NEWS STAND: A Present for Obama, Big Paydays for Freddie and Fannie, Freedom in China, Facebook Dissent in Egypt

Merry Christmas, Mr. President

President Barack Obama's Christmas present was the health care reform bill the U.S. Senate passed strictly along party lines in the early hours of Christmas Eve. The 60-40 vote along party lines, including the Senate's two independents, signaled how dead the concept of bipartisanship has become. The great task now is to reconcile the Senate version with the House's, which still includes the public option that even some Democratic senators won't support. Reuters is a nifty box showing the differences between the bills here.


The bill is a triumph of politics if not the grand reformation of health care that was initially discussed. But as Dayo Opolade reports in her blog , it is a historic achievement and helps the President avoid the loss that Republican leaders had hoped would cripple him for the rest of his term. No doubt, the health care bill will be a campaign weapon for both major parties in the upcoming mid-term elections, and how much ground the Democrats surrender will depend on their ability to convince voters that passage was actually a good thing.

Big Paydays at Fannie and Freddie

The chief executives at federally-controlled U.S. mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac will each collect $6 million in compensation, according to the top U.S. housing regulator. Acting Federal Housing Finance Agency Director Edward DeMarco said the pay packages that had been approved in order to keep the talent the agencies need to operate. DeMarco said executive pay at the agencies was 40 percent below the levels before the government seized control.

In filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission, the companies said Fannie Mae CEO Michael Williams and Freddie Mac CEO Charles Haldeman would each receive up to $6 million in base salary, incentive-based compensation and deferred payments for 2009, Reuters reported.

The pay packages are a lot more modest than those at the height of the housing boom. Former Fannie Mae CEO Franklin Raines collected $91 million between 1998 and 2003, although he paid some of that back in a settlement of his role in an accounting scandal. The two agencies were seized by the federal government in September 2008 at the height of the financial crisis.

Freedom in China

The conviction of Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo for subversion was no surprise. His 11-year sentence for subversion was a clear warning to other Chinese citizens who push too hard for political reform and a unpleasant reminder that China, for all its economic progress, is still a Communist dictatorship.


It will be interesting to watch how hard China's major trading partners will push for Xiaobo's release or even a reduction of his sentence. While it is easy to chastise Cuba or Iran for suppressing freedom, the task gets a lot more complicated when the guy you want to criticize holds your I.O.U.s or sells you a lot of goods.

Xiaobo, 53, a former literature professor, is been a persistent critic of China's one-party system. He helped draft the Charter 08 petition that called for free speech, open elections and the rule of law. a Foreign Ministry spokeswoman dismissed foreign criticism of Mr. Liu's prosecution as a "gross interference of China's internal affairs."   Those who have accused the U.S. of hypocrisy in foreign affairs will wait to see how tough the Obama administration gets with an important trading partner and major debtor.


Facebook Dissent in Egypt

With few normal means to show dissent, Egyptians have turned to Facebook to express their displeasure with the government of President Hosni Mubarak. A group calling itself Mayohkomsh (He Will Not Rule) has emerged to resist efforts to project Mubarak's 46-year-old son, Gamal Mubarak, a former banker, as a potential successor to the 81-year-old head of state.


Mayohkomsh is the latest incarnation of dissent on Facebook, writes Roula Khalaf in the Financial Times. Last year, a group called the April 6 movement used the Internet to organize protests against the government.  Its Facebook group grew to 70,000 members.

"In 1981 when Mubarak took his first oath of office, he did not say me, my wife and my son will rule," quips Ayman Nour, the man who ran against the president in 2005 and then spent three years in jail on trumped-up charges of forgery.