Torture: Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and National Security Council (NSC) lawyer John Bellinger provided written answers to detailed questions posed by the Senate Armed Services Committee in connection with its investigation into torture of detainees in American custody. They admit that "senior White House officials played a central role in delibera-tions in the spring of 2002" about whether the CIA should torture. These are the meetings where they actually debated which interrogation methods they should use, including demonstrations. (TWW, Torture, 4/12/08) Condi was tap dancing. She wrote: "I recall being told that U.S. military personnel were subjected in training to certain physical and psychological interrogation techniques and that these techniques had been deemed not to cause significant physical or psychological harm." So, she thought they didn't cause any harm? Then why did she ask Attorney General John Ashcroft "to personally review the program" and to "advise NSC principals whether the program was lawful?" (NY Times)
Gitmo Trials: Lt. Col. Darrel Vandeveld, a lead prosecutor for the Military Commissions at Guantanamo Bay, resigned alleging that the government had denied a defendant access to "potentially exculpatory evidence." He denied reports that said he had resigned for "personal reasons." (LA Times)
U.S. Military Patrolling U.S.: According to the Army Times, "The 3rd Infantry Divisionís 1st Brigade Combat Team has spent 35 of the last 60 months in Iraq patrolling in full battle rattle, helping restore essential services and escorting supply convoys. Now theyíre training for the same mission -- with a twist -- at home." Yup. Starting October 1st, and currently scheduled to last for a year, the 1st Brigade Combat Team "will be under the day-to-day control of U.S. Army North, the Army service component of Northern Command, as an on-call federal response force for natural or manmade emergencies and disasters, including terrorist attacks. But this new mission marks the first time an active unit has been given a dedicated assignment to NorthCom, a joint command established in 2002 to provide command and control for federal homeland defense efforts and coordinate defense support of civil authorities." (Emphasis added.) The Defense Authorization Act empowers Bush to impose martial law in the event of a terrorist "incident," if he or other federal officials perceive a shortfall of "public order," or even in response to antiwar pro-tests that get unruly as a result of government provocations. And don't forget about NSPD 51 which assigns sole power to run the federal government to the executive branch in a case of "national catastrophe," one of the instances of which is "disruption of the economy." Bloggers are burning up the Internet. Glenn Greenwald, not by any means a radical, has some insight.
Cheney's Records: The lawsuit filed by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) to require VP Cheney to preserve his records celebrated this week. (TWW, Presidential Records Act, 9/13/08) The lawsuit claimed that, "Given the unlawful policies and directives of the defendants, there is an imminent threat that even before the end of this administration, Vice President Cheney and the OVP [Office of the Vice President] will destroy, transfer, or otherwise dispose of many of the vice president's records under the theory they are personal records and therefore not covered" by the law. Cheney's chief of staff David Addington told Congress that Cheney doesn't belong to the executive or legislative branches of government, but rather is attached to Congress by the Constitution. (TWW, Vice President is 4th Branch and More 4th Branch Stuff, 6/23/07) U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly didn't buy this argument and agreed with CREW and "ruled against the Bush administration's closed-door policy on internal documents" by ordering him to preserve a large amount of records during his time at the White House. This will keep him from destroying documents that must be made public under the Presidential Records Act, which Bush, et al. has attempted to narrowly define. Judge Collar-Kotelly said the administration's reluctance to hand over the documents "heightens the court's concern" that they would not be preserved without judicial intervention. (Raw Story)
Another Court Order: Bush, et al. has really been losing in the courts lately. The ACLU sued him for the release of 20 photo-graphs of U.S. soldiers and detainees in Iraq and Afghanistan in their research on prisoner abuse. This week the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the 2006 ruling by Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein ordering the release of the pictures, rejecting "the government's claim that releasing the photos would endanger the lives or physical safety of U.S. troops and civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan." (AP)
Israel & Iran: "Israel gave serious thought this spring to launching a military strike on Iran's nuclear sites but was told by President George W. Bush that he would not support it and did not expect to revise that view for the rest of his presidency, senior European diplomatic sources have told the Guardian." Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert floated the idea to Bush during his May visit to Israel.
Pakistan: The battle over sovereign Pakistan territory goes on, with the U.S. still invading and Pakistan still complaining. (TWW, Pakistan, 9/20/08, 9/13/08, 9/6/08) 2 U.S. helicopters moved into Pakistani airspace over North Waziristan on Sunday night and Pakistan forces fired at them, "forcing them to turn back to Afghanistan." The U.S. says that Pakistan isn't acting with enough force against "Islamist fighters" along its border. Residents say that U.S. drones are flying over almost constantly. (Reuters)
NIE on Afghanistan: There's a new National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Afghanistan, but Bush won't declassify it before the up-coming election. According to people who have been briefed, it paints "a 'grim' picture of the situation in Afghanistan." (ABC News) Last week, Adm Mike Mullen, Chair of the Joint Chiefts of Staff, said we're "running out of time" in Afghanistan and "I'm not convinced we are winning in Afghanistan." Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell "has made it his policy that such key judgments 'should not be declassified.'"
North Korea: The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) was barred from inspecting a reprocessing plant at its nuclear reactor complex in Yongbyon. North Korea, "which tested its first nuclear device in 2006 and is believed to have enough plutonium for at least 6 nuclear bombs," is apparently poised to "resume production of nuclear weapons-grade fuel there within a week." The U.S. had come to an agreement with them (TWW, North Korea, 8/30/08, 6/28/08) to dismantle its nuclear reactor. Obviously they're reneging on the agreement. They refuse to resume talks. (NY Times) The Washington Post reported that a key reason why the deal to end North Korea's nuclear weapons program has been unraveling is because of the "sweeping plan" presented by U.S. officials to verify the claims it was making about North Korea's nuclear programs. Some had warned the U.S. it was asking for too much, and what once looked like promising talks quickly came to a halt after the plan was presented.
Iraq: A statement released by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said that his negotiations with the U.S. for a final pull-out date of U.S. troops is changing. He's been pushing for a complete pull out by the end of 2010. However, the U.S. has asked for another year, to 2011, due to the "political circumstances" in the United States. Now, if you're a soldier serving over there, missing your family and children, losing your house and your job, how are you going to feel knowing you're stuck for another year due to "American politics?" My God. Rachel Maddow gives the skinny. Watch it.
More Stolen Money: Salam Adhoob, a former chief investigator for Iraq's Commission on Public Integrity, told the Senate that "more than $13 billion meant for reconstruction projects in Iraq was wasted or stolen through elaborate fraud schemes." (Washington Post) Think Progress put together a good list of all the money Bush has wasted.
Injured Vets: The Department of Veterans Affairs announced that it will "substantially increase disability benefits for veterans with mild traumatic brain injuries, acknowledging for the first time that veterans suffering from this less severe version of the Iraq War's signature wound will struggle to make a living." (USA Today) Great idea, but where's the money gonna come from?
Voting: Colorado Democrats accused a Republican county clerk "of falsely informing Colorado College that students from outside the state could not register to vote if their parents claimed them as a dependent on their tax returns." (McClatchy)
Gas Crisis: Gasoline shortages are hitting the southeastern U.S. "sparking panic buying, long lines and high prices at stations from the small towns of northeast Alabama to Charlotte in the wake of Hurricanes Gustav and Ike." Why isn't anyone else having any problems? Why are prices pretty low? It's the election, stupid. They'll keep them low until after the election, then grab your wallets. (Washington Post)
Mental Health Treatment: The House passed legislation "requiring health-insurance providers nationwide to cover mental-health treatment on an equal basis with medical care." If this manages to get through the Senate, Bush will veto it. (Seattle Times)
The Economy: According to the Department of Labor, "initial filings for state jobless benefits increased by a seasonally ad-justed 32,000 to 493,000 in the 3rd week of September." This is highest level of initial claims in 7 years. According to the Labor Department "about 50,000 of the new claims were due to the effects of Hurricanes Gustav and Ike." (CNN Money) Employers have cut more than 600,000 jobs since the beginning of the year." "The U.S. economy is almost certainly in recession and facing a long period of weakness that could push unemployment to its highest level since the early 1990s." (Boston Globe) And the Commerce Department announced that the U.S. economy grew at a rate of 2.8% in the 2nd quarter, a lower rate than the original second quarter estimate of 3.3%. (Bloomberg)
Financial Bail-Out: Bloomberg reported: "Wall Street's 5 biggest firms paid more than $3 billion in the last 5 years to their top executives, while they presided over the packaging and sale of loans that helped bring down the investment-banking sys-tem." 166 academic economists, including 3 Nobel Prize winners, sent a letter to congressional leaders opposing Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson's bail-out plan. They claim it's a "subsidy" for business and "may have adverse market conse-quences in the long term." They urged Congress not to pass the bail-out until "it can be studied more closely." "The economists who signed the letter represent various disciplines, including macroeconomics, microeconomics, behavioral and information economics, and game theory. They also span the political spec-trum, from liberal to conservative to libertarian." (Bloomberg) James K. Galbraith, a University of Texas economist and son of the late economic historian John Kenneth Galbraith, said that the bail-out is "more hype than real risk. A nasty recession is possible, but the bailout will not cure that. So it's mainly rele-vant to the financial industry." Galbraith also said: "My sense is it will delay a disaster, given that you only have 3 months left in this administration. But [Paulson's plan] will not cure the prob-lem in the (financial) industry or prevent the shakeout and downsizing of the industry." Simon Johnson, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said Paulson's plan "will get some bad assets off the balance sheets," and that "may help thaw the lending freeze." But it won't reduce homes in or near foreclosure. "That's a problem that will surely grow worse if the U.S. economy enters recession, leading to greater job losses, which feed a vicious downward spiral of even more foreclosures and defaults on car loans and credit-card debt." (McClatchy) Several hundred labor unionists protested the bail-out in New York. "Hard hats, transit workers, machinists, teachers and other labor unionists railed against the U.S. government's proposed bailout of Wall Street on Thursday in a protest steps from the New York Stock Exchange." AFL-CIO National President John Sweeney said, "The Bush administration wants us to pay the freight for a Wall Street bail-out that does not even begin to address the roots of our crisis." (Reuters) Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC) chair Christopher Cox, "a longtime proponent of deregulation," 'fessed up and admitted that they had failed to adequately supervise Wall Street and this had contributed to the crisis. He also admitted that voluntary regulation does not work." (NY Times) Wow. What an epiphany! And let me remind you about Bush's Plunge Protection Team.
Tax Bill: The Senate approved a bill that will provide billions of dollars in tax credits for renewable energy. It also fixed the problem with the alternative minimum tax and extended tax deductions for higher education costs and the child tax credit. The House is now considering the bill. (AP)
Auto Bail-Out: The House passed a bill approving a $25-billion low-interest loan program to help the auto industry build more fuel-efficient vehicles. Given that this passed overwhelmingly, 370-58, it'll probably get through the Senate. (LA Times)
FBI Investigates: They've opened preliminary investigations into possible fraud involving Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Lehman Brothers, and AIG. The total number of corporate fraud investi-gations at the bureau is now 26, an increase from the 24 open cases cited last week by Director Robert Mueller. In July there were 21 open investigations. And they have about 1,400 open investigations into "smaller companies and individuals suspected of mortgage fraud." They haven't named the targets. Most of the investigations are aimed at companies that "may have engaged in misstatements in the course of what transpired during this financial crisis." (NY Times)
Home Ownership: According to 2007 data released by the U.S. Census Bureau, more than 7.5 million people or 38% of U.S. homeowners with a mortgage, "are spending half of their income or more on housing costs." The government considers "a homeowner spending 30% or more of their income on housing costs to be financially burdened." (AP)
Credit Card Bill of Rights: This is a bill in the House right now that would end double-billing and would force companies to mail bills 25 days before payment is due, rather than the current 14 days. (See Center for American Progress for more informa-tion.) But Bush is opposed to it. Surprise! The White House issued a statement saying they oppose it because "it would constrain banks' ability to price risk." (Reuters)
Lehman Brothers: Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. filed the biggest bankruptcy in United States history after Barclays, a British bank, declined to buy the investment bank in its entirety. U.S. Bankruptcy Judge James Peck decided that Lehman can sell its investment banking and trading businesses to Barclays. Earlier the deal was said to be worth $1.75 billion but after last week's implosion of Wall Street the value is closer to $1.35 billion, which includes $960 million on Lehmanís office tower in Midtown Manhattan. (NY Times)
End of Era of Greed: Morgan Stanley & Goldman Sachs have decided to become holding companies and give up their investment banking, once again separating the 2, just like Glass-Steagall did from the 1930s until 1999. Becoming retail banks will mean that Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs will be able to use bank deposits as a cushion for their investments. In exchange, they will now face greater regulation, stricter debt limits, and, in all likelihood, lower profitability than they've seen in the past. (Wall Street Journal) The NY Times calls the move, "a blunt acknowledgment that their model of finance and investing had become too risky."
The Dow: On Monday it dropped 372 points, 3.3%. "It marked the first time in the Dow's history that it has moved more than 350 points, 4 days in a row." (Wall Street Journal) (TWW, The Dow, 9/20/08)
The Dollar: It "posted its worst single-day percentage drop against the euro, 2.5%, since the European currency's inception 9 years ago." (Wall Street Journal)
Economic Growth: "Goldman Sachs economists are sticking to a forecast for economic growth to grind to a halt by year end, followed by a meager recovery next year." Merrill Lynch economist David Rosenberg reminded us that the Resolution Trust Corp. "wasn't an immediate salve to either markets or the economy. 'Keep in mind, for all the bottom-pickers out there, that the RTC was established in 1989, but it still took a year for the stock market to bottom, 2 years for the economy to bottom, and 3 years for the housing market to bottom.'" (Wall Street Journal)
Oil: Crude-oil rose $16.37 a barrel to $120.92 on Monday, "the biggest one-day rise in history." (Wall Street Journal)
Off-Shore Drilling: Democrats are going to let the 25-year-old ban on drilling for oil off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts expire next week, "conceding defeat in a month-long battle with the White House and Republicans set off by $4 a gallon gasoline prices this summer." They had tried to re-negotiate the ban, but Bush vowed to veto anything, so they gave up. (AP)
Curbing Greenhouse Gases: If the nations won't do anything, the states will. An alliance of 7 Western states -- California, Arizona, Montana, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, and Washington -- and 4 Canadian provinces -- British Columbia, Manitoba, Ontario, and Quebec -- unveiled a blueprint for "the most far-reaching effort in North America to curb emissions linked to climate change." The draft plan of the Western Climate Initiative won't take effect until 2012, but it's "intended to achieve a 15% reduction in greenhouse-gas emissions by 2020." (NY Times) It's badly needed. Researchers say that greenhouse gas emissions are rising so quickly that it's "scary." It rose 3% from 2006 to 2007, an amount that "exceeds the most dire outlook for emissions from burning coal and oil and related activities as projected by a Nobel Prize-winning group of international scientists in 2007." Meanwhile, forests and oceans, which suck up carbon dioxide, are doing so at lower rates, scientists said. If those trends continue, the world will be on track for the highest predicted rises in temperature and sea level. "The U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has warned that an increase of between 3.2 and 9.7 degrees Fahrenheit could trigger massive environmental changes, including melting of the Greenland ice sheet, the Himalayan-Tibetan glaciers and summer sea ice in the Arctic." (LA Times)