September 14th, 2011
AFP - The eurozone crisis could wreck the European Union, top EU officials warned on Wednesday as the leaders of Germany and France held talks with Greece to avoid a default and widespread chaos.
The pressure rose on all fronts with United States again expressing great concern, with Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner saying European states "now recognise they are going to have to do more" to resolve to the crisis.
Highlighting the threat to the global economy, Geithner is to exceptionally attend talks between European Union finance ministers and central bankers in Poland on Friday.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou were to hold a teleconference late Wednesday as markets price in a default by the government in Athens, and credit rating giant Moody's downgraded two major French banks given their exposure to Greek debt.
"Europe is in danger," Polish Finance Minister Jacek Rostowski, whose country currently chairs EU meetings, told the European Parliament in Strasbourg.
"If the eurozone breaks up, the European Union will not be able to survive," he added.
At his most dramatic, Rostowski even warned that "war" could return to Europe if the crisis fatally weakens the EU, founded amid the rubble of World War II.
His underlying message was backed up by European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso, who described the crisis as "the most serious challenge of a generation."
Barroso stressed: "This is a fight... for the economic and political future of Europe."
EU economic affairs commissioner Olli Rehn warned that "a default or exit of Greece from the eurozone would carry dramatic social, economic and political costs.
"Not only for Greece, but also for euro area member states, other EU states, as well as global partners."
He said what Europe needed was a moment of clarity leading towards a federal future, "and that moment must start today."
Barroso announced he will "soon" present proposals for eurozone states to issue joint bonds, a way to even out interest rates among the single currency area's 17 nations.
Such "eurobonds" are currently opposed by Germany and could require a new round of painful EU treaty negotiations.
Meanwhile Italy's lower house of parliament endorsed its government's 54.2 billion euro ($74 billion) austerity package -- although a final vote of passage will not come until the evening.
Italy's debt stands at 120 percent of gross domestic product, and many analysts are convinced it is next in line to draw sustained bond-market fire.
Stocks in Europe and the United States rose in the run-up of the Sarkzozy-Merkel-Papandreou talks.
Sarkozy will "do everything to save Greece," government spokeswoman Valerie Pecresse said, with the Greek government struggling to squeeze more savings out of its recession-ravaged budget.
EU officials have warned repeatedly that Athens will not receive the next slice of aid, worth eight billion euros ($11.0 billion), unless it can persuade EU and IMF auditors, about to resume work, that it can overcome its deficit crisis.
Problems also remain to be resolved over support for wider bailout funding in Finland, Slovakia and the Netherlands at least.
But with the pressure on markets intensifying, Europe's major economies will not let the region's biggest financial institutions "be at risk," Geithner said.
"They recognise they have been behind the curve" in dealing with the debt crisis, the Treasury chief added.
Analysts say that decision makers on financial markets are broadly working on an assumption that Greece will default to a substantial degree.
That would hit government creditors as well as private banks and other investors which accepted a partial loss on their investments in July under a yet-to-be completed second rescue for Greece.
"The question of whether or not Greece will default is pretty much solved for the financial markets," said analysts at German lender Commerzbank, terming a "short-term" default "more or less unavoidable."
The stakes are rising: after US President Barack Obama called for greater European efforts, the BRICS grouping -- Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa -- said they would discuss possible aid to Europe over Greece next week.
International Monetary Fund chief Christine Lagarde described their plans as "an interesting development," and added that she hoped bond-buying interventions from these emerging powers would be "large and not limited to certain states."
Moody's downgraded Credit Agricole and Societe Generale, and left BNP Paribas on tenterhooks.
Shares in all three French banks had recently plummeted over concern at exposure to Greek debt.
September 14th, 2011
By Julianna Goldman
A majority of Americans don’t believe President Barack Obama’s $447 billion jobs plan will help lower the unemployment rate, skepticism he must overcome as he presses Congress for action and positions himself for re- election.
The downbeat assessment of the American Jobs Act reflects a growing and broad sense of dissatisfaction with the president. Americans disapprove of his handling of the economy by 62 percent to 33 percent, a Bloomberg National Poll conducted Sept. 9-12 shows. The disapproval number represents a nine point increase from six months ago.
The president’s job approval rating also stands at the lowest of his presidency -- 45 percent. That rating is driven down in part by a majority of independents, 53 percent, who disapprove of his performance.
“I don’t think he’s done as good a job as I think he could have,” said Paul Kaplan, 58, an unemployed Democrat from Philadelphia. “We were hopeful that things would improve in the economy and they’ve only gotten worse. People in Washington just don’t seem to want to cooperate with each other and work for the people.”
The poll hands Obama new lows in each of the categories that measures his performance on the economy: only 36 percent of respondents approve of his efforts to create jobs, 30 percent approve of how he’s tackled the budget deficit and 39 percent approve of his handling of health care.
Jobs Bill Skepticism
By a margin of 51 percent to 40 percent, Americans doubt the package of tax cuts and spending proposals intended to jumpstart job creation that Obama submitted to Congress this week will bring down the 9.1 percent jobless rate. That sentiment undermines one of the core arguments the president is making on the job act’s behalf in a nationwide campaign to build public support.
Compounding Obama’s challenge is that 56 percent of independents, whom the president won in 2008 and will need to win in 2012, are skeptical it will work.
“I think the jobs bill is a good start, but it’s hard to look at it real positively in light of what’s just happened with the budget,” said Jason Dumas, a 40 year-old independent voter from Charlotte, North Carolina. “The partisanship is still there and it seems like we’re gearing up more for the election.”
In all of the categories gauging Obama’s performance on economic issues, the president’s disapproval rating among independents is above 50 percent.
On the economy, 29 percent of independents approve of the job Obama is doing while 66 percent disapprove. Obama is weakest among independents when it comes to his ability to reduce the deficit -- under a quarter of those respondents approve of his job in that category, while 67 percent disapprove. On job creation, 30 percent of independents approve of Obama’s efforts while 63 percent disapprove. He scored slightly better among independents on health care with 34 percent approving and 57 percent disapproving.
Forty-six percent of independents say they definitely won’t vote to re-elect the president, compared to 21 percent who definitely will support him. In 2008, Obama was backed by 52 percent of independent voters, compared to 44 percent who backed Republican nominee John McCain, an Arizona senator, according to exit polls.
In addition to lost ground with independents, Obama’s 2008 supporters are less enthused in the wake of the summer’s fight to raise the debt ceiling and avoid a default, according to the poll of 997 adults conducted by Selzer & Co., based in Des Moines, Iowa.
Core Support Decline
Of the respondents who said they’ve supported Obama at one point since he launched his presidential campaign in 2007, fewer than half say they still support him as fervently. Thirty- seven percent say their support has waned and 19 percent say he lost their backing because they’ve grown disappointed or angry with his leadership.
Almost a third of Democrats and Democratic-leaning respondents say they’d like to see Obama face a primary challenge.
The job performance areas where Obama scores favorably are his handling of the situation in Libya and fighting terrorism. Another rare bright spot in the poll is his favorability rating, which stands at 50 percent and is better than all of his prospective Republican rivals. House Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, has a favorability rating of 33 percent compared to 38 percent who view him unfavorably, a ten point jump from June before the debt ceiling standoff in August.
Even that ray of hope is a dim one. Obama’s unfavorability rating is 47 percent, just three percentage points below his favorability, which is within the poll’s margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.
“I personally don’t think it’s his fault, I think it’s Congress,” said Krystal Carter, 40, a Democrat, who is an esthetician in Davenport, Florida. “They’re like a bunch of kindergarteners. I think we just need to vote all them out and start over.”
As Obama urges Congress to act on the jobs bill and prepares to engage in debate over a $1.5 trillion to $2 trillion debt-reduction plan, Americans give him low marks on his negotiating style. By a margin of 52 percent to 37 percent, they disapprove of how Obama negotiates with the Republican majority in the House of Representatives. Fifty-eight percent of Democrats approve of Obama’s negotiating skills, while 71 percent of Republicans disapprove. Among independents, 55 percent are critical of his skills.
Stand for Something
“If he believes in something, then he needs to stand for it,” said Dumas, the North Carolina independent who works in video production. “He needs to back it and not play both sides. It hasn’t really served him well.”
Obama has pledged to stand firm on the jobs program. “This isn’t about giving Democrats or Republicans a win. It’s about giving the American people a win,” he said at a jobs event in Columbus, Ohio, yesterday.
While respondents are skeptical that the program will reduce the unemployment rate, the poll found support for some of its components.
The plan’s call for approximately $35 billion in direct aid to state and local governments to stem layoffs of educators and emergency personnel is favored by 71 percent of Americans compared to 27 percent who oppose it. While the proposal was the most popular in the poll, it is also the least likely to pass Congress because Republicans have expressed opposition to new spending.
The centerpiece of the proposal -- and the plank that Republicans have said they are most willing to consider -- is a cut in payroll taxes, which cover the first $106,800 in earnings and are evenly split between employers and employees.
Respondents are evenly split at 45 percent on this approach, which would cost $240 billion to the U.S. Treasury. Independents oppose it 47 percent versus 43 percent who favor it.
The White House also would use temporary payroll tax reductions next year to offer incentives for new hiring and to assist small businesses -- something Kaplan, a Democratic Party official in Philadelphia, said would help him.
“I hope it gets passed quickly, I’m one of the people who might benefit from it directly,” he said. “I myself have been out of work for six months now. I haven’t even had an interview.”
Others are less optimistic. Since World War II, no U.S. president has won re-election with a jobless rate above 6 percent, with the exception of Ronald Reagan, who faced 7.2 percent unemployment on Election Day in 1984.
“He can promise the moon,” said Carter. “But if Congress can’t get their act together and vote to pass it, it’s never going to happen.”
September 14th, 2011
By BETH FOUHY - Associated Press
NEW YORK (AP) — Republicans have scored an upset victory in a House race that started as a contest to replace Rep. Anthony Weiner after he resigned in a sexting scandal but became a referendum on President Barack Obama's economic policies.
Retired media executive and political novice Bob Turner defeated Democratic state Assemblyman David Weprin on Tuesday in the special election to fill the seat vacated by Weiner, a seven-term Democrat who resigned in June.
With more than 80 percent of precincts reporting, Turner had 54 percent of the vote to Weprin's 46 percent in unofficial results.
"We've been asked by the people of this district to send a message to Washington," Turner told supporters after the landmark win. "I hope they hear it loud and clear. We've been told this is a referendum. Mr. President, we are on the wrong track. We have had it with an irresponsible fiscal policy which endangers the entire economy."
Weprin did not immediately concede.
The heavily Democratic district, which spans parts of Queens and Brooklyn, had never sent a Republican to the House. But frustration with the continued weak national economy gave Republicans the edge.
Turner has vowed to bring business practicality to Washington and push back on spending and taxes.
The race was supposed to be an easy win for Democrats, who have a 3-1 ratio registration advantage in the district.
Weprin, a 56-year-old Orthodox Jew and member of a prominent Queens political family, seemed a good fit for the largely white, working-class district, which is nearly 40 percent Jewish.
But voter frustration with Obama put Weprin in the unlikely spot of playing defense. A Siena Poll released Friday found just 43 percent of likely voters approved of the president's job performance, while 54 percent said they disapproved. Among independents, just 29 percent said they approved of Obama's job performance.
Turner, a 70-year-old Catholic, vowed to push back on Obama's policies if elected. He received help from prominent Republicans including former Mayor Rudy Giuliani, whose much-praised stewardship of the city after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks was recalled during the 10th anniversary of the attacks last weekend.
Weprin became embroiled in New York-centric disputes over Israel and gay marriage, which cost him some support among Jewish voters.
Orthodox Jews, who tend to be conservative on social issues, expressed anger over Weprin's vote in the Assembly to legalize gay marriage. In July, New York became one of six states to recognize same-sex nuptials.
Former Mayor Ed Koch, a Democrat, endorsed Turner in July as a way to "send a message" to Obama on his policies toward Israel. And Weprin was challenged on his support of a proposed Islamic center and mosque near the World Trade Center site, in lower Manhattan.
The Democratic Party enlisted two of its biggest guns, former President Bill Clinton and Gov. Andrew Cuomo, to record phone calls for Weprin. And Democrats relied on organized labor and other affiliated groups to bring voters to the polls.
The House seat opened up when Weiner was pushed by party leaders to resign after sending sexually provocative tweets and text messages to women he met online.
The trouble for Weiner, who served seven terms, began when a photo of a man's crotch surfaced on his Twitter feed. He initially denied the photo was of him but later admitted it was.
Weiner, who's married, resigned June 16 after two weeks of fighting off pressure to step aside. He apologized for "the embarrassment that I have caused" and said he hoped to continue to fight for the causes dear to his constituents.
In a special election in May, Democrat Kathy Hochul won a heavily Republican upstate district after pledging to protect Medicare, the popular government health care plan for seniors.
The state replaced outdated lever-operated voting machines last year in favor of paper ballots and optical scanners, which take more time to close and process. Polls closed at 9 p.m. Tuesday, and results trickled in slowly, but a Board of Elections spokeswoman said the vote-tallying system ran smoothly and there were no problems to report.
AP NEWS on MEDIA SITES
Associated Press writers Andrew Taylor and Julie Pace in Washington contributed to this report.
September 14th, 2011
~Who would have thought that "Leopard Print" Michelle Obama was in her element when it comes to fashion? News to me~BLS
Michelle Obama honoured the United States' top designers at the White House on Tuesday for innovations ranging from fashion and architecture to the realm of new computer fonts and floor-cleaning products.
"Good design is good citizenship," Mrs. Obama said, quoting the graphic designer Milton Glaser. She said that is because good design makes life better for everyone.
The first lady hosted a luncheon for winners of the 2011 National Design Awards, which are presented by the Smithsonian's Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum in New York City. The first lady also invited 15 high school students to join leading names from the worlds of fashion, interactive computer design and other fields in hopes of inspiring them to follow suit.
"These men and women have breathed new life into our homes and our workplaces, the clothes we wear, the products we use every day, and even the most basic ways we process information," Mrs. Obama said.
This year's design award winners include Matthew Carter of Boston for his lifetime achievements in typeface designs that included creating the fonts Verdana and Georgia for Microsoft and others for major newspapers and magazines.
The Boston-based design consultancy Continuum won for product designs that include Reebok's popular Pump shoes from the 1990s and Swiffer for its floor sweepers, showing not every product of design is high and mighty.
The museum honoured J. Mendel for exceptional work in fashion. The Mendel brand has spanned five generations, first as a luxury fur company and more recently becoming a full fashion house with a ready-to-wear collection in 2002 under Gilles Mendel. He was seated at Mrs. Obama's table for lunch, along with Carter.
Designers Jason Wu and Prabal Gurung were finalists in the fashion category. Both have designed dresses for the first lady, and Wu designed her inaugural gown.
September 14th, 2011
The White House is girding for a political loss in the heart of New York on Tuesday. They’re also spinning up an explanation that won’t entirely result in the blame landing on the low popularity of the president.
As in Massachusetts, where Democratic Senate candidate Martha Coakley was faulted by the White House and many others for tone-deaf campaigning, Democratic candidate Dave Weprin may see the undercarriage of that new White House campaign bus.
Democratic officials and President Obama’s advisers expect Weprin to lose the election to upstart Republican Bob Turner in the contest to fill the 9th District seat vacated by Democrat Anthony Weiner.
Obama won the district, which spans southern Brooklyn and Queens, by 11 percentage points in 2008. His approval rating there is now 33 percent.
(RELATED: On Election Day, Accusations Flying in NY-09)
The president’s top political aides concede that if his numbers had been “sturdier,” it might have had a slightly positive effect for Weprin. That means no Obama-voiced robocalls to most Democrats in the district—just text messages targeted at younger voters. More-popular Democrats, like Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Bill Clinton, are lending their voices to the get-out-the-vote effort.
Democratic strategists studying the district say Turner’s strength comes from independents and traditionally Democratic voters in Orthodox Jewish communities, a demographic displaying an enormous amount of interest in voting.
The district has very moderate-to-conservative pockets. Weiner, who resigned after a sexting scandal, did a very good job of appealing to the concerns of the Archie Bunker part of the district while also speaking to the younger transplants. That took a lot of skill and a careful cultivation of Jewish community leaders.
Weprin is an Orthodox Jew and for years represented that constituency in the state Assembly. But his vote in favor of gay marriage last spring drew significant protest. He’s been down among Orthodox Jews by a 2-1 margin since entering the race.
In contrast, secular Democrats in the district, including secular Jews, display the sort of apathy associated with a demoralized political party. Weprin has been hemorrhaging support from all traditional Democratic constituencies.
The Republican Jewish Committee and independent Democratic allies like former New York Mayor Ed Koch have called the race a referendum on President Obama’s policies in general, and specifically his orientation toward Israel. They say a Turner victory would send a message that they don’t want to be the president’s rubber stamp. But Congress, controlled by Republicans, is no more popular in the district than Obama. And when polled, conservative Jews don’t list Israel among their top concerns. But of all voters who do say Israel is at the forefront of their minds, a mega-majority supports Turner.
Still, Obama always has had trouble with Orthodox Jews, and two Obama advisers said they understand that at least some of the frustration may be exercised in the form of a vote against the Democratic candidate. They concede that the election might bring to the fore how difficult it will be for Obama to win back the trust of independents—no matter what their faith. This New York contest would seem to have implications beyond Brooklyn and Queens.
Polling lurched in Turner’s direction late August when Weprin, in an interview with the New York Daily News editorial board, underestimated the size of the national debt by $10 trillion, suggesting he was ignorant about the main issue of the day. Then he dropped out of a debate, citing a hurricane that had already passed through the district.
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