Domestic Policy

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  US Government Supporting Shariah through AIG?December 23, 2008 20:21 Conservatives and other critics of the U.S. Treasury’s $700 billion Wall Street bailout argue it is based on flawed economics and represents an unconstitutional delegation of legislative powers to the executive branch.
But the first major court challenge to the bailout involves neither of those arguments.
Instead, now comes Iraq War veteran Kevin J. Murray arguing that part of the bailout creates an unconstitutional “establishment of religion.” In short, it violates the Constitution’s First Amendment. Murray’s suit in federal court was filed on his behalf by the Thomas More Law Center.
How so?
Murray notes that the Treasury took a 79.9 percent interest in insurance conglomerate AIG. That makes AIG a government-owned and –run business. And AIG has a division that practices “Shariah-compliant finance.”
Shariah-compliant finance, according to the Thomas More Law Center, “subjects certain financial activities, including investments, to the dictates of Islamic Law and the Islamic religion.”
  Chrysler Shuts Down All ProductionDecember 17, 2008 20:42 Chrysler LLC announced late Wednesday that it is stopping all vehicle production in the United States for at least a month.

All 30 of the carmaker's plants will close after the last shift on Friday, and employees will not be asked to return to work before Jan. 19.

Chrysler blamed the "continued lack of consumer credit for the American car buyer" for the slow-down in sales that forced the move.

The company ordinarily shuts down operations between Dec. 24 and Jan. 5. This closure would add roughly two weeks to that shutdown.

Chrysler is the third of the Big Three automakers to suspend operations for January. Last week, General Motors announced it was idling 30% of its North American manufacturing capacity during the first quarter of 2009 in response to deteriorating market conditions. That move will take 250,000 vehicles out of production. On Wednesday, a Ford spokeswoman confirmed for CNN that the automaker is adding a week to its normal two-week seasonal shutdown at a number of its plants.
  The Fed'S New Ball GameDecember 16, 2008 09:51 After what is likely to be the last in a long series of interest rate cuts Tuesday, the Federal Reserve is expected to continue its new, perhaps more effective monetary strategy: printing lots of money.

The Fed traditionally uses its rate-cutting tool to encourage lending and boost the economy. But despite a staggering 4.25 percentage points of cuts since September 2007, the economy has not improved - in fact, it has gotten worse, drifting in to a recession last December.

Economists expect the Fed to produce one more cut to its benchmark funds rate at the conclusion of its Federal Open Market Committee meeting Tuesday, trimming the rate to 0.5%, the lowest level on record. Whether one last rate cut will help stimulate economic growth remains to be seen.

At any rate, the Fed will likely continue to use its new favorite tool, quantitative easing, "Fed-speak" for pouring new money into the economy.

In addition to lowering rates, the Fed has increased its lending to financial institutions and foreign central banks throughout the year to ease the credit crunch. But when the financial markets exploded into crisis-mode in mid-September, the Fed's reserve of Treasurys to support its lending began to run low. As a result, the central bank began firing up the printing presses, financing drastically increased lending to banks, purchases of corporate debt and bailouts of troubled institutions like AIG (AIG, Fortune 500).
  Foreclosure Storm To Hit The U.S. In 2009 As Filing Drop To June LevelsDecember 11, 2008 12:18 "Foreclosure activity in November hit the lowest level we've seen since June thanks in part to recently enacted laws that have extended the foreclosure process in some states, along with more aggressive loan modification programs and self-imposed holiday foreclosure moratoriums introduced by some lenders," James J. Saccacio, chief executive officer of RealtyTrac, said in a statement on Thursday.

Saccacio added, "There are several indications, however, that this lower activity is simply a temporary lull before another foreclosure storm hits in the coming months."
  Bush Sorry Economic Crisis Has Cut Jobs, 401 (K)SDecember 04, 2008 09:57 President George W. Bush expressed remorse that the global financial crisis has cost jobs and harmed retirement accounts and said he'll back more government intervention if needed to ease the recession.

"I'm sorry it's happening, of course," Bush said in a wide-ranging interview with ABC's "World News," which was airing Monday. "Obviously I don't like the idea of people losing jobs, or being worried about their 401(k)s. On the other hand, the American people got to know that we will safeguard the system. I mean, we're in. And if we need to be in more, we will."

The U.S. economy fell into a recession in December 2007, the National Bureau of Economic Research reported on Monday. Many economists believe the current downturn will last until the middle of 2009 and will be the most severe slump since the 1981-82 recession.

On the war in Iraq, Bush said the biggest regret of his presidency was the "intelligence failure" regarding the extent of the Saddam Hussein threat to the United States. With the support of Congress, Bush ordered the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003 — a decision largely justified on grounds — later proved false — that Saddam was building weapons of mass destruction.

Asked if he would have ordered the U.S.-led invasion if intelligence reports had accurately indicated that Saddam did not have the weapons, Bush replied: "You know, that's an interesting question. That is a do-over that I can't do. It's hard for me to speculate."

During a discussion about what Americans should know about what it is like to be president, Bush was asked what he was most unprepared for going into the office.

"I think I was unprepared for war," he said. "In other words, I didn't campaign and say, `Please vote for me, I'll be able to handle an attack.' In other words, I didn't anticipate war. Presidents — one of the things about the modern presidency is that the unexpected will happen."

On the presidential election, Bush called Barack Obama's victory a "repudiation of Republicans."

"I'm sure some people voted for Barack Obama because of me," said Bush, who leaves office with low approval ratings. "I think most people voted for Barack Obama because they decided they wanted him to be in their living room for the next four years explaining policy. In other words, they made a conscious choice to put him in as president."

As he leaves office, Bush said he felt responsible for the economic downturn because it's occurring on his watch, but he added: "I think when the history of this period is written, people will realize a lot of the decisions that were made on Wall Street took place over a decade or so" before he became president.

  Planned Job Cuts Highest In Nearly Seven Years - Report - Dec. 3, 2008December 03, 2008 08:51 Jobs took another painful hit in November, with planned cuts rising to the highest level in seven years, according to a report released Wednesday by an outplacement firm.

Job cut announcements by U.S. employers soared to 181,671 last month, up 61% from October's 112,884 cuts, and 148% higher than the same period a year ago, when 73,140 job cuts were announced, according to the report by Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

November's total represents the second highest on record, shy of the 248,475 planned layoffs in January 2002, in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Financial and retail industries were hit the hardest, Challenger said. Citigroup's plans to cut its staff levels by more than 50,000 brought the financial sector's announced job cuts to 91,356 last month. The financial industry has announced 220,506 job cuts so far in 2008, representing 21% of all layoffs this year.

Retailers added another 11,000 cuts in November, ahead of the holiday season.
  Bush Administration: Almost MidnightDecember 02, 2008 19:58 The Bush administration deserves credit for its efforts to make the transition go smoothly, perhaps exceptionally so. But these are also ominous days, with Republican political appointees trying to rush through dangerous rule changes on the environment, domestic surveillance, workplace safety and more.

It's almost an across-the-board push. The Labor Department is finishing a new rule that would hinder regulations on workers' exposures to toxic substances and hazardous chemicals. The Justice Department is working on a proposal to expand the surveillance powers of state and local governments. A Department of Transportation agency is relaxing limits on the number of consecutive hours truckers can drive, despite the safety risks associated with fatigue.

Much of the worst activity involves the environment, where those loyal to the master of dark bureaucratic magic, Vice President Dick Cheney, have final chances to enact the nastiest aspects of industry wish lists. Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility properly calls this "the most dangerous time of the year."

On Tuesday, the Environmental Protection Agency gave its approval to removing stream protections in areas where coal companies remove entire mountaintops. Of special concern to the Northwest, the administration proposes to allow catastrophic weakening of Endangered Species Act protections, letting individual federal agencies decide on their own whether their projects will hurt struggling species.
  Bush Damage ReportDecember 02, 2008 19:56 Having promised to "sprint to the finish" of his second term and "to remain focused on the goals ahead," President Bush is "working to enact a wide array of federal regulations, many of which would weaken government rules" aimed at protecting workers, consumers and the environment, the Washington Post reports. "The administration wants to leave a legacy," said Gary Bass, executive director of OMB Watch, "but across the board it means less protection for the public."
Indeed, the Bush administration is implementing over 90 new regulations which "would be among the most controversial deregulatory steps of the Bush era and could be difficult for his successor to undo." The wide array of new regulations includes proposals to undercut outpatient Medicaid services, weaken the Endangered Species Act, and allow increased emissions from older power plants. In some instances, the administration has allowed federal agencies to circumvent public feedback methods by limiting the period for public comment, "not allowing e-mailed or faxed comments or scheduling public hearings." Transition advisers to President-elect Barack Obama, meanwhile, "have compiled a list of about 200 Bush administration actions and executive orders that could be swiftly undone to reverse White House policies." The kind of regulations they are looking at are those imposed by Bush for "overtly political" reasons, said Dan Mendelson, a former associate administrator for health in the Clinton administration's Office of Management and Budget.

CUTTING BACK MEDICAID: On Friday, the very same day that the Department of Labor announced that the U.S. unemployment rate is at a 14-year high of 6.5 percent, Bush "narrowed the scope of services that can be provided to poor people under Medicaid's outpatient hospital benefit."

The new regulation arrives at a time when states are considering limiting Medicaid eligibility and Americans are losing their jobs -- and by extension, employer health benefits. According to the Kaiser Foundation, a 1 percent increase in unemployment results in 1 million more people enrolling in Medicaid and the State's Children's Health Insurance Program, and another 1.1 million more people becoming uninsured. Public hospitals and state officials immediately protested Bush's proposed action, saying it would "reduce Medicaid payments to many hospitals at a time of growing need," the New York Times reports. Ann Clemency Kohler, the executive director of the National Association of State Medicaid Directors, said that "the new rule is a pretty sweeping change from longtime Medicaid policy.

Since the beginning of the program, states have been allowed to define hospital outpatient services. We have to question why the rule is being issued now, three days after the election, with a new administration coming in."

GUTTING ENDANGERED SPECIES: In what would be the biggest change to Endangered Species Act since 1998, the Bush administration wants to allow federal agencies "to decide for themselves whether highways, dams, mines and other construction projects might harm endangered animals and plants."

Currently, federal agencies are required to consult with an independent agency -- the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) or the National Marine Fisheries Service -- to determine whether a project would harm an endangered species. As Sharon Guynup of the Baltimore Sun points out, "[T]aking wildlife experts out of the equation eliminates the checks and balances that have kept the [Chesapeake] bay's bald eagles, shortnose sturgeon, Delmarva fox squirrels, piping plovers and other rare creatures from disappearing" and would only encourage agencies to "revert to pre-Endangered Species

Act tactics of cutting big projects into a series of small ones that fall under the radar."

The draft rules also would also "bar federal agencies from assessing the emissions from projects that contribute to global warming and its effect on species and habitats," the AP reports.

INCREASING POLLUTION: The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is working on regulations that would allow increased emissions from older power plants while also rolling back existing air quality regulations for national parks and wilderness areas. While "the Clean Air Act requires older plants that have their lives extended with new equipment to install pollution-control technology if their emissions increase," Bush's proposed rule would "allow plants to measure emissions on an hourly basis, rather than their total yearly output. This way, plants could run for more hours and increase overall emissions without exceeding the threshold that would require additional pollution controls," McClatchy reports. The industry-friendly rule -- which the administration tried to implement in 2003, before it "was vacated by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia in July"-- is now being opposed by EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson and Robert Meyers, the assistant administrator in charge of air issues. According to McClatchy, "the EPA official said that concerns in the agency were that the analysis justifying the rule change was weak and the administration didn't plan to make the analysis public for a comment period, as is customary." Three computer models, released by the EPA, have also shown that the proposed rule "would increase carbon dioxide emissions by 74 million tons annually," "roughly equivalent to the total annual CO2 emissions of about 14 average coal-fired power plants."

  It's Official: U.S. In A Recession Since December 2007December 01, 2008 10:15 The National Bureau of Economic Research said Monday that the U.S. has been in a recession since December 2007, making official what most Americans have already believed about the state of the economy .

The NBER is a private group of leading economists charged with dating the start and end of economic downturns. It typically takes a long time after the start of a recession to declare its start because of the need to look at final readings of various economic measures.

"The committee views the payroll employment measure, which is based on a large survey of employers, as the most reliable comprehensive estimate of employment," said the group's statement. "This series reached a peak in December 2007 and has declined every month since then."

Employers have trimmed payrolls by 1.2 million jobs in the first 10 months of this year. On Friday, economists are predicting the government will report a loss of another 325,000 jobs for November.