Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The TrueHoop Network Shootaround

Was the Celtics' loss in Chicago meaningless? Was the Cavs' win over Orlando at the Q a pyrrhic victory? Sort out the mixed signals atop the Eastern Conference standings at the TrueHoop Network:

Zach Lowe of Celtics Hub: "Here's something that tells you all you need to know about this game, a loss ... in which the C's gave up a season-high 127 points to a mediocre team: When the Celtics absolutely had to get one rebound–when they were down 122-119 with 33 seconds left and Derrick Rose missed a jumper–Eddie House was left to box out Brad Miller.

... It is here that I could ask why Doc Rivers had taken Kendrick Perkins out of the game for this possession, leaving a super-small line-up of House-Pierce-Allen-Marbury-Rondo to get the essential stop. I could lament that the C's missed an opportunity to move a game ahead Orlando for the 'all-important' second seed. And I could criticize a truly bad defensive performance, full of slow rotations, missed assignments and poor decisions (hi, Mikki).

But, really, the line-up that was on the court at the end of the game (and for most of the fourth quarter) shows how meaningless this game is in the long run. It was fun to watch precisely because it was so gimmicky. If the Celtics go on to win the title this year, this game will merit one paragraph in the Globe and/or Herald quickie book chronicling the season–and only then to note Leon Powe's knee injury (update forthcoming). It is a game we will have long forgotten come the playoffs."

John Krolik of Cavs the Blog:"LeBron James is more messianic than you are. Not only did he completely dominate this game, but he did it against a defense that was well set up and ready to take away his bread and butter from him. The jumper was absolutely in full effect, and this is as good as you're going to see the inside/out game working from LeBron James ...

[I]n the final moments, he was more than a little clutch. That three in front of the Magic bench? I mean, what can I say? He was absolutely feeling it, if he misses we likely as not lose, and the degree of difficulty was through the roof. Absolutely amazing. And sealing it with a savvy pump-fake and foul draw and two clutch free throws instead of getting caught up in the moment and trying a fadeaway dagger? Fantastic ... This is maybe the most talented player ever to pick up a basketball on an absolute mission. Enjoy every game...

This is pretty much the game to show why Howard isn't quite on that MVP level yet (as I see it, tier one is LeBron, Kobe, CP3, and Wade) -- he was dominant defensively and pulling in rebounds, but after looking like a bona fide offensive force the last time we saw him and the last game he played, he was almost invisible on that end tonight, showing some nice hooks and even passes out of double-teams but ultimately only getting 13 points on 8 shots.

A lot of that isn't his fault -- this team loves the three-ball, and doesn't play as disciplined as it should. This is where going from a Jameer to a Skip really hurts you, even if Skip's drilling his shots."

LeBron's 43 Reminds Orlando That He Runs the Game by Matt Moor.

It's often said that the tenets of great defense revolve not around blocks, steals, or shot clock violations, but the ability to force your opponent into taking bad shots. The Spurs have won all of their titles around this principle. Instead of allowing layups and open threes (you know, the shots they take and hit), they coerce you into settling for your poor range forward taking 18-foot jumpers from the wing while boxing your bigs into the next county.
Tonight, after alternating between streaks of brilliant defense, forcing contested jumpers and off-step leaners, and terrible defense, pretty much letting Anderson Varejao dunk on every other possession, the Orlando Magic were up one point and decided to play good defense.

They denied the interior pass, they stayed with their man, and on the screen and roll, they played it perfectly. Spread the floor to deny the pick and pop, step over to cut off the baseline drive but don't step up too much to let the ball handler by you. As long as the ball-handler doesn't nail a pull-up three pointer, in motion, with two defenders in range, the Orlando Magic were going to win the ballgame and pull within three games of the top spot in the East, and hand Cleveland only its second loss at home. It would take a miracle. It would take an anomaly. It would take a heroic effort.

Or it would take just another night at the office for LeBron James.

As you've probably deduced at this point, James nailed just such a three to put the Cavs up two, the Magic would get whistled for a three-second violation (no, I'm not kidding) inside of a minute for what may be the second time in NBA history (I haven't checked), and the Cavs effectively put a nail in Orlando's top-seed hopes, 97-93.

It was a back and forth affair, with both teams rattling off long runs. Every time one side would gain an advantage, the other team would roar back. Orlando had a nine-point lead late in the third and a chance to burn a hole in the building. Then, just as he would do at the end of the fourth, James went out and calmly stroked two jumpers to kick start the Cavs comeback.

If it sounds like James was a one-man show, well, 43 points, 12 rebounds, 8 assists, and 4 steals will kind of give that impression. James was a one-man wrecking crew, and every time the Magic would pull away, he'd coral them back with long jumpers. His first half was spent mercilessly attacking the rim, including a blurring layup at the end of the 2nd quarter as time expired. It speaks to the strength of his MVP candidacy that LeBron has put together this year, and offers a response to the recent surge by Dwyane Wade. When James puts his mind to it? The league is caught under his boot, unless you play for the good West Coast team.

For the Magic, this has to be a remarkably frustrating loss. On the one hand, they got huge contributions from Rafer Alston and rookie Courtney Lee, who showed tremendous savvy. They had their offense clicking. Dwight Howard was a block machine (6 swats). And they managed to have the lead with less than a minute, forcing LeBron James into a long-range, pull-up jumper. Yet for all of that, they walk away empty-handed and staring at a likely second-round matchup with the Boston Celtics. On the other hand, they definitely proved that they can stand toe-to-toe with the best in the league on their floor and take it to the wire. Unfortunately, they don't hand out trophies for people who keep games close. There's a lot to consider in the Magic Kingdom.

Before we go, here's a quick question. Mr. Official man? You allow travels of epic length (like James' blatant three-step trot before dishing to Varejao late in the third). You let Howard set moving screens. You don't fall for Delonte West or Hedo Turkoglu's flop antics. But you decide the best way to handle this game is to call a three-second violation on the offense in a crucial possession under a minute? Really? I'm all for consistency, I really am. But ... really?

Andre Iguodala Buries the Lakers

The 76ers got off to a nice start on their Pacific road trip. On Tuesday they beat the best team in the West, thanks to some sauce from Andre Iguodala at the buzzer.

I'm a huge fan of going for the regulation win down two, especially considering Kobe Bryant had just nailed a jumper to give the Lakers a lead at the other end. On the night, Iguodala took Kobe out of his game. The reigning MVP had just 11 points on 15 FGAs, five turnovers and (amazingly) zero free throws.

And yes, Phil Jackson is steamed Trevor Ariza didn't use a foul to make the Sixers reset.
"I don't know if Trevor understood when I said we have a foul to use, because he didn't use it," Jackson said. "When Iguodala handled the ball and took his time, it was time to use it."
The 76ers play in Phoenix tonight, Oakland Friday, Sacramento on Sunday (in what could be the final opportunity for a win against the East for the Kings) and Portland on Monday. The hardest part is over. Philadelphia is 1-1/2 games behind Miami in the ever-important "avoiding the top three Eastern seeds" race for 5th.

Analysis: White House, Dems backpedaling on AIG

For the first time since last fall's election, Democrats and the Obama administration are backpedaling furiously on an issue easily understood by financially strapped taxpayers: $165 million in bonuses paid out at bailed-out AIG.

Republicans, struggling to regain their political footing, are content to let Democrats try to dig their way out of this mess on their own.

Professing shock at the bonus payments, Democrats have embarked on a hurry-up effort to impose what amounts to confiscatory taxes on the bonuses, a maneuver that almost surely will be tested in the courts.

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner enjoys President Barack Obama's confidence, according to the White House.

But the mood is less charitable among congressional Democrats. Republicans have made Geithner their top target, not surprising given Obama's continued high approval ratings.

"It's shocking that they would — the administration would come to us now and act surprised about these contracts," said Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., the Senate GOP leader. "This administration could have and should have ... prevented this from happening. They had a lot of leverage two weeks ago."

That would be when the Treasury Department decided to make an additional $30 billion available to American International Group Inc., the huge insurance conglomerate deemed too big to fail by two administrations.

Which goes to the crux of the Democrats' current political problem.

Gone are the days when they could merely bludgeon the Bush administration and promise to seek bipartisan solutions to the nation's economic problems.

Now, in control of the White House and Congress, they are struggling to come up with an explanation for what no one in either party seems moved to defend.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said AIG stands as a symbol of "greed and perhaps corruption."

Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., scoffed at AIG's claim that the money represents retention pay. "There are enough bright people in this country that would do the job for an honest salary, and enough honest taxpayers demanding that we put an end to this stuff. You can bet I'll make sure justice is served," he said.

But the bonus payments occurred on the Democrats' watch, and for Republicans, AIG seems politically providential.

Their overwhelming opposition to last month's stimulus bill appeared to be gaining little traction as Democrats showcase every shovelful of dirt that is turned — all in the name of economic recovery.

Criticism that Obama and Democrats are embarking on a new era of tax-and-spend is undercut by the lack of a budget alternative from Republicans — the party that presided over a historic run-up in the federal debt earlier this decade when it controlled both the White House and Congress.

Less than 100 days into the Obama administration, polls have brought little good news to Republicans.

While a recent Pew survey found some slippage in Obama's support, it also registered only 28 percent approval for the job being done by GOP congressional leaders, the lowest in nearly 14 years. And a separate survey by CNN and Opinion research Corp. put support for the president's handling of the economy at nearly 60 percent.

Against this backdrop, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs sought to explain AIG.

He told reporters that Geithner "last week engaged with the CEO of AIG to communicate what we thought were outrageous and unacceptable bonuses," and "received a commitment to lessen some of the bonuses for senior executives...."

Asked directly Obama is satisfied that he found out about the bonuses in a timely fashion, Gibbs said: "Yes, the president is satisfied."

The president "has complete confidence" in his Treasury secretary, Gibbs added, although Geithner's early tenure has been anything but smooth. The Cabinet official's introduction of a new plan to bail out the financial industry was widely panned, and his confirmation was held up earlier when it was disclosed he had paid $34,000 in back taxes.

Obama himself has been vocal on the need to do everything possible to recoup the money paid out in bonuses, and so far, no Democrats in Congress have tried to hold him to account.

But the Treasury Department isn't immune, even from Democrats.

"I'm outraged by this," said Baucus in a statement. "At one point the Treasury was in a position to stop these bonuses. Those were the terms of TARP, terms that I helped draft."

But talk of legislation only leads to more uncomfortable questions for Democrats.

Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, and Ron Wyden, D-Ore., won passage of a provision earlier this year that they said would have prevented the type of payments now at the center of a storm.

It was dropped without explanation in the final compromise on the economic stimulus measure, replaced by a less restrictive set of conditions backed by Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., and accepted by the White House.

"The president goes out and says this is not acceptable and then some backroom deal gets cut to let these things get paid out anyway," said Wyden.

Oil extends losses on surprise gain in gasoline inventories

Crude-oil futures extended losses Wednesday, falling more than 3% after data showed U.S. gasoline inventories rose last week unexpectedly. Gasoline inventories rose by 3.2 million barrels in the week ended March 13, the Energy Information Administration reported. Analysts surveyed by Platts had expected a decline of 2.1 million barrels. After the data, crude for April delivery lost 3.2% to $47.60 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. It was down less than 3% before the data. The EIA also reported a 2 million barrels increase in crude inventories and a 100,000 barrels gain in distillate stockpiles, which include heating oil and diesel.

Gov't says alleged terrorist still poses danger

A federal prosecutor says an alleged al-Qaida sleeper agent still poses a danger to the U.S. after being held for five years without charges in a Navy brig.

Prosecutor Michael Mullaney said during a bond hearing in South Carolina Wednesday that Ali al-Marri that shouldn't be released on bail before the criminal case continues against him in Illinois.

The Qatar native's attorney, Andy Savage, was going to argue for his client's release before a federal magistrate later Wednesday.

Al-Marri had been held near Charleston as an enemy combatant.

Last month, President Barack Obama ordered al-Marri surrendered to civil authorities after he was indicted in Peoria, Ill., on federal charges of providing material support to terror and conspiracy.

Jackie Mason Dig Draws Racism Charges

(March 16) - Legendary stand-up comedian Jackie Mason is in full defense mode after catching flack for using what many consider to be a Yiddish racial slur to describe President Barack Obama.

GettyThe 'Caddyshack 2' star referred to Obama as a "schwartza" during a performance in New York City on Thursday night, TMZ reports, infuriating several audience members and causing at least one paying customer to storm out.

Mason denies the word is a racial epithet, angrily telling TMZ that it's just slang for black person. "I'm an old Jew. I was raised in a Jewish family where 'schwartza' was used," he said. "It's not a demeaning word and I'm not going to defend myself."

Schwartz literally means "black" in Yiddish. According to the Racial Slur Database, the word itself is not derogatory in nature, but that it is usually used in a negative way.

Though he said he wouldn't "defend himself," Mason continued to do so in his conversation with TMZ, slamming fellow controversial figures like comedian Chris Rock and Rev. Al Sharpton in the process. "Chris Rock has told a lot more jokes about whites than I have against Blacks. What about the demeaning words Blacks say about Jews?"

Mason then alleged that white people are more persecuted when it comes to civil rights. "If it's a racist society, the white people are the ones being persecuted because they have to defend themselves." He then referred to Sharpton and Rev. Jesse Jackson as "professional racists." Sharpton quickly struck back, sending the following statement to TMZ:

"At this stage in Jackie's life and career he should get our prayers more than our responses. It is sad that maybe he forgot he used the same term against Mayor David Dinkins when he was elected the first African-American Mayor of New York City and got in trouble for it. As for him attacking me, maybe he forgot that he has had me on his TV show and has taken me to dinner and commended me for forgiving a white male who tried to kill me by stabbing me while I was leading a non-violent march. I'm sure Jackie just forgot."

TMZ caught up with Mason again over the weekend when he continued his no-defense defense strategy, saying he believes "white people have no freedom of speech."

Chris Brown's Star Falls; Rihanna's Could, Too

More than a month after the assault that left Rihanna bloodied and bruised, the situation gets more grim for the once-brilliant career of Chris Brown, her boyfriend and alleged attacker.

Despite reports that the couple has reconciled - including reports of an apparent duet recording session - public animosity toward Brown, Billboard's artist of the year for 2008, seems to be growing.

Radio stations are dropping his music, and on Wednesday he voluntarily removed his name from the ballot of Nickelodeon's Kids' Choice Awards, for which he was twice nominated just before his Feb. 8 arrest for allegedly beating Rihanna.

"Unfortunately, the controversy surrounding the incident last month has shifted the focus from the music to whether he should be allowed to be among those nominated," a statement from his representatives read.

At 19, Brown is already a multiplatinum star who has not only dominated music, but made the leap to film in movies like "Stomp the Yard" and "This Christmas." He was a favorite of kids for his lithe voice, danceable beats and formidable dance skills; of young girls for his handsome looks; and of parents, because of his clean-cut image.

That winning combination helped him rack up album sales and awards: Billboard named him as its artist of the year for 2008. But figures show his overall audience, if not his fan base, has shrunk since his arrest. A leaked photo showing the battered face of Rihanna didn't help, and an affidavit released last week included details that highlighted the apparent brutality of the attack.

While Brown didn't have any new music out at the time of his arrest, his top hit "Forever" was still getting substantial radio play at the time. According to Billboard's Hot 100 Recurrent Airplay chart, the song was slowly drifting down, and was at No. 14 before the arrest, for a radio audience of about 16 million people.

According to Billboard, right after the arrest, the song plummeted from 14 to 58, or an audience of about 9 million. It is now off the chart.

Even having Brown featured on a song may be a bad move: Jive Records labelmate T-Pain, who did a duet with Brown called "Freeze," is offering an alternative version to radio stations that deletes Brown, according to people inside the radio industry who requested anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the situation.

Bill Werde, the editor in chief for Billboard, said it may be too early to say whether the severe damage done to his career in the short term will affect Brown permanently.

"People's memories can be short, and I think sometimes an amazing hit can trump even people's expectations," he said Wednesday. "That said, Chris Brown is a guy who sort of developed his career around a very clean image, and an image that was safe for teens and tweens. ... When you have an artist whose career has been so predicated on keeping a clean image, this is a little bit of a tougher hurdle to get over."

Howard Bragman, veteran Hollywood publicist, damage-control specialist and author of the book "Where's My Fifteen Minutes," said Brown's youth may also be an asset to him in the long run if he makes a sincere attempt at rehabilitation.

"I do think he can come back from this, I think if he made the mistakes people think he made," he said. "I think he is young enough and talented enough; eventually there are people who will forgive you."

Rihanna may endure a challenging road herself whenever she finally decides to relaunch her equally white-hot career. Already, she had seen her image transformed from pop's femme fatale to domestic violence victim whose decision to go back to her alleged attacker has been endlessly called into question.

"What I think the caution is she has is not to let this incident define her. And I think that's the biggest risk to her career," said Bragman.

An apparent reconciliation with Brown may only exacerbate that risk. Rap mogul Diddy confirmed he let the couple use his home to "talk about a situation they're in," and producer Polow da Don told the Los Angeles Times he was working with both stars on a duet (however,, citing sources it did not name, said the couple has not yet recorded a duet that was penned for them to be included on Brown's new album.)

"I think people are critical of her, saying, 'Oh my god, you're crazy, what are you doing?" said Cori Murray, entertainment editor for Essence magazine. "Then there are people who are like ... they don't want to pass judgment on her because they don't know the whole situation."

While neither representative for the couple would comment on whether the couple was indeed reunited or recording together, that hasn't stopped others from weighing in on the situation.

Oprah Winfrey is devoting an entire show Thursday "to all the Rihannas of the world" and on an episode last week, warned Rihanna: "Love doesn't hurt, and if a man hits you once, he will hit you again."

On Tuesday's episode of "The Ellen DeGeneres Show," the host grilled Diddy about reports that he had lent his house to the couple to reconcile, and expressed her outrage about it in an intense exchange with the rap mogul: "I was a huge fan's of Chris' ... but to hit a girl," DeGeneres said, " ... I don't want any girl out there thinking it's OK to go back to a guy who hit her."

Blogs have questioned everything from her mind-set to her sanity, but Werde said Rihanna still has overwhelming support and sympathy.

Like Brown, Rihanna, 21, is between projects. But she still has singles in the Billboard's top 50 - her solo hit "Disturbia" (co-written by Brown) and "Live Your Life" with T.I. And the multiplatinum selling singer was recently featured in a new ad by CoverGirl, for which she is a spokeswoman.

"I don't really expect Rihanna to face any hurdles here. It's pretty tragic what happened to her, and I'm certainly not about to try an alleged victim," Werde said. "I don't think that people are going to judge her harshly ... You can't blame the victim in any situation, especially in a domestic abuse situation."

NAACP: Bank Giants Steered Blacks to Bad Loans

The NAACP is accusing Wells Fargo and HSBC of forcing blacks into subprime mortgages while whites with identical qualifications got lower rates.

Class-action lawsuits will be filed against the banks Friday in federal court in Los Angeles, Austin Tighe, co-lead counsel for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, told The Associated Press.

Black homebuyers have been 3 1/2 times more likely to receive a subprime loan than white borrowers, and six times more likely to get a subprime rate when refinancing, Tighe said. Blacks still were disproportionately steered into subprime loans when their credit scores, income and down payment were equal to those of white homebuyers, he said.

Both Wells Fargo & Co. and HSBC are receiving federal bailout funds. Messages left after hours with the banks were not immediately returned.

Amara Weaver of Milwaukee bought her first home in 1984, receiving a 6.25 percent fixed-rate mortgage. She says she had a steady job as a human resources director for a social services agency, never missed a mortgage payment and maintained excellent credit.

In 2004, she wanted to buy the house next door for her son to live in. She said the bank promised her a low fixed rate for a $40,000 loan, but at the closing, when reading the fine print, she noticed that the rate was actually 11 percent.

"I was blown away," said Weaver, an NAACP member. "I didn't have any choice (but to sign) ... it made me feel violated."

Similar NAACP lawsuits are pending against a dozen other subprime lenders.

"This is systematic, institutionalized racism," Tighe said. "Once you take out factors relative to income and credit risk, the only difference between the borrowers is the color of their skin."

Tighe estimated that "tens of thousands" of blacks had been forced into bad loans, but said it was difficult to gauge the scope of the problem because banks keep much of their internal data private. The lawsuits could force banks to divulge closely guarded information, such as how banks can determine the race of a loan applicant and how federal bailout funds are being spent.

The NAACP is seeking reforms from the banks such as increased transparency in the loan process, educational outreach and internal training.

Racial Discrimination Lawsuit Unites Korean and Black Workers

ATLANTA – Current and former employees of Kennesaw Public Works department filed a racial discrimination lawsuit in a federal court on March 9 against the city, reports Korea Daily. Gary Redd, a former employee who is Korean, Willie Smith and Stanley Mitchell, who are black, allege in the lawsuit that the use of the “N” word was routinely used and that the Korean employee was often described as “a wetback.” They also allege that supervisors not only ignored complaints of workers using racial slurs, but also condoned the slurs, displays of crude images, and threats against workers. Smith claims he was discouraged from applying for a promotion because he’s black. All defendants -- the mayor, city manager, human resources director, a city councilman and four others -- are white. Kennesaw is a suburb about 23 miles northwest of Atlanta.

Page 1 of 1

Sun shares soar on report of IBM deal talks

AP) — Sun Microsystems Inc. shares soared Wednesday after a published report said International Business Machines Corp. is in preliminary talks to buy Sun for at least $6.5 billion in cash.

The Wall Street Journal, which cited unnamed people familiar with the matter, said the deal could occur as early as this week. It also said the talks could fall apart.

Sun Microsystems shares climbed $3.20, or 64 percent, to $8.17 in morning trading, while IBM lost $1.77, or 1.9 percent, to $91.14.

IBM, of Armonk, N.Y., and Sun Microsystems of Santa Clara, Calif., both make computer systems for corporate customers, and the newspaper said a purchase of Sun would help IBM in the finance and telecommunications markets.

An IBM spokesman did not return calls seeking comment Monday morning. Sun spokeswoman Karen Kahn declined to comment.

While some of their technologies and customers overlap, IBM and Sun have been heading in different directions for most of the past decade.

Sun, a darling of the dot-com era, has been struggling since the tech bust of 2001 to find its place. The company has cut thousands of jobs and tried to refocus on open-source software besides the proprietary systems it built much of its wealth on.

IBM, after an enormous restructuring in the 1990s, has proven one of the technology industry's most reliable earners. It has gobbled up dozens of companies in recent years. But a $6.5 billion deal would be its biggest to date. It also would represent a big premium for Sun, which closed trading Tuesday with a market capitalization of less than $4 billion.

AIG chairman says retention payments distasteful

(AP) — The chairman and CEO of American International Group is calling some of the company's compensation payments "distasteful" and says the firm made financial mistakes on a scale few could have imagined.

In prepared testimony to a House Financial Services panel, Edward Liddy said the company grew into an internal hedge fund that became overexposed to market risks. AIG is the largest recipient of federal government emergency assistance. It has received $170 billion in bailout help and the government holds a nearly 80 percent stake in the company.

AIG is under fire for $220 million in retention bonuses paid to employees in its troubled financial products division. The most recent payment of $165 million began to be paid last Friday and caused a furor.

Liddy, who has led American International Group Inc. since last fall, has become the reluctant defender of princely employee bonuses that members of Congress — and much of the American public — find indefensible.

The retention payments — ranging from $1,000 to nearly $6.5 million — were not his idea. Liddy himself is not getting a bonus. The deals were cut early last year, long before then-Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson asked Liddy to take over the company.

"I do not like these arrangements and find it distasteful and difficult to recommend to you that we must proceed with them," Liddy wrote to the current treasury secretary, Timothy Geithner, over the weekend.

But the payments went out. Congress is in a lather and wants the money back. And Liddy, who had been scheduled to testify about AIG before the bonus story took root, is a timely target.

The clamor over compensation overshadowed AIG's weekend disclosure that it used more than $90 billion in federal aid to pay out to foreign and domestic banks, including some that had multibillion-dollar U.S. government bailouts of their own. AIG is the single largest recipient of government assistance — a company whose financial transactions were so intricate and intertwined that it was considered simply too big to fail.

In an essay published Wednesday in The Washington Post, Liddy wrote: "The company's overall structure is too complex, too unwieldy and too opaque for its component businesses to be well managed as one entity. So the strategy we continue to pursue ... is to isolate the value in the company's component parts, capture that value to pay back money owed to the government, and allow AIG's healthy insurance companies to continue to prosper for the benefit of policyholders and taxpayers."

Lawmakers already were troubled by the idea of an institution that could single-handedly topple the financial system. Now, Liddy will appear before a House Financial Services subcommittee just as lawmakers from both parties are casting his company as the symbol of excess and abuse of taxpayer dollars.

Meanwhile, Rep. Barney Frank, chairman of the Financial Services panel, said he hopes Congress can rewrite a Depression-era law the Federal Reserve used to plow $85 billion into AIG, without conditions and without the need for congressional approval.

"The federal government is a major owner of this company. We're the owners, not just the regulators," Frank, D-Mass., said Wednesday on CBS's "The Early Show."

"It is my hope that before much further, we will amend that statute," he said. Frank said the mere existence of the 1932 statute enabling the Fed to make the direct payment rendered a no-strings bailout as "a fait accompli."

Rep. Carolyn Maloney, a New York Democrat who is on Frank's committee, said that "Congress is going to recoup this money."

Maloney said this will happen one way or another, "whether it's through taxes, through a contract change. They say you can't change a contract. We change contracts all the time."

Maloney said on NBC's "Today" show that "we're looking at a number of proposals."

Congress and the Obama administration on Tuesday appeared to race each other to find ways to strip bonus recipients of their money. The Democratic chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Max Baucus of Montana, and the panel's top Republican, Charles Grassley of Iowa, immediately proposed legislation that would require companies and individuals to pay a 35 percent tax on all retention awards and on all other bonuses over $50,000. Others suggested even higher tax rates.

"If you don't return it on your own, we will do it for you," said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y.

Geithner said he was working with the Justice Department to find ways to recover some of the payments. He cited a provision in the recent economic stimulus law that gave him authority to review compensation to the most highly paid employees of companies that already have received federal assistance.

Explaining the sudden burst of official outrage, the White House for the first time on Tuesday night said Geithner learned of the impending bonus payments a week ago Tuesday; he told the White House about them last Thursday, and senior aides informed President Barack Obama later that day.

As talk of Geithner's possible resignation swirled around Washington, White House officials were obliged to say that he still retained the president's full confidence.

Overall, AIG has paid $220 million in retention awards to its financial products employees; it distributed $55 million in December and $165 million had to be paid by Friday. Documents provided by AIG to the Treasury Department said the awards ranged from $1,000 to nearly $6.5 million. Seven employees were to receive more than $3 million. New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo said AIG last week paid bonuses of $1 million or more to 73 employees, including 11 who no longer work there.

But even as the White House continued to label the payments outrageous, Geithner noted that Liddy, the former CEO of Allstate Corp., took the helm of AIG at the government's request.

"He inherited a difficult situation, including these ... retention contracts, which were entered prior to his or the government's involvement in AIG," Geithner wrote in a letter to congressional leaders Tuesday.

In his own letter to Geithner on Saturday, Liddy wrote that if it had been up to him, he would have designed the retention payments differently and at lower levels. But, he said, his hands were tied.

"Honoring contractual commitments is at the heart of what we do in the insurance business," he said.

Reality and Our Accounts of It By Richard Lee

For all of the new dimensions and innovations he has brought to the worlds of politics and government, Barack Obama still recognizes the value in some tried and true practices that have proven successful over the years.

Case in point: Say something over and over enough times and it will start having an impact on public perception. It’s a strategy that has worked before in New Jersey, and it could be a factor in this year’s campaign for Governor. Back in 1997, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jim McGreevey barely uttered a sentence without mentioning that New Jersey had the highest property taxes and auto insurance rates in the nation – and he nearly defeated the incumbent Governor in what would have been a stunning upset.

In Obama’s case, the President and key members of his Administration have begun suggesting that their efforts to turn the economy around are starting to work. It was part of the message that top White House aides and economic advisors delivered in a series of television appearances this past weekend. On 60 Minutes, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said the recession could be over by the end of the year and that signs of an economic recovery already are evident in the economy. Similar sentiments were expressed by Christina Romer, chairwoman of the Council of Economic Advisers, and Lawrence Summers, Director of the White House's National Economic Council.

It will be a while before we determine how convincing the Obama team was, but the strategy is one that has been employed often, most recently in the waning days of the Bush administration.

Specifically, the departing president and his surrogates engaged in what appeared to be a coordinated campaign to paint a picture of his presidency that ran counter to the perception by the majority of Americans. In news conferences, television interviews, op-ed articles and more, they did their best to lay the foundation for a positive legacy for the nation’s 43rd chief executive, building it on the notion that he kept America safe after the attacks of September 11, 2001.

When asked about the Administration’s accomplishments on Face the Nation, “defending the country against further terrorist attacks like 9/11” was the first item cited by Vice President Dick Cheney. Similarly, in a Washington Times op-ed article, outgoing Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff called the lack of additional terrorist attacks “a testament to the president's leadership.”

Not only was this message a common theme in the answers Bush provided in his final news conference with the Washington press corps, but his supporters continued to make similar arguments after he left office. Bush made tough decisions that “kept America safe for seven years,” Karl Rove, the former president’s former senior advisor and deputy chief of staff, wrote in a Wall Street Journal op-ed. Marc Thiessen, who served in senior positions at the White House and the Pentagon during the Bush Administration, boasted that there had been 2,688 days without a terrorist attack on American soil when Bush left office. “Al-Qaeda is actively working to attack our country again. And the policies and institutions that George W. Bush put in place to stop this are succeeding,” Thiessen wrote in a Washington Post op-ed.

In our state’s race for Governor this year, the candidates will paint two diametrically opposed pictures of New Jersey.

Democrats will reiterate the themes that dominated Governor Corzine’s budget address and State of the State message: These are tough fiscal times that demand tough decisions – and because of the actions the Governor has taken, New Jersey is in a better position than other states to meet the challenges of the economic crisis. On the other hand, Republicans will continue to charge the state is heading in the wrong direction, with taxes that hurt the middle class and drive businesses out of state.

In the end, it may not matter who is right and who is wrong, only who makes the more convincing argument. Perhaps this is what communications theorist James W. Carey had in mind when he said, “There is reality and then, after the fact, our accounts of it.”

# # #

Richard A. Lee is Communications Director of the Hall Institute of Public Policy – New Jersey. A former journalist and Deputy Communications Director for the Governor, he also teaches courses in media and government at Rutgers University, where he is completing work on a Ph.D. in media studies.