Posse Comitatus: The Pentagon is planning to put an additional 20,000 specially trained troops on U.S. streets to beef up Homeland Security by 2011. The purported reason is to help government officials respond to a terrorist attack "or other domestic catastrophe." It appears that this is in addition to the assigning of the First Brigade to U.S. soil last October. (TWW, The First Brigade, 10/25/08) Many have been pushing for this for some time, including Congress, but now the Pentagon is going to fork over the bucks and troop commitments. Many are opposed, saying it could "strain the military." (Washington Post) More importantly, I think, is that it probably violates the Posse Comitatus Act, which restricts the military's role in domestic law enforcement. (See Martial Law, The Police State, and Unitary Executive Theory)
Torture: A group of about a dozen retired military leaders are going to start pressing Obama to stop the torture. Retired Vice Adm. Lee Gunn, a former Navy inspector general, said "We need to remove the stain, and the stain is on us, as well as on our reputation overseas." They claim that Obama should do this in order to "restore a U.S. image battered by allegations of torturing terrorism suspects." (Reuters) I would add we should stop doing it because it's just plain wrong. If you remember, 28 retired generals and admirals wrote to the House and Senate intelligence committees last December about the same thing. (TWW, Brass & Torture, 12/15/07)
Ali al-Marri: The U.S. Supreme Court has said it will hear al-Marri's appeal. He's a Qatari who is "the only person now being held in the United States as an 'enemy combatant,' arguing that Bush exceeded his powers and disregarded fundamental American legal principles." Since being picked up in 2003, he has been held in solitary confinement in a U.S. Navy brig in Charleston, SC without being charged. (Reuters) (TWW, The Military Commissions Act, 11/18/06; The Courts Speak, 6/16/07; Presidential Powers, 5/31/08; Enemy Combatants, 7/19/08)
DNA Testing: The European Court of Human Rights "struck down a British law that allows the government to store DNA and fingerprints from people with no criminal record." The unanimous ruling said that keeping DNA and fingerprints "violated people's right to a private life" and could force Britain "to destroy nearly 1 million samples on its database." (LA Times)
Another Executive Order: Bush issued another Executive Order "that denies collective bargaining rights to about 8,600 federal employees who work in law enforcement, intelligence and other agencies responsible for national security." (NY Times)
Indicting Cheney & Gonzales: The Texas Grand Jury indictments have been dropped. (TWW, Indicting Cheney & Gonzales, 11/22/08) The judge in charge of this thing, Manuel Banales, was asked to remove himself from the case, so he dismissed the charges instead. (Raw Story)
Mumbai: Now that the shootin' is over, everyone is wondering how just 10 men were able to terrorize India's financial capital, a city of about 15 million, for 3 days. Lack of security along the coastline was key, as it allowed the militants to enter the city undetected. (Washington Post) They then carried out a shooting rampage virtually undisturbed by the police, who were completely unprepared. (Wall Street Journal) The NY Times pointed out that there is some evidence that there may have been "help" from "accomplices pre-positioned on the ground." 9 of the men were killed. The only one captured is 21-year-old Pakistani Yusuf Muzammil. He apparently told the police he was a member of Lashkar-i-Taiba, a Pakistani-based militant group that's been training in Kashmir. Muzammil's name is on a list of 20 people that India gave to Pakistan earlier this week demanding they be extradited. They think Muzammil was the "leader" as the attackers apparently called him repeatedly during the attacks. (Wall Street Journal) Muzammil told ABC News that "only 10 of the 24 young men in his year-long terrorist training course were sent to Mumbai . . . leaving 14 still in Pakistan, ready to strike again." Who's doing anything about that?
SOFA: The Status of Forces Agreement (TWW, SOFA, 11/22/08 & 11/29/08) requires that detainees can be held "only if charged under Iraqi law." The military is 'fessing up to having about 15,800 people locked up and claims to have released at least 17,500 so far this year, "a record level and nearly double the number released last year." I'm stunned. How many did they have locked up to begin with? 100,000? More? No wonder they hate us. Anyway, the military is frantically trying to find evidence on at least 5,000 detainees, especially witnesses who can corroborate U.S. claims that they're bad, so they can get charged and not let out. No right of habeas corpus. Still, everyone seems to understand that Iraqi judges may decide to release some of the detainees because they just don't have any evidence. So, why are they locked up? Apparently the military thinks they're dangerous. (USA Today)
Kidnapped Workers: Remember the workers who were hired by KBR and its Jordanian subcontractor to supposedly work in Jordon but were kidnapped to Iraq? 12 of the 13 died. (TWW, Human Trafficking, 8/30/08) Well, this looks strikingly like that affair. They've found about 1,000 workers staying in a window-less warehouse for as much as 3 months with no money and no place to work. They were hired by Najlaa International Catering Services, a KBR subcontractor. "After McClatchy began asking questions about the men on Tuesday, the Kuwaiti contractor announced that it would return them to their home countries and pay them back salaries." (McClatchy) If McClatchy hadn't asked, how long would this have gone on?
Defense Solutions: If you're a little known contractor how do you get a lucrative federal contract? Hire someone like Barry McCaffrey, the "retired 4-star Army general and military analyst for NBC News." That's what Defense Solutions did. Only 4 days into the job, McCaffrey sent "a personal note" and a "15-page briefing packet" to General David Petraeus, the commanding general in Iraq, "strongly recommending Defense Solutions and its offer to supply Iraq with 5,000 armored vehicles from Eastern Europe. "No other proposal is quicker, less costly, or more certain to succeed." Why didn't General Motors, who produces HumVees, get the contract? Anyway, within days Defense Solutions had the contract. However, McCaffrey didn't tell Petraeus that he was working for Defense Solutions. And he didn't disclose it "when he went on CNBC that same week and praised the commander Defense Solutions was now counting on for help." The next month McCaffrey testified before Congress and criticized the Pentagon's plan to supply Iraq with several hundred armored vehicles made in the U.S. "by a competitor of Defense Solutions." Instead he urged the purchase of 5,000 armored vehicles from Defense Solutions. But he never disclosed to Congress that he was working for Defense Solutions. (NY Times) Remember all the generals that were shilling for the Pentagon on TV? (TWW, Pentagon Message Machine, 4/26/08) Is there no end to the greed out there?
Feeling Safe?: Last year Congress ordered a report and, after 6 months, it's now ready. The Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism says that the odds are real good that a major city will be struck by terrorists with WMD. They single out Bush's ally, Pakistan, as being "a grave concern" because they nurture terrorist net-works, have a history of instability, and also have an arsenal of several dozen nuclear warheads. "In our judgment, America's margin of safety is shrinking, not growing." They also said that terrorists are more likely to get what they need for a biological attack than to buy or steal nuclear weapons. (Washington Post) What's being done about this? Nothing. More than a year ago Congress passed a law requiring the president to appoint a White House official, confirmed by the Senate, "to coordinate efforts to prevent terrorists from obtaining nuclear or biological weapons." While Bush signed the bill, he hasn't done it, "in part because [he] opposes giving the Senate the power to confirm the official. Obama, however, plans to appoint someone and it's reported that he's considering former Senator Bob Graham (D, FL), who headed up the Commission. (Boston Globe)
Bush Burrows: Or should I say "moles?" (TWW, Burrowing, 11/29/08) The American Federation of Government Employees, "the largest union of federal workers," and the Senior Executives Association, want Bush to release his burrow list "to prove that in its final weeks, political aides are not improperly winning career government jobs at the expense of more qualified workers." (Washington Post)
Obama's Birth: People have been asking Congress not to confirm the election because, they say, Obama isn't a natural born citizen, even though Hawaii has issued his birth certificate and a statement confirming that he is. (Pacific Business News) Since Congress wouldn't bite, New Jersey attorney Leo Donofrio filed a lawsuit and the Supreme Court was petitioned to hear it. Justice David Souter denied the request, but Justice Clarence Thomas picked it up and referred it to the full Court. The full Court has decided it will "distribute the case for the judges' conference. 4 of the 9 judges must approve it before the case can be heard. (Washington Times) Apparently the issue is that Obama received dual citizenship since his father was a Kenyan-born national, which, they argue, doesn't qualify him as a "natural born citizen" as required by the U.S. Constitution. (Essence)
Robert Gates: As we've heard, prez-elect Obama intends to keep Gates as Secretary of Defense. However, Robert Parry, of Consortium News, thinks Obama ought to talk to the Kremlin before he does this. In January 1993, as Clinton was being sworn into office, Lee Hamilton was heading up a national security committee looking into whether the Reagan-Bush campaign in 1980 had interfered with President Jimmy Carter’s attempts to free 52 American hostages then held in Iran. He received a report from the Russians revealing that the "long-rumored meetings between Republicans and Iranians in Europe during Campaign 1980 had indeed occurred." This is what became known as the "October Surprise." Hamilton dismissed the report and hid it. Parry found it. "But the reason I'm mentioning this document now is that one of the Americans implicated by the Russian report was Robert Gates, who in 1980 was a junior CIA official, who had served on Carter’s National Security Council staff before returning to the CIA as executive assistant to CIA Director Stansfield Turner. As translated by the U.S. Embassy, the Russian report stated, 'R[obert] Gates, at that time a staffer of the National Security Council in the administration of Jimmy Carter, and former CIA Director George [H.W.] Bush also took part' in a meeting with Iranians in Paris in October 1980." Congressional Quarterly noted that, "Obama pledged to give Gates a new mission of 'responsibly ending the war in Iraq through a successful transition to Iraqi control,' while also addressing shortfalls in Afghanistan." Given Gates' history of undermining his employer, maybe Barack ought to go looking for someone else.
James L. Jones: The retired Marine general is Obama's pick for National Security Adviser. (TWW, National Security, 11/29/08) He won't have anything to do with environmental policy, but he admits that energy is a vital national security issue. So, this has some people concerned. He sits on the board of Chevron and, since March 2007, has been president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Institute for 21st Century Energy, which "calls for the immediate expansion of domestic oil and gas production, nuclear energy and clean-coal technology, in addition to investment in renewable and alternative energy sources. (LA Times)
More Last-Minute Rules: Bush is still passing new rules to help the corporations and screw the people. (TWW, More Rule Amendments, 11/22/08 & EPA, 11/8/08) I haven't been telling you about all of them. They're far too numerous. But there are some that are so egregious that I have to bring them to your attention. One would "make it much harder for the government to regulate toxic substances and hazardous chemicals to which workers are exposed on the job." Business groups have wanted this for a long time. "Public health officials and labor unions said the rule would delay needed protections for workers, resulting in additional deaths and illnesses." (NY Times) Bush also approved a rule that will "make it easier for coal companies to dump rock and dirt from mountaintop mining operations into nearby streams and valleys." (NY Times) And here's a beaut. According to the NY Times: "Congress has emergency power to stop mineral development, and has used it 6 times in the last 32 years. The most recent was in June, when it put a 3-year moratorium on uranium mining on one million acres near the Grand Canyon. Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne has ignored that Congressional directive, saying it was procedurally flawed." The problem is a lawsuit filed to stop uranium mining at the Grand Canyon that sites the law. (TWW, Mining at the Grand Canyon, 3/15/08) So Kempthorne issued a new rule that "eliminates all references to Congressional authority." It went through Bush's rule-making "with lightning speed," allowing just 15 days for public comment."
Universal Healthcare: "The idea of a federal, single-payer system patterned on those in Europe and Canada, long a dream of the political left, is now virtually off the table." Yup. Forget it. But the "traditionally conservative concept" is also off the table. (LA Times) What's the rule when there's gridlock? Do nothing.
Medical Marijuana: Back in 2005, Felix Kha was stopped by Garden Grove, California police who found and seized a small amount of marijuana. Kha claimed he used it for medical purposes, for his chronic pain. Orange County prosecutors dropped the charges against him after they verified that he was indeed using the drug for medical purposes. But police refused to return the drugs on the grounds that to do so violated federal drug distribution laws. Kha sued and a Superior Court judge sided with him, ordering the city to return his marijuana. The City of Garden Grove refused and appealed to the California Supreme Court who refused to hear the case. So, they appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court -- who has also refused to hear the case. (LA Times)
Higher Education: It looks like fewer and fewer people are going to be able to go to college. The National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education's annual report said that college tuition and fees increased 439% from 1982 to 2007, adjusted for inflation, while median family income rose just 147%. (More evidence of the demise of the middle class.) Students are borrowing more than ever, doubling during the last 10 years, "and students from lower-income families, on average, get smaller grants from the colleges they attend than students from more affluent families." What? Poorer students get less aid? Patrick Callan, president of the Center, said, "If we go on this way for another 25 years, we won’t have an affordable system of higher education." (NY Times) The key word being "affordable." Wealthy people will always be able to afford it, no matter what the amount is.
State Problems: State governors are going to ask for $176 billion in aid from Obama's stimulus package. (Washington Post)
The Deficit: With last week's announcement of $600 billion to lower mortgage rates, $200 billion to stimulate consumer loans and nearly $300 billion to steady Citigroup (TWW, Federal Reserve & Citigroup, 11/29/08) and Obama's expected stimulus package (TWW, Stimulus Package, 11/29/08), analysts say the budget deficit for this year will probably be in excess $1 trillion. (LA Times)
Black Friday: Shopping was stronger than expected. From Black Friday through Sunday, approximately 173 million people shopped, a 17% increase from last year. They spent an average of $372.57, a 7.2% increase. But some warn that the discounts motivating consumers to shop were so steep that they could end up hurting retailers down the road. (USA Today) Later in the week, as more data come in, we learned that retail sales fell 2.7% in November and experts say it could have been worse, the "results were terrible instead of being completely horrific." (LA Times)
The Dollar: A team of U.N. economists, in their annual report on the world economy, said that the U.S. dollar "risks a hard landing in 2009." The report said the dollar's bounce a while back (TWW, The Dollar, 10/25/08) was "driven mainly by a flight to the safety of the international reserve currency as the financial crisis spread beyond the U.S. The overall trend remained a downward one, however, reflecting perceptions that the U.S. debt position was approaching unsustainable levels." [Emphasis added.] It gets worse. "Investors might renew their flight to safety, though this time away from dollar-denominated assets, thereby forcing the U.S. economy into a hard landing and pulling the global economy into a deeper recession." And if all this isn't enough, there's this: "The report recommends reform of the international reserve system away from almost exclusive reliance on the dollar and towards a globally backed multi-currency system." (Financial Times) Now we know why Cheney has all his money in Euros.
Jobs: On Wednesday AFP reported that another 250,000 jobs were lost in November, "the largest decline in 6 years." That makes the total number of people on the unemployment rolls at 4.09 million, "the most since December 1982." (Bloomberg) Who was president in 1982? Oh, yeah. Ronald Reagan. But on Friday the Labor Department report came out which said the job loss for November was 533,000, "the 11th consecutive monthly decline" and an official unemployment rate of 6.7%." (NY Times) The official unemployment rate doesn't include people who are under-employed or who have simply stopped looking for work. Counting those folks would nearly double the November unemployment rate, putting it at 12.5% rather than 6.7%. (NY Times) Robert Reich said the numbers "beg the question of whether the meltdown we're experiencing should be called a Depression." As a former Secretary of Labor, Reich has immense insight into the issue. I suggest you read his blog.
And Fewer Jobs: If you think November was bad, wait until you see the December numbers. AT&T is going to cut 12,000 jobs. Viacom is going to layoff 850 people. Adobe is going to cut 600. And NBC is laying off 3% of its workforce. (LA Times) More than 30 daily newspapers are for sale and, since "buyers are scarce" we can expect plenty of layoffs from this sector. (Denver Post) New job cuts were announced for Credit Suisse, Dupont (2,500), Avis Budget (2,200), Honda Motor, Viacom, and Windstream. (Business Week) And, if the auto industry goes down, it's estimated that we'll lose another 3-5 million jobs. Check out the chart at CNN for how your state will be affected.
The Recession: Here's a revelation for ya. "The National Bureau of Economic Research says its group of academic economists who determine business cycles met and decided that the U.S. economy fell into a recession last year" in December 2007. (LA Times) Ya think? I wonder how much they got paid for that brilliant piece of analysis. Sure puts the last year of hearing "The economy is strong" into perspective, doesn't it? But wait. There's more. "'This downturn promises to be the worst since the Great Depression in the 1930s,' said Joshua Shapiro, chief U.S. economist at forecasting firm MFR Inc. 'We've only just started. I can't see bottoming out until sometime in 2010.'" (LA Times) An index of U.S. manufacturing activity dropped to its lowest level since 1982 "when the nation experienced its worst downturn since World War II." A separate report revealed that construction spending suffered a higher-than-expected 1.2% plunge in October. (Washington Post)
Financial Industry: Wanna know what happened? Michael Lewis has absolutely the best piece I've seen explaining this thing.
Fixing It: What can be done to stimulate the economy? Fed chair Ben Bernanke said it is "certainly feasible" that there will be more cuts in short-term interest rates. Since it's at 1%, I don't know how much lower it can go. (Wall Street Journal) Bernanke, however, said they could prop up the economy by expanding the government's involvement in the private markets, like purchasing Treasury notes and bonds in an attempt to bring down long-term interest rates. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson said he's working on it. (NY Times)
TARP: The GAO has issued it's report, mandated by the bail-out legislation. It says that the Treasury has no idea where the $700 billion is. They were supposed to figure out how to make sure that the Wall Street Welfare Queens complied with limits on executive compensation and dividend payments, but have yet to do it. It should be noted that, in order to release this report at this time, they had to have investigated it a while back so the information may be out of date. But banks are still using our money to buy other banks. (Bloomberg)
Auto Industry: November was the worst sales month in 26 years. General Motors is just barely hanging on and could collapse by the end of year. It needs an immediate injection of $4 billion and will need as much as $18 billion in loans over the next year. (Washington Post) Chrysler's not in good shape either and is asking for a $7 billion loan before the year end. Ford doesn't seem to be in as bad shape. They asked for a $9 billion line of credit but emphasized they might not need it. Financial experts and congressional Reps are beginning to look at ways to bring them in and out of Chapter 11 bankruptcy quickly, allowing for a reorganization. (Wall Street Journal) Auto CEOs are vowing to reduce their salaries next year to $1 and cut other compensation. They're promising to increase efforts to produce more fuel-efficient vehicles. But the proposals don't do squat for helping workers or creating jobs. They said that by 2012 they would cut 11 North American factories, slash at least 20,000 jobs, reduce its network of dealers by more than 1,800, and sell or close down Saturn and Saab. (NY Times) That'll help the economy. The UAW (United Auto Workers union) gave major concessions in 2005 and 2007 so the Big Three CEOs could keep their salary and perks and still have enough money to turn over to the speculators. (Auto Channel) And they're going to pony up again to help their employers get a loan. Mighty big of them, I'd say, especially considering that none of the financial companies gave up squat and they didn't get loans, just welfare. But, just like the taxpayers bailing them out, the auto workers are going to help bail out the Big 3. They said they'll let them delay billions of dollars in payments to the retiree healthcare trust and suspend a controversial jobs bank that pays laid-off workers. Workers are considering other things too. (LA Times)
Auto Worker Myth: You've probably heard the myth being propagated that auto workers make $70 an hour. The first time I heard this, it was $70 an hour. It's been climbing steadily and the last time I heard it was up to "almost $100" an hour. The first claim came from Andrew Sorkin, writing for NY Times, who added that the $70 included health care and pension costs. In fact, in 2006, the average wage was less than $28 an hour. The $70 an hour figure represents all labor costs, which includes pensions and health care for current and retired workers as well as monies going to surviving spouses. (UAW) I see this as nothing less than an attack on working class Americans, coming on the heels of the bail-out for the wealthiest.
Cutting the Perks: The auto execs got the message and are now talking about cutting their perquisites as well as their salaries. They're all driving to Washington this time rather than coming on private jets. (TWW, Auto Industry, 11/22/08) GM's Rick Wagoner is coming in a hybrid Chevy Malibu. Robert Hardellin, Chrysler's CEO, is driving a hybrid but they "declined to name the model." And Alan Mulally of Ford is coming in a Ford Escape hybrid. Ford and GM said they would get rid of their corporate jets permanently. But many say this is not cost-effective because they make so much money their time is worth more than the cost of the jets. Say what? In 2007, Ford's CEO made about $10,000 an hour. And they're complaining about labor costs? (NY Times)
Saving the Auto Industry: Democratic leaders in the House have decided they'll provide Chrysler and GM a loan of $14 billion to come out of the Energy Department's $25-billion advanced technology fund that was supposed to be used to help them make more fuel-efficient cars. The plan still needs support from the Republicans. (LA Times) Why don't all those banks we just gave hundreds of billions of dollars to, that was supposed to be to make loans, give loans to the auto companies.
Supporting the Auto Industry: Which auto industry do we support? In a press conference on November 20th, UAW president Ron Gettelfinger enlightened us with the figures on how much we've helped foreign automakers relocating their manufacturing here in the U.S. who he calls "transplants." He said: "Since 1992, states where we have transplants have located have put in over $3 billion dollars in incentives and I would point out that is the money that the state settled for and I want to go specifically to Alabama if I could for a minute. We have Hyundai Motor Company that got $252 million in incentives. Toyota there got $29 million in incentives. Honda, $158 million and Mercedes $253 million in incentives. It just seems odd to us that we can help the financial institutions in this country and that we can offer incentives to our competitors to come here and compete against us but at the same time, we are willing to walk away from an industry that is the backbone of our economy." Let me point out that Senator Richard Shelby (R, AL) has been the most vocal critic of the Big Three and the most vocal against helping them. Think maybe there's a conflict of interest here?
Offensive Compensation: Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson "was awarded a $4 million bonus in 2008" and was granted 225,000 shares of restricted stock. He will also receive a 10% increase in his annual salary in 2009, raising his base salary to $2.06 million. What in the world can anyone possible do to "earn" that much money? (Reuters)
AIG: Last week AIG said they were scrapping bonuses for top executives but they're still gonna pay 130 managers "cash awards" to stay with the firm. Jay Wintrob will get $3 million for his "cash award," but not a bonus. (Bloomberg)
Carbon: I didn't know this. Carbon is forever. The impact of fossil CO2 will outlast Stonehenge and nuclear waste. (Nature)
White Supremacist: Derek Black is the son of Don Black, a former Grand Wizard of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan. In November he won a seat with the West Palm Beach, FL Republican Party executive committee. A declared White Supremacist who was supported by David Duke, the Republican Party has refused to seat him. Black says it's because he refused to sign a party loyalty oath. He's going to sue. (UPI)