Always Making Sure
The Rich Get Theirs
While The Middle Class Gets Nothing
Executive Pay Limits May Prove Toothless
Loophole in Bailout Provision Leaves Enforcement in Doubt
By Amit R. Paley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 15, 2008; Page A01
Congress wanted to guarantee that the $700 billion financial bailout would limit the eye-popping pay of Wall Street executives, so lawmakers included a mechanism for reviewing executive compensation and penalizing firms that break the rules.
But at the last minute, the Bush administration insisted on a one-sentence change to the provision, congressional aides said. The change stipulated that the penalty would apply only to firms that received bailout funds by selling troubled assets to the government in an auction, which was the way the Treasury Department had said it planned to use the money.
Face to face with the Taliban
Exclusive report from a Taliban veteran’s compound in Afghanistan and on the battlefield
Ghaith Abdul Ahad in Afghanistan
guardian.co.uk, Sunday 14 December 2008 19.44 GMT
Qomendan Hemmet sat cross-legged under a window of the mud-walled room. His shoulder, sunk in an old military jacket, rested against the wall and a radio antenna stuck out of his pocket. Next to him sat his deputy, wrapped in a big blanket, silent and sleepy. Around the room sat his men, their faces contorted by years of fighting and poverty, dressed in shalwar kameez and magazine pouches, eyes dark as the kohl lining them. Radios crackled, phones rang non-stop, and more fighters came, drank tea and left with orders.
“Salar is the new Falluja,” declared Qomendan Hemmet emphatically. “The Americans and the Afghan army control the highway, and five metres on each side. The rest is our territory.
States’ Funds for Jobless Are Drying Up
By JENNIFER STEINHAUER
Published: December 14, 2008
With unemployment claims reaching their highest levels in decades, states are running out of money to pay benefits, and some are turning to the federal government for loans or increasing taxes on businesses to make the payments.
Thirty states are at risk of having the funds that pay out unemployment benefits become insolvent over the next few months, according to the National Association of State Workforce Agencies. Funds in two states, Indiana and Michigan, have already dried up, and both states are borrowing from the federal government to make payments to the unemployed.
Unemployment taxes are collected by states from employers, but the rate varies from state to state per employee. In good times states build up trust funds so that when unemployment is high there is enough money to cover the requests for benefits, which are guaranteed by the federal government.
Inaugural party planners walk the taste line
Considering the economy, being festive without being ostentatious means making some sacrifices. ‘There won’t be shrimp, I’ll be blunt,’ says a Michigan planner.
By Richard Simon and Jill Zuckman
December 15, 2008
Reporting from Washington — As Washington gears up for a big night of inaugural balls, a delicate dance is taking place.
Planners want to stage a splashy celebration worthy of the historic moment but are doing it in tough economic times, perhaps even as President-elect Barack Obama calls for sacrifice in his inaugural address.
“Anything too flashy or expensive and the new presidency starts off on the wrong foot,” said Steve Ellis of Taxpayers for Common Sense, a Washington watchdog. “It would be difficult to call for sacrifice on the one hand and toast with Dom Perignon in the other.”
Linda Douglass, spokeswoman for the inaugural committee, said planners were preparing for the most accessible, inclusive inauguration in recent history, noting that the National Mall would be open to anyone regardless of whether they had a ticket.
Thai opposition leader becomes PM
Old Etonian and Oxford-educated economist Abhisit Vejjajiva wins tense vote in parliament, sparking protests in capital
Jenny Percival and agencies
guardian.co.uk, Monday 15 December 2008 07.55 GMT
An old Etonian and Oxford-educated economist was today confirmed as Thailand’s third prime minister in as many months after a tense vote in parliament.
Abhisit Vejjajiva, who heads the opposition Democrat party, gathered 235 votes against 198 by the former national police chief Pracha Promnok, a loyalist of the exiled former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.
Today’s vote followed six months of instability caused by anti-government demonstrations that culminated late last month with a week-long takeover of Bangkok’s two airports.
China transport links to help spur Taiwan economy
Dec 15 Reuters
By Lee Chyen Yee
Taiwan’s launch of direct cargo links with China on Monday will help it better compete with rival transport hubs Hong Kong and Singapore, while logistic firms are poised to triple contribution to economic growth, analysts say.
The launch of first-ever direct cargo flights and shipping routes between both sides marked a resumption of services after a six-decade gap dating back to the end of the Chinese civil war in 1949.
Taiwan’s Kaohsiung port was one of the world’s top ports as recently as the late 1990s, but its ranking has slipped steadily to No. 8 in 2007 as Chinese ports caught up due to China’s growing economic clout.
Besieged and stressed Gazans fall victim to black market painkiller
• Thousands of young men now addicted, says doctor
• Crisis blamed on tensions created by Israeli blockade
Toni O’Loughlin in Jerusalem
The Guardian, Monday 15 December 2008
Thousands of young men in Gaza are becoming addicted to a prescription painkiller used to alleviate the stress of living in the besieged Palestinian territory. Students, labourers and even professionals are buying large quantities of tramadol, a synthetic opioid painkiller similar to morphine, although milder, on the black market.
There are no exact figures, but one researcher estimates that up to 30% of males between 14 and 30 use it regularly, and that as many as 15,000 are addicted.
“Every day I see them with symptoms of withdrawal from this drug,” said Dr Mahoud Khozendar, of Shifa hospital in Gaza city. “Dozens come to emergency telling me that they are suffering vomiting, drowsiness and lack of concentration.”
Iraqi who threw shoes covered U.S. bombing of Shiite area
By Adam Ashton and Mohammed al Dulaimy | McClatchy Newspapers
BAGHDAD – George W. Bush made his last visit to Iraq as president on Sunday. But instead of highlighting progress from the “surge,” it became a reminder that many Iraqis see him not as a liberator who freed them from Saddam Hussein but as an occupier who pushed their country into chaos.
As Bush finished remarks that hailed the security progress that led to a U.S.-Iraq agreement that sets a three-year timetable for an American withdrawal, an Iraqi television journalist leapt from his seat, pulled off his shoes and threw them at the president. Striking someone with a shoe is a grave insult in Islam.
Turkish academics in apology to Armenians
Intellectuals break taboo to acknowledge genocide by Ottoman Turks
By Nicholas Birch in Istanbul
Monday, 15 December 2008
Around 200 Turkish intellectuals and academics are to apologise on the internet today for the ethnic cleansing of Armenians during the First World War, in the most public sign yet that Turkey’s most sensitive taboo is slowly melting away.
“My conscience does not accept the denial of the great catastrophe that the Ottoman Armenians were subjected to in 1915,” the text prepared by the group reads. “I reject this injustice and … empathise with the feelings and pain of my Armenian brothers. I apologise to them.”
Pope Benedict XVI under-fire for ‘negative’ statements >
From Times Online
December 15, 2008
Richard Owen in Rome
Pope Benedict XVI has come under fire from a leading Vatican watcher as “The Pope who says No” following a series of “negative” Vatican statements on homosexuality, the disabled and bio-ethics.
On Friday the Vatican made its most authoritative statement on bio-ethics for twenty years, condemning artificial fertilization, human cloning, “designer babies” and embryonic stem-cell research. The document, “Dignitas Personae” (Dignity of the Person) was issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which the Pope headed as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger before his election as pontiff.
The document also condemned the “morning-after pill” and the drug RU-486, which blocks the action of hormones needed to keep a fertilized egg implanted in the uterus. It said such drugs, as well as the IUD (intrauterine device), fell “within the sin of abortion” and were “gravely immoral”.
African Union urges Somali leaders to end division
By Helen Nyambura-Mwaura
The African Union has urged Somalia’s President Abdullahi Yusuf and the prime minister he sacked at the weekend to overcome their differences and work together for peace in the chaotic country.
Yusuf said on Sunday he had fired Hassan Hussein Nur after they disagreed over posts in a new cabinet, sought by donor countries and regional leaders at a time Islamist insurgents are poised on the outskirts of the capital.
The pair also differed on the direction of U.N.-hosted talks that aim to get the Western-backed government to share power with moderate Islamist opposition figures.
African Union Commission Chairman Jean Ping said the prime minister’s dismissal would undermine efforts to bring peace and further weaken the transitional federal government.
Battle in a Poor Land for Riches Beneath the Soil
By LYDIA POLGREEN
Published: December 14, 2008
AIR MOUNTAINS, Niger – Until last year, the only trigger Amoumoun Halil had pulled was the one on his livestock-vaccination gun. This spring, a battered Kalashnikov rifle rested uneasily on his shoulder. When he donned his stiff fatigues, his lopsided gait and smiling eyes stood out among his hard-faced guerrilla brethren.
Mr. Halil, a 40-year-old veterinary engineer, was a reluctant soldier in a rebellion that had broken out over an improbable – and as yet unrealized – bonanza in one of the world’s poorest countries.
Economic Storm Batters Argentina’s Breadbasket
Sharp Price Drop Brings Sudden End To Good Times
By Juan Forero
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, December 15, 2008; Page A14
ALFONZO, Argentina — When Héctor Farroni married a few years back, he took his new bride for a swing through Iowa. The silos and windmills, the spider-like combines, the wide, flat fields all reminded him of this region of eastern Argentina, part of a fertile farm belt that has propelled the country’s economy since the 19th century.
The two regions have seemingly infinite potential and serve as breadbaskets to the world. But the similarities end there. While subsidies and low-interest loans sustain American farming, Argentina’s government raises export taxes and calls the country’s farmers greedy traitors out to topple the state.