Daily Archives: December 22, 2008

Taxpayer billions went to bailed-out bank execs in cushy payouts

Records show bonuses, chauffeurs, health club benefits, financial planning

MSNBC | Dec 21, 2008

Banks that are getting taxpayer bailouts awarded their top executives nearly $1.6 billion in salaries, bonuses, and other benefits last year, an Associated Press analysis reveals.

The rewards came even at banks where poor results last year foretold the economic crisis that sent them to Washington for a government rescue. Some trimmed their executive compensation due to lagging bank performance, but still forked over multimillion-dollar executive pay packages.

Benefits included cash bonuses, stock options, personal use of company jets and chauffeurs, home security, country club memberships and professional money management, the AP review of federal securities documents found.

The total amount given to nearly 600 executives would cover bailout costs for many of the 116 banks that have so far accepted tax dollars to boost their bottom lines.

Rep. Barney Frank, chairman of the House Financial Services committee and a long-standing critic of executive largesse, said the bonuses tallied by the AP review amount to a bribe “to get them to do the jobs for which they are well paid in the first place.

“Most of us sign on to do jobs and we do them best we can,” said Frank, a Massachusetts Democrat. “We’re told that some of the most highly paid people in executive positions are different. They need extra money to be motivated!”

The AP compiled total compensation based on annual reports that the banks file with the Securities and Exchange Commission. The 116 banks have so far received $188 billion in taxpayer help. Among the findings:

* The average paid to each of the banks’ top executives was $2.6 million in salary, bonuses and benefits.

* Lloyd Blankfein, president and chief executive officer of Goldman Sachs, took home nearly $54 million in compensation last year. The company’s top five executives received a total of $242 million.

This year, Goldman will forgo cash and stock bonuses for its seven top-paid executives. They will work for their base salaries of $600,000, the company said. Facing increasing concern by its own shareholders on executive payments, the company described its pay plan last spring as essential to retain and motivate executives “whose efforts and judgments are vital to our continued success, by setting their compensation at appropriate and competitive levels.” Goldman spokesman Ed Canaday declined to comment beyond that written report.

The New York-based company on Dec. 16 reported its first quarterly loss since it went public in 1999. It received $10 billion in taxpayer money on Oct. 28.

* Even where banks cut back on pay, some executives were left with seven- or eight-figure compensation that most people can only dream about. Richard D. Fairbank, the chairman of Capital One Financial Corp., took a $1 million hit in compensation after his company had a disappointing year, but still got $17 million in stock options. The McLean, Va.-based company received $3.56 billion in bailout money on Nov. 14.

* John A. Thain, chief executive officer of Merrill Lynch, topped all corporate bank bosses with $83 million in earnings last year. Thain, a former chief operating officer for Goldman Sachs, took the reins of the company in December 2007, avoiding the blame for a year in which Merrill lost $7.8 billion. Since he began work late in the year, he earned $57,692 in salary, a $15 million signing bonus and an additional $68 million in stock options. Like Goldman, Merrill got $10 billion from taxpayers on Oct. 28.

The AP review comes amid sharp questions about the banks’ commitment to the goals of the Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP), a law designed to buy bad mortgages and other troubled assets. Last month, the Bush administration changed the program’s goals, instructing the Treasury Department to pump tax dollars directly into banks in a bid to prevent wholesale economic collapse.

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Iraqi journalist was reportedly beaten into asking Bush for a pardon

Brother: Torture drove shoe-hurler to apologize

MSNBC | Dec 22, 2008

alzeidi_apBAGHDAD – The apology letter from the Iraqi journalist who threw his shoes at President George W. Bush was written against his will after he was tortured in detention, his brother said Monday.

Muntadhar al-Zeidi was wrestled to the ground moments after throwing his shoes during a Dec. 14 news conference of Bush and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. The investigating judge in the case acknowledged last week that al-Zeidi was beaten around the face and eyes.

But the journalist’s brother Uday told The Associated Press that he visited Muntadhar in jail on Sunday and saw more-severe injuries, including a missing tooth and burns on his ears made by cigarettes.

Uday al-Zeidi said his brother intends to file suit related to the injuries, but did not have details on when it would be filed or who specifically it would name.

The prime minister’s office said last week that al-Zeidi had written a letter of apology and asked al-Maliki to recommend a pardon.

Uday al-Zeidi said his brother told him the letter was written against his will because of torture during detention that included being doused with cold water while naked.

“He told me that he has no regret because of what he did and that he would do it again,” Uday said by telephone.

“The thing that makes you cry and laugh at the same time is that when the prime minister said that that my brother was not tortured and will not be tortured, he was under severe torture by security authorities,” Uday said.

Iraqi authorities could not immediately be reached Monday for comment on Uday al-Zeidi’s allegations.

‘A person provoked him to commit this act’

The prime minister, meanwhile, claimed that al-Zeidi said in the apology letter that a known terrorist had induced him to throw the shoes.

“He revealed … that a person provoked him to commit this act and that person is known to us for slitting throats,” al-Maliki said, according to the prime minister’s Web site. The alleged instigator was not named.

The premier also said that his government remains “committed to protecting the journalist in performing his professional duty” and guarantees him the right to practice his profession “on condition that he does not violate the dignity of others.”

Neither Bush nor al-Maliki have sought charges, but investigating judge Dhia al-Kinani said last week he does not have the legal option to drop the case.

Al-Zeidi is expected to face charges of insulting a foreign leader, for which a conviction could bring two years’ imprisonment. The trial is to begin Dec. 31, Uday al-Zeidi said. Court officials could not be reached for confirmation.

The Iraqi journalist’s shoe-throwing was repeatedly broadcast worldwide and he has become a potent symbol for opponents of the U.S.-led invasion and occupation of Iraq. Thousands of Iraqis have rallied to demand his release.

Saudis, Blackwater among Clinton foundation donors

USA-OBAMA/CLINTON

AP | Dec 18, 2008

By BETH FOUHY and SHARON THEIMER

WASHINGTON (AP) — Former President Bill Clinton laid out a list of big-ticket donors to his foundation Thursday that is heavy with foreign governments and business interests sure to have a stake in the policies that Hillary Rodham Clinton carries out as secretary of state.

Saudi Arabia and other foreign governments gave at least $46 million, while corporate donors included the Blackwater security firm that protects U.S. diplomats in Iraq.

The contributions went to the William J. Clinton Foundation, a nonprofit created by the former president to finance his library in Little Rock, Ark., and charitable efforts to reduce poverty and treat AIDS. President-elect Barack Obama made Hillary Clinton’s nomination as secretary of state contingent on her husband revealing the foundation’s contributors, to avoid questions about potential conflicts of interest.

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia gave $10 million to $25 million to the foundation, and other government donors included Norway, Kuwait, Qatar, Brunei, Oman, Italy and Jamaica. The Dutch national lottery gave $5 million to $10 million.

The Blackwater Training Center donated $10,001 to $25,000. The State Department will have to decide next year whether to renew Blackwater Worldwide’s contract to protect U.S. diplomats in Iraq. Five Blackwater guards have been indicted by a U.S. grand jury on manslaughter and weapons charges stemming from a September 2007 firefight in Baghdad’s Nisoor Square in which 17 Iraqis died.

The foundation disclosed the names of its 205,000 donors on a Web site Thursday, ending a decade of resistance to identifying the sources of its money. While the list is loaded with international business leaders and billionaires, some 12,000 donors gave $10 or less.

Clinton agreed to release the information after concerns emerged that his extensive international fundraising and business deals could conflict with America’s interests if his wife became the nation’s top diplomat. The foundation has insisted for years that it was under no legal obligation to identify its contributors, contending that many expected confidentiality when they donated.

The list also underscores ties between the Clintons and India, a connection that could complicate diplomatic perceptions of whether Hillary Clinton can be a neutral broker between India and neighboring Pakistan in a region where Obama will face an early test of his foreign policy leadership.

The former president did not release specific totals for each donor, providing only ranges of giving. Nor did he identify individual contributors’ occupations or countries of residence.

Donors gave Clinton’s foundation at least $492 million from its inception in 1997 through last year, according to the most recent figures available.

After negotiations with Obama’s transition team, Clinton promised to reveal the contributors, submit future foundation activities and paid speeches to an ethics review, step away from the day-to-day operation of his annual charitable conference and inform the State Department about new sources of income and speeches.

Representatives of the foundation, including CEO Bruce Lindsay and attorney Cheryl Mills, and aides to Hillary Clinton met privately Wednesday with staff of incoming Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry of Massachusetts and ranking Republican Dick Lugar of Indiana to discuss the foundation’s activities and review a memorandum of understanding drawn up by the Clinton and Obama teams.

The Foreign Relations Committee will hold hearings and vote on Hillary Clinton’s nomination before sending it to the full Senate. Shortly after Obama tapped Clinton, Lugar said he would support her, though he said there would still be “legitimate questions” raised about the former president’s extensive international involvement.

“I don’t know how, given all of our ethics standards now, anyone quite measures up to this — who has such cosmic ties,” Lugar said.

Some of the donors have extensive ties to Indian interests that could prove troubling to Pakistan. Tensions between the two nuclear nations are high since last month’s deadly terrorist attacks in Mumbai.

Amar Singh, a donor in the $1 million to $5 million category, is an Indian politician who played host to Bill Clinton on a visit to India in 2005 and met Hillary Clinton in New York in September to discuss an India-U.S. civil nuclear agreement.

Also in that giving category was Suzlon Energy Ltd. of Amsterdam, a leading supplier of wind turbines. Its chairman is Tulsi R. Tanti, one of India’s wealthiest executives. Tanti announced plans at Clinton’s Global Initiative meeting earlier this year for a $5 billion project to develop environmentally friendly power generation in India and China.

Two other Indian interests gave between $500,000 and $1 million each:

_The Confederation of Indian Industry, an industrial trade association.

_Dave Katragadda, an Indian capital manager with holdings in media and entertainment, technology, health care and financial services.

Other foreign governments also contributed heavily to the foundation.

_AUSAID, the Australian government’s overseas aid program, and COPRESIDA-Secretariado Tecnico, a Dominican Republic government agency formed to fight AIDS, each gave $10 million to $25 million.

_Norway gave $5 million to $10 million.

_Kuwait, Qatar, Brunei and Oman gave $1 million to $5 million each.

_The government of Jamaica and Italy’s Ministry for Environment and Territory each gave $50,000 to $100,000.

_The biggest donations — more than $25 million each — came from two donors.

They are the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation, a London-based philanthropic organization founded by hedge fund manager Chris Hohn and his wife Jamie Cooper-Hohn and dedicated to helping children, primarily in Africa and India; and UNITAID, an international drug purchasing organization formed by Brazil, France, Chile, Norway and Britain to help provide care for HIV-AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis patients in countries with high disease rates.

The foundation’s donor list includes numerous overseas business interests.

_Saudi businessman Nasser Al-Rashid gave $1 million to $5 million.

_Friends of Saudi Arabia and the Dubai Foundation each gave $1 million to $5 million, as did the Taiwan Economic and Cultural Office.

_The Swedish Postcode Lottery gave $500,000 to $1 million.

_China Overseas Real Estate Development and the U.S. Islamic World Conference each gave $250,000 to $500,000.

_The No. 4 person on the Forbes billionaire list, Lakshmi Mittal, the chief executive of international steel company ArcelorMittal, gave $1 million to $5 million. Mittal is a member of the Foreign Investment Council in Kazakhstan, Goldman Sachs’ board of directors and the World Economic Forum’s International Business Council, according to the biography on his corporate Web site.

Among other $1 million to $5 million donors:

_Harold Snyder, director for Teva Pharmaceutical Industries, the largest drug company in Israel. His son, Jay T. Snyder, serves on the U.S. Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy, which oversees State Department activities, and served as a senior U.S. adviser to the United Nations, where he worked on international trade and poverty. Jay Snyder donated between $100,000 and $250,000 to the foundation.

_No. 97 on the Forbes billionaire list, Ethiopian-Saudi business tycoon Sheikh Mohammed H. Al-Amoudi.

_Issam Fares, a former deputy prime minister of Lebanon.

_Mala Gaonkar Haarman, a partner and managing director at the private investment partnership Lone Pine Capital.

_Lukas Lundin, chairman of oil, gas and mining businesses including Tanganyika Oil Company Ltd., an international oil and gas exploration and production company with interests in Syria, and Vostok Nafta Investment Ltd., an investment company that focuses on Russia and other former Soviet republics.

_Victor Pinchuk, son-in-law of the former president of Ukraine. Clinton spoke in 2007 at an annual meeting of Yalta European Strategy, a group Pinchuk founded to promote Ukraine joining the European Union.

The top ranks of Clinton’s donor list include lots of longtime Democratic givers, including some notable for their staunch support of Israel.

_TV producer Haim Saban and his family foundation, who donated between $5 million and $10 million, splits his time between homes in Israel and California. “I’m a one-issue guy and my issue is Israel,” he told The New York Times in 2004.

_Slim-Fast diet foods tycoon S. Daniel Abraham, a donor of between $1 million and $5 million, has been a board member of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which promotes Israel’s interests before the U.S. government.

_The American Jewish Committee and the United Nations Foundation donated $100,000 to $250,000.

Clinton thanked his donors in a statement for being “steadfast partners in our work to impact the lives of so many around the world in measurable and meaningful ways.”

According to the memorandum negotiated by the foundation and top Obama advisers, Bill Clinton agreed to publish the names of all past and future contributors to his foundation during Hillary Clinton’s tenure as secretary of state.

The former president also agreed to step away from direct involvement in the Clinton Global Initiative, an annual charitable conference where businesses and many foreign governments pledge donations to help ameliorate AIDS, poverty and other social ills. He will continue serving as CGI’s founding chairman but will not solicit money or sponsorships. The CGI will cease accepting foreign contributions and will not host events outside the United States.

Clinton started raising money for his library before leaving the White House. Over the years, the Clintons repeatedly refused to identify all the foundation donors, and continued to do so during Hillary Clinton’s 2007-08 presidential campaign.

Names surfaced nonetheless. Several news organizations unearthed foreign-government donors, and in 2001, Bill Clinton gave a list of 150 top foundation donors to a House committee investigating his pardon of fugitive businessman Marc Rich, whose ex-wife, Denise Rich, gave the library foundation at least $450,000.

On the Net:

Clinton Foundation contributors: http://www.clintonfoundation.org/contributors

Cheney ‘not sure’ if Osama is alive

Cheney_foaming

Cheney rejected accusations that the treatment of terror suspects amounted to torture

Agence France-Presse | Dec 22, 2008

US Vice President Dick Cheney defended controversial interrogation methods in the US “war on terror”, while acknowledging he was not sure if al-Qa’ida chief Osama bin Laden was still alive.

In an interview one month before his eight-year term in office ends, Cheney rejected accusations that the treatment of terror suspects amounted to torture and violated US law, saying the administration’s policies helped prevent another terrorist strike on the country.

“Given the kind of conflict we’re faced with today, we find ourselves in a situation where I believe you need strong executive leadership. What we did in this administration is to exert that kind of authority,” Cheney told Fox News.

Cheney said the administration of President George W Bush had acted appropriately in its “war on terror” after the September 11, 2001 attacks and had followed legal precedent, citing previous presidents, including Abraham Lincoln during the US civil war and Franklin Roosevelt during World War II.

“There’s ample precedent for it,” he said, saying Bush had not gone as far as Lincoln and Roosevelt in using his wartime authority.

At a time of war, he said the president’s responsibilities include collecting intelligence, “and therefore I think you’re fully justified in setting up a terror surveillance program to be able to intercept the communications of people who are communicating with terrorists outside the United States”.

“I think you can have a robust interrogation program with respect to high value detainees,” Cheney said.

“Now, those are all steps we took that I believe the president was fully authorised in taking, and provided invaluable intelligence, which has been the key to our ability to defeat al-Qa’ida over these last seven years.”

The administration has been sharply criticised at home and abroad over its treatment of terror suspects, including the use of harsh interrogation techniques widely condemned as torture, detaining suspects without charge at the Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba and running an unwarranted domestic surveillance programs.

Cheney also said he was unsure if bin Laden was still living.

“I don’t know and I’m guessing he is,” Cheney said when asked if the world’s most wanted man was alive.

“We’ve had certain pieces of evidence become available from time to time, there’ll be a photograph released or something that allows the intelligence community to judge that he is still alive.”

Cheney said the administration had dealt major setbacks to bin Laden’s al-Qa’ida network and still hoped to capture him.

“He’s been holed up in a way where he’s not even been communicating. There are questions about whether he’s even running the operation. But we have had major success against the organisation,” Cheney said.

“Capturing Osama bin Laden is something clearly we’d love to do. There are 30 days left.”

Bin Laden has claimed responsibility for the September 11 attacks against New York and Washington that killed nearly 3,000 people and prompted the US-led invasion of Afghanistan. US officials believe bin Laden is holed up near the rugged Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

Despite a massive manhunt and a $US25 million ($A36.62 million) bounty on his head, he has evaded capture and has regularly taunted the United States and its allies through warnings issued over the Internet.

Cheney also defended his view of sweeping presidential authority and the legal role of his own office, dismissing comments from his successor, vice president-elect Joseph Biden, who has said Cheney had overstepped his constitutional role.

“If he wants to diminish the office of the vice president, that’s obviously his call,” Cheney said.

“President-elect Obama will decide what he wants in a vice president and apparently, from the way they’re talking about it, he does not expect him to have as consequential a role as I have had during my time.”

Cheney also acknowledged that he had opposed Bush’s decision to fire former defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld in 2006.

“I did disagree with the decision,” Cheney said. “The president doesn’t always take my advice.”

Asked about the administration’s dismal approval ratings, Cheney said history would vindicate him and Bush.

Iraqi Communist Party opens new office in Sadr City

IRAQ-REVOLUTION-ANNIVERSARY-QASSEM

Iraqi children wave communist flags during an outdoor gathering, organised by the Iraqi Communist Party, honouring the 50th anniversary of the 1958 Iraqi revolution, in Baghdad on July 14, 2008. Getty Images by AFP/Getty Images

People’s Weekly World | Dec 19, 2008

A new office for the Iraqi Communist Party was opened in Al-Thawra City (Sadr City) in Baghdad on 5th December 2008. The ceremony, held in open air in Jamila district, was attended by a big gathering of party members and supporters, as well as a delegation from the party Central Committee. The president and members of the municipal council of Sadr City, and other guests were present.

Abdul Hussein al-Rubaei, representing the party district committee, stressed in his speech the political significance of opening the new party office in this toiling [working class] area. Comrade Izzet Abu-el-Timmen, member of the party Political Bureau, conveyed the greetings of the Central Committee, and reiterated the party’s support for the population of the City and their demands to aleviate the injustive they had suffered under the former dictatorial regime. He also called upon them to participate actively in the forthcoming provincial elections and to give their support to the electoral list “Madaniyoun” (No. 460) that represents the democratic forces.

The secular and democratic left in Iraq has wide and deep roots, and is vastly under-reported in U.S. commercial media and in the left. The provincial elections, currently set for Jan. 31, will show something about how the political trends are shaping up in Iraq. That’s why there’s been an upsurge of violence with various reactionary elements (right-wing Islamists, former Baathists, etc.) trying to intimidate or eliminate their opponents.

Censorship of Internet Resumes in China

Top Tech News | Dec 18, 2008

By Keith Bradsher

Spokesman Liu Jianchao said the government had a right to censor Web sites that violated the country’s laws. He added that “some Web sites,” which he did not identify, had violated the law against secession by suggesting there were two Chinas — a reference to the government’s position that China and Taiwan form a single nation.

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The Chinese government has quietly resumed blocking access to Internet sites that were unrestricted during the Olympics in August, Internet experts said Tuesday.

Liu Jianchao, a spokesman for the Foreign Ministry, said Tuesday at a news conference in Beijing that the government had a right to censor Web sites that violated the country’s laws.

He added that “some Web sites,” which he did not identify, had violated the law against secession by suggesting that there were two Chinas — a reference to the Beijing government’s longstanding position that China and Taiwan form a single nation.

“I hope that the Web sites in question will be able to self-regulate, and not do things that will violate Chinese law, and for the sake of both sides, develop conditions for Web site cooperation,” Liu said, according to a transcript posted on the Foreign Ministry Web site.

Rebecca MacKinnon, a specialist at Hong Kong University who studies Internet restrictions, said the Chinese authorities had recently resumed blocking access to her blog from mainland computers.

“It does appear that in the last week a lot of things got re-blocked that were unblocked during the Olympics,” she said, adding: “I have not written about the two Chinas issue arguably in the past year. It is not what I focus on.”

Asiaweek, a publication in Hong Kong, reported this week that its Chinese-language version, as well as those of the BBC, Voice of America and Ming Pao, a Hong Kong newspaper, had been blocked since early December.

At his news conference in Beijing, Liu also made a point of saying that the Chinese government “needs to do the required management of Web sites based on the law, just as what other countries are doing.”

Britain and Australia have both moved in recent days to limit the distribution of child pornography over the Internet. Germany requires search engines not to show links to Web sites linked to Nazi activity.

But MacKinnon noted that in China, the government defined crime very broadly, imposed censorship with little if any explanation, and provided no process for operators of blocked Web sites to appeal censorship decisions.

Caylee-case tipster tried to alert police in August

Missing Florida Girl

Official acknowledges a possible ‘window of opportunity.’

Orlando Sentinel | Dec 19, 2008

Reporting from Orlando, Fla. — Could the search for Caylee Anthony have ended months ago?

A utility worker tried three times in August to alert law enforcement to a strange gray bag on the side of the road near the missing toddler’s home, a sheriff’s official said Thursday.

Three times, deputy sheriffs checked the tips with no results. When curiosity led the same utility worker back to the spot last week, he found the remains of a small child.

Now, the Orange County Sheriff’s Office is trying to figure out what happened four months ago and how its deputies handled the calls. The tipster, who has not been publicly identified, is not considered a suspect and has been cooperating with deputies, officials said.

“We are attempting to be as thorough, as clear and as concise as possible with the information that we received. There was a window of opportunity, possibly . . . ” Capt. Angelo Nieves said. “We had a deputy respond to this location.”

The meter reader “provided several phone calls to our Crimeline as well as our communications center,” the captain added during a news conference. “We are currently following up on that sequence to determine the thoroughness of the response here to the scene.”

Authorities have yet to identify the remains — found scattered over an acre of thick woods — but many suspect they belong to Caylee, the 2-year-old who was reported missing in mid-July.

Caylee’s mother, 22-year-old Casey Anthony, was indicted in October on first-degree murder and other charges. She claims not to have seen the child since handing her over to a baby sitter in mid-June.

A sheriff’s official offered this outline of the three tips by the utility worker in August:

On Aug. 11, the meter reader called the sheriff’s office to report a bag on the “right side” of the road near the intersection of Suburban and Hopespring drives. The meter reader was not there when a deputy arrived. The officer found nothing.

On Aug. 12, the worker called Crimeline, which collects tips on unsolved crimes. That information was documented and sent to a detective, who made a note that the area had been searched by a cadaver dog and the tip was closed out.

On Aug. 13, after the worker called again, two deputies responded — each arriving separately — and met with the meter reader. At least one deputy checked the woods and found nothing.

“We will conduct an administrative follow-up to try to determine what occurred with the deputy when he responded out to the scene, why he handled himself how he did,” Nieves said.

Also Thursday, the sheriff’s office released 173 photos of the crime scene. The pictures include several aerial shots of the dense woods at dusk, and one photo that appears to show packaging or a book among the foliage.

One of the last known videos of Caylee shows her reading a book.

The sheriff’s office would not discuss the photos or their significance.