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President Obama has unveiled a $3.55 trillion spending budget for the coming fiscal year. On Thursday, Obama said the plan includes tax relief for lower-income Americans while repealing Bush administration tax cuts for the wealthy.
President Obama: "No part of my budget will be free from scrutiny or untouched by reform. We will end no-bid contracts that have wasted billions in Iraq and end tax breaks for corporations that ship jobs overseas. And we’ll save billions of dollars by rolling back tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans while giving a middle-class tax cut to 95 percent of hardworking families."
Large businesses and wealthy Americans would see tax increases worth nearly $2 trillion over the next ten years. The estate tax would also be preserved, overriding the Bush administration measure for its repeal. The extra revenues would help pay for a $634 billion reserve fund that Obama says will be used toward universal healthcare.
President Obama: "With this budget, we are making a historic commitment to comprehensive healthcare reform. It’s a step that will not only make families healthier and companies more competitive, but over the long term it will also help us bring down our deficit."
The plan estimates the US deficit will grow to a record $1.75 trillion. In another change, war funding will now be included in fiscal budgets instead of as a supplemental. Obama said the previous exclusion of war costs from budget plans has led to "dishonest accounting." Obama is seeking $130 billion for the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan in 2010. He says the number will drop once the US withdraws combat troops from Iraq by 2011. Overall, Obama is seeking a four percent increase in military spending, from $513 billion to $534 billion. Other budget items include some $250 billion in additional funding for bailing out the nation’s banks and an end to agricultural subsidies for farmers making more than $500,000. In the budget document, President Obama blames Bush administration policies and reckless Wall Street behavior for the economic crisis. Obama says, "We arrived at this point as a result of an era of profound irresponsibility that engulfed both private and public institutions, from some of our largest companies’ executive suites to the seats of power in Washington, D.C."
President Obama is reportedly set to announce an order to withdraw most US troops from Iraq by September of 2010. The Washington Post reports Obama will announce today a plan that would leave 35,000 to 50,000 troops in Iraq until the end of 2011. The deadline is three months longer than what Obama promised on the campaign trail. The remaining US troops won’t be classified as "combat," but they’ll retain free reign to carry out attacks.
The Iraqi government is granting international oil corporations an increased stake in developing Iraqi oil. Winning bidders in future projects will be granted a 75 percent stake rather than the current limit of 49 percent. Iraq has also lowered the minimum production target for companies to get paid for their work.
The Pentagon has announced it’s easing a media ban on the coffins of soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. Defense Secretary Robert Gates says the soldiers’ family members will now be able to decide whether the coffins can be photographed.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates: "If the family of one of the fallen says that they do not want media coverage of the return of the dignified transfer process, then that will be the decision. There will be no media coverage. If they say that’s OK with them, then it will be available."
Gates made the decision after President Barack Obama ordered a review of the media ban earlier this month.
The Obama administration is reportedly preparing to bring charges against the only so-called "enemy combatant" jailed in the United States. Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri has been held in isolation at a naval brig in South Carolina for more than five years. He has never stood trial or been convicted of any crime. A Supreme Court hearing challenging his indefinite jailing is currently set for April, forcing the administration to decide whether to continue Bush administration policy or allow al-Marri to defend himself in a US court. Al-Marri will reportedly be charged with providing material support to members of al-Qaeda. His attorney, Jonathan Hafetz, said, "If true, the decision to charge al-Marri is an important step in restoring the rule of law and is what should have happened seven years ago when he was first arrested." Hafetz continued, "It is vital the Supreme Court [still] hear the case…[to make] clear once and for all that indefinite military detention of persons arrested in the US is illegal and that this never happens again."
The Senate Intelligence Committee is preparing to launch a review of the CIA’s treatment of foreign prisoners in the so-called war on terror. Congressional officials say lawmakers will use classified material and public testimony to document the use of torture practices, including waterboarding. The probe is being billed as a "study" and won’t make recommendations on whether to prosecute Bush administration officials.
The British government has retracted previous denials of involvement in the US program of kidnapping and transferring suspects to foreign jails. On Thursday, British Defense Minister John Hutton said Britain has previously handed the US two prisoners captured in Iraq. The prisoners were then sent to Afghanistan, where they remain after more than four years.
In Egypt, unity talks continue between the leading Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas. The two groups are meeting along with ten other Palestinian factions on resolving a power split between the West Bank and Gaza for the past eighteen months. The factions have agreed on establishing five committees to resolve ongoing differences.
Hamas leader Abu Marzouq: "Thank you for coming, everyone. This is a historic day, a day the Palestinians have been looking forward to for a year and a half, the day the Palestinians move towards union and the real beginning of Palestinian unity."
The talks are continuing ahead of an international donors conference for Gaza on Monday. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is set to attend as part of her first Middle East tour since taking the State Department helm.
Back in the United States, the CIA’s former executive director has been sentenced to more than three years in prison on wire fraud charges related to accepting bribes. Kyle "Dusty" Foggo was the third-highest-ranking official at the CIA until his resignation in 2006. Federal prosecutors say he took $70,000 worth of gifts in exchange for doling out lucrative CIA contracts. Foggo originally faced twenty-eight charges, but prosecutors agreed to drop twenty-seven of them in exchange for the guilty plea on wire fraud.
A coalition of unions, bloggers and activists has announced a campaign to challenge Democratic incumbents who shun progressive policies. The group Accountability Now says it plans on raising money to fund challenges to centrist and right-wing Democrats in the primaries.
The District of Columbia has moved a step closer to getting a vote in the House of Representatives. On Thursday, the Senate voted 61-to-37 to pass the D.C. House Voting Rights Act. The bill will expand the size of the House by two seats, giving Washington, D.C. a single seat and Utah a fourth. The House is also expected to pass the measure, and President Obama has said he will sign it into law. The Senate approved the bill only after Republicans added an amendment to throw out Washington’s gun control laws, including its ban on semi-automatic weapons. More on this story later in the broadcast.
The auto giant General Motors has posted another major quarterly loss amidst warnings it’s nearing insolvency. On Thursday, GM said it lost $9.6 billion in the fourth quarter, bringing its 2008 loss to $30.9 billion. The announcement came as GM chair Rick Wagoner met with White House officials to seek further government aid.
Here in New York, a coalition of mental health, legal and prison rights advocates are opposing a move by Governor David Paterson to delay implementation of a bill that would bar holding seriously mentally ill prisoners in solitary confinement. Under the bill, mentally ill prisoners would be transferred to secure treatment facilities rather than kept in twenty-four-hour solitude. Advocates for mentally disabled prisoners have argued that solitary confinement is inhumane and has driven some to suicide and declining mental health. The measure is supposed to take effect in 2011. But Governor Paterson’s new budget calls for delaying its implementation until 2014.
And in media news, the Denver-based Rocky Mountain News is publishing its last paper today. On Thursday, parent company E.W. Scripps announced the newspaper’s closure after saying it’s failed to find a buyer. The closure comes just two months before the Rocky Mountain News would have marked its 150th anniversary.
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