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The Bush administration says it’s preparing a new massive new intervention in the US financial system. Under the proposed move, the government would buy up distressed loans from troubled banks and other lenders. The plan is said to be similar to the federal buyout of leftover properties in the savings and loan scandal in the 1990s. The cost could end up dwarfing the multi-billion-dollar government bailouts of financial institutions Bear Stearns, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and American International Group. Democrats also say they are pushing for greater relief for struggling homeowners facing foreclosure. On Thursday, congressional leaders gave bipartisan support to the effort after meeting with Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Democrats have agreed to passing legislation by next week.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi: “We just had what I believe was a very productive meeting, where we heard from the administration and from the chairman of the Fed, an initiative to help resolve the financial crisis in our country. We — our purpose is to do that and, in doing so, to insulate Main Street from Wall Street and recognize our responsibility to the taxpayer, to the consumer and to people all across our country.”
Earlier on Thursday, the Federal Reserve also announced it would inject some $180 billion in loans on the global financial market through foreign central banks.
On the campaign trail, both major candidates continue to accuse the other of poor judgment on the economy. In New Mexico, Senator Barack Obama said Republican rival John McCain is trying to hide his support for failed policies.
Sen. Barack Obama: “He is not clear about what he thinks or what he believes. Well, I have a message for Senator McCain. You cannot just run away from your long-held views or your lifelong record. You can’t erase twenty-six years of support for the very policies and people who helped to bring in some of the problems that we’re seeing. You can’t just erase all that with one week worth of rants. What we need is honest talk and real solutions.”
In Wisconsin, McCain accused Obama of exploiting the financial crisis for political gain.
Sen. John McCain: “Senator Obama’s own advisers are saying that the crisis will benefit him politically. My friends, that’s the kind of 'me first, country second' politics that are broken in Washington. My opponent sees an — my opponent sees an economic crisis as a political opportunity instead of a time to lead. Senator Obama isn’t change; he’s part of the problem in Washington.”
Meanwhile, a new analysis of his donors and advisers has found McCain has extensive ties to eighty-three lobbyists of the financial industry he’s been criticizing. According to Mother Jones magazine, the eighty-three include McCain’s chief political adviser, Charlie Black; his national finance co-chairman, Wayne Berman; and his vice-presidential search director, Arthur Culvahouse.
In other campaign news, the husband of Republican vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin is refusing to comply with a subpoena in the so-called “Troopergate” scandal. Palin is accused of firing Alaska’s public safety commissioner because he refused to dismiss Palin’s former brother-in-law from his job as a state trooper. Palin’s husband, Todd Palin, says he won’t testify before the Alaska Senate Judiciary Committee.
The campaign for Independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader has announced he’ll be on the ballot in forty-five states, along with Washington, D.C. The Nader campaign says that’s the most ballots he has ever been on, surpassing the thirty-four states in 2004 and forty-four states in 2000.
A long-term agreement on keeping US troops in Iraq is said to be in danger of collapse. US and Iraqi officials say they’re at a stalemate over Iraqi refusals to accept immunity for American troops and contractors. The Bush administration had initially predicted reaching a deal by July but now says they hope to finalize it by December. That’s when the UN mandate authorizing the US occupation expires. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said if Iraq asks the UN for an extension, it would be on different terms. Maliki said, “We will attach conditions, and the US side will refuse. US forces would be without legal cover and will have no choice but to pull out from Iraq or stay and be in contravention of international law.”
In other Iraq news, a US soldier who admitted to involvement in the shooting of Iraqi prisoners has been sentenced to seven months in prison. Specialist Belmor Ramos was present when four handcuffed and blindfolded prisoners were shot dead near a Baghdad canal last year. Seven other troops face charges in the killings.
Meanwhile, a US soldier is in custody after shooting dead two sergeants at a base near Baghdad. The Pentagon has refused to release his name and rank.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has escalated US rhetoric against Russia. On Thursday, Rice said the West should stand up to what she called Moscow’s “bullying.”
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice: “Russia’s intimidation of its sovereign neighbors, its use of oil and gas as a political weapon, its unilateral suspension of the CFE Treaty, its threat to target peaceful nations with nuclear weapons, its arms sales to states and groups that threaten international security, and its persecution — and worse — of Russian journalists and dissidents and others. The picture emerging from this pattern of behavior is that of a Russia increasingly authoritarian at home and aggressive abroad.”
Rice’s comments were her harshest to date since Russian troops invaded Georgia after Georgia attacked the breakaway province of South Ossetia. It’s widely speculated the Bush administration helped encourage the Georgian attack, which ended up backfiring for the Georgian government. The White House has been widely ridiculed over its protests of Russia’s response to the attack. Rice was questioned on accusations of Bush administration hypocrisy in light of its own invasion of Iraq.
Rice: “If you look at an Iraq that will not seek weapons of mass destruction like the Saddam Hussein regime, that will live in peace and security with its neighbors and that will give its own people a chance for democratic governance, I don’t think that that bears any resemblance to invading a small democratic neighbor whose only crime apparently was that it wished to be a part of the emerging transatlantic world.”
There were other differences: the Russia-Georgia conflict led to several hundred deaths; the US invasion of Iraq has led to the deaths of anywhere between hundreds of thousands to more than one million Iraqis.
In Israel and the Occupied Territories, Palestinian villagers in the West Bank are accusing Israeli settlers of burning their olive groves and damaging their property. The attack took place in the village of Ma’adama.
Palestinian villager: “Some settlers went down the hill and set a number of trees ablaze over the water well which serves the village. It is called the Sha’ara well. They attacked people’s belongings and broke and uprooted trees. And the fire, as you saw when you arrived a little while ago, it was still burning.”
Israel continues to expand West Bank settlements it says it ultimately plans to keep.
Back in the United States, state officials are accusing the Pentagon of punishing them over their calls to enforce environmental laws. The Environmental Council of States says the Pentagon has reduced or withheld federal oversight money in response to requests for a clean-up of polluted military bases. Environmental officials say they’ve been pressured in California, Colorado, Alabama, Ohio and about a dozen other states.
And in Washington, a human rights activist twice disrupted a speech by Democratic Senator Christopher Dodd Wednesday to protest Dodd’s backing of US military and counter-narcotics aid to Colombia and Mexico. For years, Dodd has supported selling Black Hawk helicopters made by the Connecticut-based company Sikorsky to Colombia despite concerns by human rights groups. The activist, Harry Bubbins, disrupted Dodd as he was honored by the Washington Office on Latin America.