Posts Tagged ‘George W. Bush’

RNC Deja Vu

Wednesday, August 29th, 2012

As Hurricane Isaac barreled its way up the Gulf Coast, the GOP was forced to cancel the first day of its Tampa-based 2012 nominating convention because of the whims of Mother Nature.

The storm brought back unwanted memories of 2008’’s Hurricane Gustav, which forced the Republicans to postpone the start of the convention that nominated John McCain for president  — a gathering that was held more than 1,000 miles away in St. Paul.  In fact, Gustav caused outgoing President George W. Bush to cancel his planned convention speech and stay in Washington, D.C., to monitor the storm‘s progress.

Republican strategists believe that the storm will limit the media coverage that the GOP receives to launch Romney.   “We are going to make sure that we monitor the storm as it proceeds,” said Russ Schriefer, a Romney adviser who is helping to produce the convention.  “Obviously, our first concern is for the people who are in the path of the storm.  We have a wait-and-see attitude.”  Monday’s streamlined program consisted of RNC chair Reince Priebus’ ceremonial rap of the gavel to a virtually empty convention hall.  The television networks, which planned just one hour a night of prime-time coverage, divided their attention between the convention and the storm.  An editorial in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, referred to the gathering as “the incredible shrinking convention

The convention was more or less back to normal scheduling on Tuesday,  with the highlights expected to be prime-time speeches by Ann Romney and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.

Television programming on Monday night mostly reverted to the networks’ usual schedules.  According to Sam Feist, CNN’s Washington bureau chief,  while the network hasn’’t moved any staff covering the convention out of Tampa to cover the storm, it plans to contrast the weather story with the political one.  “”You’’ll see us mixing both stories together, because they’’re both connected, and you’’ll see us covering both,” Feist said.  “We certainly can walk and chew gum at the same time.””

Writing in the Washington Post, Dana Milbank notes that “the RNC’’s Priebus contributed to the irrelevance with his seven-minute show on Monday.  He took the stage to tepid applause from a sparse crowd. “‘Wow!’ he said.  ‘It is my privilege to proclaim the 2012 Republican National Convention in session and called to order”,’ Priebus said.”

On a more serious note, the slow-moving Isaac — which hit the Crescent City as a Category 1 hurricane with heavy rain and winds up to 100 mph — is also likely to test the federal response to a natural disaster in the region on the seventh anniversary of the tragic Hurricane Katrina that devastated New Orleans.  Although Tampa was spared the worst of Isaac’s wrath, landfall in Louisiana could create painful split-screen images of the convention juxtaposed with the hurricane.

The Elizabeth Warren Quote That Has Everyone Talking

Monday, October 17th, 2011

Elizabeth Warren, who is running for the Senate in Massachusetts as a progressive Democrat, has caused controversy between the right and left with the following statement: “There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. Nobody. You built a factory out there — good for you. “But I want to be clear. You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers that the rest of us paid to educate. Part of the underlying social contract is you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along.”

Speaking at a small gathering at a supporter’s house, Warren also said “My favorite part of looking at this hole, we got in this hole, one billion dollars, uh, one trillion dollars, on tax cuts for the rich under George Bush. We got into this hole two trillion dollars on two wars that were put on a credit card for our children and grandchildren to pay off. And we got into this hole one trillion on a Medicare drug program that was not paid for and was 40 percent more expensive than its needs to be because it was a giveaway to the drug companies. That’s just four trillion right there. So part of the way you fix this problem is don’t do those things! I hear all this, oh this is class warfare, no! You were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for. You didn’t have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory. Now look.”

Warren, a Harvard law professor, is leading in polls in Massachusetts. Brown showed no interest in discussing politics on the day when the Democratic-leaning Public Policy Polling survey showed him behind Warren for the first time in a general election match-up. “There’s going to be plenty of polls. I don’t think about polls. Never been a big poll guy,” Brown said.

The website Behind Blue Lines takes an opposite approach. It notes that “Ah, Professor, have you ever heard of property taxes, excise taxes, income taxes, fuel taxes – and on and on? The entrepreneur pays them too, I can assure you. They pay for the roads, schools, firemen and police – often several times over. And who’s this ‘we’, anyway? Would that be ‘we’ as in know-betters like you? Or would it be ‘we’ in the sense of all the people who pay taxes, including the miscreant who ‘builds a factory’ (and creates valuable products and services benefiting all) and ‘hired workers’ (and paid them taxable wages and benefits). The ‘work the rest of us did’, indeed. What stinks the most about her tirade, however, is the arrogant assumption that we are all state property. That everything we are, including our very selves, belongs to government. I feel obliged to point out that her campaign was forced to admit that she was paid $192,722 for her ‘services’ on the TARP panel.

AmeriCorps Funding Is on the Congressional Chopping Block

Monday, April 11th, 2011

Budget cutters on Capitol Hill are aiming their scissors at AmeriCorps, which was created in 1993 when President Bill Clinton signed into law the National Community Service Trust Act. With the stroke of a pen, Clinton created the Corporation for National and Community Service and brought domestic community service programs under a single umbrella organization.  This legislation built on the first National Service Act signed by President H.W. Bush in 1990 as part of his “Points of Light” campaign.  AmeriCorps is a network of national service programs that engage Americans in a year of public service to meet the nation’s needs in education, public safety, health, and the environment.

Writing in The New Republic, former AmeriCorps member Tiffany Stanley says “Now, 17 years after its creation, AmeriCorps is on the chopping block.  The most recent continuing resolution passed by the House would cut all federal funding for the agency that oversees the program, the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), effectively wiping out AmeriCorps.  Ending the program would not only eliminate jobs for the 85,000 individuals who serve each year through AmeriCorps, it would also significantly burden organizations like Habitat for Humanity, Teach for America (TFA) and City Year that depend on AmeriCorps participants for their cost-effective labor.”

“This is potentially a devastating disaster, a civic tsunami,” said Karen Baker, California state Cabinet secretary for service and volunteering.  AmeriCorps is one of many programs targeted for cuts by the House of Representatives’ new Republican majority, which campaigned on a promise to slash spending in Washington.  The House’s conservative caucus, the Republican Study Committee, disagrees with the living stipends and education awards offered to AmeriCorps members.  “With the federal budget going $4.3 trillion — plus interest -=-into the red in just the last three years, paying people to ‘volunteer’ is not an appropriate use of taxpayer money,” caucus spokesman Brian Straessle wrote.  A House of Representatives spending bill approved in February cuts $1.15 billion for the Corporation for National and Community Service, effectively shutting down the federal agency that operates AmeriCorps.

According to Stanley, AmeriCorps had much bipartisan support throughout its history.  “Perhaps the most objectionable element of the proposal is that many of the programs that AmeriCorps funds are exactly the kind that so-called compassionate conservatives are supposed to support,” she writes.  “Rather than offering a government hand-out, AmeriCorps-backed programs like Habitat for Humanity which require low-income recipients to work alongside volunteers.  (As Newt Gingrich once wrote:  ‘I am proud to work with Habitat for Humanity, which helps poor people build their own homes.’)  And, over the years, AmeriCorps’ efficacy has won over a host of conservatives, including John McCain and Colin Powell.”

Exactly what do AmeriCorps members do?  Stanley notes that “Corps members spend a year or two in the most blighted neighborhoods in America, serving in non-profits, social service agencies and community- and faith-based organizations.  They teach in schools, clean up parks, create affordable housing, and respond to natural disasters.  Last year, for example, 650 AmeriCorps members serving with Habitat for Humanity helped manage 200,000 volunteers, completing 3,500 houses.”

Representative Hal Rogers (R-KY), the House Appropriations Chair, claims the cuts are necessary and will “weed out excessive, unnecessary and wasteful spending, making tough choices to prioritize programs based on their effectiveness.”  Considering that AmeriCorps attracts more than $800 million annually from private and non-federal resources, Stanley says that its proven results and sound funding hardly makes it “excessive” or “wasteful.”

A Boston Globe editorial also questions cutting the AmeriCorps program.  “Beyond that, the national service program has become an incubator for initiatives — in areas ranging from housing to urban education –promising a more entrepreneurial, participatory approach to addressing public needs.  This kind of innovation should appeal to budget-conscious lawmakers, even if it involves some up-front expense.  The national service agency mobilizes more than five million Americans — mostly unpaid volunteers — who fan out into schools, food banks, senior developments, homeless shelters, and other areas in need of experienced hands.  Some Republicans look askance at the modest stipends offered by some of the service programs.  AmeriCorps members, for example, scrape by on about $12,000 in living expenses during their year of service.  What Republicans ignore is that each AmeriCorps member is expected to recruit 30 or more unpaid volunteers.  And that the commitment to public service lasts long after the stipend disappears.  Thankfully, many senior Republicans, including former President George W. Bush, have stepped forward to defend it as a means of leveraging Americans’ community spirit.  Even in a time of deficits, when all acknowledge that some worthy programs will have to be cut, the agency looks completely out of place on the chopping block.”

Half of Americans Worry About Making Mortgage Payments

Tuesday, November 9th, 2010

Approximately 53 percent of all Americans are concerned that they will not be able to pay their mortgage or rent.  A recent Washington Post poll found that 53 percent of all Americans are concerned that they will not be able to pay their mortgage or rent, despite the fact that they believe the economy has shown some improvement since the dark days of 2008.  The worry is driven by slow job creation, said Karen Dynan, who served as a Federal Reserve economist and on George W. Bush’s Council of Economic Advisors.  According to Dynan, “The unemployment rate is still very high, so if you think of it as being about the odds of someone losing their job and not being able to find another there’s good reason to be concerned about being able to make mortgage payments,” according to Dynan, who is now co-director of economic studies at the Brookings Institution.

More than half of Americans want the Obama administration to impose a moratorium on foreclosures on homeowners who are unable to make payments.  The president and his economic advisors oppose the idea, saying it is dangerous to a housing market that is still on shaky ground.  The push for a moratorium is driven primarily by people’s worries about personal finances and the economy as a whole.  Not surprisingly, the people most worried about making their payments are strong supporters of the moratorium.  Compounding the situation is the fact that several lenders – notably Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase and Ally Financial – were found to have significant errors in some of their foreclosure documents.  Of those polled, 52 percent support the moratorium, while 34 percent oppose it.

So who do Americans think is responsible for the foreclosure mess?  The mortgage lenders are to blame, according to 45 percent of poll respondents; 26 percent thought that homebuyers who purchased beyond their means are the guilty party; another 20 percent blames both sides.  Cara Habegger of Akron, OH, summed up the last point of view.  “Certainly they are both at fault.  Most people tend to blame the big institutions and that’s valid but if you’re making poor financial decisions and buying houses you can’t afford, that’s also not excusable,” she said.

Next Up on the Presidential Agenda? Reforming Fannie and Freddie

Thursday, August 5th, 2010

Reforming Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac is next on President Obama’s to do list.  The next item on President Barack Obama’s ambitious agenda is likely to be overhauling Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the government-backed mortgage firms that so far have cost American taxpayers $145 billion to keep afloat.  The two firms, which own more than half of the nation’s $11 trillion in home mortgages, collapsed along with the housing market and were taken over by the federal government in September of 2008.

Many Congressional Republicans believe that scrapping Fannie and Freddie is mandatory; Democrats disagree and President Obama is expected to support reforms backed by consumer, real estate and banking groups.  The core of the emerging consensus is to preserve the 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage.  Susan Woodward, former chief economist at the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and a founder of Sand Hill Econometrics, said “People regard it as a right as Americans to get a 30-year, fixed-rate loan.”

Banks and builders agree with consumer advocates representing homebuyers that it’s good for the government to promote residential lending by supporting what Fannie and Freddie have done for years – purchasing mortgages and bundle them into securities that they sell to investors.  When the system works as intended, the MBS market creates additional money that is funneled back into the market to make new affordable loans.  The task is to determine how to accomplish this without the lax practices that the taxpayers had to pay for when catastrophic losses occurred in 2008.

The Obama Administration and leading Democrats strongly believe that the federal government should have a role in promoting homeownership.  Shaun Donovan, HUD Secretary, said “We should not compromise any of our core policy goals in the decisions we make in structuring our house financing system.”

Pre-Crisis Credit Levels Will Return Slowly

Wednesday, August 4th, 2010

 Fed Governor Elizabeth Duke says full recovery from the recession will take time.  As the nation gradually recovers from the Great Recession, several years are likely to pass before lending returns to pre-crisis levels, according to Federal Reserve Governor Elizabeth Duke.  The return of credit growth is far slower than during any business cycle of the last four decades with the sole exception of the 1990 – 1991 recession.  At that time, consumer credit required three years and commercial real estate nearly nine years to recover, Duke said in a recent speech.

Since December of 2008, the Fed has kept its target interest rate at zero to 0.25 percent in an effort to reduce the cost of borrowing and help the economy recover from the Great Recession.  Even so, loans held by commercial banks slid by approximately five percent in 2009.  “Just as the causes for the decline in lending are multifaceted and complex and took time to evolve, the solutions will likely be equally difficult and will take time to fully work,” Duke said.  She is the sole former commercial banker to serve on the Fed’s Board of Governors.  “We at the Federal Reserve, meanwhile, will continue to do everything we can to encourage a return to a healthy credit environment.”

According to data released by the Federal Reserve, consumer borrowing increased in April for the first time in three months.  The Fed’s Open Market Committee notes that household spending is restrained by “high unemployment, modest income growth, lower housing wealth and tight credit.”  Duke said that “Just looking at the statistics, it is not hard to construct a scenario in which consumer demand for credit remains sluggish for quite a while.  Household net worth dropped about 25 percent during the crisis, about 20 percent of mortgage borrowers lack equity in their homes and consumers are quite burdened by debt payments.”

The Federal Government Takes First Steps to Bail Out Banks

Tuesday, October 21st, 2008

The Treasury Department is spending the first $250 billion of the $700 billion rescue bill that Congress recently approved in an attempt to defuse the financial crisis that has dominated the headlines for weeks.  According to a recent article on GlobeSt.com, the move – which partially nationalizes the banking system – is seen by some as conflicting with the free-market principles that typically have characterized the American economy. To shore up the United States banking system, the Treasury Department is partially nationalizing nine banks by using $125 billion to purchase minority stakes in major financial institutions.  Although the banks haven’t been named, they are believed to include Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, Wells Fargo, J.P. Morgan Chase, Bank of America, Merrill Lynch, Morgan Stanley, State Street and Bank of New York Mellon Corporation.  The Treasury Department is also expected to make the remaining $125 billion available to banks and thrifts across the country to purchase their preferred shares.

According to Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, “Today’s actions are not what we ever wanted to do, but are what we must do to restore confidence to our financial system.  The needs of the economy require that our financial institutions not take this new capital to hoard it, but to deploy it.”  Just weeks before the presidential election, outgoing President George W. Bush sees the move as a short-term measure.  “The government’s role will be limited and temporary.  These measures are not intended to take over the free market, but to preserve it,” Bush said.

The question now is whether the banks will use the capital as the government intends – lend it to businesses and consumers again – or will they use it to sweeten their own balance sheets?  The government, no doubt, intends to exert significant pressure on the institutions to loosen credit so that people can start buying big-ticket items like houses and cars again.