AP News in Brief

Published 10:10 am Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Fed and Treasury chiefs to get earful from Congress on AIG, new bank-cleanup efforts

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Federal Reserve’s chairman and the secretary of the treasury are making a rare joint appearance at a congressional hearing, ostensibly to take a scolding over the handling of bonuses at AIG, the giant insurance company that has become the symbol of reckless risk-taking on Wall Street.

But after venting their spleen yet again at a House hearing Tuesday, lawmakers also were expected to press Fed boss Ben Bernanke and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner on the new risks to taxpayers from their latest effort to save tottering banks and the U.S. economy: a plan to take over up to $1 trillion in dodgy mortgage securities with the help of private investors.

At the same time, Bernanke and Geithner are likely to once again call on Congress to enact legislation that would allow the government to safely dismantle a big financial institution, like American International Group Inc., to minimize any damage to the U.S financial system and the broader economy.

Obama last week said his administration soon will propose new financial industry oversight that includes a “resolution authority” with powers similar to those of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., which can seize control of banks, take over their bad assets and sell the good ones to competitors.

The proposal would give the treasury secretary the unprecedented power, after consulting with officials at the Fed, to take control of a major financial institution and run it. The treasury chief is an official of the administration, unlike the FDIC, which is an independent regulatory agency.


Obama trying to stop stoking fiery rhetoric on AIG bonuses, fearing overreaction

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama is trying to dampen a fire he once stoked, urging a more tempered response to public furor over bonuses paid to executives of the publicly rescued insurance giant American International Group.

Obama is virtually certain to use Tuesday’s prime-time news conference to continue an effort that began over the weekend: cooling the anti-AIG ferocity, now that it threatens to undermine his efforts to bail out the nation’s deeply troubled financial sector.

Obama’s tone changed dramatically after the House voted last week for targeted taxes to take back most of the $165 million in bonuses paid to AIG executives. Many lawmakers felt Obama had encouraged their step, because he called the bonuses reckless, outrageous and unjustified.

In the White House, however, the situation seemed to be spinning out of control. Some fellow Democrats questioned the constitutionality and wisdom of the House’s action. Executives of other troubled companies signaled they would not make deals with a federal government that revises agreements after they are signed.

On Sunday, Obama told CBS’ “60 Minutes” the House’s plan to slap a special tax on the AIG executives would be unconstitutional. Borrowing a line from his Feb. 24 speech to Congress, he said he would not “govern out of anger.”


Speculation shifts from overloading to ice on the wings as cause of plane crash in Montana

WASHINGTON (AP) — Speculation over the crash of a single-engine turboprop plane into a cemetery shifted to ice on the wings Monday after it became less likely that overloading was to blame, given that half of the 14 people on board were small children.

While descending Sunday in preparation for landing at the Bert Mooney Airport in Butte, Mont., the plane passed through a layer of air at about 1,500 feet that was conducive to icing because the temperatures were below freezing and the air “had 100 percent relative humidity or was saturated,” according to AccuWeather.com, a forecasting service in State College, Pa.

Safety experts said similar icing condition existed when a Continental Airlines twin-engine turboprop crashed into a home near Buffalo Niagara International Airport last month, killing 50.

A possible aerodynamic stall in which ice causes the plane to lose lift, and the pilot’s reaction to it, has been the focus of the Buffalo investigation.

“It’s Buffalo all over again, or it could be,” said John Goglia, a former member of the National Transportation Safety Board. “Icing, given those conditions, is certainly going to be high on the list of things to look at for the investigators.”


Pakistan’s chief justice urges end to judicial corruption; president calls for reconciliation

ISLAMABAD (AP) — The Pakistani chief justice whose ouster sparked political turmoil called for an end to judicial corruption upon returning to his office Tuesday, a day after the president — who had long blocked the judge’s reinstatement — reached out to reconcile.

Meanwhile, the capital remained tense after a suicide bombing killed an officer at a police station housing intelligence facilities — a reminder of the militant threat to this shaky, U.S.-allied nation.

Supporters of Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry threw rose petals on his car as it entered the Supreme Court compound. Chaudhry technically resumed work Sunday, the day after the justice who had replaced him retired.

At the start of his first hearing, Chaudhry thanked Pakistanis for supporting his restoration but warned that the population often viewed the courts as corrupt.

“Lawyers should help us end corruption,” he said. “You should point out those cases in which you see elements of corruption. It is a must for justice to end corruption first.”


Analysis: US leaders say the war in Afghanistan is stalemated as Obama prepares new strategy

WASHINGTON (AP) — When President Barack Obama presents his overhaul of U.S. strategy and goals in the Afghanistan war in the coming days, it’s a safe bet that he will not claim America and its allies are winning the seven-year-old conflict.

Almost no one inside the Obama administration makes those claims, a bleak assessment that acknowledges the grinding stalemate the war has become, and its impending plans to change tactics and lower expectations.

Little has gone as planned in Afghanistan in recent months, and Obama’s advisers know their program to counter a resourceful insurgency may not work, and will cost many more American lives before they find out.

The cautionary tone coming from Obama and his top military and civilian commanders is a quantum shift from the misplaced optimism that papered over harsh battlefield realities during the Vietnam War and the post-invasion period of the Iraq war.

Obama’s mission statement for Afghanistan and Pakistan, expected before he sees NATO allies in Europe next week, is likely to redefine victory in the sprawling, decentralized country. The long-awaited review also will probably acknowledge the shortcomings of military power to win a war of “hearts and minds” — the hoary military catch-phrase left over from Vietnam.


Netanyahu bid to moderate Israeli government faces crucial Labor coalition vote

JERUSALEM (AP) — Benjamin Netanyahu’s bid to moderate the image of his incoming Israeli government faced a crucial test on Tuesday as the centrist Labor Party was deciding whether to join.

Negotiators from Labor and Netanyahu’s hawkish Likud Party have worked for the past two days on a coalition agreement that was to be presented to Labor’s central committee later Tuesday. In a gesture to Labor, the deal would commit to pursuing a peace agreement with the Palestinians.

Half of Labor’s lawmakers object to teaming up with Netanyahu because of his long-standing opposition to peace efforts. Tuesday’s vote was expected to be close.

Netanyahu has been a vocal critic of the outgoing government’s peace talks with the Palestinians, saying conditions are not ripe for a deal.

But he appears to be softening his line as he courts moderates. A broader coalition would bring stability to the government since it would not be hostage to the demands of smaller partners. It also would enjoy more international credibility because some members are committed to peace talks.


AP source: White House reviewing EPA finding that global warming is a danger to the public

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Environmental Protection Agency has taken the first step on the long road to regulating greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act.

Politicians and the public, business and industry will have to weigh in along the way, but for now a proposed finding by the EPA that global warming is a threat to public health and welfare is under White House review.

The threat declaration would be the first step to regulating carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act and could have broad economic and environmental ramifications. It also would probably spur action by Congress to address climate change more broadly.

The White House acknowledged Monday that the EPA had transmitted its proposed finding on global warming to the Office of Management and Budget, but provided no details. It also cautioned that the Obama administration, which sees responding to climate change a top priority, nevertheless is ready to move cautiously when it comes to actually regulating greenhouse gases, preferring to have Congress act on the matter.

The Supreme Court two years ago directed the EPA to decide whether greenhouse gases, especially carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels, pose a threat to public health and welfare because they are warming the earth. If such a finding is made, these emissions are required to be regulated under the Clean Air Act, the court said.


Health costs for Alzheimer’s triple that of other elderly people, plus unpaid family care

CHICAGO (AP) — The health care costs of Alzheimer’s disease patients are more than triple those of other older people, and that doesn’t even include the billions of hours of unpaid care from family members, a new report suggests.

Compared with people aged 65 and older without Alzheimer’s, those with the mind-destroying disease are much more often hospitalized and treated in skilled-nursing centers. Their medical costs also often include nursing home care and Medicare-covered home health visits.

That all adds up to at least $33,007 in annual costs per patient, compared with $10,603 for an older person without Alzheimer’s, according to a report issued Tuesday by the Alzheimer’s Association.

The numbers are based on 2004 data and include average per-person Medicare, Medicaid and private insurance costs.

Costs likely have grown since then as the U.S population has aged and the number of Alzheimer’s diagnoses has risen, said Angela Geiger, the Alzheimer’s Association chief strategy officer.


David Letterman marries longtime girlfriend, Regina Lasko; couple has 5-year-old son

LOS ANGELES (AP) — David Letterman said he and longtime girlfriend Regina Lasko had a bumpy trip to matrimony last week.

During a taping Monday of CBS’ “Late Show,” Letterman said he and Lasko married March 19 at the Teton County Courthouse in Choteau, Mont., but only after their truck got stuck on a muddy road.

Letterman and Lasko, whose son, Harry, was born in November 2003, didn’t take an immediate honeymoon. The late-night host was back at work in New York on Monday to deliver the news — and a few jokes about the marriage.

“Regina and I began dating in February of 1986, and I said, ‘Well, things are going pretty good, let’s just see what happens in about 10 years,'” Letterman, who turns 62 next month, said at the taping, according to a transcript.

After avoiding marriage for more than two decades, Letterman said, “I secretly felt that men who were married admired me … like I was the last of the real gunslingers, you know what I’m saying?”


Grant Hill hits clutch jumper, free throw to help Suns win 5th straight, 118-115 over Nuggets

PHOENIX (AP) — The Phoenix Suns improved their playoff chances with another hard-fought victory.

And it doesn’t get any easier from here.

Grant Hill hit a 12-foot jumper in the lane to break a tie with 58.6 seconds remaining, then added a free throw with 6.2 seconds left to help Phoenix extend its season-high winning streak to five games with a 118-115 victory over Denver on Monday night.

“We can always play like that when we are focused and playing the right way,” Shaquille O’Neal said.

The Suns (39-31) closed to within three games of idle Dallas for the eighth and final Western Conference playoff berth. They have gained three games on the Mavericks in 11 days and have one more game against Dallas on April 5. Phoenix plays Utah twice and Portland in the next three games over four days, beginning Wednesday.