Illegal Wiretapping: U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth, chief judge for the District of Columbia, is on the warpath, saying that the CIA repeatedly misled him in asserting the "state secrets" defense in a 15-year-old lawsuit. The suit was brought in 1994 by a former Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) officer "who said his phone calls had been illegally intercepted while he was on duty in Burma." The suit has been sealed since it was filed. Clinton and Bush both sought to dismiss the case on national security grounds. Lamberth "ordered former CIA director George Tenet and 5 other CIA officials to explain their actions or face potential sanctions." But he didn't stop there. He also "questioned the credibility" of the testimony of current CIA Director, Leon Panetta, saying it "contained significant discrepancies." And Lamberth also rejected the Justice Department's (DOJ) request "that the case continue to be kept secret." He then released "hundreds of previously secret filings." Lamberth said: "The court does not give the government a high degree of deference because of its prior misrepresentations regarding the stated secrets privilege in this case. Although this case has been sealed since its inception to protect sensitive information, it is clear . . . that many of the issues are unclassified." The suit named Franklin Huddle, a U.S. diplomat, and Arthur Brown, a CIA officer, as defendants. Lamberth said the CIA "refused to make the 'basic acknowledgement'" that it possesses eavesdropping equipment, "even though this is information quickly available through a 'public online encyclopedia.'" He said that "an unclassified declaration by Panetta 'appears to significantly conflict with his classified declaration' over whether CIA eavesdropping technology is publicly known." He said that "a declaration by Tenet was never updated after the relevant facts changed." But what pissed him off most "was the CIA's failure to reveal that Brown, once undercover, had his cover lifted in 2002." Based on Brown's undercover status, Lamberth had dismissed the case in 2004, but the dismissal was overturned by an appeals court. He said that "the CIA's attorneys engaged in a 'fraud on the court' by not revealing that Brown's name no longer needed to be kept secret." DOJ attorneys "insisted the name of the CIA's former assistant general counsel should remain secret for fear that his reputation would otherwise be harmed." Lamberth, however, "rejected that argument, releasing the files, demanding an explanation from Tenet and others, and revealing the name of the former assistant general counsel for the CIA, John Radsan. He also ordered that Tenet, Brown, Radsan and CIA attorneys Jeffrey Yeates, John Rizzo, and Robert T. Eatinger explain their actions." (McClatchy)
Iqbal Decision: Last May the Supreme Court issued a decision in the case of Ashcroft v. Iqbal. The case was of a Pakistani man who was arrested in New York City in November 2001 and tortured. The Supreme Court ruled that the former Attorney General John Ashcroft and former FBI Director Robert Mueller could not be sued without evidence that they ordered the abusive treatment. (TWW, Javaid Iqbal, 5/23/09) According to the NY Times, the case has already been cited over 500 times by lower courts. Stephen Burbank with the University of Pennsylvania Law School said that the decision "is a blank check for federal judges to get rid of cases they disfavor."
Signing Statements: I told you recently that Obama had defied Congress by issuing a signing statement saying he'll do what he wants with regard to the International Monetary Fund. (TWW, Signing Statements, 7/11/09) Congress was obviously miffed and added the language Obama said he'd ignore to another bill. This week, House Financial Services Chair Barney Frank (D, MA), House Appropriations Chair David Obey (D, WI), and Rep. Nita Lowey (D, NY), and Gregory Meeks (D, NY), who chair the 2 subcommittees that deal with international financial institutions, sent Obama a "strongly worded rebuke." The letter said: "[W]e request that you no longer assert the right to ignore provisions that Congress adds through the normal legislative process for funding for the international financial institutions." (CQ)
White House Visitor Logs: Remember this stink? The Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) tried to get Bush's White House visitor logs and was told that they had been reclassified by the Secret Service as presidential documents under the exclusive control of the White House." (TWW, Expanding Executive Power, 7/7/07) Now CREW has tried to get information "about visits from 18 executives representing health insurers, drug makers, doctors and other players in the debate. The group wants the material in order to gauge the influence of those executives in crafting a new healthcare policy." Guess what. "The Secret Service sent a reply stating that documents revealing the frequency of such visits were considered presidential records exempt from public disclosure laws. The agency also said it was advised by the Justice Department that the Secret Service was within its rights to withhold the information because of the "presidential communications privilege." (LA Times) Nothing has changed.
India: We signed an agreement which allows arms sales to India. It's known as the "End Use Monitoring" agreement and is required by U.S. law for such weapons sales. It lets the U.S. check on India to insure that they are using the weapons we sell them for "the purposes intended." What's that? Bombing Pakistan? It also prevents, supposedly, the selling of the technology we give them to other countries. Reuters said this will be a "boon to U.S. companies such as Lockheed Martin Corp and Boeing Co." So now Lockheed can stop whining about the F-22s. (TWW, Defense Spending Bill, 7/18/09)
Pakistan: It's objecting to Obama's expansion of the war in Afghanistan due to fears that retreating Taliban militants will slip across the border, which they have been doing for years. In fact, Pakistan thinks it can deal with Taliban militants by talking to them. However, the real problem, it appears, is that, if the U.S. leaves Afghanistan, Pakistan might become allies with the Taliban in Afghanistan in order to strengthen themselves against India. Pakistani officials have told the White House that Pakistan doesn't have enough troops to make sure Taliban militants in southern Afghanistan don't slip into the province of Baluchistan unless it removes troops from the Indian border, which appears to be out of the question. Pakistani intelligence officials also made it clear they don't think the Taliban militants are using their country as a base of operations. But isn't Pakistan fighting the Pakistani Taliban in the country's tribal regions? American officials say this is a prime example of how Pakistan is choosing to fight only militants that threaten its own government. (NY Times) Well, duh. Anyone really believe they're going to spend money and lives to help the U.S.? What have we done for them recently? Bombed the shit out of their country and killed their citizens. Yeah. That'll endear them to us.
Ecuador: Chevron's Texaco branch was sued in Ecuador for "polluting Ecuador’s rain forest with oil-contaminated water for nearly 2 decades." An expert appointed by Ecuador’s courts assessed the damages to the locals’ health and environment to be $27 billion. But Chevron spokesperson Don Campbell told the Wall Street Journal, "We’re not paying and we’re going to fight this for years if not decades into the future." Erin Geiger Smith of Business Insider said that the case had originally been filed in U.S. courts, but Texaco pushed to have it moved to Ecuador because "the oil company thought it would be able to take advantage of Ecuador's legal system." Smith said, "Chevron intends to fight enforcement by claiming the trial was unfair, in part because Ecuador’s president has publicly supported the plaintiffs."
Honduras: President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have been soundly criticized for taking so little action on the Honduran coup d'etat that ousted a democratically-elected president. (TWW, Honduras, 7/4/09) The White House has said little other than condemning the coup. Obama and Clinton have "steered clear" of the issue and delegated the handling of it to the UN General Assembly and the Organization of American States. (Miami Herald) I thought this was all quite strange. Then I found out that Lanny Davis, a "Washington lawyer and lobbyist, former legal counsel to President Clinton and avid campaigner for Hillary Rodham Clinton's presidential bid . . . has been hired by a coalition of Latin American business interests to represent the dictatorship that ousted elected President Manuel Zelaya . . . and removed him to Costa Rica on June 28." Huh? Close ties to Hillary Clinton? Hired to represent the interests of the coup? In addition, "Davis is working with Bennett Ratcliff, another lobbyist with a close relationship to Hillary Clinton . . . In the current mediation effort hosted by Costa Rican President Oscar Arias, the coup-installed government did not make a move without first consulting Ratcliff." The LA Times said that "Davis and Ratcliff have done an amazing public relations job so far. Americans, relying on media reports, are likely to believe that Zelaya was ousted because he tried to use a referendum to extend his term of office. This is false." The Times concluded: "If we add together the high-powered lobbyists from the Clinton camp, Republican members of Congress and conservatives within the State Department, the coup government has a lot of support from Washington."
States & Healthcare Reform: You'd think the states would be supporting healthcare reform. Not so. They expect that Medicaid eligibility will be expanded, increasing states' costs for the program. While governors agree that reform is needed, they're concerned about adding additional costs to the already cash-strapped states. (NY Times)
Healthcare Reform: Democratic leaders in the House slapped Obama, who wanted a bill by August. They've made it clear that they're willing to compromise to hang onto their Blue Dog members and appease their governors (see above). Obama acquiesced, saying he wanted a bill by the end of the year. House Dems are now considering scaling back the proposed income surtax on the wealthiest households. "Aides to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi say she wants the surtax to be paid only by individuals making at least $500,000 and families making $1 million or more. That way it can be referred to as a tax on millionaires." However, "the Senate doesn't seem too interested in imposing a surtax," so the House is skeptical about including it at all if the Senate will strike it from the final bill. House Dems are considering taxing health insurance plans, "and Obama suggested he wouldn't object as long as it 'doesn't put additional burdens on middle-class families.'" (NY Times) But according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of Social Security Administration data, more than one-third of all wages in the U.S. now goes to executives and other highly-paid employees. That sector is receiving "nearly $2.1 trillion of the $6.4 trillion in total U.S. pay in 2007." From 2002 to 2007, earnings for American workers rose 24%, but the highest-paid saw a 48% increase. In other words, most of us got nothing but the wealthiest got 48%, which averaged out at 24%. So, increasing taxes on this small percentage of people, who have been doing very well for quite some time, would raise revenue for healthcare reform. Senator Bernie Sanders (I, VT) said, "It certainly is okay for me to tell my friends on Wall Street, who just got a bonus of $600,000, they're going to pay more in taxes so we can lower health care costs in America." (You Tube)
Healthcare Reform Polls: The Lewin Group is a consulting firm that does public opinion polls. They recently did one on healthcare reform that Republicans love to cite in their fight against reforming the system. However, the Washington Post reported that The Lewin Group is owned by UnitedHealth Group, one of the nation's largest insurers. In fact, it's part of Ingenix, a UnitedHealth subsidiary that was accused of distributing bad data to get consumers to pay for more medical expenses. The company denied any wrongdoing but reached a $50 million settlement with the New York attorney general and a $350 million settlement with the American Medical Association. The Lewin Group insists it has a wide variety of clients and its research is not affected by its corporate owner but also acknowledged that a study that contradicts a client's position might never be released.
NOTE: It's now official. Obama's press conference Wednesday night made it official. We're no longer talking about healthcare reform. It's now health insurance reform.
The Dow: The Dow Jones industrial average went over the 9,000 mark this week for the first time since early January. It increased 38.5% in less than 5 months, the biggest gain in such a short period of time since 1975. It is still down 36% from its 2007 record. (Wall Street Journal) What's behind the spike? Probably the huge profits reported by Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase. (TWW, Goldman Sachs & JPMorgan, 7/18/09) According to Robert Reich: "[T]hose profits aren't being powered by consumers who have suddenly found themselves with a lot more money in their pockets. The profits are coming from dramatic cost-cutting -- including, most notably, payroll cuts. If a firm cuts its costs enough, it can show a profit even if its sales are still in the basement." Reich pointed out there are 2 problems with this. Such profits can't be maintained and the lay-offs mean an even weaker economy in the future. So, hold onto your wallets. This ain't over and it looks like it's gonna get worse before it gets better.
Delphi Corporation: This is a parts maker that's a subsidiary of General Motors. It filed for bankruptcy in 2005 and ceased making contributions to its pension fund, but continued paying pension benefits. The benefits consistently increased "because thousands of workers were being laid off as Delphi restructured, and many claimed their pensions early." The Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC), "a government body that collects premiums from companies to insure their pensions," was so concerned about the state of Delphi's pension fund that it "began putting liens on Delphi’s offshore affiliates," which aren't in bankruptcy. Last September PBGC warned Delphi that it would fight to make General Motors, the parent company, take responsibility for its pension costs primarily because of "a promise made 10 years ago by GM to take over the union plan if necessary, since the plan was not fully funded when Delphi was spun off." Well, guess what. It didn't happen. PBGC (read U.S. taxpayers) are going to take over Delphi's pension plan to the tune of $6.2 billion. (NY Times)
SCHIP: Even though states are in desperate economic trouble, 13 of them have used the federal expansion in the State Children's Health Insurance Plan (TWW, SCHIP, 1/31/09 & 2/7/09) "to cover 250,000 more children. . . . 3 states are dropping requirements that legal immigrants wait 5 years before joining the program, a step newly permitted by the federal legislation. Others have extended coverage to pregnant women or streamlined enrollment and eligibility procedures." (NY Times)
Climate Change: What fixed one problem is making another problem worse. Remember in the 1990s when we started using hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) to replace the chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) used in things like air conditioners, refrigerators, and insulating foam? CFCs were destroying the ozone. And it worked. The ozone is recovering. "But researchers say what's good for ozone is bad for climate change. In the atmosphere, these replacement chemicals act like 'super' greenhouse gases, with a heat-trapping power that can be 4,470 times that of carbon dioxide." (Washington Post)
Fixing Climate Change: Rajendra Pachauri, the head of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), said that "Measures needed to tackle global warming could save economies more money than they cost." He told The Guardian: "'The cost could undoubtedly be negative overall.' This is because of the additional benefits that reducing greenhouse gas emissions could bring, beyond limiting temperature rises." This is counter to the 2006 Stern report which "concluded that 1% of global GDP would be required, and he has since said 2% is now more likely." One of the Stern report authors, Alex Bowen, said: "[Pachauri's] is a defensible position, not delusional. But I am more of a skeptic."
TARP: Neil Barofsky, the Inspector General (IG) who's overseeing the Trouble Asset Relief Program, has issued a report that says that the banks are using our money to invest, pay debts, and, in a few cases, buy other banks. It also states that the vast majority of banks used at least some of the money for new lending. The report is based on voluntary responses to a survey, which makes me question how accurate it is. The IG wants the Treasury Department to require banks to detail how they use the federal money. Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner has refused to do this. (Washington Post)
Credit Derivatives: Last week I told you about the record profits being made by Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase. (TWW. Goldman Sachs & JPMorgan, 7/18/09) The Financial Times, which said that the huge profits "amply illustrate how the decline of some rival dealers has reinforced their dominance," reported that the DOJ's antitrust department (TWW, Antitrust, 7/11/09) is going to look into "the possibility of anticompetitive practices in the credit derivatives clearing, trading and information services industries." The FT said that this kind of investigation means that "the future for such institutions may not be so rosy."