Global Economic Growth Slows, Early Voting Begins in Iraq
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JIM LEHRER: Wall Street surged higher today. Stocks gained on hopes the government will absorb mounds of bad debts related to home mortgages. The Dow Jones Industrial Average gained 200 points to close at 8,375. The Nasdaq rose 53 points to close at 1,558.
The global economy will grow this year at the slowest pace since World War II; the International Monetary Fund offered that grim prediction today. It said worldwide growth will come to a virtual standstill in 2009. It also warned a sustained recovery will not be possible until the financial sector is restored to health.
President Obama held his first war strategy session at the Pentagon today. He met with the Joint Chiefs of Staff and he said there are tough decisions coming on both Iraq and Afghanistan. Mr. Obama has talked of having U.S. combat forces leave Iraq within 16 months. He wants to beef up the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan.
The nomination of Eric Holder for U.S. attorney general moved toward confirmation today. The Senate Judiciary Committee voted 17-2 to recommend him. Most Republicans gave their support, despite earlier criticism. They included Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. He said Holder will bring a balanced approach to terror cases.
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, R-S.C.: It’s my hope that we can sit down with this new attorney general and work out a plan that will adhere to our values, restore a damaged image, but understand that the people we’re dealing with are the most vicious people on the planet.
JIM LEHRER: A confirmation vote in the full Senate could come early tomorrow. Holder would be the nation’s first African-American attorney general. Also today, the Senate moved to confirm retired Admiral Dennis Blair as national intelligence director.
The postmaster general warned today huge deficits may force the Postal Service to drop one day of mail delivery. John Potter told a Senate hearing, “It is possible that the cost of six-day delivery may simply prove to be unaffordable.” The Postal Service went nearly $3 billion in the red last year. It faces rising costs and dwindling mail volume.
The House today refused to delay a nationwide switch to all-digital television broadcasting. That proposal would have put off the transition from mid-February to mid-June. It fell short of the two-thirds majority needed. Supporters warned that 6.5 million households with analog TV sets are not ready for the switch. Most Republicans said a postponement would burden the industry.
A treacherous winter storm spread more destruction across a huge section of the U.S. today. It left at least 23 people dead and nearly 1 million homes and businesses in the dark.
NewsHour correspondent Kwame Holman narrates our report.
KWAME HOLMAN: It’s the same winter weather system that hit the southern plains earlier this week. By this morning, it was battering communities from the Midwest to the Northeast.
Storm warnings about a treacherous mix of snow, ice, and freezing rain went out from Texas to New England. This long winter day was made tougher for many by widespread power outages.
Crews worked in half-a-dozen states to restore electricity to many thousands left powerless, and officials warned it could take a week to restore power in some places.
Many who ventured out did so at their peril. Ice was up to three inches thick on some sidewalks, roads and highways.
MICHAEL BRYANT, Madison County Emergency Management, Kentucky: One of the things we’re asking people to do is, if you don’t have to get out, please, do not get out. It’s pretty dangerous. It started snowing so that’s going to make the danger even greater.
KWAME HOLMAN: Heavy snow also was a problem elsewhere. Some two feet fell in Maine. The massive storm kept thousands of schoolchildren at home, including President Obama’s daughters in Washington.
U.S. PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: As my children pointed out, in Chicago, school is never canceled. In fact, my 7-year-old pointed out that you’d go outside for recess.
KWAME HOLMAN: Slight warming through the day began changing the snow and ice to rain in much of the east.
JIM LEHRER: The storm also hindered travel in the air today. Airlines canceled or delayed flights at major airports in Ohio and in Philadelphia, New York, and Boston.
In Iraq today, early voting began for provincial elections, the country’s first since 2005. Police officers, prison inmates, and others cast votes. The rest of the country will go to the polls on Saturday in a major security test for the government. More than 14,000 candidates are competing for 440 seats on ruling councils.