ThinkFast: March 18, 2009

Edward M. Liddy, the CEO of the bailed-out insurance giant AIG, will testify on Capitol Hill this morning, “where he’ll reluctantly defend millions of dollars’ worth of bonuses doled out to employees” despite the government bailout. In a Washington Post op-ed, Liddy writes that the anger over the bonuses is “understandable, but says that “in America, when you owe people money, you pay them.”

According to the office of the New York attorney general, AIG awarded bonuses to 418 employees last week “and included $33.6 million for 52 people who have left the failed insurance conglomerate.” AIG paid the bonuses, “including more than $1 million each to 73 people, to almost all of the employees…responsible for creating the exotic derivatives that caused AIG’s near collapse.”

A group of eight centrist Senate Democrats “is quietly maneuvering to keep open the option of vetoing two of President Barack Obama’s most ambitious agenda items this year — climate change and health care reform.” The group, which includes Sens. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) and Blanche Lincoln (D-AR), are seeking to kill efforts to pass climate and health care legislation through a budget reconciliation, which requires only 51 votes.

“The Pentagon said it received 2,923 reports of sexual assault across the military in the 12 months that ended Sept. 30,” a 9 percent increase over the totals reported the year earlier. However, only “10 percent to 20 percent of sexual assaults among members of the active duty military are reported.”

“Three powerful House committee chairmen have agreed to work together on legislation to overhaul the health care system, starting with the view that most employers should help finance coverage and that the government should offer a public health insurance plan as an alternative to private insurance.” Reps. George Miller (D-CA), Henry Waxman (D-CA), and Charlie Rangel (D-NY) will “try and work as one committee” in crafting a health care bill.

Obama is “considering expanding the American covert war in Pakistan far beyond the unruly tribal areas to strike at a different center of Taliban power in Baluchistan, where top Taliban leaders are orchestrating attacks into southern Afghanistan.” Further, Obama’s advisers are “recommending preserving the option to conduct cross-border ground actions, using C.I.A. and Special Operations commandos, as was done in September.”

“The ACLU called on Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. yesterday to appoint an independent prosecutor to investigate allegations of torture at CIA secret prisons,” following the leak last weekend of a secret Red Cross report. “The report of these incidents certainly warrants a criminal investigation,” the ACLU said in a letter.

“The Obama administration will endorse a U.N. declaration calling for the worldwide decriminalization of homosexuality that then-President George W. Bush had refused to sign,” the AP reports. The administration has notified the declaration’s French sponsors that they want to be added as a sponsor.

Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN) offered his support for veteran diplomat Christopher Hill to become the next U.S. ambassador to Iraq, “even as other GOP senators bluntly urged President Barack Obama to withdraw the nomination.” Lugar’s support “is considered crucial to Hill’s nomination because it would provide other moderate GOP senators political cover to vote for him.”

Reacting to Sudan president Omar Hassan al-Bashir’s expulsion of all aid workers from Darfur, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned that Bashir’s government must “understand that they will be held responsible for every single death that occurs in those camps.” President Obama will tap Maj. Gen. J. Scott Gration, a Swahili-speaking retired Air Force officer who grew up in Africa, as special envoy to Sudan.

And finally: Mrs. Kucinich dances with the stars. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) may have nixed his wife, Cindy’s, appearance on Dancing With The Stars, but Rep. Dennis Kucinich seems to be “a more supportive spouse.” His wife, Elizabeth Kucinich, is now appearing as a contestant on “Cleveland’s Dancing with the Stars.”

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