Monday, March 15, 2010

News Headlines Roundup 15 Mar 2010

From Denny: Check out the outrage of the day with AIG, an amusing but true opinion piece of comparing Rumsfeld's so-called Old Europe to America - and guess what - there really is life in the frozen waters of Antartica.

AIG Holding Back $21M in Bonuses: AIG is withholding $21 million in retention bonuses that were set to be paid Monday to current and former employees of the company's financial products division, according to a CNBC report.

In an effort to quell public outrage about lavish bonuses, AIG has set about to recoup $45 million in bonuses paid to members of the same unit whose risky deals would have brought down the insurer if not for a nearly $180 billion federal bailout in September 2008.

Lawmakers and federal officials, including White House executive pay czar Kenneth Feinberg, have consistently expressed indignation over AIG's bonuses, which the insurer has insisted it is contractually obligated to pay out. After paying out $165 million in bonuses last year, AIG began a voluntary giveback program and recouped $40 million.

With the latest giveback, the insurer will exceed its $45 million giveback goal.

AIG is still paying out $46 million to around 70 people, many former employees of the financial products unit, according to CNBC's report.

In all, AIG was set to pay out $195 million in bonuses by March 15, but many employees agreed to reduce lesser amounts in exchange for an earlier payment, which saved the insurer $20 million. The $46 million payment is going to those employees who are still owed bonus money.

Dying to Diss' Old Europe? Think Twice: Each time I return from a visit to the other side of the Atlantic, Don Rumsfeld looks smarter all the time - though for all the wrong reasons. I'll keep this brief because I'm still jet-lagged, but remember back in early 2003, when France and Germany opposed George Bush's Iraq invasion plan? That's when the then-U.S. Secretary of Defense took a public swipe at French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder. In doing so, he also managed to insult a lot of Europeans to the delight of the neo-con crowd back home.

When you look at "vast numbers of other countries in Europe, they're not with France and Germany... they're with the U.S.," Rumsfeld said. "You're thinking of Europe as Germany and France. I don't. I think that's old Europe."

... Europe obviously has issues to sort through. Yet a headline scan turns up no shortage of bizarre and untoward behavior in our own backyard. Consider the following:

...More fodder for those who believe corporations control the Congress. Nearly 15 months after a reform-minded president came into office, we still don't have health care reform.

Speaking of Congress, the habits of a former member with a predilection for tickle fights became a prime time obsession. As if we should really care.

And silly me. I thought the judiciary was supposed to be immune from partisanship. Yet here was the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court zinging the President of the United States for conducting what he described as a "political pep rally."

A high school in Mississippi cancels its prom following a request by a gay female student to attend the party with her same-sex date. (Here's the wording from the official statement: "Due to the distractions to the educational process caused by recent events, the Itawamba County School District has decided to not host a prom at Itawamba Agricultural High School this year.") Distractions? Is this 2010 or 1910?

Karl Rove told the BBC that he "was proud" that the U.S. used harsh interrogation techniques on detainees, including waterboarding, which he asserted was not torture. "They're appropriate, they're in conformity with our international agreements and with U.S. law." So says Rove. That statement surely falls into the "Mars-Venus" category.

... Well, that's just the short list. I could go on but why belabor the point? Most of the hired help in Washington either is too clueless or to gutless to acknowledge that when it comes to oddball and feckless behavior, the U.S. still has Europe beat by a country mile. The late, great George Carlin said it best. When you're born, they give you a pass to the freak show. When you're born in the United States, you get a front row seat. That's one thing we'll still have over Old Europe, every day of the week.

NASA Finds Shrimp Beneath Antarctica Ice: jellyfish frolicking beneath a massive Antarctic ice sheet.

Six hundred feet below the ice where no light shines, scientists had figured nothing much more than a few microbes could exist.

That's why a NASA team was surprised when they lowered a video camera to get the first long look at the underbelly of an ice sheet in Antarctica. A curious shrimp-like creature came swimming by and then parked itself on the camera's cable. Scientists also pulled up a tentacle they believe came from a foot-long jellyfish.

"We were operating on the presumption that nothing's there," said NASA ice scientist Robert Bindschadler, who will be presenting the initial findings and a video at an American Geophysical Union meeting Wednesday. "It was a shrimp you'd enjoy having on your plate."

"We were just gaga over it," he said of the 3-inch-long, orange critter starring in their two-minute video. Technically, it's not a shrimp. It's a Lyssianasid amphipod, which is distantly related to shrimp.

The video is likely to inspire experts to rethink what they know about life in harsh environments. And it has scientists musing that if shrimp-like creatures can frolic below 600 feet of Antarctic ice in subfreezing dark water, what about other hostile places? What about Europa, a frozen moon of Jupiter?

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