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The Bush administration’s Wall Street bailout continues to come under scrutiny as top officials push Congress to accept the plan. On Tuesday, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and Federal Reserve Chair Ben Bernanke appeared before the Senate Banking Committee for five hours of questioning. Bernanke told lawmakers the nation’s financial well-being rests on approving the bailout.
Federal Reserve Chair Ben Bernanke: “My interest is solely for the strength and the recovery of the US economy. I believe if the credit markets are not functioning, that jobs will be lost, the unemployment rate will rise, more houses will be foreclosed upon, GDP will contract, that the economy will just not be able to recover in a normal healthy way, no matter what other policies are taken. I therefore think this is a precondition for a good healthy recovery by our economy.”
The Wall Street bailout plan has been criticized on several grounds. Critics say it will place unprecedented power in the Treasury and take Wall Street off the hook for its own greed. Democrats are said to be pushing for greater homeowner assistance and limits on executive pay for government-aided firms. Other proposals have included having the government issue low-interest loans to struggling firms, rather than directly buying out their bad debts, and having the government only purchase those securities and mortgages from firms that could later hold some value.
Meanwhile, the investing mogul Warren Buffett has announced he will invest $5 billion in the Wall Street firm Goldman Sachs. The move comes days after Goldman said it would restructure itself as a traditional bank to avoid the collapse that befell other investment banks.
Here in New York, Wall Street’s troubles are spreading to public funding. In response to falling tax revenue, Mayor Michael Bloomberg says he’s ordered agency spending cuts by a total of $1.5 billion over the next two years. Hundreds of millions will be cut from services including sanitation, education and the NYPD.
The Supreme Court has stayed the execution of the Georgia death row prisoner Troy Davis. The decision came less than two hours before Davis was set to be killed Tuesday night. An African American, Davis was convicted for the 1989 killing of a white police officer, Mark Allen McPhail. But since the trial, seven of the nine non-police witnesses have recanted their testimony. There is no direct physical evidence tying Davis to the crime scene. And three witnesses claim another man later admitted to the killing. The stay is in effect until Monday, when the Supreme Court will decide whether to hear Davis’s appeal for a new trial. If the Court refuses, Georgia would be free to proceed with Davis’s execution. If the appeal is granted, Davis’s execution would remain on hold until the Supreme Court makes a final ruling. Davis’s case has been championed by a grassroots effort led by his sister, Martina Correia. They’ve drawn supporters including former President Jimmy Carter, Congress member John Lewis, and the South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
President Bush and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad were among world leaders to address the opening of the UN General Assembly on Tuesday. In his last General Assembly speech as US president, Bush continued on his White House theme of casting the UN as an irrelevant institution.
President Bush: “The United Nations is an organization of extraordinary potential. As the United Nations rebuilds its headquarters, it must also open the door to a new age of transparency, accountability and seriousness of purpose. With determination and clear purpose, the United Nations can be a powerful force for good as we head into the twenty-first century. It can affirm the great promise of its founding.”
Later in the day, Ahmadinejad took the podium. He said Iran is open to dialogue but would defend itself against any attacks. In a veiled reference to Israel and the United States, Ahmadinejad also called for the disarmament of major nuclear powers.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad: “The Iranian nation is for dialogue. But it has not accepted and will not accept illegal demands. The time has come for the IAEA to present a clear report to the international community on its monitoring of the disarmament of these nuclear powers and their nuclear activities.”
In a reference to Israel and its supporters, Ahmadinejad made several mentions of “Zionists” throughout his speech. He warned both Israel and the United States are in danger of collapse.
Ahmadinejad: “Today the Zionist regime is on a definite slope to collapse, and there is no way for it to get out of the cesspool created by itself and its supporters. American empire in the world is reaching the end of its road, and its next rulers must limit their interference to their own borders. Today, the thought of hegemony quickly becomes a demerit.”
Outside the UN, protesters gathered to rally around several different causes. Hundreds turned out to protest President Bush’s speech. The rally included a mock demonstration of a waterboarding. Matthis Chiroux of Iraq Veterans Against the War took part in the protest.
Matthis Chiroux: “People need to understand that waterboarding is torture, and it doesn’t matter who you’re doing it to, it doesn’t matter under what conditions you’re doing it, it is torture. It can be lethal, and it should be banned in any democratic society.”
Meanwhile, more than a thousand people turned out to protest Ahmadinejad’s speech. Iranian Canadian activist Nazanin Afshin-Jam said Iranians had turned out to show the world Ahmadinejad doesn’t represent them.
Nazanin Afshin-Jam: “Today we’ve organized the Ahmadinejad wall of shame rally, and we’re trying to bring attention to the world community that Ahmadinejad does not represent the people of Iran, and we have true voices of Iranians speaking today about the human rights abuses that are taking place in the country.”
Nearby, more than a hundred people turned out to protest the Chinese delegation over its crackdown on the Tibetan independence movement. Tenzin Dorjee of Students for a Free Tibet helped organize the rally.
Tenzin Dorjee: “All the amount of spinning can still not hide the ugly reality of China’s human rights record, China’s brutal occupation of Tibet and their continuing crackdown in Tibet.”
The opening of the General Assembly also saw what’s believed to be Republican vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin’s first meetings with a foreign leader. Palin held separate talks with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Colombian President Alvaro Uribe. She also later met with former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. Palin has been criticized on the campaign trail for her lack of foreign policy experience.
In Pakistan, the Pakistani military is claiming it’s recovered the wreckage of an American spy plane near the Afghan border. Pakistani officials say the drone crashed due to a malfunction, but villagers in the area say it was shot down. It’s believed to be the first time a US spy plane has crashed inside Pakistan. The news comes amidst ongoing US-Pakistani tensions over several US-led attacks inside Pakistan.
In Burma, the military junta has released its longest-serving political prisoner, Win Tin. The seventy-nine-year-old journalist has spent the last nineteen years in prison. He was arrested in 1989 for sheltering a young woman said to have received an illegal abortion. He was given additional jail time for openly criticizing the junta. Shortly after his release, Win Tin said he would continue to oppose the junta and fight for restoring democracy in Burma.
Back in the United States, congressional Democrats say they’ve agreed to let a ban on offshore drilling expire. The move would pave the way for oil drilling just three miles off both coasts unless the next president reinstates an executive ban. Democrats say they caved to the White House to avoid a showdown over the broader government funding bill. The measure includes home heating assistance for low-income Americans and more money for disaster relief. Democrats say the nation’s oil-drilling policy will be decided by the next election. Both Senator John McCain and Senator Barack Obama have come out in support of oil drilling, although Obama has called for stricter limits.
A federal judge has ordered the US military to grant conscientious objector status and an honorable discharge to a servicemember who said a religious conversion in Iraq made him opposed to war in any form. Private First Class Michael Barnes said he became increasingly religious after he was deployed to Iraq two years ago. Barnes is believed to be the first Iraq war veteran to be granted conscientious objector status for his religious beliefs.
And in Michigan, the wife of a comatose diabetic has filed a federal suit against local police for the beating of her husband. Fifty-nine-year-old Ernest Griglen, an African American, has been in a coma since June. Griglen’s wife, Pamela Griglen, says her husband fell into a coma shortly after he was badly beaten by police. According to the suit, police mistook a hypoglycemic episode by Griglen as a sign of drunkenness. A breathalyzer test confirmed he wasn’t intoxicated, and police later found his insulin pump. Police say they have no dashboard footage of Griglen’s arrest.
In Washington, five members of the group Veterans for Peace unveiled a banner at the National Archives Tuesday calling for the arrest of President Bush and Vice President Cheney. The twenty-two-foot-long banner reads: “Defend Our Constitution–Arrest Bush / Cheney–War Criminals.” The veterans occupied a ledge of the National Archives where they began a day-long hunger strike.