Hot Docs: AIG Bailout and Spa Visits, Sarah Palin's Assets, and Toxic Trailers

Today's selection of timely reports.

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House Oversight Committee: Hearing on AIG Bailout: Following the September bailout of insurance giant AIG at an estimated cost of $85 billion, the House Committee on Oversight and Government reform held a hearing to, in the words of committee chairman Henry Waxman, "examine the details of AIG's fall so that we can learn lessons about the reforms needed to restore stability to our financial markets." Among the questions, as laid out by Waxman: Who bears responsibility? Was the public misled about the financial health of the company? Was executive compensation appropriate? The committee heard testimony from former AIG executives as well as auditors and regulators. Longtime AIG CEO Hank Greenberg, who did not testify because of illness, submitted a statement attributing much of the trouble to heavy losses on the AIG financial products side. In light of overall market turmoil, former CEO Robert Willumstad said, "I don't believe AIG could have done anything differently." Meanwhile, Waxman criticized AIG for holding an executive retreat at an "exclusive" resort mere days after the bailout. Receipts and invoices in evidence show some $443,000 for rooms, meals, and spa services.

Palins' Wealth May Stretch Into the Millions: Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin and her husband, Todd, have made nearly $300,000 in the past two years and hold assets valued between $960,000 and $2.3 million, tax returns and financial disclosure forms reveal. The McCain-Palin campaign released the last two years of tax returns for the Palins and a financial disclosure form that also shows they paid some $35,000 in federal taxes in 2006 and 2007.

Federal Agency Faulted for Role in FEMA Toxic Trailers: A federal agency tasked with protecting the public from toxic substances failed "to fulfill its mission to protect the public from exposure to formaldehyde at levels known to cause negative health effects," a House subcommittee has found. The report by the House Committee on Science and Technology Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight concerns the actions of the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry regarding reports of high levels of formaldehyde in trailers provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to victims of hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

Zoellick on a "New Multilateralism": "The events of this year are a wake-up call" for the global economy, says World Bank President Robert Zoellick. To move into the future, he calls for a "New Multilateralism" that would be "flexible," "pragmatic," and based on "shared responsibility" across borders and markets. In a speech to the Peterson Institute for International Economics, Zoellick proposes a new "steering group" that would have more flexibility and a broader membership than the traditional G-7. He observes that "we must redefine economic multilateralism beyond the traditional focus on finance and trade" because "energy, climate change, and stabilizing fragile and postconflict states are economic issues." Zoellick, a former deputy secretary of state under the Bush administration, says of the current economic crisis that "fate presents an opportunity wrapped in a necessity: to modernize multilateralism and markets."

New Administration May Deal With a Nuclear Iran: While Iran may still be years away from becoming a nuclear power, its progress, along with development of a long-range delivery system, will be key issues for the next administration, a new report by the private Center for Strategic & International Studies has concluded. The comprehensive report, "The U.S., Israel, the Arab States, and a Nuclear Iran" examines seven distinct aspects of the Iran threat, including its nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons programs and various options for dealing with them.

EPA Water Office Anticipates Climate Change: "A changing climate in the years ahead will raise new challenges for improving the quality of the nation's waters," writes Environmental Protection Agency official Benjamin Grumbles. To prepare, the EPA's Office of Water has developed the "National Water Program Strategy: Response to Climate Change." The report outlines some likely effects of ongoing climate change, including more extreme storms and precipitation, changes to aquatic life and watersheds, and an increase in waterborne disease. The report suggests actions and studies that could be undertaken for "mitigation, adaptation, and research," including close study of climate data, enhanced conservation efforts, and clean energy initiatives.