Friday, August 31, 2012

Bernanke throws spotlight on labor market woes

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke on Friday said the U.S. economy faced "daunting" challenges and that progress reducing unemployment had been too slow, but he stopped short of providing a clear signal of further monetary policy easing.
Bernanke said the central bank would act as needed to strengthen the recovery but he also said it had to weigh the costs as well as the benefits of more monetary stimulus, although he hinted the costs may be worthwhile.
"As we assess the benefits and costs of alternative policy approaches ... we must not lose sight of the daunting economic challenges that confront our nation," Bernanke said at the Kansas City Fed's annual Jackson Hole symposium.
"Taking due account of the uncertainties and limits of its policy tools, the Federal Reserve will provide additional policy accommodation as needed to promote a stronger economic recovery and sustained improvement in labor market conditions in a context of price stability."
That was a somewhat weaker hint of policy easing than the minutes of the Fed's last policy meeting had delivered, but it was enough to keep alive hopes in financial markets that the U.S. central bank would soon launch another round of bond purchases to push borrowing costs lower.
The lack of a clear signal of policy action led markets to see-saw in the wake of Bernanke's comments, but in the end his emphasis on the travails of the struggling U.S. labor market helped U.S. stocks extend gains. Yields on U.S. government bonds dropped and the U.S. dollar declined against the euro.

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Gallup: Americans Rate Public Schools the Worst Place to Educate Children

A new Gallup poll released today indicates that Americans rate public schools the worst place to educate children.
In the national survey conducted Aug. 9-12, private independent schools, parochial and church-related schools, charter schools and home-schooling all rated higher than public schools.
Gallup interviewers asked respondents: "I’m going to read a list of ways in which children are educated in the U.S. today. As I read each one, please indicate--based on what you know or have read and heard--how good an education each provides children--excellent, good, only fair, or poor. How about: public schools, parochial or church-related schools, independent private schools, charter schools, or home-schooling?"
Only 5 percent said they believe public schools give children an excellent eduction.
Another 32 percent said they believe public schools give children a good education. But this combined 37 percent who said public schools give children an excellent or good education was the lowest among the different types of schools Gallup included in its survey.
Americans ranked independent private schools highest, with 31 percent saying they provide an excellent education and 47 percent saying they provide a good education--for a combined 78 percent who say they provide an excellent or good education.

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“Farm Bill” Question and Answer

As Congress continues its recess and activists across the country attempt to educate their elected officials on the problems with the current farm and food stamp bill, we wanted to provide the main questions that our folks are receiving on the road and their best factual response, all in one post.  Here you go, and we hope you find its useful.
How much does the so-called “farm bill”—the Federal Agriculture and Risk Management Act (H.R. 6083)—cost?
According to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), the bill costs $957 billion over ten years. The last farm bill, enacted in 2008, cost $604 billion over ten years. This bill amounts to a 60% increase in farm and food aid since the last reauthorization.
Doesn’t H.R. 6083 “save” money?
Not in any real world sense. As stated, the bill includes policies that over ten years will cost 63% more than the previous authorization. It is only because the Congressional Budget Office must ignore the expiration date of these programs and assume their continuation into eternity—including the Obama food stamp expansions—that the bill can be judged to “save” $35 billion. This is really just Washington-speak for spending 3.5% less than expected ($957 billion instead of $992 billion)—it’s not a cut.
Isn’t H.R. 6083 really mislabeled as a farm bill given how much food stamp spending it includes?
Yes. 80% of H.R. 6083’s spending is comprised of food stamp spending. This is because there are now 46 million individuals on food stamps, compared with 30 million in 2008 and 17 million in 2000. The reduction in the rate of growth to the food stamp program contemplated by the bill equals just $16 billion or 2%—not the sort of reforms that will lead to rolling back the food stamp program. This is one reason why most conservatives are so intent on splitting up the bill between its food stamp and farm subsidy components.

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Health groups sue U.S. for failing to protect food supply

Two U.S. health and environment organizations sued the federal government on Wednesday for what the groups say is a failure to implement and enforce a new food safety law that could help prevent thousands of deaths caused by food-borne illnesses each year.
The groups said government officials had repeatedly missed mandatory deadlines for issuing final regulations required by the Food Safety Modernization Act. They are asking a federal court to order officials at both the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Office of Management and Budget to force the agencies to start enforcing the law.

"President Obama says the passage of this bill is one of the hallmarks of his first administration," said Andrew Kimbrell, executive director with the Center for Food Safety, which is one of the plaintiffs.
The other plaintiff is the Center for Environmental Health. Both it and the Center for Food Safety are non-profit public interest advocacy groups.
Over the past year, the United States has had numerous outbreaks from food-borne illnesses tied to salmonella, E. coli and listeria. In July, food sickness was linked to cantaloupe.
About 3,000 deaths are caused by food-borne illnesses and about 48 million people, or one in six Americans, gets sick from food contamination every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"The bill is useless unless the agencies actually promulgate regulations that make it work," said Kimbrell. "This is very serious. They are twiddling their bureaucratic thumbs while Americans become sick and die."
A spokeswoman for the FDA had no immediate comment and an official with the Office of Management and Budget could not immediately be reached for comment.

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Is Ethanol Cheaper Than Gasoline?

No doubt feeling the heat from record corn prices, defenders of the ethanol mandate are now claiming that ethanol is actually something that the market would embrace, without government intervention. If this were true, it would simply prove that the mandate is unnecessary. But of course it’s not true. In particular, claims that ethanol is currently “cheaper than gas” are very misleading because they ignore differences in energy content.
To give an example of what we mean, consider this recent article from Bloomberg:
Ethanol, the best-performing energy commodity this year, is cheaper than gasoline, encouraging refiners to use the biofuel even if President Barack Obama’s administration ends a requirement to do so.
A 49 cent-per-gallon discount to gasoline provides…an opportunity to profit by blending the corn-based additive into fuel, while easing prices at the pump for consumers. Marketers may use ethanol as they look for the cheapest way to boost engine performance and reduce pollution.
The most severe U.S. drought in 56 years has prompted lawmakers from both parties to ask the Obama administration to suspend the mandate because of the potential impact on food costs. Ethanol will consume 42 percent of this year’s corn crop, according to government estimates, up from 41 percent last year. The biofuel has been blended into more gasoline than ever this year, Energy Department data show.
“It’s just ingrained in the supply and distribution and it’s having a moderating effect on pump prices,” John Kilduff, a partner at Again Capital LLC, a New York-based hedge fund that focuses on energy, said by phone. “As long as they were still allowed to use it, most would. The lower price and just the logistics of taking it out, most would still use it.” [Bold added.]

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Spain Said to Weigh Bankia Recapitalization Without EU Money

Spain is considering pumping its own money into Bankia group to re-capitalize the country’s biggest nationalized lender rather than use the emergency portion of a 100 billion-euro ($125 billion) bailout from the European Union, two people with direct knowledge of the matter said.
This would allow Spain to put off forcing Bankia group’s junior debt holders to bear part of the rescue cost, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the negotiations are private. European officials backed burden sharing in the talks because it would limit the need for public money, the people said.
“The EU is telling the Spanish government that if they don’t produce this haircut, the money will have to put up by” Spain, said Alejandro Ruyra, an analyst at Kepler Capital Markets in Madrid, speaking on Bloomberg TV’s The Pulse. “The question is, does the Spanish government have that much money?”
The EU agreed to set aside 30 billion euros of contingency cash as part of the July 24 rescue of Spain’s lenders as they hemorrhage deposits, though the government said it hasn’t yet officially requested the funds. Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy meanwhile said a decision on Spain’s sovereign rescue is being delayed until it’s clear what aid the country will receive under European Central Bank plans to help debt-ridden nations.
An alternative to Spain using its own money to bolster Bankia group is to wait for the first scheduled payments under the financial-sector bailout due in November, borrowing more from the ECB in the meantime, according to the people. Spain’s cash would only cover some of the 19 billion euros of capital the lender needs, so European money will still have to be used, one of the people said.

Environmentalism’s Sword: Protectionism

Economists are famous for disagreeing among themselves. Yet on the subject of free trade, economic opinion speaks almost with one voice. In a recent survey, 87.5 percent of PhD members of the American Economic Association agreed that “the U.S. should eliminate remaining tariffs and other barriers to trade.”
As Paul Krugman (not exactly a proponent of laissez-faire) has stated, “if there were an Economist’s Creed, it would surely contain the affirmations ‘I understand the Principle of Comparative Advantage’ and ‘I advocate Free Trade’.”
Indeed. Since the days of Adam Smith and David Ricardo, economists have been tireless in demonstrating the role free trade plays in promoting prosperity and harmony for all nations.
Yet the economic consensus in favor of free trade has not always been heeded. Still, it has led to a pronounced reduction in tariffs over the last two centuries. Recently, however, there has been a growing trend among environmentalists to use the tools of protectionism as a means of limiting energy production.
If successful, these efforts could not only threaten some of America’s core industries, but also risk sparking retaliation that could unravel much of the progress made on this front in the last several decades.

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U.S. to allow Shell to begin prep work for drilling in Arctic

Royal Dutch Shell (RDSa.L) will be allowed to begin some "limited" drilling in Alaska's Chukchi Sea, the U.S. government said on Thursday, a move the company hailed as a step forward in its long-delayed effort to tap Arctic oil.
The U.S. Interior Department said Shell will be permitted to begin preparatory work in the Chukchi, but cannot drill to areas containing oil until the government certifies its oil spill containment system.
Without that containment system, the department has said it will not allow Shell to drill for oil in the Arctic.
"At this point we don't know what exactly is going to happen with Shell and whether they are going to be able to complete a well in the Arctic this year," Interior Secretary Ken Salazar told a conference call with reporters.
Shell's Arctic drilling plans had appeared on track to begin this year but it has run into delays. The company has spent $4.5 billion so far in its effort to explore for oil and gas off Alaska's coast.
In addition to seeking modifications to its air-quality permits from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Shell is also still working to get its oil-spill containment barge, the Arctic Challenger, approved by the Coast Guard.
Shell's vice president for Alaska Pete Slaiby said the government's decision to allow some drilling was "exciting".
He said that even if Shell's activities this year were limited to top-hole drilling, that would be an important accomplishment.
"This is really important to begin to establish confidence that we can do this right," Slaiby told reporters in Anchorage.

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The Burst Pipe-Dream Of Energy Saving

Policy-makers are calling for oil and electricity to be used ever more efficiently. But scientists say that measures like banning light bulbs and home insulation are as good as useless to help reduce energy consumption.
The family of Karl-Günther Lohas is the dream of Germany’s energy policy: The teacher from Stuttgart has replaced all light bulbs, from the cellar to the attic, with LED lights long before the ban against light bulbs goes into effect in September. He has rendered harmless the energy-consuming stand-by mode of the TV with a timer and invested in a new refrigerator with an efficiency rating of A Triple Plus.
Insulation? Of course! Heat pump? That’s a matter of honour! The Lohas’ washing machines only runs at 30 degrees Celsius: the laundry is almost as clean as in energy-guzzling 40 degrees. Compared to before, the Lohas family now saves 300 Euros per year in energy costs.
According to the federal government, soon all Germans should live like the fictional energy-saving champion from Stuttgart. After all, the government’s scenarios regarding the nuclear phase-out and the targets for green electricity are based on the assumption that Germany’s electricity consumption can be reduced by a total of ten percent by 2020.
By 2030 a reduction of 25 percent should be achieved, although by then the majority of car traffic is supposed to be electrified. And of course, Germany is Europe’s model pupil who wants to meet the regulation targets of the European Commission, i.e. the reduction of the total primary energy consumption, including oil, gas and coal, by 20 percent by then.

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Deflation Deepens as Japan Contraction Risk Intensifies

Japan’s consumer prices slid at a faster pace in July and industrial production unexpectedly slumped, raising the danger that the world’s third-largest economy has slipped back into a contraction.
The benchmark price gauge, which excludes fresh food, fell 0.3 percent in July from a year before, putting the central bank’s 1 percent inflation goal further from reach, a government report showed in Tokyo. Industrial output fell 1.2 percent. A private measure of manufacturing for August was the lowest since the aftermath of the record March 2011 earthquake.
Today’s releases reflect diminishing demand overseas for the nation’s exports amid the European crisis and exchange-rate appreciation, and the end of incentives for vehicle purchases. With Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda’s government today predicting it will miss a deficit-reduction target, pressure may rise on the Bank of Japan (8301) to expand stimulus and sustain the recovery.
“The risk of a contraction in the second half of the year is increasing,” said Junko Nishioka, chief economist at RBS Securities Japan Ltd. in Tokyo, who previously worked at the Bank of Japan. “The downside risks on the economy are increasing, and could push the BOJ to further expand its asset- purchase program next month.”
The Nikkei 225 (NKY) Stock Average headed for a second straight week of declines, and closed down 1.6 percent in Tokyo. The yen was at 78.54 per dollar, about 4 percent from its postwar high reached in October 2011. The currency has soared 47 percent in the past five years.

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Energy Policy Needs to Look at Both Supply and Demand

Last week, Governor Romney released his plan for “Energy Independence” that promises to “increase domestic energy production and increase partnership with Mexico and Canada to gain energy independence by 2020.” Briefly, the plan proposes to increase domestic fossil fuel production by opening new areas to exploration and by reducing regulatory barriers to the building of new power plants.
My concern is that this is simply a one-sided energy policy – it focuses solely on increasing the supply of energy (and almost exclusively on fossil fuels, especially oil). A true energy plan would realize that no matter how much oil your country produces, it can never escape the world market price. In a world with a globalized market for oil, OPEC will always be the most important price-setter, and the price of oil will not be set at home. The price will track with demand from economic growth in India and China and will follow supply shocks from the most recent unrest in oil-producing regions, whether Iran, Sudan, or the South China Sea.
A real energy policy would address the complete picture: The supply side, by growing supply and by pursuing alternatives, as well as the demand side, by reducing use.
The Romney proposal does not touch on how to reduce dependence on oil — only seeking access to more. The US currently devotes about 70% of its petroleum use to transportation, and most of that in gasoline to power our cars – so addressing transportation is key to oil energy policy. This week we saw that the Department of Transportation and the EPA finalized a rule that would increase average fuel economy of the U.S. fleet to 54.5 MPG by 2025. This is very important – it is estimated to reduce American oil use by about 2 million barrels per day once it is fully implemented. Although Romney does not address it in his energy plan, he has stated that he opposes these new fuel economy standards.

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Ryan's Fact-Challenged Fact Checkers

Paul Ryan must have hit a home run last night – otherwise liberals wouldn’t be going bonkers right now. No sooner did he move his tingle-inducing chassis off the stage than the liberal blogosphere erupted in outrage, accusing him of being a maligner and a liar.
But what did Ryan say that was so bad? He falsely accused President Obama of promising during a campaign stop to keep a Government Motor plant in Janesville, Wisconsin -- Ryan’s district – open, but then letting it close once he got elected. Liberals, however, claim that the plant was already closed when President Obama delivered his remarks.
This prompted the Puffington Post to huff: “Paul Ryan Misleads With His Plant Closure Tale.” Commenters on Daily Kos’s open thread titled “Paul Ryan Blames Obama for a GM Plant Closed Under Bush” went all snarky. “If they just completely ignore Bush altogether they can make all the right wingers believe that before Obama took office everything was fantastic,” scoffed one.
Now, I actually think that the plant story was the silliest part of Ryan’s otherwise stellar speech. Holding presidents responsible for the fate of individual auto plants is idiotic in and of itself – but especially so if in your very next breath you are going to say that you’d “take freedom…any day over the supervision and sanctimony of the central planners.”
But, then again, Obama did kinda ask for it. This is what he said in the speech that Ryan alluded to:
And I believe that if our government is there to support you, and give you the assistance you need to re-tool and make this transition, that this plant will be here for another hundred years.  The question is not whether a clean energy economy is in our future, it’s where it will thrive.  I want it to thrive right here in the United States of America; right here in Wisconsin; and that’s the future I’ll fight for as your President.

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Racists of the World, Unite

The left has us pegged. They have identified all the secret racists on our side. They know how to call a spade a spade.
If you call a black man "angry," you are a racist.
If you call a black man "arrogant," you are a racist.
If you say that a black president plays too much golf, you are a racist.
If you ever say that welfare should include work requirements, as in the law that Bill Clinton signed and spent years (falsely) taking credit for, you are a racist.
If you complain, along with the experts who helped write and pass a welfare reform law, that the law's work requirements are being gutted by an (illegal) executive waiver of, yes, the work requirement, you are a racist.
If you talk about border security, you are a racist.
If you say that a president does not harbor the traditional views about what makes America great, you are a racist.
If you note that the president often wrote and spoke movingly about the great influence that a particular preacher had on him, and that the preacher is a white-hating, America-bashing radical, then you are a racist.

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The liberal media brings out the hockey pucks

In 2004, Arnold Schwarzenegger — then a popular figure in the Republican party — gave an exciting, upbeat, and surprisingly funny speech at the GOP convention. He covered a lot of territory: how he came to America, how he became a Republican after listening to Richard Nixon, and other highlights of his life story.
Afterwards, then–CBS News anchor Dan Rather reported that Schwarzenegger “slapped John Kerry around like a hockey puck.”
The only problem: Schwarzenegger never mentioned John Kerry, not even once.
I bring it up because it’s hardly news that much of the press likes to report the convention as they want it to be rather than as it is.
It’s also somewhat less than a thunderclap revelation that the press and the Democratic party tend to see things the same way. Which is why it’s unremarkable that the “fact-checkers” and Democratic-party press-release writers are on the same page.
Hence the relentless coverage of vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan’s “lies” during his convention speech. His story about a Janesville, Wis., GM plant, in particular, has stirred up a journalistic fuss:
A lot of guys I went to high school with worked at that GM plant. Right there at that plant, candidate Obama said: ‘I believe that if our government is there to support you . . . this plant will be here for another hundred years.’ That’s what he said in 2008. Well, as it turned out, that plant didn’t last another year.

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An Infantilizing Speech

Maybe I am getting older and crankier, but that struck me as an exceptionally infantilizing speech that Mitt Romney just gave, politically speaking.
There were good bits in it, particularly in the soft-focus autobiographical stuff. He actually sounded like he choked up talking about missing the days when they’d wake up to find a pile of kids in their bedroom. He got a genuine laugh from a genuine joke. I’ve never cared much whether Romney seems “authentic” or “genuine” because those qualities in a politician are faked – what you’re seeing is the ability to seem genuine, seem authentic. If Romney lacks those qualities, they have practical consequences – people will be less-likely to believe him when he speaks in public – but they aren’t indications of character. But nonetheless, it’s nice to see that he can play this game a little, since he’d be expected to play it if he became President.
But the rest of the speech was pretty dreadful, and particularly this section:
Every small business wanted these to be their best years ever, when they could hire more, do more for those who had stuck with them through the hard times, open a new store or sponsor that Little League team. Every new college graduate thought they’d have a good job by now, a place of their own, and that they could start paying back some of their loans and build for the future. This is when our nation was supposed to start paying down the national debt and rolling back those massive deficits. This was the hope and change America voted for.

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U.S. Senator Reid, son combine for China firm's desert plant

U.S. Senator Harry Reid recognized nine years ago that connections between his official duties and the lobbying activities of his relatives could lead to ethical questions.
In 2003, the Nevada Democrat publicly banned relatives from lobbying him or his staff after newspaper reports showed that Nevada industries and institutions routinely turned to Reid's sons or son-in-law for representation.
Now, questions surrounding family ties are flaring again in Nevada around the Senate majority leader. He and his oldest son, Rory, are both involved in an effort by a Chinese energy giant, ENN Energy Group, to build a $5 billion solar farm and panel manufacturing plant in the southern Nevada desert.
Reid has been one of the project's most prominent advocates, helping recruit the company during a 2011 trip to China and applying his political muscle on behalf of the project in Nevada. His son, a lawyer with a prominent Las Vegas firm that is representing ENN, helped it locate a 9,000-acre (3,600-hectare) desert site that it is buying well below appraised value from Clark County, where Rory Reid formerly chaired the county commission.
Craig Holman, a lobbyist for the non-partisan advocacy group Public Citizen, said the senator is dealing with "an iffy ethical landscape" because of the family connections and should recuse himself from the project. "Is this just happening because ... it benefits the Reid family, or did Harry Reid actually believe in this?" Holman said.
The senator has supported numerous clean energy projects in Nevada. Rory Reid cites energy as one of his specialty areas at the law firm.
The two Reids deny discussing the ENN project.

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The Obama administration: Saving jobs, 20 electoral votes at a time

Mitt Romney may have just lost his rationale for the presidency. In recent weeks, the Obama administration has been slashing environmental regulations, coddling “Big Oil,” circumnavigating the stickiest of environmental bureaucracies, and sucking up to private equity.
If you had trouble just now stifling an “Amen!” or a “Right on!” or some other more salty and enthusiastic exclamation, then there’s a good chance you aren’t a member of Obama’s usual demographic.
There’s an equally good chance that until this moment you were unaware that the Obama administration had played a central role in saving the largest oil refinery on the East Coast — and with it, 850 union jobs and a chance at winning Pennsylvania’s 20 electoral votes.
If you subject yourself only to the standard pop-culture fare of TV “news,” you definitely missed it. Absent my online subscription to the Wall Street Journal, I may have missed it too.
Here is the Wall Street Journal piece, and here are the highlights from it:
After losing more than $1 billion over three years on its two oil refineries, Sunoco announced last year that it was getting out of the refining business, selling its operations in Philadelphia and Marcus Hook, Pennsylvania.
Apparently, this surprised no one in the industry, as evidenced by the March 2012 congressional testimony of Charlie Drevna, the president of the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM).

The High Cost of College: An Economic Explanation

Many news articles are starting to note that middle and upper-middle class parents are having trouble paying for their children’s college educations. Most of these articles see this as a new development. But the story is actually more than 50 years old.
Throughout the 1950s, and with the best of motives, Americans gradually adopted a policy of allowing—even encouraging—colleges to use what economists call first degree price discrimination. Here’s how this price discrimination works:
1.    Every good or service offered for sale has a different value for each of the various people who will choose to buy it. That is, some people will be willing and able to pay much more for any good or service than other people will be able or willing to pay for the same good or service.
2.    Normal market pricing consists of the producer of a good or service choosing the price that allows the producer to make a reasonable profit after production costs. When the prices posted by all producers are added together, they comprise the supply curve. When the prices that all the potential consumers are willing to pay are added together, they comprise the demand curve. Competition among producers forces market prices into a narrow range. Those who are only willing to pay a lower price than that range buy none of that good or service. Those consumers who are willing and able to pay a price higher than the range—sometimes a much higher price—get a break and buy the good or service at a lower price than they are willing to pay.
3.    First degree price discrimination occurs when normal markets are interfered with and producers are allowed to learn exactly what each consumer is willing and able to pay for the good or service. Using this data, all the producers set individual prices for each consumer, eliminating competition and forcing the consumers that are willing and able to pay a higher price to pay it. In this pricing scheme, those who are willing and able to pay only a lower price get a break.

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JPMorgan faces sea of trouble resolving "Whale" probe

The fallout from a nearly $6 billion trading loss at JPMorgan Chase & Co looks like it will haunt the big U.S. bank and its high-profile chief executive, Jamie Dimon, for months to come.
U.S. authorities are interviewing witnesses in both the United States and Europe to determine if three former London-based traders and others who worked with them at JPMorgan tried to hide some of the mounting losses during the first quarter of this year, said people familiar with the situation.
The situation presents several challenges to U.S. authorities: the potentially irregular trading occurred in London; and it was carried out by non-U.S. citizens, such as French national Bruno Iksil, who became known in the market as the "London Whale" for the size of his positions.
That translates into different rules for different jurisdictions and could raise extradition issues if any individuals are charged.
Meanwhile, the bank's own internal investigation, which first uncovered evidence in July that the London traders may have deliberately understated the first-quarter loss, is far from finished. A person familiar with the internal probe, but who is not authorized to speak publicly about it, said "there is a lot more work to do" for the team, which has numbered more than 100 lawyers.
Dimon initially referred to what has become a scandal as a "tempest in a teapot". He later tried to portray it as an isolated risk management problem that the bank has corrected.
Lawyers say because JPMorgan is the biggest bank in the United States and Dimon is one of Wall Street's most visible chief executives, U.S. criminal investigators are not going to simply accept the findings of the bank's internal investigation - no matter how thorough they may be.

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Barack Obama’s top 10 most outrageous Big Labor paybacks

In his book “The Audacity of Hope,” then-presidential candidate Barack Obama wrote: “I owe those unions. When their leaders call, I do my best to call them back right away. I don’t consider this corrupting in any way.”
After Big Labor spent nearly $1 billion to get President Obama and his forced-unionism allies elected in 2008, Obama did not disappoint.
Here is a breakdown of the top 10 most outrageous Big Labor paybacks of the Obama administration:
1. Hiding union boss expenditures. Obama started his term strong. Shortly after getting elected, Obama appointed forced-unionism partisan Hilda Solis to run the Department of Labor. Solis, in combination with numerous Obama executive orders, promptly rolled back any (albeit modest) progress in union boss transparency and disclosure that had been made the prior eight years. Now it is even more difficult for workers to know where their forced dues dollars are being spent.
2. Neutering the watchdog. Obama’s first budget slashed funding for the Office of Labor and Management Standards (OLMS), the federal agency that enforces union disclosure laws. It’s one of the few areas of the budget that Obama has proposed cutting.
3. Fox guarding the henhouse. Obama appointed union lawyer Craig Becker to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), the federal agency that administers and enforces federal labor law. Becker was never confirmed by the U.S. Senate because of bipartisan opposition to his nomination. Obama appointed him to the NLRB via recess appointment.

UN Warns Of 'Catastrophic' Rise In European Youth Unemployment If Greece Left The Eurozone

The UN's International Labour Organisation (ILO) has warned of a "catastrophic" rise in unemployment, especially among the young, if debt-wracked Greece were to leave the eurozone or if the bloc were to split.
"It would be a catastrophe for the European youth," Ekkehard Ernst, a senior economist at the body told the German daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung .
Unemployment in crisis-hit Spain would rise to 27.7pc by 2014, the ILO economist calculated, with jobless rates among 15-24 year-olds rising to 51.3pc. Portugal would also suffer a crippling rise in unemployment, AFP reported.
In Germany, Europe's top economy, which is currently enjoying unemployment rates near record lows, close to one-in-10 would be without a job by 2014.
"The average unemployment rate in the 17 eurozone member states would rise to 13pc," Mr Ernst told the paper.
The situation would be even worse if the single currency zone were to break up completely, cautioned the economist.
In this event, unemployment in Germany would shoot up to 11.3pc by 2014 and stay around this level. France would see its jobless rate spike to 17pc and more than one-in-three Spaniards would be without a job.
Again, the young would be worst hit, said Mr Ernst. If the euro were to crash, youth unemployment would rise to 34pc in France, 38pc in Italy and an eye-watering 59pc in Spain.

Weidmann resignation report turns up heat on ECB's Draghi

German central bank chief Jens Weidmann's reported threat to resign has piled pressure on European Central Bank President Mario Draghi to assuage his opposition to a new bond-buying plan without tying it up in so many knots it is rendered ineffective.
A Bundesbank spokesman declined to comment on Friday on a report in the mass circulation Bild newspaper that Weidmann, who has stressed his opposition to the strategy, had considered resigning several times in recent weeks but had been dissuaded by the German government.
Draghi is skipping this weekend's Jackson Hole policymakers' retreat to try to forge agreement. The Italian will have little time to celebrate his 65th birthday on Monday as he tries to seal a deal before a September 6 ECB policy meeting.
The ECB is preparing to ease painful borrowing costs in Spain and Italy, in the teeth of Bundesbank opposition, to buy the euro zone governments time to negotiate legal and political hurdles to a longer-term response to the euro zone crisis.
"Opposition from Weidmann and reservations from some other Council members will mean that ECB bond purchases would be highly conditional, be focused on the short end and would not aim to bring yields down quite as much as Italy and Spain might like to see," said Berenberg economist Holger Schmieding.
Securing majority support for a plan Weidmann can live with represents the biggest balancing act Draghi has faced since he took over the ECB presidency on November 1 last year.

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Campaign for Obama, get college credit

A public university in Colorado may have violated state law by offering students course credit if they volunteered with President Obama’s re-election campaign. A blog post on the Adams State University website billed the opportunity as a “12 week long organizing internship for the Obama Campaign.”
Both the blog post and the course are now gone. The course was canceled due to lack of interest, according to the university. The blog post was taken down earlier this week after a conservative student blog, Campus Reform, reported on it.
The course may have been in violation of the Colorado Fair Campaign Practices Act, which prohibits the use of public resources toward “campaigns involving the nomination, retention, or election of any person to any public office.” Oliver Darcy, the editor at Campus Reform who first reported the story, said the course struck him as a likely violation of state law.
“They are definitely using a few professors at least to help these students with the campaign process, so I don’t understand how it doesn’t use public resources for campaign purposes,” he said in an interview with The Daily Caller News Foundation.
A spokesperson for the university said the blog post was mistaken about the nature of the course, and that students would have been allowed to volunteer with any campaign.
“This is an independent study course that would be available to any student in any campaign,” said Julie Waechter, a spokesperson for ASU, in an interview with TheDC News Foundation.
Waechter declined to give the name of the employee who authorized the course. Dodie Day, the administrator who posted the blog entry, declined to comment.

An Economist At China's State Council Sees A Crisis Coming

Li Zoujun, an economist at the Development Research Centre of the State Council, recently made a report, presumably at an internal meeting, which predicted that China could face an economic crisis in 2013.
The full report in Chinese can be read here. We are not going attempt to summarise the whole report as it is quite lengthy, except that for some of his rationale for his somewhat apocalyptic predictions. Majority of what he said does not seem very surprising. The only surprising thing about such a report is just that it is made by someone from the State Council who said it, not any Westerners or Western media who were allegedly talking down China.
The causes of this economic crisis are, first of all, a burst of real estate bubble and local government debts crisis.
The second is external, namely that hot money and capital inflow over the past few years fuelled the bubble within China (then he blames “foreigners who short China”). As capital might flow the other way when the economy slows, it will cause troubles for Chinese government in dealing with it.
The third is political: as this year is pretty much the final year for the current government’s term, its job in the remaining months would be to hope that everything is stable. But let’s say the economy get pass the leadership transition without any troubles, the next leadership will face two choices: either to sustain the bubble for now and create a bigger problem in 2015 /16, or let the bubble got bust. Of which, he endorses the second choice.

Louisiana Teachers' Union Calls Black School Choice Group 'Pro-KKK'

On Thursday, in the shadow of the hurricane barreling down on the region, the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, a large teachers' union, launched an attack on the state's chapter of the Black Alliance for Educational Options, a nonprofit organization working to improve black educational achievement through education reform and school choice.  On its official Twitter account, the teachers' union ludicrously alleged that BAEO supports a "pro KKK curriculum," and sent out the statement to various followers.
The presumed basis for the attack seems to be that one of the 119 private schools that accept vouchers in Louisiana uses a Bob Jones University Press textbook which, while stopping short of praising the Klan, casts its birth in a more positive light of "fighting the decline in morality."
While whitewashing the KKK is certainly abhorrent, one wonders if the LFT similarly fights the use of the historically debunked The People's History of the United States by Howard Zinn as a public school textbook throughout many states.  Many parents in the U.S. would find use of The People's History no less odious than the Bob Jones book, especially in light of the FBI's release of files on Zinn that cites an informant confirming Zinn's membership in the Communist Party.

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Romney in convention speech: ‘Centerpiece’ of Obama campaign ‘attacking success’

Mitt Romney accepted the Republican Party’s nomination for president Thursday night and offered a strong argument against President Barack Obama by saying that the “centerpiece of the president’s entire re-election campaign is attacking success.”
“Is it any wonder that someone who attacks success has led the worst economic recovery since the Great Depression?” Romney said to the crowd here at the Tampa Bay Times Forum, ending the three day-long convention. “In America, we celebrate success, we don’t apologize for it.”
The former Massachusetts governor, who paraded into the convention arena to Kid Rock’s song “Born Free,” referenced the late astronaut Neil Armstrong and declared “that when the world needs someone to do the really big stuff, you need an American.”
He opened up about his religion and his family, tearing up briefly as he described how his dad gave his mom a rose everyday, “which he put on her bedside table.”
“That’s how she found out what happened on the day my father died — she went looking for him because that morning, there was no rose,” Romney said with tears in his eyes.
He made a point of praising the women leaders of the Republican Party today who addressed the convention, something he said his mother would have enjoyed seeing.
“I wish she could have been here at the convention and heard leaders like Gov. Mary Fallin, Gov. Nikki Haley, Gov. Susana Martinez, Sen. Kelly Ayotte and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice,” he said.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Unemployment remains high

The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits was unchanged last week at a seasonally adjusted 374,000, suggesting slow improvement in the job market.
The Labor Department said Thursday that the four-week moving average, a less volatile measure, increased to 370,250.
Applications for unemployment benefits reflect the pace of layoffs. They have risen slightly over the past three weeks, though they remain lower than in spring, when hiring nearly stalled. Last week's number was revised upward to 374,000 from the 372,000 that was reported initially.
Still, when applications fall consistently below 375,000, it generally indicates that hiring is strong enough to lower the unemployment rate.
The latest applications data suggest that the government's employment report for August, to be released next week, will show job gains near the recent monthly average of 100,000, said Paul Dales, senior U.S. economist with Capital Economics. That isn't enough to drive down unemployment significantly.
"Given some of the indicators seen so far, the August payroll report is not going to look terribly inspirational," said Jennifer Lee, senior economist with BMO Capital Markets, in a note to clients.

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Fact-Checking the Fact-Checkers: Here‘s a Break Down of the Claims Bashing Paul Ryan’s Speech

Paul Ryan’s speech accepting his nomination for the vice presidency of the United States last night has already been widely hailed as a home run national debut by many sources. So it’s no surprise that the Left, which views Ryan’s ideas as the political equivalent of Typhoid Mary, has already pounced on the speech for its alleged inaccuracies, while simultaneously bringing up every conceivable nitpick they can.
Dave Weigel at Slate huffed, “So I was in the cheap seats, not on carpet, when Ryan plowed through one of the more impressive strings of whoppers we’ve seen at this level. Ryan’s been doling out chunks of this speech for weeks, which made the fibs sound even stranger.”
ThinkProgress, meanwhile, attacked the speech practically every minute in their liveblog, seizing on every rhetorical flourish of Ryan’s, no matter how inconsequential, to blast him with some figure or quote that would make him seem to be a hypocrite or a liar. The piece de resistance has to be their final response to Ryan, in which they managed no less than two shots in response to an unfalsifiable bit of feel-good rhetoric:
Ryan reminds the convention of the need to protect the weakest among us. It’s too bad that his budget would drastically cut the programs they rely on. Religious leaders have described Ryan’s budget as a “immoral disaster” that “robs the poor.” At the same time, it gives the rich and corporations $3 trillion in tax breaks.

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UK needs a permanent, property-based wealth tax

The UK deputy prime minister's call for an emergency wealth tax has a whiff of political opportunism: things are tough, let's get those fat cats. Yet Nick Clegg is partly right. But a tax on the wealthy needs to be fair and predictable, not the quick grab that he advocates. Property tax is the way to do it.

Taxing the wealthy is tricky. The government reduced the top rate of income tax from 50 percent to 45 percent in the budget. George Osborne, the Chancellor, claimed on shaky evidence that the higher rate didn't raise additional revenue. Clegg's statement may be his political response. Furthermore, disappointing fiscal numbers are another spur. In the first four months of the tax year, government borrowing was 11.6 billion pounds higher than a year ago. The deficit is rising, not falling.
There is scope to raise more from the wealthy and the best way to do it is to tax their homes. Britain's wealthiest tend to live in properties, sometimes more than one, whose multi-million valuations reflect their wealth. Unfortunately the only current property tax, the council tax, is based on obsolete 1991 valuations. And the top band starts at 320,000 pounds - now the value of a small flat in some prime locations. Moreover, the rate isn't progressive enough: the top tax bill on a property stands at a paltry 2,536 pounds.

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Paul Ryan’s Speech: Too Much Debt, Not Enough Growth Read more: Paul Ryan’s Speech: Too Much Debt, Not Enough Growth

Republican Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan gave a powerful speech Wednesday night that repeatedly brought conventioneers at the Republican National Convention in Tampa to their feet. I am going to give him high marks for the delivery of his speech.

Ryan, in typical fashion, seriously and analytically ripped apart the Obama Economy, what has been called Obamanomics. He ripped it to pieces, and it needed to be done. But most especially, he ripped apart Obamacare. Ryan also did his level best to defend the Republicans against the usual attacks on Medicare reform — that is, what the Democrats call “Mediscare”.

However, I was disappointed that his economic growth solutions were somewhat muddled and unclear. At one point in the speech, rather than speak about Mitt Romney’s own tax-rate proposals, Ryan used the term “tax fairness,” a Democratic term frequently used by President Barack Obama and other liberal Democrats. This was surprising to me. Ryan cited a Jack Kemp tax reform and the Reagan tax reform (and I am, of course, part of that gang). But the reality is, Ryan didn’t have anything to say on the subject.

He dwelled on debt to an extreme point. I don’t think discussing debt connects with people who are unemployed or marginally employed. I think they want a good-paying job, and debt is almost an academic abstraction.

Rhode Island's Economy Is In All Kinds Of Trouble

When it comes to state economies, bigger is not necessarily better — cf. California.
But the nation's smallest state remains stuck in reverse while the rest of the country slowly regains its footing.
Pick any survey or economic indicator, and Rhode Island is at the bottom.
Here's unemployment (and improvement, or lack thereof, since the recession), via Calculated Risk's Bill McBride:
The state was also the only one to register rising unemployment last month.
They also scored dead last in CNBC's survey of states' business climates, third-to-last in Forbes' and fifth-worst in the Tax Foundation's.
Companies who've recently laid off workers there include Blue Cross/Blue Shield, Hasbro — and, last February, every teacher in Providence.
We asked to two Rhode Island economists why such a small state could have such massive problems, and they were unanimous in their response: the state has the same problems as other former industrial powerhouse states, but lacks the Rust Belt glamour and urgency to have done anything about it.
"It's not a recent problem," he said. "It has a history that goes back to the 1990s, when the U.S. economy moved away from a traditional economy," to a knowledge-based one. "With that, you had to change the way you organized your economy, a more flexible system to take advantage of innovation.

Everyone Is Ignoring A Sign Of US Economic Decline We Haven't Seen In 60 Years

UBS economist Drew Matus was on Bloomberg TV with Tom Keene this morning discussing the U.S. economy – and one rarely-discussed trend in particular that is somewhat alarming.
Matus told Bloomberg TV that the decline of the U.S. capital stock is a bad sign:
I would say that one of the things that people have generally ignored is that the U.S. capital stock is in decline. This is the first time post-war we've ever seen it. We don't know what the repercussions are because we have nothing in history to look back on and say, "Hey, last time it did this, this is what followed on it."
I would submit to you, though, that it's probably nothing good.
The capital stock Matus is referring to is American companies' investments in new equipment and software – one of the four main components in GDP – less the depreciation of existing equipment.
The implication of a drop in the capital stock is that potential growth is much lower than it could be if businesses were investing more in new capital. As a result, economy-wide return on assets can be expected to be much lower, UBS economist Sam Coffin told Business Insider.

Federal court blocks Texas voter ID law

A federal court on Thursday blocked a Texas law that would require voters to show photo identification before casting ballots, saying the measure would likely curtail the ability of minorities to vote in the November 6 presidential election.
Evidence showed the law did the most harm to African Americans and Hispanics, who are more likely to live in poverty, Circuit Judge David Tatel wrote for a three-judge panel of the U.S. District Court in Washington.
Those without the underlying documents to obtain ID would have to purchase them, discouraging poor voters, he wrote. During the July trial, lawyers from the U.S. Department of Justice equated that purchase to an illegal poll tax.
Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, a Republican, said he would appeal the decision directly to the U.S. Supreme Court.
"Today's decision is wrong on the law and improperly prevents Texas from implementing the same type of ballot integrity safeguards that are employed by Georgia and Indiana, and were upheld by the Supreme Court," he said.
Texas had the legal burden to prove its requirement did not harm minority voters. Judge Tatel's opinion called all the state's evidence "unpersuasive, invalid, or both."
The requirement was adopted in 2011 by the Republican-dominated Texas legislature. Voters would have had to present one of six forms of photo ID before casting their ballots.

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Liberals and These Government Schools

I cannot tell you how thrilled I am about all these proggie websites picking up on my comments about government schools.  Boy do they have their knickers in a knot … especially when I say that government education is one of the primary reasons why a person like Barack Obama could end up in the White House.
For some reason the progs are just beside themselves over the fact that I refer to our wonderful “public” schools as “government schools”  Let’s go through a checklist:
  • Government own facilities?  CHECK
  • Government employees?   CHECK
  • Government administrators?  CHECK
  • Government mandated curriculum?  CHECK
  • Political control?  CHECK
  • Government mandated attendance?  CHECK
What’s the problem here?  Why are they NOT accurately defined as government schools?
What are these proggies really upset about?  Well, we are dealing with people who believe that America’s greatness comes from government.  Attacking government schools by calling them exactly what they are – government schools – is somehow a derogatory mockery of a system that they believe to be superior and unfailing.  It’s not entirely their faults … many of them probably went to government schools themselves and were indoctrinated for years to know and love government.  We are also dealing with people who do not understand, and therefore do not value, the concept of capitalism and competition.  Proggies love the government because they do not need to be personally responsible for the decisions that they make.  Government schools allows them to blame the system for their failures, rather than looking in the mirror when the only job they are qualified to do is ask “Would you like French fries with that?”
School choice represents the crack in that Educational Berlin Wall, erected by Democrats and protected by the teachers unions, which is built to keep students from escaping.
Toss this into your bag-of-tricks when discussing school choice, vouchers or private education with your liberal friends: A paper released by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that children enrolled in charter schools enjoy lower truancy rates and higher test scores than their peers.

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Obama Has Stolen $5.3 Trillion From Our Children In Order To Make Himself Look Good

Barack Obama has destroyed the future of America in order to improve his chances of winning the next election.  Under Obama, 5.3 trillion dollars has been ruthlessly stolen from our children and our grandchildren.  That money has been used to pump up the debt-fueled false prosperity that we have been experiencing.  When the U.S. government borrows money that it does not have from someone else (such as China) and spends that money into the economy it is going to make our economic numbers look better.  Even if the government spends that money on incredibly stupid things, it still gets into the hands of average Americans who in turn spend that money on food, gas, clothes, etc.  If we were to go back and take that extra 5.3 trillion dollars out of the U.S. economy, I guarantee you that we would be in a rip-roaring depression right now.  We would look a lot like Greece at this point.  For several years Greece has been raising taxes and cutting government spending in an attempt to balance the budget and these austerity measures have resulted in an unemployment rate of over 23 percent and an economy that has contracted by close to 25 percent.  Most Americans don't want to go through pain like that so they are okay with continuing to financially rape our children and our grandchildren.  Just imagine how you would feel if your parents died tomorrow and you found out that they had left you with a million dollar debt that you were legally obligated to pay off.  How would you feel, knowing that you had just been sold into debt slavery for the rest of your life?  Well, that is how our children and our grandchildren are going to feel.  We are destroying the greatest economic machine the world has ever seen, we are accumulating the biggest mountain of debt in the history of the planet, and the coming economic collapse that we have caused is going to wipe out the promising future that our children and our grandchildren were supposed to have.  If they get the chance, future generations of Americans will curse us bitterly and will spit on our graves.  What we are doing to our children and our grandchildren is the kind of stuff that horror movies are made of.  You should be ashamed of yourself America.

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Socialized Medicine Is Enough To Chase Away British Doctors

Britain is suffering from an exodus of doctors. If America doesn't want physician flight in its future, voters will have to turn President Obama out of office this fall so that repeal of ObamaCare can be possible.
Last week, the Financial Times reported that its own research revealed that the British "National Health Service is suffering a 'brain drain' of doctors as more medics trained at taxpayers' expense choose to pursue their careers overseas."
More than 8,000 doctors have left since 2008, said the Financial Times. And it's not Britain's problem alone. Nearly 10% of Canadian-trained doctors end up in the U.S.
Several factors were mentioned for the losses in Britain. Among them are "improved lifestyle and better weather ... higher pay, shorter hours and superior arrangements for professional study."
Yet it's obvious that Britain's socialized medicine is one of the chief reasons doctors are leaving, if not the top reason. The Financial Times reports that physicians have complained of "extensive 'goodwill hours' and coming in on days off." Younger doctors also "feel abused by the long hours" they put in.

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Child Porn, Coke Smuggling: Hundreds of DHS Employees Arrested Last Year

Border Patrol agents smuggling weed and coke. Immigration agents forging documents and robbing drug dealers. TSA employees caught with child porn. Those are just a few of the crimes perpetrated by Department of Homeland Security employees in just the past year.
Since the creation of the Department of Homeland Security nearly a decade ago, the agency’s inspector general has been tasked with uncovering corruption, waste and criminality within its own ranks. The IG has had his hands full.
According to a newly released DHS inspector general’s summary of its significant investigations, 318 DHS employees and contractors were arrested in 2011 (.pdf). That’s about one arrest per weekday of the men and women who are supposed to be keeping the country safe. The report lets us not only see how corrupt some agents tasked with protecting the homeland can be, it also gives us a scale of the problem. In short: There are a lot of dirty immigration and border officers.
That might send the wrong impression. DHS is a massive agency of more than 225,000 employees. Within DHS, sub-agency Customs and Border Protection has more than doubled in recent years to nearly 59,000 employees. Maybe it’s not so surprising an organization of that size has a few bad apples. There’s also some good news. The number of arrests is going down: there were 519 arrests in 2010, compared to the 318 last year. Still, within that number includes some serious crimes.

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Eurozone Retail Sales Decline 15th Month, Plunge Led by Italy, France; German Sales Contract Slightly

Once again there is grim data from Europe. The safe thing to do is expect grim data every time European data is reported. Except for an occasional outlier, you will not be too far off.

Eurozone Retail Sales Decline 15th Month

Markit Reports Eurozone retail downturn deepens in August

Key points:

  • Revenue contraction extends to tenth month
  • German sales flat; sharper falls in France and Italy
  • Inflationary pressures build up

Retail sales in the Eurozone continued to fall sharply on an annual basis in August. The rate of contraction accelerated to the fastest since May, and extended the current sequence of continuous decline to 15 months. This was despite a further year-on-year increase in Germany, and reflected substantial declines in both France and Italy.

Obama Team in Pre-emptive Strike Before Ryan Speech

Even before Paul Ryan takes the stage at the Republican convention, President Barack Obama's campaign is seeking to cast the GOP running mate as "out of step" with American voters.
The Obama campaign released an online video Wednesday targeting Ryan as a politician from a "bygone era." The video criticizes Ryan for being the architect of a budget that would overhaul Medicare and for seeking to defund Planned Parenthood.
Ryan, the Wisconsin congressman, is due to address the GOP convention Wednesday night. Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney will speak to delegates in Tampa, Fla., and a prime-time audience across the country, on Thursday.
Ryan is considered a hero of conservatives. His addition to the Republican ticket has energized voters and even Romney himself. The buttoned-up GOP presidential nominee often appears more at ease when campaigning alongside the youthful Ryan.
Obama is traveling Wednesday to Charlottesville, Va., the last stop on his two-day trip to counter the GOP convention message and to appeal to younger voters in college towns.
Both parties were pushing forward with their political plans while closely monitoring Hurricane Isaac, which arrived in Louisiana late Tuesday. Republicans had largely canceled the first day of their convention as Isaac appeared bound for Tampa. White House officials said they were monitoring the storm but, as of early Wednesday, had no plans to adjust the president's travel plans.
Obama on Tuesday made stops at Iowa State University and Colorado State University, where he reminded students returning to class that they hold a unique power to determine the election.

The Editor on how President Obama has spent almost a year of his time

Editor: Samuel E Burns

Theses are not all of the events, vacations and other gala events that our president has been to since taking office in 2009. He has been very busy doing everything but the business of the country. Just with the events listed above, this covers almost a year in time. I could not get a complete figure on the cost to the taxpayers. Can we stand another 4 years of this kind of leadership or lack there of.


Obama Plays Golf for the 100th Time of his Presidency
June 17, 2012
President Obama rolled out of his Kenwood, Chicago home Sunday morning and headed to out to play his 100th round of golf since becoming president.

Obama Has Attended, On Average, One Fundraiser Every 60 Hours While Running for Reelection

This weekend, President Obama attended the 200th fundraiser of his reelection campaign. By the end of Sunday, the president had reached 203 fundraisers since officially launching his re-election bid in April 2011. That's more fundraisers than any presidential candidate in history.

Performances at the White House

President Obama has hosted 10 musical performances at the White House since taking office.

2009 Nobel Peace Prize

The 2009 Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to U.S. President Barack Obama "for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples"

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