WEEK ONE HUNDRED & FORTY-ONE

September 26, 2011

1.     The Senate reached a bipartisan spending agreement to avert a government shutdown, side-stepping a bitter impasse over disaster financing after federal authorities said that they could most likely squeak through the rest of this week with the $114 million they have on hand.

  • After blocking one Democratic proposal, the Senate voted 79-12 to approve a straight-forward, six-week extension of funding for government agencies that were due to run out of money at the end of September, simultaneously replenishing accounts at FEMA that this summer's string of national disasters nearly exhausted--Democrats said that they expected the House Republicans to concur with the Senate's overall solution.

2.     The Obama administration's proposal to raise the security fee for travelers--part of its overall plan to reduce the federal deficit--has reignited a debate over who should pay the bill for aviation security: airlines and their passengers or all taxpayers:

  • About $15 billion of the additional revenue collected over a decade would go toward deficit reduction, but the administration said that another reason for the increase was to raise to 75 percent the portion of aviation security paid for by airlines and their passengers, rather less than half the budget as has been the case for years--the airlines' response was that "Security should be a federal function, and it should be funded as such."

3.     The Obama administration has decided not to ask a federal appeals court in Atlanta for further review of a ruling striking down the centerpiece of President Obama's sweeping healthcare overhaul:

  • The administration's decision makes it more likely that the U.S. Supreme Court would hear a case on the healthcare overhaul in the court's term starting next month, and render its verdict on the law in the midst of the 2012 presidential campaign--the Atlanta circuit ruling sided with 26 states that had sought to stop the law from taking effect.

4.     Stocks had their biggest gains in more than two weeks after European officials pledged to take action to resolve the region's debt problems:

  • The Dow Jones industrial average jumped 272 points, making up about a third of last week's losses--European ministers told a meeting of global finance leaders in Washington over the weekend that they would take bolder steps to fight the debt crisis, which threatens to slow the global economy.

September 27, 2011     Home prices rose for a fourth straight month in most major U.S. cities in July, buoyed by the peak buying season, but the housing market remains depressed, and prices are expected to decline in the coming months:

  • Analysts cautioned that the price increases are temporary and not evidence of a housing recovery, and prices are expected to drop again this fall and winter, based on poor sales and expectations that banks will resume processing a raft of foreclosures that have been in limbo.

September 28, 2011

1.     The Obama administration asked the Supreme Court to hear a case concerning the 2010 healthcare overhaul law--the development, which came unexpectedly quickly, makes it all but certain that the court will soon agree to hear one or more cases involving challenges to the law, with arguments by the spring and a decision by June, in time to land in the middle of the 2012 presidential campaign:

  • The three federal courts of appeal that have issued decisions on the law so far have all reached different conclusions, with one upholding it, a second (the 11th Circuit) striking it down in part, and a third saying that threshold legal issues barred an immediate ruling--a fourth challenge to the law was heard last week by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

2.     U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told a roundtable of Oregon business leaders that President Obama's jobs plan would create 5,500 construction jobs in this state:

  • The pitch was part of Vilsack's nationwide tour in support of the jobs plan which Obama sent to Congress on September 12th--a major part of the plan is its incentives for businesses to hire the long-term unemployed, and Oregon has 100,000 people who have been without work for six months or longer.

September 29, 2011

1.     The Obama administration is taking steps to extend new federal protections to a list of imperiled animals and plants that reads like a manifest for Noah's Ark--from the melodic golden-winged warbler and slow-moving gopher tortoise to the slimy American eel and tiny Texas kangaroo rat:

  • Compelled by a pair of recent legal settlements, the effort in part targets species that have been mired in bureaucratic limbo even as they inch toward potential extinction--with a deadline of September 30th to act on more than 700 pending cases, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service already has issued decisions advancing more than 500 species toward potential new protections under the Endangered Species Act.

2.     The economy grew slightly more than previously estimated in the last quarter and weekly jobless claims fell to their lowest number in five months, signs the nation may not be heading into another recession yet:

  • Federal officials said that the economy grew at an annual rate of 1.3% from April through June, an anemic but marginally better pace than the most recent estimate of one percent--the Labor Department also reported weekly claims for unemployment insurance dropped 37,000 last week to 391,000, the lowest figure since early April.

September 30, 2011

1.     The killings of U.S.-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki and another American al-Qaida propagandist in a U.S. airstrike wipe out the decisive factor that made the terrorist group's Yemen branch the most dangerous threat to the U.S.: its reach into the West:

  • This drone attack was believed to be the first instance in which a U.S. citizen was tracked and killed based on secret intelligence and the president's say-so; al-Awlaki was placed on the CIA "kill or capture" list by the Obama administration in April 2010, the first American to be so targeted;
  • President Obama heralded the strike as a "major blow to al-Qaida's most active operational affiliate," saying the 40-year-old al-Awlaki was the group's "leader of external operations"--al-Awlaki's leadership since the May killing of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan, and the pursuit of al-Awlaki and this strike were directed by the same U.S. special unit that directed the Navy SEALs raid on bin Laden's hide-out.

2.     Americans earned less in August than in July, the first decline in nearly two years--with less income, consumers could cut back on spending and weaken an already-fragile economy:

  • The lower pay explains why consumers increased spending at a slower pace in August, and most of the increase went to pay higher prices for food and gas--when adjusted for inflation, spending was flat.

3.     A federal magistrate recommended that a Bush administration plan to double logging on some federal lands in western Oregon should be vacated:

  • U.S. Magistrate Judge James Hubel found that the BLM failed to properly consult federal biologists over the potential harm to endangered species like the northern spotted owl before adopting the Western Oregon Plan Revisions, known as the WOPR--BLM did not immediately comment, but has said it would adopt a new approach that emphasizes restoring healthy forests that are less prone to wild fires.
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