New Poll: A new poll by Rasmussen found that just 46% of Americans believe that "the United States is truly the land of liberty and justice for all." 42% disagreed with the statement. The breakdown of those polled isn't really a revelation. 62% of Republicans agreed with the statement. The majority of men agreed. 53% of Democrats and 45% of women disagreed. 49% of whites agreed; 60% of blacks disagreed.
Genetic Searching: California has a "familial searching policy," that looks for genetic ties between culprits and kin. It's considered the most far-reaching of such policies in the U.S. Privacy advocates and legal experts are nervous. (LA Times) Nervous? I'm shocked.
Salim Hamdan: Osama bin Laden's onetime driver left Gitmo and was transferred to Yemen. (TWW, Salim Hamdan, 8/9/08) "The disclosure that Hamdan was already off the base or would be within hours signaled that the Bush administration had conceded its effort to severely punish the $200-a-month al-Qaeda driver had failed." (LA Times)
India: Groups of gunmen carried out spectacularly brazen coordinated attacks on at least 10 sites in Mumbai, India's financial capital. Early reporting said that at least 101 people were killed and more than 300 were wounded. They took dozens of hostages, many of whom were American and British citizens. Attack targets included at least 2 luxury hotels and a restaurant popular with foreigners, a hospital, the city's largest train station, a movie theater, and a Jewish center. (AP) "'The sophistication of the attacks and the choice of targets put Islamic extremists at the top of the list,' a senior U.S. counterterrorism official said. 'They are the most natural suspects.'" Last September an e-mail was sent to newspapers that warned that the Indian mujahedeen would be taking revenge for anti-terrorism raids that have been carried out in the city. (Washington Post) One of the terrorists, who was hidden at one of the luxury hotels, told India TV: "We want all mujahedeen held in India released, and only after that we will release the people." (NY Times) Victims included the city's anti-terrorism chief and 2 of his senior deputies. (LA Times) By Thursday there were at least 143 people dead and more than 320 injured. (NY Times) The siege went on through Friday and this morning it appears to be over, with at least 150 people dead. (LA Times) Intelligence from U.S., British, and Indian sources believe the attackers were from Lashkar-e-Taiba, a Kashmir-based group that at one point received training from the Pakistani government. (NY Times)
Pakistan: More drones killing more civilians in Waziristan. (CNN)
Afghanistan: In preparation for fulfilling prez-elect Obama's promise to send more troops to Afghanistan, plans are being laid to deploy another 15,000 Marines, joining the 30,000 U.S. troops already there. (LA Times)
Zimbabwe: It's on the brink of collapse. Not only is the government a real disaster, now they are dealing with an outbreak of cholera. There are no basic services. About 6,000 people have contracted it and almost 300 have died. A shortage of medicine is driving people to go to South Africa for help. (The Guardian)
Coalition of the Willing: The Bush administration has quietly altered its official lists of nations in the so-called "coalition of the willing" that were posted to the White House website. 2 lists have been completely taken down and "subsequent deletions of the earlier lists and revisions to critical documents" make it seem like there were 49 nations in original coalition of the willing. There were only 45. (NY Times)
Who's Wounded?: Last March the Pentagon made a regulation change that seems to have escaped the notice of just about everyone. It narrowed the definition of "combat-related disabilities," limiting the number of vets who can get disability benefits. (LA Times)
SOFA: The Iraqi Parliament, "with a substantial majority" (149-35), approved the Status of Forces Agreement. (TWW, SOFA, 11/22/08) It still has to be approved by the 3 members of Iraq's presidency council. Many opposition votes were switched when they came up with a compromise to hold a national referendum on the agreement in July 2009. So, in theory voters could still derail the agreement but no one believes that will happen. al-Maliki will use this to crow that he was responsible for setting a withdrawal date for the American forces. (NY Times)
National Security: Obama's national security team is being criticized. Tom Engelhardt of The Nation wrote: "The Obama national security 'team' -- part of that much-hailed 'team of rivals' -- does not yet exist, but it does seem to be heaving into view. And so far, its views seem anything but rivalrous. Main-stream reporters and pundits lovingly refer to them as 'centrist,' but, in a Democratic context, they are distinctly right of center. The next secretary of state looks to be Hillary Clinton, a hawk on the Middle East. During the campaign, she spoke of our ability to 'totally obliterate' Iran, should that country carry out a nuclear strike against Israel. She will evidently be allowed to bring her own (hawkish) subordinates into the State Department with her. Her prospective appointment is now being praised by the likes of Newt Gingrich and Henry Kissinger." He goes on to say that General James L. Jones, just nominated for National Security Advisor, "remained 'publicly neutral' during the presidential campaign and is known to be personally close to John McCain and, evidently, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates as well." He "favors yet more spending for the Pentagon." Robert Gates is going to stay on. He supports, like Obama, a significant American troop "surge" in Afghanistan, "has overseen the further growth of the bloated Pentagon budget and has recently come out for the building of a new generation of nuclear weapons."
Prop 8: Looks like California is going to investigate the involvement of the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints (the Mormons) in this proposition. The church has been accused of failing to report the non-monetary contributions it received in its fight to ban same-sex marriage. "Broadly speaking, California state law requires disclosure of any money spent or services provided to influence the outcome of an election. . . Roman Porter, the executive director of the Fair Political Practices Commission, which oversees California campaign finance laws, signed off on the investigation after reviewing a sworn complaint filed on November 13." (NY Times)
High Blood Pressure: Back in 2002 "one of the biggest clinical trials ever organized by the federal government" found that generic pills for high blood pressure, diuretics, which cost very little, "worked better than newer drugs that were up to 20 times as expensive." However, the word hasn't seemed to get out -- the use of the expensive, dangerous prescription drugs has grown faster than the use of diuretics. "The aftereffects of the study show how hard it is to change medical practice, even after a government-sanctioned trial costing $130 million produced what appeared to be solid evidence." (NY Times)
Privatizing Jobs: The General Accountability Office (GAO) issued a new report that finds that Bush's Labor Department misled Congress in an effort to prove outsourcing jobs to private companies was more efficient than assigning the jobs to government employees. They fictionalized projected numbers to improve "savings reports," even when real numbers were already available. And when the government did find private firms to take a government job, that employee generally was either reassigned to another task with the same title or promoted. They called it "competitive sourcing," and it was supposed to increase government efficiency by having federal and private organizations compete for providing services. While part of the program has been in effect since 1955, Bush, et al. put it on steroids.
Unions: Judge Arthur Amchan, an administrative law judge, ordered CNN to rehire 100 workers who were fired 5 years ago because they were union members. CNN was also ordered to recognize the workers' union, the National Association of Broadcast Employees and Technicians-CWA (NABET-CWA) locals 31 and 11. Judge Amchan found that CNN violated the rights of more than 250 employees at the network’s bureaus in Washington, D.C. and New York City when it ended its sub-contract with Team Video Services (TVS), whose employees were represented by NABET-CWA. He also ruled that CNN discriminated against TVS employees who wanted to continue working at CNN’s bureaus to avoid having to recognize and bargain with the union. (AFL-CIO)
Burrowing: I told you about this last week -- converting political employees to permanent employees with civil service status. (TWW, Burrowing, 11/22/08) James McCarthy, a Harvard University oceanographer who is president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, is pretty upset about the Bush Burrows. "It's ludicrous to have people who do not have a scientific background, who are not trained and skilled in the ways of science, make decisions that involve resources, that involve facilities in the scientific infrastructure. You'd just like to think people have more respect for the institution of government than to leave wreckage behind with these appointments." (Washington Post)
FEMA: It appears that Obama is going to give the Federal Emergency Management Administration some attention. It's being reported that he's going to remove it from under the auspices of the Department of Homeland Security. I haven't heard if he'll make it a cabinet-level agency again, like Clinton did. However, the better rumor is that FEMA's former brilliant director, James Lee Witt, is going to come back, at least for a while, to whip it into shape. The reported plan is that, after that, Witt's possible deputy administrator, Mark Merritt, will take over. Merritt worked with Witt at James Lee Witt Associates. However, like so many things, this plan has some problems. Witt's firm took an open-ended, no-bid contract to do clean-up after Hurricane Katrina. "An NBC News investigation of Louisiana state records found that James Lee Witt Associates was paid more than $40 million for its recovery work. Merritt, who had been the firm's top manager in Louisiana, tallied $506,000 in billable hours over the 10-month span from September 2005 through June 2006. . . Witt Associates allegedly billed the state double what it actually paid its subcontractors . . . [T]he firm subcontracted an Indiana company to manage recovery grants. That company's workers were paid $19 to $20 an hour, but they billed Witt Associates $37.50 an hour, and Witt Associates billed the state $75 an hour . . ." (Washington Post)
Drugs: As taxpayers, we've paid out "at least" $200 million since 2004 "for medications that have never been reviewed" by the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) for safety and effective-ness. We've paid for these drugs under our Medicaid programs, the health insurance for low-income people. "Millions of private patients are taking such drugs" but "[d]ozens of deaths have been linked to them." (AP)
Tax Cuts for the Wealthy: It looks like Prez-elect Obama isn't going to repeal all those tax cuts for the wealthiest of the wealthy. He's just going to let them expire in 2011. (NY Times)
Stimulus Package: Obama announced (YouTube) his stimulus package that is a lot more sweeping than what he talked about during the campaign. He's proposing creating 2.5 million jobs by spending money on infrastructure, education, and alternative energy. While his address is vague, the Washington Post thinks his proposal will cost "well over" $200 billion. Really? It think it'll come closer to $800 billion.
The Markets: The stock market made a comeback, evidently happy about the rescue of Citigroup (see below) and Obama's plan for an economic stimulus package (see above). On Monday and Tuesday the Dow Jones industrial average gains almost 900 points. (LA Times)
U.S. Banks: 22 have fallen so far this year. Citigroup may be the 23rd. (see below) (The Economic Times)
TARP: Now that we've spent about half of the $700 billion (not to mention all the other bail-out programs, see below), where do we stand on the Troubled Asset Relief Program? The effort to save Citigroup (see below) will be the "governments 3rd effort in 3 months" to stabilize the markets and could be used as a precedent to rescue other financial firms. First, the government said it would buy troubled assets. Then it scrapped that plan in favor of injecting money into financial institutions. Now it's trying a little of both. The previous efforts led to a bit of optimism on Wall Street but that optimism has always proved short-lived. (NY Times) In another piece, the NY Times pointed out that this new plan for Citigroup "raises about as many questions as it answers," particularly if it's seen as a model for an industrywide rescue. How does the government decide which assets to include? How would potential losses be calculated? Has it even considered all the assets that could lead to losses in the future? Even if this helps the market as a whole, there's no guarantee that it will prevent problems in financial institutions in the future. The Wall Street Journal noted that Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson is considering asking for the second half of the $700 billion bailout package to implement new programs, just the opposite of what he said last week. Paulson apparently would use the funds to make it easier for households to borrow money and to reduce foreclosures. According to Bloomberg: "The U.S. government is prepared to lend more than $7.4 trillion on behalf of American taxpayers, or half the value of everything produced in the nation last year [GDP], to rescue the financial system since the credit markets seized up 15 months ago." Great.
Federal Reserve: While the Treasury's every move is analyzed and debated, the Fed has lent $893 billion to a variety of institutions that are having trouble getting cash to continue operating. In some ways, it's carrying out the original goal of the TARP program by allowing financial institutions to put up troubled assets as collateral for the loans. But it's doing it all out of public view as the Fed is refusing to reveal not only which companies are asking for money but what collateral they pledged. The Fed insists this type of secrecy is necessary to avoid creating a stigma for the firms that ask to borrow money, which would make the program much less effective, because companies would be reluctant to seek the central bank's help. (Washington Post) Fed chair Ben Bernanke said he's going to commit up to $800 billion to "unfreeze credit for homebuyers, consumers and small businesses." The plan is to purchase up to $600 billion in debt "issued or backed by government-chartered housing-finance companies" and will also "set up a $200 billion program to support consumer and small-business loans." (Bloomberg)
Citigroup: Paulson and his team have come up with a plan to bail-out Citigroup -- in addition to the $25 billion they've gotten from TARP. (Wall Street Journal) Citigroup is the largest U.S. bank by assets. It is involved in so many aspects of the financial system, and in more than 100 countries, that it seems to fit the very definition of "too big to fail." (Washington Post) Wanna know what I think? Sure you do. If it's too big to fail, it's too big to exist. Under the plan, the government will protect Citigroup from losses on a $306 billion portfolio of assets mostly made up of loans and securities that are backed by residential and commercial real estate. Citigroup will be responsible for covering the first $29 billion in losses on top of the approximately $7 billion already in a rainy-day fund, for a total of $36 billion. (LA Times) After that threshold has been reached, the Treasury, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. (FDIC), and the Federal Reserve will absorb 90% of any further losses. The government will receive $7 billion in preferred shares, on top of the $20 billion of preferred stock it will get for its additional cash infusion. The government didn't mandate any changes to the company's leadership, but Citigroup did agree to grant the government power over its operations. The government can now "effectively prohibit stock dividends for the next 3 years" and Citigroup had to accept limits on executive compensation and to agree to implement a plan to modify mortgages to avoid foreclosures. The Wall Street Journal pointed out that the portfolio involved in this rescue is really only a drop in the bucket for a company that has $3 trillion in assets, including $667 billion in mortgage-related securities alone. Bush said there could be more bail-outs like this one. (Raw Story)
Citigroup History: I found this fascinating and thought you would too. Buried in a Washington Post piece about Citigroup's bail-out is a little bit of history. It's origins go back to a firm called First National City Bank that, in the 1920s, repackaged and sold bad loans from Latin America and billed them as safe securities. After the scheme collapsed, it became Citibank. So, having learned nothing, it again began repackaging bad loans as safe securities and this is at least part of the reason why it's in so much trouble. The NY Times also had a piece that explains how the company went from being worth $244 billion 2 years ago to $20.5 billion today. I find it particularly interesting since Robert Rubin, Clinton's Treasury secretary and an economic adviser in Obama's transition team, plays a starring role in the saga. Even more interesting is that one of the richest men in the world, Saudi Prince Alwaleed, is the largest shareholder in Citibank. (CNN Money)
The Total: Hang onto your seats. $7.7 trillion. Trillion. TARP was in addition to trillions we put up before the alleged crisis. "The bailout includes a Fed program to buy as much as $2.4 trillion in short-term notes, called commercial paper, that companies use to pay bills, begun Oct. 27, and $1.4 trillion from the FDIC to guarantee bank-to-bank loans, started Oct. 14. . . . The government committed $29 billion to help engineer the takeover in March of Bear Stearns Cos. by New York-based JPMorgan Chase & Co. and $122.8 billion in addition to TARP allocations to bail out New York-based American International Group Inc., once the world’s largest insurer. Citigroup received $306 billion of government guarantees for troubled mortgages and toxic assets. (Bloomberg) And, if you're still conscious, RealNews reported that it's actually $8.5 Trillion.
Wachovia & Wells Fargo: 10 Wachovia executives will get about $98.1 million in severance if Wells Fargo is able to complete its purchase of Wachovia by December 31st. The amounts are "triggered by 'change-in-control' clauses in the executives' employment contracts" and include $17.6 million to Ben Jenkins, vice chair and president of the general bank. (Wall Street Journal)
Robert Rubin: I've long been concerned about seeing this guy advising Obama. After all, he was responsible for convincing Clinton to get rid of Glass-Steagall and de-regulate the financial markets and he partnered up with Phil Gramm on the Enron Loophole, implicating him in the subprime mortgage crisis. He also has been touted as the one responsible for convincing Clinton to push through NAFTA. (See Bio.) It appears that the NY Times is concerned too. It says that Obama is creating "a virtual Rubin constellation" in his economic team. Obama's top economic nominees -- Timothy Geithner for Treasury secretary, Lawrence Summers for director of the National Economic Council, and Peter Orszag for budget director -- "are past protégés" of Rubin, who also has ties to other members of the president-elect's transition team. All 3 once shared Rubin's formula of favoring balanced budgets, free trade, and financial de-regulation that was so popular in the 1990s. A NY Times editorial hopes that they've "learned their lessons" and Rubin's mistakes won't be repeated. Later in the week Obama brought back Paul Volcker, former Federal Reserve Chair, to head up his new Economic Recovery Advisory Board. (Washington Post) Obama said: "At this defining moment for our nation, the old ways of thinking and acting just won't do. We are called to seek fresh thinking and bold new ideas from the leading minds across America." (AFP) Fresh thinking and bold new ideas from the same old people? Give me a break.
Spending Our Money: They've been spending our money on exorbitant salaries and bonuses (TWW, Helping the Wealthy, 10/25/08 & Bonuses, 11/15/08), but here's a new one. AIG, Citibank, and other financial institutions "have no plans to cancel hundreds of millions of dollars in sports team sponsorships." Citigroup is continuing its 20-year contract to pay the New York Mets $400 million to name the team's new stadium "Citi Field." AIG "is paying the British soccer team Manchester United $125 million for the privilege of having its logo appear on Man U's uniforms. That, despite the fact the firm is standing largely thanks to a $150 billion lifeline from the U.S. Treasury." Steve Ellis of Taxpayers for Common Sense joked that Manchester United should put "U.S. Treasury" on the front of their uniforms instead. (ABC News) Not everyone is continuing with old spending practices though. General Motors is canceling its $8 million sponsorship deal with Tiger Woods. (Advertising Age)
Offshore Drilling: The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the U.S. Minerals Management Service (MMS) improperly granted Shell Oil permission for exploratory drilling in Alaska's Beaufort Sea and ordered them to "reconsider how exploratory drilling would affect wildlife and Inupiat Eskimo subsistence hunting and fishing." Eric Jorgensen, an attorney for Earth Justice, said: "This decision confirms that the Bush administration rushed to approve Shell's drilling program in the Arctic Ocean without a full review of impacts to whales and the subsistence way of life for people in the region." (AP)
Let the Pardoning Begin: Bush has begun the pardoning process. If you remember, he has always been pretty stingy about pardons and commutations. (TWW, Year-End Gift Giving, 12/30/06) So far he's granted pardons to 14 individuals and commuted the prison sentences of 2 others "convicted of misdeeds including drug offenses, tax evasion, wildlife violations, and bank embezzlement." Haven't heard yet if Duke Cunningham is going to be pardoned. He applied, you know. (AP)
Impeaching Scalia: This is a pet peeve of mine, but this guy needs to be impeached. He's known for his friendship with VP Cheney, going hunting with him just before he heard oral arguments on a case brought by Cheney and others. (TWW, Scalia's Arrogance, 4/15/06) He's repeatedly done press conferences talking about his stance on issues, in effect pre-judging cases, something a judge is never supposed to do. (TWW, Scalia & Torture, 2/23/08) Now there's this. A couple of weeks ago he was in Lubbock for the Texas Tech University School of Law’s 2nd annual Sandra Day O’Connor Distinguished Lecture Series. But he took a break and went hunting with W. Mark Lanier, founder of The Lanier Law Firm in Houston. (Texas Lawyer) Lanier is the author of a Friend of the Court brief in the case of Wyeth v. Levine, currently pending before the Supreme Court.
Ku Klux Klan: It's waking from its disorganization and obscurity. More than 200 hate-related incidents have been reported since the November election. (LA Times)