Friday, February 27, 2009

Suspected al Qaeda operative charged in U.S. court

PEORIA, Illinois (Reuters) - Suspected al Qaeda operative Ali al-Marri has been charged with conspiracy and material support for terrorism, shifting him into the U.S. legal system after 5-1/2 years at a military prison in South Carolina, according to court documents unsealed on Friday.

The Obama administration's decision to move the Qatari national into the U.S. court system represented a significant shift in policy from the Bush administration, which had argued that Marri could be held indefinitely without being charged.

Marri is the last of three terrorism suspects who had been held by the military in the United States without charges as an "enemy combatant." He has a case pending before the U.S. Supreme Court challenging his indefinite imprisonment.

The indictment, handed up by a federal grand jury in Peoria, Illinois, on Thursday and unsealed on Friday charged Marri with two counts of providing material support or resources to al Qaeda.

Marri could face up to 15 years in prison on each count.

Stonewalling in Style: Bank of America Subpoenaed. Cuomo Says: CEO Ken Lewis Refuses to Say Who Got Bonuses. (our $$$$)

On Thursday, Lewis refused to provide a list of bonus payments to the New York Attorney General, after arriving in New York in his $50 million corporate jet. Earlier this week, President Obama said the days of bank executives flying corporate jets “were over.” Not for Bank of America.

After Lewis refused to disclose just who got what out of $3.6 billion in bonuses given to Merrill Lynch employees before the banks merged late last year, the AG’s office responded harshly in the latest saga in the brewing legal battle.

“Bank of America has made the decision they don’t want to turn that information over to us and we, therefore, tonight served Bank of America with a subpoena to turn over that information,” said Special Assistant to the New York Attorney General Benjamin Lawsky Thursday evening, “and we intend to get that by whatever means is necessary going forward.”

Lewis met with the attorney general’s office for four hours, and he claimed afterwards that he fully cooperated.

New York officials told ABC News the session with Lewis was ugly and combative. They accused Lewis and the bank of stonewalling, saying they refused to provide a list of which executives got what of the billions in bonuses.

Watch the attorney general office’s response to the meeting.

Some 700 Merrill Lynch employees received a total of $3.6 billion dollars just before the firm’s record losses became known and before it merged with Bank of America.

Charlie Rose Show: A conversation with Jeff Bezos,

A conversation with Jeff Bezos, founder, president, chief executive officer and chairman of the board of

Father Turns on Dryer With Baby Inside

Police in Mesa, Arizona say a father is jailed on child abuse charges after he intentionally turned on a clothes dryer while his 1-year-old son played inside. (Feb. 27)

A Newspaper Refuses to Die Quietly

Denver's Rocky Mountain News daily paper is being closed by its owners the Scripps Interactive Newspapers Group. The newspaper had a difficult year economically, was put up for sale for a mere one month and this week was told by its owners that the doors were simply going to shut.

It's a story that we may see more and more often in coming months and years. The newspaper industry is changing radically and in many cases contracting. There are a lot of possible explanations and quite a few likely consequences to consider. Today, instead of discussing those in our blog post - we want to turn the microphone over to the good folks at the Rocky. They've produced a very moving 20 minute video about how it feels and what it means to lose their jobs and newspaper. The staff has put that video on the top of their front page, we've embedded it below.

We believe the closure of the Rocky is a real loss. The video below puts it much better than we can, though, so check it out. We don't resent the bad-mouthing of bloggers at 14 minutes, either, there's some truth to the criticism.

Final Edition from Matthew Roberts on Vimeo.
We'll miss the newspapers that disappear for their civic responsibility, their breadth of coverage, their budgets for investigation and their physical form. It's nice to hold a physical newspaper, it's nice to visit a news website of general interest and it's nice to think of the time-honored role of the news reporter with notepad in hand. As part of the world of new media online journalism, we don't wish newspapers harm at all. We recognize how much we have to learn from the people behind them. We hope that knowledge can live on.

Treasury's New Plan Takes Up to a 36% Stake in Citigroup

In its latest attempt to quell the nation’s economic nerves, the Treasury Department announced this morning that it will increase its stake in Citigroup, news that caused the beleaguered bank’s share price to drop during premarket trading.

We can, of course, expect plenty of squawking about the horrors of nationalism in no time.

The move is designed to shore up the bank’s capital and, hopefully, spur it to lend more to people who need it. It will also protect shareholders. CNN Money stresses that the bank will not be getting any more tax dollars in the deal.

"Treasury is willing to participate in this arrangement to the extent Citigroup is able to reach agreement with its other preferred holders," the department said. "This transaction does not increase the amount of Treasury’s investment in Citigroup."

Exactly how big a chunk of the bank the government will own isn’t clear, but it could be up to 36 percent. Citibank has already received $45 billion in bailout money. But Treasury is promising to convert its security to match, dollar for dollar, the private preferred shares that are converted into common stock — up to $25 billion. The bank could convert as much as $27.5 billion.

The money isn’t coming without strings attached. The government wants Citigroup to get its boardroom in order in exchange for the help. Though CEO Vikram Pandit and Chairman Richard Parsons will stay put, the government has asked Citigroup to find new independent directors for its board.

All the logistics aren’t yet ironed out, but one thing’s for sure: This move will lead to even more debate about the pros and cons of nationalizing banks. In fact, one CNBC reporter just referred to the action as "creeping nationalization." Do you agree, reader?

29 Percent of New Jersey Homeowners Should Appeal Property

Over-Taxation Averages $1,919 per Affected Home

New Jersey Property Tax Appeal Deadline is April 1st

February 26, 2009 – As many as 29 percent of New Jersey homes, an estimated 722,000 residential properties, are over-assessed beyond the state’s 15 percent buffer, according to a study released today by analytics expert Adam Berkson.

The study also found that approximately one-half of the records available through the New Jersey Division of Taxation have incomplete information, such as missing square footage, which makes it difficult for the individual homeowner to go online and quickly determine whether his or her home is being accurately assessed.

Berkson, who conducted a comprehensive state-wide analysis of 2008 property sales as compared to property tax assessment information provided by the State, found that in some communities as many as one-half of residential properties are over-taxed by at least 15 percent.

“Property taxes are a necessary but major financial burden for New Jersey homeowners,” said Berkson, “and that makes it essential that they are assessed equitably. Our research, which is based on publicly-available data, shows that 55 percent of all New Jersey residential tax bills are higher than they should be, and that nearly a third are eligible to be appealed.

“Put simply, if you are one of those 722,000 property owners and you don’t file an appeal, you are subsidizing other owners who aren’t paying their fair share.”

Most homeowners only have until April 1, 2009 to file this year’s property tax appeal – the deadline is May 1 in municipalities that have been reassessed this year.

Berkson’s research report on New Jersey properties follows a similar report he released in San Diego, Calif., in 2008 that received considerable local attention. In the coming months, he plans to conduct similar research in several more heavily-populated states, including Arizona, Washington, Texas, Illinois, Florida, New York, Oregon and in additional California counties.

To help New Jersey homeowners, Berkson has launched (, where the owner can easily and quickly determine the likelihood and degree to which his or her home is unfairly assessed. The homeowner can take that information to an appraiser and/or an attorney to launch an appeal, or simply download completed forms and detailed instructions on how to file an appeal directly with local and county tax offices. The latter service is available for nominal $49 fee. is the only place on the World Wide Web where New Jersey property owners can download a completed property tax appeal application.


Adam and Jeff Berkson founded in 2008. The user-friendly, web-based service uses a unique methodology for analyzing existing property value and tax information to assist homeowners in completing a property tax appeal application. is currently available in the San Diego and Fresno, Calif. areas and statewide in New Jersey.

Wal-Mart Settles Suit by Black Truck Drivers for $17.5 Million

Wal-Mart will pay $17.5 million to settle a class-action suit by Black truck drivers who claimed the world’s larger retailer discriminated against them.

Wal-Mart denied in the settlement that it engaged in any unlawful discrimination.

“Resolving this litigation is in the best interest of our company, our shareholders and our associates,” Daphne Moore, a spokeswoman for Wal-Mart Stores Inc., said in a statement.

"Encouraging diversity is an important part of the hiring process for all areas of our company. We are implementing improvements to our transportation division's recruitment, selection and personnel systems and believe they will be an integral part of our commitment to diversity.”

The Associated Press said the company's logistics division has agreed to provide priority job placements to 23 drivers who submitted claims of discrimination. Also, Wal-Mart will provide direct notice of all future job opportunities to all interested drivers who took part in the suit, establish benchmark hiring goals so that new hires accurately reflect the racial makeup of the pool of applicants, and enhance recruitment efforts targeting Blacks.

In a 2007 ruling granting the suit class-action status, U.S. District Judge William R. Wilson Jr. cited American Trucking Association figures showing 15 percent of truckers were Black from Jan. 1, 2000, through Sept. 29, 2005. In the same period, 4 percent to 6 percent of Wal-Mart's 8,000 truckers were Black.

Wilson also said drivers at Wal-Mart were recruited largely through word-of-mouth and applicants would be screened by a committee of drivers, some of which had no Blacks, despite a company rule that the panels be 50 percent diverse.

Black Caucus Presses Obama on Priorities

Congressional Black Caucus chair Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., at microphone, talks to reporters outside the White House following a meeting with President Obama.

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama reassured members of the Congressional Black Caucus that he's on their side and will do what he can to support the group's left-leaning agenda, lawmakers said Thursday after an hour-long session at the White House.

Nearly all the group's 42 members attended. Noticeably absent was Illinois Sen. Roland Burris, Obama's replacement who is fending off calls to resign.

The lawmakers — all Democrats — said the reception was a welcome change from the tenure of former President George W. Bush, who held several cordial meetings with black lawmakers but rarely agreed with them on substance.

"There is no comparison," said Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland. "(Obama) basically assured us that having been a member of the Congressional Black Caucus ... that he gets the issues and will do everything he can to work with us."

Lawmakers said they presented Obama with a wish-list covering a broad range of topics, many of them economic issues affecting their districts.

They pressed Obama to focus on hiring more minorities to federal jobs and helping small and minority-owned businesses get government contracts. They also discussed creating a health-care safety net and addressing medical disparities among minorities.

Lawmakers expressed continued concerns about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and proposed forming a national task force for improving education in low-income communities.

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas said the caucus made its priorities clear but is "not unrealistic about what a president can do."

Cummings said some of the proposals don't involve additional money. For example, he said Obama talked about using the bully pulpit to encourage minorities to get more health screenings.

Although Obama was a member of the caucus during his Senate tenure from 2004-2008, he has never had a particularly close relationship with the group. Accommodating its full agenda could cause problems for the president's effort to build a moderate political coalition.

But caucus members said it's their job to make sure he remains focused on the hardships facing their districts, many of which are poor urban areas with high unemployment.

"Everybody's pulling together," said Rep. David Scott of Georgia. "We've got a huge problem, a momentous crisis here with this economy ... we're all on the same page."

Burris' spokesman said the senator did not attend the White House meeting because he needed to vote on a bill giving the District of Columbia a vote in the House.

Bank Nationalization? - Citigroup reaches deal to give government up to a 36% stake

BY KEVIN KINGSBURY AND MAYA JACKSON RANDALL - Struggling banking giant Citigroup Inc., moving aggressively to shore up its equity base, announced a stock swap Friday that if successful will leave the government owning more than a third of the company and wipe out nearly three-quarters of existing shareholders’ stake.

The move is an acknowledgment that more than $50 billion in government capital and a backstop on more than $300 billion in troubled Citigroup assets haven’t been enough to stop the bank’s slide. It also represents a deepening of the government’s role in trying to prop up the U.S. banking sector.

Under the deal, Citigroup said it will offer to convert nearly $27.5 billion in preferred stock sold to private investors and the public and up to $25 billion in preferred stock bought by the government into common stock. The exchange, if fully executed, would leave the U.S. government with 36% of the bank’s shares. Existing shareholders’ stake would be cut to 26%. Shareholders will have to approve much of the common stock issuance.

Additionally, the government is demanding that the company overhaul its board of directors. Citigroup’s board will soon include a majority of new independent directors, the company said Friday. Chief Executive Vikram Pandit is expected to keep his job under the agreement.

Michael Vick Approved For Home Confinement

Michael Vick is one step closer to suiting back up in the NFL. 3 days ago his last co-defendant was released from jail and now Vick has been approved for home confinement because of overcrowding in the halfway house.

Vick will be allowed to stay in his home in Hampton,Va. It is one of the four homes that he still owns. The 5 bedroom 3,538 square foot home should be a bit of a relief from his bunk in Lebinworth Prison.

California Mayor Steps Down After Sending Obama Watermelon Email

Racist jokes about Obama are still in style with some white folks:

Los Alamitos Mayor Dean Grose has stepped down as Mayor of Los Alamitos, CA after sending out this fake photo of watermelons on President Barack Obama’s White House front lawn. Grose’s email included the heading, “No Easter Egg hunt this year.”

“I think he’s saying that since there’s a black president, there will be no need to hunt for eggs since they’re growing watermelons in the front yard this year,” said Keyanus Price, an African American who was among those receiving the email. Price told Fletcher that she considers the email rascist and offensive.

“What I’m concerned about is how can this person send an e-mail out like this and think it is OK?” Price said. “He’s putting the city into a bad place and he is a liability.”

Grose apologized to Price, city council members and others.

“It was just poor judgment on my part and I am deeply sorry,” he said.

SMH. Well, we know who he voted for. Although a move in the right direction, Barack Obama as President won’t automatically kill the racism and ignorance that’s embedded in America.

Obama to end Iraq combat mission by 2010

WASHINGTON, Feb 27 (Reuters) - Six years after U.S.-led forces invaded Iraq to topple Saddam Hussein, President Barack Obama will announce on Friday the withdrawal of all U.S. combat forces by August 2010, administration officials said.

The 19-month timetable marks a historic juncture in an unpopular war that has proven enormously costly to America and defined the presidency of George W. Bush. It has been a huge drain on the Treasury, cost the lives of some 4,250 U.S. soldiers and severely damaged America's standing in the world.

"The president will announce that the current combat mission in Iraq will end on August 31, 2010. At that point, the remaining forces in Iraq will undertake a new mission, a more limited mission," a senior administration official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Obama is due to make the announcement at Camp Lejeune, a Marine Corps base in North Carolina, from where 8,000 Marines are to be deployed as part of a troop buildup in Afghanistan to arrest the deteriorating security situation there.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Bangladesh mutiny spreads, PM urges rebel surrender

by Shafiq Alam DHAKA (AFP) --
A mutiny by thousands of Bangladesh's border security guards spread outside the capital Dhaka Thursday, as Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina urged the rebels to surrender immediately.

In a televised address to the nation, Sheikh Hasina, who took office less than two months ago, warned the paramilitary Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) guards not to remain on a "suicidal route" with an uprising that officials say may have already cost 50 lives.

"Just give up your arms and return to barracks right now," she said.

"Don't take the suicidal route. Don't compel me to take tough action. We are aware of your problems. Please help us."

Her message came as the mutiny, which began early Wednesday at the Rifles headquarters in Dhaka, spread to a number of other BDR posts outside the capital.

Police chiefs across the poor and chronically unstable South Asian nation said rank-and-file BDR members had revolted in 15 border districts -- roughly a quarter of the zones where border security forces are stationed.

"They are firing indiscriminately," said one of the police chiefs, from the northeastern Moulivibazar district. "Their commanding officer told me that he has fled the camp."

Another local police chief, Kamrul Ahsan from the southeastern town of Satkania, reported "heavy fighting" at a BDR training centre.

In an effort to stem any further spread, the Bangladesh telecoms authority ordered all the country's six mobile operators to shut down their networks.

In Dhaka, the initial mutiny had appeared to be petering out following the earlier offer of an amnesty, but fresh, heavy gunfire erupted on Thursday and sent thousands of people around the BDR headquarters running for cover.

However, the mutineers set free more than a dozen women held hostage since their revolt began.

Officials said tensions in the BDR had been simmering for months but exploded into violence when senior officers dismissed appeals for more pay, subsidised food and holidays.

Sheikh Hasina had made her amnesty offer on Wednesday and also promised to address complaints over low pay and working conditions.

Deputy law minister Kamrul Islam said that the situation remained tense because thousands of armed troops were still believed to be inside the BDR headquarters.

"The BDR troops began surrendering arms in our presence. But there are some 15,000 of them -- around 12,000 could have weapons," Islam told AFP. He added that at least 50 officers held hostage were feared dead.

So far, a total of 11 people have already been confirmed dead and dozens more wounded.

A rebel guard said he doubted a surrender would take place smoothly.

"They told us to surrender arms. But we have reports that army troops have attacked our camps outside the capital. We want peace but not bloodshed," the guard told AFP.

The unrest is the first major crisis to face Sheikh Hasina since she took office after a landslide election victory that ended two years of army-backed rule.

"Keep the peace and stay patient for the sake of the nation. I urge everyone to be patient. I seek cooperation of all," she said in her televised address.

The stand-off highlights the frustrations felt by many in the impoverished nation, which suffers from high food prices, a slowing economy and rampant corruption within the ruling classes.

Bangladesh has had a history of political violence, coups and counter-coups since winning independence from Pakistan in 1971.

The country was run by military dictator Hussain Mohammad Ershad from 1982 to 1990, before democracy was restored in 1991.

In January 2007 the army again stepped in, cancelled elections and declared a state of emergency following months of political unrest.

Democracy was only restored with elections last December.

State Alum Tim Clark Tees Off Against Tiger Today in Accenture Match Play

Many of you folks may not follow professional golf, but it’s interesting to note that today at 2:02pm EST, NC State alumnus Tim Clark tees off against Tiger Woods in the second round Accenture Match Play tournament. They will play an 18-hole match, with the winner advancing and the loser going home. Woods, arguably the greatest athlete of our generation, is returning from re-constructive knee surgery after an 8-plus month layoff. He easily defeated #64 Brendan Jones, and just behind his match, #32 Clark was closing out former US Open and fellow South African Retief Goosen. This set up today’s showdown. Coverage will be on Golf Channel.

For those of you unfamilir with Clark, don’t be so quick to count him out in his match against Woods. Playing Woods is not a totally unfamiliar situation for the South African, who counts the 2006 Masters among his six career runner-up finishes on the PGA Tour; in fact, Clark has won just about everywhere but the U.S. So far. Clark has over twelve million dollars in official earnings, and seven wins globally, including last year’s Australian Open.

Expect Clark’s alma mater to be mentioned several times during the telecast, which is good news for NC State’s golfing program generally. It never hurts to have an alumnus squarely in the spotlight of their sport, and Clark will certainly have that today. Coupled with the new Lonnie Poole Golf Course on Centennial Campus that is slated to open in late spring of this year, it’s fair to say that things are looking up for one of our key non-revenue programs.

Additional note: if you watch today’s telecast of the tournament, keep an eye out for the “Sunshine and Lollipops” Nike commercial that focuses on Tiger’s return to competitive golf. At the very end, NC State’s Carl Petterson is the guy who lets out the long sigh. It’s pretty funny stuff, and Petterson was a good sport (and a well paid one too) to be in that spot.

Obama's Budget: $4 trillion in spending, a $1.75 trillion deficit, and another $750 billion bank bailout

President Obama's national debt busting first budget projects a $1.75 trillion deficit so Obama can spend nearly $4 trillion in fiscal year 2010 and "creates space" for another $750 billion bank bailout.

The White House will formally release Obama's budget boondoggle overview at 11:00 a.m., but at FoxNews, Major Garrett provides a preview:

Senior administration officials would not disclose a precise figure for the entire budget, but said it would likely fall between $3.8 trillion and $4 billion for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1.

As we reported yesterday, the Obama budget will also set aside a $634 billion health care "reserve fund" as a down payment of the estimated $1trillion cost of Obama's so-called "health care reform."


Bush tax cuts allowed to expire at the end of 2010.

Phase out of direct payments to farms with sales revenue of more than $500,000 per year - projected to save $9.8 billion over 10 years.

Abolish payments for the storage of cotton - projected to save $570 million over 10 years.

Eliminate the President Bush's Federal Mentoring Program - projected to save $500 million

Eliminate the "Advance" Earned Income Tax Credit - projected to save $880 million over 10 years.

Increase investment managers tax rate 135%, from 15% to 35 percent.

Hire additional IRS agents to collect more taxes.

Significant undisclosed savings from Pentagon procurement - Obama code for defense cuts.

So Obama is going to spend $4 trillion, run a $1.75 trillion deficit and offer the banks another $750 billion bailout but Obama can only find a measly $1.164 billion in annual savings in the entire Federal budget, not counting his "significant undisclosed" defense cuts.

Like Obama said, he won. It's becoming clear that means we lose.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Charlie Rose Show: A conversation with John Mack, Chairman and CEO of Morgan Stanley

A conversation with John Mack, Chairman and CEO of Morgan Stanley

Reporter Confronts Holocaust-denying Bishop

The Holocaust-denying Catholic bishop whose statements embarrassed the Vatican and led to his expulsion from Argentina threatened a journalist with a defiantly raised fist at the airport. The bishop is now in London. (Feb. 25)

T.I. Says No to Parties and Yes to School

Before starting his one-year prison sentence for federal weapons charges, rapper T.I. preaches to a courtroom filled with students, imploring them to stay in school and do things the right way. (Feb. 25)

Bernanke Warns of Dire Risks in U.S. Yet Fed Chief Says 2010 Could Wind Up As 'Year of Recovery'

Source: International Herald Tribune)By Catherine Rampell and Jack Healy
As President Barack Obama prepared to make a major Congressional address laying out his plans to lift the faltering U.S. economy, the chairman of the Federal Reserve warned on Tuesday that the downturn could get even worse than recent economic forecasts.

Ben Bernanke, the Fed chief, told the Senate Banking Committee that the central bank was doing everything it could to unlock credit markets and ease the financial crisis. But he said it could take until 2010 before the government's actions gained traction.

"If actions taken by the administration, the Congress and the Federal Reserve are successful in restoring some measure of financial stability - and only if that is the case, in my view - there is a reasonable prospect that the current recession will end in 2009 and that 2010 will be a year of recovery," Bernanke said.

Bernanke spoke as a pair of surveys released Tuesday underlined the grim condition of the American economy. U.S. consumer confidence and housing values plummeted. And major U.S. retailers, including Home Depot and Macy's, reported poor earnings.

In the first leg of Bernanke's twice-annual report to both houses of Congress on the state of the economy and the Fed's actions, he painted a dire picture of the financial markets going forward, but assured the committee that government agencies were taking all necessary actions to thaw credit markets.

"The measures taken by the Federal Reserve, other U.S. government entities, and foreign governments since September have helped to restore a degree of stability to some financial markets," Bernanke said. "Nevertheless, despite these favorable developments, significant stresses persist in many markets."

In particular, he said, most securitization markets - those in which investments are backed by a specific group of assets, like mortgages - "remain shut."

Wall Street was cheered by Bernanke's testimony, with the Dow Jones industrial average rising 2.7 percent in afternoon trading Tuesday a day after it slid to a 12-year low.

As required by law, Bernanke addressed both halves of the Fed's dual mandate: stable prices and maximum employment. The first part of the mission has largely been met, with prices more or less unchanged from their level a year ago, and inflation is expected to glide under 1 percent during 2009.

But labor market conditions continue to deteriorate. Citing projections by the interest-rate-setting Federal Open Market Committee in January, he said the unemployment rate, which soared to 7.6 percent in January, would probably reach 8.5 to 8.75 percent in the last quarter of 2009. The country's gross domestic product is projected to decline 0.5 to 1.25 percent this year, he said, and foreclosure rates remain at high levels.

But he added, "This outlook for economic activity is subject to considerable uncertainty, and I believe that, over all, the downside risks probably outweigh those on the upside."

A week ago, Obama laid out a $275 billion plan to help as many as nine million families refinance their mortgages or avoid foreclosures using a variety of incentives and subsidies to try to lower interest rates and the principal on existing home mortgages.

The Fed has taken some extraordinary steps in recent months in the hopes of increasing the flow of credit to businesses and households.

In December its Open Market Committee lowered its benchmark interest rate to virtually zero, its floor. The Fed has been buying mortgage-backed securities - considered the leading cause of the meltdown after the housing bubble burst - that have been guaranteed by the U.S. government. It has also begun unprecedented programs as a lender.

It has expanded the Term Auction Facility, which loans to banks. It has also introduced the Term Asset Backed Securities Loan Facility, which finances consumer loans, and which the Fed recently announced it would expand in both size and scope; and the Commercial Paper Funding Facility, which provides loans in exchange for commercial paper, or short-term business IOUs.

Bernanke said these actions had contributed to improvements in short-term financing markets and the commercial paper market, and declines in the conforming fixed mortgage rate and the London interbank offered rate, known as Libor, which is the rate on which borrowing costs for consumers and businesses are often based.

The Fed has also been working in partnership with the Treasury Department to coordinate intervention in the financial markets.

But the government's boldest rescue to date, its $150 billion commitment for the insurance giant American International Group, is foundering. AIG indicated on Monday it was now negotiating for tens of billions of dollars in additional assistance as losses have mounted.

Separately, the Obama administration confirmed it was in discussions to aid Citigroup, the recipient of $45 billion so far, that could raise the government's stake in the financial company to as much as 40 percent.

The Treasury Department also named a special adviser to work with General Motors and Chrysler, two of Detroit's biggest automakers, which are seeking $22 billion on top of the $17 billion already granted to them.

On Monday, the Treasury, the Fed and other bank regulatory agencies issued a joint statement announcing that the government might demand direct ownership in major banks after they undergo a "stress test" to determine their viability going forward.

Officials have also announced a plan to use public and private money to purchase so-called toxic assets from financial institutions, as well a measures to help slow the mass of foreclosures.

In his testimony Tuesday, Bernanke addressed criticisms regarding a lack of transparency in the administration of these and other programs. He discussed additional reports that the Fed has been providing to Congress, and a new Web site on the Fed's lending programs. He also noted that the Fed's vice chairman, Donald Kohn, is heading a committee to review the agency's publications and disclosure policies.

Meanwhile, the data released Tuesday by Standard & Poor's/Case- Shiller home price index revealed that U.S. home prices plunged at the fastest pace on record in December, a sign that housing was likely to continue declining in the months ahead as the economy sank deeper into recession.

Single-family home values in 20 major metropolitan areas fell 18.5 percent in December compared with a year earlier, the survey showed. Housing prices dropped 2.5 percent from November to December.

"It's a deflationary spiral," said Dan Greenhaus, an analyst in the equity strategy division of Miller Tabak.

And Americans' already battered confidence in the economy went into free fall in February, sinking to new lows as consumers grew more fearful over major job cuts and shrinking retirement accounts.

The Conference Board, a private research group, said Tuesday that its consumer confidence index, which fell slightly in January, plummeted more than 12 points in February to 25, from the revised 37.4 last month, and well below analysts' expectations.

The news came hours after major retailers, including Target, Home Depot and Macy's, reported depressed fourth-quarter results as shoppers focused more on necessities like food.

Eric Holder's No Healer

By Brent Bozell

We’ve endured two years of endless journalistic jawboning about Barack Obama, the great racial healer who would bind us together, the man who would get everyone singing on a sun-soaked hilltop with a bottle of Coke and a smile. So now that he’s in, what have he got? We have Obama’s attorney general Eric Holder telling us how Americans remain "voluntarily socially segregated," and that while we have the foolish pride to think of the United States as an ethnic melting pot, we have always been and continue to be a "nation of cowards."

Whether you support him politically or not, Obama’s election could not help but cause Americans to grow more positive about the state of American race relations. ABC News polls showed the number of Americans saying racism is a "big problem" dropped by more than half, from 54 percent in 1996 to 26 percent now. It was down sharply among blacks and whites alike. Not only that, 58 percent guessed Obama’s presidency would improve race relations. How does the Obama administration react? We are a "nation of cowards."

If anyone was cowardly about frank conversations on race, it was Obama and his supporters in the news media. They’re the ones who refused to raise the issues of racial quotas and profiling and illegal immigration, no doubt for fear of upsetting the white troglodytes. They’re the ones who kept Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton in a storage closet for more than a year. They’re the ones who spun themselves dizzy insisting that the lunatic rants of his minister Jeremiah Wright only made Barack Obama look nobler. Obama was the man who declared he couldn’t disassociate himself from Wright, and then did exactly that a few weeks later when Wright’s fanaticism had become apparent to all.

And his administration is now lecturing us on "cowardice"?

Then there were the journalistic cowards covering the "nation of cowards" speech. Wait, did I say "covering"? You couldn’t find a news story about it in that alleged paper of record, the New York Times, or in Time magazine, or on CBS. It’s not like the coward line was hard to find. It was the first sentence of the second paragraph of Holder’s remarks.

Others tiptoed past it. The Washington Post gave it a tiny brief of 222 words. NBC anchor Brian Williams simply offered one clip, calling it "a very blunt speech." George Stephanopoulos sat in the evening anchor chair at ABC and also offered only one soundbite, describing it as "an emotional analysis of racism." No one had time for outraged critics.

Some print reporters gave it a full story without finding any critics. The Associated Press dispatch by Devlin Barrett was 727 words long, and featured Holder, Holder’s spokesman, Hillary Shelton of the NAACP calling the speech "constructively provocative," and an Ohio State professor saying it was "right on the substance," if it wasn’t the most "politic" way of putting it.

Among the major print media, only the Los Angeles Times successfully located a Holder critic. After citing liberal Mary Frances Berry calling the speech "very gutsy," reporter Josh Meyer quoted black Republican Joe Hicks, who nailed it perfectly: "Here's the first black attorney general appointed by the first black American president," he said, "and he’s espousing views that appear to be almost ultra-left in their approach to race in America -- that blacks are victims and whites are intolerant and accepting of quasi-racist views."

Holder sure sounded "ultra-left" as he lectured about the civil-rights movement, that "most people, who are not conversant with history, still do not comprehend the way in which that movement transformed America." He boasted that other "major social movements" of the Sixties, from the feminists to the anti-war protesters, were all "set free" by the spirit of the quest for black equality. You’d have to be a leftist to see surrender in Vietnam and legalized abortion as glorious historical landmarks.

Some passages were simply ludicrous. Holder claimed bombastically that "On Saturdays and Sundays America in the year 2009 does not, in some ways, differ significantly from the country that existed some 50 years ago." Has this man never been to a sporting event on the weekends? He claimed outside the workplace, "there is no significant interaction between us." Does this man have no concept of the growth of racial intermarriage since 1959?

Eight years ago, these same earnest liberals who claim to love racial healing were beating new Attorney General John Ashcroft senseless with rhetorical clubs, as if he were a vicious slavemaster like Simon Legree. None of them has enough decency to acknowledge that Ashcroft showed more respect for his opponents and much more love for his country and its people than Eric Holder has mustered.

Barack Obama’s “doublespeak” on the war

By: D. H. Williams @ 9:24 AM - EST

Remember when President Bill Clinton got cornered on questions about Monica Lewinsky? The nation was treated to word games about what the meaning of “is” is.

Here we go again.

This time the word games will have a much bigger impact on the nation as Barack Obama and his Administration of Clinton retreads redefine the word “combat”.

In order to maitain the ruse that Obama will be the president who ends the war troops in Iraq will be renamed “trainers” and “advisors” thereby keeping hope alive for ending the war. You will no doubt hear much in coming months about the Obama Administration reducing the numbers of “combat” troops in Iraq.

The public will be told of constantly changing time tables for withdrawal and the definition of withdrawal will be altered to mean different things on different days.

This behavior is even more outrageous when you consider that Barack Obama’s team of war hawks have actually expanded the War on Terror. In his short month in office he and his war hawks have bombed Pakistan repeatedly and increased the number of troops in Afghanistan by 30,000.

“Military planners are now quietly acknowledging that many [troops] will stay behind as renamed “trainers” and “advisors” in what are effectively combat roles. In other words, they will still be engaged in combat, just called something else.” - New York Times

Just how long will the Obama administration get away with deceiving the American people?

Video: MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow “Obama’s Iraq Withdrawal Not Really A Withdrawal” Original air date December 28, 2008

Video: MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann “A Slowed Down Schedule For The Withdrawal From Iraq.” Original air date February 25, 2009

Reaction to President Obama’s Speech (Updated)

listened to President Obama’s speech last night. I didn’t think he did himself any harm with speech and may even have done himself some good.

To my ear it was at heart a laundry list as State of the Union speeches have increasingly become. It’s clear he genuinely believes in education and a change in energy policy as the keystones of his approach. I’ll comment on education in a separate post; I’ve commented on energy before: I think there are opportunities there but the real direction we need to take won’t be politically popular. The reforms we need would include less spending on roads rather than more, limiting the home mortgage deduction, re-emphasizing rail over highway transport, and so on. Most of the people who are qualified to do the major work on things like a smart grid already have jobs. Subsidizing that will raise their salaries but won’t create a lot of new jobs, at least not in the near term.

I didn’t think there were any particularly engaging insights in the speech. I didn’t learn anything from it. I wasn’t re-assured. On the other hand I wasn’t hostile to it, either. We’ll see how the American people reacted. Or if they were listening.


Apparently, most people who listened to the speech were more favorably impressed by it than I was:

WASHINGTON (CNN) — A national poll indicates that two-thirds of those who watched President Obama’s address to a joint session of Congress on Tuesday night felt very good about his speech.

Sixty-eight percent of speech-watchers questioned in a CNN/Opinion Research Corp. survey said they had a very positive reaction, with 24 percent indicating that they had a somewhat positive response and 8 percent saying they had a negative reaction.

The audience watching his speech was not a perfect match with the nation’s breakdown by political party, presumably because the president is a Democrat. The speech audience questioned in the CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll was about 8 to 10 points more Democratic than the general public.

Eighty-five percent of those polled said the president’s speech made them more optimistic about the direction of the country over the next few years, with 11 percent indicating the speech made them more pessimistic.

Eighty-two percent of speech-watchers said they support the economic plan Obama outlined in his prime time address, with 17 percent opposing the proposal.

That’s good. I think that a lot of the funk we’re in is psychological. Lack of “animal spirits”, I think the economists say. Not all, mind you. I realize that there are real people who have real problems as a consequence of the downturn.

I’ll try to get some more details on the actual poll and how many people actually watched the speech.

Update 2

Jim Vandehei and Mike Allen do a translation of the speech that I think is right on the money. Here’s a sample:

“So let there be no doubt: health care reform cannot wait, it must not wait, and it will not wait another year.”

TRANSLATION: Obama is doing health care reform this year, despite deficits and its high costs. There will be a lot of pressure - mainly from Republicans but also some centrist Democrats - to pay more attention to deficits after the recent spending spree. Obama will ignore them – and is in fact considering a push for near-universal coverage in the second half of this year.

Dear Bobby Jindal: Please run for President

I don’t put much stock into predictions that one party will remain dominant for a generation, but if Bobby Jindal is the best the Republicans have, then they’re going to be out of power for a very long time. Jindal followed Barack Obama’s message about not giving up, making tough choices, and investing in our future with about 5 minutes of poorly-delivered, uninspiring boilerplate.

It’s clear that the Republicans are completely out of ideas. Jindal had nothing to say that we haven’t heard from his party for the last 4 years. In fact, we’ve rejected everything he said at the polls. Twice. In massive numbers. Americans finally see past Jindal’s Grover Norquist-inspired rhetoric. He pointed to Republican failures, such as Hurricane Katrina, as proof that government is the problem. But he’s got that partially wrong. It’s just Republican government — incompetent and full of misplaced priorities — that’s the problem.

Obama, on the other hand gave a vision for how the government could help to solve the problem. He treated us like adults, not giving us platitudes but engaging us in a detailed explanation of how he thought we could turn things around.

In the next few days, I will submit a budget to Congress. So often, we have come to view these documents as simply numbers on a page or laundry lists of programs. I see this document differently. I see it as a vision for America – as a blueprint for our future.

My job – our job – is to solve the problem. Our job is to govern with a sense of responsibility. I will not spend a single penny for the purpose of rewarding a single Wall Street executive, but I will do whatever it takes to help the small business that can’t pay its workers or the family that has saved and still can’t get a mortgage…. That’s what this is about. It’s not about helping banks – it’s about helping people.

David Brooks summed things up nicely:

JIM LEHRER: Now that, of course, was Gov. Bobby Jindal, the governor of Louisiana, making the Republican response. David, how well do you think he did?

DAVID BROOKS: Uh, not so well. You know, I think Bobby Jindal is a very promising politician, and I oppose the stimulus because I thought it was poorly drafted. But to come up at this moment in history with a stale “government is the problem,” “we can’t trust the federal government” - it’s just a disaster for the Republican Party. The country is in a panic right now. They may not like the way the Democrats have passed the stimulus bill, but that idea that we’re just gonna - that government is going to have no role, the federal government has no role in this, that - In a moment when only the federal government is actually big enough to do stuff, to just ignore all that and just say “government is the problem, corruption, earmarks, wasteful spending,” it’s just a form of nihilism. It’s just not where the country is, it’s not where the future of the country is. There’s an intra-Republican debate. Some people say the Republican Party lost its way because they got too moderate. Some people say they got too weird or too conservative. He thinks they got too moderate, and so he’s making that case. I think it’s insane, and I just think it’s a disaster for the party. I just think it’s unfortunate right now.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Sixers Would Like the NBA to Take Another Look at Devin Harris' Buzzer-Beater

Certainly, we’ve all seen the Devin Harris’ shot from last night. His half-court heave gave the Nets a two-point win over the Sixers in the most dramatic of fashions. Even NBA-haters like me had at pause to appreciate it. It was like a college hoops buzzer-beater, but with a quarter of the importance.
But the Sixers aren’t pleased with the outcome -- specifically Andre Iguodala -- and plan to talk to the league about the final 1.8 seconds:

The Sixers, of course, were furious. Iguodala said he had 3 problems with those 1.8 seconds. First, the clock started late. Second, Harris traveled. Third, he didn't get the shot off in time.
The Sixers plan to speak to the NBA about the final 1.8 seconds in question, and that might lead to an appeal. If it gets to that point, and the Sixers win the appeal, then they'll have a victory. If not, they'll be stuck with their 6th loss of the season in the final few seconds.

Good luck with all that, Philly. As the still frames above attempt to show, the clock started as soon as Harris received the ball, and it was out of his hands by the time the red light came on as. As for the traveling bit, I don’t see it. His first shot attempt was blocked, he lost, then regained, possession and chucked the game-winner.

Judge Mark Ciavarella and Judge Michael Conahan

Suppose you had a 15 year old daughter in a high school. She’s a good kid, a good student with a big heart. She’s not perfect (what kid really is?) - her one flaw is when push comes to shove, she shoves back. When she senses she’s being treated unfairly, or worst yet, her friends are, she feels it’s her duty to strike back, figuratively speaking, and it’s gotten her into trouble with the school once or twice.

This time she decided to do a parody of the school’s vice principle. The school overreacts and she’s arrested, but her lawyer is sure because of her clean police record and high GPA that she”ll get a slap on the wrist. Instead, she comes out of the hearing wearing a pair of handcuffs and a brand spanking new 3 month sentence at a Juvenile Detention Facility.

You are now entering the Luzerne County, Pennsylvania juvenile court system - Welcome to Bizarro World! For years, this is how thing worked in Luzerne County: Kids would appear before judges without a lawyer, given hearings that lasted only a minute or two, and then given outrageous sentences to juvenile prison for dangerous offenses like - Hmm, let me look this up….ah yes, here we go - writing a fake sick note, stealing loose change from cars, and possession of drug paraphernalia. Many were decent kids who had never been in trouble before. CNN had a short list of these master criminals:

15-year-old Hillary Transue was sentenced to three months at a juvenile detention center on a charge of harassment for mocking an assistant principal on a MySpace page.

13-year-old Shane Bly, who was accused of trespassing in a vacant building, was confined to a boot camp for two weekends.

Kurt Kruger, 17, sentenced to detention and five months of boot camp for helping a friend steal DVDs from Wal-Mart.

Obviously, this sort of thing didn’t happen without a few parents complaining. For years, youth advocacy groups complained that Luzerne County sentences were unusually harsh. Nearly a quarter of its juvenile defendants ended up in detention centers from 2002 to 2006, compared with a state rate of 1 in 10.

It became clear almost immediately that the increase in juvenile sentences began after PA Child Care LLC and a sister company, Western PA Child Care LLC took over the responsibility of juvenile lockups after the Luzerne County facility lockups were shutdown. More about that later.

By following the paper trail, investigators determined that Judge Mark Ciavarella had presided over nearly all of the questionable cases. Not surprisingly, they also found that the judge had taken kickbacks in exchange for guaranteeing the placement of juvenile offenders into facilities operated by PA Child Care and Western PA Child Care LLC.

Oh yes, and the judge who shut down the state juvenile detention center and used money from the Luzerne County budget to fund a multimillion-dollar lease for the private facilities? None other than Judge Michael T. Conahan.

The way things worked, simply put, is this. With Judge Conahan serving as president judge in control of the budget and Judge Ciavarella overseeing the juvenile courts, they set the kickback scheme in motion in December 2002.

They shut down the county-run juvenile detention center, arguing that it was in poor condition and maintained that the county had no choice but to send detained juveniles to the newly built private detention centers.

Prosecutors say the judges tried to conceal the kickbacks as payments to a company they control in Florida. It has yet to emerge who at Western PA Child Care LLC was in charge of the payoffs, although I prefer to look at it the way The did:

PA Child Care and Western PA Child Care have not been charged with wrongdoing, for some bizarre reason beyond the comprehension of the human intellect.

Ciavarella pleaded guilty earlier this month to federal criminal charges of fraud and other tax charges, according to the U.S. attorney’s office. Conahan also pleaded guilty to the same charges. The two secretly received more than $2.6 million, prosecutors said. They have been disbarred and have resigned from their elected positions, agreed to serve 87 months in prison under plea deals.

Ciavarella acknowledged in a letter to county President Judge Chester Muroski that he disgraced his judgeship:

“While much of what has recently been reported in the press about me is inaccurate or untrue, your statement that I have disgraced my judgeship is true,”

The amount of money these two “judges” received was staggering, but it isn’t the money that makes this a hellworthy offense. It’s the lives of the estimated 5,000 juveniles these two greedy sons of bitches destroyed or damaged beyond repair, all for the sake of the almighty dollar, that will have Ciavarella and Conahan roasting their fat asses in the nether regions for eternity. PYSIH is known for being tough when it comes to criminals, and we have no sympathy at all for whining perps who complain that their sentences are unfair. But admin brought this to me, and we were both disgusted with Ciavarella and Conahan.

These two men had a responsibility to these children to do the right thing, to try and teach them some life lessons that would help them grow to be better adults. To be fair, but just. There isn’t a much higher calling than than this. But Mark Ciavarella and Michael Conahan betrayed these children. They are traitors to the law, to themselves, and to 5000 kids who learned only one thing for sure: Trust no one.

Apple Announces Safari 4—The World’s Fastest & Most Innovative Browser

New Nitro Engine Runs JavaScript More Than Four Times Faster

CUPERTINO, California—Apple® today announced the public beta of Safari® 4, the world’s fastest and most innovative web browser for Mac® and Windows PCs. The Nitro engine in Safari 4 runs JavaScript 4.2 times faster than Safari 3.* Innovative new features that make browsing more intuitive and enjoyable include Top Sites, for a stunning visual preview of frequently visited pages; Full History Search, to search through titles, web addresses and the complete text of recently viewed pages; Cover Flow®, to easily flip through web history or bookmarks; and Tabs on Top, to make tabbed browsing easier and more intuitive.

“Apple created Safari to bring innovation, speed and open standards back into web browsers, and today it takes another big step forward,” said Philip Schiller, Apple’s senior vice president of Worldwide Product Marketing. “Safari 4 is the fastest and most efficient browser for Mac and Windows, with great integration of HTML 5 and CSS 3 web standards that enables the next generation of interactive web applications.”

Safari 4 is built on the world’s most advanced browser technologies including the new Nitro JavaScript engine that executes JavaScript up to 30 times faster than IE 7 and more than three times faster than Firefox 3. Safari quickly loads HTML web pages three times faster than IE 7 and almost three times faster than Firefox 3.*

Apple is leading the industry in defining and implementing innovative web standards such as HTML 5 and CSS 3 for an entirely new class of web applications that feature rich media, graphics and fonts. Safari 4 includes HTML 5 support for offline technologies so web-based applications can store information locally without an Internet connection, and is the first browser to support advanced CSS Effects that enable highly polished web graphics using reflections, gradients and precision masks. Safari 4 is the first browser to pass the Web Standards Project’s Acid3 test, which examines how well a browser adheres to CSS, JavaScript, XML and SVG web standards that are specifically designed for dynamic web applications.

Safari for Mac, Windows, iPhone™ and iPod® touch are all built on Apple’s WebKit, the world’s fastest and most advanced browser engine. Apple developed WebKit as an open source project to create the world’s best browser engine and to advance the adoption of modern web standards. Most recently, WebKit led the introduction of HTML 5 and CSS 3 web standards and is known for its fast, modern code-base. The industry’s newest browsers are based on WebKit including Google Chrome, the Google Android browser, the Nokia Series 60 browser and Palm webOS.

Innovative new features in Safari 4 include:
Top Sites, a display of frequently visited pages in a stunning wall of previews so users can jump to their favorite sites with a single click;
Full History Search, where users search through titles, web addresses and the complete text of recently viewed pages to easily return to sites they’ve seen before;
Cover Flow, to make searching web history or bookmarks as fun and easy as paging through album art in iTunes®;
Tabs on Top, for better tabbed browsing with easy drag-and-drop tab management tools and an intuitive button for opening new ones;
Smart Address Field, that automatically completes web addresses by displaying an easy-to-read list of suggestions from Top Sites, bookmarks and browsing history;
Smart Search Field, where users fine-tune searches with recommendations from Google Suggest or a list of recent searches;
Full Page Zoom, for a closer look at any website without degrading the quality of the site’s layout and text;
built-in web developer tools to debug, tweak and optimize a website for peak performance and compatibility; and
a new Windows-native look in Safari for Windows, that uses standard Windows font rendering and native title bar, borders and toolbars so Safari fits the look and feel of other Windows XP and Windows Vista applications.

Pricing & Availability
Safari 4 is a public beta for both Mac OS® X and Windows and is available immediately as a free download at

Safari 4 for Mac OS X requires Mac OS X Leopard® version 10.5.6 and Security Update 2009-001 or Mac OS X Tiger® version 10.4.11, a minimum 256MB of memory, and is designed to run on any Intel-based Mac or a Mac with a PowerPC G5, G4 or G3 processor and built-in FireWire®. Safari 4 for Windows requires Windows XP SP2 or Windows Vista, a minimum 256MB of memory and a system with at least a 500 MHz Intel Pentium processor. Full system requirements and more information on Safari 4 can be found at

*Performance will vary based on system configuration, network connection and other factors. All testing conducted on an iMac® 2.8 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo system running Windows Vista, with 2GB of RAM. JavaScript benchmark based on the SunSpider JavaScript Performance test. HTML benchmark based on VeriTest’s iBench Version 5.0 using default settings.

Apple ignited the personal computer revolution in the 1970s with the Apple II and reinvented the personal computer in the 1980s with the Macintosh. Today, Apple continues to lead the industry in innovation with its award-winning computers, OS X operating system and iLife and professional applications. Apple is also spearheading the digital media revolution with its iPod portable music and video players and iTunes online store, and has entered the mobile phone market with its revolutionary iPhone.

Ben Bernanke's economic half-truths

In his report to Congress, the Fed chair wasn't as decisive as he needed to be about the government's plan to fix the economy

US Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke's semi-annual report to Congress opened on a down note, with senator Chris Dodd remarking that lenders had just foreclosed on the mortgage of Bernanke's childhood home.

But if Bernanke's testimony, coming hours before President Barack Obama's first joint congressional address, brought a little light – a brighter-than-usual economic forecast – it comes with a side of ambiguity about the key issues of the day. A semi-autonomous federal official appointed by George Bush, Bernanke's testimony was eagerly awaited as debates about nationalisation rage and a new poll reports that Americans, despite their confidence in the new president, are concerned about the efficacy of his response to the economic crisis.

At first glance, Bernanke's prediction for economic recovery in the US sounded good: The recession could end in 2009. But the recession will only end, he underscored, if the president, Congress and the Fed succeed in putting together an effective response to the crisis. More bluntly: If the government fixes the recession, the recession will end.

The end of a formal recession isn't the end of the US's economic troubles. Even with that projection, the Fed is predicting 8% unemployment in 2010, a little more than current levels. Only in 2011 will unemployment begin to drop to today's rates, much less rates of around 5% that characterise periods of economic growth. Even then, the Fed chair cautioned that these forecasts offer "considerable uncertainty".

Bernanke emphasised that fixing the financial system was key to getting the economy moving again. Without a functioning credit market and new investment, growth is impossible. But the administration's response to the financial-aspect of the crisis has been lacking so far, as Treasury secretary Tim Geithner's first plan was criticised for a lack of detail and vision, and recent efforts to extend further funding to the embattled banking giant Citigroup met with questions about transparency and how far the government will go in propping up bad banks. On both the left and, yes, the right, experts wonder whether the government will bite the bullet and put insolvent banks through some kind of temporary nationalisation programme along the lines of Sweden's response to their similar banking crisis.

Bernanke may have given something of an answer, in response to a question about the "stress tests" to determine solvency that are part of Geithner's plan. After determining how much capital would be needed in a worst-case scenario, the government will buy convertible preferred stock. In the event of further insolvency, that stock will be converted to common stock. "Only at that time, going forward, would the ownership implications become relevant," Bernanke said. That's backdoor nationalisation for you. But continued ambiguity from Bernanke and the rest of the administration isn't the financial stabilisation called for in the Fed chair's recipe for recovery.

Bernanke refused to be drawn into partisan remarks by members of either party, with one early exception, when he agreed with senator Jack Reed, a Democrat, that state governors – mostly Republicans – refusing to use funding from economic stimulus legislation would reduce the positive effects of the stimulus. But he declined to agree with Chuck Schumer that regulating hedge funds should be a priority, and he also declined to agree with Dodd that social security privatisation would have been a mistake, though he was forced to recognise that had that money been tied up in the stock market, the effects would have been disastrous. Nor would the Fed chair endorse the stimulus legislation directly, instead referencing his support for "substantial fiscal action" and deferring to Congress' view of the issue.

The take-away from the hearing is that key economic policy players are still leery of further federal intervention in the financial system even as they realise it is becoming increasingly necessary. Notoriously erratic senator Jim Bunning – recently in the news for predicting the death of ill Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg – told Bernanke today: "One of the causes of the recession is that the American people do not believe you … are telling the truth."

That statement isn't true at all, of course, resting on par with the GOP's "mental recession" talking point during the 2008 election. But it does get at one of the reasons the recession is continuing: Bernanke and his fellow economic policy hands aren't lying – they're just not telling the whole truth. It's time for a clear, decisive plan to solve the financial crisis, not more "considerable uncertainty".

Hillary Clinton Heading to Israel; U.S. to Give Gaza $900M

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will be bringing more than diplomacy when she visits Israel and the West Bank next week.

While the goal of Clinton’s trip is to breathe new life into peacekeeping efforts between Israelis and Palestinians, Reuters reports that Mrs. Clinton will announce a U.S. pledge of more than $900 million to help rebuild Gaza and strengthen the Palestinian Authority. George Mitchell, President Obama’s Middle East envoy, will also stop by the region.

While the U.S. does support Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, it still considers Hamas a terrorist organization, so the money will reportedly be funneled through nongovernmental organizations. The cash, which is desperately needed to rebuild the region, will help provide homes with electricity and water, after Israel’s latest invasion that left about 1,300 Palestinians dead and 21,000 homes destroyed.

The news is already receiving some criticism, as you can imagine.

"$900 Million From U.S. To Gaza: Is The Administration Nuts?" reads one headline from The New Republic, which writes, "The real issue is: where will the cash go? The administration is assuring us that it will not go to Hamas, as if anyone can assure that materiel and money can be siphoned off just to the desired parties. This, frankly, is a joke … and Mrs. Clinton knows it. So should President Obama."

The U.S. doesn’t exactly have cash to spare right now, so if we’re going to hand over almost $1 billion to the Palestinians, let’s hope we know exactly where it’s going

Hillary Clinton Heading to Israel; U.S. to Give Gaza $900M

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will be bringing more than diplomacy when she visits Israel and the West Bank next week.

While the goal of Clinton’s trip is to breathe new life into peacekeeping efforts between Israelis and Palestinians, Reuters reports that Mrs. Clinton will announce a U.S. pledge of more than $900 million to help rebuild Gaza and strengthen the Palestinian Authority. George Mitchell, President Obama’s Middle East envoy, will also stop by the region.

While the U.S. does support Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, it still considers Hamas a terrorist organization, so the money will reportedly be funneled through nongovernmental organizations. The cash, which is desperately needed to rebuild the region, will help provide homes with electricity and water, after Israel’s latest invasion that left about 1,300 Palestinians dead and 21,000 homes destroyed.

The news is already receiving some criticism, as you can imagine.

"$900 Million From U.S. To Gaza: Is The Administration Nuts?" reads one headline from The New Republic, which writes, "The real issue is: where will the cash go? The administration is assuring us that it will not go to Hamas, as if anyone can assure that materiel and money can be siphoned off just to the desired parties. This, frankly, is a joke … and Mrs. Clinton knows it. So should President Obama."

The U.S. doesn’t exactly have cash to spare right now, so if we’re going to hand over almost $1 billion to the Palestinians, let’s hope we know exactly where it’s going

Hillary Clinton Heading to Israel; U.S. to Give Gaza $900M

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will be bringing more than diplomacy when she visits Israel and the West Bank next week.

While the goal of Clinton’s trip is to breathe new life into peacekeeping efforts between Israelis and Palestinians, Reuters reports that Mrs. Clinton will announce a U.S. pledge of more than $900 million to help rebuild Gaza and strengthen the Palestinian Authority. George Mitchell, President Obama’s Middle East envoy, will also stop by the region.

While the U.S. does support Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, it still considers Hamas a terrorist organization, so the money will reportedly be funneled through nongovernmental organizations. The cash, which is desperately needed to rebuild the region, will help provide homes with electricity and water, after Israel’s latest invasion that left about 1,300 Palestinians dead and 21,000 homes destroyed.

The news is already receiving some criticism, as you can imagine.

"$900 Million From U.S. To Gaza: Is The Administration Nuts?" reads one headline from The New Republic, which writes, "The real issue is: where will the cash go? The administration is assuring us that it will not go to Hamas, as if anyone can assure that materiel and money can be siphoned off just to the desired parties. This, frankly, is a joke … and Mrs. Clinton knows it. So should President Obama."

The U.S. doesn’t exactly have cash to spare right now, so if we’re going to hand over almost $1 billion to the Palestinians, let’s hope we know exactly where it’s going

Pollster: When It Comes to Barack Obama, Many Americans Approve

A New York Times/CBS News poll brings news the nation hasn’t seen in a while: Many Americas support the efforts of their president. Sixty-three percent of those polled say they approve of Barack Obama’s job as president. Moreover, 77 percent are generally optimistic about the next four years; 18 percent are pessimistic, and 5 percent have no opinion.

[Video]Choice of Jindal for GOP response: More image is everything

Am I the only one who is amazed at how, only six months ago, John McCain and Sarah Palin were the image of the Republican Party and wanted to be and were supported by their party to be the image of the White House and now, Republican National Committee chair Michael Steele and Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal are the image?

Frankly, the choice of Steele as chair and Jindal as the person to deliver the GOP response to President Obama’s speech this evening, could not be more emblematic of just how true it is for the GOP that changing the image has absolutely nothing to do with changing their basic tenets - which is exactly what Steele said would be what he would do when he took the helm.

And damn if he isn’t doing just that. Problem is: How does anyone believe that this is going to be the way back to winning minds and votes? Does Steele really think that his image and Jindal’s image are more persuasive than McCain’s and Palin’s? Is this an admission of how wrong McCain and Palin are as images for the GOP? What on earth does the GOP actually look like?

I know - I’m just a blogging left of center something or other. But I haven’t even gotten to the hip-hop makeover Steele wants to deploy. And I can tell you, based on firsthand experience with my very respected friend jimi izrael, I know what it is to not understand what a hip-hop makeover even means, and I’d put good money down on the fact that a whole lot of people who call themselves members of the Grand Old Party don’t have a clue about what it is either. jimi, you might be able to make some extra money translating, just like I had to ask you to do for me way back when (oh, okay - and still once in a while).

Do people even realize that if the GOP could at least accept that democracy means sometimes you don’t get to control everything, a lot of this stuff wouldn’t even be happening? Re-organizing, getting better, understanding what people want - that’s all well and good. But part of the problem for the GOP also is the fact that it absolutely refuses to accept that Obama is president and that the Democrats are in the majority in the Congress. I mean, they actually literally are in denial about how it happened and that it’s the way it is and they just, don’t, like it.

Well - the Dems didn’t like it for all those years either - but you didn’t see them rejecting everything left and right - they just kept on working.

Anyway, I’m starting to ramble more than usual. If this meaningless messing with image interests you, for more evidence that that’s all the GOP cares about (image), read and/or listen to these two NPR pieces:

A Defining Moment for Jindal-And GOP’s Future?

GOP Looks to Minorities for Leadership (interview with Juan Williams)

The GOPs actions remind me of the video for the song “Cry” where the faces change all the time but the song stays the same:

President Obama meets with GOP governors

GOP governors hear pitch from President Obama

President Obama urged the critics of his stimulus package to consider the big picture.

''I just want us to not lose perspective," he said. "Most of the things that have been the topic of argument over the last several days amount to a fraction of the overall stimulus package.''

Looking at Republicans Haley Barbour of Mississippi and Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, who have vowed not to accept money to extend unemployment benefits because it could increase taxes for employers -- Obama acknowledged they had "very legitimate concerns." But, he said, "what hasn't been noted is that it is $7 billion in a $787 billion program."

Gov. Crist of Florida, a GOP supporter of the plan, said, "the guy's (President Obama) right. . . . We are in an economic crisis. We need to come together as a country and focus on the big picture."

Daniel Ortega and the Sandinista Revolution Betrayed

Editor's Note: Daniel Ortega's election as Nicaragua's president two years ago did not mark the triumph of the Sandinista revolution and the democratic principles that propelled it 30 years ago. Instead, his rise has been the tragic tale of betrayal—of the real revolutionary movement, of his Sandinista comrades and of the Nicaraguan people. Roger Burbach is director of the Center for the Study of the Americas in Berkeley, Calif. A more comprehensive version of this article appears in the March-April issue of NACLA's Report on the Americas. See

Upon his inauguration as Nicaraguan president in January 2007, Daniel Ortega asserted that his government would represent "the second stage of the Sandinista Revolution." His election was full of symbolic resonance, coming after 16 years of electoral failures for Ortega and the Sandinista Front for National Liberation (FSLN), the party he led. But Ortega's road to power has been paved with compromise, retreats and alliances between the FSLN and former opponents on the right. His story is about the tragic betrayal of a movement, the democratic principles that it embodied and many of his former Sandinista comrades-in-arms. Central to the tragedy is Ortega's transformation into a leader under whom repression, power abuse and corruption seem to be spreading.

The FSLN's pact-making began in earnest in 2001, when, in the run-up to that year's presidential election, Ortega forged an alliance with Arnoldo Alemán, an official during the Somoza regime who had been elected president in 1997. But even with Alemán's backing, Ortega was unable to win the presidency. So, before the 2006 election, he publicly reconciled with his old nemesis, Cardinal Miguel Obando y Bravo, a potent symbol of the counterrevolutionary movement in the 1980s. Ortega and his longtime companion, Rosario Murillo, announced their conversion to Catholicism and were married by the cardinal. Just before his election Ortega supported a comprehensive ban on abortion, including in cases in which the mother's life is endangered, a measure ratified by the legislature with the crucial votes of Sandinista deputies. To round out his pre-election wheeling and dealing, Ortega selected Jaime Morales, a former Contra leader, as his vice presidential candidate.

Even with these concessions to the right, Ortega won the presidency with just 37.9 percent of the vote. Once in power, he announced a series of policies and programs that seemed to hark back to the Sandinista years. Educational matriculation fees were abolished, an illiteracy program was launched with Cuban assistance, and an innovative Zero Hunger program established, financed from the public budget and Venezuelan aid, that distributed one cow, one pig, 10 hens, and a rooster, along with seeds, to 15,000 families during the first year. Internationally, Nicaragua joined the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA), a trade and economic cooperation pact that includes Cuba, Bolivia and Venezuela.

But the Ortega government's clientelistic and sectarian nature soon became evident when Ortega, by presidential decree, established Councils of Citizen Power under the control of the Sandinista party to administer and distribute much of the social spending. Even more importantly, under the rubric of ALBA, Ortega signed an accord with Venezuela that provides an estimated $300 million to $500 million in funds personally administered by Ortega with no public accountability. As Mónica Baltodano, the leader of Resacte, a dissident Sandinista organization, argued in a recent article, Ortega's fiscal and economic policies are, in fact, continuous with those of the previous governments, despite his anti-imperialist rhetoric and denunciations of neoliberalism.

Equally troubling, the government and the Sandinista party are harassing and repressing their opponents. During an interview in January, Baltodano told me that opposition demonstrations are put down with goon squads. "Ortega is establishing an authoritarian regime, sectarian, corrupt, and repressive, to maintain his grip on power, betraying the legacy of the Sandinista revolution," she said.

The core of this legacy was the revolution's commitment to popular democracy. Seizing power in 1979 from the dictator Anastasio Somoza, the Sandinista movement comprised Nicaragua's urban masses, peasants, artisans, workers, Christian base communities, intellectuals, and the muchachos—the youth who spearheaded the armed uprisings. The revolution transformed social relations and values, holding up a new vision of society based on social and economic justice that included the poor and dispossessed. The revolution was multiclass, multiethnic, multidoctrinal, and politically pluralistic.

While socialism was part of the public discourse, it was never proclaimed to be an objective of the revolution. It was officially designated "a popular, democratic and anti- imperialist revolution." Radicalized social democrats, priests and political independents as well as Marxists and Marxist-Leninists served as cabinet ministers of the Sandinista government. Images of Sandino, Marx, Christ, Lenin, Bolívar and Carlos Fonseca, the martyred founder of the Sandinista movement, often hung side by side in the cities and towns of Nicaragua.

The adoption of a new constitution in 1986 marked yet another step forward in the democratic process. The constitution, which established separation of powers, directly incorporated human rights declarations and abolished the death penalty, among other measures, was drafted by constituent assembly members elected in 1984 and submitted to the country for discussion. To facilitate these debates, 73 cabildos abiertos, or town meetings, were attended by an estimated 100,000 Nicaraguans around the country. At these meetings, about 2,500 Nicaraguans made suggestions for changes in the constitution.

But this bold Sandinista experiment in revolutionary democracy was not destined to persevere. The tide of history ran against the heroic people of Nicaragua, sapping their will in the late 1980s as the Contra war waged on and the economy unraveled. To end the debilitating war, the Sandinista leaders turned to peace negotiations. Placing their faith in democracy, they signed an accord that called for a ceasefire and elections to be held in February 1990, in which the Contras as well as the internal opposition would be allowed to participate. Once again the popular organizations mobilized for the campaign and virtually all the polls indicated that Ortega would win a second term as president, defeating the Contra-backed candidate, Violeta Chamorro, whose campaign received funding from the United States.

Nicaraguans and much of the world were shocked when Chamorro defeated Ortega with 55 percent of the vote. Even people who were sympathetic to the Sandinistas voted for the opposition because they wanted the war to end, as the threat of more U.S.-backed violence remained looming. The day after the election, a woman vendor passed me by sobbing. I asked her what was wrong, and she said, "Daniel will no longer be my president." After exchanging a few more words, I asked whom she had voted for. "Violeta," she said, "because I want my son in the Sandinista army to come home alive."

During the next 16 years, three Nicaraguan presidents backed by the United States implemented a series of neoliberal policies, gutting the social and economic policies of the Sandinista era and impoverishing the country. Ortega ran in every election, drifting increasingly to the right, while exerting an iron hand to stifle all challengers and dissenters in the Sandinista party. Surprisingly, Orlando Nuñez, with whom I wrote a book on the revolution's democratic thrust, remained loyal to Ortega while most of the middle-level cadre and the National Directorate abandoned the party. Many of these split off to form the Sandinista Renovation Movement (MRS), the largest dissident Sandinista party, founded in 1995.

When I asked Nuñez about his stance, he argued that only the Sandinista party has a mass base. "Dissident Sandinistas and their organizations," he said, "cannot recruit the poor, the peasants, the workers, nor mount a significant electoral challenge." Nuñez, who works as an adviser on social affairs to the president's office, went on to argue that Ortega allied with Alemán for the sake of building an anti-oligarchic front. According to this theory, Alemán and the Somozas represented an emergent capitalist class that took on the old oligarchy, which had dominated Nicaraguan politics and the economy since the 19th century. A major thrust of Ortega's rhetoric is bent on attacking the oligarchy, which is clustered in the opposition Conservative Party.

But it is also true that some of the most famous Sandinistas, many of whom are in the dissident camp today—like Ernesto Cardenal, Gioconda Belli, Carlos Fernando Chamorro and others—are descendents of oligarchic families. Accordingly, Ortega and Murillo have accused them of being in league with conservatives in an effort to reimpose the old order on Nicaragua. While the dissident Sandinistas have yet to mount a significant electoral challenge, the Ortega administration has nonetheless gone after them with a particular vehemence. Case in point: Carlos Fernando Chamorro, the onetime director of the Sandinista party newspaper, Barricada. In June 2007, Chamorro aired an investigative report on Esta Semana, the popular news show he hosts. According to the report, which included tape-recorded conversations, FSLN functionaries tried to extort $4 million from Armel González, a partner in a tourist development project called Arenas Bay, in exchange for a swift end to the project's legal woes, which included challenges from campesino cooperatives over land disputes.

The government's response to the bad publicity was swift and ruthless. While the district attorney buried the case, González was charged and convicted of slander. National Assembly deputy Alejandro Bolaños, who backed the denunciation, was arbitrarily removed from his legislative seat. And Chamorro was denounced in the Sandinista-controlled media as a "delinquent, a narco-trafficker, and a robber of peasant lands."

The harassment of Chamorro and other government critics continued during the run-up to Nicaragua's November 2008 municipal elections, which were widely viewed as a referendum on the Ortega administration. The Ministry of Government launched a probe into NGOs operating in the country, accusing the Center for Communications Research (Cinco), which is headed by Chamorro, of "diverting and laundering money" through its agreement with the Autonomous Women's Movement (MAM), which opposes the Ortega-endorsed law banning abortion. This agreement, financed by eight European governments and administered by Oxfam, aims to promote "the full citizenship of women." First lady Murillo called it "Satan's fund" and "the money of evil."

Cinco's board of directors were interrogated, and a few days later a prosecutor accompanied by the police came to the Cinco offices with a search warrant. Warned in advance of the visit, some 200 people had gathered in the building in solidarity refusing them entry, saying no charges had been filed to back up the warrant. Then as night fell, the police laid siege to the building establishing a cordon around the building. At 6 a.m., a contingent of 50 police broke down the door and marked out the "crime scene," a 200- meter corridor around the building. The occupation lasted for 15 hours, with supporters and onlookers gathering and shutting down traffic for blocks around. The police rummaged the offices, carting off files and computers. Since then, no formal charges have been filed, but Chamorro remains under official investigation.

Along with MAM, the broader women's movement in Nicaragua, which firmly opposes the Ortega government, was among the first to experience its repressive blows. In 2007, the government opened a case against nine women leaders, accusing them of conspiring "to cover up the crime of rape in the case of a 9-year-old rape victim known as 'Rosita,' who obtained an abortion in Nicaragua in 2003." In August, Ortega was unable to attend the inauguration of Paraguayan president Fernando Lugo because of protests by that country's feminist organizations; from then on, women's mobilizations have occurred in other countries Ortega has visited, including Honduras, El Salvador, Costa Rica, and Peru.

Charges were levied against other individual former Sandinistas who dared to speak out against the Ortega government, including 84-year-old Catholic priest Ernesto Cardenal, the renowned poet who had served as minister of culture in the revolutionary government. In August, after Cardenal criticized Ortega at Lugo's inauguration, a judge revived an old, previously dismissed case against Cardenal involving a German citizen who sued Cardenal in 2005 for insulting him.

In addition to harassing critics, the Ortega government also displayed its penchant for electoral fraud during the run-up to the November municipal balloting. Protests erupted in June, after the Ortega-stacked Supreme Electoral Council disqualified the MRS and the Conservative Party from participation. Dora Maria Tellez, a leader of the renovation movement, began a public hunger strike that led to daily demonstrations of support, often shutting down traffic in downtown Managua.

Meanwhile, bands of young Sandinista-linked thugs, claiming to be the "owners of the streets," attacked demonstrators while the police stood idly by. Then, to prevent more demonstrations, Ortega supporters set up plantones, permanent occupation posts at the rotundas on the main thoroughfare running through Managua. Those who camped out there were known as rezadores, or people praying to God that Ortega be protected and his opponents punished.

Besides the FSLN, two major political parties remained on the ballot, the Liberal Constitutionalist Party and the Nicaraguan Liberal Alliance. An independent Nicaraguan group, Ethics and Transparency, organized tens of thousands of observers but was denied accreditation, forcing them to observe the election from outside polling stations. But the group estimates that irregularities took place at a third of the polling places. Their complaints were echoed by Nicaraguan Catholic bishops, including Managua's archbishop, who said, "People feel defrauded." While independent surveys indicated that the opposition candidates would win the majority of the seats, the Supreme Electoral Council, which had prohibited international observers, ruled that the Sandinista candidates won control of 105 municipalities, the Liberal Constitutionalist Party won 37, and the Alliance won the remaining six.

After the election, militant demonstrations erupted in Nicaragua's two largest cities, Managua and León, and were quickly put down with violence. The European Economic Community and the U.S. government suspended funding for Nicaragua over the fraudulent elections.

On Jan. 14, before the election results were officially published by the electoral council, Ortega swore in the new mayors at Managua's Plaza de la Revolución. "This is the time to strengthen our institutions," he declared later adding, "We cannot go back to the road of war, to confrontation, to violence." Along with the regular police, Ortega stood flanked by camisas rosadas, or redshirts, members of his personal security force. A huge banner hung over the plaza depicting Ortega with an up-stretched arm and the slogan, "To Be With the People Is to Be With God."

"This despotic regime is bent on destroying all that is left of the democratic legacy of the Sandinista revolution," Chamorro told me in January. "Standing in the way of a new dictatorship," he said, "are civil society organizations, the independent media, trade unions, opposition political parties, women's organizations, civic leaders and others—many of whom can trace their roots back to the resistance against Somoza."

As the Nobel laureate and novelist José Saramago puts it, "Once more a revolution has been betrayed from within." Nicaragua's revolution has indeed been betrayed, perhaps not as dramatically as Trotsky depicts Stalin's desecration of what was best in the Bolshevik revolution. But Ortega's betrayal is a fundamental political tragedy for everyone around the world who came to believe in a popular, participatory democracy in Nicaragua.