Shrinks & Torture: Members of the American Psychological Association voted "to prohibit consultation in the interrogations of detainees." In a mail-in ballot the group's members voted 8,792 to 6,157 in favor of the prohibition. (NY Times)
Cheney & Bending Justice: The Washington Post ran 2 pieces adapted from Barton Gelman's new book Angler: The Cheney Vice Presidency. [Note: The book has been "embargoed" and it's unclear how much will be released. (Huffington Post)] Part 1 sets the stage. The Justice Department (DOJ) was beginning to balk at the domestic surveillance program and wanted to do what was necessary to make it legal. Cheney and his chief henchman, David Addington, stepped in and turned what was a "legal insurgency" into "flat-out rebellion." Part II covers James Comey's story about the midnight run to John Ashcroft's hospital bed (TWW, James Comey, 5/19/07 & Is Gonzales Lying?), but zeros in on a meeting between Cheney, NSA Director Michael Hayden, White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales, and the Gang of 8. (See Warrantless Surveillance, Is Gonzales Lying?, and Ask the Wonk) Gonzales said top lawyers at NSA and Justice had "green-lighted the program from the beginning," which wasn't true. Ashcroft and Comey had refused to re-certify the program and Jack Goldsmith, chief attorney at the DOJ Office of Legal Counsel at Justice, "had been warning of major legal problems for months." In fact, the dissent was so bad: "[FBI Director Robert Mueller] was getting ready to turn in his badge. . . The FBI's general counsel, Valerie E. Caproni, and her CIA counterpart, Scott W. Mueller, told colleagues they would leave if the president reauthorized the program over Justice Department objections.'" Later, testifying before Congress, Gonzales said that everyone in the room agreed to continue the program, including the Gang of 8. Apparently Cheney deliberately kept Congress in the dark. According to U.S. District Judge Royce C. Lamberth, chief of the FISA Court, Cheney "had no interest in changing the law." Lamberth said, "We could have gone to Congress, hat in hand, the judicial branch and the executive together, and gotten any statutory change we wanted in those days, I felt like. But they wanted to demonstrate that the president's power was supreme." The story is amazing and a must read. In fact, go get the book. I will.
The Aftermath: In the aftermath of the midnight run to the hospital and DOJ's refusal to re-authorize the spying program (see links above), Bush re-authorized the program anyway. Previous accounts reported that the ďline for the attorney generalís signature remained blank." But David Addington, Cheney's lawyer, actually signed then-White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales' name to the document. (Washington Post)
Hurricane Katrina: Another interesting note from Gelman's book. Just after Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast in 2005, Bush asked Cheney to head up a "cabinet-level task force" aimed at speeding the recovery effort. Cheney refused. He was reluctant to cut his vacation short. But he agreed to do a fact-finding trip, during which he was insulted on live television. (You Tube) After that, he reportedly "tried to kill proposals to increase . . . aid for Hurricane Katrina victims." (Think Progress)
Pakistan: U.S. troops again attempted to cross Afghan's border with helicopters into Pakistan's territory of South Waziristan "but were repelled after warning shots were fired." Who fired them? That's a good question. A "security official" said the shots came from Pakistani troops but an "unnamed Pakistani army spokesman" denied it was them. "A second security official based in the area said that local tribesmen joined in the firing after Pakistani soldiers played bugles to alert local people to the threat of an incursion." Pakistani Major General Athar Abbas said there hadn't even been an incident. (AFP) Pakistan has ordered its army to "open fire on U.S. troops if they launch another raid across the Afghan border." (AP) This hasn't stopped us. On Wednesday we launched 4 more missiles from drones in South Waziristan killing at least 6 people. The strike came "just hours" after U.S. Admiral Mike Mullen, the chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, making a surprise visit to Pakistan, said that he "reiterated the U.S. commitment to respect Pakistan's sovereignty and to develop further U.S.-Pakistani cooperation." "A separate statement from the Pentagon made no mention of respecting Pakistani sovereignty." (McClatchy)
Iraq: The Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) (Iraq & the U.N. Mandates) is in trouble -- again. A month ago they were saying they had it all worked out (TWW, Status of Forces Agreement, 6/21/08; SOFA, 7/5/08; Iraq & Sofa, 7/12/08; SOFA, 7/19/08), but now it has stalled because of objections by Iraqi leaders. The major point of contention is still whether U.S. troops and military contractors will be "subject to the country's criminal justice system for any crime committed outside of a military operation." (NY Times)
Ethnic Cleansing: The University of California did a study and believes that the reduction of violence in Iraq is primarily due to ethnic cleansing, not the surge. (Raw Story)
Petraeus & Odierno: Petraeus has been commander of the multi-national forces in Iraq. He's being replaced by General Ray Odierno because he's been promoted to commander of the American militaryís Central Command, responsible for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. (NY Times) (TWW, Petraeus & Odierno, 4/26/08)
U.S. Takeover: Bush wants to take over the military command of NATO forces in Afghanistan by making the international troops report directly to General David Petraeus at U.S. Central Command (CentCom). (Independent)
Privatizing the Military: Here we are. Military presence in Iraq and Afghanistan. Threatening Iran. Finger-wagging at Russia. And what do we have to back it up? Contracts. The Pentagon is "leaning ever more heavily on private military contractors to get by. Once upon a time, soldiers did more than pick up a gun. They picked up trash. They cut hair and delivered mail. They fixed airplanes and inflated truck tires. Not anymore. All of those tasks are now the responsibility of private military corporations." (TomDispatch)
Purging Voter Rolls: Wisconsin's attorney general J.B. Van Hollen (R) has filed a lawsuit seeking a court order that would mandate the state's Government Accountability Board (GAB) to cross-check voters who have registered since January 1, 2006 with Department of Transportation, criminal, and death records. January 2006 was when the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) began requiring it. Apparently the GAB didn't get a system up and running until August 6th of this year and had planned to only start checking since that time. Van Hollen wants them to go back to the beginning of HAVA. Officials say this is going to slow down voting in November. (Capital Times)
Voting in Swing States: 10 swing states will be having "significant problems in the basic functions of the American election administration system," in an election year that is predicting record turnouts. Common Cause and The Century Foundation released a report showing that 7 battleground states -- Florida, Georgia, Michigan, Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin -- as well as 3 states that are likely to achieve the status of "swing states" -- Colorado, New Mexico, and Virginia -- are having problems with their systems for voter registration, voter identification, provisional ballots, voting machine allocation, poll worker recruitment and training, voter education, and student voting rights, as well as experiencing "caging and deceptive practices." (Alternet) No surprise to us. (See Voting in the 2008 Election)
Defense Industry: U.S. arms manufacturers are doing nearly 3 times the business they did in 2005 with foreign govern-ments, particularly in the Middle East. The U.S. government helps out countries like Israel and Egypt in purchasing sophisti-cated weapons systems, but the majority of sales are financed by the countries themselves and often supplant contracts with Russia. (NY Times) And the military is handing out private contracts in Afghanistan like candy, mostly to make up for our own thinly stretched forces. Looks like it's the precursor to a build-up of military operations. (Washington Post)
Pay Inequity: The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) addresses "gender pay discrimination primarily by responding to individual charges, initiating investigations, and conducting outreach, but the agency does not fully monitor gender pay enforcement efforts." A GAO report says that "EEOC collects detailed information on all its enforcement efforts and uses these data to monitor enforcement performance overall as well as by statute, including one statute dedicated to gender pay. However, EEOC does not monitor gender pay enforcement efforts under another statute that covers multiple discrimination topics and under which more than half of gender pay charges are filed." [Emphasis added.] The Department of Labor's Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) "conducts compliance evaluations targeted to federal contractors based on whether they may be engaging in systemic discrimination, but efforts to monitor the performance of enforcement and outreach activities are limited." Why? They developed a model to predict who is discriminating but have never bothered to evaluate the model.
Gardasil: This is the drug that prevents about 4 of the many strains of human papillomavirus (HPV) that cause cervical cancer. It is manufactured by Merck. It has many side effects. Blood clots and deaths have occurred. (Your Lawyer, CBS News) Texas governor Rick Perry by-passed the legislature and gave an executive order that all girls be vaccinated with Gardasil. He rescinded the order when it became known he had strong ties to Merck. (MSNBC) But Merck hasn't given up pushing the politicos they fund to sell the drug, despite its problems. In July, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services quietly amended its list of required vaccinations for immigrants applying to become citizens. It added Gardasil. It isn't mandatory for U.S. citizens but now it is for immigrants. And immigrants are forced to pay for it, which is about $162 per dose and you need 3 doses, making it the most expensive vaccine on the market. Jessica Arons of the Center for American Progress, said: "Given Gardasilís high cost, and the fact that there does not seem to be a public health justification for this particular mandate, Iím concerned that its real purpose is to create a financial barrier for immigrant women who seek to lawfully enter this country." (WGHP)
Flushing Drugs: "U.S. hospitals and long-term care facilities annually flush millions of pounds of unused pharmaceuticals down the drain, pumping contaminants into America's drinking water. . . These discarded medications are expired, spoiled, over-prescribed or unneeded." (USA Today) Great.
Finance: Lehman Brothers is filing for bankruptcy. Merrill Lynch is going to be sold to Bank of America. American International Group (AIG) is in trouble. We're in big, big trouble, folks. The Fed is going to make it easier for securities firms to borrow money and 10 big banks are creating a $70 billion fund that any of them could access if they find themselves in desperate need of cash. (NY Times) This is what the death of Glass-Steagall gave us. Kathleen Day, a spokesperson for the Center for Responsible Lending, described the result of all the deregulation thus: "The job of regulators is that when the party's in full swing, make sure the partygoers drink responsibly. Instead, they let everyone drink as much as they wanted and then handed them the car keys." (McClatchy) The Wall Street Journal warns us to hang on, we ain't seen nothing yet. They said this is the worse crisis since the Great Depression, and there's no end in sight.
AIG: AIG is an insurance company involved with just about every financial institution in the world. It is "a central player in the unregulated, Brobdingnagian credit default swap market that is reported to be at least $60 trillion in size." [Emphasis added.] And that's just an estimate. No one really knows how big that market actually is. According to Michael Lewitt: "Regulators knew that if Lehman went down, the world wouldn't end. But Wall Street isn't remotely prepared for the inestimable damage the financial system would suffer if AIG collapsed." As a result, we taxpayers again have to stick crowbars in our wallets and bail them out. (E-mail me for my mailing address if you'd like to donate to MY bailout.) The Fed is going to "lend" them $85 billion. The NY Times said this would effectively give the government control of the company and calls it "the most radical intervention in private business in the central bank's history." In exchange for its cash, the government would get 79.9% in equity. The Washington Post said this "nationalizes one of the central institutions in the crisis that has swept through markets this month." The Wall Street Journal pointed out that this is "a historic development, particularly considering that AIG isn't directly regulated by the federal government."
Other Financial Corps.: Morgan Stanley's stock fell almost 25% and they're considering a merger with Wachovia or "another bank to help shore up its finances." Goldman Sachsí stock fell almost 14%. Citigroup is considering buying Washington Mutual, which is in bankruptcy. (NY Times)
Bail-Outs: Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and Fed Chair Ben Bernanke said there was no way to know whether this would be the last major government intervention into the market. The next company that could soon be approaching the government hat-in-hand is Washington Mutual. (NY Times) The LA Times asked, "How far will the bail-out binge go?" and noted that this year's "cornucopia of handouts and guarantees" is already larger than the 1980s rescue of the savings-and-loan industry -- which created the Resolution Trust Corporation (RTC) and cost taxpayers around $124 billion.
The Big Bail-Out: Paulson and Bernanke presented a "chilling" picture of the U.S. financial system to Congress and warned that the situation could get much worse if they don't pass legislation by next week. They're proposing a big bail-out that will probably look a lot like the 1980s Resolution Trust Corporation (RTC). Details haven't been released but it appears they'll use taxpayer money, probably hundreds of billions of dollars, to buy distressed assets from financial companies so banks could carry on with their normal borrowing and lending. This would leave "banks with more money and fewer problems." Paulson and Bernanke were honest and said they couldn't affirm whether this kind of a plan would actually succeed in stabilizing the market. (Washington Post) Would an RTC-type solution work? The LA Times points out that the "distressed assets" are owned by financial institutions that aren't under federal regulation and they probably are still declining in value. "Creating a bureaucracy that takes paper that has no value and tries to sell it is just going to look like more smoke and mirrors." If the government is going to buy these assets at a discount it would mean the financial institutions would have to record it as a loss, which is what they've been trying to avoid in the first place. But if they don't, then the federal government would certainly be accused of wasting taxpayer money.
More Bail-Outs: Now they're considering bailing out the auto industry -- $25 billion in loan guarantees. (NY Times)
The Dow: It fell 504 points, 4.4%, on Monday, the 6th-largest point drop in the Dow, just behind the 508 it suffered in the October 1987 crash, in "Wall Street's biggest shakeout since the Great Depression." (Washington Post) It rebounded slightly on Tuesday but after the government announced the bail-out of AIG, it plunged again, dropping more than 413 points, 3.74%. (AP) Steven Pearlstein called it a "Category 4 financial crisis" that may result in the "greatest destruction of financial wealth that the world has ever seen." (Washington Post) USA Today said, "The party's over." Word that Congress was working on doing something, anything, seemed to placate investors and Thursday's Dow Jones average gained 410 points, or 3.9%. (AP) And Friday it rebounded another 368 points. (LA Times) Everyone's happy. Lost 917 and re-gained 778 and everyone's happy. Sounds like gambling, doesn't it?
Fixing the Problem: Yup. They're on it. Regulators are proposing "a significant change in accounting rules to bolster banks and encourage widespread industry consolidation by making them more attractive to prospective purchasers." In order to keep stocks from more losses, the SEC banned, temporarily they say, short selling. (Money)
Average Joe & Jane: So, what does all this mean for the average American? USA Today said this new period of tight credit "could mean jobs lost, retirement plans pruned, college deferred and lifestyles diminished." Clearly, borrowing money (houses, cars, credit cards) is going to be more difficult and cost a lot more. (NY Times) But the Fed is considering creating some sort of federal insurance for investors in money-market mutual funds. In the past few days, investors have been rushing to get their money out of these funds that were once considered one of the safest investments. (Wall Street Journal)
Off-Shore Drilling: The House passed H.R. 6899 236-189 that would allow drilling beyond 100 miles off U.S. coastlines and give states the option of allowing drilling beyond 50 miles. It also provides incentives for renewable energy and "advanced technologies for coal-fired power plants." Republicans objected and Bush said he'd veto it. Why? Because they want it to remain an election issue. (CQ)
Ozone Hole: "The ozone hole over Antarctica, a doorway for harmful solar radiation, is bigger than last year, a worrying sign to scientists studying global warming," according to the World Meteorological Organization. The "area of atmosphere without ozone has grown to 27 million square kilometers (10.4 million square miles), 8% larger than the maximum reached in 2007." (Bloomberg)
National Parks: Bush had planned to allow more than 500 snowmobiles a day into Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. This week U.S. Judge Emmet Sullivan shot the plan down, saying it was "not in keeping with the National Park Service's responsibility to protect the parks." (NY Times)