Wednesday, December 31, 2008
Tuesday, December 30, 2008
Monday, December 29, 2008
Could the decision of a billionaire investor to sell his stake in Ford Motor Co. at a loss be a signal to the market that the automobile industry will not be able to rebound, even with government help? Kirk Kerkorian's Tracinda Corp. has completed selling its 133.5 million shares of Ford, a spokeswoman said Monday, according to the Reuters international news service, and the timing is curious. Ford was considered the strongest of the top-3 U.S. automakers and, in fact, was the only one to refuse part of the $17.4 billion emergency loan package offered by the government on Dec. 18. If the automakers were going to be leading the U.S. economic rebound, the way the White House hopes, why would a wary investor like Kerkorian pull out? Not only that, the Tracinda pullout cements a huge loss for the company, which spent more than $1 billion buying Ford shares at an average price of $7.10. The stock is now selling at just over $2 a share. At one time, Kerkorian held a 6.5 percent stake in Ford, Reuters said. The Ford family holds just under 3 percent of the automaker's shares but controls 40 percent of the voting power through a separate class of shares, Reuters said.
Sunday, December 28, 2008
Western countries with troops in Iraq must have been gratified Sunday when the Iraqi Presidential Council granted final approval to a resolution allowing the forces to stay after the UN mandate expires Dec. 31. The resolution won parliamentary approval Tuesday, seemingly without the rancor that accompanied yearlong negotiations over the continued presence of more than 140,000 U.S. troops. That agreement was approved in November, according to the Reuters international news service. Great Britain has about 4,100 troops in Iraq and the other countries -- El Salvador, Australia, Romania and Estonia -- have several hundred troops. The resolution authorizes Iraq to negotiate bilateral agreements with the countries, Kurdish lawmaker Mahmoud Othman told Reuters. If it had not been approved by year's end, their troops would have been in Iraq illegally. The way it is now, British forces expect to complete their training mission by the end of May and withdraw completely by July 31. U.S. forces are expected to leave Iraqi cities by July and withdraw completely by the end of 2011. But, as we all know, the 400-pound gorilla sits wherever it wants, and U.S. troops are not going anywhere until the president of the United States orders it. The elected Shiite government in Iraq is fragile, as witnessed by attacks yesterday in Baghdad, Mosul, Fallujah and Ramadi, and it protests the presence of U.S. forces much too much. There are many, many things that could go wrong and make it too dangerous for those forces to leave, no matter what Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and U.S. President-elect Barak Obama say now.
It was interesting, in a bizarre sort of way, to hear U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice try to put a good face on the outgoing Bush administration on Sunday morning television. Rice, who took over as Secretary of State just after the start of U.S. President George W. Bush's second term, told CBS-TV that history will be kind to the 43rd president, despite what his critics have been saying. "We can sit here and talk about the long record, but what I would say to you is that this president has faced tougher circumstances than perhaps at any time since the end of World War II, and he has delivered policies that are going to stand the test of time," Rice said in an interview that aired on the CBS show "Sunday Morning," according to Cable News Network (CNN). Rice was national security adviser in Bush's first time. Rice said people who think that the Bush administration will go down as one of the worst in history "aren't very good historians." The Rice interview apparently was part of the outgoing administration's farewell tour, with Bush and other officials giving positive assessments of the past eight years in the face of low approval ratings at home and a negative image abroad. "If you're making historical judgments before an administration is already out -- even out of office, and if you're trying to make historical judgments when the nature of the Middle East is still to be determined, and when one cannot yet judge the effects of decisions that this president has taken on what the Middle East will become -- I mean, for goodness' sakes, good historians are still writing books about George Washington. Good historians are certainly still writing books about Harry Truman." Rice also said the Bush administration succeeded on many international fronts, including the Middle East, China, India and Latin America. "When one looks at what we've been able to do in terms of changing the conversation in the Middle East about democracy and values, this administration will be judged well, and I'll wait for history's judgment and not today's headlines," she said. It is true that the Bush administration united the country in a measured response to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, but then seemed to veer off course in attacking Iraq and reinterpreting the U.S. Constitution. Osama bin Laden, the al-Qaida leader blamed for the Sept. 11 attacks, apparently is still at large on the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan border despite a war that has cost hundreds of billions of dollars and killed thousands of U.S. soldiers and tens or hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and Aghanis. The Bush government is scheduled to leave power on Jan. 20, when Barak Obama takes the oath of office as the 44th U.S. president. So, it's not quite over yet.
Monday, December 22, 2008
Sunday, December 21, 2008
Saturday, December 20, 2008
Canada's announcement Saturday that it was offering $4 billion in emergency loans to subsidiaries of failing U.S. automakers must have been good news in Detroit, Michigan, where General Motors, Ford and Chrysler have their headquarters. The announcement by Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Ontario Premier Dalton MgGuinty came the day after U.S. President Bush announced a $17.4 billion rescue plan for the industry, according to the Reuters international news service. Harper said Saturday that the cost of the industry's complete collapse in Canada was too high. "There are literally across the country hundreds of thousands if not millions of potentially affected families by the distress of this industry," Harper said. "And we are obviously making sure at this Christmas time that, within the confines of our responsibility for taxpayer money, that we are also going to look after their interest." Failure of the U.S. automakers would cost 600,000 jobs in Canada, mostly in Ontario, within five years, according to a provincial advisory panel. Harper said his government would not allow the U.S. automakers to close their Canadian operations. Harper also said he was assured by Bush and incoming U.S. President-elect Barak Obama that they would not let the companies fail. "We may well have much smaller companies but they will not fail in my judgment," Harper said. "The question then for Canada is to ensure that as they are restructured that we retain our market share." The Canadian bailout package also included help for auto parts suppliers and better access to credit for consumers, Reuters said.
Friday, December 19, 2008
It's way too early to tell if the White House plan to offer as much as $17.4 billion in loans to the three largest U.S. automobile manufacturers will enable them to avoid collapse. General Motors and Chrysler are expected to begin borrowing money almost immediately to stay in business, according to the Reuters international news service, while Ford claims to have enough cash to stay afloat for another year. The world economic crisis has taken an enormous toll on manufacturing across the globe, and the large U.S. automakers are particularly vulnerable after years of slumping sales. Of course, the slump started long before the economic crisis, as U.S. automakers ignored logic and, worse, tried to game the market to continue producing gas-guzzling vehicles that offered more profit than fuel-efficient cars and trucks. The market for gas-hogging SUVs, for example, would never have grown so large had not automakers lobbied for, and won, exemptions from clean-air requirements for the vehicles. But to have General Motors and Chrysler fail at the same time at a cost of hundreds of thousands of jobs, with the economy already entering a recession, probably is too risky for the U.S. economy. Most of the money for the loans will come from the $700 billion financial system rescue package currently being distribued by the U.S. Treasury. "If we were to allow the free market to take its course now, it would almost certainly lead to disorderly bankruptcy and liquidation for the automakers," U.S. President George W. Bush said Thursday in announcing the program. U.S. stocks rose on the news, with GM shares jumping 10.9 percent. Bush had to create the auto sector program on his own after members of his own party blocked a Democratic Party-backed deal last week. The deal includes a March 31 deadline for the companies to come up with restructuring plans. Democratic President-elect Barack Obama, who will inherit the program when he takes officer Jan. 20, welcomed the loan move as a necessary step. But he said he wanted to make sure workers did not bear the brunt of the restructuring. "My top priority in this administration is to create 2.5 million new jobs and I want some of those jobs to be in the auto industry," Obama said. The U.S. auto slump has impacted car parts makers and other manufacturers worldwide. Mexican conglomerate Alfa said Friday it was halting production at its nine parts plants in Mexico and Japanese automakers also are expected to report lower earnings.
Thursday, December 18, 2008
Nice to see the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission hasn't lost its oft-admired sense of humor. Thursday's indictment of seven people, including a former Lehman Brothers salesman, for participating in an insider trading scheme that netted $4.8 million in illegal profits, demonstrates that federal regulators were not asleep at the Big Board when Wall Street bigwigs caused the nation's financial system to hemorrage at a cost of hundreds of billions of dollars. No, regulators knew enough to watch the salesman who tipped friends and relatives about 13 impending mergers -- Matthew Devlin, according to the Reuters international news service -- for a year before filing the complaint in U.S. District Court in Manhattan. $4.8 million. Maybe that's why U.S. regulators allowed billions of dollars worth of subprime mortgages to be traded back and forth so often they became securities to the world's largest banks, and were used to secure billions of dollars worth of more loans. The crash of the mortgage market is likely not even over yet, despite the multibillion-dollar rescue packages being prepared by countries around the world, and reverberations will likely be felt for many years. The crash even claimed venerable Lehman Brothers, which was forced to file for bankruptcy and sell part of itself to Barclays. But we all can rest assured. The SEC has not been asleep, and at least a couple of insider traders may be going to jail.
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
Monday, December 15, 2008
Word from Caracas on Monday that the presidents of Venezuela and Cuba signed a $2 billion trade accord should remind U.S. businesses all next year of the folly of the inflexible and cantankerous Bush administration. The White House alienated so many countries around the world with its over-aggressive attitude that bilateral relationships may be years from resolution. Of course, U.S. President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney have less than a month remaining in their eight-year term. But the damage to international relationships will be felt for years. The enmity between Bush and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is the stuff of legend, and has contributed mightily to the decline of U.S. influence in South America. The deal between Cuba and Venezuela demonstrates clearly the cost of the self-absorbed Bush administration's whiff on an ideal opportunity to end the five-decade embargo of Cuba when Castro's brother, Fidel, gave up power in 2006. The United States could have captured a large portion of the $2 billion in trade and hurried the inevitable reconciliation with Cuba after a five-decade embargo that separated families and alienated millions in the southern United States. The deal between Cuba and Venezuela includes 163 joint projects, a six-fold increase from this year, according to Cable News Network (CNN) . The enmity between Bush and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has become the stuff of legend, and the United States is forced to tolerate Soviet warships visiting the Caribbean Sea because of it. Castro's first foreign state visit since being elected to Cuba's presidency in February also is scheduled to include participation in the Latin American and Caribbean Summit on Integration and Development on Tuesday and Wednesday in Brazil.
Sunday, December 14, 2008
Saturday, December 13, 2008
Today's move by embattled Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe to publish a draft constitutional amendment implementing a power-sharing deal with the opposition Movement for Democratic Change should not be interpreted for more than what it is. Mugabe has no intention of sharing power with MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai or anyone else and publishing the amendment without consulting his supposed MDC partners illustrates this clearly. The international community should not be fooled and should continue to pressure Mugabe to turn the government over to Tsvangirai, the top vote-getter in the March election. Election officials from Mugabe's ZANU-PF party, which lost control of the parliament in March, destroyed the ballots they claimed necessitated a runoff between Tsvangirai and Mugabe, making a recount impossible. Mugabe claimed victory in the June runoff, even though Tsvangirai withdrew because of widespread violence he blamed on Mugabe supporters. Tsvangirai and Mugabe signed a power-sharing agreement brokered by South African President Thabo Mbeki in July, but its terms have not been implemented. Amendment 19 would formalize the terms of the deal, which created the prime minister's post for Tsvangirai, according to Cable News Network (CNN). MDC spokesman Nelson Chamisa told CNN that the majority party will not support the amendment if it does not address outstanding issues, such as control of vital ministries in the government. The two parties agreed to the amendment last month but Mugabe's party has not cooperated under previous agreements. "In the event that the collaboration that we envisage is not forthcoming, then that will necessitate fresh harmonized elections at some point in time," Chamisa said, according to CNN. Zimbabwe is battling a cholera epidemic that has infected more than 16,000 people, according to the World Health Organization, CNN said. ZANU-PF blamed the epidemic on Great Britain, Zimbabwe's former colonial ruler.
Friday, December 12, 2008
Thursday, December 11, 2008
What a difference a change at the top makes. A month before a new president takes office, the U.S. military plans to change its focus in the war on terror and increase the number of troops in Afghanistan. Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced today in Kandahar that the United States will add as many as 20,000 soldiers to its forces in Afghanistan, Cable News Network (CNN) reported. After seven years of war in Iraq, U.S. leaders are finally reacting to the resurgence of the Taliban and to continuous reports that al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden has been hiding there since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on New York and Washington. Gates, who has reportedly been asked to stay on as defense secretary even after President George W. Bush leaves office, said the United States would move up to three brigades to Afghanistan to supplement the 31,000 U.S. troops already fighting there. Gen. David McKiernan, commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, reportedly requested four brigades, CNN said. But Gates said the Pentagon would not be able to commit any new troops to Afghanistan before the spring or summer of next year.
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
Skeptical Supreme Court justices appeared poised Wednesday to give the Bush administration a rare victory in its relentlessly hopeless battle to preserve aspects of the greatest executive power grab in U.S. history. The justices seemed reluctant to allow a Muslim resident of New York detained following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks to include former top U.S. officials in a civil lawsuit alleging mistreatment, according to Cable News Network (CNN). Javaid Iqbal contends that former Attorney General John Ashcroft and FBI Director Robert Mueller can be held personally liable for Bush administration policies that allowed mass detentions of Muslim immigrants following Sept. 11, even though government officials are generally immune when they act in their official capacities. Iqbal claims he was held in solitary confinement for six months and subjected to physical and psychological abuse while in custody in Brooklyn but was never charged with any terror-related offenses. He was deported to Pakistan after he pleaded guilty to fraud. Chief Justice John G. Roberts told Iqbal's attorneys that they needed to show some extraordinary circumstances that would allow such sweeping liability in the case. "What you have to show is some facts showing that they [top officials] knew of a policy that was discriminatory based on ethnicity and country of origin," Roberts said. An attorney for the U.S. government, Solicitor General Gregory Garre, contended that even such discriminatory conduct was justified in the days and weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks. Even Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, David Souter and John Paul Stevens, who do not vote repeatedly with the court's conservative majority, appeared skeptical of Iqbal's lawsuit. A ruling in favor of Iqbal, who prevailed in the Court of Appeals, could subject Ashcroft, Mueller and other top Bush administration officials to testimony under oath about decision-making in the top echelons of the U.S. government in 2001. A ruling is expected by June.
Tuesday, December 9, 2008
Monday, December 8, 2008
The indictments are in. Five Blackwater Worldwide security guards were charged Monday with multiple counts of manslaughter that could earn them decades in prison if they're convicted of shooting unarmed civilians in Baghdad's Nisoor Square in 2007. The five men surrendered to authorities after the indictments were unsealed, the Reuters international news service said. Blackwater, the North Carolina contractor that was hired by the State Department to protect diplomats and others in Iraq after the 2003 invasion and which presumably was responsible for training and equipping its employees, was not accused of any crimes. A sixth guard has pleaded guilty to lesser charges and is believed to be providing testimony to prosecutors. The guards were escorting a convoy of diplomats through a crowded Baghdad intersection when they claim they came under attack and opened fire, killing 14 and wounding 20 civilians. But a yearlong FBI investigation was unable to turn up any evidence that anybody was firing except the Blackwater guards, Reuters said. "The government alleges in the documents unsealed today that at least 34 unarmed Iraqi civilians, including women and children, were killed or injured without justification or provocation by these Blackwater security guards in the shooting at Nisoor Square," said Patrick Rowan, assistant attorney general for national security, according to Reuters. Blackwater, for its part, said its employees acted within the scope of their authority. "Based on the information available to us, we understand that these individuals acted within the rules set forth for them by the government and that no criminal violations occurred," the firm said. Brent Hatch, a lawyer on the legal team representing the guards, said the men were innocent. "They were hired as State Department contractors to protect State government officials," Hatch told reporters in Salt Lake City, where the guards surrendered. "They did their job as they were contracted to do, as they were required to do, and as the State Department asked them to do it." Arraignment is scheduled for Jan. 6 in Washington, D.C.
The irony of anarchy in Greece, the birthplace of Western democracy, is not lost on anyone. Rioting by young people has spread across the country from the major cities of Athens, where the police shooting of a 15-year-old on Saturday sparked the escalating unrest, and Thessaloniki. As of Monday, 34 civilians and 16 police officers have been injured in the rioting, which has destroyed homes, government buildings and offices of the ruling conservative party in Athens, according to Cable News Network (CNN). "We've just lost count of how many demonstrations are taking place now," a police spokesman told CNN. Prime Minster Kostas Karamanlis condemned the violence in a nationally televised speech and promised to punish those responsible for Saturday's shooting. The violence erupted immediately after the shooting, which police said occurred as disaffected young people -- called the "known-unknowns" in Greece -- attacked a police car with stones, CNN said. A police statement said the young man who was killed was attempting to throw a firebomb, but many observers disputed the official account. Two police officers have been arrested in connection with the shooting. On Monday, demonstrators barricaded streets and threw gasoline bombs at riot police in the two largest cities. The Karamanlis government, which holds a bare one-vote majority in Greek's parliament, could fall if citizens grow frustrated over its inability to control the violent demonstrations. The U.S. and British embassies have already warned employees and tourists to avoid downtown Athens and other major cities.
Sunday, December 7, 2008
Saturday, December 6, 2008
Friday, December 5, 2008
"We are hopeful that the court will ... ensure that people in this country cannot be seized from their homes and imprisoned indefinitely simply because the president says so," said Steven Shapiro, the ACLU's legal director, according to Reuters. Al-Marri was arrested in December 2001 on charges of credit card fraud, lying to the FBI and other charges. He pleaded not guilty, and the U.S. government dropped the charges in 2003 and designated Marri an enemy combatant. According to Reuters, two other U.S. residents have been held as enemy combatants inside the United States since the Sept. 11 attacks. Jose Padilla of Chicago was held in Charleston for three years before being tried and convicted of offering his services to terrorists in criminal court in Miami; and Yaser Esam Hamdi was deported to Saudi Arabia in 2004 after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled he had the right to challenge his detention in U.S. courts.