Tales from the Trail

Washington Extra – Storm clouds over Haiti

There was a tremendous outpouring of goodwill and money for Haiti after the quake, which prevented a further humanitarian catastrophe. But so far, nine months after the capital was devastated, progress in “building back better” seems painfully slow. haitiRubble still chokes the narrow streets of Port-au-Prince, and 1.3 million people occupy every available scrap of land in tents awaiting resettlement, or even just a government plan on what to do with them.

Given the mind-boggling scale of the disaster, the weakness of the government and economy even before the earthquake, the lack of land as well as clearly defined land ownership records, it is unfair to expect too much.

But today everyone seems to be asking: What has all this goodwill achieved in terms of lasting benefits to Haiti? One thing that is clear from our interviews this week is the government, local elites and the international community seem to be playing something of a blame game.

Last week six people in the camps died when a freak storm struck Port-au-Prince, and today more bad weather could be on its way. There has been a spike in births in the camps as the first “earthquake babies” arrive, but the future they face looks as uncertain as ever.

Here are our top stories from today…

Obama aide Emanuel to run for Chicago mayor

White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, one of President Barack Obama’s most powerful aides, plans to step down on Friday to pursue a run for Chicago mayor, sources familiar with the matter said. Obama was to make an announcement at a White House East Room event on Friday. White House spokesman Robert Gibbs would not confirm Emanuel is the subject of the announcement but the sources said Emanuel’s announcement would come on Friday.

from Summit Notebook:

Lady Gaga may not be the only one singing a new tune in November

USA/
The 2010 Reuters Washington Summit included 4 days of on-the-record interviews with policymakers, congressmen and Obama Administration officials here in the DC bureau. The interviews covered a wide range of topics…from the impact of the mid-term elections to the importance of the Lady Gaga vote.

With less than six weeks to go before the mid-term elections the focus was on what a potential shift in power to a Republican-controlled Congress could mean for policy priorities in the coming year. We heard from Senators’ McCain, Dodd, Gregg and Bingaman. On the House side we spoke with the man responsible for getting Democrats elected…Rep. Chris Van Hollen, Chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. He called this election season a “tough and challenging environment,’ but predicted Democrats would retain control of the House.

From the Obama Administration, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs opened his comments by admitting that early on the administration did not have a “real understanding of the depth of what we were in.” News of Larry Summers’ departure as White House advisor came on the eve of our interview with a man who has worked with Summers, Austan Goolsbee, Chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisors. Goolsbee said he expected that Mr. Summers’ replacement wouldn’t be part of “a dramatic change in direction.” On the economy, Goolsbee noted that he does not see a double dip on the horizon and that “pulling back on current spending programs could spook the markets.”

from Summit Notebook:

With end of TARP, investigations into fraud take center stage

SUMMIT-WASHINGTON/BAROFSKYWhile the much maligned $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) has officially ended, not everything has wrapped up -- auditors are just starting to hit their stride investigating scores of cases of possible malfeasance.

Neil Barofsky, special inspector general for the program, nicknamed SIGTARP, said his office has more than 120 criminal investigations underway. They are looking into whether the money loaned to financial institutions and automakers was used properly or not, if there was fraud in applications for TARP financial backing and other wrongdoing.

"Our focus on investigations is growing and that's an area where we are definitely in a ramp-up phase," Barofsky told the Reuters Washington Summit. "The crimes that have been committed were committed in 2008, 2009 and 2010. The most common statute of limitation for fraud is five years and there's a reason for that, it takes a while for these type of sophisticated while collar investigations ... to hit, for fraud to be discovered and it takes a while to investigate them."

You can take it to the bank: Unbowed Maxine says she won’t cut a deal

She broke no rules, she has no regrets, and she won’t cut a deal with the U.S. House of Representatives ethics committee. That was the message a defiant Democratic lawmaker Maxine Waters had for the media on Friday.

The 10-term California representative brought her trademark feistiness to a lengthy news conference in the bowels of the U.S. Capitol. Her chief of staff Mikael Moore (who also happens to be her grandson) went through the ethics charges against her, and her defense against them in mind-numbing detail.

BLACKS/BERNANKE“I won’t go behind closed doors. I won’t cut a deal. I will continue to talk about the fact that I have not violated anything,” Waters declared at the news conference in the Capitol Visitors’ Center, which is below ground. She flayed the ethics committee for having not yet set a hearing in her case.

from Summit Notebook:

Where disaster and compensation intersect you’ll find Kenneth Feinberg

You can call him mediator, or you can call him negotiator, but don't call him pay czar. REGULATION-SUMMIT/

Kenneth Feinberg says he doesn't like the shorthand title that's used to describe his role as the administration's supervisor of compensation practices at firms that received money under the government's Troubled Asset Relief Program.

"A very unfortunate term," he said at the Reuters Global Financial Regulation Summit. "Pay czar implies that I'm issuing some sort of imperial edicts, arbitrary edicts on pay, without regard to consensus or the input of the beneficiaries of these decisions."

McCain says he was misled, but not everyone agrees

BOSNIA/

John McCain says he was misled by former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson into supporting the Wall Street bailout.

“We were all misled,” the Arizona Republican told NBC’s “Meet the Press” over the weekend.

Misled in what way?

With the economy showing every sign of burning to the ground, McCain says Paulson told Congress the Bush administration wanted to buy up toxic mortgages blamed for the conflagration. But he turned around and gave the money directly to Wall Street.

Warren sees dark times if financial reform fails

USA/

Elizabeth Warren paints a disturbing picture of the realities facing the United States and the Obama administration as Americans claw their way clear of the worst recession since the 1930s.

Lobbyists for the financial industry have put the kibosh on market reforms that would aid the recovery. Banks, saved from Tartarus by taxpayer money, are using a free government guarantee against failure to rebuild profits and credit ratings, while either not lending to business or trying to milk American consumers of every dime they’ve still got.

“That’s our plan to rebuild the American economy. Think about it,” says the bespectacled Harvard professor who chairs the Congressional Oversight Panel set up to investigate the $700 billion banking bailout.

First draft: Paybacks

USA/Things are looking up on Wall Street. What will Washington have to say?

Goldman Sachs, coming off a strong earnings report, may try to pay back its $5 billion government loan early, so it can get out from under mandated salary caps. This move could reduce the cost of the financial bailout but also rekindle public anger about Wall Street greed. Look for a response from the Obama administration today.

Outside of Wall Street, the real economy continues to crumble. Retail sales unexpectedly fell in March as motor vehicle and electronic purchases declined, and prices paid to farmers and manufacturers posted their strongest yearly decline since 1950 as energy prices slipped, according to government figures released early Tuesday.

Obama speaks about the economy at Georgetown University at 11:30.

Congress is out of town this week, but that won’t stop a prominent congressional watchdog from releasing its report on wasteful spending.   Citizens Against Government Waste unveils its annual “pig book” at 10:00.