The Bush administration says it plans to shift course in how it will hand out the $700 billion bailout to Wall Street. On Wednesday, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson said the government no longer plans to buy up the toxic assets of financial firms. Instead, Paulson said the bailout will focus on boosting financing for companies that give out loans.
Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson: "Over these past weeks, we have continued to examine the relative benefits of purchasing illiquid mortgage-related assets. Our assessment at this time is that this is not the most effective way to use TARP [Troubled Assets Relief Program] funds, but we will continue to examine whether targeted forms of asset purchase can play a useful role, relative to other potential uses of TARP resources, in helping to strengthen our financial system and support lending."
The Treasury Department says it’s still finalizing details of the new approach.
The news comes as the Washington Post reports the Bush administration has taken no action to fill congressionally-mandated independent positions to oversee how the bailout is used. A deadline for the first bailout monitoring report has already passed. The Treasury has already committed $290 billion in taxpayer money so far. Eric Thorson, the Treasury Department’s inspector general, said, “It’s a mess. I don’t think anyone understands right now how we’re going to do proper oversight of this thing.”
In Afghanistan, at least twenty Afghan civilians and a US soldier have been killed in a suicide attack on a US military convoy. Another seventy-four people were wounded. The attack occurred outside a town in eastern Afghanistan.
In Israel and the Occupied Territories, the Israeli government has committed another violation of a months-long truce. On Wednesday, Israeli troops killed four Hamas militants after crossing into Gaza. Israel says the dead were planting explosives. Israel has imposed a week-long fuel and food blockade on Gaza after Hamas responded to the killing of six Palestinians in an earlier Israeli attack. Hamas spokesperson Ayman Taha called the latest killings another provocation.
Ayman Taha: "We in Hamas assure that these statements will not scare us, and it is only a storm in a mug. The Zionist enemy tried several times to hinder the Palestinian resistance. We assure that these threats will not scare us and will not stop us from achieving our resistance."
Earlier today, Israel held up a UN food delivery after Palestinians fired rockets overnight. The UN has warned it will be forced to halt food distribution unless deliveries resume.
In addition to the humanitarian blockade, the Israeli government is now barring all foreign journalists from entering Gaza for at least a week. An Israeli military spokesperson said only international aid workers and Palestinian medical patients will be allowed to enter or leave. In a statement, the Foreign Press Association called the media ban a “serious violation of press freedom.”
In Iraq, at least twenty-five were killed in bombings across Baghdad Wednesday, continuing more than a week of daily attacks that have killed dozens of people.
Meanwhile, in Mosul, two US soldiers were killed and another six wounded when an Iraqi soldier opened fire. The Iraqi soldier, Barzan Mohammed, died when US troops fired back. Iraqi police say Mohammed had reported being slapped by a US counterpart before the attack.
In other Iraq news, the private military company Blackwater is facing millions in fines for shipping automatic weapons into Iraq without the proper permits. Some of the weapons reportedly ended up on the Iraqi black market. The fine is expected to come out of a long-running investigation, but criminal charges are not expected. Blackwater has yet to be charged or hit with any other punitive action over the unprovoked massacre of seventeen Iraqi civilians in Baghdad’s Nisoor Square on September 16, 2007. The company has received more than $1.2 billion in government contracts since then.
In Pakistan, an American aid worker has been killed in the northwest city of Peshawar. The victim, Stephen Vance, was a private contractor overseeing a development program for the State Department.
Back in the United States, Democratic challenger Mark Begich has taken what some are calling a commanding lead over incumbent Republican Ted Stevens in the ongoing tallying of the Alaska Senate race. The latest count has Begich leading Stevens by 814 votes. Another 40,000 votes are set to be counted over the next week, with most coming from Democratic-leaning districts. Stevens was convicted just a week before the election on corruption charges. A Begich win would give Democrats control of fifty-eight Senate seats, two short of a filibuster-proof majority. The outcome of Senate races in Minnesota and Atlanta are still to be decided.
In Connecticut, same-sex couples have exchanged vows for the first time since the State Supreme Court OKed gay marriage last month. Connecticut and Massachusetts are now the only states allowing gay marriage after California voters voted to ban it earlier this month. Gay rights activists plan on holding nationwide demonstrations this weekend in nearly 200 US cities and towns against the California measure.
And the Yes Men have struck again. On Wednesday, hundreds of thousands of copies of a fake edition of the New York Times were handed out in New York and Los Angeles. The front-page headline declares an end to the Iraq war and an admission from Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that Iraq never had weapons of mass destruction. Other fake stories report the congressional passage of universal healthcare, the public ownership of oil giant ExxonMobil and the use of evangelical churches to house Iraqi refugees. The paper is said to come from the Yes Men, a group responsible for several hoaxes meant to highlight corporate and government complicity in unpunished crimes. One previous prank had a Yes Men member posing as a Dow Chemical spokesperson to announce responsibility for the Bhopal chemical disaster, forcing the company to remind the world it had done anything but. The Yes Men say the hoax resulted from a collaboration of many people, including a few New York Times staffers. Activist Jordan White was among those handing out copies of the fake newspaper in New York’s Times Square.
Jordan White: "Well, see, the thing about this is, is that, you know, we just got a new president elected. It’s a very big year, and it’s a big promotion for change and stuff like that. And, you know, it’s just the sort of thing of like, I don’t know, maybe that — could we achieve it? Maybe it’s so, maybe not. But it’s something to kind of look forward to."
The paper also pokes fun at the New York Times editors, who apologize in a fake editorial for echoing the Bush administration’s faulty claims on Iraqi WMDs in the lead-up to the Iraq war. It also contains a fake resignation letter from columnist Thomas Friedman, who says he has no business to ever write again after vocally backing the US invasion of Iraq. The prank edition of the New York Times is available online at nytimes-se.com.