Executives from the bailed-out Wall Street giant Goldman Sachs faced tough questioning on Tuesday at a Senate hearing on their role in the financial crisis. Current and former Goldman officials were grilled on their aggressive marketing of mortgage investments at the same time the firm was betting the investments would fail. During his opening remarks, Senator Carl Levin of Michigan cited internal Goldman documents to argue the firm had betrayed its clients.
Sen. Carl Levin: "The firm’s own documents show that while it was marketing risky mortgage-related securities, it was placing large bets against the US mortgage market. The firm has repeatedly denied making those large bets despite overwhelming evidence that they did so. Now why does that matter? Surely there is no law, ethical guideline or moral injunction against profit. But Goldman Sachs didn’t just make money. It profited by taking advantage of its clients’ reasonable expectation that it would not sell products that it did not want to succeed."
The session was held as Republicans blocked the Democrats’ financial reform bill from advancing in the Senate for a second consecutive day. Democrats remained three votes shy of the sixty needed to override a Republican filibuster and bring the measure to the Senate floor. We’ll have more on the Goldman Sachs hearings and the financial reform bill after headlines.
The US Coast Guard is considering a "controlled burn" of the vast oil slick approaching the Louisiana coast line as a result of last week’s oil rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico. A pipe that had been attached to the rig continues to spill around 42,000 gallons of oil per day. Rear Admiral Mary Landry of the US Coast Guard said the spill is within twenty-one miles of hitting Louisiana’s shores.
Rear Adm. Mary Landry: "It’s reached just within, I think it says, twenty-one miles? So it is the closest it’s been to shore throughout this response. And we’re paying attention to that, very careful attention to that, and are engaged with the states in the coastal areas."
The rig was drilling oil for the energy giant BP. Eleven crew members are still missing and presumed dead. Newly disclosed documents, meanwhile, show BP heavily lobbied against stricter offshore drilling safety rules when they were being considered last year. In September, BP wrote the US Minerals Management Service that additional safety regulation was unnecessary to replace existing voluntary standards. On Tuesday, Democratic Congress members Henry Waxman of California and Bart Stupak of Michigan asked BP to explain what they knew about safety risks at the drilling site before the explosion took place. In a letter to BP, Waxman and Stupak also expressed concern BP is attempting to manage the spill "with techniques that have never been used before at these ocean depths."
President Obama met with his commission on the national deficit at the White House Tuesday during the panel’s opening session. Obama formed the bipartisan National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility earlier this year to provide recommendations on deficit reduction. Obama said he told commission members "everything is on the table" when it comes to government spending.
President Obama: "This is going to require people of both parties to come together and take a hard look at the growing gap between what the government spends and what the government raises in revenue. And it will require that we put politics aside, that we think more about the next generation than the next election. Everything has to be on the table. And I just met briefly with the commission and said the same thing to them."
A jailed former college student accused of aiding members of al-Qaeda has pleaded guilty on the eve of his trial. Syed Fahad Hashmi has been held in twenty-three-hour solitary confinement for nearly three years. The government’s case rested on the testimony and actions of an old acquaintance of Hashmi’s who turned government informant after his own arrest. Hashmi was being prosecuted for a two-week period when the informant stayed at his home carrying rain gear that was allegedly later delivered to al-Qaeda members in Pakistan. Hashmi was facing the prospect of a seventy-year prison sentence were he to proceed with a trial. He’ll be sentenced in June and now faces up to fifteen years in prison.
At Guantánamo Bay, a hearing has begun on whether the US military elicited a false confession through the torture of a then-teenage prisoner accused of killing a US soldier in Afghanistan. Canadian citizen Omar Khadr was fifteen years old when US troops imprisoned him in Afghanistan in 2002. He says US military guards beat him and threatened him with rape after he arrived at Guantánamo that same year. Deputy Chief Defense Counsel Michael Berrigan said Khadr’s statements at the time should be ruled inadmissible.
Michael Berrigan: "The defense hopes that the statements that Omar Khadr has made that the government wants to admit as evidence against him will be suppressed, and that means that they will not be allowed to be admitted in evidence against him at his commissions trial, which is currently scheduled for this summer."
Kadhr is set to be tried later this year in the first military tribunal of the Obama White House. Alex Neve of Amnesty International Canada criticized Obama for continuing Bush-era policies.
Alex Neve: "I think we were expecting a lot more of the Obama administration. Obviously in January 2009 there was great hope and tremendous expectation that this whole sorry exercise in injustice here at Guantánamo Bay was going to come to a close, and certainly by April 2010, we wouldn’t be facing any military commission hearings, let alone a hearing involving someone who was fifteen years old at the time of the alleged offenses, someone who alleges a harrowing litany of torture and ill treatment. That is astounding."
The Committee to Protect Journalists is calling on the US to hold public inquiries into the killings of at least nineteen journalists and support workers by US troops in Iraq. In a letter to Defense Secretary Robert Gates, the CPJ says, "Our research shows that the majority of the killings were either not sufficiently investigated or that the military failed to publicly disclose its findings." US killings of journalists in Iraq have come under renewed scrutiny with the recent release of military footage capturing a 2007 attack that killed a dozen people in Baghdad, including two Reuters employees.
The Justice Department has confirmed it’s reviewing a new law in Arizona that forces police officers to determine the immigration status of someone they suspect of being an undocumented immigrant. Opponents call it the harshest anti-immigrant measure in the country and a license for racial profiling. Speaking before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said she has "deep concerns" about the law.
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano: "The Justice Department is reviewing the Arizona law. It does not actually take effect until ninety days after the close of the Arizona legislative session, so it is not, in fact, in effect in Arizona, which permits time, I think, for the Justice Department to really look at whether the law meets constitutional safeguards or not."
The head of the Mine Safety and Health Administration has revealed West Virginia’s Upper Big Branch coal mine was cited for the highest number of different kinds of safety violations of all US mines last year. Twenty-nine workers lost their lives in an explosion at the mine earlier this month. On Tuesday, MSHA head Joseph Main told a Senate hearing the mine’s owner and operator, Massey Energy, employed what he called a "catch me if you can" approach to worker safety. Main says his agency issued forty-eight "withdrawal orders" forcing miners to leave unsafe areas at Upper Big Branch last year, more than any other mine.
The Oklahoma Senate has overridden a governor’s veto of two of the harshest anti-abortion measures in the United States. The measures would require women seeking an abortion to first receive an ultrasound and a doctor’s description of the fetus. Democratic Governor Brad Henry had issued a veto last week, saying the laws would violate privacy rights. But on Tuesday, the Oklahoma Senate bypassed Henry’s veto in a new vote. The New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights says it’s filed a court challenge to have the laws overturned.
A federal judge has ordered the University of Wyoming to reverse its cancellation of a lecture by University of Illinois professor and former Weather Underground member Bill Ayers. School administrators canceled the event after protests from right-wing groups. But on Tuesday, US District Judge William Downes said the school’s stated concerns around safety don’t trump Ayers’ right to speak under free speech protections.
And the lone person to confess to the 1965 killing of Malcolm X has been freed on parole. Thomas Hagan has been jailed since February 21st, 1965, when he and several others shot Malcolm X at Harlem’s Audubon Ballroom. Hagan has been on work release for over twenty years, but had still been required to spend two days a week in a Manhattan prison.
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