Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf declared a state of emergency, fired the chief justice of the Supreme Court and several justices, suspended the Constitution, and flooded the streets of Islamabad with police. Independent and international television networks were blacked out, including CNN and the BBC, telephone lines were disconnected, and police swarmed the Supreme Court building with some of the justices still inside, in effect putting them under house arrest. A Proclamation of Emergency (here's the text) replaced the Constitution. The court was just about to rule on the constitutionality of Musharraf's recent re-election, so it looks like this was a move to retain power. As of Sunday, 5 of the 17 Supreme Court justices agreed to take a new oath of office. Musharraf gave a speech saying that the measures were necessary to fight terrorism and "preserve the democratic transition that I initiated 8 years back." (He took over in a military coup.) (Washington Post) He issued an order to the local media prohibiting news that "brings into ridicule or disrepute" Musharraf or his government. (NY Times) The government announced that elections that were supposed to take place in January could be delayed for up to a year. (Washington Post) But, on Friday, Musharraf announced that elections would be held February 15th. Many don't believe him. (Washington Post)
Pakistan Protests: Thousands of lawyers protested the imposition of emergency rule. Hundreds of them, along with political opponents and human rights activists, were beaten and hauled away by police. The largest protest took place in Lahore. Musharraf said emergency rule was necessary to fight against Islamic militants (see above) but on Monday said that the courts had "paralyzed various organs of the state and created impediments in the fight against terrorism." (Washington Post) The NY Times pointed out that in order to impose a state of emergency, Musharraf had to divert resources from fighting militants.
Musharraf's Arrests: Musharraf made it clear that he plans to use the extra powers to quiet anyone who might challenge his regime. At least 500 opposition leaders, lawyers, and human rights activists were arrested. On Sunday it was reported that more than 1,500 people had been arrested. (Washington Post) By Tuesday they were reporting that about 2,000 people had been arrested, although many say the real number is much larger. (LA Times)
Benazir Bhutto: Former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, who had recently returned from exile and was expected to share power with Musharraf (see The Weekly Wonk, Pakistan, 10/20/07) and who is considered the main opposition leader, came back from a trip to Dubai. She accused Musharraf of using the specter of terrorism to prolong his hold on power. "This is not emergency. This is martial law." "Under the emergency declaration, the justices were ordered to take an oath to abide by a 'provisional constitutional order' that replaces the country’s existing Constitution. Those who failed to do so would be dismissed." (NY Times) Friday morning Musharraf's security forces placed Bhutto under house arrest. Hundreds of police officers surrounded her home a few hours before a scheduled rally and prevented her from leaving. (LA Times) Later in the day she was released. (Reuters)
U.S. Response: The NY Times noted that this is an embarrassing situation for Bush, who has sent Musharraf more than $10 billion since 2001, mostly for the military, and now will have to "publicly castigate the man it has described as one of its closest allies in in fighting terrorism." [Musharraf has spent much of the money to bulk up on equipment and weapons that "are far more suited for conventional warfare with India." This means the force that has been tasked with pursuing al-Qaeda "remains underfunded, poorly trained, and overwhelmingly outgunned." (LA Times)] The LA Times said that the U.S. probably will continue its aid. "But the risks associated with that strategy have become increasingly apparent in recent months, as Al Qaeda and the Taliban have gained strength in Pakistan's northwest frontier area despite billions of dollars in military aid to Musharraf's government since the Sept. 11 attacks." Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said she was going to "review" the $150 million a month we send them. She called Musharraf the day before his actions to discourage him from the emergency declaration. Guess he didn't pay any attention. (Washington Post) Here's a NY Times piece from last June that describes U.S. involvement with Pakistan. It noted that Pakistan policy is being run by VP Cheney. While expressing "dismay," administration officials made it very clear that they won't let a little thing like a "second coup" affect our relationship with what they consider a "key ally" in the "fight against terrorism." (USA Today) Musharraf apparently knew he had nothing to fear from the Americans as no senior U.S. official so much as placed a call to him after emergency rule was imposed until Wednesday when Bush finally got off his bike and picked up the phone to urge Musharraf to hold elections and resign his army post. (NY Times)
The Rest of the World
New Polls: A new Washington Post-ABC News poll found that "Americans are deeply pessimistic and eager for a change in direction from the agenda and priorities of President Bush." We're concerned about the economy, the mess in Iraq, and there's "growing dissatisfaction" with politics in Washington. Only 24% think the nation is on the right track. 75% want a change. Democrats, of course, overwhelmingly want a new direction, but so do Independents (75%) and Republicans (50%). Bush's rating came in at 28% while Congress' rating is at 36%. The Gallup Poll found Bush's overall job rating a little higher, 31%, with 64% disapproving. More than 50% "strongly disapprove. . . [A]t the same time, those who approve of Bush are more likely to do so 'moderately' [rather] than 'strongly.' . . [T]he current 50% 'strongly disapprove' figure for Bush is as high as Gallup has ever measured. (A February 1974 poll showed Richard Nixon’s strongly disapprove number at 48%, statistically equivalent to Bush’s current reading on this measure.)"
Another Torture Memo: An ACLU lawsuit has uncovered a 3rd Alberto Gonzales torture memo. (Raw Story) 2 memos have already been exposed. First came the original "Torture Memo." Then another secret memo was recently revealed. (See The Weekly Wonk, Thumbing His Nose, 10/6/07)
AT&T: Here's another good reason not to provide telecoms with immunity from lawsuits. We all know that they cooperated with the NSA to collect data on its customers. (See The Weekly Wonk, Warrantless Surveillance, 5/13/06) Now Mark Klein, a former AT&T technician turned whistleblower, says that a copy "of all internet traffic passing over AT&T lines was copied into a locked room at the company's San Francisco office -- to which only employees with National Security Agency clearance had access -- via a cable splitting device." Remember, AT&T owns many of the lines used by other companies, which means that it wasn't only AT&T subscribers who got caught in this web. "My job was to connect circuits into the splitter device which was hard-wired to the secret room. And effectively, the splitter copied the entire data stream of those internet cables into the secret room -- and we're talking about phone conversations, email web browsing, everything that goes across the internet. . . We're talking about domestic traffic as well as international traffic." Klein believes that AT&T has similar operations in place in as many as 20 other sites. (ABC News) And Klein has been trying to tell this story since 2004. Read it at Wired. And here's the report he wrote.
Immunity: The Senate Judiciary Committee has delayed the vote on telecom immunity until next week. To keep things moving, they'll only work on Title I this week. The immunity issue is in Title II. (Raw Story) However, Senator Arlen Specter (R, PA) is drafting a compromise on retroactive immunity which "would make the federal government -- instead of the phone companies -- the defendant in about 40 pending lawsuits across the country." (The Hill) Great. Let the taxpayers pick up another corporate tab.
Impeaching Cheney: Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D, OH ) brought his Privileged Resolution to impeach VP Cheney to the floor. He proposed this last April. (See The Weekly Wonk, Impeaching VP Cheney, 4/28/07) With a privileged resolution there would be a floor debate on the issue and then a vote. (See Procedures) Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D, MD) made a motion to table the resolution which would have, in effect, killed it. Apparently, he took to heart Nancy Pelosi's vow that "impeachment was off the table." At the outset, the motion looked like it was going to pass, but Republicans started to switch their votes and, eventually, it failed. This means it was NOT killed. What was going on here? Apparently the Dems wanted to kill the resolution because they were afraid Republicans would make fun of them. So, Republicans made sure the resolution went through so they COULD make fun of them. The final vote was 251-162 to support a debate on impeachment. (Washington Post) Raw Story has the "back story" on this incredible day. Then, Hoyer again stepped in and made a motion to skip the floor debate and refer it to the Judiciary Committee. The Dems passed this, so that's where it's going. Judiciary chair John Conyers apparently isn't happy about it. He "expressed his reluctance to take the matter up." (Baltimore Sun) He released a statement that said they are kinda busy -- they need a new FISA bill, they're looking at contempt charges (see below), they want to pass legislation on "prisoner re-entry, court security and a variety of other very important items" -- all things that are more important than our Constitution.
Afghanistan: A suicide bomber struck a group of Afghani lawmakers Tuesday killing at least 42 people including 6 members of Parliament and many children. (LA Times) The attack occurred at a sugar factory in Baghlan, about 95 miles north of Kabul. The lawmakers were visiting state-owned cement and sugar factories they are going to privatize. (AP)
Iran: All the experts are saying that there is no evidence that Tehran has an active nuclear weapons program. Bush's administration "appears divided about the immediacy of the threat." Bush and VP Cheney keeping yammering about the Iranian weapons program but Undersecretary of State Nocholas Burns is attempting "to ratchet down the rhetoric." He said, "Iran is seeking a nuclear capability . . . that some people fear might lead to a nuclear-weapons capability," (McClatchy)
Iranian Captives: The U.S. military finally released 9 Iranians we arrested in Iraq and accused of aiding the "insurgents." 2 of them were Iranian government officials. (See The Weekly Wonk,The Issue of Iran, 1/20/07 and Iranian Abduction, 2/10/07) The Iranian ambassador in Iraq said we are still holding another 25, but we're only admitting to holding another 11. "The American military said that after careful reviews, the 9 men were no longer considered security threats and had no further intelligence value. Their release comes at a time when American forces are freeing increasing numbers of detainees." (NY Times) Does this mean we tortured them and got all the false information we could out of them?
Gitmo: Bush is "considering granting Guantanamo detainees substantially greater rights as part of an effort to close the detention center and possibly move much of its population to the United States." The proposals under discussion would grant the prisoners "legal representation at detention hearings" and would give federal judges, not military officers, "the power to decide whether suspects should be held." According to the NY Times, "some officials say that enhancing detainees’ rights could also help the administration strategically, by undercutting a case brought by suspects at Guantánamo that is now before the Supreme Court, which could wind up winning them even more power to challenge their detention."
Mukasey: The Senate Judiciary Committee approved the nomination of Michael Mukasey as the U.S. Attorney General. The vote was 11 to 8. 2 Democrats, Chuck Schumer (D, NY) and Dianne Feinstein (D, CA) joined all 9 Republicans. The 8 voting against him were all Democrats. (NY Times) 24 intelligence analysts sent a letter to Senators Patrick Leahy (D, VT) and Arlen Specter (R, PA) asking them not to send Mukasey’s nomination to the full Senate until he makes clear his opinion on whether waterboarding is torture. (No Quarter) Lotta good it did. In a late night vote Thursday, the Senate confirmed him. The vote was 53-40, with 6 Democrats and 1 independent joining Republicans to vote in favor of Mukasey, which was the lowest level of support for any attorney general since 1952. None of the Democrat presidential candidates voted because they were all out campaigning and the vote wasn't scheduled until next week. They couldn't get back in time. (Washington Post)
Marine Lt. Col. V. Stuart Couch: As a former Gitmo prosecutor, Col. Couch "refused to bring charges against Mohamedou Ould Slahi after determining the detainee's incriminating statements had been obtained through what Col. Couch considered to be torture." Couch was scheduled to testify before the House Judiciary Committee that "statements obtained under torture or certain other forms of duress are inadmissible in legal proceedings. Because most evidence against Guantanamo prisoners comes from detainee statements, convictions hinge on whether they can be used in court." Obviously the Bush administration was quite concerned about this testimony, so they did what they always do. They forbid him to testify. Last week, when he was asked to appear, he told his superiors about his testimony and no one had any objection. But, when Pentagon General Counsel William J. Haynes II found out, he nixed it. He sent an e-mail to Couch forbidding him to testify. Haynes "is a Bush appointee who has overseen the legal aspects of the Pentagon's detention and interrogation policies since Sept. 11, 2001." Well, that explains it. (Wall Street Journal, subscription required) Let me remind you that the thing referred to as the U.S. Constitution charges Congress with the duty to oversee the executive branch. In addition, Couch was going to give personal testimony, not testify as a government employee, about his experiences with various interrogation techniques. So, now they're blocking anyone from testifying.
Miers and Bolten: House Judiciary Chair John Conyers (D, MI) filed contempt resolutions against former White House counsel Harriet Miers and current Chief of Staff Joshua Bolten for refusing to testify before Congress on the U.S. Attorney scandal. (The Gavel) Conyers will ask the House to vote to enforce his committee's subpoenas for documents and testimony. (USA Today) Dana Perino, the White House spokesperson, said the move was "futile" and that "it won't go anywhere." (Press Briefing) Contempt citations from Congress are sent to the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia for enforcement, but the Department of Justice has said that it "would not prosecute the contempt citation."
Water Bill: On Tuesday the House of Representatives overwhelmingly voted to override Bush's veto. (NY Times) (See The Weekly Wonk, Water, 11/3/07) On Thursday the Senate voted to override the veto. Bush has only vetoed 5 bills in his entire presidency, all in his second term. This is the first to be overridden. He's vetoed fewer bills than any president since James Garfield, who issued no vetoes during his 7 months in office in 1881. (CNN)
Caging: Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D, RI) introduced the Caging Prohibition Act, a bill that would outlaw the voter suppression tactic which has often been used to target minority voters. (See Vote Caging)
Terrorist Watch List: The Homeland Security Department hasn't been able to keep up with all the requests to have names removed from the terrorist watch list that contains more than 750,000 names. Since February, more than 15,000 people have made the request and lawmakers are calling on the department to speed up the appeal process. (USA Today)
Earmarking: The NY Times provided a breakdown of the $1.8 billion for 581 pet projects that representatives have attached to the annual military appropriations bill. This is the first year in which lawmakers have had to disclose this information in detail. 21 lawmakers were responsible for almost $1 billion of the pork. Leading the pack were John Murtha (D, PA), getting $166 million, and Bill Young (R, FL), getting $117 million, the top 2 legislators on the defense appropriations subcommittee. Other earmarkers: $92 million for Jerry Lewis (R, CA) (who is under federal investigation for his ties to a lobbying firm whose clients often benefited from his earmarks), $32 million for Nancy Pelosi (D, CA), and $26 million for Steny Hoyer (D, MD).
Commission on Civil Rights: This 8-member commission, "the nation's 50-year-old watchdog for racism and discrimination," is supposed to be comprised of 4 Democrats and 4 Republicans, designed to provide balance. However, 2 of the Republicans re-registered as Independents. Then, in 2004, Bush appointed 2 more Republicans. The Commission now, in effect, has 6 Republicans and 2 Democrats. "The unusual circumstances surrounding the appointments attracted little attention at the time. But they have had a sweeping effect, shifting the commission's emphasis from investigating claims of civil rights violations to questioning programs designed to offset the historic effects of discrimination." (Boston Globe)
Employment Non-Discrimination Act: The House passed ENDA, 235-184. (The bill was first proposed 13 years ago.) This is "the first time that either chamber of Congress has passed employment protections based on sexual orientation." Is this a problem? According to Human Rights Campaign, "In 31 states, it is currently legal to fire someone based on their sexual orientation. In 39 states, it is legal to fire a person for being transgender." The bill had trouble getting passed since many representatives didn't want to protect people based on "gender identity," or transgendered persons. They finally stripped this protection out of the bill and left it protecting "sexual orientation" only.
Oil Prices: Went to $97 a barrel on Tuesday. (AP) The NY Times said "the world is headed toward its 3rd energy shock in a generation. But today’s surge is fundamentally different from the previous oil crises, with broad and longer-lasting global implications." The crises of the 70s and 80s were caused by interruptions in export from the Middle East, but this crisis is due to a rising demand for gasoline across the world and the demand for oil in developing countries, like China and India. It noted that the price of oil is up 56% this year and 365% this decade. The Washington Post had a piece on the global effects of rising oil. It said that consumers are paying up to $5 billion a day more for oil than they did 5 years ago, fueling what may be "the greatest transfer of wealth in history" and sparking social and economic turmoil across the world. "In the United States, the rising bill for imported petroleum lowers already anemic consumer savings rates, adds to inflation, worsens the trade deficit, undermines the dollar and makes it more difficult for the Federal Reserve to balance its competing goals of fighting inflation and sustaining growth."
The Dollar: On Wednesday the dollar fell to its lowest level as compared to the Canadian dollar since 1950, while the Euro rose to a new record. "You've basically got capital market jitters about the United States." (NY Times) There was a huge sell-off of the dollar, triggered by a Chinese official's suggestion that the country would begin to buy more Euros. Although the official has no decision-making power over financial policy, it was seen as a broader sign that the world is losing confidence in the U.S. currency. (Washington Post) And, with the current downward spiral of the dollar, there are 7 countries considering abandoning the dollar to preserve their own assets. (CurrencyTrading.net)
Stock Market: Another bad week. The stock market drop was brought on by more bad news from the financial sector. On Wednesday, the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 2.6% and officially wiped out all the gains experienced after the Federal Reserve cut interest rates Sept. 18. (NY Times). "For the week, the Nasdaq sank 6.5%, the Dow dropped 4.1% and the Standard & Poor's 500 was down 3.7%." (LA Times) The weakening dollar and a rise in oil prices contributed to the problems. Standard & Poor's 500 index had its steepest decline since February, which means it lost more in one day than at the height of worries about mortgage problems this summer. (LA Times).
Trade Deficit: "Fueled by the weak dollar, U.S. exports have surged to their highest level ever, narrowing the trade gap significantly and boosting hopes that the economy will post even higher growth before slowing in the coming months." (LA Times) (See The Trade Deficit)
Bernanke: He says times are tough and they're going to get worse. And we pay him how much? Investors are miffed because he didn't "signal" that the Fed would lower interest rates again. He said that the 2 recent cuts should be enough to keep us from slipping into a recession. (NY Times)
The Prince Group: It's moving into the spying business. The parent company of Blackwater has started an operation called Total Intelligence Solutions, or Total Intel. They've hired a bunch of former spooks from the CIA and DIA. The CEO is Robert Richer, a former CIA associate deputy director of operations who ran Blackwater's operations in Iraq. Richer, who once served as the chief of the CIA's Near East division, has close ties to King Abdullah of Jordan. "The CIA had spent millions helping train Jordan's intelligence service in exchange for information. Now Jordan has hired Blackwater to train its special forces." (Washington Post) Great. Now we have these renegade spooks running around, picking up people, shipping them to Jordan for torture, or just shooting them.
Health Insurance: Health Net, a California health insurer, "set goals and paid bonuses based in part on how many individual policyholders were dropped and how much money was saved." Health Net avoided paying $35.5 million in medical expenses "by rescinding about 1,600 policies between 2000 and 2006. During that period, it paid its senior analyst in charge of cancellations more than $20,000 in bonuses based in part on her meeting or exceeding annual targets for revoking policies . . ." (LA Times) If you think that Health Net is the only health insurer doing this, you're very, very naive.