New Poll: Bush's approval rating has hit 22%, "matching the all-time low he first reached in September." (CBS News)
Sidestepping FISA: When Congress caved last summer and passed the new Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) (TWW, The New FISA Law, 6/21/08), there was one thing they did right. They required that inspectors general (IGs) of U.S. intelligence agencies "produce the first-ever public report" on Bush's wiretapping program. But Newsweek reported, "[W]hen the inspectors general recently submitted their first 'interim' report to Congress . . . it wasn't made public." In fact, "the brief document, written by CIA inspector general John Helgerson, was marked classified." House Intelligence Committee Chair Rep. Silvestre Reyes (D, TX) sent Helgerson a letter asking him to "please explain why you're not following the law" and asking that Helgerson issue a "preservation order" to ensure that the Bush administration doesn't destroy records pertaining to the wire-tapping program "before they walk out the door" in January 2009. Why is it secret? Who knows. Newsweek said, "Sources familiar with the [secret] interim report said there is nothing at all that sensitive about it" because the document simply "outlines the 'scope' of the review that the inspectors general plan to conduct in preparation for the final report."
Freedom of the Press: Reporters Without Borders (RWB) released its annual Press Freedom Index. It says that "press freedom in many places is particularly damning for one country that purports to be a beacon for the rest of the world as far as human-rights protections and freedom of thought and of expression are concerned. That country is the United States." RWB ranked the U.S. 36 out of 173 countries, a spot also shared by Bosnia and Herzegovina. Iceland ranked first, with Ghana, Slovenia, Trinidad and Tobago, Surinam, and Jamaica also ranking higher than us. In one of the main conclusions, RWB found that "[i]t is not economic prosperity but peace that guarantees press freedom." The report also singled out "wars carried out in the name of the fight against terrorism" as a cause for the steep decline in press freedoms around the world. In 2002 we were at 17. In 2003 -- 31. In 2004 -- 24. In 2005 -- 44. In 2006 -- 53. And in 2007 we climbed back up to 48.
Separation of Church & State: Bush has been blurring this for 7 years. Now he's tossed it out the window. A 2007 memo from the Justice Department's (DOJ) Office of Legal Counsel (the guys who gave us the torture memos) was "quietly posted" on DOJ's website this week. It gives Bush the authority to "bypass laws that forbid giving taxpayer money to religious groups that only hire staff members who share their faith. . . But the memorandum goes further, drawing a sweeping conclusion that even federal programs subject to antidiscrimination laws can give money to groups that discriminate." (Boston Globe)
Gitmo: Bush had said he'd consider closing the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. He's "decided" not to close it, but it looks like he never bothered to "consider" it. (NY Times)
Gitmo Detainees: The Pentagon has dropped war-crimes charges against 5 Gitmo detainees after Army Lt. Col. Darrel Vandeveld said that the war-crimes trials are unfair. (TWW, Gitmo Trials, 9/27/08) The chief prosecutor, Army Col. Lawrence Morris, dropped the charges against the 5, but said that none of the men will be freed, "and the military said it could reinstate charges later." (AP)
Chinese Uighurs: Remember the appeal against releasing these people from Gitmo? (TWW, Chinese Prisoners, 10/11/08; U.S. Torturers, 5/24/08) A 3-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit stayed U.S. District Judge Ricardo Urbina's order to release them. It ordered oral arguments on Bush's appeal which will be heard November 24th. (Washington Post)
Pakistan: Another strike "suspected" to be a U.S. spy drone," hit a school "set up by a top Taliban commander in a tribal area bordering Afghanistan, killing 11 people." It is believed the strike was targeting militant Jalaluddin Haqqani, "a major target for U.S. forces." (AFP)
India: Remember Bush's deal to help India build more nuclear reactors? (TWW, India, 10/4/08) Everyone warned Bush that giving this aid to India would fuel a nuclear proliferation war in the Middle East. Well, they were right. Pakistan signed an agreement with China for help to build 2 new nuclear reactors. (Christian Science Monitor)
SOFA: They're still working on this thing. (TWW, SOFA, 10/18/08) They now have a draft but the Shi'ite block of the Iraqi Parliament is not happy. The draft has a full pull-out of U.S. forces by December 2011, but allows for an extension by mutual agreement. It's still the immunity for U.S. troops that's causing the problem. The draft gives them immunity except if a crime is committed while a military person is off duty. The Shi'ite block says this is too vague and would allow U.S. officials to determine if the person if off duty or not. They want a joint committee to review suspected criminal cases and decide whether they should be tried in an Iraqi court. (Washington Post) "Iraqi political leaders met Sunday and forwarded a U.S.-Iraq security pact to the Cabinet for discussion without endorsing the agreement." (LA Times) The Iraqi people aren't happy about it either. "Tens of thousands of followers of anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr rallied in the streets of Baghdad Saturday . . . The large turnout points to trouble ahead for the U.S.-Iraqi security deal . . . (Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
Laptop Searches: Remember the Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) searches of laptops? (TWW, Laptops While Traveling, 2/16/08 & Travel With Laptops, 6/28/08) Senator Russ Feingold (D, WI) is trying to change that. He and Senator Maria Cantwell (D, WA) and Rep. Adam Smith (D, WA) have introduced the Travelers Privacy Protection Act. The bill would require "reasonable suspicion of illegal activity" before DHS agents could search travelers' electronics "and it would prohibit the agency from holding onto the electronics or copies of files for more than 24 hours without a warrant. It also limits what DHS could share with other agencies." (Raw Story)
Congress & the President: Congressional Quarterly studied the voting behavior of members of Congress since 1953 "to assess how often lawmakers stick with members of their own caucus on votes when the 2 parties divide and how often they back the president on votes where he has a clear position." Here's the chart. They found: "On average, House Republicans supported Bush on 80% of such votes and Democrats supported the president on just 20%. In the Senate, where votes on confirmations tend to elevate presidential support scores, Republicans voted with Bush 88% of the time and Democrats gave him their support on 51% of the relevant votes."
The First Brigade: The ACLU is "demanding more details" about the assigning of the First Brigade to U.S. soil, a violation of the Posse Comitatus Act. (TWW, U.S. Military Patrolling U.S., 9/27/08) "The ACLU warns that without fully knowing the reasoning and justifications behind the Army's plan, the domestic deployments could be used to expand a militarized surveillance apparatus that already includes the National Security Agency's warrantless wiretapping program and DHS's plans to turn military spy satellites inside U.S. borders." (TWW, Satellite Surveillance, 10/4/08) The ACLU has sent a FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) request to the DOJ, the Pentagon, and DHS "for documents related to the decision to deploy an army unit and outlining the unit's duties." (Raw Story)
Election Day: Police departments are also gearing up for Election Day, "preparing for possible civil unrest and riots after the historic presidential contest." "Some worry that if Barack Obama loses and there is suspicion of foul play in the election, violence could ensue in cities with large black populations. Others based the need for enhanced patrols on past riots in urban areas (following professional sports events) and also on Internet rumors." (The Hill) This is so lame. They also claim that since Sarah Palin would be the first woman V.P., if she wins or loses it could cause a riot. Oh, bite me.
More on ACORN: Bob Bauer, Barack Obama’s chief lawyer, sent a letter to AG Michael Mukasey asking him to have Nora Dannehy, the special prosecutor looking into the firing of the 9 U.S. attorneys, include in her investigation what Bauer called "bogus claims of vote fraud." A recent DOJ report found that David Iglesias, the former U.S. attorney in New Mexico, was fired because he hadn't been able to make a case against ACORN. (See Voter Registration Drive or Voter Fraud?) The findings in this report led to the appointment of special prosecutor Nora Dannehy. (TWW, Alberto Gonzales, 10/4/08) In his letter to Mukasey, "Bauer said there appears to be an 'unholy alliance' between law enforcement officials and Republican officials, including presidential nominee John McCain’s campaign." He also pointed out in a footnote that several of McCain's supporters in Congress "have written to the Justice Department 'pressuring them to investigate ACORN.'" (Detroit Free Press) House Minority Leader John Boehner (R, OH) is asking Bush to block all federal funds to ACORN until federal investigations are completed. "It is evident that ACORN is incapable of using federal funds in a manner that is consistent with the law." (AP) And remember, the FBI has already begun an investigation of ACORN. (See Voter Registration Drive or Voter Fraud?)
Voting in Ohio: After the U.S. Supreme Court overturned an Ohio court's decision requiring the secretary of state to set up a system "to verify the eligibility of newly registered voters (TWW, Voting in Ohio, 10/18/08), Bush, at the request of House Minority Leader John Boehner (R, OH), asked DOJ to look into whether those new Ohio voters must reconfirm their registration information before voting. (LA Times)
Voting in New York: About 1.6 million names are being removed from New York's voting rolls. According to New Yorkers for Verified Voting, "a group which is policing the state's halting efforts to modernize voting machines," this is about "14% of the state's previous tally of 12 million voters. The removals, in which people are purged because they've died or moved from their listed address or simply become inactive, may be the largest sweep of registration records in recent memory." (Times Union)
Voting in Indiana: Republicans in Lake County, Indiana had filed suit to close early voting sites in the heavily Democratic cities of Hammond, Gary, and East Chicago, saying that they "violated local election rules and created a risk for voter fraud." They claim that these early voting sites "should not have been opened because there was no unanimous vote by the Lake county board of elections approving the locations." In the past, voters in these areas had to go to Crown Point, "roughly 24 miles away from East Chicago, to cast early ballots." Judge Diane Kavadias Schneider dismissed the Republican's complaint. (Guardian)
Funding Elections: For those who don't like the idea of federal funding for elections, remember this. We're already doing it, but in a partisan way. McClatchy reported that in the 2006 elections, "The White House dispatched cabinet members and other agency officials to more than 300 events nationwide to help Republican candidates. . . Taxpayers paid for more than half of the events," according to a report by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
Rising Aristocracy: Andrew Lahde of Lahde Capital Manage-ment, a hedge fund, wrote a letter announcing his retirement. A multi-millionaire in his 30s, he addressed the letter to those "stupid enough" to make him rich and condemned the practices that made him rich. The letter is a study in what is wrong in this country. Wanna know what happened with the financial sector? He tells you. "I was in this game for the money. The low hanging fruit, i.e. idiots whose parents paid for prep school, Yale, and then the Harvard MBA, was there for the taking. These people who were (often) truly not worthy of the education they received (or supposedly received) rose to the top of companies such as AIG, Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers and all levels of our government. All of this behavior supporting the Aristocracy only ended up making it easier for me to find people stupid enough to take the other side of my trades. God bless America." He comments on a system "whereby legislation was repeatedly brought forth to Congress over the past 8 years, which would have reigned in the predatory lending practices of now mostly defunct institutions. These institutions regularly filled the coffers of both parties in return for voting down all of this legislation designed to protect the common citizen." He goes on: "Capitalism worked for 200 years, but times change, and systems become corrupt." He offers suggestions for creating a new system. He also goes into detail about hemp as an alternative fuel which is currently outlawed. He said: "So, why is this innocuous plant illegal? Is it a gateway drug? No, that would be alcohol, which is so heavily advertised in this country. My only conclusion as to why it is illegal, is that Corporate America, which owns Congress, would rather sell you Paxil, Zoloft, Xanax and other addictive drugs, than allow you to grow a plant in your home without some of the profits going into their coffers. This policy is ludicrous. It has surely contributed to our dependency on foreign energy sources. Our policies have other countries literally laughing at our stupidity, most notably Canada, as well as several European nations (both Eastern and Western). You would not know this by paying attention to U.S. media sources though, as they tend not to elaborate on who is laughing at the United States this week. Please people, let’s stop the rhetoric and start thinking about how we can truly become self-sufficient."
More on Inequality: The United Nations has released its annual State of the World's cities report from UN-Habitat. It's a report on the urban environment and says that the growing inequality in U.S. cities "could lead to widespread social unrest and increased mortality." They surveyed 120 major cities. In the U.S.: "New York was found to be the 9th most unequal in the world" with Atlanta, New Orleans, Washington, and Miami having "similar inequality levels to those of Nairobi, Kenya, Abidjan, and Ivory Coast." So much insight from this report. It says that "race is one of the most important factors determining levels of inequality in the U.S. and Canada." (Guardian) I wonder how much money they spent on this. They could have just asked me. I wouldn't have charged them much.
Helping the Wealthy: Executives at the 9 banks getting our bail-out money have received more than $70 billion in pay plans and bonuses for their work this year. Yeah. I'll bet throwing the nation into the worst depression since 1930 must have been a hell of a lot of work. "The sums that continue to be spent by Wall Street firms on payroll, payoffs and, most controversially, bonuses appear to bear no relation to the losses incurred by investors in the banks." Last week the annual payroll for Morgan Stanley was $10.7 billion, "greater than the entire stock market value of the business. In effect, staff, on receiving their remuneration, could club together and buy the bank." Citigroup's accrued "pay pot" is $25.9 billion, "an increase on the previous year of 4%." It accepted a $25 billion from U.S. taxpayers. Other figures: Goldman Sachs $11.4 billion, JP Morgan $6.53 billion, Merrill Lynch $11.7 billion, Lehman Brothers $6.12 billion. Boardroom executives have really cleaned up. Former Lehman boss Dick Fuld was paid $485 million in salary, bonuses and options between 2000 and 2007. Last year Merrill Lynch's chair Stan O'Neal retired after announcing losses of $8 billion but took a final pay deal worth $161 million. Citigroup boss Chuck Prince left last year with a $38 million in bonuses, shares, and options "after multibillion-dollar write-downs." (The Guardian)
Health Care: Senator Ted Kennedy (D, MA), saying that affordable medical coverage to all Americans has been the cause of his life, has "secretly" been "orchestrating meetings with lobbyists and lawmakers from both parties to come up with a plan for universal medical coverage for the new president. (Washington Times)
Infant Mortality: Infant deaths in the U.S. declined 2% in 2006. However, the rate "still remains well above that of most other industrialized countries and is one of many indicators suggesting that Americans pay more but get less from their health care system." (NY Times)
Education: A new report from the Education Trust finds that "The U.S. is the only industrialized country where youths are less likely than their parents to earn a [high school] diploma." Nationally, 1 in 4 children drop out of school before graduating. (LA Times)
Corporate Income Tax: A report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) revealed that "72% of all foreign corporations and about 57% of U.S. companies doing business in the United States paid no federal income taxes for at least one year between 1998 and 2005. More than half of foreign companies and about 42% of U.S. companies paid no U.S. income taxes for 2 or more years in that period." They avoided taxes for "a variety of reasons including operating losses, tax credits and an ability to use transactions within the company to shift income to low tax countries." (Reuters)
Small Business: I guess the Washington Post was as appalled as I was to read that the Small Business Administration's (SBA) Inspector General had found that Blackwater and its affiliated companies "may have improperly obtained more than $100 million in contracts meant for small businesses." (TWW, Blackwater, 8/16/08) They did an investigation and found that U.S. government agencies frequently misclassify a contractor as a small business with "at least $5 billion in mistakes" as global behemoths like Lockheed Martin and Dell were sometimes classified as "small." 23% of all government contracts are supposed to go to small businesses. The SBA is on top of it, though. They said that small businesses got $83.2 billion from government contracts last year, which represents "about a $6 billion drop" from what federal agencies reported.
Mortgage Crisis: Roll Call is reporting that economic experts say that Bush's "ownership society," a push to "loosen mortgage loan qualification standards for first-time homebuyers" helped cause the current financial crisis. Isn't this what I said? (TWW, September 24th 12:30, Week of 9/26/08)
The Stock Market: What a week, huh? The bail-out hasn't inspired much confidence in the economy. On Wednesday the Dow Jones closed at 8,519.21, down 514.45 points, 5.7%. (NY Times) This was the 7th biggest point drop in history. For Tuesday and Wednesday together, the drop was 746 points, "reversing a burst of optimism early in the week tied to a modest loosening in the credit markets." (Wall Street Journal) On Thursday, Asian stocks fell with South Korea's market plunging more than 7%. European stocks also headed south. (AP) Friday saw a "huge sell-off" "sending major market indexes to their lowest levels in more than 5 years on the belief that a punishing economic recession is at hand." It fell 504 points but then recovered a bit, finally closing down 312.30, or 3.59% at 7,882.51, the lowest since April 2003. (AP)
The Dollar: The craziness in the stock market occurred all over the world and the currency markets were hit hard too. That is, currency everywhere except for the U.S. and Japan. The NY Times said "investors continued to turn to the security of the United States dollar and the Japanese yen and drove down currencies of developing countries like Brazil, Ukraine and South Korea and even of developed countries like Britain."
Hedge Funds: These are "pools of fast money that defined the era of Wall Street hyper-wealth." The NY Times said: "This unregulated, at times volatile corner of finance -- which is supposed to make money in bull and bear markets -- lost $180 billion during the last 3 months. Investors, particularly wealthy individuals, are heading for the exits." The real problem, however, is that "hedge funds are not just for the rich anymore. In recent years, public pension funds, foundations and endow-ments poured billions of dollars into these private partnerships. Now, in the midst of one of the deepest bear markets in generations, many of those investments are souring." Great.
Greenspan Speaks: Former Fed Chief Alan Greenspan testified before the House Government Oversight and Reform Committee. He admitted that "he 'made a mistake' in trusting that free markets could regulate themselves without government oversight." (NY Times) The Washington Post said that Greenspan's "successes" were "illusory," and helped create the credit bubble that led to the current crisis.
Fannie Mae & Freddie Mac: Despite the conservatives' attempts to blame the financial crisis on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, at the above mentioned hearing where Greenspan testified, Chair Henry Waxman (D, CA) asked him and Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC) chair Christopher Cox and former Treasury secretary John Snow: "Do any of you believe that [Fannie and Freddie] were the cause of this financial crisis?" All 3 said "No." (Think Progress) I told you last week (TWW, Cause of the Crisis, 10/18/08) that federal housing data backs up this conclusion. Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, said that while Fannie and Freddie "certainly contributed to the bubble, it is absurd to point to them as principle culprits" as "their market share actually fell as the [subprime] bubble grew," dropping from 50.1% in 2002 to just 34.8% in 2006.
Jobs: They're getting more scarce. The Washington Post said that mass layoffs and new claims for unemployment benefits have been reaching levels not seen since 2001 and there are strong hints that things will get worse as more companies cut jobs and impose hiring freezes. This, in turn, is emerging as a key reason why investors are fearful that a deep recession is almost inevitable. Almost? Are you kidding me? Slate's Daniel Gross looked at how the reported unemployed numbers are a lot less than the actual numbers. According to a new CBS News/New York Times poll, 35% of Americans are now "very concerned" that they or someone else in their household will be out of work and looking for a job within the next 12 months." This is 12 points higher than the week before.
FoMoCo: The good news. Ford and GM have been making very fuel-efficient cars in Europe but, with the loss of value in the dollar, importing them from Europe isn't an option anymore and Americans want them. So, Ford is going to re-tool its plants to build them here. The first to go is Ford's Michigan Truck Factory where they make the Lincoln Navigator and Ford Expedition. They're going to shut it down and convert it to make its European version of the Focus. It should be on-line by 2010. The bad news is that Ford is also re-tooling factories in Mexico. (LA Times)
Lead Emissions: Wow. This is unbelievable. Earlier this week, for the first time in 3 decades, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) set "stringent new standards for airborne lead particles, following the recommendations of its science advisers and cutting the maximum allowable concentrations to a tenth of the previous standard." But it didn't require cleaning up excessive lead levels for 8 years and monitoring it would be a problem. "Currently, 133 monitors are in operation nationwide, down from about 800 in 1980." They would have needed to add about 300 monitors. (NY Times) So, a moment in the sun. Bush, however, didn't like it and intervened and ordered the EPA to change its position and weaken the rules so that fewer polluters "would have their emissions monitored." The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) forced the EPA to slash the number of sites it would regulate by 60%. (McClatchy)
Green Economy: Economist David Roland-Holst has issued a new study that says that "California's energy-efficiency policies created nearly 1.5 million jobs from 1977 to 2007, while eliminating fewer than 25,000." This job growth "has contributed approximately $45 billion to the California economy since 1972." Today, California's per-capita electricity demand is 40% below the national average. The Center for American Progress found that a $100 billion investment in a green economy can create 2 million new jobs nationwide.
Eco-nomics: There may be a better way to measure the wealth of a nation rather than just by the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Robert Costanza, professor of ecological economics at the University of Vermont, said, "Most of our valuable assets are not on the books. We need to reinvent economics. The financial crisis is an opportunity." Eco-nomics is a way of valuing "natural capital" like wetlands, oceans, and trees, that "could help protect nature from rising human populations, pollution and climate change that do not figure in conventional measures of wealth. (Reuters)
Off-Shore Drilling: Since the federal ban on off-shore drilling has expired and Congress didn't see fit to extend it (TWW, Off-Shore Drilling, 9/27/08), 19 states now face the decision of "To drill or not to drill. That is the question." (Stateline)
Arctic Temperatures: The 3rd annual Arctic report card by Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory in Hanover NH, compiled by 46 scientists in 10 countries, has found: "Autumn temperatures in the Arctic are at record levels, the Arctic Ocean is getting warmer and less salty as sea ice melts, and reindeer herds appear to be declining." (Boston Globe)
No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: Everyone wants to lower their cholesterol. Everyone wants to get the world off oil. But the demand for low-cholesterol cooking oil and biofuels is endangering the already endangered orangutans of Borneo. It's all about palm oil. (LA Times)
Holiday Travel: Airlines are going to cut about 11% of their flights during the Thanksgiving holiday. Passengers can expect higher fares, packed airplanes, and fewer choices to recover from delays and missed connections. (USA Today)