Home
About the Wonk
Mission Statement
Member Benefits Privacy Statement
Contact Us
Feedback
 
U.S. Government
Government Issues
Weekly Wonk



WEEKLY WONK

Originally Published: 11/1/2008

Torture Documents:  A FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) request by the ACLU for unredacted records of the Combatant Status Review Tribunals at Guantánamo Bay has been denied by a federal judge. The records are of 14 "suspected enemy combatants" and "contain the detainees' personal accounts of interrogation tactics, including waterboarding, sleep deprivation, extreme temperature exposure and stress positions, that they endured while in custody at secret CIA detention facilities known as 'black sites' for up to 4 years, and then Guantánamo in late 2006. Some records of the tribunals, which took place in March and April of 2007, have been released, but none that contain said accounts." (Raw Story)
 
Prosecuting Torture:  British judges have seen "secret evi-dence of torture committed against [a British citizen], including allegations his torturers used a razor blade to repeatedly cut his penis." The torture allegedly occurred in prisons in Afghanistan and Morocco as well as Gitmo. British attorneys are investi-gating whether to prosecute CIA officers for the torture of Binyam Mohamed, the "last Britain" at Gitmo. The investigation will also include MI5, which is alleged to have collaborated with the CIA. (The Independent)
 
The Bush Doctrine:  We know what this is, even if Sarah Palin doesn't. It's interesting that I've been hearing Secretary of Defense Robert Gates' name being tossed around as someone a President Obama may want to retain. I wonder. He has now decided to expand the Bush Doctrine. He said that the U.S. would "hold 'fully accountable' any country or group that helped terrorists to acquire or use nuclear, chemical or biological weapons." As the NY Times said, this statement "went beyond the cold war notion that a president could respond with overwhelming force against a country that directly attacked the United States or its allies with unconventional weapons."
 
Pakistan:  Earlier in the week U.S. forces again attacked Pakistan's South Waziristan by firing a missile from a drone aircraft. Some sources say 20 people were killed. Others say 16 were killed. (Guardian) Later in the week the U.S. fired missiles that hit 2 houses in North Waziristan, killing 27. (AP)
 
Syria:  U.S. forces went into Syria and "launched a commando raid," killing at least 8 people. No one is talking about it so we don't know why they did it, but we can assume they were searching for the proverbial "insurgents." Syria wasn't happy about it and "warned that it held the U.S. 'wholly responsible for this act of aggression and all its repercussions.'" (Guardian) The Syrian foreign minister called it "an act of 'criminal and terrorist aggression.'" (Guardian) As the story unfolded we find that they were after, and killed, Abu Ghadiyah, an Iraqi who allegedly ran a smuggling network that sent weapons, money, and foreign fighters to Iraq. The raid was done by Special Forces. It looks like this was the first time that American ground forces pushed into Syria, but no one knows for sure. Officials say the raid was meant to serve as a warning to Syria. (Washington Post) The NY Times said that the raid should be viewed as an example of how Bush is "determined to operate under an expansive definition of self-defense" that allows U.S. forces to strike militant targets in a sovereign nations. (See Bush Doctrine above.)
 
SOFA:  Iraqi Prime Minister al-Maliki says he won't sign the Status of Forces Agreement. (TWW, SOFA, 10/25/08) McClatchy said that he fears "political division in the parliament and in his country." Iraq is now considering extending the United Nations mandate. Russia has told them "that it wouldn't veto an extension," which would likely be for 6 months to a year. The U.S. military is now putting the pressure on, warning that "it will shut down military operations and other vital services" on January 1st if Iraq doesn't agree to a new agreement or a renewed United Nations mandate. McClatchy pointed out that "many Iraqi politicians view the move as akin to political blackmail." The Iraqi cabinet amended the draft but it looks like the U.S. military will reject it. It "would give Iraqi authorities the right to determine whether a U.S. service member was on- or off-duty when he or she committed an alleged crime outside American bases, where such an American would be tried. It also would allow authorities to inspect all U.S. cargo entering the nation." (McClatchy) The draft was, once again, rejected because Iraq is demanding that U.S. troops will be barred from using Iraqi territory to carry out attacks on other countries -- like the one we launched on Syria. (See above.) (NY Times) On Friday the AP reported that the current draft, which states that U.S. forces should withdraw from Iraq by Dec. 31, 2010 unless there is a mutual agreement to extend it, is being resisted by Iraqis. They want to allow U.S. forces to stay until 2011, with no possibility of extension. Bush is losing big time on this one. The Washington Times interviewed U.S. commander in Iraq Gen. Raymond Odierno who said there is a 20% to 30% chance that the U.S. and Iraq will not reach an agreement on the security deal by the time the U.N. mandate expires. Maliki said it's not a security pact but an agreement to withdraw U.S. troops.
 
Iraq Contracting:  Stuart Bowen, the Inspector General (IG) for Iraq Reconstruction has issued a report that says that we have paid well over $6 billion to private security companies to guard diplomats, troops, Iraqi officials, and reconstruction workers in Iraq. (CBS News) This is 12% of the $50 billion we're paying for reconstruction. The report also says that 310 private security companies from around the world have received contracts. The list he's been able to come up with so far includes hundreds of "obscure firms" from places like Uganda, the Philippines, Cyprus, Romania, and the Czech Republic. (NY Times) Bowen said in an interview that "there probably are more contractors he has yet to count, so the $6 billion is almost certainly not the full picture." Because information on contract spending is not centralized, "Bowen spent 3 months going through the records trying 'to pull together the figure.'" (CBS News)
 
Deregulation:  Last week Bush reversed the EPA decision to crack down on lead emissions (TWW, Lead Emission, 10/25/08), but it looks like he's just getting started. He's planning on doing a lot more through the "rules" process. The Washington Post did a piece on this, saying the new rules "would be among the most controversial deregulatory steps of the Bush era and could be difficult for his successor to undo." Of course, he's going to do more to let loose private industry on the population. There are about 90 new regulations that will do things like "ease commercial ocean-fishing activities and reduce limits on carbon dioxide-increasing emissions from power plants and pollution near national parks." Environmentalists are going nuts, saying the new rules "will force Americans to choke on dirtier air for years to come," while an electricity lobby group said they would bring "common sense to the Clean Air Act."
 
Voting Machines:  A Princeton University report "sharply criticizes the e-voting machines used in New Jersey and else-where as unreliable and potentially prone to hacking." (Computer World) Hacking may be the least of the problems. Larisa Alexandrovna and Muriel Kane of Raw Story obtained schematics showing "how electronic voting data was routed during the 2004 election from Ohio’s Secretary of State’s office through a partisan Tennessee web hosting company." IT expert Stephen Spoonamore (TWW, Velvet Revolution, 10/11/08) said this could create a "Man in the Middle" (MIM) attack, 'a well-defined criminal methodology in which a computer is inserted into the network of a bank or credit card processor to intercept and modify transactions before they reach a central computer.'" But computer science professor David L. Dill, doesn't believe Spoonamore's theory "could have been carried out undetected." Geez. Who said it wasn't detected? Maybe it just wasn't reported.
 
Ohio Voting:  Last week I told you that House Minority Leader John Boehner (R, OH) had asked Bush to ask the Department of Justice to look into the new Ohio voters because the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the Ohio Appeals Court decision that overturned the Appeals Panel decision that overturned the lower court's decision. The lower court said the Ohio secretary of state had to verify the eligibility of the new voters. So, Bush has asked the DOJ to look into whether they can require all new voters to vote with a provisional ballot. (Roll Call)
 
Georgia Voting:  More than 50,000 registered Georgia voters have been "flagged" because of a computer mismatch in their personal identification information. (CNN) Mismatches are usually purged from the voter rolls. This is the same situation with the more than 200,000 voters in Ohio that the Republican Party is trying to disenfranchise.
 
Federal Courts:  Bush has been the final nail in the coffin of the U.S. appeals courts, "advancing a conservative legal revolution that began nearly 3 decades ago" under Reagan. By Inauguration day, "Republican-appointed judges, most of them conservatives, are projected to make up about 62% of the bench . . . up from 50%" when he took office. Conservatives also control 10 of the 13 circuits, "while judges appointed by Democrats have a dwindling majority on just one circuit." (NY Times)
 
GM Crops:  Genetically modified. While the U.S. hasn't paid much attention to them, Europe has been fighting about them for quite a while. Now, Britain's Gordon Brown and other European leaders "are secretly preparing an unprecedented campaign to spread GM crops and foods in Britain and through-out the continent." The Independent somehow got ahold of "confidential documents" of the European Commission that disclose their plans "to 'speed up' the introduction of the modified crops and foods and to 'deal with' public resistance to them." "The secret meetings were convened by Jose Manuel Barroso, the pro-GM President of the Commission, and chaired by his head of cabinet, Joao Vale de Almeida. The prime ministers of each of the EU's 27 member states were asked to nominate a special representative." The biotech industry, and major innovators and promoters like Monsanto, have spent many years fighting public opposition to the modified crops. Currently they can't be grown in Britain. France allowed a small amount of cultivation, but has suspended it. And Spain and Portugal, where GM crops are under cultivation, is seeing an increase in resistance. (LA Times)
 
Gas:  In the 3rd quarter of this year -- July, August, September -- Exxon/Mobile reported income "that shattered its own record for the biggest profit from operations by a U.S. corporation, earning $14.83 billion in the 3rd quarter. (CNBC) Shell Oil reported a record increase of 71% in profits, "a mammoth" $10.9 billion. (The Independent)
 
U.S. Economy:  While the oil companies were making record profits in the 3rd quarter, the U.S. economy shrank .3%. (Bloomberg) Joseph Stiglitz (TWW, Cost of Invasions, 3/1/08) said: "When the American economy enters a downturn, you often hear the experts debating whether it is likely to be V-shaped (short and sharp) or U-shaped (longer but milder). Today, the American economy may be entering a downturn that is best described as L-shaped. It is in a very low place indeed, and likely to remain there for some time to come." (Vanity Fair)
 
Drilling in Utah:  The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) "is reviving plans to sell oil and gas leases in pristine wilderness areas in eastern Utah that have long been protected from development." "The proposed sale, which includes famous areas in the Nine Mile Canyon region, would take place December 19th. (Washington Post) Bush has to get a few more give-aways in before he leaves.
 
The Bail-Out:  33 banks have signed up to take our money, but they are continuing to pay dividends to their shareholders even though the money is supposed to be for loans. Foreign banks are being required to suspend quarterly dividend payments. Even in our 1979 bail-out of Chrysler we required that they quit paying dividends. But not this administration. Shareholder dividends are their bread-and-butter. Treasury Secretary Henry Pauls said that this kind of requirement would "discourage" banks from taking our money. (Washington Post) Are you kidding me? The $700 billion rescue was supposed to be about buying devalued mortgage-backed securities from tottering banks to unclog frozen credit markets. But Bush, Paulson, Bernanke, and the rest of the free-marketers, couldn't bring themselves to require the welfare queens to do anything. So, they've been using our money to buy other banks, pay dividends, give employees raises, provide obscene executive bonuses, or just sit on it. "U.S. banks getting more than $163 billion from the Treasury Department for new lending are on pace to pay more than half of that sum to their shareholders, with government permission, over the next 3 years." (Washington Post) McClatchy said that "What once was disparagingly referred to as bailout for Wall Street now looks like a broader bailout of all sorts of troubled businesses. Some lawmakers and outside analysts question whether that's serving the public interest as intended - or whether it's becoming a taxpayer-financed giveaway to favored firms." Well, duh.
 
U.S. Financial Crisis:  What financial crisis? Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley are "on track" to have very profitable years. They've set aside about $13 billion for bonuses. And some of the crooks at Lehman Brothers "will get the same bonus they received a year ago." Merrill Lynch has set aside $6.7 billion for bonuses. (Bloomberg)
 
Mid-East Financial Crisis:  It's now sweeping across the Middle East. Kuwait's central bank quickly guaranteed bank deposits and orchestrated a bailout of a major bank. International investors are pulling back and oil prices have dropped about 50%. Dubai real estate brokers are expressing pessimism. (Wall Street Journal) I bet Cheney's having fits now that his savings are endangered.
 
Worldwide Financial Crisis:  The Bank of England estimated that the global financial crisis will likely cost the world $2.8 trillion. (Guardian) "The instability of the global financial system in recent weeks has been the most severe in living memory." (CNBC)
 
The Yen:  The Japanese yen "surged as much as 10% against the dollar last week. In the last month, it has gained an astounding 34% against the euro." The yen's gains are due to an "abrupt end of the yen-carry trade." This is where people from all over the world borrowed money in Japan, "where interest rates were very low and money was therefore cheap. They invested that money in higher yielding assets across the world, from home loans in Budapest and Seoul to equities in Mumbai. This turned Japan, with its $15 trillion in personal savings built up by the nation’s chronic trade surpluses, into a provider of low-cost capital for the rest of the world. No one knows for sure how large this outflow of yen was." (NY Times)
 
Interest Rates:  The Federal Reserve lowered its benchmark interest rate by .5%, "its second big rate cut this month." (NY Times) Central banks in countries all over the world are doing the same thing. (Wall Street Journal)
 
Homeowner Bail-Out:  Paulson's crew is putting a plan to use $50 billion from the $700 billion bailout to guarantee $500 billion to $600 billion in home loans. They're looking at a plan that would reduce a homeowner's monthly mortgage payments by cutting the interest rate or extending the repayment period. In exchange, the lender would get a government guarantee of compensation for losses in case the homeowner defaults anyway. (Washington Post)
 
Auto Industry:  Bush, et al. is looking into ways to provide financial assistance to help along the General Motors/Chrysler merger. Now taxpayers are going to subsidize the costs of mergers? They're considering using some of the $700 billion bail-out money. Then they also have the $25 billion loan program for the auto industry (TWW, Auto Bail-Out, 9/27/08). Or, they can go back to Congress after the election. Of course, once they do this other people will get in line for their hand-out. (NY Times) They are moving to quickly release the first $5 billion of the $25 billion. (Wall Street Journal) The LA Times questioned if we should even bother trying to save them. Some experts say that if they go down it would be "worrisome" since they employ hundreds of thousands of people. But others think it wouldn't be so bad since other companies could quickly fill the void. Andrew Ross Sorkin warns about buying General Motors' claim that it's too big to fail. He says that the truth is that the merger would lead to mass layoffs anyway and that, unless the government insists that the companies implement much-needed reforms, "any investment would just be a Band-Aid."
 
Jobs:  "As the financial crisis crimps demand for American goods and services, the workers who produce them are losing their jobs by the tens of thousands." (NY Times)
 
Consumers:  Consumer confidence is at an all-time low, from an already low 61.4 in September down to 38.0. "Most analysts had expected a more modest decline to 52.0." (AFP) And spending from July to September was reduced by 5.5%, the "largest amount in 28 years." We reduced spending on "cars, furniture, household appliances, clothes and almost everything else," and businesses reduced spending on “equipment and software." "But economists say tougher times are still ahead." (AP)
 
Gun Sales:  While everything else tanks, gun sales are up. Owners and gun lovers are citing a sinking economy and the prospect of an Obama presidency as prime motivators for the shopping spree. Most gun lovers interviewed said their primary concern was Obama's gun-control policy, which they feared would be more restrictive than Bush's. (Washington Post)
 
Gray Wolves:  Bush is again trying to take the gray wolves off the federal endangered species list. Remember the Fish and Wildlife Service took them off the list and Wyoming and Montana started gearing up for a hunt? Then a U.S. district judge in Montana granted a preliminary injunction and got them put back on. (TWW, Gray Wolves, 7/19/08). Well, now Fish and Wildlife has decided to reopen the issue for public comment. They maintain that the wolves no longer need protection. After the comment period they can immediately remove the wolves' federal protections. (Washington Post)
 
BPA:  Bisphenol A. (See Polycarbonate Plastics) A panel of scientists from government and academia that is part of the Science Board, a committee of advisers to the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) commissioner, was established "to review the FDA's risk assessment of BPA." It issued its report, saying that the FDA "ignored scientific evidence and used flawed methods" when it determined that BPA is not harmful. It said the FDA ignored studies "which concluded . . . that it had 'some concern' that BPA can affect brain and behavioral development in infants and small children." A reproductive biologist with the Natural Resources Defense Council said, "The current levels of exposure are not safe. We should get rid of it in food containers." (Washington Post)
 
You're Kidding Me?:  This comes under the category of "It can't be true." You all know where Galveston TX is, right? This little barrier island (look up what a barrier island is) gets hit bad by hurricanes. Recently Hurricane Ike did an awful lot of damage and it was only a Category 2. History is replete with incredible damage done to this little island from hurricanes. Yet, it is here that the University of Texas medical school and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) have built a shiny new building, opening November 11th, which houses the Robert E. Shope Medical Laboratory, a national biological defense laboratory. That's not the worst. At this laboratory they plan to study "the most deadly diseases in the world," like Ebola and Marburg. Yeah. Look them up, too. Putting the lab here enjoyed strong support from Bush, Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R, TX), and former House majority leader Tom DeLay (R, TX), whose district includes Galveston. The NIH says the location was chosen on its merits. Yeah. Right. That hurricanes will "disrupt" the goings-on at the lab is a given. "Each time a hurricane approaches the island, scientists will have to stop their experiments and exterminate many of the viruses and bacteria they are studying." (NY Times)
 
The Wonk
 
 

FOLLOW THE ISSUE WONK
Facebook Twitter Linkedin

Subscribe to the
Weekly Wonk:


Email Address

This Is CAPTCHA Image

CAPTCHA value


**************

SPONSORS
Forest Books Facebook Page
Click here to visit my facebook page.
Please follow me on Twitter

© Copyright 2006-2017 - The Issue Wonk™
The Issue Wonk, Inc. - All Rights Reserved