Category: Business

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie

With former Port Authority official David Wildstein’s new claim that  “evidence exists” showing Christie knew about the politically motivated lane closings on the George Washington Bridge back in September, several Jersey State politicians are already floating the dreaded “I” word: impeachment.

It wasn’t so long ago that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie was a popular Republican in a big blue state with big 2016 dreams. But with the twin scandals of Bridgegate and his handling of Superstorm Sandy recovery money, the real question may now be whether he can even hang onto his current job.

The editorial board of the Star-Ledger is calling for Christie to either step down or be impeached if the new accusations prove true.

State Sen. Raymond Lesniak told msnbc that if Wildstein’s allegations prove true, the state Assembly would “have to issue articles of impeachment.” The Democrat said there is “reasonable suspicion that a series of crimes may have been committed by the governor.”

ohn Wisinewski, the head of the New Jersey Assembly panel probing the lane closures, has said it’s “not credible” that Christie was unaware of the plot and that impeachment does become a possibility if it can be proved Christie had direct involvement. He has since softened his rhetoric, telling such talk is premature. New Jersey Democratic Rep. Bill Pascrell calledthe  letter, in which Wildstein’s lawyer claims he has the evidence, “devastating” for Christie.

To read more…

Gulf Oil Leak and Halliburton

Net income increased to $480 million, or 53 cents a share, from $262 million, or 29 cents, a year earlier, Houston-based Halliburton said today

The spill, triggered by an April 20 explosion aboard the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig, which Transocean Ltd. leased to London-based BP. Halliburton provided cementing services on the well BP was drilling. Halliburton Chief Executive Officer David Lesar said in May that the company is fully indemnified from costs related to the spill.

derived of about 13 percent of its North American revenue from the Gulf of Mexico in the first quarter. Last month, Halliburton said it planned to relocate workers and equipment to other markets as appropriate.

Halliburton ended last week at $27.51 in New York Stock Exchange composite trading, leaving the shares 17 percent lower than before the rig blast.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown

U.K. Prime Minister Gordon Brown is to strike a decidedly anti-protectionist note in an address to Congress Wednesday, telling lawmakers that the “major challenges we all face are global.”

According to excerpts on his speech released by the U.K. government Wednesday morning, Mr. Brown will urge Congress to “seize the moment” to meet the challenges of the steep economic downturn together.

“If these times have shown us anything it is that the major challenges we all face are global,” Mr. Brown will say.

The Prime Minister will address Congress at 11 a.m. EST Wednesday.

At a time when in some elements of the Democratically controlled Congress there are distinctly protectionist noises being made, Mr. Brown will send a clear signal that the rest of the world relies on the U.S. to help lift it out economic crisis.

“For a century you have carried upon your shoulders the greatest of responsibilities: to work with and for the rest of the world,” Mr. Brown will say. “And let me tell you that now more than ever the rest of the world wants to work with you.”

Just breaks yer heart doan it?

His pleadings to me sound like a confession of guilt. Trying to say that if other Senators were looked at they too would be taken from office. I think not. He was playing dirty pool and got busted. that’s all there is to say. He doesn’t know the political game as well as he thought he did.

“I’m here to appeal to you, to your sense of fairness, your sense of responsibility, and to the truth,” Blagojevich said in a closing address that lasted less than an hour.

It was the first time he had appeared at the impeachment trial, which began Monday.

“I’m asking you to acquit me and give me a chance to show my innocence,” he said. “And if you’re not comfortable with an acquittal, then extend this process, and get more evidence, if you can get it, to show that I did something wrong or give me a chance to bring my evidence in.”

Blagojevich, a two-term Democratic governor, was arrested on federal corruption charges in December.

Federal authorities allege he was trying to sell or trade the Senate seat that became vacant after Barack Obama was elected president. After the governor’s arrest, the state House voted overwhelmingly to impeach him.

The governor firmly denied wrongdoing Thursday, as he has all week on television talk shows.

“If I felt I did something wrong, I would have resigned in December,” he said. “If I felt I violated a law, I would meet my responsibility, I would have resigned in December.

“I wouldn’t put my family through this, I wouldn’t put you through this, and most importantly, I wouldn’t put the people of Illinois through this.

“But I didn’t resign then, and I’m not resigning now, because I have done nothing wrong.” Video Watch Blagojevich make his case »

The governor, who did not use notes during his remarks, said the allegations against him were unproved.

“There hasn’t been a single piece of information that proves any wrongdoing,” he said. “You haven’t proved a crime and you can’t, because it hasn’t happened.

The House has it!

The House on Wednesday evening passed an $819 billion economic stimulus package Wednesday on a party-line vote, despite President Obama’s efforts to achieve bipartisan support for the bill.

The final vote was 244 to 188. No Republicans voted for the bill, while just 12 Democrats voted against it.

The Senate is likely to take up the bill next week.

“I hope that we can continue to strengthen this plan before it gets to my desk,” Obama said in a statement after the vote. “We must move swiftly and boldly to put Americans back to work, and that is exactly what this plan begins to do.”

In floor debate earlier, House Democrats offered near-unanimous support for the bill, touting the package’s ability to quickly create jobs and jumpstart economic growth.

“One week and one day ago, our new President delivered a great inaugural address … which I believe is a great blueprint for the future,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. “With swift and bold action today, we are doing just that — with this vote today, we are taking America in a new direction.”

But Republicans, who are outnumbered in the House, have pushed back, expressing concern about the large amount of spending in the bill, and have criticized the tax cut provisions for not going far enough.

“The underlying bill, while it has some good provisions, has a lot of wasteful provisions and slow-moving spending in it,” said House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio. “We have to act — we have to heal the ailing economy. The question is how to do it best; we think that fast-acting tax relief is the way to get it done.”

The House voted down a Republican amendment, which would have cut a significant portion of the bill’s spending and greatly expanded the amount of tax cuts in the bill.

Obama spent much of his first week as president rallying support for the bill. After meeting with congressional leadership of both parties on Friday, he met with Republican congressional leaders on Tuesday and a dozen CEOs on Wednesday.

Obama and House Democrats etched out plans for a stimulus package in the weeks leading up to the president’s inauguration. Two House committees amended and added some provisions, resulting in $607 billion in direct pending and appropriations and $212 billion in tax cuts.

Next week, the full Senate will vote on its version. The House and Senate bills will be different and need to be reconciled. Then, both chambers would have to vote on the final version in the coming weeks.

Congress has put the legislation on a fast track, as many lawmakers on both sides of the aisle agree that fast action is needed to help pull the economy out of a deep recession. Both Democratic and Republican leaders have said they aim to get the bill to Obama’s desk for him to sign before lawmakers’ Presidents’ Day recess in mid-February.

Foreclosures up by 81% in U.S.

Home is going to have to be where the heart is as there wont be any other place to live.

Foreclosures rose 81% in 2008, ensnaring 2.3 million U.S. households during the year, according to RealtyTrac Inc. data released today.

The Irvine, Calif.-based foreclosure Web site said December filings rose 17% from November and by 41% from December 2007 levels.

Michigan ranked sixth nationwide with 145,365 filings on 106,058 properties, up 21.6% from 2007 and up 107.9% from 2006, RealtyTrac said.

And Wayne County fell to 10th place from first place for 2007 with 38,106 foreclosure filings, down 7.7% from 2007. The rest of metro Detroit, including Oakland, Macomb, St. Clair, Lapeer and Livingston counties, ranked in 25th place with 30,817 filings, up 42.6% from 2007.

The big jump in December foreclosure activity was somewhat surprising given the moratorium enacted by both Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, and lender programs meant to delay foreclosure actions against distressed homeowners, said James J. Saccacio, chief executive of RealtyTrac.

Nevada, Florida and Arizona had the highest foreclosure rates in 2008, while California had the highest number of properties with a foreclosure filing at 523,624.

While Michigan has had flat foreclosure activity for a few months, it is too early to say whether the state has hit bottom, said RealtyTrac spokesman Daren Blomquist. “The one thing that makes me hesitant to say it will continue on that trend is we are seeing the higher unemployment rate and that could spark some more foreclosures,” he said.

Michigan’s unemployment rate was 9.6% in November.

Bank repossessions rose 19.3% to 55,801 in Michigan last year compared with 46,780 in 2007, Blomquist said. “People had fewer options to refinance. The credit crunch combined with lowering home values really gave people fewer options to avoid foreclosure,” he said.

Blomquist said that bank repossessions in November declined by 8% nationwide and by 2% in Michigan, showing the possible impact of the Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae moratorium for the holidays.

But when that artificial cap is lifted Jan. 31, many expect a flood of bank repossessions as distressed homeowners are unable to pay their mortgages.

“Once the 31st comes, I have heard that we will get triple the number of foreclosures,” said Joe Dakroub, owner and broker of Dearborn-based ERA Dynasty.

There are some good signs for the start of a turnaround in 2009, said Alexis McGee, president of, a Sacramento, Calif.-based Web site.

Housing affordability is better than it’s been in years, mortgage rates are low, minimal new housing construction and a growing U.S. population will inch up demand and unemployment is still below the highs of the early 1980s.

McGee said that Michigan bank repossessions have leveled off at roughly 5,000 per month in recent months.

“What I’m looking at right now is a stabilizing of the Michigan area based on foreclosure filings today,” McGee said. “But if we have big unemployment in Michigan, that will change.”

White House adds $6 billion to auto bailout

By Silla Brush

The White House upped its commitment to bail out the American auto industry, moving late on Monday to send General Motors Corp. and its financing arm another $6 billion in federal money.

The new money brings the total of taxpayer-backed support to the carmakers to $23.4 billion.

The latest move comes after the Bush administration supported a $17.4 billion loan package less than two weeks ago to prop up GM and Chrysler LLC through March 2009 as part of an effort to encourage the industry to restructure. The administration acted after a bill supported by the White House and congressional Democrats was blocked by Senate Republicans wary of sending billions in taxpayer dollars to a struggling industry.

GM and Chrysler had both warned of their dire financial situations, with GM cautioning that it could not survive December without financial help. Ford Motor Corp., in the strongest financial situation of the Big Three automakers, will not receive federal money.

The Treasury Department will purchase a $5 billion equity stake in GMAC, the financing arm of GM, to spur lending to help consumers purchase cars. The money will come from the $700 billion financial rescue package that was intended originally for financial institutions. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson had at first strongly opposed using the money for the auto industry.

An additional $1 billion will go to GM that will in turn use the money to buy stock in GMAC.

GMAC was approved for bank holding status last week, meaning it will be regulated by the Federal Reserve Bank. The move gives it a stronger claim to access for funds under the financial rescue package, the Troubled Asset Relief Program.

Paulson had intended to leave the last $350 billion of TARP funds to President-elect Obama’s administration, but the new $6 billion commitment raises questions about whether the administration will seek access to the money before Obama takes office. The administration must seek congressional approval for access to the rest of the money, but lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have heaped criticism on Paulson’s handling of the program, particularly as he shifted from the original intention of purchasing troubled assets to later using the money chiefly to buy equity stakes in banks.

Congress could choose to add new restrictions on how the rest of the TARP funds are spent.

Democratic lawmakers have discussed efforts requiring the Treasury Department to use some of the money to reduce foreclosures and support a program to modify existing mortgages.
The first $350 billion has been committed already to a range of banks, financial institutions and the automakers, but not all of the money has actually been spent. The money for GM and GMAC will come from this allocated yet unspent pool of money.

Auto Industry Off Of Life Support

Now is Not the Time to Take the Auto Industry Off Of Life Support
Eugene Robinson
WASHINGTON — Despite the popular myth, lemmings don’t really hurl themselves off a cliff to reduce their numbers. That sort of behavior is seen only among Republicans in the Senate, who gave us a demonstration when they torpedoed legislation to bail out the auto industry.

To state the obvious, no one is eager to use hard-earned taxpayer dollars to bail out the bozos of Detroit. Yes, I know that American cars are better than they used to be, and yes, I know that the much-heralded Chevy Volt is on the way. But our domestic auto industry has been thoroughly outthought and outhustled by the foreign competition, and no infusion of public funds is likely to change this established pattern.

It may be that General Motors, Chrysler and Ford are lumbering, Jurassic beasts that deserve their looming extinction. But only a free-market fundamentalist, a lunatic or a Senate Republican — perhaps I’m being redundant — would conclude that now is the moment to hasten Detroit’s demise.

To recap: We’re in the midst of a global financial crisis. The housing bubble has burst and prices have collapsed. The economy has been in recession for a year. Unemployment has risen to 6.7 percent, and if “marginally attached” workers are included — those who have given up even looking for a job — along with those who want to work full time but are forced to accept fewer hours, the rate is 12.5 percent.

Even if the Big Three deserve to die, they shouldn’t die now. Economic theory notwithstanding, it would be insanity to throw hundreds of thousands of auto company employees, and maybe a few million others in the supply and sales chains, out of work — leaving them and their families at the mercy of an economy that has no replacement jobs for them. Public funds would end up supporting these people anyway, except that we would have lost our domestic auto industry — which, despite its many failings, is the only domestic auto industry we’ve got.

What the auto companies need is something on the order of $14 billion, which will allow them to survive until the Obama administration takes office and is able to address the crisis in a more systematic way. That sounds like a lot of money, but it’s a rounding error in the context of the ongoing financial meltdown. We’ve already agreed to spend $700 billion to bail out Wall Street.

The thing to do is give the automakers the money to buy some time. This is obvious to the current administration, the incoming administration, a majority in the House of Representatives and the Democrats in the Senate — but not to the Senate Republicans. They killed the bailout measure by demanding that the United Auto Workers agree to sharp, almost immediate cuts in wages and benefits.

Funny, I don’t recall a cry from Senate Republicans for salary caps on the stockbrokers whose jobs were saved in the Wall Street bailout — nor, to my knowledge, have they demanded that white-collar workers in the auto companies take pay cuts. I do recall lectures from some Republicans in the Senate about how inadvisable it is for government to meddle in the workings of the free market. In my book, renegotiating labor contracts qualifies as meddling.

Some of the most vocal critics of a Detroit bailout — Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., and Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., for example — happen to have foreign-owned auto plants in their home states. This has led to accusations that they are deliberately trying to sabotage the Big Three to help foreign automakers, but I think it’s more likely that they’re just being doctrinaire and ultimately self-defeating.

They have managed to position their party as against unions, against America’s domestic industrial patrimony, against the blue-collar working class — and also, incredibly, against the Rust Belt states, such as Michigan and Ohio, that are home to UAW-represented auto plants and that also regularly tip the balance of presidential elections.

And for what? The Republican senators who voted to kill the bailout knew full well that the White House was determined to find some way to tide the automakers over. It was as if they couldn’t help themselves. Even lemmings must be shaking their heads in dismay.

Credit card rules to back consumers

Credit card rules to back consumers


WASHINGTON (UPI) — New rules for U.S. credit card companies to be released soon are a step forward for consumers, who have lobbied hard for oversight, industry analysts say.

The U.S. Federal Reserve, the Office of Thrift Supervision and the National Credit Union Administration was to announce new guidelines Thursday, The Washington Post reported.

Proposals released in May, included prohibiting banks from raising interest rates until late payments were at least 30 days overdue and barring banks from slapping on late fees too quickly. Proposals also included applying payments to balances with higher rates of interest before others, the Post said.

“When companies sharply increase interest rates, that could have a devastating effect on the financial stability of credit card holders,” Travis Plunkett of the Consumer Federation of America told the Post.

The strategy has changed from educating consumers to dictating rules for the industry.

“Eighteen months ago the Fed was focused on disclosure and transparency, and now they’re coming out with a prescriptive, rules-based guidance. It’s a whole different world,” said Brian Gardner at investment bank Keefe, Bruyette & Woods.

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