April 21st, 2009
03:46 PM ET

The real world

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Jami Floyd
In Session

Madonna is still fighting to adopt a little girl named Chifundo “Mercy” James from the southern African country of Malawi. A judge in that country denied her petition, earlier this month, and she’s appealing the ruling.

All the while, Americans 10,000 miles away have questioned, challenged even excoriated Madonna for wanting to adopt this four-year-old girl. On some level, I understand. Cross racial, cross cultural and in this case cross continental adoption is fraught with emotion. There are good people on both sides of the issues; but unlike most of them, I know these children — the children of Malawi — because I’ve been there.

These are just a few of the hundreds of pictures I took — faces of the children I met there, all of them orphans — no mothers, no fathers, just hundreds of little faces looking up at me, reaching out.

None of the orphans I met were older than ten. Few survive that long. The high rate of HIV infection means lower life expectancy, higher infant mortality, and higher death rates.


Filed under: Jami Floyd
April 21st, 2009
03:45 PM ET

Computer hackers stole data on Pentagon's newest fighter aircraft

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Mike Mount
CNN Senior Pentagon Producer

Thousands of confidential files on the U.S. military's most technologically advanced fighter aircraft have been compromised by unknown computer hackers over the past two years, according to senior defense officials.

The Internet intruders were able to gain access to data related to the design and electronics systems of the aircraft through computers of Pentagon contractors in charge of designing and building the aircraft, according to the officials, who did not want to be identified because of the sensitivity of the issue.

In addition to the intrusion into files of the Joint Strike Fighter, hackers also gained entry into the Air Force's air traffic control systems, according to the officials.

Once broken into, the internet hackers were able to see such information as locations of U.S. military aircraft in flight.

The Joint Striker Fighter plane is the military's new F-35 "Lightning II," also known as the Joint Strike Fighter, it will be the future aircraft used by all of the branches of service.


Filed under: 360° Radar • Pentagon
April 21st, 2009
03:27 PM ET

Warning signs from Afghanistan

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/POLITICS/04/20/afghanistan.status/art.afghanistan.gi.jpg caption="A machine gun points out from a U.S. Marine helicopter flying over southwest Afghanistan."]

Barbara Starr
CNN Pentagon Correspondent

Two little-noticed but telling press releases today from U.S. Forces in Afghanistan offer clues that bad times may be ahead in Afghanistan. Essentially the coalition said that over just 12 hours it had located and destroyed two ZPU-1 anti-aircraft guns in Helmand Province in southern Afghanistan. These are Soviet era weapons, long considered obsolete in the West.

So what's to worry? Plenty.

Operated by a four-man crew they shoot down helicopters. And for the Marines in southern Afghanistan, that’s bad news.

Senior US commanders are concerned…wondering if this capability could be a ‘game changer” in the hands of insurgents. It was just a few days ago while in Helmand with CNN that General James Conway talked about the latest intelligence indicating insurgents had heavy anti-aircraft weapons:

“We are hearing intelligence reports to that degree. We have not actually been fired on. Nor have we identified them on the ground with our surveillance and reconnaissance but there rumors there are intercepts there are indications that there could be something like that in the weeks and months to come.”


Filed under: 360° Radar • Afghanistan • Barbara Starr • Global 360°
April 21st, 2009
03:18 PM ET

Infrastructure or chotchkes?

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David Gewirtz | BIO
Editor-in-Chief, ZATZ Publishing

My wife and I have too much junk.

When we got married four years ago and combined the contents of two small apartments into a house, we moved 19,480 pounds of...stuff. Books and furniture mostly, kitchen gadgets that don't get much use, DVDs and video games that have never been watched or played, tools I have no idea how to use, and more.

We moved into a house that seemed slightly overpriced then and seems way too expensive now. But it's not just the cost, it's the upkeep that's getting to us. Neither of us ever considered what would be required to keep a whole house clean, or what it would take to keep everything in working order.

Since we moved in, we've probably bought another ten tons of junk. More books, DVDs, games, toys, tools, gadgets, a home gym, and furniture. Did you know furniture in a bedroom was supposed to match? I didn't, at least until I got married.

We've found ourselves wishing we'd moved into a smaller house. Like most Americans, we're constantly worrying about whether or not our income will be reliable enough for us to keep making payments. They seemed reasonable when we moved in and now seem almost overwhelming.

We've stopped buying so much stuff. We rent movies now, although we rarely get the time to watch them. Rather than buying new things, we try to remember to use what we already have.

Of course, that doesn't work for necessities, like pizza, chocolate, and medical care.

But you'd be amazed what you can save when you change from being a good American consumer to a frugal one. Like most Americans, we filed our taxes last week and after pulling together all our paperwork, we discovered we spent a whole lot less in 2008 than we did in previous years.

The thing is, other than that prevailing sense of non-specific doom we all have, we didn't feel any sense of lack from our reduced spending. We didn't deny ourselves TV or entertainment, we just used what we had.

We did, however, hold off on buying the new couch and bed. Instead, we made a few repairs. All it took was an hour and a few parts from the hardware store (and my summoning the courage to use a reciprocating saw instead of a keyboard). Instead of spending a few thousand dollars to replace some furniture, it cost us less than $5 to fix what we already had.

Most Americans, rich or poor (but, actually, more often poor and middle-class) have too much stuff. A few years ago, there was a big boom in anti-clutter TV shows just to help people learn how to come to terms with getting rid of their crap.

And it's here that there might just be a small silver lining in the cloud of our post-crash economy. We're becoming a more frugal nation. In buying less stuff, we're impacting our planet less, saving a little money, and using what we've already got. No one wants enforced frugality, but irrational consumption isn't healthy either.

Sadly though, what might be healthy on an individual basis might not translate to the greater good - at this point anyway. After all, if we all rediscover the frugality and practicality that helped early Americans settle this country, we'll all wind up spending less. And, as we've come to know, when we spend less, there are fewer jobs.

It's a troubling paradox. What might be healthy for us individually and for the planet might not be so good for a consumer-based economy. But was all that instant gratification really good for us? Many of our favorite chotchkes aren't even made here in America.

Is there a way for us to learn to create jobs and employ Americans without relying on junk we buy from other countries?

That's one less obvious reason why the stimulus package might just be a good idea. Maybe, if we fix our broken bridges and rewire failing schools, there will still be jobs, but as we dig our way out of this depressing recession, we won't have to keep digging our way out of all that junk that's cluttering up our homes and our lives - and quietly eroding our economy.

Follow David on Twitter at twitter.com/davidgewirtz.

Editor’s note: David Gewirtz is Editor-in-Chief, ZATZ Magazines, including OutlookPower Magazine. He is a leading Presidential scholar specializing in White House email. He is a member of FBI InfraGard, the Cyberterrorism Advisor for the International Association for Counterterrorism & Security Professionals, a columnist for The Journal of Counterterrorism and Homeland Security, and has been a guest commentator for the Nieman Watchdog of the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University. He is a faculty member at the University of California, Berkeley extension, a recipient of the Sigma Xi Research Award in Engineering and was a candidate for the 2008 Pulitzer Prize in Letters.

Filed under: David Gewirtz • Economy
April 21st, 2009
01:46 PM ET

Financial Dispatch: Bailout cop opens criminal investigations

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Andrew Torgan
CNN Financial News Producer

The top cop tracking the government's $700 billion bailout program says he has opened 20 criminal investigations and six audits into whether taxpayer dollars are being pilfered or wasted.

Neil Barofsky, the special inspector general overseeing the TARP, released a 250-page report detailing a long list of concerns about government efforts to prop up hundreds of banks, Wall Street firms and auto companies.

Barofsky, whose investigations could lead to criminal charges, says he wants taxpayers to understand where their money is going. At the same time, he wants to alert officials to weaknesses in TARP that could invite corruption or fraud.

Geithner grilled

A bailout oversight committee today asked Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner to explain the agency's handling of the controversial $700 billion bailout program.

Congressional Oversight Panel Chairwoman Elizabeth Warren, a Harvard University law professor, stressed the need for more transparency and accountability.

“People want to see action described in terms that make sense to them and that seem fair,” she said. “They want to see that taxpayer funds aren't being used to shield financial institutions from the consequences of their own actions.”

The hearing marked the first time Geithner has publicly appeared before the panel, which was established as part of the Troubled Asset Relief Program passed by Congress last October at the height of the global financial panic.

For his part, Geithner mounted his strongest defense of Treasury's actions over the past few months as the agency has become the target of several critical reports.

“We are not a private investment firm - we are the government of the United States. When we act, we don't do it for the benefit of those banks,” he said. “You can't look at ... the narrow prism of the transaction itself. You have to look at the broader benefit it takes.”

Toxic asset fallout could hit $4 trillion

The International Monetary Fund is raising its estimate of the amount of toxic assets that banks and financial institutions around the world will have to dispose of or write down to $4 trillion.

The IMF released information from its latest "Global Financial Stability Report" today saying its estimates for global write-downs has increased from $2.7 trillion in January to $4 trillion, partly as a result of including more types of assets that have been depreciating.

Previous estimates had only included U.S.-originated assets. Also contributing to the new estimates is what the IMF calls "the worsening base-case scenario for economic growth," a projection that the recovery will be painful and slow.

New loans for GM & Chrysler?

General Motors and Chrysler will reportedly get billions more in bailout money as the two automakers race to meet government-imposed deadlines to restructure.

Reports say the Obama Administration will make about $500 million available to Chrysler through the end of this month as it seeks to reach an alliance with Fiat, and up to $5 billion through May to help GM restructure outside of bankruptcy.

Separately, Chrysler Financial - the financing arm of the troubled car maker - turned down additional government funding this month because executives could not agree to new government-mandated limits on executive pay, according to a source familiar with the matter.

An official with Chrysler Financial tells CNN that the loan was turned down because the company “has determined that it has adequate private capital funding to cover the short-term needs of our dealers and customers and as such, no additional TARP funding is necessary at this time.”

The official also said that company executives “have not been presented with any new demands with regard to executive compensation.”

Earnings rule Wall Street

Despite a lower open, Stocks on Wall Street are starting to make some headway following the Dow's nearly 300-point tumble on Monday.

Investors are focused on a wave of corporate earnings reports illustrating the bad, the not-so-bad and the good.

Dow component Caterpillar reported its first loss in 17 years before the opening bell.

The world's largest maker of construction and mining equipment posted a loss of more than $110 million. Caterpillar was pushed into the red by more than $500 million in charges.

Merck posted a 57% drop in its first quarter profits.

That’s worse than analysts were expecting, and comes on the heels of a drop in sales of Zetia and Vytorin - two cholesterol drugs which Merck has partnered with Schering-Plough to market.

On the opposite side of the earnings spectrum, Dow component DuPont came out on the high end of expectations, even though its profits fell nearly 60%. The chemical maker also cut its full-year earnings outlook.

Delta Air Lines, while being hit hard by the global recession, was able to narrow its net loss to just under $800 million.

The carrier now hopes to generate $100 million annually by instituting a $50-dollar fee for a second checked bag on international flights. That charge will go into effect July 1.

And last but not least, Coca-Cola saw first quarter profits fall 10%, but still managed to meet Wall Street’s expectations.

The soft drink giant has been focusing more closely on its core Coke and Sprite brands due to a pullback in consumer spending.

Obama to pressure credit card CEOs

Finally, are the stars finally aligned for a Washington crackdown on credit cards?

President Obama on Thursday will attend a meeting of administration officials and card company executives. He’s expected to press CEOs to adopt practices designed to protect consumers.

Meanwhile, Congress is pushing ahead on legislation that in past years has been introduced - and even approved by the House - but that has never advanced very far.

But this year might be different. Many insiders on both sides of financial services issues say they expect legislation to ride the populist wave that swept Democrats into the White House and to Congress in greater numbers.

The bills would, among other things, ban card companies from abruptly jacking up interest rates and fees and prevent young adults from getting credit cards.

Filed under: Andrew Torgan • Economy • Finance • Wall St.
April 21st, 2009
10:38 AM ET

I do - or I don't

Program Note: Tune in to hear more from Randi Kaye tonight on AC360° at 10 p.m. ET.

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/04/21/art.markoff.landov.jpg caption="Philip Markoff, suspect in the Craigslist killings."]

Randi Kaye
AC360° Correspondent

Her name is Megan McAllister and she is the fiancee of the suspected "Craigslist Killer."

Philip Markoff, a 22-year-old medical student at Boston University, is charged with murder and kidnapping.

Ms. McAllister has come to his defense, telling Good Morning America that police have the wrong man.

But what if they don't? What if the man she is supposed to marry this August in a lovely wedding at the New Jersey Shore has been leading a double life?

That's enough to send shivers down any woman's spine. The two reportedly met when they were at SUNY Albany together.  She's two years older.


Filed under: 360° Radar • Crime & Punishment • Randi Kaye
April 21st, 2009
10:22 AM ET

Do only twits tweet?

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Meghan Daum
The Chicago Tribune

What am I doing right now? If you must know, I'm staring at the computer screen, toggling between this column and my e-mail program, my online bank balance and photos of my dog. Oh wait, that was a few seconds ago. Now I'm hungry. Now I'm realizing I have no bread for toast. Now an hour has passed since I started this paragraph.

Do you find this interesting? Me neither. But the Age of Oversharing is upon us, and those of us who lack enthusiasm for minutiae are in a distinct minority. The current enabler-in-chief of this movement? Twitter, that suddenly ubiquitous "microblogging" system that lets users post updates of 140 characters or less that answer the question "what are you doing now?"

Most people still aren't quite sure what Twitter is—with only 14 million users, it's no Facebook yet—but it's insinuated itself into the popular lexicon so vigorously that just about everyone seems to have at least heard of it and its infinitive, "to tweet" (when you use Twitter, technically you are tweeting).

Keep Reading...

Filed under: 360° Radar • Technology
April 21st, 2009
09:34 AM ET

Make accountability count

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/POLITICS/04/20/obama.cia/art.obama.cia.afp.gi.jpg caption="President Obama met with CIA workers and Director Leon Panetta, left, in Virginia on Monday."]

Robert Zimmerman
AC360° Contributor and CNN Political Analyst

After thoughtful deliberation, President Obama released memos from the Bush administration revealing brutal CIA interrogation tactics. These memos, authored by leading officials in the Bush Department of Justice, made every attempt to create a legal rational to engage in nothing less than torture. Despite the use of bureaucratic language to justify their intent, there is no question these memos were an exercise to excuse tactics like "stress positions" that were employed by the Nazis in World War II or water boarding used by the Khmer Rouge in Phnom Penh Cambodia. In fact, these memos have the temerity to actually point out that other countries that behaved in a similar fashion, like Indonesia, were engaging in torture.

While President Obama deserves great credit for releasing these memos in the face of strong opposition within his administration and with minimal deletions in the documents, he has not ended the debate. On the contrary; he has started it. The questions that need to be addressed focus on whether the release of these memos compromise our ability to combat terrorists. We also have a right to know what, if any, measures should be taken to hold those who authored these memos, as well as those who attempted their legal justification, accountable. In short, the answers to those questions reflect the core values and the guiding principles that define the Obama administration and the Democratic Congress' commitment to transparency and accountability.


April 21st, 2009
09:23 AM ET

President Obama can’t just be the “un-Bush”

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Andrew J. Bacevich
Special to CNN

At every stop during his recent trips abroad, President Obama went out of his way to assure observers that he is the un-Bush: a pragmatist rather than an ideologue, with both his feet firmly planted in the reality-based world.

To yesterday's untouchables, like Venezuela's Hugo Chavez, the cordial Obama offers smiles and handshakes. Although all to the good, this falls well short of being good enough.

Pragmatism devoid of principle provides an inadequate basis for coherent strategy. At the end of the day, there is no avoiding what the elder George Bush once called "the vision thing": a conception of how the world works, where it is headed and the role the United States should play in getting it there.

Obama's sympathetic nod to "soft power" and willingness to listen rather than preach do not qualify as that vision. Nor does his pledge to engage the Islamic world in respectful dialogue while working toward the abolition of nuclear weapons. They are at best markers that may suggest the outlines of something larger.

Keep Reading...

April 21st, 2009
09:05 AM ET

Cop's Joke: Did he go too far?


[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/04/21/art.james.cousin.jpg caption="James Cousins II seen here in this YouTube clip."]

Gabriel Falcon
AC360° Writer

The question is now being asked after an Erie, Pennsylvania police officer was captured on a cell-phone camera joking and laughing about comments he made about a murder victim.

James Cousins II probably wasn’t aware his remarks were being recorded on April 6th, but they were. And the video clip was quickly uploaded to YouTube, where it’s been viewed more than 12,000 times.

On the tape, Cousins, wearing a sweatshirt and baseball cap, teeters back and forth at the front of a bar counter. He appears intoxicated, and the police chief would later say Cousins was apparently drunk.

In gruesome detail that gathers laughs from several other bar patrons, Cousins describes how, as a patrol officer, he responded to a homicide on March 28th. He explains how he arrived at the scene to find a man shot in the head and says the dead man’s leg was twitching.


Filed under: Crime & Punishment • Gabe Falcon
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