The US Treasury and Federal Reserve have unveiled sweeping steps to possibly bail out the nation’s two largest mortgage lenders Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson said that the government would inject billions of federal dollars into the mortgage groups and pledged to buy stakes in the two companies should market conditions worsen.
Henry Paulson: “As you know, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac play a central role in our housing finance system and must continue to do so in their current form as shareholder-owned companies. Their support for the housing market is particularly important as we work through the current housing correction.”
Many economists fear a collapse of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac could lead to a meltdown in global financial markets. The two quasi-public companies own or guarantee just under half of the country’s $12 trillion in mortgage debt. Shares of the two companies dropped about 45 percent last week and are down more than 80 percent over the past year. The Financial Times reports an outright government takeover of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac could increase the national debt by $5 trillion.
In other economic news, the banking industry was dealt a shock Friday with the collapse of the Pasadena-based IndyMac Bank. The FDIC has taken control of the bank after it succumbed to huge losses from defaulted mortgages. Regulators say it was the second-largest bank failure in US history.
The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court has filed genocide charges against Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir. The charges filed today include masterminding attempts to wipe out African tribes in Darfur with a campaign of murder, rape and deportation. Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo is asking a three-judge panel to issue an arrest warrant for al-Bashir to prevent the deaths of those still under attack in Darfur from government-backed Janjaweed militia. On Sunday, thousands of supporters of al-Bashir rallied in Khartoum to show support for the Sudanese president. Sudan has said an ICC move against its highest officials could undermine attempts to end the conflict in the Darfur region. The African Union has also voiced concern that a possible trial could jeopardize peace efforts in Darfur.
A secret report by the International Red Cross warned the Bush administration last year that the CIA’s treatment of prisoners categorically constituted torture and could make Bush administration officials who approved the torture methods guilty of war crimes. One prisoner — Abu Zubaydah — told the Red Cross he had been waterboarded at least ten times in a single week. He was confined in a box so small that he had to double up his limbs in the fetal position. The details about the secret Red Cross report appear in a new book by investigative journalist Jane Mayer called The Dark Side.
Jane Mayer also reveals that the Bush administration ignored warnings from the CIA six years ago that up to a third of the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay may have been imprisoned by mistake. In 2002, a CIA analyst concluded that many of the prisoners were essentially bystanders who had been swept up in dragnets or turned over to the US military by bounty hunters. Mayer also reveals that the CIA is investigating whether its agents kidnapped at least six innocent men and held them in secret prisons as part of the agency’s extraordinary rendition program. Only one of the cases — that of Khalid El-Masri — has ever come to light.
In Afghanistan, nine US soldiers died in Sunday after a US base near the Pakistan border came under attack. Militants fired machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades and mortars at the base for hours. It was the deadliest attack on US troops in Afghanistan in three years. More US soldiers have died in Afghanistan over the past two months than in Iraq. Meanwhile, in the southern province of Uruzgan, a suicide bomber on a motorcycle blew himself up and killed twenty-four people. In central Afghanistan, members of the Taliban executed two women who had been accused of working as prostitutes on a US base.
In campaign news, Senator Barack Obama is proposing that the United States deploy about 10,000 more troops to Afghanistan as part of his strategy to shift the military’s focus from Iraq. In an op-ed published in today’s New York Times, Obama writes, “We need more troops, more helicopters, better intelligence-gathering and more nonmilitary assistance to accomplish the mission there.”
In news from Iraq, the Washington Post reports US and Iraqi negotiators have abandoned efforts to conclude a comprehensive agreement governing the long-term status of US troops in Iraq before the end of the Bush presidency. This will effectively leave talks over an extended US military presence in Iraq to the next administration.
On Saturday, Senator Obama said the US should not commit to a long-term occupation of Iraq. He said recent comments by Iraqi leaders calling for a timetable for withdrawal of US troops added weight to his stand in favor of a timetable.
Sen. Barack Obama: “John McCain and George Bush both said that if Iraq, as a sovereign government, stated that it was time for us to start withdrawing our troops, then they would respect the wishes of that sovereign government, and given that I think it’s also in our strategic interests, it certainly strikes me that we shouldn’t be writing a status of forces agreement, for example, that locks in a long-term occupation.”
In other campaign news, The New Yorker magazine is coming under criticism for publishing a cover illustration depicting Barack and Michelle Obama as Muslim terrorists. The magazine cover shows Obama wearing Muslim garb standing in the White House with a photo of Osama bin Laden on the wall and an American flag burning in the fireplace. Michelle Obama is shown as a gun-toting black nationalist with an afro. An Obama campaign spokesperson described the illustration as tasteless and offensive. The New Yorker magazine said the illustration is meant to satirize the use of scare tactics and misinformation in the presidential election to derail Obama’s campaign.
John McCain’s campaign is trying to distance itself from former Senator Phil Gramm, who has been one of McCain’s top economic advisers. Last week, Gramm said the country was filled with “whiners” and that the United States is only in a “mental recession.” Over the weekend, two key McCain advisers said Gramm no longer speaks on behalf of McCain.
A former Bush administration official who now works as a lobbyist has been caught on tape selling access to the White House. An undercover video shot by the Sunday Times of London shows the lobbyist Stephen Payne saying he could help the former president of Kyrgyzstan set up a meeting with Vice President Cheney or Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in exchange for a six-figure donation to George Bush’s presidential library. Stephen Payne was a top fundraiser for President Bush and sits on the influential advisory council to the Department of Homeland Security. Payne is also president of the lobbying company, Worldwide Strategic Partners.
The Indonesian-East Timorese Commission of Truth and Friendship is set to release a report that blames the Indonesian government and armed forces for the wave of deadly violence that swept East Timor in 1999 ahead of Timor’s vote on independence. The report is scheduled to be released Tuesday, but a copy was obtained by Al Jazeera. Up to 1,500 people were killed and 300,000 forced to flee their homes during the 1999 violence in what was then Indonesian-ruled East Timor. The commission’s report says “gross human rights violations” took place, pointing the finger at pro-Indonesian militia groups, Indonesia’s military, its civilian government and police.
In Japan, about 13,000 protesters gathered Sunday to condemn plans for the US to permanently station a nuclear-powered warship near Tokyo. The USS George Washington is set to become the first US Navy nuclear-powered vessel to station permanently in Japan. Safety concerns are mounting after a recent fire on board the ship left one sailor with minor burns and twenty-three others with heat stress.
Former White House Press Secretary and political commentator Tony Snow has died at the age of fifty-three, following a long battle with colon cancer. Snow is survived by his wife and three children under the age of fifteen.
Members of the peace group Code Pink took to the water last week to protest a House resolution that calls for a naval blockade against Iran. Members of Code Pink used three canoes and an inflatable raft to set up a blockade of their own to surround the houseboat of Democratic Congressman Gary Ackerman of New York. This is Code Pink’s Medea Benjamin.
Medea Benjamin: “It’s 7:00 in the morning. It’s time for him to get up, smell the coffee and know the American people are sick and tired of war. We’re already in one quagmire in Iraq. We don’t want another one in Iran.”
Code Pink was calling on Ackerman to oppose House Resolution 362 and to tone down his rhetoric against Iran.
And the Green Party has nominated former Democratic Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney to be the party’s presidential nominee. The Greens also nominated hip-hop activist and organizer Rosa Clemente to be McKinney’s running mate. McKinney spoke on Saturday at the Green Party convention in Chicago.
Cynthia McKinney: “And when I got to Washington, I saw that public policy is really made in a room at a table. There were real seats at the table. Well, imagine what has happened to public policymaking now. There is a real room with a window and a door, and there’s two seats at the table. The window is for us to look through, while our representatives make policy for us, so we can see what they’re doing. At the table, one seat is for the Democrats, one seat is for the Republicans. Now, we don’t know who did it, but one of them put a lock on the door and slipped a key to the corporate lobbyists who can come and go at will and whisper what they want to Democrats and Republicans, and the result is that we the people, who pay for those seats and determine who sits in them, want one thing, but because the corporate lobbyists can come and go at will, our values get overridden and our representatives give us something else. That’s how we end up with everyone saying they’re against the war and occupation, but war and occupation still gets funding. That’s how we end up with everyone saying they’re against illegal spying on innocent people, yet end up with a telecom immunity bill being signed into law. That’s how we end up with everyone saying they’re in favor of universal access to healthcare and no one supporting what the physicians, nurses and healthcare really want, and that’s a single-payer healthcare system in this country.”