Sunday, October 4, 2009

Administration eyes ways to help laid-off workers

By CHARLES BABINGTON, Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON – The Obama administration is considering steps to ease the burdens of laid-off workers, including possible extensions of unemployment and health benefits, officials said Saturday.

The administration has stopped short of calling for a second economic stimulus package to augment the $787 billion measure approved this year. But with the jobless rate continuing to climb, President Barack Obama said Saturday he is exploring "additional options to promote job creation."

Administration aides said possibilities include:

_extending enhanced unemployment-insurance benefits beyond Dec. 31, when they are set to expire.

_extending a tax credit for laid-off workers who buy health insurance through the COBRA program. That program allows workers to keep their company's health insurance plan for 18 months after they leave their job, if they pay the premiums.

_extending a tax credit for first-time home buyers. This credit also is set to expire soon.

The administration has discussed these possibilities with congressional leaders, officials said, but no decisions have been made.

White House economic adviser Lawrence Summers expressed interest in these ideas in an online interview with the Atlantic magazine. "I don't know what the term 'second stimulus package' exactly means," Summers said. "We certainly need to continue to support people who are in need, whether it's unemployment insurance, or a COBRA program that for the first time provides that people who are laid off get supported in being able to maintain their health insurance."

In his weekly radio and Internet video address Saturday, Obama said his proposed health care overhaul would create jobs by making small business startups more affordable. If aspiring entrepreneurs believe they can stay insured while switching jobs, he said, they will start new businesses and hire workers.

"I hear about it from small business owners who want to grow their companies and hire more people, but they cant, because they can barely afford to insure the employees they have," Obama said. "One small business owner wrote to me that health care costs are and I quote 'stifling my business growth.' He said that the money he wanted to use for research and development, and to expand his operations, has instead been 'thrown into the pocket of healthcare insurance carriers.' "

Dismissive Republicans blamed the continuing job losses on Democratic policies and said the president's health proposals won't help.

The unemployment rate rose to 9.8 percent in September, the highest since June 1983, as employers cut far more jobs than expected. The government reported Friday that the economy lost a net total of 263,000 jobs last month, from a downwardly revised 201,000 in August. All told, 15.1 million people are now out of work, the Labor Department said, and 7.2 million jobs have been eliminated since the recession began in December 2007.

Obama said he has met people "who've got a good idea and the expertise and determination to build it into a thriving business. But many can't take that leap because they can't afford to lose the health insurance they have at their current job."

Small businesses create many of the nation's jobs, Obama said, and some have the potential to become big companies.

Obama praised the Senate Finance Committee for crafting a health care bill that includes many of his priorities. Small businesses could buy health insurance through an exchange, he said, "where they can compare the price, quality and services of a wide variety of plans."

The government would subsidize health insurance for many businesses and individuals, the president said.

In the weekly Republican address, Rep. Candice Miller of Michigan said the original Obama-backed economic stimulus package fell far short of its goals. She criticized a House-passed energy bill that would set limits and costs on greenhouse gas emissions. The plan, which the Senate has not taken up, "would increase electricity bills, raise gasoline prices and ship more American jobs overseas," Miller said.

She called for deeper tax cuts for small businesses so the economy can get back on track.

"Washington Democrats' job-killing agenda makes me think they're living on a different planet from the families living in America's suffering heartland," Miller said.

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"Darned good" Republican Whitman endorsed U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer in 2003

Former eBay executive Meg Whitman, the 2010 gubernatorial candidate who has recently portrayed herself as a "darned good" conservative Republican, endorsed Democratic U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer in 2003, records show.

"Whitman contributed $4,000 to Boxer in the 2004 reelection campaign -- and endorsed Boxer as a part of Technology Leaders for Boxer,'' confirmed Boxer aide Rose Kapolczynski today.

And, she signed an "open letter" appealing for support from the California technology executives, touting Boxer as a "dynamic and courageous leader" on the tech front.

Whitman's name was included in a "Friends of Boxer" release when the committee of a dozen technology leaders was formed in 2003 to assist the California Democrat in her 2004 re-election effort, which pitted her against GOP former Secretary of State Bill Jones.

The move by Whitman to back the Democratic junior Senator came about because "in the spring of 2003, some technology leaders were interested in announcing their support for Boxer, so our campaign went out and talked to a wide range of leaders. And Meg Whitman was among them,'' Kapolcyznski said.

"She agreed to endorse the Senator...there was a fundraising event in Silicon Valley later in the year and Whitman maxed out to the campaign,'' she said.

Why would Whitman, who has repeatedly said that she backs Republican values, throw her support to Boxer -- reviled by Republicans as one of the U.S. Senate's most liberal members?

"(Boxer) has been a strong supporter of research and development funding, which benefits Silicon Valley,'' Kapolcyznski said. "She's worked to promote exports of technology overseas and she's always had a strong relationship with the technology industry.''

Whitman spokesman Sarah Pompei, asked about the endorsement, said today that "at the same time that Barbara Boxer was fighting against internet taxes, which earned Meg Whitman's support, Steve Poizner was arguing for tax increases to support transportation projects and cover budget shortfalls in Sacramento. It's nothing new, Meg Whitman has supported members of both parties who fought against internet taxes."

Indeed, Cisco System chair and CEO John Chambers, today a member of Whitman's economic task force and one of her major backers, actually headed the Boxer Tech group. He gushed that he was in full support of her re-election because her "leadership on Silicon Valley issues such as stock options, broadband, R&D tax credit, and export controls shows she is responsible to the needs of the California economy.''

Whitman, the eBay CEO, was so convinced of Boxer's strength that she, too, released her own statement. "Barbara Boxer is a courageous leader and friend of California's technology industry,'' Whitman said in the 2003 Democratic campaign release.

It's a quote Boxer may end up using in her 2010 re-election campaign against either California Assemblyman Chuck DeVore or former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, two Republicans who are aiming for her seat.

The news that Whitman backed and endorsed Boxer -- considered Public Enemy Number One for the GOP in California -- comes just days after the eBay CEO faced heat over her failure to vote for decades. She assured grassroots activists at the state GOP convention last week of her solid Republican credentials.

"I'm a Republican, and you'll find I'm a darn good one,'' she told them. "I've committed myself to running for one of the toughest chief executive jobs on the planet because I believe Republican ideals, truly and consistently applied, will save this state."

Posted By: Carla Marinucci

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Is Rep. Alan Grayson The New “Mr. Smith” (Goes To Washington)

By Amy Beth Arkawy


The Democrats—wishing and hoping for a hero in the health scare debate—may have finally found their guy. Not that he’s perfect. But hey, who is? Freshman Florida Congressman Alan Grayson boldly and succinctly laid out the Republican plan for health care reform late Tuesday night. It’s his Wednesday follow-up that’s raising eyebrows on both sides of the aisle.

On Tuesday, the brash reformer, who ran on an anti-corruption platform and has apparently been making good on his campaign promises (so much so, his seat is considered one of the more vulnerable Democratic seats in 2010), with grade school poster board visual aids clearly stated the republican plan as, “Don’t get sick. And if you do get sick, die quickly.”

This scathing, sound-bitable description threw the House Republicans into a fast frenzy. These characters—who have spent months stonewalling and spewing fear with the regularity of Old Faithful—quickly demanded an apology. It was the most “mean-spirited statement” Rep. Duncan from Tennessee had ever heard on the House floor. Really? What about Rep. Ginny Brown- Wade’s characterization of the Democrats’ plan as “essentially saying to America’s seniors: ‘Drop Dead’?” Or Rep. Virginia Fox calling for a Republican plan that “will be pro-life because it will not kill senior citizens.” Or Rep. Paul Braun: “Their plan’s gonna kill people?” And on and on all month long from the stop and set the reset repubs.

I know liberal and conservatives hear things differently; I’m pretty sure they’ve done a study at Harvard or somewhere to support this thesis (otherwise some scholar’s got a grant application in the mail). But I don’t think Congressman Grayson’s terse comments violated the rules of decorum of that esteemed (and dainty) body. But GOP ears were bleeding red, white and blue indignation. And so Rep. Tom Price from Georgia took to the floor Wednesday morning and demanded an apology from Grayson. Or else. The or else, of course, was a rebuke similar to the one Rep. Joe Wilson received following his infamous “You lie” outburst at President Obama.

Again, there are substantial differences between Wilson’s rude blurt hurled at the President during a speech before a joint session of Congress, and the daily rhetoric reps toss at each other in spirited political gamesmanship. But, as I said, liberals and conservatives hear things differently.

So on Wednesday Grayson apologized. Sort of. He said, “I apologize to the 45,000 people who die each year because they don’t have health insurance. I apologize to the dead and their families.” So far so good. The guy’s getting fitted for a cape, right? Well, not exactly. Grayson couldn’t resist, I guess, going for the hyperbolic flourish. He ended with, “I apologize that we didn’t vote to end this Holocaust in America sooner.”

Uh oh. Even heroes misspeak. As I heard the word leave his lips it started to run in a cinematic slo-mo; I just knew he regretted it as it slipped out, wrapped tightly in righteous indignation. He must have been sweating as visions of himself being lambasted over the Fox News spit flashed through his mind.

Maybe not. Grayson appeared on the Rachel Maddow Show on MSNBC Wednesday night and hardly bristled at his own faux pas. To her credit, Maddow—undisputedly the most even-tempered of all cable TV hosts—gave him three chances to rescind the Holocaust reference. He bobbed and weaved in classic pol style. But by the third time, she cornered him, practically spoon-fed him the right answer. “Do you think you should have used the word ‘Holocaust?” she gently pressed. Finally, Grayson gave in, conceding, “It probably wasn’t the best choice of words.”

And it wasn’t for obvious reasons. The Holocaust is such a loaded term for so many people. Using it in this context offends many and only serves as a distraction from Grayson’s solid facts, his stats, his sentiment. It allows Republicans to dodge their own culpability by making him, his perceived insensitivity, the issue.

But Grayson seems undaunted. After his meek concession to Maddow, he launched into a diatribe about the kind of politicians Americans want and need. “People want Democrats with guts. People want Congress to solve their problems… or at least work on them.” Somewhere along the line he called the repubs, “foot-dragging, knuckle-dragging Neanderthals.” Okay, so we’re back fitting Grayson for his cape.

The thing is: as one who has called for folks on both sides to ratchet down the rancor, I can’t pull a double-standard (I don’t, after all, work for FOX News). So, if it’s not helpful for the republicans to offer rabid rhetoric, the same applies to the democrats. But I admit to rooting for Grayson, seeing him as a sort of chunkier, brazen 21st Century Mr. Smith taking on Washington. And wishing there were more like him.

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Conservatives Revel In America's Olympic Defeat

When the International Olympic Committee voted against Chicago's bid for the 2016 Olympics this morning -- after the President and First Lady flew to Copenhagen to push for it in person -- the Weekly Standard newsroom burst into applause.

"Cheers erupt at Weekly Standard world headquarters," wrote editor John McCormack in a post titled "Chicago Loses! Chicago Loses!"

The line was quickly removed, but ThinkProgress caught it in time and posted a screenshot of the post.

But even with the edits, McCormack is still obviously reveling in America's defeat.

"As a citizen of the world who believes that No one nation can or should try to dominate another nation, I'm glad that the Obama White House's jingoist rhetoric and attempt to pay back Chicago cronies at the expense of undermining our relationships with our allies failed," he wrote.

McCormack's fellow conservatives joined in the celebration.

"Chicago and Tokyo eliminated. No Obamalypics," Michelle Malkin tweeted, following up with, "Game over on Obamalympics. Next up, Obamacare."

"Please, please let me break this news to you. It's so sweet," said Glenn Beck on his radio show.

"Hahahahaha," wrote Red State's Erick Erickson. "So Obama's pimped us to every two bit thug and dictator in the world, made promises to half the Olympic committee, and they did not even kiss him. So much for improving America's standing in the world, Barry O."

The Drudge Report announced the news like so: "WORLD REJECTS OBAMA: CHICAGO OUT IN FIRST ROUND. THE EGO HAS LANDED."

"The worst day of Obama's presidency, folks. The ego has landed. The world has rejected Obama," echoed Rush Limbaugh.

"For those of you ... who are upset that I sound gleeful, I am. I don't deny it. I'm happy," Limbaugh said. "Anything that gets in the way of Barack Obama accomplishing his domestic agenda is fine with me."

"President Obama fails to get the Olympics while unemployment goes to 9.8% Iran continues nuclear program. America needs focused leadership," Newt Gingrich tweeted. Then he added, "Somehow charm and oratory dont seem to work in foreign affirs but historians have warned that foreign policy is different than campaigning." (sic)

"ChicagP\/\/n3D!" tweeted Newsmax, of recent fame for running, then pulling, a column about an impending military coup against Obama.

Apparently no one read the tweet from former Bush flack Scott Stanzel.

"Note to GOP officials/consultants - resist the temptation to pile on about Chicago losing the Olympic bid just because Obama made the pitch," he wrote, advice reportedly passed on by Former Mitt Romney spokesman Kevin Madden.

Fox News, however, saw it coming. A Fox anchor told senior adviser David Axelrod she could "imagine the headlines" that would come out of this, that Obama had been "rebuked," and had "failed." Axelrod simply responded that no one could doubt Obama's influence after watching the G-20, and said neither he nor the President have any regrets about trying.

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BREAKING: Texas Judge: Ban On Gay Marriage Unconstitutional

by David Badash

A Dallas, Texas state district judge will hear the case of a same sex couple who have filed for divorce. The state’s attorney general had argued that since Texas doesn’t allow same sex marriage, it cannot allow same sex divorce.

The judge disagreed.

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The perils of long-term unemployment

Alarming as the climb in unemployment is, the growing duration of joblessness is more worrying still.

America’s army of long-term unemployed — those without work for six months or more — swelled to 5.4 million, according to today’s figures. This is roughly equal to the combined populations of Los Angeles, San Diego and Sacramento. (For the internationally minded, it is slightly more than the population of Finland.)

More and more workers are exhausting benefits. As of the start of this month around 400,000 stopped receiving assistance. Another 1.3 million will use up their entitlement before the end of the year.

This calls for stronger action from the federal government.

A further extension of jobless benefits is now critical. These have already been stretched out to an unprecedented 79 weeks in some states with high unemployment. Congress should now press ahead with plans for an additional 13 weeks.

In addition to preventing large numbers falling into poverty, this is among the best forms of fiscal stimulus. Money given to the unemployed is almost certain to be spent quickly.

A recent survey for the National Employment Law Project found that 67 percent of unemployed adults had cut back on basics like food and groceries. Almost half had fallen behind with rent payments and a third had been forced to move in with friends or family.

No other form of government spending delivers such an immediate sugar rush to the economy. Unlike the cash for clunkers program, it is not merely stealing consumption from the future.

Still, there is a danger in such a stimulus. Allowing Americans the luxury of being pickier about which job they choose can have costs.

When it comes to unemployment, time matters. Skills atrophy after extended periods without work. Then, when growth picks up, these workers are no longer in a position to fill new jobs.

A slew of academic papers suggest that a quick return to the workforce — even in a humbler capacity — is often a good idea, especially for the young. Research by Tom Mroz at Clemson University showed that a six-month spell of unemployment at the age of 22 reduced wages even a decade later.

So the extra spending on unemployment benefit needs to be combined with much more assistance with job searching and retraining. According to the OECD, U.S. funding for retraining and job searching has risen by less than 20 percent during the crisis.

Failure to do more to retool the long-term unemployed will create lingering problems for the U.S. economy. Extending benefits is an important first step, but it is not enough to ensure that the administration’s stimulus is effective. For the more Americans are permanently dislocated from the workforce, the less robust any recovery will be.

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Thank You, Mr. President

Count me as one conservative who is disappointed that President Obama's hometown will not be hosting the 2016 Olympic Games.

Chicago is a beautiful city that would have made a perfect backdrop for the Olympics. The President was right to fly to Copenhagen to try to land the games, not for the sake of his city, but for the good of his country. The fact President Obama failed makes me respect him more for taking the chance, and the fact many right-wing figures opposed the President's mission shows just how narrow-minded partisanship makes us all.

For the better part of 20 years, a bitterness has infected our politics that has weakened our country.

We Republicans spent eight years trying to delegitimize Bill Clinton.

Democrats spent the next eight years doing the same to George W. Bush.

Now that a Democrat is in the Oval Office again, it is the GOP who is trying to delegitimize a sitting president.

When I try to talk to Republicans about the need to break this cycle of viciousness, some cite the chapter and verse of every hateful left wing attack against George W. Bush.

Whenever I attempt to have a conversation with some Democrats about the need for us respect our president-- whether he be an Obama or a Bush-- I am told that Bush deserved whatever he got because he was a lying war criminal who hated the Constitution and loved torturing

Fortunately, there are a growing number of Americans who believe we cannot continue going on this way.

You and I may disagree on how the CIA handled terror suspects. But that does not mean that you are soft on terrorism anymore than it means that I hate the Constitution.

You and I may have a different approach to Afghanistan. But just because you want to stay there another five years doesn't mean you are an imperialist. And if I believe a decade in that forsaken land is more than enough, that doesn't mean I'm soft on al Qaeda or the Taliban.

It just means that we view the world differently.

That creative tension--that intense give and take--has been what has kept America strong since Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton fought like hell in George Washington's White House.

Hamilton wanted a strong centralized government while Jefferson believed that the government that governed least governed best.

Both men were frustrated by the checks and balances that stood in the way of their agendas, but that debate shaped America for years to come.

But something has gone terribly wrong.

Today on Morning Joe, NBC News Legend Tom Brokaw remarked to Pat Buchanan about how the level of partisanship is even more intense today than during the depths of the Watergate crisis. Brokaw was commenting on Congressman Grayson's comments, but he could have easily
been talking about Joe Wilson or death panels or the bizarre claim that the President "hates all white people."

Some of the rhetoric is dangerous. But what we saw from some conservative corners regarding the President's failed Olympics bid was just plain stupid.

I'm happy for Rio and think it is past time that South America got a chance to host the Olympic Games. But put me down as one conservative who is glad my president flew across the ocean to try to bring the 2016 Games to America.

Nice try, President Obama. And thanks for taking time away from your young girls for the sake of your hometown and your country, Michelle. I know that's never an easy thing to do.

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