Monday, November 24, 2008

Monday Hot Stories

360 Degrees: Blog Sponsor Ad - November 08

America’s Forgotten Freedoms

A survey by the First Amendment Center has reached the shocking conclusion that most American citizens don’t know the five basic freedoms enshrined in the constitution.

The study found that no more than 3% of Americans remember “petition” among the First Amendment’s five basic freedoms.

However, freedom of speech was remembered by the majority of respondents - 56%.

The others freedoms enshrined in the constitution appeared to have made little impression: freedom of religion was named by 15%; the same percentage remembered press freedom as a constitutional right while just 14% knew they had a right to assembly.

The number of respondents who remembered freedom of speech was the lowest in the history of the survey, conducted each year for the past eleven years.

What makes this year’s results more shocking is that 4 out of 10 people questioned could not name any freedom at all. Whatever freedoms the constitution of the country may guarantee, it does not matter much since these rights are neither remembered nor needed as such.

The findings indicate that modern Americans do not think along the same lines as the Founders of the U.S.

Nowadays, it would seem, many Americans do not consider their basic rights and freedoms inalienable and are ready to delegate them to state or federal officials. More than two centuries ago it did not take long for the Founders of the United States of America to realize the necessity of preserving individual freedoms in a system of individual states with a strong federal governmental center.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution

In 1791, just four years after the declaration in 1787 of the American Constitution, the states adopted the First Amendment together with the Bill of Rights to guarantee that the strong federal government would not trample on basic individual rights and freedoms. Moreover, there are rights totally forgotten by the American society, meaning most Americans are not familiar with the freedoms guaranteed by the American Constitution.

Freedom of speech and religion are among the first but liberties introduced to the American Constitution by the Bill of Rights. Traditionally, most of the questioned Americans recalled them. But regarding freedom of the press, freedom to assemble and to petition - these seem to be lost in oblivion.

The annual State of the First Amendment survey, held by the First Amendment Center (, questions adult Americans on their attitude towards the rights spelled out in the First Amendment. This year it found the following:

39% would extend to subscription cable and satellite television the government’s current authority to regulate content on over-the-air broadcast television.

54% would continue IRS regulations that bar religious leaders from openly endorsing political candidates from the pulpit without endangering the tax-exempt status of their organizations.

66% say the government should be able to require television broadcasters to offer an equal allotment of time to conservative and liberal broadcasters; 62% would apply that same requirement to newspapers, which never have had content regulated by the government.

38% would permit government to require broadcasters to report a specified amount of “positive news” in return for licenses to operate.

31% would not permit musicians to sing songs with lyrics that others might find offensive.

68% favor government restrictions on campaign contributions by private companies, and 55% favor such limits on amounts individuals can contribute to someone else’s campaign.

Thus, a large number of Americans concede that in specific cases the federal government can be involved or even control individual freedoms.

The most shocking conclusion of the survey was that most of Americans could not name the five basic freedoms enshrined in the constitution.


The First Amendment Center

Avoid Busting Your Thanksgiving Budget

As Americans head into the Thanksgiving holiday this year, only one thing is weighing heavier on their minds than turkey.


So, how can a family provide a robust Thanksgiving dinner experience without busting the budget?

First and most important, don't do anything without a plan. Plot out a menu, a decorating plan and a shopping list before ever going to the store, reports KPHO-TV in Phoenix.

Flashy ad promotions and the festive spirit of the stores could push you over the edge into an impulse buy while you're there. A plan and a budget can greatly decrease the odds of overspending.

Also, don't go shopping while you're stressed out our hungry. This can result in unnecessary purchases.

Next, try to find out how much your guests are going to eat. For example, if you have 15 guests coming but eight of them are small children assume that their portions are going to be smaller. Plus, they won't realize if you have one less item on the menu than you did last year.

However, if you do overshoot, don't waste! When portioned properly, you can get several lunches out of turkey and stuffing. Decorations are nice and can definitely add the right mood to your party. However, resist the temptation to go overboard. Ask yourself, are the napkins with dancing turkeys on them really necessary this year? also has several non-traditional ideas for saving money over the holiday that may or may not work for some people.

Consider a potluck. Most hosts would be appalled by the thought of asking their guests to bring food to Thanksgiving dinner. However, the economic mood in the country may be dour enough where people understand the price of dinner and not frown upon the potluck idea as they once may have.

Go out for dinner: Many popular buffets around the country are open on Thanksgiving Day. While it's not as formal, it spreads the cost around to everyone, plus, no dishes!

Volunteer: Just about every soup kitchen in the country will be looking for help serving food over the holidays. Why not show the younger members of your family the true meaning of the holidays by spending the day in service? Plus, the kitchen will usually give you dinner for free.



360 Reports: American Sovereignty

This shouldn't be perceived as a Bush/Obama Bash, but merely as evidence to factors that undermine the U.S. as a sovereign nation. Whether or not you subscribe to the New World Order eventuality, the path is set for the USA to be integrated into a union not unlike the European Union and Asian Union, with its own currency, constitution and the like - the North American Union. Current topics in the news are neither coincidental nor accidental and play a significant role in this including the shift toward socialism, the American financial crisis and the global economic meltdown. There are deeper factors that never make the mainstream news, which will be covered in the near fuuture. For now, we'll focus on homeland security, immigration and the NAU.

Obama's Administration: Yes to Amnesty!

360 Degrees has learned that the DHS isn't expected to make their goal on the Border Fence. Worse yet, very few miles of the promised double-layered fence has been built. Meanwhile, Conservative organizations are eager to mobilize an additional 200,000 citizens who are demanding our borders and land are secured.

Obama's record is short and liberal. The National Journal recently tabulated the rankings for all U.S. representatives and senators based on their votes for the last 27 years and found that Sen. Obama went from being the 10th-most-liberal senator in 2006 to the most-liberal senator in 2007. Fox News

His immigration and amnesty track record proves the reports findings. Sen. Obama supports amnesty, the McCain-Kennedy Comprehensive Immigration (Amnesty) Reform, and wants to give welfare and Medicaid to illegal aliens.

Amnesty - Supports Pathway to Citizenship

  • Q: Under an Obama administration, what rights do immigrants have if they're working without proper authorization come January 2009?
  • A: If they are illegal, then they should not be able to work in this country. That is part of the principle of comprehensive reform, which we're going to crack down on employers who are hiring them and taking advantage of them. You want to give them a pathway, so that they can earn citizenship, earn a legal status, start learning English, pay a significant fine, and go to the back of the line. But they can then stay here and they can have the ability to enforce a minimum wage that they're paid, make sure the worker safety laws are available, make sure that they can join a union.

Source: 2007 Democratic radio debate on NPR Dec 4, 2007

Social Security For Illegal Aliens-- Supports

Border Security/Fence -- Opposed

  • Voted against Cloture of HR6061 -- the Secure Fence Act (a vote against cloture is a vote against the act)
  • Voted in favor of HR6061 -- the Secure Fence Act
  • Voted on Senate floor for passage of HR6061, in favor of border amendment to kill the border fence in 2006 (SA 4188 to S. 2611 would require consultation with Mexico concerning the construction of the fence)
  • Click here for Senate Roll Call Vote
  • Sen. Obama along with Sen. Hillary Clinton agreed Thursday night at the CNN Debate (2.21.08), that the Secure Fence Act of 2006 Should not be enforced as written.
  • Voted for the Secure Fence Act but now believes the act is not the solution.
  • Sen. Obama believes "the key is to consult with local communiteis, whether it's on the commercial interests or the environmental stakes of creating any kind of barrier.
  • Sen. Obama would reverse the Secure Fence Act.
  • "There may be areas where it makes sense to have some fencing. But for the most part, having border patrolled, surveillance, deploying effective technology, that's going to be the better approach."
  • For Debate Transcript Go Here

Guest-Worker Amnesty - Supports

  • Voted in favor of the guest-worker amnesty bill of S.1348 which grants amnesty and authorizes the importation of millions of new foreign workers.

2007 Amnesty Bills - Supports

  • Voted on Senate floor in favor of amendment to expand chain migration in 2007 (SA 1183 to S.1348)
  • Voted on Senate floor against an amendment to bar certain criminals from U.S. in 2007( SA 1184 to S.1385). Certain criminals included absconders, alien security risks, sex offenders, gang members, and other domestic violence offenders
  • Voted in favor of the DREAM ACT in 2007 which reward illegal aliens with amnesty
  • Co-sponsored the AgJobs Bill 2007 (S.340). Bill would create an amnesty for illegal agricultural workers.
  • The idea that the United States will deport 12 million illegal immigrants is ridiculous. (CNN 2.21.08 Debate)
  • We are not going to devote all of our law enforcement resources to deporting immigrants.(CNN 2.21.08 Debate).

Barack Obama's Plan

1)Create Secure Borders: Obama wants to preserve the integrity of our borders. He supports additional personnel, infrastructure and technology on the border and at our ports of entry.

2)Improve Our Immigration System: Obama believes we must fix the dysfunctional immigration bureaucracy and increase the number of legal immigrants to keep families together and meet the demand for jobs that employers cannot fill.

3)Remove Incentives to Enter Illegally: Obama will remove incentives to enter the country illegally by cracking down on employers who hire undocumented immigrants.

4)Bring People Out of the Shadows: Obama supports a system that allows undocumented immigrants who are in good standing to pay a fine, learn English, and go to the back of the line for the opportunity to become citizens.

5) Work with Mexico: Obama believes we need to do more to promote economic development in Mexico to decrease illegal immigration.

6) Barack Obama's Record

  • Crack Down on Employers: Obama championed a proposal to create a system so employers can verify that their employees are legally eligible to work in the U.S.
  • Fix the Bureaucracy: Obama joined Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) to introduce the Citizenship Promotion Act to ensure that immigration application fees are both reasonable and fair. Obama also introduced legislation that passed the Senate to improve the speed and accuracy of FBI background checks.
  • Respect Families: Obama introduced amendments to put greater emphasis on keeping immigrant families together.

Further reading :

The North American Union
Along with the media, many in Congress and many citizens think the NAFTA superhighway and the NAU are merely myth - designed to frighten. However the reality that isn't being report is that our sovereignty and security are being undermined - moving us closer to a North American Union. We urge you to take action opposing the North American Framework.

There is a strong movement underway to create a new North American framework that links the U.S., Mexico and Canada in ways that are a direct threat to the sovereignty of the United States. The centerpiece of current efforts is the Security and Prosperity Partnership (SPP) -- a trilateral arrangement made without Congressional approval to facilitate economic, legal and political integration in this new North American framework.

Lou Dobbs Special Report

360 Degrees: Blog Sponsor Ad - November 08

Crisis Drives Up Interest In Economics

Stocks are down, down, down. But student interest in economics appears to be trending upward.

The financial crisis has made "the dismal science" more relevant and immediate to many high school and college students, and they are suddenly paying closer attention in class.

"Now we can actually see the examples while they happen, instead of relying on history. It's been the most engaging class ever," said New York University junior George Schwartz, who dropped macroeconomics the first time he took it, but is so fascinated this time that he has decided to major in economics.

Instructors are delighted by the opportunity to use the dramatic events on Wall Street to explain concepts students might otherwise find dry, such as liquidity and Federal Reserve monetary policy.

"It is a great time to be in this business," said Jonathan Peters, a College of Staten Island professor. "It's a tremendous opportunity. It's a teachable moment. It's a chance to explain these topics in a very direct way."

Instead of simply discussing the theory surrounding a recession, Peters can show students a real one, step by step. While usually he has to fight to convince them that regulation is useful, that has become very easy nowadays, he said.

At the High School of Economics & Finance in New York's financial district, computer science teacher Aristedes Lourdas is also finding it easy to engage students.

Last year, his students were so unenthusiastic about analyzing the financial markets that Lourdas assigned his class to chart NBA players' salaries and statistics. But this year, "I haven't had to use the NBA at all," he said. Now they are each following the performance of three stocks of their choosing.

Lourdas said students are more interested because they are realizing that the dealings a few blocks away on Wall Street do affect their lives. The downturn has some worried they may not be able to afford college.

"The inner-city kids were kind of indifferent," Lourdas said. But now "all of a sudden, you see it's clicking. They're getting it. Last year, it was more like feeding them the information."

At Plano West Senior High School in a prosperous Dallas suburb, Advanced Placement economics teacher Sally Meek said her students keep veering off into politics and policy, debating the presidential candidates' plans during the election and grappling with questions of how big a role government should take in trying to turn the economy around.

The Arizona Council on Economic Education is helping teachers design classes based on the crisis. Senior program adviser John Morton said that in one lesson he is designing, students will create a market bubble and watch it pop. In other lessons, students will try to apply lessons from the Great Depression to the current crisis.

Eric Branting was months away from graduating from NYU when Wall Street's troubles hit. Immersed in his first economics course, he decided to major in the subject, delaying his graduation by a year.

"I think it's a great time to be getting into economics," the 21-year-old said. His macroeconomics professor, Branting said, is "throwing out three or four chapters of the textbook and desperately rewriting them and rethinking how he's teaching the class."

"People like me who are getting this education right now are learning a whole different way of looking at things. It's exciting."

But Hong Man Lam, an 18-year-old high school senior in New York who once hoped to become a stock trader, is starting to think that a career as an English teacher looks more appealing.

"This is the exact opposite of what I expected," he said a few blocks from the New York Stock Exchange. "I don't want to be part of this big mess."


Arizona Council on Economic Education
360 Degrees: Blog Sponsor Ad - November 08

Daniel Boone & Bigfoot?

Hugh H. Trotti (1994) has proposed that stories about the mystery ape-man known as Bigfoot may have literary basis. He pointed out that Daniel Boone had claimed to kill a 10 ft. hairy giant called a 'Yahoo.' Yahoos were described in Jonathan Swift's 'Gulliver's Travels,' a book said to be a favorite of Boone. Trotti's theory appears to be supported by the findings of Roberts (1957) that legends collected from an isolated region in Kentucky alluded to a cave-dwelling creature known as 'Yeahoh.' This could be a corruption of Swift's Yahoo.

Daniel Boone was a frontiersman in early America: an American legend and a true folk hero. Boone blazed a trail to establish a route westward that was used by thousands of American settlers.

Daniel Boone told tales of "killing a ten-foot, hairy giant he called a Yahoo," says John Mack Faragher in a 1992 biography of Boone. The Yahoos are hairy man-like creatures in Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels, one of Boone's favorite books. Boone and his explorer companions, it should be noted right from the get-go, threw around many of the terms used in that book rather liberally.

“[Boone] was encamped with five other men on Red River,” Theodore Roosevelt relates in his Daniel Boone's Move to Kentucky (1897), “and they had with them for their amusement 'the history of Samuel Gulliver's travels, wherein he gave an account of his young master, Glumdelick, careing [sic] him on a market day for a show to a town called Lulbegrud.’

“In the party who, amid such strange surroundings, read and listened to Swift's writings was a young man named Alexander Neely. One night he came into camp with two Indian scalps, taken from a Shawnee village he had found on a creek running into the river; and he announced to the circle of grim wilderness veterans that ‘he had been that day to Lulbegrud, and had killed two Brobdignags in their capital.’ To this day the creek by which the two luckless Shawnees lost their lives is known as Lulbegrud Creek.”

Folktale scholar Hugh H. Trotti suggests that Boone's tall tales may be the origin of some of the Bigfoot tales in North America. Could the term "Yeahoh" used for such a creature in the following story simply be a corruption of Swift's “Yahoos”?
Once upon a time they's a man layin' out, and he went to a cave. And he was layin' out in there and the Yeahoh come and throwed a deer in to him -- something would come every day and throw a deer into him, and leave out. On time that Yeahoh come and got down in there wuth him and not long after that she had a kid. Then one time he took a notion to leave her and he would go to leave and she wouldn't let him go. She'd make him come back. A-finally he got out and he got on a ship going to cross the waters. And he got started and rode off and left her. And she stood there and hollered and screamed after him. And when she seen he'd got away from her and she couldn't go, why she tore the baby in two and throwed one half in after him.

-Told by Nancy McDaniel of Big Leatherfoot Creek, Perry County, KY to folktale collector Leonard Roberts, who published it under the title "The Origin of Man" in South From Hell-fer-Sartin (1955).
So okay, if Kentuckians heard it passed down from Boone, who got it from Swift, how did Swift learn of Yahoo tales? Or did he simply spin them from his imagination? One possible clue: though Nancy McDaniel’s tale is told in the hills, it mentions ships and “crossing the waters” as the escape route for the captive human.

Tales of women shipwrecked or marooned on an island populated by monkeys or apes, fed and housed by a dominant monkey and forced to cohabit and bear it offspring, before escaping and seeing their hybrid children murdered by the irate simian parent, may have arisen in early 16th century Portugal, and also exist in similar forms in the Americas and across Asia. The idea of a “semi-human” was also floating through scientific circles in the first half of the 18th century: in 1758 Carolus Linnaeus theorized that a form between man and ape existed, which he named Homo troglodytes.

Linguist Richard Stoney carefully states that Swift, a lover of wordplay, drew from many language sources, each of which refer to various personality facets of the Yahoos. But he also turns up the following morsel published in Australian Aboriginal Words in English (1835): “The natives are greatly terrified by the sight of a person in a mask calling him 'devil' or Yah-hoo, which signifies evil spirit."

And from the 1844 edition: "They have an evil spirit, which causes them great terror, whom they call 'Yahoo' or 'Devil-Devil': he lives in the tops of the steepest and rockiest mountains, which are totally inaccessible to all human beings, and comes down at night to seize and run away with men, women or children, whom he eats up, children being his favourite food...The name... of Yahoo being used to express a bad spirit, or 'Bugaboo', was common also with the aborigines of Van Diem[e]n's Land [Tasmania]..."

The tribes mentioned here are located in the region around Botany Bay (near Sydney and slightly westward), site of the first British settlement in Australia in 1788. Gulliver’s Travels was written in 1726. Did the aborigines, like early Kentuckians, absorb Swift’s tale from the new colonists and make it local, or did Swift, to create his characters, draw on much older aboriginal folktales, possibly passed along to him by seafarers pre-dating Cook? The debate continues.


Sources & Further reading: Curious Legend of the Kentucky Mountains, by Leonard Roberts, Western Folklore, Vol. 16, No. 1 (Jan., 1957), pp. 48-51
The Element Encyclopedia of Magical Creatures by John Matthews, Caitlin Matthews, 2006, Sterling Publishing Company, Inc.
Daniel Boone: The Life and Legend of an American Pioneer, by JM Faragher, 1992, New York: Henry Holt & Company
Did fiction give birth to Bigfoot?, by HH Trotti, 1994, SKEPTICAL INQUIRER 18(5): 541-2.
360 Degrees: Blog Sponsor Ad - November 08

EconomicWatch: Citi Dodges A Bullet

The troubled bank secures an additional capital injection from the U.S. government and guarantees on troubled assets.

NEW YORK - The U.S. federal government on Sunday announced a massive rescue package for Citigroup - the latest move to steady the banking giant, whose shares have plunged in the past week.

The plan has two key features:

First, the U.S. Treasury and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) will backstop some losses against more than $300 billion in troubled assets.

Second, the Treasury will make a fresh $20 billion investment in the bank. The government has already injected $25 billion into Citigroup as part of the $700 billion bailout passed by Congress in October.

In return for the latest intervention, the government will receive an additional batch of preferred shares - $20 billion for its direct investment and $7 billion as compensation for the loan guarantees. Citigroup will pay an 8% dividend rate on those shares.

The government will impose other restrictions as well. Citigroup will be prohibited from paying out a dividend of more than a penny per share and will face limits on executive compensation. Plus, it will be expected to adjust mortgages for troubled borrowers, according to procedures outlined by the FDIC.

"With these transactions, the U.S. government is taking the actions necessary to strengthen the financial system and protect U.S. taxpayers and the U.S. economy," said a joint statement by Treasury, Federal Reserve and the FDIC.

Under the terms of the Citigroup rescue package, the bank would be on the hook for the first $29 billion in losses on the covered assets, which includes mostly loans backed by residential and commercial mortgages. It would cover 10% of losses above that amount, with the government shouldering the rest.

A Scary Week

The plan comes after the company's stock plummeted over fears about its exposure to toxic mortgage assets.

Citigroup ( C, Foretune 500) shares lost close to two-thirds of their value last week amid concerns about the underlying health of the bank - over the past year, the company has recorded close to $21 billion in losses. As of Friday's close, Citigroup shares had dipped below $4 a share, down 87% this year.

The most recent slide comes on the heels of news earlier this month that the Treasury Department was abandoning its initial rescue plan to buy troubled assets from banks - Citigroup had been seen as a major beneficiary of that strategy.

Instead, as part of the $700 billion bailout package that was signed into law in early October, Treasury has focused on making direct investments in banks. In exchange for equity stakes, the agency has injected $25 billion into Citigroup and an additional $100 billion into eight other major U.S. financial institutions.

That rescue package has yet to fully calm markets.


Money, FOX News, WSJ

Sunday, November 23, 2008

360 Degrees: Blog Sponsor Ad - November 08

360 In-Depth: Congressional Earmarks

A visitor center that you can't visit, a federal grant to restore a mounted fish, $5.6 million for a parking garage to nowhere? These are just a few of the outrageous earmarks Congress greenlighted before taking off on vacation. But who is the worst offender?

They are provisions often snuck into legislation not subject to legislative or public scrutiny that result in wasteful tax dollar spending that directly benefits Congressmen and their friends. Aptly called “pet projects,” “pork-barrel spending,” “earmarks” allow Congressmen to direct billions of our tax dollars to pet projects and preferred supporters, companies or organizations -- all without public debate or even a vote in Congress. Elected officials have too much vested interest in their own districts and re-election efforts, and earmarks are a tempting way to steer federal funds to meet their personal goals. Even worse, the existing process makes it easy for lawmakers to hide potentially problematic projects from daylight! Most earmarks are never fully made public and not subjected to an actual vote in Congress. Instead they are simply attached to legislation after the votes as part of Congress’ “report language.” So in essence, there is never accountability where earmarks are concerned.

Examples of Earmarks
Here are just a few of the most outrageous examples of earmarking over the last couple of years!
• $11 million for the Grape Research Center in NY (center doesn’t even exist despite more than $30 million in taxpayer funding since 2004)
• $2 million to the NAVY for “waterless urinals”
• $6 million to research new uses for wood
• $1 million to John Murtha’s non-existent recipient (Murtha did not defend the challenge, and the earmark was dropped)
• $1 million for the Hillary Clinton’s “Hippie” museum to honor Woodstock
• $500,000 for the Sparta Teapot Museum
• $13.5 to an Irish group that funds the World Toilet Summit
• $300,000 to analyze bear fur
• $100,000 to construct a fake prison as part of a museum
• $1.3 million for Raleigh, North Carolina to build a year round, “climate-controlled” park carousel
• $4.25 million for beach in Plum Island

• $63 million in unspent earmarks for the Michigan Dept. of Transportation (earmarks will be absorbed by the federal government).
• $2 million to repair and replace river crossing bridges on the Cedar Valley Nature Trail
• $3 million for a downtown Waterloo “river walk” trail loop on the Cedar, envisioned as part of the downtown Riverfront Renaissance project.
• Nearly $2 million for development of a children’s book illustration gallery at the Hearst Center for the Arts in Cedar Falls.
• New Hampshire Senators ask for $2 million earmark for state’s fisherman
• Pennsylvania Congressman brings home $185,000 earmark for truck drivers training

Introducing the Granddaddy of All Porkers…
Of course it’s the 90 year-old Senator from West Virginia, Robert C. Byrd. After 47 years on the Senate's powerful Appropriations Committee, Byrd has mastered congressional earmarks/add-ons to spending bills for projects back home like none other.

This earmarking “don” is the first Senator to accumulate more than $1 billion in earmarks for his state, and has amassed more than $3 billion since 1991, according to Citizens Against Government Waste.

All totaled, the Byrd name adorns more than 40 pet projects throughout ”Byrd” country, including The Robert C. Byrd highway, the Robert C. Byrd Locks and Dam, The Byrd Telescope, The Robert Byrd Hilltop Office Complex, the Robert C. Byrd Metals Fabrication Center, The Robert C. Byrd Institute and the Erma Ora Byrd Conference and Learning Center.

Earmarks in 2008
Over the last decade, earmarks have tripled in number and have increased spending by billions of dollars. Such earmarks are generally not included in legislative text and are not subject to an up or down vote of Congress.

In an effort to rein in runaway earmarks, President Bush told the Congress and the nation during the State of the Union Address that if earmarks were worth funding, “Congress should debate them in the open and hold a public vote.”

However, despite the President’s charge, Congressional appropriators are already soliciting requests for pet projects in 2008. That’s why 360 Degrees and other Conservative bloggers and organizations are calling for an immediate one-year moratorium on Earmarks.


Sunday Vent

Hey GM, Ford and Chrysler! We ALREADY lost the GM Plant in Doraville, the Ford Plant in Hapeville. Are we worried we might have to buy a foreign car? Look on the street, evidently not so much!

Why don't BP, Exxon-Mobil or any of the other wealthy oil companies bail out the auto industry? They've been in bed with one another for over 70 years.

I wonder if $700B would be enough to find a cure for cancer?

Due to downsizing the new Presidential jet will be a Piper cub named Air Force 1/2.

Why should retired auto workers have their pensions protected. My 401K is going down the drain and no one is bailing it out.

Ever notice the women who wrote love letters to Atlanta court murderer Brian Nichols are women you would not want to have sex with in the first place?

We are living in a society that dumps their kids off like an unwanted animal, people claim there is no God and no Christmas, wars and rumors of wars, kids attacking their parents, sexual perversion are rampant. The Bible is looking more and more like the truth every day.

I bet it was one of the Georgia Tech grads who lost his tool bag in space. Go Dawgs!

If companies make loans to people that they KNOW cannot afford to pay it back, then they do not deserve bailouts. Learn from your mistakes, and don't ask ME to pay for it. Besides, Congress and the Justice Dept TOLD them to do it and now they are spending money hand over fist to cover their butts.

I don't think I'd have the NERVE to admit I'd been taken by a Nigeria 419 scam. If you don't know about these things, where have you been? ESPECIALLY when people warn you that it's a scam, and you choose to believe it anyway. That's just plain GREED...and greed is repaid negatively.

You know times are tough when the temperature is higher than credit scores.

I heard times are so bad, the Dollar Stores now have "Lay-away plans."

Is there a place where I can get a bumper sticker to let everyone know that I am heterosexual?

Burlington, VT is the healthiest city in the US? Perhaps because no one lives there?

What is it about being gay (or straight, for that matter) that makes you proud? Why would you be proud of your sexual orientation? It's not an accomplishment. And, wrongly thought of as a civil right.

I will keep my freedon, I will keep my God, I will keep my money, Obama can keep the change.


360 Reports: The Impending Collapse of Citigroup

A Financial Supermarket Exposure to obscure mortgage instruments from Citigroup's trading operations has taken a severe toll on the company, which provides financial services ranging from retail banking to advising companies on mergers.

"Our job is to set a tone at the top to incent people to do the right thing and to set up safety nets to catch people who make mistakes or do the wrong thing and correct those as quickly as possible. And it is working. It is working."

Charles O. Prince III, Citigroup's chief executive, in 2006

In September 2007, with Wall Street confronting a crisis caused by too many souring mortgages, Citigroup executives gathered in a wood-paneled library to assess their own well-being.

There, Citigroup's chief executive, Charles O. Prince III, learned for the first time that the bank owned about $43 billion in mortgage-related assets. He asked Thomas G. Maheras, who oversaw trading at the bank, whether everything was O.K. Mr. Maheras told his boss that no big losses were looming, according to people briefed on the meeting who would speak only on the condition that they not be named.

For months, Mr. Maheras's reassurances to others at Citigroup had quieted internal concerns about the bank's vulnerabilities. But this time, a risk-management team was dispatched to more rigorously examine Citigroup's huge mortgage-related holdings. They were too late, however: within several weeks, Citigroup would announce billions of dollars in losses.

Normally, a big bank would never allow the word of just one executive to carry so much weight. Instead, it would have its risk managers aggressively look over any shoulder and guard against trading or lending excesses. But many Citigroup insiders say the bank's risk managers never investigated deeply enough. Because of longstanding ties that clouded their judgment, the very people charged with overseeing deal makers eager to increase short-term earnings - and executives' multimillion-dollar bonuses - failed to rein them in, these insiders say.

Now, Citigroup, once the nation's largest and mightiest financial institution, has been brought to its knees by more than $65 billion in losses, write-downs for troubled assets and charges to account for future losses. More than half of that amount stems from mortgage-related securities created by Mr. Maheras's team - the same products Mr. Prince was briefed on during that 2007 meeting.

Citigroup's stock has plummeted to its lowest price in more than a decade, closing Friday at $3.77. At that price the company is worth just $20.5 billion, down from $244 billion two years ago. Waves of layoffs have accompanied that slide, with about 75,000 jobs already gone or set to disappear from a work force that numbered about 375,000 a year ago.

Burdened by the losses and a crisis of confidence, Citigroup's future is so uncertain that regulators in New York and Washington held a series of emergency meetings late last week to discuss ways to help the bank right itself. And as the credit crisis appears to be entering another treacherous phase despite a $700 billion federal bailout, Citigroup's woes are emblematic of the haphazard management and rush to riches that enveloped all of Wall Street. All across the banking business, easy profits and a booming housing market led many prominent financiers to overlook the dangers they courted.

While much of the damage inflicted on Citigroup and the broader economy was caused by errant, high-octane trading and lax oversight, critics say, blame also reaches into the highest levels at the bank. Earlier this year, the Federal Reserve took the bank to task for poor oversight and risk controls in a report it sent to Citigroup.

The bank's downfall was years in the making and involved many in its hierarchy, particularly Mr. Prince and Robert E. Rubin, an influential director and senior adviser. Citigroup insiders and analysts say that Mr. Prince and Mr. Rubin played pivotal roles in the bank's current woes, by drafting and blessing a strategy that involved taking greater trading risks to expand its business and reap higher profits. Mr. Prince and Mr. Rubin both declined to comment for this article.

When he was Treasury secretary during the Clinton administration, Mr. Rubin helped loosen Depression-era banking regulations that made the creation of Citigroup possible by allowing banks to expand far beyond their traditional role as lenders and permitting them to profit from a variety of financial activities. During the same period he helped beat back tighter oversight of exotic financial products, a development he had previously said he was helpless to prevent.

And since joining Citigroup in 1999 as a trusted adviser to the bank's senior executives, Mr. Rubin, who is an economic adviser on the transition team of President-elect Barack Obama, has sat atop a bank that has been roiled by one financial miscue after another.

Citigroup was ensnared in murky financial dealings with the defunct energy company Enron, which drew the attention of federal investigators; it was criticized by law enforcement officials for the role one of its prominent research analysts played during the telecom bubble several years ago; and it found itself in the middle of regulatory violations in Britain and Japan.

For a time, Citigroup's megabank model paid off handsomely, as it rang up billions in earnings each quarter from credit cards, mortgages, merger advice and trading.

But when Citigroup's trading machine began churning out billions of dollars in mortgage-related securities, it courted disaster. As it built up that business, it used accounting maneuvers to move billions of dollars of the troubled assets off its books, freeing capital so the bank could grow even larger. Because of pending accounting changes, Citigroup and other banks have been bringing those assets back in-house, raising concerns about a new round of potential losses. To some, the misery at Citigroup is no surprise. Lynn Turner, a former chief accountant with the Securities and Exchange Commission, said the bank's balkanized culture and pell-mell management made problems inevitable.

"If you're an entity of this size," he said, "if you don't have controls, if you don't have the right culture and you don't have people accountable for the risks that they are taking, you're Citigroup."

Questions on Oversight

Though they carry less prestige and are paid less than Wall Street traders and bankers, risk managers can wield significant clout. Their job is to monitor trading floors and inquire about how a bank's money is being invested, so they can head off potential problems before blow-ups occur. Though risk managers and traders work side by side, they can have an uncomfortable coexistence because the monitors can put a brake on trading.

That is the way it works in theory. But at Citigroup, many say, it was a bit different.

David C. Bushnell was the senior risk officer who, with help from his staff, was supposed to keep an eye on the bank's bond trading business and its multibillion-dollar portfolio of mortgage-backed securities. Those activities were part of what the bank called its fixed-income business, which Mr. Maheras supervised.

....insufficient boundaries were established
in the bank's fixed-income unit to limit
potential conflicts of interest....

One of Mr. Maheras's trusted deputies, Randolph H. Barker, helped oversee the huge build-up in mortgage-related securities at Citigroup. But Mr. Bushnell, Mr. Maheras and Mr. Barker were all old friends, having climbed the bank's corporate ladder together.

It was common in the bank to see Mr. Bushnell waiting patiently - sometimes as long as 45 minutes - outside Mr. Barker's office so he could drive him home to Short Hills, N.J., where both of their families lived. The two men took occasional fly-fishing trips together; one expedition left them stuck on a lake after their boat ran out of gas. Because Mr. Bushnell had to monitor traders working for Mr. Barker's bond desk, their friendship raised eyebrows inside the company among those concerned about its controls.

After all, traders' livelihoods depended on finding new ways to make money, sometimes using methods that might not be in the bank's long-term interests. But insufficient boundaries were established in the bank's fixed-income unit to limit potential conflicts of interest involving Mr. Bushnell and Mr. Barker, people inside the bank say.

Indeed, some at Citigroup say that if traders or bankers wanted to complete a potentially profitable deal, they could sometimes rely on Mr. Barker to convince Mr. Bushnell that it was a risk worth taking. Risk management "has to be independent, and it wasn't independent at Citigroup, at least when it came to fixed income," said one former executive in Mr. Barker's group who, like many other people interviewed for this article, insisted on anonymity because of pending litigation against the bank or to retain close ties to their colleagues. "We used to say that if we wanted to get a deal done, we needed to convince Randy first because he could get it through."

Others say that Mr. Bushnell's friendship with Mr. Maheras may have presented a similar blind spot.

"Because he has such trust and faith in these guys he has worked with for years, he didn't ask the right questions," a former senior Citigroup executive said, referring to Mr. Bushnell.

Mr. Bushnell and Mr. Barker did not return repeated phone calls seeking comment. Mr. Maheras declined to comment. For some time after Sanford I. Weill, an architect of the merger that created Citigroup a decade ago, took control of Citigroup, he toned down the bank's bond trading. But in late 2002, Mr. Prince, who had been Mr. Weill's longtime legal counsel, was put in charge of Citigroup's corporate and investment bank.

According to a former Citigroup executive, Mr. Prince started putting pressure on Mr. Maheras and others to increase earnings in the bank's trading operations, particularly in the creation of collateralized debt obligations, or C.D.O.'s - securities that packaged mortgages and other forms of debt into bundles for resale to investors.

Because C.D.O.'s included so many forms of bundled debt, gauging their risk was particularly tricky; some parts of the bundle could be sound, while others were vulnerable to default.

"Chuck Prince going down to the corporate investment bank in late 2002 was the start of that process," a former Citigroup executive said of the bank's big C.D.O. push. "Chuck was totally new to the job. He didn't know a C.D.O. from a grocery list, so he looked for someone for advice and support. That person was Rubin. And Rubin had always been an advocate of being more aggressive in the capital markets arena. He would say, 'You have to take more risk if you want to earn more.' "

It appeared to be a good time for building up Citigroup's C.D.O. business. As the housing market around the country took flight, the C.D.O. market also grew apace as more and more mortgages were pooled together into newfangled securities.

From 2003 to 2005, Citigroup more than tripled its issuing of C.D.O.'s, to more than $20 billion from $6.28 billion, and Mr. Maheras, Mr. Barker and others on the C.D.O. team helped transform Citigroup into one of the industry's biggest players. Firms issuing the C.D.O.'s generated fees of 0.4 percent to 2.5 percent of the amount sold - meaning Citigroup made up to $500 million in fees from the business in 2005 alone.

....Problems with trading and banking
oversight at Citigroup became
so dire that the Federal Reserve
took the unusual step of telling
the bank it could make no more
acquisitions until it put its house in order....

Even as Citigroup's C.D.O. stake was expanding, its top executives wanted more profits from that business. Yet they were not running a bank that was up to all the challenges it faced, including properly overseeing billions of dollars' worth of exotic products, according to Citigroup insiders and regulators who later criticized the bank. When Mr. Prince was put in charge in 2003, he presided over a mess of warring business units and operational holes, particularly in critical areas like risk-management and controls.

"He inherited a gobbledygook of companies that were never integrated, and it was never a priority of the company to invest," said Meredith A. Whitney, a banking analyst who was one of the company's early critics. "The businesses didn't communicate with each other. There were dozens of technology systems and dozens of financial ledgers."

Problems with trading and banking oversight at Citigroup became so dire that the Federal Reserve took the unusual step of telling the bank it could make no more acquisitions until it put its house in order. In 2005, stung by regulatory rebukes and unable to follow Mr. Weill's penchant for expanding Citigroup's holdings through rapid-fire takeovers, Mr. Prince and his board of directors decided to push even more aggressively into trading and other business that would allow Citigroup to continue expanding the bank internally.

One person who helped push Citigroup along this new path was Mr. Rubin. Robert Rubin has moved seamlessly between Wall Street and Washington. After making his millions as a trader and an executive at Goldman Sachs, he joined the Clinton administration.

Mr. Weill, as Citigroup's chief, wooed Mr. Rubin to join the bank after Mr. Rubin left Washington. Mr. Weill had been involved in the financial services industry's lobbying to persuade Washington to loosen its regulatory hold on Wall Street.

As chairman of Citigroup's executive committee, Mr. Rubin was the bank's resident sage, advising top executives and serving on the board while, he insisted repeatedly, steering clear of daily management issues.

"By the time I finished at Treasury, I decided I never wanted operating responsibility again," he said in an interview in April. Asked then whether he had made any mistakes during his tenure at Citigroup, he offered a tentative response.

"I've thought a lot about that," he said. "I honestly don't know. In hindsight, there are a lot of things we'd do differently. But in the context of the facts as I knew them and my role, I'm inclined to think probably not."

Besides, he said, it was impossible to get a complete handle on Citigroup's vulnerabilities unless you dealt with the trades daily.

"There is no way you would know what was going on with a risk book unless you're directly involved with the trading arena," he said. "We had highly experienced, highly qualified people running the operation."

But while Mr. Rubin certainly did not have direct responsibility for a Citigroup unit, he was an architect of the bank's strategy. In 2005, as Citigroup began its effort to expand from within, Mr. Rubin peppered his colleagues with questions as they formulated the plan. According to current and former colleagues, he believed that Citigroup was falling behind rivals like Morgan Stanley and Goldman, and he pushed to bulk up the bank's high-growth fixed-income trading, including the C.D.O. business.

Former colleagues said Mr. Rubin also encouraged Mr. Prince to broaden the bank's appetite for risk, provided that it also upgraded oversight - though the Federal Reserve later would conclude that the bank's oversight remained inadequate. Once the strategy was outlined, Mr. Rubin helped Mr. Prince gain the board's confidence that it would work.

After that, the bank moved even more aggressively into C.D.O.'s. It added to its trading operations and snagged crucial people from competitors. Bonuses doubled and tripled for C.D.O. traders. Mr. Barker drew pay totaling $15 million to $20 million a year, according to former colleagues, and Mr. Maheras became one of Citigroup's most highly compensated employees, earning as much as $30 million at the peak - far more than top executives like Mr. Bushnell in the risk-management department.

In December 2005, with Citigroup diving into the C.D.O. business, Mr. Prince assured analysts that all was well at his bank.

"Anything based on human endeavor and certainly any business that involves risk-taking, you're going to have problems from time to time," he said. "We will run our business in a way where our credibility and our reputation as an institution with the public and with our regulators will be an asset of the company and not a liability."

Yet as the bank's C.D.O. machine accelerated, its risk controls fell further behind, according to former Citigroup traders, and risk managers lacked clear lines of reporting. At one point, for instance, risk managers in the fixed-income division reported to both Mr. Maheras and Mr. Bushnell - setting up a potential conflict because that gave Mr. Maheras influence over employees who were supposed to keep an eye on his traders.

....the Securities and Exchange Commission
began scrutinizing Citigroup's subprime
mortgage holdings after Bear Stearns's
problems surfaced....

C.D.O.'s were complex, and even experienced managers like Mr. Maheras and Mr. Barker underestimated the risks they posed, according to people with direct knowledge of Citigroup's business. Because of that, they put blind faith in the passing grades that major credit-rating agencies bestowed on the debt. While the sheer size of Citigroup's C.D.O. position caused concern among some around the trading desk, most say they kept their concerns to themselves.

"I just think senior managers got addicted to the revenues and arrogant about the risks they were running," said one person who worked in the C.D.O. group. "As long as you could grow revenues, you could keep your bonus growing."

To make matters worse, Citigroup's risk models never accounted for the possibility of a national housing downturn, this person said, and the prospect that millions of homeowners could default on their mortgages. Such a downturn did come, of course, with disastrous consequences for Citigroup and its rivals on Wall Street.

Even as the first shock waves of the subprime mortgage crisis hit Bear Stearns in June 2007, Citigroup's top executives expressed few concerns about their bank's exposure to mortgage-linked securities. In fact, when examiners from the Securities and Exchange Commission began scrutinizing Citigroup's subprime mortgage holdings after Bear Stearns's problems surfaced, the bank told them that the probability of those mortgages defaulting was so tiny that they excluded them from their risk analysis, according to a person briefed on the discussion who would speak only without being named.

Later that summer, when the credit markets began seizing up and values of various C.D.O.'s began to plummet, Mr. Maheras, Mr. Barker and Mr. Bushnell participated in a meeting to review Citigroup's exposure. The slice of mortgage-related securities held by Citigroup was "viewed by the rating agencies to have an extremely low probability of default (less than .01%)," according to Citigroup slides used at the meeting and reviewed by The New York Times.

Around the same time, Mr. Maheras continued to assure his colleagues that the bank "would never lose a penny," according to an executive who spoke to him. In mid-September 2007, Mr. Prince convened the meeting in the small library outside his office to gauge Citigroup's exposure.

Mr. Maheras assured the group, which included Mr. Rubin and Mr. Bushnell, that Citigroup's C.D.O. position was safe. Mr. Prince had never questioned the ballooning portfolio before this because no one, including Mr. Maheras and Mr. Bushnell, had warned him.

But as the subprime market plunged further, Citigroup's position became more dire - even though the firm held onto the belief that its C.D.O.'s were safe. On Oct. 1, it warned investors that it would write off $1.3 billion in subprime mortgage-related assets. But of the $43 billion in C.D.O.'s it had on its books, it wrote off only about $95 million, according to a person briefed on the situation.

Soon, however, C.D.O. prices began to collapse. Credit-rating agencies downgraded C.D.O.'s, threatening Citigroup's stockpile. A week later, Merrill Lynch aggressively marked down similar securities, forcing other banks to face reality.

By early November, Citigroup's anticipated write-downs ballooned to $8 billion to $11 billion. Mr. Barker and Mr. Maheras lost their jobs, as Mr. Bushnell did later on. And on Nov. 4, Mr. Prince told the board that he, too, would resign. Although Mr. Prince received no severance, he walked away with Citigroup stock valued then at $68 million - along with a cash bonus of about $12.5 million for 2007.

Putting Out Fires

Mr. Prince was replaced last December by Vikram S. Pandit, a former money manager and investment banker whom Mr. Rubin had earlier recruited in a senior role. Since becoming chief executive, Mr. Pandit has been scrambling to put out fires and repair Citigroup's deficient risk-management systems.

Earlier this year, Federal Reserve examiners quietly presented the bank with a scathing review of its risk-management practices, according to people briefed on the situation. Citigroup executives responded with a 25-page single-spaced memo outlining a sweeping overhaul of the bank's risk management.

In May, Brian Leach, Citigroup's new chief risk officer, told analysts that his bank had greatly improved oversight and installed several new risk managers. He said he wanted to ensure "that Citi takes the lessons learned from recent events and makes critical enhancements to its risk management frameworks. A change in culture is required at Citi." Meanwhile, regulators have criticized the banking industry as a whole for relying on outsiders - in particular the ratings agencies - to help them gauge the risk of their investments.

"There is really no excuse for institutions that specialize in credit risk assessment, like large commercial banks, to rely solely on credit ratings in assessing credit risk," John C. Dugan, the head of the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, the chief federal bank regulator, said in a speech earlier this year.

But he noted that what caused the largest problem for some banks was that they retained dangerously big positions in certain securities - like C.D.O.'s - rather than selling them off to other investors.

"What most differentiated the companies sustaining the biggest losses from the rest was their willingness to hold exceptionally large positions on their balance sheets which, in turn, led to exceptionally large losses," he said.

Mr. Dugan did not mention any specific bank by name, but Citigroup is the largest player in the C.D.O. business of any bank the comptroller regulates. For his part, Mr. Pandit faces the twin challenge of rebuilding investor confidence while trying to fix the company's myriad problems.

.... In 2008, Federal Reserve examiners
quietly presented the bank with a
scathing review of its risk-management practices....

Citigroup has suffered four consecutive quarters of multibillion-dollar losses as it has written down billions of dollars of the mortgage-related assets it held on its books. But investors worry there is still more to come, and some board members have raised doubts about Mr. Pandit's leadership, according to people briefed on the situation.

Citigroup still holds $20 billion of mortgage-linked securities on its books, the bulk of which have been marked down to between 21 cents and 41 cents on the dollar. It has billions of dollars of giant buyout and corporate loans. And it also faces a potential flood of losses on auto, mortgage and credit card loans as the global economy plunges into a recession. Also, hundreds of billions of dollars in dubious assets that Citigroup held off its balance sheet is now starting to be moved back onto its books, setting off yet another potential problem.

The bank has already put more than $55 billion in assets back on its balance sheet. It now says an added $122 billion of assets related to credit cards and possibly billions of dollars of other assets will probably come back on the books. Even though Citigroup executives insist that the bank can ride out its current difficulties, and that the repatriated assets pose no threat, investors have their doubts. Because analysts do not have a complete grip on the quality of those assets, they are warning that Citigroup may have to set aside billions of dollars to guard against losses.

In fact, some analysts say they believe that the $25 billion that the federal government invested in Citigroup this fall might not be enough to stabilize it. Others say the fact that such huge amounts have yet to steady the bank is a reflection of the severe damage caused by Citigroup's appetites.

"They pushed to get earnings, but in doing so, they took on more risk than they probably should have if they are going to be, in the end, a bank subject to regulatory controls," said Roy Smith, a professor at the Stern School of Business at New York University. "Safe and soundness has to be no less important than growth and profits but that was subordinated by these guys."


Georgia State University - Economic Forecasting, Securities and Exchange Commission, Meredith A. Whitney, The Federal Reserve, WSJ, Barron's, Dow Jones & Co.