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.