Obama signs the stimulus bill, talks about ‘foreign dictators,’ not the ones here at home

You don’t expect President Barack Obama to reveal the sharp split inside the White House between those who want to rescue Wall Street’s bankers and those who want to smack ’em upside the head.

Americans just want a rescue from the onrushing Great Depression II, so the public’s not clamoring in any organized way about specific methods on how to do it. That’ll have to wait until the situation gets worse, which it will, and the bile bubbles over.

The arguing is apparently already heated inside the White House. Maybe the atmosphere in the Oval Office was too tense, and that’s really why Obama fled to Denver to sign the bill, where he delivered his speech that mentioned “foreign dictators” while ignoring the bigger problem of the banking industry oligarchs on our own soil.

That sharp division in the Obama Administration exists, as papers have previously reported and as I noted earlier this morning in an item about Bill Moyers and economist Simon Johnson‘s provocative conversation last week about oligarchs.

But two of Obama’s croniest cronies, David Axelrod and Rahm Emanuel, apparently couldn’t persuade their Chicago pal to take their advice and get tough with the banks. Instead, New Yorker Tim Geithner won the battle, at least for now.

For once, you wish that a president would listen to his cronies, not the “experts,” no matter how “un-democratic” that typical pol behavior is.
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Obama’s scolded for picking Larry Summers; Abe Foxman’s scolded for picking at Bill Moyers

Bill Moyers talks with two Times reporters last September about Wall Street’s meltdown.

Almost lost amid the usual knee-jerk preaching to the choir that is the 21st century Nation are a couple of excellent stories — one of them scolds Barack Obama for relying on such dubious characters as economist/erstwhile Harvard prexy Larry Summers, and the other roasts Abe Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League.

In “Never Say You’re Sorry,” Christopher Hayes points out the clay feats of Obama economic-world appointees Summers and Gary Gensler.

In “The Defamation League,” Eric Alterman takes Foxman to task for the latter’s astonishing blast at Bill Moyers, who had the audacity to suggest that Palestinians are people, too. (See Foxman’s rip and Moyers’s response.)

Really juicy in Alterman’s piece is this passage:

What’s more, the defamation of Moyers escalated further. Following Foxman’s fusillade, New York Times neocon William Kristol inserted in a regular column–yet another devoted as usual to the majesty of George W. Bush‘s leadership–an attack on Moyers for allegedly “lambast[ing] Israel for what he called its ‘state terrorism,’ its ‘waging war on an entire population’ in Gaza.” Like Foxman, Kristol also implied that Moyers was guilty of racism.

Again, read the text of Moyers’s remarks. Neither Kristol nor Foxman notes his stated belief that “every nation has the right to defend its people. Israel is no exception, all the more so because Hamas would like to see every Jew in Israel dead,” or his deep concern about the growth of “a radical stream of Islam [that] now seeks to eliminate Israel from the face of the earth.”

Yet despite the fact that Bill Moyers is, well, Bill Moyers, the Times editors not only allowed Kristol to deliberately distort and decontextualize his remarks; they would not allow Moyers to defend himself in his own words in response. After the PBS journalist submitted a letter to the editor, he was told, “We will not print that ‘William Kristol distorts or misrepresents,’ and the editors will not budge.” They insisted that the letter be changed for publication to read, “I take strong exception to William Kristol’s characterization,” and they truncated much else.

Hmmm…Kristol has exited the Times‘s op-ed page. He probably wanted to pursue other opportunities.

Hayes’s lively piece on Obama’s appointees even throws in a couple of apt sports metaphors. More importantly, Hayes dredges up some valuable history regarding both Gensler and Summers.

In doing so, he doesn’t spare the Clinton Administration from its disastrous destruction of the Glass-Steagall Act, a strict banking law from the last Depression that, had it remained in place, would probably have prevented Wall Street from creating the current Depression.

I’ve harangued about Glass-Steagall’s repeal many times, but Betsy L. Angert said it more gracefully in an item last year:

Softly swayed by seemingly selfless actions, those charmed by the Clinton charisma do not recall that the Clintons helped to create the financial debacle the electorate now experiences. An audience content with celebrity, dazzled by a drama, and grateful for fiscal favors sees no reason to reflect upon what might have been had the Clintons not repealed the Glass-Steagall and Bank Holding Company Acts.

Also see Frontline‘s “The Long Demise of Glass-Steagall.”


Obama blasts Wall Street bonuses as ‘height of irresponsibility’ and ‘shameful’

Slapping Wall Street upside the head, Barack Obama lambasted the billions of dollars in bonuses the Street’s bankers handed out to themselves while they simultaneously ask taxpayers for handouts.

Just another example of how much Obama sounds like the anti-Bush.

Mincing no words and obviously referring to this morning’s unusually edgy Times story, “What Red Ink? Wall Street Paid Hefty Bonuses,” Obama called the bonuses (which he rounded off to $20 billion from $18.4 billion) “shameful” and said that “now is not the time.”

He added that he will bring that message directly to Wall Street.

I believe he just did.



Obama: A president of the Hebrew persuasion

That is, a president who’s finally trying to persuade Hebrews.

With just a few big steps, Barack Obama has erased George W. Bush‘s plodding steps in the Middle East sands.

After eight years of an administration that slavishly followed a pro-Israel bias, thanks mostly to the presence of dual-disloyalists like Doug Feith, Obama has jumped in with both feet — and right in the middle.

Whether Obama will leave a lasting impression won’t be known for a while, of course, but the hawkish U.S. Jewish establishment has taken notice.

For a change, it seems, a U.S. president didn’t consult the powerful Jewish establishment lobby before trying to change tack.

Not that Hillary Clinton and Dennis Ross are anti-Israel — far from it. (Ross, in fact, is somewhat of a hardline pro-Israel Jew.) Obama isn’t intent on pissing off the right-wing Jewish establishment’s leaders, but it has to shake them that the new president threw the Arab world an olive branch with his al-Arabiya interview and with his choice as envoy of George Mitchell, who’s not known for any particular pro-Israel bias.

These are not moves that were first vetted by the hawkish U.S. Jewish establishment.

You have to go beyond the mainstream U.S. press to try to gauge what’s happening in the Middle East. A good source is the New York-based Jewish Telegraphic Agency, which is sort of the Associated Press for Jews.

In “Mitchell’s questions may matter more than his past answers,” the JTA’s Ron Kampeas notes that Mitchell issued a 2001 report on the Arab-Israeli death dance.

Mitchell is one of many who have already tried and failed to broker a peace. But it wasn’t for lack of effort. Haaretz recalls:

Mitchell’s 2001 report on the Israelis and Palestinians called for Israel to freeze construction of new settlements and to stop shooting at unarmed demonstrators, and Palestinians to prevent attacks and punish those who perpetrated them.

OK, zero for two. But now he has the support of a president who — it seems — intends to do something. So the JTA’s Kampeas writes:

Hawks and doves in the pro-Israel community have read into the Mitchell selection the wishes and fears that have characterized their approaches in the U.S. Jewish community.

The Zionist Organization of America and Abraham Foxman, the Anti-Defamation League’s national director, have fretted about Mitchell’s “evenhandedness” in the 2001 report, which faulted the Palestinian Authority for hardly attempting to rein in terrorists and Israel for not freezing settlements.

In his report, the ZOA said, Mitchell “promotes the false anti-Israel belief that Jews living in communities in Judea and Samaria [West Bank] is the biggest obstacle to peace — not Arab terrorism or Arab incitement.” In an interview, ZOA President Mort Klein said that blaming both sides equally for lack of progress was not “evenhanded,” but inaccurate and unfair.

On the other side, dovish groups emphasized Mitchell’s credentials in brokering Northern Ireland peace. The statement from the Reform movement’s Religious Action Center, like those of J Street, Americans for Peace Now and the Israel Policy Forum, cited his work in that endeavor.

The truth so far is that no one knows for sure where the U.S. administration stands. To actually have an administration that is leaving both sides guessing is a big step. And it’s smart strategy to keep both sides from either counting on or counting against U.S. support. That’s called diplomacy.


From baseball to hardball: George Mitchell lands in Mideast to probe the deadliest beanball war — Jews vs. Arabs

The Wall Street Journal, reporting from Davos, asks (gulp), “Is Capitalism, as We Know It, Dead?”

Pumped up from his experience as chief investigator of steroids abuse in baseball, George Mitchell is now in for some really heavy lifting: the testosterone-laden, rage-filled Arab-Jew death dance in the Middle East.

No coincidence that Mitchell’s arrival in the region as President Barack Obama’s peacemaker was accompanied by a flareup of violence.

In the former Maine senator’s baseball probe, few of the players would even talk to him, so he relied heavily on former Mets batboy Kirk Radomski.

This time, however, he’ll be dealing with some people who throw serious heat — rocks, rockets, white phosphorus — and everybody will be talking all at once. Whether they’ll listen to him is another thing.

But he has experience in cutting in on partners locked in death dances: Mitchell won praise a decade ago for helping to hammer out an accord in Northern Ireland.

If he has any success at all in the Middle East, Mitchell will get more than just a feather in his cap. He would indeed replace James G. Blaine in the history books as the plumed knight from Maine.

Meanwhile, in other business…


Village Voice: ‘What Cooked the World’s Economy? It wasn’t your overdue mortgage.’ (James Lieber)

Time: ‘Is California the State Closest to Economic Ruin?’


Wall Street Journal: ‘Unemployment Rises in Every State: Joblessness Is Worst Where Housing, Manufacturing Are in Trouble, but Spreading Fast’


Bloomberg: ‘Pfizer’s Wyeth Purchase Puts New Jersey Town’s Jobs, Taxes, Deli in Peril’

Pfizer Inc.’s agreement to buy Wyeth has Main Street in Madison, New Jersey, toting up potential damage.

Time: ‘The GOP Grapples with Obama’s Charm Offensive’

N.Y. Daily News: ‘Taxpayers’ running tab on Yankee Stadium parkland’

Taxpayers will get socked for nearly $194 million to replace parkland gobbled up by the new Yankee Stadium – almost 70% more than first estimates.


N.Y. Times: ‘Iranian Leader Demands U.S. Apology’

A day after President Obama struck a conciliatory tone toward Iran, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad urged Washington on Wednesday to apologize for its actions toward his country for the past 60 years and said it was unclear whether the new American administration was merely shifting tactics or wanted real change.

But, in a speech in the western city of Kermanshah, he did not explicitly rebuff the American president’s gesture.

Time: ‘How Al-Arabiya Got the Obama Interview’


N.Y. Daily News: ‘Top execs still living like kings’ (Juan Gonzalez)

How much longer will Congress use billions in public money to bail out the nation’s biggest banks, then let the top executives remain in charge?

New Yorker: ‘Ms. Kennedy Regrets: Why Caroline Kennedy dropped out’

N.Y. Times: ‘Rove Subpoenaed on U.S. Attorneys’


Harper’s: ‘Weekly Review’

…Former vice president Dick Cheney attended the inauguration in a wheelchair, Senator Edward Kennedy had a seizure, Aretha Franklin‘s voice cracked, and Itzhak Perlman, Yo-Yo Ma, Gabriela Montero, and Anthony McGill performed with the aid of a backing track….

N.Y. Daily News: ‘Blabbering Blagojevich turns to puppy talk’

Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich cranked up his Manhattan media blitz Tuesday as FBI tapes detailing alleged pay-to-play deals were featured at his impeachment trial back home.

Bloomberg: ‘Bankruptcy Lawyers Seek $18.50 a Minute as Creditors’ Recoveries Shrink’

Lawyers at Kirkland & Ellis LLP, home to former Whitewater prosecutor Ken Starr, are asking as much as $1,110 an hour for bankruptcy work while creditors are recovering less of their loans through company restructurings.


N.Y. Daily News: ‘Blowfish testicles poison diners’

Wall Street Journal: ‘Novartis Posts 70% Rise in Net’

…The company said it expects record results in 2009, but also warned that the market and economic environment is becoming increasingly challenging.

Novartis, based in Basel, also reported a small pipeline setback, saying it will file meningitis vaccine Menveo for approval for use in infants in 2011, which is later than planned. This comes after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration asked to test the vaccine on an additional 1,500 infants.

Bloomberg: ‘Obama Broadband Plan Is Too Small, Has Too Many Conditions, Companies Say’

Wall Street Journal: ‘Flare-Up Tests Mideast Truce as Mitchell Arrives’

Wall Street Journal: ‘Medics Say They Were Blocked from Hard-Hit Gaza Village’

Bloomberg: ‘Pakistani Crackdown on Mumbai Attack Suspects Leaves Imams Preaching Jihad’

Wall Street Journal: ‘Illinois Senators Hear Blagojevich’s Taped Conversations’

N.Y. Daily News: ‘Times Square hotel tops list of dirtiest hotels in America’

The Hotel Carter was named the dirtiest hotel in America Tuesday by, marking the third time in four years that the W. 43rd St. dump has topped the list.

Wall Street Journal: ‘Barclays Chiefs Join Growing List of Davos No-Shows’

Two top executives from Barclays PLC of the U.K. became the latest prominent bankers to decide against going to global capitalism’s big annual conference, as the financial crisis takes its toll on the major finance houses.

Bloomberg: ‘Schwarzman Pledges “Wonderful Time” for Buyouts as Wealth Drops $7 Billion’

N.Y. Daily News: ‘Defendant hurls human feces at jury’

Bloomberg: ‘Olympic Bailout Puts Vancouver Taxpayers on Alert for a Montreal “Big Owe”‘

The athletes’ village rising in Vancouver for the 2010 Winter Olympics is casting a shadow over the city’s finances.

Wall Street Journal: ‘Davos: Is Capitalism, as We Know It, Dead?’

Bloomberg: ‘TARP Bank Shares Index Losses Are Four Times the S&P 500’s’

Since the U.S. Treasury began investing in banks through its Capital Purchase Program, a gauge of participating companies’ share prices has lost four times as much as the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index.

Bloomberg: ‘Mack Tells Wife He May “Lose” Morgan Stanley Before Staking All on Brokers’

It was early September, and the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index was down 15 percent for the year. The credit squeeze was grinding on. Deals were few. Morgan Stanley’s John Mack, a chief executive officer who loves a prank, sent three of his deputies small, gray electronic blood pressure machines with Velcro wristbands….

Wall Street Journal: ‘Bill Clinton Speech Fees Topped $4.7 Million in ’08’

Wall Street Journal: ‘High Priest of Sex and Suburbia’

‘Gay vs. Madoff’

Tommy De Seno‘s Jersey Shore Blog offers a math lesson:

Brothers Lawrence and Kenneth Gay are facing a plea bargained sentence of 11 years in prison for stealing $13,000 from a poker game in Brick, New Jersey.

That’s one year in jail for each $1,181.00 stolen.

By that math, Bernie Madoff, who stole $50 billion, should be sentenced to 43 million years in prison.

Wall Street Journal: ‘Perjury Charges Being Considered: SEC Officials Believe Madoff Lied to Them During Past Examinations’

Securities Docket: ‘Testimony of SEC’s Linda Thomsen Before Senate Banking Committee (Madoff Matter)’

Bloomberg: ‘Madoff Enablers Winked at Suspected Front-Running’

Wall Street Journal: ‘In Echoes Of Madoff, Ponzi Cases Proliferate’


Rejecting Allah-like powers, Obama vows end to ‘dictating’ in Mideast

Al Jazeera‘s morning report, proving once again that it’s ridiculous censorship for U.S. cable outlets to not carry the Arab world’s most powerful news outlet.

Dick Cheney‘s dream of an imperial vice presidency lording over all the world’s oil fields is now officially dead.

President Barack Obama snuffed it out during his first formal interview on Arabic TV. He did it with Al-Arabiya, not Al Jazeera, but it’s a stunning change from the bellicose Bush regime, as this excerpt from the AP proves:

“What I told [envoy George Mitchell] is start by listening, because all too often the United States starts by dictating,” Obama told the interviewer.

The president reiterated the U.S. commitment to Israel as an ally and to its right to defend itself. But he suggested that both Israel and the Palestinians have hard choices to make.

“I do believe that the moment is ripe for both sides to realize that the path that they are on is one that is not going to result in prosperity and security for their people,” he said, calling for a Palestinian state that is contiguous with internal freedom of movement and can trade with neighboring countries.

Obama also said that recent statements and messages issued by the al-Qaida terror network suggest they do not know how to deal with his new approach.

“They seem nervous,” he told the interviewer. “What that tells me is that their ideas are bankrupt.”

You mean not all Muslims are bomb-throwers? And you can blast the ones who are while still pressuring the ones who aren’t? And you can even put pressure on Jews to start making nice? What an unusual thing for a U.S. president to say.

Slow on the uptake this morning was the New York Times, this country’s version of Al Jazeera. Several hours after the rest of the world noted the Obama interview on Al-Arabiya, the Times makes it truly official with “Obama Interview Signals New Tone in Relations With Islam.”

Now, if Obama’s people could start working quietly behind the scenes to get U.S. media goniffs to start carrying Al Jazeera on their cable systems.

Then, he could actually do an interview on Al Jazeera, and most Americans could watch it.

While you’re waiting for the cable guys, start clicking…


N.Y. Times: ‘Layoffs Spread to More Sectors of the Economy’

N.Y. Daily News: ‘”Stalker” grilled in slaying of Eddy Curry’s ex’

A spurned boyfriend was being grilled in the brutal murders of Eddy Curry’s ex-girlfriend and her infant daughter.

N.Y. Daily News: ‘Firefighter blames memory-loss on “mind-altering” drugs’

A firefighter who survived the deadly Black Sunday blaze admitted taking a “mind-altering” drug before he got on the witness stand Monday and can’t clearly remember what happened.

N.Y. Times: ‘”Crack Babies”: The Epidemic That Wasn’t’

Research suggests that the long-term effects on children exposed to cocaine before birth may be relatively small.

Wall Street Journal: ‘Obama’s EPA Move Likely to Spur Fight’

Obama opened the door to state-level regulation of greenhouse gases, setting up a long battle with industry.

Jewish Daily Forward: ‘J Street’s Disappearing Gaza Statement’

ABC: Obama Chooses Arab Network for First TV Interview

The president expressed an intention to engage the Middle East immediately and his new envoy to the region, former Sen. George J. Mitchell, was expected to arrived in Egypt on Tuesday for a visit that will also take him to Israel, the West Bank, Jordan, Turkey and Saudi Arabia.

“My job to the Muslim world is to communicate that the Americans are not your enemy,” Obama told the Saudi-owned, Dubai-based Al-Arabiya news channel.

Wall Street Journal: ‘College Endowments Plunge’

N.Y. Times: ‘In Midtown, the Return of a Barfly’s Paradise’


N.Y. Times: ‘At $235 Million, Bloomberg Was Biggest Giver in U.S.’

Wall Street Journal: ‘Caterpillar to Cut 20,000 Jobs’

N.Y. Daily News: ‘Blago: I considered Oprah for Senate’

Call it the Oprah defense. Embattled Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who is accused of peddling Barack Obama’s Senate seat to the highest bidder, said this morning he considered selecting TV talkshow queen Oprah Winfrey for the post.

N.Y. Daily News: ‘Commodities trader arrested after trying to start a fire inside 7 World Trade Center’

A boozed-up commodities broker with a penchant for fiery pranks tried to set the freight elevator on fire in a lower Manhattan skyscraper after trapping himself in it early Saturday, authorities said.

A still-loopy Ryan Brinkerhoff was laughing and grinning as he was led away in handcuffs hours after his 4:40 a.m. arrest outside 7 World Trade Center.

Wall Street Journal: ‘Democrats Subpoena Rove, Testing Their Clout and Obama’

N.Y. Daily News: ‘”It’s horrible … I want out,” Rikers guard held in beating cries from her jail cell’


N.Y. Times: ‘Queens Man Dies in House Amid Disarray and Flames’

An elderly man died in a house fire in Queens on Monday night as firefighters battled flames and what they called cluttered, Collyers’ Mansion conditions.

CityFile: ‘Your Tax Dollars at Work: Citi’s $50 Million Jet’


N.Y. Daily News: ‘Grifter claims NYPD officer paid him $5,000 to kill ex-wife’

Wall Street Journal: ‘Afghan Guards Confound U.S. Forces’

Armed private security companies are proliferating in Afghanistan, presenting a challenge for American forces.

Jewish Daily Forward: ‘”Schmooz Me Timbers!”: John Derbyshire’s Jewish Pirate Lexicon’


CityFile: ‘Lower East Side: Now Featuring One Hotel Per Block’


‘Bernie Cheated at Golf, Conference Goers Say’

From Clusterstock’s Henry Blodget:

Handicaps have always been a bit of a racket, and Bernie Madoff appears to have capitalized on that.


N.Y. Daily News: ‘LI has its very own “Madoff,” feds charge’

N.Y. Daily News: ‘Celebrity side dish’

Nora Ephron had the full house at the 92nd Street Y collapsed in giggles Wednesday night at the Huffington Post bloggers’ panel hosted by Arianna Huffington, fresh from Washington. “I was thrilled that Bernard Madoff got bumped off the headlines with the appearance of Blagojevich [pronounced Bla-GOY-o-vich], because now we had someone with ‘goy’ in his name instead.”

Financial Times (U.K.): ‘Lawyers plan global action on Madoff’

Wall Street Journal: ‘Madoff Questions Dog Santander’s Botín’

The chairman of Banco Santander faced down critical shareholders and promised to unveil “magnificent” annual results next week.

Wall Street Journal: ‘Madoff’s Firm Lays Off Dozens’

Several dozen employees of Bernard Madoff’s firm were laid off, including numerous traders from the firm’s legitimate trading arm.

Jewish Daily Forward: ‘Discussing Madoff’

When I mentioned to someone that I’d be attending the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research’s January 15 panel discussion, “Madoff: A Jewish Reckoning,” the snap retort was: “That momser! They should hang him like in the Wild West.”



Barack Obama’s roadblocked info highway

Traffic is still backed up on Civics 101. What was touted in the web’s early days as the “information highway” has become too cluttered with political billboards.

This is not a vast right-wing conspiracy. The blizzard of b.s. is from Barack Obama‘s embryonic regime.

It’s not really a shock. Liberals work just as hard — usually harder — at social-engineering projects, as part of their well-meaning if often misguided attempts to improve people’s lives.

There’s reason to assume that, in many respects, the new administration will be more open than the Bush-Cheney regime, which, after all, did hatch all sorts of secretive plots and strategies of lies and agitprop, particularly about the Iraq invasion.

But in one basic area, the road from D.C. to the rest of the country, there are so many Obama ads that you can’t see the countryside whizzing past, and the view was actually less cluttered by presidential propaganda during the Bush Daze.

I noted this last week, and I’ll keep harping on it until the new administration takes down some of its self-promoting signage about “transparent government” and actually delivers transparency.

OK, it’s still early days for the Obama regime. But when the Bush regime took over for the Clintonians, there were changes to the site, but its core job of providing basic information remained intact.

Yes, you had to cut through the propaganda, but the transcripts, official White House photos of various events, videos of speeches to even nut groups were all there. And, yes, George W. Bush‘s malaprops were rarely expunged.

Eight years ago, of course, there was no YouTube. Now, government operatives are really into trying to bend the technology and are much more sophisticated about trying to give you what they want you to think you need. That must be why the Obama White House is — so far — less forthcoming with info about the prez’s activities than the Bush White House was.

And it’s apparently why the new administration is getting all creepy-crawly friendly on us by titling Obama’s regular weekly speech “Your Weekly Address.”

No, pal, it’s yours. Do you have to put a marketing spin on everything?

The country gave it up for you, Obama. Now give it up to us.

Meanwhile, here’s some other clutter to click on…



Bloomberg: ‘”Fear” Signals U.S. Jobless Rolls to Swell in Recession’

What’s shaping up to be the longest and deepest U.S. recession in at least a quarter century may swell the number of Americans collecting jobless benefits by half this year.

Forbes: ‘The Incendiary IDF: The Israel Defense Forces use phosphorous shells — and forfeit credibility’ (Kenneth Roth, Human Rights Watch)

Forbes: ‘Bank Bonuses Should Make You Mad’

Taxpayer money is what’s lining the pockets of Wall Street executives. How can this happen and what can we do?

Wall Street Journal: ‘Lending Drops at Big U.S. Banks’

Lending at many of the nation’s largest banks fell in recent months, even after they received $148 billion in taxpayer capital that was intended to help the economy by making loans more readily available.

N.Y. Daily News: ‘Teen sex rap for principal of Bensonhurst private school’

…the latest blow to Brooklyn’s Orthodox Jewish community. Since October, at least four Orthodox Jewish men in the borough have been charged with sexually abusing children.

Wall Street Journal: ‘Obama Moves to Change Emissions Rules’

N.Y. Times: ‘Obama’s Order Is Likely to Tighten Auto Standards’

N.Y. Times: ‘From Here to Retirement’

The wipeout in 401(k)’s has made it clear that there needs to be a better way to ensure that a lifetime of savings can’t be undone by forces beyond one’s control.

N.Y. Daily News: ‘Cop shoots man with 17 bags of cocaine — but no gun’

Bloomberg: ‘Geithner’s Treasury Bonds Abetted by Paulson Failure to Restore Confidence’

Former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson‘s inability to restore confidence in the financial system is creating unprecedented demand for U.S. debt as his successor prepares to sell the most bonds in history.

N.Y. Times: ‘Counting the Walking Wounded’

The military estimates of the mental damage from war are too low because the method
used to determine the count is flawed.


N.Y. Daily News: ‘Radomski covers all ‘Bases’ in new book’

Bloomberg: ‘Baboon’s Blood Offers Davos Chiefs Macbeth Magic to Cool Bewitched Market’

That old black magic has even the World Economic Forum in its spell.

N.Y. Times: ‘From Hospital, Afghans Rebut U.S. Account’

N.Y. Daily News: ‘Brazilian amputee beauty queen dies’

N.Y. Times: ‘Melding Obama’s Web to a YouTube Presidency’

N.Y. Times: ‘Republicans Are Resistant to Obama’s Stimulus Plan’


N.Y. Times: ‘Tenants Encouraged to Socialize, but Not Criticize’

Forbes: ‘Land Of The Free Speakers: Intellectual exiles come from democracies, too.’

…Consider Rachel Ehrenfeld, author of Funding Evil: How Terrorism is Financed and How to Stop It. Israeli-born and resident in New York, Ehrenfeld has made a career of following money trails to their murkiest sources and been threatened and sued multiple times for her efforts.

Most recently she became a victim of so-called libel tourism. In Funding Evil, she wrote that a wealthy Saudi Arabian, Khalid bin Mahfouz, had financed terrorist activities. Under U.S. law her well-documented accusation doesn’t qualify as libel, so bin Mahfouz sued her in Great Britain.

The book had never been published in Britain or sold in book stores there, but a few copies had been obtained via online sellers. A British judge imposed a fine on Ehrenfeld and said her book should be destroyed.

N.Y. Times: ‘Infomercials Find Their Way to Television’s Prime Time’

A sign of the ailing economy, infomercials are now filling television slots that traditional advertisers like banks and automakers once owned.

Forbes: ‘This Bear Buys Stocks’

Jeremy Grantham, the bear who called the tech bubble and stayed out of stocks while the credit bubble inflated, finally sees opportunities in U.S. stocks.

‘When your husband is in jail, or heading to jail…’

Tips from Divorce Saloon:

Ruth Madoff and Michelle Schrenker are two lovely women whose husbands have done not so lovely things. As a result, both men are facing federal prison. Bernie Madoff, husband of Ruth Madoff, is facing prison for pulling off the biggest Ponzi heist in Wall Street history. Marcus Schrenker is facing prison for leaving his private plane unmanned and calling in a fake distress signal after defrauding his clients of millions.

Most women’s husbands who are facing jail or already in jail, probably haven’t done anything quite as exciting as these two particular husbands. But the concerns are the same. What now? Where does she go from there?

Well, all I can say is that in New York, if your husband is going to be incarcerated for more than 3 consecutive years, you can get a divorce on that basis and he does not have to agree to the divorce.

Palm Beach Post: ‘Trust fund teens take credit for decorating Madoff mansion, in toilet paper’

…Some teenage boys called The Palm Beach Post newsroom Sunday evening to take credit for the prank – one they said was sanctioned by their parents.

They said they were acting in retaliation after they lost their trust funds to the accused swindler. ‘Is Madoff a psychopath?’

Israel Opportunity Investor: ‘Whatever Happened to Madoff’s List of Assets?’

Wall Street Journal: ‘Sons’ Roles in Spotlight: Madoff Siblings’ Contacts With Investment Arm Scrutinized’



Where’s the news? Obama’s is transparent — but not in a good way.

Check out this smarmy explanation by the Obama White House’s tech crew of its new website.

Barack Obama‘s version of the official presidential website,, is deeply troubling and downright scary.

So far, it’s nothing more than puffery. Even under the Bush-Cheney regime, the site included not only the expected puffery but also easy-to-access news and transcripts and schedules and photos — a record of the presidency, even with George W. Bush‘s malaprops.

I’ve e-mailed the site, but have received no response. Seeking explanations elsewhere, I see that the Atlantic‘s Megan McArdle noted earlier this week:

You’ll be pleased to know that the new site is very smart looking. Unfortunately, that sleekness has been achieved by tucking even more of that unsightly information out of the way, where it won’t mar the vista.

Just where it’s tucked away is unclear. The fact that it’s tucked away is more than annoying; it’s a creepy display of propagandizing.

It’s refreshing to have a brother in the White House. But Americans didn’t elect a Big Brother.

Maybe there’s another site that has that basic, necessary presidential info on Obama’s White House. There had better be, or all his talk about “transparency” will truly be transparent.

Memo to Obama: Spare me the site’s touted “blog” and give us the damn news and info.

Moving on from the government of record to the paper of record: The New York Times is ignoring not only other papers, as usual, but is showing a bald display of excessive ass-kissing of its new sugar daddy, Mexican robber baron Carlos Slim.

Freely admitting that I’m even whinier than usual, I’ll point out that it’s typical of the New York Times to pretend that other media outlets don’t exist: Today’s piece “Correction Officers Accused of Letting Inmates Run Rikers Island Jail” is heart-rending in its saga of brutality, but my colleague Graham Rayman broke the scandal long ago in his slew of “Rikers Island Fight Club” stories.

On the other hand, the Times isn’t even promoting its own past stories. The paper’s radically altered coverage of its impending bailout by Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim shows that the paper knows where its bread is buttered.

Back in August 2007, Eduardo Porter wrote in the Times, under the headline “Mexico’s Plutocracy Thrives on Robber-Baron Concessions”:

Like many a robber baron — or Russian oligarch, or Enron executive — Mr. Slim calls to mind the words of Honoré de Balzac: “Behind every great fortune there is a crime.” Mr. Slim’s sin, if not technically criminal, is like that of Rockefeller, the sin of the monopolist.

The very next month, September 2007, the robber baron started purchasing shares in the Times. [CORRECTION: Actually, Slim didn’t start purchasing Times shares until September 2008. Thanks to reader Karl Werner-Bailey (see his comment below) for catching my error. My apologies. My careless error tarnishes, not demolishes, my point, but I have to face the facts that I’m having a bad day.]

Two months later, in December 2007, the paper’s ball sack had already ascended out of view — suddenly Carlos Slim was no longer a “robber baron.” In “A New Breed of Billionaire,” Landon Thomas Jr. wrote:

The global wealth boom has created a new breed of billionaire in once-destitute countries, and a number of them are using their wealth to push for social changes….

Carlos Slim Helú, the telecommunications entrepreneur in Mexico who is worth more than $50 billion, has pledged billions of dollars to his two foundations that will aid health and education.

In May 2008, the Times revealed in an out-and-out puff piece that Slim isn’t another reclusive robber baron but is rather a “shy” guy. From the paper’s “When Shakira Calls, Even the Shy Appear”:

The Mexican telecommunications billionaire Carlos Slim Helú does not seem to like appearing in public, but he apparently could not resist an invitation from the Colombian pop star Shakira and about a dozen other Latin music stars.

Fast-forward to January 2009, and Carlos Slim is no longer so shy, but he’s even more philanthropic: He’s about to bail out the financially ailing Times itself, as Andrew Sorkin‘s “Billionaire Seeks Deal in Times Co.” noted:

Carlos Slim Helú, the Mexican billionaire, is near a deal to invest about $250 million in The New York Times Company, helping to shore up the publishing company’s struggling finances…

Under the terms of the deal, Mr. Slim, who already owns 6.4 percent of the Times Company, would invest $250 million in the form of 10-year notes with warrants that are convertible into common shares, these people said.

As part of Mr. Slim’s investment, which resembles a loan, he is expected to get a special annual dividend, perhaps as high as 10 percent or more on this investment, these people said.

The January 16 Times story, which didn’t mention its own earlier portrayal of Slim as a “robber baron” (though other media outlets regularly still mention that critics call him that) admitted that the paper intended to keep the deal hush-hush:

It is unclear what motivated Mr. Slim’s investment, first reported by the Wall Street Journal over the weekend. He approached the Times Company in November, people briefed on the discussions said, offering to make a sizable investment. He never sought a governance role and did not express interest in influencing the company’s operations, these people said. The talks were intended to be private.

Yeah, the billionaire “seeks deal in Times Co.” It’s the Times that was desperate for a deal.

You’re unlikely to see the paper refer to him as a “robber baron” or “monopolist” these days.

While I place a call to the admirable Mr. Slim to get my own bailout, click on these items…


Wall Street Journal: ‘Obama to Lift Family-Planning “Gag Rule”‘

Obama will restore U.S. funding for family-planning groups, but chose not to act on the anniversary of Roe vs. Wade.


A delivery van jumped the curb on a bustling Chinatown street yesterday and plowed through a group of preschoolers as they strolled single file holding a walking rope while returning from a library – killing two of the youngsters and critically injuring another. The freak accident occurred at around 11:30 a.m., when the driver of the gray van…

N.Y. Daily News: ‘New York runs out of money to pay jobless claims’

Wall Street Journal: ‘Cable Rates, Phone Costs Negotiable’

…Under intense pressure from Wall Street to keep subscribers as the economy sags and competition intensifies, many carriers are bent on retaining customers even if it means offering big price breaks.


The dean of discipline at Cardinal Hayes HS has been arrested for allegedly fondling a 19-year-old student in his office, where he purportedly said, “I love you . . . I can take you someplace…

Law enforcement sources said the 25-year Hayes employee took the young man out of a class Jan. 13, and brought him to his office, where he allegedly unzipped the student’s pants and began fondling him.

N.Y. Times: ‘Worm Infects Millions of Computers Worldwide’

N.Y. Daily News: ‘Miss World finalist has hands, feet amputated’

Wall Street Journal: ‘Some Firms Boost Boss’s Pension’

Some major companies are boosting the value of top executives’ retirement plans by using a generous formula when converting a pension into a single payment. The practice can increase a pension’s value by 10 percent to 40 percent.

Wall Street Journal: ‘New York Attorney General Scrutinizes Merrill Lynch Bonuses’ (Heidi N. Moore)

New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo is investigating Merrill Lynch’s eleventh-hour bonus payments….Merrill Lynch executives, led by John Thain, accelerated bonuses to employees before Bank of America could interfere with the payouts…

Cuomo has taken issue with Thain’s actions before. Late last year, he criticized Thain’s request for a $10 million bonus as “shocking” and wrote a letter of protest to Merrill Lynch’s directors….

N.Y. Daily News: ‘Guards plead not guilty in “nightmare” Rikers beatings’

N.Y. Post: ‘Chute-For-Brains Jumper Ducks Jail’


N.Y. Daily News: ‘Caroline’s bid a disaster from the start’

N.Y. Daily News: ‘Cry for help unanswered for relative of Gaza victims’ (Juan Gonzalez)

Wall Street Journal: ‘Thain Ousted in
Clash at BofA’

John Thain agreed to step down from a top job at Bank of America after CEO Kenneth Lewis asked the former Merrill chief to resign.


Mayor Bloomberg blasted Gov. Paterson’s $121 billion budget proposal as “unfair” and “outrageous” yesterday, and said its cuts would result in tax hikes and…

Wall Street Journal: ‘Demand For Reverse Mortgages Climbs’

As the credit crisis has worsened, more seniors have turned to federally insured reverse mortgages to tap home equity and, in some cases, to prevent foreclosure.

While still a very small share of the borrowing market, demand for these mortgages climbed in 2008 as credit tightened and retirement savings plunged. The market is expected to grow significantly as loan amounts increase and baby boomers with inadequate savings tap their home equity to fund retirement. Consumer groups, however, warn that fees are high and the cash sometimes is misused.


Here’s one guy you wouldn’t want to face on Iron Chef! A hot-blooded sushi chef got so mad during a road-rage incident on Staten Island Wednesday that he whipped out his…

Wall Street Journal: ‘Fed to Focus
on Rates, Loans’

Federal Reserve officials are likely next week to stick closely to their approach for handling the financial crisis, despite internal divisions about some of their tactics.

Wall Street Journal: ‘Britain Enters Recession’


Wall Street Journal: ‘Firms Lobby as They Get TARP Cash’


Wall Street Journal: ‘U.S. Raids Contractors Aided by Murtha’

Federal agents raided two small Pennsylvania defense contractors that were given millions of dollars in federal funding by Rep. John Murtha, chairman of the defense appropriations committee and one of the most powerful men in Congress.

Wall Street Journal: ‘Times Co. Nears Deal On Building’

New York Times Co. is nearing a deal to sell a portion of its Midtown Manhattan headquarters in the latest of a string of recent efforts to reduce its debt load….

Times Co. has $1.1 billion in debt and $46 million in cash and a substantial amount of debt maturing over the next couple of years. With print advertising declines accelerating across all newspapers, Times Co. has been forced to consider a number of options to free up cash.

The company in November cut its dividend by 75% and is trying to sell its stake in the company that owns the Boston Red Sox and the team’s Fenway Park. Earlier this week Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim agreed to invest $250 million in the company in return for senior unsecured notes with detachable warrants convertible into common stock.


Wall Street Journal: ‘Troubles Mount for Chrysler, Fiat’

Chrysler and Fiat both showed signs of trouble days after announcing an alliance. Fiat said its debt soared and Chrysler disclosed costly sales incentives.


‘Probers Work Backward on Madoff’

From the Wall Street Journal:

The unusual nature of Madoff’s alleged massive fraud is complicating the SEC’s investigation.

FOX News: ‘Report: Larry King the Latest Big Loser in Bernie Madoff Scandal’

Bloomberg: ‘Madoff Shows Banks Must Become Whistleblowers’


Entering a new phrase: Barack Obama’s inaugural address

Eire on the side of the new president: There’s no one as Irish as Bearach O’Bama.

Too short to be an oratorio, Barack Obama‘s inaugural speech (video) proved nevertheless that as an orator he’s got handle.

That guy can speak. Notwithstanding our gratitude to George W. Bush for the past eight years of malaprops, listening to the new president yesterday was like going to the dentist for a deep cleaning followed by a thorough rinse.

Can barely even taste George now, can you?

Yes, the nation will have to endure several root canals, but for now, the public seems numb with delight about having a president who can speak our language and sounds like a grownup.

Considering that Obama will have to deliver more bad news to Americans than any other president in memory, we’re fortunate that he’s such a skilled and inspiring speaker.

It was already gratifying that we’ll have a president who loves to play basketball. (As a former ballboy for the Phillips 66ers, I feel a special tug in the new president’s direction.) But it’s clear that no matter how much Obama likes to dribble, as a speaker he never drools.

One of the better analyses — up to a point — of Obama’s inaugural address was Thomas DeFrank‘s piece in the Daily News:

Whatever triumph and travail lie ahead, Barack Obama has already delivered the most critical 2,401 words of his presidency.

It was part sermon, part tutorial, part call to arms, well-packaged and elegantly delivered.

Yet for all the inspiring, hopeful flourishes of his 18-minute inaugural address, Obama also served up a stark, tough-love message:

Grow up, guys. No more of the same old partisan, gridlocked, dog-eat-dog baloney or we’re all doomed.

He declared war not just on global terrorists but on “the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and wornout dogmas, that for too long have strangled our politics.”

Yes, Obama’s speech was so stirring and well-delivered that it made even the most hardened cynics’ knees buckle.

And DeFrank’s analysis is smoothly written. But let’s not get carried away about what DeFrank says about our having to “grow up.”

We will not grow up — and by “we” I mean politicians and their “same old partisan, gridlocked, dog-eat-dog baloney.” That will always be around, and every incoming president has to give us the same encouragement to pull together and forget the partisanship.

Yes, Obama had to say that, but partisanship is what democracies are made of, and other parts of Obama’s speech were more memorable — like when he said:

“We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus, and non-believers.”

You heard him. He actually included “non-believers” in there. What a refreshing change from the Bush regime, which tried to ram its evangelical nonsense down our throats.

Obama gave the obligatory shout-out to God, and I’m sure She’s happy about that, but he actually directed a conciliatory phrase right at the Muslim world. Astonishing.

The new president, you might notice, pointedly did not portray the planet as the battleground of a comic-book-style “clash of civilizations.” Instead, he actually tried to promote the idea that no matter what, we’re all human.

Leave aside the lingering doubts that Dick Cheney is one of us. You have to hope that those words of Obama’s will get under our skin and stay there.

Now, Obama, get to work on that New Great Depression.

And you out there: Start clicking on these items…unless you have to get back to work…if you still have a job…



Wall Street Journal: ‘President Obama Urges Unity Amid “Raging Storms” of War and Recession’

N.Y. Times: ‘Rejecting Bush Era, Reclaiming Values’

Though couched in indirect terms, the inaugural address was a stark repudiation.


N.Y. Post: ‘Fatal Kitty Toss’

N.Y. Times: ‘Hope Mixes with Doubt as World Reacts’

Crain’s New York Business: ‘Queens housing market hit hard’

Wall Street Journal: ‘Bush: ‘”We Led With Conviction”‘

Crain’s New York Business: ‘Market tumbles 330 points on bank jitters’

On a day when America welcomed a new president, the Dow Jones industrial average fell 4 percent as investors worried that the worst is yet to come for banks.

FOX: ‘Obama Administration Moves to Halt Guantanamo Trials’

Hours after taking office, the president orders military prosecutors in Guantanamo war crimes tribunals to seek a 120-day halt in all pending cases.


Crain’s New York Business: ‘Report: Thousands of BofA layoffs coming this week’

Bank of America Corp. is expected to cut thousands of jobs in its capital markets business starting this week, and many will likely come from New York, a report says.

N.Y. Times: ‘Top Newsday Editors Return to Work After Dispute’

Crain’s New York Business: ‘Is Cablevision meddling in Newsday’s coverage?’

Newsday: ‘Knicks center Eddy Curry slapped with sex suit’

Newsday: ‘Lawsuit filed against Eddy Curry (Warning: Explicit language)’

N.Y. Post: ‘NEWSDAY EDITORS “MISSING”‘ (Keith Kelly)

N.Y. Times: ‘Trials for Parents Who Chose Faith Over Medicine’

Wall Street Journal: ‘Tax Issue Won’t Derail Geithner: Senators Are More Concerned With How Treasury Nominee Will Help Fix Economy’

Timothy Geithner will call for a comprehensive and aggressive approach to tackling the U.S. financial crisis when he appears Wednesday at hearings on his confirmation as Treasury secretary, while also trying to assure lawmakers that he simply erred by failing to pay some payroll taxes earlier this decade.

At the hearing, Mr. Geithner will likely be grilled over his tax missteps and his role in helping to craft the Bush administration’s financial-sector rescue. But senators’ seeming reluctance to derail his confirmation while the economy is sputtering and the lending freeze is worsening makes it likely he will be confirmed for the cabinet post….

Some lawmakers, including many Republicans, are also relieved to finally have someone to deal with other than [Hank] Paulson, whose handling of the financial rescue angered many on Capitol Hill.

“Republican leaders think that Mr. Geithner was one of President Obama’s better cabinet selections. They believe they’ll be able to work with Mr. Geithner and have honest conversations,” said Sam Geduldig, a financial-services lobbyist and former aide to Rep. John Boehner of Ohio, the House Republican leader.

N.Y. Times: ‘In Albany, Higher Taxes for the Rich Expected’

Wall Street Journal: ‘Kennedy Has Seizure at Inaugural’

Wall Street Journal: ‘Senate Confirms Raft of Cabinet Picks’

Wall Street Journal: ‘Chrysler-Fiat Deal Needs U.S. Loans’

‘Prosecutors Focus on Madoff’s Point Man’

From the Wall Street Journal:

As a key lieutenant to money manager Bernard Madoff for more than 30 years, Frank DiPascali Jr. said he headed stock-options trading and was the point man for investment-advisory clients who were told he executed their trades.

Now, he is a potential point man in the investigation of a Ponzi scheme that Mr. Madoff has told prosecutors he carried out over decades, according to a criminal complaint and people familiar with the matter, potentially bilking investors out of $50 billion….

Mr. DiPascali hasn’t been charged with wrongdoing. His lawyer, Marc Mukasey, declined to comment about Mr. DiPascali’s role with Mr. Madoff except to say that he had frequent contact with investors.

Crain’s New York Business: ‘Madoff victims likely to get little money back’

Investors in the alleged Ponzi scheme face a long and complicated legal process in order to recover funds.



Barack Obama has the power to pardon Bush and Cheney — right now. Yes, he can!

Barack Obama has the power to immediately pardon George W. Bush and Dick Cheney of war crimes and of flouting the Constitution.

Yes, Obama can — even though Bush and Cheney haven’t really been charged, let alone convicted.

Oh, it would piss off Bush and Cheney and Karl Rove and the rest of that odious administration. But more than simple revenge and cruelty, it would be the right thing to do, and they would have no recourse.

A presidential pardon would of course imply — in the strongest possible terms — that they committed crimes for which they could be pardoned.

You think I’m kidding? I’m not. You think Obama can’t do it? Yes, he can.

No one has suggested it, as far as I know, but Slate‘s Jacob Leibenluft answered his own question last July, in “Pre-emptive Presidential Pardons: Can you be pardoned for a crime before you’re ever charged?”:

…Yep. In 1866, the Supreme Court ruled in Ex parte Garland that the pardon power “extends to every offence known to the law, and may be exercised at any time after its commission, either before legal proceedings are taken, or during their pendency, or after conviction and judgment.” (In that case, a former Confederate senator successfully petitioned the court to uphold a pardon that prevented him from being disbarred.)

Generally speaking, once an act has been committed, the president can issue a pardon at any time–regardless of whether charges have even been filed….

Obama has already indicated that he’s not much interested in pursuing the Bush-Cheney regime for its numerous bad deeds, and he won’t have the time anyway, with the New Great Depression bearing down on the U.S.

Oh, and we know the acts have been committed, so think about it:

Bush and Cheney would forever wear the scarlet “P” for pardon on their foreheads, and there would be nothing they could do about it.

Oh, would they fight it in court? It’s not appealable, but would they even try? That would open arguments on the merits of their being pardoned. That’s a can of worms that Bush and Cheney would be unlikely to want to open.

So, my one and only suggestion to President Obama: Pardon Bush and pardon Cheney.

Spare us the expense of prosecuting them and their underlings for their malfeasance.

Don’t forgive them their trespasses on the Constitution. Make them official.

Obama could announce the pardons in his inaugural address (which is happening as I write this), but my money says he won’t.

Too bad. That would add to the history he’s already making.

UPDATE, 8:45 p.m.: Obama surely took Americans’ breath away with his inaugural address (video). But he didn’t take my advice to pardon Bush and Cheney.

To those readers who have insisted that Congressional hearings should be held so that the previous administration be held accountable for various tortures and other abuses of people and the law, I’ll just point out that wide-ranging, definitive hearings will most likely never be held.

So, short of our frog-marching Bush and Cheney to the waterboarding tank for some truth-telling sessions, it’s probably either the pardons or nothing.

Obama, you’ve got at least four years to think this over.