It’s been a dramatic week. Barack Obama became the first African American to be elected President of the United States. For many, the election marked not just that historic first but brought the possibility of dramatic policy changes in the U.S. There was also a series of reports bringing bad news for the global economy, including a dramatic uptick in the unemployment rate in the United States (now at its highest point since the immediate aftermath of the September 11th attacks. It was, in short, a busy week. Here’s five stories you might have missed amid the flurry of news.
1. Following a report showing U.S. car sales sank to their lowest levels in 25 years and reflecting the widespread impact of the global financial downturn, both the U.S. and Germany auto industries pressed for rescue packages from their respective governments. In the United States, the Democratic Congressional leadership has requested Secretary of the Treasury Hank Paulson to assist the American auto industry as part of the $700 billion rescue passed by Congress last month. BMW is pushing for similar relief from the German government.
2. In move widely seen as an attempt to open the presidency for Vladimir Putin’s return, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on Wednesday called for consituttional reforms which would extend the tenure of the Russian president from four to six years. Putin, who remains incredibly popular among the Russian population, is currently serving as Prime Minister after being termed out of office by constitutional limitations. Medvedev’s term is currently set to expire in 2012, at which time Putin would be eligible to stand for the office again. However, some observers argue that Medvedev may resign before that, allowing Putin to return to the presidency even earlier.
3. An anonymous official within the U.S. government said that hackers with ties to the Chinese military successfully hacked into the White House and Department of Defense computer networks. The source said that the hackers were not able to access classified documents during the attack, but did have access to unclassified communications between high ranking government officials. In unrelated attacks also believed to originate with the Chinese government, computers belonging to both the McCain and Obama campaigns were also compromised, allowing hackers to obtain internal policy documents from both presidential campaigns.
4. The political future of Israel’s current government remains unclear. Although polls indicate that Tzipi Livni’s ruling Kadima party holds a narrow lead in popular opinion, Israel’s current political instability undermines the ability of the government to move forward with peace negotiations with the Palestinians. This week, Israeli’s living in Jerusalem will elect a new mayor. But the election will likely shed little light on the future direction of the country, as the major parties have all opted not to field a candidate for the position.
5. Proving the old rally ‘round the flag adage, Gordon Brown’s ruling Labour Party won an important by-election on Thursday, effectively ending discussion of both an early general election and a leadership challenge from within the party. Brown, who served as the U.K.’s Chancellor of the Exchequer in Tony Blair’s government, had seen his popularity decline precipitously since coming into office. But Brown’s handling of the credit crisis in the United Kingdom has effectively averted a deeper crisis in the United Kingdom and has been used as a model for governments elsewhere in the world.