Saturday, February 14, 2009
|NBC News White House correspondent Chuck Todd says he may be "one of the newbies," but writes on the First Read msnbc.com blog today about the press access restrictions made by the White House. "Nothing is more frustrating than covering an actual event here at the White House if you at all believe in anything remotely having to do with the First Amendment," he writes. (h/t TVNewser)|
Meanwhile, over at Politico, ABC's George Stephanopoulos says "Gibbs is good." In a conference sponsored by Georgetown University and Politico, Stephanopoulos joked White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs shows promise, but has yet to master "the wink."
|Wilders said he had already shown his film to Denmark's parliament and intended to take it to Italy and the US House of Representatives in the coming weeks.|
Friday, February 13, 2009
| Saving the U.S. auto industry will take more than bailing out GM and Chrysler. It also hinges on companies like FormTech Industries, which employs just 440 people and forges steel for parts under the hoods of cars and trucks.|
And now those suppliers are asking for a bailout of their own.
Two major parts supplier groups are expected to make a formal request as early as Friday for a government loan of up to $25.5 billion to stay afloat, putting the auto industry back at the front of the seemingly unending bailout line.
"You can't just provide support for the manufacturers, which I hope we do, and then see the suppliers go under," said Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich. "It takes both parts to hold up the industry."
|Congressional negotiators have agreed on a final Buy American provision as part of a $789 billion economic stimulus bill that requires public works projects funded by the plan to use only U.S.-made goods, including iron and steel, a lobbyist said on Thursday.|
The final provision also includes language that requires the United States to implement the provision consistent with its trade commitments, said Scott Paul, executive director of the American Alliance for Manufacturing, whose members include major U.S. steel companies.
"It's a strong Buy American provision that's consistent with our international trade obligations and it will ensure the benefits of the economic recovery legislation will be seen in our manufacturing sector," Paul said, adding he received details on the provision from congressional aides.
The language requiring the United States to honor its trade pacts gives Canada, the European Union, Japan and a short list of other trading partners some comfort they would still be able to share in the expanded U.S. public works market created by the stimulus bill.
But many other countries such as China, India, Brazil and Russia, which are not members of an international government procurement agreement, could still be shut out.
I have a feeling the term waiver will be used a lot with this law.
| The stimulus and taxes|
A payroll tax credit will be the most direct aid to almost 6.9 million Floridians and their families.
Workers making less than $75,000 a year will get a $400 credit for 2009 and 2010. Couples making up to $150,000 will get $800.
Officials estimated it would mean about $13 a week more in people's paychecks this year, starting in late spring when withholding tables are adjusted. Next year, the measure could give workers about $8 a week.
Higher income taxpayers would see smaller credits. Individuals making more than $100,000 and couples making more than $200,000 would not get a credit.
The annual "patch" to the alternative minimum tax was included in the bill, sparing 24 million middle-income taxpayers from paying higher income taxes. The tax was enacted 40 years ago to make sure the wealthy pay at least some tax. But it never was adjusted for inflation, so Congress enacts a temporary fix each year.
More parents would be able to take advantage of the $1,000 child tax credit, even if they don't make enough money to pay income taxes.
The Earned Income Tax Credit would be expanded for low-income workers with three or more children who pay no taxes.
The Earned Income Tax Credit provided an estimated $1 billion to South Florida residents last tax season.
Wonderful! Lets have people who already don't pay taxes at all get even more welfare money back paid by others who need it. Spread the wealth.
Can you tell how bitter I am about it?
|President Barack Obama's administration is considering spending taxpayer dollars to cut monthly payments for homeowners on the verge of foreclosure, according to two people briefed on the proposals.|
The deliberations came as lawmakers prepared to enact a new tax credit of up to $8,000 for first-time homebuyers that is intended to boost the ailing housing market.
Details of the plans to aid troubled borrowers were not final but were expected to be unveiled in the coming weeks, according to the people who declined to be identified because the details were not yet complete. The effort would be part of a plan to spend $50 billion on foreclosure prevention and establish national standards for modifying home loans.
|MSNBC's Peter Alexander concludes an interview today with the president of the NAACP by noting, "The president honors this country's colored people." Nilla! Shortly afterwards Alexander apologized, which was even more amusing.|
"The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People is celebrating its 100th anniversary, and a short time ago I had a chance to have a conversation with the group's president.." [Implied here: 'Colored' is right in their name! WTF do you expect of me?]. He apologizes vaguely, and then clarifies: "We do want to congratulate all the people of color today."
Which brings up the classic Bloom Country strip when Berke Breathed wasn't such a whiny tightass about this very term.
|Mom: That's the most adorable little colored girl playing outside.|
Steve: "Colored"? You're saying "colored people" in 1988? You know better, Ma.
Mom: Then why the "National Association for Colored People? I don't think Negroes mind at all.
Steve: Don't say "Negroes," Ma! You can't say "Negroes"!
Mom: Can I say "United Negro College Fund"?
Steve: You are baiting me, Ma!
Dad: That's it. We're leaving.
Mom: Stay put, Reginald. "Mister Socially Sensitive"isn't finished shaming his parents into enlightenment.
Steve: Everybody just calm down. Let's agree to use the the New-Age term "People of Color."
Mom: People of Color.
Steve: People of Color.
Mom: Colored people.
Dad: We're leaving.
As an aside, I really don't care for the new NAACP President Benjamin Jealous. I was not impressed with him when I heard him on the Tom Joyner show earlier this week as he seems hesitate and lacking command of everything. Bruce Gordon was much more impressive but since he wasn't as willing to be a lackey for the 60+ NAACP board he left and Jealous was hand picked it seems for the role.
As for Gregg pulling out. Obama tried to pull a Nicolas Sarkozy move on a smaller scale. When Sarkozy won, he put a lot of leftists in his administration which threw the opposition in disarray for a while. He goes with Gregg and tries to pull some stunts before the guy officially takes the position.
| The £136-a-head Emmanuel College ball was advertised as a celebration of "the Victorian commonwealth and all of its decadences".|
Students were urged to "Party like it's 1899" and organisers promised a trip through the Indian Raj, Australia, the West Indies and 19th century Hong Kong.
But anti-fascist groups said the theme as "distasteful and insensitive" because of the British Empire's historical association with slavery, repression and exploitation.
The ball Committee, led by presidents Richard Hilton and Jenny Unwin, has announced the word 'Empire' will be removed from all promotional material.
They said: "This year, our decor and designs will reflect the style and fashions of both Britain at the end of the nineteenth century and the diverse countries and cultures with which Britain was then entwined.
"In choosing this setting for the Ball, we have sought neither to excuse or dismiss any historical events, nor to support or challenge any interpretation now placed upon them.
"It is clear, however, that some people have found our reference to the British Empire to be distasteful.
"We are unhappy that any offence should have been caused. That was certainly not our intention.
"We have therefore decided to remove immediately the word 'Empire' from the May Ball website and from all future promotional material."
Thursday, February 12, 2009
|British officials barred a far-right Dutch lawmaker from entering the country when he flew in Thursday, citing his anti-Islamic views in an order that has touched off a wide-ranging debate in the United Kingdom about the limits of free speech.|
The British government had said Geert Wilders was not welcome because he posed a threat to "community harmony and therefore public security."
A letter from the British Embassy in the Netherlands this week informed Wilders that he would not be allowed into the United Kingdom, but he criticized the travel ban as an attempt to stifle freedom of speech and traveled to London anyway.
Wilders told The Associated Press he had no regrets about the trip, attacking what he called "the cowards in the U.K. government" and accusing British Prime Minister Gordon Brown of having a servile attitude toward Islam.
Wilders told the AP by telephone that it was "a sad day for Britain and freedom of speech."
"You would expect something like this to happen in Zimbabwe or Jordan," he said.
Even the Guardian is appalled by this decision. The GUARDIAN!
| On Tuesday the government warned Mr Wilders that he threatened community harmony and told him he would be refused entry to the UK, but of course he came anyway. The consequences of the entry ban are greater than those of allowing his nasty film to remain unknown. Responding to the fear of violence does not always reduce disorder; it can make it more likely. Any faction might now see the potential of making alarming noises. Meanwhile Mr Wilders's deliberately distorted view of Islam has been widely circulated. |
It was Mr Rushdie himself, 20 years ago, who argued that people "understand themselves and shape their futures by arguing and challenging and questioning and saying the unsayable; not by bowing the knee whether to gods or to men." He was right. Mr Wilders should have been allowed to come. His film is offensive. The ban is a defeat for the freedom of expression.
| Barely a year after Congress enacted an energy law meant to foster a huge national enterprise capable of converting plants and agricultural wastes into automotive fuel, the goals lawmakers set for the ethanol industry are in serious jeopardy.|
As recently as last summer, plants that make ethanol from corn were sprouting across the Midwest. But now, with motorists driving less in the economic downturn, the industry is burdened with excess capacity, and plants are shutting down virtually every week.
In the meantime, plans are lagging for a new generation of factories that were supposed to produce ethanol from substances like wood chips and crop waste, overcoming the drawbacks of corn ethanol. That nascent branch of the industry concedes it has virtually no chance of meeting Congressional production mandates that kick in next year.
The decline in fortunes has been extreme for both kinds of ethanol since last summer, when $145-a-barrel oil appeared to shift fuel economics in their favor.
Only months ago, refiners in some regions were buying up as much corn ethanol as they could to blend with expensive gasoline, effectively keeping pump prices down slightly. Meanwhile, investors seemed willing to finance plants to produce next-generation biofuels.
|New York House members want the Obama administration to ignore the little-town blues of a couple of out-of-state congressmen who want a $400 million stadium-naming deal between Citigroup and the New York Mets to disappear.|
The six New Yorkers came to the defense of Citigroup's 20-year naming rights deal for Citi Field, the Mets' stadium scheduled to open in April. Last month, Reps. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, and Ted Poe, R-Texas, urged Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner to demand that Citigroup cancel the deal because of $45 billion the bank received in government aid.
....The New Yorkers added in the letter that canceling the deal would have "broader implications on the local communities' economic development."
"We believe that the principle of the sanctity of a contract, once it has been signed, is very important," they wrote. Both the Mets and Citigroup have insisted they're committed to the contract.
Kucinich said that if Citigroup had filed for bankruptcy rather than taken the government money, the stadium deal would have been terminated. So the Troubled Asset Relief Program, he argued, "in effect, has propped up the overpriced Citi Field naming rights deal at a time when Citigroup is also planning to lay off 50,000 employees. It makes you wonder, Is that what TARP funds were intended to accomplish?"
| LOS ANGELES – A big share of the financial burden of raising Nadya Suleman's 14 children could fall on the shoulders of California's taxpayers, compounding the public furor in a state already billions of dollars in the red.|
Even before the 33-year-old single, unemployed mother gave birth to octuplets last month, she had been caring for her six other children with the help of $490 a month in food stamps, plus Social Security disability payments for three of the youngsters. The public aid will almost certainly be increased with the new additions to her family.
Also, the hospital where the octuplets are expected to spend seven to 12 weeks has requested reimbursement from Medi-Cal, the state's Medicaid program, for care of the premature babies, according to the Los Angeles Times. The cost has not been disclosed.
Wednesday, February 11, 2009
|England's biggest St George's Day parade is facing the axe after councillors said many of those attending it were racist.|
For the last decade up to 15,000 have assembled in the town of West Bromwich under the slogan 'Forever England, For Everyone'.
Children and parents from all over the country parade through the Black Country town waving St George flags and marching to rousing anthems such as Jerusalem.
Organisers say one of the aims is to reclaim the Saint George Cross from Right-wingers and make it a source of pride for all.
But last night the local council, Labour-controlled Sandwell, voted to withdraw its support for the parade. Funds will go to support a Party in the Park instead.
It leaves parade organisers with what they say is the impossible task of raising £10,000 to cover their costs with only a few weeks to go.
In a letter to the organisers, one councillor, Yvonne Davies, said the parade created an 'unhealthy atmosphere' and inspired young boys to be racist.
She wrote: 'It is not only the parade which is the problem, but the tribal excitement it creates.'
The West Bromwich St George's Day parade started in 1998 and began as a fairly modest affair with 5,000 turning up. Now three times that attend the two-mile parade in April. Fire Service and Scout Association bands have played, the British Legion lends its support and each year ex-servicemen attend.
A volunteer dresses up as St George and rides with the marchers, children paint their faces with the St George Cross and there are activities such as medieval jousting.
There have been some problems - last year organisers had to clamp down on drinking in the street and a band with hard-Right roots joined in without their permission.
Councillor Davies wrote in her letter: 'I am sure most are very respectful and law-abiding, however some are distasteful in the extreme and wish to divide and separate people from each other.'
She said she had once been abused by youths who 'had been emboldened by the parade and thought racist chants were funny'.
'I have seen first hand how the parade (albeit unintentionally) creates an unhealthy atmosphere.'
So instead of trying to get rid of a couple of rowdy idiots, just take the money from the whole parade. Very stupid.
|The editor and publisher of a top English-language Indian daily have been arrested on charges of "hurting the religious feelings" of Muslims. |
The Statesman's editor Ravindra Kumar and publisher Anand Sinha were detained in Calcutta after complaints.
Muslims said they were upset with the Statesman for reproducing an article from the UK's Independent daily in its 5 February edition.
The article was entitled: "Why should I respect these oppressive religions?"
It concerns the erosion of the right to criticise religions.
|Q: What are some of the tax breaks in the bill?|
A: It includes Obama's signature "Making Work Pay" tax credit for 95 percent of workers, though negotiators agreed to trim the credit to $400 a year instead of $500 — or $800 for married couples, cut from Obama's original proposal of $1,000. It would begin showing up in most workers' paychecks in June as an extra $13 a week in take-home pay, falling to about $8 a week next January.
|The Anti-Defamation League said Tuesday that a survey it commissioned found nearly a third of Europeans polled blame Jews for the global economic meltdown and that a greater number think Jews have too much power in the business world. |
The organization, which says its aim is "to stop the defamation of Jewish people and secure justice and fair treatment to all," says the seven-nation survey confirms that anti-Semitism remains strong.
The poll included interviews with 3,500 people - 500 each in Austria, Britain, France, Germany, Hungary, Poland, Spain.
It says that in Spain, 74 percent of those asked say they feel it is "probably true" that Jews hold too much sway over the global financial markets. That is the highest percentage in the survey.
Nearly two-thirds of Spanish respondents said Jews were more loyal to Israel than they were to their home countries.
"This poll confirms that anti-Semitism remains alive and well in the minds of many Europeans," said Abraham H. Foxman, the ADL's national director in America. "Clearly, age old anti-Semitic stereotypes die hard."
Foxman said the study's findings were "particularly worrisome" in light of the anger spawned by the global economic meltdown, and following a number of violent acts against Jews or Jewish property after Israel's military action in the Gaza Strip.
A Pew poll from last year showed a high number in Spain really don't like Jews.
| Hundreds show up at a Springfield Township meeting on Sunday to hear how leaders plan to deal with an influx of low income tenants. |
Sunrise Avenue is a quiet cul-de-sac where most neighbors take pride in their homes. Grace Leary says that's why she moved here six and a half years ago. "I chose this because of the school district and potential for the property value to increase. I did not understand rental property was going to be a concern for me. I've seen my property value decrease in the last six months by $40,000."
Leary says she realizes the recession is one reason for the drop in her home's value, but she says a spike in Section 8 tenants is on her block is also a big part of the problem. Leary took her concerns to Springfield Township trustees at the State of the township meeting. "Is there a plan to limit those rental properties within decent neighborhoods that will not decrease property value?"
Springfield Township's trustees and administrator say there is an issue with too many Section Eight housing vouchers being used in certain parts of the township... namely, Finneytown where Leary lives.
Township Administrator Mike Hinnenkamp says this area is a victim of its success. "Voucher holders can get great school system, high level of services, and affordable housing."
But leaders here say the reason the vouchers were created was to spread low income residents throughout many neighborhoods and end the era of projects like English Woods. Now he sees the opposite is happening here... so trustees here are doing what they can to restrict the number of Section 8 residents in Springfield Township. "We really need to look at it on a street by street basis and come up with a maximum amount of units because they are having an impact."
|Just as they used Hurricane Katrina, warmenists are preparing to use Australia’s fires:|
I’m an American climate activist. My heart goes out to all suffering this devastation. I also appeal to you to tell your stories, in blogs or wherever you can; we need your voices to help get climate change laws and treaties passed. Americans don’t understand the harsh reality of GW coming to us all
Karen, San Francisco, USA
Thanks for the kind thoughts, Karen.
|To many Americans, Maya Arulpragasam, known as M.I.A., is the very pregnant rapper who gyrated across the stage at Sunday’s Grammy Awards.|
Yet in Sri Lanka, where she spent her childhood years, M.I.A. remains virtually unknown. And some who do know her work say she is an apologist for the separatist Tamil Tiger rebels fighting in the country’s long-running civil war.
M.I.A. — who has been nominated for an Oscar for the song she co-wrote for the hit film “Slumdog Millionaire” — has branded herself through music videos and interviews as the voice of the country’s Tamil minority. In the video for her song “Bird Flu,” for instance, children dance in front of what looks like the rebels’ logo: a roaring tiger.
“Being the only Tamil in the Western media, I have a really great opportunity to sort of bring forward what’s going on in Sri Lanka,” she said in an interview on the PBS program “Tavis Smiley” last month. “There’s a genocide going on.”
But her political views rankle some people at a time when most Sri Lankans are clutching to the hope that the rebels, branded by the United States and European nations as a terrorist group, are on the verge of military defeat by government troops.
“Frankly, she’s very lucky to get away with supporting, even indirectly, perhaps the most ruthless terrorist outfit in the world,” said Suresh Jayawickrama, a songwriter based in Colombo.
|If the House version of the federal stimulus package becomes law, Ohio will save 300 youth services jobs, 130 more in addiction counseling and at least 20 positions for aides who provide a respite to relatives of Alzheimer's patients. It would mean keeping as many as 8,000 children in state-supported child care and saving 500 corrections jobs in a state where prisons are well over capacity.|
If the Senate version triumphs, all of those jobs and subsidies -- plus many more -- will disappear, said Gov. Ted Strickland (D), who has joined with other governors to press members of Congress to back the more generous House approach.
The two chambers began to resolve their differences yesterday on how much money to send to states and other sticking points, after the Senate passed an $838 billion stimulus package. Senate and House leaders played down discrepancies between the two versions, saying that both would provide a boost to the economy and that an agreement on a final bill could come as soon as the end of the week.
But for states, the differences are potentially enormous. The House included $79 billion in direct aid to states, $40 billion more than the Senate, and governors are counting on that money to help balance budgets that are billions in the red.
Asia stocks fall amid skepticism over US bank plan
Geithner's new bailout plan gets cold shoulder from markets
Stocks Slide as New Bailout Disappoints
U.S. offers $2 trillion bank plan but stocks slump.
|Nathan Smith claims the lost gold and silver cargo of a Spanish barquentine that reportedly ran ashore south of Refugio, Texas, in 1822, could be worth $3 billion (£2 billion). |
Mr Smith, a musician from Los Angeles, said he used Google Earth, an internet site normally used by people wanting to find their own rooftop, to zoom in to a spot north of the Aransas Pass.
There, he saw an outline shaped like a shoeprint near an area known as Barkentine Creek, where the vessel was said to have run aground, he said.
After consulting experts and visiting the area with a metal detector, he is convinced he has found the ship, now buried under mud.
However, the ranch's owners have refused to allow him on to the land and the dispute has gone to federal court in Houston.
Documents and photographs of the area have been sealed by order of the court to hide the exact site. However, Mr Smith told an earlier hearing that it is even possible to make out an X marking the spot, which he believes is part of the ship's capstan.
His lawyers say the case, known as Smith vs Abandoned Ship in order further to preserve the secrecy, hinges on whether the spot - a wetlands area - counts as land or as a navigable waterway.
Tuesday, February 10, 2009
|A Saudi judge has ordered a woman should be jailed for a year and receive 100 lashes after she was gang-raped, it was claimed last night.|
The 23-year-old woman, who became pregnant after her ordeal, was reportedly assaulted after accepting a lift from a man.
He took her to a house to the east of the city of Jeddah where she was attacked by him and four of his friends throughout the night.
She later discovered she was pregnant and made a desperate attempt to get an abortion at the King Fahd Hospital for Armed Forces.
According to the Saudi Gazette, she eventually 'confessed' to having 'forced intercourse' with her attackers and was brought before a judge at the District Court in Jeddah.
He ruled she had committed adultery - despite not even being married - and handed down a year's prison sentence, which she will serve in a prison just outside the city.
She is still pregnant and will be flogged once she has had the child
|The British government has banned Dutch right-wing lawmaker Geert Wilders from visiting the country to show his anti-Islam film "Fitna" at the Houses of Parliament.|
Wilders was invited by a member of British Parliament's upper house, the House of Lords, to show his 15-minute film, which criticizes the Quran as a "fascist book." But he was informed Tuesday in a letter from the British Embassy he would not be allowed into Britain.
The film sparked violent protests around the Muslim world last year for linking Quranic verses with footage of terrorist attacks.
Wilders has lived for years with round-the-clock security because of his fierce criticism of Islam. He has urged his government to ban the Quran in the same way it did Adolf Hitler's book "Mein Kampf" and warned of a "tsunami" of Islam swamping the Netherlands.
Last month, a court in Amsterdam ordered him prosecuted for hate speech, a rarely punished crime in the liberal Netherlands that carries a maximum one-year sentence. Wilders has appealed the order to the Supreme Court.
Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen said the Dutch government would press Britain to reverse the ban and said he "deeply regretted" that a Dutch lawmaker had been barred access.
Britain's Home Office, which is responsible for immigration issues, said it had no specific comment to make about Wilders' case.
But in a statement the Home Office said it "opposes extremism in all its forms" and would work to "stop those who want to spread extremism, hatred and violent messages in our communities from coming to our country."
Lord Pearson, who invited Wilders to show "Fitna" at the House of Lords on Thursday, said he was "very surprised that the British government should ban a European citizen — and an elected Dutch MP at that — from coming to this country."
He called his government's decision "weak and unacceptable in the extreme."
Pearson said he took exception to some of Wilders' statements but wanted to show his film "precisely to uphold his right to freedom of speech, even if we disagree with what he's saying."
|The bill’s health rules will affect “every individual in the United States” (445, 454, 479). Your medical treatments will be tracked electronically by a federal system. Having electronic medical records at your fingertips, easily transferred to a hospital, is beneficial. It will help avoid duplicate tests and errors.|
But the bill goes further. One new bureaucracy, the National Coordinator of Health Information Technology, will monitor treatments to make sure your doctor is doing what the federal government deems appropriate and cost effective. The goal is to reduce costs and “guide” your doctor’s decisions (442, 446). These provisions in the stimulus bill are virtually identical to what Daschle prescribed in his 2008 book, “Critical: What We Can Do About the Health-Care Crisis.” According to Daschle, doctors have to give up autonomy and “learn to operate less like solo practitioners.”
Keeping doctors informed of the newest medical findings is important, but enforcing uniformity goes too far.
Hospitals and doctors that are not “meaningful users” of the new system will face penalties. “Meaningful user” isn’t defined in the bill. That will be left to the HHS secretary, who will be empowered to impose “more stringent measures of meaningful use over time” (511, 518, 540-541)
What penalties will deter your doctor from going beyond the electronically delivered protocols when your condition is atypical or you need an experimental treatment? The vagueness is intentional. In his book, Daschle proposed an appointed body with vast powers to make the “tough” decisions elected politicians won’t make.
The stimulus bill does that, and calls it the Federal Coordinating Council for Comparative Effectiveness Research (190-192). The goal, Daschle’s book explained, is to slow the development and use of new medications and technologies because they are driving up costs. He praises Europeans for being more willing to accept “hopeless diagnoses” and “forgo experimental treatments,” and he chastises Americans for expecting too much from the health-care system.
I would like to dub these rules as " DIE OLD PEOPLE DIE!"
|Daschle says health-care reform “will not be pain free.” Seniors should be more accepting of the conditions that come with age instead of treating them. That means the elderly will bear the brunt.|
Medicare now pays for treatments deemed safe and effective. The stimulus bill would change that and apply a cost- effectiveness standard set by the Federal Council (464).
The Federal Council is modeled after a U.K. board discussed in Daschle’s book. This board approves or rejects treatments using a formula that divides the cost of the treatment by the number of years the patient is likely to benefit. Treatments for younger patients are more often approved than treatments for diseases that affect the elderly, such as osteoporosis
Monday, February 9, 2009
They also have to be "helpful" to him without looking at just complaining. They have to point out the CBO report says even without the bill, the economy would start to recover by the latter part of this year.
The Economic Outlook
It could also be the
Obama and the Dems are playing for the 2010 midterms and beyond. Republicans cannot shy away from pointing out the obvious.
|That's not to say the package steers clear of waste or parochial interests. Obama played to such interests Monday, speaking at one point as if he'd come to fill potholes.|
A look at some of Obama's claims in Elkhart, Ind., and the news conference called to make his case to the largest possible audience:
OBAMA: "Not a single pet project," he told the news conference. "Not a single earmark."
He said in Elkhart: "Understand, this bill does not have a single earmark in it, which is unprecedented for a bill of this size. ... There aren't individual pork projects that members of Congress are putting into this bill."
THE FACTS: There are no "earmarks," as they are usually defined, inserted by lawmakers in the bill. Still, some of the projects bear the prime characteristics of pork — tailored to benefit specific interests or to have thinly disguised links to local projects.
For example, the latest version contains $2 billion for a clean-coal power plant with specifications matching one in Mattoon, Ill., $10 million for urban canals, $2 billion for manufacturing advanced batteries for hybrid cars, and $255 million for a polar icebreaker and other "priority procurements" by the Coast Guard.
Obama told his Elkhart audience that Indiana will benefit from work on "roads like U.S. 31 here in Indiana that Hoosiers count on." He added: "And I know that a new overpass downtown would make a big difference for businesses and families right here in Elkhart."
U.S. 31 is a north-south highway serving South Bend, 15 miles from Elkhart in the northern part of the state.
|Cash-strapped consumers can't seem to get a break from high credit card fees and rates.|
In the latest fee rolled out by a bank, JPMorgan Chase, the nation's largest card issuer, has begun charging hundreds of thousands of borrowers a $10-a-month, or $120-a-year, fee. Industry watchers say the fee is unusual because of its size but also because Chase is adding it to borrowers' monthly balances, where it accrues interest. The bank is also raising the same consumers' minimum payments to 5% from 2%.
The change affects consumers with low promotional rates who have carried a large balance for more than two years and made little progress paying it off, says Chase spokeswoman Stephanie Jacobson.
Curtis Arnold, founder of CardRatings.com, who was affected by the new policy, says he fears other banks will soon impose similar policies. The past year has seen a bevy of interest rate or fee increases by major banks including Citibank, Bank of America and Washington Mutual, now a part of Chase.
|If there is one lesson the U.S. should learn from Japan, he says, it's this: "Don't allow the situation to fester. Take immediate action."|
More Spending Is Not the Answer
Another lesson from Japan: Don't try to spend your way out of an economic trough. Japan ramped up government spending on public works projects, including bridges and river "improvement" programs that literally lined many waterways with cement. But it didn't work, and today the only evidence of this spending binge is the ugly slabs of cement that mar the Japanese countryside.
Now this is the NYTIMES a couple of days ago trying to help out Obama with his Japan's Lost Decade bit and not exactly helping because it makes his people look like short-sighted opportunists.
|"....In a nutshell, Japan’s experience suggests that infrastructure spending, while a blunt instrument, can help revive a developed economy, say many economists and one very important American official: Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner, who was a young financial attaché in Japan during the collapse and subsequent doldrums. One lesson Mr. Geithner has said he took away from that experience is that spending must come in quick, massive doses, and be continued until recovery takes firm root.|
Moreover, it matters what gets built: Japan spent too much on increasingly wasteful roads and bridges, and not enough in areas like education and social services, which studies show deliver more bang for the buck than infrastructure spending.
“It is not enough just to hire workers to dig holes and then fill them in again,” said Toshihiro Ihori, an economics professor at the University of Tokyo. “One lesson from Japan is that public works get the best results when they create something useful for the future.”
In total, Japan spent $6.3 trillion on construction-related public investment between 1991 and September of last year, according to the Cabinet Office. The spending peaked in 1995 and remained high until the early 2000s, when it was cut amid growing concerns about ballooning budget deficits. More recently, the governing Liberal Democratic Party has increased spending again to revive the economy and the party’s own flagging popularity.
In the end, say economists, it was not public works but an expensive cleanup of the debt-ridden banking system, combined with growing exports to China and the United States, that brought a close to Japan’s Lost Decade. This has led many to conclude that spending did little more than sink Japan deeply into debt, leaving an enormous tax burden for future generations.
In the United States, it has also led to calls in Congress, particularly by Republicans, not to repeat the errors of Japan’s failed economic stimulus. They argue that it makes more sense to cut taxes, and let people decide how to spend their own money, than for the government to decide how to invest public funds. Japan put more emphasis on increased spending than tax cuts during its slump, but ultimately did reduce consumption taxes to encourage consumer spending as well.
Economists tend to divide into two camps on the question of Japan’s infrastructure spending: those, many of them Americans like Mr. Geithner, who think it did not go far enough; and those, many of them Japanese, who think it was a colossal waste.
Among ordinary Japanese, the spending is widely disparaged for having turned the nation into a public-works-based welfare state and making regional economies dependent on Tokyo for jobs. Much of the blame has fallen on the Liberal Democratic Party, which has long used government spending to grease rural vote-buying machines that help keep the party in power. "
Read the article as it goes into details and reads like the Americans are only seeing what they want to see as a great plan while the Japanese sees it as a debt building waste.
Sunday, February 8, 2009
|The $15,000 tax credit for anyone buying a new home, part of the economic stimulus plan going before the Senate this week, would give a boost to the housing market but likely do little for those who need help most, experts say.|
As many as 1 million home sales could result from the tax credit, according to Mary Trupo of the National Association of Realtors.
"By increasing demand and decreasing inventory, it'll help to stabilize home values and result in fewer foreclosures," Trupo said.
But low income people will not benefit, said Linda Couch, deputy director of the National Low Income Housing Coalition. "The bill is focusing a lot more of its resources on higher income households and home ownership than it is on the lowest income people and people really teetering on the edge of homelessness," Couch said.
Since the money comes as a deductible tax credit spread over two years, homebuyers must earn enough to have $7,500 in income taxes – $81,900 per year for a family of four to get the full benefit, according to the housing coalition. .
Additionally, when the home costs less than $150,000 the deduction is only worth 10 percent of the house's value, meaning those buying the cheapest homes wouldn't receive the full benefit.
Alma Jill Dizon, a Realtor from Riverside, Calif., agreed that there wasn't much in the measure for low-income Americans.
"From what I can tell, it's really going to benefit people who already have enough salary" to buy a house, said Dizon, who said she sells homes from $150,000 to more than $1 million.
|A British intelligence source revealed that a staggering four out of 10 CIA operations designed to thwart direct attacks on the US are now conducted against targets in Britain…|
The CIA has already spent 18 months developing a network of agents in Britain to combat al-Qaeda, unprecedented in size within the borders of such a close ally, according to intelligence sources in both London and Washington…
Information gleaned by CIA spies in Britain has already helped thwart several terrorist attacks in the UK and was instrumental in locating Rashid Rauf, a British-born al-Qaeda operative implicated in a plot to explode airliners over the Atlantic, who was tracked down and killed in a US missile strike in November…
“Around 40 per cent of CIA activity on homeland threats is now in the UK. This is quite unprecedented.”
|If enacted, the Senate stimulus bill would fund over $100 billion in new government construction projects with the goal of providing additional jobs to unemployed Americans. The House-passed stimulus bill contains explicit language to bar employment of illegal immigrants in these construction projects. However, the Senate bill deliberately omits this language.|
If the Senate version of the bill becomes law, a great number of the workers employed in government construction programs will, in fact, be illegal immigrants. About one out of seven (or 15 percent) of workers employed in construction in the U.S. is an illegal immigrant. Unless strong mechanisms are put in place to prevent the hiring of illegal immigrants, it is reasonable to expect that a similar proportion of workers hired for construction projects under the stimulus bill would be in the country illegally.