The Obama administration is preparing to order substantial pay cuts for executives at some of the nation’s top bailed-out firms. White House "pay czar" Kenneth Feinberg has reportedly identified twenty-five executives at five major financial companies and two automakers that will be affected by the cuts. Overall compensation will be reduced by about half, on average, while salaries will see an average 90 percent cut. The companies are Citigroup, Bank of America, General Motors, Chrysler, GMAC, Chrysler Financial and American International Group, which have collectively received around $250 billion in taxpayer assistance.
In other financial news, the banking giant Wells Fargo has announced a record $3.2 billion third-quarter profit. The earnings are up 98 percent from a year ago. The announcement came as the financial firm Morgan Stanley announced third-quarter earnings of $757 million.
On Capitol Hill, Democrats are moving forward with an effort to strip the insurance industry’s exemption from federal antitrust laws. Democrats say the McCarran-Ferguson Act of 1945 has granted the insurance industry a captive market with no curbs on price fixing and other anti-competitive practices. On Wednesday, the House Judiciary Committee voted to repeal the exemption. House leaders say the measure could be included as part of overall legislation on healthcare reform. Meanwhile, in the Senate, Judiciary Committee Chair Patrick Leahy unveiled his version of the repeal.
Sen. Patrick Leahy: "We’ll prohibit the most egregious anti-competitive conduct — price fixing, bid rigging, market allocation — in the health and medical malpractice insurance industry. There’s no place for those practices. They would be illegal if done by any other industry. And it’s incredible that criminal conduct which would land people in jail, if engaged in in other industries, is legal when health insurers do it."
Leahy says he also plans to include the repeal measure as part of a final package on healthcare reform.
The Obama administration is increasing warnings it could delay its planned withdrawal from Iraq. The US has pledged to end combat operations by September 2010 and withdraw all troops by the end of 2011. But on Wednesday, Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Michele Flournoy told a congressional hearing the US could reevaluate its drawdown plans if Iraq delays national elections scheduled for January. Flournoy said the US withdrawal plan is "not rigid."
Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Michele Flournoy: "The drawdown plan is not rigid. It has got — it is conditions-based. It leaves room for reevaluation and adjustment, in terms of the pace of the drawdown between now and the end of 2011. So, if need be, we will reexamine things based on conditions on the ground."
In other congressional testimony, the oil tycoon T. Boone Pickens told lawmakers Wednesday the US is "entitled" to Iraqi oil because of the human and financial toll of occupying Iraq. Addressing the Congressional Natural Gas Caucus, Pickens criticized Iraqi plans to open up oil fields to international bidding. Pickens said, "They’re opening them up to other companies all over the world...We’re entitled to it…We even lost 5,000 of our people, 65,000 injured and a trillion, five hundred billion dollars."
The Obama administration is warning Japan over talk of scaling back military ties to the United States. In the past week, Japan has announced it would pull out of a refueling mission in the Indian Ocean in support of US-led military action in Afghanistan. Japan also wants to renegotiate a military agreement on relocating a US Marine base inside its borders. The ruling Democratic Party of Japan was elected in August on a platform that included revisiting Japan’s US ties. On Wednesday, Defense Secretary Robert Gates held talks with Japanese officials in Tokyo, where he urged them to "move on" from talk of reevaluating existing military agreements. Gates’s comments come as a State Department official told the Washington Post that Japan is becoming a major challenge for the US in Asia, saying, "The hardest thing right now is not China, it’s Japan."
Iranian negotiators have accepted a draft agreement that would see most of Iran’s enriched uranium transferred abroad. Under the deal, Russia and France would help convert Iranian uranium to help fuel a research reactor used for medical purposes. The agreement still requires approval from Iranian leaders. On Wednesday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the deal would herald an early test of Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: "The door is open to a better future with Iran. But the process of engagement cannot be open-ended. We are not prepared to talk just for the sake of talking. As President Obama noted after the October 1st meeting in Geneva, we appeared to have made a constructive beginning, but that needs to be followed up by constructive actions."
In Somalia, at least twenty people have been killed in the capital Mogadishu. Clashes erupted earlier today after militants fired on Somalia’s airport as the Somali president was boarding a plane. The plane was able to take off undamaged.
In Uruguay, support is growing to repeal amnesty for military officials over rights abuses committed under the 1973-1985 military regime. This week the Uruguayan Supreme Court ruled the law is unconstitutional. Uruguayans will vote on repealing it in a referendum as part of Sunday’s national elections. On Tuesday, thousands of people marched in Montevideo in support of the repeal.
Uruguayan author and journalist Eduardo Galeano: "We believe that our country has shown in the first years of the Frente Amplio party being in office that we are no longer that country that was paralyzed by fear."
Vice President Joe Biden was in Poland Wednesday to tout the Obama administration’s plans to revamp the Bush administration’s so-called missile defense system. Biden said the new system would be more effective and cover more ground.
Vice President Joe Biden: "Our new phased adaptive approach to missile defense is designed to meet a growing threat not only to the United States, but first and foremost to Europe. It’s going to meet it with proven technology that will cover more of Europe, including Poland, and it will do it more efficiently than the previous system could have or did. It strengthens missile defense for Europe, it strengthens Article 5, and it strengthens the alliance deterrence capability. Mister Prime Minister, we have a lot to do. Simply put, our missile plan is better security for NATO, and it’s better security for Poland, and ultimately better security for the United States of America."
Back in the United States, an Afghan national forcibly held in the United States to appear as a witness in a criminal trial has testified for the first time. Ziaulhaq, who goes just by one name, was lured into the US in August 2008 under the pretense of attending a celebration of Afghan businesses. But it turned out to be a ruse by US prosecutors to use him as a witness in a federal bribery case. Ziaulhaq was initially jailed for three weeks and has spent the ensuing period living in a Chicago-area motel against his will. He has been held along with two other Afghans under the material witness statute, which allows for the detention of witnesses who pose a flight risk. Testifying on Wednesday, Ziaulhaq said, "I didn’t ask to be here. If it were up to me, I would return to my country."
Democratic Congress member Alan Grayson of Florida has established a new website honoring those who’ve lost their lives because they were uninsured. Grayson says he founded NamesOfTheDead.com after a recent Harvard University study found 44,000 people die every year because they lack health insurance. Grayson announced the website Wednesday on the House floor.
Rep. Alan Grayson: "They themselves can no longer speak. But their families, the ones who love them, they can speak. And so, I’ve established a website called namesofthedead.com, namesofthedead.com. And I invite all those people who’ve suffered the terrible tragedy of losing a loved one, whether a son or a spouse or an uncle or a mother or father. All of us who’ve lost somebody close to us because they had no health coverage, because they had no health insurance, and because they died, I propose that we all go to this website, namesofthedead.com, and we name them."
And here in New York, dozens of people gathered outside the offices of the news network CNN Wednesday to call for the ouster of anchor Lou Dobbs. Dobbs has been accused of anti-Latino bias in his coverage of immigration issues. The journalist Roberto Lovato addressed the crowd.
Roberto Lovato: "What comes out of Lou Dobbs’ mouth is hatred for Latinos and undocumented immigrants in the United States, his support for the extremists that are actually killing immigrants, like the Federation of Immigration Reform and the Minutemen, whose members in Arizona are responsible for the murder of nine-year-old Brisenia Flores and her father. So, Lou Dobbs is not telling his audience to go out and kill and hurt and attack immigrants, but he provides a platform for those that do."
The protest was organized by the website