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WEEKLY WONK

Originally Published: 11/8/2008

Warrantless Surveillance:  U.S. District Judge Henry Kennedy Jr. has issued an order requiring the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) "to produce the memos by the White House legal counsel's office" that provided the legal basis for Bush's warrantless surveillance program. This argument has been going on since 2006, with Kennedy then ordering documents turned over. (TWW, Investigating Spying, 2/18/06). [Kennedy is the guy who ordered the White House to turn over its e-mails (TWW, Save Those E-Mails, 11/17/07)] Bush has been arguing for years that these documents are subject to attorney-client privilege. "But Kennedy said that the attorney-client argument was 'too vague' and that he would have to look at the documents to determine whether that argument was valid and also to see whether there was information that could be released without endangering national security." (LA Times)
 
Gitmo Detainee Sentenced:  A military panel at Guantánamo Bay convicted Ali Hamza al Bahlul, a Yemeni, allegedly a former propaganda chief for al-Qaeda, and sentenced him to life in prison. After 7 years this is only the 2nd conviction they've been able to get. al Bahlul didn't offer any defense, saying "he did not accept the authority of the tribunal." He "insisted that his lawyer remain mute in a weeklong trial that drew little attention." (LA Times)
 
Russia & Georgia:  The NY Times has finally decided that maybe Russia wasn't the aggressor in the little spat it had with Georgia. "Newly available accounts by independent military observers of the beginning of the war between Georgia and Russia this summer call into question the longstanding Georgian assertion that it was acting defensively against separatist and Russian aggression. Instead, the accounts suggest that Georgia’s inexperienced military attacked the isolated separatist capital of Tskhinvali on Aug. 7 with indiscriminate artillery and rocket fire, exposing civilians, Russian peacekeepers and unarmed monitors to harm." I find it amazing that they think this is news. We knew this right off the bat. (TWW, South Ossetia and Abkhazia, 8/23/08; Russia, 8/30/08; Russia, 9/6/08 and Russia and Georgia)
 
Pakistan:  Pakistan is taking a stand against the attacks we've made on it. President Asif Ali Zardari "warned" General David Petraeus, "the new U.S. commander for Iraq and Afghanistan," that "missile strikes on Pakistani territory were 'counter-productive' and detrimental to the 'war on terror.'" (AFP) Didn't stop Bush. We fired more missiles into a small village in North Waziristan, killing "between 10 and 13 people, according to a local intelligence official, a Pakistani reporter and 2 Pakistani television channels." (NY Times)
 
Afghanistan:  They've now confirmed the incident I told you about last July (TWW, Afghanistan, 7/12/08) where a U.S. strike force hit a wedding party, killing 40 and wounding 28 others. (NY Times) What have they got against weddings? Remember the wedding attack in 2004? (See Military Culture)
 
Bolivia:  President Evo Morales has accused the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) of "shooting" and "killing" Bolivian coca farmers during their anti-drug operations. He has given them 3 months to leave the country. (AFP)
 
Iraq:  General David Petraeus has decided to pull 1 brigade from Iraq in about 6 weeks, a little earlier than planned, because there is "dramatically lower violence." (Washington Post)
 
Taj Mahal:  The NY Times is reporting that the U.S. embassy in Baghdad, costing about $500 million, hasn't opened yet. This is interesting since we were told in April that the cost was up to $736 million at that time. (TWW, The Taj Mahal, 4/19/08) and that it had opened in May. (TWW, Taj Mahal Housing Crunch, 5/3/08) But, open or not, Ambassador Ryan Crocker threw a party for about 250 Iraqi officials. He reminded his guests, "Our president today is George Bush, and he will be our president for the next 2 and a half months," and said the size of the embassy reflects America's long-term "commitment to democracy in Iraq."
 
SOFA:  Obama's election is helping the Status of Forces Agreement negotiations. (TWW, SOFA, 11/1/08) His commitment to withdrawing from Iraq is softening Shi'ite politicians on the agreement. (NY Times)
 
Transition:  The transition from Bush to Obama has Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officials worried. They think there may be a terrorist attack during the transition. So, they're pushing the Senate to be ready to confirm the DHS Secretary very quickly after Obama's inauguration. (The Hill) According to Congressional Quarterly, Obama's transition team is going to be co-chaired by John Podesta (president and CEO of the Center for American Progress and former Clinton chief of staff), Pete Rouse (Obama’s Senate chief of staff and top aide to former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle), and Valerie Jarrett (one of the Obamas' closest friends and president and CEO of the Habitat Co., a real estate development firm). Chris Lu, Obama's Senate legislative director, will be the executive director. Phil Schiliro, former aide to Rep. Henry Waxman (D, CA), will be director of congressional relations, a role he held in Obama's campaign. Cassandra Butts, a former Center for American Progress official and a longtime Obama friend, is general counsel. Michael Strautmanis, chief counsel and deputy chief of staff in Obama’s Senate office, will be director of Intergovern-mental Affairs. Dan Pfeiffer, who was his campaign communica-tions director, will continue in that role. Stephanie Cutter, who worked for John Kerry’s 2004 presidential campaign and for Senator Ted Kennedy (D, MA), will be chief spokesperson. He's also set up an advisory board consisting of Arizona governor Janet Napolitano, Clinton’s former Commerce secretary William Daley, Clinton’s former Environmental Protection Agency administrator Carol Browner, Clinton’s former Transportation and Energy secretary Federico Peña, and one of Obama’s top foreign policy advisers during the campaign, Susan Rice. Obama named Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D, IL) as his White House chief of staff. (NY Times) For Treasury Secretary, he's said to be considering Lawrence Summers, Clinton's Treasury Secretary, and New York Fed Reserve President Timothy Geithner. (NY Times)
 
Federal Budget:  The New Congressional Budget Office (CBO) budget report is out. Read it and weep: "The federal government recorded a total budget deficit of $455 billion in fiscal year 2008, $293 billion more than the deficit incurred in 2007. The federal deficit rose as a share of the nation’s gross domestic product (GDP) from 1.2% to 3.2% in 2008. (See The Budget Deficit)
 
Domestic Issues:  The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has released a list of 13 "Urgent Issues" for Obama and the new Congress: caring for service members; defense readiness; defense spending; food safety; Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan; oversight of financial institutions and markets; preparing for large-scale health emergencies; protecting the homeland; public diplomacy and international broadcasting; retirement of the space shuttle; surface transportation; the 2010 census; and transition to digital TV. The GAO also announced a new Web site for the transition.
 
Julie Myers: The 3-year head of ICE, Immigration & Customs Enforcement, has resigned. She has been praised for setting records "for illegal immigrants and fugitive arrests and deportations." Of course, she's also been criticized for raiding workplaces to arrest immigrants, without ever charging the businesses (TWW, Illegal Workers, 5/24/08; Iowa Immigration Raid, 6/7/08; Immigration, 6/28/08; Illegal Immigration, 7/26/08) and also for not providing adequate health care to detainees (TWW, Illegal Immigrants, 5/17/08). She's also the nincompoop who awarded first-prize in a Halloween costume contest to a man in dreadlocks with tinted makeup on his face. Her deputy assistant secretary John Torres will take over until the transition to a new administration. (CNN)
 
EPA:  Bush is moving ahead with new rules to deregulate the Environmental Protections Act. (TWW, Deregulation11/1/08) "In the next few weeks" he's "expected to relax environmental-protection rules on power plants near national parks, uranium mining near the Grand Canyon and more mountaintop-removal coal mining in Appalachia." (McClatchy)
 
Medicaid:  Bush's rule changes aren't stopping at the EPA. He's just issued a bunch regarding Medicaid, the nation's health insurance for poor people. He "narrowed the scope of services that can be provided." Public hospitals and state officials are protesting, "saying it would reduce Medicaid payments to many hospitals at a time of growing need." (NY Times) What does he care? He gets all the health care he needs.
 
Gay Rights:  3 states -- Arizona, California, Florida -- banned same-sex marriage. (NY Times) Let me point out that, in California, chickens were given rights. (LA Times)
 
Student Loans:  The Department of Education (DOE) is going to "expand purchases of the student loans it backs to head off a potential shortfall going into the next school year." (NY Times)
 
The Bail-Out:  The Obama transition team is being pressured by Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson "to 'co-own' the bailout program." Paulson has allegedly sought Obama's advice on who should direct the program, hoping that the same person can stay on in the new administration. Obama doesn't seem eager to join with Bush in the unpopular bail-out. (NY Times) It seems that Paulson still hasn't officially announced his plan to broaden the range of financial companies that would be eligible for the bail-out because they want to make sure Obama agrees. Bush officials say that's simply not true. Still, one thing is clear. The Treasury has reserved some office space for Obama's team but no one has moved in yet. (Washington Post)
 
Global Economic Summit:  They're having one in a couple of weeks to come up with a plan to govern international finance. But the Washington Post said it will probably fail because world leaders can't agree on what to do and there's little political will to actually do anything.
 
IMF:  The International Monetary Fund is urging governments to increase spending to stimulate their economies. It has predicted that the world's "advanced economies" would shrink by a combined 0.3% next year, which would mark the first time they have collectively contracted since the IMF was founded in 1945. The IMF also estimated that global growth would be a mere 2.2% next year, which is "well below the line that the IMF traditionally considers a recession." (Wall Street Journal)
 
GM & Chrysler:  It looks like they're not going to get any help on their merger. At least not from us taxpayers. Treasury Secretary Paulson turned them down. (NY Times) Of course, that's only because he needs the money for his cronies.
 
Auto Sales:  Boy are they down. Ford reported a 29% drop for October compared with last year. GM is down 45%, Toyota down 21%, and Honda down 26%. (LA Times)
 
Retail Sales:  In October they "fell of a cliff," hitting luxury shops, like Nieman Marcus, just as badly as the Walmarts. When the rich people are tightening their belts, you know we're in trouble. (NY Times)
 
American Express:  They're cutting their workforce by 10%, about 7,000 jobs. (NY Times)
 
Jobs:  U.S. employers cut 240,000 jobs in October, 6.5%, a 14-year high. (NY Times)
 
Wall Street:  It keeps tanking. "Despite stabilization in the credit markets and lower interest rates around the globe, the last 2 days were the worst in the American stock market since 1987. In 48 hours, the Dow Jones industrial average dropped nearly 1,000 points, and the Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index, a broader measure of stocks, lost nearly 10%." An ING strategist said, "Normally markets are driven by fear and greed. Now it’s fear and fear." (NY Times)
 
Solar Energy:  This is pretty technical, but it's very interesting and you'll be able to tell everyone you know that we're getting closer. "Researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute have discovered and demonstrated a new method for overcoming 2 major hurdles facing solar energy. By developing a new anti-reflective coating that boosts the amount of sunlight captured by solar panels and allows those panels to absorb the entire solar spectrum from nearly any angle, the research team has moved academia and industry closer to realizing high-efficiency, cost-effective solar power."
 
Worst President in History:  You won't believe that Nicholas Kristof wrote this: "An unscientific poll of 109 professional historians this year found that 61% rated President Bush as the worst president in American history. A couple of others judged him second-worst, after James Buchanan, whose incompetence set the stage for the Civil War. More than 98% of the historians in the poll, conducted through the History News Network, viewed Mr. Bush's presidency as a failure. Mr. Bush's presidency imploded not because of any personal corruption or venality, but largely because he wrenched the United States out of the international community."
 
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