Archive for October 9, 2010

Offering voters a reason to keep Democrats in power on Capitol Hill, President Obama said in his weekly radio and Internet address that Republicans would cut education spending and put the country’s economic future at risk if they had their way.

Republicans devoted their weekly address to what the party says are Obama’s broken promises on jobs, the economy and health care.

Obama has spent much of the past two weeks contrasting a GOP proposal to cut spending, presumably including on education, with the billions of dollars he’s investing to improve learning from kindergarten through college. That includes money for public schools, community colleges and to help make it cheaper and easier for families to afford higher education for their children.

A quality education is paramount, Obama said. He suggested that federal spending on education is one area where he would not compromise.

“What I’m not prepared to do is shortchange our children’s education,” Obama said Saturday.

This week, Obama announced a new public-private sector partnership to help match community college graduates and businesses with jobs to fill. The White House also held its first-ever summit on the state of community colleges.

In his weekly message, Obama acknowledged that the country faces tight fiscal times, but he said a good education is too important to the country’s future prosperity to do it on the cheap.

“At a time when most of the new jobs being created will require some kind of higher education, when countries that out-educate us today will out-compete us tomorrow, giving our kids the best education is an economic imperative,” he said.

Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., touched on the high unemployment rate, holding at 9.6 percent, and criticized Democratic leaders for sending lawmakers home for the Nov. 2 congressional elections without voting on a series of expiring Bush-era tax cuts.

Read more here.

The world’s newest Nobel Peace Prize winner remained unreachable in a Chinese prison Saturday, while his wife’s mobile phone was cut off and the authoritarian government continued to censor reports about democracy campaigner Liu Xiaobo’s honor.

Police kept reporters away from the prison where Liu is serving an 11-year sentence for subversion, and his lawyer said that Liu’s wife — who had been hoping to visit him Saturday and tell him the news of the award — has “disappeared” and he is worried she may be in police custody.

Chinese authorities, who called Liu a criminal shortly after his award Friday and said his winning “desecrates the prize,” sank Saturday into official silence.

Only an editorial in the state-run Global Times newspaper spoke out Saturday, saying in English, “Obviously, the Nobel Peace Prize this year is meant to irritate China, but it will not succeed. On the contrary, the committee disgraced itself.”

The paper’s Chinese-language edition called the award “an arrogant showcase of Western ideology” and said it disrespected the Chinese people.

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Former Alaska governor and 2008 GOP vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin is raising new speculation in conservative circles that she is already preparing for a 2012 presidential bid. In the latest and clearest example of her plans, Palin met with some 50 national conservative leaders Wednesday in Palm Beach, Florida where she discussed economic and diplomatic policy and led some to declare that she’s in the race.

“This was an indication that she’s strongly considering running,” said one insider. “She was very knowledgeable and gave intelligent answers, despite how she’s been characterized,” added the insider. “And she was extremely charming.”

The meet-and-greet was organized by the conservative magazine and website Newsmax and its boss Christopher Ruddy. Palin, currently a Fox News contributor, has said Newsmax is one of her favorite news sources. Her trip sprung from an accidental meeting in June at the Belmont Stakes race in New York when Palin and Ruddy bumped into each other.

Ruddy, whose Web site helped sell 250,000 of Palin’s 2008 campaign book, arranged for Palin to be interviewed by radio host Michael Reagan for an upcoming webcast dubbed “Make America Great Again.” Palin will kick off the webcast campaign October 12. Her next book, America By Heart, is due out next month.

Because of its ties to conservative leaders and donors, Newsmax plays a broad role in conservative politics and is fast becoming the place for potential 2012 GOP candidates to be seen. Already Mitt Romney and Jeb Bush have stopped by for interviews. One conservative leader told Whispers that Palin’s trip to Newsmax was the strongest sign yet that she’s planning to run.

The U.S. economy lost 95,000 jobs in September, far worse than expectations for no change in employment. More Census-related temp jobs ended, as expected, but state and local governments slashed staff far more than predicted.

So far in 2010, the U.S. has added just 613,000 jobs — for a monthly average of 68,111.

Employment bottomed in December 2009 at 129.588 million — two years after peaking at 137.951 million. At this year’s pace, the U.S. won’t recoup all those 8.36 million lost jobs* until March 2020 — 147 months after the December 2007 high.

That would obliterate the old post-World War II record of 47 months set in the wake of the 2001 recession.

The current jobs slump also is the deepest of any in the post-war era, with payrolls down as much as 6.1%. They are still 5.6% below their December 2007 level.

With state and local governments likely to shed workers for at least the next year or two as budget woes continue, the hiring burden will fall entirely on the private sector.

Private employers did add 64,000 workers last month, but that was a little less than consensus forecasts and far below what’s needed.

The U.S. needs to create 125,000-150,000 jobs each month just to absorb new workers and prevent unemployment from rising. So returning to the old peak employment a decade later would hardly suggest a healthy labor market.

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California grossly miscalculated pollution levels in a scientific analysis used to toughen the state’s clean-air standards, and scientists have spent the past several months revising data and planning a significant weakening of the landmark regulation, The Chronicle has found.

The pollution estimate in question was too high – by 340 percent, according to the California Air Resources Board, the state agency charged with researching and adopting air quality standards. The estimate was a key part in the creation of a regulation adopted by the Air Resources Board in 2007, a rule that forces businesses to cut diesel emissions by replacing or making costly upgrades to heavy-duty, diesel-fueled off-road vehicles used in construction and other industries.

The staff of the powerful and widely respected Air Resources Board said the overestimate is largely due to the board calculating emissions before the economy slumped, which halted the use of many of the 150,000 diesel-exhaust-spewing vehicles in California. Independent researchers, however, found huge overestimates in the air board’s work on diesel emissions and attributed the flawed work to a faulty method of calculation – not the economic downturn.

The overestimate, which comes after another bad calculation by the air board on diesel-related deaths that made headlines in 2009, prompted the board to suspend the regulation this year while officials decided whether to weaken the rule.

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As millions of hardworking Americans struggle to make ends meet, Senate staffers will participate next week in a two-day orgy of back massages, organic food tastings and milk mustache photos.

It’s all part of a health fair for the staffers, who enjoy some of the best health care in the country.

Not only will they get health screenings, they’ll also find out if their iPods are too loud.

Neither the Senate’s Education and Training Office nor the Senate sergeant-at-arms, which oversees the office, would say which vendors are providing the services or how much the health fair will cost taxpayers.

But there will be no shortage of vendors providing screenings for visual acuity, chiropractic health, bone density, glaucoma, PSA levels, cholesterol levels and hearing.

The Senate staffers also will be treated to seated massages, herbal teas, polarity therapy, low-fat cheese samples and organic foods. A pharmacist and health coach will be available to speak to fairgoers about their medications, nutrition and healthy lifestyle questions.

Fairgoers can test themselves with brain games and bring their MP3 players to be tested for decibel levels.

The fair, to be held on Thursday and Friday, is not uncommon among federal agencies, a senior Senate aide told FoxNews.com. Fairs of this sort are held every year.

An aide in the sergeant-at-arms office told FoxNews.com in an e-mail that the fair is open to all Senate staff, and there is no fee to attend. The costs to the office, the aide said, are “minimum.”

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Talk about a financial scandal. A consumer borrows money to buy a house, doesn’t make the mortgage payments, and then loses the house in foreclosure—only to learn that the wrong guy at the bank signed the foreclosure paperwork. Can you imagine? The affidavit was supposed to be signed by the nameless, faceless employee in the back office who reviewed the file, not the other nameless, faceless employee who sits in the front.

The result is the same, but politicians understand the pain that results when the anonymous paper pusher who kicks you out of your home is not the anonymous paper pusher who is supposed to kick you out of your home. Welcome to Washington’s financial crisis of the week.

In the 23 states that require judicial foreclosures, lenders seeking to seize property from a delinquent borrower must file a summary judgment motion in court. Typically, this document must be signed in the presence of a notary by a “witness” who has reviewed the relevant documents and confirmed that the borrower is in default and the lender owns the mortgage.

Recently GMAC Mortgage, whose parent Ally Financial is majority-owned by the U.S. government, suspended foreclosures in those 23 states after acknowledging that in some cases notaries may not have been present and the signers may have relied upon others to review the documents instead of doing it themselves. Bank of America and J.P. Morgan Chase then halted their own foreclosures in those 23 states to ensure they are following the letter of the law, and yesterday BofA announced its moratorium is now nationwide.

We’re not aware of a single case so far of a substantive error. Out of tens of thousands of potentially affected borrowers, we’re still waiting for the first victim claiming that he was current on his mortgage when the bank seized the home. Even if such victims exist, the proper policy is to make them whole, not to let 100,000 other people keep homes for which they haven’t paid.

In their zeal to find and prosecute the great bank defendant, state Attorneys General aren’t waiting to see if anyone within their borders was actually harmed. In a civil suit, Ohio’s Attorney General Richard Cordray has even charged an Ally employee with fraud for signing the documents without reading them. In a Journal interview, Mr. Cordray compared the employee to Nazis at Nuremberg who claimed they were just following orders.

As far as we know, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi hasn’t compared any bank employees to Nazis, but this week she demanded an investigation by the Department of Justice. The next day Attorney General Eric Holder announced that his Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force is examining the issue. But even if one believes this is more than a technicality, the issue is whether the banks violated state laws, not federal ones.

Read more here.

Democrat Bastions Besieged by GOP

Posted: October 9, 2010 by AKA John Galt in Uncategorized
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Republican challengers are suddenly threatening once-safe Democrats in New England and the Northwest, expanding the terrain for potential GOP gains and raising the party’s hopes for a significant victory in next month’s elections.

Republican advances in traditionally Democratic states, including Connecticut, Oregon and Washington, may not translate into a wave of GOP victories. But they have rattled local campaigns and forced the Democrats to shift attention and money to races they didn’t expect to be defending.

Rising sentiment against the party in power has washed ashore even in coastal Oregon, where Democratic Rep. Peter DeFazio won his 10th re-election two years ago with 82% of the vote.

“I am having the same problem that Democrats are having across the country, which is ennui,” he said, noting that his opponent’s yard signs “are thick” across much of the district. Mr. DeFazio said he is facing the fight of his political life.

House Republican leaders in recent weeks have tamped down expectations, noting that Democrats still have significant financial resources and could prove resilient down the stretch. There is plenty of time for voter sentiment to shift, with three weeks before Election Day.

The expanded battlefield map, however, has prompted a shift in tone. Oregon Rep. Greg Walden, vice chairman of the National Republican Campaign Committee, bluntly predicted his party is heading toward a big win. “The Democrats are standing on a beach with the water going out and there is a tsunami coming their way,” he said.

Some Democrats are signaling the potential for a rout, particularly in the House. A new survey by Democratic pollster Stanley Greenberg gives Republicans a six-point edge, 49% to 43%, when likely voters are asked which party they support in House races. That’s a margin pollsters generally believe foreshadows large gains. “If the election were held today, it would produce a very unhappy night” for the Democrats, he said.

Read more here.