Obamalog

  The election of Barack Obama to the presidency of the United States was a historic achievement, and as such, we believed a record should be kept of the victories and accomplishments of his administration, as well as any failures or losses.  And so the Obamalog was born, and it is reproduced here.

WEEK ONE HUNDRED & FIFTY-SEVEN

January 18, 2012

1.     The Obama administrtion denied a permit for the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada, leaving the door open for the builder to reapply this year:

  • The State Department, responding to a 60-day deadline Congress imposed in late December, said that it did not "have sufficient time to obtain the information necessary to assess whether the project, in its current state, is in the national interest"--Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, an ardent proponent of Keystone XL, "expressed his profound disappointment with the news, and he indicated to President Obama that he hoped that this project would continue," according to a statement from the prime minister's office.

2.     The GOP-controlled House kicked off another session with a protest vote against raising the government's borrowing cap by $1.2 trillion, but the maneuver amounted to political theater under a process stacked on purpose in President Obama's favor:

  • The nearly party-line 239-176 vote (all Oregon representatives except Walden, Oregon's sole Republican, voted "no") puts the House on record against Obama's use of unprecedented authority, awarded to him through a mechanism devised by the Senate's top Republican, to unilaterally raise the so-called debt limit unless Congress can muster the votes to block him--the Senate is sure to kill the measure next week, and Obama's veto power serves as a final guarantee that the increase will go through as intended and that the nation won't face another debt crisis like last summer.

3.     An Iranian lawmaker claimed that President Obama called for direct talks with Iran in a secret letter to the Islamic Republic's supreme leader that also warned Teheran against closing the strategic Strait of Hormuz, but Obama administration officials denied there was such a letter:

  • Iran has threatened to close the waterway, the route for about one-sixth of the global oil flow, because of new U.S. sanctions over its nuclear program--National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor pointed to earlier comments from the Obama administration that noted the U.S. had a number of ways to communicate its views to the Iranian government, and he said that the U.S. remained committed to engaging with Teheran and finding a diplomatic solution to its larger issues with Iran's nuclear program.

January 19, 2012

1.     A Department of Homeland Security official said that the Obama administration has recommended canceling deportation proceedings for more than 1,600 illegal immigrants in Denver and Baltimore not considered to be national security or public threats:

  • The recommendations come after a review of 11,682 pending cases involving illegal immigrants not jailed by federal authorities as part of an administration pledge to focus deportation efforts on criminal illegal immigrants and those who pose a national security or public safety threat--the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the preliminary data have not been released publicly, said that the recommendation to cancel the deportation cases hinges on immigrants being cleared by a final and extensive background check.

2.     Exporting boatloads of U.S. natural gas could significantly raise prices for domestic consumers and businesses, according to a new study by the U.S. Energy Information Administration:

  • The report is sure to add fuel to the controversy over proposals to build terminals to export liquefied natural gas from Oregon, British Columbia, and the U.S. Gulf Coast--the U.S. Department of Energy has received nine applications to collectively export to Asia and Europe as much as 12.5 billion cubic feet of natural gas a day, almost 20 percent of daily U.S. demand, and the agency approved an application last year by Cheniere Energy to convert an import facility in Louisiana to export gas, but it delayed decisions on other applications until it could study the price impacts of exporting significant quantities of gas.

January 20, 2012

1.     The Obama administration said that health insurance plans must cover contraceptives for women without charge, and it rejected a broad exemption sought by the Roman Catholic Church for insurance provided to employees of Catholic hospitals, colleges, and charities:

  • The administration said that it would give some employers affiliated with churches an extra year to comply, meaning that coverage would not begin for their employees until well after the 2012 elections--in issuing the rule, Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of health and human services, said it "strikes the appropriate balance between respecting religious freedom and increasing access to important preventive services."

2.     Federal law enforcement agencies will help tribal officers obtain equipment and training on Native American lands near the U.S.-Canadian border as part of the White House's newly released strategy for reducing the flow of illegal drugs and drug proceeds between the two countries:

  • The goal is to stop Canadian marijuana, ecstasy, and methamphetamine from entering the U.S. and to keep cocaine that originates in South American from flowing north.
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WEEK ONE HUNDRED & FIFTY-SIX

January 9, 2012

1.     President Obama announced that chief of staff William Daley is quitting and heading home, capping a short tenure that had been expected to last until Election Day--Obama budget chief Jack Lew will take over one of the most consuming jobs in America:

  • Daley's run as Obama's chief manager lasted only a year, and it was filled with consequential moments for the White House, including the killing of Osama bin Laden--Obama now plows ahead in an election year with his third chief of staff, one of the most crucial positions in government and politics.

2.     The Supreme Court appeared to struggle with what to do about holding elections in Texas for the state Legislature and Congress in a case that could affect the federal Voting Rights Act and even the balance of power in the House:

  • At issue is whether Latinos and African Americans who accounted for the vast majority of the state's four million new residents in the 2010 Census have appropriate political power--the judges wrestled with whether the state's plan or maps drawn by federal judges in San Antonio that are friendlier to minorities should take effect or whether some new effort should be made, and there was no apparent concensus at the argument session although the justices on the liberal side of the court seemed more sympathetic to minority groups, and the conservatives appeared more favorable to the state.

3.     The Obama administration argued that Guatemalans unknowingly exposed to sexually transmitted diseases by U.S. researchers in the 1940s cannot sue the U.S., no matter how shameful and unethical the studies were--the government says the Federal Tort Claims Act protects the U.S. from lawsuits based on injuries suffered in a foreign country:

  • The experiment exposed, without the test subjects' consent, Guatemalan prostitutes, prisoners, mental patients, and soldiers with STDs to test the effects of penicillin--President Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius have all apologized for the research, hidden for decades until a Wellesley College medical historian uncovered the records in 2009.

January 11, 2012

1.     According to a survey by the Pew Research Center, conflict between rich and poor now eclipses racial strain and friction between immigrants and the native-born as the greatest source of tension in U.S. society:

  • About two-thirds of Americans now believe there are "strong conflicts" between rich and poor in the U.S., a sign that the message of income inequality brandished by the Occupy Wall Street movement and pressed by Democrats may be seeping into the national consciousness--the result was about a 50 percent increase from a survey in 2009 when anger about the financial industry's role in the recession was festering.

2.     The Federal Reserve's latest report on the nation's regional economies showed that the pace of activity around the country is picking up, with the notable exception of the housing market--The Fed report, dubbed the beige book, reported that:

  • The central bank's New York district described retail activity as "brisk, and Dallas called it "robust";
  • Travel and tourism performed solidly in most areas at year's end;
  • Manufacturing continued its "steady overall expansion"; heavy-equipment production and steel led the pack as demand got a lift from resurgent activity in energy, farming, and auto manufacturing, but there was also strong demand for computers and electronic parts;
  • The service-producing part of the economy strengthened as well; and
  • professional services, technology, and health care providers grew in different parts of the country.

January 12, 2012

1.     A video showing four U.S. Marines urinating on the bodies of three dead Taliban fighters provoked anger and condemnation in Afghanistan and around the world--U.S. officials said they feared that the images could incite anti-U.S. sentiment at a particularly delicate moment in the war effort:

  • The Obama administration is struggling to keep President Hamid Karzai on its side as it carefully tries to open talks with the Taliban, but the video showing the desecration, a possible war crime, is likely to weaken the U.S. position with both--Pentagon officials said that the video had been made between March and September 2011 in Helmand province, a strategic Taliban heartland and a center of the opium poppy trade.

2.     President Obama asked Congress for another $1.2 trillion increase in the nation's debt limit, a request that is largely a formality but which carries election-year implications--it was the third and final such request the president is allowed under a deal the White House reached with lawmakers in August to prevent a government default:

  • Congress has 15 days to reject the president's request--House Republicans immediately announced they would hold a vote next week on a resolution of disapproval.

3.     The Justice Department is publicly rebutting Republican criticism of the legality of President Obama's recent recess appointments of a national consumer watchdog and other officials:

  • Assistant Attorney General Virginia Seitz wrote that the president has authority to make such an appointment because the Senate is on a 20-day recess, even though it has held periodic pro forma sessions in which no business is conducted.

4.     According to U.S. government officials, the Obama administration is relying on a secret channel of communication to warn Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, that closing the Strait of Hormuz is a "red line" that would provoke an American response:

  • Administration officials and Iran analysts said that they continue to believe that Iran's threats to close the strait, coming amid deep frictions over Iran's nuclear program and possible sanctions, were bluster and an attempt to drive up the price of oil--blocking the route for the vast majority of Iran's petrolum exports, and for its food and consumer imports, would amount to economic suicide.

January 13, 2012

1.     President Obama announced a new campaign to shrink the federal government:

  • Obama called on lawmakers to grant him broad new authority to propose mergers of government agencies, which Congress would have to approve or reject in an up-or-down vote--the president, announcing the plan at the White House, said he would begin his pruning exercise by folding the Small Business Administration and five other agencies involved in trade and business into a single agency that would replace the Commerce Department;
  • The White House said that the consolidation wold save $3 billion over ten years and result in the elimination of 1,000 to 2,000 jobs, though he said those reductions would occur through attrition rather than layoffs--it is not clear whether Congress, which has blocked the bulk of Obama's legislative agenda, will go along with the initiative, and White House officials said no president since Ronald Reagan has had the so-called consolidation authority Obama is seeking.

2.     The U.S. is restoring full diplomatic relations with Myanmar, a landmark in the Obama administrtion's drive to reward democratic reforms by a government the U.S. previously treated as a pariah:

  • The decision announced today to exchange ambassadors with Myanmar for the first time in two decades follows the release of hundreds of political prisoners, but Washington will probably be looking for fair conduct in coming elections and an end to ethnic violence before it lifts sanctions--the U.S. also wants Myanmar to open up to U.N. nuclear inspectors and sever illicit military ties with North Korea because of concerns that Pyongyang has sold Myanmar defense hardware, including missiles, in defiance of international sanctions.

January 14, 2012     The Obama administration reaised concerns about efforts in Congress that it said would undermine "the dynamic, innovative global Internet", urging lawmakers to approve meassures this year that balance the need to fight piracy and counterfeiting against an open Internet:

  • White House officials said in a blog post that it would not support pending legislation that "reduces freedom of expression, increases cybersecurity risk" or undermines the global Internet, cautioning the measure could discourage innovation and startup businesses--the administration was responding to measures that would allow the Justice Department to target offshore websites that offer illegal copies of music, movies, and television shows online.
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WEEK ONE HUNDRED & FIFTY-FIVE

January 1, 2012     Iran said that its scientists have produced the country's first nuclear fuel rod and that its navy has test-fired a medium-range surface-to-air missile--Iran had said that it would be forced to manufacture the rods because it is barred from buying them on foreign markets:

  • The U.S. and its allies accuse Iran of trying to develop nuclear payloads for missiles, but Teheran denies the charge, saying it needs the technology to generate electricity and to produce radioisotopes to treat cancer patients--on December 31st, President Obama signed a defense bill that includes new penalties against financial institutions that do business with Iran's central bank, an attempt to hamper Teheran's ability to fund the program.

January 3, 2012     Iran's military sharpened its tone toward the U.S. with a blunt warning that a U.S. aircraft carrier that left the Persian Gulf through the strategic Strait of Hormux last week should not return--the warning by Iran's military chief was the latest and most aggressive volley in a nearly daily exchange of barbed statements between Iran and the U.S.:

  • Cmdr. Bill Speaks, a spokesman for the Defense Department, declined to discuss further movements of the carrier, the John C. Stennis--he said, "The deployment of U.S. military assets in the Persian Gulf region will continue as it has for decades."

January 4, 2012     President Obama bypassed the Senate and installed a national consumer watchdog on his own, provoking GOP threats of a constitutional showdown in the courts:

  • Obama named Richard Cordray, a former attorney general of Ohio, to be the first director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau after giving up on hopes for a confirmation vote in the Senate--the appointment means the agency is able to oversee a vast swath of lending companies and others accused at times of preying on consumers with shady practices;
  • The president also named three members to the National Labor Relations Board--presidents of both parties have long gotten around a stalled confirmation by naming a nominee to a job when the Senate is on a break through a process known as a recess appointment, but Obama went even further by squeezing in his appointment during a break between rapid Senate sessions this week, an unusual move that the GOP called an arrogant power grab.

January 5,  2012

1.     President Obama outlined a broad new military strategy for the U.S., one that refocuses the armed forces on threats in Asia and the Pacific region, continues a strong presence in the Middle East, but makes clear that American ground forces will no longer be large enough to conduct prolonged, large-scale counterinsurgency campaigns like those in Iraq and Afghanistan:

  • In an appearance in the Pentagon briefing room, Obama put his mark on a military strategy that moves away from the grinding wars he inherited from the Bush administration and relies more on naval and air power in the Pacific and the Strait of Hormuz as a counterbalance to China and Iran--Obama arrived at the Pentagon to describe the new strategy with his defense secretary, Leon Panella, and with Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; officials said that it was the first time a president had held a news conference at the Pentagon.

2.     President Obama vowed that the U.S. will maintain the best-equipped military in history despite deep and looming budget cuts, but Pentagon leaders acknowledged that the changes present additional risk:

  • The strategy, devised through a comprehensive review by civilian and military leaders, centers on the military the country needs after the "long wars of the last decade are over," Obama said--the president announced that the military will be reshaped over time with an emphasis on countering terrorism, maintaining a nuclear deterrent, protecting the U.S. homeland, and "deterring and defeating aggression by any potential adversary."

January 6, 2012

1.     The Obama administration wants to more quickly reunite Americans with their illegal immigrant spouses and children in a move long sought by advocates but panned by Republicans:

  • The new proposal will likely affect tens of thousands, perhaps more than 100,000, illegal residents, and it would end a requirement that undocumented immigrants with parents or spouses in the U.S. leave the country first if they wish to file paperwork that would forestall deportation on the grounds of family hardship--without the so-called hardship waiver, illegal immigrants are barred from re-entering the U.S. for up to ten years, and the existing rule often means that people seeking waivers must separate from their families for months or, in some cases, years while their applications are processed.

2.     Four years after the recession struck and wiped out 8.7 million jobs, the U.S. may finally be in an elusive pattern known as a virtuous cycle: an escalating loop of hiring and spending:

  • The nation added 200,000 jobs in December, a burst of hiring that drove the unemployment rate down to 8.5 percent, its lowest in almost three years and led economists to conclude that the improvement in the job market might last--It was the sixth month in a row that the economy added at least 100,000 jobs, the longest streak since 2006; the economy added jobs every month last year, the first time that has happened since 2005.
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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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WEEK ONE HUNDRED & FIFTY-THREE

December 18, 2011     A day after the Senate overwhelmingly approved legislation to extend a payroll tax cut for two months, House Republicans made clear that they would not support the measure:

  • On December 17th, Speaker John Boehner urged his members to support the legislation, but he made an apparent about-face on the 18th when he said that he and other House Republicans were opposed to the temporary extension, part of a $33 billion package of bills passed by the Senate on December 18th--In addition to extending the payroll tax cut for millions of U.S. workers, the legislation extends unemployment benefits and avoided cuts in payments to doctors who accept Medicare.

December 19, 2011

1.     The Supreme Court announced it will hear arguments over three days in late March to decide the constitutionality of President Obama's healthcare law:

  • The 5-1/2 hours of arguments are believed to be the most time devoted to a single case since the 1960s--the justices will focus on a single lawsuit that began in Florida; but Florida was later joined by 25 other Republican-led states to sue and assert that the entire law passed by the Democratic-controlled Congress should be struck down.

2.     The Obama administration decided last week to hand off to the states the decision over the medical benefits insurers must cover under the healthcare overhaul, avoiding a potentially brutal lobbying battle:

  • The ruling, coming less than a year before the presidential election, gives states the power to set coverage levels for the policies uninsured people will buy through regulated exchanges, starting in 2014--about 24 million people are projected to buy coverage through exchanges by 2019, according to the Congressional Budget Office, and premiums will average $5,800 for individuals and $15,200 for families in 2016.

December 20, 2011     A new Washington Post-ABC News poll finds that Americans are still broadly disapproving of President Obama's handling of the economy and jobs, but views of his overall performance have recovered among key groups, including independents, young adults, and seniors:

  • Obama's job-approval rating is at its highest level since March, excluding a temporary bump after the killing of Osama bin Laden, with 49 percent approving and 47 percent disapproving--at the same time, the public's opinion of Congressional Republicans has deteriorated.

December 21, 2011

1.     President Obama implored House Speaker John Boehner to get behind a two-month stopgap until a longer deal could be struck early next year, calling it the only real way out of a mess that is threatening the paychecks of 160 million workers:

  • Boehner remained insistent on a full-year extension of the existing payroll tax cut before January 1st, urging Obama to bring Senate Democrats back to Washington to talk to his chosen negotiators--barring any action by Congress, Social Security payroll taxes will go up almost $20 a week for workers making a $50,000 salary, and almost two million people would lose unemployment benefits as well.

2.     Economists warn that if Congress does not reach agreement on extending payroll tax cuts and unemployment insurance benefits that are set to expire at the end of this year, the U.S. economy will be at risk:

  • The policies that Congress is looking to extend would pump about $140 billion extra into the U.S. economy in 2012, increasing the amount of money Americans have to spend by that much--many forecasting firms estimate that not extending the tax policies would reduce growth by about 1-1.5%.

3.     The economy is ending 2011 on a roll:

  • The job market is healthier; Americans are spending on holiday gifts; a turnaround for the housing industry may be underway; gas is cheaper; factories are busier; and stocks are higher--as recently as this summer, scattered predictions for a second recession were made; instead, the economy has grown faster each quarter this year, and the last three months should be the best.

4.     Unemployment rates fell in 43 states in November, the largest number of states to report such declines in eight years:

  • According to the Labor Department, only three states reported higher unemployment rates in November, and four states showed no change--Nevada, for the 18th straight month, had the highest state unemployment rate at 13 percent, and North Dakota again enjoyed the lowest unemployment rate at 3.4 percent.

December 22, 2011     House Republicans gave into demands by President Obama, congressional Democrats, and fellow Republicans for a short-term renewal of payroll tax cuts for all workers, almost certainly sparing workers an average $20-a-week tax increase on January 1st:

  • The House and Senate plan to act on the two-month extension on December 23rd--the developments were a clear win for Obama, as the tax cut was the center of his three-month drive for jobs legislation  that seems to have contributed to an uptick in his poll numbers.

December 23, 2011

1.     Congress quickly and quietly approved a two-month extension of the Social Security payroll tax cut, ensuring that more than 160 million people will avoid a two percentage point payroll tax increase next year:

  • The congressional agreement also continues current payment rates for Medicare physicians which, otherwise, would have dropped by 27.4% starting January 1st, and retains up to 99 weeks of jobless benefits for the long-term unemployed--President Obama signed the bill into law and praised Congress before heading to Hawaii for the Christmas-New Year's holiday, a trip originally planned to begin December 17th.

2.     The Justice Department blocked a new South Carolina law that would require voters to present photo identification, saying the law would disproportionately suppress turnout among eligible minority voters:

  • The move was the first time since 1994 that the department has exercised its powers under the Voting Rights Act to block a voter identification law--South Carolina now faces the choice of dropping the proposed change or asking a federal court in the District of Columbia to approve the law.
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WEEK ONE HUNDRED & FIFTY-TWO

December 12, 2011     President Obama heralded the end of the divisive Iraq war and warned Iraq's neighbors that the U.S. would remain a major player in the region, even as it brings its troops home:

  • Speaking after a morning of meetings with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, Obama said other nations must not interfere with Iraq's sovereignty--while he stopped short of mentioning any country by name, U.S. officials are closely watching how neighboring Iran may seek to influence Baghdad after U.S. troops withdraw.

December 13, 2011

1.     Defying a veto threat from President Obama, the House passed a bill extending a cut in Social Security payroll taxes for 160 million Americans for another year, but the Democratic majority in the Senate vowed to reject the measure because of objections to other provisions, including one to speed construction of an oil pipeline from Canada to the Gulf Coast:

  • The 234-193 vote, largely along party lines (all Oregon representatives, except for Walden, Oregon's lone Republican, voted no), set the stage for negotiations between the House and the Senate likely to continue into the weekend--the vote was an important test for Speaker John Boehner.

2.     The Obama administration said that homelessness among the nation's veterans declined by about 12 percent during a one-year period ending January 2011:

  • Officials said that the drop is a sign of progress and that the administration is on track for reaching the president's goal of eliminating homelessness among veterans by 2015--in all, there are nearly 67,500 homeless veterans (according to a survey that thousands of communities help to administer every January), while more than 76,000 homeless veterans were counted in the prior year's survey.

December 14, 2011

1.     President Obama observed the end of the war in Iraq before an audience at Fort Bragg, telling a crowd of returning war veterans that the nearly nine years of conflict in Iraq, a war indelibly imprinted on the national psyche, had come to a close:

  • The speech was the latest in a serious of public appearances orchestrated by the White House to signal the end of the conflict and to drive home the point that Obama fulfilled one of his 2008 presidential campaign promises--Fort Bragg is home to a variety of troops, including the Army's Special Operations, the 18th Airborne Corps, and the 82nd Airborne, and Fort Bragg soldiers have been in the thick of the fighting in Iraq from Day One of the U.S. invasion in 2003.

2.     The White House announced that President Obama will not veto a military authorization bill that contains several disputed provisions about the treatment of terrorism prisoners, signaling a likely end to a political battle over detainees and executive power:

  • The administration had threatened to veto versions of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012 passed by the House and Senate, arguing those provisions would open the door for the military to perform policing functions inside the U.S. and that they would infringe on executive branch powers--the House approved the bill 283-136 (Oregon representatives Blumenauer (D) and DeFazio (D) voted no; representatives Scrader (D) and Walden (R) voted yes), and it now goes to the Senate.

December 15, 2011

1.     White House spokesman Jay Carney said that a proposal to revamp the government's Medicare program by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) is "the wrong way to reform the system:"

  • The proposal would give the elderly a choice between the existing Medicare system and regulated private insurance plans starting in 2022 --Carney said that the proposal would raise premiums and healthcare costs for seniors and undermine Medicare.

2.     The job market is healthier than at any time since the end of the recession:

  • The number of people filing for unemployment fenefits fell last week to the lowest since May 2008, a sign that the waves of corporate layoffs that have defined the past few years are all but over--the last time claims were so low, the nation was six months into the recession but did not know it yet, and the unemployment rate was 5.4%.

3.     Squeezed by rising living costs, a record number of Americans--nearly one in two--have fallen into poverty or are scraping by on earnings that classify them as low income:

  • The latest census data depict a middle class that is shrinking as unemployment stays high and the government's safety net slips--the new numbers follow years of stagnating wages for the middle class that have hurt millions of workers and families.

December 16, 2011     The Obama administration rolled out a benefits framework for millions of people who will get private insurance through the healthcare overhaul, but states will decide the specifics:

  • The new law calls for the federal government to set a basic benefits package for private insurers, but that's tricky territory for the administration as it tries to avoid the "big brother" label on healthcare--this proposal from the Health and Human Services secretary allows states to retain some leeway (private insurers traditionally have been regulated at the state level).

December 17, 2011     The Senate voted to temporarily avert a January 1st payroll tax increase and benefit cutoff for the long-time unemployed, but forced a reluctant President Obama to make an election-year choice between unions and environmentalists over whether to build an oil pipeline through the heart of the country:

  • The Senate's 89-10 vote (both Oregon senators voted yes) belied a torturious battle between Democrats and Republicans that produced the compromise two-month extension of the expiring tax breaks and jobless benefits and forestalled cuts in doctors' Medicare reimbursements.
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WEEK ONE HUNDRED & FIFTY-ONE

December 5, 2011     Senate Democrats offered a new proposal to extend the payroll tax holiday, a strategy designed to attract Republicans who have been cool to continuing a tax break for working Americans that expires December 31st:

  • President Obama pressed the case December 5th after Senate Republicans revolted against earlier plans last week, and House Republicans panned the tax-cut propoal--the new proposal from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, would pay for the cost of the tax break with a combination of GOP-backed proposals to increase the fees that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac charge mortgage lenders, as well as a surtax on those earning beyond $1 million a year: those revenue streams would generate almost $185 billion and replenish the Social Security trust fund.

December 6, 2011

1.     Venturing into the heartland, President Obama delivered his most pointed appeal yet from Kansas, using taxes and regulations to level the economic playing field:

  • Infusing his speech with the type of populist language that has emerged in the Occupy protests around the nation, Obama warned that growing income inequality meant the U.S. was undermining its middle class--he said it "gives lie to the promise that is at the very heart of America, that this is the place where you can make it if you try."

2.     Obama administration officials said that the U.S. will begin using U.S. foreign aid to promote gay rights abroad:

  • President Obama issued a memorandum directing U.S. agencies to look for ways to combat efforts by foreign governments to criminalize homosexuality--the new initiative holds the potential to irritate relations with some close U.S. allies that ban homosexuality, including Saudi Arabia.

December 7, 2011

1.     For the first time ever, the Health and Human Services secretary publically overruled the Food and Drug Administration, refusing to allow emergency contraceptives to be sold over the counter, including to young teenagers--the decision avoided what could have been a bruising battle over parental control and contraception during a presidential election season:

  • Although Kathleen Sebelius had the legal authority to overrule the FDA, no health secretary has ever done so, an FDA spokeswoman said--with Sebelius' decision, the Obama administration is taking a more socially conservative stance on the contraceptive, known as Plan B One-Step, one closer to that of the Bush administration than to any of its own liberal supporters.

2.     Top U.S. and Chinese military officials began an annual review of major issues, pledging to seek greater cooperation and trust in a relationship that, to many, more resembles a burgeoning rivalry:

  • The Defense Consultative Talks, now in their 12th year, opened on the heels of President Obama's pledge last month to bolster the U.S. military presence in the Pacific, a move seen by many in China as aimed at countering China's rise--the U.S. and China are seeking to stabilize their usually rocky relationship at a time of domestic political uncertainty, since 2012 will see a new Chinese leadership and a U.S. political election.

3.     Americans stepped up their borrowing in October to buy cars and attend college, and they charged a little more to their credit cards--the second straight monthly gain in overall borrowing suggests consumers are growing more confident in the economy ahead of the crucial holiday buying season:

  • Total consumer borrowing increased by $7.6 billion, the Federal Reserve said--September's and October's gain reversed a steep drop in August, when borrowing fell the most it had in 16 months.

December 8, 2011

1.     House Republican leaders unveiled their plan to extend a payroll-tax holiday and expiring unemployment benefits and pay for them through changes in social spending programs while adding contentious provisions opposed by Democrats:

  • In a sharp answer to a bill produced by Senate Democrats that would have cut an employee's share of the payroll tax and imposed a new surcharge on incomes above $1 million, the House Republican bill would pay for the extension through a mix of changes to entitlement programs and a pay freeze for federal workers--the Senate rejected both plans with the vote on the Democratic plan 50-48 (Susan Collins of Maine was the only Republican in favor), and the Republican measure was turned aside 22-76 (a majority of Republicans opposed it, reflecting the party's internal divisions).

2.     Americans' wealth suffered its biggest quarterly loss in more than two years as stocks, pension funds, and home values all dipped--at the same time, corporations raised their cash stockpiles to record levels:

  • According to a Federal Reserve report, the four percent drop in household net worth was the sharpest drop since the tumultuous period after the September 2008 bankruptcy of investment bank Lehman Brothers--it was the second straight quarterly fall.

3.     Financial markets slumped after the head of Europe's central bank dashed hopes that the bank was prepared to help extinguish the region's debt crisis:

  • The Dow Jones industrial average dropped nearly 200 points on a day when investors around the world reacted to every word spoken and every rumor spread at a summit of European Union leaders--investors overlooked good news on the U.S. economy: claims for unemployment benefits dropped, and wholesale companies increased their inventories in expectation of stronger sales.

December 9, 2011

1.     The Obama admiistration proposed a new rule that would end a practice in which some endangered species were classified differently in neighboring states:

  • The new policy would clarify that a plant or animal could be listed as threatened or endangered if threats occur in a "significant portion of its range," even if the threat crosses state lines and does not apply in the species' entire range--the draft rule would replace a Bush-era 2007 policy that was withdrawn last spring after two federal courts rejected it.

2.     Americans' hostility toward members of Congress is at a record high, a new Gallup Poll found:

  • Seventy-six percent of those surveyed said that most representatives do not deserve to be re-elected, the highest number in the 19 years Gallup has asked the question and six points higher than in August, just after the contentious debate over raising the debt ceiling--only 20 percent said that most members should be re-elected, a record low.

3.     A deal to forge stronger ties between most of Europe's economies sent stocks sharply higher as hopes grew that the region is close to resolving its debt crisis--the Dow Jones industrial average rose 178 points:

  • All 17 nations that use the euro agreed to sign a treaty that allows a central European authority closer oversight of their budgets--nine other EU nations are considering it, with Britain as the lone holdout.
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WEEK ONE HUNDRED & FIFTY

Novenber 28, 2011    

1.     Senate Democrats introduced legislation to extend and expand an expiring payroll-tax cut, setting the stage for a showdown with Republicans who are almost certain to reject the Democrats' proposal for paying for the cut:

  • The bill, which could be voted on as early as December 2nd, would reduce Social Security payroll tax paid by employers and the self-employed by half, to 3.1 percent of wages from 6.2 percent for 2012--those taxes were reduced to 4.2 percent of wages this year under a law set to expire at the end of the year.

2.     Ahead of a meeting December 2nd between President Obama and hundreds of Native American leaders, the administration unveiled new rules for tribal lands that officials say will expedite home building and energy development:

  • The proposed changes, the first of their kind in 50 years, would open the door to badly needed housing development on reservations and for wind and solar energy projects that tribes have been eager to launch--Obama has been winning high praise among Native Americans, and the president has appointed Native Americans to high-level positions in his administration, signed laws to improve healthcare and law enforcement for Native Americans, and resolved a long-running lawsuit over royalties for minerals on tribal lands.

3.     Stocks and the euro rose sharply as investors took heart from signs that European leaders were pushing toward new measures to rescue the currency union:

  • The surge in equities ended a seven-day losing streak for the S&P's 500 stock index, pushing it nearly three percent higher--it was a welcome change of direction from last week when Wall Street lost more than four percent as markets reacted to rising borrowing costs for European governments and the failure by a congressional committee in Washington to reach an accord on ways to cut the budget deficit.

November 29, 2011     Defying the Obama administration's threat of a veto, the Senate voted to increase the role of the military in imprisoning suspected members of al-Qaida and its allies--including people arrested inside the U.S.:

  • By a 60-38 vote (both Oregon senators voted yes), the Senate turned back an attempt to strip a major defense bill of a set of disputed provisions affecting the handling of terrorism cases--although the legislation still has several steps to go, the vote makes it likely that Congress will eventually send to President Obama's desk a bill that contains detainee-related provisions his national security team has said are unacceptable.

November 30, 2011

1,     Investors turned exuberant after a series of strong economic snapshots pointed to healthy job creation and more robust business activity nationwide--the strong data sent the Dow Jones industrial average to its best single-day performance since March 2009 and eased lingering concerns about the U.S. falling back into a recession:

  • Action taken by the Federal Reserve and the European Central Bank to address the European debt crisis have, for the moment, lessened concerns about a financial system meltdown--Paul Ashworth, chief U.S. economist with Capitol Economics said that a lot of what has been happening in the U.S. markets has been affected by the European situation, and it looks like we have a bit of relief from that.

2.     The National Labor Relations Board is moving closer to approving rules that would speed the pace of union elections--but the lone Republican member on the board has threatened to resign his post and quash the entire process:

  • Republican lawmakers in the House are also poised to approve a bill aimed at short-circuiting the rules, which could make it more difficult for businesses to resist union organizing--the developments are the latest sign of how intensely business groups oppose any move that could help organized labor make new inroads at companies that have long opposed unions.

3.     The White House refused to say whether President Obama would agree to payroll tax cuts if they add to the nation's deficit, as the top Senate Republican predicted lawmakers eventually would reach an agreement to prevent taxes from increasing on 160 million Americans:

  • The tax cut is set to expire at the end of the year, raising taxes by about $1,000 on the average household unless Congress and Obama act--as the deadline approaches, political support is building for at least continuing the tax cut--and thereby heading off a politically bruising tax hike, but the holdup remains on how to offset the cost.

December 1, 2011

1,     A record one in five U.S. households saw their available household incomes decline by 25 percent or more from one year to the next from 2008 through 2010:

  • According to a study released by the Rockefeller Foundation and Yale University, this was the highest level of "economic insecurity" in the past 25 years--but the blame was not entirely due to the recent recession, for Jacob Hacker, director of the Institution for Social and Policy Studies at Yale and a co-author of the report, said, "While the great recession led to a sharp increase in income instability, the share of Americans experiencing economic insecurity had already been growing for a quarter of a century."

2.     Ignoring a presidential veto threat, the Democratic-controlled Senate overwhelmingly aproved a massive, $662 billion defense bill that would require the military to hold suspected terrorists linked to al-Qaida or its affiliates, even those captured on U.S. soil, and detain some indefinitely:

  • The vote was 93-7 (with both Oregon senators voting no) for the bill authorizing money for military personnel, weapons systems, national security programs in the Energy Department, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in the fiscal year that began October 1st--reflecting a period of austerity and a winding down of decade-old conflicts, the bill is $27 billion less than what President Obama requested and $43 billion less than what Congress gave the Pentagon this year.

3.     With President Obama leading the charge in Washington and political swing states, Senate Democrats have put proudly anti-tax Republicans in the position of opposing a tax cut for more than 160 million mostly middle-income Americans because they object that it includes a tax on about 350,000 people, those with more than $1 million in annual income:

  • The Senate voted 51-49 (both Oregon senators voted yes) for the Democrats' measure to further reduce payroll taxes next year for both workers and employers and to impose the surtax, short of the 60 votes needed--the vote was 78-20 (both Oregon senators voted no) against the Republicans' alternative, extending the current tax cut, paid for by slashing the federal payroll.

4.     Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that the U.S. will loosen some restrictions on international financial assistance and development programs in Myanmar, in response to a nascent political and economic opening in the country:

  • The U.S. and Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, also agreed to discuss upgrading diplomatic relations, which were suspended for two decades, and exchanging ambassadors, a step that could transform U.S. diplomacy in Southeast Asia.

December 2, 2011

1.     Small businesses and startups that were skittish about the economy this summer started hiring in bigger numbers this fall, helping to drive the unemployment rate down to 8.6 percent in November, the lowest in 2-1/2 years:

  • The Labor Department said that the country added 120,000 jobs in November; the economy has generated 100,000 or more jobs five months in a row--the first time that has happened since April 2006, well before the Great Recession.

2.     President Obama has won high esteem among Native Americans by breaking through a log jam of inaction on issues that matter to them:

  • The Obama administration unveiled sweeping changes to federal tribal-land leasing rules that had not been touched in 50 years;
  • Obama nominated a Native American to the federal bench;
  • The president signed a law renewing the Indian Healthcare Act; and
  • Obama settled a tribal royalties lawsuit that had dragged on over three administrations.

3.     Facing criticism from industry and lawmakers, the Obama administration is easing rules aimed at reducing toxic air pollution from industrial boilers and incinerators--but administration officials maintain the health benefits of the regulation will not change:

  • In a proposal released by the EPA, limits would be placed on the largest and most polluting boilers, and smaller ones could meet the rule through routine tune-ups--the Republican-controlled House passed a bill in October delaying the boiler regulation, and a bipartisan bill pending in the Senate would give the EPA additional time to rewrite the rule and for industry to comply.

4.     The House passed a bill to end the public financing of presidential campaigns--it would dismantle a system set up after the Watergate scandal of the 1970s that has been overshadowed in recent years by the huge sums of money pouring into elections:

  • The bill would remove from income tax forms the check-off box where taxpayers can voluntarily steer $3 into a fund for presidential primaries and general elections--the Republican-backed measure passed 235-190 on a nearly party-line vote, and it now goes to the Senate where the Democratic majority is unlikely to take it up.

5.     In a gesture to their business allies, House Republicans, on a 253-167 vote (all Oregon representatives except Walden, Oregon's lone Republican, voted no), passed legislation to reduce what the GOP calls "an avalanch" of unneeded, costly regulations--opponents call the bill an attempt to prevent the government from protecting Americans at their workplaces, in their homes, and when they want a breath of fresh air:

  • The vote sent the bill to the Democratic-controlled Senate, where it is likely to die--just in case it doesn't, the White House has issued a veto threat.
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WEEK ONE HUNDRED & FORTY-NINE

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.
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WEEK ONE HUNDRED & FORTY-EIGHT

November 14, 2011     The Supreme Court agreed to hear a challenge to the 2010 healthcare overhaul law, President Obama's signature legislative achievement, setting the stage for oral arguments by March and a decision in late June as the 2012 presidential campaign enters its crucial final months:

  • The range of issues the court agreed to address amounted to a menu of possible resolutions: the justices could uphold the law, strike down just its most controversial provision or some or all of the rest of it, or duck a definitive decision entirely as premature.

November 15, 2011

1.     Congress is fighting to keep pizza and french fries on school lunch lines, picking apart an Obama administration proposal to make school lunches healthier:

  • A spending bill released late November 14th would unravel school lunch standards proposed by the Agriculture Department earlier this year, forcing USDA to pull back an attempt to limit potatoes on the school lunch line, delay limits on sodium, and delaying a requirement to boost whole grains--the school lunch proposal was based on 2009 recommendations by the Institute of Medicine, the health arm of the National Academy of Sciences, and when the guidelines were proposed in January, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said the effort was necessary to stem the tide of childhood obesity and reduce future healthcare costs.

2.     House and Senate negotiators have agreed on a bundle of spending measures for the ongoing budget year, blending cuts to NASA and community development programs while averting cuts to nutrition programs:

  • The approximately $182 billion measure announced late November 14th would fund day-to-day operations at the departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Justice, Transportation, and Housing and Urban Development, as well as the space program--it also contains stop-gap spending legislation to keep the government running until December 16th and buy lawmakers more time for a raft of other spending bills, but many of those measures are freighted with controversy;
  • Without the stop-gap measure, the government would partially shut down this weekend--lawmakers face a midnight deadline November 18th to act on the measure and House and Senate leaders promised votes this week.

November 16, 2011

1.     The House voted 272-154 to require states that issue concealed gun permits to recognize similar licenses from other states--Oregon votes: Blumenauer (D), no; DeFazio (D), yes; Schrader (D), yes; and Walden (R), yes:

  • The measure did not cover machine guns or other destructive devices, and permit-holders traveling with hidden guns would be required to carry documentation and photo identification--a similar measure has not been introduced in the Senate.

2.     President Obama will get a chance to sign into law a portion of his $447 billion jobs plan after the House agreed to extend tax credits to businesses that hire unemployed veterans and to repeal a tax provision seen as a potential burden to government contractors:

  • This is the first element of Obama's jobs package to get congressional approval--the measure, passed last week by the Senate, passed 422-0, and it now heads to Obama, who has indicated he will sign it--both parties cheered the vote as a rare example of legislative cooperation.

3.     The Service Employees International Union endorsed President Obama's re-election bid, saying it would deploy its formidable political machine earlier and on a wider scale than four years ago:

  • The politically powerful union is the latest labor organization to jump in with early endorsement of the president, following the United Food and Commercial Workers Union and the National Education Association, and it could signal even broader campaign spending by labor groups, which poured in about $400 million to help elect Obama in 2008.

4.     President Obama and Prime Minister Julia Gillard of Australia announced plans for the first sustained U.S. military presence in Australia, a relatively small deployment that is still a major symbol of U.S. intentions to use regional alliances to counterbalance a rising China:

  • Obama said the basing agreement "allows us to meet the demands of a lot of partners in the region that want to feel that they are getting the exercises, and that we have the presence that is necessary to maintain the security architecture in the region"--the U.S. will not build new bases on the continent, but instead will use Australian facilites, and Obama said Marines will rotate through for joint training and exercises with Australia, and the USAF will have increased access to airfields in the nation's Northern Territory.

5.     Lobbyists for a day, a band of millionaires stormed Capitol Hill to urge Congress to tax them more:

  • They had a little trouble getting in, but once inside, their message was embraced by liberals and tolerated by some conservatives--"If you think the federal government can spend your money better than you can, then by all means," pay more taxes than you owe, said Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform, a group that has gotten almost all congressional Republicans to pledge to vote against tax hikes.

November 17, 2011

1.     Congress has approved a big compromise spending bill that averts a weekend government shutdown that neither party wanted:

  • Passage of the bill came despite conservatives' complaints about excessive spending and liberals' objections to a provision letting the government continue classifying pizza sauces served to school children as a vegetable--the Senate approved the measure shortly after the House approved it.

2.     The White House threatened to veto the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act because a series of the bill's provisions would mandate military custody for some terrorism suspects and prevent the administration from transferring detainees out of the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

3.     The Obama administration has begun its promised review of backlogged deportation cases, focusing on illegal immigrants who have committed crimes or are considered public safety or national security threats:

  • The Immigration and Customs Enforcement agencies announced the plan in August, and an agency menu outlining the new approach says government lawyers will start with a pilot program to look at all new deportation cases in immigration courts--other illegal immigrants, including those brought to the U.S. illegally as children, probably will have their cases delayed indefinitely.

4.     Detecting "flickers of progress" in the long-shunned nation of Myanmar, President Obama announced that he will send Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to the repressed country next month, making her the first official in her position to visit in more than 50 years:

  • The administration sees Clinton's visit as a sign of success for Obama's policy on Myanmar, which focused on punishments and incentives to get the country's former military rulers to improve dire human rights conditions--the U.S. imposed new sanctions on Myanmar but made it clear it was open to better relations.

5.     Signalling a determination to counter a rising China, President Obama vowed to expand U.S. influence in the Asia-Pacific region and "project power and deter threats to peace" in that part of the world, even as he rduced spending and winds down two wars:

  • Obama's bullish speech came several hours after announcing he would send military aircraft and up to 2,500 Marines to northern Australia for a training hub to help allies and protect American interests across Asia--China immediately questioned the U.S. move and said it deserved further scrutiny.

November 18, 2011     The House of Representatives voted down a balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution, failing to revive a long-held and persistently elusive goal for the GOP:

  • The vote came 16 years after an amendment failed to pass Congress by just one vote in the Senate, but the intervening years have put the amendment even further out of reach--the measure fell well short of the two-thirds majority needed to pass, with a vote of 261-165;
  • Oregon votes: Blumenauer (D), no; DeFazio (D), yes; Schrader (D), no; and Walden (r), yes--the White House has said it opposes the amendment, and the Senate, which is required to vote on it as part of the August debt deal, is not expected to pass it.
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