WEEK ONE HUNDRED & FORTY-TWO

October 2, 2011

1.     Since Republicans won control of many state houses last November, more than a dozen states have passed laws requiring voters to show photo identification at polls, cutting back early voting periods, or imposing new restrictions on voter registration drives:

  • State officials, political parties, and voting experts have all said that the impact could be sizeable, and a new study to be released October 3rd by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law has tried to tally how many voters stand to be affected--the center, which has studied the new law and opposed some of them in court and other venues, analyzed 19 laws that passed and two executive orders that were issued in 14 states this year and concluded that they "could make it significantly harder for more than five million eligible voters to cast ballots in 2012."

2.     The protesters who have camped out in Manhattan's Financial District for more than two weeks eat donated food and keep their laptops running with portable gas-powered generators--they have a newspaper, the Occupied Wall Street Journal, and a makeshift hospital:

  • They lack a clear objective, though they speak against corporate greed, social inequality, global climate change, and other concerns, but they're growing in numbers, getting more organized, and show no signs of quitting--the Occupy Wall Street demonstration started out last month with fewer than a dozen college students spending days and nights in Zuccotti Park, a private plaza off Broadway, but it has grown sizeably, both in New York City and elsewhere, as people across the country, from Boston to Los Angeles, display their solidarity in similar protests.

October 3, 2011

1.     America's budget crisis at home is forcing the first significant cuts in overseas aid in nearly two decades, a retrenchment that officials and advocates say reflects the country's diminishing ability to influence the world:

  • As lawmakers scramble to trim the swelling national debt, both the Republican-controlled House and the Democrat-controlled Senate have proposed slashing financing for the State Department and its related aid agencies at a time of disparate humanitarian crises and uncertain political developments--the financial crunch threatens to undermine a foreign policy described as "smart power" by President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, one that emphasizes diplomacy and development as a complement to U.S. military power, and it would also begin to reverse the increase in foreign aid that President George W. Bush supported after the attacks of September 11, 2001, as part of an effort to combat the roots of extremism and anti-American sentiment, especially in the most troubled countries.

2.     The federal government has decided to uphold the sale of nearly 500 leases to drill for oil in Arctic waters near Alaska, in reponse to a successful lawsuit by environmentalists and Native Alaskan organizations that had thrown the contracts into jeopardy:

  • The move by the Interior Department was celebrated by Shell Oil Company and other firms that snapped up some of the 487 leases to drill in the Chukchi Sea during a government auction in 2008--the decision was panned by conservationists who blasted the Obama administration for bypassing calls for more scientific research on the region's marine life and better studies of how to clean up oil spills in remote, icy waters.

3.     With Republicans killing prospects for a comprehensive jobs bill, the White House is planning a fall strategy it hopes will wrangle enough GOP votes for a package some economists say would add as many as 1.9 million jobs to a sagging economy--at least temporarily:

  • The White House's new 60-day legislative-political strategy is designed to pressure Republicans in Obama-friendly districts to support his proposed $447 billion jobs bill and accompanying tax increases, or face blame at home heading into the 2012 election year--the need for a Plan B was evident as House Republicans said flatly that they won't approve the entire jobs bill as Obama has demanded.

4.     The latest setback in Greece's financial crisis sent major stock market indices to loss readings for the year and put the S&P's 500 index on the verge of a bear market--the euro fell to a nine-month low against the dollar, and the yield on the ten-year Treasury note sank as investors piled money into lower-risk imvestments:

  • The slump came on the first day of trading for the fourth quarter and followed the weakest quarter the market has had since the financial crisis began.

6.     The nation's economy is managing to grow modestly, reports showed, despite high U.S. unemployment and growing alarm about Europe's debt crises:

  • Manufacturing expanded in September more than in August, though the pace of growth remains weak, and construction spending rose modestly in August--in addition, U.S. auto sales rose in September, largely because consumers bought more pickups and SUVs, U.S. automakers said.

October 4, 2011

1.     With limited discussion and zero fanfare, the House approved (by a vote of 352-66, with all Oregon representatives voting yes) and sent to President Obama a measure to keep the government operating through mid-November, and avoided, for now, the threat of any shutdown:

  • Although the debate over the bill was so short (roughly ten minutes) that the House whip's office was caught by surprise and briefly delayed the vote, 53 Republicans opposed the measure, in a show of displeasure that the bill did not have deeper cuts to government spending--13 Democrats also rejected it.

2.     Federal Reserve leaders have downgraded their expectations for economic growth, Chairman Ben Bernanke said, and he called on Congress to address both long-term budget deficits and short-term economic troubles:

  • The Fed chief, testifying before the Joint Economic Committee, urged Congress to avoid actions that might "impede the ongoing economic recovery" while simultaneously putting in place a plan to reduce future deficits over time, adding that "the federal budget is clearly not on a sustainable path at present" and that the deficit reduction targets that the so-called super-committee of Congress is charged with meeting will not be enough to make the nation's finances sustainable--Bernanke also signalled that the Fed will consider further action if the economy continues to worsen.

3.     A late afternoon surge capped another wild day on Wall Street and prevented the S&P 500 stock index from entering a bear market--stocks jumped on reports that European officials were working to prop up the region's struggling banks:

  • Concerns about Europe's debt crises have been the root of much of the market's recent volatility--investors are worried that Greece's government will be unable to make payments on its loans, triggering a default, and that would lead to sharp losses for banks and other institutions that hold Greece's debt and possibly cause banks to stop lending to each other.

4.     President Obama said that Americans are not better off than they were four years ago as the struggling economy and high unemployment have taken a toll:

  • Looking ahead to next year's election, Obama called himself the underdog in the 2012 presidential campaign, saying it's a role that he is used to--in response to a question during an ABC News interview about how he planned to convince people they are better off now than they were four years ago, the president said, "I don't think they're better off than they were four years ago.  They're not better off than they were before Lehman's collapse, before the financial crisis, before this extraordinary recession that we're going through.  I think that what we have seen is that we've been able to make steady progress to stablilize the economy, but the unemployment rate is still way too high."

October 5, 2011

1.     Senate Democrats, divided over how to pay for President Obama's jobs plan, tossed out the White House tax proposals and replaced them with one of their own: a tax increase on millionaires:

  • Obama's $447 billion proposal still faces huge trouble in the Democrat-run Senate, where it's expected to be considered next week, and 60 votes are needed to cut off extended debate, and Democrats control 53 of the 100 seats--in addiiton, the package as a whole is "dead" in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Virginia) said.

2.     Federal energy regulators announced plans to accelerate permitting all seven major electric transmission projects, including lines in Oregon proposed by Portland General Electric and Idaho Power:

  • Better coordination between agencies is part of the Obama administration's efforts to catalyze job growth and modernize the electrical grid to speed the country's transition to green energy, federal officials said--the pilot project, which the feds are calling the Rapid Response Team for Transmission, will coordinate efforts among federal agencies to get the projects across the construction starting line faster.

October 6, 2011

1.     After crisscrossing the country for weeks pushing his jobs plan directly to the American people, President Obama turned his attention to congressional Republicans, promising to target them in 2012 if they stand in the way of his economic agenda:

  • "If Congress does something, then I can't run against a do-nothing Congress," Obama said in response to a question at a morning news conference.  "If Congress does nothing, then it is not a matter of me running against them, I think the American people will run them out of town, because they are frustrated, and they know we need to do something big and something bold"--the president vowed that if Congress does not approve the legislation as a package, he would seek to present the elements individually and demand an explanation for Republican opposition to each.

2.     Unions lent their muscle to the long-running protest against Wall Street and economic inequality, with their members joining thousands of protesters in a lower Manhattan march as similar demonstrations flourished across the country:

  • The protesters have varied causes but have spoken largely about unemployment and economic inequality and reserved most of their criticism for Wall Street, chanting, "We are the 99 percent," contrasting themselves with the wealthiest one percent of Americans--some of the union members traveled from other states to march.

October 7, 2011

1.     A suicide bomber and rocket fire struck U.S.-run outposts near the Pakistani border as the war in Afghanistan hit the ten-year mark--no deaths were reported among U.S. service members at the three outposes in Paktiki province, and it was unclear if the attacks were timed to coincide with the anniversary of the war:

  • In Washington, President Obama noted the anniversary in a quiet style, offering a written statement and holding no public events to mark the moment--Obama saluted the more than 1,700 U.S. troops who have died, along with coalition and Afghan forces killed:  he said that because of the effort, "our citizens are safer and our nation is more secure."

2.     U.S. companies are adding jobs slowly and unevenly, just enough to plug the dike against fears that the economy could slip back into recession:

  • The Labor Department said that U.S. employers added 103,000 net new jobs in September, indicating that the economy is at least not weakening and that businesses have wintered oil price shocks and the Japanese disaster-related supply chain disruptions earlier this year --the government also revised its estimates upward for the previous two months, suggesting that job growth in the summer was better than originally reported.

 

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