Thursday, October 29, 2009

Though the credit bureaus must give you free annual reports, their important numbers will cost you. Now 3 sites offer free peeks at those scores, but how helpful are they?


If you're curious about your credit scores, you might have tried one of the plethora of Web sites and services that offer some free credit information, then lure you into paying for your scores, usually as part of a credit-monitoring package.
Weird stuff that hurts your credit


Consumers are entitled by law to free credit reports-- which are simply records of your borrowing and repayment history -- but the numerical scores derived from those reports will cost you, in part because credit-reporting agencies aren't required by law to provide them for free to consumers along with the reports.


Now a handful of company Web sites give consumers at least free glimpses at their credit scores. The sites -- Credit.com, Credit Karma and Quizzle -- offer a window into the key factors that go into calculating your scores, what you can do to improve them and how your credit stacks up against other people's. Last week, for example, Credit.com launched free credit report cards that show consumers how they're likely to rate across five credit-scoring models.


All three sites, which have ties to the credit industry, aim to make money through advertising or through fees if users sign up for products offered on the site, such as credit-monitoring services, credit cards or mortgages.

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Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Obama Signs Credit Card Reform Bill

President Barack Obama warned overeager shoppers and greedy credit card companies alike on Friday to act responsibly as he signed into law a bill designed to protect debt-ridden consumers from surprise charges.

The White House staged a signing ceremony in the Rose Garden, an indication of the legislation's importance to Obama. Though opposed by many financial companies, the bill cleared Congress with broad support.

Obama made clear that he didn't champion the changes with the intention of helping those who buy more than they can afford through "reckless spending or wishful thinking."

"Some get in over their heads by not using their heads," the president said. "I want to be clear: We do not excuse or condone folks who've acted irresponsibly."

And yet, he said, for many of the millions of Americans who use credit cards and carry a balance, trying to get out of debt has been made difficult and bewildering by their credit card companies.

Obama said many "got trapped" because of the downturn in the economy that has turned family budgets on their heads. But, he said, "part of it is the practices of the credit card companies."

He criticized policies that allowed for confusing fine print; the sudden appearance of unexplained fees on bills; unannounced shifts in payment deadlines, interest charges or rate increases even when payments aren't late; and payments directed to balances with the lowest interest rates rather than the highest.

"We're here to put a change to all that," Obama said.

One part of the bill Obama did not publicly celebrate at the signing, a gun amendment. The measure by Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., allows people to bring loaded
guns into national parks and wildlife refuges.

The addition of the amendment to the bill — and Obama's acceptance of it — was viewed as a bitter disappointment for gun-control advocates.

They watched gun-rights supporters gain a victory from a Democratic-controlled Congress and a Democratic president that they couldn't achieve under a Republican Congress and president. Many blamed the National Rifle Association, which pushed hard for the gun law.

The new credit card rules, which go into effect in nine months, prohibit companies from giving cards to people under 21 unless they can prove they have the means to pay the debt or a parent or guardian co-signs. A customer also will have to be more than 60 days behind on a payment before seeing a rate increase on an existing balance. Even then, the lender will be required to restore the previous, lower rate if the cardholder pays the minimum balance on time for six months.

And consumers also will have to receive 45 days' notice and an explanation before their interest rates increase.

Last year, the Nilson Report estimated that more than 700 million credit cards were in circulation in the United States. That's more than two cards for every man, woman and child.

The president noted that nearly half of all Americans carry a balance on their credit cards, and that their average balance is more than $7,000. According to the Federal Reserve, the nation is some $2.5 trillion in debt, a figure that does not include home mortgages.

Obama decried the "uneasy, unstable dependence" that a minority of card users have on credit.

"So we're not going to give people a free pass, and we expect consumers to live within their means and pay what they owe," Obama said. "But we also expect financial institutions to act with the same sense of responsibility that the American people aspire to in their own lives."

Good move!!!


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Monday, March 30, 2009

President Obama’s Remarks on the U.S. Auto Industry

Editor’s note: This morning President Obama delivered a speech on the U.S. auto industry covering events of this past weekend and recapping much of the news from the last several months. What follows are the remarks as prepared for the President and circulated ahead of time by the White House Press Office. The actual speech varied somewhat from the prepared remarks, but what follows contains the substance. We highlighted one section for added emphasis since it makes reference to a new initiative for moving more new vehicles.


Remarks of President Barack Obama

Announcement on the Auto Industry



One of the challenges we have confronted from the beginning of this administration is what to do about the state of our struggling auto industry. In recent months, my Auto Task Force has been reviewing requests by General Motors and Chrysler for additional government assistance as well as plans developed by each of these companies to restructure, modernize, and make themselves more competitive. Our evaluation is now complete. But before I lay out what needs to be done going forward, I want to say a few words about where we are, and what led us to this point.


It will come as a surprise to no one that some of the Americans who have suffered most during this recession have been those in the auto industry and those working for companies that support it. Over the past year, our auto industry has shed over 400,000 jobs, not only at the plants that produce cars but at the businesses that produce the parts that go into them, and the dealers that sell and repair them. More than one in ten Michigan residents is out of work – the most of any state. And towns and cities across the great Midwest have watched unemployment climb higher than it’s been in decades.


The pain being felt in places that rely on our auto industry is not the fault of our workers, who labor tirelessly and desperately want to see their companies succeed. And it is not the fault of all the families and communities that supported manufacturing plants throughout the generations. Rather, it is a failure of leadership – from Washington to Detroit – that led our auto companies to this point.


Year after year, decade after decade, we have seen problems papered-over and tough choices kicked down the road, even as foreign competitors outpaced us. Well, we have reached the end of that road. And we, as a nation, cannot afford to shirk responsibility any longer. Now is the time to confront our problems head-on and do what’s necessary to solve them.


We cannot, we must not, and we will not let our auto industry simply vanish. This industry is, like no other, an emblem of the American spirit; a once and future symbol of America’s success. It is what helped build the middle class and sustained it throughout the 20th century. It is a source of deep pride for the generations of American workers whose hard work and imagination led to some of the finest cars the world has ever known. It is a pillar of our economy that has held up the dreams of millions of our people. But we also cannot continue to excuse poor decisions. And we cannot make the survival of our auto industry dependent on an unending flow of tax dollars. These companies – and this industry – must ultimately stand on their own, not as wards of the state.


That is why the federal government provided General Motors and Chrysler with emergency loans to prevent their sudden collapse at the end of last year – only on the condition that they would develop plans to restructure. In keeping with that agreement, each company has submitted a plan to restructure. But after careful analysis, we have determined that neither goes far enough to warrant the substantial new investments that these companies are requesting. And so today, I am announcing that my administration will offer GM and Chrysler a limited period of time to work with creditors, unions, and other stakeholders to fundamentally restructure in a way that would justify an investment of additional tax dollars; a period during which they must produce plans that would give the American people confidence in their long-term prospects for success.


What we are asking is difficult. It will require hard choices by companies. It will require unions and workers who have already made painful concessions to make even more. It will require creditors to recognize that they cannot hold out for the prospect of endless government bailouts. Only then can we ask American taxpayers who have already put up so much of their hard-earned money to once more invest in a revitalized auto industry. But I am confident that if we are each willing to do our part, then this restructuring, as painful as it will be in the short-term, will mark not an end, but a new beginning for a great American industry; an auto industry that is once more out-competing the world; a 21st century auto industry that is creating new jobs, unleashing new prosperity, and manufacturing the fuel-efficient cars and trucks that will carry us toward an energy independent future. I am absolutely committed to working with Congress and the auto companies to meet one goal: the United States of America will lead the world in building the next generation of clean cars.


No one can deny that our auto industry has made meaningful progress in recent years. Some of the cars made by American workers are now outperforming the best cars made abroad. In 2008, the North American Car of the Year was a GM. This year, Buick tied for first place as the most reliable car in the world. And our companies are investing in breakthrough technologies that hold the promise of new vehicles that will help America end its addiction to foreign oil.


But our auto industry is not moving in the right direction fast enough to succeed. So let me discuss what measures need to be taken by each of the auto companies requesting taxpayer assistance, starting with General Motors. While GM has made a good faith effort to restructure over the past several months, the plan they have put forward is, in its current form, not strong enough. However, after broad consultations with a range of industry experts and financial advisors, I’m confident that GM can rise again, provided that it undergoes a fundamental restructuring. As an initial step, GM is announcing today that Rick Wagoner is stepping aside as Chairman and CEO. This is not meant as a condemnation of Mr. Wagoner, who has devoted his life to this company; rather, it’s a recognition that it will take a new vision and new direction to create the GM of the future.


In this context, my administration will offer General Motors adequate working capital over the next 60 days. During this time, my team will be working closely with GM to produce a better business plan. They must ask themselves: have they consolidated enough unprofitable brands? Have they cleaned up their balance sheets or are they still saddled with so much debt that they can’t make future investments? And above all, have they created a credible model for how to not only survive, but succeed in this competitive global market? Let me be clear: the United States government has no interest or intention of running GM. What we are interested in is giving GM an opportunity to finally make those much-needed changes that will let them emerge from this crisis a stronger and more competitive company.


The situation at Chrysler is more challenging. It is with deep reluctance but also a clear-eyed recognition of the facts that we have determined, after a careful review, that Chrysler needs a partner to remain viable. Recently, Chrysler reached out and found what could be a potential partner – the international car company Fiat, where the current management team has executed an impressive turnaround. Fiat is prepared to transfer its cutting-edge technology to Chrysler and, after working closely with my team, has committed to building new fuel-efficient cars and engines here in America. We have also secured an agreement that will ensure that Chrysler repays taxpayers for any new investments that are made before Fiat is allowed to take a majority ownership stake in Chrysler.


Still, such a deal would require an additional investment of tax dollars, and there are a number of hurdles that must be overcome to make it work. I am committed to doing all I can to see if a deal can be struck in a way that upholds the interests of American taxpayers. That is why we will give Chrysler and Fiat 30 days to overcome these hurdles and reach a final agreement – and we will provide Chrysler with adequate capital to continue operating during that time. If they are able to come to a sound agreement that protects American taxpayers, we will consider lending up to $6 billion to help their plan succeed. But if they and their stakeholders are unable to reach such an agreement, and in the absence of any other viable partnership, we will not be able to justify investing additional tax dollar to keep Chrysler in business.


While Chrysler and GM are very different companies with very different paths forward, both need a fresh start to implement the restructuring plans they develop. That may mean using our bankruptcy code as a mechanism to help them restructure quickly and emerge stronger. Now, I know that when people even hear the word “bankruptcy” it can be a bit unsettling, so let me explain what I mean. What I am talking about is using our existing legal structure as a tool that, with the backing of the U.S. government, can make it easier for General Motors and Chrysler to quickly clear away old debts that are weighing them down so they can get back on their feet and onto a path to success; a tool that we can use, even as workers are staying on the job building cars that are being sold. What I am not talking about is a process where a company is broken up, sold off, and no longer exists. And what I am not talking about is having a company stuck in court for years, unable to get out.


It is my hope that the steps I am announcing today will go a long way toward answering many of the questions people may have about the future of GM and Chrysler. But just in case there are still nagging doubts, let me say it as plainly as I can – if you buy a car from Chrysler or General Motors, you will be able to get your car serviced and repaired, just like always. Your warrantee will be safe. In fact, it will be safer than it’s ever been. Because starting today, the United States government will stand behind your warrantee.


But we must also recognize that the difficulties facing this industry are due in no small part to the weakness in our economy. Therefore, to support demand for auto sales during this period, I’m directing my team to take several steps. First, we will ensure that Recovery Act funds to purchase government cars go out as quickly as possible and work through the budget process to accelerate other federal fleet purchases as well. Second, we will accelerate our efforts through the Treasury Department’s Consumer and Business Lending Initiative. And we are working intensively with the auto finance companies to increase the flow of credit to both consumers and dealers. Third, the IRS is today launching a campaign to alert consumers of a new tax benefit for auto purchases made between February 16th and the end of this year – if you buy a car anytime this year, you may be able to deduct the cost of any sales and excise taxes. This provision could save families hundreds of dollars and lead to as many as 100,000 new car sales.


Finally, several members of Congress have proposed an even more ambitious incentive program to increase car sales while modernizing our auto fleet. Such fleet modernization programs, which provide a generous credit to consumers who turn in old, less fuel efficient cars and purchase cleaner cars have been successful in boosting auto sales in a number of European countries. I want to work with Congress to identify parts of the Recovery Act that could be trimmed to fund such a program, and make it retroactive starting today.


Let there be no doubt, it will take an unprecedented effort on all our parts – from the halls of Congress to the boardroom, from the union hall to the factory floor – to see the auto industry through these difficult times. But I want every American to know that the path I am laying out today is our best chance to make sure the cars of the future are built where they’ve always been built – in Detroit and across the Midwest; to make America’s auto industry in the 21st century what it was in the 20th century – unsurpassed around the world. This path has been chosen after consulting with other governments that are facing this crisis. We have worked closely with the Government of Canada on GM and Chrysler, as both companies have extensive operations there. The Canadian Government has indicated its support for our approach and will be announcing their specific commitments later today.


While the steps I am talking about will have an impact on all Americans, some of our fellow citizens will be affected more than any others. And so I’d like to speak directly to all those men and women who work in the auto industry or live in the countless communities that depend on it. Many of you have been going through tough times for longer than you’d care to remember. And I will not pretend the tough times are over. I cannot promise you there isn’t more pain to come. But what I can promise you is this – I will fight for you. You are the reason I am here today. I got my start fighting for working families in the shadows of a shuttered steel plant and I wake up every single day asking myself what I can do to give you and working people all across this country a fair shot at the American dream.


When a community is struck by a natural disaster, the nation responds to put it back on its feet. While the storm that’s hit our auto towns is not a tornado or a hurricane, the damage is clear, and we must respond. That is why today, I am designating a new Director of Recovery for Auto Communities and Workers to cut through red tape and ensure that the full resources of our federal government are leveraged to assist the workers, communities, and regions that rely on our auto industry. Edward Montgomery, a former Deputy Labor Secretary, has agreed to serve in this role. Together with Labor Secretary Solis and my Auto Task Force, Ed will help provide support to auto workers and their families, and open up opportunity in manufacturing communities. Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, and every other state that relies on the auto industry will have a strong advocate in Ed. He will direct a comprehensive effort that will help lift up the hardest hit areas by using the unprecedented levels of funding available in our Recovery Act and throughout our government to create new manufacturing jobs and new businesses where they are needed most – in your communities. And he will also lead an effort to identify new initiatives we may need to help support your communities going forward.


These efforts, as essential as they are, will not make everything better overnight. There are jobs that cannot be saved. There are plants that will not reopen. And there is little I can say that can subdue the anger or ease the frustration of all whose livelihoods hang in the balance because of failures that weren’t theirs.


But there is something I want everyone to remember. Remember that it is precisely in times like these – in moments of trial, and moments of hardship – that Americans rediscover the ingenuity and resilience that makes us who we are. That made the auto industry what it once was. That sent those first mass-produced cars rolling off assembly lines. That built an arsenal of democracy that propelled America to victory in the Second World War. And that powered our economic prowess in the first American century.


Because I know that if we can tap into that same ingenuity and resilience right now; if we can carry one another through this difficult time and do what must be done; then we will look back and say that this was the moment when America’s auto industry shed its old ways, marched into the future, and remade itself, once more, into an engine of opportunity and prosperity, not only in Detroit, and not only in our Midwest, but all across America.


What do you think? Comments?


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Monday, March 16, 2009

Obama Plans Small-Business Lending Boost

The Obama administration announced Monday that the 21 largest banks receiving government money must report monthly on how much lending they do to small businesses.

All other banks getting taxpayer help are being asked to report quarterly on small business loans. Even banks that are not taking government funds are being told by the administration to "make an extra effort" to increase small business lending.



The announcement was part of a broad package aimed at boosting the credit available to struggling small business owners that President Barack Obama and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner were unveiling in an East Room ceremony. The White House figures that making billions in federal loans available to small businesses was one way to address misgivings over the widely unpopular bailout program, which has sent hundreds of billions to large financial institutions like Bank of America Corp., Citigroup Inc. and JPMorgan Chase & Co. with few strings attached.

The rescue program has appeared to do little so far to loosen credit, the lifeblood of the American economy.

In brief comments Monday morning with Geithner before the official announcement, Obama called small businesses "one of the biggest drivers of employment that we have." He said he had pressed his economic team to specifically help owners of small businesses and get credit flowing to them again, and he called the newest initiatives only a first step.

The measures includes $730 million from the stimulus plan to immediately reduce small-business lending fees and to increase the government guarantee on some Small Business Administration loans to 90 percent. The government also is taking aggressive steps to boost bank liquidity with up to $15 billion aimed at unfreezing the secondary credit market.

Often primary bank lenders will seek to sell the SBA loans in the secondary market, allowing them to use the proceeds of the sale to make new loans to other small business owners, but skittish investors have been staying away. Under the administration's initiative, the government will step in to buy these loans to help unlock the frozen credit market, using money from the recently passed bailout package in the range of $10 billion to $20 billion, one official briefed on the plan said.

While the SBA typically guarantees $20 billion in loans annually, new lending this year is on track to fall below $10 billion, according to the administration.

The reporting requirements for financial institutions receiving government bailout funds are the first, the White House said.

The plan comes amid Republican efforts to cast doubt about Obama's ambitious budget, in particular the proposal to raise taxes, starting in 2011, on individuals earning more than $200,000 and on households earning more than $250,000. Those provisions also hit small businesses.

Geithner also ordered the Internal Revenue Service to issue a series of new rules for temporary but significant tax breaks, meaning that small businesses:

_That earn up to $15 million will be allowed to claim losses for the past five years in the current tax year;

_May write off up to $250,000 in investments this year.

_Can reduce estimated tax payments to 90 percent of the previous year's filing.

_Are allowed to take larger depreciation deductions within the first year of property purchases.

_And will see 75 percent of capital gains excluded for those who invest in small businesses.

What do you think? Comments?


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Monday, March 9, 2009

Obama Opens Up Stem Cell Work, Science Inquiries

By SETH BORENSTEIN and BEN FELLER


Obama ends funding ban for stem cell research


From tiny embryonic cells to the large-scale physics of global warming, President Barack Obama urged researchers on Monday to follow science and not ideology as he abolished contentious Bush-era restraints on stem-cell research. "Our government has forced what I believe is a false choice between sound science and moral values," Obama declared as he signed documents changing U.S. science policy and removing what some researchers have said were shackles on their work.


"It is about ensuring that scientific data is never distorted or concealed to serve a political agenda — and that we make scientific decisions based on facts, not ideology," Obama said.


Researchers said the new president's message was clear: Science, which once propelled men to the moon, again matters in American life.


Opponents saw it differently: a defeat for morality in the most basic questions of life and death.


"The action by the president today will, in effect, allow scientists to create their own guidelines without proper moral restraints," Family Research Council President Tony Perkins said.


In a crowded ornate East Room, there were more scientists in the White House than Alan Leshner, CEO of the American Association for the Advancement of Science had seen in his 30 years in Washington. "More happy scientists than I've seen," he added.


The most immediate effect will allow federally funded researchers to use hundreds of new embryonic stem cell lines for promising, but still long-range research in hopes of creating better treatments, possibly even cures, for conditions ranging from diabetes to paralysis. Until now, those researchers had to limit themselves to just 21 stem cell lines created before August 2001, when President George W. Bush limited funding because of "fundamental questions about the beginnings of life and the ends of science."


Science, politics and religion have long intertwined and conflicted with each other. In his actions Monday, especially with the stem cell decision, Obama is emphasizing more the science than the religion, when compared with his predecessor, science policy experts say. But they acknowledged politics is still involved.


Don't expect stem cell cures or treatments anytime soon. One company this summer will begin the world's first study of a treatment using human embryonic stem cells, in people who recently suffered spinal cord injuries. Research institutions on Monday were gearing up to ask for more freely flowing federal money, and the National Institutes of Health was creating guidelines on how to hand it out and include ethical constraints. It will be months before the stem cell money flows; the average NIH stem cell grant is $1.5 million spread out over four years.


Scientists focused on a new sense of freedom.



"I think patients everywhere will be cheering us on, imploring us to work faster, harder and with all of our ability to find new treatments," said Harvard Stem Cell Institute co-director Doug Melton, father of two children with Type I diabetes who could possibly be treated with stem cells. "On a personal level, it is an enormous relief and a time for celebration. ... Science thrives when there is an open and collaborative exchange, not when there are artificial barriers, silos, constructed by the government."


Opponents framed their opposition mostly, but not exclusively, on moral grounds and the scientifically contested claims that adult stem cells work just as well.


Said Wendy Wright, president of Concerned Women for America: "President Obama's order places the worst kind of politics above ethics. Politics driven by hype makes overblown promises, fuels the desperation of the suffering and financially benefits those seeking to strip morality from science."


In Congress, Reps. Diana DeGette, D-Colo., and Mike Castle, R-Del., said they would seek a quick vote on legislation to codify Obama's order in federal law, after failing twice in the past to overturn Bush's restrictions. DeGette said she doesn't want stem cell research to become "a pingpong ball going back and forth between administrations."


But Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., chairman of the Republican study committee, said the president's new policy would "force taxpayers to subsidize research that will destroy human embryos." De Gette and Castle said their legislation tries to minimize destruction of embryos.


Stem cells are typically derived from fertility clinic surplus, destined for destruction.


Obama also said the stem cell policy is designed so that it "never opens the door to the use of cloning for human reproduction." Such cloning, he said, "is dangerous, profoundly wrong, and has no place in our society or any society."


In addition to the stem cell order, Obama issued a memo designed to ensure openness about scientific research and give whistleblower protection to scientists.


Promoting science "is about letting scientists like those here today do their jobs, free from manipulation or coercion, and listening to what they tell us, even when it's inconvenient — especially when it's inconvenient," Obama said.


Science and politics often conflict, said Granger Morgan, professor of engineering and public policy at Carnegie Mellon University and a former science advisory board chairman for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency — perhaps illustrated no more wildly than in 1897 when the Indiana legislature attempted to change the mathematical concept of pi to 3.2. Science should provide the facts that politicians use for their decisions, Morgan and Leshner said.


Many scientists and environmental activists complained that the Bush administration had censored and marginalized science. That's a perception that Bush science adviser John Marburger repeatedly called untrue and unfair, as he addressed a series of occurrences that troubled critics.


In 2006, the White House edited out congressional testimony about public health effects of global warming by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Julie Gerberding. A 2003 EPA global warming document was edited by nonscientists at the White House. A NASA political appointee tried — and failed — to silence the agency's top climate scientist.


Former Surgeon General Richard Carmona resigned in 2006, complaining about White House interference on global health issues: "The problem with this approach is that in public health, as in democracy, there is nothing worse than ignoring science or marginalizing the voice of science for reasons driven by changing political winds."


Obama advisers contend that all has changed. The government has already put on hold rules about scientific input on endangered species, reinstating advice that had been excised during the Bush administration.


Public policy must "be guided by sound scientific advice," said Dr. Harold Varmus, the Nobel Prize-winning co-chairman of the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology. The new memo Obama signed is "mainly a way of trying to prevent tampering with any advice," Varmus told MSNBC.


What do you think? Comments?


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Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Obama Vows: "U.S. Will Emerge Stronger!"

President Delivers Prime-Time Speech Before Congress

Historic speech.

By JENNIFER LOVEN, AP

President Barack Obama promised a nation shuddering in economic crisis Tuesday night that he would lead it from a dire "day of reckoning" to a brighter future, summoning politicians and public alike to shoulder responsibility for hard choices and shared sacrifice. "The time to take charge of our future is here," Obama declared, delivering his first address to a joint session of Congress.

Offering words of reassurance to an anxious nation, he declared, "Tonight I want every American to know this: We will rebuild, we will recover, and the United States of America will emerge stronger than before."

"We are a nation that has seen promise and peril," he said. "Now we must be that nation again."

Cheered robustly as he entered the House chamber, Obama grinned, shook hands and kissed lawmakers and stopped for a lengthy embrace with Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, back on the bench only this week after surgery for pancreatic cancer.
To deal with the current crisis, deepening each day, the president said more money will be needed to rescue troubled banks beyond the $700 billion already committed last year.

He said he knows that bailout billions for banks are unpopular — "I promise you, I get it," he said — but he also insisted that was the only way to get credit moving again to households and businesses, the lifeblood of the American economy.

Along with aid for banks, he also called on Congress to move quickly on legislation to overhaul outdated regulations on the nation's financial markets.

"I ask this Congress to join me in doing whatever proves necessary," Obama said. "Because we cannot consign our nation to an open-ended recession."

Thinking longer-term, Obama said in a speech lacking many specifics and devoid of initiatives that both political parties must give up favored programs while uniting behind his campaign promises to build better schools, expand health care coverage and move the nation to "greener" fuel use.

Just five weeks after his inauguration, Obama addressed an ebullient Democratic congressional majority and an embattled but reinvigorated GOP minority as well as millions of anxious viewers.

Despite the nation's economic worries and the lack of support for his plans from all but a few Republican lawmakers, Obama enjoys strong approval ratings across the nation.

Louisiana's young, charismatic governor, Bobby Jindal, delivering the televised GOP response, exhorted fellow Republicans to be Obama's "strongest partners" when they agree with him. But he signaled that won't happen much, calling Democrats in Congress "irresponsible" for passing the $787 billion stimulus package that Republicans have criticized as excessive and wasteful.

"The way to lead is not to raise taxes and put more money and power in hands of Washington politicians," Jindal said, according to excerpts of his remarks released by the Republican Party. "Who among us would ask our children for a loan, so we could spend money we do not have, on things we do not need?"

Jindal is considered a likely presidential contender in 2012.

Obama spoke as bad economic news continued to pile up, felt all too keenly in U.S. homes and businesses. Some 3.6 million jobs have disappeared so far in the deepening recession, which now ranks as the biggest job destroyer in the post-World War II period.

Americans have lost trillions of dollars in retirement, college and savings accounts, with the stock market falling nearly half from its peak of 16 months ago.
And new polls — some with his public support rising and others with it dropping — show that the political climate can be as precarious as the economic one.

Aware that his and his party's fortunes will suffer if he cannot right the economic picture, Obama sought to blend the kind of grim honesty that has become his trademark since taking office with a greater emphasis on optimism.

"The weight of this crisis will not determine the destiny of this nation," he said.

The central argument of his speech was that his still-unfolding economic revival plan has room for — and even demands — simultaneous action on a broad, expensive agenda including helping the millions without health insurance, improving education and switching the U.S. to greater dependence on alternative energy sources.

This is the big lift of his young presidency: bringing the public behind what are sure to be enormous outlays on contentious issues.

His hope was to begin to persuade the country that those longer-term items on his presidential agenda are as important to the nation's economic well-being as unchoking credit and turning around unemployment numbers.

"The only way this century will be another American century is if we confront at last the price of our dependence on oil and the high cost of health care, the schools that aren't preparing our children and the mountain of debt they stand to inherit," Obama said. "That is our responsibility."

He urged lawmakers to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases that cause climate change by creating a cap-and-trade system of limits and pollution allowances, especially for industries such as utilities with coal burning power plants.

And he said the budget he is sending to Congress on Thursday will call for $15 billion a year in federal spending to spur development of environmentally friendly but so far cost-ineffective energy sources such as wind and solar, biofuels, clean coal and more fuel-efficient vehicles.

He said his budget request also will create new incentives for teacher performance and support for innovative education programs. He asked every American to commit to completing a year or more of higher education or career training.

New in office, he wasn't charged with producing a formal State of the Union status report. But for all intents and purposes, that's what it was: a night for the president to sketch out his priorities in a setting unmatched the rest of the year.

It took nearly 15 minutes for him to make his way through a House chamber packed with lawmakers eager to welcome the nation's first black president into a Capitol built by slaves. The gallery included a special section hosted by first lady Michelle Obama in which guests were selected to serve as living symbols of the president's goals.

Cramming the floor was virtually the entire leadership of the federal government, including Supreme Court justices and all but one Cabinet member, held away in case disaster struck.

Pre-speech, Wall Street was in a better mood than it had been in for days: Stocks were up after Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said the recession might end this year.

In contrast to many State of the Union addresses by George W. Bush, Obama did not emphasize foreign policy. He touched on his intention to chart new strategies in Iraq and Afghanistan and to forge a new image for the U.S. around the world even as he keeps up the fight against terrorism.

With the economy dominant, Obama said the mess was one he inherited. "We have lived through an era where too often, short-term gains were prized over long-term prosperity, where we failed to look beyond the next payment, the next quarter or the next election," he said.

He aimed to show he was tackling the situation with both urgency and strict oversight for how the staggering sums are being spent. The massive stimulus plan, an overhaul of the separate $700 billion bailout for the financial sector, and a $275 billion rescue for struggling homeowners are already in place, and more is on the way, Obama said.

Even as Washington pours money into the economic recovery, Obama said the budget deficit, at $1.3 trillion and ballooning, must be brought under control.

He promised he would slash it by half by the end of his term in 2013, mostly by ending U.S. combat in Iraq and eliminating some of Bush's tax cuts for the wealthy.

He said his budget officials have identified a total of $2 trillion in savings over the next 10 years, also including ending education programs "that don't work" and payments to large agribusinesses "that don't need them," eliminating wasteful no-bid contracts in Iraq and spending on weapons systems no longer needed in the post-Cold War era, and rooting out waste in Medicare.

"Everyone in this chamber, Democrats and Republicans, will have to sacrifice some worthy priorities for which there are no dollars," he said. "And that includes me."
He touted his decision to end the practice of leaving Iraq and Afghanistan war spending out of the main budget. "For seven years, we have been a nation at war. No longer will we hide its price," Obama said.


What do you think? Comments?


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Saturday, February 14, 2009

Congress Trumps Obama - Cuffs CEO Bonuses

Stimulus restricts compensation, erases massive Wall Street pay packages

The stimulus package Congress passed last night imposes new limits on executive compensation that could significantly curb multimillion dollar pay packages on Wall Street and goes much further than restrictions proposed by the Obama administration last week.

The bill, which President Obama is expected to sign into law next week, limits bonuses for executives at all financial institutions receiving government funds to no more than a third of their annual compensation. The bonuses must be paid in company stock that can be redeemed only when the government investment has been repaid. With the measure, lawmakers seek to address public outrage over extravagant Wall Street paydays even as taxpayers bail out the industry.


Obama: Stimulus is a 'historic step'

Unlike the rules issued by the White House, the limits in the stimulus bill would apply to top executives and the highest-paid employees at all 359 banks that have already received government aid.

"This is a big deal. This is a problem," said Scott Talbott, chief lobbyist for the nation's largest financial services firms. "It undermines the current incentive structure."

Talbott said banking executives expected certain restrictions would be applied to them but are concerned that some of the most highly paid employees, such as top traders, who bring in hefty sums for the company, would flee to hedge funds or foreign banks that have not accepted U.S. government funds.

The White House restrictions capped executive pay at $500,000 and allowed companies to award unlimited stock. Those rules applied only to institutions that receive government funds in the future and under limited circumstances.

Significant impact seen

Bonuses make up much of financial executives' take-home pay, so the new rules could significantly diminish their compensation. For example, Goldman Sachs chief executive Lloyd Blankfein made $68.5 million in 2007 -- a Wall Street record -- but $67.9 million of that was in bonus and other incentive pay that analysts said would be subject to the new rules.

Citigroup's top executive, Vikram Pandit, has voluntarily agreed to a $1 salary until his company returns to profitability. In theory, this means that Pandit would be allowed an annual bonus of pennies.

Critics of excessive executive pay assert that companies have always found ways around compensation rules. Yesterday, they noted that more stringent measures -- such as a $400,000 cap on all forms of compensation -- did not survive last-minute wrangling by House and Senate leaders on the final compromise stimulus bill. To offset the new rules, inserted by Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.), compensation boards could just significantly raise the base salary of executives, the critics said.

"Congress missed a huge opportunity to set a strict and measurable limit on executive pay," said Sarah Anderson, a director at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington. "I'm afraid companies will find ways to shift compensation to other pots and continue to make massive payouts that have so outraged the American people."

But several compensation experts said that is unlikely, given the glaring spotlight on an issue that is not expected to go away anytime soon. Excessive compensation has received increasing scrutiny as the pay gap between executives and average workers widened in recent years. Public furor reached a boiling point with news that billions of dollars in bonuses were paid to Wall Street employees last year even as the banks took billions in taxpayer bailout money.

What do you think? Comments?


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Friday, February 6, 2009

Deal on Economic Stimulus Bill — Cut to $780 Billion

With job losses soaring nationwide, Senate Democrats reached agreement with key Republicans Friday night on an economic stimulus measure at the heart of President Barack Obama's plan for reviving the economy.

"The American people want us to work together. They don't want to see us dividing along partisan lines on the most serious crisis confronting our country," said Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, one of two GOP senators who signaled support for the bill.

Officials put the cost of the measure at $780 billion in tax cuts and new spending combined. No details were immediately available, and there appeared to be some confusion among senators about the price tag.

The agreement capped a tense day of backroom negotiations in which Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, joined by White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, sought to attract the support of enough Republicans to give the measure the needed 60-vote majority.

In addition to Collins, Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., said he would vote for the bill.

Officials said Sen. Edward M. Kennedy's vote would probably be needed for passage, too. The Massachusetts Democrat, battling a brain tumor, has been in Florida in recent days and has not been in the Capitol since suffering a seizure on Inauguration Day more than two weeks ago. The senator's office did not comment.

At $780 billion, the legislation would be smaller than the measure that cleared the House on a party-line vote last week. It also would mean a sharp cut from the bill that has been the subject of Senate debate for a week. That measure stood at $937 billion.

Beyond the numbers, though, any agreement would mark a victory for the new president and would keep Democratic leaders on track to fulfill their promise of delivering him a bill to sign by the end of next week.


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Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Obama Officials Tell Citibank To Ditch Plans For $50 Million Private Jet



According to a report from ABC News, President Obama is not taking kindly to corporate greed, especially when it's funded by taxpayer money.

The high-flying execs at Citigroup caved under pressure from President Obama and decided today to abandon plans for a luxurious new $50 million corporate jet from France...

ABC News has learned that Monday officials of the Obama administration called Citigroup about the company's new $50 million corporate jet and told execs to "fix it."



On Monday, the news broke that bailed out bank was going through with its $50 million private jet purchase even though it had recieved $45 billion in government funds:

The New York Post's Jennifer Keil and Chuck Bennett reported in Monday's paper that Citigroup, which has received $45 billion in government bailout funds, is about to upgrade to a new $50 million, twelve-seat corporate jet.

The plane, the Dassault Falcon 7X, is a luxurious jet with a range of 5,950 nautical miles (meaning it can fly from New York to all of Europe and South America, as far east as Riyadh, and as far west as Honolulu or Petropavlovsk, Russia). The Post reports it has "plush interior with leather seats, sofas and a customizable entertainment center."


Nice huh?


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Al-Arabiya's Game Changing Interview with Barack Obama: A New Punctuation Point in US Foreign Policy

Warch the interview here:

Hisham Melhem, Washington Bureau Chief for Al Arabiya, was trying to chase down an interview with former U.S. Senator and new presidential envoy to the Middle East George Mitchell. Pounding all of his channels, friends, networks, Melhem was informed Sunday that "something" might be in the works -- but keep expectations modest.

By Monday morning (yesterday), Melhem was told that he'd likely get Mitchell, and then later in the morning, he received a call telling him that he'd "either be very happy, or made miserable" by what the White House was planning. And then Melhem was asked if he would like to interview President Barack Obama at 5 pm Monday -- but that the bureau would have to keep the interview secret until it happened.

The Al Arabiya Bureau Chief said that was not a problem and that he'd adjust his schedule -- with enormous grin accompanying his response.

Al Arabiya is part of a major Arabic news network, considered second in global coverage to Al Jazeera, which may yet see a nod from the Obama administration down the road -- but seeing that George W. Bush may have joked and/or been serious about bombing an Al Jazeera office in Baghdad, Al Jazeera may still be too much of a leap for the bounding forward new US President.

Obama's exchange with the Al Arabiya journalist (here is transcript), which was only supposed to last about six or seven minutes got extended a bit as press secretary Robert Gibbs saw how well it was going.

This interview is the initial punctuation point in Obama's global public diplomacy. By most accounts, Obama's decision -- shocking to some, refreshing to others -- to talk to the Muslim world in his first formal, sit down press interview hit the ball out of the park.

While Al Arabiya's Bureau Chief did query Obama on which Muslim capital he would first go to in the world (I think it will be Jakarta), Obama's interview -- which Al Arabiya quickly got up on YouTube and also broadcast all around the world through their own networks -- is consistent with Obama-style Facebook political networking and activism. He is using social networks and a hybrid of new media and old media to change the diplomatic game.

It doesn't matter which Muslim capital Obama goes to now because he just reached out to the hearts and minds of Muslims in every capital and frankly, Muslims everywhere -- including inside the United States.

Obama stood by America's alliance with Israel, but said also that Israel and others would have to make sacrifices to achieve stable peace.

He is telegraphing to the Muslim world that the lives of those who live in the Middle East and who are Muslim, wherever they are, matter -- and can't be discounted. Former Ambassador to the UN John Bolton used to decry any effort at talking about the moral equivalency of a death of an innocent in Palestine or in Lebanon when compared to the death or maiming of an Israeli innocent.

Obama talked about the needs and tragedies that have befallen Palestinians and Israelis. And he offered hope to Arab citizens and talked of health care and education -- a vision of the future, that could challenge more rigid groups that have been resisting engagement with the US and Europe and who have been strident in their opposition to Israel.

Barack Obama's first moves have been utterly brilliant. And in his interview, most of it focused on the importance of ending the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. He acknowledged the interconnectedness of the problems in the region, but he noted how important the Middle East Peace process and crisis is.

And I think he was responding personally and sincerely to Prince Turki al-Faisal's warning in the Financial Times this week that the Arab Peace Proposal offered by King Abdullah would not remain on the table indefinitely, and that the window could be closing in the wake of the Gaza crisis. Obama was asking Prince Turki, who previously served as head of Saudi intelligence for more than two decades and as Saudi Ambassador to the US, and the King of Saudi Arabia to hang in there a bit more. Obama's messenging was subtle but clear.

Some will argue that this is not much. That this is optics -- not substantive change.

I totally disagree. Ron Suskind was on target when he reported several years ago that Bush administration officials believed that they could "make their own reality."

Presidents -- in the right period of their presidencies -- can make and shape their own reality. They do so at their peril because someone could eventually demonstrate a gap between the fiction the President is creating and the reality everyone else is grounded in.

But Obama gets to make his own reality at the moment -- and is imposing it -- in a respectful, humble, and powerful way.

His style matters -- just like Bush's swagger did -- and it is this act of humility towards the Muslim world which may animate hope in the nations around the world and in the Middle East specifically.

Everyone will have to adjust now. The Saudis will leave the peace deal on the table. The Israelis have to remake themselves -- even if Netanyahu succeeds Olmert. Hamas will have to find a way to become differently postured -- if not on Israel, then at least on some level of international acceptability with American partners. Arab stakeholders are going to have to snap out of positions shaped more by status quo thinking and inertia that things will never change and get with the Obama program.

What Obama did has provided a new punctuation point in American foreign policy, and it is not "continuous" foreign policy at all. This is a new game and a very impressive new leader.

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Sunday, January 25, 2009

Two-Thirds Approve of Obama's Start

The Obama PresidencyPrintShareText SizeAAAWASHINGTON (Jan. 25) - Barack Obama is enjoying about a two-thirds approval rating for his first days as president, a poll released Saturday found.

The Gallup Organization survey found 68 percent of Americans approve of Obama's performance as the nation's chief executive. That's a number near the high end for new presidents, but short of President John F. Kennedy's 72 percent in 1961.


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Wednesday, January 21, 2009

President Obama’s first 100 days

The first 100 days

The following 2008 article discusses Obama’s first 100 days and what problems and issues should first be addressed under Obama’s presidency:

http://www.salon.com/news/feature/2008/12/15/100_days/

Good article!


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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

President Obama's Inauguration: Hits and Misses


U.S. President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle examine the bible used for his swearing-in ceremony.


* We've all talked about now-President Barack Obama's historic inauguration for months. From momentous moments to little flubs, there was a lot to see on Inauguration Day. Here's our list of hits and misses from today:


Hit: The Speech

The jury (aka, pundit spin) is still out, but the initial reaction is that Obama's speech was both pragmatic and hopeful. He acknowledged the nation's grim economic problems, but assured the crowd he would quickly get to work. As the New York Times reports:

Mr. Obama promised to take “bold and swift” action to restore the economy by creating jobs through public works projects, improving education, promoting alternative energy and relying on new technology.... "Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America."


Miss: First-timers

As first-timers on the inaugural stage, no one can blame President Obama and Chief Justice John Roberts for being nervous. Debate initially swirled around who actually messed up the oath, but MSNBC's play-by-play clears it up.

First, Obama jumped in before the "do solemnly swear" phrase, which seemed to throw the chief justice off his stride. Roberts rendered the next phrase as "that I will execute the office of President to the United States faithfully."

"That I will execute," Obama repeated, then paused like a school teacher prompting his student with a slight nod. Roberts took another shot at it: "The off ... faithfully the pres ... the office of President of the United States."

While it's technically a flub, it was also nice to see a little levity during a serious moment. AP explains that Roberts will most certainly get another chance to get it right.

Roberts is the youngest chief justice in more than 200 years. He easily could still be in his role a quarter century from now, long after Obama has left office.

He and Obama are similar in many ways. Both are late baby boomers. Roberts is 53, Obama 47. And both got their law degrees from Harvard and made rapid ascents to power. But their politics diverge sharply.


Hit: Huge crowds

According to the AP, more than 1 million people squeezed into the National Mall to see Barack Obama sworn-in as the first African American president of the United States. Despite the crush and long hours on their feet, the crowds were filled with enthusiasm, hope and a little reality.

Cleveland Wesley, 56, Texas: "Houston didn't desegregate until 1967. Our formative years were in segregation...This situation is so emotional, it's basically an unreal experience."

Jackie Applewhite, 48, Illinois: "It's something I can share with my students...I can encourage my students to study and tell them that education is the key to success."

Larry Stroschien, 69, S.D.: "President-elect Obama is just walking into a shipwreck ... I think this man has more challenges in front of him than any since FDR."


Miss: Clinton confirmation

Several members of Obama's Cabinet and high-level appointees were confirmed in the Senate after Obama's swearing-in. One person who will be hanging back: Hillary Clinton. AP reports that Sen. John Cornyn of Texas is blocking her confirmation:

Cornyn's spokesman says the senator has concerns about foreign donations to Bill Clinton's foundation:

"Senator Cornyn is a strong proponent of complete transparency and has fought for as much throughout his time in office. He is keeping all of his options on the table."

His objection could delay Clinton's confirmation by a day or two, but barring any extraordinary circumstances, she is widely expected to win approval from the Democratic-controlled Senate.


Hit: First Fashion

No, not Barack. We're talking about the Obama women: First lady Michelle Obama wowed the crowds in a sparkly yellow-gold sheath dress with a matching coat by Isabel Toledo. Always the practical shopper, she topped her outfit with olive-green gloves from J.Crew and green shoes. First daughters Malia, 10, and Sasha, 7, strutted their fashion feet in colorful pink and blue coats, also from J. Crew.

Stylists like red-carpet and editorial stylist Mary Alice Stephenson swooned as well. From AP:

"What's so powerful about Michelle Obama is we all see ourselves in her. She's a modern woman who is fashionable and even flamboyant in her style and she is still taken seriously," she said. "The dress is elegant, appropriate and has the individual style stamp of Michelle Obama and is timely for a woman in her 40s — and she wears embellishment during the day. Hallelujah!"

Ruben Toledo, husband of designer Isabel, revealed to Women's Wear Daily that they didn't even know that Mrs. Obama had picked one of her outfits:

"We're levitating - we really are," Ruben Toledo said minutes after watching Michelle Obama on CNN in an ensemble by his wife Isabel. 'We had no idea. We hoped she would wear something because she has bought Isabel's clothes before. We never know what's going to happen," he said. "'It's just another shock, but a great shock.'"


Miss: Troubled Wall Street

But not even the historic inauguration could lift Wall Street out of the doldrums. As AP reports, immediately following Obama's speech, the major indexes fell more than two percent:

Traders on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange paused at times to watch the inauguration ceremony and Obama's remarks, but the transition of power didn't erase investors' concerns about the struggling economy.

At the closing bell, major indexes were down more than four percent and the Dow Jones Industrials tumbled 332 points.

Inauguration Day isn't even over yet, but the clock has already started counting down Obama's First 100 Days.

Lili Ladaga

God Bless President Obama!

2009-01-20 12:09:47


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Text of President Obama's Inaugural Address

OBAMA: My fellow citizens:

I stand here today humbled by the task before us, grateful for the trust you have bestowed, mindful of the sacrifices borne by our ancestors. I thank President Bush for his service to our nation, as well as the generosity and cooperation he has shown throughout this transition.

Forty-four Americans have now taken the presidential oath. The words have been spoken during rising tides of prosperity and the still waters of peace. Yet, every so often the oath is taken amidst gathering clouds and raging storms. At these moments, America has carried on not simply because of the skill or vision of those in high office, but because we the people have remained faithful to the ideals of our forebears, and true to our founding documents.

So it has been. So it must be with this generation of Americans.

That we are in the midst of crisis is now well understood. Our nation is at war, against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred. Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some, but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age. Homes have been lost; jobs shed; businesses shuttered. Our health care is too costly; our schools fail too many; and each day brings further evidence that the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet.

These are the indicators of crisis, subject to data and statistics. Less measurable but no less profound is a sapping of confidence across our land — a nagging fear that America's decline is inevitable, and that the next generation must lower its sights.

Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this, America — they will be met.

On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord.

On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn out dogmas, that for far too long have strangled our politics.

We remain a young nation, but in the words of scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things. The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.

In reaffirming the greatness of our nation, we understand that greatness is never a given. It must be earned. Our journey has never been one of shortcuts or settling for less. It has not been the path for the faint-hearted — for those who prefer leisure over work, or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame. Rather, it has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things — some celebrated but more often men and women obscure in their labor, who have carried us up the long, rugged path towards prosperity and freedom.

For us, they packed up their few worldly possessions and traveled across oceans in search of a new life.

For us, they toiled in sweatshops and settled the West; endured the lash of the whip and plowed the hard earth.

For us, they fought and died, in places like Concord and Gettysburg; Normandy and Khe Sahn.

Time and again these men and women struggled and sacrificed and worked till their hands were raw so that we might live a better life. They saw America as bigger than the sum of our individual ambitions; greater than all the differences of birth or wealth or faction.

This is the journey we continue today. We remain the most prosperous, powerful nation on Earth. Our workers are no less productive than when this crisis began. Our minds are no less inventive, our goods and services no less needed than they were last week or last month or last year. Our capacity remains undiminished. But our time of standing pat, of protecting narrow interests and putting off unpleasant decisions — that time has surely passed. Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America.

For everywhere we look, there is work to be done. The state of the economy calls for action, bold and swift, and we will act — not only to create new jobs, but to lay a new foundation for growth. We will build the roads and bridges, the electric grids and digital lines that feed our commerce and bind us together. We will restore science to its rightful place, and wield technology's wonders to raise health care's quality and lower its cost. We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories. And we will transform our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age. All this we can do. And all this we will do.

Now, there are some who question the scale of our ambitions — who suggest that our system cannot tolerate too many big plans. Their memories are short. For they have forgotten what this country has already done; what free men and women can achieve when imagination is joined to common purpose, and necessity to courage.

What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them — that the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long no longer apply. The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works — whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified. Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward. Where the answer is no, programs will end. And those of us who manage the public's dollars will be held to account — to spend wisely, reform bad habits, and do our business in the light of day — because only then can we restore the vital trust between a people and their government.

Nor is the question before us whether the market is a force for good or ill. Its power to generate wealth and expand freedom is unmatched, but this crisis has reminded us that without a watchful eye, the market can spin out of control — and that a nation cannot prosper long when it favors only the prosperous. The success of our economy has always depended not just on the size of our gross domestic product, but on the reach of our prosperity; on our ability to extend opportunity to every willing heart — not out of charity, but because it is the surest route to our common good.

As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals. Our founding fathers, faced with perils we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations. Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience's sake. And so to all other peoples and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born: know that America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman, and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and that we are ready to lead once more.

Recall that earlier generations faced down fascism and communism not just with missiles and tanks, but with sturdy alliances and enduring convictions. They understood that our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please. Instead, they knew that our power grows through its prudent use; our security emanates from the justness of our cause, the force of our example, the tempering qualities of humility and restraint.

We are the keepers of this legacy. Guided by these principles once more, we can meet those new threats that demand even greater effort — even greater cooperation and understanding between nations. We will begin to responsibly leave Iraq to its people, and forge a hard-earned peace in Afghanistan. With old friends and former foes, we will work tirelessly to lessen the nuclear threat, and roll back the specter of a warming planet. We will not apologize for our way of life, nor will we waver in its defense, and for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken; you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you.

For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus — and non-believers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth; and because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation, and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace.

To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect. To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society's ills on the West — know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy. To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.

To the people of poor nations, we pledge to work alongside you to make your farms flourish and let clean waters flow; to nourish starved bodies and feed hungry minds. And to those nations like ours that enjoy relative plenty, we say we can no longer afford indifference to suffering outside our borders; nor can we consume the world's resources without regard to effect. For the world has changed, and we must change with it.

As we consider the road that unfolds before us, we remember with humble gratitude those brave Americans who, at this very hour, patrol far-off deserts and distant mountains. They have something to tell us today, just as the fallen heroes who lie in Arlington whisper through the ages. We honor them not only because they are guardians of our liberty, but because they embody the spirit of service; a willingness to find meaning in something greater than themselves. And yet, at this moment — a moment that will define a generation — it is precisely this spirit that must inhabit us all.

For as much as government can do and must do, it is ultimately the faith and determination of the American people upon which this nation relies. It is the kindness to take in a stranger when the levees break, the selflessness of workers who would rather cut their hours than see a friend lose their job which sees us through our darkest hours. It is the firefighter's courage to storm a stairway filled with smoke, but also a parent's willingness to nurture a child, that finally decides our fate.

Our challenges may be new. The instruments with which we meet them may be new. But those values upon which our success depends — hard work and honesty, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism — these things are old. These things are true. They have been the quiet force of progress throughout our history. What is demanded then is a return to these truths. What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility — a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation, and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task.

This is the price and the promise of citizenship.

This is the source of our confidence — the knowledge that God calls on us to shape an uncertain destiny.

This is the meaning of our liberty and our creed — why men and women and children of every race and every faith can join in celebration across this magnificent mall, and why a man whose father less than sixty years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath.

So let us mark this day with remembrance, of who we are and how far we have traveled. In the year of America's birth, in the coldest of months, a small band of patriots huddled by dying campfires on the shores of an icy river. The capital was abandoned. The enemy was advancing. The snow was stained with blood. At a moment when the outcome of our revolution was most in doubt, the father of our nation ordered these words be read to the people:

"Let it be told to the future world ... that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive...that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet (it)."

America, in the face of our common dangers, in this winter of our hardship, let us remember these timeless words. With hope and virtue, let us brave once more the icy currents, and endure what storms may come. Let it be said by our children's children that when we were tested we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God's grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations.

2009-01-20 12:09:47


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Monday, January 19, 2009

One Nation, After All

How Obama is changing racial politics in America.



WHAT OBAMA MEANS - For Our Culture, Our Politics, Our Future

(A review by Richard Thompson Ford of the book written by Jabari Asim.)

Barack Obama's historic struggle to become the nation's first black president is over, but the fight over the meaning of his victory has only begun.

Obama's victory is the culmination of decades of black political struggle, social advancement and cultural achievement. Obama promises to continue this cultural transformation with a new style of racial politics: more productive and less antagonistic than that of the "charlatans and camera hogs with whom we are all too familiar" (a group in which the Reverends Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson figure prominently) but no less committed to social justice. Asim, editor of the NAACP's journal the Crisis and former deputy editor of Book World, insists that Obama is the latest and most inspiring of a long line of "dedicated champions of black advancement."

Because of Obama "it's becoming cool to be thoughtful, temperate and monogamous," writes Asim, and Americans "may come to associate blackness with brilliance, thoughtfulness, confidence, and radical optimism."

By contrast, Obama's detractors, left and right, have suggested that the new president inevitably will be limited by the racial politics of the past. Last year the conservative commentator Shelby Steele argued in A Bound Man that Obama was tethered, by his liberal ideology and racial loyalty, to a counterproductive politics of grievance that exaggerates white racism and denies the need for individual responsibility among blacks.

By contrast, left-leaning black social commentators such as Cornel West, Tavis Smiley and Jesse Jackson have complained that, to win elections, Obama pandered to white voters, ignoring his responsibility to blacks.

Asim has the better argument: Black politics is undergoing a healthy transformation away from the confrontations of the culture wars and toward a new maturity. This change means that black politicians can faithfully and effectively serve multi-racial constituencies without being seen as sellouts, Americans of all races can grow comfortable with black role models and authority figures, and blacks can acknowledge their internal divisions without fear of disintegration.

As Asim argues, "Obama's rise doesn't spell the end of oppression, but it exposes the fallacy of referring to all black Americans as particularly oppressed or oppressed specifically because of their blackness."

What Obama Means dispatches a formidable battery of references to pop and high culture with the machine-gun pacing of a music video. Often, the results are both entertaining and insightful. Asim's enthusiasm for his subject keeps the reader engaged, and the strength of his underlying thesis about changing race relations usually grounds his heavily anecdotal exposition.

But the rapid fire can turn scattershot. For example, in a scant four paragraphs, W.E.B. Du Bois competes for attention with Booker T. Washington, Amiri Baraka, Haki Madhubuti, Malcolm X, Ida B. Wells, Paul Robeson, Langston Hughes, Fannie Lou Hamer, James Baldwin and Edward Said -- not to mention Barack Obama. In such tight space Asim can't develop that crowd of examples or explain their relevance to his larger thesis; he can do little more than refer to them and race on.

The book is most persuasive when Asim's examples stick closely to Obama's distinctive strengths: The chapters on politics and oratory are far stronger than those that compare Obama to professional athletes and popular musicians. In the weaker passages, the attempts to connect pop cultural figures to Obama occasionally misfire. For instance, Asim argues that Obama's biography parallels that of the musician Prince as told in the film "Purple Rain."

But the connections are superficial (both men are of mixed parentage, each struggled with his identity before finding his voice), and although Asim clearly doesn't intend to insult either one, the comparison to an artist infamous for his eccentricity, emotional volatility and narcissism trivializes Obama.

What Obama Means makes a compelling case for optimism about Obama's presidency and the coming changes in U.S. race relations. But Asim lacks critical distance, a quality that, perhaps, can come only with greater historical distance. Obama is a walking Rorschach test, a reflection of our racial aspirations and anxieties. Steele thought Obama was bound by the politics of racial grievance because Steele believes that that is the defining weakness of modern racial politics.

West and Smiley worry that Obama will sell out the black poor because they think the black elite is riddled with sellouts. Similarly, Asim sees Obama as the harbinger of the type of racial politics that Asim himself thinks we need. Such reactions, whether critical or adulatory, don't do justice to Obama because they treat him as an avatar of his race, rather than as an individual with his own character and ideas.

Seeing Obama as a symbol, not a man, makes it easy to criticize him for imagined or projected defects; it can also make it easy to celebrate him for virtues he has to yet to exhibit. Much about him remains unknown. It is unclear, for instance, how much emphasis Obama will place on past discrimination. While his background as a community organizer suggests he has a deep commitment to racial justice, there's little doubt that some of his supporters think their willingness to back a black candidate for president relieves them (and perhaps the nation as a whole) of responsibility to redress the many persistent effects of America's history of racism.

Asim makes a plausible case that Obama's inauguration will usher in a renewed commitment to social justice tempered by a cool-headed pragmatism -- an end to the divisive and counterproductive racial politics that has come to dominate civil rights activism since the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. But we may be too close to the Obama phenomenon, both psychologically and historically, to get a good read on what Obama means. ·

Richard Thompson Ford is a professor at Stanford Law School and author of "The Race Card: How Bluffing About Bias Makes Race Relations Worse."


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Wednesday, January 14, 2009

How Exactly Will Obama Get All His Stuff into the White House?

By Christopher Beam


The "First Movers"?

A moving van is parked outside the White HouseAfter Barack Obama is sworn in on Jan. 20, he and his family will move into the White House. But how exactly will the president-elect get all his belongings into his new home?

Will he hire movers?

Yes. The president-elect is responsible for arranging transportation for his furniture, clothes, and personal effects from Chicago to a White House storage facility in Maryland (where they also keep antiques, Easter decorations, paintings, etc.). The Secret Service oversees the whole process, which usually happens the week before the inauguration. It provides an escort for the moving vehicles and screens all items—books, desks, chairs—before they enter the facility. But Obama has to cover the transportation costs, either with personal funds or money raised for his campaign or transition.

Once the incoming president's stuff is on White House grounds, the residence staff takes custody of his possessions. The chief usher, who coordinates move-in day, provides the staff with White House floor plans and photos that indicate where each item goes.* (The first time Obama visited the White House post-election, he and the chief usher discussed furniture arrangements, food preferences, and other logistical issues.)

The Inauguration Day move-in takes about six hours. It starts at 10:30 a.m., when the sitting president and the first lady have a traditional tea with the president-elect before heading over to Capitol Hill for the swearing-in. Once they leave, the 93-person staff shifts into high gear. (They don't hire outside help for security reasons as well as privacy.)

The operations personnel does the heavy lifting while a housekeeping detail helps prepare the bedrooms, curators make sure the furnishings and d├ęcor are just so, florists worry about bouquet arrangements, and the chefs prepare the post-inauguration dinner. At the same time, the staff moves the ex-president out. Items get loaded into boxes, which get loaded into vans and then military cargo planes that carry everything to the former president's new residence. With only two elevators, it's organized chaos.

Who pays for all this? Congress draws up an annual executive residence budget, which gets a little extra funding every four years to cover move-in costs, such as packing equipment and overtime for staff members. The first family also gets a redecoration fund to cover draperies, carpets, paintings, and other costs.


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