From Denny: "Damned if you do and damned if you don't." That's the watchword for the Democrats as they push ahead in an uphill struggle for financial reform against the corrupt greedy businessmen on Wall Street with lots of obscene money and an army of lawyers to throw at fighting it. Big Business lobbyists still have their fingers in the current legislation that goes to votes. The latest garbage out of Congress is to leave alone the Big Banks and not break them up.
In exchange, supposedly the consumers still get to keep some of the consumer protections that rarely get enforced or enforced properly with an SEC busy watching porn all day, ignoring their duties for which they are paid. I want my taxpayer money back from those SEC flakes and they should be fired and blackballed to the maximum for any job pay above grave digger. They have helped to bury millions of Americans deep in debt that they won't see daylight until after they die. It's going to take that long to rebuild our economy and middle class wealth.
The Democrats were also foolishly talked out of forcing Wall Street to finance their own bailout - next time - with their own funds. Why get rid of a fund the entire financial industry should be paying into the next time they create a world economic mess? Maybe because it would require some seriously sound stipulations and restrictions on how high-flying irresponsible Wall Street does business.
And the Democrats folded on this one. What is wrong with these politicians? Well, the Democrats are yet again the laughing stock on this one. Do I have to go up to Washington and show these guys how to hold up their spines and push back or what?
The word is that the lobbyists joke about how much it costs to purchase a politician. House reps go for $100,000 and Senators go for up to $200,000. That's chump change for the billions of dollars that affects our daily lives in this country, harming our economy and middle class status. No wonder the lobbyists and Big Business keep thumbing their noses at government authority and the public outrage. They know, in the end, they will succeed at getting away with it and no one goes to jail.
One thing the Obama team has done right is to push back on the airlines to the tune of no longer allowing them to hold consumers hostage for hours on the tarmac. They did this without going to Congress as they knew that would take forever. Maybe Obama needs to take a hint and start fining other problem areas like they are doing with the airline industry that has abused its authority with the public.
While the Obama team is at it they need to take a page out of the Bush and Cheney playbook and start changing definitions of laws that have passed. They can start with the health care reform law and reinsert the public option now that the health industry has gone back to abusing the public yet again. They can change definitions in the financial laws as well that Bush and Cheney weakened. Same goes for the mining laws they weakened. Get busy, Obama aides, and get something done for America, all without having to fool with the fools in Congress.
Axelrod: High Court Pick Will be Leader (CBS)
President Obama's Choice For Supreme Court Will be in Stevens Mode, Says Senior Adviser
President Barack Obama will choose a Supreme Court nominee he thinks can provide the "spark and leadership" of retiring Justice John Paul Stevens, the lion of the court's liberals and a respected, persuasive force for decades, one of Obama's chief advisers said Wednesday...
"You can't replace someone's 34 years on the court, but you are mindful of the fact that he was a leader on the court, and you want someone who can provide that kind of spark and leadership - if not immediately, then over time," Axelrod said. "So he's thinking about that."
Axelrod is deeply involved in Obama' review of the candidates and in shaping how the eventual nominee will be presented to the country. His comments shed additional light into Obama's thinking as the president nears one of the most consequential decisions he will make, the choosing of a Supreme Court nominee.
Stevens, who was nominated by Republican Gerald Ford but became the court's leading liberal, is retiring this summer at the age of 90.
Obama said from the start that he would seek to replace Stevens with someone who offered similar qualities as the departing justice.
If anything, that standard appears even more significant as Obama decides among nominees who, in his view, likely all meet his other criteria of a record of excellence, dedication to the rule of law and an appreciation of how court cases affect daily life.
Stevens leaves a legacy that includes the preservation of abortion rights, protection of consumer rights and limits on the death penalty. His influence grew and waned depending on the times and the court's makeup, but he could be adept at persuading other justices and came to have a giant presence on the court...
$50B Fund Dropped From Wall Street Bill (CBS/AP)
Senate Democrats Make Concession, Drop Fund Republicans Have Suggested Encourages Bailouts From Regulatory Reform Legislation
In a concession, Senate Democrats agreed Tuesday to jettison a $50 billion fund that Republicans attacked repeatedly as a perpetual Wall Street bailout-in-waiting, according to officials in both parties, clearing one of the key obstacles to approval of tougher federal controls over the financial industry.
While a formal announcement was held up pending a review by key lawmakers and the Obama administration, the emerging agreement was designed to assure that any future taxpayer costs arising from the liquidation of big firms in the future would be temporary and on a case-by-case basis.
The agreement marked a retreat by Democrats, who had protested bitterly in recent days that Republicans were inaccurate with claims that the multi-billion-dollar fund would serve as a source for future bailouts.
President Barack Obama has made an election-year priority of congressional passage of legislation to prevent future economic calamaties like the one that plunged the country into a deep recession 18 months ago. Opinion polls suggest strong support for additional federal regulations, even though numerous surveys also report high levels of public distrust of government's abilities to solve problems.
Obama, speaking to a business organization, said there would be "legitimate differences on the details of what is a complicated piece of legislation" in the coming days.
At the same time, he said, "We cannot allow these reforms to be watered down. And for those of you in the financial industry whose companies may be employing lobbyists seeking to weaken this bill, I want to urge you, as I said on Wall Street a couple of weeks ago, to join us rather than to fight us..."
How You End Up on the U.S. No-Fly List (CBS/AP)
Handful of Experts Has Final Say on Who Flies, Who Doesn't; List Changes Constantly with New Intel
A search for the name Faisal Shahzad on the social networking site Facebook brings up 673 results, many featuring profile images of men with the same skin tone and hair color as the man who admitted to authorities he left a car bomb in New York's Times Square Saturday night.
Shahzad was arrested late Monday night aboard a flight to Dubai even though authorities say they placed him on the U.S. no-fly list earlier that day.
government's most public counterterrorism tools since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks - and how the government tells the difference between suspected terrorists and people with similar names and physical appearances.
After all, as CBS News Reporter Farhan Bokhari reports from Islamabad, Pakistan, both Faisal and Shahzad are fairly common names Pakistan, where Shahzad spent months before returning to the United States.
Adding more people to the list could make Americans safer when they fly. But it could also mean more cases of mistaken identity. The process starts with a tip, a scrap of intelligence, a fingerprint lifted from a suspected terrorist's home. It ends when a person is forbidden to board an airplane - a decision that's in the hands of about six experts from the Transportation Security Administration.
The no-fly list they oversee constantly changes as hundreds of analysts churn through a steady stream of intelligence. In the aftermath of Shahzad's arrest, the government is now requiring airlines to check no-fly lists within two hours of being notified of list updates.
It could take minutes to put a name on the list. Or it could take hours, days or months.
Current and former intelligence, counterterrorism and U.S. government officials in March provided The Associated Press a behind-the-scenes look at how the no-fly list is created. They spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive security issues.
Despite changes over time, the list remains an imperfect tool, dependent on the work of hundreds of government terrorism analysts who sift through massive flows of information. The list ballooned after Sept. 11 and has fluctuated in size over the past decade. In 2004, it included about 20,000 people. The standards for getting on the list have been refined over the years, and technology has improved to make the matching process more reliable.
There are four steps to banning a person from flying:
• It begins with law enforcement and intelligence officials collecting the smallest scraps of intelligence - a tip from a CIA informant or a wiretapped conversation.
The information is then sent to the National Counterterrorism Center, a Northern Virginia nerve center set up after the Sept. 11 attacks. There, analysts put names - even partial names - into a huge classified database of known and suspected terrorists. The database, called Terrorist Identities Datamart Enterprise, or TIDE, also includes some suspects' relatives and others in contact with the suspects. About 2 percent of the people in this database are Americans.
Analysts scour the database trying to make connections and update files as new intelligence flows in.
The next tier of analysis happens at the Terrorist Screening Center, another Northern Virginia intelligence center, staffed by analysts from federal law enforcement agencies across the government.
• About 350 names a day are sent to the Terrorist Screening Center for more analysis and consideration to be put on the government-wide terror watch list. This is a list of about 418,000 people, maintained by the FBI.
To place a name on that list, analysts must have a reasonable suspicion that the person is connected to terrorism. People on this watch list may be questioned at a U.S. border checkpoint or when applying for a visa. But just being on this list isn't enough to keep a person off an airplane. Authorities must have a suspect's full name and date of birth as well as adequate information showing the suspect is a threat to aviation or national security.
• Once armed with information for those three categories, about a half-dozen experts from the Transportation Security Administration who work at the screening center have two options. They can add a suspect to the "selectee list," a roster of about 18,000 people who can still fly but must go through extra screening at the airport. Or, if analysts determine a person is too dangerous to board a plane, they can put the suspect on the no-fly list.
The names on each list are constantly under review and updated as the threat changes.
In 2007, officials removed people who were no longer considered threats. Some were inactive members of the Irish Republican Army, a former law enforcement official said. And in 2008, the criteria was expanded to include information about young Somali-American men leaving the U.S. to join the international terrorist group al-Shabab, the senior intelligence official said. If a person on the no-fly list dies, his name could stay on the list so that the government can catch anyone trying to assume his identity.
At times, officials have allowed passengers to fly even if they are on the no-fly list, the former law enforcement official said. In some cases, this is to let agents shadow suspected terrorists while they're in the U.S. Before this happens, FBI agents and TSA experts consult with each other. If it is decided a suspected terrorist should be allowed on the flight, he and his belongings might then go through extra screening, he might be watched on camera at the airport, and more federal air marshals might be assigned to monitor him during his flight, the former official said.
One Chinese Baby Born with Syphilis Every Hour (CBS/AP)
World's Fastest-Growing Epidemic of the Disease Driven by Men with New Money from Booming Economy
Every hour a baby is born in China with syphilis, as the world's fastest-growing epidemic of the disease is fueled by men with new money from the nation's booming economy, researchers say.
The easy-to-cure bacterial infection, which was nearly wiped out in China five decades ago, is now the most commonly reported sexually transmitted disease in its largest city, Shanghai.
Prostitutes along with gay and bisexual men, many of whom are married with families, are driving the epidemic, according to a commentary published Thursday in the New England Journal of Medicine.
The increase reflects the country's staggering economic growth, providing both businessmen and migrant laborers more cash and opportunity to pay for unsafe sex while away from home.
"In the '50s and '60s in China, syphilis and other STDs were extremely uncommon. The number of new cases has just rapidly accelerated," Dr. Joseph Tucker, lead author and an infectious disease specialist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, said in an interview. "Even one baby born with syphilis in China is unacceptable."
Unlike other sexually spread diseases, such as gonorrhea or chlamydia, syphilis can eventually ravage the mind and kill if left untreated. A shot of penicillin is a cheap cure, but many people never experience specific symptoms and the disease remains undiagnosed.
With no mandatory routine screening in place for pregnant women in China, the rate of mother-to-child transmission jumped from 7 to 57 cases per 100,000 live births between 2003 and 2008, Tucker said.
In the U.S., despite laws in most U.S. states requiring testing during pregnancy, the disease is also making a comeback after nearly being eliminated 10 years ago. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported last month that after a 14-year decline, the number of babies born with syphilis rose from 8 to 10 cases per 100,000 live births from 2005 to 2008, mostly among black women in the South. The country's overall syphilis rate rose 17 percent in 2008 from the year before, with more than 60 percent of cases linked to gay sex.
The World Health Organization estimates 12 million people are infected with syphilis worldwide each year, affecting some 2 million pregnancies, with about one quarter of them resulting in miscarriages or stillbirths.
Another quarter of the babies who survive are born underweight or with serious infections, upping a newborn's risk of death during the first fragile weeks of life. Syphilis can also cause deafness, neurological problems or bone deformities in newborns.
"This damage is irreversible," said Dr. Connie Osborne, a senior HIV adviser at WHO in China. "Prevention of maternal syphilis combined with routine screening of pregnant women and early treatment of neonatal syphilis can prevent most, if not all, cases..."
Obama Administration Gets Tough on Airlines (ABC)
FAA and DOT Safety and Consumer Fines Against the Airlines Skyrocket
The federal government has taken a much more active role under President Obama in regulating the airlines and imposing fines for both consumer and safety violations.
The get-tough approach has led to millions of extra dollars in sanctions and more pro-passenger rules, such as recent limits on how long a plane can wait on the tarmac for takeoff.
These changes are in stark contrast, aviation experts say, to the Bush years, when regulators essentially let the airlines police themselves.
"The previous administration, after 9/11, pretty much called the watchdogs off in terms of enforcement actions or things that would cost the industry any money at all," said L. Nick Lacey, the former director of flight standards for the FAA and now chief operating officer of aviation consulting firm Morten Beyer & Agnew. "Either said or unsaid that was the operating tone in the field. Now, under this administration, they seem to be more actively looking and willing to bring about civil penalties."
Take the Department of Transportation, which oversees airline pricing, advertising, delays on the tarmac and involuntary bumping. In 2009, after Obama had appointed Ray LaHood as Transportation Secretary, the DOT levied $2.6 million in fines again the airlines. That's up from $1.2 million during the Bush administration in 2008 and $1.4 million in 2007, according to data requested by ABC News from the DOT.
The Federal Aviation Administration, which oversees safety, also saw a spike in penalties during the first year under the leadership of Obama appointee Randy Babbitt. In 2009, the FAA fined the airlines $14.7 million, up from $7.6 million in 2008 and $6.1 million the year before, according to ABC News calculations of FAA data.
"Clearly we have an administration now which believes in more government intervention on behalf of consumers and other constituencies," said Brian F. Havel, a law professor and director of the International Aviation Law Institute at DePaul University in Chicago. "I think the philosophy of the administration clearly is to be more interventionist."
Just last week, the DOT fined Southwest Airlines $200,000 for bumping passengers from oversold flights without promptly paying them or providing written notices of their rights. Last year, Southwest bumped 13,113 passengers -- 80 percent more than the next closest carrier. (Southwest, however, did carry the most passengers domestically. Passengers had higher odds of being bumped on other airlines, with American Eagle being the worst.)
But Havel and other aviation experts say the real sign of change came with the DOT's recent tarmac delay rules. For years, passenger-rights groups have been fighting for a so-called Passengers' Bill of Rights, after a handful of flight-delay incidents that can only be described as horrific. The most famous was on Valentine's Day 2007, when JetBlue kept some passengers trapped in planes on the ground for more than 10 hours during a snowstorm.
Congress has considered several passenger provisions but never passed any real protections into law.
Then in August of 2009, 51 passengers on a Continental Express flight diverted to Rochester, Minn., ended up stranded overnight on the tarmac with little food and a broken toilet. That was a tipping point for LaHood, who decided not to wait for Congress, and ordered agency regulations on his own.
Since last week, airlines have been required on domestic flights to let passengers off any plane that has spent three hours on the ground waiting for takeoff. Airlines found in violation are subject to fines of up to $27,500 per passenger. That's a steep fine; a single delayed jet with 186 passengers on board could cost the airline a fine of $5.1 million. The airlines have been fiercely opposed to the new rule and said they will preemptively cancel flights rather than risk such steep penalties.
Havel said the DOT moved again with the tarmac delay rules because Congress failed to take action.
"That alone is a sign of a new activism by the administration," he said. "The Obama administration clearly has taken a very strong stance here and passed these rules and this is a sign, perhaps, of the way they intend their enforcement policy to be in the future..."
Franken Targets Rating Agencies (ABC)
Democratic Senator from Minnesota Set to Introduce Financial Reform Amendment Aimed at Stamping Out 'Ratings Shopping'
Sen. Al Franken has written an amendment to financial overhaul legislation that would seek to prevent securities underwriters from hiring rating agencies based on which ones proved most willing to give their deals the highest possible ratings.
The three largest rating agencies, Fitch Ratings, Moody's Investors Service and Standard & Poor's, have all come under fire of late for their role in the financial crisis of 2008, and would be most affected by the proposal.
"If a failing student paid their teacher to turn their F into an A, everyone would agree that what the teacher had done was unethical," the Minnesota Democrat told ABCNews.com. "But right now, investors are being sold a phony bill of goods. We need to protect consumers from the pay-to-play system that rewards Wall Street players at the expense of Main Street."
Senators Bill Nelson, D-Fla., and Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., have agreed to cosponsor the amendment, according to a spokesman for Franken. The amendment is expected to be formally introduced later this week.
Meanwhile, Nelson is also preparing his own possible amendment that would seek to hold rating agencies more accountable once their ratings, akin to Good Housekeeping seals of approval, are handed out.
Currently, agencies continue to monitor credit ratings only if they are paid to do so. Nelson's proposal would mandate ongoing surveillance...
One of the major findings of the Senate subcommittee, tasked with identifying the root causes of the financial meltdown, was the appearance of collusion between Wall Street banks, such as Goldman, and the raters. In some cases, banks shopped deals around, deals which could earn raters hundreds of thousands of dollars in fees.
Banks routinely selected the raters most willing to hand out the coveted triple-A rating, according to Levin.
Franken said his amendment, titled "Restore Integrity to Credit Ratings," would lay the groundwork for a new regulatory entity that would include members of the investment community and would be in charge of objectively and independently selecting the agency that provides initial ratings to newly minted securities, so as to reduce the potential for "ratings shopping" or other conflicts of interest.
"[The measure] would increase competition by enabling smaller credit rating agencies to finally have an opportunity to compete against the largest three agencies that have abused the issuer-pays model," a written summary of the Franken amendment said...
Ahmadinejad Defiant in Face of U.N. Sanctions, Israeli Military (ABC)
Iranian President: Talk of Sanctions 'Will Not Work,' Times Square Bomb Plot 'Clear Indication' of Failure in War on Terror
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad flatly stated his country will "definitely continue" its nuclear program despite the potential threat of Israeli military action -- which Ahmadinejad brushed off completely -- and the gathering of support for new, U.S.-proposed sanctions.
"[It's] no problem," Ahmadinejad told ABC News' George Stephanopoulos of President Obama's recent push for a fourth round of sanctions against Iran. "Any measure he takes will be proportionately confronted by a position that Iran will take ... we will act the same way as we have been doing so far against hostilities. Don't worry about us, we know how to defend ourselves.
"We will not accept something that's forced upon us... Therefore let's put it aside. This is not something that by threatening Iran or putting pressure on Iran, will force Iran to change its positions. This is not something that will work. Its time has passed," he said.
Ahmadinejad said the new round of sanctions -- which both Chinese leaders agreed to in concept and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said he would support if implemented effectively -- were illegal based on the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and implied that the U.S. represented the greater threat to global security.
"Which one is more dangerous? Yesterday the United States announced that 'We have more than 5,000 atomic bombs.' Is 5,000 more dangerous or a country that might get the atomic bomb? Which is more dangerous for the world's security?" he said. "This opinion that some American authorities have are the root cause of the world's problems -- that someone who possesses nuclear bombs [to] tell others not to use it for peaceful means."
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton disclosed the number of U.S. nuclear weapons -- 5,113 -- for the first time Monday at the U.N. before rebuking Ahmadinejad for his claims that morning that the U.S. used its nuclear weapons to threaten other countries.
"This morning, Iran's president offered the same tired, false and sometimes wild accusations against the United States and other parties at this conference," Clinton said Monday. "That's not surprising. Iran will do whatever it can to divert attention away from its own record and to attempt to evade accountability..."
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