While U.S. unemployment remains well above eight percent, the Obama administration is proposing a half-percent pay raise for federal employees as part of its 2013 budget plan, an Office of Management and Budget official announced Friday. The modest, but rather untimely, pay increase will mark the first uptick since before the two-year federal pay freeze enacted in 2010, which was branded by the White House as a joint effort in which federal workers would share in the "sacrifice" with the private sector, as the economy remained persistently stale. "A permanent pay freeze is not an acceptable policy," said a senior administration official, noting the impact of the two-year pay freeze on the two million workers currently on the federal payroll. "While modest, a 0.5 percent increase reflects the belt-tightening we must do in these difficult times." Although the compensation boost rests far below the recent 3.6-percent cost-of-living adjustment for Social Security, the mere deed of inflating public-sector compensation may hatch some negative sentiment among private-sector workers, as well as the army of unemployed Americans who have yet to find work.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told a television audience January 8 that while Iran may be laying the groundwork for nuclear weapons, it is not yet far enough in the process to build any yet. Appearing on a pre-recorded segment of the CBS program Face the Nation, “Panetta cautioned against a unilateral strike by Israel against Iran’s nuclear facilities, saying the action could trigger Iranian retaliation against U.S. forces in the region,” reported the Associated Press. Panetta insisted that the best course of action is continued economic and diplomatic pressure on the country. “We have common cause here” with Israel, Panetta said. “And the better approach is for us to work together.” Meanwhile, reported CNN, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) confirmed on January 9 that Iran has begun uranium enrichment at a facility in the northern part of the country. “The IAEA can confirm that Iran has started the production of uranium enriched up to 20 percent” at Fordo, in the mountains of Iran’s Qom province, said an IAEA spokesman. The spokesman assured that “all nuclear material in the facility remains under the agency’s containment and surveillance.”
In the clearest indication yet, a high French government official confirmed last week that an FTT — Financial Transaction Tax — will be implemented by the European Union by the end of 2012, a year earlier than planned. Jean Leonetti, France’s minister for European affairs, said on television that “This is on the program for the next European summit [on January 30th]. Nicolas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel have decided on this and it will be put in place before the end of 2012.” The tax would be levied, initially at least, on every financial transaction taking place by any entity with a connection to the Eurozone, and would be levied at the rate of 0.1 percent on shares of stock and bonds, and 0.01 percent on all derivatives transactions. It is estimated that the FTT would cover about 85 percent of all transactions between financial institutions such as banks, investment firms, insurance companies, pension funds and hedge funds. It is expected to raise, in the beginning, about $70 billion annually to help fund the EU. It’s being touted as punishment for the banks that were allegedly instrumental in causing the economic meltdown, but would have no impact on ordinary citizens or small businesses. According to the European Commission, the FTT “would help to reduce competitive distortions in the single market, discourage risky trading activities [such as high frequency trading and highly leveraged derivatives contracts] and complement regulatory measures aimed at avoiding future crises.”
The announcement from the German Economy Ministry over the weekend confirmed that the long-awaited European recession has officially begun: German factory orders dropped to the lowest level in three years, down nearly five percent in the past month. The ministry also revealed that orders from outside the EU dropped by 10.3 percent. Said Jennifer McKeown, an economist at Capital Economics Ltd. in London, “It’s quite clear that we’re heading into a pretty sharp downturn in Germany, which has been one of the strongest of the euro zone’s economies. Orders are very clearly on a downward trend, as is industrial production itself.” The German economy is the fourth largest in the world, generating nearly $3.5 trillion in goods and services annually. Most of its trade is inside the eurozone, resulting in its position as the second-largest exporter in the world. Despite its strong economy relative to its neighbors, its debt-to-GDP ratio is 142 percent, and it is running an annual deficit of almost nine percent of GDP. It nevertheless retains its AAA rating from the three major credit rating agencies, which is strong enough compared to its eurozone partners to have caused a strange anomaly in the markets: yields on its six-month bonds have gone negative.
As she heads into the last year of her tenure in the state of Washington, Democratic Governor Christine Gregoire has a handful of policy initiatives she would like to push through to pad her political legacy: balance the state’s budget, raise state revenues, create some jobs to help the economy, improve education. And force through a bill legalizing homosexual marriage. After seven years of waffling and “vague answers” on the issue, the Roman Catholic Governor, whose stand on homosexual marriage is at odds with her church's teaching, announced on January 4 that “she not only supports allowing gays and lesbians to marry, but will propose legislation to legalize it in Washington state,” reported the Seattle Times. “Our gay and lesbian families face the same hurdles as heterosexual families — making ends meet, choosing what school to send their kids to, finding someone to grow old with, standing in front of friends and family and making a lifetime commitment,” Gregoire said in announcing her decision to support legalizing homosexual marriage. “For all couples, a state marriage license is very important. It gives them the right to enter into a marriage contract in which their legal interests, and those of their children if any, are protected by well-established civil law.”
After nearly three years in existence, the Tennessee Tea Party disbanded Thursday, according to a message sent to members from the leaders of the group, Robert and Tami Kilmarx. While there yet remain other Tea Party-affiliated groups in the Volunteer State, the end of even one of them may augur a decline in the electoral influence of the Tea Party. This perceived de crescendo of the Tea Party symphony is distinctly different from the loud and animating drumbeat that helped march scores of Tea Party-backed candidates into Washington in 2010. There is no question that the Tea Party wasn’t without failure in the 2010 midterm elections (for instance, the defeats of Sharron Angle and Christine O’Donnell), but Sarah Palin became a household name and legitimate constitutionalists such as Rand Paul now sit in Congress, faithfully protecting the Constitution from enemies, foreign and domestic. The voting trends developing in the presidential election campaign reveal the rapidity of the decline in Tea Party clout, however.
Since the passage of the Affordable Care Act, more than 1,200 companies have been accorded waivers from the healthcare reform law, the Health and Human Services Department (HHS) disclosed Friday, the final day that the agency is required to report the data. "Friday marks the last time HHS will have to update the total number of waivers, putting to rest a recurring political firestorm," writes Sam Baker of The Hill. "The department had been updating its waiver totals every month, prompting monthly attacks from the GOP." Indeed, not only has the number of waivers granted by the department stirred a hailstorm of controversy, but it has also displayed an incontrovertible pattern of crony capitalism, as the law openly leans on the side of labor unions, who just so happen to be strong Democratic supporters who wield tremendous political influence. Ever since the administration strapped a tighter leash on application rules, the unionized sector has remained a prominent beneficiary of ObamaCare waivers.
In what pro-family groups are calling the most important broadcast indecency case in over three decades, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments January 10 on the extent to which the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has the authority to implement rules concerning what is permissible on television, and to fine networks which push the boundaries. If the High Court rules against the tighter controls, as networks hope, nudity, immoral sexual content, and profanity will overwhelm the airwaves, the conservative watchdog groups warn. At issue in the case, reported CNN, is whether or not the FCC “may constitutionally enforce its policies on ‘fleeting expletives’ and scenes of nudity on television programs, both live and scripted.” In the past the FCC has handed out hefty penalties to broadcasters for decency infractions. Among the more notorious examples of on-air indecency which the federal agency has targeted is the now-legendary incident during the 2004 Super Bowl half-time show in which Janet Jackson “accidentally” exposed herself. Also cited are a 2003 episode of the police drama NYPD blue which included a scene with a naked woman; a pair of Fox-network-sponsored Billboard Music Awards shows in 2002 and 2003 during which producers failed to censor profanity uttered by singers Cher and Nicole Richie; and the 2003 televised Golden Globes awards show during which singer Bono dropped the “F-bomb” while giving an acceptance speech.
On Saturday, the Ron Paul campaign issued a statement announcing the naming of several new members of the “Homeschoolers for Ron Paul” coalition. The formation of the group was originally announced in August and since then has been very successful in motivating homeschool advocates to rally to Dr. Paul’s campaign for the White House.
When Barnes & Noble announced its awful earnings per share losses on Thursday, it didn’t help any that its losses were so much worse than the company had projected just a month earlier. In October, Barnes & Noble estimated losses for its fiscal year at between 30 and 70 cents per share. Its latest numbers, revised downward to between $1.10 and $1.40, shook investors who pushed shares to $11, down from $17 in early November. The one critical number which investors look at primarily, called EBITDA — earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization — fell from $281 million last year to $163 million this year, a decline of more than 40 percent. It’s easy to say that technological change and market preferences are pushing Barnes & Noble to the edge of bankruptcy, but its position is vastly different from that of its former competitor, Borders, which disappeared in September. What’s more accurate is to say that Barnes & Noble saw the change coming but waited before responding to it. Succeeding brilliantly in the 1990s by providing a vast array of discounted books, games, and accessories, it innovated by opening Starbucks cafes in its stores and providing its customers with comfortable chairs and couches in informal reading areas. In 1998, it anticipated the change from print to digital and purchased NuvoMedia, the maker of the Rocket eBook reader. But in 2003 it exited the digital business, concluding that there was no profit in it.