WEEK ONE HUNDRED & FIFTY-FOUR

December 26, 2011     According to an Associated Press survey of leading economists, the U.S. economy will grow faster in 2012--if it isn't knocked off the rails by upheavals in Europe:

  • Still, the economists say, unemployment will barely fall from the current 8.6% rate by the time President Obama runs for re-election in November--the three dozen private, corporate, and acadenic economists expect the economy to grow 2.4% in 2012, while in 2011, it likely grew less than two percent.

December 27, 2011

1.     Beginning in 2012, the government will charge a new fee to health insurance plans for research to find out which drugs, medical procedures, tests, and treatments work best:

  • The goal of the research, part of a little-known provision of President Obama's healthcare law, is to answer such basic questions as whether that new prescription drug advertised on TV really works better than an old generic costing much less--major insurers are already carrying out their own effectiveness research, but it lacks the credibility of government-sponsored studies.

2.     According to a monthly survey by The Conference Board, an improving job outlook helped the Consumer Confidence Index soar to its highest level since April and near a post-recession peak:

  • The second straight monthly surge coincided with a decent holiday shopping season for retailers--but confidence is still far below where it is in a healthy economy, and Americans' mood could sour again if the debt crisis in Europe deepens and spreads to the U.S.

3.     The Obama administration announced on December 16th that it will give states broad leeway to pick the benefits offered under the 2010 healthcare overhaul, and that's good news for Oregon, according to Howard "Rocky" King, Oregon's Health Insurance Exchange director:

  • A preliminary business plan projects that more than 280,000 Oregonians will get health insurance through the Oregon Health Insurance Exchange by the end of 2015--the exchange is a public corporation created by lawmakers earlier this year to enable individuals and small businesses, which don't have the expertise or buying power of large employers, to shop for health coverage and compare plans.

December 28, 2011

1.     According to a new poll conducted by the Pew Hispanic Center, President Obama holds a wide lead among Latino voters when matched against potential Republican challengers, even as Latinos grow wary of his administration's stepped-up deportation policies and less supportive of his overall job performance:

  • Obama leads Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney 68-23 and Texas Gov. Rick Perry 69-23 among Latino voters, with an error margin of 5.2 percentage points for the voter sample--Obama's job approval among voters overall stood at 49 percent in a Washington Post-ABC News poll earlier this month, but his rating among Latinos is at 54 percent, meaning the president remains more popular among Latinos than with the broader electorate.

2.     The U.S. strongly warned Iran against closing a vital Persian Gulf waterway that carries one-sixth of the world's oil supply after Iran threatened to choke off traffic through the Strait of Hurmuz if Washinton imposes sanctions targeting Iran's crude exports:

  • Iran's threat to seal off the Gulf, surrounded by oil-rich Gulf states, reflects its concerns about the prospect that the Obama administration will impose sanctions in connection with its nuclear program that would severely hit its biggest revenue source--Iran is the world's fourth-largest oil producer, pumping about four million barrels a day.

December 29, 2011

1.     The Obama administration announced a major weapons deal with Saudi Arabia, saying it had agreed to sell the Royal Saudi Air Force F-15 fighter jets valued at nearly $30 billion:

  • The agreement is part of a broader 10-year, $60 billion arms package for Saudi Arabia that Congress approved a year ago, but its timing is laden with significance with tensions over Iran mounting in the Persian Gulf, and the U.S. pulling its last soldiers out of Iraq--it may also indicate that the chill between the two countries has thawed a bit since the two longtime partners fell out over how each side handled the Arab Spring.

2.     The Obama administration is moving ahead with the sale of nearly $11 billion worth of arms and training for the Iraqi military despite concerns that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is moving to consolidate authority, create a one-party Shiite-dominated state, and abandon the U.S.-backed power-sharing government:

  • The military aid, including advanced fighter jets and battle tanks, is meant to help the Iraqi government protect its borders and rebuild a military that before the 1992 Persian Gulf War was one of the largest in the world--it was disbanded in 2003 after the U.S. invasion.

3.     The number of people applying for unemployment benefits each week has dropped by ten percent since January, and the unemployment rate in November of 8.6% is the lowest in nearly three years:

  • Factory output is rising, business owners say they're more optimistic about hiring, and consumer confidence has jumped to its highest level since April--still, 25 million Americans remain out of work or unable to find full-time jobs, and while most analysts forecast a stronger economy and job growth in 2012, they caution that could change if Euope's debt cris worsens or consumers pull back on spending.
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