February 24th, 2009
02:38 PM ET

Public funds to pay for private debt

Carolyn Feibel
The Houston Chronicle

Houston taxpayers could start footing the bill to help first-time homebuyers pay off debts and improve their credit scores, under a proposal before City Council this week.

The “Credit Score Enhancement Program” will give up to $3,000 in grants to individuals who are trying to qualify for mortgages through the city’s homebuyers assistance program. City officials say some applicants fall short of eligibility by only 10 or 20 points on their credit scores, and paying off some debt balances can quickly improve their numbers.

The proposal has aroused critics who say the city should not use public funds to help people pay down car loans, credit card balances, or other debts — even if the slight credit bump would help them realize the dream of home- ownership.

“We just can’t give away government money to help people with their credit scores,” Councilman Mike Sullivan said Monday. “You’re giving them other taxpayers’ money to pay off the bills.”


Filed under: Bailout Turmoil • Housing Market
February 24th, 2009
02:21 PM ET

Sure, I'll address Congress...as long as I remember to TiVo CSI: Miami

Jack Gray
AC360° Producer/Writer

It’s a big night for President Obama. He has his first address to a joint session of Congress.  Naturally, that makes me think of my first address to a joint session of Congress.  It was a day that started off like any other: Me waking up on the floor of my apartment with Angela Lansbury’s e-mail address written in pink lipstick on my bicep.

As I was thinking of a way to let Angela down gently, my cell phone rang.  I knew from the specially assigned ring tone – Hail to the Chief sung by the Pussycat Dolls – that it was The White House.  The Chief of Staff told me that Congress was demanding an impromptu State of the Union address that very night.  And, it turned out, with the president overseas and the vice president sidelined with a yoga injury (I told him doing Downward-facing Dog while Air Force Two was experiencing turbulence was a bad idea) the responsibility fell on my shoulders.

I know what you’re thinking: that doesn’t sound right.  But remember, this was during that brief period when the constitution had been amended so that the line of succession went:  president, vice president, Jennifer Love Hewitt, then me.  And, considering Love’s itchy nuclear trigger finger and radical views on healthcare for orphans, the power players in the West Wing wanted me to make the address.

Anyway, I am nothing if not a proud American and I’ll do whatever my country asks of me.  Provided that I’m given a meal allowance.


Filed under: 360° Radar • Jack Gray • Raw Politics
February 24th, 2009
01:59 PM ET

Calling all whistleblowers! The SEC wants you

Robert Chew

From "Sir" Allen Stanford's recent alleged $8 billion CD sticky wicket to Bernie Madoff's $50 billion decades-long lie, it seems each new day brings another round of financial madness, and yet no one person or government agency seems to be moving fast to find a cure.

But the Securities and Exchange Commission's Inspector General, David Kotz, is all ears for one group with answers: Wall Street's whistleblowers.


Filed under: 360° Radar • Economy
February 24th, 2009
01:55 PM ET

You want earmarks? Here ya go!

Steve Turnham
CNN Producer

Hard on the heels of President Barack Obama's fiscal responsibility summit, the House Appropriations Committee posted the text of all those spending bills for this year that Congress failed to pass last year, and they're jam packed with thousands of earmarks worth billions of dollars.

The overall cost of the FY 2009 Omnibus Spending Act tops $400 billion, but it'll take some time before we know how much of that has been set aside by members for their pet projects.

A preliminary run through the earmark requests reveals some familiar pork projects: countless bike paths, downtown improvement projects, and museums. Democrats get the lion's share according to the old tradition of the party in power taking 60% of the earmarks.


Filed under: Raw Politics • Steve Turnham
February 24th, 2009
01:49 PM ET

Financial Dispatch: Bernanke sees end of recession

Andrew Torgan
CNN Financial News Producer

Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke says he's hoping the recession could end later this year, but he cautioned that a full economic recovery will take "more than two or three years."

The head of the central bank said in prepared remarks before the Senate Banking Committee today that a turnaround will only occur "if actions taken by the administration, the Congress, and the Federal Reserve are successful in restoring some measure of financial stability." He also acknowledged the recovery might not go as well as hoped.

Home prices declined at a record pace around the nation in the final three months of 2008.

The S&P Case-Shiller National Home Price Index says prices sank a record 18.2% during the last three months of 2008, compared with the same period in 2007. Case-Shiller's index of 20 major metropolitan areas fell 18.5%, also a record.


Filed under: Andrew Torgan • Economy • Finance • Gas Prices • Oil • Wall St.
February 24th, 2009
01:28 PM ET

Children capable of murder

Dr. Gail Saltz
AC360° Contributor

Jordan Brown, an 11-year old from Pennsylvania, is accused of planning and killing his father’s pregnant girlfriend while she slept. Months ago, an 8-year-old boy shot and killed his father and a tenant in their home.

The idea that a child could actually murder is terrifying and, thankfully, rare. However, children have intense emotions like jealousy and rage…just as adults do. What they don’t have is a fully-developed superego (a moral compass), nor the full understanding of the permanence of death and the consequences of murder.

What makes matters worse is that certain children grow up with access to guns. Some are even taught how to shoot. They do not have the same fear of weapons as children who have never been exposed to guns – and warned of their danger- often have.


Filed under: Gail Saltz • Gun Control • Gun Violence
February 24th, 2009
12:52 PM ET

Pakistan's extremist triumph

Ahmed Rashid
Los Angeles Times

Maulana Sufi Mohammed, a radical cleric who was freed last year after spending six years in jail for leading 10,000 Pashtun tribesmen in opposition to the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, has begun a new campaign. He is leading a peace march through the strategic Swat Valley in an attempt to persuade his son-in-law, Maulana Qazi Fazlullah, to accept the government's offer of a cease-fire and enforcement of an Islamic system of justice in the valley.

The fact that Mohammed has embraced the government's offer is a sign of how fully Islamabad has capitulated to the demands of extremists in the region. And the fact that the peace deal has not yet been accepted by Fazlullah, who leads the Swati contingent of the Pakistani Taliban and is closely allied with Al Qaeda, is a sign of how radicalized some of the region has become.


Filed under: 360° Radar • Pakistan
February 24th, 2009
12:34 PM ET

Entrepreneurs can lead us out of the crisis

Tom Hayes and Michael S. Malone
The Wall Street Journal

The passage of the $787 billion stimulus bill has so far failed to stimulate anything but greater market pessimism. This suggests to us that the strategy behind the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act is wrong - and worse, that the weapons it is using to fight the recession are obsolete.

Just as generals are notorious for fighting the last war, Congress and the White House seem intent on fixing an economy of hidebound and obsolete companies and industries, while ignoring the innovative ones rising before us and those waiting to be born.

Missing from this legislation is anything more than token support for the long-proven source of most new jobs and new growth in America: entrepreneurs. These are the people who gave us everything - from Wal-Mart to iPhones, from microprocessors to Twitter - that is still strong in our economy. Without entrepreneurs, we will never get out of our current predicament.


Filed under: Economy
February 24th, 2009
11:36 AM ET

Dear President Obama #36: Dancing the Mardi Gras Mambo

Reporter's Note: President Obama has asked for ideas on how to run the government. Lately he’s even been chatting with Republicans about this, so I see no reason to stop my daily letters to the White House.

Tom Foreman | Bio
AC360° Correspondent

Dear Mr. President,

Happy Mardi Gras! Being from Chicago, I’m sure it’s not one of the top holidays on your list, but we New Orleanians always have room for one more at the fais do do. Actually, I don’t suppose I can properly call myself a native, since I lived there only five years, but the city took such a special place in my heart I’ve considered it home ever since.

We had a very nice party at our house over the weekend, and I wish you could have made it. Everyone would have been delighted to see you. Crawfish spread, shrimp po-boys with remoulade sauce, three kinds of jambalaya, hurricanes, and king cake just to give you a little taste of the menu. A fair number of the guests were former New Orleans residents, so we sat around telling stories of the city we love, and past Carnivals, while the fire burned down and Big Chief played on the stereo. Seriously, you would have loved it.


February 24th, 2009
11:35 AM ET

Why do we think we are "entitled"?

Douglas MacKinnon
The Baltimore Sun

One of the most dangerous words in the English language is "entitlement." It helped create, and continues to fuel, the current economic meltdown. It underscores a dangerous lack of accountability and honesty by some of our leaders – and ourselves.

A county government official recently told me that just the "pension obligations owed to firefighters and police" were keeping him up at night. One thing that so many large employers have in common – from car companies, to the U.S. Postal Service, to local governments – is massive pension obligation that are wreaking havoc on their bottom lines and threatening their viability.

But why should anyone be "entitled" to a pension? The fact is, the vast majority of Americans have no access to a pension, do not expect one, and will never get one. And if they don't get a pension for the hard work and long hours they put in, why should a shrinking minority be "entitled" to one?


Filed under: 360° Radar • Economy
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