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You turn to Democracy Now! for ad-free news you can trust. Maybe you come for our daily headlines, or for in-depth stories that expose government and corporate abuses of power. We produce our daily news hour at a fraction of the budget of a commercial news operation, all without ads, government funding or corporate underwriting? This is only possible with your support. Right now every donation to Democracy Now! will be doubled by a generous supporter. This means if you give $25 today, Democracy Now! will get $50 to support our daily news hour. Please do your part. It takes just a couple of minutes to make sure that Democracy Now! is there for you and everybody else in the coming year. Thanks so much. -Amy Goodman
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President Barack Obama has ordered General Motors and Chrysler to accelerate their restructuring efforts and brace for possible bankruptcy. Obama spoke Monday hours after the White House forced GM CEO Rick Wagoner to resign and ordered Chrysler to complete an alliance with the Italian automaker Fiat.
President Obama: “Now, what we’re asking for is difficult. It will require hard choices by companies. It will require unions and workers, who have already made extraordinarily painful concessions, to do more. It will require creditors to recognize that they can’t hold out for the prospect of endless government bailouts. It’ll have to — it will require efforts from a whole host of other stakeholders, including dealers and suppliers. Only then can we ask American taxpayers, who have already put up so much of their hard-earned money, to once more invest in a revitalized auto industry.”
Obama administration officials say they are weighing a fix for GM and Chrysler that would divide their “good” and “bad” assets and send the auto makers into bankruptcy. If GM declared bankruptcy, up to one million employees, dependents, retirees and their spouses could lose healthcare and retirement benefits. A bankruptcy judge recently allowed car part suppler Delphi to cancel healthcare and life insurance benefits for retirees, calling the moves “good business judgment.” During his address on Monday, President Obama said nothing about protecting the benefits of workers and retirees. GM’s shares plunged 25 percent Monday, and the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 3.3 percent. President Obama said there is no plan to nationalize General Motors.
President Obama: “Let me be clear: The United States government has no interest in running GM. We have no intention of running GM. What we are interested in is giving GM an opportunity to finally make those much needed changes that will let them emerge from this crisis a stronger and more competitive company.”
Michigan lawmakers, including Democratic Senator Carl Levin and Republican Congressman Thaddeus McCotter, said there is a double standard in terms of treatment of the financial industry compared with the auto industry. The government has not yet required any banks to replace its top executives.
While GM’s CEO Rick Wagoner is being forced to resign, he still stands to make millions. ABC News reports that Wagoner will be eligible to collect $20 million in retirement benefits from GM.
Officials from more than seventy countries are meeting in the Netherlands to discuss the future of Afghanistan. All of Afghanistan’s neighbors, including Iran, are attending. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is expected to ask conference delegates for their countries’ support for Washington’s escalation of the war. President Obama has said he plans to send an extra 17,000 soldiers and 4,000 advisers to Afghanistan. The Red Cross has warned that the planned US surge is likely to mean more civilian casualties. The Red Cross urged the conference to “consider the plight of civilians as a matter of urgency.” On Monday, US special envoy Richard Holbrooke spoke about the importance of Iran’s role in the summit.
Richard Holbrooke: “The presence of Iran here is obvious. How can you talk about Afghanistan and exclude one of the countries that’s a bordering, neighboring state? This is absolutely clear. The creation of the current government in Afghanistan in the Bonn negotiations of 2002 involved Iran, and they played an important role. And when the Dutch government decided to invite them, it seemed to us to be the most logical thing in the world.”
Sayeed Jawed of the Agency Coordinating Body for Afghan Relief called on the international community to fight government corruption.
Sayeed Jawed: “Normally, you know, the security is coming if you have a good governance. So we would ask the international community to work for the good government, which provides situation for development and that will guarantee the security.”
Iraqi and US soldiers have completely disarmed a group of Sunni fighters, following an uprising in Baghdad led by members of the Awakening Council, a group of former insurgents now on the US-Iraqi payroll. This marks the first time an Awakening Council has been forcibly disbanded in the capital. Iraqi security officials said eighty Sunni fighters have been detained.
Major General Abdulkarim Abdulrahman: “The military operation is almost complete. There are some wanted men, those who attacked the military forces, and they will be arrested. We are working now on returning civilian services back to the area. We have made a call to the people of al-Fadhil, urging them to open the shops and resume normal life.”
In other Iraq news, a US sergeant has been convicted of murder in the execution-style slaying of four bound and blindfolded Iraqi detainees in 2007.
Time Magazine has uncovered more details of an Israeli military attack on Sudan in mid-January. Time reports dozens of Israeli fighter-bombers, backed by unmanned drones, bombed a twenty-three-truck convoy in the Sudanese desert. Israeli sources told the magazine the convoy was allegedly transporting Iranian arms to Gaza.
The Israeli military has decided to end its internal investigation into reports that Israeli troops killed innocent Palestinians during the assault on Gaza. The probe was launched after IDF soldiers were quoted in Israeli newspapers saying that combat troops in Gaza fired at unarmed Palestinian civilians and vandalized property during the attack on Gaza. Military Advocate General Brig. Gen. Avichai Mendelblit said such claims were inaccurate and “based on hearsay.” Meanwhile, two Palestinians died earlier today in an Israeli air strike on Gaza.
The Obama administration has announced plans to release a Yemeni doctor from Guantanamo just days before his habeas petition was scheduled to be heard in federal court. Dr. Ayman Batarfi is an orthopedic surgeon who was has been held since 2002. Batarfi said he was a humanitarian worker who found himself at the battle of Tora Bora while Osama bin Laden was in the area.
In North Korea, two detained US journalists will reportedly be put on trial on charges of illegal entry and hostile acts. The two reporters, Euna Lee and Laura Ling, were detained along the Chinese border on March 17. The reporters work for Al Gore’s Current TV.
In education news, Boston College has barred University of Illinois professor Bill Ayers from speaking on campus. The former member of the Weather Underground was scheduled to give a speech last night, but it was canceled by school administrators citing safety concerns. The school also prevented Ayers from giving his talk by satellite. Ayers was scheduled to speak about urban schools and educational inequities. Boston College student Melissa Roberts said, “It’s an unconscionable violation of academic freedom on a college campus, which should be a place where all ideas are welcome, not just popular ones.”
Meanwhile, a Canadian judge has upheld Ottawa’s decision to ban British parliamentarian George Galloway from entering the country to conduct a speaking tour. Galloway has been a vocal critic of the US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as the Israeli government. Canadian officials accused Galloway of giving financial support to Hamas and offering sympathy to the Taliban. Canadian officials claim he is a threat to national security. Last night, Galloway spoke to an audience in Toronto via the internet.
USA Today reports the Environmental Protection Agency is expected to announce plans today to monitor the air outside sixty-two schools in twenty-two states. The plan marks the most sweeping effort to determine whether toxic chemicals permeate the air schoolchildren breathe.
In economic news, the Boston Globe is reporting the federal agency that insures the retirement funds of 44 million Americans has lost billions of dollars due to risky investment decisions. Last year, the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation departed from its conservative investment strategy and decided to put much of its $64 billion insurance fund into speculative investments such as stocks in emerging foreign markets, real estate and private equity funds. The decision was made just months before the start of the stock market collapse. Analysts are concerned that large portions of the trust fund might have been lost at a time when many private pension plans are suffering major losses. The guarantee fund would be the only way to cover the plans if their companies go into bankruptcy. The investment strategy was implemented by Charles Millard, a former managing director of Lehman Brothers.
The Washington Times is reporting President Obama continued collecting money for his 2010 Senate re-election campaign even after he resigned his seat from Illinois. The money came from some of Obama’s top presidential fundraisers, including Bruce Heyman, managing director at Goldman Sachs, which received a $10 billion bailout last year. According to campaign records, Obama received four contributions totaling nearly $5,000 after December 26. The donations are legal, but the timing is considered unusual because Obama formally left the Senate on November 16.
A prominent lobbyist with close ties to Democratic Congressman John Murtha is closing his firm, weeks after federal prosecutors raided his office and his home. Paul Magliocchetti’s firm, the PMA Group, is one of the ten largest lobbying firms in Washington. The New York Times says Magliocchetti helped pioneer the lucrative specialty of helping contractors lobby for military earmarks, pet spending items that members of the panel insert in annual spending bills. Magliocchetti is very close to Murtha, chair of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense. Since 1998, employees of PMA have contributed nearly $8 million to members on the House defense spending panel and $2.4 million to Murtha.
In Vermont, four activists were arrested on Monday during a speech by Gov. Jim Douglas. They were calling on Douglas to close the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant and replace its power with energy efficiency programs and renewable energy.
And today is the birthday of the late labor leader César Chávez. He was born on March 31, 1927. There is a growing movement to make his birthday a national holiday. César Chávez Day is already a state holiday in eight US states.