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WEEKLY WONK

Originally Published: 7/12/2008

Impeaching Bush:  I guess Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D, OH) thought his 35 charges of impeachment (The Weekly Wonk, Impeachment, 6/14/08) were too much to handle, so he introduced another impeachment article, with just one charge -- lying us into war. Maybe Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D, CA), now that she won't be brought into the hearings, will allow it to be heard in the Judiciary Committee. She hinted that she would. (Raw Story)
 
Amending the New FISA Law:  Arguments over the new FISA law continued in the Senate this week. Senator Jeff Bingaman (D, NM) offered an amendment that would put the court cases and amnesty powers on hold "until 3 months after the joint report by the Inspectors General of the various intelligence services complete their report to Congress on just what transpired between the nation's telecoms and the intelligence services." It made the "argument that Congress should not be handing out pardons without knowing what the pardons are for." (Wired) It failed and the original bill, with retroactive immunity for the telecoms, passed 69-28 with 3 not voting. It gives the executive branch "broader latitude in eavesdropping on people abroad and at home" and it reduces the role of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) in overseeing some operations. Senator Obama voted for the bill; Senator Clinton voted against the bill; Senator McCain didn't vote. (NY Times) To find out how your senators voted, click here. The ACLU and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) are bringing lawsuits. (Raw Story) Constitutional law professor Jonathan Turley said, "What the Democrats are doing here with the White House is they're trying to conceal a crime that is hiding in plain view. . . Nobody wants to have a confrontation over the fact that the president committed a felony. . . That's a very inconvenient fact right now in Washington. . . All of these senators need to respect us enough not to call it a compromise. It's a cave-in." Turley added that even though the telecoms could still be prosecuted criminally, it's unlikely to happen. "The fix is in." (Raw Story) Bush signed the bill on Thursday.
 
Privacy and Civil Liberties Board:  This 5-member Board was created in 2004 after being recommended by the 9/11 Commission. It is charged with the authority to independently investigate the impact of things like the FISA law and the Pentagon's proposed use of spy satellites for domestic surveillance (The Weekly Wonk, Domestic Surveillance, 4/12/08) and provide reports to the Congress. Bush initially refused to nominate anyone to serve, leaving the commission vacant. It exists in name only. It has no office, no staff, and no members. Recently congressional leaders sent Bush a letter with 2 names for him to nominate to the board. He has said he'll only nominate one of those. This means the Board will remain inactive until the end of Bush's term. (Newsweek)
 
Gitmo Prisoners:  Federal Judge Thomas F. Hogan, who is overseeing Guantanamo Bay lawsuits, "ordered the Justice Department to put other cases aside and make it clear throughout the Bush administration that, after nearly 7 years of detention, the detainees must have their day in court." (AP)
 
Afghanistan:  Afghani President Hamid Karzai has repeatedly called for "better coordination between Afghan and foreign troops in pursuing militants through populated areas, and he has pleaded for international troops to cut down on civilian casualties." Apparently there have been so many civilian deaths that the Afghani people are challenging Karzai's ability to rule the country. Last week, the U.S.-led coalition forces attacked an area of "militants," killing about 20 militants and, in the process, killing about 15 civilians and wounding 7 more. Karzai has ordered an investigation. (AP) But it goes on. Last Sunday an American airstrike "killed at least 27 civilians in a wedding party, most of them women and children and including the bride. Officials of the American-led coalition disputed the report." (NY Times)
 
Iraq and SOFA:  The Status of Forces Agreement, according to Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, will depend on a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. forces. In a news conference about the still-secret U.S.-Iraqi talks, which began in March, Maliki for the first time said that the chances of securing the pact are just about nil, and instead he said Iraq will seek a limited, ad hoc renewal of the U.S. authority to remain in Iraq, rather than a broad-based accord. (The Nation) The United States rejected Maliki's demand, "saying any withdrawal will be based on conditions on the ground." (AFP)
 
Iran:  Responding to U.S. threats, Iran is making threats of its own. An aide to the Iranian Supreme Leader declared that "Iran will hit Tel Aviv, U.S. shipping in the Gulf and American interests around the world" if it is attacked by the U.S. or Israel. "The first bullet fired by America at Iran will be followed by Iran burning down its vital interests around the globe." (Reuters)
 
Iranian Missiles:  The Iranian state-run media reported that the Iranian Revolutionary Guard had "test-fired 9 missiles, including one which Tehran claims has the range to reach Israel." (NY Times) However, it came out that the "shocking" photos that had been released were "Photoshopped." And arms control experts said it was "just for show and not intended to reveal any new strategic capacity." Analysts said that Iran's conventional arsenal is "little match for the sophisticated U.S. and Israeli precision weapons, anti-missile batteries and air power" and Tehran apparently unveiled no new weapons during the testing. "This event is the latest scene in regional theatrics and represents Iranian chest-thumping. There is no evidence of a significant advance in previously known missile capabilities of Iran's medium- and long-range missiles." (LA Times) A couple of days later, Iran fired a second batch of missiles -- supposedly. (LA Times) The U.S. warned that "it would defend its interests and its allies in the region." Israel "hinted it was ready to stage a preventive attack to destroy Iranian nuclear installations." (Independent)
 
Czech Missile Deal:  Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice signed a missile defense deal with the Czech Republic, "describing it as a step forward for global security despite staunch Russian opposition." The deal "permits the siting of a radar station on Czech soil as part of an extended U.S. missile shield" that Bush says "is necessary to ward off potential attacks by so-called 'rogue' states such as Iran." (AFP) "Moscow immediately threatened to respond with 'military resources' to what it sees as a threat on its doorstep from the proposed system." (AFP)
 
Homes for Heroes Act:  Apparently if you've served in the military, you're automatically a hero. The Act would provide housing assistance for low-income veterans. The bill, introduced by Rep. Al Green (D, TX),  passed the House 412-9 this week. A Senate companion bill, introduced by Sen. Barack Obama (D, IL) has 10 sponsors. The Act authorizes $200 million for veterans' housing and support services and requires the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to provide at least 10,000 rental vouchers a year available for homeless veterans as well as a comprehensive report on homeless veterans to be made each year. Bush's Office of Management & Budget (OMB) is threatening to veto the bill, saying they already have such a program.
 
Medicare Payments:  As of January, the Medicare payment formula would reimburse doctors at a rate that is 10.6$ less, with more 5% cuts each year in 2010, 2011, and 2012. Many doctors have threatened to withdraw participation in the program. Prior to the 4th of July recess, the House passed a bill 355-59 to reverse the cut. Bush promised to veto the House bill if the Senate also passes it because it "would finance an increase in doctors’ fees by reducing federal payments to insurance companies that offer private Medicare Advantage plans as an alternative to the traditional government-run Medicare program." [Emphasis added.] He has stopped processing new claims until they come up with something he likes. (NY Times) This week the Senate passed the bill. (LA Times)
 
Medicare Scam:  An investigation by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs' investigations subcommittee found that Medicare paid as much as $92 million over a period of 7 years "for fraudulent claims that were submitted under the names of dead doctors." The Bush administration had identified the problem in 2001 but failed to do anything about it. (USA Today)
 
Gays in the Military:  A report from the Michael D. Palm Center, conducted by 4 retired military officers "including the 3-star Air Force lieutenant general" who implemented the "don't ask, don't tell" policy, said that there is evidence that "allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly is unlikely to pose any signi-ficant risk to morale, good order, discipline or cohesion." (AP)
 
Buying America:  The sell-off continues. With the dollar being valued at next to nothing, "the number of flashy acquisitions by Russian and Ukrainian oligarchs, Qatari sheiks and large government-sponsored funds in the Middle East is growing." Abu Dhabi, which owns a 4.9% share in Citigroup, now owns 75% of the Chrysler Building in New York. "Middle Eastern investors have spent $1.8 billion this year on American commercial property." (NY Times) Also, for a list of U.S. industries owned by foreign entities, see Economy in Crisis.
 
Bush & the EPA:  Bush has decided not to do anything about greenhouse gas emissions. Despite the fact that the Supreme Court ordered the Environmental Protection Agency to decide whether greenhouse gases are a hazard (The Weekly Wonk, EPA Defies Subpoena, 4/19/08), he's ordering them back to square one. The EPA announced that it is reopening the period for comments on the threats posed by global warming, even though the vast majority of experts have already moved beyond such a basic question. Some senior officials in the White House have used all sorts of maneuvers to prevent the EPA from stating that global warming harms humans because it would automatically translate into more regulations. "They argued that this increase in regulation should be on the next president's record." (Washington Post)
 
Salmonella Outbreak:  It's now affected more than 1,000 people in 41 states and the District of Columbia and is being called "the largest food-borne outbreak in the last decade." They still don't know where it's coming from but they're blaming their inability to track it on the Bioterrorism Act of 2002 which "requires importers, processors and distributors to keep track of where they buy produce and where it goes." However, "processors frequently repack boxes of tomatoes to meet a buyer’s demands. In doing so . . . they are not required to record the tomatoes’ farm, state or even country of origin." (NY Times)
 
Gas Prices:  Senators Harry Reid (D, NV) and Richard Durbin (D, IL) are looking for a compromise to "open more land on and offshore to oil and gas exploration and production." House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D, CA) "called on the Bush administration to draw down 'a small portion' of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. (Wall Street Journal, subscription required) Oil hit another record -- $147 a barrel. (Washington Post)
 
Credit Ratings:  A new report by Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has "confirmed what many on Wall Street had long suspected: the major ratings firms, including Fitch, Moody's, and Standard & Poor’s, flouted conflict of interest guidelines and considered their own profits when rating securities, among other suspect practices." (NY Times)
 
The Economy:  Fed chair Ben Bernanke said "he believes the problems will persist into next year." (NY Times)
 
FNMA & FHLMC:  Mortgage giants Fannie Mae (Federal National Mortgage Association) and Freddie Mac's (Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corp.) shares plunged this week. They've been falling for quite some time but, in just one day, the stock price of Fannie Mae plunged 16.2% and Freddie Mac tumbled 17.9%, reaching the lowest price in more than 14 years. (Washington Post) As the week went on, their problems got worse, eventually driving their stock shares down more than 80% from last year. (Wall Street Journal, subscription required) Bush is considering a takeover of one or both companies, which would make their shares essentially worthless and would mean tax-payers would have to foot the bill for any losses on mortgages they own or guarantee. (NY Times)
 
IndyMac Bank:  This Pasadena-based bank was closed on Friday 3 hours early by federal regulators. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. (FDIC) will reopen the bank on Monday as IndyMac Federal Bank. The take-over will cost the FDIC $4 billion to $8 billion. The bank is suffering huge losses from defaulted mortgages. (LA Times)
 
Wilkins Ice Shelf:  It's "hanging by its last thread" to Charcot Island, one of the plate's key anchors to the Antarctic peninsula. (The Weekly Wonk, Wilkins Ice Shelf, 6/29/08) Wilkins' connection to the island "helps stabilise the ice shelf" and "it is likely the breakup of the bridge will put the remainder of the ice shelf at risk." The Wilkins Ice Shelf had been stable for most of the last century, covering around 6,000 square miles, before it began to retreat in the 1990s. Since then several large areas have broken away and 2 big breakoffs this year left only a narrow ice bridge about 1.7 miles wide to connect the shelf to Charcot and nearby Latady Island. (AFP)
 
Climate Change:  Australia's top scientists have released a report that predicts that it "will be hit by a 10-fold increase in heatwaves and that droughts will almost double in frequency and become more widespread because of climate change." (Guardian)
 
Cow Farts:  Yeah. Gotta keep your sense of humor. Argentine scientists are studying cow farts and burps. "The slow digestive system of cows makes them a key producer of methane, a potent greenhouse gas that gets far less public attention than carbon dioxide." They collected gas from the cows in plastic tanks. They discovered "methane from cows accounts for more than 30% of the country's total greenhouse emissions."  (Telegraph)
 
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