WEEK ONE HUNDRED & FORTY-THREE

October 10, 2011     Just last week, a bear market seemed inevitable, but since then, stocks have surged four of the past five days, bringing the S&P's 500 index up 8.7%:

  • The latest jump came after the leaders of France and Germany pledged to come up with a far-reaching solution to the region's debt crisis by the end of the month--analysts said that the volatile period is probably going to continue as people try to work things out and get some sense of where we're heading in the future.

October 11, 2011

1.     President Obama's $447 billion jobs plan foundered in the Senate as a unified Republican caucus and a pair of Democrats voted 50-49 to deny the proposal the 60 votes necessary to allow it to proceed to full consideration:

  • Senior White House officials said that the vote was the first step to spur action on job creation, and next, they said, Obama will work with Senate leaders to break the jobs bill down into its parts, which polls show are very popular with voters, and challenge Republicans to reject each individually--Republicans said that they have always preferred negotiating the package piece by piece and said the vote was an effort to turn the debate into a political bludgeon.

2.     Five health and evironmental groups sued the Obama administration over its rejection of a proposed stricter standard for ozone pollution, saying the decision was driven by politics and ignored public health concerns:

  • The current EPA administrator, Lisa Jackson, wanted to set the standard at 70 parts per billion, near the maximum level recommended by the advisory panel, but Obama rejected that proposal September 2nd, saying that compliance would be too costly and create too much regulatory uncertainty for industry--the decision infuriated environmental groups, who called it a betrayal, but it was cheered by business leaders, who said the ozone rule was one of the most onerous of the administration's proposed environmental regulation.

3.     The Senate voted to threaten China with higher tariffs on Chinese products made cheap through an artificially undervalued currency, which lawmakers blame for destroying U.S. jobs:

  • The 63-35 vote showed a broad bipartisan concensus that it's time to confront China over its aggressive trade policies--still the bill could die in the House, where a companion measure has the support of more than half the members but lacks the support of the GOP leadership;
  • Advocates of the bill say that it will make American goods more competitive and support more than one million new jobs--critics warn that it will provoke Chinese retaliation and hurt Americans in one of their fastest growing markets.

October 12, 2011

1.     President Obama's top strategist accused former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney of changing positions on a series of issues, offering a preview of what could be the campaign's central argument against the Republican presidential candidate next year:

  • David Axelrod, the Obama campaign's senior strategist, said that Romney had shifted his stance on taxes, health care, and trade with China, raising questions about what he would do if elected president--the stepped-up criticism by Obama's campaign staff signalled that they increasingly view Romney as being in command of the Republican race, and the flip-flopping charges could serve as a key argument against the Republican's campaign next year, if he lands the nomination.

2.     The Obama administration was taking its case against Iran to the world, trying to stir up an international response to charges that the Islamic republic plotted to assassinate the Saudi Arabian amabassador to the U.S.:

  • The State Department sent a cable to all American embassies and consulates around the world, telling them to put the Iran case before their host governments--Obama's top national security aides have said that the administration will lobby for the imposition of new international sanctions as well as for individual nations to expand their own penalties against Iran.

October 13, 2011

1.     Senate Republicans introduced legislation aimed at creating jobs, overhauling the nation's tax laws, cutting business rules, and boosting offshore oil exploration:

  • The GOP bill is called the Jobs Through Growth Act and doesn't include a single item in President Obama's jobs legislation, which Senate Republicans killed in a vote October 11th--one idea that could win bipartisan support is a proposal to bring home $14 trillion in overseas profits that are kept offshore because of high corporate taxes, and lawmakers in both parties support revamping the tax code by getting rid of deductions and using the revenue to lower rates on individuals and businesses.

2.     The House returned to an abortion issue that nearly sank President Obama's healthcare law last year with legislation that bars an insurance plan regulated under the new law from covering abortion if any of its cusomers receive federal subsidies:

  • The legislation, which passed 251-172 (all Oregon representatives except Walden, Oregon's only Republican, voted no), is unlikely to be considered by the Democratic-led Senate and faces a veto threat from Obama, but it gives House Republicans, focused this year on cutting spending and reducing the size of the federal government, a chance to reaffirm their credentials on social conservative issues--opponents warn that millions of middle- and low-income women who receive partial subsidies to buy insurance would be denied abortion coverage.

3.     Leading members of Congress joined the defense secretary and the new chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in arguing against any additional cuts in military spending as a special committee seeks to find more than a trillion dollars in new savings in the overall budget:

  • Some experts predict that a middle ground may emerge: the budget panel may find nearly all the required savings, and to avoid the pain of sequestration, the Defense Department will be ordered to find additional savings, but less than $600 billion--according to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, even that would be unacceptable, and he said that President Obama agreed with him.

4.     According to a new government report, refunding tens of billions of dollars in federal worker retirement accounts back to the U.S. Postal Service would not address its long-term debt problems and would shift unfunded liabilities onto taxpayers:

  • The conclusions published by the Government Accountability Office run counter to the opinions of postal regulators, the postal inspector general, and congressional Democrats, who say Congress should refund as much as $75 billion to the Postal Service for overpaying federal retirement accounts since the 1970s.

5.     The Republican-controlled House is continuing its campaign against environmental regulations, this time passing a bill to delay rules that curb toxic air pollution from industrial boilers and incinerators:

  • The regulation passed 274-142--it joins a host of other measures aimed at delaying or scrapping EPA regulations that Republicans view as job killers.

6.     A deeply divided House panel approved a Republican bill that would slash U.S. contributions to the U.N., rejecting Democratic complaints that the measure would end American involvement in the world peacekeeping body and deliver a devastating blow:

  • One week after cutting $50 million for a U.N. organization that helps women and children in developing countries, the House Foreign Affairs Committee targeted the billions of dollars that the U.S. contributes to the U.N.--the committee chairwoman, Rep. Leana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Florida) argued that the legislation would give the U.S. leverage in pushing for change at the U.N.

7.     President Obama pledged to hold Iran accountable for "dangerous and reckless behavior" in pursuing an alleged plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the U.S.:

  • In his first comments on the purported murder-for-hire scheme unveiled October 12th by the Justice Department, Obama described the U.S. allegations as well-supported by evidence and said that they would contribute to stronger enforcement of existing sanctions against Iran--U.S. authorities have identified two officials in Iran's elite special operations Quds Force as being behind the plot, and one of them was formally charged, but neither the Justice Department nor Obama would say how high in the Iranian leadership the alleged plot is believed to reach.

8.     President Obama has surged far ahead of his Republican rivals in raising money for the 2012 election, bringing in more than $150 milion for his campaign and the Democratic Party from nearly one million donors, according to new figures:

  • The numbers put Obama comfortably ahead of his leading GOP rivals, who together appear unlikely to match his total for the third quarter--aides to Texas Gov. Rick Perry have said that he will report raising $17 million through September, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is expected to come in at around $13 million, and pizza magnate Herman Cain, who has vaulted to the front of recent polls, has raised relatively little money.

9.     Congress flooded its super-committee with a jumble of advice about taming the government's out-of-control debt, with top agriculture lawmakers readying a bipartisan plan to pare food and farm aid while others waged an aggressive hunt for savings coupled with warnings against cutting cherished programs:

  • Most of the suggestions came from Democrats on 16 Republican-run House committees who sent letters to the special debt-cutting panel--generally, their advice was to create jobs, raise revenue, and avoid damaging cuts to public works, healthcare, and other programs they said are crucial to an economic recovery.

October 14, 2011

1.     The Obama administration told congressional leaders that it cannot implement a new program to provide Americans with long-term care insurance, abandoning a controversial part of the healthcare law the president signed last year:

  • The move will not affect implementation of other parts of the sweeping healthcare law, including preparations for a major expansion of health insurance coverage starting in 2014, according to administration officials--in a letter to senior Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill, Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius said that such a benefit remains crucial, but she said that the program envisioned in the healthcare law, known as the Community Living Assistance Services and Support (or CLASS) program, could not have been structured to collect enough in premiums to remain solvent.

2.     In a blow to Alabama's toughest-in-the-nation immigration law, a federal appeals court sided with the Obama administration when it blocked public schools from checking students' immigration status:

  • The decision from the 11th U.S. Court of Appeals also said that police cannot charge immigrants who are unable to prove their citizenship, but it let some of the law stand, giving supporters a partial victory--the decision was only temporary, and a final ruling was not expected for months.

3.     A second Bush administration gun-trafficking investigation has surfaced using the same controversial tactic for which congressional Republicans have been criticizing the Obama administration:

  • The tactic, called "gun walking", is under investigation by the Justice Department inspector general and by congressional Rpublicans, who have criticized the administration of Democratic President Obama for letting it happen in an operation called "Fast and Furious"--Justice Department policy has long required that illicit arms' shipments be intercepted whenever possible.

4.     The federal government ran a $1.3 trillion deficit for the budget year that ended last month, the third straight year it has operated more than $1 trillion in the red:

  • The 2011 budget deficit was the second highest on record, slightly larger than the previous budget year's $1.29 trillion deficit, but below the $1.41 trillion imbalance record in 2009--a decade ago, the government was running surpluses, and trillion-dollar deficits seemed unimaginable.

5.     President Obama will send about 100 U.S. troops to Uganda and nearby countries to help combat the Lord's Resistance Army and kill or capture its leader, Joseph Kony, who has been charged with war crimes for a decades-long campaign against civilians in Central Africa:

  • In a letter to Congress, Obama outlined a strictly advisory role for U.S. forces, who, he said, would engage in combat only in self-defense--the decision follows more than a year of study within the White House on how to support the intent of a bill passed by Congress to help several Central African nations defeat a destabilizing guerilla movement.

6.     A senior U.S. official said that terrorist groups have expressed interest in obtaining some of the thousands of shoulder-launched missiles that have gone missing in Libya, and the issue has become a priority for the Obama administration:

  • Andrew J. Shapiro, Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs, said that the missiles "could pose a threat to civil aviation"--Libya was believed to have about 200,000 such missiles in its arsenals before civil war began in March, Shapiro said, and although many were destroyed by NATO air strikes, thousands are missing.

October 15, 2011     Two U.S. officials said that an Obama administration proposal to keep a few thousand U.S. troops in Iraq after the end of the year to train the Iraqi military is being scaled back, as the administration has concluded that the Iraqi parliament would not give the troops legal protection:

  • Both countries are still discussing whether to keep some trainers in Iraq, although the number of troops would probably be far fewer than the 3,000 to 5,000 that the administration had talked about with Iraqi leaders, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the negotiations.
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