The Senate has unanimously voted to audit the Federal Reserve for the first time. In a 96-to-zero vote, the Senate approved an amendment giving the Government Accountability Office expanded power to conduct a one-time audit of the Fed. The bill also requires the central bank to disclose details about the financial firms that received emergency aid during the financial crisis. Independent Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont authored the bill.
Sen. Bernie Sanders: "With the passage of this amendment, the American people are finally going to learn which large, powerful financial interests received trillions of dollars of zero or near-zero interest loans. Second of all, I think the average American is beginning to wonder what goes on behind the closed doors of the Fed. They wonder what happens when you have the Fed meeting with the heads of the largest financial institutions in this country and at the end of these meetings companies walk out with incredibly good deals."
Last year the House approved a bill written by Republican Congressman Ron Paul giving the Government Accountability Office even greater power to regularly audit the Federal Reserve. On Tuesday Paul criticized the Sanders Senate amendment saying it guts the spirit of a truly meaningful audit of the Fed.
The New York Times reports the nation’s largest banks managed to make money from trading every single day during the first three months of the year. Bank of America, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase all finished with what is known as a perfect quarter — they went without losing money on a single day. The Times reported perfect trading quarters on Wall Street are about as rare as perfect games in Major League Baseball.
The Obama administration unveiled plans last night to divide the government agency that oversees offshore drilling operations. The plan would split the Minerals Management Service into two agencies, one to oversee the safety of offshore drilling projects, the other to collect drilling royalties each year. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said the move was needed to guarantee there is no conflict in the duties of the agency. The Minerals Management Service has come under intense scrutiny following the massive BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The MMS had exempted BP from a comprehensive environmental review of the project that resulted in the spill.
David Cameron has become the new prime minister of Britain. The leader of the Conservative Party took power after reaching a power-sharing deal with Liberal Democrat Nick Clegg. This is Britain’s first coalition government since 1945. The agreement was reached five days after an inconclusive election ended thirteen years of rule by the center-left Labor Party under Tony Blair and his successor Gordon Brown. David Cameron announced the formation of the new government on Tuesday.
Prime Minister David Cameron: "This is going to be hard and difficult work. A coalition will throw up all sorts of challenges. But I believe, together, we can provide that strong and stable government that our country needs, based on those values — rebuilding family; rebuilding community; above all, rebuilding responsibility in our country. Those are the things I care about. Those are the things that this government will now start work on doing."
Hours earlier, Gordon Brown had submitted his resignation to the Queen.
Gordon Brown: "As you know, the general election left no party able to command a majority in the House of Commons. I said I would do all that I could to ensure a strong, stable and principled government was formed, able to tackle Britain’s economic and political challenges effectively. My constitutional duty is to make sure that a government can be formed following last Thursday’s general election. I’ve informed the Queen’s private secretary that it’s my intention to tender my resignation to the Queen. In the event that the Queen accepts, I shall advise her to invite the leader of the opposition to seek to form a government.”
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton hosted Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Tuesday as the two sides opened high-level talks in Washington. Karzai is making his first trip to Washington since President Obama expanded the war by ordering the deployment of 30,000 more troops. On Tuesday Clinton said the US commitment to Afghanistan will remain long into the future.
Sen. Hillary Clinton: “Your government can begin to assume greater responsibility for security starting next year, but aided by our continued support. A sustained focus on economic, social and political development, as well as continued training of Afghan security forces, is essential to help build the effective and durable institutions necessary for long-term stability. So let me be clear. As we look toward a responsible orderly transition in the international combat mission in Afghanistan, we will not abandon the Afghan people. Our civilian commitment will remain long into the future."
Karzai acknowledged that the two countries have had their disagreements, but he said he and Clinton have a mutual goal.
Hamid Karzai: "As two mature nations and as two mature governments — by now, the Afghan government is mature, too — we’ll be having disagreements on issues from time to time, but that is the sign of a mature relationship and the sign of a steady relationship. And this steady and mature relationship is definitely going to get us the objectives, in pursuit of which we have joined hands, to bring security to Afghanistan and, by extension, to the United States and the rest of the world."
In other news from Afghanistan, investigative journalist Seymour Hersh says US forces are carrying out battlefield executions of prisoners in Afghanistan. Hersh made the comment during a discussion at the Global Investigative Journalism Conference in Geneva. In 2004 Hersh broke the story about the abuse and torture of prisoners at Abu Ghraib.
Seymour Hersh: "And the purpose of my [Abu Ghraib] stories was to take it out of the field into the White House, and where it — you know, it’s not that the President or the Secretary of Defense, Mr. Rumsfeld, or Bush or Cheney — it’s not that they knew what happened in Abu Ghraib. It’s that they had allowed this kind of activity to happen. And I’ll tell you right now, one of the great tragedies of my country is that Mr. Obama is looking the other way, because equally horrible things are happening to prisoners, I mean, to those we capture in Afghanistan. They’re being executed on the battlefield. It’s unbelievable stuff going on there that doesn’t necessarily get reported. And things don’t change.”
Seymour Hersh went on to say that he had been told about the battlefield executions by five or six different people.
In Libya, 103 people have died after a Libyan Airbus crashed when trying to land in Tripoli. The crash killed everyone on board except for a ten-year-old Dutch child.
Senators John Kerry and Joseph Lieberman are planning to roll out their long-awaited climate bill today. The bill is expected to call for a 17 percent cut in greenhouse gas emissions below 2005 levels by 2020, an expansion of offshore oil drilling, loan guarantees for nuclear power plants, federal aid for so-called clean coal projects, and a provision to block the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act. The Kerry-Lieberman bill has been criticized by several environmental groups, including Friends of the Earth and the Center for Biological Diversity. Friends of the Earth president Erich Pica said, "The bill would hand billions in giveaways to corporate polluters, including the oil, coal, nuclear and agribusiness industries, while creating a risky new subprime carbon market for Wall Street traders. All this is in exchange for pollution reduction goals far weaker than what scientists say are needed."
Meanwhile, in Europe, the EU’s climate commissioner Connie Hedegaard is pushing all EU nations to cut carbon dioxide emissions by 30 percent.
Arizona Governor Jan Brewer has signed a controversial bill banning ethnic studies in Arizona schools. The law could shut down a popular Mexican American studies program in the Tucson school district. It will also affect specialized courses in African American and Native American studies. A spokesperson for the governor said, "The governor believes...public school students should be taught to treat and value each other as individuals and not be taught to resent or hate other races or classes of people." Arizona Governor Brewer signed the legislation just three weeks after she signed a controversial anti-immigrant bill that orders police officers to stop and interrogate anyone they suspect is an undocumented immigrant.
On Tuesday, six United Nations human rights experts have said Arizona’s anti-immigrant law could violate international standards that are binding in the United States. The experts said, "A disturbing pattern of legislative activity hostile to ethnic minorities and immigrants has been established with the adoption of an immigration law that may allow for police action targeting individuals on the basis of their perceived ethnic origin."
The town of Concord, Massachusetts has become the first town in the United States to ban the sale of all bottled water. The ban was spearheaded by the eighty-two-year-old activist Jean Hill. She told the Boston Globe, "All these discarded bottles are damaging our planet, causing clumps of garbage in the oceans that hurt fish, and are creating more pollution on our streets."
And forty years ago today, the Ku Klux Klan bombed the transmitter of Pacifica station KPFT in Houston, Texas. The bombing came just months after KPFT went on the air. The bombing forced the station off the air for several weeks. The station’s transmitter was bombed again on October 6, 1970. At the time, George H.W. Bush was a congressman representing Houston. He condemned the October bombing, saying, "It’s outrageous. It’s against everything this country stands for." In 1981, the Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan admitted that his greatest feat "was engineering the bombing of a left-wing radio station." The KKK understood how dangerous Pacifica was, as it allowed people to speak for themselves.