The list of major companies announcing mass layoffs grew on Monday as Pfizer, Home Depot, Caterpillar, Sprint Nextel and at least eight other firms announced plans to cut more than 75,000 jobs. Pfizer said it would cut nearly 20,000 jobs as part of its acquisition of Wyeth. Caterpillar plans to eliminate 20,000 as well. 8,000 jobs are being cut at Sprint Nextel, 7,000 jobs at Home Depot, 3,400 jobs at Texas Instruments and 2,000 jobs at General Motors. Last week, Microsoft announced it would cut as many as 5,000 jobs in the company’s first mass layoffs.
The Senate has confirmed Tim Geithner as Treasury Secretary by a 60-to-34 vote. Democratic Senators Russ Feingold, Tom Harkin, Robert Byrd and independent Bernie Sanders all voted against Geithner, as did thirty Republicans. Part of the opposition to Geithner centered on his failure to pay $34,000 in taxes from 2001 to 2004. As Treasury Secretary, Geithner will oversee the Internal Revenue Service. Less than an hour after he won Senate confirmation, President Barack Obama came to the Treasury Department to participate in a swearing-in ceremony.
President Obama: “I came here tonight, because at this moment of challenge and crisis, Tim’s work and the work of the entire Treasury Department must begin at once. We cannot lose a day, because every day the economic picture is darkening here and across the globe.”
Tim Geithner vowed to move quickly to aid the distressed US economy.
Tim Geithner: “We are at a moment of maximum challenge for our economy and for our country, and our agenda, Mr. President, is to move quickly to help you do what the country asked you to do: to launch the programs that will bring economic recovery sooner, to make our economy more productive and more just in the opportunities it provides our citizens, to restore trust in our financial system with fundamental reform, to make our tax system better at rewarding work and investment, to restore confidence in America’s economic leadership around the world.”
Fallout from the global economic crisis continues to be felt across the world. Iceland’s coalition government collapsed Monday after weeks of protests by Icelanders upset by soaring unemployment and rising prices. Protesters hurled eggs at the car of Iceland’s Prime Minister Geir Haarde and banged cans on the car’s roof. Iceland has been in an economic crisis since September, when three of its largest banks collapsed, and the value of its currency plummeted. Meanwhile, demonstrations are threatening other European governments. Riots were seen in Latvia after the government pushed through wage and spending cuts. Major protests were also held in Lithuania. In the Spanish city of Zaragoza, tens of thousands of people took to the streets last week to protest soaring unemployment.
In the Middle East, an Israeli soldier was killed earlier today in a bomb attack near Gaza. Three others were wounded in the blast. It was the first deadly attack on Israeli troops since Israel declared a unilateral ceasefire ending its 22-day assault on Gaza. Israel responded by sending some Israeli troops back into Gaza as helicopters hovered overhead firing machine guns. Israeli troops later killed a Palestinian farmer.
Meanwhile, the BBC is continuing to come under criticism for refusing to broadcast an appeal by aid agencies for Palestinian victims of Israel’s recent military actions in Gaza. The three-minute appeal aired on many British channels last night. The charities behind the appeal include the Red Cross, Oxfam, Save the Children, and Christian Aid. Rupert Murdoch’s Sky News also refused to air the appeal.
On her first day as US ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice vowed to collaborate more with international partners and to step up efforts to combat global warming. Rice also said the Obama administration is deeply concerned about the threat that Iran’s nuclear program poses to the Middle East but pledged to engage in direct diplomacy with Iran.
Susan Rice: “We look forward to engaging in vigorous diplomacy that includes direct diplomacy with Iran, as well as continued collaboration and partnership with the P5-plus-1, and we will look at what is necessary and appropriate with respect to maintaining pressure towards that goal of ending Iran’s nuclear program.”
The Times of London reports President Obama has asked Britain to supply up to 4,000 extra frontline troops to take part in a US-led surge of forces in Afghanistan. Obama has already endorsed a Pentagon plan to nearly double the US presence in Afghanistan.
House Judiciary Committee Chair John Conyers has subpoenaed Karl Rove to testify about the Bush administration’s firing of nine US attorneys and prosecution of former Alabama governor Don Siegelman. Conyers said, “Change has come to Washington, and I hope Karl Rove is ready for it. After two years of stonewalling, it’s time for him to talk.”
President Obama has begun reversing the climate policies of the Bush administration by clearing the way for new rules to force auto makers to produce more fuel-efficient and less polluting cars. On Monday, Obama issued directives requiring the Environmental Protection Agency to consider allowing states to cut greenhouse gas emissions spewed by vehicles and ordered the Transportation Department to boost fuel economy standards for cars and trucks for the 2011 model year.
President Obama: “We must ensure that the fuel-efficient cars of tomorrow are built right here in the United States of America. Increasing fuel efficiency in our cars and trucks is one of the most important steps that we can take to break our cycle of dependence on foreign oil. It will also help spark the innovation needed to ensure that our auto industry keeps pace with competitors around the world. We will start by implementing new standards for model year 2011, so that we use less oil and families have access to cleaner, more efficient cars and trucks.”
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has tapped Todd Stern to be the administration’s special envoy for climate change. Stern will be the administration’s chief climate negotiator.
In Somalia, Islamist fighters seized Somalia’s parliament building and the town of Baidoa on Monday, just hours after Ethiopian troops pulled out of the country. In the two years since US-backed Ethiopian troops invaded Somalia, more than 16,000 people have died, and one million people have been displaced. But Ethiopian efforts to oust the Islamic Court Union from control failed, and Islamist militants once again control much of Somalia, including most of the capital city Mogadishu.
In Illinois, the impeachment trial of Democratic Governor Rod Blagojevich began Monday, but the governor was a no-show.
Thomas Fitzgerald, Chief Justice of the Illinois Supreme Court: “Is the Governor present? Is there anyone present on behalf of the Governor? The record will reflect that the Governor has chosen not to be present either in person or by counsel.”
Governor Blagojevich spent the day on what the Chicago Tribune described as a bizarre TV tour, making appearances on Good Morning America, The View and Larry King. In an interview on NBC on Sunday, Blagojevich compared himself to Nelson Mandela, Gandhi and Martin Luther King.
Rod Blagojevich: “The day unfolded, and I had a whole bunch of thoughts — of course, my children and my wife. And then I thought about Mandela, Dr. King, Gandhi, and tried to put some perspective in all of this.”
And the anti-nuclear activist William Thomas has died in Washington, D.C. Thomas is best known for setting up a permanent peace vigil outside the White House. For twenty-seven years, Thomas held daily vigils against US militarism and nuclear weapons in Lafayette Park across from the White House.