November 21, 2011

1.     The failure of Congress' super-committee--the bipartisan panel that was supposed to cut at least $1.2 trillion from looming federal deficits--will trigger a fresh series of partisan clashes over taxes, spending, Social Security, and a host of other fiscal matters, clashes likely to begin immediately:

  • The collapse of the 12-member panel, announced in a joint statement by co-chairs Sen. Patty Murray, D-Washington, and Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, sent U.S. stock prices plunging and created at least another year's worth of fiscal uncertainty in Washington, smack in the middle of an already contentious 2012 election campaign--the Budget Control Act passed last August stipulates that failure of the super-committee and Congress to act on future deficit reduction will trigger across-the-board cuts of $1.2 trillion in both defense and non-defense programs, starting in 2013.

2.     Major Western powers took significant steps to cut Iran off from the international financial system, announcing coordinating sanctions aimed at its central bank and commercial banks--the measures, a response to a recent U.N. report warning about Iran's nuclear activities, tighten the vise on Iran but still fall short of a blanket cutoff:

  • The U.S. also imposed sanctions on companies involved in Iran's nuclear industry, as well as on its petrochemical and oil industries, adding to existing measures that seek to act on the government of Iran by depriving it of its ability to refine gasoline or invest in its petroleum industry--the U.S., Britain, and Canada each announced measures aimed at shutting off Iran's access to foreign banks and credit.

3.     A nearly 2-1 majority of voters think that President Obama inherited, rather than caused, today's slumping economy, and more Americans trust him to create jobs than they do the Republicans in Congress, according to a new McClotchy-Marist poll:

  • Half of U.S. adults think that Obama's push to create jobs will do more good than harm, while 40 percent say the opposite--the November survey of 1,026 adults, including 872 registered voters, found a populace that is still glum about the nation's economic outlook: nearly three out of four think the country is in a recession, and 53 percent think that "the worst is yet to come."

4.     The Obama administration called on a health insurance company in Pennsylvania to reduce what it's charging small businesses, using the new healthcare law for the first time to pressure insurers to restrain raising premiums:

  • The healthcare overhaul that Obama signed last year does not give federal or state insurance regulators any new authority to prohibit rate hikes like the Everence Insurance Company's increase in Pennsylvania, but the law allows government officials to require insurers seeking high increases to justify them publically, a move that proponents hope will persuade companies to think twice about proposing excessive hikes.

5.     President Obama pardoned five people convicted of charges ranging from intent to distribute marijuana to running an illegal gambling business, and he issued his first commutation, ordering the release of a woman next month after serving ten years on a 22-year sentence for cocaine distribution:

  • The actions make Obama's third set of pardons--he pardoned eight people earlier this year and issued nine pardons in December 2010.

November 22, 2011     The American Bar Association has declared a number of President Obama's judicial nominees "not qualified", following White House efforts to fill vacant judgeships--nearly all of the prospects given poor ratings were women or ethnic minorities, according to interviews;

  • The White House has chosen not to nominate any person the bar association deemed unqualified, so the negative ratings have not been made public, but the association's judicial vetting committee has opposed 14 of the roughly 185 potential nominees the administration asked it to evaluate, according to a person familiar with the matter--the number of Obama prospects deemed "not qualified" already exceeds the total number opposed by the group during the eight-year administrations of Bill Clinton or George W. Bush.

November 23, 2011

1.     The U.S. Justice Department filed a lawsuit challenging Utah's immigration enforcement law, arguing that it could potentially lead to the harassment and detention of American citizens and authorized visitors:

  • Other federal agencies included in the lawsuit are Homeland Security and the State Department--even with the federal intervention, state officials remained confident the law would eventually be sustained.

2.     The number of people seeking unemployment benefits ticked up slightly last week after two months of steady declines:

  • But the increase is not enough to reverse the downward trend--the four-week average of applications, a less volatile measure, fell to its lowest level since April, and the decline in the average signals that companies are laying off fewer workers--even so, weekly applications would need to stay below 375,000 consistently to push down the unemployment rate significantly, and they have not been at that level since February.

November 25, 2011     In an escalating trade conflict, Chinese officials launched an investigation of U.S. trade subsidies for the renewable energy industry, retaliating for a complaint initiated earlier this month by SolarWorld, the German company employing 1,000 in Hillsboro--Beijing's move significantly broadens trade tensions between the U.S. and China:

  • It is investigating not only solar products but hydro and wind energy goods, equipment, and programs, with an eye on imposing tariffs on U.S. exports to China--such tariffs would counter duties that SolarWorld and U.S. manufacturers or the federal government impose on Chinese solar panels sold in the U.S.