Facing increasing public outcry, the Obama administration pledged Monday to try to block the bailed-out insurance giant AIG from paying out as much as $450 million in bonuses to top executives and other workers. AIG is attempting to hand out the bonuses despite the company’s central role in the meltdown of the global economy. AIG has already received $173 billion in government bailouts. During the last quarter of 2008, AIG lost a record $62 billion — that amounts to over $460,000 per minute. On Sunday, Lawrence Summers, one of the President’s top economic advisers, said the government cannot just abrogate contracts, but yesterday President Barack Obama asked Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner to pursue every legal avenue to block the bonuses.
President Obama: “This is a corporation that finds itself in financial distress due to recklessness and greed. Under these circumstances, it’s hard to understand how derivative traders at AIG warranted any bonuses, much less $165 million in extra pay. I mean, how do they justify this outrage to the taxpayers who are keeping the company afloat?”
AIG has so far refused to publicly reveal who is set to receive the money. On Monday, New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo issued a subpoena to uncover this information and to determine if the bonuses are legal. Cuomo said if a company enters into contracts in which it agrees to pay funds it effectively doesn’t have, it’s akin to a looting of a company. While Cuomo is issuing subpoenas, Republican Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa has suggested the top executives at AIG should consider taking their own lives. Grassley said, “The first thing that would make me feel a little bit better towards them, if they’d follow the Japanese model and come before the American people and take that deep bow and say, 'I’m sorry,' and then either do one of two things: resign or go commit suicide.”
A new Treasury report has found the nation’s largest banks are continuing to reduce the flow of credit to new homeowners and consumers despite receiving hundreds of billions of dollars in taxpayer bailouts. In December, the nation’s twenty-one largest banks lent out $162 billion for first mortgages. Less than half that amount was lent out in January. New home equity credit lines decreased from $15 billion to just $5 billion.
Hospital officials in Israel say the American activist Tristan Anderson is now semi-conscious after days under full anesthesia. Anderson was critically injured Friday when Israeli soldiers fired a tear gas canister directly at his head during a weekly nonviolent protest against the separation wall in the West Bank village of N’alin. Anderson underwent brain surgery in an Israeli hospital near Tel Aviv on Saturday. Parts of his right frontal lobe were removed. Anderson is now able to lift fingers on one hand in response to a voice command.
Friends and supporters of Tristan Anderson held a series of protests on Monday. In San Francisco, hundreds of people marched to the the Israeli consulate. Police arrested five activists at the scene. Three protesters were arrested at a demonstration outside the Israeli consulate in Miami, Florida.
A group of sixteen of the world’s leading war crimes investigators and judges have sent a letter to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon calling for the United Nations to launch a full inquiry into war crimes committed during Israel’s attack on Gaza. The letter’s signatories include Archbishop Desmond Tutu and former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson. According to the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, 1,434 Palestinians were killed in the Israeli assault, including 960 civilians. Thirteen Israelis died in the war, including three civilians killed by Hamas rockets.
In Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu has formed a pact with far-right politician Avigdor Lieberman in an attempt to a forge a right-wing government in which Lieberman would become Israel’s foreign minister. Lieberman has called for laws to require Palestinians living in Israel to swear loyalty to the Jewish state or lose their citizenship. Lieberman has been condemned by many moderate Israeli and Jewish leaders. Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, recently described Lieberman’s run for president as an “outrageous, abominable, hate-filled campaign, brimming with incitement that, if left unchecked, could lead Israel to the gates of hell.”
Ahmed Tibi, one of the few Palestinians in the Israeli Knesset: “This is the compatible of Le Pen and Joerg Haider. When those were elected, the Austrian government was isolated and boycotted mainly by Israel. It is time to call for boycotting the government and mainly boycotting Lieberman himself.”
The Seattle Post-Intelligencer is printing its final edition today and becoming an online-only news site known as SeattlePI.com. The 146-year-old newspaper will become the largest daily newspaper to shift to an entirely digital news product. The paper’s owner, the Hearst Corporation, made the official announcement Monday. The vast majority of the paper’s 167 employees are losing their jobs in the transition. The closing of the Post-Intelligencer comes just days after Gannett announced the closing of the Tucson Citizen. Last month, Scripps closed the Rocky Mountain News. Many media analysts say the San Francisco Chronicle may be the next paper to cease publication. On Monday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi urged the Justice Department to consider giving Bay Area papers more leeway to merge or consolidate business operations to stay afloat.
Health officials in Washington, D.C. say three percent of the city’s population now has HIV or AIDS. Shannon Hader, director of the District’s HIV/AIDS Administration, said, “Our rates are higher than West Africa. They’re on par with Uganda and some parts of Kenya.” Hader said the HIV rates in Washington are twice as high as New York City and five times as high as Detroit.
In Iran, former president Mohammad Khatami has withdrawn his candidacy from the country’s June presidential election. Khatami said he didn’t want to split the reformist vote. Khatami made the announcement days after another pro-reform candidate, former Iranian Prime Minister Mir-Hossein Mousavi, announced his candidacy. The BBC reports Khatami’s withdrawal leaves Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in a stronger position to win re-election.
The US military has revealed US jets shot down an Iranian unmanned surveillance aircraft last month. The incident took place in Iraq about sixty miles northeast of Baghdad.
Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir said Monday he wants all foreign aid groups to leave Sudan within a year. Al-Bashir accused the aid groups of providing false testimony against him and his government. The move comes less than two weeks after the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for al-Bashir on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Sudan’s Darfur region. John Holmes, the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, said the aid groups need to stay in Sudan.
John Holmes: “If all the agencies were required to leave and not be able to operate, that would, we believe, have enormous ramifications for the welfare of people in Darfur and elsewhere in Sudan. The government of South Sudan, for example, have made clear that they welcome international NGOs continuing to work in the south and indeed in the border areas. So it would have a very significant impact if it was carried out in quite the way in which that statement appears to suggest. As I say, we’ve only seen media reports of that, and we’ve had no clarification about what it’s supposed to mean.”
The US government is now holding a record number of immigrants in jail. A new report by the Associated Press found that 32,000 immigrants were being held as of January, nearly five times the number held in 1994. According to the AP, 58 percent of the immigration detainees do not have an attorney.
President Obama has vowed to change fundamentally how the nation handles food safety issues, saying the current system is a “hazard to public health.” On Saturday, Obama announced the creation of a Food Safety Working Group to advise him on which laws and regulations need to be changed.
President Obama: “This Working Group will bring together cabinet secretaries and senior officials to advise me on how we can upgrade our food safety laws for the twenty-first century; foster coordination throughout our government; and ensure that we are not just designing laws that will keep the American people safe, but enforcing them.”
President Obama has also nominated Margaret Hamburg, a former New York City health commissioner, to be commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration.
Meanwhile, First Lady Michelle Obama has been touting the benefits of locally grown food and community gardens. In a speech last month, the First Lady described herself as “a big believer” in community gardens. In a separate interview, she said, “When you grow something yourself and it’s close and it’s local, oftentimes it tastes really good.” In an attempt to support local farmers, the White House has begun buying fresh fruits and vegetables from farms in Maryland, Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
Sara Jane Olson is set to be released today from a California prison. She was a member of the Symbionese Liberation Army in the 1970s. She was arrested in 1999 after living for twenty-five years underground. She pleaded guilty to taking part in two attempts to bomb the Los Angeles Police Department in 1975, but later proclaimed her innocence.
And the civil rights activist Richard Aoki has died at the age of seventy-one. He was an early member of the Black Panther Party and later served as a field marshal for the Panthers. He was the only Asian American to hold a leadership role in the group. Aoki was born in 1938 in California and spent part of his childhood living in an internment camp during World War II.