President Bush has signed into law the $700 billion government bailout of Wall Street. The President’s signature came shortly after the House voted to approve the bill with a 263-to-171 vote.
President Bush: “I know some Americans have concerns about this legislation, especially about the government’s role and the bill’s cost. As a strong supporter of free enterprise, I believe government intervention should occur only when necessary. In this situation, action is clearly necessary.”
Fifty-eight Congress members who voted against the bailout last Monday switched sides to support it in Friday’s vote. The bill included more than $100 billion in corporate and personal tax breaks. Critics said the new provisions amounted to earmarks for incumbents wary of public opposition. Beneficiaries of the tax breaks include the auto racing body NASCAR, manufacturers of wooden arrows and importers of Puerto Rican rum. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the bill was essential to protect average Americans.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi: “As we observe the passage of a very serious piece of legislation, we must do so with an eye to the future. We’re faced with a situation that had terrible ramifications for everyone on Main Street, but all the attention was on Wall Street. We want to turn that attention, and that was our intent in the legislation.”
Democratic Congress member Dennis Kucinich was one of the leading congressional opponents of the Wall Street bailout. In an interview with the website Truthdig, Kucinich called the bill “the largest single act of class warfare in the modern history of this country.” He continued, “The Democrats have unfortunately become so enamored and beholden to Wall Street that we are not functioning to defend the economic interest of the broad base of the American people. This is an outrage. This was democracy’s Black Friday.”
Meanwhile, the Treasury Department has reportedly made its selection on who will oversee the bailout’s implementation. According to the Washington Post, the Treasurer has tapped Neel Kashkari, an assistant secretary of international affairs and a former executive of the investment firm Goldman Sachs. Kashkari has been a close adviser to Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, who is also a former Goldman Sachs executive, serving as its chairman and CEO. Kashkari led Goldman Sachs’ security investment division during his stint there.
Meanwhile, officials say that despite warnings of the bailout’s “urgency” from its proponents, the Treasury will not begin purchasing hundreds of billions in troubled Wall Street assets until the middle of next month.
The mortgage giant Countrywide Financial has reportedly reached a settlement with several states in a suit accusing it of predatory lending. In what the Los Angeles Times calls the “largest loan-modification program” in history, Countrywide owner Bank of America would provide up to $8.7 billion towards reworking the terms of some 400,000 loans. Not all homeowners with Countrywide loans will qualify under the deal. Countrywide has been at the center of the subprime loan crisis. It’s currently under investigation for giving misleading information on its financial condition in security filings.
In other economic news, new government figures show the workforce shed 159,000 jobs last month. It was the worst one-month drop in five years.
On the campaign trail, Senators Barack Obama and John McCain meet for their second debate tomorrow night, a town-hall event in Nashville, Tennessee. The McCain campaign has begun what it calls a new phase of intensified attacks on Obama. On Saturday, Republican vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin raised Obama’s alleged links to Bill Ayers, a former member of the Vietnam-era militant group the Weather Underground.
Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin: “One of his [Obama’s] earliest supporters is a man who, according to the New York Times, was a domestic terrorist and part of a group — part of a group that, quote, 'launched a campaign of bombings that would target the Pentagon and the US Capitol.'”
Ayers today is a tenured professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago. In a statement, Chicago Mayor Richard Daley called him “a valued member of the Chicago community” who has “worked with me in shaping our now nationally renowned school reform program.” It’s said Ayers and Obama have few ties beyond living in the same Chicago neighborhood and having once served together on the board of two nonprofits. Ayers also hosted a fundraiser for Obama when he ran for the State Senate. In North Carolina, Obama dismissed the allegations as a desperate political ploy.
Sen. Barack Obama: “Senator McCain and his operatives are gambling that they can distract you with smears rather than talk to you about substance. They’d rather tear our campaign down than lift this country up. That’s what you do when you’re out of touch, out of ideas, and running out of time.”
In other election news, today is the deadline for voter registration in nearly half the nation’s states. USA Today reports Democrats have added more than 800,000 voters in the eight most competitive states: Florida, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Colorado, Iowa, Nevada, New Mexico and New Hampshire. Republicans are said to have lost 300,000 voters in those states. According to the Washington Post, the ratio of new Democratic to Republican voters in Florida is more than two to one; in Colorado and Nevada, four to one; and in North Carolina, six to one.
In Iraq, eleven Iraqis have been killed during a US raid in Mosul. A suicide bomber detonated his vest in the midst of the attack. It’s unclear whether the deaths were caused by the suicide bombing or US gunfire. The victims were all reportedly members of the same family.
The State Department is coming under new scrutiny for outsourcing to private firms the task of investigating other private contractors for criminal activity in Iraq. ABC News reports the Bureau of Diplomatic Security is now relying on a company called US Investigations Services (USIS) to handle the bulk of its probes. The most controversial investigation surrounds the killings of seventeen Iraqi civilians by employees of the military firm Blackwater Worldwide in Baghdad’s Nisoor Square. The one-year anniversary of the Nisoor Square massacre passed last month with not a single criminal charge to date. According to ABC News, eight USIS employees comprise the majority of the Federal Investigations Unit, the government body formed to probe contractor crimes.
In Afghanistan, a senior British military commander has said he doesn’t believe the NATO occupying force can defeat the Taliban. In an interview with the Sunday Times of London, Brigadier Mark Carleton-Smith said, “We are not going to win this war. It’s about reducing it to a manageable level of insurgency that’s not a strategic threat and can be managed by the Afghan army.” Carleton-Smith heads British forces in the volatile Helmand province. His comments come days after Britain’s ambassador to Afghanistan, Sherard Cowper-Coles, told a diplomatic gathering he believes the NATO occupation is a failure.
In Pakistan, at least twenty-four people have been killed in the latest US attack near the Afghan border. The attack occurred Friday in Pakistan’s North Waziristan province. Meanwhile, the Pakistani government is dismissing new speculation it’s authorized the US to carry out the strikes. The Wall Street Journal reported on Saturday new Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari said he had consented to the attacks. But Pakistan is denying the report.
In the Occupied Territories, Palestinians have begun their annual olive harvest amidst ongoing harassment from Jewish settlers in the West Bank. The Israeli peace group Rabbis for Human Rights says it has deployed activists to forty Palestinian villages to act as “human shields” for the olive growers. Arik Ashcherm of Rabbis for Human Rights said his group would stand up to the settlers.
Arik Ashcherm: “Everybody knows that these are Palestinian-owned trees. Behind us, in the background, is an outpost called 'Mahson David,' which has been created because settlers would like to have a path from Qiryat Arba (settlement) to the Mahpela Cave, and as part of their effort to create facts on the ground, they have been trying to create this outpost here to take more and more Palestinian-owned land.”
Back in the United States, a new analysis of the environmental toll from Hurricane Ike says at least a half-million gallons of crude oil spilled into the Gulf of Mexico and other areas of Louisiana and Texas. According to the Associated Press, nearly 1,500 polluted sites have yet to be cleaned up.
And the peace activist John Hogan has died at the age of seventy-three. On May 17, 1968, Hogan and eight others made national news when they burned 600 draft records with homemade napalm in Catonsville, Maryland. They were sentenced to between two to three years in jail. Other participants included Philip and Daniel Berrigan. They became known as the Catonsville Nine. The action was credited with helping to radicalize the movement against the Vietnam War. After his release, Hogan led a quiet life working as a carpenter but continued to speak out against war.