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Mitchell Travels to Middle East, Gates Announces Afghanistan Troop Increase

January 27, 2009 at 6:20 PM EDT
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JIM LEHRER: In other news today, consumer confidence slipped this month to a record low; that was reported today by the Conference Board, a business group.

But Wall Street managed another modest advance, after profits at U.S. Steel and American Express beat expectations. The Dow Jones Industrial Average gained 58 points to close at 8,174. The Nasdaq rose 15 points to close near 1,505.

The price of oil fell 9 percent today on slumping demand in the U.S. It finished below $42 a barrel.

The new U.S. envoy to the Middle East, George Mitchell, formally began his mission today. His first stop on a week-long tour was Cairo, Egypt. Officials there recently mediated the cease-fire in Gaza.

But today, a roadside bomb killed an Israeli soldier near Gaza. Palestinian militants released this video of that attack. Later, the Israelis struck back, and Palestinians said one civilian was killed.

There was word today of a new American overture to Russia. White House officials said President Obama and Russian President Medvedev talked Monday about “stopping the drift” in U.S.-Russian relations. The two leaders spoke by telephone. Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov said today they could hold face-to-face talks this April at an international summit in London.

Nearly 3,000 American soldiers fanned out south of Kabul, Afghanistan, today. They had been scheduled to serve in Iraq, but they were diverted to the Afghan campaign.

In Washington, Defense Secretary Gates said thousands more U.S. troops will join the buildup, starting in late spring. He appeared at a Senate hearing, nursing an injured arm, and he said Afghanistan is America’s “greatest military challenge.”

ROBERT GATES, secretary of Defense: My own personal view is that our primary goal is to prevent Afghanistan from being used as a base for terrorists and extremists to attack the United States and our allies, and whatever else we need to do flows from that objective.

Afghanistan is the fourth- or fifth-poorest country in the world. And if we set ourselves the objective of creating some sort of Central Asian Valhalla over there, we will lose.

JIM LEHRER: Gates also warned today that tough new ethics rules under the Obama administration could go too far. He said it’s getting harder to fill top jobs at the Pentagon because too many qualified people are scared off. Gates did not mention William Lynn, his chosen deputy at the Pentagon. Lynn was a corporate lobbyist, but the new rules are being waived in his case.

Congress sent the president a bill today to help women fight wage discrimination. It reverses a U.S. Supreme Court decision from 2007. The court had ruled a complaint has to be filed within 180 days of when a pay scale is set. The bill says every paycheck counts as a new violation.

A move to delay a major change in television broadcasting also neared approval in the House this evening. Last night, the Senate voted to push back the switch to all-digital TV from February 17th to June 4th. Supporters of a delay warned more than 6 million households with analog TV sets are not ready for the conversion.

A new U.S. senator from New York state was sworn in today. Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand took the oath from Vice President Biden. She filled the seat left vacant by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Gillibrand had been a second-term member of the U.S. House. At age 42, she is now the youngest member of the U.S. Senate.

The mayor of Hartford, Connecticut, Eddie Perez, was charged today with taking a bribe and falsifying evidence. Prosecutors said he accepted $40,000 of work on his home, but did not pay until investigators asked questions. The contractor has been charged with bribery. Perez is the city’s first Hispanic mayor. He had denied wrongdoing in the case.

Octuplets born in Southern California were doing “very well” today. The six boys and two girls were delivered on Monday. They’re only the second set of living octuplets in U.S. history. Doctors said they planned and rehearsed everything, but the eighth baby was still a surprise.

DR. KAREN MAPLES, Bellflower Medical Center: We have been talking about this delivery for weeks on end. The nurses did an exemplary job trying to get all the teams and the equipment necessary for all the babies. And that’s why, when we discovered the eighth, we were able to handle it because everything was so well prepared.

JIM LEHRER: The babies were born about nine weeks early. They’re expected to stay in the hospital for another two months.