Thursday, December 10, 2009

Geithner defends extension of bank bailout

WASHINGTON — Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner on Thursday defended his extension of the government's unpopular financial bailout as necessary to safely wind down the program.

"It would be irresponsible to do otherwise," Geithner told a skeptical watchdog panel.

The Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) was due to go out of business at the end of this month, but Geithner said Wednesday it would run through Oct. 3, as the original legislation allowed.

Elizabeth Warren, who heads the independent oversight panel that Congress set up to monitor the bailout program, said the aid was "an important part of the government's rescue strategy" and saved the financial system from "imminent collapse."

But the Harvard University law professor told Geithner that it "has been far from an unmitigated success." She said consumers and small businesses still are having trouble obtaining loans even if big banks are getting back on their feet because of the program.

"There must never be a TARP 2.0," she told Geithner.

Panel member Paul S. Atkins, once on the Securities and Exchange Commission, said extending the program "borders on irresponsibility" and is a "a free option at taxpayer expense."

When the program was enacted in October 2008, financial markets were in free fall. The rescue package had an original price tag of $700 billion.

The Full Story

U.S. household wealth rises in Q3, may spur spending

- U.S. households' net worth rose $2.7 trillion to $53.4 trillion in the third quarter for a second straight quarterly advance, Federal Reserve data showed on Thursday, which may boost consumers' confidence to spend.

The U.S. central bank's Flow of Funds report said household net worth -- the difference between the value of assets and liabilities -- rose 5 percent from the second quarter.

A strong stock market recovery and continued household debt deleveraging largely contributed to the rise, the data showed.

The economy is steadily recovering from the worst recession in 70 years but weak household balance sheets have weighed on consumer spending, normally the engine of the U.S. economy.

"The increase in household net worth will prove to have a positive psychological impact ... that will likely lead to more spending in 2010," said Bernard Baumohl, chief global economist at the Economic Outlook Group in Princeton, New Jersey.

In the third quarter, household debt contracted at a 2.5 percent annual rate from the prior three months, the largest fall on record, the Fed said. It was the fifth consecutive quarterly decline, reflecting steep declines in mortgage and consumer debt, such as credit cards.

Business debt excluding financial institutions also fell at a 2.5 percent annual rate and the decline was widespread across credit market instruments, according to the report.

The federal government's debt increased at a 21 percent annual rate, slowing from the previous three months, but still the fifth consecutive quarter of growth exceeding 20 percent.

The Obama administration has projected the budget deficit for fiscal 2010 to be about the same as the $1.4 trillion gap in fiscal 2009 that ended in September. The government is ramping up efforts to bring down unemployment. The jobless rate is hovering around 10 percent, the highest in 26 years.

Goldman changes compensation after investor pressure

-- Goldman Sachs Group Inc. unveiled compensation changes Thursday in the wake of pressure from some shareholders of the investment bank.

Goldman /quotes/comstock/13*!gs/quotes/nls/gs (GS 166.68, +0.24, +0.14%) said its management committee will be receiving bonuses in the form of "shares at risk" in 2009 instead of cash. The shares cannot be sold for five years.

"Discretionary compensation represents the vast majority of senior management's compensation and is directly tied to the firm's overall performance," Goldman said in a statement.

Shareholders will also have an advisory vote on the compensation package at the firm's annual meeting in 2010.

The announcements come after the board approved changes to the firm's 2009 compensation plan.

Post Thanksgiving New Jobless Claims Spike Unexpectedly

While last week's numbers released for new jobless claims dropped to the lowest total in over a year, since the week of Sept. 6, 2008, this week's reversed that "gain." The Labor Department's numbers for new jobless claims released today indicate an unexpected rise after falling for five straight weeks.

New unemployment insurance claims rose by 17,000 to a seasonally adjusted 474,000. That was above analysts' expectations of 460,000 new claims. Despite this, claims have held a steady downward trend since the summer. In order for such numbers to signal that employers are hiring, however, the figures quoted would have to be under 425,000 new weekly jobless claims for at least a month, say analysts.

Whereas last week, the Labor Department announced that the Thanksgiving Holiday may have affected new jobless claims downward, this week they said the reverse with regards to post-holiday claims. They stated that claims may have been partly inflated by a post-holiday surge. Additionally, seasonal layoffs in the construction industry also played a role.

The four-week moving average of claims levels out fluctuations. That number fell to 473,750, its 14th straight decline and its lowest level since September 2008.

Meanwhile, the continuing claims figures dropped by 303,000 to 5.16 million. This is the lowest level since February. This number has fallen in 11 of the past 12 weeks. Unfortunately, this number does not include those underemployed, working fewer hours than they would like, and those who have left the jobless rolls as their benefits expire.

Additionally, the continuing claims do not include millions of people that have used up the regular 26 weeks of jobless benefits typically provided by states, who are receiving extended benefits for up to 73 additional weeks, which are paid for by the federal government. That number is approximately 4.6 million people for the week ended Nov. 21, the latest set of figures available, an increase of 130,000 from the prior week, some of which is due to a further extension Congress enacted last month.

Written by Michael Santo

ClimateGate": A Catchphrase That Instantly Flips the Frame On Climate Scientists

In a paper published earlier this year at the journal Environment, I explained how claims and arguments relative to the climate change debate can be classified and tracked using a typology of frames that are common to science-related issues.

With the recent controversy over the East Anglia stolen emails, one of these common frames has come to dominate discussion leading up to Copenhagen. What's different this time around is that climate skeptics and conservatives are applying the frame, rather than liberals and environmental advocates.

This specific frame defines a science debate narrowly in terms of "public accountability and governance":

Is research or relevant policy in the public interest or serving special interests? The emphasis is on matters of control, transparency, participation, responsiveness, or ownership; or debate over proper use of science and expertise in decision-making ("politicization.")
In the Environment paper, I described how historically the public accountability frame has been used by Democrats, environmentalists, and science advocates in an attempt to raise concern that conservatives, industry, and the Bush administration were ignoring scientific expertise in favor of economic interests and/or ideology. Common frame devices used to instantly evoke and lock in this interpretation were allegations over a "war on science" and the "manufacture of uncertainty." As I wrote in the paper, while this frame might mobilize a liberal base it also likely inadvertently leads to further disengagement among the broader public, who are likely to see claims about a "war on science" as just more elite, partisan bickering.

The irony now is that conservatives and climate skeptics have discovered the utility of the public accountability frame to inflame and mobilize their base while also (intentionally) deactivating concern about climate change among the broader public.

The now commonly used term "ClimateGate" to refer to the case of the East Anglia stolen emails is an extremely effective frame device that instantly--if not falsely--conveys that there is wrongdoing, politicization, and a cover-up on the part of mainstream scientists.

Focusing events have the potential to powerfully amplify the resonance of a frame pushed by advocates. If the focusing event imbues a preferred storyline with even a tiny bit of validity, it can catapult a much stronger and broader frame into dominance. The case of the East Anglia emails, now defined in conversation as "ClimateGate," threatens to follow this trend. We will have to watch closely to see if the storyline cast by conservative skeptics and media becomes one of the classic examples of frame resonance in politics.

For a relevant case study on how an event can launch a politically preferred frame of reference into prominence, see this post from 2005 where I detailed how Hurricane Katrina fueled a larger narrative about the the Bush administration as a presidency in a "state of denial."

I will be discussing more on this issue at the workshop on climate change communication held Sunday at the annual meetings of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco. More than 115 attendees have registered and there will be ample time allotted for questions and comments with the panelists.

NYC officer fatally shoots man in Times Square

The New York Police Department says an officer has shot and killed someone in Times Square.

The circumstances of the shooting are unclear.

The shooting occurred shortly before noon Thursday near 46th Street and Broadway, near the Marriott Marquis hotel and in the Broadway theater district.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.

NEW YORK (AP) — The New York Police Department says an officer shot someone in Times Square.

The condition on the person who was shot is not known and the circumstances of the shooting are unclear.

The shooting occurred shortly before noon Thursday near 46th Street and Broadway, near the Marriott Marquis hotel.

British experts defend climate data after email leaks

LONDON — More than 1,700 British scientists have signed a petition insisting that global warming is man-made, a spokesman said Thursday after leaked emails sparked a row over the science behind climate change.

The emails, intercepted from scientists at Britain's University of East Anglia, a top centre for climate research, have been seized upon by sceptics as evidence that the experts twisted data in order to dramatise global warming.

But the British scientists' petition, released on the fourth day of a landmark United Nations summit on climate change in Copenhagen, insisted the evidence was clear.

"We, members of the UK science community, have the utmost confidence in the observational evidence for global warming and the scientific basis for concluding that it is due primarily to human activities."

Some of leaked emails expressed frustration at the scientists' inability to explain what they described as a temporary slowdown in warming and discussed ways to counter the campaigns of climate change naysayers.

A spokesman for the Met Office, Britain's national weather service, said its head John Hirst had written to 70 colleagues last Sunday asking them to sign "to defend our profession against this unprecedented attack to discredit us and the science of climate change."

The petition was then forwarded to scientist colleagues to generate support "for a simple statement that we... have the utmost confidence in the science base that underpins the evidence for global warming," the spokesman said.

5 American Men Arrested in Pakistan

Nihad Awad, national executive director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, speaks at a news conference in Washington, 09 Dec 2009

Pakistani police say the men were detained during a raid on the home of a local leader of the banned militant group Jaish-e-Muhammad.

Pakistani officials say five American men arrested in Pakistan recently are being investigated for alleged links to extremist groups. Family members and U.S. authorities have been searching for five missing U.S. students from the Washington, D.C. area since their disappearance in late November.

Pakistani police say the men were detained during a raid on the home of a local leader of the banned militant group Jaish-e-Muhammad, in Pakistan's Punjab province. Authorities are trying to determine if the men are linked to recent attacks in the region, although no charges have yet been filed.

The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation says it is in contact with the families of the five men and is working with Pakistani authorities to determine their identities, the nature of their business in Pakistan, and if indeed the men are the students who went missing late last month.

In Washington, officials with the Council on American Islamic Relations said the five were Muslims who had disappeared from their homes in Northern Virginia. CAIR's Executive Director, Nihad Awad, told reporters the students' families contacted the Muslim organization after their sons went missing. Awad said relatives brought along what authorities are calling a farewell video.

U.S. officials said in that video the men said Muslims must be defended.

"They did not specify what they will be doing, but just hearing and seeing videos similar [to what is] on the Internet, it just made me uncomfortable," said Awad.

CAIR then contacted the FBI and handed over the video and information to U.S. authorities. Imam Johari Abdul-Malik is member of the Coordinating Council of Muslim Organizations and spoke alongside CAIR officials at a press briefing on Wednesday.

"As a result of our coordinated and cooperative engagement that these young people are not at large," he said. "We can feel hopeful that whatever was going to happen, which we don't know what it was, that we can rest assured that at least these young people hopefully will be back in the United States."

A U.S. State Department spokesman said Wednesday the U.S. embassy in Islamabad was seeking further information about those detained in Pakistan.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declined to comment about the arrests but said the United States was concerned about the work of extremists groups in Pakistan.

"We know that much of the training and the direction for terrorists comes from Pakistan and the border area with Afghanistan," said Clinton.

The arrests came as a Pakistani-American, David Headley, pleaded not guilty to terrorism charges in a U.S. court in Chicago on Wednesday. Headly, who was was arrested in October, is accused of planning a 2008 terrorist attack in Mumbai,India that killed more than 160 people.

Tiger Woods Scandal Update: Elin Dedicated To Saving Marriage

The latest Tiger Woods Scandal Update is actually a breath of fresh air. Despite reports that she has moved out, Elin Nordegren Woods is apparently still dedicated to making her marriage work. It is the first positive news for some time since the incident that first took place on Black Friday.

The Tiger Woods scandal began, as most people in the entire world know, on Black Friday, Nov. 27th, at 2:25 AM when Tiger Woods tried to leave / escape his house and ran into a fire hydrant and then a neighbor's tree. Depending on the rumor you are listening to, you may believe that Elin Woods, 29, either chased him with a golf club, or saved him with a golf club, or both.

At any rate, the latest Tiger Woods scandal update (for the afternoon at least) is that Elin Woods wants to stay in the marriage. The couple, who wed in 2004, have a daughter Sam, two, and son Charlie, ten months, and reportedly the children are a major reason for why Elin Woods wants to stay married to Tiger.

People magazine says that a source has told them that: “She loves him and she is totally devastated over learning of his philandering. She honestly did not know he was cheating on her.”

It is intereresting to note that Elin Woods had a chance to become a child psychologist in Sweden, yet passed it up to become a nanny. She may be somewhat scarred and influenced by the fact that her parents were divorced when she was six. There is also the possibility that she is a bit naive.

We spoke to Dr. Dominika Osmolska, a clinical psychologist, who said "It is common for celebrities as famous as Tiger Woods to succumb to the temptation of affairs. They have groupies pursuing them everywhere they go, and they are frequently without their spouse or partner.

"One thing Elin Nordegren Woods should remember: it is quite common for a person who has cheated to 'relapse' and cheat again. While I have not treated Mr. Woods, based on the descriptions by some of his 'conquests' regarding insecurities about his appearance, it is quite possible he is a sex addict. This is, of course, still conjecture without an actual interview of the subject.

"If she chooses to stay with him, they will definitely need extensive counseling."

Thus ends another Tiger Woods Scandal Update. What is next for the superstar golfer?

Written by Michael Santo

How Do We Feel About Afghanistan?

Some mixed poll results:

“A bare majority of Americans support President Obama’s plan to send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan, but many are skeptical that the United States can count on Afghanistan as a partner in the fight or that the escalation would reduce the chances of a domestic terrorist attack.” A few other pieces of data from the poll: 1) Forty-nine percent said America is doing the “right thing” by fighting the war in Afghanistan while 39 percent said the country should not be involved in the conflict. 2) Six in ten respondents said the war in Afghanistan is going “somewhat” (43 percent) or “very” (17 percent) badly. 3) Fifty-five percent said Obama’s decision to announce that troops will begin to come home in 2011 was “not a good idea.” 4) Sixty-one percent said America cannot count on the Afghan government to help stabilize the country.

Disclosure of TSA Manual Stirs Leak Anxiety

The inadvertent disclosure of a “sensitive” Transportation Security Administration manual on procedures for screening airline passengers has prompted renewed interest in legal remedies and penalties that may be available to the government to minimize the impact of such unauthorized disclosures.

In a letter (pdf) to the Department of Homeland Security yesterday, several Republican lawmakers asked: What can be done to prevent the continued publication of such material on non-governmental web sites (such as and

“How has the Department of Homeland Security and the Transportation Security Administration addressed the repeated reposting of this security manual to other websites and what legal action, if any, can be taken to compel its removal?” wrote Reps. Peter T. King (R-NY), Charles W. Dent (R-PA) and Gus M. Bilirakis (R-FL).

“Is the Department considering issuing new regulations pursuant to its authority in section 114 of title 49, United States Code, and are criminal penalties necessary or desirable to ensure such information is not reposted in the future?”

The short answer seems to be that existing legal authorities cannot easily be used to compel the removal of such records from public websites, and that any attempt to do so would likely be counterproductive, and would itself do damage to press freedom and other societal values.

Meanwhile, conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh yesterday lashed out at the Federation of American Scientists in his own commentary on the TSA Manual disclosure.

“What an unmitigated disaster this is,” he said. “Every day it’s something, every day is an unmitigated disaster. ‘The original version of the manual [is] still available online preserved by websites that monitor government secrecy and computer security’ [a quote from the Washington Post], which tells you all you need to know about the motives of these sites, such as the so-called watchdogs at the Federation of American Scientists.”

This is not as gratifying as it might have been, since FAS had nothing to do with the disclosure of the TSA Manual. In fact, had we been the ones to discover the unredacted Manual, we probably would have refrained from publishing it.

SC House panel votes against Sanford impeachment


A South Carolina House judiciary subcommittee on Wednesday voted six to one against a bill to impeach disgraced Gov. Mark Sanford.

The seven-member panel agreed that Sanford abused his power as governor in scheduling a 2008 trip to Argentina and misusing state aircraft, but only Rep. Greg Delleney (R-Chester), who introduced the impeachment resolution, believed the actions rose to the level of impeachable offenses.

“He has lost all moral authority to lead this state,” Delleney said. “He has lost all trust. He has lost all ability to lead this state.”

While the group voted against impeaching Sanford, they voted unanimously to support a resolution censuring the governor. Both bills now head to the full judiciary committee.

Rep. James Smith (D-Richland), who had been an advocate for Sanford’s removal, said he believed an impeachment proceeding would create more harm than good.

“This governor is soon to be a part of our past and I don’t want to spend any more time on him in the months ahead,” Smith said. “An impeachment proceeding would only add to the harm he has done to our state.”

The subcommittee struck all but five of the 37 charges named against Sanford in a November State Ethics Commission report and added the Argentina trip, which they said was “camouflaged” as a business endeavor in order to visit his mistress, Maria Belen Chapur.

House Speaker Bobby Harrell (R-Charleston) said he agreed with the majority opinion.

“The threshold for removal from office is a very high standard, and from the evidence made available to them, it does not appear that the Governor’s actions have met that threshold for removal from office,” Harrell said. “While his actions were clearly revealed to be irresponsible, misguided and hypocritical, the Subcommittee found that they did not reach the Constitutional definition of serious crimes or serious misconduct necessary to remove the Governor from office.”

Delleney said he will still continue to push for impeachment, though. “It will be difficult, but I’m not giving up,” he said, noting he would press the full committee to pass the resolution.

All 25 judiciary committee members will meet on Dec. 16 at 10 a.m. to take up the impeachment bill.

Barbara Walters crowns Michelle Obama the most fascinating person of 2009

Did you think Barbara Walters would go with Adam Lambert?

Ha! No, the legendary newswoman selected first lady Michelle Obama as the most fascinating person of 2009.

Walters offered her selections for the 10 most fascinating people in an ABC special tonight, and they ranged from "American Idol" runner-up Lambert to Lady Gaga to Glenn Beck.

In receiving the honor, the first lady also out-fascinated Sarah Palin, Tyler Perry, Kate Gosselin, Jenny Sanford, Brett Favre and Michael Jackson's three children.

So, actually, there were a dozen most fascinating people. And at least Babs didn't go with Mrs. Gosselin.

Mrs. Obama talked about how the demands of politics had bothered her. "I had always had this dilemma," she said. "It wasn't that I didn't believe in my husband as a phenomenal leader. I mean, that was always the pull -- because I always thought, 'Well, if I wanted somebody as my state senator, or as my U.S. senator, or as my president, I would want Barack Obama.' And the only reason he wouldn't do it is if I said no."

Walters asked if Barack Obama would have dropped out of politics if his wife had objected. "He would have," the first lady said.

Welcome To The New AOL

Last night, Tim Armstrong and team celebrated independence from Time Warner (NYSE: TWX) on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange with P. Diddy and this morning they’ll make it official by ringing the bell in the same location. AOL (NYSE: AOL) is back as a ticker symbol and from here out, the excuses are gone for both companies. Gone, too, is the look of the old AOL—at least, some of it. While Armstrong and some others ended a long day with a group dinner, AOL Media President Bill Wilson went back to the office to work with his team on the transformation of into a brighter, fresher space complete with the new branding campaign Armstrong previewed for us last month. (Slide show.)

The symbols, like the goldfish we’ve been featuring, are cues for themes (the favors for last night’s party were t-shirts with one of the new icons but no goldfish). Pick the vivid blue butterfly from the scroll bar across the top of the new front page and the nav bar text color and other elements change to match. Pick the goldfish, and the text changes to a different blue (the gold would be too hard to read) but the “purple paint” theme turns the nav text and other elements purple. I’m still not sure about the branding campaign itself but the isolated images and animation snippets we saw last month make more sense as themes and personalization choices and the look signifies a clear change.

That may be the most obvious change at first but the new look also comes with new content. Wilson tells me they’ve added original AOL video on for the first time, with updates every few hours, and more original stories starting early this morning. More changes are coming over the next 10 days. Other sites in the AOL network are also getting “updated experiences,” according to Wilson, “including greater AOL attribution presence and consistency.”

Excerpts from President Obama's Peace Prize speech

Excerpts from President Barack Obama's Nobel Peace Prize address Thursday in Oslo, Norway:


"We are at war, and I'm responsible for the deployment of thousands of young Americans to battle in a distant land. Some will kill, and some will be killed. And so I come here with an acute sense of the costs of armed conflict — filled with difficult questions about the relationship between war and peace, and our effort to replace one with the other."


"We must begin by acknowledging the hard truth: We will not eradicate violent conflict in our lifetimes. There will be times when nations — acting individually or in concert — will find the use of force not only necessary but morally justified."


"Make no mistake: Evil does exist in the world. A non-violent movement could not have halted Hitler's armies. Negotiations cannot convince al-Qaida's leaders to lay down their arms. To say that force may sometimes be necessary is not a call to cynicism — it is a recognition of history; the imperfections of man and the limits of reason."


"Even as we confront a vicious adversary that abides by no rules, I believe the United States of America must remain a standard bearer in the conduct of war. That is what makes us different from those whom we fight. That is a source of our strength. That is why I prohibited torture. That is why I ordered the prison at Guantanamo Bay closed. And that is why I have reaffirmed America's commitment to abide by the Geneva Conventions. We lose ourselves when we compromise the very ideals that we fight to defend."


"If we want a lasting peace, then the words of the international community must mean something. Those regimes that break the rules must be held accountable. Sanctions must exact a real price. ... I'm working with (Russian) President (Dmitry) Medvedev to reduce America and Russia's nuclear stockpiles. But it is also incumbent upon all of us to insist that nations like Iran and North Korea do not game the system."

"Peace is unstable where citizens are denied the right to speak freely or worship as they please; choose their own leaders or assemble without fear. ... A just peace includes not only civil and political rights _ it must encompass economic security and opportunity. For true peace is not just freedom from fear, but freedom from want."