Wednesday, December 24, 2008

GM closes plants in Wisconsin and Ohio

GM closes plants in Wisconsin and Ohio

By Jerry White

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This is a bitter Christmas for thousands of General Motors workers and their families in Wisconsin and Ohio whose plants are permanently closing. Tens of thousands more fear they will share the same fate as the Detroit automaker extends the holiday shutdown period and begins to implement the drastic cost-cutting mandated by the federal government as part of the bailout.

GM plant closings

Tuesday was the last day of work for 2,200 workers at the Janesville, Wisconsin plant and for 1,100 workers at the Moraine, Ohio factory near Dayton. Both plants assemble SUVs and pick-up truck models whose production has been drastically reduced in the face of plummeting sales and the near bankruptcy of the Detroit automaker.

The plants were vital to the economy of the two towns and the closings will have devastating social consequences. Manufacturers that supply parts to the factories are also closing and the layoffs will undermine local tax revenues and hit restaurants, retailers and other businesses dependent on the paychecks of autoworkers.

Last June, GM said it would close the plants, along with two other light truck factories in Oshawa, Ontario and Toluca, Mexico, by 2010. It then moved up the closing dates for the Janesville and Moraine plants to December 23 and announced that Oshawa, with 2,600 jobs, would close by May 2009.

Two other plants, including a metal stamping plant in Wyoming, Michigan, near Grand Rapids, with 1,500 workers, and a transmission plant across the Detroit River in Windsor, Ontario, with 1,400 jobs, are to be closed in December 2009 and in 2010 respectively.

However, this is just the beginning. In addition to outlining sharp reductions in autoworkers' pay and benefits in exchange for some $13 billion in federal assistance, GM has outlined plans to eliminate another 31,500 jobs and close at least a dozen more plants.

The Moraine plant, which once employed 5,000 workers, produced the Chevrolet Trailblazer, GMC Envoy, as well as Saab SUVs. About 500 workers showed up for the last shift of work on Tuesday. Arriving before dawn, the Dayton Daily News reported them "occasionally honking their horns at one another or at a cluster of local and international media gathered next to the Kettering-Moraine Museum, which overlooks the plant."

The GM plant's body shop and paint shop operations, which occur earlier in the production process at Moraine, were wrapped up prior to Tuesday's shutdown of assembly work there, a company spokesman said. The plant's second shift—with more than 1,000 workers—was eliminated last summer.

The plant closing is the latest blow to the Dayton area, which had once been a major hub of auto and auto parts production for GM, with a long history of militant struggles by autoworkers. In recent years, downsizing by GM has resulted in the elimination of 3,000 jobs at Delphi. The closing of the Moraine plant will lead to the loss of thousands of jobs at supplier plants whose only customer is GM.

The last 64 workers out of a workforce of 200 also lost their jobs with the closure of supplier Jamestown Moraine. "I've got the house I've got to pay for. I've got the car payment, I've got clothes and I've got to give the dog a little food—and you throw in kids? It's bad for everybody," Tony Murphy, a foreman who operates a forklift, told CNN.

"It's going to be a big ripple effect on everyone," he said, "because when they first closed the first two shifts down, it was devastating then, but this, right here, will seal the nail on the coffin.

"Not only is it going to affect where I work, it's going to affect retail. It's going to affect the mom-and-pop shops. It's even going to affect people all the way up in Michigan because they bring those parts that are sent over there to GM," he said.

Moraine, a former Frigidaire appliance factory, is the only GM plant in the United States represented by a union other than the United Auto Workers. Its workers, along with its suppliers' workers, belong to the electrical union, the IUE-CWA.

The massive Janesville assembly plant also produced its last vehicle Tuesday. The 4.8 million-square-foot facility began as a tractor assembly plant in 1919 and has been at the center of the Wisconsin town, 100 miles northwest of Chicago, and one of a series of manufacturing centers in the area, including Rockford and Belvidere, Illinois and Beloit, Wisconsin.

Altogether, the cuts of both shifts and the end of GM production have eliminated nearly 2,200 GM jobs and at least 1,150 jobs at supplier companies in Janesville. Lear Corporation, LSI and Flint Special Services are closing their local plants, laying of 371, 159, and 28 workers respectively. Allied Automotive Group is laying off 117; Woodbridge Group, another 70 workers. The Alcoa Wheel Plant in Beloit also announced plans to close in June, laying off 240.

Tom Purnell, a 48-year-old single father, was laid off from Lear Corp. in June after nearly 14 years when General Motors ended its second shift in Janesville. "I can't find a job," Purnell told the Janesville Gazette. "Places now aren't even taking applications anymore."

Purnell, who will only be eligible for the standard 26 weeks of state unemployment benefits—with a maximum of $355 a week—said he was thinking about going back to school and getting "something in the mechanic field." He lost his health insurance in October, and he worries about paying his bills and keeping the home he and his 10-year-old son share.

After GM announced the closing of the Janesville plant in June, UAW Local 95 forced autoworkers to accept a concessions contract, claiming it might save the plant.

As the last Chevy Tahoe rolled down the line at 7 a.m. Tuesday, UAW Local 95 Shop Chair John Dohner Jr. told several hundred workers gathered to watch, "We didn't deserve this. We put hard work into it. Everything the union leadership told the membership we needed to do, we have done. They are taking our local agreement and toting it in front of other plants, saying, ‘You have to do this if you want to be around.' But the good thing is that those other plants, those other locals are saying, ‘You didn't do anything for Janesville, so why should we do anything for you.'"

The closing of these plants—and the social catastrophe it is producing for workers, their families and their communities—underscores the failure of the long-held policy of the UAW of labor-management "partnership" and concessions, which began with the 1980 Chrysler bailout and continues to this day. Far from defending jobs, the UAW promoted a bidding war between workers in different locations, with a never-ending race to see who would work for the worst conditions and the lowest wages. During this time scores of factories have been closed and more than 600,000 Big Three jobs lost.

Once again, the UAW is collaborating with the government and the auto bosses to blackmail workers into accepting a historic rollback in wages, living standards and working conditions as part of the auto industry bailout. The concessions wrenched from workers will not be used to ensure the long-term health of the industry and the jobs of autoworkers, but to provide lucrative returns for the corporate executives and biggest investors.

Bush Signs New Unified Command Plan

New Unified Command Plan Spells Out Responsibilities, Missions

By Donna Miles

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President George W. Bush has signed an updated unified command plan that codifies U.S. Africa Command, shifts responsibility for parts of the Caribbean Sea to U.S. Northern Command and assigns cyberspace and pandemic influenza missions to other combatant commanders.

The revised plan, which Bush signed Dec. 17, is the key strategic document that spells out the missions, responsibilities and geographical boundaries of each functional and geographic combatant command within the U.S. military, Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman explained.

Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Joint Staff led the review process, with input from every combatant commander and service chief and much of the Defense Department leadership.

Mullen submitted the plan through Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates to the president for final approval, officials said. Congress received notice of the revisions yesterday.

Major changes to the plan include:

-- Codifying Africom, which became fully operational-capable Oct. 1, as a geographic combatant command by assigning specific missions, responsibilities and geographic boundaries;

-- Shifting the Bahamas, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and the Turks and Caicos Islands from U.S. Southern Command’s to U.S. Northern Command’s area of responsibility;

-- Assigning every combatant commander responsibility for planning and conducting military support for stability, security, transition, reconstruction operations, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief;

-- Assigning central planning authorities for several global missions, including pandemic influenza response, cyberspace operations, global operations against terrorist networks, combating weapons of mass destruction and global missile defense; and

-- Codify U.S. Pacific Command’s responsibility for homeland defense operations in Hawaii, Guam and other U.S. territories within its area of responsibility.

The plan codifies a new “pandemic influenza” mission and tasks Northcom to plan departmentwide efforts in support of the U.S. government response to an outbreak. U.S. Strategic Command is assigned responsibility for the department’s cyberspace mission, Whitman said.

Meanwhile, U.S. Special Operations Command is assigned responsibility for global operations against terrorist networks, and Stratcom becomes responsible for combating weapons of mass destruction and global missile defense.

“This is a new concept,” Whitman said of the synchronized global planning construct. “What it means is the assignment of responsibilities to a single coordinator to coordinate missions that exceed the responsibility of any one commander.”

The new document is the first unified command plan to assign all combatant commanders responsibility for missions ranging from stability operations to humanitarian and disaster relief. The goal, Whitman explained, is to give added emphasis on these areas to head off problems “before they reach crisis proportions.”

“If all the combatant commanders are out there conducting stability operations, this can have the effect of strengthening governance and really preventing the creation of these ungoverned spaces … that are troublesome and are used as safe havens for terrorist activities,” he said.

The realignment of Northcom’s boundary is designed to improve the department’s effectiveness in its homeland defense and support to civil authorities missions, officials said. The revision follows Gates’ decision in August 2007 to task Northcom to provide civil support if requested by the U.S. Virgin Islands or Puerto Rico in the event of a natural disaster.

Meanwhile, assignment of the cyberspace mission to Stratcom recognizes cyberspace as a warfighting domain critical to joint military operations, officials said. The revised unified command plan will give new emphasis to this capability, they said, ensuring it is protected, defended and leveraged for the United States.

U.S. Military Preparing for Domestic Disturbances

U.S. Military Preparing for Domestic Disturbances

Jim Meyers

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A new report from the U.S. Army War College discusses the use of American troops to quell civil unrest brought about by a worsening economic crisis.

The report from the War College’s Strategic Studies Institute warns that the U.S. military must prepare for a “violent, strategic dislocation inside the United States” that could be provoked by “unforeseen economic collapse” or “loss of functioning political and legal order.”

Entitled “Known Unknowns: Unconventional ‘Strategic Shocks’ in Defense Strategy Development,” the report was produced by Nathan Freier, a recently retired Army lieutenant colonel who is a professor at the college — the Army’s main training institute for prospective senior officers.

He writes: “To the extent events like this involve organized violence against local, state, and national authorities and exceed the capacity of the former two to restore public order and protect vulnerable populations, DoD [Department of Defense] would be required to fill the gap.”

Freier continues: “Widespread civil violence inside the United States would force the defense establishment to reorient priorities in extremis to defend basic domestic order … An American government and defense establishment lulled into complacency by a long-secure domestic order would be forced to rapidly divest some or most external security commitments in order to address rapidly expanding human insecurity at home.”

International Monetary Fund Managing Director Dominique Strauss-Kahn warned last week of riots and unrest in global markets if the ongoing financial crisis is not addressed and lower-income households are beset with credit constraints and rising unemployment, the Phoenix Business Journal reported.

Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma and Rep. Brad Sherman of California disclosed that Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson discussed a worst-case scenario as he pushed the Wall Street bailout in September, and said that scenario might even require a declaration of martial law.

The Army College report states: “DoD might be forced by circumstances to put its broad resources at the disposal of civil authorities to contain and reverse violent threats to domestic tranquility. Under the most extreme circumstances, this might include use of military force against hostile groups inside the United States.

“Further, DoD would be, by necessity, an essential enabling hub for the continuity of political authority in a multi-state or nationwide civil conflict or disturbance.”

He concludes this section of the report by observing: “DoD is already challenged by stabilization abroad. Imagine the challenges associated with doing so on a massive scale at home."

As Newsmax reported earlier, the Defense Department has made plans to deploy 20,000 troops nationwide by 2011 to help state and local officials respond to emergencies.

The 130-year-old Posse Comitatus Act restricts the military’s role in domestic law enforcement. But a 1994 Defense Department Directive allows military commanders to take emergency actions in domestic situations to save lives, prevent suffering or mitigate great property damage, according to the Business Journal.

And Gen. Tommy Franks, who led the U.S. military operations to liberate Iraq, said in a 2003 interview that if the U.S. is attacked with a weapon of mass destruction, the Constitution will likely be discarded in favor of a military form of government.

One Man’s Bid to Aid the Environment, A Lesson in Civil Disobedience

One Man’s Bid to Aid the Environment

One Missing Word Sowed the Seeds of Catastrophe

One Missing Word Sowed the Seeds of Catastrophe

Man Is a Cruel Animal

Man Is a Cruel Animal

Cheney’s Legacy of Deception

Cheney’s Legacy of Deception

Cheney Defends Waterboarding Order

Cheney Defends Waterboarding Order

By Jason Leopold

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Vice President Dick Cheney, in another stunning admission during his campaign to burnish the Bush administration’s legacy, said he personally authorized the “enhanced interrogations” of 33 suspected terrorist detainees and approved the waterboarding of three so-called “high-value” prisoners.

“I signed off on it; others did, as well, too,” Cheney said about the waterboarding, a practice of simulated drowning done by strapping a person to a board, covering the face with a cloth and then pouring water over it, a torture technique dating back at least to the Spanish Inquisition. The victim feels as if he is drowning.

Cheney identified the three waterboarded detainees as al-Qaeda figures Abu Zubaydah, Khalid Sheik Mohammed and al Nashiri. “That's it, those three guys,” Cheney said in an interview with the right-wing Washington Times.

Other detainees at secret CIA prisons and at Guantanamo Bay were subjected to harsh treatment, including being stripped naked, forced into painful stress positions, placed in extremes of heat or cold and prevented from sleeping – actions that international human rights organizations, and previously the U.S. government, have denounced as torture and illegal abuse.

“I thought that it was absolutely the right thing to do,” Cheney said of what he called the “enhanced interrogation” of the detainees. “I thought the [administration’s] legal opinions that were rendered [endorsing the harsh treatment] were sound. I think the techniques were reasonable in terms of what they [the CIA interrogators] were asking to be able to do. And I think it produced the desired result.”

Cheney also took issue with the notion that waterboarding was torture.

“Was it torture? I don't believe it was torture,” Cheney said. “The CIA handled itself, I think, very appropriately. They came to us in the administration, talked to me, talked to others in the administration, about what they felt they needed to do in order to obtain the intelligence that we believe these people were in possession of.”

Other experts, including some military and intelligence interrogators, have disputed Cheney’s claims of success in extracting reliable information through waterboarding and other harsh techniques. Much of the confessed information turned out to be dubious or incorrect.

The First Case

Zubaydah was the first “war on terror” detainee to be subjected to the Bush administration’s waterboarding, according to Pentagon and Justice Department documents, news reports and several books written about the Bush administration’s interrogation methods.

However, according to author Ron Suskind who interviewed CIA and other insiders, Abu Zubaydah was not the "high-value detainee" that the Bush administration had claimed. Rather, Zubaydah was a minor player in the al-Qaeda organization, handling travel for associates and their families, Suskind wrote in his book The One Percent Doctrine.

Nevertheless, Suskind said President George W. Bush became obsessed with Zubaydah and the information he might have about pending terrorist plots against the United States.

"Bush was fixated on how to get Zubaydah to tell us the truth," Suskind wrote. Bush questioned one CIA briefer, "Do some of these harsh methods really work?"

Abu Zubaydah's captors soon discovered that their prisoner was mentally ill and knew nothing about terrorist operations or impending plots. That realization was "echoed at the top of CIA and was, of course, briefed to the President and Vice President," Suskind wrote.

But Bush did not want to "lose face" because he had stated Zubaydah’s importance publicly, according to Suskind.

Zubaydah was strapped to a waterboard and, fearing imminent death, he spoke about a wide range of plots against a number of U.S. targets, such as shopping malls, the Brooklyn Bridge and the Statue of Liberty. Yet, Suskind wrote, Zubaydah’s information under duress was judged not credible.

Still, that did not stop "thousands of uniformed men and women [who] raced in a panic to each ... target," Suskind wrote. "The United States would torture a mentally disturbed man and then leap, screaming, at every word he uttered."

Cheney Unapologetic

Last week, in an interview with ABC News, Cheney was unapologetic about the waterboarding and other harsh techniques used against the detainees. But Cheney’s matter-of-fact response to the Washington Times’ questions on Monday provided the most detailed look yet at the administration’s highly classified interrogation program.

In the interview, Cheney defended the interrogation program by claiming the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) drafted legal memorandums stating Bush had the authority to suspend the Geneva Convention and order harsh interrogations of prisoners in the “war on terror.”

But the memos were written after Cheney, then-National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, then-White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales and other high-ranking Cabinet officials known as the Principals Committee met in July 2002 to discuss specific interrogation techniques — including the outlawed technique of waterboarding — to be used against “war on terror” detainees.

The OLC attorneys fashioned the legal arguments that then gave legal cover for the interrogation strategies that the White House wanted to carry out.

The Aug. 1, 2002, opinion, widely referred to as the “Torture Memo,” was written by Jay Bybee, an assistant attorney general at the OLC, and John Yoo, Bybee’s deputy. It was addressed to Gonzales and stated that unless the amount of pain administered to a detainee during an interrogation results in injury "such as death, organ failure, or serious impairment of body functions" than the technique could not be defined as torture.

Additionally, the memo said CIA interrogators would not be prosecuted for violating anti-torture laws as long as they acted in “good faith” while using brutal techniques to obtain information from suspected terrorists.

“To validate the statute, an individual must have the specific intent to inflict severe pain or suffering,” the memo said. “Because specific intent is an element of the offense, the absence of specific intent negates the charge of torture.”

The memo was drafted the same month Abu Zubaydah was subjected to waterboarding.

Jack Goldsmith, who succeeded Bybee as head of the OLC in October 2003, quickly determined that the Aug. 1, 2002, memo was “sloppily written” and “legally flawed” and withdrew it.

Administration critics also have noted that actions are not made legal simply by having friendly lawyers give favorable opinions.

“You can’t just suddenly change something that is illegal into something that is legal by having a lawyer write an opinion that saying it’s legal,” said Sen. Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee whose panel spent two years investigating the Bush administration’s interrogation policies.

Jameel Jaffer, director of the American Civil Liberties Union National Security Project, said Cheney used the Justice Department to “twist” the law “and in some cases ignored it altogether, in order to permit interrogators to use barbaric methods that the U.S. once prosecuted as war crimes.”

Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, said, “there must be consequences for [these] illegal activities.” He added, “A special prosecutor should be appointed. To do otherwise is to send a message of impunity that will only embolden future administrations to again engage in serious violations of the law.”

The Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) is close to wrapping up a formal investigation to determine whether agency attorneys, including Yoo and Bybee, provided the White House with poor legal advice when they drafted the legal opinions.

The waterboarding of Abu Zubaydah, Al Nashiri and Kalid Sheikh Mohammed was videotaped, but those records were destroyed in November 2005 after the Washington Post published a story that exposed the CIA's use of so-called "black site" prisons overseas to interrogate terror suspects.

John Durham, an assistant attorney general in Connecticut, was appointed special counsel earlier this year to investigate the destruction of that videotape as well as destroyed film on other interrogations.

Despite the torture criticism, Cheney said he has no regrets about the interrogation methods that he signed off on, claiming they were “directly responsible for the fact that we've been able to avoid or defeat further attacks against the homeland for seven and a half years.”

Cheney added, “I feel very good about what we did. I think it was the right thing to do. If I was faced with those circumstances again, I'd do exactly the same thing.”

Cheney’s remarks to the Washington Times were part of a two-week media blitz that has sought to highlight the Bush administration’s “accomplishments.”

The White House has published two lengthy reports, “Highlights of Accomplishments and Results of the Administration of George W. Bush,” and “100 Things Americans May Not Know About the Bush Administration Record” in an attempt to change the emerging historical consensus about a failed presidency.

However, Cheney’s blasé responses to questions about torture have instead fed growing demands for a criminal investigation against Cheney and other Bush administration officials.

Activists sue to ban voting touch screens

Activists sue to ban voting touch screens

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Activists in Pennsylvania say they're pressing ahead with a lawsuit to ban touch-screen voting machines in the state's 67 counties.

The suit alleges the machines are vulnerable to computer hackers, don't leave a paper trail to verify votes are accurately recorded and don't always work properly, said the League of Women Voters.

Joining the league in the suit are the NAACP, Public Interest Law Firm of Philadelphia and incoming state Treasurer Rob McCord of Bucks County, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported Monday.

The state Supreme Court last week gave the plaintiffs the OK to proceed with the suit against the machines, which already are being used in 50 of the state's counties, the Post-Gazette said.

Commonwealth Secretary Pedro Cortes, who approved the use of the machines, has said they work fine and the criticism is unfounded.

Deeper Cuts, Widespread Pain

Deeper Cuts, Widespread Pain

Few Industries Are Immune as Companies Shed Jobs in 'Serial' Downturn

By Annys Shin

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Recessions can be notoriously uneven. They can wreak havoc with the livelihood of factory workers but not that of bank tellers or nurses. Whole industries can see jobs washed away forever, while others hum along and even grow.

This time, however, the pain is more widespread, economists say, affecting the investment banker, the auto worker, the warehouse manager and the toy store clerk.

So far this year, companies have announced layoffs that affect more than 1 million jobs, according to job placement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas. Bank of America, the Dow Chemical Co., Anheuser-BuschInBev, General Motors and Circuit City are among the growing number of companies that are letting people go.

Another key difference with past recessions has been the downturn's "serial nature," said Jerry Nickelsburg, an economist with the UCLA Anderson School of Management.

In other words, the recession has not affected industries and regions at once, but has rolled out in spurts.

Industries with some of the steepest job losses include construction, financial services, retail and manufacturing. The regional differences in job losses reflect how large a role those industries play in a given area's economy.

In California, for example, a major site of the housing bubble, the construction business began shedding jobs in 2006. The unemployment rate rose to 8.4 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Residential-building-related job losses in California had actually begun to slow down this fall, said Nickelsburg. Because of the drop in consumer spending, three-quarters of the jobs California lost in November were tied to the retail sector, he said.

The state government is the latest casualty of the recession. Smaller tax receipts and tighter credit have left California strapped for cash, and last week the governor announced mass layoffs and furloughs.

Perhaps the only region hurting more is the industrial Midwest. Michigan, home of the Big Three automakers, for example, leads the nation in unemployment with a rate of 9.6 percent, Bureau of Labor Statistics data show. The national average is 6.7 percent. The U.S. economy has lost 604,000 manufacturing jobs over the past year, BLS said.

The states that are having a better time weathering the storm benefited from record prices for energy and agricultural commodities earlier this year.

Texas, for example, is likely to end the year with about 1.5 percent job growth, said Keith Phillips, an economist with the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas. High prices for natural gas over the summer is one reason. Another is that Texas didn't experience the large swings in home values that some other states did.

But Texas is not immune to the downturn. Natural gas prices have come down and the state is expected to lose jobs at a rate of 1.5 percent next year, Phillips said.

That's still good relative to other parts of the country. Wachovia analyst John Silvia, who tracks the Texas economy, said a drop in energy prices is not likely to trigger mass layoffs on the scale of the auto or construction industries because of the nature of the business.

"Given that it takes so long to produce energy, especially oil, you're not going to lay off workers for a short-term weakness in the economy," he said.

Many of those who have been or are about to be laid off will have to find a new line of work, several economists said, because they won't be able to go back to their old one.

The construction industry has shed 780,000 jobs since September 2006 according to the BLS, and it isn't likely to go back to bubble-like levels any time soon, experts said. Further, an anticipated decline in the construction of office buildings, apartments and shopping centers is likely to spur more layoffs in 2009.

Rebecca Blank, an economist at the Brookings Institution in Washington, said she expects manufacturing jobs to keep vanishing steadily from the U.S. economy, including in the auto industry. "It's been a downward trend since the late 1970s," she said. "They are not coming back by and large."

What is less clear is what will happen in the financial services sector, which since September has experienced the demise of venerated firms such as Lehman Brothers, a wave of consolidation and in some cases wholesale government takeover.

More than 250,000 layoffs have been announced by financial services companies this year, according to Challenger, Gray & Christmas. Some of those layoffs will be spread out over several years.

Some firms have already gone through multiple rounds. Citigroup, which employs more than 300,000 worldwide, announced in April 2007 it would cut about 17,000 jobs. In January, it said it would shed 4,200 additional jobs. In March, Citigroup said it would lay off 2,000 investment bankers and traders. Another round of layoffs began in June.

Experts said the bloodletting in financial services is far from over. Many banks still have bad home mortgage and commercial real estate-related debt on their books that has yet to be written off. "There's a lot more bad news to come," said Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington.

When the economy rebounds, hiring in financial services will inevitably pick up, but how many of those jobs there will be and what they entail may be different, said John Challenger, Challenger Gray's chief executive.

"There is a fundamental change in the number of financial institutions and how big they can get," he said. "It's not that [the number of jobs] will never come back to those levels, but I do think a percentage of the employment was because the wheels were turning so fast in a way they won't be allowed to turn under different regulations."

Cheney's admissions to the CIA leak prosecutor and FBI

Cheney’s admissions to the CIA leak prosecutor and FBI

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Vice President Dick Cheney, according to a still-highly confidential FBI report, admitted to federal investigators that he rewrote talking points for the press in July 2003 that made it much more likely that the role of then-covert CIA-officer Valerie Plame in sending her husband on a CIA-sponsored mission to Africa would come to light.

Cheney conceded during his interview with federal investigators that in drawing attention to Plame’s role in arranging her husband’s Africa trip reporters might also unmask her role as CIA officer.

Cheney denied to the investigators, however, that he had done anything on purpose that would lead to the outing of Plame as a covert CIA operative. But the investigators came away from their interview with Cheney believing that he had not given them a plausible explanation as to how he could focus attention on Plame’s role in arranging her husband’s trip without her CIA status also possibly publicly exposed. At the time, Plame was a covert CIA officer involved in preventing Iran from obtaining weapons of mass destruction, and Cheney’s office played a central role in exposing her and nullifying much of her work.

Cheney revised the talking points on July 8, 2003– the very same day that his then-chief of staff, I. Lewis (Scooter) Libby, met with New York Times reporter Judith Miller and told Miller that Plame was a CIA officer and that Plame had also played a central role in sending her husband on his CIA sponsored trip to the African nation of Niger.

Both Cheney and Libby have acknowledged that Cheney directed him to meet with Miller, but claimed that the purpose of that meeting was to leak other sensitive intelligence to discredit allegations made by Plame’s husband, former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, that the Bush administration misrepresented intelligence information to go to war with Iraq, rather than to leak Plame’s identity.

That Cheney, by his own admission, had revised the talking points in an effort to have the reporters examine who sent Wilson on the very same day that his chief of staff was disclosing to Miller Plame’s identity as a CIA officer may be the most compelling evidence to date that Cheney himself might have directed Libby to disclose Plame’s identity to Miller and other reporters.

This new information adds to a growing body of evidence that Cheney may have directed Libby to disclose Plame’s identity to reporters and that Libby acted to protect Cheney by lying to federal investigators and a federal grand jury about the matter.

Still, for those in search of the proverbial “smoking gun”, the question as to whether Cheney directed Libby to leak Plaime’s identity to the media at Cheney’s direction or Libby did so on his own by acting over zealously in carrying out a broader mandate from Cheney to discredit Wilson and his allegations about manipulation of intelligence information, will almost certainly remain an unresolved one.

Libby was convicted on March 6, 2007 of four felony counts of lying to federal investigators, perjury, and obstruction of justice, in attempting to conceal from authorities his own role, and that of other Bush administration officials, in leaking information to the media about Plame.

One of the jurors in the case, Dennis Collins, told the press shortly after the verdict that he and many other jurors believed that Libby was serving as a “fall guy” for Cheney, and had lied to conceal the role of his boss in directing information about Plame to be leaked to the press.

The special prosecutor in the CIA leak case, Patrick Fitzgerald, said in both opening and closing arguments that because Libby did not testify truthfully during the course of his investigation, federal authorities were stymied from determining what role Vice President Cheney possibly played in directing the leaking of information regarding Plame that led to the end of her career as a covert CIA officer, and jeopardized other sensitive intelligence information.

Speaking of the consequences of Libby’s deceit to the FBI and a federal grand jury, Fitzgerald, who is also the U.S. attorney for Chicago, said in his Feb. 20, 2007 closing argument: “There is talk about a cloud over the Vice President. There is a cloud over the White House as to what happened. Do you think the FBI, the Grand Jury, the American people are entitled to a straight answer?”

The implication from that and other comments made by Fitzgerald while trying the case was that Libby had lied and placed himself in criminal jeopardy to protect Cheney and to perhaps conceal the fact that Cheney had directed him to leak information to the media about Plame.

Although it has been widely reported in the media that Cheney and Libby have denied that Cheney directed Libby ever to speak to reporters about Plame, those reports have been erroneous. As Washington columnist Dan Froomkin wrote in this largely overlooked column, Libby instead had told both the FBI and a federal grand jury that he was uncertain as to whether or not Cheney had directed him to talk to reporters about Plame.

An FBI agent testified at Libby’s trial, as Froomkin pointed out, that Libby had told the FBI that during a July 12, 2003 conversation that Libby had with Cheney, the two men possibly discussed “whether to report to the press that Wilson’s wife worked for the CIA.”

That conversation occurred exactly four days after Cheney ordered the revision of the talking points and Libby had his conversation with Judith Miller about Plame.

And immediately after that July 12, 2003 conversation between Cheney and Libby, Libby spoke by phone with Matthew Cooper, then a correspondent for Time magazine, and confirmed for Cooper that Plame worked for the CIA and that she had played a role in sending her husband to Niger.

A contemporaneous FBI report recounting the agents’ interview with Libby also asserts that Libby had refused to categorically deny to them that Cheney had directed him to leak information to the press about Plame. A heavily redacted copy of Libby’s interviews with FBI agents was turned over this summer to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

The committee’s chairman, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Ca.) wrote Attorney General Michael Mukasey on June 3, 2008, reiterating an earlier request that Mukasey turn over to the committee the FBI report of its interview of Vice President Cheney in regards to the Plame matter:

“In his interview with the FBI, Mr. Libby states that it was `possible’ that Vice President Cheney instructed [Libby] to disseminate information about Ambassador Wilson’s wife to the press. This is a significant revelation and, if true, a serious matter. It cannot be responsibly investigated without access to the Vice President’s interview.”

Mukasey declined to release the Cheney report to Waxman in particular, and Congress in general.

But a person with access to notes of Cheney’s interview with federal investigators described to me what Cheney said during those interviews. Later the same person read to me verbatim portions of the interview notes directly relevant to this story.


At the time of the leak of Plame’s identity, Cheney, Libby and other Bush administration officials were attempting to discredit Wilson because of the charges that he was making that the White House had manipulated intelligence information to take the nation to war with Iraq. Wilson, a retired career diplomat and former ambassador, had traveled to Niger in February 2002 on a CIA- sponsored mission to investigate allegations that Saddam Hussein’s regime had attempted to procure uranium from the African nation. Wilson reported back to the CIA that the allegations were most certainly untrue.

Despite numerous warnings from the CIA and elsewhere in government that the Niger allegations were most likely false or even contrived, President Bush cited them in his 2002 State of the Union address as a rationale to go to war with Iraq.

On July 6, 2003, Wilson published an op-ed in The New York Timesmisled the nation to go to war. charging that the Bush administration had “twisted” intelligence when it cited the alleged Niger-Iraq connection in the president’s State of Union earlier that year. At the time, U.N. weapons inspectors in Iraq could not find out weapons of mass destruction. Wilson’s allegations were among the first from an authoritative source that the administration might have

A central part of the effort to counter Wilson’s allegations entailed discrediting him by suggesting that his slection for the trip had been a case of nepotism. Cheney, Libby, then-White House political adviser Karl Rove, and other White House officials told reporters that Wilson’s wife, who worked at the CIA, had been primarily responsible for selecting him to go to Niger.

The day after Wilson’s op-ed, on July 7, 2003, Cheney personally dictated talking points for then-presidential secretary Ari Fleischer and other White House officials to use to counter Wilson’s charges and discredit him.

A central purpose for writing the talking points was to demonstrate that the Vice President’s office had played little if any role in Wilson being sent to Niger and that Cheney was not told of Wilson’s mission prior to the war with Iraq.

In talking points Cheney dictated on July 7, Cheney wrote as his first one: “The Vice President’s office did not request the mission to Niger.” The three other talking points asserted that the “Vice President’s office was not informed of Joe Wilson’s mission”; that Cheney’s office was not briefed about the trip until long after it occurred, and that Cheney and his aides only learned about the trip when they received press inquiries about it a full year later.


About a month prior to Wilson having written his own op-ed for the Times, he had told his story of his mission to Niger to New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, who wrote a detailed account of Wilson’s trip and his allegations.

In reaction to that column, Cheney personally made inquiries about the matter to both then-CIA director George Tenet and then-CIA deputy director John McLaughlin, apparently on either June 11 or June 12, 2003, according to evidence made public at Libby’s federal criminal trial. Both Tenet and McLaughlin told Cheney of Plame’s role (in reality, a tenuous one) to the selection of her husband for the Niger mission.

On June 12, Cheney and Libby spoke, and Cheney told Libby about Plame’s supposed role.

In notes that Libby took of the conversation, Libby wrote that Cheney said he been told by the CIA officials that Wilson’s mission to Niger “took place at our behest”-in reference to the CIA. More specifically, the notes indicted the mission was undertaken at the request of the CIA’s covert Counterproliferation Division. The notes said that Cheney told Libby that he had been informed that Wilson’s “wife works in that division.”

Cheney then instructed Libby, according to the notes, to ask the CIA to set the record straight by saying that the Vice President’s office “didn’t known about [the] mission” and “didn’t get the report back”, in reference to the fact that Cheney’s office never received a copy of a CIA debriefing report of Wilson after he returned from Niger.

Surprisingly, despite the prominence of Kristof in particular, and the Times in general, the column was largely ignored– at least for a while.

But Wilson’s own July 6, 2003 Times op-ed column by rekindled the issue. Stoking the flames, Wilson then also appeared on Meet the Press that same morning to discuss his column.

Wilson’s column, prosecutor Fitzgerald asserted at Libby’s trial, ignited a “firestorm.”

Wilson’s charges, Fitzgerald went on to say, “came in the fourth month of the war in Iraq, the fourth month when weapons of mass destruction were not found. Coming as they did, they ignited a media firestorm… the White House was stunned.”

In a handwritten notation at the bottom of the July 6 op-ed, Cheney wrote out several rhetorical questions regarding Wilson and Plame: “Have they [the CIA] done this before? Send an Amb. to answer a question? Do we ordinarily send people out pro-bono to work for us? Or did his wife send him on a junket?”

The next day, July 7, Cheney crafted talking points to be distributed to the media which emphasized that his office had not requested that Wilson go to Niger, that the CIA had not told him about Wilson’s findings, and that he personally only learned of the matter long after the U.S. invaded Iraq– from press reports.

The four talking points dictated by Cheney to his press aide, Catharine Martin, stated:

*The Vice President’s office did not request the mission to Niger.
* The Vice President’s office was not informed of Joe Wilson’s mission.
*The Vice President’s office did not receive a briefing about Mr. Wilson’s mission after he returned.
*The Vice President’s office was not aware of Mr. Wilson’s mission until recent press reports accounted for it.

Martin, in turn, sent those talking points on to, among others, Ari Fleischer, the-then White House press secretary, who utilized them in his briefing or “gaggle” for the press that morning.

Fleischer told reporters that same day, according to a transcript of the briefing: “The Vice President’s office did not request the mission to Niger. The Vice president’s office was not informed of his mission and he was not aware of Mr. Wilson’s mission until recent press accounts… accounted for it. So this was something that the CIA undertook… They sent him on their own volition.”

Also hat same day, Fleischer, who was planning to leave his position as White House press secretary, had lunch with Libby, during which, according to Fleisher’s testimony at Libby’s trial, Libby spoke extensively about the role of Plame in sending her husband on the Niger mission.

At the lunch, Fleischer would testify, Libby told him: “Ambassador Wilson was sent by his wife. His wife works for the CIA.” Fleischer testified that Libby even referred to Wilson’s wife by her maiden name, Valerie Plame.

“He added it was `hush-hush’, and on the QT,’ and that most people didn’t know it,” Fleisher testified.

The very next morning, on July 8, Libby met with reporter Judith Miller of the New York Times for two hours for breakfast at the St. Regis Hotel in downtown Washington in an effort to staunch the damage done by Wilson’s column.

Miller testified at Libby’s trial during the breakfast Libby told her that Wilson’s wife worked at the CIA and that Plame had played a role in selecting him for his Niger mission.

In testimony before the federal grand jury in the CIA leak case, Libby testified that Cheney had instructed him before the breakfast to “get everything out.” Regarding the allegations that he leaked information to Miller about Plame, Libby told federal investigators that he had never done so.

During the same breakfast, Libby also disclosed to Miller portions of a then-still classified National Intelligence Estimate which Cheney believed demonstrated that the CIA was to blame for robustly endorsing the Niger information as accurate.

President Bush had personally and secretly declassified portions of the NIE for the specific purpose of leaking them to Miller. In disclosing selective portions of the NIE to Miller, only the President, the Vice President, and Libby knew about the secret declassification.

“So far as you know, the only three people who knew about this would be the President, the Vice President, and yourself,” Libby was asked by Fitzgerald during one session by Libby before the federal grand jury hearing evidence in the CIA leak case,

“Correct, sir,” Libby answered.

Also that same day, July 8, 2003, Cheney met again Cathy Martin– this time on Cheney’s office on Capitol Hill. During the meeting, according to an account Martin gave federal investigators, Cheney told Martin that he wanted some changes and additions made to the talking points devised the previous day that had already been disseminated to Fleischer and other White House communications aides.

Martin told investigators that Cheney dictated the changes to her, and in each case, she took down word for word what the Vice President said. (Martin later repeated this same account under oath during Libby’s trial.)

Cheney told Martin that he wanted the very first of the talking points to now read: “It is not clear who authorized Joe Wilson’s trip to Niger.”

Cheney, of course, knew that the CIA had authorized Wilson’s trip and had sent Wilson to Niger. Both Cheney and Libby had been told by a large number of CIA and State Department officials by then that such was the case, according to the sworn testimony of those officials at Libby’s trial. And the day before, Fleisher had told the press that Wilson’s mission to Niger was “something that the CIA undertook” and that they had also “sent him on their own volition.”

Why would Cheney change the talking points from the day before if he knew that the CIA had sent Wilson and he and his staff had encouraged Fleischer to say that the day before? Obviously, saying it was unclear who had authorized Wilson’s trip to Niger was not only untrue, it also pointed reporters in the direction of asking about Plame.

Asked about this during his FBI interview, Cheney was at a loss to explain how the change of the talking points focusing attention on who specifically sent Wilson to Niger would not lead reporters might lead to exposure of Plame’s role as a CIA officer.

There was a matter, as well, as to why Cheney changed the talking points to say it was unclear who sent Wilson when in fact he had admitted earlier during the same interview with investigators that he clearly knew it was the CIA.

Finally, of course, there was the fact that on the very same day that Cheney changed the talking points that Libby was meeting with Miller and telling Miller that Plame worked for the CIA and had sent her husband to Niger.

In his closing argument during the Libby trial, however, Fitzgerald did mention the issue briefly. None of the media covering the trial, however (with the sole exception once again being Dan Froomkin), appeared to understand its significance or broader context, and did not report it.

Noting the change of Cheney’s July 7 and July 8, 2003 talking points, Patrick Fitzgerald said: “The question of who authorized became number one. That’s a question that would lead to the answer: Valerie Wilson.”


Four days later, on July 12, 2003 Cheney and Libby strategized again as to how to beat back Wilson’s allegations. They had traveled together, and with thief families, to the Norfolk Naval Station for the commissioning of the nuclear-powered Nimitz-class aircraft carrier, the U.S.S. Ronald Reagan.

On the flight home, Cheney pressed Libby to talk to reporters to once again, hoping to beat back Wilson’s allegations and discredit the former diplomat. Immediately after landing, Libby spoke to then-Time magazine correspondent Matthew Cooper and confirmed for him that Plame worked for the CIA and had played a role in sending her husband to Niger. It was regarding that conversation that Libby told the FBI it was “possible” that Cheney might have told him to discuss Plame.

On July 2, 2007, President Bush commuted Libby’s thirty month prison sentence, saying he was doing so out of compassion for Libby’s family and because he believed that he believed that the sentence was excessive. The White House declined to say whether Bush might consider a full pardon for Libby.

In the next few days, it will become known whether Libby will in fact be pardoned by President Bush in his final days in office.

In the meantime, what the Vice President and the President told the FBI during their own FBI interviews during the Plame investigation will not be officially disclosed by the White House. Despite the fact that prosecutor Fitzgerald has said told Congress that he has no objections to the provision of the reports to Congress, the Bush administration has refused to follow through.