There are major developments in the proposed restructuring of Chrysler. The car company and labor leaders have agreed to a tentative deal where the United Auto Workers union’s retiree healthcare fund would become the majority shareholder of Chrysler in exchange for cutting in half what the automaker owes the healthcare trust.
The World Health Organization has raised its pandemic threat level one notch, as more cases of swine flu become known. In Mexico, officials say 149 people have died from influenza, but only twenty-six of the deaths have been confirmed to be swine flu. Nearly 2,000 people have been hospitalized with serious pneumonia. In the United States, the Centers for Disease Control has doubled its number of confirmed US cases to forty-eight. Cases have also been confirmed in Canada, Spain, Britain and Israel, but no deaths have been reported outside Mexico.
Flu expert Dr. John McCauley: “I think we are facing a danger of pandemic for the following reasons. One, this is a new virus that we haven’t — that humans have not seen before. We’ve not come across a virus exactly like this. We have seen other H1N1s, but not this particular variant. And so, it’s a new virus to which humans appear to have no significant immunity. Secondly, it is spreading human to human. And so, these are the hallmarks of a virus that could become a pandemic virus.”
Mexico has responded to the outbreak by shutting down all schools nationwide for more than a week and placing limits on public gatherings. The European Union has urged travelers to avoid the United States and Mexico “unless it is very urgent for them.” Richard Besser, acting director of the Centers for Disease Control, criticized the EU travel warning.
Richard Besser: “Based on the situation in the United States right now, I think it is quite premature to put travel restrictions on people coming to the United States. We have twenty cases of swine flu. We’re doing active surveillance. So far, we’ve seen one hospitalization.”
Researchers believe the outbreak of swine flu may have occurred near a Mexican factory pork farm partly owned by Virginia-based Smithfield Foods, the largest producer of hogs in the United States. At the United Nations, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned poor nations may be hit particularly hard by the flu outbreak.
Ban Ki-moon: “The swine flu outbreak shows yet again that in our interconnected world no nation can deal with threats of such dimension on its own. Poor nations are especially vulnerable. They have been hit hard by other crises this year, of food, energy, the global economy, climate change. We must ensure that they are not also hit disproportionately hard by a potential health crisis.”
In Iowa, more than 380 same-sex couples applied for marriage licenses Monday following a state Supreme Court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage. Dozens of couples held weddings Monday after being granted waivers of Iowa’s three-day waiting period.
Jennifer Waldron: “I’m actually just really overwhelmed right now with emotion, which actually really surprises me. But just to have the validation from the public that we are in a loving and committed relationship and that it’s important.”
Over 100 people were arrested in Washington on Monday during a series of unrelated demonstrations. Ninety-one disability rights activists were arrested after members of the group ADAPT chained their wheelchairs to the White House fence. The protest was held to raise awareness of the Community Choice Act, pending legislation that they said would allow disabled individuals to use their Medicaid payments for community-based services.
Five members of Congress were arrested Monday outside the Sudanese embassy during a demonstration condemning Sudan’s decision to expel sixteen aid agencies from Darfur.
The arrested included Democrats John Lewis of Georgia, Keith Ellison of Minnesota, Lynn Woolsey of California, Donna Edwards of Maryland, and Jim McGovern of Massachusetts. They were charged with crossing a police line, a misdemeanor, and released.
Also on Monday, seven Greenpeace activists were arrested for scaling a construction crane and unfurling a banner with a picture of earth and the message “Too big to fail.”
In Mt. Carroll, Illinois, twenty-two people were arrested Monday at a protest outside a training site run by Xe, the company formerly known as Blackwater.
In Pakistan, as many as 30,000 people have fled Northwest Pakistan in recent days to escape fighting between the Taliban and Pakistani military. Al Jazeera reports civilians left their homes after the Pakistani military began their assault on Sunday against Taliban fighters in Lower Dir, near the Taliban-held Swat Valley. The military action in Lower Dir comes weeks after the government allowed the Taliban to implement their interpretation of Islamic law in the neighboring Swat Valley. Critics of Pakistan’s deal with fighters in Swat say that it has only emboldened the Taliban.
The Sri Lankan military has blocked a United Nations aid mission from entering the area where the Sri Lankan military continues to attack Tamil Tiger separatists. Some 50,000 civilians are believed to be trapped in the conflict zone. John Holmes, the UN humanitarian affairs chief, failed in his attempt to bring a halt to the fighting.
John Holmes: “I think our view is that the key point is, when this conflict comes to an end and however it ends, and it’s much better if it ends without more civilian bloodshed, then there’s a real need to address the political issues, to find solutions to the political problems which underlie all this, and to react in a generous way to make sure that you not only win the military victory, but you win the peace, as well. And that’s obviously — that’s crucial.”
Meanwhile, Sweden’s foreign minister has been refused entry to Sri Lanka. Carl Bildt, was due to visit Sri Lanka on a European mediating mission aimed at bringing about an immediate ceasefire between the Sri Lankan military and the LTTE. On Sunday, the Sri Lankan government rejected a Tamil Tiger call for a unilateral ceasefire.
The Interior Department said Monday it will try to overturn a Bush administration rule that made it easier for coal mining companies to dump mountaintop debris into valley streams. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said he will ask the Justice Department to go to the courts to withdraw the Bush regulation and send it back to Interior to stop the policy.
A new report has determined the Israeli government under Ehud Olmert built or issued bids for some 9,000 settlement homes for Israelis in the occupied West Bank and Jerusalem. The Israeli watchdog groups Peace Now and Ir Amim urged President Barack Obama to step in quickly and pressure Israel’s new prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, to halt further settlement expansion.
The Palestinian Center for Human Rights says more than 1,000 Palestinians were killed in 2008 in the Gaza Strip and West Bank, making it the deadliest year since Israel was founded in 1948. A total 860 Palestinians were killed by Israeli troops in Gaza and the West Bank. Another 161 Palestinians were killed in factional fighting.
The Iranian American journalist Roxana Saberi has entered her second week of a hunger strike protesting her imprisonment in Iran. She was sentenced earlier this month to eight years of imprisonment this month on charges of spying for Washington. Her father, Reza Saberi, said she plans to continue her hunger strike until she is released. Roxana turned thirty-two on Sunday.
And in media news, Conde Nast has decided to close the two-year-old magazine Portfolio. Meanwhile, newly released statistics show paid weekday newspaper circulation has fallen seven percent over the past six months.