- The Washington Times - Monday, February 23, 2009

SENATE

Lugar urges new look at Cuba

The U.S. policy of shunning communist Cuba by imposing a strict trade embargo has failed to prod the island nation toward democracy and should be re-evaluated, according to the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

“We must recognize the ineffectiveness of our current policy and deal with the Cuban regime in a way that enhances U.S. interests,” wrote Sen. Richard G. Lugar of Indiana in a report dated Monday.

The report lends new weight to a bipartisan view in Congress that Raul Castro’s assumption of power has opened a window for U.S.-Cuban relations.

President Obama has promised a fresh look at the U.S. policy. He says he would be open to meeting with Mr. Castro, who took over as Cuba’s president for his ailing brother, Fidel. Mr. Obama also supports easing limitations on the number of visits and on the amount of money sent to Cuba by family members in the U.S.

But like his predecessor, former President George W. Bush, Mr. Obama has said he thinks the embargo provides important leverage with the country’s leaders.

FINANCE

Government mulls bigger share of Citi

Citigroup Inc. is reportedly negotiating with government officials to have the U.S. boost its stake in the troubled bank to as much as 40 percent, the Wall Street Journal said late Sunday, citing sources familiar with the situation.

Such a move by Citigroup would result in the New York-based bank ceding far more control to the feds than executives likely desire, and would dilute shareholders’ investments. The Journal, which said Citigroup made the proposal to its regulators, noted that sources say executives would prefer to keep the government’s stake closer to 25 percent.

But with the company’s shares trading at their lowest point in nearly two decades, Citigroup is seeking ways to stem further losses.

On Friday, shares of Citigroup fell 22 percent to close below $2, and Bank of America Corp. shares also sank, as talk of the banks’ nationalization spooked investors. Both banks already have received significant help from taxpayers as the government has rushed in to try to save the financial sector. The White House, however, has insisted it’s not trying to take over the two ailing financial institutions.

WHITE HOUSE

Veteran official to oversee stimulus

President Obama plans to announce Monday a former Secret Service agent who helped expose lobbyists’ corruption at the Interior Department as his pick to oversee the $787 billion economic-stimulus plan.

Mr. Obama is set to name Earl Devaney as chairman of the new Recovery Act Transparency and Accountability Board, an administration official said Sunday. Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. also will be given a role coordinating oversight of stimulus spending.

The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because the White House had not made the announcement public.

Mr. Devaney, the inspector general of the Interior Department, helped turn up disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff’s dealings at the department. The department’s No. 2 official, Steven Griles, pleaded guilty to charges he lied during congressional testimony based in part on Mr. Devaney’s investigation.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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