Originally Published: 12/13/2014
Torture: The CIA torture report of the Senate Intelligence Committee is finally out. It’s more than anyone expected, with “new allegations of cruelty.” It took the Committee, overseen by Senator Dianne Feinstein (D, CA), 5 years to complete this investigation and, for the last several months, its release has been stalled. (TWW, Spying on Congress, Torture, 8/2/14) The complete report exceeds 6,000 pages; the declassified summary that was released is 528 pages. Watch Dianne Feinstein’s announcement of the report at the Guardian. And watch John McCain’s (R, AZ) response. (Talking Points Memo) McCain is the only member of Congress who was a prisoner of war (POW) and was tortured, so I guess he knows. He also asserted that the torture “stained our national honor.” And listen to Senator Mark Udall (D, CO) as he says the CIA “is lying.” (Ring of Fire Radio)
The report found that, not only did the CIA perform unpardonable torture tactics, there is an internal CIA memo that “relays instructions from the White House to keep the program secret from then-Secretary of State Colin Powell out of concern that he would ‘blow his stack if he were to be briefed on what’s going on.’” So much for the White House’s defense that they didn’t know how bad it was. Even former VP Dick Cheney, on Fox News, admitted that they all were fully aware of every aspect of the torture program. And, he said, Bush was fully aware: “Read his book, he talks about it extensively in his memoirs. He was in fact an integral part of the program, he had to approve it before we went forward with it.” (Talking Points Memo) The report contains a “complete roster of all 119 prisoners held in CIA custody and indicates that at least 26 were held because of mistaken identities or bad intelligence.” [Emphasis added.]
The report concludes that “harsh interrogation measures . . . didn’t work.” In addition it found that CIA assertions that “enhanced interrogation” produced good intelligence on the capture of Osama bin Laden was “exaggerated if not utterly false.” (Washington Post) The NY Times has a summary of the CIA’s claims that torture works but what the investigation found. The Daily Beast put out a list of “the most gruesome moments.” If you don’t want to read the summary report, this will give you a good overview. The findings depict interrogations that lasted for days; detainees forced to stand on broken legs; detainees forced to go 180 hours or more without sleep. One prison was so cold that a detainee actually froze to death. These, of course, are in addition to the waterboarding incidents. If you remember, the CIA previously claimed that there were only 3 people who were waterboarded (Pro Publica), but the investigation uncovered that there were more. The Washington Post also has a summary of “20 key findings.” If you want more information on the psychologist contractors who devised the “enhanced interrogation” program and went on to get more government contracts, check out this piece at the Telegraph. If all this has depressed you significantly, watch Jon Stewart’s take on it. (You Tube)
The world is reacting to the report with expected results. The Guardian collected reactions from the United Nations, Britain, Iran, China, North Korea, Poland, Guantánamo, Yemen, Egypt, Malaysia, Russia, France, and more. The UN, Human Rights Watch, and Amnesty International are calling for criminal prosecution. Ben Emmerson, UN’s special rapporteur on counter-terrorism and human rights, said: “As a matter of international law, the U.S. is legally obliged to bring those responsible to justice. The U.S. Attorney General is under a legal duty to bring criminal charges against those responsible.” The Department of Justice has said it will not pursue charges. (RT)
Gitmo: Another 6 detainees held at Guantánamo were transferred to Uruguay last weekend. “The detainees included a Tunisian, a Palestinian, and 4 Syrians who were captured in Pakistan and Afghanistan more than a decade ago and turned over to U.S. forces. This was the largest single transfer of detainees since 2009.” (Washington Post)
Michigan: Detroit is out of bankruptcy but it’s still struggling. Mayor Mike Duggan asked: “How do you deliver service in a city where the unemployment rate is double the state average, and we’ve got to rebuild a water system and a bus system and a computer system and a financial system? It’s all going to be a challenge.” (NY Times)
Missouri: U.S. District Judge Carol Jackson ruled that St. Louis area police must issue warnings and give crowds reasonable time to disperse before firing tear gas. The issue came to her bench after activists complained about the “heavy-handed police tactics” during protests. (Reuters)
Pennsylvania: 6 school districts, “along with advocacy groups and that state’s NAACP,” are suing the state to force it to “rework” how it funds school districts. “Pennsylvania is one of 3 states without a statewide funding formula for public education.” (Al Jazeera)
Texas: U.S. District Judge Darlene Byrne ordered Texas to reveal the source of the drugs it uses to execute people. As in other states, death row inmates are arguing they have a right to know details about the drugs that will be used to kill them. The state will appeal the decision. (Guardian)
Budget Deal: They finally reached a deal for a $1.01 trillion budget, less than was originally proposed. The Continuing Resolution (CR) expired on Thursday but they also passed another CR to keep things going until this deal can get through both houses. The plan is for $492 billion to run the government including $1.2 billion “to deal with the influx of unaccompanied immigrant children” and a $93 million cut to the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program which provides food to low-income families. But there’s $521 billion for the military with an additional $64 billion to fight ISIS and everyone else we think we need to fight. More for war than for children. More for the military than everything else. There’s also a deal to cut pensions of current retirees. (See below.) The money for immigration enforcement is only good to February, giving them time to thwart President Obama’s executive order on deportations. (TWW, Immigration, 11/22/14; Immigration, 12/6/14) And there were the “riders,” policy instructions from the legislative branch to the executive branch. “One of the most notable changes includes dramatically expanding the amount of money that wealthy political donors could give the national parties, drastically undercutting the 2002 landmark McCain-Feingold campaign finance overhaul. (See more below.) And then there’s a change to Dodd-Frank that would once again allow banks to use depositor funds for risky derivative transactions, funds that are insured by taxpayers through the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC). (See more below.) (Washington Post) Military service personnel will get a 1% raise; the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was cut by $60 million; and the IRS was cut by $345.6 million. (See more below.) (Washington Post) Also included is a prohibition from legalizing marijuana in the District of Columbia, “upending voter-approved Initiative 71.” Yeah, why the hell should citizens have any say. (Washington Post) The Washington Post has a good summary of what’s in, and not in, the spending package.
Passing the Budget: On Thursday, “just hours before a possible government shutdown,” the House was struggling to get support for the spending bill. Democrats revolted, objecting primarily to the change to financial regulations, the change in campaign finance laws, and making it harder for the District to legalize marijuana. While Obama said he’d sign the bill, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D, CA), “in a notable public break with the White House,” took to the floor to “blast Obama and Republicans for backing the bill.” None of the Dems would vote for it and many Republicans objected because it funds Homeland Security, under which Immigration operates, and they wanted that defunded, so the vote was postponed. (Washington Post) Then, just a few hours before the government shutdown, Obama was able to rally 57 Dems to pass the bill. The Senate approved a 2-day extension to get the thing done (Washington Post) but by Friday it was obvious it wasn’t going to get done. The House “quietly passed another funding extension by unanimous consent on Friday afternoon to give senators even more time to work through procedural rules, debate, and then vote on the spending bill.” They now have until Wednesday evening. (Washington Post)
Terrorism Insurance: Another point of contention in the budget was terrorism insurance. Didn’t know about that, did you? The Terrorism Risk Insurance Act “provides for a government-backed program to protect against catastrophic terrorist attacks.” (Washington Post) Since the 9/11 attacks insurers have been unwilling to issue policies to insure financing for things like large construction projects and major sporting events, like the Super Bowl. They had to get this worked out. Shutting down the Super Bowl would cause a bigger stink than shutting down the government. (Bloomberg)
McCain-Feingold: The provision slipped into the budget deal modifying what’s left of campaign financing laws is “one of the most significant changes to the campaign finance system” since the law was originally passed. It allows a couple to give as much as $3.1 million to a political party’s national committees in one election cycle. What’s behind this? The Washington Post wrote that the provision “was written behind closed doors with no public debate. Instead, it surfaced at the last minute in the final pages of a 1,603-page spending bill . . .” Clearly the Post thinks that the measure is meant to get more money to political parties “left weakened by a 2002 ban on soft money and the subsequent rise of super PACs and other outside groups.”
IRS Funding: Another punitive thing in the spending plan is the $346 million cut to the IRS - about 3% - and it is banned “from targeting organizations seeking tax-exempt status based on their ideological beliefs.” (Washington Post) The reason for this is clear - it’s punishment for the agency’s attempts to address political groups’ tax-free status. (TWW, IRS-gate, 4/26/14; IRS Rules, 11/30/13; Non-Profits, 8/24/13; IRS-gate, 5/25/13; IRS-gate, 6/29/13; 6/22/13) But the ability to conduct audits on tax returns makes money. By one estimate, every dollar cut from the IRS budget increases the deficit by about $7. (NY Times) Yet Congress has been cutting the IRS’s funding for years. Look at the Brookings report on IRS funding.
Corporate Investment: A study by the Sunlight Foundation found that, from 2007 to 2012, 200 American corporations spent about $5.8 billion on federal lobbying and campaign contributions. The return for their investment? About $4.4 trillion in federal business and support. To see a list of the corporations click here. It’s the usual suspects and it explains the budget deal.
Deepwater Horizon: BP, as expected, appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court the ruling of U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier that BP was “grossly negligent” and that BP is liable for violating the federal Clean Water Act. (TWW, Deepwater Horizon, 11/15/14) The Supreme Court denied to hear the case.
Incandescent Lightbulbs: The new spending bill once again bans any new standards that would prohibit the use of incandescent bulbs. (Washington Post)
Pensions: Another provision in the new budget is one that, “for the first time,” allows the benefits of current retirees to be severely cut, “part of an effort to save some of the nation’s most distressed pension plans.” The measure will “alter 40 years of federal law and could affect millions of workers, many of them part of a shrinking corps of middle-income employees in businesses such as trucking, construction, and supermarkets.” (Washington Post)
Employee Time: The U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously on behalf of Amazon that “workers who fill orders in Amazon.com warehouses need not be paid for the time they spend going through security checks to ensure they have not stolen any products.” This reverses the lower court’s ruling. Workers claim they spend up to 25 minutes waiting to go through security clearance at warehouses in Nevada. (Washington Post)
Dodd-Frank: Negotiations around the budget deal “opened a window of opportunity for bank lobbyists” to get a “sweeping regulatory overhaul” to the Dodd-Frank regulation of banks. (NY Times) The language came “directly from the pens of lobbyists at the nation’s biggest banks, aides said. The provision was so important to the profits at those companies that JPMorgan’s chief executive Jamie Dimon himself telephoned individual lawmakers to urge them to vote for it, according to a person familiar with the effort.” (Washington Post) One revision is amending the Volcker Rule (TWW, Volcker Rule, 12/14/13) and another is a proposal “essentially written by lobbyists for Citigroup.” Citigroup lobbyists wrote the provision that will eliminate the Dodd-Frank provision forcing financial institutions to keep commercial banking operations separate from investment gambling. (NY Times) Listen to what Elizabeth Warren (D, MA) had to say. (CNN) If they gave this deal to regular folk, we could all go to Las Vegas, lose all our money, and the government would reimburse us.
Insider Trading: The U.S. attorney in Manhattan has been filing criminal charges against people for insider trading right and left. 85 convictions to date. At least someone is doing something about Wall Street corruption. However, a 3-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in Manhattan overturned 2 of those convictions - the case against the former hedge fund traders Todd Newman and Anthony Chiasson. The decision “rewrote the insider trading playbook, imposing the greatest limits on prosecutors in a generation.” It “offers a blueprint for lawyers to defend future insider trading cases.” (NY Times)