War Crimes: Barack Obama is being urged by constitutional scholars and human rights groups to investigate the possible war crimes committed by the Bush administration. 2 of Obama's advisors, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that ain't gonna happen. Anyone surprised? It seems that everyone thinks this is a non-issue since it's expected that Bush will pardon everyone who could possibly be prosecuted on his way out the door. (AP)
Indicting Cheney & Gonzales: A grand jury in Willacy County, Texas near the U.S.-Mexico border indicted VP Cheney and former AG Gonzales for "organized criminal activity" regarding the abuse of inmates in private prisons. Apparently Cheney has at least part ownership in the Vanguard Group, which owns interest in private prisons in south Texas. Texas officials have repeatedly attempted to investigate assaults and other "wrong doings" in the facilities, but Gonzales, as AG, stopped the investigations. "The grand jury wrote it made its decision 'with great sadness,' but said they had no other choice but to indict Cheney and Gonzales 'because we love our country.'" The indictment was pressed by District Attorney Juan Guerra. (Reuters) Presiding Judge Manuel Banales held the arraignment on Friday, but Cheney and Gonzales and the others weren't arrested. (AP)
Guantánamo: Professors from UC Berkeley at the Human Rights Center and International Human Rights Law Clinic, in partnership with the Center for Constitutional Rights, have released an unbelievable report entitled Guantánamo and Its Aftermath. Read it and you'll be pounding the pavement demanding accountability. It's describes a torture policy approved at our government's highest levels. It's detailed and very disturbing.
Juvvies at Gitmo: Last May the Pentagon admitted that it was holding 8 juveniles at Gitmo. This week, they admitted that the number of juveniles is really 12. (AP) But a Raw Story count, "drawn from the Pentagon's own records, reveals that the total number of juveniles held at Guantanamo is at least 22 -- nearly double the official Pentagon figure." Ya think maybe this is why they don't want anything to get out about who's in there?
Coerced Confession: Colonel Stephen Henley, a U.S. military judge at Gitmo, threw out the evidence against Mohammed Jawad who was "arrested in Kabul in 2002 as a teenager on charges of throwing a grenade that wounded 2 American soldiers and their Afghan interpreter. Henley said that "'evidence collected while Jawad was in U.S. custody cannot be admitted in his trial' because the evidence was 'gathered through coercive interrogations.'" (AFP)
Habeas Corpus: In another habeas corpus case, U.S. District Judge Richard Leon ordered 5 Algerian Gitmo prisoners released. He said they've been held illegally for 7 years because the government's evidence against them was extremely weak. The evidence? Leon described it as "a classified document from an unnamed source." One other Algerian prisoner is not being released because they have evidence that he worked for al-Qaeda. Leon urged that the men be released "forthwith" and said the government should "end this process" and not appeal the decision. "7 years of waiting for our legal system to give them an answer to a question so important is, in my judgment, more than plenty." (NY Times)
Defending Gonzales: We taxpayers are going to pay for the defense of Alberto Gonzales. McClatchy reported that the Justice Department "has agreed to pay for a private lawyer to defend former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales against allegations that he encouraged officials to inject partisan politics into the department's hiring and firing practices." And, if he loses, we taxpayers will pay the damages, too.
Iran: If you remember, last spring there was lots of stuff in the news about the weapons that Iran was supposedly supplying to Iraqi "militants?" (TWW, Petraeus & Crocker on Iran, 4/12/08; Iran, 4/26/08; Iranian Weapons, 5/17/08) It now appears it was all made up. According to IPS: "Last April, top [Bush] administration officials, desperate to exploit any possible crack in the close relationship between the Nouri al-Maliki government and Iran, launched a new round of charges that Iran had stepped up covert arms assistance to Shi'a militias. . . Secretary of Defence [Gates] suggested that there was 'some sense of an increased level of [Iranian] supply of weapons and support to these groups.' And Washington Post reporter Karen DeYoung was told by military officials that the 'plentiful, high quality weaponry' the militia was then using in Basra was 'recently manufactured in Iran.'" However, a task force found that "relatively few of the weapons found in Shi'a militia caches were manufactured in Iran."
More on Iran: The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reported that Iran has produced 630 kilograms, or about 1,390 pounds, of low-enriched uranium. Some experts said this is enough for a bomb, but in order to do that Iran would have to "breach its international agreements and kick out the inspectors" and would have to "further purify the fuel and put it into a warhead design -- a technical advance that Western experts are unsure Iran has yet achieved." The uranium they now have has been "enriched to the low levels needed to fuel a nuclear reactor. To further purify it to the highly enriched state needed to fuel a nuclear warhead, Iran would have to reconfigure its centrifuges and do a couple months of additional processing," something it could achieve in a couple of years. (NY Times)
Pakistan: Another missile bombarded another Pakistan village, this time deep into Pakistan and not along the border with Afghanistan. 6 alleged militants were killed. Pakistan retaliated by warning that it would "block 2 major supply routes for U.S and NATO forces in Afghanistan that run through Pakistan unless the attacks ended." (Washington Post)
Japan: It's officially in a recession. It's "the world's second largest economy." (NY Times)
Iraq Corruption: The Iraqi government has been firing inspectors general (IGs) who are supposed to be investigating corruption. The IGs were installed in every cabinet-level ministry at the behest of American officials but as claims of corruption have increased, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has decided to get rid of the watchdogs rather than dealing with the problem. The dismissals were done so quietly that no one knows exactly how many people have been let go. Some say there were 17 out of the original 30. Our own Stuart Bowen, Special Inspector General for Iran Reconstruction, said he knows of 6 dismissals. Bowen blames much of this on the U.S. because he says we created the positions but provided little training or support for what is an "alien concept in Iraqi politics." Everyone expects that Maliki will leave the positions vacant or fill them with his supporters, not a new concept for Iraq or the U.S. (NY Times)
Iraq Reconstruction: IG Bowen has come out with yet another report finding that the Pentagon spent around $600 million for more than 1,200 building contracts that were canceled, about half due to problems with the contractor, including failure to deliver and poor performance. (USA Today)
SOFA: The Iraqi Cabinet approved the draft (TWW, SOFA, 11/15/08), defying "fiery opposition" from the Shi'ite block led by anti-American cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. AFP reported that 28 of the 38 ministers voted for it, including al-Maliki. But the NY Times said that only 28 members were present, with 27 voting in favor of the agreement. The agreement still has to be approved by the Parliament, which is expected to meet by the end of the month. It's interesting to note, however, that Bush claims that the U.S. Congress doesn't have to approve the agreement and Congress doesn't seem to care. Also, most of what we know about the agreement is the little bit that has been leaked. Bush is refusing to make the details public. (Reuters)
Another Taj Mahal?: The company that spent so much money, hired slave labor, and bungled the building of the Taj Mahal in Baghdad (TWW, Taj Mahal, 11/8/08) has been given a contract to build another one, this time in Libreville, Gabon in Africa. The $55 million complex is supposed to be completed next April but it's only 7% complete. They haven't even finished excavating the construction site. "State Department officials confirmed that the department's inspector general is actively examining the project, but declined to provide details." And, there's another one under construction in Surabay, Indonesia which is also having problems. (McClatchy)
Missile Defense System: The Missile Defense System that we're trying to install in Eastern Europe and that has Russia so upset (see Russia and Georgia) has drawn the attention of the EU. France's President Nicolas Sarkozy, currently the EU president, joined Russia in condemning the Pentagon's plans. He backed Russian President Dmitri Medvedev's call for a new pan-European security pact. (The Guardian)
Selling Weapons: This is interesting. Smith & Wesson of Springfield, Massachusetts filed a protest against a sole-source contract given by the U.S. Army Tank-Automotive and Armaments Command (TACOM) to Glock of Smyrna, Georgia for pistols for delivery to Pakistani security forces. The protest was denied. (GAO)
Gulf War Illness: The Research Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans' Illnesses released a report that claims that there is strong evidence that hundreds of thousands of troops con-tracted "long-term illnesses from use of pills, given by their own military to protect them from effects of chemical weaponized nerve agents, and from their military's pesticide use during deployment." Approximately 25% of the 697,000 Gulf War veterans have been affected. (NewScientist)
Pirates: Have you been following all the stuff about pirates this week? The BBC has a good piece that summarizes it. Everyone is talking about how bad the problem is. Why now? What's going on? You think it might have something to do with Blackwater going into the anti-pirate business? (Raw Story)
Humanitarian Assistance: The Development Assistance Research Associates (DARA) produces the Humanitarian Response Index which measures how effectively the world's 23 largest donors of humanitarian aid delivers that aid. The U.S. ranked 15th in overall effectiveness, 13th in the level of generosity measured by the size of its economy but only 22nd "when it came to adherence to principles and guidelines established by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development to ensure that political considerations don't exclude worthy recipients of aid." DARA claims the U.S. uses humanitarian assistance "to achieve military or political goals in 8 crisis zones the group studied, including Afghanistan, Colombia, and the Palestinian territories." One of the writers said that assessment "challenges the view of the United States, deeply embedded in the American psyche and regularly reinforced in the rhetoric of public officials, as the world's pre-eminent humanitarian actor, the paragon of global compassion." (Washington Post)
U.S. Power: The National Intelligence Council (NIC) produces a report every 4 years showing the global trends of world power. They just recently released the latest report saying that U.S. world dominance will end by 2025 because "the world is entering an increasingly unstable and unpredictable period in which the advance of western-style democracy is no longer assured, and some states are in danger of being 'taken over and run by criminal networks.'" The report also warns that the U.S. "will no longer be able to 'call the shots' alone, as its power over an increasingly multipolar world begins to wane." (Guardian)
The Transition: Hillary Clinton finally made up her mind and said she would resign her Senate seat to take the position of Secretary of State for the Obama administration. "Senior Obama advisers said Friday morning that the offer had not been formally accepted and no announcement would be made until after Thanksgiving. But they said they were convinced that the nascent alliance was ready to be sealed." (NY Times) And Timothy Geithner, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, has been tapped for Secretary of the Treasury. (NY Times)
Don't Ask; Don't Tell: More than 100 retired generals and admirals are calling for a repeal of this policy. (AP)
California's Prop 8: The California Supreme Court agreed to consider challenges to Proposition 8, the constitutional ban on gay marriage. However, the court said that Prop 8 must be enforced while it considers the challenges. (LA Times)
Burrowing: This is the term given to transferring political appointees into permanent federal positions. It's real hard to fire employees with civil service status, so this means these political appointees are guaranteed to keep their jobs, at least for a while. The move keeps the incoming administration from installing "its preferred appointees in some key jobs." At the Interior Department about 12 key deputy secretaries, "including 2 former political appointees who have been involved in controversial environmental decisions," have been shifted into permanent senior civil service posts. At Labor, 2 politicos "have already secured career posts" and at Housing and Urban Development there is another one in the process of making the change. Between March and November, about 20 political appointees have become career civil servants. "6 political appointees to the Senior Executive Service, the government's most prestigious and highly paid employees, have received approval to take career jobs at the same level. 14 other political, or 'Schedule C,' appointees have also been approved to take career jobs. One candidate was turned down by OPM [Office of Personnel Management] and 2 were withdrawn by the submitting agency." According to the Washington Post, "The personnel moves come as Bush administration officials are scrambling to cement in place policy and regulatory initiatives that touch on issues such as federal drinking-water standards, air quality at national parks, mountaintop mining and fisheries limits." It should be noted that this maneuver isn't new. Clinton approved 47 such changes.
More Rule Amendments: One of the many rule amendments Bush is instigating in his last days is one that would protect healthcare providers who refuse to do their jobs because they oppose abortion and contraception or other procedures on religious or moral grounds. The biggest protest is coming from Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) which has the job of enforcing job discrimination laws. 3 officials "said the proposal would overturn 40 years of civil rights law prohibiting job discrimination based on religion." (NY Times)
Sending Jobs Oversees: Well, this takes the cake. "The health insurer Wellpoint is testing a new program that gives covered patients the option of going to India for elective surgery, with no out-of-pocket medical costs and free travel for both the patient and a companion." (NY Times)
Economic Summit: Last weekend's meeting of the Group of 20 in Washington produced nothing. One thing they did do was throw blame at Bush. "The leaders also agreed that a dramatic failure of market oversight in 'some advanced countries' was among the root causes of the financial crisis, an implicit rebuke of the United States." They "drew up plans" to "begin the process" of regulating financial activity conducted across national borders, but left the details to their aides and post-poned many of the more difficult decisions until their next meeting, scheduled for April 2009. So, we may see nothing until April, if then. One thing they agreed to is a "college of super-visors" that would "examine the books" of financial institutions that operate internationally and they demanded closer scrutiny of hedge funds. "Leaders also agreed to submit their countries' financial systems to regular, vigorous reviews by the Interna-tional Monetary Fund -- assessments that some countries, including the United States, had long resisted. They urged constraints on pay schemes at financial firms that 'reward excessive short-term returns or risk-taking.'" (Washington Post) An MIT economist claimed that these were "plain-vanilla" measures that could have been accomplished without a summit, and the only significance of the event was that it was attended by the developing nations included in the G-20 instead of just the larger powers of the Group of 8 nations. (NY Times)
Stock Market: On Wednesday the stock market closed below the 8,000 mark, a level "not seen since 2003." The Dow tumbled 427 points, 5.1%. The Standard & Poor's 500 index lost 6.1%. "The indexes are now well below their previous lows, set Oct. 27, of the current 13-month-old bear market." (LA Times) The S&P is down 52% from its high about a year ago, which marks the "sharpest decline since the Great Depression." (LA Times) The Wall Street Journal pointed out that if the Index finishes the year with these numbers, it will mark "the worst annual percentage drop in its 80-year history." On Thursday the Dow lost another 445 points, or 5.6%, probably because of dashed hopes that the auto companies will get help. (LA Times) But on Friday the markets rallied, purportedly fueled by Obama's choice of Timothy Geithner for his Treasury pick. The Dow went up 494 points, closing at 8,046. (LA Times)
Downey Savings & Loan: Federal regulators shut down this southern California bank, saying that hundreds of millions of dollars in bad housing loans made it unsound. It's being bought by U.S. Bank. No depositors will lose money, they say. (LA Times)
CPI: The NY Times reported that in October consumer prices tumbled. The Consumer Price Index fell 1%, "the biggest drop" in its 61-year history. "Much of the decline could be traced to a sharp drop of 14% in the price of gasoline, but the cost of a broad range of goods including clothes, milk and vegetables also fell sharply." This signals deflation, which could slow down any economic recovery we may have hoped to have.
Recession: The Fed warned that they expect the economy to be in a recession through the middle of next year, if not longer. (NY Times) Secretary of Treasury Henry Paulson, that great brain trust of financial knowledge, said that this kind of crisis occurs only "once or twice" in 100 years. (LA Times)
Other Stuff: The credit markets continue to suffer. Investors are moving away from corporate and mortgage bonds and into U.S. government securities. (NY Times) Demand for short-term Treasury bonds is high. The yield on a 2-year Treasury note fell below 1% for the first time. Commodity prices responded and crude oil dropped below $50 a barrel for the first time since 2005. (LA Times)
Unemployment: The number of people filing for unemployment has reached a 16-year high. (AP) States are being forced to impose higher taxes on employers and reduce benefits. Congress passed an extension of unemployment benefits (USA Today) and Bush already signed it. (AP) And California's unemployment just hit its highest level in 14 years, going from 7.7% in September to 8.2% in October, the 3rd largest unemployment rate in the country and the largest national increase. It has lost more than 100,000 jobs in the past 12 months. (LA Times)
Auto Industry: The leaders of Detroit's "Big Three" showed up in Congress and were grilled by skeptical lawmakers who made it pretty clear the U.S. auto industry shouldn't be expecting a bail-out, putting, they say, 2.5 to 3 million jobs at risk. All 3 CEOs came under fire for coming to Washington in private jets, with GM's Rick Wagoner's trip alone costing $20,000. (ABC News) Taking $25 billion from the $700 billion bail-out seems to have failed. Republicans are proposing that the $25 billion loan for re-tooling that was approved a while back be given without the requirement to re-tool. It seems to be getting momentum. (Washington Post) The biggest opponents to helping out the Big 3 are southern Republicans. Why? Could it be that they're biased since their economy is based on auto factories -- of foreign automakers? (NY Times)
Results of the Bail-Out: Not looking good. Since we decided to pump money into 9 major financial companies, their stocks plunged an average of 46%. (Wall Street Journal) Citigroup is a great example. It received $25 billion last month but its stocks plunged 26% this week, the worst one-day percentage decline ever. (NY Times)
Goldman Sachs: Its top 7 executives say they're going to "give up" their bonuses this year. CEO Lloyd Blankfein, who received a bonus of $106.5 million last year, said they didn't want bonuses "because of the company's poor performance this year." It has lost 70% of its value since the beginning of the year so I'd so, yeah, poor performance is an issue. They will only take their base salary of $600,000 for the year. And in order to keep their salaries, they fired 10% of its workforce this year, about 3,200 employees. (News.com)
Citigroup: It's going to cut 52,000 more jobs, about half through lay-offs and the rest through sales of individual business units. (LA Times)
Coal-Burning Power Plants: The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) appeals panel rejected a federal permit for a Utah plant. "The panel said the EPA's Denver office failed to adequately support its decision to issue a permit for the Bonanza plant without requiring controls on carbon dioxide, the leading pollutant linked to global warming." The panel sent the issue back to the field office and said it needs to explain "why it failed to order limits on carbon dioxide" and claiming that this is "an issue of national scope that has implications far beyond this individual permitting process." There are about 100 coal plants either requesting permits or whose permits are being appealed. With this decision, according to the AP, permits are in "limbo," "leaving the issue for the Obama administration to resolve."