- - Wednesday, December 22, 2010


Six banks repay bailout billions

The Treasury Department says six banks have repaid government bailouts worth a combined $2.66 billion.

The banks are returning taxpayer money that they received in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis.

The banks that repaid their bailouts on Wednesday are Huntington Bancshares, First Horizon National Corp., Wintrust Financial Corp., Susquehanna Bancshares Inc., Heritage Financial Corp. and the Bank of Kentucky Financial Corp.

Treasury requires banks wishing to repay their bailouts to raise money from private investors first. That shows that the banks are strong enough to stand on their own.

The banks also paid the government a total of $13.7 million in dividends that they owed in exchange for the loans.


Lawmakers block Justice nominee

Senate Republicans have blocked the Obama administration’s choice for deputy attorney general over concerns about the nominee’s links to American International Group.

James Cole was an independent consultant to AIG prior to its near-collapse and government bailout in 2008. Republicans complained that confidentiality agreements prevented them from receiving answers about his work for the company.

Democrats cited endorsements Mr. Cole received from officials in both parties and high-ranking veterans of the department.

The Senate on Wednesday confirmed three U.S. appellate judges: Mary Helen Murguia of Arizona for the 9th Circuit, Scott Matheson Jr. of Utah for the 10th Circuit, and Kathleen O’Malley of Ohio for the Federal Circuit.

The Senate also confirmed Michele Marie Leonhart as head of the Drug Enforcement Administration. She has been acting administrator.


Draft will outline Gitmo standards

Obama administration officials are drafting an executive order that would set up a review process for detainees held indefinitely at the military prison at U.S. Naval Base Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, the White House said Wednesday.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters that the draft executive order, which has not been sent to President Obama, is in line with procedures Mr. Obama broadly described in a May 2009 speech about detainees who would be held indefinitely at that military prison.

“We must have clear, defensible and lawful standards for those who fall in this category,” Mr. Obama said at the time. “We must have fair procedures so that we don’t make mistakes. We must have a thorough process of periodic review, so that any prolonged detention is carefully evaluated and justified.”

The draft was first reported Tuesday night in a story posted on the website of The Washington Post.

Such an order would be further acknowledgment by Mr. Obama that his campaign promise to close Guantanamo Bay will remain unfulfilled for the foreseeable future. The president has long said that some terrorist suspects would be held indefinitely, but he has added that he hoped that would be on U.S. soil.


Polar bear’s status unchanged

The Obama administration says polar bears are merely threatened rather than in imminent danger of extinction.

The argument continues a Bush-era interpretation of the state of polar bears, which are at risk because of climate change.

In court papers filed Wednesday, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says the animal isn’t endangered under federal law.

The agency reaffirmed a 2008 decision by the Bush administration, which said the bears were threatened because of the rapid disappearance of the Arctic sea ice. The decision stopped short of declaring the bears endangered, a move that would increase protections and make oil and gas exploration more difficult.

Kassie Siegel, an attorney for an environmental group, called the decision “a lump of coal for the polar bear.”


U.N. force eyed for Ivory Coast

The Obama administration said Wednesday that it is in discussions with France and other countries about expanding the U.N. peacekeeping force in the Ivory Coast to quell postelection violence and persuade the West African nation’s leader to step down.

The State Department said that buttressing the 8,650-strong United Nations force could be a way for the international community to show Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo that it is serious about demands for him to accept the results of elections that he lost last month to opposition leader Alassane Ouattara. Mr. Gbagbo has refused to concede and has ordered U.N. forces to leave.

“We are in discussions with other regional countries to see if there are ways in which we can reinforce the U.N. peacekeeping force,” spokesman P.J. Crowley told reporters. “It could be that that kind of reinforcement could be another way to send a clear message to President Gbagbo.”

Mr. Crowley said the U.S. was looking to “make sure that the forces on the ground are adequate and, to the extent they could be augmented, what countries might be in a position to assist.”


Study flags risks to missile defense

President Obama’s planned missile-defense system for Europe could prove unreliable and risks delays and cost overruns, congressional investigators said in a report.

The United States announced plans last year to integrate sea- and land-based missile defenses in Europe, a program referred to as the “European Phased Adaptive Approach.”

U.S. anti-ballistic missile systems are meant to cover Europe by around 2018, and NATO allies in Europe agreed last month to bolster the missile shield.

But the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the investigative arm of Congress, warned in a report dated Tuesday that there was limited visibility into the costs and timetable for the program.

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