Other News: Jobless Claims Drop, Homes Plan Advances
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JIM LEHRER: In other economic news, new requests for unemployment benefits dropped unexpectedly last week, but overall remained high. The Labor Department reported the number of workers filing dipped to 639,000. Still, more than 5 million Americans are now claiming jobless benefits.
The House of Representatives moved toward passage of a bankruptcy home loan bill. It’s part of a larger housing rescue package. It would let bankruptcy judges cut mortgage payments for some homeowners. Democrats praised the legislation; Republicans said it could actually raise interest rates.
REP. AL GREEN, D-Texas: The safeguards are there. The opportunity is before us. The question is, do we want to protect Home Street to the same extent that we want to protect Main Street and Wall Street? There are people who are suffering; this is the opportunity to help them.
REP. LAMAR SMITH, R-Texas: This legislation will punish the successful, tax the responsible, and hold no one accountable. If we pass this legislation, what message does it send to responsible borrowers who are making their payments on time? How can we ask them to foot the bill for their neighbors’ mortgages?
JIM LEHRER: That House debate came on the same day the Mortgage Bankers Association reported a record 5.4 million American homeowners were late making mortgage payments last year.
In other news today, NATO agreed to restore its ties with Russia. The decision came at a meeting of foreign ministers in Brussels. Normal relations were frozen last summer after Russia’s incursion into the former Soviet republic of Georgia.
At the same meeting, U.S. Secretary of State Clinton called for a high-level international conference on stabilizing Afghanistan, and her invitation included Iran.
HILLARY CLINTON, secretary of state: We have presented this idea, which is being discussed — nothing has been decided — as a way of bringing all the stakeholders and interested parties together. If we move forward with such a meeting, it is expected that Iran would be invited as a neighbor of Afghanistan.
JIM LEHRER: Separately, Clinton called for the immediate release of an Iranian-American journalist being held prisoner in Iran. Roxana Saberi has reported for the BBC, National Public Radio, and other media. She has been detained for the past month. Swiss officials are helping the U.S. gain more information on her condition and her whereabouts.
JIM LEHRER: In Iraq, a car bombing south of Baghdad killed at least 13 people. The explosion tore through a busy livestock market in a mainly Shiite area near the town of Hillah. Police said dozens more were wounded.
In political developments in Iraq, the parliament broke a deadlock and passed its 2009 budget. It was sharply reduced to $59 billion on account of falling oil prices.
The president of Sudan expelled three more aid organizations on top of 10 that were kicked out yesterday. President al-Bashir ordered the aid organizations out after the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for him for war crimes.
At a rally of his supporters in Khartoum, al-Bashir denounced the U.N. and other international organizations.
OMAR AL-BASHIR, president of Sudan (through translator): We refuse to submit to colonialism and rejected all kinds of economic, political, and diplomatic pressures. For 20 years, we are in a constant battle against neocolonialism and all the tools, starting from the Security Council, the IMF, the criminal court, and all the institutions that they try to use to re-colonize people and to loot their resources and capabilities.
JIM LEHRER: Aid workers warned their expulsions could lead to a humanitarian crisis, especially in Darfur.
And U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned al-Bashir’s actions would cause “irrevocable damage.” He urged the Sudanese government to reconsider its decision.