The Justice Department has announced it will not bring criminal charges against the financial giant Goldman Sachs or any of its employees for improper trading of subprime mortgages during the financial crisis. A comprehensive Senate report had called for an investigation of Goldman in April 2011 after finding the firm had exploited unsuspecting clients by unloading subprime loans. Goldman had aggressively marketed mortgage investments to clients at the same time that the firm was betting against them. The actions helped Goldman inflate the housing bubble and then make huge profits off the market’s collapse. But on Thursday, after a more than year-long investigation of its own, the Justice Department issued an unsigned statement announcing: “Based on the law and evidence as they exist at this time, there is not a viable basis to bring a criminal prosecution with respect to Goldman Sachs or its employees in regard to the allegations set forth in the [Senate] report.” The Securities and Exchange Commission also announced Thursday it’s abandoned its probe of Goldman Sachs’ dealings in some $1.3 billion of subprime mortgage securities.
Wisconsin’s Oak Creek Sikh temple has opened its doors for the first time since the shooting rampage that killed six worshipers. Thousands of people are expected at a local high school today for a public memorial honoring the victims. The civil rights activist Rev. Jesse Jackson was among those to visit Oak Creek on Thursday to show his support.
Rev. Jesse Jackson: “We don’t want the Sikh community to feel that it is in isolation. We are part of the same family. And what we can do in this outreach is share with you our love and our concerns. Count on us to be a part of this. And we must now commit ourselves to working together more closely over a long period of time. Certain people [inaudible] there, the turban is there, being it’s their skin color, but none of us should be in some way demeaned because of our appearance. It’s not fair. It’s not right.”
In Colorado, attorneys for Aurora movie theater shooting suspect James Holmes say they believe he is mentally ill. The claim was made at a pretrial hearing on Thursday where Holmes’ defense team requested more information to help assess his competency to stand trial. Holmes had been receiving psychiatric care at the University of Colorado before the shooting occurred.
The United Nations food agency is warning rising prices fueled by historic drought could trigger a massive global food crisis similar to that of 2007 and 2008. The Food and Agriculture Organization’s food price index rose 6 percent in July after declining for the previous three months. The devastation of the U.S. corn crop by drought increased maize prices by almost 23 percent in July, while dry conditions in Russia helped push wheat prices up 19 percent. Shifting weather patterns also lifted the global sugar price, which rose 12 percent from June to July after unseasonable rains in Brazil hindered the sugarcane harvest. The United Nations says a potential global crisis is on the horizon if countries seek to restrict exports in order to control domestic prices, policies that sparked deadly protests around the world five years ago.
Syrian government forces have ousted rebel fighters from a key district in the city of Aleppo after days of clashes. The rebels say they were forced to pull out of the area of Salaheddin after coming under heavy fire. In a statement earlier today, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned that there “will be no winner in Syria,” only “the grim possibility of long-term civil war destroying Syria’s rich tapestry of interwoven communities.” Earlier today, a spokesperson for the U.N. High Commission for Refugees said the number of Syrians fleeing into neighboring countries remains on the rise.
Adrian Edwards: “UNHCR’s offices in Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan and Iraq are all reporting increases this week in the number of refugees from Syria. Our data, which primarily reflects the number of people who have registered or are in the process of being registered, shows a total population of 146,667 people as of yesterday evening. In several countries, we know there to be substantial refugee numbers, but these people have not yet registered. In Turkey, the refugee population has now exceeded 50,000 people with more than 6,000 new arrivals recorded this week, many of these from Aleppo and surrounding villages.”
In Syria news, there are widespread reports the United Nations has settled on veteran Algerian diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi to replace outgoing Syria envoy Kofi Annan when he steps down at the end of the month. Annan announced his departure last week after months of fighting that flouted his multi-step peace plan. Speaking at the United Nations on Thursday, U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice said the Obama administration will likely back a different U.N. mandate in Syria following the inability of monitors to carry out their duties.
Susan Rice: “As we’ve said repeatedly, that conditions, particularly the extreme use of violence and heavy weapons by the government, do not permit the UNSMIS monitors, or any monitors at this point, who are unarmed, to do the job they were sent to do. There is no ceasefire or cessation of violence for them to observe and report on.”
In Afghanistan, a gunman wearing an Afghan army uniform has shot dead three U.S. soldiers in southern Helmand province. It was the latest in a series of deadly shootings by apparent members of the Afghan forces against troops with the U.S.-led NATO occupation. The shooting followed a suicide bombing that killed three U.S. soldiers and an aid worker in the eastern province of Kunar.
In Mexico, the dead bodies of 14 kidnapped victims were found in an abandoned van on Thursday in the latest of a series of drug-related killings. It was at least the fifth incident in recent months to involve the exact number of 14 bodies, leading police to believe criminal organizations are using the number as some sort of code.
The 18th annual International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples was celebrated on Thursday with events across the globe. Speaking in Mexico, Amnesty International’s Daniel Zapico said indigenous peoples continue face oppressive conditions throughout the Americas.
Daniel Zapico: “What Amnesty International has found in recent years is that indigenous communities live in a situation of backwardness (in comparison to) the majority of places in the region, in regards to economic, social and cultural access, as well as access to education, health, housing, water, etc. Furthermore, we have found that indigenous communities face those who do not respect their ancestral lands.”
The U.S. government has raised its prediction for the number of storms expected during the Atlantic hurricane season, citing warmer-than-normal temperatures at the sea’s surface and wind patterns conducive to storms. The Atlantic season has kicked off to a fast start, with six named storms already. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is now predicting 12 to 17 named storms as well up to eight hurricanes — two or three of which could be major — before the season ends on November 30.
Three peace activists are facing harsher charges for infiltrating the U.S. government’s lone site for handling and processing weapons-grade uranium last week. Calling themselves the “Transform Now Plowshares,” the three reportedly cut through fences to paint slogans and throw blood on the wall of the Y12 nuclear weapons plant in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. The Y12 facility processes uranium for new hydrogen bombs and makes nuclear warheads. In an indictment unsealed on Thursday, the three activists — including an 82-year old nun — were charged with “depredation” of the plant, which carries a maximum of 10 years behind bars.
Attorneys for the Florida shooter George Zimmerman have requested a hearing to argue for the dismissal of second-degree murder charges against him under the state’s “stand your ground” law. Zimmerman’s defense team and supporters have cited “stand your ground” to justify his fatal shooting of the 17-year-old unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin. The hearing is not expected for several months.
The New York City Police Department has launched a new citywide surveillance system that will allow police to monitor thousands of cameras around the city and instantly call up detailed information about surveillance targets. The Domain Awareness System is connected to about 3,000 television cameras stationed around New York City — with more cameras reportedly planned — as well as several hundred license plate readers mounted on police cars and stationed on bridges, tunnels and streets. It centralizes information including live video feeds, maps, license plate readers and city records, allowing police to gain instant access to information about a suspect’s arrest records, 911 calls associated with a suspect, and related crimes that have occurred in a particular area. It also allows police to track cars associated with suspects and find out where they have been over the past several months. The system was developed by the NYPD and software giant Microsoft, and the city will reportedly get 30 percent of the revenue when the technology is sold to police forces around the country.