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G-8 leaders to marshal support for Arab nations; President Barack Obama and the other leaders will seek to marshal their combined economic might behind …


G-8 leaders to marshal support for Arab nations
May 25, 2011, 9:57 a.m. EDT
Associated Press

Journal By Calvin Lee Ledsome Sr.,

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PARIS (AP) — Arab uprisings are pushing aside deficits and austerity as the biggest worry of the leaders of the Group of Eight industrialized nations this year.

President Barack Obama and the other leaders will seek to marshal their combined economic might behind the grass-roots democracy movements that have swept the Arab world — and driven away tourists and investors.

Egypt and Tunisia, where popular revolts this year overthrew authoritarian regimes, want to show G-8 leaders and international financiers that they are still sound investment destinations — which might be a tall order as the future shape and policies of their governments remains unclear.

The discussions starting Thursday in the chic Normandy resort of Deauville will see the host, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, bring together the heads of wealthy nations for what one of Sarkozy’s top advisers describes as “the founding moment” of a partnership between the G-8 and the Arab countries.

That partnership may be strained, however, by tensions over how to handle Libya’s rebel movement and entrenched leader Moammar Gadhafi. NATO appears to have no exit strategy, and efforts to oust Gadhafi remain elusive.

The leaders of the U.S., Canada, Britain, Germany, France, Japan, Italy and Russia will greet counterparts from Tunisia, Egypt and the head of the Arab League to hash out details of what some are calling a new “Marshall Plan” for these countries, similar to the massive U.S. aid to Europe after World War II that helped the continent rebuild and stave off communism.

The historic parallel is fitting, as Deauville is just a short drive along the English Channel from the D-Day landing beaches where the U.S. and its allies began to roll back the Third Reich in 1944.

A top Sarkozy official drew another historical analogy, saying the aid and investment to be promised to the Arab nations would resemble that which the G-8 offered to Eastern and Central European nations after the collapse of communism in 1989.

Last week President Barack Obama said the U.S. has asked the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund to present a plan at the G-8 summit that sets a path to stabilize and modernize the economies of Tunisia and Egypt.

The U.S. will forgive up to $1 billion in Egyptian debt and guarantee another $1 billion to finance infrastructure and new jobs. Obama said he will ask Congress to finance enterprise funds that will provide money for investment in both countries — a request that comes as Congress seeks to cut spending.

Tunisia, followed by Egypt, kicked off change around the Arab world, as broad-based popular movements took to the streets demanding greater rights and political representation from their authoritarian governments.

But the street demonstrations in Cairo and Tunis that thrilled and inspired the Arab world also drove away the tourists and investors on which these economies are heavily dependent.

“The first thing they will be looking for is direct financial aid,” said Said Hirsh, a Middle East economist with Capital Economics consultancy in London. “Both countries need quite a lot of money considering the hit to their economies and their revenues.”

While U.S. officials say G-8 countries will discuss their role in the process, they say it is too soon to reach a deal on dollar amounts for assistance.

The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, a London-based institution set up in 1991 to foster transition to market economies in post-communist Europe, could be “repurposed” to focus its expertise on the southern Mediterranean region, a top official in Sarkozy’s office said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of protocol.

The heads of the World Bank and the United Nations will also be present and add their signatures to the partnership declaration. Former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn, under house arrest in New York following his indictment for sexual assault, will be replaced for the event by the institution’s acting managing director John Lipsky.

Finding a permanent replacement for Strauss-Kahn is likely to take up a good part of the summiteers’ small talk.

Nuclear safety will be another topic, with Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan scheduled to provide leaders with an update on the continuing crisis at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant.

The future of the Internet will also figure in the G-8 leaders’ talks. Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook and Eric Schmidt of Google and other Internet executives took part in two days of debates focused broadly on the Internet’s impact on the global economy. Several of the Internet conference’s speakers will then take policy recommendations to Deauville in talks with the G-8 leaders.

Police have established one security cordon around the conference center where the leaders are meeting, and another perimeter encompassing all of Deauville. Local ports, train stations and the airport will be shut from Wednesday to Friday, and a no-fly zone enforced over the town.

The show of force may have discouraged radicals and other protesters from attempting to organize demonstrations close to the summit. Anti-G8 protesters plan symbolic demonstrations in the neighboring towns of Caen and Le Havre, but they do not plan to try to disrupt the event in Deauville itself, according to a statement circulated by radical groups online.

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Associated Press writers Julie Pace in Washington, D.C., Geir Moulson in Berlin, Charmaine Noronha in Toronto, David Stringer in London and Paul Schemm in Rabat, Morocco contributed to this report.

Greg Keller can be reached at http://twitter.com/Greg_Keller

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AP-GfK Poll: Most Americans say they don’t believe Medicare has to be cut to balance the federal budget ditto …,


AP-GfK Poll: Medicare doesn’t have to be cut
May 23, 2011, 7:02 a.m. EDT
Associated Press

Journal By Calvin Lee Ledsome Sr.,

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WASHINGTON (AP) — They’re not buying it. Most Americans say they don’t believe Medicare has to be cut to balance the federal budget, and ditto for Social Security, a new poll shows.

The Associated Press-GfK poll suggests that arguments for overhauling the massive benefit programs to pare government debt have failed to sway the public. The debate is unlikely to be resolved before next year’s elections for president and Congress.

Americans worry about the future of the retirement safety net, the poll found, and 3 out of 5 say the two programs are vital to their basic financial security as they age. That helps explain why the Republican Medicare privatization plan flopped, and why President Barack Obama’s Medicare cuts to finance his health care law contributed to Democrats losing control of the House in last year’s elections.

Medicare seems to be turning into the new third rail of politics.

“I’m pretty confident Medicare will be there, because there would be a rebellion among voters,” said Nicholas Read, 67, a retired teacher who lives near Buffalo, N.Y. “Republicans only got a hint of that this year. They got burned. They touched the hot stove.”

Combined, Social Security and Medicare account for about a third of government spending, a share that will only grow. Economic experts say the cost of retirement programs for an aging society is the most serious budget problem facing the nation. The trustees who oversee Social Security and Medicare recently warned the programs are “not sustainable” over the long run under current financing.

Nearly every solution for Social Security is politically toxic, because the choices involve cutting benefits or raising taxes. Medicare is even harder to fix because the cost of modern medicine is going up faster than the overall cost of living, outpacing economic growth as well as tax revenues.

“Medicare is an incredibly complex area,” said former Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., who used to chair the Budget Committee. “It’s a matrix that is almost incomprehensible. Unlike Social Security, which has four or five moving parts, Medicare has hundreds of thousands. There is no single approach to Medicare, whereas with Social Security everyone knows where the problem is.”

That’s not what the public sees, however.

“It’s more a matter of bungling, and lack of oversight, and waste and fraud, and padding of the bureaucracy,” said Carolyn Rodgers, who lives near Memphis, Tenn., and is still working as a legal assistant at 74. “There is no reason why even Medicare, if it had been handled right, couldn’t have been solvent.”

In the poll, 54 percent said it’s possible to balance the budget without cutting spending for Medicare, and 59 percent said the same about Social Security.

Taking both programs together, 48 percent said the government could balance the budget without cutting either one. Democrats and political independents were far more likely than Republicans to say that neither program will have to be cut.

The recession cost millions their jobs and sent retirement savings accounts into a nosedive. It may also have underscored the value of government programs. Social Security kept sending monthly benefits to 55 million recipients, like clockwork; Medicare went on paying for everything from wheelchairs to heart operations.

Overall, 70 percent in the poll said Social Security is “extremely” or “very” important to their financial security in retirement, and 72 percent said so for Medicare. Sixty-two percent said that both programs are extremely or very important.

The sentiment was a lot stronger among the elderly. Eighty-four percent of those 65 or older said both programs are central to their financial security. Compare that to adults under 30, just starting out. Just under half, or 46 percent, said they believed both Social Security and Medicare would be extremely or very important to their financial security in retirement.

Old, middle-aged or just entering the workforce, most people are keenly aware of the cost of health care, and that may be helping to focus more attention on Medicare.

“Health insurance these days is very costly, and it’s not something that most people can afford to go out and buy on their own,” said Tim Messner, 38, a technology quality assurance analyst from Barberton, Ohio. “I don’t know that we could possibly plan ahead for medical insurance, but if you had to replace Social Security or investments, you at least have an idea of what you can live on.”

Numbers tell the story. As health care goes up, the value of Medicare benefits is catching up to Social Security’s. A two-earner couple with average wages retiring in 1980 would have expected to receive health care worth $132,000 through Medicare over their remaining lifetimes, and $446,000, or about three times more, in Social Security payments.

For a similar couple who retired last year, the Medicare benefit will be worth $343,000, compared to Social Security payments totaling $539,000, less than twice as much. The numbers, from economists at the nonpartisan Urban Institute, are adjusted for inflation to allow direct comparison. For low-income single retirees and some couples, the value of expected Medicare benefits already exceeds that of Social Security.

The poll found a deep current of pessimism about the future of Social Security and Medicare. As much as Americans say the programs are indispensable, only 35 percent say it’s extremely or very likely that Social Security will be there to pay benefits through their entire retirement. For Medicare, it was 36 percent.

Again, there’s a sharp difference between what the public believes and what experts say. Most experts say the programs will be there for generations to come. But they may look very different than they do today, and Americans should take note.

“Do they have a basis for worrying that these programs are going to pay them much less than they’re currently promising?” asked economist Charles Blahous. “Yes, absolutely. Do they have a basis for being concerned that the programs may have to be structurally changed in order to survive? The answer to that is yes, too.” A trustee of Social Security and Medicare, Blahous served as an economic adviser to President George W. Bush.

Republican lawmakers don’t inspire much confidence right now when it comes to dealing with retirement programs, the poll found. Democrats have the advantage as the party more trusted to do a better job handling Social Security by 52 percent to 34 percent, and Medicare by 54 percent to 33 percent. Often, but not always, major revisions have been accomplished through bipartisan compromise.

Sue DeSantis, 61, a store clerk from West Milton, Ohio, worries she won’t be able to rely on either program. Both are important to her well-being, but she thinks changes are inevitable. And she has little confidence in lawmakers.

“I don’t put my faith in politicians, and I don’t put my faith in the government,” said DeSantis. “I’m a Christian. I believe that God will take care of me. That doesn’t mean I should be foolish and not look at anything, but I don’t believe that the politicians are necessarily going to do the best for the common ordinary person like myself.”

The Associated Press-GfK poll was conducted May 5-9, 2011, by GfK Roper Public Affairs & Corporate Communications. It involved landline and cell phone interviews with 1,001 adults nationwide and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 4.2 percentage points.

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Associated Press Polling Director Trevor Tompson, Deputy Director Jennifer Agiesta and AP News Survey Specialist Dennis Junius contributed to this report.

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Online:

Poll results: http://www.ap-gfkpoll.com

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2 out of 5 Americans believe the economy will get better


Americans more upbeat about economy
May 12, 2011, 10:01 a.m. EDT
Associated Press

Journal By Calvin Lee Ledsome Sr.,

Owner and Founder of: http://www.LedSomeBioMetrics.com

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Americans are growing more optimistic about the U.S. economy, a sentiment that is benefiting President Barack Obama despite public disenchantment with his handling of rising gasoline prices and swollen government budget deficits.

An Associated Press-GfK poll shows that more than 2 out of 5 people believe the U.S. economy will get better, while a third think it will stay the same and nearly a fourth think it will get worse, a rebound from last month’s more pessimistic attitude. And, for the first time since the 100-day mark of his presidency, slightly more than half approve of Obama’s stewardship of the economy.

Both findings represent a boost for Obama, though he still must overcome ill will over government red ink and the price of gas at the pump, now hovering around $4 a gallon.

But the public’s brighter economic outlook also could signal a boost to the current recovery, which relies to a great degree on consumer behavior. A public that is confident about economic performance is more likely to spend more and accelerate the economy’s resurgence.

The poll was conducted May 5-9 in the aftermath of the U.S. commando raid that killed Osama bin Laden, the al-Qaida leader behind the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The spike in public esteem for Obama as a result of that successful clandestine mission may have helped Obama’s standing on issues other than national security.

The poll coincides with renewed attention in Washington to the nation’s growing debt and the federal government’s long-term budget deficits, so any positive signs from the public could help Obama push his policy proposals. A bipartisan team of lawmakers is working with Vice President Joe Biden to identify spending cuts. Meanwhile, lawmakers also are discussing major structural changes to the tax system and to the government’s mammoth benefits programs of Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.

The results of the AP-GfK poll stood out because other surveys taken after bin Laden’s death, while showing a spike in support for the president, continued to indicate dissatisfaction by a majority for his handling of the economy. Still, like the AP-GfK poll, other surveys also found American attitudes about the state of the nation improving.

Forty-five percent of those polled in the AP-GfK survey said the country was now moving in the right direction, an increase of 10 percentage points from five weeks ago. And attitudes about life in general remained positive, with 4 out of 5 respondents saying they were happy or somewhat happy with their circumstances.

“Once you hit bottom the only one way to go is up,” said John Bair, 23, a photographer and filmmaker from Pittsburgh. “Everybody that I come in contact with seems to be on the upswing. I consider that a pretty good thing.”

But Bair, who describes himself as a moderate to conservative independent, doesn’t believe Obama deserves re-election. He strongly disapproves of the president’s handling of gasoline prices and says Obama should do more to increase domestic production of oil.

“When I’m paying $4 for a gallon of gas, it gets me wondering what’s going on,” he said.

Obama has tried to appear engaged on gas prices even though there is little presidents can do to alter market fluctuations. He has called for new renewable energy policies and for eliminating tax breaks for oil and gas companies, while conceding those steps will not address the current price increases. The efforts have not given the public much to cheer about, however. A total of 61 percent disapprove of Obama’s approach to the rising cost of gasoline.

Indeed, for all the long-term confidence that the economy will recover, the public is hardly upbeat about the current state of things. Only 21 percent describe the economy as good and 73 percent describe it as poor. About 1 in 5 thought the economy got better during the past month; an equal number thought it got worse.

A favorable jobs report last Friday showed that private companies had exceeded expectations by creating 268,000 jobs last month, the third month of at least 200,000 new jobs. And while unemployment has dropped from a high of 10.1 percent nationally in October 2009, it is now 9 percent, the same as in January.

“We haven’t done anything to create the jobs that (Obama) promised —that all of them promised,” said John Grezaffi, 60, a rancher from Pointe Coupee Parish, La.

Grezaffi, taking a short break from working to shore up his land against a rising Mississippi River on Wednesday, said he somewhat supports Obama but does not support his handling of the economy and believes the country is moving in the wrong direction.

Approaching retirement age, he said he wasn’t eager to see his upcoming benefits shortchanged.

“I’m willing to give up a little, but not everything when you see the waste that occurs in so many other areas,” he said.

Deana Floss, 39, a Springfield, Ohio, restaurant cook and owner of a cleaning business, voiced lukewarm approval for Obama even though she doesn’t care for the state of the economy or Obama’s handling of the nation’s budget deficits.

“I don’t think he has done a very bad job with the economy,” she said. “It was already going downhill when he took the reins.”

The Associated Press-GfK Poll was conducted by GfK Roper Public Affairs and Corporate Communications. It involved landline and cell phone interviews with 1,001 adults nationwide and had a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 4.2 percentage points.

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Associated Press Deputy Polling Director Jennifer Agiesta contributed to this report.

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Online:

http://www.ap-gfkpoll.com

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China is facing threats of U.S. economic sanctions on goods shipped to the U.S.


US, China to talk trade, currency, human rights
May 9, 2011, 8:38 a.m. EDT

Journal By Calvin Lee Ledsome Sr.,

Owner and Founder of: http://www.LedSomeBioMetrics.com

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WASHINGTON (AP) — America’s massive trade deficit with China, currency rates and human rights concerns will all be on the agenda when top officials from the United States and China sit down for high-level talks this week.

The annual meetings will bring together top officials from both countries representing dozens of government agencies in the areas of trade and finance, and foreign policy.

While no major breakthroughs are expected, both sides hope to build on the progress made during a state visit by Chinese President Hu Jintao to Washington in January.

That visit helped smooth relations that had been strained in 2010 over such issues as U.S. military sales to Taiwan.

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke will lead the U.S. team.

Both countries will, for the first time, bring top military leaders to the discussions in an effort to defuse military tensions that were heightened last year by the U.S. arms sales.

The Chinese team will be led by Vice Premier Wang Qishan, China’s top economic policymaker, and State Counselor Dai Bingguo, a veteran diplomat.

The talks will begin with an opening session and then break into separate discussions on the economy and foreign policy. The U.S. and Chinese leaders are also scheduled to meet Monday with President Barack Obama. The talks wrap up on Tuesday.

China is facing threats of U.S. economic sanctions on goods shipped here to its largest foreign market unless it does more to end what U.S. manufacturers say are unfair trade practices, including currency manipulation, that have cost American jobs.

At the same time, China, America’s biggest foreign creditor, wants assurances that its $1.2 trillion in U.S. Treasury holdings are safe despite the impending congressional debate over raising the government’s $14.3 trillion borrowing limit.

“The Chinese are astounded that the U.S. government would let the debate get to the stage where there is even a remote possibility of a default,” said Eswar Prasad, a China expert at Cornell University.

The higher debt limit is needed to make sure America can keep paying the interest bill on the debt to China and other investors.

While Geithner said last week that the U.S. would press China to accelerate efforts to revalue its currency, the yuan, he also sounded a conciliatory tone. He noted that the yuan has risen in value by 5 percent since last June, and even faster once inflation was taken into account.

A softer approach on China’s currency will not please American manufacturers. They contend that China’s currency is undervalued by as much as 40 percent and they want Congress to approve economic penalties if Beijing doesn’t move faster.

The U.S. trade deficit with China last year was a record $273 billion, one-fifth more than in 2009. The administration is considering filing new trade cases against Chinese practices that U.S. companies contend are unfair.

U.S. officials say they want to see more progress on economic commitments made in January.

Those include closer monitoring of Chinese government purchases of software, a move intended to boost Beijing’s buying of legal U.S. software and reduce its use of pirated software. American companies say such theft is costing them billions in lost sales.

The Chinese also pledged to revamp a policy that limits the ability of U.S. companies to compete for Chinese government projects unless the products are designed in China. American businesses regard this as an effort to force them to turn over their technology to China or be locked out of its government market.

On foreign policy, officials said Clinton will renew efforts to gain China’s support in confronting nuclear threats from North Korea and Iran, and she will raise the issue of human rights.

China recently undertook the biggest security crackdown in years, apparently prompted by the communist leadership’s fear of Middle East-inspired unrest migrating to China.

The high-level talks began in 2006 in the Bush administration and focused on economic issues. The Obama administration expanded the focus in 2009 to include foreign policy as well as economic concerns.

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Associated Press writers Matthew Pennington in Washington and Joe McDonald in Beijing contributed to this report.

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World stocks rise after death of Osama bin Laden


World stocks rise after death of Osama bin Laden
May 2, 2011, 4:54 a.m. EDT
Posted by Calvin Lee Ledsome Sr.,
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TOKYO (AP) — Major world stock markets rose, the dollar strengthened and oil prices were lower after news that U.S. forces killed terror mastermind Osama bin Laden following a near-decade-long manhunt.

President Barack Obama announced during holiday-thinned Asian trading hours that the man who inspired the deadly Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks in the United States was killed in Pakistan in a U.S.-led operation.

Japan’s Nikkei 225 gained 1.6 percent to 10,004.20 — the highest closing since an earthquake and tsunami on March 11 decimated the country’s northeastern coast.

South Korea’s Kospi index, meanwhile, advanced 1.7 percent to a new record high of 2,228.96, bringing the Seoul benchmark’s gain so far this year to 8.7 percent.

European markets opened higher. France’s CAC-40 rose 0.3 percent to 4,120.03 and Germany’s DAX gained 0.7 percent to 7,563.52. Britain’s FTSE 100 was closed for a holiday.

Wall Street, meanwhile, was set to open higher. Dow Jones industrial futures rose 0.6 percent to 12,837 and S&P futures gained 0.6 percent 1,367.80.

Ben Potter, market strategist at IG Markets in Melbourne, Australia, said that bin Laden’s death was an immediate boost for equity markets.

“However, like many euphoric bounces, they are often short lived, especially given the possibility for reprisal attacks from extremists,” he wrote in a report.

The greenback rose to 81.51 yen from 81.10 yen. The euro, meanwhile, was weaker at $1.4819 from $1.4839 late Friday in New York.

The dollar was bought on the belief that “terror risk will get smaller” for the United States, said Yuji Kameoka, chief currency strategist at Daiwa Securities Capital Markets in Tokyo. He said that yen weakness and a decline in the price of crude oil were boosting Japanese stock prices.

Oil prices eased off 2½-year highs to below $113 a barrel after Obama announced bin Laden’s had been killed.

Benchmark crude for June delivery was down $1.40 at $112.53 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract settled at $113.93 per barrel on the Nymex on Friday and reached $114.18 during in the session, the highest since September 2008.

Declining oil prices helped boost shares of airlines, which are sensitive to fuel prices. Korean Air Lines Co. Ltd., the country’s largest air carrier, soared 6.6 percent. Rival Asiana Airlines Inc. soared 12 percent. Japan’s All Nippon Airways Co. Ltd. jumped 2.5 percent.

Stock trading in Asia was thin amid a slew of holidays this week in the region. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index and mainland China’s Shanghai Composite Index were closed Monday as were stock markets in Taiwan, Malaysia and Singapore. The Nikkei, Asia’s largest market, will be closed Tuesday through Thursday for Japan’s annual Golden Week holiday.

Australia’s S&P/ASX 200, meanwhile, recovered from early losses to rise less than 0.1 percent to 4,825.30. Markets in the Philippines and Indonesia also rose, but New Zealand and India were lower.

Markets in Japan and South Korea started in positive territory after the Dow Jones industrial average rose Friday on positive earnings news as construction equipment manufacturer Caterpillar reported strong first-quarter profit.

The Dow rose 47.23 points Friday, or 0.4 percent, to close at 12,810.54, rounding out April 4 percent higher, its best month since December.

Caterpillar, the world’s largest maker of mining and construction equipment, rose 2.5 percent after its earnings increased more than fivefold. The company also raised its sales and profit forecast for the year.

Japan’s Komatsu Ltd., the world’s No. 2 equipment maker, rose 1.7 percent in Tokyo.

Broader indices in the U.S. also gained.

The Standard & Poor’s 500 index rose 3.13 points, or 0.2 percent, to close at 1,363.61. The index gained 2.8 percent in April. The Nasdaq composite added 1.01 point to 2,873.54. It rose 3.3 percent for the month.

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United States government risk losing the nation’s sterling credit rating.


S&P warning: Fix deficit or risk credit rating

Posted by Calvin Lee Ledsome Sr.,

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WASHINGTON (AP) — A key credit agency issued an unprecedented warning to the United States government Monday, urging Washington to get a grip on its finances or risk losing the nation’s sterling credit rating.

For the first time, Standard & Poor’s lowered its long-term outlook for the federal government’s fiscal health from “stable” to “negative,” and warned of serious consequences if lawmakers fail to reach a deal to control the massive federal deficit.

An impasse could prompt the agency to strip the government of its top investment rating in the next two years, S&P said. A loss of the triple-A rating would ripple through the American economy, making loans more expensive and credit more difficult to obtain.

The downgrade was interpreted as a rebuke to President Barack Obama and congressional Republicans, admonishing them to put politics aside and come up with a long-term financial plan as soon as possible.

“This is a warning: Don’t mess around,” said Robert Bixby, executive director of the Concord Coalition, a nonpartisan group that is pushing for deficit reduction.

Analysts at S&P have never before used the outlook to cast doubt on the nation’s credit worthiness.

In response, stocks suffered their worst slide in a month. The Dow Jones industrial average plunged 245 points before recovering to close down 140 points for the day.

“The credit quality of U.S. debt is sacrosanct, and legislators will do everything within their power to avoid a downgrade,” said Jack Ablin, chief investment officer at Harris Private Bank.

The government is on pace to run a record $1.5 trillion deficit this year, the third consecutive deficit exceeding $1 trillion.

But so far, S&P sees little chance that the White House and Congress will agree on a deficit-reduction plan before the November 2012 elections, and the rating agency doubts that any plan would be in place until 2014 or later.

Obama and congressional Republicans are sparring over how to reduce the nation’s red ink. If Congress refuses to raise the nation’s debt limit this spring, and the U.S. Treasury lost authority to borrow additional money, the government would not be able to pay its bills and would default on its debt.

Although it’s a worst-case scenario that’s highly unlikely, default by the government means anyone owning federal debt of any kind — bills, notes, bonds — could go unpaid.

Both sides have proposed cutting $4 trillion from future deficits over the next 10 to 12 years.

The White House wants to reduce the deficit through spending cuts and by ending the Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthy. Republicans reject that, calling it a tax increase. They seek instead to narrow the deficit largely by overhauling Medicare and cutting spending elsewhere.

The credit report called the two proposals a “starting point” of the process, but warned that the gap between the parties remained wide.

S&P took no position about how to reduce the deficit or how to change spending and revenue plans.

“But for any plan to be credible, we believe that it would need to secure support from a cross-section of leaders in both parties,” S&P said in its report.

A lower credit rating would drive up the government’s borrowing costs. It could lead to higher interest rates on everything from mortgages to car loans and threaten to slow U.S. economic growth.

Ablin said the credit worthiness of the country is the underpinning on which all other asset classes are valued.

“If all of a sudden the credit quality of U.S. Treasurys isn’t as high as people perceive, we could see erosion of confidence,” he said.

For now, S&P continues to give the U.S. government its top investment ranking. That means S&P believes that the U.S. government can and will repay its debts and that Treasury investments are virtually risk-free. But the agency says the U.S. faces a one in three chance of a downgrade in the next two years. That would likely happen if the White House and Congress could not come up with a credible plan for reducing debt.

The other major credit agencies — Moody’s and Fitch Ratings — did not match S&P’s outlook warning.

S&P gives its top investment rating to just 19 of the 127 countries it analyzes. But it says Britain, France and Germany moved much faster to contain deficits after the 2008 financial crisis and 2007-2009 recession, which cut tax revenues and forced governments to spend more on unemployment benefits, aid to the poor and bailouts of the banking system. Those countries also have top-notch investment ratings.

S&P noted that the U.S. deficit grew to 11 percent of economic activity in 2009, a risky percentage. The deficit averaged less than half that percentage in the previous six years.

The government was beginning to run surpluses at the end of the Clinton administration. But deficits returned after President George W. Bush’s tax cuts, a 2001 recession, wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and a massive expansion of Medicare’s drug coverage.

The deficit widened even more after the Great Recession started in 2007, depleting tax revenue and raising spending to stimulate the economy and provide benefits for the unemployed and the poor.

In the past, credit warnings have jolted politicians into action.

In May 2009, Standard & Poor’s downgraded its long-term outlook on the United Kingdom to negative, saying that the country’s debt could double in four years.

Prime Minister David Cameron and his Conservative-Liberal coalition government laid out plans to cut nearly 500,000 jobs and reduce welfare spending. Britain’s economy also posted modest gains, and the ratings agency changed its outlook in October back to “stable,” noting the government’s “political resolve.”

In recent months, at least two countries — Portugal and Greece — have had their credit ratings downgraded as they endured financial woes of their own.

The Obama administration embraced Monday’s warning as a welcome call for cooperation among the two political parties. Press secretary Jay Carney said the White House believes the political process will outperform the agency’s expectations because the president and Congress recognize the problem.

A budget showdown is likely in the next few weeks. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner has said the government will reach its debt limit no later than May 16. He can juggle funds to keep the government running until about July 8, after which the government could not pay its bills.

On Sunday, Geithner said Republican leaders have privately assured the Obama administration that Congress will raise the government’s borrowing limit in time to avoid an unprecedented default on the nation’s debt.

But Rep. Eric Cantor, the No. 2 Republican in the House, took a hard line Monday, calling the S&P announcement “a wake-up call to those in Washington asking Congress to blindly increase the debt limit.” He said Republicans would only agree to raise the debt ceiling if the White House agrees to “serious reforms that immediately reduce federal spending and to end the culture of debt in Washington.”

A bipartisan deficit-reduction commission appointed by Obama recommended late last year that about $4 trillion be slashed from budget deficits during the coming decade.

Under the commission’s plan, roughly two-thirds of the savings would come through spending cuts and one-third through increased tax revenue. Although overall tax rates would decline, dozens of popular tax breaks would be scaled back or eliminated, including the child tax credit, mortgage interest deductions and deductions claimed by employers who provide health insurance.

Obama praised the panel for its work, but embraced few of its recommendations, and none of the major ones on new taxes.

For now, U.S. politicians are at a stalemate. “There is bipartisan agreement on the need to reduce the debt by $4 trillion over roughly the next decade,” said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y. “Now we just need to resolve how to do it.”

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Associated Press writers Pallavi Gogoi and Janna Herron in New York and Derek Kravitz, Andrew Taylor, Jeannine Aversa and Ben Feller in Washington contributed to this report.

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President Obama: Plans Are Simple, Cut spending, raise taxes on the wealthy


Obama: Cut spending, raise taxes on the wealthy
Posted by Calvin Lee Ledsome Sr.,
Owner and Founder of: http://www.LedSomeBioMetrics.com


WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama coupled a call for $4 trillion in long-term deficit reductions with a blistering attack on Republican plans for taxes, Medicare and Medicaid on Wednesday, laying down markers for a roiling debate in Congress and the 2012 presidential campaign to come.

Obama said spending cuts and higher taxes alike must be part of any deficit-reduction plan, including an end to Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthy. He proposed an unspecified “debt failsafe” that would go into effect if Congress failed to make sure the national debt would be falling by 2014 relative to the size of the overall economy.

“We have to live within our means, reduce our deficit and get back on a path that will allow us to pay down our debt,” the president said in a speech at George Washington University a few blocks from the White House. “And we have to do it in a way that protects the recovery, and protects the investments we need to grow, create jobs and win the future.”

Obama’s speech was salted with calls for bipartisanship, but it also bristled with attacks on Republicans. They want to “end Medicare as we know it,” he said, and to extend tax cuts for the wealthy while demanding that seniors pay more for health care.

“That’s not right, and it’s not going to happen as long as I am president,” he vowed. Medicare serves 47 million seniors and disabled people.

Obama spoke to an audience that included Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., author of the House Republican budget that drew repeated presidential scorn. The Budget Committee chairman later told reporters he had been excited to receive an invitation to the speech, believing the administration was extending an olive branch.

“Instead, what we got was a speech that was excessively partisan, dramatically inaccurate and hopelessly inadequate to addressing our country’s pressing fiscal challenges,” Ryan said. “What we heard today was not fiscal leadership from our commander in chief. What we heard today was a political broadside from our campaigner in chief.”

Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, noted that the administration has asked Congress to raise the debt limit, but said, “the American people will not stand for that unless it is accompanied by serious action to reduce our deficit. More promises, hollow targets and Washington commissions simply won’t get the job done.”

The president spoke less than a week after he reached a compromise with Boehner on an unprecedented package of $38 billion in spending cuts for this year just in time to avoid a partial government shutdown. Both houses of Congress are expected to pass the measure in the next 24 hours or so, closing the books on the current budget year and clearing the way for a far more defining debate about the size and shape of the government.

Obama stepped to the podium at a juncture when tea party-backed Republicans are relishing early victories in the House, the 2012 Republican presidential field is just beginning to take shape and moderate Democratic lawmakers are charting their re-election campaigns in swing seats. His emphasis on deficit reduction marked an appeal to independents as well as other voters who are eager to stem record annual deficits as well as gain control over a national debt that is more than $14 trillion.

At the same time, he sought to keep faith with liberals and other supporters.

To opponents of revisions in Medicare, Medicaid or Social Security, he said, “I guarantee that if we don’t make any changes at all, we won’t be able to keep our commitments to a retiring generation that will live longer and face higher health care costs than those who came before.”

Of $4 trillion in cuts, Obama said $2 trillion should come from spending, $1 trillion from overhauling the tax system to eliminate some tax breaks and loopholes, and the rest recouped from lower interest payments on the national debt

Obama also wants to allow Bush-era tax cuts to expire for individuals making $200,000 or more a year and couples making $250,000 or more. The revenue that would generate is not counted in his $4 trillion in deficit reduction.

Administration officials said military spending would be reduced by $400 billion through 2023, domestic programs would absorb $770 billion in cuts and mandatory programs such as agricultural subsidies another $360 billion.

An additional $480 billion would be saved from Medicare, which provides health care principally to 33 million seniors, and from Medicaid, a state-federal program that covers lower-income families and is ticketed for a huge expansion under the health care program Obama signed into law last year.

In line with the wishes of Senate Democratic leaders, the president made no recommendations for savings from Social Security, which he said is neither in a crisis nor “a driver of our near-term deficit problems.” He said he supports unspecified steps to strengthen it for the long term, but ruled out any attempt to privatize it.

The president also urged Congress to pass tax changes, and he suggested he was open to curtailing a homeowners’ tax deduction that can currently be claimed by filers at all income levels.

Obama’s plan relied on some of the same deficit reduction measures proposed in December by a bipartisan fiscal commission he appointed. The president is scheduled to meet Thursday at the White House with the co-chairmen of the commission, Democrat Erskine Bowles and Republican Alan Simpson.

Neither Obama nor his aides distributed any detailed accounting of the effect of his recommendations on the deficit, which is expected to top $1.5 trillion this year, or the debt, now more than $14 trillion.

Obama saved some of his sharpest rhetoric for Republican proposals to end traditional Medicare for anyone currently under 55, and to give the states near-total control over Medicaid.

For Medicare, he said, “It says instead of guaranteed health care, you will get a voucher. And if that voucher isn’t worth enough to buy insurance, tough luck — you’re on your own.”

He said the Republican budget could cost 50 million Americans health care coverage in all, including grandparents needing nursing home care, children with autism and kids “with disabilities so severe that they require 24-hour care. These are the Americans we’d be telling to fend for themselves.”

The debt has grown for much of the past few decades, with the exception of a brief period after President Bill Clinton and Republicans in Congress reached a compromise that permitted payments to reduce it.

Even a recounting of the debt’s history had a political subtext.

Beginning in 2000, the president said, “we increased spending dramatically for two wars and an expensive prescription drug programs, but we didn’t pay for any of this new spending. Instead, we made the problem worse with trillions of dollars in unpaid-for tax cuts.” That was a reference to policies pursued by President George W. Bush and the Republicans who controlled Congress for six of his eight years in office.

Obama made a glancing reference to the 2012 presidential race, saying that some of his potential Republican rivals had signed onto the budget House republicans are advancing.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, one likely GOP candidate, issued a statement that said Obama had “dug deep into his liberal playbook for solutions highlighted by higher taxes.”

Another, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, said that with his speech, the president showed a “lack of seriousness on deficit reduction.”

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