years. And there was a feeling among many Chinese Americans, particularly in Silicon Valley, that Bill Richardson did a lot to promote the notion that all Chinese Americans are potential spies.”
President-elect Barack Obama met with nearly all of the nation’s governors on Tuesday and pledged to involve states in his plan to tackle the US recession and create or save 2.5 million jobs. The governors urged Obama to pump money into infrastructure and help support the poor as a sinking economy hits state budgets.
President-elect Barack Obama: “I know these are difficult times. I don’t think anybody here is viewing the situation through rose-colored glasses. We’re going to have to make some hard choices in the months ahead about how to invest these tax dollars. We’re going to have to make hard choices like the ones that you’re making right now in your state capitals, we’re going to have to make in Washington. And we are not as a nation going to be able to just keep on printing money, so at some point we’re also going to have to make some long-term decisions in terms of fiscal responsibility, and not all of those choices are going to be popular.”
Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Tuesday closing the US prison camp at Guantanamo Bay will be a “high priority” for the Obama administration. He called on Congress to work with the new administration on legislation to make it happen.
Robert Gates: “I think it is possible to close it. I think it does require a joint effort with the Congress. I think some legislation probably is needed as a part of it. And I think that it will — I think trying to move forward on that, at least from my standpoint, should be a high priority.”
In Poland, the United Nations conference on climate change has entered its third day. On Tuesday, Ursula Rakova, an activist from the Carteret Islands in the Pacific, called on the UN to help island nations being affected by rising sea levels caused by global warming.
Ursula Rakova: “So far, reports have said that the islands will be completely submerged underwater between the next ten to fifteen years… The message to the leaders in this conference is that they will need to look at smaller communities, especially in the Pacific, who are going underwater. We need help so that we can relocate our people to enable them to live a sustainable life in the future.”
Meanwhile, Greenpeace activists scaled a 500-foot-high chimney at a coal-fired power plant in Poland on Tuesday.
Maciej Muskat: “Our climbers are climbing the chimney behind me to demand the change of the energy policy of Poland and to demand from Polish government to stop blocking the EU climate package.”
The Washington Post reports the Bush administration has finalized rules that will make it easier for mountaintop mining companies to dump their waste near rivers and streams. The new rules overhaul a twenty-five-year-old prohibition that has sparked legal and regulatory battles for years. Vernon Haltom of Coal River Mountain Watch said the new rules are a “slap in the face of Appalachian communities.” He said, “My home and thousands of others are now in greater jeopardy.”
And the legendary blues, folk and gospel singer Odetta has died at the age of seventy-seven. The New York Times described her as the voice of the civil rights movement. In 1963, Odetta performed the song “O Freedom” at the March on Washington. Odetta inspired a generation of musicians including Bob Dylan and Joan Baez. Dylan once said, “The first thing that turned me on to folk singing was Odetta.” When Rosa Parks was asked which songs meant the most to her, she replied, “All of the songs Odetta sings.”
Odetta, performing on Democracy Now! in 2002 on the first anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks.