March 4th, 2009
12:25 PM ET

Gordon Brown needs more from his new best friend than a handshake

Evening Standard
Anne McElvoy

Mr Obama knew that his visitor longed to hear that he was a special visitor. He duly said that the relationship with the UK was lasting and valuable – and sounded as if he meant it.

Then Mr Brown pushed his luck by trying to sound more familiar with his new friend than he really is, and was left floundering on the subject of tennis and basketball. We heard the nervous talk of a man who wanted to spin out his 30 minutes with the most popular politician on the planet.

In one of the early West Wing episodes, a nervous new aide is briefed by a know-all colleague, who tells him his job will be to hurry people in and out of the Oval Office. "They want to linger as long as possible. The President really wants them to go. And that's just the Prime Ministers and heads of state." There's always some truth in this: however special the relationship may be, it is lopsided by virtue of wealth and power.


March 4th, 2009
12:20 PM ET

We can’t afford the death penalty

New America Media
Lance Lindsey

From California to New York, dozens of newspapers are declaring that state governments can no longer afford the death penalty.

The Death Penalty Information Center in Washington, D.C., recently reported that the death penalty is too costly. Maryland spent $37 million per execution in the past 28 years. In Florida, home to the second largest death row in the country, the cost estimates are $24 million per execution. California’s cost is $250 million per execution, according to a Los Angeles Times article cited in the report. These states are among 36 states that have the death penalty and, like nearly every state, are going through a financial crisis.

The outrageous price that taxpayers bear in order to kill a handful of prisoners has been thrown into sharp relief.

Legislators in New Mexico, Kansas, Maryland, Nebraska, Montana, New Hampshire, and Colorado are now calling for a repeal of capital punishment, not only to help balance budgets but as a necessary first step in redirecting scarce resources toward genuine public safety measures such as investigating unsolved homicides, community policing, modernizing crime labs, expanding mental health services and other more effective crime prevention programs.


Filed under: Death penalty • Economy
March 4th, 2009
12:13 PM ET

Jindal's wrong on arts funding


For actress Jane Alexander, the criticism of a $50 million boost in funding for the National Endowment for the Arts is a sequel.

She was chairman of the agency from 1993 through 1997 when arts funding was cut sharply by the Republican-led Congress, which questioned whether it was an appropriate way to use government money.

Now the issue is whether giving money to the arts should have been part of the economic stimulus program. Among those who have criticized the new spending this year is Lousiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, who delivered the Republican response to President Barack Obama's message to Congress Tuesday.

On Monday's "Larry King Live," Jindal said, "Fundamentally, I don't think $30 million for the federal government to buy new cars, $1 billion for the Census, $50 million for the National Endowment for the Arts is going to get the economy moving again as quickly as allowing the private sector to create jobs."

It's no surprise that Alexander disagrees and argues that arts spending can give a vital boost to the economy. The actress, who will appear later this month in a new comedy at the New York theater company Primary Stages called "Chasing Manet," won a Tony Award for her role in the "The Great White Hope." She has been nominated eight times for an Emmy and four times for an Oscar for films including, "All the President's Men" and "Kramer vs. Kramer."


Filed under: Arts
March 4th, 2009
11:57 AM ET

Engaging American Muslims in policy

Baltimore Sun
Amreena Hussain

A new Gallup poll finds that American Muslims consider themselves to be thriving, and yet large numbers say they do not feel content. Is that any wonder, when Muslims traditionally have been excluded, or have excluded themselves, from social and political involvement in this country?

The North East Chapter of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) will bring its annual conference to Baltimore in May. The theme is "What it means to be Muslim in America." As a young Muslim woman who has attended many such conferences, I am quite familiar with the theme. In the ISNA's 50-year history, the subject of "being Muslim in America" has seemed to fluctuate with every change in American foreign policy – and never much else. At least, not until now.

For Muslim Americans, engagement in domestic policy has been marked by mutual disinterest and dissociation. This is not too surprising in a community with a fairly self-sufficient suburbanized citizenry whose primary policy concerns lie beyond American shores – events such as wars in Muslim totalitarian states and American foreign policy concerning Iran, Palestine and Lebanon. Yet this audience is just as concerned with its image in the U.S. as it is with growing unrest in the Muslim world.


Filed under: Islam • President Barack Obama
March 4th, 2009
11:41 AM ET

A farewell to jobs

As the economy's victims pile up, how can anyone feel secure?

Los Angeles Times
Jill Andresky Fraser

According to a recently released poll, 32% of Americans are crazy.

At least, that's how I read the data. What the poll, conducted by Associated Press-GfK Roper Public Affairs & Media, actually found is that an astonishing 32% of those surveyed are confident that they are secure in their jobs.

How can anyone today feel safe? Many industries - automobile manufacturing, media, the retail sector, financial services and construction to name a few - are in free fall. And now even technology giants such as National Semiconductor and Dell have begun laying people off. So has that symbol of all symbols, Microsoft, which recently announced the first major layoff in the company's history.

And it all trickles down. As computer programmers cut back on their lattes, Starbucks workers lose their jobs. And as taxes shrink, governments contract, which means that tiny branches of local libraries are laying off people too - despite the fact that, in many communities, libraries have emerged as gathering spots for unemployed people of all ages and at all stages in their careers.


Filed under: Economy • Unemployment
March 4th, 2009
11:06 AM ET

Deficits and fiscal credibility

A Democratic senator says no to a huge federal spending bill.

The Wall Street Journal
Evan Bayh

This week, the United States Senate will vote on a spending package to fund the federal government for the remainder of this fiscal year. The Omnibus Appropriations Act of 2009 is a sprawling, $410 billion compilation of nine spending measures that lacks the slightest hint of austerity from the federal government or the recipients of its largess.

The Senate should reject this bill. If we do not, President Barack Obama should veto it.

The omnibus increases discretionary spending by 8% over last fiscal year's levels, dwarfing the rate of inflation across a broad swath of issues including agriculture, financial services, foreign relations, energy and water programs, and legislative branch operations. Such increases might be appropriate for a nation flush with cash or unconcerned with fiscal prudence, but America is neither.

Drafted last year, the bill did not pass due to Congress's long-standing budgetary dysfunction and the frustrating delays it yields in our appropriations work. Since then, economic and fiscal circumstances have changed dramatically, which is why the Senate should go back to the drawing board. The economic downturn requires new policies, not more of the same.


Filed under: Democrats • Economy • President Barack Obama
March 4th, 2009
10:14 AM ET

Why we secretly love earmarks

Editor's note: A nationally syndicated columnist, Roland S. Martin is the author of "Listening to the Spirit Within: 50 Perspectives on Faith" and "Speak, Brother! A Black Man's View of America." Visit his Web site for more information.

Roland S. Martin

Whenever the opposing coach playing Texas A&M University would go off on the referees, our yell leaders - we don't have cheerleaders - would signal the crowd to do one of our yells that ends with, "Sit down bus driver!"

As I watched Sen. John McCain stand up and go on one of his rants about earmarks, I wanted to shout, "Sit down bus driver!"

Look, I like Sen. McCain, and to be honest, I agree with him 100 percent that Congress shouldn't be spending billions of dollars on pet projects, but I'm also realistic: no one truly cares.

Really, no one cares. Sure, there are a few folks in Congress who rail against earmarks. And there are outside pressure groups who are trying to rally the American people to voice their outrage about the process, but I firmly believe that the folks at home love to send their members of Congress to bring the bacon back home.


March 4th, 2009
09:49 AM ET

How the "Making Home Affordable" program may affect you

Editor's Note: The U.S. Department of Treasury released details on the "Making Home Affordable" program today. Here are the program details released by the Treasury. We'll have more on how this will affect you tonight on AC360 at 10 p.m. ET.

From the U.S. Department of Treasury

The deep contraction in the economy and in the housing market has created devastating consequences for homeowners and communities throughout the country. Millions of responsible families who make their monthly payments and fulfill their obligations have seen their property values fall, and are now unable to refinance to lower mortgage rates. Meanwhile, millions of workers have lost their jobs or had their hours cut, and are now struggling to stay current on their mortgage payments. As a result, as many as 6 million families are expected to face foreclosure in the next several years, with millions more struggling to stay current on their payments.

The present crisis is real, but temporary. As home prices fall, demand for housing will increase, and conditions will ultimately find a new balance. Yet in the absence of decisive action, we risk an intensifying spiral in which lenders foreclose, pushing area home prices still lower, reducing the value of household savings, and making it harder for all families to refinance. In some studies, foreclosure on a home has been found to reduce the prices of nearby homes by as much as 9%.


Filed under: Economy • Housing Market
March 4th, 2009
09:29 AM ET

Executive turned bank robber?

A felony warrant for robbery has been issued for 34-year-old Bruce W. Higgins, Jr.

A felony warrant for robbery has been issued for 34-year-old Bruce W. Higgins, Jr.

Gabriel Falcon
AC360° Writer

Bruce Higgins Jr. may have traded in his white-collar job for armed hold-ups. Investigators are convinced the former business executive has a new occupation. Professional bank robber. The work probably doesn’t require the management skills he brought to the boardroom. But the pay is probably higher. So is the price.

His resume is stellar. According to an online profile, the 34-year-old Virginia resident was Senior Vice President of Business Development at SiloSmashers, a Fairfax-based management, technology and consulting firm. His addition to the team prompted a 2006 company press release. “Mr. Higgins background includes over 12 years of executive sales, marketing and operations experience,” the announcement read. It also highlighted his leadership and oversight skills, duly noting Higgins managed a $750 million asset program for one former employer.


Filed under: Crime & Punishment • Gabe Falcon
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