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The number of Americans struggling to pay their mortgages has hit a new record high. New figures show 14 percent of borrowers, or 7.4 million households, are either behind on their payments or in foreclosure. The Mortgage Bankers Association says it expects delinquencies to rise as the economy continues to shed jobs.
Victims of Hurricane Katrina have won a major legal victory that could lead to scores of lawsuits against the US government. A federal judge has ruled “monumental negligence” by the Army Corps of Engineers led to the severe flooding that ravaged New Orleans in the aftermath of the storm. If the ruling is upheld, thousands of residents of the Lower Ninth Ward and St. Bernard Parish would have grounds to seek compensation. Appearing on CNN, New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin said he hopes the ruling will result in more legal action.
New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin: “What this does, particularly for the people in the Lower Ninth Ward — many of them did not get enough money from the Road Home program, which were the federal grants. Many businesses did not get enough help. And hopefully this ruling will open up the floodgates, if you will, for those people to receive proper compensation.”
The ruling was limited to assessing the Army Corps’ maintenance of a navigation canal, not assessing the canal’s actual construction as residents initially sought. The ruling marks the first time the government has been held responsible for any of the flooding that devastated New Orleans.
The Obama administration is urging the international community to accept UN Security Council jurisdiction over defining crimes of aggression at the International Criminal Court. Addressing a gathering of ICC signatories Thursday, US war crimes ambassador Stephen Rapp said the White House is concerned the court’s mandate to try aggression doesn’t include a clear definition of what it means. Rapp said the decision should be left up to the Security Council — where the US and four others hold veto power. Rapp’s address marked the first US engagement with the court since its founding in 2002. He made no mention of whether the US intends to ratify the court’s treaty.
In Pakistan, at least eight people have been killed in a suspected US drone attack. Pakistani intelligence officials say the strike hit a suspected Taliban compound in North Waziristan.
In Afghanistan, at least sixteen people were killed today when a suicide bomber struck a crowded square in the western province of Farah. At least twenty-three others were wounded. The attack followed Thursday’s killings of two US soldiers in Zabul province and another suicide attack that killed ten civilians. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, has wrapped up a visit to Afghanistan for Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s re-inauguration. Karzai won national elections in August amidst widespread allegations of fraud. On Thursday, Clinton said the Afghan government is moving forward on tackling corruption.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: “[Karzai] was particularly strong on the steps that he intends to take regarding corruption. The idea that government officials will have to register their assets so that any money or other influence can be more easily tracked is a very bold proposal. So we are heartened by what we see as the agenda for change and reform that was outlined by President Karzai.”
The White House, meanwhile, has announced President Obama won’t be unveiling his decision on escalating the occupation of Afghanistan until after the Thanksgiving holiday. On Thursday, administration officials said Obama is planning at least one additional war cabinet meeting before deciding on sending up to 40,000 additional troops.
As President Obama mulls a troop increase, a Vietnam War veteran has launched a fast to oppose an escalation of the Afghan occupation. Thomas Mahany says he’s been fasting in front of the White House since Veterans Day. It’s a repeat, he says, of a twenty-nine-day fast he held in 1970 to oppose an escalation of the Vietnam War. In a letter to President Obama, Mahany urged better mental health treatment for US soldiers. He continued, “Please end this needless, incessant war making. We have long ago surpassed humanely reasonable demand exacted upon the fruit of our middle class as well as wrought excessive death and destruction on unwitting civilians in foreign lands.”
The United Nations says Afghanistan is now the most dangerous place in the world for a child to be born. According to the United Nations Children’s Fund, UNICEF, Afghanistan has the world’s highest infant mortality rate, and 70 percent of children lack access to clean water.
The declaration came on the eve of today’s twentieth anniversary of the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child, the most widely and speedily ratified human rights treaty in the world. The US has joined Somalia as the only states to refuse to ratify the convention. In a statement, Jo Becker of Human Rights Watch called the US stance an “embarrassment”, adding, “The US [is] in the sole company of Somalia, a country with no government.”
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is calling on rich nations to provide billions of dollars in funding for poor countries to address the effects of climate change. Ban said the funding should come as part of an agreement at next month’s climate summit in Copenhagen.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon: “Everything depends on adequate financing. In the short term, we look to the developed world to provide roughly $10 billion in fast track funding annually over the next three years. With this money, we can jump-start low emissions growth in developing countries, limit deforestation, and finance immediate adaptation measures.”
Back in the United States, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner faced down calls for his resignation Thursday in an appearance before the Congressional Joint Economic Committee. Geithner has come under new scrutiny this week over his role in the $85 billion bailout of the insurance giant AIG during his tenure as head of the New York Federal Reserve Bank. A new government audit found the New York Fed refused to use its considerable leverage to wring concessions from AIG’s trading partners, resulting in payments of full market value for assets underlying credit default swaps written to Goldman Sachs and other banks. On Thursday, Geithner had a testy exchange with Republican Congress member Kevin Brady.
Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner: “You gave this president an economy falling off the cliff, values of Americans’ savings cut almost in half, millions of Americans out of work — again, the worst financial crisis we’ve seen in a generation.”
Rep. Kevin Brady: “Remind me — remind me, Mr. Secretary, what post were you holding when President Bush left office? Just remind me what economic post you were holding.”
Geithner: “I was the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. Great honor and privilege for me to serve at that time.”
Brady: “Does the Federal Reserve Bank have any oversight over the economy or any input into its performance?”
Geithner: “The Federal Reserve, established by Congress, is responsible for trying to make sure that we keep inflation low and stable over time.”
Brady: “And are you shirking responsibility for the design of the bailout or its role in the economy?”
Geithner: “No. The actions the Congress made possible — too late — were absolutely necessary to breaking the back of this financial panic.”
In healthcare news, a new study says Americans treated in emergency rooms for traumatic injuries are almost twice as likely to die if they’re uninsured. Harvard University researchers analyzed nearly 700,000 patients treated in trauma centers over a four-year period. The study found uninsured emergency room patients are 80 percent more likely to lose their lives.
And in Georgia, thousands of people are expected to gather outside the Ft. Benning military base for the annual protest against the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, formerly known as the School of the Americas, frequently dubbed the “School of the Assassins.” Critics say the school’s graduates are responsible for some of the worst human rights abuses in Latin America. The group School of Americas Watch says the role of US-trained generals in the recent Honduras military coup underscores the need for the school’s closure.